The Bluebonnets play glam/garage/blues/rock complimented with layered girl-group harmonies. Tight and tough, their songs are energetic and genre-defying arrangements held together by guitar interplay and hooks you remember long after the show.The band formed in 2007, as a restructuring of a former line-up that began in LA several years before.
The band formed in 2007, as a restructuring of a former line-up that began in LA several years before. When Valentine returned to her hometown of Austin, Texas, it was the right time and place to revive a band that she and lead singer/bassist Dominique Davalos had started once before in LA. Dominique made Austin her home and the pair recruited Eve Monsees, a sensational guitarist, and singer whom the acclaimed Gary Clark Jr. credits with inspiring him to become a guitar slinger himself. Eve added a new dimension and the Bluebonnets began to play shows and compile tunes for recording. The group is completed and driven by Los Angeles drummer Kristy McInnis’ solid groove beats.The Bluebonnets put a feminine slant on blues-based
The Bluebonnets put a feminine slant on blues based rock n’ roll, yet don’t fall neatly into any musical category: traces of pop, roots, country, and punk are all interwoven into the music. Building a base with regular gigs in Austin, the band makes mini-tour trips to the East and West coasts and has recruited a steady following in harder to reach places with online live-streamed shows via StageIt.
The band’s second self-released and co-produced CD “Play Loud” has been out only a few months and has received local airplay and reviews. The CD features 11 songs, most of them recorded “old school,” –that is, live—capturing the energy that the band generates at their gigs.When Waterboys leader and singer Mike Scott saw the Bluebonnets one SXSW, he wrote this about them, leading to an invitation to open for his band in select cities on their major 2015 American tour. #Update: the tour was a smash! The ‘Bonnets made new fans in seven new cities they’d never gotten to play.
When Waterboys leader and singer Mike Scott saw the Bluebonnets one SXSW, he wrote this about them, leading to an invitation to open for his band in select cities on their major 2015 American tour. #Update: the tour was a smash! The ‘Bonnets made new fans in seven new cities they’d never gotten to play.
With instrumental abilities that made him a key member of Dwight Yoakam’s band, a voice reminiscent of Jackson Browne and a Top 10 lyrical streak that makes him seem like he’s been writing hook-laden hits for years – Brian Whelan is poised to attract a much wider audience with the release of his second solo album Sugarland.
Whelan, who majored in music at USC, plays almost anything with keys or strings — steel guitar, accordion, piano. On Sugarland, he truly puts his skills to the test, playing just about every musical instrument possible on these crisp, clean, streamlined, mostly mid-tempo pop rock tunes that go straight to the heart with a sonic sense that recalls the heyday of great radio.
Co-Produced by fellow Yoakamite, drummer Mitch Marine, alongside bassist Lee Pardini, Sugarland boldly throws Whelan’s hat into a ring crowded with the likes of John Fullbright, Sturgill Simpson, Mike Stinson, and Jason Isbell. His jangling, straight-ahead tunes like “Sugarland”, “Talk To Me” and “We Got It All,” serve notice, right out of the box, that Whelan’s grown as a songwriter, arranger, and vocalist.
After the summery, top-down lilt of the pop tunes, Whelan takes it to another level with a wry, you-lookin’-at-me, back-hand slap at a genre that he believes is mostly bloated milquetoast these days. “Americana” is his jet-blast of defiance, a withering critique of a genre overrun with Civil War outfits, mountain man beards, Deliverance-style overalls, vintage dresses, cowgirl boots, and de rigeur phoney hillbilly nasal intonation. Whelan lays bare all the calculated looks and half-hearted music with a blistering guitar behind his hell-fire-and-brimstone sarcasm: “C’mon, man, you gotta make the scene / with your big bass drum and your tambourine / You can sell it for a million dollars.” Whelan’s lyrics take a sharper turn when he tells the ultimate truth: “You’re a pretty nice guy but you sound like shit.”
Whelan adds to the sarcasm with a blistering Scruggs-inspired banjo solo by veteran LA picker Herb Pedersen over the punkish rock that makes the song and the sentiment come full circle. Even so, Americana radio is going to have a hard time ignoring this unstoppable and instantly likeable blazer.
But for all the fun of his rockers, Whelan frequently displays a rare gift for capturing the serious, the lyrical epitaph of the flailing relationship. On the brooding track, “Sucker Punch”, he warns, “I’ve got a sick sense of humor and I’m sure you know / I’m a sucker puncher when I get this low.” The fatalistic “bombs away, bombs away” chorus is pure California country rock of the highest order.
On “The Only Thing,” Whelan locates a cool, Buddy Holly-fronting-The-Clash urgency in this radio-friendly rocker. The track’s narrator laments how he “tried to run with a different crowd but I just kept falling down / A change of clothes and a new routine / Wound up right right back here at the beginning” It’s a perfect example of a rocker love song. Jackson Browne should be charting with this tune.
Another Sugarland highlight is the lazy country rocker, “Number One Fan”. Whelan sketches the borderline-rabid superfans that guys like Yoakam contend with everywhere they go – One must balance an artists desire to please his fans with maintaining some degree of privacy. Judging from the lyrics, Whelan has heard just about every variation on this theme in his own tenure with Yoakam and others.
The album is a natural extension of Whelan’s way under-appreciated debut, Decider, and with its radio-friendliness, Sugarland should go far in spreading the word about Whelan and his ever growing importance on the Los Angeles scene and across the country as well. The world will soon know that Whelan and Sugarland are the real deal.
William Michael Smith, Houston, TX
© 2017 Brian Whelan. All Rights Reserved. Design by TrevNet Media
Once compared to a man who wears many suits, in thirty-two short years Justin Townes Earle has experienced more than most, both personally and professionally. Between releasing four full-length-critically-acclaimed albums, constant touring, multiple stints in rehab, a new found sobriety, being born Steve Earle’s son, amicable and not-so-amicable break-ups with record labels, and facing the trials and tribulations of everyday life, it’s safe to say JTE has quite the story to tell. His fifth album (and first ever on Vagrant Records) serves as the perfect platform for such narrations.
Entitled Single Mothers, the album is comprised of ten tracks that showcase exactly why Justin Townes Earle is considered a forefather of Contemporary Americana. As a recently married, sober man JTE writes from a point of maturity and content we’ve not seen before on past records. “One day I just realized it’s not cool to die young, and it’s even less cool to die after 30,” Justin states as he reflects on a life past and his newly found clarity. What he’s created is an album that’s raw, honest and personal in a way he hasn’t touched upon since his debut EP, Yuma.
Co-produced along side longtime engineer Adam Bednarik, Single Mothers shines in a world of pop-culture driven Ameri- cana records. “I don’t really know what Americana means anymore,” Justin laughs. “That’s not a slant on Americana, it’s just become a very unclassifiable genre. It’s gone seemingly pop. There are good parts to that, but it’s getting to a point where it won’t be able to redeem itself if it doesn’t slow down. Just like everything that gets popular.” With his heart and soul still rooted in Nashville, Single Mothers shows Justin’s continued combination of catchy songs and authenticity.
The album was recorded live with his four-piece touring band with only days of rehearsal leading up to recording to keep the ideas fresh. No overdubs, no other singers, no additional players – just a real, heartfelt performance capturing the moment. In fact, his songs “Picture in a Drawer’ and ‘It’s Cold in This House’ are only Justin, his guitar and his pedal steel player Paul Niehaus.
Earle’s new perspective is clear on Single Mothers as it opens with the track ‘Worried Bout The Weather,’ where we see the intimate, sensitive side of JTE. Here Justin rehashes feelings of trouble on the horizon singing “it don’t take a twister to wreck a home, don’t take a night to feel like you’re in the dark and all alone” – a theme that has surfaced before in his lyrics, but this time with a personal honesty and openness. Justin’s mood switches gears on the upbeat track ‘My Baby Drives.’ “My baby drives me to church on Sundays, take me to see my Momma on every
other Monday. Some might say I’m the luckiest man alive,” Justin croons light heartedly. On the title track ‘Single Mothers’ we hear feelings of resentment as JTE growls, “absent father, never offer even a dollar, he doesn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that he’s forfeited his rights to his own. Absent father is long gone.”
“As I’ve gotten older my anger comes from a very different place. It’s more rational and mature. I guess that comes along with clarity,” JTE reflects. Single Mothers finds Justin dealing with past struggles and anger with more ease than ever before. Creating a nostalgic feeling with the return to his signature sound, JTE takes listeners on a journey through some of his most personal stories yet on what can only be described as an authentic country record.
Steve Krase was born in Brooklyn, NY and has spent time in Ohio, California and Louisiana. Now almost 30 years in Houston, Krase has blended his high-energy style with the soulful vibe that runs through the great city. “The Houston scene is extremely diverse in the different types of music that is available here,” he described. “Houston has a long history and tradition of Blues. In my 30 years here, I have had the opportunity to play and learn from some of the greats.” Not long ago, you could see Blues icons like Joe Guitar Hughes, Texas Johnny Brown, Grady Gaines, Lil Joe Washington, and other perform all in the same night. Krase is completely self-taught, but gained numerous musical mentors during his time in Houston, including Trudy Lynn, the late Pete Mayes, Jerry Lightfoot, and Big Walter the Thunderbird.
Krase began playing harmonica at age 16. “I was frustrated trying to teach myself guitar, but then I heard Neil Young play ‘Heart of Gold.’” he said. “I looked at the harmonica, saw that it only had 10 holes, and figured it couldn’t be that hard.” He picked up the Blues Harp book by Tony Glover and never looked back. Krase has also been known to dabble with the “Frottior” Zydeco Rubboard (pictured here).
He draws his inspiration from several genres – Blues, Pub Rock, Punk, Country, Glam, and Electronica. However, Krase’s main musical influence is The J. Geils Band, the blues-rock band famous for the #1 hit, “Centerfold.” “I believe that band is the epitome of the way that all bands should play – leaving it all on the stage every night,” he explained.
Krase spent 10 years as the harp man for the legendary Houston band Jerry Lightfoot and The Essentials. After the Essentials broke up, Steve spent a few years as a sideman with Matt Leddy & The Meatcutters before forming Steve Krase & The In Crowd. Steve Krase & The In Crowd were winners of the 2004 and 2005 International Blues Challenge (IBC), moving on to the finals in Memphis both years. The Houston Press has nominated Steve Krase Band for Best Blues Band five times, Best Instrumentalist twice, and Best Player in 2016. Most recently, the Steve Krase Band represented Houston in the 2017 IBC in Memphis, finishing in the semi-finals.
“Hailing from Seattle, The Dip is an electrifying seven-piece ensemble that melds vintage rhythm and blues and modern pop with “impeccably crafted, 60’s-steeped soul” (KEXP). The group quickly gained notoriety throughout the Pacific Northwest for their eminently danceable live shows that feature the powerful vocals of frontman Tom Eddy (Beat Connection), bolstered by the deep pocket of their unmistakably detailed rhythm section, and the spirited melodies of “The Honeynut Horns”. Hard-hitting but sensitive, The Dip harkens back to the deep soul roots of the decades past and pays tribute to this history through the grit and grace of their performances. The band’s 2015 self-titled debut, recorded to tape at Avast! Studios, propelled them to notable appearances at prodigious festivals such as Sasquatch! Music Festival, High Sierra Music Fest, Summer Meltdown, and Capitol Hill Block Party as well as built anticipation for their 2016 release, Won’t Be Coming Back (EP). Whether young or old, you can’t help yourself from grinning ear-to-ear when you see these gentlemen hit the stage. I wouldn’t hold back dancing for that matter either! Ladies and gentleman, give it up for The Dip! Hit up the dance floor, and put it in your hip!”
Jessica Guerra is a Houston-based artist and designer who works in watercolor, gouache, ink and printmaking. She hand painted and inked architectural illustrations full time for years before setting up her own studio. She currently does freelance architecture work and designs printed textile art combining her technical skills with her love for experimenting with printmaking and water based mediums. Inspired by vintage florals and velvety paper waiting for color or an inky impression, she is driven every day by her love of creating and expressing beauty. Jessica’s prints have been exhibited locally and internationally.
The Rhode Island native may have gotten her start on The Voice, but the roots rock and R&B of Monster proves she has way more depth than any superficial reality-TV show. The title track is an unflinchingly honest and vulnerable look at body shaming – and acceptance – with Potenza wearing her plus-size like a badass badge of honor. “Up on the Third Floor” recalls her character-building years living in a rough Chicago neighborhood with husband and guitarist Ian Crossman. And the homespun “Granddad” is full of redneck platitudes – “always carry your gun” and never buy a car “you can’t sleep in,” which elicited whoops at a recent Opry performance. In the standout “My Turn,” Potenza asks, “When’s it gonna be my turn?” The answer, it seems, is right now. J.H. Rollingstone.com
Those who have seen Carolina girl Nikki Hill sing her ass off agree—this isn’t just another newcomer on the scene, this is a ‘whiplash’ moment. Where did this fireball come from? Why haven’t I heard of her before?
If you haven’t heard of Nikki Hill yet, you soon will, and once you see her perform, you won’t forget her.
Hill and her band have been touring extensively following the independent 2015 release ‘Heavy Hearts Hard Fists’ and debut album ‘Here’s Nikki Hill’, released in 2013. With a no-filter energy, and explosive live show, they deliver a sound that will make you believe in rock ‘n’ roll again! Nikki’s unique voice—with raw rock and soul dynamics mixed with the strength, passion, and honesty of blues shouters of the past—steers the driving guitar and a tight rhythm section to create a breath of fresh air with their fast forward approach to American roots music.
Nikki Hill’s self-titled, independently released EP in June of 2012 created a heavy and sudden international underground buzz that the band has traveled with across America and overseas to Europe and Australia. Those four tunes penned by Hill, combined with memorable live performances, have drawn a wide range of people from every avenue and musical taste to their shows. Her enthusiasm for music is simply contagious. One club advertisement will call Nikki “The Southern Fireball”, “the New Soul Sensation”, “amazing R&B Shouter”, and even “the new Queen of Rock n’ Roll”.
If you haven’t heard of her yet, prepare for your ‘whiplash moment’. You have been warned.
Praise for Nikki Hill:
“Nikki Hill looks back to the most confidently grizzled retro sounds…Hill’s got too much passion to tidy things up, but she knows exactly what she’s doing.” — SPIN
Doyle Bramhall II is one of the most distinctive vocalists, guitarists, composers and producers in contemporary music. Indeed, none other than Eric Clapton, with whom Bramhall has worked with for more than a decade, lauds him as one of the most gifted guitarists he has ever encountered.
As the son of the late Texas music legend Doyle Bramhall, he was raised in a home filled with the blues and rock ’n’ roll styles indigenous to Texas. The elder Bramhall played drums and was also an accomplished songwriter and vocalist, not to mention a lifelong collaborator with childhood friends Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan, who composed such SRV signature tunes as “Change It” and “Life by the Drop.”
But the younger Bramhall—a rare and distinctive guitarist who plays left-handed, but with his instrument strung for a right-hander and flipped backwards–had his own connections with the Vaughan brothers: Early in his career he was befriended and supported by Stevie. When he was 18, Bramhall was recruited by Jimmie to play with the Fabulous Thunderbirds. After Stevie’s tragic death in 1990, Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton formed the Arc Angels with Stevie Ray’s fabled Double Trouble rhythm section of drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon.
The Arc Angels’ self-titled debut album yielded such widely popular songs as “Living in a Dream” and “Sent by Angels” before disbanding. Introducing himself as a solo artist in 1996 with Doyle Bramhall II, he followed with a pair of critically acclaimed albums, Jellycream (1999) and Welcome (2001). It was then that Bramhall’s unparalleled guitar mastery won the attention not only of Clapton but Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, who showcased him on his 1999, 2000 and 2002 In the Flesh concert tours and companion CD and DVD.
Clapton, meanwhile, came next. He featured Bramhall songs and guitar as part of his Grammy-winning Riding with the King album with B.B. King, also of 2000. He then recruited him full-time, and they toured together worldwide, thrilling fans with their dramatic guitar interplay and drawing comparisons to past Clapton triumphs such as Derek & the Dominoes. Clapton’s ensuing 2004 albums Me and Mr. Johnson and Sessions for Robert J both showcased stirring Clapton-Bramhall guitar duets recorded in the same Dallas room where Robert Johnson recorded his classic blues songs in 1937. Bramhall’s own songwriting talent was highlighted in Clapton’s Reptile (2001), Back Home (2005) and The Road to Escondido(2006) albums, and he later co-produced Clapton (2010) and Old Sock (2013). In 2013 he again joined Clapton on his 50th anniversary tour and played on his 2014 album The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale.
In addition to his work with Clapton, Bramhall became an in demand composer, guitarist and producer. He enjoyed high profile collaborations producer, with a broad range of other major artists, including T-Bone Burnett, Elton John, Gary Clark, Jr., Gregg Allman, Dr. John, Robert Randolph, Allen Toussaint, Billy Preston, Erykah Badu, Questlove, Meshell Ndegeocello and Sheryl Crow, for whom he contributed songs and produced 100 Miles from Memphis (2011) and performed on her tour supporting it. In 2015 he teamed with ace Allman Brothers Band guitarist Derek Trucks (with whom he was proclaimed “The New Guitar Gods” by Guitar Worldwhen both served in Clapton’s band in the late 2000s) in the Tedeschi Trucks Band, also starring Trucks’ wife Susan Tedeschi. Bramhall’s songs and guitar playing have graced each of the three, critically acclaimed Tedeschi Trucks Band albums issued to date.
With all this outside activity, Bramhall hadn’t made a solo album since Welcome. But besides honing his skills as a producer, he had stockpiled for himself songs apart from those written for others, and when they were selected and sequenced for his fourth solo album, Rich Man, (scheduled for release on September 30, 2016 via Concord Records), they documented an intensive spiritual and musical journey that took him to the other side of the world in search of new sounds, and an inner peace sought following the death of his father in 2011.
In the four years following his father’s death he had extensively explored India and Northern Africa, these trips being manifest on Rich Man’s inclusion of the North Indian classical bowed string instrument sarangi—played by virtuoso Ustad Surjeet Singh—and the bowl-shaped Arabic oud lute, played by Bramhall’s own oud teacher Yuval Ron, the renowned Israeli composer-player-arranger.
Also appearing on Rich Man is Norah Jones, with whom Bramhall had been performing with every six months or so in a concert series. The duet “New Faith” was emblematic of the entire album in its hope that people can look beyond all that divides them and find a new way of thinking that enables peaceful progress through mutual respect and understanding.
Rich Man, then, is a watershed achievement for Bramhall, both in terms of the many music styles in the tracks—which begin and end with his fundamental American blues influences and in between follow his global music explorations and arrangements—and the inner examinations resulting in the spiritual growth expressed in the lyrics.
“I read a quote from Charles Mingus,” Bramhall stated upon the completion of Rich Man. “He felt like he was not playing his music as much as creating the sound of his life and experiences through the medium of his music. I looked at his life and related to that, and tried to capture the same thing on the album.”