Music City Roots feat. Deer Tick, Tristen & Minton Sparks
To be perfectly honest, I kind of wished I’d dreamed up this lineup myself. There’s the unkemptly countrified indie rock of Deer Tick, which (formerly) local frontman John McCauley and his Diamond Rugs bandmate producer Steve Berlin nudged toward more formal songcraft on latest album Negativity. Then Tristen, who’s charming crowds with the fanciful electropop of C A V E S just as readily as she did in her previous girl group-inspired, folk-pop incarnation. Next, local literary powerhouse Minton Sparks, a speaker-songwriter who inhabits the stubborn spitfire dignity of her Southern gothic female characters with the rhythmic cadence of a country blueswoman. And finally, Canadian outfit The Deep Dark Woods, whose expansive, reverb-hazed alt-country arrangements and wintry crooning gave this year’s Jubilee a sort of sneaky magnetism, and the winking Western quartet Sheriff Scott and the Deputies, led by photographer-songwriter Scott Simontacchi. I won’t be so glib as to say there’s something here for everyone, but I will say this: There’s something here for a helluva lot more someones than the place will hold.
Providence RI | Alternative
John McCauley and Deer Tick have long walked a tightwire between total despair and fractured resilience, but Negativity represents a heroic leap forward on virtually all fronts for the Providence, Rhode Island-based band. Recorded earlier this year in Portland, Oregon with legendary producer/musician Steve Berlin (The Blasters, Los Lobos, and last year’s McCauley side project, Diamond Rugs), the album –Deer Tick’s fifth full-length studio release, and follow-up to 2011’s acclaimed Divine Providence – is McCauley’s most personal work thus far as well as the band’s most undeniable and universal, their famously freewheeling musical approach refined here into a gloriously cohesive whole.
Deer Tick – sounding as sure-footed as one would expect from a band who have spent a couple of hundred nights each year on stage for more than half a decade – more than match the strength of the songs by taking a more detailed approach than on some of the breakneck recordings of their past. From the sparkling baroque pop of “The Dream’s In The Ditch” (penned by guitarist Ian O’Neil) to the full-blown Memphis showstopper, “Trash,” Negativity sees the Tick bridging boozy punk, AM gold, bar band blues, country soul, and whatever else catches their fancy into their own profoundly American rock ’n’ roll. Additional sonic color comes courtesy of magnificently arranged brass accompaniment by Austin, Texas’s GRAMMY®-winning Latin fusion collective, Grupo Fantasma.
While Deer Tick have been rightfully hailed for their raucous rave-ups and substance-fueled fervor, Negativity places considerable focus on the band’s nuanced and tender side, with notable highlights including the wrenching breakup ballad, “Hey Doll,” and the stunning “In Our Time.” Written from his father’s perspective, the song is a timeless country tearjerker featuring McCauley’s good friend, singer/songwriter Vanessa Carlton singing duet vocals in the “role” of his mom.
“I guess I’ll catch you on the other side,” McCauley sings in the album’s final moment, a promise that, despite the pain and fatalism and yes, negativity, he’s here for the long haul. Heartbreaking, fist-pumping, and ultimately life-affirming, Negativity stands as an indisputable high water mark for Deer Tick – a defining collection from a rock ’n’ roll band driven by an undying faith in the power of redemption and transcendence.
The Deep Dark Woods
Saskatchewan Canada | Singer-Songwriter
The Deep Dark Woods frame their music with subtle orchestration; songs are trimmed with minimal embellishments of banjo, piano, with subtle mellotron flutters. Drummer and multi-instrumentalist Lucas Goetz's layers heartbreaking arches of pedal steel under the clarity and warmth of Ryan Boldt’s voice. Newest member, organ-player Geoff Hilhorst furnishes the songs' edges with slurred polyphonies, while surefooted, danceable basslines and rich second vocals belong to Chris Mason. Burke Barlow's clarion guitar tone and lead lines are focused and impeccable.
Nashville TN | Spoken Word
Imagine, if you will, Flannery O'Connor and the ghost of Hank Williams having an affair that results in the birth of an illegitimate child . . . . I have seen Minton Sparks. And if she’s not the ghost child of the woman who wrote Wise Blood and the man who sang ’I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive,’ then cotton doesn’t grow in a cotton field.
— Marshall Chapman, writer for Garden & Gun
Minton Sparks is a wildly original poet, performance artist, novelist, teacher, and essayist born in a Tennessee college town and raised among her Southern family in and around Arkansas. She earned degrees from the University of the South and Vanderbilt University. Her appearances range from the prestigious Jonesborough National Storytelling Festival all the way to the American Songbook Series at Lincoln Center in New York City.
Minton’s books, Desperate Ransom and White Lightning, and her writing have received wide acclaim from NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered and BBC’s Bob Harris Show. Her performances have enthralled audiences across the United States and Europe. Her DVD, Open Casket, and three CD’s, which feature blues sensation Keb Mo’, the legendary Waylon Jennings, and the internationally acclaimed Irish songstress Maura O’Connell, are sought after worldwide. She has appeared on stage with Ben Folds, John Prine, Punch Brothers, Jacob Dylan, Rosanne Cash, and country legend Pam Tillis. Minton was also chosen to perform at an exclusive TED.com event on Healthcare and the Arts in Nashville, Tennessee.
In addition to writing and performing, Minton teaches a writing/performance workshop, Create Your Story, at universities and professional organizations across the country. She recently taught at Summer Fishtrap in Enterprise, Oregon.
Nashville TN | Alternative
“If someone says, ’That’s a trite, pop chord progression that everybody uses and it always sounds cheesy, then I want to try and use that, and make it sound good,” Tristen says. It’s that kind of contrarian spirit and confident moxie that makes the Nashville-based singer-songwriter stand head and shoulders above her Music City peers.
Nashville-based? Singer-songwriter? … Goes by her first name? Do those terms fill your head with expectations of a precious, pint-sized female crooning middle-of-the-road pop with a precious tear-in-beer twang? Well, don’t let them. Because, beyond Tristen’s sharp-witted lyrical savvy and sophisticated song-craft, her innate ability to defy expectations will leave you hanging on her every note, even in Nashville.
“I’m not from here,” she says of the city she migrated to in 2007. “We didn’t wear so many dresses where I came from,” she goes on, explaining how she pulls much inspiration from the blue-collar suburb south of Chicago where she grew up. “When you have to struggle for everything that you have, when you actually start getting opportunities, you’re going to make sure to be completely prepared for them.”
How the singer immersed herself in Nashville, building up her chops and experimenting with ideas in a competitive incubator of exceptional musicians and songwriters, while waiting tables and living hand to mouth to tour on a shoestring budget shaped the songs and sounds on her earthy, acclaimed 2011 debut, Charlatans at the Garden Gate. But if Charlatans was the story of Tristen finding her voice in Nashville, the singer’s stunning new album CAVES is the sound of her defining that voice for the world, and setting it to some sleek, synth-pop-inspired tones, once again defying expectations.
In much the same way, “Forgiveness,” off the album, is hardly a song about forgiveness. “That’s my ’angry girl’ song,” she jokes, explaining that the song was actually inspired by an interview she heard with punk rocker/ writer/ pundit and pillar of male aggression, Henry Rollins, in which he says he forgives his dad by not finding him and beating him in the face with a hammer.
Not all of the songs on CAVES are as openly confrontational as “Forgiveness.” Relentlessly infectious opening track “No One’s Gonna Know” — which sounds like Kim Carnes taking on latter-day Leonard Cohen — is about gangsters. “Monster” is a menacing, minor-tinged stomper about having multiple personalities. By contrast, the gorgeous, lulling “Island Dream” plays like a spacey, sonic mini movie about existential dread and “searching for answers and not getting any.”
There are break-up songs on the album, too, like “Easy Out” and “Catalyst.” While songs like “House of War” and “Dark Matter” are sociological critiques about “being a terrible American,” she says. “Winter Night” — the album’s moody, resplendent centerpiece — was inspired by the Boris Pasternak poem of the same name.
Although, lyrically, CAVES covers a wide breadth of thematic territory, the album is unified by an aesthetic concept: She wanted to make a synth-pop record that combined Charlatans’ rootsy foundation by casting objects of obsessive Reagan-era influences like Kate Bush, Eurythmics and Echo and the Bunnymen in her own singular image.
“At first I wanted to make a dance record,” she says. “That’s where my headspace was. … I wanted to challenge the acoustic reverence of the Americana music world and I wanted to piss off the old folkies. Is there something wrong with that?”
Looking into Tristen’s backstory, it’s a musical Frankenstein that makes sense. “[Growing up] I had a Dolly Parton greatest hits album that I listened to on repeat,” she recalls. “That and Madonna’s Immaculate Collection, I always loved Madonna. And that’s actually why I wanted to be just ’Tristen,’ because I picked that up when I was 14 — [that’s when] I started writing songs.”
Later, much in the same away, she says a childhood obsession with ’60s girl-group pop and the Beatles would blossom into an adult obsession with classic singer-songwriter troubadours and legendary art-rock pioneers. “I would want to be an amalgam of Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Dolly Parton,” she says.
With a stellar set of songs locked and loaded for CAVES, the singer tapped luminaries from both ends of that musical spectrum to achieve a very specific goal. “I wanted to mix synthesizers with string arrangements and electronic drums with live drums so that you couldn’t tell which was which — I wanted people that were anti-digital to listen to it and not be able judge its authenticity by its acoustics,” she explains.
So, after tracking the record in Nashville with guitarist/husband Buddy Hughen and a hand-picked host of A-list Nashville indie-rock session vets, like Ben Folds drummer Sam Smith, she took the tracks to Bright Eyes producer Mike Mogis, who recorded Tristen’s own lush string arrangements at his ARC Recording Studios in Omaha, Nebraska. And to achieve an authentic synth-pop sheen, she enlisted famed New Order, Pet Shop Boys and OMD producer Stephen Hague, a pioneer in the field of digital recording to mix. “That was a game-changer,” she says. “Stephen gave the recordings dimension.”
“Tristen is a rare combination,” says Hague. “The lyrics of a real artist, the voice of a pop star, and the focus of someone who will always bring her A-game. It was a real pleasure for me working with someone who always has her eye on the bigger picture, and is always willing to try different approaches to the work.”
Tristen is releasing CAVES on October 15 on her own PUPsnake records via ThirtyTigers.
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."