South African born, Nashville and NC based singer/songwriter Laura Reed has become a global success story with her seductive, signature vocal style, her thought-provoking lyricism, and powerhouse live presence; But the insightful artist feels like she’s truly arrived with the release of her acclaimed, aptly titled solo debut album, The Awakening.
Journeying to Nashville to make the pivotal album, she credits the connective creative energy of Music City and a close working relationship with the album’s producer, two- time Grammy winner, Shannon Sanders (India.Arie, John Legend, Robert Randolph) with instilling the necessary focus to turn such personal stories into universally themed gems that resonate with the listener from start to finish.
Laura’s magnetic versatility shines through on The Awakening, with gems like the empowering “Struggle,” or the upbeat “Wake Up,” which has been featured on VH1’s hit show ‘Hollywood Exes’ and the Alicia Keys indie film endeavor ‘The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete.’ The Nashville based radio station, Lightning 100 has also added “Wake Up” to rotation. The unsparing ‘Wolves’ also reflects Laura’s ‘World Music’ roots, where her almost indiscernible Latin scat flows seamlessly into a neo-soul-themed cautionary lyric about staying true to one’s self.
Best known, previously, as the front woman of the south eastern/jam-based funk band Laura Reed and Deep Pocket, she tabled the funk/Reggae-informed shadings for a more intimate but accessible exploration on The Awakening.
Laura’s savvy musical chops and years of working-band experience also served her in crafting the cornerstone album of her career. She has been joined by some stellar singers and musicians on multiple past projects, including George Clinton, Killer Mike, Karl Denson, Robert Randolph, The Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown and Jewel. She’s also shared stages with a star-studded list of artists including Mali Music, India.Arie, Miguel, Daley, Valerie June and Anthony Hamilton, among others. She was recently invited to perform at New York’s famous Madison Square Garden to sing the National Anthem, wowing fans with the breadth of her astonishing vocal command and range.
In December 2014, Laura opted to release The Awakening on her very own label entitled “FIVE FOOT GIANT RECORDS”. The year also saw Laura receive the NIMA (Nashville Independent Music Association) Award for “BEST R&B SOLO ARTIST 2014″ and an endorsement from Lee Oskar Harmonicas.
Drawing comparisons to seminal female vocalists such as Lauryn Hill, India.Arie, and Amy Winehouse, she is proud of how only the strongest musical efforts won the day in making The Awakening. “It’s funny, for making a solo album – I really did check my ego at the door,” she admits. “I’m a singer who is never shy about her opinions. What’s great about Nashville is everyone has a unique idea about each song. The ideas that stuck were the best ideas, and that comes through on every song on the album.”
The continued evolution of JD & The Straight Shot now sees singer-songwriter Jim Dolan fronting a four-person group as the band explores a stripped-down version of its sound, which is steeped in the quiet fire of Americana, with distinctive elements of the blues and mystical, rustic New Orleans-flavored roots music.
In addition to Dolan, the acoustic vocal group also includes guitarist Marc Copely (Rosanne Cash, McCrary Sisters, Billy Squier), guitarist Aidan Dolan; Kentucky-born bassist Byron House (Robert Plant, Emmylou Harris) and violinist Erin Slaver (Rod Stewart, Trace Adkins, Martina McBride), all of whom also contribute to songwriting.
This revised lineup continues its tour this year with a slate of European festivals, while also working on a follow up to the band’s last album, Where I’ve Been, which was released last year. Produced by Joe Walsh, the 2014 album features several breakthrough singles including “Governor’s Song,” which challenges some of today’s most well-known political figures; “Under That Hood,” a transformative single that tells the tragic story of Trayvon Martin; and “Hard to Find,” which will be featured in the highly-anticipated film, St. Vincent, starring Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy.
Dolan started JD & The Straight Shot in 2000. The band has recorded four additional albums: Midnight Run (2012), Can’t Make Tears (2011), Right On Time (2008), and Nothing To Hide (2005) – as well as an EP, Daily News Blues (2010).
Jim Dolan’s day gig is Cablevision Systems CEO and Executive Chairman of Madison Square Garden, where he also oversees the New York Knicks, Rangers and Liberty. Music is his passion.
“I needed something in my life where I felt like I was actually creating,” says Dolan. “Most of what I do as an executive is orchestrate. I don’t actually set up cable and I don’t really shoot hoops. Music is something I’ve played since I was a kid. Music, for me, is a direct connection between me and the audience.”
JD & The Straight Shot has been covered by The New York Times, New York Post, Billboard, and New York Magazine, among other publications, and performed on “Good Day New York.” Their song “Can’t Make Tears” is the theme song for Hell on Wheels, the television drama entering its fifth season on AMC in 2015. Their music has been featured in many films, including St. Vincent and August: Osage County.
The group has opened for the Eagles on several tours, including the “History of the Eagles” tour, the “Summer 2010” tour, and the band’s stadium tour with the Dixie Chicks and Keith Urban. JD & The Straight Shot has also opened for both Joe Walsh and Don Henley’s solo tours, the James Gang reunion tour, and performed at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Austin City Limits.
Paul Thorn’s new album Too Blessed To Be Stressed stakes out new territory for the popular roots-rock songwriter and performer. “In the past, I’ve told stories that were mostly inspired by my own life,” the former prizefighter and literal son of a preacher man offers. “This time, I’ve written 10 songs that express more universal truths, and I’ve done it with a purpose: to make people feel good.”
Which explains numbers like the acoustic-electric charmer Don’t Let Nobody Rob You Of Your Joy, where Thorn’s warm peaches-and-molasses singing dispenses advice on avoiding the pitfalls of life. The title track borrows its tag from a familiar saying among the members of the African-American Baptist churches Thorn frequented in his childhood. “I’d ask, ‘How you doin’, sister?’ And what I’d often hear back was, ‘I’m too blessed to be stressed.’ ” In the hands of Thorn and his faithful band, who’ve been together 20 years, the tune applies its own funky balm, interlacing a percolating drum and keyboard rhythm with the slinky guitar lines beneath his playful banter.
Thorn’s trademark humor is abundant throughout the album. I Backslide On Friday is a warm-spirited poke at personal foibles. “I promised myself not to write about me, but I did on ‘Backslide,’ ” Thorn relates. The chipper pop tune is a confession about procrastination, sweetened by Bill Hinds’ slide guitar and Thorn’s gently arching melody. “But,” Thorn protests, “I know I’m not the only one who says he’s gonna diet and just eat Blue Bell vanilla ice cream on Sundays, and then ends up eating it every day!”
Mediocrity Is King takes a wider swipe, aiming at our culture’s hyper-drive addiction to celebrity artifice and rampant consumerism. But like Everything Is Gonna Be All Right, a rocking celebration of the simple joys of life, it’s done with Thorn’s unflagging belief in the inherent goodness of the human heart.
The Oh Hellos are Maggie and Tyler Heath, sibling musicians hailing from the great state of Texas. The pair bend and blend styles and genres into a unique mixture of eclectic folk rock. Joined on stage by a rotating cast of characters, sometimes as many as 13, The Oh Hellos weave a sound that is one moment intimate, the next explosive and joyful.
“We live in such a fast-paced, hectic environment, I wanted to make a record that would invite people to step back and take their time to listen,” Jackie Greene says of Back to Birth, his first album in five years. “I wanted to make a record that would reward people who are willing to sit down and give it a couple of serious listens.”
Back to Birth – Greene’s seventh album and his Yep Roc Records debut – is more than worthy of some serious attention. The 11-song set showcases the multitalented artist’s uncanny knack for synthesizing his deep affinity for American roots styles into timeless, personally-charged music. Armed with a persuasive voice, a vivid songwriting skill and an instinctive mastery of several instruments, Greene has carved out a unique musical niche, and the album marks another creative landmark in his already compelling body of work.
Produced by Los Lobos member and frequent Greene collaborator Steve Berlin, Back to Birth underlines Greene’s remarkable evolution as a performer and writer. With such new compositions as “Silver Lining,” “Trust Somebody,” “Now I Can See For Miles,” and the stirring title track, the artist’s distinctive melodic sensibility is matched with thoughtful, introspective lyrics that confront some profound philosophical issues with plainspoken eloquence.
Although Back to Birth is Greene’s first new solo release in five years, he’s hardly been idle. In fact, he’s spent much of the past few years engaging in a series of collaborative musical adventures that have teamed him with several notable veterans.
In 2013, Greene joined the reunited Black Crowes as lead guitarist on their worldwide tour, and the following year released the self-titled debut album of supergroup Trigger Hippy, which Greene is a member of along with Joan Osborne and Crowes drummer Steve Gorman. Greene continues to be a frequent member of Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s touring ensemble Phil Lesh & Friends, for which he has contributed lead guitar and vocals since 2007. Greene also toured as part of WRG, an acoustic trio with the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir and Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson, and he performed with Levon Helm as part of Helm’s fabled Midnight Ramble shows.
Although he’s already racked up a multitude of impressive musical achievements, Greene isn’t one to look back. Instead, he continues to look to the future – and looks forward to getting back on the road to bring Back to Birth’s soulful songcraft to the loyal, wildly diverse fan base that he’s built through talent, vision and hard work.
“I still plan on making a lot of different kinds of records in the future, but I can’t tell you what they’re going to sound like, because I really have no idea,” he asserts. “All I can do is write songs and make music as honestly as I can. That’s what I believe people appreciate about what I do. They trust me to be honest with them, and I’d never want to abuse that trust.”
Broken Into Better Shape finds Good Old War pushing their musical boundaries to the limit. Road-weary from two years at sea, the trio set out to write an album full of songs that were not limited to sounding perfect in a live experience. They bunkered down in Goodwin’s toddler-toy-filled house and struggled for half a year to find what they were looking for. Around this time, drummer Tim Arnold left the band for Atlanta, where his fiancé was pregnant with their first child. Arnold’s DNA remains in the band and his fingerprints are still present as a writer on some of the tracks on the record.
With half of the album’s songs now written, Goodwin and Schwartz began experimenting with other writers and producers. In New York City, they dreamed up the ultra-inspirational “Fly Away” with writer Emile Haynie (fun., Bruno Mars). A trip to Los Angeles found them improbably paired in a writing session with Zimbabwe-born urban producer T-Collar, where a hook was crafted that the band were eager to take to the studio. It would become their first single, “Tell Me What You Want From Me.”
Broken Into Better Shape became the record that it is in Nashville, where the band wrote and rounded out songs with producer Jason Lehning (Alison Krause & Union Station, MatKearney, Dolly Parton) and with the aid of a terrific group of musicians and writers. Whereas much of the band’s earlier work had been written individually, this album would end up being a grand collaboration.
The result is the band’s proudest moment, an album of lush, well-crafted songs with no filler, ten songs whittled down from a pool of over forty.
April 2015 will find the band touring for the first time in three years, reunited with drummer Tim Arnold, who’s traded changing diapers for continuing to be a touring member of the band.
For nearly a decade, American Aquarium have spent the majority of their days on the road, burning through a sprawl of highways during the day and playing hours of raw, rootsy rock & roll at night. Sometimes, the job is a grind. Most times, it’s a blessing. American Aquarium’s songs, filled with biographical lyrics about last calls, lost love and long horizons, have always explored both sides of that divide. For every drunken night at the bar, there’s a hangover in the morning. For every new relationship, there’s the chance of a broken heart. It’s that kind of honesty — that sort of balance — that makes the band’s newest album, Wolves, their strongest release to date.
And it nearly didn’t happen. When American Aquarium traveled to Muscle Shoals to record Burn.Flicker.Die. in 2012, they were convinced the album would be their last. Even though they had enlisted the help of award-winning singer-songwriter Jason Isbell to produce the sessions, they were exhausted; weathered and whittled to the bone by more than a half-decade of heavy partying and heavier touring. To a small group of diehard fans, they were absolute rockstars… but being rockstars to a cult audience doesn’t always put food on your table or gas in your tank. BJ Barham, the band’s frontman, was so poor that he’d been living out of a storage unit for months, unable to afford an apartment in the band’s hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina.
Clearly, something had to give. Maybe it was time to make one final album — an album about failure, desperation and disillusionment — and then throw in the towel.
As fate would have it, Burn.Flicker.Die. eventually proved itself to be the band’s most successful release to date. Critics loved it. Fans rallied behind it. Fast forward 2 years and almost 500 shows later, the band has travelled the world, quadrupled their fan base and reinvented their passion for the road. When the time came to record another album in June 2014, it only made sense to do something that celebrated survival rather than failure.
The result? Wolves, which Barham describes as “the sound of a band firing on all cylinders”. Produced by Megafaun’s Brad Cook and recorded during a 20-day stay at Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, NC, Wolves was funded entirely by American Aquarium’s diehard fanbase. The album’s 10 tracks represent a departure from the band’s signature twang. Instead drawing more from the alternative rock sound that inspired their name almost a decade ago. Wolves blends the twang of the pedal steel with the dark, dirty swirl of two electric guitars, creating a sound that’s fit for the roadhouse, the honky tonk and the dive bar. Barham has certainly spent time in all three, but now looks to brighter horizons in these new songs.
With Wolves, which hits stores February 3, 2015, American Aquarium is literally bigger and better.
“We were legitimized by Burn.Flicker.Die.,” Barham says. “That album was a breakup record with the road. It basically said, ‘This is our last album, this is why we’re quitting, and thanks for the memories.’ Fast-forward to 2014, though, and we’re making a new record that says, ‘We ain’t done yet.'”