Composer, singer-songwriter, actor, author, and activist Sting was born in Newcastle, England before moving to London in 1977 to form The Police with Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers. The band released five studio albums, earned six Grammy Awards and two Brits, and was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.
As one of the world’s most distinctive solo artists, Sting has received an additional 10 Grammy Awards, two Brits, a Golden Globe, an Emmy, four Oscar nominations (including 2017’s nomination for “The Empty Chair” from JIM: THE JAMES FOLEY STORY), a TONY nomination, Billboard Magazine’s Century Award, and MusiCares 2004 Person of the Year. Also a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, he has received the Kennedy Center Honors, The American Music Award of Merit and most recently, The Polar Music Prize.
His latest album, 57th & 9th, was released in November 2016 followed by the critically-acclaimed 57th & 9th World Tour which recently concluded having performed 115 concerts throughout North America, Asia, Latin America & Europe. Hailed “the show of a lifetime” (The Vancouver Globe & Mail), Sting: Live At The Olympia Paris will be released November 10 on DVD and captures the musician’s guitar-driven rock tour as it hit the French capital at the iconic venue in April 2017.
Throughout his illustrious career, Sting has sold close to 100 million albums from his combined work with The Police and as a solo artist.
He has appeared in more than 15 films, executive produced the critically acclaimed A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, and in 1989 starred in The Threepenny Opera on Broadway. His most recent theatre project was the TONY-nominated musical The Last Ship, inspired by his memories of the shipbuilding community of Wallsend in the North East of England where he was born and raised. The show, with music and lyrics by Sting and book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey, ran on Broadway in 2014 and 2015.
Sting’s support for human rights organizations such as the Rainforest Fund, Amnesty International, and Live Aid mirrors his art in its universal outreach. Along with wife Trudie Styler, Sting founded the Rainforest Fund in 1989 to protect both the world’s rainforests and the indigenous people living there. Together they have held 18 benefit concerts to raise funds and awareness for our planet’s endangered resources. Since its inception, the Rainforest Fund has expanded to a network of interconnected organizations working in more than 20 countries over three continents.
Over the course of his multi-faceted career, John Mayer has established himself as one of the most well-known and versatile artists in today’s music scene. He has sold over 20 million albums worldwide. He has received a total of nineteen Grammy nominations and taken home seven trophies. He has received countless other nominations and accolades. In 2001, MAYER released his first studio album, Room for Squares, which was a critically acclaimed commercial success, achieving multi-platinum status and spawning several hits including the Grammy winning song, Your Body Is a Wonderland. Two years later, MAYER followed up with his second multi-platinum album, Heavier Things, generating another Grammy winning tune, Daughters. In 2006 MAYER released his third studio album, Continuum, which received a Grammy for Best Pop Album and another Grammy for its single Waiting on the World to Change. MAYER has released a total of seven studio albums, including his latest The Search for Everything, which was released in three separate waves in 2017 and went straight to #1 on iTunes. In addition to his solo projects, MAYER is also known for venturing outside of his traditional sound to collaborate with other artists. In the mid-2000s, MAYER formed the John Mayer Trio with bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Steve Jordan, which broadened his original sound by incorporating elements of the blues. In 2015 he collaborated with Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart to form the touring band Dead & Company.
AND THE SENSATIONAL SPACE SHIFTERS
Though Robert Plant has returned to the Welsh borders, he retains the sensibility—and the soul—of an itinerant troubadour. His diverse musical points of reference stand out like pins on a map, from Austin, Texas to Timbuktu, Mali. Plant treasures transience.
On his second Nonesuch album, Carry Fire, Plant reflects on the experiences, the emotions and the sounds of where he’s been, and he ruminates on where he—and our world—might be headed. Bittersweet songs of love remembered and of time passing, are juxtaposed against cautionary tales, of people and nations that have failed to learn the familiar lessons of history.
“I’ve filled many British passports,” says Plant. “It’s like I’m just moving through the spheres. I feel like a mariner who has spent so much time in so many different ports of call, experiencing so many different adventures and scenarios. So perhaps this collection is more ‘pictures at twelve’ rather than ‘pictures at eleven’.”
“May Queen” starts the album on an upbeat note, percussive psychedelic folk, with Plant’s vocal alternating between seductive and yearning. “Carry Fire,” on the other hand, is a kind of haunted desert blues, bolstered by a pulsing rhythm, ghostly backing voices, and a viola chasing the melody of an electric oud. The anthemic rock beat of “New World” visits the everlasting story of immigration, expansion and the disastrous effects on existing cultures. “Carving Up The World Again” is a more contemporary glimpse of “trouble at the border” and the futile palisades and walls. The sole cover is a pounding, trip hop-style take on Ersel Hickey’s 1957 sweet and simple rockabilly hit, “Bluebirds Over The Mountain,” reconceived as an otherworldly duet for Plant and the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, two iconic voices that intertwine beautifully.
Once again Plant collaborates with the Sensational Space Shifters, his well-matched band of brilliant, eclectic players with whom he’s been touring, on and off, since 2002: longtime guitarist Justin Adams, keyboardist-programmer John Baggott, bassist Billy Fuller, drummer Dave Smith, and guitarist Liam “Skin” Tyson. Collectively, the group—which evolved out of an earlier Plant backing combo, Strange Sensation—has its roots in folk and world music, and the still-influential Bristol Sound of Massive Attack and Portishead, propelled by the juggernaut Howling Wolf/Led Zep legacy.
Even before they’d developed a repertoire of their own, Plant and the Space Shifters had a unique live sound, a heady mix of American roots music, Celtic folk, reverberating trip hop, and hypnotic Middle Eastern and African grooves. They employed this sonic arsenal to reinterpret old blues standards, Led Zeppelin classics, and Plant’s earlier solo work at festivals and on concert tours. That exploratory approach became the foundation for Plant’s acclaimed 2014 Nonesuch debut, lullaby….and the Ceaseless Roar, his first album of original compositions since 2005.
On Carry Fire, Plant and the Space Shifters make what Plant calls “a mélange a trois”: “It’s a very British thing, the Bristol thing and then the element of North African and West African drum rhythms brought together with plaintive melodies.” Plant added a new voice to this polyglot sound by inviting fiddle and viola player Seth Lakeman, a luminary of the British folk scene, as a guest star on these sessions, much as he did with Gambian musician Juldeh Camara, on lullaby.
While Plant wrote the words, the group collectively brainstormed the basic tracks, encouraged by Plant to bring the same sense of fearlessness and spontaneity they display on stage. As guitarist Justin Adams told the New York Times, Plant “can create an atmosphere where suddenly lightning is more likely to strike. In collaborative music, it’s often not a question of careful writing and composition and all these sorts of things. It’s more the spirit of the moment when things come together in a flash. And he’s an expert on that.”
“Some things were really spontaneous.” Plant corroborates. “I’d been singing ‘Bluebirds’ live with the band for a while. I approached Chrissie because I wanted a female voice. It’s such a retro-esque part for her, a 1957 rockabilly song…and now we’ve screwed it to the ground and put it through the Bristol sonic mill. That one came straight away. And ‘Carry Fire’ was very immediate. Justin has a beautiful electric oud line from which it developed. I’m inspired by the rhythmic grooves we create. We specialize in hypnotic moments of atmosphere and sounds. And of course there’s the bendir”—a North African hand drum—“underneath many of these rhythms”.
Plant produced the album himself with contributions from all the musicians, with the help of engineer Tim Oliver, who was also on board for lullaby. With Oliver, Plant assembled layers of backing vocal tracks. They provide a lushness to the otherwise brooding “A Way With Words,” enhance the dreamy sensuality of “Season’s Song,” and help to dial up the romantic drama of “Dance With You Tonight.” Plant even uses some unlikely pop harmonies to serve as counterpoint to the main voice on “New World.”
“We recorded it in a studio next to Peter Gabriel’s ‘Real World,’ not far from Bristol and Bath in the West Country. It’s a real hive of industry there. Working alongside the main studios, we’d encounter many artists from around the world. It’s an inspiring atmosphere. You meet Welsh singers, African players from Niger, and American Bluegrass goddesses passing through. It’s a creative place”.
Plant has never been an artist to rest on his laurels. He’s a multiple Grammy Award winner, most recently for Raising Sand, his collaboration with Alison Krauss; as a member of Led Zeppelin, he’s a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee; and, in a 2011 Rolling Stone poll, readers named him the top rock vocalist of all time. On the closing track, “Heaven Sent”—a song he calls “the anthem of my being”—he describes a restless, journeying spirit: “All that’s worth the doing is seldom easy done/All that’s worth the winning is seldom easy won…”
“It’s about intention,” said Plant of his latter-day career and his current work. “I rejoice in my previous work but must continue the journey to new worlds, after all there are so many songs that are yet to be written. The whole impetus of the band has shifted, moved on its axis somewhat to allow more air and light to come in. Ultimately that makes for more exciting, and interesting landscapes of mood, melody and instrumentation.
Regarded as one of the preeminent rock musicians of our time, Lenny Kravitz has transcended genre, style, race and class into a 20-year musical career, one which revels in the rich influences of ’60s and ’70s soul, rock and funk.
Kravitz’s talents as a writer, producer and multi-instrumentalist have resonated through ten studio albums into a timeless catalog. He has won four consecutive GRAMMY Awards, setting a record for the most wins in the “Best Male Rock Vocal Performance” category. Lenny Kravitz’s appeal has also been recognized by his peers; his collaborative efforts are as varied as his own influences, having worked with Madonna, Drake, Aerosmith, Jay-Z, Mick Jagger, Miguel, and Alicia Keys.
His tenth studio album Strut was released in September 2014 via Roxie Records/ Kobalt Label Services. The album is a real rock & roll record that hits hard rhythmically and looks back on the 1970’s metropolis of funky after-hours grooves and soulful hooks. The album was named one of Rolling Stone’s Top Albums of 2014 and includes such standout titles as “New York City,” “I Never Want to Let You Down” and “She’s a Beast.”
Having sold over 38 million albums worldwide, Lenny Kravitz’s musical success has afforded him many opportunities to fulfill his creative vision beyond the recording industry. Amongst his other endeavors, Kravitz has appeared in a supporting role in the critically-acclaimed film Precious, and the box office smash film The Hunger Games, as Cinna. He reprised this role in the second film which was released in Fall 2013. Lenny was also seen in Lee Daniels’ The Butler (The Weinstein Company) alongside Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey.
Lenny Kravitz has also launched a creative firm, Kravitz Design Inc., which provides commercial and residential design services as well as specializes in product development and branding. Kravitz Design touts a portfolio of noteworthy ventures, with a range that includes chandeliers for Swarovski Crystal Palace Collection, suites at the SLS Hotel Miami Beach and Paramount Bay, a 47-story bay front condominium in Miami. Kravitz Design has undertaken the creative vision for a collection of luxury suites at the SLS Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas as well as L’Arc, a celebrated nightclub in Paris, France. Kravitz Design also collaborated with CB2 and with iconic California lifestyle brand Fred Segal and will be introducing its first-ever designer collaboration called Fred Segal x Kravitz Design. Their latest collaboration is with Leica – creating a strictly limited special edition of 125 Leica M-P (Typ 240) “Correspondent” camera.
Counting Crows – Adam Duritz (vocals), Jim Bogios (drums), David Bryson (guitar), Charlie Gillingham (keyboards), David Immergluck (guitar), Millard Powers (bass) and Dan Vickrey (guitar) – have sold more than 20 million albums worldwide after exploding onto the music scene with their multiplatinum breakout album August and Everything After in 1993. Known for creating unique and innovative concert experiences year after year, Counting Crows is recognized as one of the world’s most pre-eminent touring live rock bands. The band released their seventh studio album Somewhere Under Wonderland in September 2014, which earned critical acclaim as one of the “band’s best,” scored a top 10 debut and was recognized as one of the group’s “stronger works (USA Today),” claiming a spot on Rolling Stone’s Top 50 Songs of the 2014 list with the track “Dislocation”.
Known as the force behind Talking Heads and later as creator of the highly-regarded record-label Luaka Bop, David Byrne is also a photographer, film director, author, solo artist, and has published and exhibited visual art for more than a decade. Recent works include Joan of Arc: Into the Fire, a theatrical exploration of the historical heroine; The Institute Presents: NEUROSOCIETY, a series of interactive environments created in conjunction with PACE Arts + Technology; Contemporary Color, an event inspired by the American folk tradition of color guard; Here Lies Love, a 22-song theatrical production about the life of Imelda Marcos; Love This Giant, a studio album and worldwide tour created with St. Vincent (2012); and How Music Works, a book about the history, experience, and social aspects of music (2012).
A nine-time GRAMMY AWARD recipient, Sheryl Crow is an American music icon. Her nine studio albums have sold 35 million copies worldwide; seven of them charted in the Top 10 and five were certified for Multi-Platinum sales. In addition to such No. 1 hits as “All I Wanna Do,” “Soak Up the Sun” and “The First Cut Is the Deepest,” Crow has lofted 40 singles into the Billboard Hot 100, Adult Top 40, Adult Contemporary, Mainstream Top 40 and Hot Country Songs charts, with more No. 1 singles in the Triple A listings than any other female artist. Many artists have collaborated with her on special projects, including the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Smokey Robinson and Tony Bennett. She is known as well for her passionate support of multiple charities, including City Of Hope, Stand Up To Cancer, The World Food Program, Feeding America, ADOPT A CLASSROOM, the TJ Martell Foundation, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, MusiCares, the Special Olympics and many other worthy causes. Her most recent album and first for Warner Bros. Records, Be Myself, was release on April 21, 2017.
BRIAN SETZER’S ROCKABILLY RIOT!
Iconic guitarist, songwriter, vocalist and 3-time Grammy-award-winner BRIAN SETZER is a “Musician’s Musician” credited with continually taking chances with innovative and daring musical styles. Setzer is widely credited for taking two forgotten genres, rockabilly and swing, adding his own blend of gunpowder and rockin style, and completely reinventing and single-handedly resurrecting them in the process. Along the way, he has scored chart-topping hits, sold 13 million records and received the Orville H. Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award throughout his decorated career as founder/leader of the Stray Cats, his 19-piece Brian Setzer Orchestra, and as a solo artist. He is consistently cited as one of the world’s greatest living guitarists, and has a best-selling, extensive line of elite Gretsch signature model guitars bearing his name. BRIAN appeared in the 1987 film, La Bamba, portraying rockabilly pioneer Eddie Cochran. In 2002, BRIAN earned the privilege of being one of the few musicians to be animated in an episode of “The Simpsons.” That same year, SETZER was personally requested to induct Chet Atkins into the 17th Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. SETZER had the honor of being invited in 2006 to perform at the White House for the President of the United States. In 2014, SETZER received the distinct honor of being asked by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. to donate a replica of his original 1959 Gretsch 6120 “Stray Cat” guitar, joining an elite collection of iconic treasures at the museum.
Every story has two sides, and that adage is certainly true for Kaleo, the four-piece band from Iceland who now call the US home. Call it a split upbringing: the isolated heritage that results from coming of age in Iceland has paired with the fresh inspiration of moving to America, and the band has built a sound to match the disparate landscapes. A gorgeous and raucous blend of rock, folk and blues, Kaleo’s debut LP embodies that very spirit of duality: titled A/B, the album showcases the band’s multi-layered dynamics and ability to play different genres with equal skill.
Best friends since attending elementary school outside of Reykjavik, bandleader JJ Julius Son, drummer David Antonsson, and bassist Daniel Kristjansson began playing together at the age of 17 before adding guitarist Rubin Pollock to the mix in 2012. They named the band Kaleo, which means “the sound” in Hawaiian, and started their career in with a handful of well-received shows at the 2012 Iceland Airwaves music festival. The band signed to Elektra/Atlantic and moved to the States in early 2015, choosing Austin as their new base.
“It has obviously been a big change coming from a small country of 300 thousand people in Iceland to the USA with over 300 million people,” says JJ Julius Son. “We’ve learned a lot, and we are more experienced now than when we first came. Overall it’s been a
great adventure.” The past year has been a busy one for the band, as they’ve played nearly nonstop—including over 45 US states—as well as notching a spot on the
soundtrack to HBO’s hit show Vinyl and recording a full length album with the producer Jacquire King in Nashville.
The concept behind A/B comes from Julius Son’s love of the split sides of vinyl records
and their ability to showcase an artist’s different sides. “I write very different songs that many would like to label into different genres,” he says. “The idea of A/B is to show the diversity and the two sides of the band.” The “A” side is more rock and roll and blues (opener “No Good,” “Way Down We Go,” “Hot Blood”), while the “B” side is a bit softer with more ballads (“All the Pretty Girls,” “Vor I Vaglaskogi,” and closer “I Can’t Go On Without You”). But no matter which side you’re on and which song is playing, the sound can only be that of Kaleo.
A/B was primarily produced and recorded with King, the esteemed production icon whose past work with talented artists as varied as Tom Waits, Kings of Leon, Norah Jones, Buddy Guy, James Bay, and Of Monsters and Men helped Kaleo showcase both their louder and softer sides. In addition to the sessions in Nashville, Kaleo wrote and recorded in various other locales around their new home in the US as well as a few different sessions around the world, from their home of Iceland to Spain and London as well. Additional production contributions to the album in these various sessions came from Mike Crossey, Arnar Guðjónsson and the band.
Starting off A/B with a bang, “No Good” welcomes in the “A” side with its crunching, bluesy stomp-rock. Julius Son’s deep, raspy growl is perfectly paired to the band’s snarling assault, and sets the bar high for the rest of the record to come. “Kiss your baby goodbye,” he purrs, and with that, we’re off and running.
“Way Down We Go” is filled with bluesy angst and anchored by piano and rhythmic,
pounding drumming. Julius Son’s vocals shift into the higher registers just as easily as they find their home at the bottom.
“All the Pretty Girls” leads off the “B” side, and in a sense it was the song that started it all for Kaleo in the beginning. In the spring of 2014, they recorded the lush, introspective song and in one night their destiny to outgrow their small, island nation was cemented, as it spread like wildfire across the airwaves.
“Vor I Vaglaskogi” is a traditional Icelandic love song, and the only one sung in the
band’s native language. The song’s beauty and power transcend the fact that most in their newly found worldwide audience will not be able to understand it. And for Julius Son, that notion fits right in with how he likes his lyrics to be interpreted anyway.
“I prefer to let the listener decide what each song means to them instead of me telling my own personal connection,” he says. “Some of the songs are very personal for me, though—some more than others. But it seems that different people connect to songs in a different way, often based on personal experiences or things that you are going through at that time.”
Rock ’n’ roll music has always been a reflection of the times, and the new Gov’t Mule album, Revolution Come… Revolution Go, is no exception.
With Revolution Come… Revolution Go, to be released June 9th on Fantasy Records, the band again sets the tone for their legacy with its cleverly-crafted songs, intelligent lyrical commentary, and downright incendiary playing. It’s those traditions, combined with an observant eye on the present, that define their tenth full-length studio effort.
“It was very poignant that we went into the studio in Austin, Texas, to begin recording on Election Day,” Grammy Award-winning vocalist and guitar legend Warren Haynes recalls of the November 2016 recording sessions. “Like most people, we really had no idea that the election was going to turn out the way it did. That changed everything – from a lyrical perspective. It’s not a political record, per se, but there are political connotations. There are also love songs, relationship songs, and songs about working together to make this a better planet. It covers a lot of ground, but it definitely starts and ends as a rock ’n’ roll record. It’s all within the realm of what we do, but it explores a lot of territory and, in some cases, territory we’ve never explored before.”
Steeped in the roots and mystique of rock, blues, soul, and jazz, the quartet — Haynes, Matt Abts [drums], Danny Louis [keyboards, guitar, and backing vocals], and Jorgen Carlsson [bass] — is equally recognized for its stirring songwriting and storytelling as it is for the improvisational virtuosity that fuels their countless live performances. Their music has galvanized a fan base of millions around the world, reaching a place of preeminence as one of the most timeless, revered and active bands in the world whose spot amongst rock titans remains unshakable.
This record threads together moments of soul, country, and tried-and-true virtuosic, vibrant, and vital rock. A patchwork of styles, it proudly ushers along Gov’t Mule’s next phase.
“One of our missions has always been to stay together as a band long enough to bring all of these different influences to the surface,” Haynes goes on. “Blues, funk, and soul are a part of what we do. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, the umbrella of rock music had room for so many different stylistic approaches – bands that were worlds apart were still considered ‘rock’ bands. We’ve always taken a cue from that. And although I’ve said it previously about other Gov’t Mule releases, this is probably the most diverse record we’ve ever made. That’s really important to us.”
The first of two lead singles, the soulful “Sarah, Surrender,” sees Haynes’ simmering vocal delivery take center stage over a groove punctuated by congas, organ, a female back-up chorus, and jazz-y guitar licks. Evoking Curtis Mayfield and Al Green, it illuminates yet another musical facet of the band.
“‘Sarah, Surrender’ was the last song written for the project,” Haynes explains, “and was recorded in New York City in January , after the Austin sessions were done. It seemed like the missing piece to the puzzle.”
Meanwhile, the other lead single, “Stone Cold Rage,” packs a walloping punch. An ominous riff gives way to furiously funky wah-pedal cries as Haynes screams, “Mama’s gonna be a martyr.”
“‘Stone Cold Rage’ represents the divide that’s going on in our country right now,” Haynes points out about the song. “Even though it was written before the election, it was written knowing that whichever way the results went, we were going to have close to fifty percent of the nation very angry. Musically, it’s an aggressive up-tempo rock song that reflects the anger of the lyrics, but with a sense of sarcasm and humor.”
Whether it’s the rustic steel guitar of the countrified road song “Traveling Tune” or the dark twists and turns of the nearly nine-minute “Thorns Of Life,” each moment of the album comprises an unpredictable journey that somehow adds to the overall flow. Says Haynes, “We still believe in the concept of an ‘album’ having its own collective personality.”
After having invited 11 guest vocalists to offer different interpretations of the songs on their last studio effort, Shout!, the band wanted to keep the guests to a minimum this time around, however, Jimmie Vaughan turns up for a sizzling cameo on the super-charged “Burning Point.” Haynes says, “When I first wrote ‘Burning Point,’ it had more of a New Orleans feel to it. But when we got into the studio in Austin to record it, it took on more of a Texas vibe, and Jimmie really added to that.”
Longtime collaborator Gordie Johnson joined Haynes as co-producer for six tunes, while the iconic Don Was co-produced the powerful and moving “Dreams & Songs” and “Pressure Under Fire” along with the frontman. The latter explodes into a lyrical guitar solo as Haynes urges, “We’ve got to get out of this mess.”
“‘Pressure Under Fire’ is essentially another political song, but it comes from the standpoint that we’re all in this together, and it’s up to us to make it work,” Haynes states. “The opening line, ‘Just another song about the same thing,’ recognizes this is a message that we’ve heard before, but it needs to be said—especially now.”
Another politically-charged song, “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground,” is the reworking of the traditional blues instrumental originally recorded by Blind Willie Johnson, to which Haynes added lyrics and the band turned into an epic gospel rock closer. “Dark Was The Night,” along with the aforementioned “Thorns Of Life” and “Revolution Come, Revolution Go,” comprise the three centerpieces of the album from a musical arrangement standpoint.
About the song “Revolution Come,” Haynes explains, “It starts out as a swinging rock song, and then it goes into this blues shuffle that feels almost like a different composition altogether. It also has a jazz improv section, but ends up where it starts out. That’s indicative of what the message is: going through all of these changes and winding up where you began.”
Haynes goes on to say, “In many ways, the chemistry between the four of us is an extension of the chemistry that the original trio had. The approach we take to the music is the same uncompromising and adventurous approach, although it’s inevitable that the music is going to grow in different directions. The common thread is the influences we choose and the way we play together, which harkens back to how important improvisation was in most of the music we all love. At the end of the day, we’re friends. Making this music is satisfying in a way that’s completely different from any other project I’ve been a part of. That’s what inspires all of us.”
It all took off for Keb’ Mo’ in 1994 with the self-titled release under his newly coined Keb’ Mo’moniker, and over the years, he has proven that he is a musical force that defies typical genre labels. Album after album, 11 in total, garnered him 3 GRAMMY awards and a producer/engineer/artist GRAMMY Certificate for his track on the 2001 Country Album of the Year, Hank Williams Tribute – Timeless. He has received 11 GRAMMY nominations, in total, including Country Song of the Year for “I Hope,” co-written with The Dixie Chicks, and 3 alone for his 2014 self-produced release, BLUESAmericana including Americana Album of the Year. Keb’ has also been awarded 11 Blues Foundation Awards and 6 BMI Awards for his work in TV & Film.
Over the past two decades, Keb’ has cultivated a reputation as a modern master of American roots music through the understated excellence of his live and studio performances. Artists who have recorded his songs include B.B. King, Buddy Guy, the Dixie Chicks, Joe Cocker, Robert Palmer, Tom Jones, Melissa Manchester, Solomon Burke and the Zac Brown Band to name a few. The list of artist collaborations comprises a who’s who in the music industry and includes Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal, Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Jackson Browne, Natalie Cole, Lyle Lovett, India Arie, James Cotton, Bobby Rush, Timothy B. Schmit, Marcus Miller and many more. His guitar playing has garnered him 2 invites to Eric Clapton’s acclaimed Crossroads Festival and has inspired leading instrument makers, Gibson Brands, to issue the Keb’ Mo’ Signature Bluesmaster and Bluesmaster Royale acoustic guitars and Martin Guitars to issue the HD-28KM Keb’ Mo’ Limited Edition Signature model.
He has been featured in TV and film, playing Robert Johnson in the 1998 documentary “Can’t You Hear The Wind Howl”, appeared three times on the television series, “Touched By An Angel”, and was the ghostly bluesman Possum in John Sayles’ 2007 movie, “Honeydripper”. Keb’ created “Martha’s Theme” for the TV show Martha Stewart Living. Keb’ also wrote and performed the theme song for the hit sit-com, Mike & Molly, created by Chuck Lorre and was music composer for TNT’s Memphis Beat starring Jason Lee. In early 2017, nine songs from Keb’s extensive catalog were featured in the film Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Higher Ground on the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries channel. This film was also Keb’s first feature film lead acting role He appears in an episode on the CMT series “Sun Records” as Howlin’ Wolf and can be heard playing his original song “Operator”. Keb’ has played his iconic version of America The Beautiful in the series finale of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing, as well as at the actual White House for President Obama.
Keb’ Mo’ has been a long-time supporter of the Playing For Change Foundation, a nonprofit organization that creates positive change through music education. PFCF provides free music education to children in 9 countries, including Brazil, Bangladesh, Ghana, Mali, Nepal, Rwanda, South Africa and the United States, and has established 12 music schools around the world. They also work with partners to address basic needs in the communities where they teach, including providing education, clean water, food, medicines, clothing, books and school supplies.
Additionally, Keb’ is a celebrity mentor with the Kennedy Center’s Turnaround Arts program, which focuses on elementary and middle schools throughout the US. This highly successful program began under the guidance of Michelle Obama and the President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities. Each artist adopts an under performing school and becomes a mentor, working with teachers, students, parents and the community to help build a successful arts education program. Keb’ enjoys his mentorship at The Johnson School of Excellence in Chicago, Illinois.
In 2017, Keb’ Mo’ released TajMo, a collaborative album with the legendary Taj Mahal. The multi-generational duo went on to tour the US and Europe in support of their album; which has since earned a GRAMMY nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album.
Pigeonholing Blackberry Smoke has never been easy. Since emerging from Atlanta in the early ‘00s, the quintet—vocalist/lead guitarist Charlie Starr, guitarist/vocalist Paul Jackson, bassist/vocalist Richard Turner, drummer Brit Turner and keyboardist Brandon Still—has become known for a singular sound indebted to classic rock, blues, country and folk.
This fluidity has paid off handsomely, in the form of two Billboard chart-topping country albums, 2015’s Holding All The Roses and 2016’s Like An Arrow. (For good measure, the latter also topped Billboard’s Americana/Folk album chart.)
Find A Light, Blackberry Smoke’s sixth studio album, doubles down on diversity. Songs hew toward easygoing roots-rock (“Run Away From It All”) and Southern rock stomps (“The Crooked Kind”), as well as stripped-down acoustic numbers (“I’ve Got This Song”) and bruising alt-country (“Nobody Gives A Damn”). Rich instrumental flourishes—keening fiddle, solemn organ and bar-band piano boogie—add further depth and resonance.
“That’s one of my favorite things about Blackberry Smoke albums—there’s a lot of variety,” Starr says. “My favorite albums through the years are built that way, too. I love a record that keeps you guessing. I love the fact that our records are sort of a ride, with different types of songs and different vibes.”
Within Blackberry Smoke’s catalog, Find A Light is distinctive in several notable ways. The record sounds heavier than other albums; in fact, Starr characterizes the churning, scorched-blues album opener, “Flesh And Bone,” as “maybe the heaviest song we’ve ever recorded.” The title has deep significance to the record’s overarching themes.
“Most of our albums have been named either for a song on the album or a lyric, and this time I didn’t want to do that,” Starr says. “I thought, ‘What headspace is humanity in as a whole?’ That’s pretty hard to argue with that. I think everybody is hoping and looking for something better right now.”
Accordingly, Find A Light’s lyrics portray characters weighed down by the pressures of everyday life. “Flesh And Bone” explores the conundrum of temptation; “Run Away From It All” is about seizing the day and trying to leave troubles behind; and “Nobody Gives A Damn” cautions about letting external achievements such as an attractive partner or a hit song go to one’s head.
“Inspiration comes from so many different places,” Starr says. “A lot of inspiration can be drawn from current events these days, and how complicated the world is.”
Yet Find A Light’s hard-luck characters are soldiering forward despite it all, and remain buoyed by optimism—and deep faith in themselves. “One of these days I’ll get the best seat in the house/It’s the measure of a man, of a man,” goes the jangly “Best Seat In The House,” while the narrator of “I’ve Got A Song” asserts, “At the end of the day, it’s the one thing they can’t take away: I’ve got this song.” The album’s final song, “Mother Mountain,” focuses on the belief that redemption and rebirth are always within reach.
“It felt good to write that song,” Starr says of the latter. “I don’t write a whole lot of songs like that, the really optimistic, yearning for something better kind of a song. The album’s called Find A Light, and that song is sort of a plea, as far as that goes.”
Starr switched into writing mode for Find A Light thanks to impromptu songwriting sessions he had with his friend Keith Nelson, formerly of the band Buckcherry. The men had never collaborated before, but found an instant creative connection. In fact, Starr ended up using four songs from their time together—including “Run Away From It All,” “Nobody Gives A Damn” and “Best Seat In The House”—on Find A Light.
“At some point, I told him, ‘Man, I really like these songs for Blackberry Smoke. These are Blackberry Smoke songs,’“ Starr says. “He didn’t disagree. I hadn’t really started to write for another album yet, so these lit the fire, so to speak.”
Blackberry Smoke spent a little over two weeks recording Find A Light in Atlanta with engineer/mixer Tom Tapley and long-time collaborator Benji Shanks. As with 2016’s Like An Arrow, the band self-produced the record. “With these two albums, we really knew what we wanted them to sound like, and what kind of record we wanted to make,” Starr says. “It was a pretty easy decision to say, ‘Hey, let’s do it ourselves.’“
That confident vision informed the band’s decision to have several guest musicians appear on Find A Light. The brisk, gospel-tinged Southern rocker “I’ll Keep Ramblin’“ features the song’s co-writer, Robert Randolph, adding frantic pedal steel, while the psychedelic-tinted folk elegy “Mother Mountain” blooms with The Wood Brothers’ inimitable harmonies.
“As we were recording that song, I was singing it, and from the very beginning of that song—even in its embryonic stage—I wanted it to be a three-part harmony all the way through,” Starr says. “I asked The Wood Brothers, because I love their vocal blend. They’re fantastic harmony singers.”
Another Keith Nelson co-write, the easygoing “Let Me Down Easy,” features Amanda Shires shading Starr’s vocals with her clarion twang. “I thought it would be really cool to have a female harmony on this song, sort of a Gram Parsons-Emmylou Harris kind of thing,” Starr explains. “And Amanda came to mind. Her voice is so cool, so genuine and unique.”
At its core, Find A Light illustrates the efficiency and chemistry of Blackberry Smoke’s instrumentalists, who have no trouble translating the band’s loose live shows into crisp studio recordings. “We always record together,” Starr says. “That’s what bands do. And you go in and listen, and think, ‘Wow. How did that happen? What just happened? That was magic. That was magical. Can we do that again?’
“I’m always blown away by my bandmates’ sympathy for the song,” he adds. “We all agree that that’s the way to be in this band is to play for the song—the song is the vehicle.”
This commitment to putting the music first above all other considerations is one reason Blackberry Smoke has continued to evolve during their time together. And it also explains why Find A Light’s sonic progressions and expansions sound so effortless.
“We didn’t want to repeat ourselves,” Starr says. “I don’t ever want to make a record that ourselves or are fans are like, ‘It’s the same old thing.’ But I still get a real lift from listening to Find A Light, even after multiple listens. I really am proud of the work that we accomplished.”
JJ GREY & MOFRO
From the days of playing greasy local juke joints to headlining major festivals, JJ Grey remains an unfettered, blissful performer, singing with a blue-collared spirit over the bone-deep grooves of his compositions. His presence before an audience is something startling and immediate, at times a funk rave-up, other times a sort of mass-absolution for the mortal weaknesses that make him and his audience human. When you see JJ Grey and his band Mofro live—and you truly, absolutely must—the man is fearless.
Onstage, Grey delivers his songs with compassion and a relentless honesty, but perhaps not until Ol’ Glory has a studio record captured the fierceness and intimacy that defines a Grey live performance. “I wanted that crucial lived-in feel,” Grey says of Ol’ Glory, and here he hits his mark. On the new album, Grey and his current Mofro lineup offer grace and groove in equal measure, with an easygoing quality to the production that makes those beautiful muscular drum-breaks sound as though the band has set up in your living room.
Despite a redoubtable stage presence, Grey does get performance anxiety—specifically, when he’s suspended 50 feet above the soil of his pecan grove, clearing moss from the upper trees.
“The tops of the trees are even worse,” he laughs, “say closer to 70, maybe even 80 feet. I’m not phobic about heights, but I don’t think anyone’s crazy about getting up in a bucket and swinging all around. I wanted to fertilize this year but didn’t get a chance. This February I will, about two tons—to feed the trees.”
When he isn’t touring, Grey exerts his prodigious energies on the family land, a former chicken-farm that was run by his maternal grandmother and grandfather. The farm boasts a recording studio, a warehouse that doubles as Grey’s gym, an open-air barn, and of course those 50-odd pecan trees that occasionally require Grey to go airborne with his sprayer.
For devoted listeners, there is something fitting, even affirmative in Grey’s commitment to the land of his north Florida home. The farms and eddying swamps of his youth are as much a part of Grey’s music as the Louisiana swamp-blues tradition, or the singer’s collection of old Stax records.
As a boy, Grey was drawn to country-rockers, including Jerry Reed, and to Otis Redding and the other luminaries of Memphis soul; Run-D.M.C., meanwhile, played on repeat in the parking lot of his high school (note the hip-hop inflections on “A Night to Remember”). Merging these traditions, and working with a blue-collar ethic that brooked no bullshit, Grey began touring as Mofro in the late ’90s, with backbeats that crossed Steve Cropper with George Clinton and a lyrical directness that made his debut LP Blackwater (2001) a calling-card among roots-rock aficionados. Soon, he was expanding his tours beyond America and the U.K., playing ever-larger clubs and eventually massive festivals, as his fan base grew from a modest group of loyal initiates into something resembling a national coalition.
Grey takes no shortcuts on the homestead, and he certainly takes no shortcuts in his music. While he has metaphorically speaking “drawn blood” making all his albums, his latest effort, Ol’ Glory, found him spending more time than ever working over the new material. A hip-shooting, off-the-cuff performer (often his first vocal takes end up pleasing him best), Grey was able to stretch his legs a bit while constructing the lyrics and vocal lines to Ol’ Glory.
“I would visit it much more often in my mind, visit it more often on the guitar in my house,” Grey says. “I like an album to have a balance, like a novel or like a film. A triumph, a dark brooding moment, or a moment of peace—that’s the only thing I consistently try to achieve with a record.”
Grey has been living this balance throughout his career, and Ol’ Glory is a beautifully paced little film. On “The Island,” Grey sounds like Coleridge on a happy day: “All beneath the canopy / of ageless oaks whose secrets keep / Forever in her beauty / This island is my home.” “A Night to Remember” finds the singer in first-rate swagger: “I flipped up my collar ah man / I went ahead and put on my best James Dean / and you’d a thought I was Clark Gable squinting through that smoke.” And “Turn Loose” has Grey in fast-rhyme mode in keeping with the song’s title: “You work a stride / curbside thumbing a ride / on Lane Avenue / While your kids be on their knees / praying Jesus please.” From the profane to the sacred, the sly to the sublime, Grey feels out his range as a songwriter with ever-greater assurance.
The mood and drive of Ol’ Glory are testament to this achievement. The album ranks with Grey’s very best work; among other things, the secret spirituality of his music is perhaps more accessible here than ever before. On “Everything Is a Song,” he sings of “the joy with no opposite,” a sacred state that Grey describes to me:
“It can happen to anybody: you sit still and you feel things tingling around you, everything’s alive around you, and in that a smile comes on your face involuntarily, and in that I felt no opposite. It has no part of the play of good and bad or of comedy or tragedy. I know it’s just a play on words but it feels like more than just being happy because you got what you wanted — this is a joy. A joy that doesn’t get involved one way or the next; it just is.”
Grey’s most treasured albums include Otis Redding’s In Person at the Whisky a Go Go and Jerry Reed’s greatest hits, and the singer once told me that he grew up “wanting to be Jerry Reed but with less of a country, more of a soul thing.” With Ol’ Glory, Grey does his idols proud. It’s a country record where the stories are all part of one great mystery; it’s a blues record with one foot in the church; it’s a Memphis soul record that takes place in the country.
In short, Ol’ Glory is that most singular thing, a record by JJ Grey—the north Florida sage and soul- bent swamp rocker.
Don Felder is renowned as a former lead guitarist of The Eagles, one of the most popular and influential rock groups of our time. The bandʼs record-setting compilation Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) sold over 29 million copies in the U.S. alone and was awarded by the RIAA the top-selling album of the 20th Century. Currently, Don and the Eagles have sold more than 83.5 million albums. A member of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1998, Felder served as a member of The Eagles for 27 years, putting his mark on numerous Eagles milestones. Felder originated the music and co-wrote The Eaglesʼ biggest hit – the iconic, Grammy-studded smash “Hotel California” – along with fan favorites like “Victim of Love” and “Those Shoes”. He became immediately celebrated for his lyrical, signature guitar work on legendary songs like “Hotel California,” “One of These Nights,” “New Kid In Town,” and numerous more. “Hotel California” was recently voted the Number 1 best 12 string guitar song in the world by Guitar World magazine.
After leaving the group in 2001, Felder also became a New York Times bestselling author when his riveting confessional memoir “Heaven and Hell: My Life in The Eagles” proved a major commercial triumph upon publication in 2008 and went on to become a New York Times best seller.
Four time Grammy award winner, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, New York Times best selling author, amazing guitarist and captivating performer is the best way to describe Don Felder today.
Felder has not only worked with The Eagles but also in both sessions and live performances for numerous music legends spanning the musical spectrum: The Bee Gees, Peter Frampton, Bob Seger, Michael Jackson, Alice Cooper, Kenny Loggins, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Boz Scaggs, Warren Zevon, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, Vince Gill, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Paul Simon, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand – and even old friend, Steven Stills.
Don is currently touring worldwide in support of his new CD “The Road To Forever” which features some of the best musicians and close Felder friends in the business including Crosby, Stills & Nash, Tommy Shaw (from STYX), Randy Jackson (American Idol). Steve Lukather and David Paich (Toto). The latest single “Wash Away The Pain” has reached #4 on the classic rock media charts between Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones and has been critically acclaimed throughout the industry.
Benjamin Booker is an American musician, singer, songwriter and guitarist. He cites The Gun Club, Blind Willie Johnson and T. Rex as influences. His music was described by the Chicago Tribune as “a raw brand of blues/boogie/soul,” by The Independent as “frenzied guitar-strumming and raw, soulful vocals that are hair-raising in intensity” and by SPIN as “bright, furious, explosive garage rock.”
THE RECORD COMPANY
In February 2016, The Record Company released their debut album ‘Give It Back To You’ – ten songs conceived, recorded and mixed by the band in the bassist’s living room in Los Angeles. By June 2017, the trio had scored a nationwide #1 Triple-A radio hit, followed up with a second Top Ten Triple-A smash, and even a third Top 5 Triple-A hit (largely unheard of for a new artist), been nominated for a Grammy Award, and landed the opening slot on John Mayer’s first solo tour since 2014.
How exactly did three friends go from their living room to having three top 10 hits and opening for John Mayer at Madison Square Garden in less than 18 months? “It’s about making the right choices for the songs,” says singer and guitarist Chris Vos. “Everything Alex, Marc and I do comes from our desire to write the best songs we can and make the most honest music that we can.”
The Record Company’s raw and righteous rock ‘n’ roll was unleashed on its Concord Records debut album, GIVE IT BACK TO YOU, in February 2016, which was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of BEST CONTEMPORARY BLUES ALBUM. “Off The Ground,” the album’s first single, proved a sensation, spending two consecutive weeks as the #1 track at Triple A radio outlets nationwide – topping new songs from such superstars as The Lumineers, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Avett Brothers. Their single “Rita Mae Young” was the album’s second consecutive Triple A smash which cracked into the Top Ten. In the spring of 2017, they followed up with “Baby, I’m Broken,” which became a Top 5 single at Triple-A.
The Record Company’s popular success was matched with enthusiastic critical acclaim. “Caught halfway between the stomp of mid-century rock & roll and the soulful kick of Delta blues, the Record Company kick up a raw, rootsy racket,” raved Rolling Stone. “The scuzzy, 10-track set meshes the group’s biggest influences,”
wrote Entertainment Weekly of GIVE IT BACK TO YOU, “the early electric blues rock n’ roll of John Lee Hooker, staccato lyrical delivery akin to The Stooges frontman Iggy Pop, and Rolling Stones-style grooves.”
The band formed in LA after a late night of hanging out as friends listening to records on their bass player Alex’s back porch with drinks in hand and speakers in the window. The spinning of a crackling vinyl copy of John Lee Hooker’s album “Hooker N’ Heat” at about 2am – coupled with singer Chris Vos’s stories of a trip to see Iggy & The Stooges at The Palladium in LA – inspired the three to get together the next day and jam together. That following afternoon they decided to hang some mic’s up in Alex’s living room and start recording.
“We listened to the playback that first day of recording,” Vos says, “and decided right then and there that we had to be a band.”
GIVE IT BACK TO YOU is powerful and authentic with its electric fusion of classic influences, personal songwriting, and contemporary energy. Both intimate and intense, songs like “Off The Ground” and “Rita Mae Young” are marked by The Record Company’s ambidextrous instrumentation, built upon guitar, bass, and drums but also deftly incorporating harmonica, dobro slide, lap slide, pedal steel, piano, and anything else that might serve the music. The album was written, recorded, and mixed by the band in the same living room in Los Angeles that they formed in and did their first recordings, retaining the raw and untouched sound they strive to make.
“When recording we trust early takes, love soulful mistakes, and record much of the song together live so we can keep the vibe of the recording feeling natural and still mix it with an aim to make the speakers move” says Vos.
Long known for their incendiary live sets, the band has toured nearly non-stop in the year and a half following the release of GIVE IT BACK TO YOU. They were favorites at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, prompting Rolling Stone Country to name the trio’s set among the event’s “5 Best Country and Americana Moments” while declaring it “a wildly energetic show and one of the most communal experiences of the festival.”
They embarked on their first ever headline tour in the fall of 2016, selling out 32 out of the 41 shows they played. That was followed up with the John Mayer tour in early 2017, which hit such iconic venues as Madison Square Garden, the Boston Garden and the United Center in Chicago. The band then immediately left for tours of Australia and Europe – and soon followed with numerous festival appearances and the band’s first ever show at the world famous Red Rocks in the summer of 2017.
What’s more, The Record Company have rocked the airwaves with a series of high profile TV appearances, including CBS’ Late Show with Stephen Colbert and CBS This Morning and TBS’ Conan, not to mention countless radio sessions and live concert broadcasts on SiriusXM, NPR’s World Café Live, and Chicago, IL’s WXRT.
The Record Company has also found themselves supporting and playing alongside a series of national and international tours and shows with a diverse group of legends and like-minded artists they admire including My Morning Jacket, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, Dawes, BB King, Kurt Vile and Mavis Staples.
The band lives in Los Feliz, CA and are currently recording their second album due for release in 2018.
DEL McCOURY BAND
For more than fifty years, Del M cCoury’ s music has defined authenticity for hard core bluegrass fans as well as a growing number of fans among those only vaguely familiar with the genre. McCoury is something special, a living link to the days when bluegrass was made only in hillbilly honkytonks, schoolhouse shows and on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, yet also a commandingly vital presence today, from prime time and late night talk show TV to music festivals where audiences number in the hundreds of thousands.
Born in York County, PA seventy-five years ago, would once have seemed an unlikely candidate for legendary status. Bitten hard by the bluegrass bug when he heard Earl Scruggs’ banjo in the early ’50s. McCoury became a banjo picker himself, working in the rough but lively Baltimore and D.C. bar scene into the early 1960s. He got his first taste of the limelight when he joined Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys in early 1963; the Father of Bluegrass moved McCoury from the banjo to guitar, made him his lead singer, and gave him a lifetime’s worth of bluegrass tutelage direct from the source. Flash-forward to 1990s and the Band is on top of the bluegrass world, along the way giving birth to a more startling phenomenon: the emergence of the group onto the larger musical scene as a unique torchbearer for the entire sweep of bluegrass and its history. For it turned out that the unmistakable authenticity of M cCoury’ s music-along with his good-natured willingness to keep alert for new sounds and new opportunities-had bred fans in some unlikely places. That bluegrass-bred stars like Gill and Alison Krauss (who first met Del at a bluegrass festival when she filled in for a missing fiddler of his) would sing his praises wasn’t surprising, but who would have expected country-rock icons like Steve Earle or jam bands like the supremely
popular Phish to have joined in the chorus? By the second half of the ’90s, the acclaim-and Del’s open-mindedness-put McCourys in onstage jams with Phish and on the road and in the studio with Earle, bringing the Del McCoury Band’s fierce musicianship and its leader’s instantaneous, easygoing connection with listeners to new arenas. The group appeared on prime time television and began an ongoing series of visits to popular late night TV talk shows, toured rock clubs and college campuses, and found itself welcome at country and even jazz-oriented music festivals and venues. Yet while reaching out to almost unimaginable audiences, Del’s music retains its signature characteristics. The fifth decade of that half-century of music making has been filled with new and ongoing triumphs. The Band has shown unprecedented stability, with but a single change in membership in twenty years; nine IBMA Entertainer of the Year trophies, their namesake earned membership in the cast of the legendary Grand Ole Opry in 2003, and the Band earned their first Best Bluegrass Album Grammy award two years later followed by their second Grammy win in 2014 (to go along with double digit nominations); they traveled with the groundbreaking post-O Brother “Down From The Mountain” tour, performed and recorded (on his Grammy-winning These Days) with Gill and with country star Dierks Bentley; they are a regular at the spectacular Bonnaroo Music Festival, and Del’s namesake Festival, DelFest has quickly become one of the premier string band events in the country showcasing acts ranging from bluegrass legend Bobby Osborne to Phish’s frontman Trey Anastasio.
There is nothing like the sound of siblings singing together. Whether it’s the Beach Boys or the Everly Brothers—or, more recently, First Aid Kit—absorbing the same breathing rhythms and speech patterns adds an element to vocal harmonies that can be pure magic. With the release of I’m Alone, No You’re Not, the mesmerizing, hypnotic sound of the trio known as Joseph—made up of sisters Allison, Meegan, and Natalie Closner—joins this elite company.
“It’s just second nature, like a fifth limb that’s already on you,” says first-born Natalie. “There’s an ability to anticipate what’s going to happen and blend with it. When Meegan and Allison sing, they know exactly what I’m going to do and when.”
But the Closners didn’t actually start singing together when they were growing up in Oregon, the children of artistic parents (their dad was a jazz singer and drummer, their mom a theater teacher). Natalie was the performer—“the older sister who stood on the edge of the fireplace and told everyone, ‘Watch me!,’“ she says. Twins Meegan and Allison stayed out of her lane, joining in for their mother’s musical theater productions but otherwise avoiding the spotlight.
When Natalie was in college, she began pursuing music more seriously. The summer before her senior year, she went to Nashville to check out the scene and work on her guitar playing and songwriting. She had recorded an EP and done a few rounds of touring when a friend sat her down one day.
“It was kind of dramatic,” she says, “He took me aside and said, ‘I don’t think you really believe in this.’ It stopped me in my tracks.” She thought deeply about the music she was making and had a curious epiphany; she decided to ask her sisters if they would consider singing with her.
Initially, they didn’t really get it. “We thought she was asking us to be background singers, so we didn’t take it that seriously,” says Allison. “It was more commitment than I was expecting—I even tried to leave at one point, but after a while, I was convinced.”
A transformation occurred when the Closners were in the process of recording their first album, Native Dreamer Kin. At the time, they were calling themselves Dearborn, but their producer felt that the name didn’t fit the strength of the music. They went to visit their grandfather Jo, in the eastern Oregon town of Joseph. Allison made a playlist for the trip and called it “Joseph,” which is what influenced the band’s name.
“Once she said it, it just hit us all—that’s what this is and who we are, these are the sounds of the land that we’ve lived on,” says Natalie.
With this new sense of themselves, Meegan and Allison began taking a more active role in the group’s songwriting. Meegan notes that while the process was a “totally new journey” for her, it felt similar to the candor and vulnerability of her long-time journaling—just “pulling out the gold and arranging that into neater lines.”
She and Natalie both point to the song “Honest” as a keystone for the development of I’m Alone, No You’re Not. “We were trying really hard to write a song, but nothing was coming,” recalls Natalie. “One night, Meegan was working on some lyrics and getting frustrated, so she wrote in the margin of the page, ‘I can’t say a true thing. It’s hard to be that honest.’ Immediately after that, her most honest sentence spilled out—‘There’s always two thoughts, one after the other: I’m alone. No, you’re not.’ And she thought, ‘Oh, there’s the song.’ “
Meanwhile, the group was cultivating a devoted fan base in the most traditional ways possible: touring the Western states playing living room shows, backyard parties, and secret house party gigs; reaching an audience directly through such platforms as Noisetrade; selling their self-released CD and building a loyal following step by step. By the time they were approached by ATO Records, Joseph had already built a strong community of fans on its own.
As they moved toward making their second record, the project took an additional turn when the Closners decided to work with some other songwriters in Los Angeles. “We were afraid of it at first because the songs were more pop than we were used to writing,” says Meegan, “but as we internalized them, they started becoming super-important to us.”
They point to “More Alive Than Dead,” co-written with Ethan Gruska, as an example of these contributions. “That song describes an experience with a partner where you have hard things in your combined past,” says Natalie. “You’re haunted by them until you realize that those things are dead, and as long as you dwell on them, you’re missing the real live person in front of you.”
She adds, though, that Gruska was critical in clarifying and sharpening the nuanced emotion of the lyric. “When Ethan sent us back the demo, I lost it, He was able to see the heart of the song and bring it out, cut to the core of what I was trying to say.”
Finally, the women of Joseph recorded the album with acclaimed producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Jenny Lewis, First Aid Kit) at his studio in Omaha. He was able to open up their expansive, evocative vocal sound with powerful and striking arrangements, adding depth while highlighting their haunting intensity.
“This was our first time doing a recording like this,” says Natalie, “and we learned so much about creativity. Mike is a genius, and he’s just a total maniac as a musician, so he took these bare bones songs and brought them to life with lush, gorgeous textures and sounds.”
The initial reaction to the music on I’m Alone, No You’re Not has been remarkable. Joseph was selected as a #SpotifySpotlight artist, and booked for festivals including Bonnaroo, Pickathon, and Sasquatch even prior to the release of the single “White Flag,” a song inspired by an article predicting a massive earthquake for the Pacific Northwest.
“Reading that created a heaviness that was making us jumpy, scared, and miserable,” says Natalie. “It became clear we had two options: be scared and cowering, backing away from the world into paralysis, or keep moving and live. Defy fear. Wear peace. Find better ways to love the people in our lives instead of huddling together like frightened sheep thinking about earthquakes.”
Most rewarding for the Closner sisters has been feeling the audience response to the new songs, as they tour supporting such artists as James Bay and Amos Lee. “This is really when you learn what’s special about a song, or if it’s special,” says Natalie. “It’s this crazy firecracker thing that happens—‘Am I feeling something? Is anyone? What is this song, what does it do, which parts make the most sense?’
“It really is about connection with people, and we’re so grateful we’ve gotten the chance to do that. This has been a totally wild journey, and we’re constantly blown away with possibility of what could be.”
THE MAGPIE SALUTE
THE MAGPIE SALUTE is an exciting new band that features musicians who have played together for decades throughout various projects and share a musical bond. The band brings Rich Robinson, the guitarist and co-founding member of The Black Crowes, together with two key members of Crowes fame – guitarist Marc Ford and bassist Sven Pipien – alongside drummer Joe Magistro and guitarist Nico Bereciartua. The Magpie Salute also boasts a fine cast of vocalists, including lead singer John Hogg (Hookah Brown, Moke), former Crowes singer Charity Whiteand background singers, Adrien Reju and Katrine Ottosen.
Embraced by music fans as soon as show dates were announced in October 2016, the band instantly sold out its first performance scheduled for January 19, 2017 at the Gramercy Theatre in New York. Driven by popular demand, three more dates were scheduled, each of which sold out within minutes! Responding to fan interest, Rich notes, “it’s been a better welcome than we could have hoped for. We are humbled by the outpouring of support. It feels powerful.”
Marc Ford underscored Rich’s comments, noting the fan’s enthusiasm about The Magpie Salute. “The fans seems to be very excited. I’m just starting to see how much this music means to people”. Building on this excitement, The Magpie Salute, will look past these shows for a possibility of more touring.
The Magpie Salute marks the reunion of the Robinson and Ford guitar team which ended back in 1997 when Ford left The Black Crowes. Reflecting on his past, Rich stated, “I feel Marc and I have a deep musical connection… As I get older, I realize what a gift it is to play with people with whom you share that language of music.” Reiterating Rich’s point about musical rapport, Marc added, “it’s one of those things that was there before we met. Musically, we were already family.”
Asked about The Magpie Salute’s artistic vision and musical approach, Rich stated, ” I, and everyone involved, love playing music. Not only on our own, in The Crowes and in my band, but playing music in general. We want to make music again together with a fresh perspective. To present this music I wrote in a different light with these amazing players is going to be really special to me.” To create this new sound, Rich and his ensemble have called upon their collective influences, from R&B, country and spirituals, to artists such as Sly Stone, Neil Young, and The Small Faces – a vast musical landscape which, at its core, is pure Rock n Roll. “It’s also deeper than that”, Rich goes on to say. “It’s freedom, it’s love, it’s loss, it’s pure joy. It’s misery, it’s simultaneously arrogance and vulnerability. It is life.”
Rich explains how the band members’ past experiences connect to the band’s moniker, The Magpie Salute. The term references a British superstition about the imperative to salute a Magpie anytime you see one in order to ward off negativity, or to have a good day; it is like saying, I am unarmed or I come in peace. Rich says, “The magpie falls within the crow umbrella of species, figuratively and literally. Magpies can be black and white, which for me represents the dark and the light. “The way to salute a magpie, is to say Good Morning Captain. I felt this had too many coincidences to ignore. He adds, “This touches on many aspects of my life and experiences.”
The band’s genesis began in Woodstock, New York, at Applehead Studios where Rich had recorded his last three albums. Sven had been playing with him on his current tour and Rich thought it might be a bit of fun to invite Marc, as well as Eddie Harsch from the original Crowes lineup, to join. “It turned out to be a cool, cathartic and inspirational experience for all of us. We had a strong musical connection from that band”, said Rich. The fact that the former Crowes members had traveled the world together and shared a life’s worth of family experiences drew them back to one another.
They found themselves bonded, Rich states, “by a lot of far out experiences, performing with our heroes, emotional ups and downs, all wrapped up in a very unique life experience, which is the thread that has always kept the connection together.” Eddie will be sorely missed from the new band’s lineup: he passed away in November of 2016, but he too was a part of the energy that lead to The Magpie Salute. Speaking on his connection with Eddie, both musically and emotionally, Rich said, “It’s a very intimate and abstract way to communicate, but when you have that with someone it is a true creative gift. Eddie was a brilliant musician. He was funny as hell. He was a good person with a great heart. I’ll miss him dearly.”
The Magpie Salute intends to perform the songs and the unique improvisational flights that characterized The Black Crowes body of work. Marc said, “That’s what we do when we get together.” He adds that the vocals will obviously be different, but that in turn will lead to a huge range of possibility and other places to go with different singers. “The bottom line for me,” say Marc, “is that we love playing together; we have respect for what we have done together and for all the people who want to hear it.”
According to Rich, the set list for the upcoming NYC performances will vary from show to show, keeping the music fresh for the musicians and the audience. “We will continue in the long line of digging deep into my old Crowes’ catalogue, some great covers, some we’ve done before, some we have never played, songs from my solo records and some of Marc’s songs off of his new record.” Marc believes that this variety in set list “keeps everything interesting to us” and asks, “If we weren’t into it, how could the listeners be?”
Clearly, The Magpie Salute intends to mix it up, breathing new life into musical bonds, rooted in tradition and the universal language of Rock and Roll.
MINDI ABAIR AND THE BONESHAKERS
One of the most recognized and sought-after saxophonists, two-time GRAMMY nominee Mindi Abair has been electrifying audiences with her dynamic live performances and sax prowess since her debut album in 2000. No one since Junior Walker has brought saxophone and vocals in one package to the forefront of modern music, with a raucous tone and abandon. She has garnered ten #1 radio hits, six Top 5 solo records and two #1 spots on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz album chart. In 2014, Mindi received her first GRAMMY® nomination in the Best Pop Instrumental Album category, followed by a 2015 GRAMMY® nomination for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album for her solo LP Wild Heart featuring the late Gregg Allman, Joe Perry, Trombone Shorty, Booker T. Jones, Keb’ Mo’, and Max Weinberg.
The daughter and granddaughter of working musicians, Abair continues to captivate fans while evolving her sound. In 2014, after two seasons as the featured saxophonist on the hit series American Idol, Abair released Wild Heart. This LP showcased a compilation of grittier rock and soul tracks featuring some of the biggest names in music. To help translate this sound to her live shows, Mindi enlisted longtime friend and The Boneshakers founder Randy Jacobs (Bonnie Raitt, Was Not Was, Willie Nelson) to inject his brand of Detroit Rock/Funk. The collaboration was undeniable, and it lead to an almost immediate decision to join forces creatively. Mindi Abair and The Boneshakers features Mindi (Saxophone, Vocals), Randy Jacobs (Guitar, Vocals), Sweet Pea Atkinson (Vocals), Rodney Lee (Keys), Derek Frank (Bass, Vocals), and Third Richardson (Drums, Vocals). Their first record together Mindi Abair and The Boneshakers LIVE in Seattle was released September 2015, and recorded at their first official show together in Seattle February 2015.
Almost two years later, the band is preparing for their first studio release. The EastWest Sessions was recorded over five days at legendary Hollywood recording studio EastWest Studios with renowned rock/blues producer Kevin Shirley (Led Zepplin, Joe Bonamassa, The Black Crowes, Aerosmith). The album, which will be released September 15, 2017, features a track with iconic blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa and 2017 GRAMMY® winner in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category, Fantastic Negrito.
When she’s not touring as Mindi Abair and The Boneshakers, the Berklee graduate can often be found recording and touring with a wide array of legendary peers: Joe Perry, Trombone Shorty, Booker T. Jones, Aerosmith, Bobby Rush, Keb’ Mo’, Adam Sandler, Duran Duran, Lalah Hathaway and the Backstreet Boys.
“FORGET YOU, WHO’S YOUR SAX PLAYER?” – STEVEN TYLER ON AMERICAN IDOL
“MINDI PLAYS WITH EVERY PART OF HER BODY AND SOUL…. BEAUTIFULLY RAW THE WAY I LIKE IT.” – FANTASTIC NEGRITO
“YOU GUYS ARE BONESHAKING!” – BONNIE RAITT (NAMED THE BAND WITH HER QUOTE)
“SHE’LL MOVE YOU.” – KEB’ MO’
“THERE AREN’T THAT MANY PEOPLE AROUND THAT PLAY WITH THAT KIND OF BLUES ENTHUSIASM, THAT ARE RECORDING AND TOURING. I KNOW I CAN COUNT ON HER TO HELP KEEP THE BLUES ALIVE.” – BOBBY RUSH
“CAPTURES THE INTENT OF A ROCK BAND, THE GRIT OF A BLUES BAND AND ENOUGH ENERGY TO LIGHT A STADIUM” – BACKSTAGE 360
“ELECTRIC, ROCK-FILLED SOLO ENDEAVOR PLAYED WITH ABANDON AND ELECTRICITY” – JAY Z’S LIFE AND TIMES
“…HAS A HARD-BLOWING, GRITTY TONE IN THE VEIN OF KING CURTIS.” – USA TODAY
“21ST CENTURY SOPHISTICATION, A GRITTY, RAUCOUS SPIRIT, AND EXCEPTIONAL CREATIVE IMAGINATION” – ALLMUSIC.COM
“RAW, EDGY, INSPIRED” – AXS.COM
“CAPTURING RAW EMOTION, POWER AND SYNERGY, MINDI ABAIR & THE BONESHAKERS ROCK.” – EXAMINER.COM
“Larkin Poe is a roots rock ‘n roll sister duo comprised of Rebecca Lovell and Megan Lovell – descendants of tortured artist and creative genius, Edgar Allen Poe. At a young age, the girls were classically trained on violin and piano while being exposed to classic rock icons including Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd. Rebecca (lead singer) now plays lead guitar and Megan (harmony vocals) contributes on lapsteel. After experimenting with an array of musical styles, they found a way to blend together a sound that channels their distinct voice. The duo has previously hit the road as opening and backing bands for Conor Oberst, Kristian Bush (Sugarland) and Elvis Costello who praises that “they have a head start on the rest of us with the unique power and beauty of sibling harmony”. Larkin Poe are currently working on their next album.”
F*ckin’ REIGNWOLF is invading the streets unleashing throaty soulful howls, bleeding guitars plugged into smokey half stacks, and stomping on a vintage Ludwig bass drum. Joined by the low end of brother Stitch, and drum destroyer, Texas Jo.
The Reignwolf experience is best summed up by one of his lyrics – “I gave you my soul, and I can’t give you anything more”… and onstage Reignwolf undoubtedly gives “it all”.
THE LAST BANDOLEROS
The Last Bandoleros are a four-piece outfit blending Tex-Mex, country and rock n’ roll. Their story begins in San Antonio, Texas with guitarist/producer Jerry Fuentes who, during a musical pilgrimage to Manhattan, chanced to meet New York native, singer-songwriter/producer Derek James.
Fuentes and James began collaborating in Brooklyn. But, Fuentes kept being drawn back to his native Texas to record in the same San Antonio studio where a couple of talented brothers were also emerging. Diego and Emilio Navaira, sons of Tejano music legend, Emilio Navaira, Sr., had been making a name for themselves around town for their energetic live performances and sterling vocal chops.
Fuentes decided to combine both of his universes by introducing Derek to Diego and Emilio and inviting them to joint-sessions in Brooklyn and San Antonio where riffs and lyrics began flying fast.
Newly christened The Last Bandoleros, the quartet began playing live, opening for The Mavericks, Jon Pardi, Josh Abbott Band, Los Lonely Boys and Marc Broussard. Recognizing their high level of musicianship, Sting called upon them to sing backing vocals on his “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” single which soared the heights of radio charts around the world.
Praise also began pouring in from the music press. Rolling Stone wrote: “[The Last Bandoleros’] music caroms wildly from rock and country to conjunto and pop, adding up to a sound that’s hard to get out of your head.” People Magazine dubbed the band “ones to watch” and Entertainment Weekly included them in their “Breaking Big” list. HITS Magazine described The Last Bandoleros as “Tex-Mex meets harmony- rich Beatlesque pop, with a healthy dollop of boy-pop charisma.”
The Last Bandoleros combine their unique cultural experiences with rare musical camaraderie and, as audiences will continue to discover, their exuberance and joy are contagious.
SWIMMING WITH BEARS
On February 15th, 2018 Swimming WIth Bears released their new single “French Girls” produced by Gabe Simon.
“If you’re yearning for the days when bands like Bombay Bicycle Club and Grouplove dominated the indie scene, Austin-based four piece Swimming With Bears have got your back… It’s fun and feel-good, and if you’re French, it’s probably your new anthem!”
“The allure of the French Girl is forever. Swimming With Bears knows this and turned it into a glistening alt. rock anthem. Oh la la, indeed.”
Prior to releasing their debut EP in 2016, the Austin based four-piece, Swimming With Bears, had been working tirelessly to hone in on their unique alternative soul sound. Following a run of residencies in several Texas cities, as well as appearances at some of Austin’s most renowned venues, the band was invited to open for Weezer and Panic! At The Disco in early June. With a newly released, self-titled EP, the band is set to embark on their first ever national tour throughout July and August. The EP, which features lead single “Shiver and Crawl,” was produced by Matt Novesky (Blue October).
Swimming With Bears consists of Joe Perry (vocals/bass), Alec Conte (guitar), Jon Kerr (guitar) and Ryan Hannasch (drums).
The Travelin’ McCourys
The Travelin’ McCourys do not stand still. They are on the road—and online—entertaining audiences with live shows that include some of the best musicians and singers from all genres. It’s always different, always exciting, and always great music.
No other band today has the same credentials for playing traditional and progressive music. As the sons of bluegrass legend Del McCoury, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin and Rob McCoury on banjo continue their father’s work—a lifelong dedication to the power of bluegrass music to bring joy into people’s lives. And with fiddler Jason Carter and bassist Alan Bartram, the ensemble is loved and respected by the bluegrass faithful. But the band is now combining their sound with others to make something fresh and rejuvenating.
Kentucky-born cellist and composer Ben Sollee likes to keep moving. He kicked off 2014 with the release of his score for the documentary film Maidentrip. In March, he performed at Carnegie Hall as part of a tribute to Paul Simon. Throughout April and May, he was out supporting songwriter William Fitzsimmons. This September, he toured for two weeks in Europe and returned to the United States to perform with the Charlotte Ballet. If you’ve seen him perform, you know it’s not to missed. For listeners just discovering Ben’s music, you’ll find that there’s a lot more to it than just songs.
Billy Strings plays hard and he lives hard, picking so fast and intensely that he’s known to break multiple strings per song, and basing the songs he writes on the hard lives he grew up around in the abandoned rural communities of America. His new album, Turmoil & Tinfoil, taps into a deep vein of psychedelia in Americana, referencing everything from the Dead to Sturgill Simpson, but all underlaid by Billy’s undeniable virtuosity and his knowledge of the roots of American music. He’s one of the most beloved young bluegrass guitarists today within the bluegrass community, and his front porch in East Nashville is constantly filled up with Nashville’s best roots musicians just picking up a storm.
The tricky part of making the new album, Turmoil & Tinfoil, was translating Billy Strings’ incendiary live show into the studio. Returning to his home state of Michigan, Billy enlisted acoustic roots wizard Glenn Brown (Greensky Bluegrass) as producer, and centered the music around his new band, featuring Drew Matulich on mandolin with banjo prodigy Billy Failing and much-loved Nashville bassist Brad Tucker. Rich with special guests, Turmoil & Tinfoil shows off Billy’s East Nashville community of picking friends, among them Miss Tess, Molly Tuttle, John Mailander, Shad Cobb and Peter Madcat Ruth. Of special note is a virtuosic duet between Billy and bluegrass guitarist Bryan Sutton on “Salty Sheep” that shows the speed, precision, and creative craftsmanship of bluegrass when it’s done right.
River Whyless, the Asheville, NC quartet, is named in spirit of the band’s ongoing love affair with the natural world. Since forming the band in 2009, musicians Ryan O’Keefe, Halli Anderson, Alex McWalters and Daniel Shearin have toured extensively, playing hundreds of shows from coast to coast and into Canada.
“Think Paul Simon; think imaginative arrangements with accents of music from around the world,” writes NPR’s Bob Boilen in his review of their latest album We All The Light. “Four ego-less musicians blend their talents on violin, guitars, drums, harmonium, cello, banjo, toy piano and (most importantly) vocal harmonies … combining exceptional songwriting talent and unexpected sounds for something truly singular.”
“It’s rare to find artists who can evoke as much emotion as River Whyless,” writes Paste, naming the band’s self-titled EP one of the best of 2015.
The band’s music has been described as folk-rock, nature-pop, and baroque-folk, but in the end the members of River Whyless hope only to lend craft to their passions.
Touring behind the release of their most recent record, Ionia, they’ve been featured in the lineup of prestigious affairs such as The Shetland Island Folk Festival and Celtic Connections in Scotland, Stagecoach Music Festival in California boasting around 55,000 attendees, The Bluegrass Jamboree in Germany, and a number of the best acoustic music festivals in the US including: Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado, Merlefest in North Carolina, Wheatland Music Festival in Michigan, GreyFox in New York, Strawberry Music Festival in California, Redwing Roots Festival in Virginia, ROMP in Kentucky, and Pagosa Springs Folk Festival in Colorado. They were named one of NPR Music’s 12 best live performance sessions of 2015 by Mountain Stage with Larry Groce, a program which has featured acts like Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Amos Lee, Joan Baez, Regina Spektor, Norah Jones and PHISH.
Her singing floats over the instrumental mastery and deep groove of her band with dynamics that range from a lullaby to a battle cry. In the words of David Grier, “Lindsay…sings the way you would want to if you could. Phrasing, tone, emotion, it’s all there. Effortless seemingly. Simply mesmerizing. Riveting! Don’t miss the musical force that is Lindsay Lou.” Lindsay’s brand new full-length “Southland” (April 2018) is a collection of songs examining the range of emotions and complex themes of our changing times; delivered with soulfully fierce intensity and tender intimacy that demands your attention.
Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper
The world tends to look at accomplishments in the form of accolades and although only in his mid-30’s, Michael Cleveland, a 2018 GRAMMY Nominee, has plenty to his credit. After picking up the fiddle at age 4, Michael’s musical momentum began to propel him forward towards early success. “When I started taking lessons at age 4,” he remembers, “I told the teacher right up front that I wanted to learn how to play bluegrass and I wanted to play ‘Orange Blossom Special.'” Reluctant as they were, his teachers quickly found reason to his rhyme, helping him progress to the point when, at age 9, Michael was invited to sit in with the legendary Bill Monroe at the Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival. Soon after, he brought his virtuosic style to the Grand Ole Opry as a guest of Alison Kraus, and was hand picked for the International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) Bluegrass Youth Allstars before he was 14. His blistering prowess and technical fluency have since marked him as a sought-after musician, leading to performances with Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, Tim O’Brien, J.D. Crowe and the New South, Andy Statman, and The Kruger Brothers in recent years. However, it wasn’t until 2006, when Michael formed his own band Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, that he found the right vehicle for his musical vision, and he hasn’t rested since, constantly looking for new ways to push himself and his music forward.
Madisen Ward and The Mama Bear
In just a few short years, the duo of Ruth and Madisen went from playing in their Independence, Mo. kitchen and small coffee houses to opening for various artists including Sufjan Stevens and B. B. King and joining festivals like Bonnaroo – and making an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. The rootsy vitality of their debut LP, Skelton Crew, opened doors, but what truly makes the twosome stand out in an oversaturated world is how – whether performing in a tiny café or an auditorium stage – their stark, emotional intimacy never changes an inch. Every venue is still a coffee house, every last person in the audience a soul to connect with. Because that’s what the music of Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear is all about: connection. Linking person to person, history to history, one to another. Emotion to emotion.
Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear’s Skeleton Crew proved to be one of 2015’s critical surprises: stark and intimate, the songs moved beyond traditional Americana to something that blurred the boundaries of folk, soul, gospel and vintage rock. From an under-the-radar act that thrived on word of mouth around Kansas City, they soon became the purveyors of one of modern folk’s most unique points of view. Reliant on the powerful dynamic of mother and son Madisen and Ruth’s moving vocals, haunting melodies and poignant lyrics, songs like “Silent Movies” managed to be at one simple and acoustic yet sonically lush. But Madisen and Ruth are also not ones to stay stagnant, and “Childhood Goodbye,” their new single from their forthcoming EP, shows how much they’ve grown: produced by Nathan Chapman, it embraces a more expansive orchestration, anchored by a rich drumbeat – it might sound different, but one listen will prove that the progression only heightens their emotional power.
“It’s about saying goodbye to childhood,” says Madisen, “You are saying goodbye to it, but you still take a small piece with you.” He describes the song as “melancholy in undertone but hopeful at the same time,” a mood the duo capture in a video that was produced with HITRECORD which is a community sourced production company founded by actor and director Joseph Gordon-Levitt who also appears in the video. The company, of which Madisen is a member, is made up of over 650,000 artists from allover the world.
“Burn all the weeds, plant the seeds of your poetry,” Madisen sings, “watch them grow.”
Chapman, who is known widely for his work with Taylor Swift, brought a “childlike and joyful” approach to the new songs, recorded in Seattle and Nashville. Though Madisen has historically written most of their tracks alone and then approached Ruth when he had a finite idea, he decided to try his hand at co-writing this time around. The experience was enlightening, and challenged him to open up in new and exciting ways: still keeping his love for melodic urgency deeply intact.
“Lyrics are great, but melody is what gets the emotions across,” says Madisen. “Great lyrics are great lyrics, but great lyrics without music is just poetry.”
Madisen and Ruth got their start composing songs together back home in Missouri – Ruth, a musician since before she gave birth to her son and Madisen, a promising songwriter and vocalist. As a boy, Madisen would watch Ruth play at coffee shops, and soon they began creating together, switching from the cover songs that Ruth would tackle to Madisen’s own work, inspired by his many years writing fiction and crafting tales of Midwestern lore.
And his songs, like the best stories, meld a bit of fantasy with a universal reality: beneath the characters are human truths, left open for the audience to expand and infuse with their own life experience. On the new songs, Madisen challenged himself to open up more than ever, with moments like “Childhood Goodbye” finding him in a more vulnerable and personal place. Other tracks explore their own family history, and the lives leading up to exactly where they are now – along with their fears and hopes for the future. Chapman would challenge Madisen by asking about his memories, and many of those memories and stories made their way into the music.
Of course, seeing a mother and son sing together about the passage of time is only more poignant – but their familial relationship is not the defining factor of Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear. When they are making music, they are bandmates first and family second, reliant on their artistic chemistry to lead the way.
“We’re not classified as a mother-son band,” says Madisen. “But make no mistake, that is my mother.”
Planting the seeds of their poetry together, and watching it grow.
Phoebe Hunt & The Gatherers
On the seventh day of a ten-day retreat at a Vipassana meditation center outside the historic Indian city of Kolhapur, Phoebe Hunt intrinsically felt the life leave her namesake’s body on the other side of the world.
The story of how she came to be known as Phoebe — a tale woven subtly into the whimsical threads and spiritual contradictions of Shanti’s Shadow, her new record — has the humor and richness of a Vedic myth. Her parents met at a yoga ashram in the Lower West Side of Manhattan in the Seventies, where they spent seven years as disciples of Guru Swami Satchidananda, famous in America for having been the opening speaker at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. Years later, near the end of her pregnancy with Phoebe, her mother felt a strong compulsion to name her child Shanti, a Hindi word meaning peace. There was only one minor complication — she had already promised the child’s paternal grandmother, Phoebe, that she would be named after her. In a compromise, Hunt’s parents named their child Shanti Phoebe Hunt, but out of deference to the grandmother, she would grow up being called Phoebe.
Years later, on the 2016 trip that would inspire the creation of Shanti’s Shadow, Hunt and her husband (and mandolin-playing bandmate) Dominick Leslie entered the meditation retreat in India, surrendered their possessions, and, with only a wool blanket given to them upon arrival, committed to a sequestered ten-day vow of silence. It was during that stint at the retreat that Grandma Phoebe passed away. Hunt remained in India with Leslie and a team of musicians who had joined the couple to study with master violinist and vocalist Kala Ramnath at an ashram outside the city of Pune. While there they found themselves spending as many as ten hours a day honing ragas, melodic structures that, in the Indian classical tradition, are believed to have the capacity to color the mind of an audience. The entire experience, ripe with creative
efflorescence, formed the core of a bittersweet irony for Hunt. While in pursuit of her spiritual namesake — the shanti of peace, tranquility, creativity, and bliss — her familial namesake passed away.
The generative idea at the heart of Shanti’s Shadow lies in the double sense of its title — it
refers, on the one hand, to the obverse of peace and tranquility, to the entangled ego at play in a world of knotty contradictions and selfish desires. In that sense, Shanti’s Shadow refers quite literally to the ego and the inescapable necessity of confronting it and claiming it as one’s own. It is also, in a literal sense, a reference to Shanti Phoebe Hunt the artist, to her music’s quest to transcend creative limitations and give flight to her innermost voice.
“Each of us, no matter who we are, has a shadow side, a realm of our being associated in many traditions with the ego or the self,” Phoebe says. “Though what I create may have its roots in my soul, it first has to pass through the filter of my body and ego before it finds a place in the world. Knowing that, my goal for this album was to be as vulnerable and raw as possible in order to share my shadow.”
That vulnerability is apparent throughout the record on tracks like “Pink and Blue,” a song Hunt wrote while traveling through India. During the daily ten-hour meditations at the Vipassana center outside Kolhapur, the song’s mystical celestial images and lyrics continually sought refuge in her mind, when she was supposed to be clearing it of all thoughts. At the end of the retreat, after meeting up with her friends and fellow musicians to learn about Indian classical music under the tutelage of Kala Ramnath, she wrote the instrumental part of the song and incorporated her lyrics with the rhythmic and melodic concepts she was studying. “I like to pick at my wounds until they bleed / Take in the moon on a bended knee” she sings in the song’s
opening verse, a tender declaration of purpose for the album. On “Just for Tonight,” an elegiac waltz about the nature of forgiveness, Hunt’s luminous vocals melt away the song’s carapace of doubt and regret: “Let the stillness in you / Clear the shadows in me / Let me look through your eyes / And see nothing but peace.” Written beside a river at RockyGrass Festival in Lyons,
CO the song sprang from a painful personal experience, a wound that the song’s creation helped to heal.
On “Frolic of the Bees,” the album’s shimmering lead track, the notion of vulnerability is reimagined as a blissed-out invitation to community. The song begins with the hypnotically enticing mandolin of Dominick Leslie, followed by Hunt’s crystalline call to whomever has ears to hear: “Come, all the wild ones / Come, all the thieves / Come, all you furry feathered friends / Where we are headed, no one can harm you / Anyone can stay until the end.” Depicting an ethereal gathering in the woods where all are welcome, the song is an uncanny love letter to inclusion and openness, to the wonder and spontaneous joy that are possible when we allow ourselves to encounter each other lovingly, free from shame or judgment. “To me,” Hunt says of the song, “it’s an expression of transformation and dynamic change, a kind of ceremony or transcendent event that’s only possible when people are free to be together authentically.” Hunt’s gorgeous fiddling entwines itself with Leslie’s virtuosic mandolin in a sublime encounter that amplifies the song’s central premise of communion. “You in the flames there / Burn through the night now,” Hunt sings, sounding out a shamanic command to the music, imploring it to sustain the joy.
On an album that opens with the joyous incantation of “Frolic of the Bees,” it’s only fitting that the final track is a kind of quiet exhalation and reflective summation of the record’s major ideas. “I Really Love” opens with just that – Hunt’s soft exhalation – and proceeds as a
slow recitation of a few concrete joys that make life worth living: “I really love putting the phone down and spacing out for an hour / Feeling the water touching my brow in the shower / Hearing the sound of piano downstairs / Watching the smoke disappear into the air / And singing…” The song is heartbreakingly beautiful in its specificity, and, rather than coming off like a hyper- personalized update of “My Favorite Things”, “I Really Love” sounds like a confession of the most profound sort. The song is so evocative because of the pathos inherent in Hunt’s voice, which she uses to sublimate the most everyday experiences into deeply personal, spiritual rites. That process, the sanctification of Hunt’s most private self, is what Shanti’s Shadow seeks to articulate.