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.
“This is the true spirit of Americana, and Tivel captures it with an intimacy and simplicity that speaks volumes.”
“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.
Born in Portland Oregon and raised in Santa Cruz California, Moshé grew up spending summers in Israel and winters throughout Latin America, Moshe incorporates his life experiences into his original songs to create music without borders, with musical influences from around the world.
Moshe has been writing & performing original songs since age 13. In 2004, Moshe released “Revolucion” with his world music group Universal Language. An album featuring 12 of his original songs sung in English, Spanish & Hebrew. The group toured throughout the west coast packing venues and headlining festivals including Earthdance, Sierra Nevada & Reggae On The River where they were joined by Michael Franti (a video of which is on the UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE tab of this site) As players moved out of the area & country and Moshe settled down into family life, the group took a hiatus, with occasional reunion shows.
2016 found Moshe returning full circle back to his roots as a singer songwriter with the release of “Lost & Found”. One of the last projects recorded at Gadgetbox Studios in Santa Cruz, the album features 13 original songs performed live in studio. The album features all acoustic instrumentation, & some of Santa Cruz’s finest players. The album was put onto heavy rotation on AAA Americana radio station KPIG where it is often requested.
2017 finds Moshe writing more than ever as he draws on his life changes, including the birth of his daughter Isla on July 6th. He has written the material for his 3rd album which will be his most intimate effort yet. He is performing mainly as a solo artist showcasing songs from his previous two albums and his forthcoming album bringing honest, heartfelt original live music to his audiences.
The new album from California songwriter Kyle Alden is a refreshing blend of American folk, Irish roots, and old poetry.
Kyle Alden: Down in the West Volume 2
Images of the American West are spread throughout the compelling new folk and Americana album, Down in the West Volume 2, from California songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Kyle Alden. Rivers running on, old growth redwoods, falling-down barns, horse stables… But there are really two Wests in this album: the Pacific coast of America and the West of Ireland, the sources of many of Alden’s musical inspirations. Here he blends the two worlds effortlessly, pulling additional ideas from that other source of Irish-influenced Americana: Appalachia. These three cultural touchstones all share the same rugged, pioneer landscape, reflected clearly in Alden’s music. Here, rough-and-tumble County Kerry Irish polkas, original and traditional, rub shoulders with newly composed cowboy songs that speak of the loss of the American West. Throughout, Alden’s wry sense of humor and rich folk baritone carry the songs into interesting new territory, pushing the tradition away from a sense of somber history and into a place that speaks to our modern world with old words.
MORE INFO ON KYLE ALDEN’S NEW ALBUM
In making Down in the West Volume 2, Kyle Alden brought great musical friends together in the San Francisco Bay Area. American Irish fiddler Athena Tergis (Riverdance, Green Fields of America) joins in on the tunes, along with San Francisco acoustic music vets like folk singer Rory McNamara, pianist David Smadbeck, pedal steel player Robert Powell (Peter Gabriel, John Lee Hooker), bassists Scott Thunes (Frank Zappa, The Waterboys, The Mother Hips), and Paul Eastburn (Spark & Whisper). These players join Alden’s own instrumental and vocal work on the album, which features him playing mandolin, tenor banjo, guitar, and bass. The songs on the album are drawn from a wide variety of sources. Alden’s original songs, like the twang-heavy folk song “Better Than New,” the Irish dancehall delight “The Nancy Song,” or the evocative ballad “Fall Day Gone,” combine with songs from traditional sources, like the Appalachian and Irish classics “Sail Away Ladies” and “Sam Hall,” or rarer sources, like the beautiful song “George’s Street” from San Francisco Irish songwriter Vince Keehan. In a nod to Alden’s 2011 album, Songs from Yeats’ Bee-Loud Glade, which featured the poetry of W.B. Yeats’ set to song, here Alden resets a poem from British poet W.H. Auden in a rolling folk-rock setting.
Down in the West Volume 2 is a snapshot of the wide-roaming mind of Kyle Alden, both as a songwriter and as a tunesmith/instrumental musician. The album effortlessly blends American and Irish traditions in a setting so natural that the listener would be hard-pressed to find where one tradition ends and the other begins.
Weightless, the second Sugar Hill offering from singer/songwriter Liz Longley, offers a natural evolution in her sound. Produced by Bill Reynolds (Band of Horses, Avett Brothers), this date uses the meld of pop Americana that established her reputation and grafts on indie and rock & roll. Recorded at Fleetwood Shack in Nashville, Longley, Reynolds, and a small cast of players straddle a line between contemporary country’s hooky melodicism (sans production staples like fiddles, steel guitars, and banjos), 21st century indie rock, and the country-pop/rock that songwriters like Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell, and Carlene Carter embraced in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Longley‘s trademark as a lyricist is in writing unflinching narratives, but these songs, whose topics include the attainment of freedom at any cost, loss, vulnerability, and the acceptance of change no matter how difficult, are particularly steely. Assembled they form a poetic — and kinetic — meditation on relationships and personal transformation. The pulsing new wave keys in “Swing” frame an intimate vocal before electric guitars and tom-toms thunder in from the margins. Longley‘s grainy falsetto declares: “Can’t settle me down/Or make me stand still/Can’t hold me back, nobody ever will….” The title track underscores that theme as her protagonist cuts free from a destructive relationship. A strummed acoustic guitar hovers about under her initially hesitant vocal, but in the chorus, punchy electric six-string guitars and crashing cymbals shore up the singer’s conviction; the tune gathers steam and becomes an anthem. “Say Anything You Want” balances a rough and tumble Neil Young & Crazy Horse-style attack with an infectious melodic hook, it’s among the best things here. Longley finally places “Rescue My Heart” — an aching ballad used in both ABC’s Switched at Birth and MTV’s Scream: The TV Series — on an album. The resigned and determined lyrics in “Never Really Mine” are complemented by a cinematic arrangement that blurs the lines between Americana, vintage rock, and indie pop. The slow rocking “Electricity,” adorned in reverb, drum loops, acoustic piano, and layered backing vocals in choral style, is glorious indie pop. “Oxygen” seamlessly melds dreamy pop atmospherics and indie rock into a dramatic close. Its lyric bets on love as the force of redemption. Longley‘s been heading toward Weightless for a while, yet fine as it is, it still sounds like she’s on the road to something bigger, wider. That’s a not a criticism: Musical evolution is part and parcel of what makes pop music compelling. To hear this songwriter’s growing confidence as she moves from strength to strength is a privilege.
Featured today on NPR Music, Seattle Americana songwriter Sera Cahoone has released her new single, “Ladybug,” from her upcoming album, From Where I Started (to be released March 24, 2017). After years at the top of the indie charts with her past albums on Sub Pop Records, Cahoone has returned to her roots in the country, folk and Americana influences she grew up with.
“Ladybug” tells the tragic story of Cahoone’s cousin, who was murdered by her partner. It’s a song about the shock of loss, and the catharsis of working to move forward. It’s a powerful story that’s being shared now on NPR.
Tour Dates with Gregory Alan Isakov and Tift Merritt
Cahoone will be joining Gregory Alan Isakov on the road for a series of tour dates supporting both Isakov and Tift Merritt. Check them out:
* – Supporting Tift Merritt
** – Supporting Gregory Alan Isakov
2/19 – Kansas City, MO / Knuckleheads *
2/22 – Baton Rouge, LA / Red Dragon Listening Room *
2/23 – Conroe, TX / Dosey Doe Music Cafe *
2/24 – Austin, TX / 3Ten @ ACL Live *
2/25 – Dallas, TX / Three Links *
2/27 – OKC, OK / Blue Door *
3/1 – St. Louis, MO / The Duck Room @ Blueberry Hill *
3/3 – Louisville, KY / Kentucky Country Day School *
3/4 – Nashville, TN / City Winery *
3/5 – Atlanta, GA / City Winery *
4/19 – Lawrence, KS / Liberty Hall **
4/20 – Tulsa, OK / The Shrine **
4/22 – Sante Fe, NM / Meow Wolf **
4/23 – Flagstaff, AZ / The Orpheum Theatre **
4/24 – Tucson, AZ / Rialto Theatre **
4/26 – Santa Barbara, CA / Lobero Theatre **
4/27 – Santa Cruz, CA / The Catalyst **
4/28 – Petaluma, CA / McNear’s Mystic Theatre **
4/29 – Sacramento, CA / Crest Theatre **
4/30 – Arcata, CA / Humboldt Brews **
5/1 – Eugene, OR / HiFi Music Hall **
5/3 – Vancouver, BC / The Imperial **
5/5 – Calgary, AB / Commonwealth Bar & Stage **
5/6 – Billings, MT / Pub Station Ballroom **
5/7 – Laramie, WY / Gryphon Theatre **
Oh My Goodness is the first solo record by songwriter and keyboard ace Donnie Fritts since 2008, and only his fourth since 1974. He was a quiet, integral member of the legendary Muscle Shoals session crew that delivered so much pop, soul, and country to the annals of music history, and afterwards played an equally important role in country and R&B circles as a session man, writer, and arranger. His songs — including “Breakfast in Bed,” “We Had It All,” “Choo Choo Train” (redone in a great new version here), “Take Time to Love,” and “Rainbow Road” — have been recorded by dozens of artists. Producer John Paul White (ex-Civil Wars) also acted as arranger and musical director and issued the set on his Single Lock label. While visiting Fritts, White heard him sing while accompanying himself on his weathered Wurlitzer; some tunes weren’t his but he played them as if they were. White coaxed Fritts into building an album around his voice and instrument, and assembled a revolving cast including Alabama Shakes‘ Brittany Howard and Ben Tanner, Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, John Prine, David Hood, Reggie Young, Spooner Oldham, the Secret Sisters, Dylan LeBlanc, and various horns and strings. The track list includes originals with choice covers. “Errol Flynn” (written by cabaret singer Amanda McBroom — she also penned “The Rose” — and Gordon Hunt) is a daughter’s elegy of tribute and loss to her father. Fritts‘ world-weary voice recalls Levon Helm‘s; his Wurlitzer digs through White‘s guitars, Tanner‘s pump organ, and horns. Another standout is a unique arrangement of Jesse Winchester‘s “Foolish Heart,” with New Orleans-style brass (including tuba), upright piano, and White and LeBlanc‘s voices. Things get bluesy too. Check this reading of the ubiquitous “Memphis Women & Chicken (co-written with Dan Penn and Gary Nicholson). Hood‘s hard-grooving bassline adds just a trace of funk to the 12-bar progression and Bryan Farris‘ leads sting. “Tuscaloosa 1962” touches the Band‘s greasy intro to “Up on Cripple Creek,” with Isbell dealing out a snarling slide guitar. The reading of Gene Thomas‘ 1971 breakup single “Lay It Down” is killer. Fritts‘ earthy country-soul vocal is framed by strings, horns, pedal steel, and a stirring gospel-inspired backing chorus. Paul Thorn‘s forlorn ballad “Temporarily Forever Mine” is a wistful hymn of surrender and longing with only violin, cello, and Young‘s signature guitar playing as accompaniment. The title track closer is a moving love song with Oldham‘s piano as the only instrument. It’s low-key but passionate. The lyrics express eternal devotion and gratitude to his beloved; the separation of death will not breach its strength. Tenderness and vulnerability are openly expressed, revealing humility, desire, and even wisdom. Oh My Goodness is informal and intimate, but with enough grit and groove to make it a joy. Given its quality, one hopes that Fritts will record again, and soon.
With her debut solo album, War Surplus, Nashville singer/songwriter Becky Warren relays the affecting, gritty and candid tale of the relationship between an Iraq-bound soldier named Scott and his girlfriend, June. As the story unfolds, the two meet, fall in love, and then struggle to hold it all together when he returns from his deployment a changed man living with the echoes of PTSD. From the record’s award-winning lead track “Call Me Sometime” straight through ‘til the last note, Warren’s potency as a songwriter is on full display, as she weaves a compelling musical narrative rooted in her own life experiences and the rich sounds of Americana and rock & roll, all the while channeling the bold yet unaffected spirit of Neil Young, the compassion and grit of Steve Earle, and the fiery, bourbon-soaked vocals of Lucinda Williams.
Supporting Warren on War Surplus (out Oct. 14) is an impressive cast of Nashville musicians including guitarist and pedal-steel player Paul Niehaus (Calexico, Iron & Wine, Justin Townes Earle, Bobby Bare Jr.), drummer Dillon Napier (Margo Price), and Adam Wakefield (2nd place, The Voice), who sings backing vocals on “Call Me Sometime” and plays organ and accordion throughout the record. This talented pickup band joined Warren this past March for six days of sessions at analog-obsessed Nashville studio Welcome to 1979, with Warren’s friend and bassist Jeremy Middleton—a military veteran himself—handling production duties. “The fact that Jeremy had, in his own life, been through some of the same experiences on the record made him a perfect fit,” Warren says. “I had over 30 songs I could have used—he really helped me sift through everything and choose the ones that best told the story. And he did a lot of arranging.”
Beyond the top-notch musicians, brilliantly crafted songs and tasteful production, part of the reason War Surplus hits with such impact is the very personal, almost autobiographical nature of Warren’s material. Just like the June character she created, Warren married a soldier back in 2005. A week later, he was deployed to Iraq and eventually returned home with PTSD. After four tumultuous years of trying to work through the fall out, they eventually, amicably, split. So while Scott and June are characters, and their story is a fictional account, Warren has the advantage of knowing what it’s really like—of being able to draw from a deep well of personal experience, and it lends the record a powerful authenticity and empathy. And to take the writing beyond the scope of her own experiences, Warren also drew from several veteran-penned memoirs, in particular My War: Killing Time in Iraq by Colby Buzzell, a book that inspired War Surplus standout “Stay Calm, Get Low,” and ultimately led to Buzzell—a freelancer for New York Times and Esquire—writing the album’s liner notes.
A record concerned with real human stories, War Surplus is also refreshingly devoid of political posturing, and deeply respects the experiences of veterans and their friends and family. “The album deals with some heavy themes,” Warren says, “but it was also important to me that it be catchy and fun to listen to. I know it’s a really polarizing song, but I’ve always loved Springsteen’s ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ It’s a serious song about Vietnam vets, but people still have a good time shouting along to it in stadiums.”
Long before Warren struck out on her own as a solo artist, all the way back in 2003, she played in Boston alt-country outfit The Great Unknowns, who signed to Amy Ray’s Daemon Records, toured with the Indigo Girls, and were praised by everyone from Maxim to No Depression. The band released the first of its two albums, Presenting The Great Unknowns, in 2004. But it wasn’t long before Warren’s struggles with her husband’s PTSD led her to take an extended break from music. “The whole time I wasn’t writing, it was very painful for me,” she says. “I couldn’t even really listen to music because it made me feel terrible. I was thinking about everything I was missing.”
Within a month of her divorce, though, she was writing again, and would eventually record a second Great Unknowns album, 2012’s Homefront. Though her old bandmates were now scattered across the country and unable to tour, Warren kept cranking out powerful songs, including “Call Me Sometime,” which won her the 2014 Merlefest Songwriting Competition and the 2015 Kerrville New Folk competition. It’s an impressive feat when you consider the past winners of these contests—career artists like Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett and Gillian Welch.
A 12-song concept record, War Surplus is Warren’s most fully realized work to date. The project began in earnest in 2012 when she attended a Johnny Mercer Foundation writing program where she met several artists who were involved with musical theater. “I was really interested in their process,” Warren says. “The way they focus on characters, and what motivates them.”
Warren wrote War Surplus’ alcoholic anthem “She’s Always There” during the Mercer program. From there, Scott was born, and with Warren’s more ambitious character-driven perspective, he took on a life of his own. “I could interact with Scott,” she says. “Talk to him, think about him. It was therapeutic. Writing a song, you’ve gotta get your thoughts to a razor’s edge because you don’t have that much time.”
With this new solo debut on the way, Warren is busy gearing up for a run of full-band and solo dates in support of the release. She hopes the record will resonate with a wide range of fans while raising awareness about veterans and PTSD. “There are so many people out there who have gone through similar experiences,” Warren says, “and I want to do everything I can to make them feel like they’re not invisible. And maybe at the same time, the record will lead some people to learn more about veterans’ issues, and take some positive action.”
Have you ever heard a Trautonium played? It is a “fragile, metal-keyed synthesiser from the late 1920s of which only two models exist.” It sounds like glass. Agnes Obel managed to get hold of one to perform on ‘Citizen of Glass.’ It’s an album inspired by the German concept of ‘Gläserner Bürger’. The title’s literal translation means “the amount of available information about each and one of us: how transparent we are to those who look at and for us.”
Just like glass, Agnes Obel’s music is delicate yet shielding, something you can see through but can’t directly touch. The Danish Berlin-based musician plays with historical instruments, like the spinet and celesta, putting them side by side with sampled sounds and voices so manipulated that they shift out of herself to become someone else all together. This happens on ‘Familiar’, where her timbre is pitched down to create a duet with a male voice.
Maintaining her distinctive elegant mood, Obel’s music here is more concrete than in her previous works, making an album that’s both a compelling and charming listen.
Boston native Sean McConnell has been a presence in country and roots music since the early 2000s, releasing a string of highly regarded independent albums and writing songs for major artists like Rascal Flatts, Martina McBride, and Brad Paisley, among others. With his rich, warm tenor and melodic, pop-Americana sound, he’s seemed poised for a breakout for a number of years. A decade-and-a-half after self-releasing his debut (at the age of 15), the life-long independent makes his label debut on Rounder Records. Recorded and produced in Nashville by Ian Fitchuk and Jason Lehning, this self-titled ten-song set offers a sound that is rooted in county, but borrows from the soaring melodic notions of contemporary indie folk. There was always an inward-looking nature to McConnell‘s earlier albums, but here he delves even more deeply into his own past, wielding his nostalgia in autobiographical vignettes that reveal childhood experiences, people he’s loved, street names, and deep-seated emotions. From the haunted reflections of heartland rocker “Ghost Town” to the earnest “guitar kid from Hudson” in lead single “Queen of St. Mary’s Choir,” he paints a vivid picture of his life’s journey from naive teenager to Nashville songsmith and family man. The production is fairly robust, though not so slick that it detracts from McConnell‘s soulful, earthy delivery. He’s not really breaking any new ground musically and there are plenty of singer/songwriters working in this familiar milieu of introspective roots-pop, but McConnell‘s innate earnestness and hard-earned sense of craft ultimately carry him on this solid release.
Marcus Blacke new self-titled album, out now via Three Sirens Music Group, is a lot of things. The Australian’s latest 12 songs go from deep and emotional to dripping with socio-political subtext to something more traditionally categorized as Americana – but one thing it is not, is comfortable. Regardless of what Blacke is singing about in his unique vocal style – and, with equal weight, playing guitar (more on that later) – you are there to feel it. And believe me, you will.
People spend their life avoiding feelings. I’m not writing songs so people can dance. I want them to know it is okay to feel something. We’re built to be melancholy sometimes. – Marcus Blacke
The album may be far from “easy” listening, but it is well worth the emotional journey that Blacke takes you on. And speaking of that guitar work, and all the music really, it provides the perfect backdrop; bucking convention with twists and turns of its own – it is recorded as raw and searching as the lyrics themselves. The first contemporary connection my brain makes with Marcus Blacke is one of my earliest musical hand-holds, Elliott Smith. Smith’s music had such a profound effect on me during his life, more so in death as I was growing up and trying to be an adult. Something to go back to, something to fall back on when I needed it. I find Blacke’s songs here provide the same musical template for my required emotional attach/detachment. It’s no surprise, to me anyway, that I gravitate towards Blacke’s “Only Orchid” and “Holding Tokens”, while also having great regard for “Russian Orchard” and “Master of Eden”. Blacke is nothing if not honest and humble throughout not just these 4 songs, but for all of this album’s material – 12 expertly crafted lyrical and musical compositions that will stick with you long after it’s run-time is over.