Andy Davis’s smart and seductive blue-eyed soul music weds indelible hooks to sly, incisive lyrics, creating songs that sound like newly minted pop-soul classics. A Louisiana native, Davis released his first album, “Thinks of Her,” in 2004. “Thinks of Her” struck a chord on college campuses, selling out its initial print run. The original pressing of the CD — with Davis’s hand-written lyrics and stenciled cover art — became a collector’s item within months of its release.
In 2005, the remastered rerelease of “Thinks of Her” gained Davis national exposure and brought him to the attention of legendary music producer Mitchell Froom (Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello). The result of their collaboration was “Let the Woman,” a sophisticated, sonically adventurous album that ignited a bidding war. Barnes and Noble won the exclusive rights to distribute “Let the Woman” online and and in their stores all over the world. The album’s single, “Brown Eyes,” became a staple on AAA radio stations nationwide, and “Let the Woman” became a #4 bestseller.
Davis toured extensively in support of “Let the Woman”, both headlining and opening for Colbie Caliat, Jakob Dylan, Mat Kearney, Will Hoge, Howie Day, and NEEDTOBREATHE.
The following year, Davis became a prominent member of Ten Out of Tenn, a critically acclaimed collective of Nashville singer/songwriters who joined forces for a collaborative tour that was documented in the award-winning documentary film, “Any Day Now.” In 2009, Davis returned to Nashville to record his latest EP, “New History,” which was featured in — and inspired — a recent episode of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.”
In March of 2011 Davis broke back onto the scene launching a Kickstarter campaign, asking fans to help fund his next album. He ended up raising over $41,000 in 30 days, and went to LA to make another album with Mitchell Froom and David Boucher. Bringing in acclaimed studio musicians Matt Chamberlain and David LaBruyere, Davis captured an album’s worth of songs in an oldschool style, abandoning the click track and focusing on real, live musical moments between he and the musicians. The result was a new full-length album, called Heartbreak Yellow.
Heartbreak Yellow was released on iTunes Jan 3, 2012, and was immediately in the top rankings of the Singer/Songwriter genre. A thoroughly contemporary artist raised on old-school rock and soul, Andy Davis’s infallible ear for hooks — for a well-turned phrase — and for the often irregular heartbeat of human relationships continues to engage longtime fans and win him new ones.
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. Comprised of 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.
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.
Aaron Mortenson and Jay Rutherford set out to make their debut Los Colognes album in the mold of the great JJ Cale records of the ‘70s. Working Together is parched desert country blues at its best—full of relationships gone south, one-liners that make you think twice, and slow-burning boogie woogie. After a name change and three years tightening their sound and soaking up the remaining strains of classic country music in Nashville, Los Colognes’ Working Together reflects the simple but straight-on lyricism of John Prine, the unhurried grooves of Cale, with a touch Mark Knopfler’s mid-‘80s Dire Straits polish. “Just stay on the train until you feel like you got enough,” explains Mort on the band’s recording studio philosophy. The duo would bring in different players on each session, then take the tapes home to work on them some more, blending in a “soupy, random quality,” says Jay. Though Working Together deals with the unraveling of one particular relationship, Los Colognes have distilled things here to their universal core. After a decades-long musical partnership—writing 500 shitty songs together, Mort jokes, and fully finding their sound—this is the good stuff.
From the first bars of HEAL, the exhilarating melodic stomp of “Goshen ’97” puts you right into Tim Showalter’s fervent teenage mindset. We find him in his family’s basement den in Goshen, Indiana, feeling alienated but even at 15 years old, believing in the alchemy and power of music to heal your troubles. “The record is called HEAL, but it’s not a soft, gentle healing, it’s like scream therapy, a command, because I ripped out my subconscious, looked through it, and saw the worst parts. And that’s how I got better.” HEAL embodies that feeling of catharsis and rebirth, desperation and euphoria, confusion and clarity. It is deeply personal and unwittingly anthemic.
Showalter was on tour, walking back to his hotel on a mild autumn night in Malmo, Sweden, when he first felt the weight of the personal crisis that would ignite him to write HEAL. “It was a culmination of pressure,” Showalter recalls. “My marriage was suffering, I’d released a record I was disappointed in, I didn’t like how I looked or acted…so I’d gone on tour, I was gone about two years! I didn’t take time to think about failure, but I knew I was going deeper and deeper…I was thinking, I have this life, but it’s not my life, I haven’t done it right…”
HEAL was scheduled for mixing on December 26, 2013. Driving on the freeway on Christmas Day, Showalter and his wife hit a patch of black ice and crashed their car head on into a semi-truck, and were very fortunate to walk away with their lives. Showalter suffered a, “pretty severe,” head trauma, “which affected me much more than I realized at the time.” Fearing delays, Showalter didn’t let Congelton know about it, so the mixing session went ahead. “Being on the verge of death, and my thoughts being so closely tied to that, changed the album’s direction,” Showalter claims. “Together, we pushed it toward a much more cathartic sound that forces the listener to where I was at that exact moment, somewhere between almost dying and being absolutely fearless.”
HEAL is not just a saviour for its creator, but for anyone who needs reminding of music’s ability to heal, or just thrill. Showalter is taking out a full band to play, and finally, the kid who wanted to be a rock star at 21 might get his chance. Finally, he and Strand Of Oaks have much to celebrate.
If there’s a pedigree for a modern country music star, then Angaleena Presley fits all of the criteria: a coal miner’s daughter; native of Beauty, Kentucky; a direct descendent of the original feuding McCoys; a one-time single mother; a graduate of both the school of hard knocks and college; a former cashier at both Wal-Mart and Winn-Dixie. Perhaps best of all the member of Platinum-selling Pistol Annies (with Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe) says she “doesn’t know how to not tell the truth.”
That truth shines through on her much-anticipated debut album, American Middle Class, which she co-produced with Jordan Powell. Yet this is not only the kind of truth that country music has always been known for—American Middle Class takes it a step further by not only being a revealing memoir of Presley’s colorful experiences but also a powerful look at contemporary rural American life. “I have lived every minute on this record. My mama ain’t none too happy about me spreading my business around but I have to do it,” Presley says. “It’s the experience of my life from birth to now.”
Yet the specificity of the album’s twelve gems only makes it more universal. While zooming in on the details of her own life, Presley exposes themes to which everyone can relate. The album explores everything from a terrible economy to unexpected pregnancies to drug abuse in tightly written songs that transcend the specific and become tales of our shared experiences. “I think a good song is one where people listen to a very personal story and think ‘That’s my story, too,’” Presley says.
This show sold out in no time! You can still hear the show, FREE at Lightning 100, 100.1fm or stream the live show at lightning100.com.
Sturgill Simpson isn’t one to rest on his laurels, which is why, less than a year after the release of his critically acclaimed debut, High Top Mountain, the singer-songwriter is coming out with his captivating and wholly unique sophomore album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, on May 13, 2014, through his own label, High Top Mountain Records.
The album title – an allusion to Ray Charles’ groundbreaking 1962 record, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music — hints at the psychedelic sounds found within, a departure from Simpson’s first album, which drew comparisons to the music of Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard. “I think that there is a lot of room in country music for progression and sonic oscillation, which is what I wanted to explore.”
Where some artists find inspiration from other music, Simpson found his in books, devouring religious texts both ancient and modern, recent studies about discoveries in quantum physics and string theory, and publications by Carl Sagan and Terence McKenna. He also drew upon French filmmaker Gaspar Noe’s experimental drama Enter the Void as he created murky, multi-textured soundscapes that incorporate elements of classic country, bluegrass, rock, and even a bit of electronica, a genre that Simpson admits he has a “slight fetish” for.
Simpson reunited with High Top Mountain producer Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Lindi Ortega, Jamey Johnson) for Metamodern Sounds in Country Music; the pair has formed a strong friendship in addition to a solid in-studio partnership built on complete trust and the willingness to engage in creative musical experimentation. Working with a budget of only $4,000, Simpson and his road band – bassist Kevin Black, guitarist Laur Joamets, and drummer Miles Miller — cut the entire record live to tape in four rare consecutive days off in the middle of a relentless tour schedule; nearly all of the songs were completed in two takes or fewer during these spur of the moment sessions. The result is an album that crackles with the raw energy of a concert.
Even with its numerous musical and literary influences, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is, in its soul, a love record. As Simpson states, “Myriad worldly offerings – religion, drugs, and more — all claim to be the omnipotent universal truth, but in my experience, love is the only certainty. That’s what this record is about.” With a new album and a child on the way, the 35-year old singer-songwriter, who describes himself as anxious to embrace change, is about to experience a lot of it. Critics may have dubbed Sturgill Simpson the savior of traditional country music, but that’s not a title he’s willing to embrace. Shrugging, he says, “I’m just trying to save myself.”
That first November 2011 night, when it all fell together at the Green House, was nothing more complicated than four friends playing music, armed with something to drink and a curiosity about what might happen. They were the generation who has come of age in the new economy, already adept at shuffling jobs and get-bys, firmly acclimated to the diminished expectations that come with growing up somewhere the rest of the world assumes is nowhere. Which, in this case, is New Albany, Indiana.
Houndmouth, then, knew each other from…around. Matt Myers and Zak Appleby had played in cover bands together for years, schooled in blues and classic rock and Motown, toughened by indifferent audiences and the clatter of empty bottles. Matt and Katie Toupin had worked as an acoustic duo for three years, when she wasn’t on the road tending to a straight job. Katie and Shane Cody had gone to high school together, before Shane disappeared off to Chicago and New York to study audio engineering. In the beginning it was Shane and Matt who’d started knocking around at first, just drums and guitar, once Shane got home and free of a brief bluegrass flirtation.
The rest happened in a tumble, Zak and Katie switching from guitars to bass and keyboards, respectively. Four months later, their homemade EP in hand, Houndmouth made the pilgrimage to South By Southwest. Their booking agent convinced Rough Trade’s Geoff Travis to come have a listen. Of such things are dreams made. Months of conversation and a proper studio later, their debut album, From the Hills Below the City, will be released by Rough Trade.
“We lucked out,” Matt says. “We knew we were making good music. We knew we had something. But we didn’t know it would escalate so quickly. Always the element of luck.”
Before and after that bit of luck, Houndmouth have been on the road, building their audience. Working. Opening for the Drive-By Truckers, the Lumineers, the Alabama Shakes, Lucero, and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Headlining on their own. Turning heads.
“You know good art when you see it,” says Newport Folk Festival booker Jay Sweet, an early adopter, “and you know good food when you taste it. Well, you also know good music when you hear it, and when I first heard Houndmouth it was like freshest tasting art I had heard in many moons. A true musical omnivore’s delight.”
“I’m going down where nobody knows me,” they sing during the jaunty chorus of “On the Road.” The opening track to From the Hills Below the City, which is more or less the relationship New Albany has to Louisville, across the river: “I had a job had to leave behind me…I had to move to another city.” A two and a half minute slightly bent pop confection, conscious of all kinds of music which went before. Self-conscious about nothing, not even the neo-rap cutting contest that snaps across one break. A blues for now, then.