When Foo Fighters released a debut album written and recorded entirely by leader Dave Grohl — at that point known only as the powerhouse drummer for Nirvana — in the summer of 1995, few would have guessed that the group would wind up as the one band to survive the ’90s alt-rock explosion unscathed. Other bands burned brighter but flamed out, breaking up after scoring a hit or two, while the Foos steadily racked up success after success, filling stadiums around the world while staying on top of the charts all the way into the second decade of the new millennium. Once the band’s lineup coalesced around the time of its third album in 1999, Foo Fighters’ sound also gelled into a recognizable signature built upon the heavy, melodic, loud-quiet-loud template of the Pixies and Nirvana, the modern rock anchored by a love of classic guitar rock. It was commercial without pandering, creatively restless without being alienating, a sound with wide appeal delivered by a band that was happy to tour and record the way bands did back in the ’70s. When Wasting Light became their first number one album in America upon its release in the spring of 2011, it was confirmation that Foo Fighters were survivors who had earned a large, devoted audience primarily through hard work.
All of this industriousness stems from Dave Grohl, who had been playing guitar and writing songs long before he began drumming. Throughout his early teens he performed in a variety of hardcore punk bands and in the late ’80s he joined the Washington, D.C.-area hardcore band Scream as their drummer. During Scream’s final days, Grohl began recording his own material in the basement studio of his friend Barrett Jones. Some of Grohl’s songs appeared on Scream’s final album, Fumble. Following the band’s 1990 summer tour, Grohl joined Nirvana and moved cross-country to Seattle.
After Nirvana recorded Nevermind, Grohl went back to the D.C. area and recorded a handful of tracks that would appear on Pocketwatch, a cassette released by Simple Machines. For most of 1992, he was busy with Nirvana, but when the band was off the road, he recorded solo material with Jones, who had also moved to Seattle. The pair kept recording throughout early 1993, when Grohl returned to Nirvana to record In Utero. Grohl had toyed with the idea of releasing another independent cassette in the summer of 1993, but the plans never reached fruition. Following Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994, the drummer kept quiet for several months. In the fall of 1994, Grohl and Jones decamped to a professional studio and recorded the songs that comprised Foo Fighters’ debut album in a week. Boiling down his backlog of songs to about 15 tracks, Grohl played all of the instruments on the album. He made 100 copies of the tape, passing it out to friends and associates. In no time, Grohl’s solo project became the object of a fierce record company bidding war.
Instead of embarking on a full-fledged solo career, Grohl decided to form a band. Through his wife he met Nate Mendel, the bassist for Sunny Day Real Estate. Shortly before the pair met, Jeremy Enigk, the leader of Sunny Day Real Estate, had converted to Christianity and quit the band, effectively ending the group’s career. Not only did Mendel join Grohl’s band, but so did Sunny Day’s drummer, William Goldsmith. Former Germs and Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear rounded out the lineup. The band, named Foo Fighters after a World War II secret force that allegedly researched UFOs, signed a contract with Capitol Records. The band’s self-titled debut, consisting solely of Dave Grohl’s solo recordings, was released on July 4, 1995. It became an instant success in America, as “This Is a Call” garnered heavy alternative and album rock airplay. By early 1996, the album was certified platinum in the U.S.
Throughout 1996, Foo Fighters supported the album with an extensive tour, enjoying a crossover hit with “Big Me” that spring. Late in the year, the group began recording its second album with producer Gil Norton. During the sessions, William Goldsmith left the band due to creative tensions, leaving Grohl to drum on the majority of the album. Before the record’s release, Goldsmith was replaced by Taylor Hawkins, who had previously drummed with Alanis Morissette. The Colour and the Shape, Foo Fighters’ second album and the first they recorded as a band, was issued in May of 1997. Smear left the group in the wake of the album’s completion and was replaced by guitarist Franz Stahl, whose stay proved short-lived; 1999’s There Is Nothing Left to Lose was recorded as a three-piece, with ex-No Use for a Name guitarist Chris Shiflett signing on soon after.
One by One, the group’s most polished production, appeared in late 2002, followed by 2005’s In Your Honor, which narrowly missed the top of Billboard’s album chart. After releasing a live album titled Skin and Bones in 2006, the band returned to Norton’s studio and started constructing a dozen fractured, eclectic rock songs to be released in 2007 under the name Echoes, Silence, Patience, and Grace. Two years later, the group released its first compilation, Greatest Hits, as Grohl launched his new supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, which also featured Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones. Foo Fighters reconvened for 2011’s Wasting Light, a Butch Vig production that doubled as the official return of Pat Smear, who hadn’t played on any of the band’s albums since 1997. Wasting Light wound up as a smash success for the Foos, debuting at number one on the Billboard charts, going gold in the U.S. and garnering the band another four Grammy Awards. In the wake of Wasting Light, several other Foo projects emerged — a limited-edition compilation of covers called Medium Rare released for Record Store Day 2011; a documentary of the band called Back and Forth — and the group toured the album into 2012.
In 2012, Foo Fighters announced they were taking a hiatus and Dave Grohl immediately returned to the confines of Queens of the Stone Age, drumming on their 2013 album, …Like Clockwork. He also threw himself into directing a documentary about the legendary Los Angeles recording studio Sound City. The film appeared early in 2013 to positive reviews, and it was accompanied by a soundtrack called Sound City: Reel to Real, which featured Grohl-directed jams including a variety of Sound City veterans, plus Paul McCartney. Not long after its release, Foo Fighters announced that their hiatus had ended and they were working on a new album. Sonic Highways, released late in 2014, was their most ambitious project yet; each track was recorded in a different city, some with special featured guests, a process documented on an eight-episode documentary series for HBO. Sonic Highways saw international release in early November 2014. During the Sonic Highways world tour, the Foos had the honor of being the final band to perform on The Late Show with David Letterman on May 24, 2015. Soon after, as touring resumed, Grohl fell from the stage during a stop in Sweden, breaking his leg. He performed from a throne for the remainder of the tour, which was rechristened the “Broken Leg Tour.”
In late 2015, both as a gesture of appreciation to fans and a tribute to the victims of the Paris terror attacks, Foo Fighters released the Saint Cecilia EP, a five-song blast that featured Gary Clark, Jr. and Ben Kweller. It returned the band to the Billboard charts, peaking in the Top 20 on the Hard Rock, Alternative, Tastemaker, and Vinyl charts. Soon after, the band announced an indefinite hiatus and would not release new music until two years later, when they returned with the single “Run.” This was the first taste of their ninth album Concrete and Gold, which appeared in September 2017.
Zac Brown Band
Zac Brown Band is a multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning, southern rock group lead by front man, Zac Brown. Throughout their decade-long career, Zac Brown Band has had five consecutive albums reach the top 10 of the Billboard 200 and four consecutive albums debut at #1 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. To date, the group has won three Grammy Awards including Best New Artist in 2010, sold more than 30 million singles, 9 million albums, has achieved 15 No. 1 radio singles and are the second act to top both the Country and Active Rock formats. Zac Brown Band has headlined 8 North American Tours and currently holds the record for most consecutive sold-out shows at the iconic Fenway Park. Since their debut, Zac Brown Band has developed a reputation with critics and fans alike as one of the most dynamic live performers, marked by strong musicianship that defies genre boundaries.
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.
Daryl Hall & John Oates
Daryl Hall and John Oates are the NUMBER-ONE SELLING DUO in music history!
Starting out as two devoted disciples of earlier soul greats, Daryl Hall & John Oates are soul survivors in their own right. They have become such musical influences on some of today’s popular artists that the September 2006 cover of Spin Magazine’s headline read: “Why Hall and Oates are the New Velvet Underground.” Their artistic fan base includes Rob Thomas, John Mayer, Brandon Flowers of the Killers, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie and MTV’s newest hipsters Gym Class Heroes who dubbed their tour “Daryl Hall for President Tour 2007.” One of the most sampled artists today, their impact can be heard everywhere from boy band harmonies, to neo-soul to rap-rock fusion.
Signed to Atlantic by Ahmet Ertegun in the 1970’s, Daryl Hall & John Oates have sold more albums than any other duo in music history. Their 1973 debut album, Abandoned Luncheonette, produced by Arif Mardin, yielded the Top 10 single, “She’s Gone,” which also went to #1 on the R&B charts when it was covered by Taveras. The duo recorded one more album with Atlantic, War Babies, (produced by Todd Rundgren) before they left and promptly signed to RCA. Their tenure at RCA would catapult the duo to international superstardom.
From the mid-’70s to the mid-’80s, the duo would score six #1 singles, including “Rich Girl” (also #1 R&B), “Kiss on My List,” “Private Eyes,” “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) (also #1 R&B), “Maneater” and “Out of Touch” from their six consecutive multi-platinum albums—’76’s Bigger Than Both of Us, ’80’s Voices, ’81’s Private Eyes, ‘82’s H2O, ‘83’s Rock N Soul, Part I and ‘84’s Big Bam Boom. The era would also produce an additional 5 Top 10 singles, “Sara Smile,” “One on One,” “You Make My Dreams,” “Say It Isn’t So” and “Method of Modern Love.”
Daryl also wrote the H&O single “Everytime You Go Away,” which singer Paul Young scored a number-one hit with a cover of the song in 1985.
That same year, Daryl and John, participated in the historic “We Are the World” session as well as closing the Live Aid show in Philadelphia.
By 1987, the R.I.A.A. recognized Daryl Hall and John Oates as the NUMBER-ONE SELLING DUO in music history, a record they still hold today.
On May 20, 2008, the duo was honored with the Icon Award during BMI’s 56th annual Pop Awards. The award has previously gone to the Bee Gees, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Paul Simon, Brian Wilson, Willie Nelson, James Brown, Ray Davies, Carlos Santana and Dolly Parton.
Daryl Hall’s latest project is a multi-award-winning monthly web series (and MTV Live show), Live from Daryl’s House (www.livefromdarylshouse.com). “It was a light bulb moment,” he says of the show’s genesis. “I’ve had this idea about just sitting on the porch or in my living room, playing music with my friends and putting it up on the Internet.” Live from Daryl’s House is also aired weekly on MTV Live every Thursday at 11pm EST/8pm PST.
The past episodes of Live From Daryl’s House have featured a mix of well-known performers like Jason Mraz, Joe Walsh, Booker T and the MGs, Blind Boys of Alabama, Rob Thomas, Cheap Trick, Train, Cee Lo Green, Smokey Robinson, The Doors’ Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek, Toots Hibbert, Nick Lowe, K.T. Tunstall, Todd Rundgren, Keb Mo, Dave Stewart, Goo Goo Dolls’ John Rzeznik and Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump along with newcomers such as Nick Waterhouse, Nikki Jean, Dirty Heads, Chiddy Bang, Rumer, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, Elle King, Mayer Hawthorne, Eric Hutchinson, Chromeo, Matt Nathanson, Parachute, Plain White T’s, Allen Stone, soul diva Sharon Jones, Diane Birch, L.A. neo-R&B party band Fitz & the Tantrums, hot new alternative band Neon Trees and veteran alternative mainstays Guster.
In March 2014, Eagle Rock Entertainment released their first new concert video in seven years: Daryl Hall And John Oates: Live In Dublin on DVD+2CD, Blu-ray and Digital Formats. Filmed at the Olympia Theatre on July 15, 2014, this set features the duo’s first ever concert performance in Dublin. Daryl Hall and John Oates dipped into their 40+ year rich repertoire to deliver a setlist steeped in hits: “Sara Smile,” “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do),” “Out Of Touch,” “Kiss On My List,” “Private Eyes,” “Rich Girl,” “Maneater,” and many more. It’s fitting that this high-energy 15-song concert film traverses songs from across their career, as Hall promises the audience that their “making up for lost time” in a city they’ve never performed in before.
Daryl Hall & John Oates are 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees.
Daryl Hall opened “Daryl’s House,” the restaurant and music club, on Halloween night ‘14 in Pawling, NY with a special performance featuring H&O. “Daryl’s House,” which
also serves as the backdrop of Palladia’s Live From Daryl’s House, aims to combine top-notch food with amazing artists.
John Oates released his memoir, Change Of Seasons (St. Martin’s Press) on March 28, 2017. Relying on his many handwritten journals, he brings to light many fascinating stories, ranging over his entire life, with a journalist’s eye and a poet’s heart. In Change of Seasons, Oates shares his highs, lows, triumphs, and failures. He takes the reader on a wild ride through all the eras, personalities, and music that have shaped him into who he is.
An American musician and singer-songwriter, Fogerty is a rock icon. As the lead singer and lead guitarist of Creedence Clearwater Revival,Fogerty’s prolific songwriting helped pen some of the most memorable songs in rock and roll, including “Proud Mary,””Bad Moon Rising” and “Fortunate Son.” His solo career skyrocketed in the 1980s with his chart-topping single “Centerfield.” This GRAMMY Award winner has written hit songs including, “Change in the Weather” and “Rock and Roll Girls,” among many others. Fogerty was featured onRolling Stone Magazine’s List of top 100 Greatest Guitarists and Top 100 Singers of all time. He has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well as the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1966, Fogerty was drafted and is a proud Vietnam-era veteran of the Army Reserve. Fogerty is celebrating his 50th Anniversary in music with a World Tour beginning this April in the U.S.
ZZ TOP a/k/a “That Little Ol’ Band From Texas,” lay undisputed claim to being the longest running major rock band with original personnel intact and in 2004 the Texas trio was be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Of course, there are only three of them – Billy F Gibbons, Dusty Hill, Frank Beard — but it’s still a remarkable achievement that they’re still very much together after more than 40 years of rock, blues, and boogie on the road and in the studio. “Yeah,” says Billy, guitarist extraordinaire, “we’re the same three guys, bashing out the same three chords.” With the release of each of their albums the band has explored new ground in terms of both their sonic approach and the material they’ve recorded. ZZ TOP is the same but always changing.
It was in Houston in the waning days of 1969 that ZZ TOP coalesced from the core of two rival bands, Billy’s Moving Sidewalks and Frank and Dusty’s American Blues. The new group went on to record the appropriately titled ZZ Top’s First Album and Rio Grande Mud that reflected their strong blues roots. Their third, 1973’s Tres Hombres, catapulted them to national attention with the hit “La Grange,” still one of the band’s signature pieces today. The song is unabashed elemental boogie, celebrating the institution that came to be known as “the best little whorehouse in Texas.” Their next hit was “Tush,” a song about, well, let’s just say the pursuit of “the good life” that was featured on their Fandango! album released in 1975. The band’s momentum and success built during its first decade, culminating in the legendary “World Wide Texas Tour,” with a production that included a longhorn steer, a buffalo, buzzards, rattlesnakes and a Texas-shaped stage. As a touring unit, they’ve been without peer over the years, having performed before millions of fans through North America on numerous epochal tours as well as overseas where they’ve enthralled audiences from Slovenia to Italy, from Australia to Sweden, from Russia to Japan and most points in between. Their iconography – beards, cars, girls, and that magic keychain – seems to transcend all bounds of geography and language.
Following a lengthy hiatus during which the individual members of the band traveled the world, they switched labels (from British Decca’s London label to Warner Bros.) and returned with two amazingly provocative albums, Deguello and El Loco. Their next release, Eliminator, was something of a paradigm shift for ZZ TOP. Their roots blues skew was intact but added to the mix were tech-age trappings that soon found a visual outlet with the nascent MTV. Suddenly, Billy, Dusty and Frank were video icons, playing a kind of Greek chorus in videos that highlighted the album’s three smash singles: “Gimme All Your Lovin’, “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs.” The melding of grungy guitar-based blues with synth-pop was seamless and continued with the follow-up album Afterburner as they continued their chart juggernaut. ZZ TOP had accomplished the impossible; they had moved with the times while simultaneously bucking ephemeral trends that crossed their path. They had become more popular and more iconic without ever having to be “flavor of the week.” They had become a certified rock institution, contemporary in every way, yet still completely connected to the founding fathers of the genre.
They stayed with Warner for one more album, Recycler, released in 1990 and switched to RCA where they debuted with Antenna and followed with Rhythmeen and XXX. Mescalero, their latest, is one of the deepest sets ever presented by the band with 16 tracks brimming with virtuoso musicianship, humorously enigmatic lyrics and even a track sung entirely in Spanish. Beyond that, both a lavish four CD box set compilation, Chrome, Smoke & B.B.Q. and a two-CD distillation of that package, Rancho Texicano, were released in recent years by Warner Bros.
Now after lengthy hiatus from the studio, ZZ Top is prepping the release of La Futura, the band’s first album in nine years, to be released in the fall of 2012 Four of that album’s tracks were gathered under the title Texicali and released digitially in the late Spring. Those four tracks, “I Gotsta Get Paid,” “Chartrueuse,” “Over You” and “Consumption” have confirmed the hopes of their legion of fans: the band’s sound is stronger than ever and their approach is as ‘down and dirty’ as it was 42 years ago.
The elements that keep ZZ TOP fresh, enduring and above the transitory fray can be summed up in the three words of the band’s internal mantra: “Tone, Taste and Tenacity.” Of course, the three members of the band have done their utmost to do their part in assuring that ZZ TOP prevails. As genuine roots musicians, the members of the band have few peers. Billy is widely regarded as one of American finest blues guitarists working in the rock idiom. His influences are both the originators of the form – Muddy Waters, B.B. King, et al – as well as the British blues rockers who emerged the generation before ZZ’s ascendance. In his early days of playing, no less an idol that Jimi Hendrix singled him out for praise. Part mad scientist, part prankster, he’s a musical innovator of the highest order.
Dusty has long had an affinity for rock’s origins; his earliest performances as a child included Elvis songs convincingly performed. Not only is he a bass virtuoso in his own right, his vocal prowess is awe-inspiring. He’s the lead voice you hear on “Tush” and his ferocious vocals are heard, to great effect, on “Piece” on the new album. Good natured and diligent, Dusty is the rock solid bottom of ZZ TOP.
Frank has also been keeping the beat in that great tradition. As both a roots and progressive drummer, he has been acknowledged as key to the band’s powerful on-stage and in-studio presence. He and Dusty, in their early years together, served as Lightnin’ Hopkins’ rhythm section which, as Frank tells it, was a life changing experience. Frank, despite his last name, is the guy in the band without a beard. But when you’re with him, you’re with a Beard. He’s a rockin’ paradox who provides the pulse of ZZ TOP.
ZZ TOP’s music is always instantly recognizable, eminently powerful, profoundly soulful and 100% Texas American in derivation. The band’s support for the blues is unwavering both as interpreters of the music and preservers of its legacy. It was ZZ TOP that celebrated “founding father” Muddy Waters by turning a piece of scrap timber than had fallen from his sharecropper’s shack into a beautiful guitar, dubbed the “Muddywood.” This totem was sent on tour as a fundraising focus for The Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi, site of Robert Johnson’s famed “Crossroads” encounter with the devil. ZZ TOP’s support and link to the blues remains as rock solid as the music they continue to play. They have sold millions of records over the course of their career, have been officially designated as Heroes of The State of Texas, have been referenced in countless cartoons and sitcoms and are true rock icons but, against all odds, they’re really just doing what they’ve always done. They’re real and they’re surreal and they’re ZZ TOP.
On his sophomore album Good Thing, Leon Bridges’ voice breaks into the debut single “Bad Bad News” in much the same way the artist broke into the public eye in 2015 – forcefully, honestly, and all at once. “They tell me I was born to lose,” he sings with characteristic soulfulness, “but I made a good, good thing out of bad, bad news.”
The lyric is a fitting way to sum up a whirlwind ascent for the young artist. In 2015, Bridges’ first album, Coming Home, surprised the music industry by debuting at #5 on the Billboard Top 200. Only months prior, he had been playing sparsely attended open mics in Dallas-Fort Worth after work washing dishes at a local restaurant. In a span of three years, Coming Home would take Leon to the White House to perform for former President Obama, see him on the stage of Saturday Night Live and earn him nominations for two Grammy Awards including Best R&B Album. The debut album has gone on to sell over 500,000 records (certified RIAA Gold) and has been streamed 350 million times and Leon now regularly sells out 10,000-person capacity rooms in cities around the world.
Good Thing marks the beginning of another transition for Leon Bridges. If Coming Home anointed him the R&B underdog whose sound was reminiscent of days past, Good Thing is an album firmly rooted in the modern world, with nods to R&B’s storied and varied history. “We wanted to find a way to bring the old sound in a way but evolve it,” Bridges explains.
To create the record, Leon returned to Niles City Sound, the Dallas-Fort Worth production team responsible for Coming Home, but he moved the operation to Los Angeles and brought in famed pop producer Ricky Reed. The recipe worked. “The cliché thing to say is that you have your whole life to write your first album,” Leon explains, “but with the process for Good Thing we started and basically finished one song a day.”
“We wanted to find a way to bring the old sound in a way but evolve it” says Bridges. The evolution traveled well beyond its bpm’s parameters as the song lyrics centered in on more intimate details of Leon’s life—from experiencing love and heartache to grappling with newfound fame. “This album was me pulling from some current relationships I was in—some of that came from the fear of falling in love and fighting insecurities; some of it came from the celebration of success in life,” he explains.
Sonically, there’s a noticeable shift: weaving various genres into one cohesive work, yet retaining the integrity of Bridges’ infectious music. “When you have a sound that’s so specific like that, people are going to put you in a box,” he admits. “I feel like I have a better sense of myself now.” Arguably more upbeat, there is still a soulful element to Good Thing that remains Bridges’ signature, though the heart of the project lies in its innovation as there is an overt shift into less of a nostalgic tone. “I don’t think people are just looking for some retro thing again,” he admits. “They just want good music. Knowing that people are waiting for something dope from me made the process even better.”
The album opener “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand” is an R&B slow ballad with the addition of soaring strings and playful bells that belie the sorrow of a conflicted lover ending a relationship before he can get hurt. “Shy” is a modern pop seduction, with a touching reveal about the seducer in the last chorus. “Forgive You,” written from the perspective of an ex-girlfriend, struggles with the aftermath of a relationship and coming out whole on the other side. The album closes with the musical memoir “Georgia To Texas,” by far Leon Bridges’ most personal work to date. “I wanted to tell vignettes about my life,” he expresses of the concept, which begins before he’s born and tackles hard memories of his family’s financial struggles to his losing his virginity to a prostitute in his teens.
The result is an album that veers from uptempo to down, from highly structured pop-R&B to deconstructed jazz, and from past to present. It is not just sonically rich, but lyrically complex as well, touching on the more intimate details of Leon’s life, from experiencing love and heartache to grappling with newfound fame.
Gone are the days of Leon Bridges, the up-and-comer with potential. In the years since the release of Coming Home, Leon has proved himself a true artist with staying power. Good Thing cements him as complex, multifaceted, and capable of making groundbreaking work. “I really wanted to prove to people that I can exist in any genre, but still be myself,” he says intently. “I don’t want to be the R&B underdog anymore.”
Trey Anastasio Band
Trey Anastasio began his career as the guitarist and vocalist for the band Phish, and has won acclaim in the rock, classical and theatre circles. He has received GRAMMY® nominations for his recordings with Phish and for his solo work. Anastasio has performed with the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, among others. In 2013, he was nominated for a Tony Award and two Drama Desk Awards for the original score of the Broadway musical Hands on a Hardbody.
Since 1998, Trey Anastasio has toured and recorded with several musicians, commonly referred to as Trey Anastasio Band, or TAB for short. The lineup features drummer Russ Lawton, bassist Tony Markellis, and keyboardist Ray Paczkowski, percussionist Cyro Baptista, augmented by a full horn section, including trombonist/vocalist Natalie Cressman, multi-instrumentalist James Casey, and longtime TAB trumpeter/vocalist Jennifer Hartswick. In February 2019, TAB announced its first full-band headline performances in nearly two years.
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
”For a long time I always had to go off on my own,”says Nathaniel Rateliff of his creative process. “For the first Night Sweats record,I demo’ed everything up and created most of the parts. But for this new record,I felt like we’d all spent so much time on the road that we should all go off somewhere together. We should have that experience together. I wanted the guys to feel like they were giving something to the project beyond just playing.”
In other words,the Missouri-bred,Denver-based frontman wanted to make the band disappear along with him—out in the middle of the desert at first,and then deep in the woods. The result is the aptly titled Tearing at the Seams,a vivacious and inventive full-band record,with significant contributions from all eight members of The Night Sweats. These songs are grounded in old-school soul and r&b but are far too urgent for the retro or revivalist tag. There are familiar elements of soul and garage rock,but also jazz and folk and even country: the crackling energy on opener “Shoe Boot,”the cathartic sing-along of “Coolin’Out,”the melancholy folk of the closing title track. “The future of this band is to take everything we’ve ever done in the past and just do it with our own little twist,”says Rateliff. “I hear that in my favorite bands. They just sucked everything up.”
Like his heroes,Rateliff has always been an omnivorous listener and player. Growing up in Hermann,Missouri,a small town with a booming tourism industry as well as a rampant meth epidemic,he started his music career playing in his family’s band at church,but that came to a tragic end when his father was killed in a car accident. Music became an obsession for him and his friends. “We would walk around these deserted country roads and talk about music all the time,how it can change the world and how it could changeour world,”recalls Night Sweats bassist Joseph Pope III. “Music was what we thought would save us.”
In 1998 Pope and Rateliff moved to Denverwhere they worked nightshifts at a bottle factory and a trucking company while testing out their songs at open-mic nights. Their first band,Born in the Flood,attracted some major-label interest,but the pair had moved on by then,gravitating from heavy rock toward a folksier sound. Rateliff released an album on Rounder Records with a backing band called The Wheel,but despite the critical success of that and subsequent albums,he was still trying to find the right sound,the right outlet for what he needed to say.
A set of rough demos recorded in the early 2010s and based on old Stax and Motown records pointed Rateliff in a new direction. “That old soul stuff meant a lot to him when we were young,” says Pope. “Of all the projects we had done and all the different genres we had played,this was the most natural thing I’d heard him do. It sounded like it came from a really deep place in him,but it took this really meandering path to come through.”
Those demos eventually developed into the band’s 2015 self-titled debut, which became a massive hit and pushed them out on the road for two long years. Nathaniel Rateliff &The Night Sweats blasted their way through hundreds of shows in North America,England, Ireland, and Australia, and they played Coachella,Farm Aid,Newport Folk Festival,and the Monterey Pop Festival’s 50th Anniversary. The crowds grew larger with everyshow and The Night Sweats grew tighter and more vigorous.
In May 2017,they brought that same boundless energy to the opens plains and prickly cacti of Rodeo,New Mexico,where the entire band disappeared for a week to write songs for their follow-up. “We just did what we like to do best,”says Rateliff,“which is hang out and be a family.”They recorded a number of demos,some complete songs and others fragments or just ideas,but all were anchored by the preternaturally tight rhythm section of Pope and drummer Patrick Meese,then buoyed by the rambunctious keyboard runs from Mark Shusterman and the textural guitar riffs of Luke Mossman.
It was a sunny setting for emotionally overcast music. Together,The Night Sweats created a set of songs that comprise both an r&b party record and deeply personal confessional from Rateliff,who penned all the lyrics. The album recounts moments in the last few years of his life,some good and others not so much. “I remember finishing one song and just losing my shit and breaking down. These songs are so personal,but not everyone will get that. I get to leave little secrets in there for myself,so that everybody else gets to have their own individual interpretations of the songs.”
From New Mexico,The Night Sweatsheaded north to rural Oregon,specifically to the home studio of producer Richard Swift,who has helmed records for The Shins and Foxygen in addition to The Night Sweats’debut. “He’s like a brother to me,”says Rateliff. “We hit it off during the last record. I feel like I get what Richard’s trying to do and he gets me. And his studio doesn’t really feel like a studio. It’s in this little building behind his house. That’s why I like it so much.”
In that tiny space The Night Sweats jammed hard,building off the demos they’d recorded in Rodeo. Often Swift would get dynamic takes without the band realizing he was even recording,which creates a loose,live sound on Tearing at the Seams. “Sometimes it just takes time for songs to reveal themselves to you,”says Rateliff. “You try not to get in the way of the songs and just let them be what they need to be or what everybody understands them to be.”
That’s how “Hey Mama”evolved from an acoustic guitar riff Rateliff devised in one of hundreds of green rooms the band has occupied pre-show into one of the catchiest songs on the album. He admits he wasn’t satisfied with his first stab at lyrics and melody,but “everybody in the band would walk around singing that melody and I’m like,Goddammit! I have towrite a new melody! But if everybody’s singing it,it must be okay.”The band took several cracks at “Intro,”a showstopper that opens the second side with a pretzel horn riff courtesy of tenor saxophonist Andreas Wild and trumpeter Scott Frock. A few measures later,Jeff Dazey unfurls a blazing alto sax solo. “We played that song live for a while,”says Rateliff. “It was a jam we came up with before we were really a band. We tried to record it so many different times in so many different places,but it never turned out the way we wanted it to sound. Finally,we just put it together at Richard’s one night. It was a drunken mess,but we got it.”
The album shows The Night Sweats tearing at their own seams,at their own sturdy sound,at their long-held definitions of friend and family and band. It’s an album that builds on the sound of their debut but dramatically redefines what they can do and where they can go next. Says Rateliff,“I want—and I need—everybody to feel like they’re a part of this band. I want them to feel like they’re contributing artistically and emotionally to the experience of writing and creating this music. We’ve all had to make sacrifices to be in The Night Sweats,and I want them all to know that it’s worth something.”
Born in Champaign, Illinois, Alison Krauss grew up listening to everything from folk to opera to pop and rock music, but quickly fell in love with bluegrass when she began playing fiddle at the age of five. Shortly after, Krauss began entering fiddle contests. At the age of 14, Rounder Records signed her to her first record deal and she went on to release her debut solo album two years later. The accomplished bluegrass musician became a member of the Grand Ole Opry at age 21.
Since 1985, Krauss has released 14 albums including five solo, seven with her longtime band and musical collaborators Union Station, and the Robert Plant collaboration Raising Sand, which was certified platinum and won five Grammys, including Album of the Year and Record of the Year. She’s sold more than 12 million records to date, and her honors include 27 Grammys, nine Country Music Association awards, 14 International Bluegrass Music Association Awards, two Academy of Country Music Awards and two Gospel Music Association awards.
Windy City, her latest solo album, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums and Top Bluegrass Albums charts and received two Grammy nominations. The album was produced by Buddy Cannon, whose vocal harmonies Krauss grew up listening to and were the soundtrack to her childhood. “Buddy sang harmonies on everything back then,” Krauss says. She also reveals of Cannon, “I don’t do something unless I feel like I’m called to do it. That’s what I felt like, so I honored it. It’s like the same feeling of when you know something is right musically, with a song or a batch of songs – the same feeling, but this was attached to a person instead of a batch of songs.”
Krauss frequently collaborates with artists from numerous genres, including Dolly Parton, Taylor Swift, Kenny Rogers, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Vince Gill, The Chieftains, James Taylor, The Cox Family, Yo-Yo Ma, Johnny Mathis, Cyndi Lauper, Heart, Bad Company and Phish. She has recorded and toured with Willie Nelson, whom she honored with a performance during the 2015 Gershwin Prize Tribute Concert. She will reunite with Nelson this summer on a co-headlining tour throughout North America. “Whiskey Lullaby,” a duet which she performed with Brad Paisley won two CMA Awards in 2004. She has also produced albums for Alan Jackson, Nickel Creek and The Cox Family. Some of these collaborators were also formative to Krauss and she lists influences including Tony Rice, Ricky Skaggs, Dolly Parton, Larry Sparks, The Cox Family, and Ralph Stanley.
Krauss has contributed songs to numerous films, including “Down to the River to Pray” in the cult classic film O Brother, Where Art Thou? and “You Will Be My Ain True Love” and “The Scarlett Tide” in the film Cold Mountain. She has also provided the voice for several cartoon movie characters, including Bambi’s mother in Bambi II and Annabelle in Annabelle’s Wish, as well as the singing voice of Davey’s girlfriend in the Adam Sandler movie Eight Crazy Nights.
In 2013, she performed at the Kennedy Center’s “American Voices” festival that was created and hosted by Renee Fleming and also honored Dolly Parton and Paul Simon with performances during The Kennedy Center Honors. She has performed for three presidents—George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
The Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips are an American rock band, formed in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1983.
Melodically, their sound contains lush, multi-layered, psychedelic rock arrangements, but lyrically their compositions show elements of space rock, including unusual song and album titles—such as “Psychiatric Explorations of the Fetus with Needles”, “Free Radicals (A Hallucination of the Christmas Skeleton Pleading with a Suicide Bomber)” and “Yeah, I Know It’s a Drag… But Wastin’ Pigs Is Still Radical”. They are also acclaimed for their elaborate live shows, which feature costumes, balloons, puppets, video projections, complex stage light configurations, giant hands, large amounts of confetti, and frontman Wayne Coyne’s signature man-sized plastic bubble, in which he traverses the audience. In 2002, Q magazine named The Flaming Lips one of the “50 Bands to See Before You Die”.
The group recorded several albums and EPs on an indie label, Restless, in the 1980s and early 1990s. After signing to Warner Brothers, they scored a hit in 1993 with “She Don’t Use Jelly”. Although it has been their only hit single in the U.S., the band has maintained critical respect and, to a lesser extent, commercial viability through albums such as 1999’s ‘The Soft Bulletin’ (which was NME magazine’s Album of the Year) and 2002’s ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots’. They have had more hit singles in the UK and Europe than in the U.S. In February 2007, they were nominated for a 2007 BRIT Award in the “Best International Act” category. By 2007, the group garnered three Grammy Awards, including two for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
In 2008, the band’s long-awaited, seven-years-in-the-making film Christmas on Mars made its debut at the Sasquatch Festival in George, Washington; that fall, the movie and its soundtrack were released as a CD/DVD set. During 2007 and 2008, the Lips began working on the follow-up to At War with the Mystics, taking a looser, more experimental approach than they had in years. The results were released as Embryonic in fall 2009, followed by the band’s quirky remake of the Pink Floyd classic ‘Dark Side of the Moon’.
The band then shied away from full-length releases for the next couple years, opting instead to work with a number of collaborators on various limited-edition EPs. Working with artists like Neon Indian, Prefuse 73, and Lightning Bolt, the Lips released tracks over the next couple of years in various nontraditional formats including USB keys embedded in gummy skulls, limited-edition vinyl, and candy fetuses. Their series of team-ups came to a head in 2012 when the band released ‘The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends’, which collected songs from their previous collaborations as well as new material recorded with artists like Ke$ha, Bon Iver, and Erykah Badu. For 2013’s bleak ‘The Terror’, the Lips reteamed with Dave Fridmann, recording in a matter of days and using their collection of vintage synths as the album’s musical focus.
The Lips collaborated with Cyrus on a full-length album, ‘Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz’, which was released for free online in August of 2015. Following the album’s digital release, the artists toured together. In November of 2015, the Lips released ‘Heady Nuggs 20 Years After Clouds Taste Metallic: 1994-1997’, a three-CD or five-LP compilation including the ‘Clouds Taste Metallic’ album, the 1994 odds-and-ends EP ‘Providing Needles for Your Balloons’, a further rarities collection titled ‘The King Bug Laughs’, and a previously unreleased concert recorded in Seattle in 1996.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
In 2002, in the midst of a year of sleeplessness, and novel-writing, Alex Ebert created two things: A distracted, deformed, and hopelessly romantic messianic character named Edward Sharpe, and a new kind of mathematics called Magnetic Zeros. The novel was never completed and the math’s application is yet-to-be determined, but Ebert liked the sound of those two inventions combined, and a band who’s members were yet to be met was born. (Note: “Edward Sharpe” is not an alter ego of Ebert’s, but rather “a vehicle that delivered me back to myself”).
Several years later, disillusioned with just about every aspect of his life, Ebert dropped nearly everything- his relationship, his home, his phone, and even Alcoholics Anonymous, and embarked on the journey of self discovery and liberation that gave birth to the material that would be the first Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros album, Up From Below. Inspired primarily by the simple, rag-tag, jangly sing-a-longs at his elementary school, Ebert wrote songs designed for a large group to have a childish, unprofessional, and irreverent feel.
With (at the time) odd instrumentation, the songs required upwards of ten musicians to play, and it was during the recording process that the band truly formed. It would be a member-less band no longer.
Ebert’s “partner-in-liberation” during his time of transformation, singer Jade Castrinos, helped co-pen the song “Home”, and in it the band had a platinum-selling song.
In the time since, the band has released three albums and toured much of the world, but in the process something else happened: “we went from social experiment to accidentally becoming a great band”, Ebert says. Indeed, they became known for the power of their live shows.
In light of this revelation, the band feels a new purpose: “to write music especially designed to perform live, and to become the very best band we can possibly be.”
They now anticipate releasing their 4th album, recorded almost entirely in one room, in the summer of 2015.
Described by Spin as “one of the greatest living voices in rock today,” and by SF Weekly as “the whole package”, Grace Potter continues to impress both critics and audiences with her musical achievements and captivating live shows.
Heralded as one of today’s best live performers, Grace Potter has played every major music festival from Coachella and Lollapalooza to Bonnaroo and Rock in Rio. She’s had the honor of sharing the stage with artists such as The Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, Robert Plant, the Allman Brothers, Neil Young, Mavis Staples, and The Roots to name just a
few. Most recently, she was given the honor of performing, along with Sheryl Crow, a tribute to the late Glenn Frey at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. For an artist who has built a devoted fan base through her electrifying live show, Potter seems hell-bent on breaking out of the box when it comes to studio work. She refuses to be defined by a single genre. Over the last three years, she has seamlessly transitioned from collaborating with the Flaming Lips for a Tim Burton film, to songwriting and producing for soundtracks and theme songs for film and TV, to multi-platinum, Grammy- nominated country duets with her friend Kenny Chesney, to most recently joining The Rolling Stones on stage for an inspired rendition of “Gimme Shelter.”
In late 2015, at the invitation of The First Lady, Michelle Obama, and TV host Conan O’Brien, Grace performed for the troops in Qatar (where she was joined on stage by the guitar-playing O’Brien). In the fall of 2015, Grace was honored with the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, her home state of Vermont’s highest honor in the creative sector. Earlier in 2015 Potter received the ASCAP Harry Chapin Vanguard Award by WhyHunger honoring her for her work with several charitable organizations. On August 14th, 2015, Grace released her critically acclaimed solo album, Midnight, to a #17 debut on the Billboard 200 chart.
Midnight was recorded and mixed at Barefoot Studios in Hollywood, CA, with producer Eric Valentine. The core studio band consisted of Potter and Valentine on most of the instruments, with Matt Burr on drums and percussion. Additional contributions came from guitarists Scott Tournet and Benny Yurco and bassist Michael Libramento, as well as former tour- mates and friends singer-songwriter Rayland Baxter, Audra Mae, Noelle Skaggs of Fitz & the Tantrums, and Nick Oliveri of Queens of the Stone Age.
“This album is about embracing life as it comes at you – with all its unexpected twists and turns,” says Potter. “I’ve experienced a huge amount of growth and change in the past two years – both personal and professional, and it can be overwhelming for an artist to find ways to express that in a vacuum. So I tried to strip away the confines of other people’s expectations. I started tapping into some of the deep-running themes that have shaped me into the human I’ve become, and as I went deeper and deeper, I found the results to be insanely satisfying.”
Citing Miles Davis, Dylan, the Beatles, Bowie, Blondie and Beck as prime examples, Potter says she is drawn to artists who make sonic leaps from record to record—a notion she has explored throughout her career.
Potter has released four other studio albums through major label Hollywood Records: 2006’s Nothing But The Water, 2007’s This is Somewhere, 2010’s self-titled album and 2012’s The Lion The Beast The Beat, with the latter two both debuting Top 20 in the U.S. In 2010, Potter was featured on Kenny Chesney’s Grammy nominated, platinum-selling hit, “You and Tequila,” and his 2015 hit, “Wild Child,” which also achieved #1 status on the (billboard) Country chart.
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
Joan Jett is an originator, an innovator, and a visionary. As the leader of the hard- rocking Blackhearts, with whom she has become a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, she’s had eight platinum and gold albums and nine Top 40 singles, including the classics “Bad Reputation,” “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll,” “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” and “Crimson and Clover.” Her independent record label, Blackheart Records, was founded in 1980 after she was rejected by no less than 23 labels. Blackheart is one of the longest running indie labels and continues to give voice to new bands. Jett has acted in movies and television, including 1987’s Light Of Day, and in a Tony-nominated Broadway musical, The Rocky Horror Show. She has appeared on such acclaimed television shows as Oprah (the last season) and Law and Order.
As a producer, she has overseen albums by Bikini Kill, Circus Lupus, as well as the Germs’ LA punk masterpiece, GI.
Her music has become a permanent force in mainstream culture. A version of “I Hate Myself for Loving You” was reworked for NBC’s Sunday Night Football theme song, “Waiting All Day for Sunday Night”, and was performed for 9 seasons by the likes of Pink, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood. Her music is heard in countless films and TV shows including Easy – A, Kick Ass, The Runaways, Shrek, Baby Mama, and many more.
Since co-founding the Runaways, the pioneering all-girl punk quintet, at age 15, Jett’s determination and drive have kept her in the public eye. Jett was able to see her story told in The Runaways, the film based on (lead singer of The Runaways) Cherie Currie’s book Neon Angel starring Kristen Stewart as Jett, and her fellow A-lister Dakota Fanning as Currie. Jett was close to the project: She served as an executive producer. Jett and the Blackhearts released their latest record, ‘Unvarnished,’ in 2013 and continue touring the globe to throngs of adoring fans.
Joan Jett has spent her lifetime breaking barriers and challenging expectations – this is, after all, a woman who is both a spokesperson for PETA and a devoted supporter of the US Military. She’s fought hard for all of her historic accomplishments, yet she remains humble and appreciative.
“I’ve had a blessed career,” she says. “I consider myself so lucky to have been able to do things my own way.”
The reunited original line-up of+LIVE+returned triumphantly in 2017. Even stronger than before, Ed Kowalczyk(vocals, guitar), Chad Taylor(guitar, backing vocals), Patrick Dahlheimer(bass) and Chad Gracey(drums, percussion)performed with both fireand emotional heart. They reminded music audiences worldwide how potent they are as a live act,playing songs from albums that have sold over 22 million copies worldwide (including two number one albums,Throwing Copper and Secret Samadhi). +LIVE+has returned to the road in 2018, with a massive summer outdoor amphitheater tour of North American on tap with Counting Crows. The band will also release new music later this year.
In 2017, the multi-platinum band performed 26shows–including major festivals such as Austin City Limits, Lollapalooza and Arroyo Seco; a run of arena dates with Guns N’ Roses; and solo headlining shows–in five different countries.A recap trailer of their achievements can be viewed here.
+LIVE+garnered praise at Lollapalooza from writers such as Randall Colburn ofCONSEQUENCE OF SOUND who noted, “A packed set from a recently reunited Live at one of the country’s foremost music festivals…‘All Over You’ kicked off the proceedings, with ‘Selling the Drama,’ ‘The Dolphin’s Cry,’ and ‘I Alone’ ushering us towards the glorious climax that is ‘Lightning Crashes.’”(August 7, 2017)Jessi Roti of theCHICAGO TRIBUNE backed up the sentiment noticing “The drama is still there.”(August 6, 2017)
The AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN caught the band’s performance at Austin City Limits and raved: “LĪVE sells the drama in epic, hit-filled ACL Fest set…Credit to LĪVE’s consummate showmanship and seemingly endless collection of hits that their Saturday afternoon set at ACL managed to be muscularly epic…Indeed, something was in the air during the band’s masterful performance…Back indeed, and with a vengeance, as they tore through their hit-filled discography with the same vigor as in their heyday. Kowalczyk’s full-throated roar and tender vibrato took front-and-center on originals and covers alike…LĪVE sold the drama in their Saturday performance, and the audience lapped it up. But they also sold something bigger: a call for unity, a balm for a troubled spirit, and a promise of life after death.”(October 7, 2017)
2017 also celebrated the 25th anniversary release (8/11 via Radioactive/Geffen/Ume)of the band’s 1991debut full-length album, MENTAL JEWELRY, produced by Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads.The remastered deluxe reissue was released digitally and physically featuring an unreleased studio track (“Born Branded”)from the album’s original sessions; a club remix of “Pain Lies On The Riverside” by Public Enemy producer, Hank Shocklee; two songs from the band’s September 1991 EP Four Songs; and an unreleased 1992 full concert at The Roxy in Los Angeles.
“It was such an amazing year full of so many wonderful moments,” reflectsEd Kowalczyk.“I would have to say it absolutely exceeded everyone’s expectations. We are really sounding better than ever and our chemistry on and off stage is just at another level. We can feel it and I’m sure the fans can sense that this isn’t some one-off ‘reunion where everyone sort of phones it in and then goes about their business. LIVE is back and better than ever at every level.”
“By the time LIVE hit the stage at Lollapalooza,” says Chad Taylor,“we were performing at our very best. Something about the reunion renewed our energy and spirit. The band and our fans have been on fire, like nuclear hot sauce. I’m blown away with how passionate our fan base is. Now I can’t wait to elevate things to an even higher level with new tunes.”
Kowalczyk adds that “the festivals were so amazing. During every show there was a palpable sense of joy in the audience. People were just so happy to see us come full circle, reunited and sounding so strong. Highlight for me was watching Dave Grohl in my periphery rockin’ out to our set at Voodoo Fest in New Orleans. I hadn’t seen Dave in years and by the smile on his face, I could tell he was catching a good bit of the “LIVE-joy” as well…it’s contagious!”“Most important,” says Taylor,“we’re having so much f**king fun being in and enjoying our band!”
Kurt Vile and The Violators
Travel can inspire in surprising ways: Kurt Vile discovered as much making his first record in three years, the eclectic and electrifying Bottle It In, which he recorded at various studios around the country over two very busy years, during sessions that usually punctuated the ends of long tours or family road trips. Every song, whether it’s a concise and catchy pop composition or a sprawling guitar epic, becomes a journey unto itself, taking unexpected detours, circuitous melodic avenues, or open-highway solos. If Vile has become something of a rock guitar god—a mantle he would dismiss out of humility but also out of a desire to keep getting better, to continue absorbing new music, new sounds, new ideas—it’s due to his precise, witty playing style, which turns every riff and rhythm into points on a map and takes the scenic route from one to the next.
Using past albums as points of departure, Bottle It In heads off in new directions, pushing at the edges of the map into unexplored territory: Here be monster jams. These songs show an artist who is still evolving and growing: a songwriter who, like his hero John Prine, can make you laugh and break your heart, often in the same line, as well as a vocalist who essentially rewrites those songs whenever he sings them in his wise, laconic jive-talkin’ drawl. He revels in the minutiae of the music—not simply incorporating new instruments but emphasizing how they interact with his guitar and voice, how the glockenspiel evokes cirrocumulus clouds on “Hysteria,” how Kim Gordon’s “acoustic guitar distortion” (her term) engulfs everything at the end of “Mutinies,” how the banjo curls around his guitar lines and backing vocals from Lucius to lend a high-lonesome aura to “Come Again.”
These journeys took Vile more than two years to navigate, during which time he toured behind his breakout 2015 album b’lieve I’m goin’ down, recorded a duets album with Australian singer-songwriter-guitarist Courtney Barnett, opened for Neil Young in front of 90,000 people in Quebec, famously became a clue on Jeopardy, hung out with friends, took vacations with his wife and daughters. “I’ve been bouncing around a lot and recording all over. My family would meet me in the middle of America, and we’d go on a road trip somewhere. I would record in between all that stuff.”
Let’s start in Philadelphia, Vile’s hometown and a perennial inspiration. The first song recorded for Bottle It In became the album’s opener: A quintessential Violators tune featuring longtime band members Jesse Trbovich, Rob Laakso and Kyle Spence, “Loading Zones” is a paean to the City of Brotherly Love as well as an explication of his peculiar parking strategy. “I park for free!” he and the Violators all proclaim, proudly and defiantly, as he moves his car from one loading zone to another, always avoiding meter fare and parking tickets. The song dates back to the b’lieve sessions, but it took Vile a while to figure out how to put the song across. “It ended up feeling too weird for the last record, and I’m glad I waited because it had to grow into a guitar jam. I don’t think I was ready for the swagger it took to deliver such a ridiculous concept. It’s about owning your own town. It’s about knowing a place like the back of your hand.” And if that curious guitar tone—the one that sounds like a distorted voice, sounds familiar, it’s because Vile used the same kind of pedal that his friends/idols Sonic Youth used on 1995’s “The Diamond Sea,” which at 27 minutes is roughly the amount of time Vile can leave his car in one Philly loading zone. Coincidence?
From there Vile headed west. In April 2017, he trekked out to Indio, California, to catch the Stagecoach Festival and sit in with his friends the Sadies (“my favorite modern band”). Inspired by Willie Nelson’s epic set, Vile spent a few days in Los Angeles working with producer Rob Schnapf at his Mant Sounds studio. “He does these really cool pop things, weird versions of pop songs,” says Vile of Schnapf, who has produced albums for Beck, Elliott Smith, and Guided by Voices, among many others. The two had previously worked together on “Pretty Pimpin,” the leadoff track on b’lieve that became a number-one AAA radio hit. Their second collaboration was similarly inspired: Featuring backing vocals from Cass McCombs, the eleven-minute title track is full of ominous bass rumbles, hazy-steady drumbeats from Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa, delicate harp stabs from Mary Lattimore, and what sounds like chewy distortion leaking out of a David Lynch flick. “I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen. I didn’t know ‘Bottle It In’ was going to be that long. It’s sort of like living something rather than having it all planned out. You have to go out there for the experience and the inspiration.”
Months later, when a lengthy Violators tour ended in Salt Lake City, Vile let the momentum carry him further west, where he recorded several more songs with engineer/producer Shawn Everett (Alabama Shakes, the War on Drugs) at The Beer Hole in Los Angeles. Another epic came out of that meeting, the loping “Bassackwards,” the album’s beating heart and Vile’s most compelling evocation of how he sees the world. “I was on the ground circa Planet Earth, but out of sorts,” he sings over a gently psychedelic bed of backmasked guitars. “But I snapped back, baby, just in time to jot it down.” Other songs were put to tape during sojourns to Portland, Oregon, and to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where fellow Violator Rob Laakso co-produced. The bulk of Bottle It In was bottled up at Tarquin Studios in Bridgeport, Connecticut, with Peter Katis (Interpol, the National) engineering and producing. Bottle It In captures the spontaneity of these impromptu sessions, revealing Vile as a diligent and singularly determined musician.
These recordings are the destinations, but the journeys were just as important, whether they gave him time with his wife and kids or an opportunity to get some writing done. “For a while I was terrified of flying, so I would be listening to whatever country songs I was obsessed with. I’d have George Jones blasting in my ears. Or, I would be reading something about country music. Or, I would start writing songs in that flash of being afraid, being swallowed by life. I’m up there on a plane drinking wine because like everybody else I’m afraid to die. And I wrote ‘Hysteria’ up there.” That new song, with its woozy guitar fanfare, captures mid-flight queasiness well, as Vile daydreams about escaping the flight: “Stop this plane ‘cause I wanna get off,” he sings. “Pull over somewhere on the side of a cloud.”
Bottle It In is about place only insofar as it is about the people in those places: friends and family, bandmates and music heroes, colleagues and collaborators. There’s a lot of love in these big-hearted songs, a lot of warmth toward everyone in Vile’s orbit and even toward those whose paths he’s yet to cross. “Loved you all a long, long while,” he sings on “One-Trick Ponies.” “Looked down into a deep dark well, called all of your names.” The jangly country-rock tune serves as a valentine to… he won’t say, but he and Mozgawa and Farmer Dave Scher deliver a beautifully sympathetic sing-along chorus that invites every one of us one-trick ponies to join in.
As Vile prepares for another round of lengthy tours and countless shows, these songs should prove good company, reminders of the love and responsibility he has toward those he leaves at home and those he meets along the way. That makes the sentiments resonate more strongly and lends Bottle It In an emotional weight. “It’s like that moment on the airplane,” Vile says, “when you’re on your way somewhere and you have that burst of panic. When you’re terrified of dying, that’s when you want people to know you love them.”
Squeeze first formed in 1973, shortly after Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook had begun their songwriting partnership, brought together by an ad in a sweetshop window. By 1977 they had made their recording debut and enjoyed a string of hits which lasted until 1982, the maturity of their songs outliving their initial burst of chart activity on the back of New Wave. Over the years there have been solo careers and occasional separations, but the Ivor Novello Award-winning songwriting duo Chris and Glenn reunited ten years ago to relaunch Squeeze and have been touring, writing and recording together since.
2015 saw the release of the critically acclaimed ‘Cradle to the Grave’ which was written as a soundtrack to Danny Baker’s BBC TV sitcom ‘Cradle To Grave’ (starring Peter Kay). This album marked the complete and, frankly, triumphant reintegration of the masterful songwriting axis of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, in a beautifully-observed series of fond vignettes about childhood, growing up and the absurdities of the ride through life we’re all on.
The band has long been a captivating live act, and in 2016 they triumphed on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury with The Guardian saying they “[went] down a storm… Squeeze’s success is a pretty infectious thing” and Acoustic magazine concluding that “they don’t have the bombastic hype of headliners Coldplay, but they have the songcraft and lyrical majesty to leave the headliners in the dust which they duly did.”
The band also hit the headlines around the world in 2016 when appearing on the BBC’s current affairs show ‘The Andrew Marr Show’ alongside fellow guest former Prime Minister David Cameron. On the spur of the moment Glenn Tilbrook decided to protest about government policy and deliberately changed the final couplet of the band’s song ‘Cradle To The Grave’ – http://bit.ly/20r33zn The incident sparked off a social media storm with 17000 people tweeting about it.
Squeeze are currently in the studio recording a new album before heading out on tour in Autumn 2017. The new line up has been unveiled which features the addition of bassist Yolanda Charles and Steve Smith on percussion. Yolanda is an accomplished session musician who has toured with the likes of Paul Weller, Eric Clapton and Hans Zimmer. Steve is the lead singer of Grammy award winning electronica act Dirty Vegas, who has previously supported Glenn Tilbrook on tour. Along with Yolanda and Steve are the long-standing lord of the keyboards, Stephen Large and bringing up the rear is drummer Simon Hanson.
I’m going to guess that you feel the same way I do about Jenny Lewis. I love her music. Her songs, albums, videos, live shows, however, you want to quantify her artistic output. I think I take for granted that basically everyone is a fan of hers. But then there’s this other thing that happens, and I don’t know if there’s a word for it. I hear her singing and I have this second realization that feels something like “No, wait. I’m serious. Her voice is incredible. This song is perfect.”
On The Line is Jenny’s fourth solo album.
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
Since forming 10 years ago, the buzz surrounding Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real has been quietly intensifying. During that time, the 28-year old singer/songwriter/guitarist and his bandmates have played hundreds of shows and major festivals all over the world and built a devoted underground following. Lukas’ profile continued to rise when he contributed three songs and heavenly vocals to his dad Willie Nelson’s 2012 album, Heroes, their voices blending with potent DNA. Then two years later, life took another turn skyward when Neil Young decided to make Promise of the Real his touring and studio band. Young has guided the grateful young musicians ever since as they’ve backed the legend on tour around the world and on his two most recent albums.
These experiences were undoubtedly invaluable, but none of what has come before will prepare you for the cosmic country soul of Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, the band’s new, self-titled album, a mesmerizing, emotionally genuine, endlessly rewarding work set for release on Fantasy Records. From the epic “Set Me Down on a Cloud” to the climactic “If I Started Over,” the album delivers one sublime song and inspired performance after another.
“I knew I had a lot of good songs that transcended the cultural boundaries between rock & roll and country,” Lukas says of his vision for the album. “I wanted to get the songs as pure as they could be. We owe a lot to Neil; we made this record after coming off the road with him for two years. Neil’s been mentoring us, and we’ve been absorbing that energy, and I think it shows. We got acclimated to a different level of artistic expression. We’ve grown.”
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, produced by song-shaping specialist John Alagia (numerous Dave Matthews Band LPs, John Mayer’s Room for Squares) was recorded at The Village Studios in West Los Angeles. Promise of the Real’s six-piece line-up now includes longtime bandmates Tato Melgar (percussion), Anthony LoGerfo (drums) and Corey McCormick (bass, vocals) along with new members Jesse Siebenberg (steel guitars, Farfisa organ, vocals) and Alberto Bof (piano, Wurlitzer, Hammond B3). Stefani “Lady Gaga” Germanotta (who convincingly plays the role of Bonnie to Lukas’ Delaney) added her signature vocals to the rousing “Carolina” and “Find Yourself,” while Jess Wolfe and Holly Lessig of the Brooklyn-based indie-pop duo Lucius provide backing vocals on five of the 12 tracks, evoking Exile on Main St.’s ecstatic, gospel-rooted harmonies.
The band’s many influences can be discerned in the opening track, “Set Me Down on a Cloud,” a soulful country rocker that features Lucius’ spiritual vocals and an extended solo underscores Lukas’ tasteful guitar virtuosity.
The lilting, pastoral “Just Outside of Austin” features a guitar solo from Willie, while Lukas’ 86-year-old Aunt Bobbi plays piano. “It’s a love letter to Austin, something like Roger Miller or Glen Campbell would write,” he said.
“Runnin’ Shine,” one of the album’s first-person character studies, is written from the perspective of a young moonshiner trying to outsmart the law while hurtling along Appalachian back roads in a souped-up car loaded with homemade booze. “Perspective is huge,” says Lukas. “If you’re able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and you can relate to them, it’s really hard to hate them, even if you don’t agree with how they live their life.”
Two of the album’s most breathtaking songs, “Find Yourself” and “Forget About Georgia,” vividly retrace the turbulent final stages and bittersweet aftermath of the same doomed love affair. “After the relationship ended, I had to play Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind” every night when I was on the road with my dad, which made it literally impossible to forget about her.” Introduced by a wistful four-note guitar lick that reoccurs throughout the arrangement, “Forget About Georgia” unfolds to a “Layla”-like outpouring of romantic yearning, as the band stretches out behind Lukas’ emotional guitar soloing. Not surprisingly, it’s Young’s favorite song on the album.
Inspired by the big ballads of Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley, Lukas delivers a full-throttle vocal on the closing track, “If I Started Over,” at once a cosmic rumination and a rapturous expression of romantic devotion. “The song is asking, what if, after we die, we just come back? What if we have to do the same dream again until we learn the right lessons?
A seasoned veteran at 28, Austin-born Lukas grew up in Maui, while spending much of his time during school breaks in his hometown and on the road with his dad. “I had a lot of passions growing up,” he says. “I played soccer, I was on the swim team, living a Maui lifestyle, surfing and skateboarding. I also loved singing and wrote my first song when I was 11. I became obsessed with guitar, playing eight to 10 hours a day. I knew what I wanted to do from a super-young age, and I made my life about it.” He and his brother Micah played in bands together in high school, and they struck up a friendship with Uruguay-born Tato Melgar, a skilled musician then making his living as a landscaper, who taught the brothers the basics of drumming.
In 2007, Lukas headed to the mainland to attend L.A.’s Loyola Marymount University. A year later, after meeting LoGerfo at a Neil Young concert, he dropped out of school and started a band with LoGerfo, Melgar and original bassist Merlyn Kelly; he named it Promise of the Real, referencing a line in Young’s 1973 song “Walk On”: “Sooner or later it all gets real.” When McCormick joined two years later on bass, the POTR lineup was set. The band woodshedded; averaging more than 200 shows a year. Drawing on Lukas’ lineage as well surrogate uncles like Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, and the classic rock and roll of J.J. Cale, The Band, Clapton era Delaney and Bonnie and of course mentor Neil Young, they began to develop their own distinctive style of American music.
Young befriended the band after checking them out at Farm Aid several years back. “Neil got in touch after that, and we started talking by email,” Lukas recounts. “Eventually, he asked us to record with him. So we recorded The Monsanto Years and played some shows together, and we fell in love with each other musically, one thing led to another and we became Neil’s band.
“What’s happened with us feels similar to the career trajectory of The Band,” he continues. “They were already a great band when they started working with Dylan, who lifted them up, which is similar to what Neil’s done for us. He’s also given people a chance to hear what we’re doing and what our own songs have to offer. Then we played the Desert Trip with Neil, along with Paul McCartney, the Stones, the Who and Dylan. That was incredible.”
Those two weekends in Indio last October turned out to be extremely fortuitous. “We met Lucius at Desert Trip,” says Lukas. “They were playing with Roger Waters—and still are. Then they came to the Bridge School Benefit, where we really got to know them. I love Jess and Holly—they really enhance the record.”
Bradley Cooper also saw Lukas play at Desert Trip, and right afterward contacted a mutual friend about helping him on the new film he’s directing and starring in, a remake of A Star is Born. “At first I was just helping him out, and then I started writing with Stefani (Lady Gaga), who’s in the movie. We connected and she and I became really close. I got very involved in this film and ended up bringing the band into it as well.”
Coming of age in a celebrated musical family, Lukas Nelson learned early on that true originality is hard won, never given. Doubtlessly blessed with a measure of musical ability, it’s clear that his natural gifts have been honed by a singular devotion to craft and a deep appreciation for the sacrifice a creative life requires. Elated by the way things have come together so beautifully, Lukas is gratified that POTR have earned this moment and seized the opportunities that have led to this album—all perfectly capturing what he’d heard in his head 18 months earlier.
“It’s just amazing how things have flowed,” Lukas marvels. “It feels divine in a way.”
A lot can change in a year: markets boom and bust, trends come and go, presidents get elected. In 2015, Margo Price was a country underdog just trying to keep enough gas in the tank to get to the next gig, but by the end of 2016, she was one of the genre’s most celebrated new artists and a ubiquitous presence on late night television and at major festivals around the world. It’s the kind of year most musicians can only dream of, and the arrival of Price’s spectacular sophomore album, “All American Made,” proves that she hasn’t taken a moment of it for granted. Delivering on the promise of her debut and then some, the record finds Price planting her flag firmly in the soil as a songwriter who’s here for the long haul, one with the chops to hang with the greats she so often finds herself sharing stages with these days.
“People have started asking me, ‘Now that you’re having success, what are you going to write about?’” Price recounts with a laugh. “A lot of what I wrote on my debut came out of my struggles in the music business, but we don’t have any shortage of material now. I’m just excited to finally have an audience and know that people are going to listen to our songs.”
A prolific writer with a knack for candid self-reflection, Price has never had to look too far for inspiration, and on ‘All American Made,’ she and her songwriting partner/husband, Jeremy Ivey, continue to depict the trials of everyday life with unflinching honesty, painting poetically plainspoken portraits of men and women just trying to get by. Highs and lows, long nights and hard days, wild women and cocaine cowboys, politics and sexism, it’s all in there, singularly filtered through Price’s wry, no-bullshit perspective. Throughout the album, her contemporary take on classic sounds is at once familiar and daring, an infectious blend of Nashville country, Memphis soul, and Texas twang that tips its cap to everyone from Waylon and Willie (who makes a guest appearance) to Loretta and Dolly, all while flipping a middle finger to the cookie-cutter pop that dominates modern country radio. Rich with swirling pedal steel, honky-tonk rhythms, and Price’s stop-you-in-your-tracks vocals, ‘All American Made’ is deeply reverent of tradition even as it challenges conventions, a nuanced exploration of conflicted emotions for our deeply conflicted times.
Far from overnight, Price’s recent meteoric rise is the product of more than a decade of hard work and sacrifice. While she’d long been one of East Nashville’s best-kept-secrets, she burst onto the international scene with the 2016 release of her first solo album, ‘Midwest Farmer’s Daughter.’ The record debuted in the Top 10 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart and graced Best-Of lists everywhere from Entertainment Weekly to NPR Music, who called it “the hard-won arrival of an artist who feels like she’s always been here.” Vulture described Price as “one of the most compelling country talents to come out of Nashville in recent memory,” while Pitchfork hailed the album as “a potential classic,” and Rolling Stone praised its “amazingly vivid songcraft.” Price solidified her next-big-thing status with stellar performances on Saturday Night Live, Colbert, Fallon, CBS This Morning, Seth Meyers, A Prairie Home Companion, and more, in addition to taking home Emerging Artist of the Year honors at the Americana Music Awards and winning The American Music Prize for the year’s best debut album. She shared stages and bills with Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, and Chris Stapleton among others, and her compelling story—years of toil in the Nashville trenches, the loss of her family’s farm and the tragic death of her infant child, a brush with the law, selling her car and pawning her wedding ring to afford studio time, signing to Jack White’s Third Man Records as the label’s first country artist—was recounted in glowing profiles everywhere from the NY Times Magazine and the New Yorker to Morning Edition and Fader.
When it was time to record the follow-up, Price and her band headed back to Memphis, TN, where they’d cut ‘Midwest Farmer’s Daughter’ on a shoestring budget. Instead of returning to Sun Studios, though, they moved down the street to the larger Sam Phillips Recording studio, which the legendary producer opened in 1960 when his own skyrocketing success necessitated more space.
“We recorded live again because that’s really how I like to work,” Price explains. “We’d get in around ten or eleven each morning, and then after about twelve hours of recording, we’d all start yelling for tequila, take a shot, and then just keep going.”
That spirited, energetic atmosphere infuses even the record’s darkest moments with a potent sense of vitality. On the uptempo album opener “Don’t Say It,” Price dishes out sardonic wordplay over smoking hot guitar, while the pedal-steel and fiddle-fueled “Weakness” toes the line between sobriety and mayhem, and the tender “Learning To Lose” finds her living out a country music fantasy as she duets with Willie Nelson.
“We’d gotten to know him a bit from playing shows together and I idolized the hell out of him,” says Price. “I didn’t know there were people like that, who’d achieved such massive stardom but remained so down to earth.”
Old school country may be the album’s most obvious touchstone, but Price and her band incorporate 60’s and 70’s R&B into many of the arrangements here, fusing two of Tennessee’s greatest musical exports. The funky “Do Right By Me” shimmies and grooves with Gospel legends The McCrary Sisters helping out on backing vocals, and the driving “A Little Pain” gets an assist from sweeping orchestration by Memphis legend Lester Snell (the man responsible for the string arrangements in “Shaft”).
“Sometimes you feel like you’ve got to please everybody, but ultimately you should be the one you’re worrying about taking care of,” Price says of the inspiration behind the song. “I wrote it pretty quickly just thinking about being on the road and trying to keep it together while you’re burning the candle at both ends.”
They say write what you know, and there are few things Price knows better than the road and the myriad of obstacles facing women who make their living on it. On “Pay Gap,” she laments the financial state of gender inequality (“why don’t you do the math? / Pay gap, pay gap / Ripping my dollar in half,” she sings), and “Wild Women” looks at the hypocrisies of what’s expected from male musicians compared to their female counterparts.
“There’s a definite double standard,” says Price, “but I think if you’re out there long enough, you stop giving any fucks and you just want to call it out. I get asked questions in interviews that no man would be asked, and if I’m assertive about what I want for me and my band, I get called a ‘diva.’ That song is really about the judgment I get from people who act like women shouldn’t be out on the road. Girls should be encouraged to follow their careers and their dreams just as much as men.”
The album closes with an intimate, acoustic rendition of “All American Made,” a song which calls to mind “Born In The USA” with its patriotic-sounding title and far more troubled lyrics.
“We actually wrote that song during the Obama administration,” says Price, “but it really altered meaning for me on the day Trump was elected. That song embodies the good and the bad in the ugly in this country. America is so beautiful to me, but it’s in a really hard spot right now. I feel like I was one of the first and only country artists to speak out so openly against Trump, and I had a lot of people tell me I shouldn’t be giving my opinion, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s not a lot of doubt about the difference between right and wrong.”
That candor is part of what makes ‘All American Made’ such a powerful follow-up release. Price could have taken her moment in the spotlight as an opportunity to homogenize and chase a slicker, more polished sound built for radio and arenas, but instead, she doubled down on the grit and the truth in her music. It’s honesty that brought her to this remarkable moment, and honesty that will continue to carry her into the future. How much higher will Margo Price’s star rise? Only time will tell, but just remember, a lot can change in a year.
Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul
Steven Van Zandt is a Musician, Performer, Songwriter, Arranger, Music Producer, Music Supervisor, TV Producer, Actor, Director, Broadway Producer, TV and Film Composer, Live Event Producer, International DJ, Activist, Historian, Teacher, member of the New Jersey Hall of Fame, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and is recognized internationally as one of the world’s foremost authorities on both Contemporary and Traditional Rock and Roll.
After helping create the “Jersey Shore” sound with the Asbury Jukes he became a founding member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, and went on to become a successful solo artist in his own right recording and performing solo with his band Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. In 2017 he released his first new album in over 15 years returning to his Rhythm and Blues roots entitled “Soulfire” which Rolling Stone named one of its “Best Albums of 2017.” He has recently released “Soulfire LIVE!” a 3 disc CD box set with a 7 Vinyl box set and 2 disc Blu-Ray to be released this February, recorded live during the “Soulfire Tour,” his first solo tour in over 20 years.
His songs have been performed by artists such as Jackson Browne, Pearl Jam, Jimmy Cliff, Damian Marley, Margo Price, Gary U.S. Bonds, Darlene Love, Nancy Sinatra, Brian Setzer, Black Uhuru, and more.
Steven Co-Produced the seminal Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band albums “The River”, and “Born in the U.S.A.” He has also produced albums for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Gary U.S. Bonds, Ronnie Spector, Demolition 23, Majek Fashek, and more. He Arranged and Produced “Introducing Darlene Love”, the critically acclaimed album for the legendary Darlene Love, star of the Oscar winning documentary “Twenty Feet From Stardom”.
In 1985, Van Zandt formed Artists United Against Apartheid and wrote “Sun City,” a song featuring over 50 major recording artists protesting the Apartheid system and considered by many political experts to be one of the fatal blows to Apartheid, leading to Nelson Mandela being freed only a few years later. HeStevie has twice been honored by the United Nations for his political activism, including the “Sun City” project and film, and his involvement in “International Peace Day” along with Peter Gabriel. He also established the Solidarity Foundation to promote the sovereignty of indigenous peoples and to foster economic development in harmony with the earth.
Steven Co-Starred in all seven seasons of the Sopranos, playing principle character “Silvio Dante,” a character that he created. He Starred in, Co-Wrote, Executive Produced, provided the music supervision and scoring, and Directed (the final episode) for the award winning series “Lilyhammer”, which was the FIRST original programming for Netflix.
In 2001 he launched “Little Steven’s Underground Garage”, his internationally syndicated radio show and the most successful syndicated Rock music radio show in the past 40 years. Steven also created and produces the first two channels of original content on SiriusXM Satellite Radio, the Underground Garage (Channel 21) and Outlaw Country (Channel 60). In 2006 he launched his record label, Wicked Cool Records, to further support new Rock and Roll.
In 2018 Little Steven and the Disciples of Tour went back on the road with their “Soulfire Teacher Solidarity Tour.” The landmark live tour benefited The Rock and Roll Forever Foundation’s TeachRock program and reached the incredible goal of registering over 18,000 teachers (and counting) to use the TeachRock Music History Curriculum.
Established by Dr. Van Zandt (he gave the commencement speech to the Class of 2017 and received an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Rutgers University), the Foundation creates education materials that use the history of popular music to create engaging, multicultural lesson plans for history, social studies, language arts, music, and science classrooms, all of which are available to educators at NO COST.
It marked the first-ever Rock tour specifically geared towards addressing this crucial societal need. At each stop of the tour, The Rock and Roll Forever Foundation is hosting FREE TeachRock Professional Development Workshops, with educators and a guest who attend also receiving a complimentary ticket to that evening’s concert.
“Music will forever be humanity’s most effective and consistent source of inspiration and motivation, and, we have learned, music turns out to be our most solid common ground for establishing communication between teachers and students which is where education begins.” – Stevie Van Zandt
For more than a decade and a half, the members of Greensky Bluegrass have created their own version of bluegrass music, mixing the acoustic stomp of a stringband with the rule-breaking spirit of rock & roll. They redefine that sound once again with their sixth album, Shouted, Written Down & Quoted.
Like the band’s own name, Shouted, Written Down & Quoted is a collection of opposites, full of dark psychedelic swirls, bright bursts of acoustic guitar, soundscapes, solos, freethinking improvisation, and plenty of sharp, focused songwriting. It’s wild and wide-ranging, showing off the diversity Greensky Bluegrass brings to every live show. At the same time, Shouted, Written Down & Quoted is unmistakably a studio album, recorded during two different sessions — one at Echo Mountain Studio in Asheville, North Carolina; the other at the Mountain House Recording Studio in Nedarland, Colorado — that comprise the band’s longest block of recording time ever. The result is an 11-track album whose songs cast a wide net, mixing the full-throttle energy of a Greensky Bluegrass concert with the nuanced approach of a band that’s still eager to explore.
“You can call us an acoustic ensemble, or a drum-less rock band, or a rock & roll bluegrass band,” says mandolin player Paul Hoffman, who, along with guitarist Dave Bruzza, handles most of the album’s writing duties. “All of that shifting identity has taught us to cover a lot of ground. There’s a flow to this album, just like there’s a flow to our setlists. There are some aggressive, rocking moments. Some bouncy, funky moments. An acoustic think piece or two. It’s a balance of moods and textures that we create as a band, almost like a mix tape.”
Formed in 2000 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Greensky Bluegrass kicked off their career playing living rooms and open mic nights across the Midwest. By 2005, they were touring nationally, and by 2006, they were playing the first in a long series of appearances at the annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Bandmates Hoffman, Bruzza, dobro player Anders Beck, banjoist Michael Arlen Bont, and upright bassist Mike Devol spent most of the following decade on the road, fine-tuning a live show modeled not after the toned-down production of traditional bluegrass music, but the full-on spectacle of rock.
“We play two sets of music every night with a big light show, and really care about creating a large scale production,” notes Bruzza, adding that, “the goal isn’t just to play important music. We want to cultivate an experience, where people can escape from their everyday lives for a minute and put their worries aside.”
Playing as many as 175 shows per year, Greensky Bluegrass have graduated to headlining status at some of the country’s most iconic venues, selling out amphitheaters like Red Rocks and world-class auditoriums like the Ryman. They’ve become a regular name on the festival circuit, too, adding Bonnaroo, the New Orleans Jazz Festival, Austin City Limits, Forecastle, and Outside Lands to their touring schedule. Supported by a grassroots audience whose members often travel for hours to see the band, Greensky Bluegrass are still a proudly independent act, enjoying the success of a major-label act — including a Number One debut on the Billboard Bluegrass chart for their fifth album, 2014’s If Sorrows Swim — without giving up complete control of their own business.
Released on the band’s label, Big Blue Zoo, Shouted, Written Down & Quoted kicks off with “Miss September,” a song that splits its focus between Hoffman’s mid-tempo melodies and the band’s instrumental solos. Most of the album’s tracks strike a similar balance, showcasing a group whose vocal hooks and flat-picking skills share the spotlight equally. Meanwhile, the guys stretch their legs on “Living Over” — an improvised, seven-minute knockout that’s already become a live staple — and show surprising restraint with “While Waiting,” a slower song whose ebb-and-flow arrangement often finds no more than two bandmates playing at once. “Room Without a Roof” features some of the group’s most layered production to date, with electric instruments adding some thick sonic padding, while “More of Me” cranks up the drama, with Hoffman singing about heartache over a bed of minor-key guitar arpeggios.
“We tend to have a darker sense to ours songs than most acoustic bands,” Bruzza adds, “but we still have light moments, too. We’re trying to explore the textures and sounds we can make, while still having the instrumentation of a bluegrass band. There aren’t many rules. We’ll run a dobro though an amp on a song like ‘Past My Prime.’ We can get pretty epic. This album is a crazy carnival one minute, and it’s a psychedelic Pink Floyd jam the next.”
Equal parts dark, driving, and dynamic, Shouted, Written Down & Quoted is Greensky Bluegrass at their best, fusing the fiery fretwork of their live shows with the focus of a true songwriting outfit.
Blackberry Smoke has never been a band that stands still. Whether pursuing the dream by logging hundreds of thousands of miles on America’s highways and abroad or relentlessly exploring the many facets of its most unique art form, the Atlanta quintet is always on the move.
The songs on Blackberry Smoke’s sixth album, Like an Arrow, due October 14, show just how far this authentic American rock band has come as the accomplished group of musicians tackles a diverse set of new ideas, sounds and territories, long after most bands with half the success might have settled into a well-worn groove.
“We’re all likeminded in that we all want to explore,” singer and principal songwriter Charlie Starr said. “There’s just no way we could make the same record over and over again, though there are some fans who would like us to. That’s just way too formulaic. If the Beatles or Led Zeppelin did that, we wouldn’t love them as much.”
Like An Arrow continues the trend of sonic exploration established on the Blackberry Smoke’s previous two releases, 2012’s The Whippoorwill and 2015’s chart-topping Holding All the Roses. It kicks off with the band’s heaviest song to date and explores British rock before moving on to musical stops in places like Macon, Woodstock, Muscle Shoals and Tulsa as Starr and his buddies follow the ramblin’ examples of timeless, authentic acts like The Allman Brothers Band, JJ Cale, The Band and others who define rock ‘n’ roll in all its many facets.
“We just want the sound of the band to continue to grow and broaden. We’re not trying to make a hip-hop record,” Starr said with a laugh. “But there’s so many elements to what people call rock. There’s gospel and country and swing and blues. We’re just trying to write songs that include all those different types of elements. It keeps it interesting for musicians and songwriters. You think, ‘Well, I don’t have a straitjacket on, I haven’t painted myself into a corner, so I can try and just make the most of this art form.’”
That’s what Starr, Paul Jackson (guitar), Brandon Still (keyboards), Brit Turner (drums) and Richard Turner (bass) have been doing for 16 years now after forming in 2001. The quintet’s blue-collar work ethic, road-dog attitude – the band averages 250 shows a year – and willingness to jam all night long have left Blackberry Smoke with a grassroots fan base that continues to grow show by show.
Holding All the Roses, produced by Grammy Award winner Brendan O’Brien, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart and No. 7 on the Rock Albums chart, proof of the band’s universality. Praised by fellow artists as diverse as Dierks Bentley and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Blackberry Smoke now delivers an album that should invite even more fans under its revival tent.
Produced by the band with O’Brien’s engineer Billy Bowers handling the recording, Like An Arrow sounds and feels exactly how the band wanted it to.
“I think that it pleasantly surprised everybody involved,” Starr said. “Not that I think working with a producer is a bad thing because it’s a very good thing. But sometimes you just go with your gut and my gut told me, ‘Let’s make this record.’ We stretched out on some songs, of course, and obviously the record is a bit more hi-fi than my homemade demos. But it really was going back to let’s get in a room and play the music.”
Like An Arrow leads off with “Waiting For The Thunder,” a song driven by dark images, towering guitars and Still’s storm-driven B3 Hammond organ. Starr says the song sets the tone for where the album lives.
“It’s dynamic and big, it’s exciting,” Starr said. “When we recorded it, from the very beginning, I felt like this was going to be the song that would lead off the record because it sort of stands alone as far as the level of excitement that the song throws at you, just right off the bat.”
The band continues its exploration of amped-up territory on the title track, a psychedelic blast of heavy metal transcendentalism.
“There are some songs that are heavier than anything we’ve ever recorded – it’s a far cry,” Starr said. “’Like An Arrow’ is the closest thing to Black Sabbath that I think we’ve ever recorded in a way. I think it surprised everybody when we pressed record and started to play it. We were like, ‘Oh, my God, this thing is massive.’”
Blackberry Smoke heads hard in the other direction, too, backing off the four-on-the-floor for different textures. “Believe You Me,” for instance, is a disco-tinged, bottom-heavy blast of country funk.
“It is one of the handful of departures on the record,” Starr said. “’Waiting For The Thunder’ or ‘Like An Arrow’ might place the album in a certain genre – whichever box might make you feel comfortable – and ‘Believe You Me’ will come along and shake up the norm. It’s not what I would consider formulaic.”
“Sunrise In Texas,” a Michael Tolcher song that’s been a fixture in Blackberry Smoke’s live set for a decade, finally makes it onto album here, also because of its uniqueness. The song opens with dobro and electric piano before building to a long-form crescendo that lets the band show off its well-honed musicianship. “Running Through Time,” written with friend Travis Meadows, takes a look at life through the eyes of an old man looking back at the struggles of his youth on a song that’s carried along on an airy, lilting guitar line like nothing else the band’s recorded.
“We both led wild lives throughout our 20s and some of our 30s, doing similar types of bad things,” Starr said. “And we laugh about it now. And so we were talking about writing a song about that idea: Who he is now and what he might have learned – and maybe what he didn’t. The yin and the yang of the young and old man. That’s the trippy one. That’s the mushroom song. Like JJ Cale recording in Muscle Shoals.”
Gregg Allman joins the band on “Free On The Wing,” a song that brings it all back home after the musical journey.
“That’s a very Macon, Georgia, kinda song,” Starr said. “To me that type of song just embodies the whole Southern rock idea to me. Because it sounds like it came out of the river, out of the Chattahoochee, out of the Southeastern United States where we all grew up. And to have Gregg Allman sing on it perfectly completes it.”
THE RECORD COMPANY
“After that first album, everything just got amplified,” says Chris Vos singer/guitarist for The Record Company. “Our lives got crazier and bigger and more complicated in the best possible ways, and our sound and our songwriting just naturally grew alongside that. We’re the same people we always were, but The Record Company isn’t just three guys in a living room anymore.”
One listen to the band’s exhilarating new album, All Of This Life, and it’s clear that things have changed. The gritty slide guitar, fuzzed-out bass, and driving drums are all still front and center, but the songs are bolder and more ambitious, deeper and more reflective, brimming with adventurous vitality while still remaining firmly tethered to the roots of American rock and roll that have always grounded and nourished the group. The stakes were higher this time around to be sure, but the music more than delivers, bolstered by the kind of growth that can only come from the trial-by-fire the band experienced on their meteoric rise.
By now, The Record Company’s story is a well-known one: a trio of musicians grit it out on their own for years in bars and clubs, join forces in LA, set up some microphones in a living room, and cut an album that turns their world upside down. Released in 2016, Give It Back To You spawned three Top Ten hits at Triple-A radio (including the #1 smash “Off The Ground”), earned the band a slew of festival appearances and sold-out headline dates around the world, and garnered a GRAMMY nomination. The group made the rounds on late night TV, shared bills with John Mayer, Zac Brown Band, My Morning Jacket and Nathaniel Rateliff among others, and racked up more than ten million streams on Spotify. The critical response was just as ecstatic, with Rolling Stone raving that the band “kick[s] up a raw, rootsy racket” and Entertainment Weekly calling the album a “soul scorcher.”
Far from altering The Record Company’s DNA, success only served to enhance it, strengthening the band’s bonds and elevating the intangible chemistry that ignited their breakout. At its core, the group is a pure democracy: all the work, all the rewards, all the happiness and heartache and joy and pain are split evenly. Each member brings their own unique strengths to the table, and the three fit together seamlessly, filling in each other’s gaps like pieces of a puzzle.
“We’re a true band in that we all elevate each other,” explains Vos. “Our individual strengths cover each other’s individual weaknesses, so there’s no way to replace any one of us. We’d all played in bands before, but none of us found what we were looking for until we got together.”
Even at their first jam session, it was clear that the trio was on to something special. With a sound that blended the biting blues of John Lee Hooker with the charismatic swagger of the Rolling Stones, the band went from releasing their home-recorded debut to taking the stage at Madison Square Garden in the span of just 18 months. As the group’s audience grew, so did their artistry, and when it came time to record All Of This Life, it was clear that their approach in the studio would have to take a big step up to reflect the maturation they’d undergone on the road.
“What we did making that first record by ourselves in my living room, we wore that like a badge of pride,” says bassist Alex Stiff. “But we evolved so much as a band after that and our songwriting grew so much that we knew we had to take it out of the living room this time around.”
While the group still worked up the core of most songs at home and produced themselves like the old days, they headed to nearby Boulevard Recording in Hollywood on a quest to break new sonic ground. The eclectic array of analog gear in the studio, which had previously hosted everyone from Pink Floyd to Fleetwood Mac to The War on Drugs, enabled the band to push the limits of their productions and arrangements while still capturing all the scintillating power and spontaneity of their live show.
“We want to be known as the best live band on Earth,” says drummer Marc Cazorla, “and the only way to do that is to believe it. We were an opening band for five years, and we made it our goal every night when we took the stage to be remembered.”
The same unshakable faith that sustained the group through their long, arduous climb now courses through the album’s veins. Belief is the record’s lifeblood, a defiant optimism that stands tall in the face of doubt and division. The songs reflect our troubled times, but they focus inwards rather than outwards, musing on personal empowerment, self-improvement, and the supremacy of love. Album opener “Life To Fix” is a driving ode to forward motion and getting through hard times by continually putting one foot in front of the other, while the utterly infectious “Make It Happen” finds Vos proclaiming, “If you want something / You got to go out and get it.”
“This record to me is about self-reflection and making yourself better,” he explains. “It’s about taking responsibility for your own spot in the world. If you’re not on the right path, the only person who can take that next step to fix it is you, and at the end of the day, after all the highs and lows, all you’re left with is yourself.”
“We learned from the first album that our audience really connected to songs with a little more inner depth and reflection,” adds Stiff. “Sometimes people would find deeper meaning in the music than we ever thought possible. Folks would come up after shows and tell us that our songs got them through a divorce or a grieving process, which was really powerful and inspiring.”
In addition to digging deep lyrically, the band pushed themselves beyond their traditional musical boundaries on the album. “Goodbye To The Hard Life” is a slow-burning 6/8 ballad that calls to mind the simmering potency of Led Zeppelin, while the acoustic twang of “I’m Changing” taps into the rural southern intensity of Johnny Cash, and the rollicking “I’m Getting Better” captures the essence of Bob Dylan’s rambunctious Highway 61 Revisited period as if played by some punk rock kids stepping into the garage for the first time.
“We wanted to take risks we couldn’t have the first time around,” explains Stiff. “We wanted to create moments that our audience hasn’t seen or heard from us before.”
In the end, that’s what makes the record so special. It’s that rare sophomore album that retains the magic of the debut while simultaneously pressing forward into uncharted territory, expanding the band’s emotional and sonic palette to reflect the wild journey they’ve shared these past few years. The muscle and beauty and longing and brotherhood of those original home recordings is still present, but it’s been turned up a notch here, pushed to a new level of command and sophistication. The Record Company has moved out of the living room with All Of This Life, and they’re ready to share it with the world.
Edie Brickell & New Bohemians
Thirty years ago, Edie Brickell and New Bohemians exploded out of Dallas and became an international sensation with their double-platinum debut album, Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars, featuring the Top Ten hit, “What I Am.” The follow-up, 1990’s Ghost of a Dog, came quickly, but the NewBos didn’t put out an album until Stranger Things in 2006. Now, the group returns with Rocket, their first new music in a dozen years — and as the title indicates, they remain a propulsive and unclassifiable force, a whirlwind of musical ideas and styles.
“This band has that special relationship of youth,” says Edie Brickell. “They’re nice people, fun-loving, and we have an ease and sense of humor we developed together. I always missed them, so every chance we got, we would get together to play.”
Danny Bennett, President & CEO of Verve Label Group says of the signing to Verve Forecast, “Edie Brickell & New Bohemians have always been a testament to great musicianship, with unparalleled songwriting and improvisational prowess. The creative energy between Edie and the group is as electric as ever, and this new record captures that. We’re thrilled they’ve chosen Verve Forecast as their home.”
Though Brickell, of course, continued to create new music throughout the years—as a solo artist, with the Gaddabouts, and in collaboration with Steve Martin (with whom she co-wrote the 2016 Broadway musical Bright Star)—she never lost touch with her first band. Every few years, she would reconnect with some combination of guitarist Kenny Withrow, drummer Brandon Aly, bass player Brad Houser, and percussionist John Bush and they would improvise new songs, just like they always did. But beyond the occasional show, the New Bohemians remained a private affair.
In 2017, the band reunited for three sold-out shows as a benefit for La Rondalla, an arts school where Withrow teaches. At the rehearsals, it became clear that something special was starting to happen.
“It’s actually hard for us to rehearse because we just start improvising,” says Withrow. “So we did what we normally do, and ended up writing a few songs. We decided to record a batch of them — we maybe started with three, but we recorded seven songs in eight days. We ended up with a body of songs and kind of fell in love with it.”
Withrow points to a couple of the songs on Rocket as examples of the band’s spontaneous process. The dreamy “Obvious” was captured on the second take, solos and all. One of the final songs they cut, the shimmering and propulsive “Superhero,” was written and recorded in one day. “Musically, that one took us to another level,” he says. “It’s mature in terms of its arrangement, but it came straight down.” (Brickell recalls her reaction when Withrow first played her the “Superhero” riff — “I just started laughing, like ‘here it comes!’”)
The sounds on Rocket bounce effortlessly between genres, from the disco strut of “Exaggerate” to the reggae lope of “Singing in the Shower.”
“Most people like more structure, but our band doesn’t,” says Brickell. “We’re entirely flexible and full of ideas—we might have a country bridge with funk verses, it can go in any direction, there’s a much wider range of expression. I grew up with a little more R&B and country, but they know a lot more about jazz and the Grateful Dead.
“I get bored listening to a genre-specific record, anyway. That doesn’t represent life. We’re exposed to all these different sounds, how can you stick with one flavor? That bores me — and this band never bores me.”
Edie Brickell believes that Rocket is a new beginning for the New Bohemians, and the chance to make good on unfinished business now that she can get back in the mix. “This band, with a male singer, would have kept on making great records,” she says. “I’m just lucky that they went in different directions, and now I’m able to plug back into them. The intention is to make incredible records in this next decade, and I believe that we will.
“I feel like I don’t have anything to prove at this point, which is a good feeling — with one exception, which is to show how great this band is. I’ve never known a band who can do what they do.”
“You should always get outside of the box,” Samantha Fish says while discussing her boundary-breaking new album Belle of the West. “Challenging yourself is how you grow.”
After launching her recording career in 2009, Samantha Fish quickly established herself as a rising star in the contemporary blues world. Since then, the charismatic young singer-guitarist-songwriter has earned a reputation as a rising guitar hero and powerful live performer, while releasing a series of acclaimed albums that have shown her restless creative spirit consistently taking her in new and exciting musical directions.
The New York Times called Fish “an impressive blues guitarist who sings with sweet power” and “one of the genre’s most promising young talents.” Her hometown paper The Kansas City Star noted, “Samantha Fish has kicked down the door of the patriarchal blues club” and observed that the young artist “displays more imagination and creativity than some blues veterans exhibit over the course of their careers.”
Having already made it clear that she’s more interested in following her heart than she is in repeating past triumphs, Samantha Fish delivers some of her most compelling music to date with Belle of the West, her fifth studio album. The deeply soulful, personally charged 11-song set showcases Fish’s sublime acoustic guitar skills as well as her rootsy, emotionally resonant songwriting.
Such memorable new originals as “American Dream,” “Blood in the Water,” “Need You More” and “Don’t Say You Love Me” demonstrate the artist’s knack for organic Americana songcraft, while a trio of cover tunes—R.L. Burnside’s “Poor Black Mattie,” Lillie Mae’s “Nearing Home” and the Jimbo Mathus-penned title track—attest to her substantial interpretive skills as well as her varied musical interests.
“To me, this is a natural progression,” Fish notes. “It’s a storytelling record by a girl who grew up in the Midwest. It’s very personal. I really focused on the songwriting and vocals, the melodies and emotion, and on bringing another dimension to what I do. I wasn’t interested in shredding on guitar, although we ended up with a few heavier tracks. I love Mississippi blues; there’s something very soulful and very real about that style of music, so this was a chance to immerse myself in that.”
Fish recorded Belle of the West in the relaxed, rural creative atmosphere of the legendary Zebra Ranch Studios in the North Hills of Mississippi with producer Luther Dickinson (of North Mississippi Allstars fame), with whom she worked previously on her 2015 album Wild Heart. The studio team included some of the region’s most iconoclastic musicians, including Dickinson, solo artist and Jack White associate Lillie Mae (whose distinctive vocals are featured on “Nearing Home”), much-traveled juke- joint blues artist Lightnin’ Malcolm (whose featured on “Poor Black Mattie”), Squirrel Nut Zippers founder Jimbo Mathus, upright bassist and beloved solo artist Amy LaVere, Tikyra Jackson, Trina Raimey and Shardé Thomas, granddaughter of the legendary Southern bluesman Otha Turner.
“I wanted to do this acoustic-electric record, and tap into the style and swagger of Mississippi,” Fish states, adding, “Any time you dive into another place, another vibe and a new group of people, you’re challenging yourself to grow musically. I felt very at home a Zebra Ranch, and I’ve known Luther and Malcolm for years, so it was a very comfortable situation. When you’re making a record like this, it has to feel natural if you want people to respond to it.
Belle of the West follows on the heels of Fish’s March 2017 release Chills & Fever, which achieved top 10 status in the Billboard Blues charts. Here she expanded her stylistic arsenal to take on a set of lesser-known vintage R&B gems, with help from members of garage-soul stalwarts the Detroit Cobras. “Having these two very different records come out back to back this year has been really liberating,” says Samantha.
The creative drive that fuels Belle of the West and Chills & Fever has been a crucial element of Samantha Fish’s approach from the beginning. Growing up in a musical family in Kansas City, Missouri, she became obsessed with music early life, taking up drums before switching to guitar at the age of 15. By the time she was 20, she had formed her own trio and self-released her first album. She soon caught the ear of the renowned blues label Ruf Records, which in 2011 released Girls with Guitars, which teamed her with fellow axewomen Cassie Taylor and Dani Wilde. The same year saw Ruf release Fish’s solo studio debut Runaway. The album was named Best Artist Debut at the 2012 Blues Music Awards in Memphis.
Black Wind Howlin’ (2013) and Wild Heart (2015) followed, winning considerable critical acclaim and further establishing Fish as a prominent presence in the blues community. Wild Heart reached the top slot on Billboard’s blues chart. She also collaborated with blues-rock veterans Jimmy Hall and Reese Wynans on the 2013 project The Healers. The same year, she jammed onstage with blues icon Buddy Guy, and guested on Devon Allman’s album Turquoise.
Fish continues to maintain the same hardworking, prolific approach that’s carried her this far. “I think I’ve always had that,” she says. “Music is my life, so what other choice do I have but to go out and make music? We do tour quite a bit, and maybe it’s kind of crazy to put out two dramatically different albums in one year. But I like to work hard. This is who I am and this is what I do, and when I’m writing and recording and touring is when I feel the most like myself. And now we have a moment where people are paying attention, so I have to make the most of it. I feel like I have a lot to say right now, so why not say it?”
As far as Samantha Fish is concerned, her musical future is an open road. “I’m never gonna be a traditional blues artist, because that’s not who I am,” she asserts. “But it’s all the blues for me. When Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf came out, what they were doing didn’t sound like anything that had been done in blues before. You’ve gotta keep that kind of fire and spirit. I’m never gonna do Muddy Waters better than Muddy Waters, so I have to be who I am and find my best voice.
PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND
At a moment when musical streams are crossing with unprecedented frequency, it’s crucial to remember that throughout its history, New Orleans has been the point at which sounds and cultures from around the world converge, mingle, and resurface, transformed by the Crescent City’s inimitable spirit and joie de vivre. Nowhere is that idea more vividly embodied than in the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which has held the torch of New Orleans music aloft for more than 50 years, all the while carrying it enthusiastically forward as a reminder that the history they were founded to preserve is a vibrantly living history.
PHJB marches that tradition forward once again on So It Is, the septet’s second release featuring all-new original music. The album redefines what New Orleans music means in 2017 by tapping into a sonic continuum that stretches back to the city’s Afro-Cuban roots, through its common ancestry with the Afrobeat of Fela Kuti and the Fire Music of Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane, and forward to cutting-edge artists with whom the PHJB have shared festival stages from Coachella to Newport, including legends like Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello and the Grateful Dead and modern giants like My Morning Jacket, Arcade Fire and the Black Keys.
So It Is finds the classic PHJB sound invigorated by a number of fresh influences, not least among them the band’s 2015 life-changing trip to Cuba. A visit to the island, so integral to the evolution of jazz and New Orleans culture in general, had long been in the works when President Obama’s diplomatic opening suddenly allowed for a more extensive journey than had originally seemed possible.
“When the restrictions were lifted,” says bandleader/composer/bassist Ben Jaffe, “It was no longer just about going down there and playing a concert. We were able to explore a bit more, which profoundly impacted the band not just musically but personally. In Cuba, all of a sudden we were face to face with our musical counterparts. There’s been a connection between Cuba and New Orleans since day one – we’re family. A gigantic light bulb went off and we realized that New Orleans music is not just a thing by itself; it’s part of something much bigger. It was almost like having a religious epiphany.”
Producer David Sitek, a founder of art rock innovators TV on the Radio who has helmed projects by Kelis, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Santigold among others, offered both a keen modern perspective and a profound respect for the band’s storied history. Upon arriving in New Orleans to meet with the band, Sitek recalls he and Jaffe accidentally stumbling into one of the city’s famed second-line parades. “I was struck by the visceral energy of the live music all around, this spontaneous joy, everything so immediate,” he says. “I knew I had to make sure that feeling came out of the studio. It needed to be alive. It needed to sound dangerous.”
For those wary that a band with the rich history of the PHJB is tackling new material, Jaffe is quick to point out that Preservation Hall – which his parents, Allan and Sandra Jaffe, founded in 1961 – was never meant to be a museum. At its beginnings it broke racial boundaries to present the living legends of New Orleans music, living links to the origins of jazz. Today, with a band whose ages range nearly 60 years, the mission remains the same: to pass on the traditions while continually revitalizing it with new blood and fresh ideas.
“I see it as something that’s necessary for the evolution and survival of New Orleans music,” Jaffe says. “Interpreting the repertoire that’s been around for a hundred years is one thing, but the challenge is to keep that repertoire and those traditions alive while at the same time being honest about who you are as a musician, allowing all of your musical influences to be reflected in what you create.”
While that’s always been a key component of the PHJB, whether at their world-famous French Quarter home or on stages around the world, it took on a renewed urgency in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “When something that catastrophic happens in your life,” Jaffe says, “it becomes important to understand and focus on the things that are most important.” The band began charting a new path with the release of That’s It!, their first album of original material, in 2013. So It Is continues and significantly expands on that expedition.
The music on So It Is, penned largely by Jaffe and 84 year-old saxophonist Charlie Gabriel in collaboration with the entire PHJB, stirs together that variety of influences like classic New Orleans cuisine. Longtime members Jaffe, Gabriel, Clint Maedgen and Ronell Johnson have been joined over the past18 months by Walter Harris, Branden Lewis and Kyle Roussel, and the new blood has hastened the journey into new musical territory. The album’s seven new pieces of buoyant, window-rattling funk find common ancestry with the Afro-Cuban sounds that the band heard in the streets of Havana (witness the NOLA-meets-Cuba bounce of “La Malanga”), Fela Kuti’s Nigerian funk and the entrancing melodies of Ethiopian jazz (most evident on the sinuous “Innocence”), the passion of envelope-pushing ‘60s jazz and soul pioneers, and the intense grooves of their modern Coachella counterparts – then filters them all through a Crescent City lens to emerge with something that compels the listener to move.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band:
BEN JAFFE – Bass (upright), Tuba, Percussion CHARLIE GABRIEL – Saxophone (tenor), Clarinet CLINT MAEDGEN – Saxophone (tenor), Percussion RONELL JOHNSON – Trombone
WALTER HARRIS – Drums, Percussion KYLE ROUSSEL – Piano, Wurlitzer, Organ BRANDEN LEWIS – Trumpet
“When we play music, the barometer for us as a band is whether the locals are reacting,” Jaffe explains. “In New Orleans we play music for dances and parades, funerals and church. It’s important to us to make music people connect to, that people dance to, that people really feel, emotionally and physically. That’s the tradition we grew up with, that’s what we know.”
DEL McCOURY BAND
Even among the pantheon of music’s finest artists, Del McCoury stands alone. From the nascent sound of bluegrass that charmed hardscrabble hillbilly honkytonks, rural schoolhouse stages, and the crowning glory of the Grand Ole Opry to the present-day culture-buzz of viral videos and digital streams, Del is the living link. On primetime and late-night television talk shows, there is Del.
From headlining sold-out concerts to music festivals of all genres, including one carrying his namesake, there is Del. Where audiences number in the tens of thousands, and admirers as diverse as country-rock icon Steve Earle and jamband royalty Phish count as two among hundreds, there is Del.
Emerging from humble beginnings in York County, PA nearly eighty years ago, Del was not the likeliest of candidates for legendary status. As a teen, he was captivated by the banjo playing of one of its masters, Earl Scruggs, and decided he’d be a banjo picker, too. The Baltimore/Washington, D.C. bar scene of the early 1960s was lively and rough. Del caught a break. More than a break, really. It was an opportunity of a lifetime; joining Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys in early 1963. Considered the Father of Bluegrass, Monroe transformed McCoury, moving him from the banjo to guitar, anointing him lead singer, and providing him with a priceless trove of bluegrass tutelage direct from the source.
Countless hours of recording sessions and miles of tireless touring dotted the decades. Del carried on, and carried with him the hallowed traditions of the form and its dedicated following. The passing years became certificates of authenticity. So, in the sea of grunge and R&B that dominated the music scene of the mid-1990s, it was special, perhaps even startling, to see: There was Del.
Now helming the Del McCoury Band, with sons Ronnie and Rob, the ensemble did and continues to represent in a larger, growing musical community a peerless torchbearer for the entire sweep and scope of bluegrass history. Those many years, not to mention a good-natured willingness to stay alert to the latest sounds and opportunities around him, earned McCoury a whole new generation of fans, including some in unlikely places.
“I’m just doing what’s natural,” says Del. “When young musicians ask me what they should do I always tell them, ‘You do whatever’s inside of you. Do what you do best.’”
No surprise that contemporary, bluegrass-bred stars sang his praises; marquee names like Vince Gill and Alison Krauss (who first met Del at a bluegrass festival when she subbed for his missing fiddler). Yet, here too was rocker Earle recording and touring with the group. Here was Phish jamming onstage with the boys. Here was the band on TV, or headlining rock clubs and college campuses; the can’t-miss appearances at country and jazz festivals. There was Del.
“We don’t have a setlist,” says Del. “We try and work in the new songs, but a lot of times it’s just requests from the audience. It’s more interesting for the band, for me, and for the audience because nobody knows what’s coming next.”
Almost unimaginable, McCoury’s sixth decade in a half-century of bluegrass bliss brings new triumphs, new collaborations, and new music. With but a single change in membership in twenty seven years The Del McCoury Band shows unprecedented stability as well as garnering the respect and admiration of the industry for its unmistakable work: nine IBMA Entertainer of the Year trophies; in 2003, Del’s awarded membership in the cast of the legendary Grand Ole Opry; the band’s first Best Bluegrass Album Grammy award, in ’05, followed by a second Grammy win in 2014, (not to mention double-digit nominations).
“I know (having the same band) helped with my success. It keeps your sound constant,” says Del. “We really enjoy what we’re doing.”
The group traveled with the groundbreaking post-O Brother “Down From The Mountain” tour, and performed with Gill, recording on his Grammy-winning These Days, as well as country sensation Dierks Bentley. In addition to becoming something of a regular at the wildly popular Bonnaroo Music Festival, they’ve also curated and expanded Del’s annual namesake festival. One of the premier string-band events in the country, the multi-day, multi-stage DelFest showcases the new lions of the genre such as Greensky Bluegrass, The Infamous Stringdusters, and Old Crow Medicine Show, and legends like Ricky Skaggs, Sam Bush, and Bobby Osborne, plus a diversity of artists like Phish frontman Trey Anastasio and blues-rock veterans Gov’t Mule to Americana darlings The Wood Brothers and Rhiannon Giddens.
“DelFest is a great accomplishment,” says Del. “I never thought it would be as successful as it is.
And, when Sony Music came calling, post-Hurricane Katrina, proposing a collaboration with New Orleans’ revered Preservation Hall Jazz Band, there was Del. If there was ever a collection of recordings confirming McCoury’s wide-ranging impact and spirit of musical comradery, it would be American Legacies. A wonderfully fulfilling cross-section of traditional bluegrass and the Dixieland pomp of New Orleans, the album typified the Del McCoury Band’s evolution from bluegrass vanguard to an American treasure.
“All music is related. Bill Monroe went to New Orleans and listened to jazz players. Earl Scruggs- some of the tunes he recorded were from New Orleans,” says Del. “It all fits together if you’re willing to be open-minded.”
And like any genuine treasure, the gifts keep coming. On their latest release, Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass- a title that echoes his 1968 debut on Arhoolie Records, Del McCoury Sings Bluegrass- Del and the boys bring home another stellar collection of traditional bluegrass music. With 14 songs brimming with hot licks, classic songcraft, even some boundary-stretching electric guitar, and once again, Del’s matchless vocal delivery, the Del McCoury Band moves up the gold bar standard of bluegrass yet another notch. “What I like in a record is variety of moods, of tempos,” Del says. “I consider myself traditional at heart, but I don’t have any boundaries. I’m just a guy that likes to sing and play music. Whatever strikes me to do I’ll do it. Without wrecking things.”
One listen and it’s clear as crystal. There is Del.
Boasting textured melodies, layered guitars and more seasoned lyrics, The World’s Best American Band finds the quartet busting out of the basement sound established on their previous full length (2015’s White Reaper Does It Again) and setting their sights on the arena.
Garnished with glimpses of the golden age of rock and roll, TWBAB is loaded with guitars that scream and gigantic drums in lockstep rhythm, each song packing its own massive, but none the less unique, punch. Lead single “Judy French” struts like a runway model raised on Heavy Metal Parking Lot, while midway point “The Stack” pairs a classic rock shimmy with a flair for glam.
Since the release of WBAB, the Kentucky boys have taken 2017 by the horns, having already played to over 25,000 fans with highlights including Sold Out headlining dates in Louisville, Chicago, Brooklyn (twice, mind you), and Washington DC, along with blistering festival appearances at SXSW, Bonnaroo, Hangout, Bunbury, X Games, and a main stage performance at Lollapalooza. Armed with a record that celebrates rock in all of its glory, they are poised to satisfy crowds whether they are packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the “standing room only” pit or kicking back in the cheap seats.
Now off the road, the band are working on their next record with producer Jay Joyce, due out in 2019.
Whiskey Myers makes honest music.
Loud and proud, they sing about what they know with a refreshing directness and clarity. Some call it rebel music, but it’s more like everyday soul. Their songs are stories, with characters and situations that are immediately relatable. Stories of celebration, of mourning, of trials and triumph. Through the quality of these songs, and their undeniable power in concert and on record, the band has attracted a devoted army of outspoken fans who pack venues, sing the band’s praises online, and continue to make Whiskey Myers a growing word-of-mouth sensation.
Whiskey Myers’ most recent full-length, Firewater, was released on their own Wiggy Thump imprint in the spring of 2011. It continues to sell steadily, enjoying a remarkable run on the Texas Music Charts that culminated with its third single “Anna Marie” reaching #1. All over their home state, they are commanding larger and larger crowds, selling out 1,000-capacity venues with ease and delivering stadium-sized shows grounded in the sincerity and unpretentious, fun-loving energy of their bar-band roots. “Our fans always tell us how much they get out of seeing us play,” says lead singer Cody Cannon, “ but it’s a two-way street: We get something, too. They inspire us to dedicate ourselves more and more to our music and our sound. And it sure feels like it’s paying off.”
As their chemistry onstage and in the studio reflect, Whiskey Myers is a brotherhood. The five members cut their teeth together, honing their chops side-by-side from an early age. Hailing from Palestine, Texas, Cannon was given an acoustic guitar by his “wild-ass biker” (Cody’s words) grandpa, and guitarist John Jeffers’s dad taught them both the rudiments of the instrument. A job at a sporting goods store introduced Cannon to future Whiskey Myers lead guitarist Cody Tate, forming the songwriting core of the band. Upon moving to Tyler, Texas, they picked up drummer Jeff Hogg and enlisted Cannon’s cousin Gary Brown on bass—even though he’d never played the instrument before.
What came next was a blur of gigs, songs, struggles, and victories: With each show, their natural bond as friends continued to grow into a formidable musical telepathy, and with each song they composed, their innate gifts as craftsmen were honed further. The resultant sound, so perfectly crystallized on Firewater, is hard-driving and immediate, steeped in the rich legacy of southern rock. Often reduced to a one dimensional stereotype, the kind of music that inspired Whiskey Myers—artists like Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, and Hank Williams, Jr.—is actually multifaceted and inventive, drawing from country, R&B, psychedelic rock, and string band traditions.
In that tradition, Whiskey Myers are grand southern eclectics, pulling in an array of influences and seamlessly mingling them. Listeners can pick up traces of everything from grunge to rockabilly in the course of a set, united by Cannon’s soulfully heartfelt singing and Brown and Hogg’s solid, supple foundation. On top of it all, Tate and Jeffers intertwine their leads, soaring in harmony one moment, darting around one another in intricate improvisations the next. Sure, they’re rousing—just cue up “Bar, Guitar, and a Honky Tonk Crowd” or “Turn It Up” for a dose of pile-driver intensity. But they’re range is wide and expanding to encompass touching pleas like “Broken Window Serenade” and the acoustic stomp of “Anna Marie.”
In Whiskey Myers’ world, nothing is off-limits. Nothing is too personal, too sensitive, or too controversial to embrace and explore. Theirs is a confidence born of a long-standing brotherhood—a closeness that few groups can rival. “Well we all grew up together,” bassist Brown explains. “We’re two sets of cousins. Some of us have been friends since we were two or three years old.”
The White Buffalo
“I’ve always taken great pleasure in being difficult to categorize,” says the White Buffalo’s big-voiced frontman, Jake Smith. Since releasing his first album in 2002, Smith has explored the grey area between genres, carving out a sound rooted in dark folk, countrified soul, cinematic storytelling and roadhouse-worthy rock. He keeps things unclassifiable on the White Buffalo’s sixth album, Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights, the most hard-hitting, electrified album of his career.
Although recorded in Smith’s hometown of Los Angeles, where he grew up listening to the country twang of George Jones and the pissed-off punk of Bad Religion, Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights looks to the passion and punch of White Buffalo’s live shows for inspiration. Smith has been a road warrior for more than a decade, doubling as his own tour manager along the way. Gig after gig, he’s built a cult following without a major label’s support, boosting his band’s international visibility with more than a dozen TV-worthy songs — including the Emmy-nominated “Come Join the Murder” — that were featured on shows like Sons of Anarchy and Californication.
“I’m kind of an island,” he says proudly. “We tour on our own and have built our own fanbase, so the idea with this album was to capture that live feel — the passion that we produce in a stage setting — in a studio performance.”
Island or not, Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights finds Smith reaching far beyond his own experience for a string of detailed, character-driven songs. Many of these tunes explore the gloomy, dangerous corners of America, spinning stories of sinners, crooks, bad decisions and broken hearts. On “Border Town/Bury Me in Baja,” a drug dealer awaits his death at the hands of the Mexican mafia. “Avalon,” a desperate, driving anthem worthy of Bruce Springsteen, finds its protagonist “wishing he could flip a switch [and] turn his life around.” “Nightstalker Blues” — an amped-up blast of harmonica-filled, guitar-fueled roots rock — revolves around the story of serial killer Richard Ramirez, whose murder spree haunted southern California during the mid-Eighties.
As the album’s own title promises, though, this is a record about balance. A record about life’s ups and downs. “I wanted to hit all the emotional spots,” explains Smith, whose voice — a booming, rumbling baritone, with a slight quaver that can sound ominous one minute and warmhearted the next — takes a tender turn during love songs like “Observatory” and “If I Lost My Eyes.”
Together, Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights offers up the White Buffalo’s strongest material to date, doubling down on Smith’s strengths while pushing his sound into new territory. Stripped-down folk. Electrified swamp-soul. Heartland rock. Bluesy boogie-woogie. It’s all here, tied together by the super-sized vocals and articulate songwriting of a bandleader whose work is sometimes moody, sometimes menacing, but always melodic
“My hope is that this album will touch people,” he says. “Make people feel. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The darkest darks, and the lightest lights.”
Exceptionally versatile singer and songwriter Maggie Rose released her highly-anticipated album “Change The Whole Thing” in the Fall of 2018. Stamped with her affinity for finely-crafted melodies and intricate storytelling, the project encompasses a blend of American music including Rock, Soul, Country, Rhythm and Blues and Gospel. The powerhouse vocalist recorded the songs for her forthcoming project live in one take, no overdubs, no bullshit, with her 13-piece “family band.” The full-length LP will feature 12 songs, 12 live music videos, a 60-minute documentary and a sound that is best described by the following quote from Rolling Stone:
“Maggie Rose has come into her own with this current earth-conscious, trippy country-soul stage of her ever-evolving musical persona…Rose’s performances [during CMA Fest and Bonnaroo] showed her embracing her inner soul diva, belting with fire on ‘It’s You’ and the pulverizing ‘Pull You Through.’ Just to drive the point home, Rose and her band even stretched out on a swinging cover of ‘The Letter,’ doing a more-than-respectable impression of the funky Mad Dogs & Englishmen arrangement originally sung by Joe Cocker.” -ROLLING STONE
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.
Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Caroline Jones co-produced her album, Bare Feet (March 30, 2018/ Mailboat Records), with Grammy and Academy Award-winning producer Ric Wake (Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Trisha Yearwood). Bare Feet climbed to #16 on the Nielsen SoundScan Country Albums Chart and #14 on iTunes Country Albums Chart. The album features “Tough Guys,” which spent six weeks at #1 on CMT.com’s 12 Pack Countdown.
Rolling Stone named Jones one of the “10 Country Artists You Need to Know” as “an ambitious, entrepreneurial guitar heroine primed to bring back the pop-country glory of the Nineties” and Billboard called her one of the “15 Country Artists to Watch in 2018”.
Caroline kicked-off 2019 with a series of headline tour dates and will go on to open for Kenny Chesney, Vince Gill, and Zac Brown Band. Throughout 2018, she was on the road with Jimmy Buffett & the Eagles, Zac Brown Band & OneRepublic, Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, Vince Gill, and Kip Moore. In 2017, Jones supported Zac Brown Band and shared the stage with Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Chesney, and Toby Keith at the Trying to Reason hurricane relief benefit concert. A live duet with Buffett led to a charity single release and ultimately, a partnership with his Mailboat Records. Caroline previously toured schools & universities nationwide – including underserved and charter schools with Stedman Graham – on The Heart is Smart School Tour. Caroline is also the host of Art & Soul on Sirius XM.
“The fool who traveled is better off then the wise man who stayed home.”
Southern Avenue is an American five-piece funky blues and soul band from Memphis, Tennessee, United States. Formed in 2015, they took their name from a street in Memphis running from the easternmost part of the city limits to “Soulsville”, which was the original home of Stax Records. Rock 103 described them as “the most talked about band in Memphis.” Southern Avenue reached the finals of the International Blues Challenge in 2016. The band won a Blues Music Award in 2018 for “Best Emerging Artist Album”. Their self-titled debut album entered the US Billboard Top Blues Albums Chart at number 6 in February 2017, and reached number 1 on the iTunes Blues Chart. In 2017-2018 the band toured over 15 countries including Australia, Canada, Europe, Scandinavia and more.
Their self-titled debut album is a breath of fresh air with its own unique blend of gospel- tinged R&B vocals, roots/blues-based guitar work and soul-inspired songwriting. And Southern Avenue’s upcoming release on the fabled Stax label is a testament to the young combo’s talent and vision.
Southern Avenue features five young but seasoned musicians who came from diverse musical and personal backgrounds to create music that spans their wide-ranging musical interests, while showcasing the powerful chemistry that the group has honed through stage and studio experience. Southern Avenue encompasses Memphis-born, church-bred sisters Tierinii and Tikyra Jackson, respectively a soulful, charismatic singer and a subtle powerful drummer; guitarist Ori Naftaly, an Israeli-born blues disciple who first came to America as an acclaimed solo artist; and the band’s keyboardist Jeremy Powell, an early alumnus of Stax’s legendary music academy.
The band members’ diverse skills come together organically on Southern Avenue, scheduled for release on February 24, 2017 via Stax Records, a division of Concord Music Group. Produced by Kevin Houston(North Mississippi Allstars, Lucero, Patty Griffin), the 10-song album features guest appearances from Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars and trumpeter Marc Franklin of the Bo-Keys. But it’s Southern Avenue’s own potent musical chemistry that drives such sublimely soulful originals as “Don’t Give Up,” “What Did I Do,” “It’s Gonna Be Alright,” “Love Me Right” and “Wildflower.” The band also pays tribute to its roots with an incandescent reading of Ann Peebles’ Memphis soul classic “Slipped, Tripped and Fell in Love.”
The seeds for Southern Avenue’s birth were planted when Ori Naftaly, who’d grown up in Israel with a deep-rooted passion for American blues and funk, came to Memphis in 2013 to compete in the prestigious International Blues Challenge. That experience led to Naftaly moving permanently to Memphis and successfully touring the United States with his own band.
Although his talents were embraced by American audiences, Naftaly felt constrained in his own band, feeling the need to include a more expansive, collaborative musical vision. That opportunity arrived when he met Memphis native Tierinii Jackson, who’d gotten her start singing in church, before performing in a series of cover bands and theatrical projects. According to Ori, “When I saw Tierinii perform, I thought, ‘This is why I came to America.’ I met her and we clicked. At our first rehearsal, she told me that her sister was a drummer, and she thought it would be great to have her in the band. We had such a good vibe, and suddenly I didn’t care so much about my solo thing.”
“I initially clicked with Ori really well, but it was his project,” Tierinii remembers. “Then he came to me and said ‘I want this band to be a collaboration, I want this to be our vision and our music.’ So we started writing together, and that’s when I realized that we were really the same musically.”
“We started over,” Naftaly continues. “We threw out most of the songs I’d been playing in my solo band, and Tierinii and I wrote a whole new set, and we became Southern Avenue. The more we played together, the closer we got, and the more we became a family. We started getting a different kind of crowd, and from there things escalated quickly.”
“Ori said, ‘My band is done, this is y’all’s band,'” Tierinii recalls. “We all quit our other gigs and started focusing on this, working and writing and living together in a way that you don’t experience when you’re playing somebody else’s music. Now we’re playing songs that we wrote ourselves and we’re playing them from our hearts. That is when I realized that we had something special.”
Despite not having a record deal, Southern Avenue quickly found success touring in America and Europe. They won additional attention playing some prestigious festivals and competing in the International Blues Challenge, in which they represented Memphis. Less than a year after the band’s formation, they were signed to the resurgent Stax label. “I feel like being on Stax is a responsibility,” says Tierinii. “I grew up in Memphis, seeing the name Stax everywhere. It was a constant presence, and now it’s up to us to live up that. I feel like this band can be a platform to do a lot of positive things for the city of Memphis. I want to change the world, but Memphis is home.”
New Jersey native Patrick Droney spent his formative years playing guitar on the road with the likes of BB King and James Brown. After attending the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU, Droney moved to Los Angeles to focus on songwriting, subsequently placing songs in a number of major network television shows (including this season of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy”) and attracting the attention of leading musical instrument manufacturer, Fender (FMIC), as one of their go-to artist ambassadors. In the fall of 2016, Droney relocated to Nashville and immersed himself in Music City’s songwriting community. In 2017, the now-26-year-old signed with G Major Management (Thomas Rhett, Danielle Bradbery) as well as Kobalt for publishing.
Droney released his Self-Titled Debut EP in August, 2018, and to date has had over three-million streams. The lead track from the EP, “Stand and Deliver”, recorded over one-hundred thousand streams in its first week and landed in the Top 10 on Spotify’s US Viral Top 50 chart. Droney made his late night television debut in December 2018, performing “Stand and Deliver” on NBC’s Late Night with Seth Myers.
The Dustbowl Revival is an Americana and Soul band with eight full-time members who mash the sounds of New Orleans funk, bluegrass, soul, pre-war blues, and roots music, into a genre-hopping, time-bending dance party that coaxes new fire out of familiar coal. They band was founded in 2008 in the bohemian enclave of Venice Beach, California.
Dustbowl just recorded their fourth studio album with Grammy Award winning producer (Old Crow Medicine Show, Dropkick Murphy’s) and Flogging Molly founding member Ted Hutt, to come out on Signature Sounds this summer. While the band launched with an old-time style and deeper bluegrass roots (a fateful Craigslist ad got it all started), they recently departed toward a more modern soul sound, still with their mixture of New Orleans swing, Americana, a little blues, and roots-rock. The soul-dipped first single of their new collaboration, came out on a 45 with a music video in the end of 2016, with a premiere via Relix Magazine.
Over the last five years Dustbowl has become known for their free-flowing and joyous live shows, combining their funk rhythm and brass section with a fast-picking string band section – opening for bands as diverse as Lake Street Dive, Trombone Shorty and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, touring China as a guest of the state department and headlining festivals like Delfest, Floydfest, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and recently Bergenfest (Norway) and Tonder Festival (Denmark). The band received a big wave of attention with their music video that featured famous actor Dick Van Dyke for “Never Had to Go”, which garnered over 10 million cumulative views.
A new album drops this summer and Dustbowl is ready to bring their newest sound – the place where funk and folk meet – to a bigger audience.
Honey-throated and soulful, and possessing a compelling growl full of grit and strut when she lets loose, Pearl Aday follows up her critically acclaimed 2010 debut with her new release “Heartbreak and Canyon Revelry,” ushering in a new dawn of California Country Rock. Joining forces with the venerable Jim Wilson, (longtime bassist for Daniel Lanois, Emmylou Harris and leader of Motor Sister and Mother Superior), Pearl once again proves how she is every inch a rock chanteuse who seamlessly moves from vulnerable to guttural in one measure.
“Heartbreak and Canyon Revelry,” produced by Jay Ruston, is the natural evolution from 2010’s “Little Immaculate White Fox,” which was cited as not only “a noble debut” but tapped as leaving “a huge impact on the music scene” with “new female rock icon” Pearl likened to Ann Wilson, KT Tunstall and Shania Twain.
The album takes its title from two central events in Pearl’s life: her move to Topanga Canyon with her husband Scott and the birth of their son, Revel Young, now 5 years old.
Of this sophomore release, Pearl adds, “There’s something incredibly cathartic for me in this record. Writing and performing my music has always been my therapy, my safe place. In fact, I never sleep better than I do after a show, after I’ve been given the privilege of singing my guts out. I’ve come to realize that we are all in ‘this’ together – this world, this place in time – and if these songs give someone the feeling that they’re heard, understood, not alone, I’m elated.”
Mipso is born from North Carolina’s broad range of disparate musical influences, their distinctly unique sound an undeniable alchemy of the historical musical traditions of the rural south and their progressive home of Chapel Hill.
A discernible and rising force in the upstart musical genre known as Americana, Mipso’s music is lush and forward moving. A tender, harmony-laden river runs through the band’s core, but the rocky outcroppings change with every album outing. Appalachia melds with modern alt-country, hints of folk-rock are leavened with a sly and subversive sense of humour, and underneath it all is a genuine and moving passion for the ever-evolving traditions of Americana. With the recent release of the band’s fifth album, Edges Run (April 2018/Anti-Fragile Music), Mipso continues the complex dance of looking back and moving forward with grace and beauty.
Birds Of Chicago
“Nero and Russell play folk-rock with impressionistic flourishes and gospel warmth, lent unexpected extravagance by Russell’s singing…” —NPR
Following their incendiary set at Third Man Records, NPR Music named Birds of Chicago one of the Best of Americanafest 2018. The band continues to ride a swell of good mojo that they’ve enjoyed in the Americana world since their inception, with live shows that alternate between moments of hushed attention and wild, rock and soul abandon.
Birds of Chicago have been riding a swell of good mojo in the American world since their inception in late 2012. With their new album, Love in Wartime, they are set to both confirm that roots world buzz, and break on through to a wider audience across the world.
Recorded in Chicago against a backdrop of bewilderment, deep-divide and dread, Love in Wartime is a rock and roll suite with a cinematic sweep. Co-produced by Nero and Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars), it evokes epic efforts of the 60’s and 70’s, with love as the undeniable throughline. As Russell puts it, “Any act of love is an act of bravery. These songs are snapshots of covenants, big and small, of trust and understanding. We want to give people some good news, and we want them to be able to dance when they hear it.”
When BOC released it’s last album, the Joe Henry produced Real Midnight, in 2016, critics scrambled to find the right terminology to describe the deep lyricism, gut-punch singing and fevered musicality. . . “Secular gospel” Was one phrase that caught some traction. That fervor is evident in Love in Wartime as well: “Roll Away the heavy stone/roll away the heavy hours/roll on in the summer mon/who’s alive who’s alive who’s alive?” The invitation is joyous, but urgant. . . call it “secular gospel,” or call it what they used to call poetry intoned over roots music mash- ups: rock n roll. The Birds consider themselves a rock and roll band first and foremost, and Love in Wartime doesn’t leave any doubt about that.
Built around the chemistry and fire between Allison Russell and JT Nero, the band has included a core band of empathetic assassins since it took to the road full time in 2013. Russell and Nero played with different bands in the mid-aughts (Po’ Girl and JT and the Clouds) before finding their way to each other. Nero found himself a transcendent vocal muse in Russell (a powerful writer in her own right) and the band honed its chops on the road, playing 200 shows a year between 2013-17. All that shaping and sharpening, oer so many miles, led them back to Chicago’s Electrical Audio in January of 2017, to begin recording. The first day in studio was inauguration day, and they didn’t need any more motivation than that to do what they came to do.
The Birds attract a mix of indy rockers, NPRists, jam-kids and folkies to their gigs, which alternate between moments of hushed attention and wild, rock and soul abandon. Says JT Nero, chief songwriter for the band, “A good show can send you back out into the night feeling–for at least a little while–that everything isn’t broken. . .Right now, we wanna dose out as much of that feeling as we can.”
The Lil Smokies
When people see The Lil Smokies setting up their acoustic instruments, they’re often unprepared for the electric energy they generate. The band captures that same dynamic presence on their most recent album, Changing Shades, delivering their exceptional songwriting and bluegrass roots with the punch of a rock band.
The first incarnation of The Lil Smokies got together in Missoula, Montana, during the winter of 2009. Through the years, the band transformed and settled into the current lineup – Scott Parker on bass; Jake Simpson on fiddle; Matt Rieger on guitar; Matt Cornette on banjo and Andy Dunnigan on dobro. Previously, the band has won the 2015 Telluride Bluegrass Band competition and took home the 2016 IBMA Momentum Band of the Year award. They’ve also wowed fans at the High Sierra, FreshGrass, Telluride Bluegrass, Grey Fox, Del Fest, Floyd Fest and String Summit festivals, to name a few.
On their fifth full-length, Watching It All Fall Apart, Fruition transform pain and heartache into something truly glorious. With their songwriting sharper and more nuanced than ever before—and their sonic palette more daringly expansive—the Portland, Oregon-based band’s full-hearted intensity ultimately gives the album a transcendent power.
“The songs are mostly breakup songs,” says Asebroek. “There was love and now it’s gone—we fucked it up, or some outside circumstance brought it to an end. It’s about dealing with all that but still having hope in your heart, even if you’re feeling a little lost and jaded.”
In a departure from their usual DIY approach, Fruition teamed up with producer/mixer Tucker Martine (My Morning Jacket, The Decemberists, First Aid Kit, case/lang/veirs) to adorn their folk-rooted sound with delicately crafted elements of psychedelia and soul. Showcasing the sublime harmonies the band first discovered during an impromptu busking session in 2008, Watching It All Fall Apart also finds Fruition more fully embracing their rock-and-roll sensibilities and bringing a gritty vitality to each track. “We’ve been a band almost ten years now, and we’re at the point of being comfortable in our skin and unafraid to be whatever we want as time goes on,” Anderson notes.
Recorded in ten days at Flora Recording & Playback in Portland, Watching It All Fall Apart came to life with the same kinetic urgency found in Fruition’s live sound. “It’s kind of an impossible task, this idea of transmuting the live energy into something you can play on your stereo, but I feel like this record comes close to that,” says Asebroek. At the same time, the band pursued a purposeful inventiveness that resulted in their most intricately textured work to date. “Tucker helped us push ourselves to create something that glistens in subtle little ways that you might not even pick up on at first,” says Asebroek. “We got to play around with all this analog gear and these weird old keyboards we wouldn’t ordinarily use, like a bunch of kids in a toy store where everything is free.”
On lead single “I’ll Never Sing Your Name,” that unrestrained creativity manifests in a fuzzed-out, gracefully chaotic track complete with sing-along-ready chorus. Built on brilliantly piercing lyrics (“And all those kisses that you were blowing/Somehow they all got blown right out”), the song echoes the album’s emotional arc by painfully charting the journey from heartache to acceptance. “It’s about going through a breakup, moping around, and then finally getting to the point where it’s like, ‘Okay—I’m done with feeling this way now,’” says Anderson.
Throughout Watching It All Fall Apart, the band’s let-the-bad-times-roll mentality reveals itself in ever-shifting tones and moods. On the stark and sleepy “Northern Town,” Naja’s smoldering vocals channel the ache of longing, the track’s twangy guitar lines blending beautifully with its swirling string arrangement. One of the few album cuts to have already appeared in Fruition’s setlist, “There She Was” sheds the heavy funk influence of its live version and gets reimagined as a shimmering, soulful number documenting Asebroek’s real-life run-in with an ex at a local bar. Meanwhile, “Turn to Dust” emerges as a weary but giddy piece of psych-pop chronicling the end of a failed romance. The song’s opening lyric also lends the album its title, which partly serves as “a commentary on the general state of the world today,” according to Asebroek. “Even if you’re mostly an optimistic person, it’s hard not to feel down when you look at all the insanity happening right now,” he says.
While those unflinchingly intimate breakup songs form the core of Watching It All Fall Apart, Fruition infuse an element of social commentary into songs like “FOMO” as well. Written on the Fourth of July, with its references to wasted white girls and cocaine cowboys, the mournful yet strangely reassuring track unfolds as what Anderson calls “an anti-party party song.”“It’s about one of those situations where you said you’d go to party but you really don’t want to go, because you know it’s going to be the same old bullshit,” he says. “The song is a call to defuse that guilt in your brain.” And on the sweetly uplifting “Let’s Take It Too Far,” the band offers one of the album’s most purely romantic moments by paying loving tribute to music as solace and salvation (“But don’t you worry ’bout dyin’/’Cause there’s no better way to go/We’ll sing until we’re out of honey/Then pour the gravel down our throats”).
From song to song, Fruition display the dynamic musicality they’ve shown since making their debut with 2008’s Hawthorne Hoedown LP. Through the years, the band has evolved from a rootsy, string-centric outfit to a full-fledged rock act, eventually taking the stage at such major festivals as Bonnaroo and Telluride Bluegrass (a set that inspired Rolling Stone to praise their “raucous originals filled with heartfelt lyrics and stadium-worthy energy”). Following the release of 2016’s Labor of Love, Fruition again made the rounds at festivals across the U.S., prompting Rolling Stone to feature the band on its “8 Best Things We Saw” at DelFest 2016.
In choosing a closing track for Watching It All Fall Apart, Fruition landed on “Eraser”—a slow-building, gently determined epic delivering a quiet message of hope in its final line: “Let it help you heal.”“Because there’s so much heartbreak on this album, we wanted to end on Kellen singing that last line very sweetly,” explains Anderson. “The whole point of having all these sad songs is helping people to let those emotions out—and then hopefully when they get to the end, they feel a little better about everything they’ve gone through along the way.”
Take one glance at the iconic tintype photograph which serves as the cover to his new album, Benton County Relic, and you know immediately that Cedric Burnside is the real deal. “When I first saw it, I thought I looked like an outlaw,” he laughs.
The 39-year-old still lives on several acres not far from the Holly Springs, Mississippi, home where he was raised by “Big Daddy,” his grandfather, the late singer/songwriter/guitarist R.L. Burnside whom Cedric famously played with, just as his own father, drummer Calvin Jackson, did. Cedric was literally born to the blues, more specifically, the “rhythmically unorthodox” Hill country variant which emerged from Mississippi, where he grew up surrounded (and influenced) by Junior Kimbrough, Jessie May Hemphill and Otha Turner, as well as delta musicians T-Model Ford and Paul “Wine” Jones.
Grammy-nominated in 2015 for Best Blues Album for the Cedric Burnside Project’s Descendants of Hill Country, as well as the recipient of the Blues Music Awards honor as Drummer of the Year for four consecutive years, Cedric’s latest album offers a showcase for his electric and acoustic guitar, recording 26 tracks in just two days with drummer/slide guitarist Brian Jay in the latter’s Brooklyn home studio in a rush of creativity. It’s his first release for Single Lock Records, the Florence, Alabama label headquartered across the Tennessee River from the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and responsible for critically acclaimed records by John Paul White, Nicole Atkins, Dylan LeBlanc and St. Paul & the Broken Bones.
And while Cedric humbly refers to himself in the album’s title, the music within is anything but ancient, the rich tradition of Hill country blues dragged kicking and screaming into the modern-day with crackling electricity amid its nod to life’s essentials. If the blues has traditionally been about getting through hard times, Benton County Relic offers the kind of deep baring of the soul that enables us to transcend oppression, whether in the 19th century or in the precarious present.
There’s blood on these 12 tracks, from the matter-of-fact recitation of his poverty-stricken childhood without running water, radio or TV in “We Made It” (“I come from nothin’/I done been lower than low/I keep my head straight/No matter how low I go”) and the description of a “Typical Day” (“I wake up in the mornin’/Sun shinin’ on my face/I drink a cup of coffee/I might roll me a J”) to the loss of family endured in “Hard to Stay Cool” and the unrequited passion of “There is So Much.”
“I write my music according to how I live my life, the things I’m going through at the time,” insists Burnside, who lost both his parents, an uncle and his younger brother Cody over the last few years. “I love music so much. It’s really something I can turn to when I’m feeling down and out, and in pain. Whether it’s the heartache of breaking up with a girlfriend, or frustration at a dispute with a family member.”
Burnside has brought a music that started as an expression of grief and a will to survive into a modern-day art form that is both timely and timeless, a glimpse of myth and insight into the human condition. “Back in the day, it wasn’t heard as music, but more like ‘somebody help me, I want to get out of this situation,’” says Cedric. “These days, anybody can have the blues. Some people deal with loss by going out and getting drunk or even killing themselves. The blues is about surviving through those hard times, telling the world what you’ve been through, and how you came out of it.”
Cedric’s blues cover a wide range of different emotions. “Give It to You” is an expression of pure sexual desire, a traditional blues trope. Burnside explains, “That kind of stuff still goes on in the world today,” he says. “It has happened to me, and I’m sure it has happened to a lot more people. Whether it’s politically correct or not, it’s the truth. And that’s how I write my music. It might seem harsh or messed-up, but it’s real.”
“Call on Me” is a song penned for his three daughters, ages 13 to 17, about being there emotionally, if not always in person, given his hectic touring schedule. “I just want them to know, what I do is not just for the fans, but for them, too.”
The traditional “Death Bell Blues” is a tribute to his own “Big Daddy,” R.L. Burnside, who used to perform the song, once covered by Muddy Waters and countless others. “I did it the same way ‘Big Daddy’ did it,” he says. “I want to let the people know where my music comes from.”
On “Ain’t Gonna Take No Mess,” Cedric insists he’s performing the music he wants, regardless of what anybody else says. “I’ve been playing almost 30 years now,” he exclaims. “It’s who I am, what I am. I am Hill country blues. This is my whole life, and I’m not going to listen to anyone who tells me what I can and can’t do. I just thank God that Single Lock Records let me be with my music.”
Cedric has both played and recorded with the North Mississippi Allstars (Luther Dickinson gave him his first electric guitar), Widespread Panic, Jimmy Buffett, Bobby Rush, Hubert Sumlin, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. He was also featured playing drums alongside Samuel L. Jackson in Craig Brewer’s 2006 feature film, Black Snake Moan, which was in part a tribute to his grandfather R.L. and other iconic bluesmen.
Now planning to tour with collaborator Brian Jay to promote the new album, Cedric eschews politics in favor of the personal. “I know there’s a lot going on in the world,” he says. “But I try to give it all to God and let Him handle it. Politics divides people. The blues brings them together. A bluesman has to find a way to make it through.”
Cedric Burnside isn’t content with just making it through. On Benton County Relic, he brings the blues alive for a new generation of fans weaned on the likes of White Stripes and the Black Keys. And why not? That’s all he’s ever known.
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.
his West Coast outfit was just a group of friends playing a monthly gig until 2012 and 2013 when Front Country gathered around a single microphone at the RockyGrass and Telluride festivals, and won first prize in those prestigious band contests that once launched the careers of the Dixie Chicks, Greensky Bluegrass and the Steep Canyon Rangers. The contest wins bolstered their confidence in their unique mix of original songwriting, vocal harmonies and instrumental virtuosity, steeling their resolve to take a leap of faith and become a full time touring band.
With the release of their debut full-length album Sake of the Sound in 2014, Front Country began the nose-grinding work of making their name as a national touring act. Still based in the San Francisco Bay Area, they would trek the 6,000+ mile circle around the U.S. for months at a time, introducing themselves for the first time to every room that would have them. Thanks to the glow of their contest wins, festivals around the U.S. caught wind and invited them to play for their large audiences, giving Front Country a crucial first break. Old Settlers in Austin, MerleFest in North Carolina, Wintergrass in Seattle, Strawberry in California and Grey Fox in New York, all took a chance on the promising new band and solidified Front Country’s hold on the imagination of progressive-leaning acoustic music fans.
If there was any one song from their debut album that they all agreed they had never heard the likes of before, it would have to be the title track “Sake of the Sound”. A pop song with a rock arrangement, played entirely on acoustic instruments. It was almost as if bluegrass instruments had been unearthed 200 years from now in a time capsule, and were re-purposed to make post-apocalyptic modern pop music. Front Country has been drawn more and more into this peculiar aesthetic, writing and arranging songs that are simultaneously intricate, intense and infectious. They’ve been called “Roots Pop”: the past is discernible with a wink and a nod, and the future is here.
Front Country’s sophomore release Other Love Songs is their Roots Pop opus. A graduation from mere concept to a high-speed rail line traveling at breakneck speed with the listener able to walk to the back of the train and look out at a distant but constant glimmer of the past. While their ultimate goal is musical space exploration, the technology of Front Country’s sound has evolved significantly in their five short years as a band, all while maintaining a tool kit of wooden string band instruments. Like a carpenter building a rocket ship, there is a whimsy to Front Country’s perspective that takes an active, imaginative listener to appreciate. It’s not a sound based on current trends of what any mainstream audience has asked for, it is a new perspective looking to find a new audience. Creating one’s own audience from the ground up is never an easy path, but if successful, several decades later, the reward is worth the risk and the journey is its own reward.
Other Love Songs is Front Country’s first record relying on lead singer Melody Walker’s songwriting, first and foremost. With 8 of the 12 tracks penned by Walker, and the two instrumentals composed by mandolinist Adam Roszkiewicz, it is their most original body of work yet. Round out the intensely creative band arrangement style of guitarist Jacob Groopman, bassist Jeremy Darrow and five-string violinist Leif Karlstrom, and the synergy is electric. The two cover songs on the album are the poignant “Millionaire” by David Olney, and a swampy blues-rock reimagining of the Carter Family’s “Storms are on the Ocean”. All together, the majority of the songs are quite emotional in nature and tend toward relationship themes, sometimes with atwist, hence the title Other Love Songs.
The collection of original Other Love Songs on the album are “If Something Breaks”, “I Don’t Wanna Die Angry”, “Good Side”, “Undone”, “O Heartbreaker” and “Keep Travelin’”. These songs follow the lessons that everyone learns in their own personal evolution toward emotional maturity and vulnerability – in which all of us learn to break down toxic romantic fairy tales and write our own “Other Love Songs” that work for real people in the real world. Love works the best when we can accept ourselves and one another with all of our virtues and our flaws, and start creating our own unique path that works for us. Since music and love are borne of the same ether, it’s no surprise that Front Country’s musical path has taken the form of an “Other Love Song” all along, finding their own harmony that plays to the strengths of each member, and doesn’t worry about fitting into a mold.
The Po Ramblin’ Boys
At a time when most people feel constantly distracted by technology and barraged by the news, authenticity and straightforward honesty are paramount. There’s something about the music of The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys that cuts right through the noise of the world and speaks plainly to the soul. Formed in the Smoky Mountains, The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys are at once exactly what you would expect and not at all what you would expect from a tattooed East Tennessee Bluegrass outfit. No strangers to hard work, the boys are as much at home riding in their 1965 GM Tour bus as they are crawling underneath to fix it when it needs maintenance. But they take pride in being ambassadors of their genre, and the group has brought their music from rural bluegrass festival stages to the rock clubs of Europe, with stunning results. “I think to a certain extent everyone is just craving music that they can feel, and any music that feels real will reach any audience” says CJ Lewandowski, the groups founder, “We want to put bluegrass right where it’s least expected”.
Lewandowski was working at Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery in Sevierville, TN when the band first formed. The distillery employed musicians to play for visitors seven days a week, and Lewandowski, who primarily plays Mandolin and sings, was occasionally hired to fill in when the entertainment didn’t show. Eventually, the distillery approached him about forming a band for a full time slot, so he reached out to long time music friends Jereme Brown, who plays banjo for the group, and Josh Rinkel, who plays guitar. “Jereme was doing a lot of welding work at that time, and Josh was running a sign company”, says Lewandowski, “I think we were all ready to do something new, something with our music but we didn’t know when or how”. Bassist Jasper Lorentzen happened to be working in the tasting room at the distillery, and he turned out to be the perfect final addition to the band. The four friends played multiple times a week for a year and half, honing their band sound, meanwhile word was spreading about their music. “The first gig we played out of town was a festival in Alberta, Canada, and a week later we went on a two week tour of Europe, it was crazy”, says Lewandowski.
Material for the group’s debut album “Back To The Mountains”, was a combination of original songs and old numbers that honor the group’s mentors and bluegrass heroes. “We love to dig up old songs that haven’t been heard in years and bring them back into the spotlight”, explains Lewandowski. It’s no surprise, then, that their latest single “Next Train South”, is a song cut by one of Lewandowski’s teachers from his native Missouri. “This song hasn’t been recorded since 1974, when it was recorded by Dub Crouch, Norman Ford and the Bluegrass Rounders.” he says. “Dub was a guy that I learned from back in the day. He was a close friend, and I was with him the day before he died. He was a popular guy for his region, but his music was not as well known on the national circuit. That’s why we love to sing these songs, because when we take these songs and bring them to a larger audience, our heroes and their music will not be forgotten”.
The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys passion for bluegrass is as clear as it is contagious. With a heavy touring schedule across the United States and Europe and recently signed record deal with the esteemed Rounder Records, the Boys are well on their way to becoming the quintessential bluegrass band of their generation. Despite all of their recent success, they maintain a humble perspective. “Bluegrass has left such a mark on us that we feel like we owe something back to the music”, says Lewandowski. “We want to do something for the music to show our appreciation… There’s no telling what could have happened to us, what we would have become if we hadn’t found this music. It’s gotten us through a lot, the good and the bad. When I think about all of the damn medications that I didn’t have to take because I had music to turn to. We didn’t have to go to the doctor and pay for something to make us feel better, because we had this music, so we really want to honor it by bringing it out of the shadows and onto new stages and wider audiences. Because we know that if we can bring Bluegrass to new folks, those folks will come with us and support the bluegrass community.”
Born in Chattanooga and now based in Johnson City, Amythyst Kiah’s commanding stage presence is matched by her raw and powerful vocals—a deeply moving, hypnotic sound that stirs echoes of a distant and restless past.
Accompanied interchangeably with banjo, acoustic guitar, or a full band, her eclectic influences span decades, finding inspiration in old time music, alternative rock, folk, country, and blues.
Our Native Daughters, her recent collaboration with Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell (Birds of Chicago), has delivered a full-length album produced by Rhiannon Giddens and Dirk Powell, Songs of Our Native Daughters (out now on Smithsonian Folkways). NPR described the opening track, Black Myself, written by Amythyst, as “the simmering defiance of self-respect in the face of racism.” The supergroup will hit the road in July with a series of special dates that include performances at Washington D.C.’s Smithsonian Museum of African American History & Culture as well as Newport Folk Festival. Most recently, the group has been nominated for Duo/Group of the Year at the 2019 Americana Honors & Awards.
Amythyst regularly tours the United Kingdom and has performed at Celtic Connections, Southern Fried Festival, Cambridge Folk Festival, the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, and SummerTyne Americana Festival. She is a crowd favorite at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion in the U.S. and has shined at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, Winnipeg Folk Festival, and opening for artists such as the Indigo Girls, Rhiannon Giddens, Dom Flemons, Old Crow Medicine Show, First Aid Kit, Darrell Scott, and Tim O’Brien.
Provocative and fierce, Amythyst’s ability to cross boundaries is groundbreaking and simply unforgettable.
The Bluegrass Situation Stage
Curated by The Bluegrass Situation, the #1 destination for American roots music, culture, and lifestyle, the BGS Stage features a line-up of some of our longtime favorite bands, exciting, emerging talent, and Kentucky-based artists. For over half a decade, BGS has proudly represented a unique community that supports a rich and varied musical history, while looking ahead for ways to transform traditions into a carefully curated modern lifestyle. Join us at The Bluegrass Situation Stage to celebrate two staples of American culture deeply rooted in Kentucky: bluegrass and bourbon!