Lead Single “Believer / Pretender”
Streaming Now Via Brightest Young Things
Virginia-based band of brothers Sons of Bill will release their fourth album Oh God Ma’am on June 29th. Today they have shared their new single “Believer / Pretender,” an opening salvo that encapsulates the approach the group takes on their latest record – blending their lyrical Americana roots with a polished, driving set of songs punctuated by crystalline guitar riffs and tasteful synth flourishes. The track is currently streaming via Brightest Young Things who declares the track to be “…an absolute stunner, a sweeping piece of ‘80s-tinged guitar rock that recalls the sounds of New Order, The War on Drugs, and even The Gin Blossoms, while still being unmistakably Sons of Bill.”
Listen: Sons of Bill – “Believer / Pretender”
“Believer / Pretender” was written after guitarist/singer James Wilson underwent surgery on his hand after an accident with a champagne glass, which almost prevented him from ever playing guitar again. “I distinctly remember the moment the words started to come together. I had just had surgery on my hand, and was deep in a moment of self-pity at a coffee shop in Nashville” Wilson writes. “When I approached the counter, I was greeted by a barista/musician with sleeve tattoos in my new home of Nashville, and wrote the line ‘Put all your secrets under your skin.’ It was this this sad feeling looking at one another– that neither of us have any depth–any meaningful internal life– nothing real to say to each other– but maybe another tattoo will convince the outside world that we have something to say– which is sadly maybe all we wanted in the first place.”
Oh God Ma’am is the followup to their 2015 album Love and Logic, which Q magazine called “a glorious sour mash of every great Americana trope of the last 50 years– think Dylan, R.E.M, Wilco, — Blended with top notes of Husker Du, Big Star, and The Replacements… A family affair welcoming one and all.” Recorded both in Seattle with west coast indie legend Phil Ek (Shins, Fleet Foxes) and in Nashville with Sean Sullivan (Sturgill Simpson) and mixed by Peter Katis (The National, Interpol) Oh God Ma’am moves beyond the galvanic americana-rock comfort zone of previous efforts, for a more elegant and restrained sound– a darker, and more complexly layered rock record that manages to be the band’s most emotionally intimate and sonically expansive.
Oh God Ma’am is currently available for pre-sale HERE.
As three sons of a venerated theology and literature professor at the University of Virginia (who also taught his sons how to play guitar and write songs), Sons of Bill were always keen to represent the american south with a slightly higher brow– an upright and literary aspect of the southern culture that rarely gets an adequate hearing in pop music. And like so many of the southern writers they grew up reading (James teaches and is currently writing a book on William Faulkner) The Wilson brothers often pull songs from the darker regions of the human imagination– slyly and earnestly scratching at their own spiritual scabs with both humor and sincerity, as a way of exploring life’s enduring complexities: faith, love, and the weirdness of time. It gives the whole record a unique atmosphere of tragicomedy– equal parts post-adolescent anxiety and old-soul humility. In search of the proper nomenclature, one critic would simply describe Sons of Bill as “metaphysical American music.”
Oh God Ma’am Track List:
1. Sweeter, Sadder, Farther Away
2. Firebird ‘85
3. Believer / Pretender
4. Easier (featuring Molly Parden)
5. Where We Stand
6. Good Mourning (They Can’t Break You Now)
7. Before the Fall
8. Green To Blue
9. Old And Gray
10. Signal Fade
Sons of Bill Links:
Website – Facebook – Twitter – Instagram – Spotify
Yes folks the Spotlight single from the 10th February for one month is Whether Blues as chosen by Val Starr.
When asked why this particular song Val contested “Because the US is so divided and so many people missing the main reason to be…i choose Whether Blues because we all just need to put aside our differences and just get along”
Any one think of a better reason to choose a Spotlight Single then post below.
Whether you’re right, or whether you’re wrong
It don’t mean a thing til’ we get along
Whether you’re weak, or whether you’re strong
We all need each other, to help us belong
Whether you’re pro, or whether you’re con
It won’t mean a thing after everything’s said and done
Whether you’re black or whether you’re white
we’re all just one people in God’s given light
Whether you’re left or whether you’re right
It doesn’t matter if we only fight
Whether you’re rich or whether you’re poor
It don’t mean a thing when you’re knockin on heaven’s door
Whether It’s mine or whether or it’s yours
It’s not what we have, it’s what it’s used for
Whether it’s false or whether it’s true
You make it better, when you say what you do
Whether you’re Arab or whether you’re Jew
It won’t mean a thing when your days on this earth are through
When negotiating the deal for the spotlight single with Val who is a pretty sharp cookie! I decided against my better judgement to do a short interview with the ever busy Ms. Starr.
First of a bit of flattery.
“Some of these questions are from readers and listeners of TMEFM Radio who are all really impressed with I always turn the blues on.”
“That is beyond awesome.”
Well that went well I will continue with the questions.
“When not working what music do you listen to? and how? spotify etc,cd/vinyl,ipod?”
“I listen to all types of music from blues to classic rock and classic r&b, from adult alternative to new age . I listen to my own radio network GotRadio.com on my computer while working or on my mobile device via the free GotRadio app (apologize for the plug! LOL)”
I decide not to mention we are advert free radio and approach this interview very carefully or it could end up like one of the adverts during Superbowl, phrase the questions with care Richard or else.
“Have you ever reached a point in your career where you felt disappointed/disillusioned . if so how did you get over it?”
“There are always times when a musician feels tired and disillusioned. Usually when you have a less than satisfactory performance, whether it be lack of attendance or just a bad night. Many years ago I went to a huge concert at the LA Coliseum. About 30,000 fans came to see the Rolling Stones. The opening act was a skinny, scrappy little black dude who came out in his skivvies. He gave it his all but the crowd booed him and threw stuff at him. This spunky little performer was Prince, who went on to insurmountable, well deserved fame. I gain strength from that moment in time, knowing that if Prince could bounce back from such a devastating performance, I could handle just about anything.”
Where is she?
WOW this cookie is old enough to have gone to THAT concert she doesn’t look it.I will not to say that with all the Political Correctness and Sexual Abuse cases on HUFF POST, we are a profit free radio and cannot afford a court case.Lets see how the wind blows Richard.
“Is there a place for Political Correctness in songwriting or should a song really tell how you feel, or how do you stand on P.C.”
“I believe songs tell a story. The story could be about personal things like love, relationships, etc, or they could be about more universal topics. I think all interesting stories deserve to be told or sung, regardless of whether they are “PC” or not.”
Right thats good open minded carry on.
“How do you feel about the Internet in the music business? Streaming,piracy,digital sales.”
“Oh don’t get me started. I’ve been to Washington DC twice, lobbying for Internet Radio rights. The royalties are way out of line for small to medium sized webcasters. Internet Radio is not unlike traditional radio, except that the delivery mechanism is different. Indie webcasters are the lifeline to continue to uphold the diversity of music worldwide. If the major labels had their way, they’d put us all out of business and then there would literally be just a handful of stations that would be exposing their music. And trust me, they wouldn’t be blues or folk stations. Indie artists, internet radio need to band together to ensure a healthy music eco-system for the future. Music lovers should know the true story. When major artists and record labels are crying foul, it is not because of internet radio. It is their own fault for not embracing the digital music business model long ago. Now they just want to blame us when the fact of the matter is, they don’t know how to sell music anymore.”
Now that’s my kind of gal, you tell ’em and tell ’em good but I think I had better change the direction of the questions, at least she didnt mentionGotRadio.com .
“What song by another artist (written or performed) set the standard of greatness for you? How has that song influenced your work?”
“There are so many incredible songs out there. I think there are 3 (if I may be so bold), ballads sung by female artists that I have always loved and touch my soul, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt and a beautiful standard (I like both Barbra Streisand’s version but Bonnie does this great as well) “Since I Fell For You”, and Of course “I’d Rather Go Blind” by Etta James. They influence me because that make me “feel” and relate. I try to create songs for people that make them feel and relate.
Gotta mention too one of my all time favs, Gary Moore’s “Still Got The Blues” The guitar brings me to tears.”
Got good taste as well as being tasty. Why are my thoughts appearing in bold print? A new WordPress App? Stop thinking of the interview scene in Basic instincts! get back to the real world boy.
“If you could do a three-song set for a global audience, what songs would you choose?”
“Haha – see above! “
Come on Richard you are losing it, concentrate.
“With whom would you like to collaborate on an album?”
“I would love love love to collaborate with Bonnie Raitt. I want more slide guitar on my next cd, and she is a master at slide guitar. And if we could do a duet. Wow! She is my idol.”
“What are your fondest musical memories? In your house? In your neighborhood
“I have a song I wrote called “Chardonnay” (I happen to like wine! LOL). It’s a lively swing number and the ladies love it. At shows, when we performed it, it became a tradition to call up my girlfriends in the audience to sing it with me. We’ve had dozens of women come up on stage at various shows. We call them the Chardonettes!”
Wow Californian ladies come in all shapes and sizes now I know where they go when filming Baywatch. Damn I cannot edit out these thoughts in bold I need a sip of water.
“How do you handle mistakes during a performance?”
“The biggest fear for a singer is forgetting the words. But with the blues, you are telling a story so if I space out, I have learned to instantly make up words and continue the story. Kind of like how rappers make up their raps.”
So she is not perfect perfect, good.
“Which European countries/cities would you like to play in? and of course why?”
“Spain (because you are there!) and I hear it is beautiful. I’d like to play in the Netherlands because we’ve gotten some good airplay there, as well as the UK. I’m ½ British and I have a lot of family in the UK that i’ve never met.”
No Richard she did not flutter her eyes when she said that, concentrate. Half British that explains a lot.
“How often and for how long do you practice?”
“Well for singing, I sing everyday, all the time. I sing in the supermarket while shopping, much to the amusement of other shoppers. Words and phrases always trigger songs in my head and I’ll bust out a song. My kids get a real kick out if it. For guitar, I try to pick up my guitar everyday. I’ve been trying to learn more lead playing. I never played lead because I always sang, and lead playing is a lead instrument, not unlike vocals. But i’m working on it!”
Now she wants to do everything, watch out boys or it will soon be a one gal band.
“Would you ever write a song praising God, you know any god or even with a religious content.”
“I’m a very spiritual person, but I’m also a believer that religion and God are very personal things. I do have one song, called Misery Train that is my first gospel based song that i’ve written. I love the feel that Gospel music portrays, but I wouldn’t presume to preach to anyone.”
You’ve raised my spirits Val and blood pressure too.
“For me, I grew up listening to and playing classic rock. But even by the time I started writing and playing in rock bands in L.A. in the 80’s, critics used to compare me to bands like Fleetwood Mac, and by the 80’s that was already passe. Growing up with classic rock, which is largely blues based, i’ve always loved the passion and the amazing lead solos that the genre provided. You can’t write a new classic rock song, because that time in space has already passed, but I found I could write new blues songs, that contained some of the elements of classic rock, and it was fresh and new and exciting. I also grew up loving musicals, so I enjoy the stories I can tell with the blues. I think people of my generation really relate to the blues. The challenge now is introducing the blues to a young audience and keeping the genre alive. That’s why programs like BITS (Blues In The School) are so important. “
We will let that plug pass to as its a great idea but no way she was playing rock in the 80’s unless she is a “Shirley Temple” No I will not think of Val dressed as a school girl a la Japanese! STOP IT MIND.Think of something different for gods sake boy.
“How do you find time to do everything you do? I mean you are a business woman, singer/songwriter,live performer,recording artist.You are a very young grandmother so there is a family, you have a husband to look after with all his washing and ironing,cooking to do,cleaning, I mean there are not enough hours in the day!”
“Hahaha. Great question and so true (except I hate to iron). I have been fortunate to be able to work out of my house for some time now. I get up early and hit the ground running. (no commute time – I just work). I’ve always been pretty much a self-starter and have the entrepreneurial spirit. I have my own little demo station with my Mac and Garage Band app right next to my work station, so If an idea for a song hits me, I just swivel my chair and start demoing.. It’s awesome!”
You are awesome.sigh. Come on Richard get this interview over and go and have a cold shower.
“OK so you are a Californian what does that mean to you?”
“Sunshine, tolerance, great music, beaches, mountains and beautiful people”
She’s gone. Heartbeat slow down please. Remember you are married to a diamond, think of Maria. Its working! I feel normal again.
No more interviews with the female artists for me. Not until I can get rid of this App that keeps adding my thoughts in bold.
Does copyright cover thoughts?
Thank you Val for wonderful honest answers and I hope the Californian half understands the English sense of humor.
Thank you John for putting up with me taking Val’s time which could have been spent watching a movie together.
After spending at week in Memphis appearing in two special showcase performances during the IBC week, being called up to do a spot at the world famous Silky O’Sulivans by Barbara Blue, visiting all the sites that Memphis has to offer, suffering with the coldest weather Memphis had for 20 years,being TME.fm Radio Spotlight Artist, Val Starr & the Blues Rocket ended a special week by reaching NUMBER ONE on the Electric Blues Chart at RMR.
Top 50 Electric Blues Album Chart for the Week of Jan 20 2018 Roots Music Report
Sacramento blues woman, Val Starr, describes her music as “songs written about love and loss, breaking free of bad relationships, and learning to live with the good ones.” All that, and more, can be found on the 12 tracks of her fourth album of all original material “I Always Turn The Blues On.” Starr is backed by the veteran trio The Blues Rocket, which includes her partner in crime, John Ellis on bass, Frankie Soul on lead guitar, and Paul Farman on drums.
The tunes run the gamut from traditional blues shuffles to bold blues ballads. Kicking off the album is a girl-power call out, ‘High Time To Go,’ followed by the easy swing of the title track featuring Todd Morgan of Todd Morgan & The Emblems on keys, while Starr spells out her love of the blues. A bumping groove underpins the life lesson ‘What Happens After Midnight (Nothin’ Good)’ that Starr wrote for her teenage sons. Bay Area guitar slinger Daniel Castro adds gritty lead guitar to the powerful anthem to social consciousness ‘Whether Blues’ and some fine pickin’ to the country ballad ‘Please Don’t Go Away Mad.’ Tim Barron joins in on harmonica for the bump and grinder ‘Bad Luck & the Blues.’ The Rockets show they know how to play authentic Chicago blues on the hot shuffle ‘Out With The Old’ and a touch of Memphis soul on the saucy number ‘The Baby Mama Song.’ Steve ‘Beer Dawg’ Wall adds angular lead guitar to the tale of a women scorned ‘Blind Eye.’ Starr shows off all her feminine wiles during the jazzy slow blues ‘Bye Bye’ and then closes out the set with a rambling blues tune about life’s up and downs ‘It’s Always Something.’
“I Always Turn The Blues On” from Val Starr & The Blues Rocket gives proof to her stature as an acclaimed female blues singer/songwriter and prominent figure in the Northern California blues scene.
Cahoone readies for first full-band tour in 5 years!
We’re very excited to announce that Sera Cahoone is heading out on tour this September! This past year has seen her touring with the likes of Tift Merrit, Son Volt and Gregory Alan Isakov but now she’s ready to strike out on with her full band in tow to support From Where I Started.
We had some wonderful press for the album including the NPR First Listen Stephen Thompson wrote up here and CBC’s First Play here. This fantastic interview on Uproxx, a glowing No Depression review, this piece on LGTBQNation referencing the interview Cahoone had with Jewly Hight for NPR’s Songs We Love, Elle Magazine’s ’10 Best New Songs’ of March and a great American Songwriter piece. Beyond that Sera’s album received high praise from the Bluegrass Situation, Saving Country Music, Curve Magazine, KEXP, Paste, The Seattle Times, Seattle Magazine, Seattle Metropolitan, Seattle Weekly and a ton more.
The world of American roots music is no stranger to Seattle songwriter Sera Cahoone. Even though her last three albums were on Sub Pop Records and she spent years at the top of the indie charts, she’s always had a streak of Americana that ran through her music, a love of the humble folk song that bolstered her art. She’s returning now to these earliest influences with her new album, From Where I Started (to be released March 24, 2017). Growing up, Cahoone first found her voice in Colorado dive bars, backing up old blues musicians at age 12 on the drums. Her father, a Rocky Mountain dynamite salesman, took the family along to mining conferences and old honky-tonks in the state. The sounds she heard there—the twang of country crooners, cowboy boots on peanut shells—have stayed with her all the way to Seattle, where she lives now, and the seminal indie rock bands she’s been a part of in the city (Carissa’s Weird, Band of Horses).
To make From Where I Started, her first new album since 2012’s Dear Creek Canyon, Cahoone traveled south to Portland to work with producer John Askew (Neko Case, Laura Gibson, Alela Diane). Askew brought together key Portland musicians like Rob Berger (Iron and Wine, Lucinda Williams), Dave Depper (Death Cab For Cutie) and Annalisa Tornfelt (Black Prairie) with Cahoone’s Seattle bandmates – Jeff Fielder (Mark Lanegan, Amy Ray) and Jason Kardong (Son Volt, Jay Farrar). The band lays a deep bedrock beneath Cahoone’s songs, supporting her arcing vocals and innovative guitar and banjo playing. The album is driven by a strong rhythmic sensibility, owed to Cahoone’s background as a drummer for indie rock bands. “A lot of my songs start as a beat, I add guitar, then lyrics at the end,” she says. “When I write songs I usually sit at my drum kit playing both drums and guitar at the same time.”
From Where I Started plays on the rougher, darker edges of the traditional love song. Like any good country album, the songs here deal with love and loss, but Cahoone also knows how to surround loss with hope, to temper a sad song with a turn in the major key. The optimism of the love song “Up To Me,” buoyed by fingerpicked guitar and banjo, gives way to the weary resignation of “Taken Its Toll,” with its plaintive pedal steel and echoing vocal harmonies. “Ladybug,” is a poignant song that followed the tragic death of Cahoone’s cousin Tawnee.
From Where I Startedrepresents a refocusing for Sera Cahoone. It positions her as a songwriter beholden to the old country sounds she grew up with, a songwriter who’s always been able to deftly translate a personal perspective into a universal view. It’s an album about falling in and out of love, finding new hope, and learning that the best way to move forward is to remember whereyou began.
‘I’ve just recorded an album with an American band,’ said Olivia Chaney, introducing a new song on her support slot for Shirley Collins at the Barbicanearlier this year. I remember hearing that remark and thinking it’ll be interesting to hear her in a band context with some transatlantic backing.
What I didn’t expect (although it would be entirely possible to work it out) was that she’d just recorded an album with The Decemberists. In case you don’t know, they are a very popular Grammy-nominated American indie rock band from Portland, Oregon. They’ve recorded seven acclaimed albums including 2011’s The King Is Dead – which reached No. 1 in the U.S. Billboard 200 chart.
To give you an idea of the scale of the contrast, Olivia has just over 1,500 followers on Spotify, The Decemberists more than 275,000. Don’t take that as a criticism, in my book Chaney should have much, much more than that…
Her debut album from 2015, The Longest River is a masterpiece, lauded by FRUK’s David Kidman as ‘eminently treasurable’, and receiving rave reviews in The Independent and The Guardian, alongside many others. So Chaney is definitely not an unequal partner here, albeit an emerging rather than an established artist.
The collaboration came about when Decemberists’ singer, guitarist and lead songwriter Colin Meloy opened a conversation with Olivia on Twitter. Like anyone with ears to please, Colin was a fan of Olivia’s debut, and the tweet exchange led to a support slot for Chaney on The Decemberists’ tour. It was during a late night conversation that Colin suggested, “Have you ever thought of having a backing group? We’ll be your Albion Dance Band.” It turned out to be the king of offers…
The fact that Meloy knew about No Roses by Shirley Collins and the Albion Dance Bandin the first place gives you an indication of his (and the band’s) deep love for British folk rock. And that he saw Chaney in the same mould as Collins demonstrates his appreciation of her as a major talent.
The offer came good and so good. The resulting collaboration The Queen of Hearts is a towering, majestic work. It is effortlessly confident, an album that shifts from pleasure to pleasure – a consistent collection superbly arranged and played. Produced and recorded by Tucker Martine (Modest Mouse, My Morning Jacket, Neko Case) alongside Colin Meloy, it is at turns a nostalgic nod to the great British folk-rock albums of the late 60s and 70s but equally assured in a fresh, contemporary way.
The material is largely traditional, and much of it familiar to folk audiences. The Queen of Hearts, which opens the album, was learnt from Martin Carthy and versions have been recently recorded by The Unthanks and Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker.Willie o’Winsbury is about as familiar as it gets – only last year Jim Moray offered his own beguiling version, William of Barbary. So you might wonder if we need more interpretations of these trad songs. But they are sung so beautifully by Chaney, and The Decemberists bring fresh life to these age-old tales that familiarity is never an issue.
And what’s great is that (hopefully) these songs will get a much wider airing and appreciation because of their inclusion here. And it’s not just ballads that get The Decemberists treatment, a set of Morris tunes, Constant Billy (Oddington) / I’ll Go Enlist (Sherborne), has been deftly arranged by The Decemberists’ accordionist Jenny Conlee. True to their word, they sound like Prospect Before Us-vintage Albion Band. It’s two minutes of absolute, unexpected bliss.
The album is firmly in the rock end of folk often with electric guitar, drums, bass and hammond organ backing, augmented by harpsichord, accordion and violin. Sheepcrook and Black Dog positively rocks with fuzzy electric guitar a la Zeppelin’s No Quarter over which Chaney soars like Trembling Bell’s Lavinia Blackwell. Sheepcrook pushes the band into wyrd new realms, sounding like psychedelic folk legends The Trees.
The song segues into To Make You Stay making an eight-and-a-half minute psych-folk epic. Colin takes the lead vocals on this, the final track, a cover of the Lal Watersonmasterpiece from the album Bright Phoebus. And Colin is clearly having a blast singing this obscure but brilliant song. He also takes the lead on Blackleg Miner which owes much to the Steeley Span version but sounding much fresher and more upbeat here.
Another cover is a heart-stopping The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face sung by Chaney, which lays the ghost of the Roberta Flack-emoted version, with hints of the traditional Cruel Mother taking Ewan McColl’s standard back to its folk roots.
I really hope that this album is taken to heart by long-term folk fans on this side of the Atlantic because it’s nothing short of a love letter to the music and traditions we adore. The performances are passionate rather than studious, rawkus rather than reverential.
Joe Boyd, another American with a deep love for British folk (and a catalyst to the invention of British folk rock) is a fellow admirer of Chaney. ‘I’ve only heard Olivia a few times,’ says Joe. ‘But that’s enough to make me a fan.’
In his acclaimed account of his life in the music industry, White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s, Boyd writes, ‘Why does England hate its own folk music?… In England, the mere thought of a morris dance team or an unaccompanied ballad singer send most natives running for cover.’ It’s an attitude I’m sure FRUK readers and listeners are only too familiar with, although it’s unlikely to be a perspective we share!
Boyd later shares an anecdote about American blues legend Taj Mahal who came to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Radio 2 Folk Awards, positively lapping up a performance by The Watersons, The Copper Family and various folk royalty. The unaccompanied harmonies on the traditional Thousands or More so enthralled Taj that he rose to his feet and joined in the chorus. ‘…his grin testified to the pleasure that evening’s music gave him,’ writes Boyd. ‘Perhaps it’s easier for foreigners.’
That thought might explain the alchemy of Offa Rex. Chaney is undoubtedly one of the freshest and most exciting talents of the British folk scene, but teamed up with The Decemberists might just mean this music goes mainstream (please!). Anyone who’s seen or heard her knows that Chaney is cool, and I don’t believe that The Decemberists are on a mission to make British folk cool. I think they had no idea it wasn’t ‘cool’ in the first place.
“Awake” is the first music video from Philadelphia based singer/songwriter Chad Jenkins’ solo record: VIDEO.
After graduating the University of the Arts, Jenkins abruptly stopped playing music altogether and pursued a career in television as a cameraman and producer. Some of his broadcast credits include: Hoarding Buried Alive, Entertainment Tonight, Yahoo! 365 Nights of Concerts, and the Oprah Winfrey Network. Following the death of his mother and nearly a decade removed from performing music, Jenkins wrote and produced the record: VIDEO, which includes the song and accompanying music video: ‘Awake’.
The next music video off this record is for the track: ‘Every Night of the Week’ and will be available end of summer 2017.
Tony Joe White is a genre unto himself. Sure, there are other artists who can approximate White‘s
rich gumbo of blues, rock, country, and bayou atmosphere, but almost 50
years after “Polk Salad Annie” made his name, you can still tell one of
his records from its first few moments. 2016’s Rain Crow confirms White hasn’t lost his step in the recording studio. Produced by his son Jody White, Rain Crow is lean, dark, and tough; the bass and drums (Steve Forrest and Bryan Owings) are implacable and just a bit ominous, like the sound of horses galloping in the distance, while the flinty report of White‘s guitar sketches out the framework of the melodies and lets the listener’s imagination do the rest. White‘s best music has always had more than one foot in the blues, and Rain Crow often recalls the hypnotic backwoods juke joint sounds of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, built on a groove that travels as far and as deep as it needs to go. And White the storyteller is in great form on Rain Crow,
from the tricky family tale of “The Middle of Nowhere” and the spooky
happenings of “Conjure Child” to “Hoochie Woman”‘s celebration of a
woman who knows what to do with spice and shrimp. As for White‘s singing, that’s where evaluating Rain Crow gets a bit complicated. These days, White‘s
voice is a swampy croak that lacks the strength of his signature
recordings of the ’60s and ’70s, and occasionally he’s just hard to
hear. But if White
isn’t much of a singer at the age of 72, his half-sung, half-mumbled
vocals work unexpectedly well in context, suggesting some aging
swampland griot, and they suit the late-night vibe of the material
better than a stronger performance might. Rain Crow doesn’t blaze many new trails for Tony Joe White,
but it leaves no doubt that he’s still the king of his own swampy
sound, and he’s not getting older, he’s getting deeper.
As a professional musician and proud student of
the American songbook, Trapper Schoepp is acutely aware of clichés. That’s not
to say he shuns them completely, of course, just that when he uses them he does
so knowingly, and so he readily admits that his latest album, Rangers & Valentines, out April 1 on Xtra Mile Recordings, is founded on
a big one. “They always say that songwriters who come off their first few years
of touring are going to make their road album,” Schoepp says, “and yeah, this
is a road album.”
Not that the songs are all literally about Schoepp’s experiences. Recorded
after years on the road behind Run Engine
Run, his 2012 album for the Los Angeles indie label SideOneDummy, Rangers & Valentines compiles
stories about men and women “who are on the road and on the move,” Schoepp
says. Along the way they endure chaos, war, natural disasters and other
Jack Ingram left the country mainstream after 2009’s Big Dreams & High Hopes,
an album that failed to deliver on either despite two singles that
became hits. Despite “That’s a Man” and “Barefoot and Crazy” cresting
into the Country Top 20, the album sealed his fate in Nashville, so he
wound up wandering the Americana back roads before resurfacing in 2016
with Midnight Motel on Rounder. The very title of Midnight Motel suggests a bleary pit stop, a place where you stay when you’re waylaid from your planned path. That sensibility infuses Midnight Motel,
a record that lingers upon the unplanned moments, moving slowly through
a series of laments and fireside tales, including a spoken salute to
the late Merle Haggard. This isn’t a sentimental story: it’s about a promoter who tried to run a game on Hag and Ingram. Such sly humor is a good indication of the sensibility behind Midnight Motel,
a record whose heart lies in the tattered corners and slower numbers
but also surfaces on ragged singalongs and the easy-rolling numbers that
give the album a lift. Midnight Motel is an album that asserts Ingram‘s
strengths as a songwriter — nothing here has an eye on the charts but
they’re all accessible, waiting for the right bit of polish — but the
charm of the record is how he leaves loose ends hanging, suggesting that
his story began long before this album and will continue long
From the first notes, I was hooked” – Suze Uttal, No Depression
“Sometimes a band can just appear out of nowhere and make a sound so agreeable and enticing it almost seems like they’re the product of some divine destiny. Driftwood offers an ideal example of that phenomenon” – Country Standard Time
When most people think of upstate New York, they either imagine bucolic landscapes or working-class towns. As natives of Binghamton, the members of Driftwood hail from a working town, but play music rooted in the land, leaning alternately into folk, old-time, country, punk, and rock, depending on their personal moods and their songs’ needs.
“It’s sometimes tough to keep any sort of focus on style or sound when you have three different songwriters,” guitarist Dan Forsyth concedes. “But it also allows us to branch out and explore in ways other bands don’t. Also, I think it’s important, as a band, to ask ourselves ‘Is this a good next step?” Describing the Driftwood sound, banjo player Joe Kollar offers, “I consider our sound to be more of an attitude and an approach – the result of all of our influences in a completely open musical forum where the only stipulation is to use bluegrass instruments and create it from the heart.”
That’s as close to being pinned down as Driftwood ever gets. Such has always been the case for artists blurring and blending genre lines in order to innovate. Yes, they wield old-time instruments, but they do so with a punk-rock ethos. “I do not know much about punk music, but I do know that it gives me a feeling of tearing into something without inhibition,” violinist Claire Byrne says, adding, “Old-time music has the same feeling for me. The music was a release for people living extremely hard lives in harsh conditions. In this way, the two styles of music are very similar: It’s digging in and making a statement. It’s rocking out and feeling totally reborn through the song.”
Driftwood has been digging in and rocking out since their 2005 formation, playing an average of 150 shows a year. “In the beginning, we hit the road constantly with an all-or-nothing attitude,” Forsyth confides. “We were doing it with a lot of passion, but had no thoughts about long-term sustainability. Life outside of the band was minimal. One thing that I think we started to notice was, when you’re always in it, you have no perspective and you start to lose yourself in a weird way.”
As such, gigging and traveling that much can’t help but influence and inform the band, individually and collectively. In the past, they used the stage to work out arrangements of new songs. For City Lights, they used the studio. “Keeping this kind of touring schedule, we have thought of recording albums as a sort of secondary thing and considered ourselves a ‘live’ band. We learn so much on the road and this kind of work has always felt productive,” Forsyth explains. “It wasn’t until this last album that we took some time off to learn more about being in the studio. We wanted to take our time and record on our own terms.”
According to Byrne, their own terms included “taking a step forward with the production and the arrangements.” Kollar tacks “learning” on, for good measure, while Forsyth adds “good songs and bigger arrangements, and sounds than we had not previously achieved.”
Even though they come from different directions, the three founding members – along with bassist Joey Arcuri – tend to end up at the same place. That unity, as well as the joy derived from playing together, can be heard throughout City Lights.
As further evidence of their compatibility, both Forsyth and Byrne tag “Skin and Bone” as the head of the album. It’s a Kollar composition that he says “came from a reflection I had of myself and life on the road, in general. It touches on trying to keep perspective, forging ahead, and embracing the future.” Clearly, that’s a state of mind they can all relate to.
The heart of the album, though, is a toss up with Forsyth choosing the romance of “Too Afraid,” Byrne picking the nostalgia of “The Waves,” and Kollar tapping the excitement of the title track. That disparity may be because, in their decade together, the musicians have all undergone monumental life changes. They have come into their own… together. Forsyth is now a husband and father; Byrne is now a recorded songwriter. “Generally speaking, there’s a maturity to us now,” Kollar explains. “We have a bit of experience doing what we do and the music reflects that point of view. The song subjects, our playing/singing abilities, our recording abilities, and our relationships have all matured.”
Forsyth picks up the thread, “We have all learned an unbelievable amount of patience and teamwork strategy. Our band is close: Everyone knows a lot about each other. We travel in very tight quarters constantly and are always up on what’s happening in each others’ lives. I think this has really enabled us to express ourselves, individually and as a group, but also to understand each other and others in so many ways.”
Having joined Driftwood when she was 21, Byrne has spent her whole adult life in the band “learning to play and sing in a group, learning the art of performance, and, of course, learning who I am and what my purpose(s) in life are. I think you can hear those changes from the first record to the last one.” Because City Lights marks her songwriting debut, she feels like her personal growth is on full display. “Rather than just listening to my harmonies and fiddle playing, you now have lyrics, as well. I think the songs I have on this record reflect a woman going through a great shift in her life, settling down a bit, and reflecting on the many different ways that affects me and my relationships with others.”
As the sole woman of the band, Byrne puts a clearly different spin on things. “Sometimes, instead of thinking about adding a feminine perspective, I actually spend time thinking about how to make myself fit in with the guys and, therefore, dumbing down my femininity a bit,” she says. “With my songwriting, though, there is no hiding it. I’m talking about things from a woman’s perspective that many other women will be able to relate to easier than they would if a man was writing and singing about the same topics.”
One topic the three songwriters all agree on is home. In their own ways, they each love and reflect their hard-scrabble hometown. “Growing up in the Chenango Bridge/Binghamton area, I never really thought about it being an economically depressed town. To me, it was a perfect balance of rivers, woods, campfires, street signs, factories, and city lights,” Kollar says, referencing the new album’s title. “Now, I know a little more about it being a post-industrial town, but still I see it as a diamond in the rough. I relate to the sort of underdog/uphill feel of the town.”
Byrne adds, “I think coming from a place such as Binghamton makes us very raw. We are a reflection of where we grew up. There isn’t really anything fancy about us – we aren’t the ‘hippest’ group out there, as far as fashion goes – but we are certainly very real. What you see is what you get.”