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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.
British singer-songwriter Bobby Long emerged from London’s club scene with a reputation for creating memorable songs inhabited by hauntingly poetic lyrics. Since relocating to New York, he has released two CDs of powerful original material: the first—A Winter Tale (2011)—an homage to his acoustic roots, while the secondWishbone (2013)—bears a grittier sound that showcases his sorrow-filled voice and his stellar guitar playing.
Ode to Thinking, his third full album, marries his varied musical influences, resulting in a strong collection of compelling new songs. Recorded in Austin, Texas, it was supported by a highly successful PledgeMusic campaign and is set for release by Nashville-based Compass Records on August 7, 2015.
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.'”
Itʼs hard to pinpoint the moment that songs are born, the day casual hummers become singers or scribblers become songwriters. Rayland Baxter certainly canʼt, and he wouldnʼt want to. Though he grew up in Nashville to the sounds of his fatherʼs pedal steel, he didnʼt dream of being a rock star. He loved music, of course, but he liked other things, too: being outside, playing sports, working at the bait shop to make spare change. Heʼd always just let things settle into place naturally, following his gut from Tennessee to Colorado to Israel and back again, not knowing that when he returned home heʼd have a handful of songs and the knowledge that, at the end of the day, he didnʼt want to do anything else but make music. He leads a life without reigns, his work always echoing the ease in which it came to be.
Growing up, Baxterʼs father Bucky (a multi-instrumentalist for Bob Dylan, Steve Earle and Ryan Adams, among others) made sure music was just a natural part of life, a soundtrack to childhood. “I grew up around pedal steel melodies,” Baxter says, “not knowing how later in life it would shape me and how I sing or place lyrics in a song.” Heʼd met Dylan and become friends with a young Justin Townes Earle—back then, they were just two kids who knew their dads were gone frequently. One day, while out on a motorcycle trip, Bucky bought his son a guitar: a used, blue electric one. He was in elementary school, no older than third grade. “I played it,” Baxter says. “But I also played Nintendo.”
After a relationship in Paris went sour (though would later inspire the song “oLivia) he took his fatherʼs old friend up on an offer to spend some time at his home in Ashkelon, Israel. “I was supposed to be there for two weeks,” he says. “I ended up staying for six months.”
He began recording his full-length in January 2011, produced by Skylar Wilson (Justin Townes Earle, Caitlin Rose) and supported by his friends, including Eric Masse (producer/engineer), Jacquire King (mix) and instrumentals by his father, Bucky. The songs range from the solemn, steel guitar and harmonica anchored “marjoria”; to the locomotive, du-wop of “driveway meLody”; to the stark, Middle Eastern tinge of “wiLLow.” Each is thickly emotional, raw but supremely balanced, pulling reference not only from musical idols but from love had and lost, roads traveled and trials awaiting back at home. And, when you strip it all away, these are songs that could exist with just Baxterʼs voice and guitar alone, timeless.
His songs are a calming force for anyone looking for change, for love, or wanting to walk in a different direction—because it was his own quest for all those things that motivated the music. “I had nothing to write about until I was 25. I had to live through a lot,” he says, “and I when I sing I donʼt hold back. Iʼll cry on stage if I came to it. Itʼs an emotional release for me, and thereʼs no makeup on it. It puts me at ease, and thatʼs what I hope it will do for those who listen.” Down the mountains and the valleys, like the breeze.
Kodaline were still on tour in support of their debut – which went Top 3 in Britain, spent nine weeks at No.1 in their native Ireland and made inroads in Europe and the States – when they received an invitation to spend a week in L.A. with producer Jacknife Lee.
“We didn’t regard it as an album session,” insists guitarist Mark Prendergast. “We thought we’d have some fun and see what happened. Jacknife is Irish and his track record is unbelievable. We weren’t about to turn that down.”
What Kodaline didn’t expect was to leave L.A. with an entirely new approach to making music, an affection for synths and their second album’s epic first single, Honest, already written.
“Jacknife opened our eyes to different ways of working,” explains bassist Jason Boland. “He gave us a lesson in experimentation. The way he records is amazing. He has everything in the studio turned on, synths all over the place, instruments everywhere. If you want to play something, you pick it up.”
“He asked if we felt out of our comfort zone,” continues drummer Vinny May. “Yes? Then you’re on the right track. We didn’t set out to make any electronic music. We’ve always had synths in the studio; this time, we chose to use them. We put strange sounds in places we weren’t sure would work, then listened back a day later and discovered they were key to the song.”
Back in Britain, as soon as festival season finished, an inspired Kodaline set to work on the album they were itching to make. Electronics played a key part, adding depth, new dimensions and a harder edge to the band’s trademark soaring choruses and widescreen sound.
Coming Up For Air’s sense of adventure stems from its lack of planning. Nothing was set in stone. Every song dictated its own direction. When Play The Game suggested a gospel singer, it got one (Christina Matovu). When the gorgeous, acoustic guitar-backed Better called out for strings, they come courtesy of an orchestra in Prague.
Coming Up For Air may be a sonic step on, but at its core remains Kodaline’s ability to connect instantly with an audience, to share the emotions in their songs and to pull the listener in to their world. It’s a smart, sharp, sophisticated album, by a band only just discovering what they’re capable of.
The cover of The Wood Brothers’ gorgeous new album, ‘Paradise,’ is adorned with an illustration of a mule staring at a carrot dangling just inches in front of its mouth. The carrot, though, is hanging from a stick affixed to the mule’s own head.
“In some ways, he’s already got it,” explains guitarist Oliver Wood. “And in some ways, he’ll never have it.”
That paradox is at the core of ‘Paradise,’ an album about longing and desire and the ways in which the pursuit of fulfillment can keep it perpetually out of our reach. It’s a beautiful collection, the band’s most sophisticated work to date and also their most rocking, with bassist Chris Wood playing electric on tracks for the first time. Recorded at Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye studio in Nashville, ‘Paradise’ captures the latest chapter in the ongoing evolution of a band—and a family—navigating the joy and challenges of a life in music.
Dubbed “masters of soulful folk” by Paste, The Wood Brothers released their debut studio album, ‘Ways Not To Lose,’ on Blue Note in 2006. You’d be forgiven at the time for expecting it to be something of a side project. Chris Wood already had legions of devoted fans for his incomparable work as one-third of Medeski Martin & Wood, while his brother Oliver toured with Tinsley Ellis before releasing a half-dozen albums with his band King Johnson. Almost a decade later and with drummer Jano Rix added as a permanent third member, it’s become quite clear that The Wood Brothers is indeed the main act.
‘Paradise’ follows the band’s acclaimed 2013 release ‘The Muse,’ which was recorded almost entirely live around a tree of microphones in Zac Brown’s Southern Ground studio. Hailed previously by the New York Times for their “gripping” vocals and by the LA Times for their “taught musicianship,” the brothers found the live setting to be a remarkable showcase for their live chemistry and charismatic magnetism. But when it came time to record ‘Paradise,’ their fifth studio album, the band knew the music called for a different approach.
“For this album, we wanted to have a more up-close and dry sound,” explains Chris. “I worked on another record at Easy Eye and I just loved the room. Dan’s studio is cool because it’s not old, but it feels that way when you walk into it. It reminds me of Sun Studios. It just has that feeling of a small room with natural compression, and I think you hear that in the sounds on the record.”
The decision to record in Nashville was no coincidence either, as this marks the first album written with the entire band living in Music City.