Lubbock TX | Rock
"Let's not give away what all the songs are about," requests Amanda Shires via email - shortly after an hour-long interview discussing exactly that. "I think I prefer for the listener to decide for themselves what stuff means, because I always hate it when I think a song is about a horse, and then it turns out to be a damn trip to France ..."
And so, by artist request, there will be no handy track-by-track cheat sheet for Shires' new Carrying Lightning. But if you really can't deduce what the songs are all about on your own, then consider yourself equally blessed and cursed, because odds are you've never been knocked on your ass by the wrecking ball of human desire - the kind so lovingly bottled by the young Texas songwriter in the album-opening "Swimmer, Dreams Don't Keep":
"April was the last time I think I saw you
You were carrying lightning
The way you walked into the room,
If I was a flower I would've opened up and bloomed
I say I don't care, but I'm a liar
Look how easy a heart can catch on fire..."
That same charge of romantic/erotic tension courses throughout the entire album, which sways from innocent daydream ("Swimmer") to restless longing ("Love Be a Bird") to explosive lust ("Shake the Walls") to blissful contentment ("Sloe Gin") and, finally, back to wistful fantasy ("Lovesick I Remain"). The specific, behind-the-scenes details - such as who or what inspired each particular song, or to what extent each stems from Shires' own life vs. her sheer imagination - need not be divulged or even probed, because, as the mysterious little messenger in "Ghost Bird," "all feathers and a heartbeat," puts it best, "Baby, we're all running from the same things: broken hearts, broken homes, the tired and the loneliness ..."
"I guess the theme of the record as a whole is just, 'get wrecked in love - and be loved," says Shires. "Or, to steal a quote from Sylvia Plath: 'Wear your heart on your skin in this life.' That's my platform."
The quote may be borrowed, and the emotional terrain of the songs universally relatable, but Shires' voice is distinctly her own. Her Texas twang and fetching vibrato ("less goat, more note!" she teases herself with a laugh) can dance playfully around a melody or haunt a line like a mournful ghost, and she deftly employs her fiddle/violin, ukulele and even whistling skills to similar effect. The resulting sound is a beautiful but woozily surrealistic swoon - as well befits an artist who cites Leonard Cohen and alt-country dark horse Richard Buckner as two of her biggest musical influences. Or, as a review in Americana UK once observed: "At times, her energetic, jittery vocals and eccentric lyrical subjects mark her out as a young female heir to the godfather of strange, Tom Waits. In her more conventional moments, Shires sounds like the weird young niece of Dolly Parton."
In fact, Shires is just a down-to-earth, self-effacing West Texas gal currently residing in Nashville, working her tail off trying to find her niche in the music industry as an independent artist. In the recent Hollywood movie Country Strong, she played the fiddle player in the band backing Gwyneth Paltrow's fictional country superstar. In real life, Shires runs with a decidedly more left-of-mainstream-type crowd, including Jason Isbell (she sings and plays fiddle on the former Drive-By Trucker's latest, Here We Rest) and Justin Townes Earle (she's the lovely model gracing the cover of his 2008 debut, The Good Life). She also maintains strong ties to the Lone Star State, recording and occasionally performing with the Lubbock band Thrift Store Cowboys (which she joined while still in college) and sometimes even teaching fiddle at Texas Playboys' singer Tommy Allsup's summer music camp. She was only 15 the first time she played onstage with the Playboys (the Western swing band made famous by the late Bob Wills) - a mere five years after she coerced her father into buying her first fiddle, a lime-green Chinese instrument from a pawn shop in dusty downtown Mineral Wells, Texas.
In 2005, while still a regular member of the Thrift Store Cowboys, Shires released her solo debut, a mostly instrumental showcase for her traditional fiddle chops called Being Brave. But the fertile Texas music scene was overripe with side-person work for the talented young player and backup singer - so much so that Shires feared sliding into a complacency that, left unchecked, threatened to stunt her growth as a songwriter. So she relocated to Nashville - "to get uncomfortable and make myself grow some guts," as she put it once - and dived headlong into the process of writing and recording the first two albums to really put her on the roots-music map: 2008's Sew Your Heart with Wires, a collection of duets co-written and recorded with singer-songwriter Rod Picott; and what Shires calls her "true" solo debut, 2009's West Cross Timbers. Both were met with enthusiastic reviews and radio support, with the former being voted the fourth best debut album of 2008 by FAR (Freeform American Roots) Chart reporters and the later reaching No. 21 on the Americana Music Association Chart. The Gibson Guitar company featured Shires on their website as one of 2009's breakout artists, and No Depression called West Cross Timbers one of the 50 best releases of the year.
Shires was eager to get right back into the studio, but a busy touring schedule - averaging 120-160 dates a year, including at least one or two annual trips to Europe - necessitated that the follow-up to West Cross Timbers, be recorded piecemeal. "We did it over the course of 16 months in multiple sessions, just coming back and forth home to Nashville between tours," she says of Carrying Lightning, which she co-produced with Picott and David Henry at Henry's True Tone Studios. Fortunately, although it was hard to find time to lay down tracks, writer's block was never an issue for her.
"Some people only write when they're at home, but I just write, whenever or however I can," Shires says. "We ended up recording 20-something songs for the album, and the hardest part was trying to decide which ones to use. But having the whole process take so long is what ultimately helped give the record its shape and focus. I was really able to think about which songs fit together the best, as opposed to just, 'I'm going into the studio to make a record, and in two weeks I'll be done.' I had a lot of time to sleep on this one."
In fact, even now that the record's mastered, pressed and ready for release, Shires still isn't quite finished with it. Taking full advantage of the DIY promotional opportunities afforded by the age of social media, she plans to film videos for every song on the album, with "When You Need a Train It Never Comes" and "Lovesick I Remain" already uploaded to YouTube and more on the way. "We just shot one for 'Shake the Walls' today, and 'Ghostbird' will be next," she says. "I want 'Ghostbird' to be animated."
What's more, she's still haunted by some of the songs that didn't make the Carrying Lightning cut - if only because they didn't quite fit the theme of the rest of the record. Some of these she hopes to release before year's end as a separate EP.
"They were just too dark and would have seemed too random, I guess," she says of the orphan tunes. How dark? One of them apparently involved a girl getting her skin sliced off.
"Actually, that one was kind of a love song," she admits with a sheepish chuckle. "Maybe I should have left that one on the record!"
"Godfather" Waits would be proud.
Boulder CO | Rock
Looking back over the past 25 years of rootsy, string-based music, the impact of Leftover Salmon is impossible to deny. Formed in Boulder at the end of 1989, the Colorado slamgrass pioneers were one of the first bluegrass bands to add drums and tour rock & roll bars, helping Salmon become a pillar of the jam band scene and unwitting architects of the jam grass genre.
Though the lineup would change through the years, the foundation of Leftover Salmon was built on the relationship between co-founders Drew Emmitt (vocals, guitar, fiddle, mandolin), Vince Herman (vocals, guitar, washboard) and Mark Vann (electric banjo). Following a decade of constant growth and constant touring, on March 4, 2002, Mark Vann lost his battle with cancer. Vann insisted that the band carry on and Salmon did so for several years leading up to an indefinite hiatus in 2005.
If Leftover Salmon had never played another note after leaving the stage in 2005, the legacy would have been secure; the members’ names etched in the books of history. But today, more than two decades after Salmon first took shape, the band has a new album, Aquatic Hitchhiker, due May 22 on LoS Records, a new banjo phenom named Andy Thorn, and a new lease on an old agreement. Leftover Salmon is officially back.
The 29-year-old Thorn grew up a Salmon fan in North Carolina and says the band helped him realize “this is what I want to do with my life.” Ironically, it’s his presence in the group that has given Leftover Salmon new life. “Andy’s a real young guy with a lot of great energy who plays in a way that definitely relates to Mark’s [Vann] playing and he’s a lot of fun to be around, it’s led to a real revival that just clicks on some hard to describe level” says Herman. “We’ve played with some great banjo players over the past few years, and not to say anything about them being less than great musicians, but there’s just something intangible about playing with Andy that kind of makes Drew and I look at each other and grin. This is what we’ve been missing as far as that feeling between Drew, Mark and I that used to be there.”
Produced by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin, Aquatic Hitchhiker is Leftover Salmon’s first record in eight years and first ever of all original material. “Steve [Berlin] understood where this album needed to go and how we all needed to work together as a band to make it happen” explains Emmitt. Set for release on May 22, the recording process solidified the new Salmon, cauterizing old wounds and allowing fresh ideas to grow over past scars.
“The time is right for this band to come back on a lot of levels” says Emmitt. “It’s taken us a little while, but I think we’re finally there.”
Today, Leftover Salmon is: Vince Herman (vocals, acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin); Drew Emmitt (vocals, mandolin, acoustic and electric guitar, mandola, fiddle); Andy Thorn (vocals, acoustic and electric banjo, National guitar); Greg Garrison (vocals, acoustic and electric bass, acoustic guitar); Jose Martinez (drums, percussion).
Jonathan Scales Fourchestra
Asheville NC | Jazz
The steel pan, an amazing musical discovery born in the Caribbean nation of Trinidad & Tobago, is often times associated with sandy beaches, tropical climates, and cruise ships: that’s not exactly what you get at a show by the jazz/rock outfit, Jonathan Scales Fourchestra. Driftwood Magazine says “Scales is to steel pans ….what Bela Fleck is to the banjo—an über innovator.” The group is said to have “a Thelonius Monk-like attitude with a Mozart creativity that works.” (Pan on the Net)
Here you have, Jonathan Scales: a classically trained composer turned steel pan maestro who takes in influences from Igor Stravinsky to Kanye West and uses every element in between as a basis for his mind-bending compositions. Cody Wright’s technical yet melodic style on the bass pulls from masters Bobby Vega & Jaco Pastorius. His pick-style provides the harmonic foundation for Scales’ sound, while his solos leave audiences awestruck. Drummer Phill Bronson drives the Fourchestra’s time-shifting, modern grooves with a style stemming from his extensive background as a percussionist. He fuses his upbringing with his training, gracefully maneuvering through Jonathan’s complex rhythmic structures. The Fourchestra is a true mix of jazz edge and classical sensibility.
Steel pannist and virtuoso composer, Jonathan Scales, formed his ’Fourchestra’ in 2007 as a means to deliver his musically complex, but somehow accessible ideas to anyone willing to listen. The latest installment in his musical saga ,Character Farm & Other Short Stories, is a 45-minute dive deeper into the compositionally-twisted work of steel pannist . The nine original instrumental “stories” on the album take listeners from the primal Jam We Did to the lush Hallucinations of the Dream Chasers. The title track Character Farm takes the audience into an instrumental-fairy-tale of sorts, after the frantically emotional The Longest December. Guest appearances on the record include Jeff Coffin (of Dave Matthews Band), Yonrico Scott and Kofi Burbridge (of Derek Trucks Band fame) and the dazzling work of fiddle virtuoso Casey Driessen. â¨ â¨
“At the end of the day, Scales is going to be a major play in rewriting the books on steelpan music outside of the box.”(When Steel Talks)
Nashville TN | Country
Nashville TN | Singer-Songwriter
Mosey music is a study in contrasts. There's glitz and grit, reveling and wallowing, wretchedness and showmanship. Mosey music's pioneers wore their battered hearts on sequined sleeves. From Bakersfield to Galveston, the legends traded their tragicomic highs and lows for gold records and white Cadillacs. But that was then; the days of Buckaroos, Nudie Suits and various Hanks are over, save for the museum displays. To quote a George Jones title track, "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes?"
Enter Daniel Romano, a songwriter who delivers mosey croonin' and hard luck storytelling. While references to marquee names like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard are apparent in Romano's music, the obvious influences certainly don't demystify his talent. Romano works with equal parts authenticity and creativity, and his musical world is rich with archetypes and archrivals, wry observations and earnest confessions.
Romano's solo debut, Workin' For The Music Man (2010) announced a new artistic bearing. The follow-up, Sleep Beneath The Willow, was pure honky tonk poetry, and again received impressive response from all corners. The "dreamy homage to a bygone country-music era" (Globe & Mail) made the Polaris Long List, and solidified Romano's reputation as a solo artist.
Come Cry With Me furthers his Mosey aesthetic, musical and visual. Again self-produced and played, for the most part, by himself, Romano's new album continues with themes of bad choices, hard times, boozing and losing. Amidst the tales of woebegone orphans, family knots and broken hearts, there are spoken word yarns that recall Hank Williams-as-Luke The Drifter. Romano's deep rumbling baritone vocal dips serve, conversely, to lighten the mood, leaving no doubt that this artist knows how to deliver a punch line.
Nashville TN | Country
Jim Lauderdale is a Grammy® Award winning musician and one of the most respected artists working the Bluegrass, Country and Americana music communities today. He is considered one of Nashville's "A" list of songwriters with songs recorded by artists such as Patty Loveless, Shelby Lynne, Solomon Burke, The Dixie Chicks and George Strait, who has had numerous hits with Jim’s songs. Jim’s music has been featured recently on the ABC hit show “Nashville” and he had several tracks on the soundtrack of the successful film “Pure Country.” Jim is also in high demand as a player, touring with the likes of Lucinda Williams, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rhonda Vincent and Elvis Costello.
Jim, who frequently collaborates with legends like Ralph Stanley and Elvis Costello, is also a critically acclaimed solo artist with dozens of studio releases, including his latest Carolina Moonrise, written with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter and Buddy and Jim the critically acclaimed new duets album recorded with long time friend Buddy Miller of which Mojo states: “Miller and Lauderdale's duets has both the easy familiarity of old friends and the musicianship of old pros.”
In addition to making music together, Buddy and Jim also co-host “The Buddy & Jim Show,” recently described as “…highly entertaining…” by NPR’s Fresh Air. Each week Buddy and Jim invite artists to Buddy’s home studio in Nashville, where they tape performances and in depth interviews with a wide variety of artists and friends. Jim also hosts the popular Music City Roots each week from the Loveless Barn in Nashville and since winning "Artist of the Year" and "Song of the Year" at the first "Honors and Awards Show" held by the Americana Music Association in 2002, he has subsequently hosted the show each year.
Jim is the subject of a new documentary, directed by Australian filmmaker Jeremy Dylan called “The King Of Broken Hearts.” The feature length documentary tells Jim’s unconventional and prolific story from his North Carolina roots, being immersed in the country music scenes in both New York City and Los Angeles, to breaking through in Nashville as a songwriter.
Jim's musical influences, including the legendary Dr. Ralph Stanley and George Jones, can be heard in his songs with his unique sense of melody and lyrical expertise. He won his first Grammy Award in 2002 with Dr. Ralph Stanley for Lost in the Lonesome Pines (Dualtone) and then for The Bluegrass Diaries (Yep Roc) in 2007. In addition to previously mentioned releases, as a performer Jim is credited with production, writing and collaborating on over two dozen albums including Wait ’Til Spring (SkyCrunch/Dualtone 2003) with Donna the Buffalo and Headed for the Hills (Dualtone 2004) his first total project with Robert Hunter, Planet of Love (Reprise 1991,) Pretty Close to the Truth (Atlantic 1994,) Every Second Counts (Atlantic 1995,) Persimmons (Upstart 1998,) Whisper (BNA 1998,) Onward Through It All (RCA 1999,) The Other Sessions (Dualtone 2001,) The Hummingbirds (Dualtone 2002,) Bluegrass (Yep Roc 2006,) Country Super Hits, Volume 1 (Yep Roc 2006,) Honey Songs (Yep Roc 2008), Could We Get Any Closer? (SkyCrunch 2009,) Patchwork River (Thirty Tigers 2010) and Reason and Rhyme (Sugar Hill Records 2011.)
Jim's musical influences include the legendary Dr. Ralph Stanley and George Jones. These influences and his unique sense of melody and lyric help forge a sound that is truly his own. As a performer his credits include production, writing and collaborating on albums such as, "Wait 'Til Spring" with Donna the Buffalo, "Headed for the Hills” with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, "I Feel Like Singing Today" and the Grammy winning “Lost in the Lonesome Pines” with Ralph Stanley and The Clinch Mountain Boys.
His second solo bluegrass album, “Bluegrass Diaries” (Yep Roc 2007) won a Grammy in the “Bluegrass Album of the Year” category. His next album, “Honey Songs” was released in February 2008, and features an incredible lineup of musicians including James Burton, Garry Tallent, Al Perkins, Glen D. Hardin, Ron Tutt, Emmy Lou Harris, Patty Loveless, and many more.
Jim’s solo albums include “The Hummingbirds” (Dualtone 2002), “The Other Sessions” (Dualtone 2001), “Onward Through it All” (RCA 1999), “Whisper” (BNA 1998), “Persimmons” (Upstart 1996), “Every Second Counts” (Atlantic 1995), “Pretty Close to the Truth” (Atlantic 1994), and “Planet of Love” (Reprise 1991), as well as two releases in 2006, “Country Super Hits, Volume 1” and “Bluegrass” (Yep Roc), Grammy winner "The Bluegrass Diaries" (Yep Roc 2007), "Honey Songs" (Yep Roc 2008) "Could We Get Any Closer?" (Sky Crunch 2009) and "Patchwork River" (Thirty Tigers 2010).
"It's been a particularly great period for me," says Lauderdale. "Thanks to the records - I'm performing more and more, which I love. And I love that I can play the Opry one weekend, a jam-band festival the next and then a bluegrass festival the following week. That's really inspiring to me and I think there's a real thread there. The roots are the same for all of them and that's the music I'm interested in."