Founded in 1970, Asleep at the Wheel has been part of the American roots music landscape for more than 50 years. Although the band got its start on a farm in Paw Paw, West Virginia, Asleep at the Wheel became a cornerstone of the Austin, Texas, scene upon its arrival in 1973. Inspired by Western swing and honky-tonk country, the band has accrued 10 Grammy Awards. In the fall, a career retrospective recorded with the current lineup — and a few special guests — will carry the band back onto the road, where they’ve remained a staple for five decades.
Fifty years ago, Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson wrote in his journal that he wanted to form a band to bring the roots of American pop music into the present. It seemed like an ambitious goal for a 19-year-old, yet Benson has done exactly that – traversing the globe as an ambassador of Western swing music and introducing its irresistible sound to generation after generation. Although the lineup has changed countless times since its inception, Benson’s mission has never wavered.
That merging of past and present is effortlessly woven throughout two of the band’s new releases. First, their Better Times EP compiles three new tracks: “All I’m Asking,” a rousing plea for a second chance; the hopeful title track, about getting back to life as it once was (namely, before the pandemic); and “Columbus Stockade Blues,” a traditional tune arranged in the spirit of Willie Nelson and Shirley Collie’s 1960s version. Then, in the fall, a career retrospective recorded with the new band — and a few special guests — will carry Asleep at the Wheel back onto the road, where they’ve remained a staple for five decades.
“I’m the reason it’s still together, but the reason it’s popular is because we’ve had the greatest singers and players,” Benson explains. “When someone joins the band, I say, ‘Learn everything that’s ever been done, then put your own stamp on it.’ I love to hear how they interpret what we do. I’m just a singer and a songwriter, and a pretty good guitar player, but my best talent is convincing people to jump on board and play this music.”
Raised in Philadelphia, Benson dropped out of college in 1969 and moved to a farm near Paw Paw, West Virginia, to figure out how to put a band together with two friends, Lucky Oceans and LeRoy Preston. Although he gravitated toward honky-tonk and swing music, Benson stood on the opposite side of the generation gap – a young man opposed to the Vietnam War.
“Music became a rallying cry for these disparate groups,” he recalls. “My reaction was we need to take this music to my generation to show them it’s not the political posturing that is important, it is the soul of the music.”
Then, in 1970, two hippie buses pulled up to the farm looking for the band they’d heard about. Inside were a ragtag group of musicians calling themselves the Medicine Ball Caravan and they invited Asleep at the Wheel to open their upcoming show in Washington D.C. The fledgling band at this time was centered around guitar, steel guitar, bass and drums.
From that very first out-of-town gig, Asleep at the Wheel steadily built a fan base in D.C., and opened a date for Poco a short time later. However, Benson observes that the reception back home wasn’t always so warm. “We would play these little bars in West Virginia, and they thought because we were hippies, we wouldn’t fight. I stared down a few shotguns,” he says. “I think it was the music that saved us because we were playing real country music.”
When Benson booked Commander Cody for a double bill in D.C., the cosmic country legend encouraged them to give the Berkeley, California, a try. The group arrived out West in August 1971 and started booking shows in the East Bay clubs. Word of their Tuesday night gigs reached Van Morrison, who loved country music and asked to play a show with them. Around this time, when Rolling Stone asked if that pop star was excited about any new bands, he name-checked Asleep at the Wheel. That’s when, as Benson remembers, “the L.A record companies came running.”
Then everything happened fast. The band paid its dues by touring as country singer Stoney Edwards’ band in 1971. A year later, their United Artists debut album sold well in Oklahoma and Texas. In February 1973, they moved to Austin, Texas, encouraged by Doug Sahm and Willie Nelson; that same day, Epic Records issued the band’s second album. When that deal unraveled, they joined the Capitol Records roster.
One of the band’s compositions, “The Letter That Johnny Walker Read,” became a national Top 10 country hit in 1975. For the remainder of the decade, Asleep at the Wheel rode the wave of success, charting multiple singles and developing an international following. The Academy of Country Music named them the top touring band for 1977. The band won the first of 10 career Grammys in 1979.
“We’ve always said that we’re a live band,” Benson emphasizes. “We’ll make great records but it’s all about being on stage. The best promotion for a band is a great live show.”
By 1981, the band faced a turning point. Most of its members had departed and the disco craze stood in direct contrast to Asleep at the Wheel’s authentic approach. While the band still played shows, they went without a label deal for six years.
Benson made ends meet by producing commercials for Budweiser.
“The one reason that I kept going,” Benson says, “is that every week a fan would come up and be so appreciative, saying, ‘Don’t ever stop.’ We weren’t drawing a lot of people, but they’d say, ‘You’re the only band that goes out on the road and does this old, cool music.’ That’s when I knew it was more than just a living – that I was blessed with caretaking a form of music.”
The 1990s put Asleep at the Wheel back on the map permanently, with the band regularly playing between 180 and 200 dates a year. Benson enlisted the top country artists of that era for an outstanding pair of Bob Wills tribute albums, a move that solidified the band’s focus on Western swing. When a duet version of “Roly Poly” with Dixie Chicks impacted country radio in 2000, Asleep at the Wheel became that rare country band to chart across four consecutive decades.
Fifty years in, Asleep at the Wheel represent an important cornerstone of American roots music, even though some of its members and audiences represent a new generation. That far-reaching appeal remains a testament to Benson’s initial vision.
“How do you keep this music going?” Benson asks. “Well, you’ve got to have some young people. If young people aren’t doing this, then we’re just a museum – and I don’t want to be a museum.”
Singer-songwriters have been tackling existential questions about life and death since time immemorial… or at least the 1960s. But when it came to Blitzen Trapper’s newest album, Holy Smokes Future Jokes, front man Eric Earley looked beyond mere existence—or even the end of it—to contend with grander cosmic explorations: namely, the intermediate period between a person’s separate lives on earth, “and what it means to escape the cycle of birth and rebirth,” he explains.
Weighty stuff, to say the least. But then again, Blitzen Trapper has never been the type of band to just skim the surface. Over the course of 20 years and ten full-length albums, the Portland, Oregon-hailing act, with singer, songwriter and guitarist Earley firmly at the helm, has crafted a singular catalog of songs—sometimes wrapped in impressionistic imagery and scruffy, singalong melodies (the fan favorite “Furr,” for just one example), and other times rendered in sharp-focus, needlepoint detail and imbued with driving, electrified rhythms (“Cadillac Road,” about a depressed and deserted mill town in the Oregon mountains where Earley’s father once worked, comes to mind here)— that celebrate the human experience in all its triumph and tragedy.
As for how each new album comes into focus, well, that’s more a matter of immediate inspiration than some long-conceived plan. “The records are a chronicle of my own journey, to be honest—snapshots of where I am at that time,” Earley says. “I don’t know that that’s any way to have a career, but for me it’s a cathartic way of documenting where my head’s at.”
Which brings us back around to Holy Smoke Future Jokes, a record that, in following where Earley’s head is at these days, cuts a spectacular, almost supernatural path through the past, present and still-to-come. Earley’s words take the listener on a wild and dramatic journey through rivers of waist-high water in the aftermath of a tragic car wreck and the hazy morning before a murderous moment, and from getting blitzed to the point of extinction inside a masonic temple to a stop for chips and dip before the apocalypse. Along the way, there’s also an occasion to smoke dope with Abe Lincoln and play bones with Brian Jones, slide through the ether in a dream, and confront the Intermediate States while bathed in the glow of the bardo’s light.
In fact, it is the notion of the bardo, that transitional state between death and rebirth, that holds a central place of purpose on Holy Smokes Future Jokes. Early on in the songwriting process, Earley took inspiration from several texts, among them George Saunders’ 2017 experimental tome, Lincoln in the Bardo, which subsequently led him to dig deep into the Bardo Thodol, more commonly known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead. “I became obsessed with it,” Earley says. “All the ideas contained in that book were speaking to me in a lot of different ways.”
As for how that translated into the songs on Holy Smokes Future Jokes? “The main theme that kept drawing me in when I was writing was what I call ‘cosmic humility,’ ” he says. “It’s the idea that humanity is not the center of the universe, or even the center of our ownuniverse here on earth. We’re not the most important thing. Because we’ve only been around for, like, a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a second in the grand scheme of things, you know? But it’s very difficult for humans to conceive of their own non-existence.”
Difficult to conceive of, indeed, but as is characteristic of Earley’s songwriting, on Holy Smokes Future Jokes he addresses these concepts by homing in on deeply personal and highly affecting stories. Take the album’s opener, “Baptismal,” in which he recounts an oft-told tale from his high school days about a group of local kids who perished in a drunk-driving accident, their car veering off a neighborhood road and into a river. Over a prickly, hypnotic fingerpicked guitar pattern that reflects and amplifies the ominous setting, Earley sings in hushed tones, “Empty bottle on the backseat floor / filled with dreams from a forgotten shore / And your heart left open like a bedroom door.”
“I was imagining the souls of these kids as they’re called out of that situation and upward into the bardo, and they’re looking back down on their demise and their own folly,” Earley explains. And while this particular story was one of local lore in Earley’s town, “I think it’s something that’s also common everywhere in America,” he says.
At the other end of the record, meanwhile, is the briskly-strummed closer “Hazy Morning.” This song likewise focuses in on an all-too common American tragedy—school shootings—but viewed through a unique lens: Rather than detailing the event itself or its horrific aftereffects, Earley takes a different tack, imagining the “many voices vying for attention” inside the shooter’s head on the morning before he begins his rampage.
“The chorus is basically the voices talking to him, telling him, ‘If you’re ready to roll with us…’ ” Earley says. “And he’s sort of along for the ride.” While Earley acknowledges his treatment of the issue could be viewed as “somewhat detached,” he stresses that his intent is to highlight “what it means to have that kind of mental health issue. Because mental health is at the center of it all, right? Every victimizer is himself a victim at some point. It’s this unending chain.”
Of course, it’s worth noting that sandwiched between the album’s powerful bookend tracks are ruminations on mortality and the afterlife that are occasionally treated with a considerably lighter touch. Take the indie-roots rave-up “Masonic Temple Microdose #1,” in which a group of friends break into the titular temple to get high and party down.
“I wanted to paint a picture of an extremely nihilistic bunch of kids who are sitting around in this temple discussing their philosophies on life,” Earley says. “And eventually they’re like, ‘Fuck it, let’s just get wasted.’ And then they’re like, ‘Let’s go extinct.’ Which is sort of the ultimate version of getting wasted. It’s the flipside of the bardo—this final extinction and total emptiness.”
As for whether there’s anything autobiographical in that one? “Well, there was a weird, cult-y sort of temple near where I grew up, but I never broke into it,” Earley admits. Although, he adds, “I did try to.”
Then there’s “Dead Billie Jean,” on which Earley imagines the title character from the Michael Jackson classic having committed suicide and ascended to the bardo, where she finds herself rubbing shoulders with the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Jim Morrison, and the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones. “She’s just hanging out with these dead rock stars that she doesn’t really know or care about,” Earley says. “But they’re all there getting high together.”
As for the deeper significance? “Well, the story of Billie Jean is that she was based on Michael Jackson’s real-life stalker,” Earley says. “And I was imagining these famous people, and also people who aren’t famous but who are obsessed with famous people, all stuck in the bardo together because they can’t let go of certain things that they were after in their lives. So in the song Billie Jean has killed herself, but somehow she’s unaware that she’s trapped in the intermediate state.”
As is probably evident at this point, there’s an inherent otherworldliness to much of the lyrics and imagery on Holy Smokes Future Jokes. But the music, in contrast, is rooted in a considerably more earthy folk-rock sensibility, and centered around acoustic instrumentation. “A lot of it is fingerpicked guitars and stuff like that,” Earley says.
As for why?
“As I was writing these songs and trying to understand my own actions, it got me thinking about what I initially loved about playing guitar when I was five and six years old—and that was just sitting and fingerpicking on an acoustic,” he explains. “So I started to go back to all these different ways and means of playing that I liked doing when I was a little kid. And that seemed to fit with the music, because it was a darker, more intimate kind of thing I was doing with these songs.”
Needless to say, it’s a markedly different approach than Earley has taken on Blitzen Trapper’s last few albums, including the upbeat and electrified All Across This Land and the sprawling and ambitious Wild and Reckless, the latter of which grew out of a month-long stage production in their hometown of Portland produced by the Portland Center Stage.
“The last one was much more of a blown-out, big concept piece,” Earley says of Wild and Reckless. “Where this record is much more insular and personal.”
It’s also, despite the sometimes heavy subject matter, more concerned with light than darkness, Earley says.
“The truth is, I don’t find death as a topic to really be dark in any way—it’s more like a portal into all kinds of other stuff,” Earley says. “And I think that’s why I really love the concept of the bardo. The whole idea is that you’re moving through this place where you’re forced to make decisions and to see different things and different perspectives. I wouldn’t say it’s a place of hope, but it’s certainly a place of wonder. To me, it’s more magical than anything.”
That magical vibe flows throughout the entirety of Holy Smokes Future Jokes.
“All the songs talk to each other, at least to me they do, and in really cool ways,” Earley says. “And in some really dark and disturbing ways sometimes, too.”< He laughs. “But still, really cool.”
The Secret Sisters—Laura and Lydia Rogers—grapple with love and loss on new album Saturn Return, released February 28, 2020.
Saturn Return is the Alabama-based duo’s second release for New West Records. Like its predecessor, 2017’s Grammy-nominated You Don’t Own Me Anymore, the record was produced by Brandi Carlile and Phil and Tim Hanseroth.
The elements that made listeners fall in love with the band’s 2010 self-titled debut album—sweet, strong voices, carefully crafted musical arrangements, and soul-baring songwriting—are still present, but there’s also newfound confidence and individuality.
The album is named after an astrological occurrence in which the planet Saturn returns to the same place in the sky that it occupied at the moment of a person’s birth. During this phase, which happens approximately every 29 ½ years, said Laura, a woman “comes into her own and has this awakening in herself about who she is as a person. It can also be a very traumatic time where your whole world just seems to radically shift.”
“When this is happening, you begin to feel the pressure of time and awareness of your own mortality,” Lydia added. “It brings the important aspects of life into sharper clarity and it centers your mind on what’s really important.”
Recorded in Carlile’s home studio in Washington state, Saturn Return heralds the arrival of a new era of The Secret Sisters, who both experienced their first Saturn returns while making the record. Carlile challenged the sisters to sing as individuals instead of relying solely on close harmony singing, and for the first time, Laura and Lydia performed separately in the studio. This is also the first album in which The Secret Sisters composed all the songs without any co-writers.
Death and life entwine like newlyweds’ fingers throughout Saturn Return. Shortly after the sisters began writing for this album, both of their grandmothers passed away within a week of one other. At the same time, the sisters were preparing to start families of their own.
The record begins with “Silver,” a prescient meditation on motherhood and the beauty found in the hard-won wisdom that comes with age, and the sisters share one another’s sorrow in closing track “Healer in the Sky,” an understated ballad—written by Lydia and sung by Laura—that builds into a moment of catharsis.
First single “Cabin,” written from the perspective of a woman who has been assaulted, haunts listeners long after the song’s final notes fade away. The song—a battle cry for the mistreated and mishandled—was written while Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings dominated the media. “He did not have permission / But he had his way / If I tell his secret, they won’t believe me anyway,” the duo sings over wailing guitar.
During The Secret Sisters’ live performances, “Cabin” has become a battle cry for those who have been mistreated or struggle with the long-lasting impact of trauma. Said Laura, “This song was our way of saying, ‘We hear you, and we know it hurts…we know you’re not over it and that’s okay.’”
Grief never fully disappears, and the joy found in its wake is sweeter because of it. After recording Saturn Return, both Lydia and Laura welcomed their first children. “Hold You Dear,” a tender ballad laced with piano and strings, was written in fifteen minutes by a thrilled and terrified Laura the day she learned she was pregnant. Infectious “Hand Over My Heart” captures the freewheeling thrill of finding true love, while “Late Bloomer,” written by Lydia, is an anthem celebrating those who, like The Secret Sisters, ignore trends and flourish their own way, at their own time.
With Saturn Return, The Secret Sisters have truly come into their own as artists, songwriters, and singers. “I’ve come to feel like this is what we were meant to do,” said Lydia. “That’s a really good feeling.”
Roscoe is a road dog. The 14-year-old Boston Terrier has been there for the whole ride of Mapache, Clay Finch and Sam Blasucci’s band, which has grown from being the casual project of two longtime buds to one of the most formidable cosmic-folk acts around. “Roscoe’s been through a lot of shit,” says Blasucci, the dog’s formal owner. “He’s been all around the country, come on tour a little bit.” With some bemused pride, Finch points out that, for a few years, he and Blasucci bunked together in a room in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles that was just big enough to fit two twin beds. “It was the two of us and the dog,” he laughs.
Naturally, Roscoe has found himself the subject of a good handful of Mapache songs in the past—and on Roscoe’s Dream, the band’s third LP of originals, he takes center stage. (That’s him in quilt form on the album cover.) “I Love My Dog” opens up the album with a blissed-out stack of acoustic guitars and a lyrical explanation of one of Roscoe’s many talents: “I love my dog / Keepin’ the policeman out.”
Just as much an easygoing trip with Gram Parsons into the desert as a mad dash with the Grateful Dead away from the law, Roscoe’s Dream is the purest distillation yet of the distinct Mapache sound, which has been brewing for many years now. Finch and Blasucci first met as students at La Cañada High School, just north of Los Angeles: “There wasn’t much supervision or anything,” remembers Blasucci. “It was really nice. And we got to just play guitars together.”
The two stayed friends through their college years—Finch went to Chico State and Blasucci spent two years as a missionary in Mexico—and eventually they ended up back in L.A., spending their days playing guitar together once again, just like old times. Working with producer/engineer Dan Horne (Cass McCombs, Allah-Lahs), they recorded two albums of originals (2017’s Mapache and 2020’s From Liberty Street) as well an album of covers, 2021’s 3. Often trading solos, and occasionally switching from English to Spanish, Finch and Blasucci are now a well-oiled machine.
So when it came time to record Roscoe’s Dream, they didn’t mess with the formula. The band booked some time at Horne’s Lone Palm Studio and called in a handful of friends to play additional parts, including Farmer Dave Scher of Beachwood Sparks on melodica and lap steel on a couple tracks. The family affair has always been how the band likes to work, but this time they approached it on a grander scale than before, recording live as a full group in some cases, as opposed to working over Finch and Blasucci’s initial guitar/vocal parts. “It was a bit more of a band experience,” explains Finch.
The finished product is an ode to the past as well as a bridge forward. Covers of songs like Bo Diddley’s “Diana” and Gabby Pahinui’s “Kaua‘i Beauty” act as nods to heroes of theirs while originals like “Man and Woman” and “Pearl to the Swine” take the template of golden-age rock and lovingly deconstruct it in a modernist lens. “(They Don’t Know) At the Beach” was inspired by the idea of what trailblazing oldies DJ Art Laboe might like—but the gentle ripper of a song would fit right in at a backyard party in 2022.
Hard to imagine after years of being roommates, Finch and Blasucci are also bridging forward in new ways themselves. After the album was in the can, Finch decided to get a little closer to the water by moving to Malibu, and Blasucci moved about an hour north to Ojai with his girlfriend (and Roscoe, of course). But they’re not worried about the new distance slowing them down: “I think if anything it will be bringing more things to the table,” Blasucci considers. “We’re just expanding out in different directions.”
The Delines (Portland, Oregon) were formed in 2014 with Richmond Fontaine’s Willy Vlautin, Sean Oldham and Freddy Trujillo along with the amazing vocals of Amy Boone from Austin’s The Damnations. Their first album, Colfax, was an instant hit in Europe and appeared on over twenty top ten end of year lists in Europe and the US.
The band added keyboardist and trumpeter Cory Gray and had their next album The Imperial ready for release in 2016 when Amy was tragically struck by a car. The band was sidelined for three years while she recuperated. In 2019, The Imperial was
released and topped the UK Americana charts for two weeks leading to sold out UK and European tours.
Their third album, The Sea Drift, was released on February 11th, 2022. Jealous Butcher Records, who released the album in the US, had already begun a major promotional campaign to further introduce the band to US audiences. The Sea Drift was released on Decor Records in UK and Europe.
The Delines songwriter, Willy Vlautin is a published novelist with six books (Harper Collins) two of which have been made into feature films (Lean on Pete and The Motel Life). Willy has done spoken word tours across the US and has appeared at
numerous Literary festivals (Texas Book Festival, Portland Book Festival, LitQuake, Tucson Book Festival, to mention a few).
The Damnations toured the US tirelessly from the mid-90’s to 2007. Richmond Fontaine released ten studio albums and toured the US from the late 90’s till 2006. After that, they were in such demand in Europe that they focused their touring energy there. They played sold out venues for nearly a decade and played to over a thousand people at their final London show.
Click here to watch the New Music Video for Little Earl
Click here to watch The Delines Full Performance Live on KEXP
Click Here to Watch The Delines Live Performance of Colfax Avenue
Ghettoblaster Magazine – The Delines Announce New Album & Share Single “Little Earl”
The Boston Globe, Philly Inquirer and Glide Magazine put their last album,
The Imperial, in their top releases of 2019:
Click here to read The Inquirer article
Click here to read The Boston Globe article
When hard times come calling, they don’t tap at the door to be invited in. They barge straight in and wreak havoc. Just ask Singer/Songwriter Brit Taylor who found her idyllic life suddenly turned upside down, and she was left in a downward spin. It was a new feeling and a scary one. But she called on her upbringing, her faith and her family for strength, and she dug herself out with grit and determination and music.
Capturing life and pain with poetic ease and plain honesty is what the emerging Americana sensation does well. Brit writes and sings about what she lives, what she knows. Real Me, her debut album being released November 20, is a self-reflective, 10-song LP telling of a journey to self-awareness. The aptly titled album has a unique vulnerability that is both empathetic and empowering.
Produced by Dave Brainard, the album is mindfully crafted to capture Brit’s pure authenticity and her Eastern Kentucky roots. By blending twangy guitars, crying steel, emotional lyrics and sultry vocals, Real Me redefines traditional country music.
Brit knows you can’t fake authenticity. Real Me reflects her story and, in some way, it is everyone’s story.
“It took me 30 years to figure out who the real me is,” Brit said. “I’m glad I found her.”
Her four early-release singles from the album have earned positive reviews from numerous outlets including Rolling Stone, Billboard, American Songwriter, Music Row and others. All songs have found their places on playlists from Spotify, Apple and Amazon, including Spotify’s Pulse of Americana, Emerging Americana, Indigo and New Nashville. Taylor has been voted No. 2 on the CMT 12-Pack Countdown and the No. 2 most added album on AMA/CDX Radio Chart, tying with Waylon Payne.
With her “luscious alto tone” (American Songwriter) and “her “steel guitar-drenched, laid back” sound that “hits traditional country notes” (Billboard), Robert K. Oermann of Music Row praised her “liquid alto singing voice, with bright teardrop accents.” “I am smitten,” he wrote. “Send more.”
From her first single release, “Waking Up Ain’t Easy,” which shared her journey through depression as her life crashed around her, to the album’s title song, “Real Me,” an awareness of knowing her true self and having the guts to expose it to the world, the album borrows from her roots and blends it with a 21st Century vibe to create her unique sound.
It was the mess of her life that provided her with a personal and professional break-through.
Life started out like a dream.
Born in Eastern Kentucky where the famed Country Music Highway 23 slices through the mountains, Brit grew up surrounded by music — and idols — that she loved. Chris Stapleton, Loretta Lynn, Tyler Childers, Dwight Yoakum, Patty Loveless, The Judds, and so many more. It was a place that gave birth to her dreams and opportunities to reach them.
From her debut on the Kentucky Opry as a seven-year-old, music has been a natural part of her life. It wasn’t really the stage she loved or the fans’ love for her that she craved; it was the singing and the songs. For 10 years — from elementary school through high school, the small-town girl learned and performed on the Kentucky Opry stage every weekend though the summers and Christmas seasons. It was the life she wanted.
Following high school graduation, she packed her bags, her black Karate belt, her dog and her dreams which had become goals, and she travelled that famed Music Highway out of Kentucky and into Tennessee.
She went to work. In her first five years in Tennessee, she not only earned a college degree, she turned a music business internship into a four-year publishing contract with CALIV Entertainment, later Spirit Music Group. It was there, during those next four years, where Brit co-wrote with some of the top names in the business and where Brit and her band wrote and released an EP and toured the United States. She also married the love of her life and bought a mini-farm, firmly planting her roots in Tennessee.
Everything seemed to be going great until suddenly it wasn’t. There was the divorce from a person who was less committed to marriage than she was, the death of her beloved dog, a car break down, the bank wanting her house and the break-up of her band. While it might have made great lyrics for a country song, it made for a hard winter of living for Brit.
With those dreams turned goals still firmly in place, Brit looked deep inside her soul and knew it was time to create the kind of music that was honest to her. Without looking back, she started anew, leaving her publishing deal, her band and her marriage behind.
It took real courage. Forming a small business to pay the bills and feed her mini-farm menagerie of dogs, cat, goats and chickens, Brit was able to become her “real me,” reaching into her heart to create the lyrics and the sounds that reflect who she is.
Just a few months after leaving her publishing deal and just enough time to start wondering if she had done the right thing, Brit found her answer. She was given an opportunity to write with hit songwriter and rock-star Dan Aurbach. “It was incredible,” Brit said. “We wrote eight songs in two days. Dan didn’t try to make me sound like anybody else, he just let me be me. That was the kick of courage I needed to make my record my way.”
Five of the songs they wrote are on Brit’s highly anticipated album Real Me, coming out this month.
In a world where authenticity is often traded for marketability Brit is bravely standing out as her own self. Her marketability is the timelessness of her sound and the honesty of her lyrics. She is putting her new spin on traditional country music.
“I think it’s really hard to be authentic in this town,” Brit said. “As artists, we all struggle with feelings of insecurity, we all want to be a success story. So we wonder if we need to change our look to fit what’s in; we are encouraged to change our sound to satisfy radio and at the same time we are told we should strive to be unique and stand out from the crowd. You can’t fit in and stand out at the same time.”
It isn’t an easy path to navigate, but Brit learned that the best GPS was her inner self. Today, the power of her music is that it is refreshingly simple yet surprisingly complex. Always true to herself, Brit Taylor continues to tells stories which manage — whether they are dramatic, humorous or heartfelt — to be downright honest.
Somewhere along the dusted highways of the Lone Star State, well west of the 100th Meridian, the members of country alt-rock band the West Texas Exiles each felt the electric pulse of Austin and headed eastbound, in search of the nostalgic sawdust floors and blinking neon that symbolized the apogee of their musical ambition. Following in the footsteps of musical luminaries and influences such as The Flatlanders, these five strangers with a shared dream immersed themselves in the thriving Austin music scene until inevitably finding each other, bound by the chemistry of a shared musical heritage and a yearning to bring back the exuberance of live Texas music.
A three-man singer/songwriter combo backed by veteran musicians, the band released their first single, “New Moon Foe,” to coincide with a dustblown tour through some of their favorite West Texas haunts in May of this year. Their recently released second single “Hotel Tomorrow” evokes the ghost of southwestern Americana at its snakebit best, but it’s in the titular track “Exile,” from a soon to be released EP, that the group’s intentions are professed perhaps most saliently: this band of outsiders isn’t satisfied with only a waltz across Texas, they are riding into the sunset in search of new musical horizons “while I still got my boots on my feet.”
West Texas Exiles are:
Marco Gutierrez – Vocals/Guitar
Daniel Davis – Vocals/Keys/Guitar
Eric Harrison – Bass/Vocals
Trinidad Leal – Drums/Percussion
Colin Gilmore – Vocals/Mandolin/Guitar
“I’ve been obsessed with western swing music since I was a kid and it’s always been an influence. My records in the past have ranged from bluegrass to country music to folk, but I’d never fully explored swing until now.” So says genre-busting Fargo-born, Austin-incubated, Nashville resident Brennen Leigh, whose new collaboration with the kings of modern-day western swing, Asleep at the Wheel, Obsessed with the West (Signature Sounds) is a showcase not just for The Wheel or Bob Wills fans, but for anyone who’s ever curled up with Lefty Frizzell, Billie Holiday, Willie Nelson or even Louis Armstrong.
Leigh’s graceful, refined voice and instrumental fluency, her interplay with Ray Benson, and the perennial brilliance of The Wheel serve up a treat on this, Leigh’s seventh album, showcasing twelve self penned songs. With cameos from Emily Gimble and Katie Shore (all the players get their moments in the sun), Leigh demonstrates her wit and vitality on the terrific jump 40’s rhythm and blues, “Comin’ in Hot,” and the lonesome cowboy ballad “Riding Off Onto Sunset Boulevard.” It’s no question why Rodney Crowell, Charley Crockett and Lee Ann Womack have recorded her songs. Obsessed with the West is a celebration of music for music’s sake in 2022, not just an exercise in anthropology.
“When I moved to Nashville from Texas,” she explains, “for some reason it triggered another western swing phase in my life. I was out of Texas, but something about the swing was still grabbing me; I was listening to a lot of Bob Wills, and of course The Wheel. I had first been exposed to Western swing through my parents’ Asleep At The Wheel records while I was
Born in North Dakota and raised in Minnesota, Leigh began touring at 14, while cultivating her classic country informed songwriting. At 19, she moved to live music mecca Austin, Texas where she rubbed shoulders with and eventually inspired the esteem of Ray Benson. “I knew the band peripherally, and we’d talked about making a record years before, but I had just signed a publishing deal in Nashville and was about to move away from Texas. So for that reason our stars didn’t align until more recently.”
“I wrote thirty western swing songs in the beginning of 2021, alone and with different writer friends,” she continues, “and we culled it down to twelve. Many of the songs have a 1940s Cindy Walker type vibe — she was at the forefront of my mind for this entire process, something of a spirit guide for me — but there’s definitely a jazz influence, country, and a couple of songs that I would call cowboy or folk tunes.”
“This is my love note to western swing; to the rich culture it comes from, as I see it,” she adds, “I listen to and have been influenced by a lot of dead people, but our genre is important, and I think it deserves new life and new songs. The old stuff is where I come from, my songs turn out to be a melding of the old styles, whether I like it or not. You put cinnamon in something it’s going to taste like a snickerdoodle. I don’t know how not to put it in there.”
No need to worry about that either. Western swing is a fine genre year after year, you can’t beat Asleep at the Wheel, and Brennen Leigh is every bit their peer. Obsessed with the West is a treat for the ears and the heart, a damn fine snickerdoodle of great songs, top-flight instrumentalists, and the vibrant, still evolving artistry of Brennen Leigh.
Vandoliers are a uniquely Texas band, distilling the Lone Star State’s vast and diverse musical identity into a raucous, breakneck vibe that’s all their own. After spending much of the last three years furiously writing and recording music, this Dallas-Fort Worth six-piece is back with The Vandoliers, a new album that proves these rowdy, rollicking country punks are tighter, more cohesive and more sonically compelling than ever.
Forged in the fires of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Vandoliers is the product of a time of immense growth and change for the band. Though most of the record was written in 2019, following the release of their much-acclaimed album Forever, plans changed quickly in March 2020. “It was supposed to be a quick turnaround,” frontman Joshua Fleming says. “After touring with Lucero and the Toadies, we were supposed to go into the studio to knock out an album, and head to Europe for the first time.” That didn’t happen —their tours were canceled, the band’s label folded, and what was to come next was totally up in the air.
Recorded with Grammy-winning producer Eric Delegard at Reeltime Audio in Denton, TX, The Vandoliers is an album interrupted. The band’s original two-week recording session ended abruptly in March 2020 as shutdowns began across the globe. The band didn’t get back into the studio until November, at which point they realized that, like many of the best-laid plans, their original strategy for the record had to change. “We wanted to make an album that had the same power as our live performance — a tight, big sound,” Fleming says. “Through trial and error, label closure, fatherhood, sobriety, relapse, the album grew on its own stylistically. After the hardest two years of my life, we created a collection of songs that push us as musicians, songs that reaffirmed my place as a songwriter and a faith in ourselves as a band I don’t think we had before.”
Amid all that uncertainty, Vandoliers did what they knew best: they made music. First came “Every Saturday Night,” a pandemic-era appreciation of all the rowdy, late-night shows that we all missed while stuck at home. “I thought for sure that this would be the last song I would ever write. I missed all the little things about the life I lived up until that point,” Fleming says. “I missed the smells and tastes of a smoky dive bar, the long overnight drives listening to our favorite bands.” Those thoughts clearly struck a chord with listeners, earning the song heavy rotation on the radio, especially Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country, and jumpstarting the band’s plans to head back into the studio to encapsulate their electric live shows into the album that would eventually grow into The Vandoliers.
The Vandoliers is a manifesto, both sonically and lyrically. It’s an assertion of the band’s distinct character, their sonic rebelliousness, and big, bold stage presence. They’ve got range, too, but that should be expected from a band that deftly blends mariachi horns with country-punk rhythms. On “The Lighthouse,” tender vocals pair with Travis Curry’s delicate fiddle to create a sweet cowpunk lullaby written for Fleming’s one-year-old daughter Ruby Mae, born at the height of the pandemic. And then there’s “Bless Your Drunken Heart,” a hard-driving ode to the town drunk that makes apt use of the South’s favorite passive-aggressive slight and has quickly become a favorite at the band’s live shows, and “I Hope Your Heartache’s a Hit,” a swinging, swaggering tribute to a one-night-stand written by multi-instrumentalist Cory Graves.
Taken all together, this impressive fourth album builds to what is the Vandoliers’ most cohesive effort to date without sacrificing any of the distinct identity that makes the band work as well touring alongside punkers Flogging Molly as they do opening for independent country legends the Turnpike Troubadours or Dallas rockers the Old 97s. Few bands can bring together the square toes and the steel toes quite like the Vandoliers. As its members have grown and matured, so has the sound of Vandoliers. But what remains the same, though, is the band’s core philosophy of solidarity and hope, evidenced by the motto they’ve all had tattooed on their arms: Vandoliers Forever, Forever Vandoliers.
Vandoliers are Joshua Fleming, bassist Mark Moncrieff, drummer Trey Alfaro, fiddler Travis Curry, electric guitarist Dustin Fleming, and multi-instrumentalist Cory Graves. Formed in 2015, the band released 2016’s Ameri-Kinda and 2017’s The Native on State Fair Records, and Forever (2019) on Bloodshot Records.
American Songwriter has this to say about The Two Tracks: “They avoid many of the cliches and gimmicks that have grown common in the Americana world while still championing a natural, Earth-grown sound. To hear an acoustic quartet reach a level of dynamic and thematic intensity like The Two Tracks do is an immeasurably rewarding experience. It’s pure musicianship, it’s pure excellence, it’s pure Americana.” Husband and wife duo Julie and Dave Huebner write songs that traverse the male and female perspective with emotional and natural images of rural American life. The band cares about lyrics, story, and the power of the song. Every arrangement is designed to fully highlight that direct connection between the song and the listener. Hailing from the eastern side of the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming, the band has traversed the country bringing their joyful, unique sound to stages big and small, including their recently completed first international trip to Dubai for performances at the World Expo. Julie’s driving rhythm guitar, on-stage enthusiasm and vocal prowess dance perfectly with Dave’s rich voice and unique cello playing – which adds a layer of surprise to the band’s sound. This is complemented wonderfully by the four part harmonies, and rock solid groove filled out by Taylor Phillps on bass and Fernando Serna on drums. All seasoned musicians and good friends, they have knit their passions into a tight band family, and it comes across in their albums and on stage. “There’s a direct line from the songwriters to the listeners with just the right amount of production and texture to make them dance on the surface and slide deep into the soul.” – Post to Wire
Til It’s Gone
“When I was out in L.A., I had the sensation that I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing,” Ali McGuirk says of recording her stunning Signature Sounds debut, Til It’s Gone. “That’s such an elusive feeling to capture.”
On the recommendation of producer Jonah Tolchin (a star singer-songwriter in his own right), McGuirk traveled from her adopted home of Burlington, Vermont to the Los Angeles neighborhood of Silver Lake to track much of Til It‘s Gone. A sublime set of songs that pairs McGuirk’s trademark soul sound with rootsy turns and raw rock ‘n roll detours, the album began to bloom at the L.A. sessions. McGuirk remembers describing to Tolchin the vibe she envisioned for the record. She mentioned something about it being akin to the cool fusion of styles that Little Feat achieved in the ’70s – that funky, twangy, jazzy and thoroughly-authentic feel. Tolchin suggested they just call up legendary Little Feat guitarist/mandolinist Fred Tackett and get him to lay down a few parts.
“Fred Tackett came in and was casually telling stories about sessions he did with Ringo and Harry Nilsson like it’s not a big deal,” McGuirk says with a laugh. “It took me a minute to acclimate, but once the music started, everyone was so supportive and into the tunes.”
Tolchin and engineer/studio owner Sheldon Gomberg recruited an A-list of session players in cluding Tackett, organist Larry Goldings (James Taylor, Norah Jones), singer Valerie Pinkston (Ray Charles, Luther Vandross), percussionist Lenny Castro (Stevie Nicks, Stevie Wonder). They provided the astounding chops, but the true magic of Til It‘s Gone comes from McGuirk’s singular voice as both singer and songwriter. The nine tracks – songs that run from intimate introspection to wider meditations on oppression and justice – succeed because McGuirk has composed dynamic, hypnotic frames for her vocals.
Growing up just outside Boston, McGuirk doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t want to be a singer. But as a kid, she didn’t see a path forward. To her, professional singers were pop icons like Brandy, Britney or Mariah. McGuirk got a guitar in high school but admits she basically only played the same four chords over and over again. By college, after a couple decades of absorbing ’90s r&b, ’70s singer-songwriters and classic soul of every era, McGuirk found her own aesthetic: earthy, pure, propelled by a voice capable of whispering dark truths or belting out big hooks on her originals. Boston responded with a wave of love. The Boston Globe named her an “artist to hear.” She racked up nominations and wins at both the Boston Music Awards and New England Music Awards. Her standing-room-only residency at Somerville’s Bull McCabe’s Pub delivered electric performances – Til It‘s Gone also features key contributions from McGuirk’s Boston bandmates such as guitar ace Jeffrey Lockhart.
The songs on Til It‘s Gone are a culmination of McGuirk’s influences, experience and soul searching. Over jazz vamping and a deep groove, “Evelyn” speaks to “several layers of genera tional trauma that the women in my family have survived.” Somewhere between folk ballad and quiet storm r&b cut, “The Work” addresses how too many people refuse to have honest and earnest conversations about their privilege “If we can’t talk to each other and hold space for people when we can, nothing will progress,” she says. “Wealthy people, white people, cisgender people, straight people and anybody who holds institutional power need to first learn what institutional power is, then realize they, or we, have it, then do some work.”
McGuirk also spends time considering and reconsidering love gone wrong, or love gone side ways, or upside down. “Let It Be You” sits happily in its classic blues pop vibe capturing a scorching vocal take that came at the end of an epic 10-hour day in the L.A. studio. “Leave Me” winds through complex emotions “If I’m gonna sing about the delusions of love, let my head be squarely on my shoulders while doing it,” she says – over an equally complex arrangement that starts with Joni Mitchell-reminiscent folk and rises to a jamming, Grateful Dead-esque climax. With the twang of an Emmylou Harris gem, “Empty Vase” came out of wanting to write some “anti-torch songs.”
“I used to sing a lot of jazz and loved the ‘torch’ singers like Dinah Washington, Etta James, Sarah Vaughan, Abbey Lincoln, even though so many of the songs they sang felt anti-feminist to me,” McGuirk says. “Abbey Lincoln says a song is like a prayer, and you get what you put out and I found that to be true in my life. The idea that you can be a strong, independent feminist, and still suffer from the leftover feelings of a culture steeped in historically unequal power dynamics between the genders is something that writing these songs has helped me process.”
Til It‘s Gone is the rare record that features a young artist relaxing into tender, homey spaces and pushing herself emotionally and sonically. Stretches of the record channel those brilliant, warm torch singers McGuirk has spent so much time with. Then there are wild asides, such as album closer “Milk,” a towering rock crescendo full of guitar feedback and organ swells.
“Every artist has genre identity crises because you don’t want to get pigeonholed and it’s so easy to,” she says. “But you get so invested in these sub-genres. In high school, it was Joni Mitchell and Neil Young singer-songwriters. In college, it was jazz. And all along it’s been soul. My go to is still turning on Donny Hathaway to chill. But I have always felt I have had these other secret interests that come out.”
“I love ‘Milk’ because it makes people think I’m a rock artist,” she adds with a laugh. “It’s the last song on the record, but definitely one of my favorites. I think we created a whole dystopian love scene on this one. I wanted the vocals to be distorted and the guitars to be out front.”
Til It‘s Gone loves to dip into genres and sub-genres. But it never gets lost. Acting as co-producer with Tolchin, McGuirk let the songs wander from shadowy emotional spaces to big, bad guitar workouts to delicate little confessions. But her voice – bold, buttery, spellbinding – carries each song to the next til they’re gone.
New York based art-rock trio
Not many bands can handle very long careers and never stop evolving and actually, keep on exploring, from record to record. Blonde Redhead deserves a place in this category. In 25 years, the acclaimed New York based trio went from the noise rock of the early years to the refined dream pop of “Misery Is A Butterfly”, passing through the sensual electronic textures of “Barragán” in 2014, before reaching the melancholic romantic sound of “3 o’clock” EP.
Formed in 1993 by Kazu Makino and twin brothers Simone and Amedeo Pace, the band challenges itself with each recording situation and the results have been stunning every time. Their music is always inspired by the same emotions, but their tastes and the ways they choose to execute those emotions are constantly evolving.
With Kazu and Amedeo on guitars and vocals, Simone on drums, and Takahashi on bass, the band’s chaotic, artistic rock caught the attention of Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, who produced and released the band’s debut album, Blonde Redhead, on his Smells Like Records label in 1995. Shortly after the album’s release, Takahashi left the band. The remaining members continued as a trio, releasing a second album, La Mia Vita Violenta, on Shelley’s label in 1995.
For their 1997 release, Fake Can Be Just as Good, recorded for Touch & Go, the trio was joined by guest bass player Vern Rumsey from Unwound. By 1998, the band eliminated bass and scaled back to guitars, drums, and vocals for In an Expression of the Inexpressible. Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons and the Mélodie Citronique EP followed two years later.
The song “For the Damaged Coda” released on the album Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, was used in an episode of Rick and Morty series and gained over 33 million views on YouTube.
The band’s first album for 4AD, Misery Is a Butterfly, was released in spring 2004. For 2007’s 23, the group opted for a mix of dream pop and delicate electronic textures. Three years later, Blonde Readhead delivered Penny Sparkle, a more stripped down, even more electronic-leaning set of songs the band recorded in New York and Stockholm with Alan Moulder, Van Rivers and the Subliminal Kid. In 2014, the band returned with Barragán, featuring production from Drew Brown
(Beck, Stephen Malkamus, Radiohead).
The band revisited its early days in 2016 with the Numero Group box set Masculin Feminin, which collected Blonde Redhead and La Mia Vita Violenta along with demos, singles, and radio performances from that era. That year also saw the release of Freedom of Expression on Barragán, a collection of Barragán remixes including contributions by Deerhoof, Van Rivers, Nosaj Thing, and Connan Mockasin.
Blonde Redhead returned with new music in 2017 in the shape of the EP 3 O’Clock, which they released on their own Asa Wa Kuru Records.
The band is now working on a new album, while Kazu Makino is going to launch her first solo project.
The discography of Welsh alternative rock band the Joy Formidable consists of three studio albums, one live album, three extended plays and 15 singles. Their debut extended play, A Balloon Called Moaning, was released in December 2008, followed by their debut studio album, The Big Roar, in January 2011, which reached No. 31 on the UK Albums Chart, and produced the singles “Whirring” and “A Heavy Abacus”, which reached No. 7 and No. 25 on the US Alternative Songs Chart, respectively. Their second studio album, Wolf’s Law, was released in January 2013 and reached No. 41 and No. 51 on the UK Albums Chart and the US Billboard 200, respectively. Their third studio album, Hitch was released in March 2016. Their fourth studio album, AAARTH, was released on 28 September 2018.
LA mystic-rock mainstay Death Valley Girls return with the announcement of their upcoming LP, Islands In The Sky, out February 24th via Suicide Squeeze Records. With the announce comes cosmic lead-single “What Are The Odds” accompanied by a video of the band reincarnated in red beehive wigs at an epic pool party, quickly expanding into an exploration of existing in parallel universes and multidimensional space/time.
About the track, lead-member Bonnie Bloomgarden offers: “When we wrote “I’m a Man Too” we were trying to revisit No Doubt’s “I’m Just a Girl” but through a new lens. “What Are the Odds” is in the same way an investigation /revisitation of Madonna’s “Material Girl” but with a DVG spin. We love to think about consciousness, and existence, and we very much believe in some type of reincarnation, but also that this experience isn’t linear, there isn’t a past and future, there’s something else going on! What is it? Is it a simulation, are we simulated girls??!”
For the better part of a decade, LA’s scrappy rock n’ roll mystics Death Valley Girls have used their music as a means of tapping into a communal cosmic energy. On albums like Glow In The Dark (2016), Darkness Rains (2018), and Under the Spell of Joy (2020) the band challenged the soul-crushing banality of modern society and celebrated “true magical infinite potential” through a collage of scorching proto-punk riffs, earworm melodies, far-out lyrics, and lysergic auxiliary instrumentation. But on their latest album Islands in the Sky, Death Valley Girls’ songwriting mastermind Bonnie Bloomgarden uses the band’s anthemic revelries as a guidebook to spiritual healing and a roadmap for future incarnations of the self. And while these may be the loftiest aims of Death Valley Girls to date, the resulting music is also by far their most infectious and celebratory.
The seeds for Islands in the Sky were planted while Bloomgarden was bed-ridden with a mysterious illness from November 2020 to March 2021. “When I was sick I had to sleep most of the day. I kept waking up every few hours with an intense message to take care of the island, feed the island…I have no idea why, but making music for the island kept coming up.”
Before her illness, Bloomgarden’s primary focus was writing songs to help other people deal with their own suffering. But something in her shifted, and she began to turn her focus inward. “When I was sick I started to wonder if it would be possible to write a record with messages of love to my future self. This was really the first time that I consciously thought about my own suffering and what future me might need to hear to heal. I struggled so much in my life with mental health, abuse, PTSD, and feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere. And I don’t want anyone—including my future self—to suffer ever again. I realized that if we are all part of one cosmic consciousness, as we [Death Valley Girls] believe, then Islands in the Sky could serve not only as a message of love and acceptance to myself, but also from every self to every self, because we are all one!”
If this sounds too cerebral or esoteric, don’t worry. At its core, Islands in the Sky is a party—a riotous, danceable, sing-a-long celebration of life, love, and mystery. The bulk of the album was channeled into being when Bloomgarden and drummer Rikki Styxx went out to a cabin in the California woods on New Years Day 2022 to hunker down and harness the songs from the ether. Further bolstered by Larry Schemel’s guitar prowess and the addition of new bassist and co-lead singer Sammy Westervelt, Death Valley Girls set out to make their most ambitious and exciting record to date at Station House Studio in Echo Park.
Islands in the Sky opens with a patient, hazy, aura fueled synth, organ, and Schemel’s dusty guitar twang on “California Mountain Shake”—a love song to our future selves, as evidenced in the song’s confession “I’m still in love with you.” The slow-burn yields to “Magic Powers,” where Death Valley Girls teach us how to harness the hard times, abuse, and feelings of being alone, abandoned, or powerless in your life into magic powers, all while channeling the pomp and swagger of ‘90s big-budget rockers like Elastica and Garbage. This segues into the title track, an anthem fully deserving of having an entire album share its name. Imagine Rush’s “Freewill” without the math but with an even more triumphant chorus and an openness to otherworldly possibilities. From there we have “Sunday,” which uses the swirling organ, soulful vocals, emotional bombast, and the hip-shaking climax of a classic Percy Sledge tune as a foundation to Bloomgarden’s lyrical examination of coping with the struggles of her past. Still not a convert? Just one spin of “What Are the Odds” and you’ll be singing along with the chorus of “we are living in a simulated world, and we are simulated girls.”
On side B, the self-empowerment song-talisman of “When I’m Free” makes a reappearance after initially showing up in late 2021 on a split 7” with Le Butcherettes and getting a scorching remix treatment from Peaches in early 2022. The fall 2021 digital single “It’s All Really Kind of Amazing” closes out the album, serving as a reminder that all the answers to all the secrets are already inside you. Fittingly, Bloomgarden states that the soaring finale to Islands in the Sky “was fully 100% channeled from my guides to remind me even when everything seems shitty in the world, and it doesn’t seem fair to be happy about anything, the earth and the universe are still really amazing.”
Suicide Squeeze is proud to release Death Valley Girls’ Islands in the Sky to the world on vinyl, CD, cassette, and DSPs in early 2023.
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Empty surrounds all of me. It’s a poignant line from the third album by Blackwater Holylight that encapsulates the search for self when suddenly everything has changed. There’s a theme of processing vast personal trauma throughout Silence/Motion that eloquently — both lyrically and musically — and simultaneously embodies the crushing emptiness, sorrow, strength and rebuilding of recovering from personal devastation.
“There was so much grief both in the world and interpersonally during the process of creating Silence/Motion,” says vocalist/bassist Allison “Sunny” Faris. “The four of us gave one another more space to be ourselves, to experiment with each other’s ideas and to be gentle with one another more than we ever have before. So, we knew this tenderness would manifest in extremely honest arrangements, and I think that you can hear that throughout the record.”
Curiously, considering the dark times in which it was created, this is the band’s most melodic and catchy music so far. Blackwater Holylight, as the name suggests, is all about contrasts: It’s a fluid convergence of sound that’s heavy, psychedelic, melodic, terrifying and beautiful all at once. And, Silence/Motion finds the band honing those contrasts, letting ideas and moods fully develop from song to song, rather than filling every song with a full range of their capabilities. It allows the band to go fully prog-rock here, and simply stay hushed and intimate there. There’s a new confidence to the band in how seamlessly they wield their stylistic amalgam.
“Writing this album was extraordinarily difficult emotionally, however it did come to fruition fairly quickly,” Faris says. “In the past, the theme of vulnerability has always been a big player and it definitely showed up full force while writing this album.”
Blackwater Holylight recorded the album as a four piece: Faris on vocals and guitar (on “Silence/Motion”, “MDIII”, “Around You” and “Every Corner”) and bass for the remainder, Sarah McKenna on synths, Mikayla Mayhew on guitar (and bass when Faris plays guitar) and drummer Eliese Dorsay. For Silence/Motion the band chose to work with a producer for the first time, bringing in A.L.N. (of Mizmor, Hell) to produce, along with recording engineer Dylan White — who also helmed their previous album Veils of Winter (2019) — at Odessa Recording Studio in Portland, OR. Guest vocals on album opener “Delusional” are by Bryan Funck (Thou.) Mike Paparo (Inter Arma) and A.LN. (Mizmor, Hell) lend guest vocals to album closer “Every Corner.”
Silence/Motion opens softly with interwoven folky single note guitars over an ominous sounding drone for the first minute, akin to moments from Pink Floyd’s Echoes. Suddenly an irresistibly head-nodding, groovy droptuned riff kicks in with the drums and it’s a full on blackened rocker with soaring synths and Funck’s witchy whispers over the top. “Who The Hell,” the track quoted above, takes proceedings into a Krautrock direction, centered around McKenna’s arpeggiated synth loop and Dorsay’s tom-tom triplets, while 16-note guitar strums add tension as Faris wearily sings, “So tell me who the hell would want to live this way — so afraid/ To feel this void, to dwell in it… I can’t describe this pain I wear/ It suffocates and you left it here.” It’s an incredibly powerful 6 minutes. The title track delivers the 1-2-3 punch of the album’s brilliant opening trilogy. It starts with lightly plucked acoustic guitar, plaintive piano chords and Faris’ voice gliding so softly it sounds more like a Mellotron. The song builds slowly toward crescendo, led by a swinging tom pattern, that abruptly switches back to a heavier version of the opening melody.“Silence/Motion” is about digesting and healing from sexual assault. As Faris explains, “It is an ode to the juxtaposition of feeling paralyzingly blank and and like your entire life is moving through you simultaneously.” Elsewhere, Black Metal guitars collide with dreamlike melodies. “Around You” brandishes a hopeful, hummable synth melody and shimmering shoegaze guitars like throwing down a gauntlet. In the end, it becomes undeniably clear just how completely into their own Blackwater Holylight has come.
“The analogy is that with our first record (Blackwater Holylight, 2018) we were getting into to the car and buckling up,” Faris says. “The second (Veils of Winter, 2019) we were turning the car on, and with this third we have kicked into drive toward our destination. Our destination is a bit mysterious and has the ability to change from day to day, but we’re on our way.”
Over the course of five years and five LP’s, L.A. veterans, Frankie and the Witch Fingers, have been mutating and perfecting their high-powered rock n’ roll sound. After savagely touring the USA and Europe, this four-headed beast has shown no signs of relenting—appearing like summoned daemons and dosing crowds with cerebral party fuel.
The main attraction of Frankie and the Witch Fingers is their explosive performance. With their rowdy and visceral approach to live shows, each member brings their own devilry to induce an experience of bacchanal proportions.
Using absurd lyrical imagery—soaked in hallucination, paranoia, and lust—the band’s M.O. strikes into dark yet playful territory. This sense of radical duality is astir at every turn, in every time signature change. Airy vocal harmonies over heavily-serrated riffs. Low-key shamanic roots under vivid high-strangeness. Rambling stretches and punctuated licks. Cutting heads and kissing lips. All this revealing a stereophonic schizophrenia that has flowed throughout their body of work: an ebb & flow of flowery-poppy horror.
The band’s latest incarnation is primed to break new sonic ground, edging into the funky and preternatural. Just when you think the trip couldn’t get any weirder, Frankie and the Witch Fingers cranks up the dial, shatters the mundane, and summons new visions.
“Invigorating”, “brilliant”, and “charismatic” are just a slew of the adjectives used to describe Tropa Magica. “The East L.A. duo made a name for themselves by combining alternative, grunge, and psychedelic rock with cumbia” – Spin Magazine
Having toured nationally and on multiple southwest and west coast tours, they have supported established acts such as Bomba Estereo, Molotov, and comedian Felipe Esparza. The band has boldly and successfully taken on larger LA stages at venues such as The Microsoft Theater, El Rey Theater and The Hollywood Palladium.
In 2018 and 2019, Tropa Magica performed at So-Cal festival favorites Desert Daze and Tropicalia. At the end of 2019 the band self released a limited edition 7inch vinyl EP “Smells Like Cumbia” featuring Nirvana songs as cumbia renditions.
Despite the pandemic, 2020 has been a fruitful year for the band. They wrote and recorded the theme song for comedian Felipe Esparza’s new Netflix special and collaborated with the notorious Foo’s Gone Wild on the “Foo Files Cumbia” track released earlier this year. The band has partnered up as ambassadors with 805/Firestone Beer and is sponsored by Fender guitars and Ernie Ball.
Their sophomore LP “Tripiando Al Infinito En Mi Recamara” has garnished appraisal by music critics:
“…the psychedelic cumbia-punk that David and Rene Pacheco have pieced together over a decade as Tropa Magica has coalesced into something sublime on their sophomore album” – Grimy Goods
“They’ve spread their wings sonically while losing none of the charisma that made them a hot item at festivals…Tropa Magica’s new album, while born in East L.A., will truly be a child of the world.” – Buzzbands LA
Tropa Magica has a short documentary that introduces the band nationally on the well known media and news company “BESE”. Click here to watch.
After more than a decade in New York City, Anthony D’Amato headed west for his new album, At First There Was Nothing, relocating to American Fork, Utah, for recording sessions in the autumn and winter with acclaimed songwriter and producer Joshua James. Bristling with joyful energy and piercing insight, the record marks D’Amato’s first full-length collection in six years, and the growth is palpable, with sprawling, unpredictable arrangements accompanying some of his most gripping and incisive lyrical work yet. Drawing on everything from hazy ’60s soul to rootsy ’70s rock and roll, the songs are loose and playful here, even as they grapple with faith and trust, mortality and loss, resilience and regret, all set against sweeping sonic backdrops every bit as epic and rugged as the landscapes that inspired them.
Born and raised in New Jersey, D’Amato first rose to international attention with the ‘The Shipwreck From The Shore,’ his 2014 debut for New West Records. Inspired in part by time spent studying with the Pulitzer Prize-winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon, the album garnered rave reviews on both sides of the pond, with NPR inviting D’Amato for a Tiny Desk Concert and lauding that “he writes in the tradition of Bruce Springsteen or Josh Ritter,” and Uncut proclaiming that his songwriting “echoes with early Bob Dylan.” D’Amato followed it up in 2016 with the Mike Mogis-produced ‘Cold Snap,’ which earned him his first national TV appearance along with an Artist You Need To Know nod from Rolling Stone, who hailed his writing as “folk music raised on New Jersey grit.” In 2017, D’Amato released a collaborative EP titled Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, which raised more than $10,000 for refugee aid, and in 2019, he returned with the Five Songs From New Orleans, a stripped-down acoustic collection that earned even more praise from Billboard to Rolling Stone. Along the way, D’Amato toured extensively across the US and Europe, sharing bills with the likes of Ben Folds, Valerie June, Keb’ Mo’, The Felice Brothers, American Aquarium, and many more.
Grace McKagan delivers an alt meets 60’s garage rock punch, mixed with sultry melodies and a bold yet retro vocal delivery that puts her in a category all her own. After fronting the critically acclaimed, alternative outfit, The Pink Slips she has stepped out as a solo artist commanding audiences to rave reviews. With a sound laced with many of her musical heroes from Iggy Pop to The Kills to Nancy Sinatra, weaved throughout her tough yet vulnerable songwriting, Grace transports you to a musical world that feels uniquely modern and timeless all at once.
Tracks like “Surrender”, a dark, triumphant lullaby chronicling heartbreak to “So Lucky”, a dramatized,‘60s jaunt about a band member and the Mile High Club, to the Jesus and Mary Chain-inspired “So Hyper”, detailing the pure ecstasy of a crush and the riff laden, swoon of “One You Love”, McKagan’s provocative, storytelling pulls you into her vivid, seductive fantasy.
Spirit Mother is a heavy rock band with a dynamic and imposing wall of sound, a driving backbeat, atmospheric strings, and haunting vocals described by The Obelisk as lush and ranging, a “languid grunge blasted into outer space in the desert night.”
Originally formed by lead singer, songwriter, and bassist Armand Lance and violinist SJ, their lineup solidified with guitarist Sean McCormick and drummer Landon Cisneros. This quartet often performs as a quintet with the use of two violins as violinist Camille Getz has also become integral to their live performances. Initially from Long Beach, California, the band relocated due to the pandemic and is now headquartered in the high desert of Eastern Oregon. Lance writes the lyrics and creates the bones of the music in the attic of his rural Oregon ranch between cattle working and mustang wrangling – a likeness to his father’s upbringing as an Ecuadorian cowboy.
The group convenes at this cabin to collaborate and develop their repertoire. Spirit Mother received critical praise for their first album, Cadets: “a distinct chance we’ll look back on this as an early gem from a band going places” – Sleeping Shaman
In 2020, Spirit Mother was tapped for a pandemic project to create a live record/concert film in the style of Pink Floyd’s Live at Pompeii. Fans and critics worldwide revered the band’s performance on Live In The Mojave Desert Volume 3, which was released by Giant Rock Records and Heavy Psych Sounds
“Spirit Mother really goes for it with a killer set. One that has energy, unique flavour and seems to fit so perfectly within the desert environment. If you didn’t know who Spirit Mother was before seeing this show, there’s no way anyone is forgetting them anytime soon. Brilliant.” – GBHBL.com
Most recently, the band released their latest single “Locust” and anticipates their debut European tour summer of 2023 with festival appearances at Metal Days, PALP, and Sonic Blast. An additional single is anticipated for this summer, with their sophomore album to follow.
Los Shadows were founded in San Diego, CA in 2015 by friends Andy Saldana and Pepe Gonzales. Building from a foundational 4 piece Indie Rock band, Los Shadows self-released LPs ‘Miami’ in 2017 and ‘NOT a Safe Space’ in 2019.
Over the last 7 years, Los Shadows cultivated a strong regional following on the West Coast built by self-released LPs, DIY merch roll-outs, regional tours, and supporting acts like Homeshake, Levitation Room, Tijuana Panthers, and DIIV.
Summer of 2022, expect Los Shadows to release their 3rd LP that brings their classic indie shoegaze sound with new splashes of psychedelic cumbia, followed by a United States tour.
Bio by Lior Phillips Via Earth Libraries
Depending on who you ask, the story of Andrew Beck and Rob Jepson’s meeting was either a
thunderous epic or a heartwarming tale. Jepson remembers the two meeting in high school in
Provo, Utah, Beck providing a jolt of creative electricity to boost him out of the sad songs he’d write on his new guitar. Beck remembers a mountaintop and eyes of flame, the duo speaking in tongues alongside rushing waters. “Either way, we continue to have that creative soul connection,” Jepson laughs. One listen to the debut album from the band resulting from that meeting, The Mellons, and it’s clear that the duo are capable of capturing both halves of that mystic equation.
Due October 21, 2022, via Earth Libraries, Introducing… The Mellons! finds that balance
somewhere in pages of the Beach Boys book of psych pop. Jepson and Beck unlocked the
expansive potential of their songwriting when they found their match in another pair of
collaborators. Multi-instrumentalist and producer Dennis Fuller and percussionist Ian Francis had worked together in a handful of bands, and Jepson and Beck enlisted them to join The Mellons and round out their sound. “All of these pieces of songs that Rob and I had swirling around in our heads started to magically come together,” Beck says.
Though the resultant tracks are jampacked with everything from clarinets and violins to sleigh bells and trumpets, the layers never overpower the intimate harmonies and honeyed lyrical emotionality at the songs’ core. “I wanna get closer/ I wanna go deeper/ I wanna know it all,” they sigh on opener “So Much to Say”, surrounded by twirling guitar riffs and glimmering bells. The Mellons play a symphony’s worth of instruments, and self-producing the record largely at Fuller’s No. 9 Studios in Salt Lake City allowed them to chase that stratified sweetness to its heartfelt extreme. “Writing, arranging, and composing everything ourselves gives us the freedom to really get the exact sound we’re all interested in,” Fuller says. Always focused on the power of a taut hook, The Mellons made sure that freedom was used for a purpose. “We stay true to the musical stylings of the mid- to late-’60s while still creating room for the vogue,” Francis says. “It’s all about finding that balance.”
Even though the band members have worked together for years, they still dig for the surprises that come out of pinging ideas around the studio. The stomping waltz of “What a Time to Be Alive” revels in that bounding energy, though this time drawing its strength from streamlined muscle. The rhythm section of Fuller and Francis lock into an elephantine stomp, gamboling through a field of falsetto. “Just for a moment/ Lost in a moment/ Caught in a dream,” they sing, eventually drifting cloudily into a Beatles-y outro of swaggering horn, loping percussion, and muffled laughter.
The nostalgic vibe to the psychedelia doesn’t end at the music, as the quartet opt for paisley or matching turtlenecks as well as vintage collage. A trained illustrator and designer, Beck funnels visual influences into The Mellons’ vibe just as quickly as music. “Immersing myself in the whole aesthetic is part of the joy,” he says. “Things like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Monkees, and H.R. Pufnstuf are all swimming around in my mind.”
From the ELO quickchange of “Hello, Sun” to the wordless melodies and mouth trumpet solo of
“Marmalade”, there’s a whimsy to the grandeur, a childlike glee in the midst of very mature
technical proficiency. The Mellons are having a ton of fun, and deadly serious in their pursuit of the next laugh. “I’ve got a magic spell I’m going to cast on you,” they sing on “Magic Spell”, the effect already having taken place.
As Introducing… The Mellons! nears its conclusion on the bubbling “Surprise”, the quartet
achieve an indelible sense of balance between childlike wonder and the mature technical skill to achieve it. That same duality carries through the lyrics, as well. “The album is full of yearning for youth and the dream of feeling safe and comfortable,” Jepson says. “We talked a lot about time, loneliness and longing, belonging and acceptance.”
After writing and recording most of these tracks centered on longing for connection through the pandemic, The Mellons are relishing the opportunity to get these songs out on stage, to recreate their baroque and many-layered performance in front of audiences. “There’s a lot going on with our set,” Beck says. “Multiple trumpet solos, some random tambourines, someone reading a book on stage.” But whether in studio or onstage, the Mellons have figured out a way to not only make that complexity happen, but to make it feel effortless and engaging, a giant game of make believe with a soft center.
The Plastic Cherries began as a Portland/Salt Lake City home recording duo. Shelby & Joseph Maddock make songs on old tape machines that betray an affection for glam, soft rock, shoegaze, Elliott Smith, and their dog. The first iteration of their homemade pop innocence is the album Sunshine, now available on LP & cassette via Uphere! Records.
Together with bandmates Stephen Cox (bass), Wayne Burdick (drums), and Natalie Hamilton (keyboards), they can be found performing regularly in the Salt Lake area with periodic tours of the western U.S. Their shows draw inspiration from the theatrics and spontaneity of late 60’s/early 70’s live rock. A 2nd album is in the works a sequel to Sunshine inspired by the band’s live presence.
Sweep It Into Space
Here is Sweep It Into Space, the fifth new studio album cut by Dinosaur Jr. during the 13th year of their rebirth. Originally scheduled for issue in mid 2020, this record’s temporal trajectory was thwarted by the coming of the Plague. But it would take more than a mere Plague to tamp down the exquisite fury of this trio when they are fully dialed-in. And Sweep It Into Space is a masterpiece of zoned dialing.
In the decades since the release of Dinosaur Jr.’s original triptych of foundational albums, it has become clear that their sound — once hailed as a sort of almost-tamed noise — is/was/always-has-been fully functioning pop music of a sort. The subsequent generations of bands who grew up breathing Dino’s fumes managed to tinker around with the edges of their original post-hardcore song-forms enough for listeners to realize there had always been melodies at the center of everything they did. What Dinosaur Jr. produces is nothing but a beautiful new version of the rock continuum — riff, power, beat and longing, created with an eye on the infinite future.
Recorded, as usual, at Amherst’s Biquiteen, the sessions for Sweep It Into Space began in the late Autumn of 2019, following a West Coast/South East tour. The only extra musician used this time with Kurt Vile.
J Mascis says, “Kurt played little lead things, like 12 string one at the beginning of ‘I Ran Away.’ Then I ended up just mimicking a few things he’d done. I was listening to a lot of Thin Lizzy, so I was trying to get some of that dueling twin lead sound. (laughs)”
“But the recording session was pretty well finished by the time things really hit the fan. So I just ended up doing more things by myself. Like the mini digital mellotron on ‘Take It Back.’ Originally I’d thought I’d have Ken Mauri (who has done keyboard work for Dino in the past) come in and play piano. But when the Lock Down happened in March, that meant I was on my own. But it was cool.”
Indeed, Sweep It Into Space is a very cool album. As is typical, Lou Barlow writes and sings two of the album’s dozen tunes and Murph’s pure-Flinstonian drumming drives the record like a go cart from Hell. Lou’s songs here are as elegant as always. “Garden” is a mid-paced ballad with genteel guitar filigree giving it a ’60 Brit feel in spots. And the album’s closer, “You Wonder,” is a strangely excellent answer to the question — “How would Blue Oyster Cult handle a country tune?”
J’s tracks flow and flower in the different directions he often follows. Some are guitar howlers, like “I Met the Stones,” with a string sound midway between Hendrix and Asheton. Some are power ballads, like “And Me,” its lyrics atomized in a manner invented by Mascis, then famously borrowed by Kurt Cobain. And there are anomalies, like “Take It Back,” which starts with a blue-beat rhythm putting one in mind of Keith Richards’ Jamaican explorations (at least for a little bit.)
But there are very few moments where you wouldn’t know you were hearing Dinosaur Jr. in blindfolded needle drop. They have a signature sound as sure as the Stooges or Sonic Youth or Discharge ever did. They continue to expand their personal universe with Sweep It Into Space, without ever losing their central core.
So if you ever do find yourself swept into space (hey, who knows?), I just hope these tunes are on your playlist.
– Byron Coley
As trailblazers of the early 2000s indie-Americana style, the Louisville, KY-based quintet finds a way of taking tried & true rock-and-roll and knocking it slightly off axis, into tottering revolutions of something eerie, emotional, immediate, lush, and uniquely theirs.
On the surface, Murder By Death is a Louisville, KY sextet with a wry, ominous name. But behind the geography and moniker is a band of meticulous and literary songwriters matched by a specific brand of brooding, anthem-riding balladry and orchestral indie rock.
Murder By Death’s path began in the early 2000s as most Midwestern college-town groups do, by playing to small crowds at ratty venues and frenzied house parties. While many of their formative-year scene-mates failed to make it much further than campustown’s borders, Murder By Death translated their anonymous beginnings into a 20+ year career founded on a bedrock of eight full-length albums, tireless D.I.Y. touring and performing ethics, and, most importantly, a dedicated, cult-like fanbase.
SadGirl has always existed in a state of flux, with new contributors coming in and out of the equation and new tactics being explored for capturing found Misha Lindes’ songwriting. And yet the heart and soul of the music has always touched upon memories of the past while mining an analog sound steeped in history, nostalgia, and LA. The group’s sound digs into old school brokenhearted country music like George Jones or Patsy Cline with a slight flourish of Mexican norteño ballads. This new chapter for the group focuses more as a personal recording project than it has been in the past. If this is any indication of what’s to come for SadGirl, then perhaps the past is best left to memory.
Minneapolis-based quartet Night Moves return with the psychedelic new song “Fallacy Actually.” The first track in a series of new singles to be released incrementally over the next year, “Fallacy Actually” is a head-spinning swirl of layered synths, harmonica, and guitar and a fitting introduction to the band’s next chapter.
Singer John Pelant describes the track as, “A dense cosmic romp that deals with personal fears and letting go. The inevitable end of things, hatred versus acceptance, flawed thoughts, and what could have been. I wanted it to have a NOVA, UFO abduction, backroom Estonian roller rink discotheque kind of vibe. The song went through a lot of changes, styles, and moods. I think we ended up in a nice place. I love the soft flute – makes me think of Canned Heat meets Motown meets The Spinners on acid.”
“Fallacy Actually” and the batch of new songs that will follow were recorded at Pachyderm Studios outside of the band’s hometown with producer John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Alvvays, Dinosaur Jr.).
“Fallacy Actually” showcases Night Moves further evolution as a band and as songwriters, still trading in massive pop hooks that somehow manage to convey a sense of yearning melancholy but with a sense of maturity and perspective in the arrangements that comes with time. Synthesizers sweep, the pedal steel swoons, the high lonesome harmonica calls across a distance.
These aren’t pandemic songs… more a bit of unfinished business that the pandemic allowed to be fulfilled. The band and Agnello had worked together previously on the band’s second album, 2016’s Pennied Days. That album was set to be made at Pachyderm Studios but had to be relocated when studio owner John Kuker sadly passed away on the eve of the recording dates.
With the band restless after the campaign for their third album, Can You Really Find Me (2019), which was prematurely cut short by COVID, they did their best to keep busy: writing songs, building greenhouses in South Dakota for a friend, rehearsing the aforementioned songs. Out of that came a brace of new tunes that simply called out to be documented.
The funny thing is that, for anyone that’s ever spent an inordinate amount of time in a recording studio, the process of making an album is its own social distancing of sorts. So the notion of getting a cohort together in the moment actually made strangely perfect sense under the circumstances.
New songs honed and selected, the band re-approached Agnello to get feedback on the material and working together again. The idea was met with enthusiasm, and everyone converged on the idyllic, secluded Pachyderm Studios for a hectic, bustling week of creation and homage.
Watch the “Fallacy Actually” video HERE
Stream “Fallacy Actually” HERE
With their seventh studio album, revered rock institution Titus Andronicus invite you on a journey from fear to faith, from anger to acceptance, from grief to gratitude, chasing the mythical ideal of Ultimate Rock, all in hopes that you will find The Will to Live.
The Will to Live was produced by Titus Andronicus singer-songwriter Patrick Stickles and Canadian icon Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire, Leonard Cohen, The Whole Nine Yards) at the latter’s Hotel 2 Tango recording studio in Montreal. Drawing on maximalist rock epics from Who’s Next to Hysteria, Bilerman and Stickles have crafted the richest, densest, and hardest-hitting sound for Titus Andronicus yet. All at once, the record matches the sprawl and scope of the band’s most celebrated work, while also honing their ambitious attack to greater effect than ever before. “It may strike some as ironic we had to go to Canada to record our equivalent to Born in the USA,” quips Stickles, “but the pursuit of Ultimate Rock knows no borders.”
To reach this level of focus and clarity, Stickles had to stand on the nexus of triumph and tragedy. For his recent stretch of personal stability, he credits a newfound domestic bliss and steadfast mental health regimen (“Lamictal is a hell of a drug”) as well as the endurance of what has become the longest-running consistent lineup of Titus Andronicus—as with 2018’s A Productive Cough and 2019’s An Obelisk, The Will to Live proudly features Liam Betson on guitar, R.J. Gordon on bass, and Chris Wilson on drums.
On the crueler side of the coin, however, The Will to Live was created in large part as an attempt to process the untimely 2021 death of Matt “Money” Miller, the founding keyboardist of the band and Stickles’ closest cousin. Stickles explains: “Certain recent challenges, some unique to myself and some we have all shared, but particularly the passing of my dearest friend, have forced me to recognize not only the precious and fragile nature of life, but also the interconnectivity of all life. Loved ones we have lost are really not lost at all, as they, and we still living, are all component pieces of a far larger continuous organism, which both precedes and succeeds our illusory individual selves, united through time by (you guessed it) the will to live. Recognition of this self-evident truth demands that we extend the same empathy and compassion we would wish for ourselves outward to every living creature, even to those we would label our enemies, for we are all cells in the same body, sprung from a common womb, devoted to the common cause of survival.”
“Naturally, though, our long-suffering narrator can only arrive at this conclusion through a painful and arduous odyssey through Hell itself,” he qualifies. “This is a Titus Andronicus record, after all.”
Some of the proverbial fires lit under Stickles’ ass, however, burned more pleasurably than others. When Titus Andronicus made their long-awaited return to the stage in November of 2021, it was to celebrate the 10th 11th anniversary of their landmark breakthrough album The Monitor, and the act of playing that material before an ecstatic audience left the band determined to deliver an album that would reach for those same lofty heights, relying this time less on the reckless fire of youth and more on the experience and perspective at which a band only arrives with a thousand shows under their belt. Through this golden ratio, Titus Andronicus have arrived at the peak of their creative powers.
From its adrenalizing opening instrumental “My Mother Is Going to Kill Me” to its wistful closing benediction “69 Stones,” The Will to Live conjures a vast landscape and sends the listener on a rocket ride from peak to vertiginous peak. Rock fans will find themselves a feast, whether they crave barn-burning rock anthems such as “(I’m) Screwed” and “All Through the Night,” rapid-fire lyrical gymnastics (“Baby Crazy”), symphonic punk throwdowns (“Dead Meat”), or an adventurous excursion into the darkness that delivers thrills as it breezes boldly past the seven-minute mark, “An Anomaly.”
As if that wasn’t enough gas for the tank, The Will to Live features sterling contributions from members of the Hold Steady, Arcade Fire, and the E Street Band, as well as duets with the aforementioned Betson, former Titus Andronicus drummer Eric Harm, and Josée Caron of the Canadian rock band Partner. The album comes packaged with gorgeous triple-gatefold artwork by illustrious illustrator Nicole Rifkin, a Hieronymus Bosch–inspired triptych which mirrors the three-part structure of the narrator’s perilous voyage across the corresponding three sides of vinyl. All together, this esteemed ensemble, with Stickles and Bilerman determined and defiant at the helm, have found The Will to Live—now, the question is… will you?
Four-piece from Los Angeles. Punk wing dong gaze porn pop cop chop proto shoes progs clogs hogs fuzzy wuzzy soaked hugs and slugs.
“It used to be called boogie-woogie. It used to be called rhythm & blues. Now, they call it rock & roll”
Chuck Berry’s words are at the very heart of roots rock & roll 5-piece, The 40 Acre Mule. The self-described “rhythm & blues outfit” are a powerhouse of vintage revival with a reputation for seamlessly blurring the lines between country, soul and rock audiences with songwriting that borders between blues drenched heartbreak and an old school riot in the streets.
Influenced by the pillars of Rhythm & Blues like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley and Ray Charles and inspired by recent artists such as J.D. McPherson, Nathaniel Rateliff and Gary Clark Jr., The 40 Acre Mule – J. Isaiah Evans: Guitar & Vocals, Robert Anderson: Drums, Tim Cooper: Bass, Chris Evetts: Baritone Sax & Percussion, and John Pedigo: Guitar & Vocals – quickly built their own unique sound by blending vintage Rock & Roll, Rhythm & Blues, Soul and just a touch of Country. It was a sound that soon caught on with The James Hunter Six, The Reverend Horton Heat, Eleven Hundred Springs, Ken Bethea of Old 97’s, Alejandro Escovedo, Rosie Flores and more.
Since forming in Dallas, Texas in 2015, The 40 Acre Mule has built a loyal following the old-fashioned way, they earned it. Playing countless bars and packed clubs, they watched crowds grow mainly by word of mouth. As the crowds caught on, so did the likes of legendary promoter Scott Beggs and Jim Heat (The Reverend Horton Heat) who gave The 40 Acre Mule their first break with an opening slot at a SOLD-OUT show at Dallas’ legendary Bomb Factory. From there, opportunities to open for more superstars of roots music came along helping The 40 Acre Mule spread their brand of Rhythm & Blues music.
Playing to such diverse crowds has made their fanbase explode. “We’ve gone from 10 or 15 friends in a dive bar on a Tuesday to playing full-on festivals without even having an album out yet. That says something. I think we’re making music that people from all walks of life…country fans, soul fans, rockabilly fans…find comfortable and familiar. It’s because all those genres can trace their roots to Rhythm & Blues, the very backbone of Rock & Roll,” J. Isaiah Evans says.
After years of putting in the work, The 40 Acre Mule followed in the footsteps of good friends and emerging Americana stars, Vandoliers and Joshua Ray Walker, and signed with State Fair Records. After that, the good times kept rollin’ with appearances at Gruene Hall, The Continental Club, Dallas’ HomeGrown Festival and more! Now, with their debut album GOODNIGHT & GOOD LUCK climbing the charts, The 40 Acre Mule are poised to shake up the Americana world.
On his new album See You Next Time, Texas-bred singer/songwriter Joshua Ray Walker shares an imagined yet truthful portrait of a brokedown honky-tonk and the misfits who call it home: barflies and wannabe cowboys, bleary-eyed dreamers and hopelessly lost souls. His third full-length in three years, the album marks the final installment in a trilogy that originated with Walker’s globally acclaimed 2019 debut Wish You Were Here and its equally lauded follow-up Glad You Made It (the #5 entry on Rolling Stone’s Best Country and Americana Albums of 2020 list).
“The whole idea with the trilogy was to use the honky-tonk as a setting where all these different characters could interact with each other,” says Walker, who drew immense inspiration from the local dive bars he first started sneaking into and gigging at as a teenager growing up in East Dallas. “In my mind, this album’s taking place on the night before the bar closes forever—the songs are just me taking snapshots of that world, and all the moments that happen in it.”
Like its predecessors, See You Next Time came to life at Audio Dallas Recording Studio with producer John Pedigo and a first-rate lineup of musicians, including the likes of pedal-steel player Adam “Ditch” Kurtz and rhythm guitarist Nathan Mongol Wells of Ottoman Turks (the country-punk outfit for which Walker sidelines as lead guitarist). The album’s immaculately crafted but timelessly vital sound provides a prime backdrop for Walker’s storytelling, an element that endlessly blurs the lines between fable-like fiction and personal revelation. “I learned a long time ago that writing from a character’s perspective lets me examine things about myself without ever feeling too self-conscious about it,” he points out. Closely informed by the tremendous loss he’s suffered in recent years, See You Next Time emerges as the most powerful work to date from an extraordinarily gifted songwriter, imbued with equal parts weary pragmatism and the kind of unabashedly romantic spirit that defies all cynicism.
On the album-opening “Dallas Lights,” Walker presents a potent introduction to the vast and sometimes-harrowing emotional terrain of See You Next Time. “I used to hang out in Lower Greenville, which is a neighborhood in Dallas with a lot of homeless people,” he says of the song’s origins. “One of theguys there knew someone who’d passed away and there was nobody to claim the body: no wife, no family, no kinfolk at all. I was really struck by how terrible that was, and over the years it became a song about hometown pride, and wanting to die where you lived.” Anchored by the heartrending fiddle work of Heather Stalling, “Dallas Lights” ultimately lends a bit of glory to that tragedy, its chorus lyrics unfolding as their own resolute prayer (“Lord, don’t bury me deep/Under the sycamore tree/Burn Me/Spread Me/Where the city can be seen”).
In its nuanced exploration of so many disparate moods—grief and celebration, sorrow and surrender — See You Next Time takes an entirely unexpected turn on its lead single “Sexy After Dark.” Fueled by a fiery horn section, the wildly catchy track hits a brilliant balance of bravado, soul-stirring confession, and brutally self-aware humor. “There’s a deep history of sexy-crooner country songs played by dudes who were pretty unsexy by all accounts but still had so much swagger,” says Walker. “‘Sexy After Dark’ was my attempt at writing a song like that, a fun song I’d want to crank up and party to. It all came back to wanting to really push the boundaries of what I could do on this album.”
In a stunning tonal shift, See You Next Time then delivers its most devastating moment, the intensely intimate “Flash Paper.” “My dad had a four-year battle with lung cancer and passed away in November, and before he died he gave me a cigar box full of notes and cards and lots of random little things, like a ribbon from a reading competition from when he was in elementary school,” says Walker. “He also put in a flash drive with a video he’d recorded, which he told me not to watch until Christmas. My dad was from East Texas and kind of a good-old-boy type, and the video was really vulnerable for him. Some of it was similar to things he’d said over the years, as he dealt with his illness and the two of us grew closer, but that song’s mostly about me wishing I’d heard more of those things while he was still here.”
With its untethered textures and beautifully sprawling guitar tones, “Flash Paper” bears a mesmerizing quality that magnifies its raw emotion. “That was definitely the hardest one for me to write on the album—I broke down multiple times in the process,” says Walker, whose voice slips into an achingly tender howl at the chorus. The final track recorded for See You Next Time, it’s also one of several songs that Walker penned in the dead of night, while his home was undergoing massive reconstruction following the rupture of a hot-water pipe. “Half my house was torn apart, and I was living at an extended-stay hotel, but I couldn’t get any writing done there,” he says. “I didn’t want to move back the recording sessions, so I ended up going back to my house late at night and staying up for hours to finish some songs. I remember thinking at the time that it was pretty depressing—writing at 4 a.m. in this torn-apart house with no furniture and no heat in the middle of winter—but looking back, I think it’s good that I was forced to be totally alone and just think.”
Another profoundly heavy-hearted track, “Gas Station Roses” reveals the poetic sensibilities within Walker’s songwriting. “There’s a double meaning to that song—it’s partly referring to the roses you’d find in a gas station around Valentine’s, but it’s also about how gas stations get away with selling crack pipes by hiding them in those glass tubes with the origami flowers,” he explains. Layered with bright piano melodies and Pedigo’s cascading banjo rolls, “Gas Station Roses” offers a clear-eyed meditation on the hardship of addiction (“We’re like gas station roses/You can wrap us however you’d like/If you prop us up in pretty poses/We’ll really catch the light”). “I grew up around a lot of kids who had parents with substance-abuse issues, and in high school a lot of my friends got hooked on heroin,” says Walker. “This song in particular is about crack, but the overall story is addiction leading to a loss of innocence.”
A working musician since the age of 13, Walker first began honing his lyrical talents after the death of his beloved grandfather. “My granddad’s the one who got me into music, and I wrote a song called ‘Fondly’ in the parking lot of the hospital he was in,” recalls Walker, who was 19 at the time. “Back then I was mostly playing rock and punk and blues and metal, but I quickly realized that the songs I was writing were country songs.” Raised on bluegrass, he lists Texas legends like Guy Clark and Billy Joe Shaver among his essential inspirations, but also notes the undeniable influence of country superstars like Alan Jackson and George Strait (“All those ’90s country songs were so hook-driven, they really bored into my brain,” he says). With the arrival of Wish You Were Here (an album that spent 12 consecutive weeks on the Americana radio albums chart, Walker won lavish praise from outlets like NPR Music and began opening for such artists as Colter Wall and Charley Crockett, in addition to headlining tours in the U.S. and Europe. Hailed by No Depression as “an album that outshines expectations for what country music can, and should, sound like,” Glad You Made It earned the admiration of leading critics like Ann Powers (“a new voice who really impressed me”), with its singles featured on such coveted playlists as Spotify’s Indigo and Tidal’s Best of Country 2020. Over the years, Walker has continually captivated crowds with his magnetic live show, a feat that finds him joined by musicians like bassist Billy Bones and drummer Trey Pendergrass (both of whom played on See You Next Time). “I’m really proud of the band on this record, and I’m also proud that I didn’t just go out and get hired guns from Nashville or Austin,” Walker says. “They’re guys I’ve played with for 10 or 15 years, and at this point we’re all like family.”
True to that communal spirit, See You Next Time closes out on its sing-along-ready title track: a fitting end to Walker’s trilogy and its tribute to the fleeting, yet possibly life-changing, connection to be found at your nearest honky-tonk. “There’s not a lot of pretension at a honky-tonk, and there’s much more interaction than in other bars—you see a lot less people on their phones,” says Walker. “We’re there to talk to other humans, put a song on the jukebox and dance with a stranger, get to know your bartender and tell them all your problems. I really wanted to capture that feeling on this record—I want everyone to feel like they know all these characters, and that they’re somehow better understood because these songs exist.”
Ottoman Turks is no longer out to prove anything. 2019 saw the release of their debut record, produced by John Pedigo (Old 97’s, Vandoliers). It came thundering through the polished Americana scene like a Freightliner with shot brakes. But they’re far from finished. The debut was a promise of more: “Ottoman Turks II” is on its way.
Turks music exists somewhere in between a honky tonk and punk club. It’s original and real, both blistering and smooth, like the beer after a shot or the lime after tequila. While the focus is always on having a frenetic good time, the Turks never let that dilute a song’s substance, even when discussing such well-traveled territory as drinking and breakups. Lyrics are delivered with a wink, and there’s a layer of satire over the whole album. It’s in this wild flip between self-deprecation and self-confidence one reads the truth – where one finds humanity. And all of this complexity from a party band. It was a pure love of music that brought them together.
The joy of creating moments onstage trumps all, and “Ottoman Turks II” offers plenty of moments for such antics. Every spin of the record is a party, engineered to represent the explosive energy of the Turks stage show (try not to blow your speakers). No, the band is done proving themselves – they’re here to stay. The only guarantee they’ll make is this: you WILL have a good time.
“You’ve already got a couple of Spurs’ past bands in your collection anyway, with rodeo rider turned musical revivalist Jenny Don’t fronting a band featuring ex-members of the Wipers and Pierced Arrows. Together, they keep shattering misconceptions country folks have about punk rockers and vice versa.” – Bobby More // Stomp and Stammer
“Jenny Don’t and The Spurs are a fantastic independent country and western quartet who sing heart wrenching songs about emotional turmoil wit passion and honesty. The quartet’s albums will make classic country western fans extremely proud.” – Jersey Beat
Since their inception in 2012, the Spurs have kept a relentless schedule of recording, playing locally, and touring. After nearly 500 live appearances in almost a dozen countries, and with a slew of albums and singles to their name, Jenny Don’t and The Spurs are just getting warmed up.
The Spurs were founded one cold, winter’s evening by Jenny and Kelly. Jenny had been fronting her own band, DON’T, for some time, as well as playing the occasional solo acoustic set here and there. Kelly, who had been in a slew of Portland punk bands since the 80’s, and who had spent the previous several years balancing a grueling touring schedule playing drums with the garage rock trio PIERCED ARROWS and bass with Portland punk-rock destroyers P.R.O.B.L.E.M.S., and wanted to switch gears a bit. After the concept of forming a raw, real, and back-to-the-roots country band had taken hold, it wasn’t long before the couple was rehearsing a seminal set of standards by such influential early country crooners and outlaws like Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Ernest Tubb, and Hank Sr., as well as a sprinkling of originals. It was only a few weeks later that Kelly’s bandmates Fred and Toody Cole got wind of the developing musical project that was taking form in Jenny and Kelly’s kitchen and decided to call their bluff by giving them an unsolicited support slot on an upcoming show featuring the Cole’s own solo two-piece act. Not having anticipated such a high-profile live appearance as a first live outing, and feeling like the guitar-and-bass-only lineup that the band had started life as was lacking something on the rhythm end of things, they decided to ask their friend Sam Henry to join them on drums. Sam, who in addition to being Jenny’s bandmate in DON’T and sometimes solo set-collaborator, had already had a long, well respected career as one of Portland’s best drummers, having played with such first generation punk bands as the Wipers, The Rats and Napalm Beach. After a couple of weeks of practice, the debut live appearance of the band went off without a hitch and the core lineup of Jenny Don’t and The Spurs was born. The trio of Jenny, Kelly, and Sam existed in this form for the first year-an-a-half or so of the band’s existence, playing whatever local venue would take them – bars, clubs, porches, basements, backyards, and even a bookstore. This worked well for a while, and occasionally the Spurs would enlist talent from a pool of several friends to sit in on lead guitar or lap steel. The addition of a second guitar rounded out the sound of the band to the point where Jenny and Co. decided to make it a permanent part of the band’s lineup. After a couple of false starts and a bit of difficulty finding a fourth member who could commit to the Spur’s sometimes grueling touring schedule, the incredible Christopher March became a member of the family in early 2017. Christopher brought with him a wealth of talent and live gig experience, having spent years playing on the Northwest Country, Rockabilly, and Honky-Tonk circuit.
This lineup – Jenny, Kelly, Christopher, and Sam – formed the core of the group for several great years, solidifying the band’s sound and enabling them to tour extensively until January of 2022. It was at this point, while on their winter West coast tour in California, that Sam began experiencing abdominal pains. His discomfort increased to the point where the band had to cancel the last date of the tour in order to get Sam to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. This was devastating news for Sam, the band, and all of the people around the world that loved him, and when, only weeks later, Sam passed away after a brief battle with the disease, everyone was stunned. As saddened and lost as the remaining members of the band were, there was really no question as to whether the band would continue. Sam was truly dedicated to his art until the very end, and there was no way that he would have wanted the band to dissolve. He had dedicated his life to his music and the last ten years of his life to Jenny Don’t and The Spurs, and the surviving members of the band decided without reservation to keep Sam’s legacy alive by continuing to play. The search for a new drummer turned up a lot of candidates, but it was veteran Portland musician Dean Miles who made the cut. We’re happy to have him as the newest family member, and we know that Sam would be proud to know that a guy as cool as Dean is sitting behind the kit.
Now, with a revamped lineup, as well as a decade of live appearances under their tooled leather Western belts, the Spurs aren’t slowing down a bit. The Spurs are a musical force to be reckoned with, and the intensity and energy of their live set is a must-see for anyone who enjoys spirited garage-infused country music played with sincerity and raw conviction.
Jim Ruland is the LA Times bestselling author of “Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise & Fall of SST Records,” which was named a best book of 2022 by Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. It was also one of our favorite books from last year, and we’re really looking forward to hearing Jim talk about it.
Jim is also the co-author of “Do What You Want” with Bad Religion and “My Damage” with Keith Morris, founding vocalist of Black Flag, Circle Jerks and OFF!
Jim is a longtime writer for Razorcake Fanzine and a frequent contributor to the LA Times. He is the recipient of awards from Reader’s Digest and the NEA, and is a veteran of the U.S. Navy.
His new novel, “Make It Stop,” “a punk rock fever dream about American healthcare” is available now from Rare Bird Lit.
White Rose Motor Oil, a two-piece, female-fronted alt-country/garage country/cow-punk band from Denver, features married couple Eryn DeSomer (guitars and vocals) and Keith Hoerig-DeSomer (drums).
Eryn and Keith have been active in the Denver music scene for over 10 years, previously as members of The Hollyfelds and The Jekylls. In 2018, they formed White Rose Motor Oil and released their first EP, “Suburban Horses,” followed by the release of their second EP, “One For The Ages,” in 2019. The full-length album “You Can’t Kill Ghosts” was released in 2020, as was the EP “Broken Heart Holiday.” “Country Pop,” their album of cover songs which were originally recorded in the 60s and 70s, was released in 2021.
Together, Eryn and Keith have:
– Had music featured on many TV shows, including NBC’s “The Voice,” The History Channel’s “American Pickers” and other well-known shows.
– Performed hundreds of shows in numerous states, opening for acts like: The Eli Young Band, Old Dominion, Southern Culture On The Skids, Robert Earl Keen, Junior Brown, Dale Watson, Los Straitjackets, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, The Railbenders, William Clark Green and many others.
– Eryn has performed with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra on a project which included Nathaniel Rateliff.
– Won five Westword Music Showcase awards in the country category, as well as winning a “Best Of Denver” award from that same publication for “Best Band Playing Country The Way It Was Meant To Be Played.”
– Have released over five full-length albums worth of original recorded material.