A 13-time Grammy winner and Billboard Century Award recipient, Emmylou Harris’ contribution as a singer and songwriter spans 40 years. She has recorded more than 25 albums and has lent her talents to countless fellow artists’ recordings. In recognition of her remarkable career, Harris was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008.
Harris is known as much for her eloquently straightforward songwriting as for her incomparably expressive singing. Admired through her career for her talent as an artist and song connoisseur, Harris shook up country radio in the 1970s, and established herself as the premiere songwriter of a generation selling more than 15 million records and garnering 13 Grammy Awards, three CMA Awards, and two Americana Awards.
Harris is one of the most admired and influential women in music. She has recorded with such diverse artists as Linda Ronstadt, Daniel Lanois, Bob Dylan, Mark Knopfler, Neil Young, Gram Parsons, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Roy Orbison, Ryan Adams, Beck, Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash, Lucinda Williams, Lyle Lovett and most recently Rodney Crowell. Few artists have achieved such honesty or have revealed such maturity in their writing. Forty years into her career, Harris continues to share the hard-earned wisdom that—hopefully if not inevitably—comes with getting older, though she’s never stopped looking ahead.
A longtime social activist, Harris has lent her voice to many causes. She has performed at Lilith Fair, helping promote feminism in music and organizing several benefit tours to support the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation. Harris is also an avid supporter of animal rights and is actively involved in Bonaparte’s Retreat, the dog rescue organization that she founded.
SO YOU WANNABE AN OUTLAW
If you ever had any doubt about where Steve Earle’s musical roots are planted, his new collection, So You Wannabe an Outlaw, makes it perfectly plain. “There’s nothing ‘retro’ about this record,” he states, “I’m just acknowledging where I’m coming from.” So You Wannabe an Outlaw is the first recording he has made in Austin, Texas. Earle has lived in New York City for the past decade but he acknowledges, “Look, I’m always gonna be a Texan, no matter what I do. And I’m always going to be somebody who learned their craft in Nashville. It’s who I am.”
In the 1970s, artists such as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck, Billy Joe Shaver and Tompall Glaser gave country music a rock edge, some raw grit and a rebel attitude. People called what these artists created “outlaw music.” The results were country’s first Platinum-certified records, exciting and fresh stylistic breakthroughs and the attraction of a vast new youth audience to a genre that had previously been by and for adults. In the eighties, The Highwaymen was formed by Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Their final album “The Road Goes On Forever” released in 1996 began with the Steve Earle song “The Devil’s Right Hand.”
Steve Earle’s 2017 collection, So You Wannabe an Outlaw, is an homage to outlaw music. “I was out to unapologetically ‘channel’ Waylon as best as I could.” says Earle. “This record was all about me on the back pick-up of a Fender Telecaster on an entire record for the first time in my life. The singing part of it is a little different. I certainly don’t sound like Waylon Jennings.”
“I moved to Nashville in November of 1974, and right after that Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger came out. I was around when Waylon was recording [the 1975 masterpiece] Dreaming My Dreams. Guitar Town (Earle’s 1986 breakthrough album) wound up being kind of my version of those types of songs,” Earle recalls.
“This new record started because T Bone Burnett called me and wanted a specific song to be written for the first season of (the TV series) Nashville. It was for the character whose brother was in prison. So I wrote ‘If Mama Coulda Seen Me,’ and they used it. Then Buddy Miller asked me to write another one for the show and I wrote ‘Lookin’ for a Woman,’ which they didn’t wind up using. I’d been listening to Waylon’s Honky Tonk Heroes again, and I decided to start writing in that direction.”
The new songs include the gentle, acoustic folk ballads “News From Colorado” and “The Girl on the Mountain.” “Fixin’ to Die,” on the other hand, is a dark shout from the hell of Death Row. “The Firebreak Line” returns Earle to his pile-driving, country-rock roots. “You Broke My Heart” is a sweet, simple salute to the 1950s sounds of Webb Pierce or Carl Smith. “Walkin’ in L.A.” is a twanging country shuffle. The guitar-heavy “Sunset Highway” is an instant-classic escape song. And the deeply touching “Goodbye Michelangelo” is Steve Earle’s farewell to his mentor, Guy Clark, who passed away last year. “It was written right after me and Rodney Crowell and Shawn Camp and a few other folks had taken Guy’s ashes to Terry Allen’s house in New Mexico,” Earle says. “I was only 19 when I came to Nashville. Guy and Susanna Clark finished raising me. Guy was a great cheerleader for me.”
Earle is backed on the new album by his long time band The Dukes (guitarist Chris Masterson, fiddle player Eleanor Whitmore, bassist Kelly Looney, and new members drummer Brad Pemberton and pedal steel player Ricky Ray Jackson). “We did the Guitar Town 30th-anniversary tour last year,” he said. “And that was perfect to write the last of the songs for this record. Because I had the band out there with me, and we could try out some stuff.”
“Waylon’s Honky Tonk Heroes was the template for the new album. And I’ve always considered that record to be really important. I consider his Honky Tonk Heroes the Exile on Main Street of country music.”
“I knew when I wrote ‘Walkin’ in L.A.’ that I wanted Johnny Bush to sing on it. I’ve known Johnny since 1973 when I was playing a restaurant in San Antonio. Joe Voorhees, who played piano for Bush, and I were stoned and hungry, so we went to Bush’s and raided the icebox in his kitchen. We’re sitting there, and Joe goes white and says, ‘John!’ I turned around and there was a .357 Magnum pointed at the back of my head. So that’s how I really met Johnny Bush. Years later, he signed an autograph to me that said, ‘Steve, I’m glad I didn’t pull the trigger.’”
Steve Earle’s third duet partner on So You Wannabe an Outlaw is Miranda Lambert. The two co-wrote their vocal collaboration “This Is How it Ends.” “I learned from Guy Clark that co-writing might lead me to write some stuff that I wouldn’t write otherwise,” comments Earle. “The song is Miranda’s title, and some of the very best lines in it are hers.”
So You Want To Be An Outlaw is dedicated to Jennings, who died in 2002. The deluxe CD and the vinyl version of the album include Earle’s remakes of the timeless Waylon Jennings anthem “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” as well as Billy Joe Shaver’s “Ain’t No God in Mexico,” which Jennings popularized as well as Earle’s versions of “Sister’s Coming Home” and “The Local Memory,” songs that first appeared on Willie Nelson discs. Nelson is his duet partner on the new album’s title track.
Steve Earle has turned many musical corners during his illustrious career. He has been equally acclaimed as a folk troubadour, a rockabilly raver, a contemplative bluesman, a honky-tonk rounder, a snarling rocker and even a bluegrass practitioner. This definitive Americana artist has won three Grammy Awards, for 2005’s The Revolution Starts Now, 2008’s Washington Square Serenade and 2010’s Townes.
He is also the author of the 2011 short-story collection Doghouse Roses and novel I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive. Earle has been featured as an actor in two HBO series, The Wire and Treme, and on stage in The Exonerated. His film work includes roles in such respected features as The World Made Straight (2015), Leaves of Grass (2009) and Dixieland (2015). For the past decade he has hosted the weekly show Hardcore Troubadour for the Outlaw Country Channel on SiriusXM Radio and he is a longtime social and political activist whose causes have included the abolition of the death penalty and the removal of the Confederate symbol from the Mississippi State flag.
Earle has collaborated on recordings with such superb talents as Sheryl Crow, The Indigo Girls, The Pogues, Lucinda Williams Shawn Colvin, Patti Smith, Chris Hillman, The Fairfield Four and The Del McCoury Band. His songs have been used in more than fifty films and have been recorded by such legends as Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, and Joan Baez, Carl Perkins, Vince Gill and Waylon Jennings (who recorded Earle’s “The Devil’s Right Hand” twice).
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For further information, contact Rick Gershon at Warner Bros. Records Publicity:
818-953-3473 / email@example.com
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Ann Wilson (of Heart)
Ann Wilson (of Heart)
Ann Wilson (of Heart)
Ann Wilson has announced her 2017 20-date solo tour. The Ann Wilson Of Heart cross-country trek kicks off Tuesday, March 8 at the Moore Theatre in Wilson’s Seattle hometown before moving on to Los Angeles, Denver, Philadelphia, Englewood, NJ and New Orleans among other cities.
The Ann Wilson Of Heart dates follow the release of Heart’s critically acclaimed 2016 Beautiful Broken album and summer headlining tour with Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and Cheap Trick, along with Heart solo shows before and after. “Heart is always evolving, changing,” says Ann. “It is a living organism. Right now it’s in a cocoon of metamorphosis, and we will see what emerges when the time is right.”
Ann Wilson of Heart is the next step of Ann's journey. The step that puts it all together. The present meets the past and joins the timeless. All of the songs that make up the essence of Ann Wilson will be on display; Heart songs, songs from Ann’s solo projects, and songs that have influenced and inspired Ann throughout her life. The show, like the woman herself, will know no bounds, Joined - not backed - by a band of true artists Ann’s true voice will be heard.
Musicians on board for the Ann Wilson Of Heart tour include Craig Bartock on guitar (Heart member for a dozen years, who also performed in the Ann Wilson Thing for two years) from San Francisco; Andy Stoller on bass (the Ann Wilson Thing member for two years) from Seattle; Denny Fongheiser on drums and percussion (Heart member in the 1990’s for two years) from Los Angeles.
“The stage is a magical place where I can be beautifully in and out of control, where I can build a fire and then jump into it,” says the esteemed and pioneering Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legend who’s known for her force-of-nature vocals. “The stage is where I have always lived; where I've expressed my deepest emotions and supreme joys.” Ann continues: “I suppose I am addicted to it. I’ve never been much good at talking, but I can sing, and when I sing I connect with people in a much deeper, higher way.”
What will fans experience at these shows? “People can expect the unexpected in 2017,” Ann says. “A beautiful, classy set with an elegant, artistic production…The music will be a mix of songs that have powered my life; iconic soul stirring covers, songs from my years of solo work and the unforgettable songs of Heart.” The name for the upcoming tour, explains Ann, “is to give people a point of recognition; to help people understand who I am and where I came from.”
Ann Wilson’s musical gifts are legendary. As a songwriter and lyricist, she has created a truly impressive body of work (“crazy on you,” “barracuda,” “magic man,” “dog & butterfly,” “straight on”, “even it up,” “mistral wind,” and many, many more). However, her greatest gift, and first “calling” is singing. Her voice is considered to be among the best ever, with its vast range, amazing power and sheer musicality. It has inspired legions of great singers, across every genre of music.
“Ann Wilson of Heart is what I have been preparing for all my life” says Ann. “The time is right, and I’m ready.”
The second U.K. band following the Beatles to score a #1 hit in America, The Zombies infiltrated the airwaves with the sophisticated melodies, breathy vocals, choral back-up harmonies and jazzy keyboard riffs of their 1960’s hit singles “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No.” Ironically, the group broke-up just prior to achieving their greatest success – the worldwide chart-topping single “Time of the Season,” from their swan-song album Odessey & Oracle, ranked #100 in Rolling Stone’s ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time.’ To this day, generations of new bands have cited The Zombies’ work as pop touchstones, and the band continues to be embraced by new generations of fans.
Following the break-up of the original band, Blunstone went on to develop an acclaimed solo career, and Argent rocked ‘70’s arenas with his eponymous band ARGENT, but the legend of The Zombies continued to take on a life of its own. By the start of the new Millennium, Blunstone and Argent were inspired to resurrect The Zombies. The media excitedly welcomed their return, leading to a 2011 performance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.
2013-2016 has marked a major resurgence for the band, with two U.K. and five U.S. tours (including stops at SXSW in Austin, NYC’s Central Park SummerStage, Seattle’s Bumbershoot Festival and Milwaukee SummerFest)…the American release of their new album, Breathe Out, Breathe In (Huffington Post’s David Wild called the album “inspired” and said “some songs recall the haunting melodic heights of the group’s 1968 masterpiece Odessey and Oracle.”)… the debut on RollingStone.com & VEVO of their first-ever music video for “Any Other Way”… a PBS Special filmed on the legendary Austin City Limits stage….Eminem’s sample/cover version of “Time of the Season” on his comeback album… the amazing Keira Knightley "She's Not There" campaign for Coco Chanel… The release of 2015’s Still Got That Hunger… and the announcement of their second nomination to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
The first quiet piano notes of the title track of Patty Griffin’s new album, Servant Of Love evoke a sense of mystery. “I want to live by your ocean/Moved by the waves/No one can see.” Go further into this haunting, jazz-steeped meditation, and that sense turns into a spell. With lulling piano, fathoms-deep bowed bass and improvisational trumpet floating above like a swooping gull, Griffin conjures the call of the depths in literal and metaphorical terms (“words from the deep, calling to me…”) and invites us on her odyssey to answer that call.
Very much in the traditions of American transcendental writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, and mystical poets like Rumi and Rainer Maria Rilke, Patty Griffin grounds her themes of love and mystery in the experience and rhythms of the everyday, the stuff of life. Servant Of Love takes on big ideas, but does so in the vernacular of folk tales, blues cants and jazz gestures. Griffin’s characteristic expressive vocals—equal measures passion and poignancy—and her potent songwriting blur the lines between the personal, the spiritual and the political. These songs move and persuade while they dive deep.
In case we think a pilgrimage into mystery is some esoteric undertaking, Griffin pulls us by the collar down into the greasy juke joint of songs like “Gunpowder,” where the most craven desires of the human animal hold sway. “Robbing cradles and the graves/Just realistic, not depraved.../…Draining rivers till they’re dry/I just like to, I don’t know why.” Explore the human heart, Griffin seems to say, and you will find darkness.
Not limited in scope to mere romance, these songs reveal how love underpins all our human movements—our passions, our desires, our mistakes, our neuroses, our greed and our good alike. Griffin embeds her exploration of love in the real, as in “Good And Gone,” an elemental folk song with blues in its DNA. It is Griffin’s powerful reaction to the shooting by police of John Crawford, an innocent man shopping in a Walmart. “I’m gonna make sure he’s good and gone/Gonna make sure he’s good and dead…/…Gonna make sure he knows his place/Wipe that smile off his face.” Never a writer to oversimplify, Griffin implicates more than just a man; she implicates the society which creates such a man. “Rich man has his money/What can a poor man claim?.../…Pawns of another rich man’s game.”
Even in songs which seem to speak from the personal, the connection to broader concerns abides. When, in the intimate “You Never Asked Me,” she cries out, “It was an exercise in catastrophe/It was a dance of destruction/…A flight of fragile wings,” she’s not just talking about a single relationship, but about love’s effects in the world. “Polar ice caps below and above/Conquered and claimed and ruined for love.”
Over nine albums, Patty Griffin has proven herself a writer of uncommon perception, with a genius for character-driven story-telling. On this, her tenth, she brings that genius to bear on her over-arching themes. The same trans-migrated soul seems to inhabit the characters in these songs, all different, yet all walking the same beat, speaking from the same source: the storyteller herself, of course, but also, the album suggests, a greater source. A source we reject at our peril. That melting polar ice cap in “You Never Asked Me”? That’s no metaphor. That’s the real world consequence of our spiritual deficit.
As Servant Of Love travels through different musical terrains—folk and blues, rock and jazz, ancient sounds and modern—a spare, organic quality persists. Patterns and reccurence weave through the album in small ways and large: the drone of open tunings, modal riffs and bluesy moves, images of nature. That lonely trumpet. They create a sense of sonic return that buoys Griffin’s larger message: Love persists. In the dark, in the mud, in disaster, in the sun, there love is. An elemental force.
While any song on Servant Of Love stands alone, each a vivid gem mined from a rich vein, together they create an emotional arc of unusual depth. Patty Griffin might take us into the dark, but she doesn’t leave us there. Instead, she brings the mystery into the light, and by the last song, “Shine A Different Way,” a joyous, tuneful paean to surrender and rebirth, we feel we really have traveled her road with her. Now we end by the sea where we started,, with “…the moon and the glistening waves,” a little more ready, perhaps, as Rilke said, to “live the questions.”
North Mississippi Allstars
North Mississippi Allstars
North Mississippi Allstars
North Mississippi Allstars are back with PRAYER FOR PEACE and couldn’t we all use one of those right about now? Founded in 1996 by brothers Luther (guitar and vocals) and Cody Dickinson (drums, piano, synth bass, programming and vocals), the now venerable band are entering their third decade with perhaps the most vital album of their career. Recorded in studios across America during North Mississippi Allstars’ 2016 tour, PRAYER FOR PEACE sees the Dickinsons weaving their bred-to-the-bone musical sensibility with unstoppable energy, rhythmic reinvention, and a potent message of positivity, family, and hope. As ever, songs like R.L. Burnside’s “Long Haired Doney” and the impassioned title track pay homage to the country blues legacy while simultaneously pushing it into contemporary relevance with fatback funk, electronic innovation, slippery soul, and pure unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll.
“This is a very exciting time for North Mississippi Allstars,” Cody says. “There’s been this explosion of creativity lately and it’s encouraging that for a band who has been around for twenty years now, our music is as vital and fresh as ever. It’s like the opposite of burnout – I can’t explain why but it feels totally brand new again.”
“The blues is not children’s music,” Luther says. “We get better at it, the older we get. We’re so fortunate to be able to do it.”
PRAYER FOR PEACE continues the burst of inspiration begun with 2013’s Earth-shaking WORLD BOOGIE IS COMING. That album, the band’s seventh studio recording, proved the planetary sensation its title promised, with The Guardian simply declaring it the North Mississippi Allstars’ “best yet.”
“With WORLD BOOGIE we decided to tear the house down and rebuild it,” Cody says. “In the process we were able to tap into what makes North Mississippi Allstars tick. What we do is, we look to the past with reverence and respect but we fearlessly forge ahead into the future. We’re deeply steeped in American roots music but we are very much a modern band. We are at our best when we’re exploring both at the same time.”
Though they had been making music together all their lives, WORLD BOOGIE IS COMING saw the Dickinsons advance as a true artistic partnership, striking a wholly democratic balance between Luther’s raw, organic aesthetic and Cody’s passion for electronics and programming. The album was followed by a remarkable run of extracurricular efforts, including solo projects, collaborations, soundtrack contributions, and documentary film production.
“We used to filter every experiment, every new interest, every aesthetic idea, into the Allstars,” Luther says, “because we were so focused on the one band. Now that we’ve spread our wings and have other outlets, everything can just breathe and be itself. We know what we’re supposed to do so we can just go in and do it.”
“It’s like a release,” Cody says. “All this music and all these ideas build up and you’ve got to get them out. Being able to record them and document them allows us to move on creatively.”
A notoriously hard touring band from the start, North Mississippi Allstars had long considered ways to maximize their time on the road by recording as much as possible while traveling America and beyond. When time came to follow up WORLD BOOGIE IS COMING, the Dickinsons decided to make the idea a reality.
“Having our studio here in Mississippi has always been a great resource for us,” Cody says. “It’s kept our music grounded, but at the same time, I have always wanted to do what I think of as ‘field recordings,’ of us on tour, on location, wherever we were.”
The Allstars spent much of 2016 lighting up studios in St. Louis, Kansas City, New Orleans, Brooklyn, Austin, and of course, their legendary father Jim Dickinson’s Zebra Ranch in the Allstars’ own Hernando, MS. Sold out shows were followed the next morning with equally intense sessions, the band quickly banging out tracks infused with the same high energy as they bring to the stage.
“Our dad was a big fan of capturing that initial moment of creation and inception,” Cody says. “There’s a real strength in building up the material onstage, having it crowd-tested, and then just going in and laying it down.”
“We do it so fast,” Luther says. “We go in and record four or five tunes in a couple of hours. In and out. It’s not belabored, it’s raw and fresh and live, we’re dripping sweat and in the moment. That’s why it has that electric psychedelic feel. We just go in there and let it all hang out, clean up the mess later. We don’t even listen to playbacks – we just play, play, play and then split.”
The majority of PRAYER FOR PEACE was co-produced at Memphis’ famed Royal Studios alongside the great Boo Mitchell – himself the son of a legend in producer/Hi Records founder Willie Mitchell.
“Boo is such a magical music man,” Luther says, “and that studio is so inspiring and grounding. You would think singing on Al Green’s mic would be intimidating but it’s not! It’s reassuring. Royal is just a wonderful, wonderful studio.”
“We have always identified with other second and third generation artists,” says Cody and to be sure North Mississippi Allstars have long allied with the families of Hill Country icons like R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. PRAYER FOR PEACE continues the tradition, with contributions from Graeme Lesh (Midnight North, The Terrapin Family Band) and singer/fife player Shardé Thomas, daughter of Mississippi blues giant Otha Turner. A number of other friends also join the congregation, among them legendary bassist Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers Band, Dead & Company), vocalist Sharisse Norman, and bassist Dominic Davis (Jack White).
As ever, PRAYER FOR PEACE sees the Allstars putting their indelible stamp on classic blues numbers and folk traditionals, including Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “61 Highway” and “You Got To Move,” the latter featuring smoking hot accompaniment from Hill Country guitar hero Kenny Brown and award-winning singer/bassist Danielle Nicole.
“I think it’s our responsibility to the community that brought us up to protect the repertoire,” Luther says. “To keep the repertoire alive and vibrant. That’s what folk music is about. It’s an oral history of America. My dad and his friends, they learned from Furry Lewis and Gus Cannon and Will Shade and then taught those songs to us. It’s important for us to write songs and experiment and do other things, but playing our community’s music in a modern way is what Cody and I do best. I think it’s what we were meant to do.”
True as always to the blues tradition, North Mississippi Allstars use the basic structures taught to them as the starting point for improvisation and contemporary interpretation, an approach that inextricably links them to a long line of American visionary artists like the Grateful Dead. PRAYER FOR PEACE includes a trio of traditional songs long associated with The Dead including “Stealin,” “Bid You Goodnight” and “Deep Ellum” – the latter featuring a rare lead vocal from Cody.
“”There’s so many common tunes in The Dead’s repertoire that we learned from our dad,” Luther says. “‘Bid You Goodnight’ and ‘Stealin’,’ we’ve been playing them our whole life. Original music aside, Dad’s band – Mud Boy & The Neutrons – were kind of doing the same thing as The Dead, playing improvisational versions of roots music. They had an electric psychedelic side and they had a jug band side. So my whole life, acoustic guitar or electric guitar, they’re both sides of the same coin.”
Where PRAYER FOR PEACE truly builds upon the repertoire is with a number of Luther-penned originals. “Prayer For Peace” is among North Mississippi Allstars’ most immediate new songs, a beat-crazy appeal for unity that like the band itself, stands as a righteous celebration of multiculturalism, inclusion, and compassion. Topical though it may be, both Dickinsons assert the album’s goal transcends simple politics.
“It’s not a protest record,” Cody says. “Its message is to bring people together. My dad used to say North Mississippi Allstars make a statement just by walking on stage.”
“We’re not a political band,” Luther says. “I’m not good at that type of thing. One thing R.L. Burnside taught us was that you can play the saddest song in the world, but if you do it with a smile on your face, you can make a whole roomful of people dance. That’s what this record is about. Making people dance. Making them want to rub up against each other.”
That seemingly modest but oh-so-necessary objective will keep the Dickinsons on the road they love for the foreseeable future, ideally recording another LP while continuing to shake audiences young and old with genuine, unadulterated blues power. PRAYER FOR PEACE affirms North Mississippi Allstars’ own unique place in the American musical tradition, simultaneously master curators, expert revivalists, and forward-thinking pioneers. Long may they run.
“Now it’s time to hit the road,” Luther Dickinson says. “Get to work and spread the word. We recorded this one in the spirit of our twentieth anniversary. Now we’re looking towards our twenty-fifth. Twenty years is alright but twenty five is monumental.”
“This is a new beginning for North Mississippi Allstars,” says Cody Dickinson. “This revitalizing cascade of creativity and explosion of music, it’s just been incredible. And I feel like we’re just getting started. There’s a long beautiful road ahead of us. We’re only just now hitting our stride.”
Lee Ann Womack
Lee Ann Womack
Lee Ann Womack
Artists don’t really make albums like Lee Ann Womack’s THE LONELY, THE LONESOME AND THE GONE anymore. Albums that seem to exist separate and apart from any external pressures. Albums that possess both a profound sense of history and a clear-eyed vision for the future. Albums that transcend genres while embracing their roots. Albums that evoke a sense of place and of personality so vivid they make listeners feel more like participants in the songs than simply admirers of them.
Anybody who has paid attention to Womack for the past decade or so could see she was headed in this direction. THE LONELY, THE LONESOME AND THE GONE (ATO Records) — a breathtaking hybrid of country, soul, gospel and blues — comes from Womack’s core. “I could never shake my center of who I was,” says the East Texas native. “I’m drawn to rootsy music. It’s what moves me.”
Recorded at Houston’s historic SugarHill Recording Studios and produced by Womack’s husband and fellow Texan, Frank Liddell (fresh off a 2017 ACM Album of the Year win for Miranda Lambert’s ‘The Weight of These Wings’), THE LONELY, THE LONESOME AND THE GONE marks the culmination of a journey that began with Womack’s 2005 CMA Album of the Year ‘There’s More Where That Come From,’ moving her toward an authentic American music that celebrates her roots and adds to the canon. It also underscores the emergence of Womack’s songwriting voice: She has more writing credits among this album’s 14 tracks than on all her previous albums combined.
Womack had made the majority of her previous albums in Nashville, where the studio system is so entrenched it’s almost impossible to avoid. Seeking to free herself of that mindset, Womack says, “I wanted to get out of Nashville and tap into what deep East Texas offers musically and vibe-wise.”
So Womack and Liddell took a band to SugarHill, one of the country’s oldest continually operating studio spaces. In an earlier incarnation, the studio had given birth to George Jones’ earliest hits, as well as Roy Head’s mid-‘60s smash “Treat Her Right”; Freddy Fender’s ‘70s chart-topping crossovers “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” and “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights”; and recordings from Lightnin’ Hopkins, the Sir Douglas Quintet, the 13th Floor Elevators and Willie Nelson.
Womack found the lure of East Texas irresistible. "I love local things, and I missed local music,” she says. “I grew up in Jacksonville. It was small, so I spent a lot of time dreaming, and about getting out.” It required only a short leap of logic to view Houston, and specifically SugarHill, as the place to record.
Womack and Liddell found a perfect complement of musicians, players who clicked right away and became a one-headed band. Bassist Glenn Worf (Alan Jackson, Bob Seger, Tammy Wynette, Mark Knopfler and others), drummer Jerry Roe (numerous Nashville sessions and his band Friendship Commanders), guitarists Ethan Ballinger, Adam Wright (Alan Jackson, Solomon Burke and others), and Waylon Payne (son of singer Sammi Smith and Willie Nelson's longtime guitarist Jody Payne) formed the SugarHill gang. Engineer and co-producer Michael McCarthy, known for his production work with Spoon, brought vintage gear from his Austin studio and help capture a sharper sound for sessions recorded entirely to analog tape.
“I got everybody out of their comfort zone and into a new element,” says Womack. “And it was funky there. This place was not in the least bit slick. Everybody there, all they think about is making music for the love of making music. Everyone comes in with huge smiles and positive attitudes. It was much different than what we were used to."
Womack had brought a handful of songs to record, including the gospel-inspired original “All the Trouble”; the poignant “Mama Lost Her Smile,” in which a daughter sorts through her family’s photographic history looking for clues to a long-secret sorrow; and the love-triangle conversation “Talking Behind Your Back,” which she penned with Dale Dodson and Dean Dillon, the writer of several George Strait classics. To make the final cut, Womack and the band had to be able to get to the heart of the songs and shine their light from the inside out.
A trio of long-time favorites found their way onto the album, too. Womack joined a long list of legendary voices irresistibly drawn to Harlan Howard’s “He Called Me Baby,” putting a sultry Southern groove underneath its mix of sensuality and sorrow. On “Long Black Veil,” a tale of betrayal and closely held secrets that became a ‘50s classic as recorded by Lefty Frizzell, she taps into a ballad tradition that runs centuries deep. Womack recorded the album’s final track, a haunting version of George Jones’ “Please Take the Devil Out of Me,” standing on the same gold-star linoleum floor where Jones cut the 1959 original.
Capturing the reality of East Texas music isn't always easy. Being in Houston and at SugarHill helped make that happen, inspiring an approach to the recording process that everyone embraced from the first note played. "Music down there — including Houston, Beaumont, Port Arthur and all the way through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama — is this huge melting pot,” Womack says. “I love that, and I wanted that in this record. I wanted to make sure it had a lot of soul in it, because real country music has soul, and I wanted to remind people of that."
“When you make albums, and aren’t just going for singles, you really have to treat them with respect,” Liddell adds. “We did that at SugarHill, taking a bunch of like-minded lunatics and seeing what happened."
In Houston — with all its history, its eccentricity, its diversity and its lack of pretense — those like-minded lunatics found a place where they could flourish.
“We all felt we weren’t going someplace just to make a record,” Womack says. “We were going someplace to make a great record.” Don’t just take her word for it, though. Listen. And when Womack and the music take you there, you’ll find you want to stay.
Singer-songwriter Shawn Mullins readily admits that several of the songs on his new album, My Stupid Heart, address his perceived relationship failures. In fact, many were written as he was falling out of his third marriage; in the title tune, he actually chides himself for being such a romantic. But it’s also a bit of a joke, he says, because he firmly believes in following his heart — no matter where it leads.
That oh-so-fallible, yet essential part of our being is, it turns out, the guiding force behind just about every song on the album — the theme of which, he says, is summed up most succinctly by another song title: “It All Comes Down to Love.”
In that respect, Mullins says, it’s not all that different from most of his discography — which includes 1998’s Soul’s Core, the album that shot him to fame on the strength of its Grammy-nominated No. 1 hit, “Lullaby,” and 2006’s 9th Ward Pickin’ Parlor, which contained his AAA/Americana No. 1, “Beautiful Wreck.” (He also co-wrote the Zac Brown Band’s No. 1 country tune, “Toes.”) But in the years since his last release, 2010’s Light You Up, Mullins has experienced more ups and downs on his romantic roller-coaster — a ride he’s decided to step off for a while. He’s also stayed busy co-parenting his son, Murphy, with his second wife.
Still, nothing inspires songwriters quite like a breakup, and Mullins confirms, “This record came out of all that; all the feelings, all the heartache.”
He remembers sitting on his porch one afternoon, thinking, “‘I know this is all in my head, but it’d be a lot easier just to blame it on my heart.’ And then I thought, ‘Yeah, it’s my stupid heart.’” Next thing he knew, lines like “my stupid heart it plays for keeps/through hoops of fire it bounds and leaps” just started tumbling out. In the studio, the song took on a classic vibe, with impeccable instrumentation and production that sounds as if George Martin supervised.
In other words, it’s gorgeous. And it carries a momentum that shifts it away from feeling like a woe-is-me wallow in self-pity. Throughout the album, Mullins deftly balances songs of suffering — from the title tune and “Go and Fall,” to the powerful, yet subtle social commentary of “Ferguson” (which contains no mention of guns or police officers) — with songs such as “Roll on By,” co-written with Max Gomez, which strikes an upbeat note of hope.
There’s humor, too. Sure, much of it is wrapped in sardonic cynicism; “It all Comes Down to Love” targets TV preachers, politicians, the NRA, Wall Street and street dealers, and “Pre-Apocalyptic Blues” hilariously lampoons the doom-mongers arming themselves against Armageddon. But the Levon Helm-influenced “Never Gonna Let Her Go” reveals the thrills of riding that afore-mentioned roller-coaster, and even the sigh of resignation that is “The Great Unknown” contains lines so striking, you can’t help but smile at their brilliance and depth. (Example: “They got a mirror back behind the whiskey shelves/Where we don’t dare look back at ourselves.”)
That song is one of several Mullins penned with his main songwriting collaborator, Chuck Cannon, who happens to be married to the album’s producer, Lari White. They not only introduced him to the song’s third author, Christina Aldendifer, but many of the album’s players as well. (More about them later.) Cannon also co-wrote the title track, “Ferguson” and the deceptively shimmering “Go and Fall.” Gomez is co-credited on the dramatic “Gambler’s Heart”; Patrick Blanchard shares authorship of another character-based song, “Sunshine.”
Whether composing alone or with others — including Matthew Sweet and Pete Droge, his bandmates in the early-2000s trio the Thorns — Atlanta native Mullins has always been a dynamic songsmith. Forging influences from folk and R&B to traditional country and even Broadway musicals (the funky ones, like Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell) with pop-leaning melodic sensibilities, he crafts memorable, affecting tunes best defined as Americana.
Mullins’ maternal grandfather was a big-band bass player who also played Dixieland jazz and polka; his paternal grandfather, a railroad man, loved listening to Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams. When Mullins was in the womb, his mom serenaded him with “House of the Rising Sun” and “Ode to Billie Joe,” accompanying herself on ukulele. (To this day, he has a thing for Bobbie Gentry.) His dad’s record and reel-to-reel collection ranged from Kris Kristofferson and Leonard Cohen to Little Richard, Ray Charles and Isaac Hayes, plus plenty of rock ‘n’ roll. It all made an impact.
With a supple baritone that still allows him to channel Prince, as well as wail the blues and growl with grit — not to mention rock those talkin’ rhythms — Mullins has been engaging audiences since he won his first high-school talent contest with his own composition. That $100 check lodged a little lightbulb in his brain. It clicked on when he heard a career-class talk by Amy Ray, then an Emory University freshman but already performing with Emily Saliers (just before they became Indigo Girls).
“She played a few songs and talked about being a performing songwriter,” he recalls. “It helped me focus, because she was so engaging and intense and punk, yet able to perform just with a guitar and her voice. I wanted to be just like her.”
Mullins majored in music education at North Georgia College, where he began performing in earnest and released his first album (cassette, actually) of originals. After graduating, he served in the U.S. Army Reserves at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he jumped out of a few airplanes before jumping full-time into music in 1992. Eventually, he formed his own label, and in 1998, he released Soul’s Core. Steve Craig, a DJ at Atlanta’s modern-rockish WNNX-FM, picked up on “Lullaby,” spinning it on his “Locals Only” music show. He took it to program director Leslie Fram, who not only put it heavy rotation, but sent copies to a few dozen fellow PDs. Soon, Mullins was getting regular airplay on at least 15 stations. He went from modestly hoping sales might reach 20,000 units, far beyond his four-digit average, to moving 30,000 copies per week, on his way to platinum status.
Labels that had ignored his earlier efforts to get their attention suddenly clamored to sign him; at least 25 came knocking. Columbia won the bidding war; Mullins spent six years there before moving to Vanguard, which recently joined forces with Rounder/Sugar Hill under the Concord Music Group umbrella.
When Chuck Cannon heard “Lullaby” on a Nashville station, he actually did a U-turn and beelined toward a record store. Cannon, who co-wrote John Michael Montgomery’s Academy of Country Music Song of the Year, “I Love the Way You Love Me,” and several hits for Toby Keith, among other country stars, loved Mullins’ work. But when Mullins heard Cannon was slated to open for him at a Nashville club, he thought the pairing was a total mismatch. Until Cannon played.
“Chuck’s got a lot more edge than a lot of other Nashville songwriters, and a lot more rock ‘n’ roll and R&B,” Mullins says. “There’s a lot more sex in his writing, there’s a lot more devil and God, and he just brings some real basic elements of the human existence more into the forefront. A lot of people don’t have the guts to do it, and I love that about him.”
Cannon wrote “It all Comes Down to Love,” the album’s only cover. It was his attempt to write in Mullins’ style —16 years ago, after he’d heard “Lullaby.” He’d also engineered that opening slot so he could meet Mullins — who didn’t know any of the song’s back-story till he asked about using it for the album. Once he heard it, he was even more determined to include it.
“I usually do one song per record I didn’t write; just a song I like a lot that someone else wrote,” Mullins says. “It motivates me to write more, because it’s something that I wish I’d written.” (That’s Mullins’ kid — and his beagle —on the intro.)
Cannon had even demoed it with many of the same players who perform it on the album. (They include bassist Michael Rhodes, drummer Gerry Hansen, electric guitarists Jerry McPherson and Tom Bukovac, pianist/accordionist Radoslav Lorkovic, pianist Matt Rollings, steel guitarist Dan Dugmore, bouzouki/mandolin player Guthrie Trapp, cellist Austin Hoke, and backing vocalists Tom Ryan, Max Gomez and Cannon, who also plays bouzouki and guitar. Ryan, who co-wrote “Pre-Apocalyptic Blues” while performing with Mullins at the 30A Songwriters Festival, also plays sax on the rousing New Orleans/Dixieland rave-up, next to trombonist Roy Agee.)
In addition to his collaborations for this album, Mullins spent some of his time since Light You Up writing with other Nashville hitmakers; he also contributed to the striking 2012 album, Mercyland: Songs for the Rest of Us. But he admits he’s eager to hit the road again.
“I’m in a new place in my life, a place of freedom, artistically — and a real grounded place of bein’ a dad,” he says. “I’m really excited about the possibilities.”
Though he may be wearing a little more emotional armor this time, he’s also armed with new insights, so many of which are relayed in these songs. And when he steps onstage each night, he sings them with all the passion he’s got in his anything-but-stupid heart.
Charles Kelley (of Lady Antebellum)
Charles Kelley (of Lady Antebellum)
Charles Kelley (of Lady Antebellum)
Stepping outside of one of the world’s most popular groups, Charles Kelley explores new territory with a raw sound that pushes his vocals into a lower, grittier key than what listeners have been hearing from him in a group setting. “The Driver” serves as the lead single from his upcoming first-ever solo release and was born in a ratty studio in the back of producer Paul Worley’s office. His unmatched perspective of hours spent on the road pursuing a life-long dream is present through his impeccable voice. In addition to his success as part of seven-time GRAMMY award-winning trio Lady Antebellum, Kelley has also penned No. one hits recorded by Luke Bryan and Darius Rucker.
APPALACHIAN: of a wild and beautiful mountain land, a genre of distinctly American music, and for many, the deep roots of family. For Kathy Mattea, it also represents an essential piece of her musical education and heritage.
Calling Me Home is Kathy's new release on Sugar Hill Records, co-produced with multi-Grammy-winner Gary Paczosa. It's a collection of songs that celebrates the Appalachian culture of her native West Virginia, and expands the vocabulary of acoustic roots music that has always served as her artistic center.
Kathy has gathered songs and stories of bravery, pride and grief that further define and describe the life and times of her home place. 2008's Grammy nominated COAL was her first step to discovering this vast and rich genre of music that producer Marty Stuart allowed was "in her blood," taking her back to the lore of family stories and to her place and her people.
Kathy's concerts present her new and most recent material alongside her Top 20 radio hits: from the signature ballad "Where've You Been?" to the bluesy "455 Rocket" to the iconic "Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses." Long known as an impeccable songcatcher, her 17 albums are woven through with bluegrass, gospel, and Celtic influences, and have garnered multiple CMA, ACM, and Grammy Awards
Increasingly in demand as a public speaker, Kathy regularly presents keynotes and educational programs at colleges and civic venues across the country, both as a stand-alone and in conjunction with concert appearances. Her long history of activism has led Kathy to bring public attention to several current environmental issues, including climate change and some mining practices in her native Appalachia.
Aaron Lee Tasjan
Aaron Lee Tasjan
Aaron Lee Tasjan
East Nashville-based musician Aaron Lee Tasjan has always considered himself a songwriter first and foremost, writing his own off-kilter folk-inflected songs since he picked up his first acoustic as a teen guitar prodigy. “A lot of the stuff I did previously was never the main focal point,” Tasjan explains. “It’s all just been pieces along the way.” His soon to be released Silver Tears (New West Records – Oct. 2016) will offer a glimpse through the eyes of one gifted songwriter and versatile musician. Whether playing guitar in the late incarnation of riotous glam-rock innovators the New York Dolls, the gender-bending, envelope-pushing sleaze n’ tease arena rock band Semi Precious Weapons, the Neil Young-signed alt-country act Everest, British roots rock band Alberta Cross, Southern rock stalwarts Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ or even as frontman of the devilishly cleverly-named Heartbreakers meets Replacements rockers Madison Square Gardeners, offer a glimpse through the eyes of one gifted songwriter and versatile musician.
While those stints may have never been his main destination, each one has been a stepping stone that has uniquely informed his songwriting and made him a compelling, singular artist. Tasjan’s songs, as first heard on his debut solo EP, 2014’s Crooked River Burning, are indebted to great American storytellers like John Prine, Tom Petty, Guy Clark, Steve Goodman, Arlo Guthrie and Todd Snider. They are imbued with wry wit, a sharp tongue and a lot of heart.
Last year’s self-released LP, In The Blazes, received accolades from American Songwriter, Rolling Stone, Nashville Scene and NPR and suggested Tasjan was an artist to keep an eye on. While that album hinted at Tasjan’s enormous potential, it’s his sophomore effort, his New West Records debut, Silver Tears, that best realizes his artistic ambitions and solidifies him as one of the most intriguing singer/songwriters to emerge in sometime. An inspired and confident set of songs, the 12-track album, which features a cover with Tasjan decked out in a reflective suit and Stetson, careens from woozy pot paeans to brooding, cinematic observations to laid back ‘70s country-rock and galloping anthems to introspective folk and rollicking honky-tonk. “I might have made something that will surprise people,” Tasjan admits. “I didn’t completely abandon the recipe, but I really stretched myself and pushed beyond what people might expect from me. Being true as a musician, I’m not just one thing – and a variety of styles is a way to accomplish that. “
As in the song “On Your Side,” which sees Tasjan warble, “I sing jokes/And call 'em songs/Nobody knows where they belong/I've come up short/For far too long/And what felt right/Now feels so wrong,” Tasjan often turns the mirror on himself, never afraid to cast himself in a negative light. “One of the reasons I’ve been able to connect with people is by being honest and saying this is a really realistic picture of who I am,” he says. “It’s not always the good but it’s me.”
"In the past, I've told stories that were mostly inspired by my own life," the former prizefighter and literal son of a preacher man offers. "This time, I've written 10 songs that express more universal truths, and I've done it with a purpose: to make people feel good."
Which explains numbers like the acoustic-electric charmer Don't Let Nobody Rob You Of Your Joy, where Thorn's warm peaches-and-molasses singing dispenses advice on avoiding the pitfalls of life. The title track borrows its tag from a familiar saying among the members of the African-American Baptist churches Thorn frequented in his childhood. "I'd ask, 'How you doin', sister?' And what I'd often hear back was, 'I'm too blessed to be stressed.'" In the hands of Thorn and his faithful band, who've been together 20 years, the tune applies its own funky balm, interlacing a percolating drum and keyboard rhythm with the slinky guitar lines beneath his playful banter.
Thorn's trademark humor is abundant throughout the album. I Backslide On Friday is a warm-spirited poke at personal foibles. "I promised myself not to write about me, but I did on 'Backslide,' " Thorn relates. The chipper pop tune is a confession about procrastination, sweetened by Bill Hinds' slide guitar and Thorn's gently arching melody. "But," Thorn protests, "I know I'm not the only one who says he's gonna diet and just eat Blue Bell vanilla ice cream on Sundays, and then ends up eating it every day!"
Mediocrity Is King takes a wider swipe, aiming at our culture's hyper-drive addiction to celebrity artifice and rampant consumerism. But likeEverything Is Gonna Be All Right, a rocking celebration of the simple joys of life, it's done with Thorn's unflagging belief in the inherent goodness of the human heart.
"I don't think I could have written anthemic songs like this if I hadn't made my last album," Thorn says of 2012's What the Hell is Goin' On?. Like 2010's autobiographical Pimps & Preachers, it was among its year's most played CDs on Americana radio and contributed to Thorn's rapidly growing fan base. And Thorn followed that airplay success with his current AAA-radio hit version of Doctor My Eyes from April 2014's Looking Into You: A Tribute To Jackson Browne. The latter also features Grammy winners Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, Lyle Lovett, the Indigo Girls, Lucinda Williams, Keb' Mo', Ben Harper and Don Henley.
What the Hell is Goin' On? was also Thorn's first set of songs written by other artists, borrowed from the catalogs of Allen Toussaint, Buddy and Julie Miller, and Rick Danko, among others.
"I lived with those songs and studied them before I recorded that album, and that changed me and made me grow as a songwriter," Thorn relates. "Lindsey Buckingham's Don't Let Me Down Again especially got me thinking. It was a rock anthem with a sing-along hook, and I fell in love with it and the idea of big vocal hooks. So every song on Too Blessed To Be Stressedhas a big vocal hook in it. And it works! We've been playing these songs in concert, and by the time the chorus comes along for the second time people are singing along. I've never seen that happen with my unreleased songs before, and I love it."
It helps that those big vocal hooks on Too Blessed To Be Stressed are being reinforced by the sound of Thorn's flexible and dynamic band, as they have been doing for years in concert. During their two decades in the club, theater and festival trenches, the four-piece and their frontman have garnered a reputation for shows that ricochet from humor to poignancy to knock-out rock 'n' roll. Guitarist Bill Hinds is the perfect, edgy foil for Thorn's warm, laconic salt o' the earth delivery – a veritable living library of glowing tones, sultry slide and sonic invention. Keyboardist Michael "Dr. Love" Graham displays a gift for melody that reinforces Thorn's hooks while creating his own impact, and helps expand the group's rhythmic force. Meanwhile drummer Jeffrey Perkins and bassist Ralph Friedrichsen are a force, propelling every tune with just the right amount of up-tempo power or deep-in-the-groove restraint.
"These guys really bring my songs to life," says Thorn. "A lot of albums sound like they're made by a singer with bored studio musicians. My albums sound they're played by a real blood-and-guts band because that's what we are. And when we get up on stage, people hear and see that."
Thorn's earlier catalog is cherished by his many fans thanks to his down-home perspective, vivid-yet-plainspoken language and colorful characters. It helps that Thorn is a colorful and distinctly Southern personality himself. He was raised in Tupelo, Mississippi, in the land of cotton and catfish. And churches.
"My father was a preacher, so I went with him to churches that white people attended and churches that black people attended," Thorn says. "The white people sang gospel like it was country music, and the black people sang it like it was rhythm and blues. But both black and white people attended my father's church, and that's how I learned to sing mixing those styles."
His performances were generally limited to the pews until sixth grade. "I'm dyslexic and got held back in sixth grade," Thorn relates. "I didn't have to face the embarrassment, because my family moved and I ended up in a new school. There was a talent show, and I sang Three Times a Lady by Lionel Ritchie with my acoustic guitar, and suddenly I went from being a social outcast to the most desired boy on the playground. The feeling I got from that adulation stuck with me and propelled me to where I am today."
At age 17 Thorn met songwriter Billy Maddox, who became his friend and mentor. It would take several detours – working in a furniture factory, boxing, jumping out of airplanes – until Thorn committed to the singer-songwriter's life. But through it all he and Maddox remained friends, and Maddox became Thorn's songwriting partner and co-producer.
Nonetheless, Thorn possessed the ability to charm audiences right from the start. Not only with his music, but also with the stories he tells from the stage. "Showmanship is a dying art that I learned from watching Dean Martin on TV when I was a kid," Thorn explains. "He could tell little jokes and then deliver a serious song, then make you laugh again. And he would look into the camera like he was looking right at you through the TV. That's what I want to do – make people feel like I'm talking directly to them."
That's really Thorn's mission for Too Blessed To Be Stressed, which can be heard as a running conversation about life between Thorn and listeners – a conversation leavened with gentles insights, small inspirations, and plenty of cheer. "I wrote these songs hoping they might put people in a positive mindset and encourage them to count their own blessings, like I count mine," Thorn observes. "There's no higher goal I could set for myself than to help other people find some happiness and gratitude in their lives."
JAMES McMURTRY RELEASES COMPLICATED GAME,
HIS FIRST STUDIO ALBUM IN SIX YEARS
Celebrated tunesmith's highly anticipated record an elegant
collection “mostly about relationships” and “the big old world”
AUSTIN, Texas: James McMurtry spins stories with a poet’s pen (“Long Island Sound”) and a painter’s precision (“She Loves Me”). Proof: The acclaimed songwriter’s newComplicated Game. McMurtry’s first collection in six years spotlights a craftsman in absolutely peak form as he turns from political toward personal (“These Things I’ve Come to Know,” “You Got to Me”). “The lyrical theme is mostly about relationships,” McMurtry says. “It’s also a little about the big old world verses the poor little farmer or fisherman. I never make a conscious decision about what to write about.”
Complicated Game delivers McMurtry’s trademark story songs time and again (“Copper Canteen,” “Deaver’s Crossing”), but the record brings a new (and certainly no less energetic) sonic approach. First, recall blistering beats and gnashing guitars from his magnum opus Just Us Kids (2008). Now, unplug. “The label head wanted more acoustic,” McMurtry explains. “We built everything as we went so we ended up with more acoustic guitar as we went. We just played whatever sounded right for a given song, but we weren’t necessarily saying this is an acoustic record.”
Exhibit A: “How’m I Gonna Find You Now.” The record’s lead single boasts buoyant banjos and driving drums as endlessly energetic as anything electrified. Whiplash vocals further frenzy the beat. “I've got a cup of black coffee so I don't get lazy/I've got a rattle in the dashboard driving me crazy,” McMurtry effectively raps. “If I hit it with my fist, it’ll quit for a little while/Gonna have to stop to smoke in another mile/Headed into town gonna meet you at the mercantile/Take you to the Sonic get you grinning like a crocodile.”
Such vibrant vignettes consistently turn heads. They have for a quarter century now. Clearly, he’s only improving with time. “James McMurtry is one of my very few favorite songwriters on Earth and these days he's working at the top of his game,” says Americana all-star Jason Isbell. “He has that rare gift of being able to make a listener laugh out loud at one line and choke up at the next. I don’t think anybody writes better lyrics.” “James writes like he's lived a lifetime,” echoes iconic roots rocker John Mellencamp. Yes. Spin “South Dakota.” You’ll hear.
Further evidence: McMurtry’s Just Us Kids (2008) and Childish Things (2005). The former earned his highest Billboard 200 chart position in nearly two decades and notched Americana Music Award nominations. Meanwhile, Childish Things scored endless critical praise and spent six full weeks topping the Americana Music Radio chart in 2005 and 2006. In 2006, Childish Things won the Americana Music Association’s Album of the Year and “We Can’t Make It Here” was named the rapidly rising organization's Song of the Year.
Of course, Complicated Game doubles down on literate storytelling longtime enthusiasts expect. Recall high watermarks past: “Childish Things,” “Choctaw Bingo,” “Peter Pan,” “Levelland,” and “Out Here in the Middle” only begin the list. (Yes, Robert Earl Keen covered those last two, “Levelland” remaining a live staple.) Just Us Kidsalone includes fan favorites “Hurricane Party,” “Ruby and Carlos” and “You’d a Thought.” High watermarks deliver equal measures depth and breadth and pierce hearts with sharp sociopolitical commentary (“Fireline Road”).
More history: McMurtry critically lauded first album Too Long in the Wasteland (1989) was produced by John Mellencamp and marked the beginning of a series of acclaimed projects for Columbia and Sugar Hill Records. In 1996, McMurtry received a Grammy nomination for Long Form Music Video for Where'd You Hide the Body. Additionally, It Had to Happen (1997) received the American Indie Award for Best Americana Album.
In 2004, McMurtry released the universally lauded Live in Aught-Three on Compadre Records. The following year, Childish Things notched arguably his most critical praise, spending six weeks at No. 1 on the Americana Music Radio Chart in 2005 and 2006. In September 2006, Childish Things and “We Can’t Make It Here” won the Americana Music Awards for Album and Song of the Year, respectively. McMurtry received more Americana Music Award nominations for 2008’s Just Us Kids. This album marked his highest Billboard 200 chart position in more than nearly two decades.
In 2009, Live in Europe was released, capturing the McMurtry band’s first European tour and extraordinary live set. Along with seasoned band members Ronnie Johnson, Daren Hess, and Tim Holt, the disc features special guests Ian McLagan (The Faces) and Jon Dee Graham (True Believers, Skunks). Also, for the first time ever, video of the James McMurtry Band’s live performance is available on the included DVD.
The poignant lyrics of his immense catalog still ring true today. In 2011, “We Can’t Make It Here” was cited among The Nation’s “Best Protest Songs Ever.” “‘We Can’t Make It Here,’” Bob Lefsetz wrote, “has stood the test of time because of its unmitigated truth.”
McMurtry tours year round and consistently throws down unparalleled powerhouse performances. The Washington Post notes: “Much attention is paid to James McMurtry’s lyrics and rightfully so: He creates a novel’s worth of emotion and experience in four minutes of blisteringly stark couplets. What gets overlooked, however, is that he’s an accomplished rock guitar player ... serious stuff, imparted by a singularly serious band.”
The Secret Sisters
The Secret Sisters
The Secret Sisters
There are two ways of handling a dangerous, raging river: you can surrender and let it carry you away, or you can swim against the flow. For The Secret Sisters, there was a point after the release of their last record when they could have chosen to do neither – instead, sinking to the bottom as the weight of the world washed away their dreams. They went from touring with Bob Dylan to losing their label, purging their team, filing bankruptcy and almost permanently trading harmonies for housecleaning. But there’s a mythical pull to music that kept sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers moving forward, and they came out with a biting and beautiful third LP, produced by Brandi Carlile, You Don’t Own Me Anymore. Their first as New West signees, it’s a document of hardship and redemption, of pushing forward when it would be so much easier to drown in grief. And it’s a story about how passion and pure artistry can be the strongest sort of salvation – how art is left, like perfect grains of sand, when everything else has washed away.
“We are more proud of these songs than we have ever been,” says Laura. “Some of the songs are a little more cryptic, but some of them are very pointed and honest and direct. And we had to let those songs happen. We had to let ourselves be angry again, and bring up things we wanted to forget.”
It certainly would have been easier to just try and forget the past few years of The Secret Sisters’ life. After their second album, Put Your Needle Down, didn’t perform according to their label’s expectations – however unrealistic they were in this day and age – the duo was dropped, leaving them with barely enough money to stay on the road and keep making music. So they retreated home to Alabama, worn and weary from experiencing the devilish side of the industry first-hand, scraping together whatever they could while trying to embrace what seemed to be a future without music. But when Carlile – someone whom The Secret Sisters have admired for years and one of our truest talents – offered to produce their record, it made them think that a future was possible. Soon, a PledgeMusic campaign that completely exceeded their hopes and dreams made it fiscally so.
“It was a nightmare that every day seemed to worsen,” says Laura. “We went through things we literally never thought we would come out of. “Adds Lydia, “it had just gotten so bad, the only option was to file bankruptcy.”
Even once Carlile gave The Secret Sisters some renewed hope, things weren’t instantly easy: what they went through left huge, gaping wounds that needed to heal before they could pour themselves into songwriting. But when they did, everything changed. Laura and Lydia found themselves in a more creative and honest space than ever, with their experiences flowing and morphing into collective tales of triumph, rage and the indefatigable human spirit. The resulting songs of You Don’t Own Me Anymore are about life when everything you think defines you is stripped away: from “The Damage,” as gorgeous as it is haunting, that speaks directly to those that did them wrong, to the first single “Tennessee River Runs Low,” that imagines the willful flow of a powerful river. These are journeys as poetic as they are confessional, always anchored by the timeless, crystalline ring of Laura and Lydia’s voices in sweet unison.
“This record is deeply personal because of what we endured,” says Lydia. “But it’s important as a songwriter and artist to talk about the times things weren’t great. This is a hard business, and it’s not all roses and rainbows. What we came out with is more honest than ever, and we couldn’t help that a lot of it is about the darkness.”
In the beginning, before that darkness moved in, things were a little like rainbows and roses for the sisters, who rose quickly through the music universe. An open audition in Nashville in 2009 lead them to a major label deal and a debut record produced by T Bone Burnett and Dave Cobb, followed by a tour with Levon Helm and Ray LaMontagne, a feat for any artist, let alone two that had just gotten started. From there, they opened for the likes of Dylan, Willie Nelson and Paul Simon, appeared on numerous late night shows and released a second album with Burnett. But the tides turned quickly – things can change in an instant, both for the good, and the bad. And when the clouds started to lift, Carlile was there to help usher in the sunshine.
“Brandi, Phil, and Tim had never produced a record for anybody but themselves,” says Laura about their experience in the studio. “We are all artists, and we could include our opinions. I felt like everyone was an equal force in the room. It is often lost on producers that you actually have to go perform your song on a stage – it’s easy to get so caught up on the production that you don’t discuss how this all will translate – but Brandi innately understood that.” The end product finds the sisters taking their music to new places, with soulful, gospel grooves and stirring vocal deliveries that never seek perfection over power. From murder ballads to skewering roasts, it’s a guidebook for survival.
After all, sometimes you have to lose everything to get a renewed version in return. Like the Tennessee River they sing about, only after a drought does fresh, new water come rushing in. The same could be said for The Secret Sisters, who were scraped dry and put through hell, coming out with their finest record, You Don’t Own Me Anymore. “The only way we could have completely healed was to have written an entire record,” says Laura. “I think we were just in the wrong parts of the machine,” says her sister. “We feel like we have learned where not to be, and where to go.” And that’s to never let anyone or anything own them again.
“It’s nice to be alive,” Bob Schneider sings on Katie, the second song off of his new record “Blood and Bones”, his 6th since his 2001 solo debut Lonelyland. While this might sound like naivety or blind optimism, for Schneider, one of Austin’s most celebrated musicians, this observation was earned through experience. “Most of the songs are about this phase of my life,” he admits. “I’m re-married, I have a 2-year-old baby daughter who was born over two months premature because my wife had life threatening preeclampsia. So dealing with that traumatic event while getting older and looking at death in a realistic, matter of fact way, experiencing the most joy I’ve ever experienced along with feelings of utter despondency in a way that would have been impossible to experience earlier in my life all comes out in the songs. My relationship with my wife is the longest committed relationship I’ve ever been in, so there was a lot of unchartered territory there to write about.”
The songs on Blood and Bones reflect this. Recorded quickly with producer Dwight Baker, who has worked on Schneider’s last 6 releases, the album highlights the chemistry that Schneider and his backing band of Austin’s very best musicians have developed while relentlessly playing live, most notably at the monthly residency Schneider has held at Austin’s Saxon Pub for the last 17 years. “I didn't want to overthink the songs,” Schneider says. “I really respect Dwight’s ability to make great calls when it comes to what works and isn't working when we are recording the songs. I felt pretty good about the quality of the songwriting, so I figured that would come through in the end if we just went in and played them the way I do live.”
While the performance and production are stellar, the songwriting finds Schneider in a particularly reflective mode. Sure, there are live favorites like “Make Drugs Get Money” and “Texaco” that will get even the most reserved crowds dancing. But more often the album finds Schneider reflecting on marriage, parenthood and mortality. “I wish I could make you see how wonderful everything is most of the time, but I’m only blood and bones,” he sings on the title track, a meditation on the beauty and the limits of marriage. Later, on “Easy” he tells his daughter “it’s always been a scary thing to do, to let my heart fall down into the endless blue, but it’s easy with you.” Through it all, there is a clear sense of mortality, of just how fleeting all of this is. “The hours and days stack up in the mirror,” he sings on “Hours and Days”. “We’re just snowmen waiting for the summer” he signs on “Snowmen”, before adding “we can’t bring them back, can’t bring nothing back.”
One thing Schneider has excelled at in his career is bringing audiences back. Though he has received little national press or major label support, he has managed to become one of the biggest acts in Austin, if not Texas. His fans, who often discovered him after being brought to his shows by their friends, are fiercely loyal. Many have attended dozens or even hundreds of shows. Thanks to these fans, Schneider has won more Austin Music Awards than any other musician, including Best Songwriter, Best Musician, and Best Male Vocals.
In retrospect, it appears inevitable that Bob Schneider would become an artist. He was born in Michigan and raised in Germany, where his father pursued a career as a professional opera singer. As a boy, Schneider studied piano and guitar, often performing at family parties and backing his father on drums at nightclubs throughout his youth in Germany and Texas. He went on to study art- his other primary passion and avocation- at the University of Texas El Paso, before moving to Austin and establishing himself as a musician. He performs relentlessly, writes songs compulsively, writes poetry and regularly shows his visual art in galleries around Austin. With Blood and Bones, Schneider further cements his reputation as one of the most versatile, inventive and engaging songwriters working today.
August 26, 2016
Listening to Liz Longley is like diving into a vivid dream, moody and somehow both familiar and strange. At first, the dream belongs exclusively to Longley. But as she sings what she’s trying to know––her lovers, her place, herself––her fierce candor shatters any walls that may have separated us, and the dream we’re swimming in becomes more than just Longley’s. It becomes ours.
“I’ve found that people respond most to the songs I’ve been most open and honest in,” Longley says. “When I write, I want to put my own story in it and make sure others hear their own in it, too.”
That winning transformation of the personal into the universal plays brilliantly on Weightless, the highly anticipated follow-up to Longley’s eponymous 2015 Sugar Hill Records debut, which garnered praise from American Songwriter, Huffington Post, CMT Edge, and more.
Weightless luxuriates in bold, thick pop with rock-and-roll edges. Crunchy, percussive guitars cushion the defiant songbird melodies Longley uses to deliver her bittersweet punches that explore the complexities and even dysfunction of relationships rather than the fairytale. “I grew up listening to music of the 90s, and this record feels more like the Sheryl Crow and Alanis Morissette in me,” Longley says. “All those powerful chick singer-songwriters I grew up loving.”
The Pennsylvania native attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music and gained her first national traction in television, which recognized her ability to frame a scene early. Longley’s “This is Not the End” was featured in the 2012 season finale of Lifetime’s Army Wives, while “Rescue My Heart”––re-recorded for Weightless ––made its way onto ABC’s Switched at Birth and MTV’s Scream: The TV Series. A growing audience noticed and began following Longley’s career, craving more.
Weightless delivers the more everyone has been waiting for. Longley recorded the 10-song collection in Nashville with Bill Reynolds, the bassist and producer of Band of Horses as well as acclaimed projects from the Avett Brothers, Lissie, and others. Reynolds and Longley took their time in the studio, stretching the process out over three months. “It was such an amazing feeling to work with someone who was so invested in the record,” Longley says of Reynolds’ production. “Bill encouraged the exploration of different sounds and approaches until each song found its way. We never settled. Making this record was a creative process. It wasn’t made overnight.”
While the new album’s triumphant embrace of lush pop-rock marks a musical evolution for Longley, the starkly personal lyrics and clear vignettes that have defined her songwriting to date remain. “The songs I am drawn to singing every night are the ones that carry the most truth, the ones that I relate to no matter where I am in my life,” she explains. “This record is made up of those kinds of songs.”
“What’s the Matter” saunters into dicey relationship questions with confidence, crackling with electric guitar and vocals that are somehow angelic and menacing at the same time. “It’s just a matter of time till what’s the matter with me is what’s the matter with you,” Longley cries, pointing to the challenges of perspective and timing that arise even––or maybe especially––when partners are in sync. “I’m usually inspired by the darker moments,” she says with a laugh. “It’s something I can’t seem to get away from.”
Longley is exceptionally good at describing feelings and situations in new ways that only enhance our understanding. Songs “Weightless” and “Swing” capture two distinct yearnings for freedom. Longley wrote “Weightless” in her head while driving around in LA, longing to cut ties with a love that had soured. “I’d just gotten out of a relationship, and we’d been arguing about who was going to get what when we parted ways,” she says. “I just wanted to feel free and light again. And as soon as I wrote that song, I did. It helped me realize that there are so many important things in life, but none of them are the couch or the diamond ring.” One of three tracks written with Ian Keaggy, album opener “Swing” delights in refusing to settle down. The chorus soars like the pendulum it praises, with layered instrumentation that helps create an ambrosial ode to moving and self-reliance.
“Never Really Mine” lets Longley’s supple voice do the heavy lifting. She relies on sparse keys and guitar as punctuation as she hauntingly conveys the abject heartbreak of realizing you never had what you just lost in the first place. Longley finished the forlorn “You Haunt Me” alone in a dodgy hotel room with a paranormal vibe. “The song is about what was an unresolved situation in my life,” she says. “Someone from my past just kept appearing in my dreams. It was almost like my mind was saying, ‘You need to figure this out.’” She pauses then adds, “It’s resolved… now all that’s left is a song about it.”
Rolling “Say Anything” delights in following a chosen path, no matter what detractors say, while “Electricity” explores love’s invigorating and maddening buzz. Delivered over plaintive piano, “Rescue My Heart” pleads for a savior. “This song leaves the listener to decide a lot of things,” Longley says of the intentionally ambiguous snapshot of a desperate soul reaching up for either human or divine help.
Written from the point of view of someone “crossing over to the other side,” “Only Love” imagines the different choices we’d make if we could give life another go, acknowledging brokenness alongside newness and hope. Album closer “Oxygen”––written with Sarah Siskind––celebrates the resuscitative quality of a budding relationship over heartbeat percussion. “When you meet someone new and you feel like you’re taking in a breath of fresh air, like you’re brand new again ––I just felt brand new again,” Longley says. “The song came out of Sarah and I talking about new love and how it can almost bring you back to life.”
By vulnerably digging into her own stories, Longley keeps giving the rest of us the words and melodies to share what we feel but struggle to express. “In the process of writing these songs, I felt empowered and re-focused on what is important in life,” she says. “Songwriting is the cheapest form of therapy. It helps make sense of situations and emotions that aren’t yet understood. Then the hope is that it helps someone else, cause everything feels better when you can sing about it.”
Dead Rock West
Dead Rock West
Dead Rock West
Dead Rock West
“These are difficult days and we need more and more love,” says Frank Lee Drennen, songwriter, guitarist, and singer with Cindy Wasserman in the band Dead Rock West.
More Love, the pair's fourth album and first for Omnivore Recordings, was made under the California sun with producer John Doe and a studio full of special guests, yet Frank and Cindy's wraparound vocals remain the focal point over the course of its12 heartstrong songs.
“Frank played me the song 'More Love,' and I was so blown away, I thought, that's it!” says Cindy. “It became the inspiration for the harmonies and the song ideas for the entire record.”
The album was recorded, mixed, and mastered in LA by Grammy-winner Dave Way, with David J. Carpenter on bass, D.J. Bonebrake on drums, multi-instrumentalist Geoff Pearlman, keyboardist Phil Parlapiano, special guests Elliot Easton and Greg Leisz on guitars, and Mike Bolger on horns.
“This was a group effort; band, singers, engineer, producer all equal, all working toward a common, honest goal,” says Doe. “All of us in a room making real music, from the heart, from intuition, from aching and wanting, from beauty and the desert.”
From the opening love-affirming title song and throughout its passionate performances (including a surprising country-soul finale, Sam Cooke's “Bring It On Home To Me”), love is the tie that binds, though Frank counters, “For me, it's totally a non-concept album.” But whether it's their honeyed voices rubbing against the hard won guitar strums as on “Boundless Fearless Love,” or the whispers between lines of “Radio Silence,” the duo have an undeniably entwined singing style. Locked in, like all great vocal duos, their sound was characterized by the Los Angeles Times as “bent notes in tandem, musically summoning a flawless union.” (July 17, 2015)
“They are a modern day Gram and Emmylou singing songs that Otis and Carla would sing,” says Doe. "Somehow Cindy and Frank connect the dots between ’70s country and ’60s soul music."
The jingle jangle of the Byrds and the lyrical economy of Buddy Holly, Merle Haggard and Lou Reed inform Frank's writing style while Cindy loves American classics, from anonymous down home singers to the more sophisticated song styles of Smokey Robinson and vocal teams like Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. When paired with Doe and their family of collaborators, the result is positively transcendent and soul-stirring rock magic– the golden harmonies, the unbroken melodies that sound like love in action and that could only have been made in California.
Frank and Cindy's shared love of country, rock, and soul singing and songwriting has only grown deeper through their ongoing collaborations with three California songmen: Doe (of X, the Knitters, and the John Doe Band) Dave Alvin (of the Blasters and the Guilty Men and Women) and Peter Case (formerly of the Nerves and the Plimsouls and producer/arranger of Dead Rock West's second album, Bright Morning Stars).
“We call them the Holy Trinity,” says Cindy who sings on the road and in the studio with Doe, while Frank claims an early enounter with Case guided him toward finding his own spiritual style of secular songwriting.
“Peter's songs embraced regular people in common circumstances, yet they were personal, heartfelt, and deeply spiritul,” says Frank.
"Each one of them hits a spot where it's so exciting,” says Cindy. “They're all so different but the thread that connects them is they are amazing writers, such wordsmiths, and that they came from punk rock and turned that energy into incredible artistry.” Call them mentors or big brothers, “That they've taken us as their own is like a dream," says Cindy.
The dream started for Frank and Cindy on the Southern California club scene. Debuting in 2007 with the independent Honey and Salt, they followed with the aforementioned California spirituals collection, Bright Morning Stars, then received critical raves for 2015's It's Everly Time!, an homage to pioneering rock vocalists and songwriters, the Everly Brothers.
With More Love, Dead Rock West returns to original music with an indie/Americana bent. Pulling the songs together with a method he borrowed from songwriting legend, Guy Clark, Frank says, “I don't care how many years it takes me, I just wait until I have ten songs I want to put on a record.” As they developed the repertoire, “Cindy and I deconstructed the songs,” he explains. Switching roles as written in the verses and choruses, “There's something about that dynamic that allows for a deeper contrast than when you hear the traditional male/female parts sung," says Frank.
The added dimensions of road and recording experience contributed to the making of More Love as did an appreciation of the brevity and preciousness of life itself. Between records, both band members lost close family members – Frank's mother Nelda Gunn-Drennen and Cindy's brother, Rob Wasserman, the noted bassist. Music became a lifeline during the grieving spell.
”I just wouldn't be doing this if it weren't for Rob, honestly I wouldn't,” says Cindy whose brother introduced her to his collaborators like Lou Reed, Brian Wilson, and Stéphane Grappelli (who played with guitarist, Django Reinhardt). All these encounters made their imprints on Dead Rock West's own commitment to excellence, and to love, at all costs.
"More Love is heart and soul from two deeply original singers and songwriters,” says Doe, a true believer who's been witness to Dead Rock West's process as it continues to unfold.
“As Willie Dixon said to me when I was blessed to meet him some years ago,” says Cindy. “Happy or sad songs, they are all about love--more love.”
Ian Fitzgerald is a folk singer and songwriter. Known for his storytelling and skillful use of language, Ian has independently released five albums of original material while touring throughout the country. Performer Magazinecalled Ian "a polished songsmith who is high atop a field of great artists breaking through to festival and folk concerts throughout the States." To that end, Ian performed a solo set as part of the Wildwood Showcase at the 2015 Newport Folk Festival and a full-band set at the 2016 Newport Folk Festival.
Ian hails from a small town in southern Massachusetts and now calls Providence, RI his home base. From there, he travels throughout the country, filling his increasingly busy touring schedule with over 100 shows each year. He has opened for such acclaimed artists as Iris DeMent; Willy Mason; Joan Shelley; Darlingside; The Ballroom Thieves; Jonathan Edwards; Tracy Grammer; and many more. Ian released his most recent album, You Won't Even Know I'm Gone, in November of 2016. He plans to return to the studio with a new set of songs in 2018.
"Sexy, funky-as-hell, pop music" is what critics are saying about Gurufish (Ear Magazine). Electrifying audiences everywhere with their own provocative blend of pop, funk and soul, Atlanta's Gurufish is best known for their high-octane live show, fueled by irresistible melodies wrapped around hypnotic, funky grooves. After a great start to the year with a sold out showcase at SXSW, Gurufish was listed by PASTE Magazine as one of the 25 Georgia Bands You Should Listen to Now. They were also honored with the distinction of being recognized by the GA Music Awards as Georgia's Best R'nB/Funk Band and recently appeared as featured performers on the WB network's "The Originals". Founded by singer/songwriter/producer Jimmy St. James, Gurufish performs live as an 8 piece ensemble with Matty Haze on guitar, Steve Dixon on drums,Trey Williams on bass, and a full horn section.They are currently playing dates in support of their critically acclaimed release,"Mohair Supreme", while recording and preparing for a new release in the spring of 2018. Gurufish has shared the bill with such prestigious acts as: Meaghan Trainor, Colbie Caillat, The Brand New Heavies, Mother's Finest, Parliament/Funkadelic, The Flaming Lips, Cowboy Mouth, Nikka Costa, Derek Trucks, Galactic, Cypress Hill, Ghostland Observatory, P.M. Dawn,The Spin Doctors, The White Stripes, LMFAO, KC & the Sunshine Band, The Isley Brothers, and Foreigner.
Sugarcane Jane, the Alabama Gulf Coast-based husband and wife duo has amassed an extremely loyal following. Anthony and Savana Lee Crawford purvey what they proudly call “Organic Music at its Finest.” Rich, homegrown, and natural, their brand of Americana draws from a deep well of roots influences, interwoven with inflections of gospel, country, jazz, and rock. Listeners can expect mostly acoustic sounds, and some of the freshest-sounding vocal harmonies they will ever hear. Both virtuosos in their own right, Anthony is a songwriter who plays acoustic guitar, fiddle, and a bass drum (which he plays while strumming his six-string) and Savana Lee deftly dances between rhythm guitar and snare drum.
Multi-instrumentalist Anthony Crawford is known in most circles as a sideman to the stars. Over the course of the last 25 years, he has performed with Neil Young, Sonny James, Steve Winwood, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, Rosanne Cash, and Rodney Crowell, and has written / co-written songs recorded by Steve Winwood, Dwight Yoakam, Kenny Rogers, Pegi Young, Lee Greenwood, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, to name a few. Yet, even with his history of working with heavyweights, Crawford feels Sugarcane Jane – his musical venture with multi-instrumentalist wife Savana Lee Crawford, is his life’s calling.
Sugarcane Jane newest studio album, Ladders and Edges – an album they conceived with the legendary Colin Linden, Canadian musician, songwriter and record producer, musical director of Nashville, and member of the group Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. The album is being released via Crawford's Admiral Bean Records on May 26, 2017. Recorded at Anthony Crawford's own Admiral Bean Studio, in Loxley, Alabama, this cave man groove, thought provoking album delves into present times with positive messages and insight.
“This album has been a long time coming. These are all our own songs and really give more insight as to who we are and what we believe in. Family is everything to us and we are trying to give our kids some guidance and advice in a song, without having to necessarily tell them everything,” says Anthony. “These songs go deeper than some of our previous albums. We really just laid our hearts out on our sleeves.”
Savana Lee -
Savana was raised along Alabama's Gulf Coast and although she's ventured off at times (New Orleans, Nashville), the coast is her home.
In Music City Savana began her Nashville recordings; six songs titled Untamed produced by Loretta Lynn's sound engineer, Tim Townsend. The songs were never officially released but Townsend was so impressed that he made sure everyone in his circle knew who she was, the girl with the golden tone.
While living in Nashville, she spent time writing and performing at the world renowned Bluebird Cafe, Broken Spoke, and Douglas Corner. Savana's dreams of being an artist were temporarily sidetracked while co-owning and managing a well-respected vintage analog studio in Nashville, TN: Deepfield Studio.
Deepfield Studio recorded many major label artists, including Lucinda Williams whose work there was nominated for a Grammy (Hank Williams Tribute Album ‘Cold Cold Heart’), Rodney Crowell, Bruce Cockburn You’ve Never Seen Everything, Emmylou Harris, Terri Clark, Lee Anne Womack, Jack Ingram, Keb Mo, Colin Linden Big Mouth, Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, and most importantly, Anthony Crawford.
Savana met Anthony while he was recording his own tracks at Deepfield Studio. He recruited her to sing a few demos for him and they began an everlasting friendship and brotherhood. "I was an immediate fan of Anthony's writing and musicianship. I fell in love with him as an artist and then as a human being. He is an amazing person and my soul mate." Creating harmonies typically heard only from siblings the two decided to record their first album together, Redbird.
The music, as well as family and a budding romance led them back home to the Gulf Coast forming the popular band, Sugarcane Jane. While making frequent stops at Cathe Steele's Blue Moon Farm (The Frog Pond), the couple was placed in a round that would once again change their direction. Will Kimbrough, Grayson Capps, Corky Hughes, and Sugarcane Jane. It has molded into what is now known as Willie Sugarcapps, a band who's debut album won Americana Album of the Year (IMA's-2013). Willie Sugarcapps' sophmore effort, Paradise Right Here was released in April 2016. Visit www.williesugarcapps.com for more info.
Anthony Crawford -
Anthony Crawford, born in Birmingham, Alabama, has thrived in the music business working alongside Neil Young, Steve Winwood, and Dwight Yoakam as well as carving out his own solo career, a duo with wife Savana Lee in Sugarcane Jane, and in Americana supergroup Willie Sugarcapps. He currently juggles a multitude of creative outlets including his own recording studio in Loxley, Alabama, Admiral Bean Studio, producing many national acts as well as creating an independent record label, Baldwin County Public Records, with music connoisseur, Jeffrey Zimmer.
"Anthony Crawford is a very talented guitar player, which, when combined with his soaring vocals, makes him someone to watch. He has the ability to turn his hand to almost any instrument and make it sound good."
~ Steve Winwood
He's had the kind of career that most artists only dream about. The Forrest Gump of the music business is what is often joked about in the Crawford house. From the age of 18 after graduating high school in Birmingham, Alabama Anthony went from Opryland to the Grand Ole Opry w/Roy Acuff, to being on tour with Sonny James, Neil Young, then Steve Winwood, Vince Gill, and Dwight Yoakam. He's had appearances on Hee Haw, Austin City Limits, Live Aid, Farm Aid, Showtime, the Late Show with David Letterman, the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the Today Show, Grammy Awards Show, made music videos (Wonderin-Neil Young, Gone-Dwight Yoakam as well as his solo videos), been in movies (Heart of Gold-Neil Young, Neil Young Trunk Show-Neil Young, Blackhawk DVD). He's played on stage with Paul McCartney with Neil Young at Hyde Park. He's taken cover photos on albums like Neil Young's Chrome Dreams II and Pegi Young's Foul Deeds.
The last decade has been an intricate part of Anthony's ultimate direction. After marrying musical partner Savana Lee and settling down in the rural southern Alabama town of Loxley, and having three children, Anthony is well planted in fertile soil. His focus now lies in his family which led him to create Admiral Bean Studio. It is what now drives him as well as enables him to spend more time at home while continuing to explore all creative avenues.
Alternative singer-songwriter Matt Hires will release American Wilderness (Rock Ridge Music), his third, full-length album on October 14th. At 30-years-old, Hires finds himself at a crossroads contemplating life, growth, faith, culture and his own place in the world. In search of a new beginning, Hires takes an artistic and introspective look into his journey thus far and the road ahead, while unveiling a deeply personal, self-revealing set of songs.
Hires recent path began with the crucial decision to move from his home base in Tampa, FL to Nashville, TN. It was there, in Music City, where he quickly linked up with like-minded creatives who inspired him to set aside pre-conceived notions of who he was as an artist and tap into his own instincts and intuition. Setting his writing into overdrive, Hires unexpectedly found himself questioning many of life’s uncertainties, the noise and commotion of modern culture and society, and his upbringing in the church. In the process of self-analysis and looking at all that led him to this point, Hires discovered his new ‘voice’, driven by personal conviction and an unwavering honesty.
On songs such as, “Fighting A Ghost,” Hires asks if everything ‘we’ are fighting for in life is worth it. Dropping personal illusions from his past, he sings “Holy War,” a battle with himself about the foundation of his religious upbringing. Searching for strength, he calls for a revival with “Glory Bound” and continues on to discover more about the universal and individual pursuit of the American dream in “The Wilderness.” Closing out the compelling, 10-song collection, “Don’t Let Your Heart Grow Cold,” is a hopeful message of new beginnings.
American Wilderness was recorded in Nashville and produced by Randall Kent. The album is the follow up to two previous, major label releases including This World Won’t Last Forever, But Tonight We Can Pretend and Take Us To The Start, which hit the Top 10 on iTunes’ overall Top Albums chart. Hires songs have been heard in TV series; Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Cougar Town and more. Look for an upcoming tour announcement to come this fall.
SERA CAHOONE – FROM WHERE I STARTED BIO
The world of American roots music is no stranger to Seattle songwriter Sera Cahoone.
Even though her last three albums were on Sub Pop Records and she spent years at
the top of the indie charts, she’s always had a streak of Americana that ran through her
music, a love of the humble folk song that bolstered her art. She’s returning now to
these earliest influences with her new album, From Where I Started (to be released
March 24, 2017). Growing up, Cahoone first found her voice in Colorado dive bars,
backing up old blues musicians at age 12 on the drums. Her father, a Rocky Mountain
dynamite salesman, took the family along to mining conferences and old honky-tonks in
the state. The sounds she heard there—the twang of country crooners, cowboy boots
on peanut shells—have stayed with her all the way to Seattle, where she lives now, and
the seminal indie rock bands she’s been a part of in the city (Carissa’s Weird, Band of
To make From Where I Started, her first new album since 2012’s Dear Creek Canyon,
Cahoone traveled south to Portland to work with producer John Askew (Neko Case,
Laura Gibson, Alela Diane). Askew brought together key Portland musicians like Rob
Burger (Iron and Wine, Lucinda Williams), Dave Depper (Death Cab For Cutie) and
Annalisa Tornfelt (Black Prairie) with Cahoone’s Seattle bandmates - Jeff Fielder
(Mark Lanegan, Amy Ray) and Jason Kardong (Son Volt, Jay Farrar). The band lays a
deep bedrock beneath Cahoone’s songs, supporting her arcing vocals and innovative
guitar and banjo playing. The album is driven by a strong rhythmic sensibility, owed to
Cahoone’s background as a drummer for indie rock bands. “A lot of my songs start as a
beat, I add guitar, then lyrics at the end,” she says. “When I write songs I usually sit at
my drum kit playing both drums and guitar at the same time.”
From Where I Started plays on the rougher, darker edges of the traditional love song.
Like any good country album, the songs here deal with love and loss, but Cahoone also
knows how to surround loss with hope, to temper a sad song with a turn in the major
key. The optimism of the love song “Up To Me,” buoyed by fingerpicked guitar and
banjo, gives way to the weary resignation of “Taken Its Toll,” with its plaintive pedal
steel and echoing vocal harmonies. “Ladybug,” is a poignant song that followed the
tragic death of Cahoone’s cousin Tawnee.
From Where I Started represents a refocusing for Sera Cahoone. It positions her as a
songwriter beholden to the old country sounds she grew up with, a songwriter who’s
always been able to deftly translate a personal perspective into a universal view. It’s an
album about falling in and out of love, finding new hope, and learning that the best way
to move forward is to remember where you began.
David Robert King
David Robert King
David Robert King
While trading songs at a songwriter gathering in Nashville, TN, Idaho native and school teacher David Robert King's boneyard truth telling, worn and vulnerable voice, and magnetic melodies were overheard by legendary singer/songwriter Mary Gauthier who told King "I have a feeling we will get together someday." This speculation led to King and Gauthier gracing stages throughout North America. David has also shared the stage with Josh Ritter, The Mark O'Connor Band, Tim O'Brien, Loudon Wainwright III, Darrell Scott, and Over The Rhine, and has collaborated with Emily Saliers of The Indigo Girls and Jonatha Brooke.
King's dark, sometimes humorous songs, are unapologetically personal while grounded in the arid soil of his native Idaho. His songs reverberate with the sting of the high desert and the hidden power of the Snake River. This combination led to a top 40 song on folk and roots radio, wide critical acclaim, and featured spots at the legendary Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, TN, The Targhee Bluegrass Festival, Kerrville Folk Festival, and Strawberry Music Festival. He is currently recording a new album with producer Darryl Neudorf (Neko Case, Sarah McLachlan, Blue Rodeo) due out in early 2018.
"His words and voice hold down center stage with a craft so deeply in the artistic pocket that it obscures anything outside"
- No Depression
It's the truth behind what an artist does and the way they choose to do it that defines their art. And while the ways in which audiences get their music has changed, the reasons why a certain kind of artist makes music have remained the same. Call it an uncompromising commitment, an inspired motivation, or just the need to share with and connect to those who listen. For Jeff Black, it is his life's work that has driven him to build a career like few other singer/songwriters in the business. Boston's WUMB listeners voted Jeff Black as one of the top 100 most important Folk artists of the last 25 years.
Black's songs have earned GRAMMY recognition, radio chart-topping stats and numerous BMI awards. Although flying below the radar as a performer himself, he has been recognized by NPR as a musical pioneer in the digital age and his catalogue of critically acclaimed albums continues to grow. Composing music for film and television, his credits include numerous indie-film soundtracks and a repertoire of songs cut by artists as diverse as Alison Krauss & Union Station, Waylon Jennings, BlackHawk, Dierks Bentley, Jon Randall, John Oates, Jerry Douglas and Sam Bush. Black has forged a reputation as a true folk troubadour entertaining audiences globally for over three decades. A master songwriter and performer in the tradition of the great storytellers, his passionate, soul driven live performances of songs from his vast catalog are not to be missed.
First and foremost a creative thinker, Clarence Bucaro aims to tell a story through his lyrics.
His tenth studio album Tableau is a vivid set of compositions with indelible audible imagery and heartfelt intimacy. A tableau depicts a scene from a story. It’s a picture, a painting or an image. Throughout his fifteen year career, Clarence has earned a reputation for his storytelling and open hearted lyrics.
Like a painting, there are many moments of darkness and light in his new record. In Lord, Light Me a Candle, Clarence looks for an eternal light, while reminding others to face their fears in the hypnotic Afraid of the Dark. In Cold Dark Night, he contemplates the system that creates senseless acts of violence like the death of Trayvon Martin in 2013.
"Bucaro excels in delivering penetrative and excitingly melodic observations.” - Rolling Stone
In the transparently truthful Your Love’s Not Close Enough and the thoughtful Timeless, these observations have never been more artful. Co-produced with industry vet Tom Schick, (Wilco, Ryan Adams, Norah Jones) Tableau is a searingly soulful body of work.
Over the years, the Cleveland, Ohio native has wowed crowds across the world with his unique folk-pop style. He has been featured on Sirius XM, NPR, Rolling Stone and the New York Times. Clarence has shared the stage with acts like Los Lobos, Suzanne Vega, Chrissie Hyde, Marc Cohn, Aaron Neville, Blind Boys of Alabama, Rodney Crowell, Richard Thompson and many others.
Folk-pop duo Chasing Lovely combine haunting harmonies, powerful melodies, and insightful lyrics to create a truly captivating acoustic performance. With their latest EP, "Things We Don't Talk About" (July 2017), Chloe and Taylor candidly open up about both personal and cultural conflict, addressing subjects normally considered taboo. The Korean-American sisters grew up in the frozen tundra of Minneapolis, MN, and have been nearly inseparable since birth. Chloe has always had a knack for singing and playing just about any instrument she picks up, while Taylor is a word-nerd whose melodramatic tendencies make for good lyrics. They moved to Nashville in 2011 and spent six years cutting their teeth in Music City before relocating to Atlanta in April 2017.
Chasing Lovely has been touring across the U.S. since June 2013 and have had the privilege of working alongside producers and musicians who have worked with Mumford & Sons, Joy Williams, Ingrid Michaelson, Meghan Trainor, Gungor, and Ben Rector. When they're not harmonizing or touring in their tiny '08 Hyundai Accent, Chloe and Taylor are probably stalking Theo Bonaparte on Instagram, laughing at poop jokes, dreaming of one day owning a self-sustaining Earthship home in Hawaii, or making homemade bread and soymilk while trying to live a #zerowastelife. But all you really need to know is: they're a folk/rock/pop/soul duo (with obvious genre commitment issues). Think: The Civil Wars meets James Bay meets Adele.
Chloe and Taylor firmly believe there are few problems freshly baked chocolate chip cookies can't solve. They also believe in promoting understanding, provoking critical thinking, changing your mind and working towards positive change. They're driven by a deep curiosity for the world around them and the people in it. Their songs are a reflection of the strangely wonderful (and at times, equally tragic) human experience and their attempt to understand it all. Chasing Lovely's mission is to provoke thought, promote understanding, and capture both glimmers of light and darkness as they share the deeply moving human experience through song.
The Tall Pines
The Tall Pines
The Tall Pines
The Tall Pines are a shack-shakin’, foot–stompin’ folk-rock duo featuring Connie Lynn Petruk, singing her heart out, playing drums on her alligator skin suitcase, and shaking her tambourine. Her partner Christmas Davis, plays guitar, writes the songs and howls along. Recently featured on WFMU’s Gaylord Fields’ radio show, and currently working on a new album with multiple Grammy nominated Producer Joel Hamilton, The Tall Pines music originates from the spirits of the late 1960s and early 1970s Country-Soul, and Swamp-Rock scenes, while creating a new route to take the sounds they love beyond history and into the next wave of North American Music. Their first self-titled album was voted one of the top ten best records of the year by NPR's Meredith Ochs. They’ve performed live with Country music great Charlie Louvin (RIP) at the CMJ music festival, with Norah Jones and Puss N Boots, Justin Townes Earl, Kevn Kinny of Drivn’ and Cryin’, Amy Ray of The Indigo Girls, and many more great folks. They produce a live music series in New York City called “The Tall Pines Revue.” The Tall Pines were dubbed a buzz band by American Songwriter Magazine for their performances at the 30A Songwriter’s Festival, and they have received critical praise from many blogs and magazines. The Tall Pines are on a mission to remind a world increasingly made of concrete, glass and steel that some music still burns like raw timber. Their new record will be released in late Spring, 2018. Their goal is transcendence.
"Connie Petruk looks like she stepped out of late ’60s/early ’70s Nashville and sings like the lost sister of Bobbie Gentry or Dusty Springfield. Her honeyed alto will melt the frost off your windshield. The Tall Pines are equal parts soul and twang, molasses and moonshine, sass and skill. The songs, all written by Christmas Davis, evoke the heyday of the country-soul hybrid without ever sounding unoriginal, a difficult feat.” ~ Meredith Ochs: NPR
“If a duo ever sounded bigger than its parts, The Tall Pines sound it with undeniable choruses and songs full of intriguing narratives, reflect the 60’s wizardry of The Zombies and the modern biting edge of The Kills. Soul, country, swamp, heartache and neo-blues are just some of the sounds coming off their voices and instruments.” ~ Glide Magazine
“In a world where we are so often overpowered by all that is around us, The Tall Pines strip things back and bring with them, through their music, a much needed reminder that sometimes, simpler is better – it certainly is here.” ~ Popwrapped
“Given the success enjoyed by bands like The Alabama Shakes and Shovels and Ropes, this deserves to be huge. We can’t give this EP (Fear Is The Devil) any higher praise than confirming that we loved it so much that we immediately asked for more releases to review…” ~ The Soul of a Clown / UK blog
“Allow us to introduce you to The Tall Pines, a shack-shaking, foot stompin’ Americana masterpiece bringing folk back to the heart of the New York boroughs.” ~ East of 8th
“Connie Lynn Petruk and Christmas Davis deliver gritty yet soulful folk music that gets your hands clapping and your feet stomping. It’s unlike anything else coming out of Brooklyn—or anywhere, for that matter.” ~ The Shotgun Seat
“The Civil Wars are certainly civil compared to The Tall Pines. They do not fear to tread where more tender souls would be burned to a crisp.” ~ Amos Perrine: No Depression
Texas songwriter Vanessa Peters has released 10 albums in the last 12 years and has played over 1000 shows in 11 countries as an independent artist. She has been called “the best kind of singer/songwriter,” was nominated as Best Folk Artist by The Dallas Observer, and has built a strong fan base throughout Europe thanks in part to the albums she made with her former Italian band, Ice Cream on Mondays, and the hundreds of shows she has played overseas. Her albums are consistently found on “best of” lists, and her latest, "The Burden of Unshakeable Proof," has been called "fully realized, written with elegance and imagination." It is a timeless album, anchored by strong melodic hooks and meditations on modern life that are poignant without being too pointed. No Depression lauded its “metaphor-rich songs” and “the depth and substance of her skillfully-crafted lyrics,” while Fort Worth Star Telegram called it, “10 gorgeously-sculpted tracks, a blissful shuffling of folk, pop, and jazz bound together by Peters's peerless voice.” She has been crowdfunding her albums for a decade, long before Kickstarter ever existed, and she is currently working on her next album, slated for release in mid-2018.
Patterson Barrett moved to Austin shortly after appearing on Jerry Jeff Walker’s first release on MCA records, playing pedal steel, dobro, and guitar (including the song “L.A. Freeway”). Not long after arriving in Austin, he formed the band Partners In Crime, which included Buddy and Julie Miller, releasing one album on their own label, Criminal Records. In the years since, Patterson produced some of Hal Ketchum’s earliest demos, served in Al Kooper’s back-up band, and performed before 10,000 festival-goers as Chuck Berry’s pianist. He accompanied Nancy Griffith on Austin City Limits, legendary Austin singer Lou Ann Barton in music clubs around the country, and Buddy Miller on several records including his recent collaboration with Jim Lauderdale, Buddy & Jim. Patterson's discography includes three solo endeavors—I Must Be Dreaming (2007), "When I Was Your Age…" (2012), and the 2018 release, Give ‘Em What They Want. He cites Neil Young and country-rock pioneers Poco and the Flying Burrito Brothers as his early influences, as well as soul stalwarts such as Sam and Dave, The Temptations, and Marvin Gaye. His music has been compared to John Hiatt, The Band (whose song “Sleeping” he lovingly covers), and Ryan Adams.
As in his two previous solo outings, Barrett makes much of the music on Give ‘Em What They Want himself, but there are plenty of guest appearances by friends and peers. Featured performers include Jim Lauderdale, Walt Wilkins, and Stuart Duncan, plus Gurf Morlix and Buddy Miller sharing vocals with Barrett on the single “3 Young Alleycats.” Credited to “3 Old Alleycats,” the song is a reminiscence of the days gone by when Morlix, Miller, and Barrett were knocking around Austin. In it, the three declare wistfully, “The universe will never be the same again,” but then muse “How long we can howl at the moon, no one can tell.”
The music is solidly Americana, with nods to influences as diverse as The Band, Little Feat, and Gram Parsons, all of whom Barrett cites as inspirations. At times the songs lean toward the country side of things, as in the slyly humorous, two-step inducing “Elephant In The Room” (with Lauderdale on harmony vocal.)
But there are also introspective singer-songwriter moments, notably in “If I Only Knew How,” with Barrett finding himself unable to help those close to him who need it the most.
Barrett may be best known for his sideman work (everyone from Chuck Berry to Jerry Jeff Walker to Buddy & Jim), but he’s amused by the notion that the CD represents some sort of debut as a front man. “…yeah, that’s…interesting, since I’ve been writing, recording, and performing my own songs for…well, really, since I was a teen”.
Patterson intends to spend the bulk of 2018 touring behind the record. “It’s really about the songs; these songs show up, and I feel obliged to give them a chance to find an audience. So it’s sort of like, ‘The Songs of Patterson Barrett on Tour (accompanied by Patterson Barrett)’ If I don’t sing ‘em, who else will?”
I didn’t grow up singing or playing music. I’ve never had voice lessons, and it wasn’t until after college that I started teaching myself how to play guitar. So, if you’d told me then that I’d end up making a living as a singer-songwriter, I wouldn't have believed you. Even now, after the release of my fourth studio album, Dear Amanda, I can barely believe it.
Music has been one of the greatest blessings in my life. It’s taken me to parts of the world I would’ve never seen and connected me with people I would’ve never met. It’s given my life purpose. Without music, I may have never met the two greatest loves of my life, my wife, Amanda, and my daughter, Annabelle Rose Baker. However, at the same time, music almost tore my life apart.
I wish I could say that the road here was easy, but it wasn’t. In fact, there was a time when I wasn’t sure if I’d ever record another song, but as it turns out, the day that I decided to stop making music, was the day a new chapter in my music career began.
From 2010 through 2013, I spent over 200 days a year on the road touring. I was traveling all over the world, sharing the stage with amazing artists like John Legend, Brandi Carlile, Gavin DeGraw, Heart, Grace Potter, the Goo Goo Dolls, and more. By many standards, I was living the dream. What I couldn't see at the time though, was that every step forward in my career, was a step away from my family.
At home, waiting on me, was the life that I’d dreamed of, and I was missing it. First words were being spoken, first steps taken, and it was all passing me by like road signs on the highway. Sadly, the two people I was working hardest to protect, were the ones getting hurt the most.
Then one day I walked into an empty house and found my wife’s wedding ring on the kitchen table along with a note that read, “I will not be sorry for the choice YOU made.” Suddenly, success as a singer-songwriter didn’t seem nearly as important if it meant failing as a husband and as a father.
Thankfully, I made the choice to refocus on my family. I stopped recording and touring, and traded the stage lights for front porch lights.
So, you may be wondering, why in the world would I want to continue making music and risk the chance of driving down those same roads again? The answer is easy. One of the things my wife and I have realized is that few find what they are truly meant to do in this life. So, despite our struggles, I look at myself as one of the lucky ones, because I know that a big part of my purpose in this world is to write songs and to sing them. We just had to figure out how to make music as a family.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that you get what you give in this life. 4 years ago, I GOT a second chance, and everything that’s happened has GIVEN me this moment. My songs belong to every right turn and wrong turn that has led me here, and they are not only a message to my family, but a message to anyone who is battling for balance in their life.
Today, I am a better husband. I’m a better father, and hopefully, a better songwriter. Music may have tried to tear us apart, but graciously, it’s now helping bring us back together, and not a day goes by that I don’t give thanks for that old wood box with six strings.
Airpark makes forward-thinking pop music.
Inspired by melody and groove-heavy percussion, Michael Ford, Jr. and Ben Ford debuted the duo in 2016. Their new musical approach was born after The Apache Relay, a six-piece band armed with a thick, wall-of-sound approach, quietly called it quits.
Airpark's latest EP release, Early Works, Volume 2, will be released on September 15, 2017. The release arrives six months after their debut, Early Works, Volume 1, which showcased the duo's ability to create evocative moments with the most minimal of instrumentation.
Airpark’s musical evolution targets the feet and the head. It's pop music for thinkers. It’s the sound of two brothers continuing to create art with little outside help, pairing their own ambition with musical chops to match.
Atlanta-based singer/songwriter Carly Burruss is one of the new faces of traditional country music. With a longstanding country career in her sights, she attended the Joel A. Katz Music and Entertainment Business Program at Kennesaw State to learn the ins and outs of the business. There she met early collaborators, began recording, and met her manager. Carly found her niche when Kacey Musgraves and other female artists re-introduced the clever and witty side of the genre, sending her into the world of Nashville songwriting and cutting her teeth in bars and venues across the Southeast.
Paired with her wit, humor, and grit, Carly's infectious melodies and memorable one-liners are reminiscent of her influences like Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Kacey Musgraves. As an artist, Carly's performed alongside and opened for the likes of Dwight Yoakam, Keith Urban, Ellie Holcomb, Florida-Georgia Line, and Will Hoge. Last year, Carly was runner-up of the Chris August Songwriting Contest at Merlefest. Her songwriting cuts have made their way to Australia and all over the US, and Carly's self-titled debut EP is available now, featuring the single "Ain't Trying to Please."
Loving music from an early age, Jacob Davis learned how to play guitar at 15-years old and began performing publicly while he was in college. Upon graduation from LSU with a degree in environmental science, the Shreveport, Louisiana native spent a year working before realizing that his true calling was music. Soon after, he made the move to Nashville. In May of 2016, Davis signed a deal with Black River Publishing. One month later, Black River Entertainment surprised him during a private event by offering him a record deal and welcomed Davis as a Black River Entertainment recording artist.
Having already shared the stage with artists including Lady Antebellum, Hunter Hayes, Sam Hunt, Billy Currington and Kelsea Ballerini, fans have had a taste of the forthcoming album on Black River Entertainment.
Born and raised in Nashville, TN, Grammy-nominated songwriter and producer Jaren Johnston has always been surrounded by music. He got his start playing drums at a very young age, and when he was 13, his dad bought him his first guitar. Influenced by diverse artists such as Nirvana, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Tom Petty, Johnston began to explore the craft of writing songs in his teens and is now lucky enough to call it a career.
Jaren celebrated his first number one with “You Gonna Fly”, recorded by Keith Urban, and has had other cuts with Urban including the #1 single “Raise ‘Em Up”. His list of hit singles include: Jake Owen’s “Beachin’”, “Days of Gold” and “American Country Love Song”; Billy Currington’s “Don’t It”; Tim McGraw’s “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s” and “Southern Girl”; Frankie Ballard’s “Sunshine & Whiskey” and “It All Started With A Beer”; and Drake White’s “Livin The Dream."
In addition to being the primary writer and lead-singer for his band The Cadillac Three, which tours more than 200 days out of the year, Jaren is a dedicated and diverse songwriter with singles and album cuts in the rock, pop, and country genres.
Austin Jenckes was born & raised outside of Seattle in the small town of Duvall Washington.
He relocated to Nashville, Tn. in January 2012 & now calls Nashville home with his wife Brittany & their one year old daughter Ravenna where they live on a quiet 2 acres of land on the outskirts of town.
To hear Austin sing could be equated to being taken to church, his songs are laced with dynamic soaring melodies, introspective life lived lyrics & stylistically his music makes you long for a simpler time when the world moved a little slower & things felt a bit more pure.
He is a man made for the stage. Whether he’s sitting on a bar stool in the Georgia Theatre in Athens, Ga. performing for 1000 people by himself or back in the Northwest playing with a full band his shows are captivating, inspired & leave those that know him feeling like they are witnessing one of the true under the radar talents in the country & those that are hearing him for the first time struck by the thought of “who the hell is this guy”?
Mark Irwin co-wrote Alan Jackson’s first number one hit “Here In The Real World”, two time CMA Song of the Year nominee and winner of the Music City News’ Award for Song of the Year 1990.
As well as having songs on Alan Jackson’s recent CD “DRIVE” and Garth Brooks’ “THE LOST SESSIONS”, Mark co-wrote the singles, “Bama Breeze” for Jimmy Buffet and That’s How They Do It In Dixie” for Hank Williams Jr.
Recently, Mark co-wrote the Tyler Farr number one single “Redneck Crazy” and the Tim McGraw number one hit song “Highway Don’t Care”, featuring Taylor Swift on guest vocals and Keith Urban on guitar.
Mark also co-wrote Tim McGraw’s recent single “Looking For That Girl”, Blake Shelton’s number one hit single, “Neon Light” and Chris Janson’s “Power of Positive Drinking”
Mark also had songs recorded by Randy Travis, Martina McBride, George Jones, Faith Hill, Lee Brice, Thomas Rhett, Bomshel, Billy Ray Cyrus, Jessie James, Tracey Lawrence, Sammy Kershaw, Chely Wright, Patty Loveless, Highway 101, The Whites, Chris LeDoux, Bucky Covington, Glen Campbell, Neal McCoy and The Dirt Drifters
Actress Gwyneth Paltrow also recorded one of Mark’s songs for her movie “Country Strong”
Currently Mark has the song “Bet You Still Think About Me” on Blake Shelton’s CD “If I’m Honest”
Originally from Jackson, Tennessee, Jonathan Singleton’s gritty guitars and blues-saturated vocals draw heavily from his Western Tennessee roots, while the stories and lyrical craft are pure Music City. Singleton drove to Nashville every chance he could during college to write and network and eventually landed a publishing deal. He made the move to Music City and in 2009, founded a band called Jonathan Singleton & the Grove in which he sang lead vocals. They signed to Universal South Records in March 2009.
As a songwriter, Jonathan has written hits such as “Watching Airplanes” by Gary Allan, “Red Light” and “Let It Rain” by David Nail, “Why Don’t We Just Dance” by Josh Turner, and “Don’t” by Billy Currington. More recent singles include the #1 hit “A Guy Walks Into A Bar” by Tyler Farr, the top 5 Grammy-nominated hit “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools” by Tim McGraw, and the latest #1 smash, “Yours If You Want It” by Rascal Flatts. Other cuts include songs by Blake Shelton, Darius Rucker, Chris Young, Little Big Town, Ronnie Dunn and more. His latest independent album The Getaway can be found on iTunes.
Following an award-winning collegiate and NFL career as a linebacker, Mike Reid decided he would rather play music than football for a living. He retired from the Cincinnati Bengals in 1974 and, in 1980, moved to Nashville to pursue songwriting.
Since 1983 when Mike Reid scored his first number one country hit with "Inside" by Ronnie Milsap, he has composed more than thirty top-ten country and pop hits. Twenty-one of those records have gone all the way to number one on the charts.
He has been the recipient of ASCAP's "Songwriter of the Year" award, and Milsap’s "Stranger In My House” earned a Grammy award. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005.
Reid has had his songs recorded by Bonnie Raitt, Bette Midler, Prince, George Michael, Kenny Chesney, Etta James, Kenny Rogers, Anne Murray, Wynonna Judd, Alabama, Joe Cocker, Tanya Tucker, Willie Nelson, Collin Raye, Leon Russell, Tim McGraw, and Adele. Among the songs that Mike has composed are "I Can't Make You Love Me" (Raitt, Michael, Adele, and Prince), "My Strongest Weakness” (Judd), "In This Life" (Raye and Midler), "Forever's As Far As I'll Go" (Alabama) and "Everywhere" (McGraw).
Josh Osborne is a multi-platinum, GRAMMY Award winning songwriter based in Nashville, Tenn. who has notched 13 No.1s on the Country charts. Originally from Kentucky, Osborne moved to Nashville to hone his craft, earning his first No.1 with Kenny Chesney’s “Come Over” in 2012. Since the Platinum selling hit, Osborne has received countless cuts by Country’s hottest artists including Sam Hunt, Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and more. In 2015, Osborne joined frequent collaborator Shane McAnally’s company, SMACKSongs, as a partner and songwriter. Osborne has been nominated for ten awards by the Academy of Country Music, American Country Awards, ASCAP, Country Music Association, Music Row and NARAS. Kacey Musgraves' “Merry Go Round,” written by Osborne, Shane McAnally and Musgraves, earned Osborne four nominations and won Song Of The Year at the 2013 Music Row Awards and Best Country Song at the 2014 GRAMMY Awards. Also in 2014 Josh was honored by having his name added to the prestigious Country Music Highway which runs through the state of Kentucky and near his hometown of Virgie. RIAA Certified Double Platinum No.1 hit, “Take Your Time,” recorded by Hunt and written by Osborne, McAnally and Hunt, earned Osborne a nomination for Song of the Year at the 2015 CMA Awards and an award for 2015 ASCAP Songwriter of the Year. In 2017, Miranda Lambert’s “Vice,” written by Osborne, McAnally and Lambert, was nominated for Best Country Song at the 2017 GRAMMY Awards and Song of the Year at the ACM Awards. Osborne has been nominated twice for Songwriter of the Year by the ACM and has received multiple CMA Triple Play Awards for having three No.1 songs on the charts in a 12 month period. Osborne is currently enjoying the success of fastest selling song to date with Sam Hunt’s release of “Body Like A Back Road.” The smash hit, written by Osborne, McAnally, Zach Crowell and Hunt is RIAA Certified Triple Platinum and has held steady at the No.1 spot on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart for 33 weeks and counting - making it the longest reigning Country song in the chart’s history.
If you read the liner notes on Nashville’s biggest albums, you’ll come across a name that is impossible to mistake: Mando Saenz. He’s become one of the most notable songwriters in country music and is establishing a sound uniquely his own. Hailing from Texas, Saenz is able to balance outlaw influences with melodic harmonies that are destined to be stuck in your head. There’s no question as to why he has over 50 cuts from some of today’s biggest artists (like Lee Ann Womack and Miranda Lambert). If there’s one thing that is definite about Mando Saenz, it’s his ability to be completely versatile, yet uniquely Mando.
From the age of three months old, Saenz lived the nomadic life of a self-described ‘army brat’. After his father joined the military, his family moved from his birthplace of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, to Fort Bragg, North Carolina; shortly after, to San Francisco, and lastly, to a small town in Oklahoma, before finally settling in Corpus Christi — all before the beginning of his fourth grade year. Around the same age, he began taking guitar lessons but didn’t stick with it. However, after a decade-long hiatus, Saenz picked the instrument back up again as a teen with a much different mindset. “I was kind of an MTV kid, so I was influenced by anything that was popular at the time. But my dad was always playing The Eagles, Bob Dylan, a bunch of the classics. I didn’t start getting into Texas music until college.”
It was then, while studying for an MBA in San Antonio, Texas, that a shy Saenz finally started playing in front of his peers. After college, he moved to Houston where his brother Marco owned a recording studio, AZTLAN studios. Soon after, he met his mentor (and future producer of his debut record, Watertown) John Egan, who convinced him to ditch his job at Whole Foods to focus on his music. “It was a good time to be a musician in Houston. A lot of us, like Hayes Carll and John Evans, were there together. I was in inner-city Houston, and it was just so cool—huge and unlike anywhere I’d ever lived.” The city would also become the place where Saenz would be discovered by Frank Liddell, award-winning producer and owner of Carnival Music.
After signing on as one of Carnival’s first musicians to possess both a publishing and recording deal, Saenz began writing full-time and eventually released Watertown. The 2005 album marked a pivotal time in Saenz’ life, “The first record was influenced by Texas and made in Texas, by a Texas producer, all of which you can definitely hear.” However, even as a deep-rooted Texan, Saenz started to feel the pull between work and home. So in 2006, he decided to pack up and move closer to Carnival headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee — where he started working on his sophomore album with Grammy-nominated producer R.S. Field, Bucket. While the album supported the sound of Watertown that was unmistakably Mando, the move naturally gave the album a more engineered sound, “The second record was more heavily produced, and being in Nashville, I had completely different songwriting influences.”
Saenz’ last release, 2013’s Studebaker, took notes from both. The album was named as one of Chron’s “50 Great Texas Singer-Songwriter Albums”, alongside classics like Guy Clark’s Old No. 1 and The Late Great Townes Van Zandt. The 12-track album, produced by Mark Nevers (Lambchop, Bobby Bare, Jr., Andrew Bird), is Saenz most lengthy project to date in his words, “the most band-driven record”.
Since the release of Studebaker, Saenz has focused on writing and adding to his list of cuts, one of the most recent being “Bad Boy” from Miranda Lambert’s newest album, The Weight of These Wings. He also co-wrote Jack Ingram’s “Midnight Motel”, Aubrie Sellers’ title track from her newest record, “People Talking”. He’s also co-written and associate produced two Stoney LaRue projects with Frank Liddell, Velvet (2011) and Aviator (2014).
Currently, Mando is working on his latest project, an EP produced by Grammy-nominated (and original founding member of Wilco) Ken Coomer, that will be the predecessor to the release of his fourth full-length studio album. While the EP is likely to be a mix of originals and his take on obscure covers, Saenz is focused on making the full-length his most versed album to date. “The new record is going to be different, just like the others all differ from each other. I’m drawing from everything I’ve done and everything I’ve learned — but expanding it.”
As heard on NPR’s All Things Considered, Nashville singer/songwriter Becky Warren’s debut solo album War Surplus relays the affecting, gritty and candid tale of the relationship between an Iraq-bound soldier named Scott and his girlfriend, June.. As the story unfolds, the two meet, fall in love, and struggle to hold it all together when he returns from his deployment a changed man living with the echoes of PTSD. From the record’s award-winning lead track “Call Me Sometime” straight through ‘til the last note, Warren’s potency as a songwriter is on full display, as she weaves a compelling musical narrative rooted in her own life experiences and the rich sounds of Americana and rock & roll.
Part of the reason War Surplus hits with such impact is the very personal, almost autobiographical nature of Warren’s material. Just like the June character she created, Warren married a soldier back in 2005. A week later, he was deployed to Iraq and eventually returned home with PTSD. After four tumultuous years of trying to work through the fall out, they eventually, amicably, split. So while Scott and June are characters, and their story is a fictional account, Warren has the advantage of knowing what it’s really like—of being able to draw from a deep well of personal experience, and it lends the record a powerful authenticity and empathy. A record concerned with real human stories, War Surplus is also refreshingly devoid of political posturing, and deeply respects the experiences of veterans and their friends and family. “The album deals with some heavy themes,” Warren says, “but it was also important to me that it be catchy and fun to listen to.”
Long before Warren struck out on her own as a solo artist, all the way back in 2003, she played in Boston alt-country outfit The Great Unknowns, who signed to Amy Ray’s Daemon Records, toured with the Indigo Girls, and were praised by everyone from Maxim to No Depression. The band released the first of its two albums, Presenting The Great Unknowns, in 2004. But it wasn’t long before Warren’s struggles with her husband’s PTSD led her to take an extended break from music.
Within a month of her divorce, though, she was writing again, and would eventually record a second Great Unknowns album, 2012’s Homefront. Though her old bandmates were now scattered across the country and unable to tour, Warren kept cranking out powerful songs, including “Call Me Sometime,” which won her the 2014 Merlefest Songwriting Competition and the 2015 Kerrville New Folk competition. It’s an impressive feat when you consider the past winners of these contests—career artists like Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett and Gillian Welch.
Warren has been touring widely in support of the release, including a full-band stint opening for the Indigo Girls. She hopes the record will resonate with a wide range of fans while raising awareness about veterans and PTSD.
Emily Saliers (of Indigo Girls)
Emily Saliers (of Indigo Girls)
Emily Saliers (of Indigo Girls)
Thirty years into one of the most storied careers in popular music, Emily Saliers decided to record her debut album.
"What's a 53 year old woman doing making her first solo record?" muses Saliers, best known as one half of the iconic duo Indigo Girls. "What compels someone like me to follow this strong attachment to rhythmic music?"
Murmuration Nation answers those questions both passionately and profoundly. In this "post-fact" era in which we find ourselves living today, Saliers' fearless voice and insightful perspective feel more vital and relevant than ever before. The songs also reveal a new side of Saliers' artistry, one that even her most ardent fans might not expect to hear.
"It was so freeing to pursue the kind of music I truly wanted to make without regard to what I'd done before or who I'm expected to be," says Saliers. I hope that this record can take people who think they know me already on a journey that'll really surprise them."
While Indigo Girls is still very much alive and well, Murmuration Nation is Saliers' first release under her own name, and it's a surprising journey indeed. The record brims over with life and energy, blurring both musical and geographical boundaries as Saliers breaks down barriers with a bold and infectious spirit of adventure. Recorded with an all-star band—including bassist Tim LeFebvre (David Bowie, Tedeschi Trucks Band), keyboardist Rachel Eckroth (KT Tunstall), and drummers Robert “Sput" Searight (Snarky Puppy) and Will Calhoun (Living Colour)—and featuring guest appearances from fellow luminaries like Lucy Wainwright Roche, Jonatha Brooke, and Jennifer Nettles, the album explores the kind of rhythmically centered, globally inspired music that's always held a special place in Saliers' heart.
"I was born in a predominantly African American neighborhood in New Haven," she explains. "Most of my friends growing up were black, so I was steeped in a musical culture that included James Brown, Otis Redding, and all the great R&B artists of the time. That's the music that really stirred my spirit and made my body want to move. I found myself loving music from West Africa and South America for the same reasons. I think of it all as 'body music.'"
It was folk music, however, that first brought Saliers to national prominence. Indigo Girls released their breakout self-titled album in 1989, and in the ensuing decades, racked up a slew of Gold and Platinum records, took home a coveted GRAMMY Award, and earned the respect of high profile peers-turned-collaborators from Michael Stipe to Joan Baez. NPR's Mountain Stage called the band "one of the finest folk duos of all time," while Rolling Stone said they "personify what happens when two distinct sensibilities, voices,
and worldviews come together to create something transcendently its own," and The New York Times raved that "gleeful profanities, righteous protest anthems and impeccable folk songwriting have carried this duo for thirty years."
Known for their outspoken political activism in addition to their brilliant songwriting, Indigo Girls became a household name and a fixture of American pop culture, but Saliers has never been one to rest on her laurels. Throughout her rise to stardom, she toyed with the idea of recording a solo album that combined her love of folk storytelling with her passion for the grooves and beats of that "body music" she'd always been so innately drawn to. When she met Juilliard-trained violinist Lyris Hung, now a frequent Indigo Girls collaborator, Saliers found that her dream no longer seemed that far fetched.
"Lyris allowed me to imagine a very broad musical world and expand what I was capable of doing on my own," reflects Saliers. "I would write these snippets and send them to her, and she'd work on them in her home studio and send them back. I got so excited when I heard her productions. I realized she could help me make the hybrid record I always wanted, something with that R&B, rhythmic core along with organic instruments and my lyrics. I asked her, 'Would you please produce the solo album I've been talking about for decades?'"
The result is a record that defies easy categorization, with Saliers effortlessly mixing disparate musical traditions underneath poetic lyrics that take their cues from the natural world around us. Album opener "Spider," for instance, brings together hints of heavy metal and Native American a capella music as Saliers weaves an arachno-centric metaphor for geopolitical trickery, while Spanish guitar gives way to orchestral strings and an electronic beat on the slithering "Serpent Love," and the elegant "Fly" draws on avian inspiration for its message of community and cooperation.
"'Fly' is kind of at the crux of the album," Saliers explains. "A murmuration of birds is practically inexplicable to scientists, but it's a very powerful thing to watch, and I see it happening in our country in an amazing way right now. From Black Lives Matter to the Women's March to Standing Rock, there are all these grassroots movements starting to coalesce, and I take great comfort in the way people are instinctually moving together to fight injustice and hate."
In much the same way, Saliers' songwriting and Hung's production reach across divides to a broad and diverse audience. Though the musical setting may be different, Indigo Girls fans who have grown up with Saliers will recognize her trademark passion and perception, while younger listeners unfamiliar with her illustrious back catalog will discover in this record a voice of great clarity and understanding that speaks to these unique and troubling times. By drawing on her love of so many cultures and her insatiable appetite for great songwriting, regardless of genre or era, Saliers has crafted an album that is at once classic and modern, timeless and daring.
On songs like "Train Inside" and "Long Haul," she leans on her vintage country and folk roots, while "Poethearted" and "Slow Down Day Friend" showcase her love of the ukulele (which replaces the acoustic guitar she's so traditionally identified with here), and "Match" and "Sad One" offer beautiful, bittersweet perspectives on the highs and lows of love. Though Saliers' songwriting always comes from a deeply personal place, she isn't afraid to look beyond herself and examine the big picture with her music, tackling America's obsession with guns on "OK Corral," the violent results of religious zealotry "I’m High I'm On High," and our complicated relationship with southeast Asia on "Hello Vietnam."
"There are a lot of heavy, serious topics on this album," says Saliers, "but there's also a lot of whimsical groove and pop to it. That mix is important to me because it's like the ebb-and-flow, peak-and-valley journey of life. I think this record is very reflective of my personality. I need fast and I need slow; I need grooves and I need a little bit of edge."
In the end, it all comes down to balance: artistically, emotionally, spiritually. The album showcases a side of Saliers that few knew she carried within her, but one that burns as bright today as it did when she was just a youngster discovering the wide world of music around her. Thirty years is a long wait for a debut, but with Murmuration Nation, it feels like Emily Saliers is right on time.
Contact: Carla Parisi Kid Logic Media firstname.lastname@example.org / 973-563-8204
Tommy Talton/ “Somewhere South of Eden”
Tommy Talton is a familiar name to many music aficionados, especially fans of Southern rock. Talton figured heavily into that part of music history co-founding the band “Cowboy” who was signed by Capricorn Records. Seems they were discovered by none other than old friend Duane Allman, who, as legend has it, banged on their door at 7 a.m. one morning and asked to hear some new songs. It's clear that Tommy Talton is still making music for the sheer joy of it. He manages to perform with both the energy of a music-obsessed kid and the restraint of a seasoned veteran-because, at heart, he is both! On this latest collection, Tommy has gathered together some great musicians, both old and new friends, to help bring to life these songs that have in his words, been “pulled from the sky as they were floating by.” Lots of musical territory is covered in these 11 cuts, from Latin- flavored instrumental “Poblano,” to Bluegrass-funky “Don't Go Away Sore,” through the novelette title track “Somewhere South of Eden.”
While Caroline Spence may not look like one of the road-hardened troubadours of America's past, with the release of Spades & Roses, the young songwriter from Charlottesville Virginia proves she is every bit as serious. Having won numerous songwriting awards from industry mainstays like the Kerrville Folk Festival and American Songwriter Magazine, and garnered nods and admiration from both Miranda Lambert and her fellow writers in the Nashville underground, Caroline has delivered a record to meet the expectation: Quite simply, 11 songs of gorgeous Americana that remind us of why we fell in love with the genre in the first place.
It’s is a rare but unmistakable authenticity and emotional resonance that can't be faked, all delivered from a voice that somehow manages to be both ethereally pristine and yet profoundly raw and human-- a disarming union of self-assuredness and vulnerability that runs throughout the record. Under the guidance of Producer Neilson Hubbard, "Spades and Roses" strips away all of the sonic barriers that might stand between Caroline and her listener, allowing her fragile melodies and first person confessionals to do their work-- reaching out and empathizing, providing a soundtrack to our own hidden stories. Every song on the record--whether pop or meditative, glib or heartbreaking-- asks the essential question of whether or not the listener can recognize himself.
Whether it’s a song like "Southern Accident," a strikingly personal and heartbreaking account of the lingering effects of her parents divorce on her own search for love and commitment, or "Softball," an extended anthemic metaphor for the all-to-real injustices of the gender gap in modern life, Spades and Roses is Caroline's unflinching testimony and reminder as to why songs are important: It’s about paying attention. It's about whether you can take a handful of chords and find those still points of peace and clarity and joy amidst the basic confusion, struggles, and emotional wreckage of our everyday lives. Most importantly, it’s about finding a way to make it beautiful.
NPR dubbed Caroline “one to follow” and American Songwriter Magazine called her latest album, Spades & Roses "an album of stunning beauty and lasting impact.” Rolling Stone named Caroline as one of the “10 New Country Artists You Need To Know.” Caroline has spent much of the past few years on the road headlining shows, opening for the likes of John Moreland, Jim Lauderdale, Tyler Childers, and Peter Bradley Adams, and making appearances on NPR’s MountainStage and at AmericanaFest. Caroline lives in Nashville, TN where she is currently working on her third album.
Chris Alvarado is an award-winning singer/songwriter and recording artist who calls the beaches of 30A his home. This year marks Chris’ 8th appearance at the Festival. In 2013, he was invited to perform at the 40th annual Telluride Bluegrass Music Festival in Colorado where he placed 3rd in the Telluride Troubadour Competition. In May of 2013, Chris competed in the Wildflower Music Festival's Songwriting Competition in Dallas, Texas and walked away with top honors as the Michael Terry People's Choice Award winner. In 2012, he won the National Recording Academy’s Florida GRAMMY® Showcase.
Chris’ music is featured on Pandora Radio and has seen airplay on national web radio programs. He performed on NPR’s, “Radio Live” in 2014, and receives regular airplay on NPR radio WUWF.
Chris Alvarado also owns and operates Driftwood Guitars, a boutique handcrafted acoustic guitar company. His guitars can be found in the hands of Florida Georgia Line’s Brian Kelley, and he is currently building guitars for this years GRAMMY awards. One of the guitars will be given to Fleetwood Mac to commemorate being named the Grammy’s MusiCares Person of the Year. It will be presented during a ceremony at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, while the other guitar will be auctioned off to benefit the Recording Academy's MusiCares charity program. This year Chris designed and handcrafted the 2018 30A Songwriters Festival Commemorative Guitar which will be auctioned off to benefit the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County. He takes great pride in performing his original music on instruments of his own creation.
Sonically Nashville. Soulfully Alabama. There’s an exciting new voice making waves in musical storytelling.
Born and raised on Alabama soil, Wyatt Edmondson is a young rock/folk singer-songwriter based in Nashville, Tennessee. With two strongly praised demo projects under his belt and a wide array of shows across the southeast, Wyatt hasn’t looked over his shoulder since moving to Nashville from Montgomery, Alabama in 2017, and Music City is quickly taking notice.
Wyatt’s alluring vocals and elegant songwriting make for a powerfully intriguing troubadour full of raw talent, passion, and unapologetic honesty. No stranger to the big stage, Wyatt’s music combines the classic sounds of driving rock with smooth folk resonance. Captivating grooves like his first radio single “The Way You Move” and narrative love song “Lovers Lake” prove that Wyatt’s musical canvas is deeply layered. Whether in the studio or on the stage, each performance sparks intense emotion and makes for a compelling experience that is heartfelt, memorable and purely Wyatt Edmondson.
23-year-old Wyatt Edmondson blossomed in the heart of Montgomery, Alabama into an already locally acclaimed musical family. Inspired by his father, who performed in several top regional bands during his youth, and his grandfather, a revered blind piano tuner extraordinaire Wyatt gained a passion for music at the young age of twelve. Like his grandfather, Wyatt faces a challenge with a form of progressive blindness known as Retinitis Pigmentosa, but the condition has only made his vision for music that much clearer, and for Wyatt, the future looks brighter than ever.
Atlanta, GA based Americana duo The Ormewoods are Don McCollister and Claire Pearson.
Don and Claire bring dynamic individual musical histories to their remarkable partnership.
Don’s 25 year career includes work with Sister Hazel, Shawn Mullins and Third Day. He also
produced tracks for Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush before they formed the superstar duo
Sugarland. Artists that Don McCollister has worked with have collectively sold over 15 million
albums, been nominated for 85 major music awards, of which they have won 47, had 34 #1
billboard hits and charted singles. Often dubbed "the artist's" producer because he himself is a
multi-instrumentalist who continues to perform live.
Claire Pearson (previously performed as Pearson Perry but dropped the Perry moniker after
divorce) is an Atlanta based singer-songwriter whose song "Love is a Mountain" (co-written
with Heidi Higgins) charted #37 on on the top 100 list of most played singles on independent
radio in 2014. She was also one of the top 5 most played pop artists on independent radio in 2014
according to Roots Music Report. She founded Atlanta Intown Songwriters in 2011 to build the
Atlanta artist network for aspiring songwriters.
In 2016, they quickly built a base of fans as they toured the Southeast and Mid-West promoting
their debut album "The Bedroom Sessions". The album continues to receive strong Americana
radio support across the country thanks to their #1 single "HeyBabe" (RootsMusicReport) which
hit #1 in the summer of 2017.
The Bedroom Sessions saw Claire (the duo’s chief songwriter) drawing lyrics directly from
entries in her diary detailing the first 90 days of the duo’s re-connection after many years. The
duo decided the best way to capture the intimate nature of the songs was to turn her bedroom into
a recording studio. Don set up his gear, and the album was recorded in a series of literal bedroom
sessions. While recording and gearing up for the official roll-out of their album, The Ormewoods
scored a unique coup, with the key track “Year of Mercy” being named runner up for Best Folk
Song 2016 by Song of the Year Songwriting Competition and nominated as Best Folk Song of
2016 by the American Songwriting Awards. The dynamic of the what some have called “the
happy Civil Wars” is further reflected on songs like the sly and soulful “Hey Babe,” about the
tension between not wanting to be tied up again and those feelings of falling in love; the playful,
high energy “Back To You,” about finishing what they started so many years ago; and “Sleep
Like Strangers,” about those occasional moments of doubt and distance.
The duo has just released their sophomore album “Not Your Mama’s Folk” which shows them
further defining their modern day folk sound with the addition of Claire on a stompbox Don built
for her and the use of more electric guitar tones. The Ormewoods enjoy nothing more than
loading up gear and hitting the road for live shows where they can share their authentic take on
love and life with all ages and fans of all genres.
Naperville, Illinois native Matt Dragstrem moved to Nashville with dreams to pursue a career as an artist. He attended Belmont University; however, during his attendance, he realized that songwriting was instead the direction in which he wanted to take his talents, and at the end of 2013, he signed his first publishing deal with Big Loud Shirt.
Prior to being signed, his song “Typical” by Amy Stroup was featured on ABC’s Pretty Little Liars. However, his talents continued to blossom, and in early 2014, only months after having been signed, his first major cut came with Kenny Chesney’s track, “Rock Bottom”. The following year, he achieved his first #1 single, “Sippin’ On Fire”, by Florida Georgia Line, and in 2016, Justin Moore’s “You Look Like I Need A Drink” topped the charts. He has also had cuts by various artists including Jake Owen, Blake Shelton, and Tim McGraw.
When asked his influences, Dragstrem stated that artists who inspire him include Billy Joel, Nirvana, Justin Timberlake and Drake. Additionally, Max Martin, Stargate, Pharrell Williams, and Craig Wiseman have been instrumental to him in regards to songwriting.
Dragstrem continues to develop at an exponential pace and sets no boundaries or genre for his creativity.
It’s no secret and it’s been said before: sometimes, you’ve got to leave a place to appreciate that place. Sure, plenty of Southerners have left the South and returned with something to say; music and literature is peppered with such instances. It can’t be stressed enough, though, that leaving a place, can create in a person a certain yearning that the word ‘homesick’ could never define; it’s hard to put a finger on it, when you don’t know what it is your hurting from or missing in life. Forget your preconceived notions, though: if you haven’t been there lately, the South is a land as lush in culture, paradox, pride, sweetness and darkness as it is in humidity and kudzu…and it’s constantly evolving. Kristina Murray’s music, steeped in troubadour storytelling, southern rock grit, and the audible legacies of country queens of yesteryear, wonderfully exemplifies this tension.
Born and raised in the Empire State of the (Dirty) South, and after an almost six year stint making a unmistakable mark on the Americana and Country music scene in Colorado, Murray returned home to the Southland in 2014, this time to Nashville. And that yearning for place and identity—the leaving, then rejecting, then painful longing —is exemplified in the voice of this refreshing songwriter, who Country Music People UK calls “quite sensational…the whole package.”
Murray's late 2013 acclaimed all original debut album, Unravelin’, which the Denver Westword notes as a collection of “eleven tracks [that] reveal a honeyed and spirited vocalist with a distinct style,” Murray is immersed in the Americana and Indie Country scene of Nashville and the greater Southeast, resonating her unmistakable songwriting style and impassioned, honest voice.
Her forthcoming sophomore LP, to be released in 2018, showcases a writer and vocalist with indelible depth, and a poignant, timely perspective on the current American landscape.
Craig Wiseman is one of country music’s most renowned songwriters. From his early days of writing and drumming in Hattiesburg, Mississippi to being crowned Country Songwriter of the Century by ASCAP, he has created for himself a monumental platform in the history of country music. As the writer of songs including Brooks and Dunn’s “Believe” to Blake Shelton’s “Boys ‘Round Here”, Wiseman has amassed over 300 cuts, 100 singles, and 26 #1’s.
After moving to Nashville in 1985 to pursue a career in songwriting, he received his first chart success after having co-written “The Only One” from Roy Orbison’s album, Mystery Girl. In 1990, Wiseman signed his first publishing deal. In 2003, Wiseman opened his own publishing company, and within the first year of the company’s operation, Wiseman experienced the first single of the catalog; “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw not only peaked at the top of the charts for ten weeks, but it also was named song of the year by NSAI, the CMA and the ACM and won the Grammy Award for Best Country Song.
After years of success, accomplishments and hard work, Wiseman was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in October 2015.
Based in Minnesota, but with roots in Tennessee, Chastity grew up surrounded by country and soul music. In the full gospel church of her childhood, she played saxophone and drums and found her singing voice and a passion for music. Her first show was in Knoxville, TN, and then it was on to Minneapolis. Since then, she’s been featured on NPR’s “Favorite Sessions,” CMT, American Songwriter, the London Times, Paste Magazine and others. Chastity has toured the U.S. and abroad, appearing on the U.K.’s Later…with Jools Holland. For much of 2016, she toured alongside folk icon/activist Ani Difranco.
“What I’ve realized is that the personal is political,” Brown said in a recent interview. “Just by me being a bi-racial, half-black, half-white woman living in America right now is political. Just being a person of color, a queer woman of color, for that matter, is freaking political. My focus, as far as this record, I guess it’s really been psychological. I’m really intrigued by the perseverance of the human spirit and the complexities and contradictions that we embody as human beings."
"Silhouette of Sirens is comprised of snapshots of memory, both lived and imagined. Not all of these tunes derive from this, which is why I say, ‘both lived and imagined.' Some are love/sex/relationship-inspired, which in my opinion make the pain one might experience more bearable. In James Baldwin’s essay, ‘The Artist Struggle for Integrity,' he says, 'I tell you my pain so that I might relieve you of yours.'"
Light is a central character on Silhouette of Sirens. Even the title speaks to this push and pull between danger and safety, shadows and shiny lights, and the things we can reach out and touch as opposed to the things we only hear in the distance. “What is even happening? One can only guess,” Brown sings in the opening track “Drive Slow,” embracing an uncertainty and sense of wonder from the beginning of the record. By the third track, she’s carrying us along with her on a journey inward. Like many masterful songwriters, she has the ability to make her stories feel intensely personal yet open-ended; even in “Carried Away,” it’s hard to tell whether she’s singing about a romantic rift, an abusive friendship, or the havoc that anxiety and depression can wreak on an unguarded mind. " “Don’t leave me here all alone / For so long you’ve been my light in the dark,” Brown sings on the album’s centerpiece, “My Stone,” while the sexy, Prince-channeling acoustic funk jam “Whisper” beckons the listener to come closer, to dance with her in the dark, to “whisper in my ear all that you need."
“I think it’s about different types of heartbreak, and how one deals with it,” Brown says of the album. “And not the heartbreak of a coupled relationship; just living life, and the experiences that break your heart. There are these moments on the album where it’s like, ‘this is intense.' And then hopefully, there are moments where it’s alleviated — as I feel like life is. Life is hard. Every tree, every plant, everything you see in the natural world, just through a growth process, you see how hard it is to grow and bend towards the light."
New studio album co-written with wounded combat veterans over the last four years via SongwritingWith:Soldiers.
Every single day, which means some days are better and some much worse.
Every day, on average, twenty-two veterans commit suicide.
That number does not include drug overdoses or car wrecks or any of the more inventive ways somebody might less obviously choose to die.
It seems trivial to suggest those lives might be saved — healed, even — by a song. By the process of writing a song.
And yet there is nothing trivial about Mary Gauthier's tenth album, Rifles & Rosary Beads (Thirty Tigers), all eleven songs co-written with and for wounded veterans. Eleven of the nearly four hundred songs that highly accomplished songwriters have co-written as part of the five-year-old SongwritingWith:Soldiers program.
Participants of the program have shared that the experience of songwriting was life changing for them, some even said life saving. Something about writing that song — telling that story — is healing. What program co-founder Smith calls post-traumatic-growth.
Gauthier's first nine albums presented extraordinary confessional songs, deeply personal, profoundly emotional pieces ranging from “I Drink,” a blunt accounting of addiction, to “March 11, 1962,” the day she was born — and relinquished to an orphanage — to “Worthy,” in which the singer finally understands she is deserving of love. Maybe that's where the confessional song cycle ends, for she has midwifed these eleven new songs in careful collaboration with other souls whose struggle is urgent, immediate, and palpable. And none are about her.
Each song on Rifles & Rosary Beads is a gut punch: deceptively simple and emotionally complex. From the opening “Soldiering On” (“What saves you in the battle/Can kill you at home”) to “Bullet Holes in the Sky” (“They thank me for my service/And wave their little flags/They genuflect on Sundays/And yes, they'd send us back”), while “Iraq” depicts the helpless horror of a female military mechanic being dehumanized and sexually harassed by fellow soldiers.
Darrell Scott, returning from one of Smith's first retreats, called and told Mary she needed to participate. “I felt unqualified,” she says. “I didn't know anything about the military, I was terrified of fucking it up. I didn't feel I knew how to be in the presence of that much trauma without being afraid. But Darrell knew I could do it. Turns out, I was able to sit with the veterans with a sense of calmness and help them articulate their suffering without fear. I was shocked by that. And I took to it.”
It has become a calling. “My job as a songwriter is to find that thing a soul needs to say,” Mary says. “Each retreat brings together a dozen or so soldiers and four songwriters, three songs each in two days. We don't have a choice. We have to stay focused, listen carefully, and make sure every veteran gets their own song. And we always do.”
“None of the veterans are artists. They don't write songs, they don't know that songs can be used to move trauma. Their understanding of song doesn't include that. For me it's been the whole damn deal. Songwriting saved me. It's what I think the best songs do, help articulate the ineffable, make the invisible visible, creating resonance, so that people, (including the songwriter) don’t feel alone.
The impact of these songs becomes visible quickly, unexpectedly.
Featured in the TV series “Nashville,” the Bluebird Cafe now prospers as a tourist destination. The room fills twice a night with people thrilled to be in the presence of real live Nashville songwriters.
Who, in turn, are thrilled to be in the presence of a paying audience that can do nothing to advance their careers, save give a genuine response to their songs.
The gentleman at the next table has handsome white hair and a hundred-dollar casual shirt, and almost certainly had no idea who Mary Gauthier was, nor what her songs might be about, when he came out of the sunlight into the darkened listening room. He knows, now. Thick, manicured fingers cover his face, trying to catch his slow tears. His wife sits close, watches carefully, but knows better than to touch him.
He is not alone in that small audience.
Every day we are touched by the veterans in our lives, whether we know it or not.
Every single day. Even if it's only the guy on Main Street, in the wheelchair, with the flag.
Every single day
And, yes, a song may be the answer.
“Because the results are so dramatic, this could work for other traumas,” Mary says. “Trauma is the epidemic. You say opioid, I say trauma epidemic. As an addict, I know addiction is self-medication because of suffering, and beneath that pain is always trauma. Underneath so much of the problems in the world is trauma, it's the central issue humanity is dealing with. We've found something powerful here, that brings hope to people who are hurting. So they are truly seen, and know they are not alone.”
The Wide Open
The Wide Open
The Wide Open
The Wide Open are not trying to fit into a mold anyone else has cast. Crisscrossing the country
in their 32-foot Winnebago armed with their blues-drenched Americana, the duo has discovered
their calling––and fans of honest music are grateful for it.
“I just want you to have all of me when I sing a song, so if it’s real to me then it will be real to
you,” says singer-songwriter and award-winning harmonica player Allen Rayfield, who with
fellow power vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Season Ammons, forms duo The Wide Open. “I
love the authenticity of Robert Johnson and all the old blues, folk, and roots music. I like to sit
down with my guitar and write the song that needs to be written at the time,” says Rayfield. For
Ammons, creating is deeply personal. “I love melodies and usually will form a melody around a
phrase or hook,” she explains. “Then, I’ll pick up an instrument and hash out more music and
phrasing to create a story based on some aspect in my life that is or once was true.”
The pair’s sophomore release Long Road Home pulses with the kind of raw immediacy Rayfield
praises and craves. A tight collection of original songs driven by Ammons’ and Rayfield’s gritty
chemistry, the anticipated record is the follow-up to 2015’s We’ll Get By, which netted the pair an
Independent Music Award nod for Best Americana Album and was soon followed by an
acclaimed appearance on Destin, Florida’s PBS affiliate.
Confident and often downright virtuosic, Long Road Home clearly benefits from the miles the
road-dogging duo logs each year: at least 200 dates in roadhouses and listening rooms across
the country. The Wide Open recorded the album on analog tape at Yellow Dog Studios in
Wimberley, Texas, producer Dave Percefull’s Blanco-River lining vintage studio. “Dave was
great in the studio and knew exactly how to capture the sound we wanted, as well as exactly
how to get the performance he wanted,” Ammons says. “It was fun and intense and exciting.”
For fans of The Wide Open, such a triumphant record is cause for celebration but far from a
surprise––a beautiful new chapter for two people who can’t help but inspire one another and just
about everyone else who knows or merely hears them. After meeting on stage in Florida, the
two began collaborating, not expecting anything more than great songs. “Neither one of us was
looking for romance, but the love we shared on and off the stage became undeniable,” Rayfield
Ammons and Rayfield both traveled unique roads to get to one another. Dallas native Ammons
cut her teeth on the Texas opry circuit before moving to Nashville to focus on songwriting. A
warm reflection of the country, jazz, and blues vocalists she grew up loving, Ammons’ voice
demanded attention. She was a regional finalist on talent-scouting machine Nashville Star and
released a solo debut in 2011, a standout that garnered a Texas Music Awards nod, before
moving to the Fort Walton Beach area in Florida the following year. Ammons’ second solo
record turned heads and clinched nominations throughout Texas and Florida.
Gig after gig, album after album, Ammons became well known and beloved on the Emerald
Coast as a solid guitarist, magnetic performer, and gifted writer. Then she met Rayfield.
A St. Louis native, Rayfield was known as a songwriter and gifted harmonica player within the
blues community––he’d later go on to win three consecutive Best Harmonica Player trophies at
the annual Beachcomber awards not long after moving to Florida in 2013. He relocated with the
intention of giving songwriting and performing a wholehearted effort after weathering
devastating news: in 2007 at just 30 years old, he was diagnosed with Friedreich’s Ataxia, an
incurable neurological disease that affects his muscles, coordination, and causes spasms. Not
even a year later, he was in a wheelchair. “I decided to do something about it,” Rayfield says.
He spent two months riding 1,486 miles from St. Louis to the East Coast on a hand-powered
recumbent bicycle to raise awareness about the disease. When he arrived in Ocean City,
Maryland, the mayor greeted him with a key to the city.
Rayfield has since experienced a miraculous regression in the disease and regained his ability
to walk. He attributes the process to his advocacy, alternative medicine, healthy diet, prayer and
meditation, yoga, and staying passionate about life.
Ammons and Rayfield cut fierce figures––and more than music aficionados have noticed. New
York Times bestselling author Paige Tyler based two characters in her book Wolf Unleashed:
SWAT: Special Wolf Alpha Team on the couple.
Long Road Home’s title track is a perfect example why. Also the album’s lead single, the song
gleefully incorporates sly banjo licks into a winking ode to doing things your own way. “It’s a fun
song about taking chances and having fun––and possibly doing the wrong things for the right
reasons,” Rayfield says. The pair’s muscly harmonies buoy the mood alongside playful strings.
“Feel Alright” blithely captures brash desire, while “Walton County Jail” is a bluesy masterpiece,
fueled by Rayfield’s gravely lead vocals and meaty harmonica. Moody “Raining in Memphis” is a
winsome stroll through regret and longing, while “Ol’ Missouri” nods to bluegrass in a sweet
singalong. Haunting album standout “Rainy Day Serenade” is a hushed meditation revolving
around Ammons’ stunning vocal delivery and perfect punctuations from Rayfield’s harmonica.
“I will obsess over the words and chords until I have a solid song working,” Rayfield says of his
composing process. “I will usually finish it even if it takes hours because I struggle walking away
from the moment I am having with the song.”
Ultimately, for both members of The Wide Open, the toiling through the years, miles, and
heartbreak that had to unfold in order to create Long Road Home has been worth it. “Long Road
Home captures an emotional roller coaster of real passion and truth,” Rayfield says. Ammons
says “The pain and joy it took to follow our love for each other and our love of music was both
transforming and overwhelming.” She pauses, then breathes deeply as she adds, “This album
helped us both heal and grow in ways we never imagined.”
Collaborating across multiple genres ranging from Roots-Rock and Pop to Hip Hop and Electronic Dance Music, classifying Daphne Willis in musical terms is no easy task. With infectious melodies delivered with lyrical precision and honesty, the songs and performances of Daphne Willis are sincere, compelling and relevant.
Raised in Chicago and relocated now to Nashville, Willis cites influences as varied as Elvis Costello and Michael Jackson, but her musical output cleverly incorporates such inspirations into a style that is refreshing and contemporary in a way that suits her songs best.