"Often when young singers connect with soul or blues legacies, they don angels' wings — reaching for transcendent big notes within arrangements as clean and full of echo as a megachurch. Not Anderson East. The Athens, Alabama, native, who's lived in Nashville since his days at Middle Tennessee State University, has a natural rasp in his voice and a predilection for the sexy, gritty side of roots music. East started as an acoustic guitar strummer doing songwriters' round robins near Music Row, but after working with Sturgill Simpson's and Jason Isbell's producer Dave Cobb, he's turned toward the funky sounds that grew up just down the road from where he did. His new recordings come from Muscle Shoals, Alabama — and it's a pretty perfect fit.
"Satisfy Me" is one of five live tracks East recorded at Fame, the same studio where his hero Wilson Pickett laid down classic tracks like "In the Midnight Hour." Working with a stellar band that includes Jeremy Fetzer of Steelism on guitar, Humming House singer Kristen Rogers on backing vocals, Sugarland bassist Annie Clements on bass and Chris Powell (who works with Jamey Johnson) on drums — not to mention the jumping horn section of Wesley Winfrey and Fredrick Weathersby — East delivers a collar-grabbing performance that's both nuanced and passionate. The song itself, which East co-wrote, plays expertly with the poetics of cajolery that singers like Pickett pioneered. "I've got a PhD. in TLC," East moans, and who wouldn't believe him? He's clearly absorbed every necessary lesson.
"Satisfy Me" appears on a live EP streaming on Spotify starting April 7, and the studio version is part of East's eclectic, fully formed debut album, Delilah, coming in July on Cobb's Low Country Sound imprint for Elektra Records. Writing his own version of the resurrected rhythm and blues sound his neighbors in the Alabama Shakes and St. Paul and the Broken Bones have so vibrantly taken nationwide, East champions sweat, sweet emotion and getting a little dirty. It's a classic approach that feels real, and is bound to bring him success."
- Ann Powers, NPR
Simon Balto is a writer of folk and alt-country songs from southern Wisconsin. His music draws from a range of influences, both musical and not. More than anything, the style and storytelling are especially informed by the hills of southwestern Wisconsin that were his early home, and by the people he’s met there and in travels around the country. An avid writer and reader, Balto's songs focus on narration: workers and lovers, mothers and sons, the dying and mourning, the prideful and the abused. His work has garnered praise from critics at No Depression and a range of other places. The Irish music publication Deadly Music! has compared his songwriting to top-of-his-game, Blood on the Tracks-era Dylan. The Chicago-based music curator Music Means Family said the following: “An unbelievable talent, his layered folk ballads are reminiscent of Baez and Dylan, Guthrie and Prine. There is a deeply satisfying component to each of his songs – a reminder of home, woodsmoke, and the first traces of your breath as winter begins to settle.” He has been featured on Big Top Chautauqua's Tent Show Radio, Daytrotter, and has supported and shared stages with a wide range of regionally and nationally acclaimed artists in recent years, from Jason Isbell to Field Report, Peter Mulvey to Communist Daughter, Count This Penny to Horseshoes & Hand Grenades.
CHRISTOPHER PAUL STELLING
"Christopher Paul Stelling is not alone in taking the stage with just an old guitar and the stomp of his foot. What sets him apart is an imagination that is completely his own, yielding stories that feel like parables that you slowly realize have never before been told.
His imagination also lives in his fingertips as he traverses from country blues to flamenco to claw hammer banjo all on his trusted "Brownie," an old nylon string guitar that's been traveling the globe with him for years. He has no rule book. He sees no limitations. He is an anthology of his influences and he is the first one of his kind.
When you see him perform, you know you are watching a true artist moving forward with intensity, focus, and direction. One who wants to take you along for the ride but you must trust him and go where he wants to go because nothing can change the course. As we await the release of his third record, Labor Against Waste (out June 16 via ANTI- Records), please introduce yourself to Christopher Paul Stelling."
- Joe Fletcher
Kristin Diable has been exploring freedom and choice in her music ever since she picked up an open mic at a lounge in Baton Rouge and stunned the audience into silence. She rode that vibe, away to New York and then back to her native Louisiana like a storm front, one that shook New Orleans and cooled the air. And her newest album, Create Your Own Mythology, invokes her Louisiana and Americana roots, while firing a rock-and-roll shot across the bow of borrowed myths.
Producer Dave Cobb expands upon a stellar year that had seen Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Lindi Ortega’s Tin Star, and Jason Isbell’s Southeastern all arrive to critical acclaim–here he does double duty, producing and also standing the front lines on guitar. Cobb is known for spurring his performers to find their truest voices, and this is Diable’s richest and most elaborate album to date.
It takes a person to write an album, but a good album writes a person too. Kristin realized Create Your Own Mythology was fighting its way into the world during her force-of-will tour, which alighted in Europe and Africa in 2013. Cut loose from the norm, discovering new venues almost as fast as she could perform in them, she found swimming in her head new songs about holding on, letting go, patience, and faith in the face of futility. And about penning your own rules and your own reality.
From the gospel notes of “True Devotion”, written in Morocco during a Ramadan sunset, to the wistful universal waters flowing through “Deepest Blue”, Diable weaves a dense, bewitching net. The idea of embracing the infinite unknown and finding freedom, clarity through the trials we experience along our journey as human beings is explored in songs like the lead single, “I’ll Make Time for You”, and “Eyes to the Horizon”. The latter has been used twice in HBO’s Treme performed by the character, Annie.
Rumi wrote, “Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that, and I intend to end up there.”
Kristin says that music is her ticket on that journey to the soul’s distant elsewhere, and this new album is her invitation to the listener–not to follow her on her mythical path, but to go questing for their own. That’s a journey that will require some suffering, and acceptance, and evolution and honesty–these are the tokens hidden in these songs, smoothing that hard path, leading us away, and leading us home.
The Mississippi River makes a hairpin turn in Baton Rouge before swerving unstoppably into the Gulf of Mexico. As it slowly zigs and zags like a cautious alcoholic, rich sediment sloshes loose onto the sun-baked Louisiana turf. It’s lush country. Things grow here. New Orleans grew here. Kristin Diable grew here and is still growing. And myths grow here like sugarcane does: fast, tall, and sweet.
SMOOTH HOUND SMITH
Smooth Hound Smith is a foot stompin' American roots duo comprised of "One-Man-Band" Zack Smith (guitars/vocals/foot drums/harmonicas) and Caitlin Doyle (vocals/percussion). Established in 2012, and currently based in East Nashville, TN, they record and perform a varied and unique style of folky, garage-infused rhythm & blues. Using primal foot percussion, complex, fuzzed-out, finger-picked guitar patterns, warbled harmonicas, tasty harmonies and A LOT of tambourine, they are able to create something rugged and visceral- a modern interpretation of early blues, soul, and rock 'n' roll music that harkens back to the traditions of hazy front porch folk songs as well as raucous back-alley juke joints.
The duo has traveled over 70,000 road miles, playing over 500 shows in over 30 states in the last two-and-a-half years. They've shared the stage with artists such as Justin Townes Earle, Robert Earl Keen, Nikki Bluhm & The Gramblers, The David Mayfield Parade, Matthew Perryman Jones, Charlie Parr, Possessed By Paul James, Shawn Mullins, and more. Their self-titled debut album received "top adds" on Americana Radio in early 2014, as well as garnered attention from media outlets such as Nashville's independent radio, WRLT Lightning 100, and publications like American Songwriter and RELIX Magazine. In addition, the music of Smooth Hound Smith has been featured on MTV's The Real World as well as the Esquire Network.
Most recently, they were named as a finalist in the 2015 Durango Boots Sole Performer Contest, and have secured a coveted slot at the 2015 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, TN, headlined by Billy Joel, Mumford & Sons, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, and more.
Smooth Hound Smith's second full-length album is due out in the summer of 2015, and they will be touring heavily in support of it for the foreseeable future.
It’s a short drive from Nashville, TN, to Muscle Shoals, AL: 125 miles, or about two hours if your foot’s on the leaden side, and you’ve left one musical Mecca for another. Thanks to Nashville instrumental duo Steelism, though, that gap is bridged in the time it takes to listen to a track. Comprising guitarist Jeremy Fetzer, pedal steel player Spencer Cullum and backed by some of Nashville’s finest young musicians, Steelism blends an eclectic array of vintage and modern influences to create instrumental music that truly sounds like nothing else.
Though Steelism is new to the music scene, Cullum and Fetzer are not, having backed artists like Wanda Jackson, Johnny Fritz, Rayland Baxter and Andrew Combs. The two met while touring the U.K. with Nashville songstress Caitlin Rose, quickly bonding over their shared love for classic movie soundtrack composers like Ennio Morricone and ‘60s instrumental acts like Booker T. and the M.G.s, The Ventures and Pete Drake. Writing together between sound checks, the duo realized it was time for the sidemen to become frontmen, and Steelism was born.
“Steelism allows us to musically explore in our writing and take performance chances we couldn’t get away with in any other project,” Fetzer says.
Though the two grew up on different continents (Cullum hails from Essex, England; Fetzer from Canton, OH), Cullum and Fetzer were cut from the same musical cloth, as becomes immediately evident whenever they take the stage. Their debut EP The Intoxicating Sounds of Pedal Steel and Guitar was met with critical acclaim, with American Songwriter’s Sean Maloney calling Steelism “instantly recognizable – surf, country, blues, all steeped in soul and heavy on the grooves – but astoundingly outside the contemporary vernacular.”
“We’ve always been into the idea of playing a strong melody—something you can hum—rather than soloing,” Cullum explains.
The duo’s full-length debut 615 to FAME releases via Single Lock Records (founded by Ben Tanner of the Alabama Shakes, John Paul White of The Civil Wars and Will Trapp), with marketing and distribution from Thirty Tigers, on September 16, 2014. Half recorded at Muscle Shoals’ historic FAME Studios, where Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding all tracked hits, 615 to FAME was produced by Fetzer and Cullum with co-production from Ben Tanner, and contributions from longtime Nashville-based collaborators Jon Radford (drums) and Michael Rinne (bass). Featuring 10 original instrumentals and one cover, 615 to FAME announces Steelism as one of Nashville’s most exciting new acts.
Steelism’s compositions don’t need lyrics to tell stories. “Marfa Lights” is a krautrock-inspired instrumental influenced by German bands like Neu! and Can, with its title taken from the paranormal lights of the Marfa, TX sky. “Cat’s Eye Ring” is fit for a Spaghetti Western, named for a ring belonging to a mother protecting her children during the Battle of the Alamo. The album’s only cover track is the swirling, psychedelic Pete Drake number “The Spook,” which showcases Cullum’s faithful but updated homage to the late Nashville pedal steel legend and Fetzer’s heavier take on the track’s opening refrain.
As Ben Tanner explains, “Great instrumental rock and roll, sadly, has become a lost art, but Steelism is resurrecting that tradition and adding new chapters of its own, and while they may not have a singer, they certainly have great things to say.”
Hayward Williams thought he was about to die in an airport. Returning home from an Australian tour, the American singer and songwriter was tired and gaunt. As he fought his way through the terminal in San Francisco, it seemed as though he might miss his connection home to the Midwest, and then something started to feel very wrong. “My heart was racing, and I was feeling nauseated and dizzy, like I was going to pass out,” Williams recalls. Later, as he sat in the emergency room with an IV in his arm, the doctors delivered their diagnosis: “Exhaustion.” What really happened to Williams will come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever had an honest to god, clinical panic attack. What brought it on may have been nothing unusual. “I was getting married in 20 days, and that’s a big life change. I began to realize that I was going to have to grow up, maybe”.
Yet something both mental and physical changed within Williams at that airport. Panic metastasized into fear of panic - the self perpetuating terror that he might, at any moment, collapse in terror for no good reason. It crippled his stage show. “I would have to isolate myself before a show, spend most of my time trying to hold back catastrophic thoughts”. To avoid vomiting on stage, he started playing all his songs tuned down and at half speed, so as not to tense his diaphragm. He recalls, “If this is how I am now, how can I continue to do my job, the only thing I’m qualified to do?” He entered therapy and started a course anxiety and depression medications. They eased the panic, but altered his creative personality, and left the question: who are you when you’re no longer able to be your native self?
The slow, doubt-stricken, but steady process of learning how to think, feel, write and perform again is the backdrop of THE REEF, Williams’ first new album since that day in the airport. “I could count back from zero / I could take off from the start / Is it just like falling in love? / Will I know my part?” he sings in the haunting title track. Other songs explore his long history with anxiety. “‘High Street’ is about how I hate being at parties and around a lot of people”, he says of the album’s ironically raucous opener: “You know me, I’m at your feet / Put that foot toward the door”. “It’s about how I always try to convince Kathleen [Williams’s wife] that we should leave early”. The next track takes Williams into even more vulnerable territory. “‘If I Go Under’ is a call home more or less, saying, ‘This is me, this is how I’m feeling.’ I felt like I was going to drag her down with me,” he says. The plaintive refrain asks: “If I go under, will you go under with me?” Fans of Williams’ soulful voice won’t be surprised to hear him finally inhabiting straight-up soul territory in the new songs and arrangements, complete with layered horn sections and call-and-response backing vocals from the sibling duo of Matt and Kate Lorenz (Rusty Belle).
Recorded live to tape in a whirlwind two days of sessions at Sonelab Studios in western Massachusetts, THE REEF blends a Van Morrison-esque R&B with the loose energy and charm of The Faces, all underlined by rock-solid grooves. Produced by critically acclaimed songwriter and veteran of the Americana circuit Jeffrey Foucault, and featuring Billy Conway (Morphine) on drums and Jeremy Moses Curtis (Booker T) on bass, with Williams, Foucault and the Lorenz siblings sharing the singing, THE REEF is built not around leads but around the interaction of voices with rhythm and texture. “We didn’t want a lead guitar”, Williams says. “We thought we could add one later if we really needed it. But then we realized that Matt and Kate’s voices were the lead instrument, the thing the held each song together, and that was more exciting”. Live-tracked in one room, with each song captured in the course of only a few takes, THE REEF pulses with an electricity of feeling, an authenticity of moment vanishingly rare in contemporary recording. At center is the naked vulnerability in every weathered crack of Williams’ voice, cast out on the reef, calling out.
Anna Vogelzang has been making songs since 2000, playing them in public since 2003, and driving them around the country since 2007. Her melody-driven, multi-instrumental folk-pop ballads have been met with warm reviews (9/10, PopMatters) & landed her at festivals, conferences, and on bills with some of her heroes, including Sara Bareilles, Gillian Welch, Mirah, Anais Mitchell, Laura Gibson, Wye Oak, Steve Poltz, Amanda Palmer, & many more. Anna is currently touring in support of the Driftless EP, a home-spun, steadfast collection of gritty new-folk songs, many of which were written in 2014 as part of the song-a-week project RealWomenRealSongs. In 2015, she will return to the studio to work with producer Todd Sickafoose on her fifth LP. Vogelzang plays the banjo, ukuleles, guitar, and kalimba on stage, but has always been a singer who loves words and feelings first and foremost.
Ladders is a 4-piece rock band from Milwaukee, WI. The group formed in 2014 around the spectral, wandering songwriting of Daniel Mitchell (formerly of the Honest Sleeves). An early version of the group consisted of Mitchell and guitarist James Sauer (also of Donovan The Shark). Currently accompanied by drummer Myles Coyne (also of Myles Coyne and the Rusty Nickel Band, Animals In Human Attire and Temple) and bassist Dan Oberbruner, Ladders' songs have increasingly incorporated classic rock, power pop, country and post rock influences. The group's first album, ""Suha,"" which features a contribution from Chris Porterfield of Field Report, will be released by the Bread King label on Oct. 30, 2014. Songs from the album have appeared on FM 102.1, 91.7 WMSE and The Milwaukee Record.
Duke Otherwise might not be Noah Riemer’s real name, but this slightly off-kilter stage character Mr. Riemer has developed is very real to his audience members. His zany show features his clever and thoughtfully composed original songs, wild dancing, and storytelling which all highlight his offbeat sense of humor--oft times catching children and adults unawares.
Performing family shows is Duke’s forte ́. “It’s a delight to scan the crowd,” says the Duke, “and see the children in uproar and really enjoying themselves. But it’s just as gratifying to see the adults reacting the same way and the beautiful camaraderie between them and the kids. I love it when I see them exchange glances and smiles after a funny lyric or an unexpected twist in the song.”