Domenic Cicala – Our Favorite Song

Hailing from the D.C. area, Domenic Cicala – A singer/songwriter with a love for the 3 minute song.  Largely influenced by the holy musical trinity of Hank, Elvis and Bruce and owing all his musical acumen to the sagely philosophy of Woody Guthrie “If you play more than 2 chords you are showing off”.   Domenic is a Roots Rock/Americana artist who performs his own compositions as well as digging deep into the covers catalog.

Domenic was recently referred to as a “newcomer”.  His first public performance was in 2008 and  his first record was released in 2014.  The CD called “Who’s Foolin Who”, which garnered a Wammie nomination for “Best Roots Rock recording”,  is a record that brings together many musical elements and styles from country punk waltz to Memphis style R&B to quirky folk/pop.  The record features the cream of the crop of DC musicians, as well as guest appearances by Birds of Chicago and Rachel Harrington.  

While finishing his latest full length record “Our Favorite Song”, Domenic has released  “Sin City” EP , also nominated for “Best Roots Rock Recording” as well as two other EPs.

“Domenic Cicala has a special talent for songwriting and conveying his message. One word in particular always comes to me when I think about Domenic’s style … and the word is ‘authentic.'”

Portland’s Fluff & Gravy Records release Jeffrey Martin’s One Go Around

Jeffrey Martin’s songs on One Go Around, out today on Fluff & Gravy Records, focus on his love for the greats of literature, using it as inspiration, not just thematically but for his own writing style. We have more information on the album, as well as his fall tour, below. We would love to hear your thoughts, and chat about possible coverage, if you have a moment.

“Martin’s voice is pained, vulnerable, and intimately connected to the music…One Go Around offers a glimmer of hope—a very small glimmer, but a glimmer nonetheless.” – Portland Mercury

“In his weary delivery and the slow tumble of his country-leaning pop, it’s clear that he’s wondering what combination of factors brought him to this point in his life: singing dusty odes to the ghosts of American literature.” – Paste Magazine

“[One Go Around] features graceful melodies courtesy of an electric guitar as Martin fills the rest of the soundscape with his emotive, storyteller’s vocals.” – PopMatters

The songs on the new album, One Go Around, from Portland Americana songwriter Jeffrey Martin come from an intense whirlwind of activity in Martin’s life, as he balanced full-time work as a high-school creative writing teacher with a touring schedule that saw him flying out for gigs on the weekend and grading papers on the plane home. Martin’s since quit this job to go full-time as an artist, but the stories he heard from his students when he was teaching and the stories he gathered on the road have stayed with him. These are stories of an America left behind, of working-class people struggling to keep their heads above rising waters, of people trying to find love in a time of heartlessness. His students plumbed the depths of their own lives to learn how to write, and the intimacy of the connection they and their families had with a beloved teacher in a rural Oregon (a small town of 5,000+ people) brought the stories home hard for Martin. At the time, Martin was immersing himself as well in American literature, in the books and short stories he was teaching to his students or reading on the road, like Raymond Carver, Annie Proulx, and John Steinbeck. On One Go Around (out October 13, 2017 on Fluff & Gravy Records), Martin intertwines the blunt poetry of these great American writers with the kind of careful songcraft that too often goes unnoticed, and with a true writer’s eye for the smallest details that deliver the strongest punch in a song.

Jeffrey Martin Fall Tour
10/14 Willamina, OR @ Wildwood Hotel
10/17 Redding, CA @ Vintage Wine
10/19 Boulder Creek, CA @ Lille Aeske
10/21 Bonnydoon, CA (public barn show)
10/22 San Francisco, CA @ HopMonk Tavern Novato – with Ramblin’ Jack Elliot
10/24 Bend, OR @ The Old Stone
10/27 Portland, OR @ Alberta St. Pub
10/28 Eugene, OR @ Tsunami Books
11/01 New York City, NY @  Irish Arts Center – with Nyle Connely & Anna Tivel
11/04 Nelson, NY @ Nelson Odeon – with Anna Tivel
11/06 Rochester, NY @  Honest Folk – with Anna Tivel
11/11 Cambridge, MA @ Club Passim – with Anna Tivel

Michael Gaither – Hey Karma

Still in the RMR Americana chart and deservedly so.

When I received this album I went to Michael’s website and there in big letters on the Header was “Sarcasm”  and I thought yes this is for me ‘cos I’m a sarcastic old bar-steward. It also said Nostalgia and Gratitude, I googled those two and decided they didn’t apply to me and started to listen to the album.

Unfortunately the first song I listened to was a Warren Zevon cover,the least said the better.

It got better, Michael sang about zombies and office romances,angels and karma (another word googled) and lots of other humorous moments. On the track “mix tape” I found out about “Nostalgia”, yes I charmed the knickers off a fair few girls making cassettes for them, surprised I can remember its that long ago.

I know, this is a review of the album not a nostalgia trip but Michael’s songs are made for such a trip and anyway I don’t like using all those fancy words others use in reviews to describe the music and voice and lyrics etc.etc.  This collection of songs is the bee’s knees so I don’t need to say anymore.

Hey Karma was like using wikipedia for me, I discovered new words, I found out there is actually a place called Boise (no zombies) was re-introduced to American comedians from the 60’s and the time just flew by listening to the tunes.

So to sum up and give Hey Karma a score, 11 out of 12, if there wasn’t that cover it would have been 11 out of 11!!!

Not a great album but there are not many of those around but a wonderful album to LISTEN to, yes Listen the words are important.

Recommended highly enough for you to continue reading to the bottom and then use the links to purchase this Nostalgic,sarcastic album.

Highlight of the album: skipping track 6 🙂

Maybe one day Loudon Wainwright III will cover these songs on an album,now that would be a great one!!

Finally Mr Gaither my GRATITUDE to you for this your 4th album. My hat is off to you.


Michael Gaither was raised on the Central California Coast and takes the “write what you know” idea to heart, crafting songs that showcase both the nostalgia of small-town life and the foibles of modern technology, always with plenty of humor in the mix. He turned to songwriting after a background in journalism and a slight brush with standup comedy. (He sold jokes to Jay Leno. A long time ago. Back when Jay Leno was still funny.)Highway 17 video thumbOn “Hey Karma,” his latest (and fifth) release, Michael juggles his favorite themes of nostalgia, sarcasm and gratitude, taking on topics ranging from angels, to the zombie apocalypse to the nonsense world of corporate speak. Musically this is a minimalist record focusing on the lyrics, but he manages to fit in guitars, banjos, mandolins, ukulele, pedal steel, harmonica and even accordion. “Hey Karma,” released through Miracle Mile Records, is available at  Michael’s website and on CD Baby and iTunes.

Starlite video thumbAs an advocate for other artists, Michael ran a local open mic and booked and hosted a local concert series for several years, was a showcase emcee at the American River Music Festival (2007-2016), and still books/hosts the occasional house concert out of his Watsonville CA home.

Offstage, Michael produces/hosts the ten-years-running “Songs and Stories” podcast, which features stories behind his songs and interviews with other independent songwriters. You can listen to “Songs and Stories” here on the website site, in iTunes and Stitcher, and weekly on Grateful Dread Public Radio and KC Cafe Radio.

Michael plays both solo or with a band and is available for wineries, private events, house concerts and festivals. Want to book Michael? Have an available date? Send Michael an email or call (831) 288-2226.

Tod Pronto – Hide Away (From The Sun)

Tod Pronto is a singer/songwriter from the Green Mountains of Vermont. Tod has recorded 3 full length albums to date including his album “Nashville Stereo” that was recorded for B-Venturous records in Nashville, TN and his self-produced album “It Can’t All Be Wrong”. He also composes instrumental tracks that have received placements in television programs such as “American Pickers”, “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”, and a Golden Corral television commercial, among others.

His latest release, “Hide Away (From The Sun)” was written shortly after Tod sadly lost his mother to cancer, following a near ten year battle with the disease. It’s a song that means a lot to him as an artist, but it’s also one that reaches much further than what is personal – it’s about something that affects so many of us, and perfectly captures the emotions of the situation.

There’s a joyful sound to the song, rather than a melancholy one, but then to listen intently to the words is to bring in that overwhelming feeling of loss and sadness. This meeting of the high and the low is a wonderfully gentle and honest ballad of life, love and memories. The life described is one that was spent living and loving to the fullest, and what remains afterwards is not just the memory of this, – it’s something that can be passed on and shared and held close to your heart forever.

There’s an undeniable element of the personal involved, but for the most part the song is likely to reach out and touch the hearts of anyone who can relate to what the artist has been through.

It’s impossible to listen and not feel something. It is so openly and genuinely performed that, as one reviewer put it, “It’s the perfect way to draw attention to something as important as this. A beautiful, simplistic yet powerful piece of music, straight from the heart.”

Tod’s music combines folk, roots, country and blues to create a unique blend of Americana music. On stage, Tod engages the audience with both his music and his humorous and energetic storytelling that is always a highlight of the show. Tod has shared the stage with Jonathan Edwards, Ellis Paul and Livingston Taylor, among others.


“Tod Pronto is a bright light on the horizon. A gifted, energetic, connected singer-songwriter who knows well how to engage with an audience and deliver his heart on an acoustic platter. A pleasure to work with and a great value to Vermont and soon, the world.” – Jonathan Edwards

“A rootsy rocker in the early Steve Earle mode – not quite Copperhead Road but somewhere in the vicinity.” – Jonathan Aird Americana U.K.

“Tod’s music is unmistakably American; seeping in tradition while yearning to arrive somewhere outside the canon of conventionality.” – Ryan Hoffer – Shut Eye Records & Agency

“Tod’s lyrics are poignant, his melodies infectious and his voice is about as all American as you can get!” – Steve Bertrand Producer, Musician, Composer( “The Tories”, “Avion” )

Robert Kuhn – Maria The Gun

“Maria the Gun”  is a progressive album of multiculture American folk and rock and roll music.

This one dropped in the post the other day and I have only had time for a few listens while playing it on the radio but it caught my attention right away. I will certainly be giving it plenty of airtime. A full review will follow but the words “very good” will suffice for now.


Multicultural poet and musician Robert Kuhn was born in Houston, Texas and moved back in 2010 after bouncing around the world for twelve years. Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Australia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and Nicaragua all played home for him as different doors, jobs, occupations and art forms opened and led him on from an Academic All-American Line Backer to a vagabond fisherman farmer writing the critically acclaimed songs he has carried throughout the Americas. Broken hearts, broken backs, failed marriages, violence, riches, drugs, labor, poverty, music, poetry, dirt and salt; so it goes and continues.

Back in Houston, Robert joined forces with like-minded musicians (including extraterrestrial ancient bluesman Little Joe Washington) and recorded the album “Everybody Knows”. It was Little Joe’s last studio work and recognized by the press as one of Houston’s Top Releases of 2014. The latest album, “Maria the Gun” is scheduled for release in August of 2017.

Robert currently lives in Galveston, Houston and on the road through the Americas where he is still sharing the unique and philosophical independent folk, blues and multilingual psyche-rock and roll Americana music that he writes and finds. It is honest at the least and esoteric at its best.

Worldly Journeys Reflected in Song

Folk-blues musician Robert Kuhn’s adventure began when he bought a one-way ticket to Argentina. He had graduated from Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University, where a football scholarship had gotten him into school but injuries frequently kept him off the field. After graduating, the English literature major had an itch to travel – and like many before him, that

itch came from reading Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” “I grew up

in Houston, but I’d never been to Mexico,” he says. “It didn’t even occur to me that you could just drive there. Or that you could continue on into Guatemala. So me and a buddy decided that’s what we were going to do.” Then the buddy bailed. So Kuhn purchased airfare to Buenos Aires with little more than a few changes of clothes, a couple of books and a guitar. He moved about Central and South America for more than a decade, working odd jobs and odder jobs, watching the drug trade pass from South America on its way to the United States. He got married. And he also wrote songs. Some of those appear on “Everybody Knows,” a fascinating debut album with worldly colors that reflect his travels, as well as some bluesy shadings that represent his Houston roots.

Home again
As often happens to someone on a border-crossing journey, Kuhn returned to Texas in 2010 with more stories and life experiences than money. While teaching in Chile for a year, he also played music and worked as a puppeteer. He spent a year in Costa Rica. During a stay in Colombia, he remembers feeling his room shake when a bomb went off in Cartegena prior to an election. He was in Venezuela in 2002 when Hugo Chavez was ousted from office for two days during a coup d’état. His longest spell in one place was six years on Little Corn Island off the coast of Nicaragua, where he worked as a fisherman and farmer. “There weren’t really any venues to play music exactly,” he says, though he found plenty of opportunities to play anyway. “You’d still get paid in other ways. Sometimes you’d get cooked a big pot of food.” Being out on the water as a fisherman, he got to see the drug trade up close. “You’d have pirates, police, all sorts of chases and see drugs get thrown overboard and then pulled back in. A lot of these places were recently war-torn regions, so everybody there had seen plenty of violence.” Kuhn wrote the entire time he was in the south. Much of what he wrote was for a book he’s now editing. But he also came out of it with songs. Upon his return to the United States, he settled briefly in Houston, where he worked at a shirt factory, which he describes as “awful, just awful.” But it allowed him to take care of things he didn’t need in Central America – like a car – while also trying to find open stages at night.

On the island
Kuhn moved to Galveston and started playing nights at places like the Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe and Rip Tide. From those sets a band started to form. He was participating in an open mic in the Heights one night when local blues great Little Joe Washington happened in selling some of his albums. “I remember reading about him,” Kuhn says. “So I asked if he’d like to do a song. I gave him my guitar, and I played harmonica.” Washington liked what he heard that night, and since then Kuhn has been playing harmonica in his band. Washington also played guitar on three songs on “Everybody Knows.” Kuhn recorded the album nearly a year ago at SugarHill Recording Studios. The album is difficult to pin down. His travels have lent some of the songs an international flavor. “Tear Your Love” has a reggae lilt, and the Spanish-language “Mujer Chinandegana” is – at least judged by my sketchy Spanish comprehension – an invitation to dance, as is the title track. But elsewhere, the record takes folk and blues constructs and places them in intriguing, sometimes dark arrangements that suggest alternative pop and rock. The bluesy “How Long?,” with Jahrel Pickens’ pulsing keyboards, suggests “Time Out of Mind”-era Bob Dylan. Claire Silverman’s cello adds a somber but beautiful tone to songs like “Aurita.” Kuhn’s voice – cracked, raspy and expressive – ties the recording together. His vocals sound as well-traveled as Kuhn himself. Kuhn is 35, an atypical age to put out a debut album. But he has a large stash of songs from which to draw for his next recording and no regrets about spending his 20s the way he did. “In a lot of cultures getting away like that is almost mandatory,” he says. “I met some Germans when I was down there. Their families were shoemakers. But when you grow up and first get out of the house, you’re supposed to get away from it for a while. You’re supposed to shed who you used to be.”


Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards have a vision for their band’s sound: bold and elegant, schooled in the lyrical rituals of folk music and backed by grooves that alternately inspire Cajun two-stepping and rock-n-roll hip swagger. Cellist Valerie Thompson (cello/vox), fiddler Jenna Moynihan (fiddle/vox), and bassist Natalie Bohrn(bass/vox) pair their sophisticated string arrangements and rich vocal harmonies to band leader Laura Cortese’s poignant and powerful singing. For their forthcoming album, the band is exploring their special and less common instrumentation with the support of Sam Kassirer, album producer of folk-pop favorites like Lake Street Dive and Joy Kills Sorrow.

The new record has a wide emotional and sonic scope. The four voices are just as much instruments as they are providers for lyric and harmony. At times its rowdy, delicate and cinematic. The result is a sound that can start as a string band, and morph into a string quartet, female acappella group, or indie band; all while staying honest and true to their identity as folk instrumentalists. Watching them on the main stage at a summer folk festival, or tearing it up late-night at a club, you get the sense that they might snap some fiddle strings or punch a hole in the bass drum. This is post-folk that seriously rocks.

Cortese grew up in San Francisco and moved to Boston to study violin at Berklee College of Music. She has since immersed herself in the city’s vibrant indie music scene and enjoyed a busy sideman career, which has included appearances with Band of Horses at Carnegie Hall, Pete Seeger at Newport Folk Festival, and Patterson Hood and Michael Franti for Seeger’s ninetieth birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden. Her vocals and fiddle have been featured prominently on numerous albums including Rose Cousin’s Juno award winning album “We have Made a Spark”, Arc Iris fronted by Jocie Adams (Formerly of the Low Anthem) and on “Wild Flowers” the newest release by Belgium based Bony King.

Jenna Moynihan is an acclaimed fiddler at the forefront of a new generation of acoustic musicians and is a graduate of Berklee College of Music. Her unique style is rooted in the Scottish tradition, with influences from the sounds of Appalachia. Jenna’s love of the music has taken her across the U.S., Canada, France & Scotland, performing with various groups including Darol Anger, The Folk Arts Quartet, Atlantic Seaway, Matt Glaser, Våsen, Hamish Napier (Back of the Moon), Maeve Gilchrist, Bruce Molsky, Fletcher Bright, Courtney Hartman (Della Mae), at Festival InterCeltique (Brittany, France), Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, and as a soloist with Hayley Westenra (Celtic Woman) at Symphony Hall in Boston.

Cellist-songwriter-composer, Valerie Thompson, grew up a classical cellist in a household filled with the music of Bach, The Beatles, The Chieftains and the blues. Entranced by dance music in her teens, she supplemented her formal cello studies by attending summer folk camps and studying Irish step-dance and American clogging. She graduated with honors from the Berklee College of Music and holds a Masters of Music in Contemporary Improvisation from New England Conservatory with honors. She has shared the stage with acclaimed jazz pianist, Fred Hersch; indie-rock icon, Amanda Palmer; multimedia artist, Christopher Janney; and CMH Records’, Vitamin String Quartet (including a guest appearance on CW’s TV show, Gossip Girl.) In addition to performing with the Dance Cards, Valerie has toured nationally and internationally with musical projects Fluttr Effect (world music-infused progressive rock,) Long Time Courting (neo-traditional Irish/ American quartet) and Goli (songdriven chamber duo).

Natalie Bohrn is a 2014 graduate of Brandon University’s School of Music. In 2012 Natalie was included among the Women of Distinction at Brandon University, selected by her teachers for her outstanding contribution as a musician to the school and to the province of Manitoba. Before obtaining her degree in 2014, Natalie Bohrn toured professionally across Canada, including points as disparate as the Gulf Islands in British Columbia, Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories and St. John’s, Newfoundland. Supporting Canadian post-folk band Fish & Bird, she has played in California, Boston and New York. Graduating from Brandon University “With Great Distinction” in May, 2014 and moving to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Natalie now fronts her own project, records as a session bassist, and plays electric and upright bass for a host of Winnipeg-based bands, including internationally touring folk-blues outfit, The Crooked Brothers.



Recommended If You Like: The Head and the Heart, Lumineers, Fleet Foxes, Vance Joy

… And I’m too afraid to be alone

At its core, attraction is a wondrous thing. How many stimuli have that kind of physical and emotional control over the individual? To be moved so vividly by someone else that your behavior changes in their presence; to feel that strongly about another human being; it’s natural, and yet it often feels totally unnatural. Attraction is as powerful as it is beautiful, an overwhelming sensation that Driftwood capture perfectly in their new song “Too Afraid.”

Oh am I falling for your lies again
Falling for your lies again
But you look so damn good

If I look into your eyes again
Look into your eyes again
Well it feels like going home

Listen: “Too Afraid” – Driftwood


City Lights - Driftwood

City Lights – Driftwood

.A song about falling uncontrollably hard for someone else, “Too Afraid” focuses on the fatal attraction experience: “Sometimes there are women that strike your fancy to the point where you lose a bit of yourself,” explains Joe Kollar (vocals/banjo).

It’s also easy to lose oneself in Driftwood’s music. The band pulls upon a pastiche of warm American roots and folk influences, landing somewhere in-between The Head and the Heart and The Lumineers in terms of sound, while offering a fresh, if not timeless perspective on the individual experience through harmonious music and lyrics. The group’s instrumental arrangement – which consists of Dan Forsyth on guitar and vocals, Joe Kollar on banjo and vocals, Claire Byrne on fiddle and vocals, and Joey Arcuri on bass – might be considered ‘traditional,’ but they wield their instruments with polished grace. In a music landscape where electric so frequently replaces acoustic instrumentation, Driftwood’s music provides an anchor to a past that is still very much the present.

Driftwood © Marc Safran

Driftwood © Marc Safran

“Too Afraid” opens with a sweetly seductive interaction between fiddle and bass, where the fiddle plays a hypnotic, repeating arpeggio sequence over punctuated bass hits. The combined effort is light, yet incredibly evocative: In a sense, it’s the perfect backdrop for a personal story. “Oh am I falling for your lies again,” sings Kollar as the verse opens. His words are raw and humble, his demeanor vulnerable as he places this interest over himself. That elevation of another, and the subsequent submission and reduction of oneself, becomes especially resounding in the chorus and second verse:

But I’m too afraid
Yes I’m too afraid to be alone

You talk like you should be my friend
Talk like you should be my friend
So tell me what it is that you want

Oh am I losing all my lines again
I’m losing all my lines again
But you look so fucking good

In his explanation of this song, Kollar notes that “Too Afraid” is, for him, about “the power of a beautiful woman,” but the song is obviously so much more than that. “I’m too afraid to be alone,” he sings. Sometimes we know something is bad for us, but we want it anyway. Loneliness is one of the hardest to cope with – so perhaps that special someone isn’t right for you, but at least it’s something. Rather than explore the intricacies of that mess, Driftwood stick to the surface and leave the diving to the listener.

“I think everyone knows someone (close or distant) that makes them weak in the knees and maybe act differently as a result,” says Kollar. Those who have known love, and perhaps more so those who have known a truly fatalattraction, can easily relate to Driftwood’s lilting melodies and uncertain, scrambling lyrics. It doesn’t matter who you are, or how confident you might appear. Every Samson has his Delilah.

The true spirit of Americana – PDX songwriter Anna Tivel drops album today

Anna Tivel
Small Believer

Rave reviews from Huffington Post, Culture Collide…

The new album from Portland songwriter Anna Tivel is out today on Fluff & Gravy Records! She’s been getting some wonderful press from the new album, and we’ve just sent out hard copies to radio folks all across the US, Canada and Europe.


Culture Collide:
“This is the true spirit of Americana, and Tivel captures it with an intimacy and simplicity that speaks volumes.”

Huffington Post:
“Tivel’s lyrics combined with the wistful and longing notes paint a picture that is at the same time heartbreaking and hopeful. Her songwriting has been called viscerally moving and I have to..


For Portland, Oregon songwriter Anna Tivel, the open road is more than a way to bring her songs to new places, it’s also a near-endless source of stories. On her new album, Small Believer, Tivel taps into the stories she hears every night, after every show. “When you’re touring,” Tivel explains, “you’re naked onstage each time. You’re doing this vulnerable thing in front of strangers and it encourages people to open up themselves.” You’ll see it after one of Tivel’s shows, a young woman who steels up the courage to go up and speak to her. Something in a song has touched this person and her story comes tumbling out, tears streaming down her face. It’s powerful to watch, and a testament to the intimate connection between the songwriter and the audience. For Tivel, herself a naturally soft-spoken introvert, perhaps people see in her the struggle they see in themselves to be heard in such a noisy world.

The songs on Small Believer were written while Tivel was touring, but also in-between shifts at the odd waitressing job, or driving Meals on Wheels in her spare time. She has an extraordinarily keen eye for recasting the images she sees into song, so that a homeless man drawing comfort each day while sitting and watching a building go up, brick by brick, becomes the song “Riverside Hotel.” A chance conversation with a neighbor, also a waitress, who makes an empty promise becomes “Last Cigarette.” Each image or moment that burned itself into Tivel’s memories becomes a launching pad for a larger story that she spins into song. And each song of Tivel’s is full of blazing moments that go on to implant themselves into her audience, touching each person. It’s a turning cycle, a spinning wheel of time, movement, and stories that defines Tivel’s passage.

To make Small Believer, Anna Tivel drew on her close community of friends and collaborators in Portland, starting with Austin Nevins (Josh Ritter, Della Mae), who produced the album. Nevins shared a deep love for the kind of quiet stories Tivel loves to tell. Nevins brought together Portland collaborators to make the understated accompaniment that pervades the album: slow-driving fiddles, accordions, electric guitars moving beneath and supporting Tivel’s soft words. Released on Fluff & Gravy Records, label-head John Shepski has long championed Anna’s music along with other great, unheralded Northwest songwriters across genres.

Even in Americana as a genre today, people tend to forget that the best songwriters are great storytellers, and the best storytellers source their material from what they observe around themselves. The best songs don’t need to be complex or virtuosic, they just need to mean something to someone. That’s how they last.

Jaimie Wyatt – Felony Blues

Jaime Wyatt’s life story is about as country as it gets. After a recording contract fell through when she was 17, Wyatt developed a drug problem that ended in her robbing her dealer and going to jail. She spent eight months in county jail and came out the other side with a new lease on life—along with the seven tracks that constitute Felony Blues. Those include a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Misery and Gin” and the original composition “Stone Hotel,” an exuberant track about making peace with jail life (“Time holds still at the stone hotel / three free meals on the county bill.

Wyatt was born in Los Angeles but grew up in rural Washington, near Seattle. Country music was a big part of life for her family;  distant relatives on her mom’s side even lived in Bakersfield. The capital of California country music’s influence can be heard throughout Felony Blues.

“My mother’s extended family played country in Bakersfield. I never knew that, I was just always drawn to that kind of singing,” Wyatt says of her distinctive twang. “I remember seeing a pedal steel in their trailer, their double wide.”

For all intents and purposes Wyatt is outlaw country through and through. “I just like to take country and fuck it up” she tells me, paraphrasing Shooter Jennings, a good friend of hers. “I try not to get too frustrated with labels on that. I do think it’s funny that the outlaw country thing is so big right now, calling it that even is funny. Most folks don’t know about living outside of the law.”

Chelsea Williams – Boomerang

“What better way is there to express yourself than through music?” asks singer-songwriter Chelsea Williams. Her question is almost rhetorical, as Williams, in full obedience to her heart’s most urgent commands, documents her emotions in song in ways that can feel astonishing. Sometimes those feelings are carefree and luminous; other times they’re troubled and turbulent. But when channeled through her captivating voice and intoxicating melodies, they work their way into the thicket of your senses before coming to rest in your soul.

Whether Williams is the music industry’s best- or worst-kept-secret is open to debate. Sure, she’s performed on The Today Show and has opened for big names such as the Avett Brothers and Dwight Yoakam, and she’s even had a high-profile guest shot on a Maroon 5 video, dueting with Adam Levine on the group’s No. 1 smash “Daylight (Playing For Change).”

But the truly incredible part of the golden-voiced chanteuse’s story has taken place at Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, where she’s performed acoustically for the past few years. During these appearances, Williams has managed to move an unprecedented 100,000 copies of her three indie records – Chelsea Williams, Decoration Aisle and The Earth & the Sea. Her customer base has even included the likes of Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard, who was so impressed by what he heard that he bought a CD. Even one of Williams’ biggest influences, singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow, walked away with an album.

“The Promenade is huge part of my life,” says Williams. “It’s one of the only spots that I know of in Los Angeles that has such a high volume of foot traffic. People are out and about enjoying themselves, and they know that they’re going to hear musicians. It’s incredible when I get comments like, ‘I was having a really bad day, but your music totally brought me out of it.’ That’s what I love about music myself – the ability to take somebody on a journey that they weren’t planning on.”

Kirk Pasich, President of Blue Élan Records, might not have been anticipating such a journey when he first caught one of Williams’ outdoor gigs, but he quickly knew it was one he wanted to take over and over. And so now we have Williams’ debut on Blue Élan, Boomerang, a thoroughly winning and transcendent mix of Americana, indie-folk and lush pop that places the young artist front and center among the preeminent performers of the day. “My aim with this record was to maintain integrity, creatively and musically,” she states. “I wanted to let creativity rule the process and not be afraid to step outside of what was expected of me.”

Williams musical journey began early. Born in Columbus, Ohio, she was still an infant when her mother picked her up for a move to Glendale, California. “My mom had dreams of being a songwriter herself,” she explains. “She was always writing and playing guitar and singing around the house. I used to fall asleep in the living room while listening to her playing music with her friends. I think it all sort of seeped into my head and stayed with me.”

It wasn’t long before Williams joined in on her mother’s living room jams. “It just seemed very natural to me,” she says. “Music always pulled me in. We would go to Disneyland, and I would always run toward the stage whenever a band was playing. I just wanted to be a part of it.” Her mother’s CD collection – Carole King, Todd Rundgren and James Taylor were favorites – made the first impression on Williams, but she soon discovered Bob Dylan. “We didn’t agree on Dylan,” Williams laughs. “I think my mother didn’t like his voice, but it seemed so beautiful to me.”

By the age of 13, Williams took up the guitar and started writing her own first songs. “It seemed so normal to me because that’s what my mom and her friends were doing,” she remembers. “I didn’t even worry about whether what I was writing was good or bad. I just enjoyed doing it.” In high school, her listening habits included solo artists such as Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan and Elliott Smith, but she eventually discovered bands like Radiohead and the Pixies. Williams recalls how hanging out with the “indie rock kids” at school led to an interesting musical exchange: “I introduced them to Dylan, and they hipped me to Death Cab for Cutie. It was pretty cool.”

Even before graduation, Williams hit the local clubs and coffee houses, and once she had her diploma in hand she made her way onto the stages of Hollywood, performing at the Knitting Factory, Hotel Café, Room 5, and On the Rocks. “They were great learning experiences, but in truth, I didn’t like to play those gigs,” she explains. “They didn’t pay very well, and you oftentimes had to go out of pocket just for the chance to be seen and heard.” Williams discovered that busking on the streets of Glendale offered a better opportunity to get her music across. “There were people walking around with Starbucks cups, and you had little kids trying to break dance,” she says. “The people really listened.” From there, she decided to take her act to the burgeoning outdoor scene of the Third Street Promenade.

With the Santa Monica Pier and the Pacific Ocean as her backdrop, Williams truly found her voice. Recording her music on her own (“I did a lot on my computer with GarageBand”), she found enthusiastic buyers willing to lay down $5 and $10 a CD. Connections were made – people gave her business cards and asked her to sing on sessions – one of them being producer Toby Gad, famous for his work with Beyonce and Natasha Bedingfield. The two worked on a collection of songs that yielded a full album, which strangely enough, resulted in Williams’ first taste of heartbreak.

“Toby pitched me to Interscope, and they bit,” she explains. “They said, ‘We love you and we love the album, and we want to release it as soon as possible.’ I was thrilled.” And then, a perplexing thing happened… as in nothing happened. “The label wanted me to do more writing, which I did, but then it became obvious that they weren’t going to release the album,” she says. “I couldn’t understand it.”

At first, Williams was crushed and even briefly considered quitting music (“I considered becoming a geologist”), but after extricating herself from the deal she realized it was all for the best. “After I got some distance from the album I’d recorded, I felt like it didn’t represent me anymore,” she says. “So I dusted myself off and hit the streets again, and after a while things came back around.”

By the time Williams met up with Kirk Pasich at the Promenade, she had a batch of new songs that would fully reflect her commitment to processing emotions with honesty, courage, hope and humor. Working with producer and multi-instrumentalist Ross Garren (Kesha, Ben Folds, Benmont Tench), she turned those songs into Boomerang, an album that grows in depth and meaning with each listen.

On the wistful pop symphony opener “Angeles Crest,” Williams paints a vivid picture of her childhood, envisioning the mountains she and her mother once drove by. With clear-eyed perception she looks back at the road once traveled and stares down the future on “Fool’s Gold” (“I wrote it right when I parted ways with my prior label. It’s me processing the situation”). Opening her throat with the bracing line “I was frozen by a mighty cold wind,” Williams further recounts that painful label experience on the aching country ballad “Dreamcatcher.” “Out of Sight” is a striking, chilling piece of torch-song blues, on which she casts off a previous personal entanglement with the mantra “out of sight, out of mind.” But on the buoyant, aptly titled “Rush” she finds herself caught up in the dizzying first flush of a new love. “It’s all about being in that moment,” she says, “all the crazy fears and hopes that come with the possibilities of a relationship.”

A stronger, wiser but no less hopeful Williams looks back on the recording of Boomerang thusly: “For me, this record has been an exercise in taking the reins and forging my own path in music and in life. I had never been given a record budget that came with so much creative control before. With that kind of freedom came a greater sense of responsibility and a greater pride in the work we were creating. I am so proud of the record Ross and I created.”

And with a characteristic note of levity, she adds, “I’m so happy that I didn’t give up music to become a geologist.”