Lightning 100 brings you our critically acclaimed weekly concert series featuring national, regional and local artists.
The show broadcasts live from 3rd & Lindsley on Sundays from 8-10pm.
Unexplained phenomena of all kinds can be attributed to magic. Music is among those marvels. When a group of unrelated individuals of different backgrounds gets together and locks into a sonic unity, there must be some sort of mysticism at work. That’s the only way to properly explain it. The members of Nashville’s All Them Witches would agree too. That energy even courses through their moniker, which unsurprisingly comes from Roman Polanski’s 1968 masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby.
“The name can be interpreted in many different ways,” explains singer and bassist Michael Parks, Jr. “It could be a person’s view on what the forces of good and evil are or even how we interact with each other as human beings. There’s a little bit of witchcraft in everybody’s life. Just waking up is pretty magical—you’re alive another day. In terms of the music, we’re so loose, and that’s where the magic comes from. There’s no controlling factor. We do exactly what comes naturally. We go in a room without any idea about what will happen, get in the groove, and it works. That’s supernatural.”
All Them Witches began conjuring up music together in 2012. Foregoing theater school to focus on songwriting, Parks traded New Mexico for Nashville at 19-years-old. The Shreveport, Louisiana native met drummer Robby Staebler while the two shared a shift at a “corporate hippie store”. Robby showed Parks some music he and guitarist Ben McLeod had written, and it inspired the singer to jam—which he adds, “I usually never do. It made sense though”.
Adding Robby’s longtime friend Allan Van Cleave to the fold on Fender Rhodes, All Them Witches cut their debut Our Mother Electricity. Almost immediately after, they began working on its follow-up 2013’s Lightning At The Door. Recorded live in a matter of days with producer and engineer Andy Putnam, the boys tapped into a distinct energy, mustering bluesy soul, Southern swagger, and thunderous hard rock all at once.
The first single “When God Comes Back” swings from a Delta-dipped groove into a striking riff juxtaposed with Parks’ transfixing delivery. It’s as hypnotic as it is heavy.
“Sometimes, I get visions, for lack of a better word, that lead to songs,” the frontman admits. “I’ll be doing a mundane task at work, walking somewhere in the woods, or driving, and I’ll get these narrative flashes in my head. Personal experiences play into those narratives. This song is about our egos coming to break us down and destroy everything. We try to govern each other and turn the only landscape we have to live in into a parking lot. There’s no room for anybody. So, when God comes back, he’s going to be really mad.”
Ultimately, everything comes back to that certain magic for All Them Witches. “Not to sound too much like hippie, but I hope everybody can ride our vibe,” Parks leaves off. “We’re very simple people doing something we really love. We have such a short amount of time on this earth. Everybody should be doing what they love. If there’s a message here, it’s that.”
Sugar & The Hi Lows know that popular music isn’t a mirror, that melodies and lyrics aren’t tethered to the cultural landscapes of their day. Breathing a new sound into music with an old soul, this rootsy, vintage duo reminds us why we dance, especially in the midst of hard times.
Music has always had the power to buoy spirits and wash communal hardships into the background. When Judy Garland clicked her sparkling heels together and sang of a place “Over the Rainbow,” for example, the rest of the nation was still reeling from the Great Depression. And though decades have come and gone, music has never lost that power.
Ringing in their new sound, Sugar & The Hi Lows are bringing back the era of feel good music, the days when one take was enough and an auto-tune was a thing you did to your ’55 Chevy. Brought to life by experienced songwriter/performers Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup, Sugar & The Hi Lows is a bit of a nostalgic love offering.
Growing up in Mississippi under the sway of Memphis blues, Dabbs was raised to the soundtrack of Motown, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and The Temptations. “My father used to make blanket statements like, ‘It’s not good if you can’t dance to it,’” he remembers. And though he wasn’t into his father’s sonic selection at the time, he says that style of music has come to evoke a feeling he can’t get anywhere else.
“The older I got, I realized how that was kind of seeping into what I loved musically, and it just brings this joy, it brings this happiness,” Dabbs says. “With the climate of everything right now – with the economy – you could write the most depressing songs ever, but I really feel like the world needs light; the world needs lighthearted.”
Dabbs and Stroup are certainly no strangers to pop culture. Both mainstays in Nashville’s singer-songwriter scene, the two have heard dozens of their songs spinning behind hit shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Parenthood, Private Practice, So You Think You Can Dance, Pretty Little Liars and more. Dabbs’ music has been touted by Taylor Swift, and Stroup was named one of the Top 20 Songwriters Under 30 by A Prairie Home Companion. Though fully at home in their niche, the two still chose to step away from their self-described “heavy mellow” sound to pursue something with a bit more swing in its step. The happy-go-lucky numbers that evolved into Sugar & The Hi Lows first began to take shape when Dabbs purchased a vintage box amp and sat down in his basement for a regular co-write with Stroup. “We got to talking about his dad and throwback music from the ‘50s and ‘60s and just like, ‘Why isn’t there that type of music now?’” Stroup recalls. That day, their song “This Can’t Be the Last Time” came in less than two hours. A newfound creative freedom had been tapped, and the next seven tracks for the project fell quickly into place. “We weren’t really trying to treat it like a band,” Stroup explains. “We just wrote this series of songs, but they didn’t feel like an Amy Stroup song or an Amy and Trent duet.”
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.
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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.