As a young musician straight out of Texas, Radney Foster spent the lengthy drives in between tour stops reading the likes of John Steinbeck, Larry McMurtry, and Harper Lee. Over 30 years of artist cuts later, there is no question that he himself is an established storyteller. Whether it’s navigating the ever-changing music industry or battling a sudden, terrifying illness – Foster definitely has a story to tell.
In late Fall 2015, the legendary songwriter got the diagnosis every musician fears– a severe case of pneumonia and laryngitis. However, for someone who’s been producing songs for almost 40 years, the desire to write doesn’t fade along with the voice. During a grueling six week period of vocal constraint, Foster’s creative side emerged in the form of a short story inspired by the song, titled “Sycamore Creek,” and the idea for Foster’s newest endeavor was born.
For You To See The Stars is a project comprised of two parts – a book and a CD. The book is a collection of short stories published by Working Title Farm. Though the stories are fiction, they are informed by Foster’s upbringing on the Mexican border in Del Rio, TX. The story that most closely resembles memoir, “Bridge Club,” is a humorous and poignant retelling of the song “Greatest Show on Earth,” a recollection of playing music with family and friends on the back porch on a Saturday night.
While it’s evident that Texas has always been an inspiration for his music, in For You To See The Stars, Foster explores various landscapes, both physical and emotional, from the story of a retired spy in New Orleans to the tale of a Dallas lawyer wandering the Rocky Mountains in search of redemption to a post-apocalyptic parable of a world in endless war.
The beauty of this CD/book combo lives within Foster’s extensive imagery, which not only further expands the meaning behind Foster’s songs, but gives the reader a look at the thought process behind his songwriting. “For me, the goal of writing is always to touch that one person so much that they wonder how I got a peek into their living room–how I understood exactly what they felt. More than just rhyming or having a pretty melody, I try to express a part of the human condition that can make someone want to laugh, cry, make love, or all of the above.”
Although the literature can be enjoyed independently, each story is uniquely coupled with a song. The 10-track album, also titled For You To See The Stars, features nine new songs and a special re-recording of “Raining on Sunday,” the song Foster co-wrote with Darrell Brown, which became one of Keith Urban’s top Billboard singles. The album was recorded at the historic Nashville studio Sound Emporium and was produced by award-winning Will Kimbrough, who also plays multiple instruments and sings on the record. For You To See The Stars is Radney Foster’s eleventh album. Foster has written eight number one hit singles, including his own “Nobody Wins,” and “Crazy Over You” with duo Foster & Lloyd. His discography contains countless cuts by artists ranging anywhere from
For You To See The Stars is Radney Foster’s eleventh album. Foster has written eight number one hit singles, including his own “Nobody Wins,” and “Crazy Over You” with duo Foster & Lloyd. His discography contains countless cuts by artists ranging anywhere from country (Keith Urban, The Dixie Chicks, Luke Bryan, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) to contemporary (Marc Broussard, Hootie & The Blowfish, Kenny Loggins, Los Lonely Boys). Although highly recognized and accomplished in the music world, Foster is a true renaissance man. In addition to For You To See The Stars being his first book, Foster recently starred in the world premiere of “Troubadour,” at Atlanta’s Tony Award winning Alliance Theatre. He also appears in the upcoming feature film, Beauty Mark.
For You To See The Stars is Foster at his classic storytelling best, both as a seasoned singer/songwriter and a soulful writer of prose. Although both components stand-alone as separate pieces of art– they are meant to be enjoyed together for a reason. When coupled, the book and CD give fans a deeper insight into the subconscious of Foster’s storytelling. Journalist Peter Cooper puts it best, “Radney Foster writes with an uncommon depth of emotion, humor, empathy, and clarity. I’m going to ask him how he does it, and if he tells me I’ll let you in on his secret. Until then, it’s best that we read, wonder, and revel.”
The Never Understood EP was written in Austin, Texas throughout 2015, mostly in my garage (honorable mention to my living room). Without my iPhone Voice Memo app, lots of performing around the country to half empty rooms, the Nick Cave ACL taping, Adderall, Tecate, and The Savage Detectives, none of these songs would have come about.
Jim Eno produced and recorded these songs at his studio, Public Hi Fi. I met Jim at a bar (Austin! what a town!) and now we’ve recorded an entire album’s worth of songs (and then some!). The plan had been to Beyonce-drop a double album sometime in the next 13 years and call it Chinese Democracy Revisited or Chinese Democracy II. But, frankly, my hair isn’t that red nor can my bank account handle so much anticipation. Hence, the Never Understood EP.
The songs were performed and arranged by my favorite band of sweet and tender hooligans, The Side Arms (We’ll be touring for infinity so be on the lookout!). I take some pride in the fact that I got Eno to play keyboards on the song ‘Never Understood’ since he’s a drummer.
I hope when people listen to this record they think, ‘damn, this guy is hungry. He sounds like he’s been fasting for months, meditating on his songs. He’s somewhere passed hangry. He could use a steak. He’s pumping and thumping in time. The green light flashes, the flags go up. Churning and burning, he yearns for the cup.’ I hope that you people put our tour dates on your Gcal cos I need to pay my band and Jim.
With Love & Squalor,
Multicultural poet and musician Robert Kuhn was born in Houston, Texas and moved back in 2010 after bouncing around the world for twelve years. Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Australia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and Nicaragua all played home for him as different doors, jobs, occupations and art forms opened and led him on from an Academic All-American Line Backer to a vagabond fisherman farmer writing the critically acclaimed songs he has carried throughout the Americas. Broken hearts, broken backs, failed marriages, violence, riches, drugs, labor, poverty, music, poetry, dirt and salt; so it goes and continues.
Back in Houston, Robert joined forces with like-minded musicians (including extraterrestrial ancient bluesman Little Joe Washington) and recorded the album “Everybody Knows”. It was Little Joe’s last studio work and recognized by the press as one of Houston’s Top Releases of 2014. The latest album, “Maria the Gun” is scheduled for release in September 2017.
Robert currently lives in Galveston, Houston and on the road through the Americas where he is still sharing the unique and philosophical independent folk, blues and multilingual psyche-rock and roll Americana music that he writes and finds. It is honest at the least and esoteric at its best.
Houston Songwriter, producer, and author Andrew Karnavas is collaborating with Cactus Music, his favorite record store, to record a live in-store performance EP of new songs on Saturday, August 26th at 1:00 pm. The Andrew Karnavas Live at Cactus Music EP will be available first as a free digital download to Cactus Music newsletter subscribers and show attendees as a thank you for supporting local music and your record store. This new collection of love songs paints a bright, intimate, soulful picture in contrast to his moody 2010 debut album Film Noir and the “Delta Rock” sounds of the Runaway Sun catalog.
Featuring Screech of Death, No Love Less (with half of Mydolls), and Mel Hell and the Texas Mod Crushers, with special guests too!
For four decades, women have often been ignored or marginalized in the history of punk despite being an intrinsic and vital part of the movement since the very first whispers of ‘year zero.’ This book attempts to shed light on their varied and vibrant involvement, honor their musical legacies, and balance the views of Ensminger, a music writer since the mid-1980s, using both critical thinking and pop culture journalism, with the first-person point of view of the women themselves, including local punk luminaries Mel Hell (Texas Mod Crushers, Zipperneck), Lisafer (45 Grave, DI, Nina Hagen, Screech of Death) and Linda Younger (Mydolls).
Vol 1 presents a varied, democratic, and inclusive perspective unlike anything currently available that will explore the issues at stake, from social and gender politics to issues of violence, reproductive rights, feminism, genre categories, sexual norms, war and technology, record industry and tour network biases, DIY and humanitarian values, media narratives, street level power struggles, and much more.
At 104 pages, the book also surveys a wide-range, from classic three-chord punk and grunge/garage/gunk to Riot Grrrl, post-hardcore, and emo. Plus, it represents a multicultural input by focusing on global participants and minority communities in the U.S., including trans/nonbinary, Hispanic, African American, Asian, and other participants.
Started in 1995, and named after Graham Guest’s fifth-generation grandfather, Moses Guest is a Texas-based southern rock band that has just enough pop, jazz, funk, jam, and country in its veins to appeal to audiences of all stripes. The current line-up, formed in 1997, was voted Best Rock/Pop in the 2001 Houston Press Music Awards (“HPMA”). At the 2003 HPMA, Moses Guest and its members were nominated in three categories: Best Guitarist, Best Keyboardist, and Best CD.
Moses Guest has shared the stage with many great acts over the years, including Moe., Steve Miller Band, JGB, Willie Nelson, Los Lobos, Leftover Salmon, String Cheese Incident, Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise, David Nelson Band, Rebirth Brass Band, Jayhawks, Lisa Loeb, Colonel Bruce Hampton & the Fiji Mariners, and it played a HORDE Tour date in 1998 in Antioch, TN.
Nowadays, Moses Guest plays live shows every few months in Texas and in California and would be happy to play the larger summer festival circuit, but the band has largely been committed to working in the studio.
That studio focus is in evidence on their new album, Light, which marks the lineup’s twentieth anniversary and is their first album release since 2007’s Best Laid Plans. The super-tight, super-polished performances, and arrangements hearken back to Moses Guest’s 2002 self-titled double-cd release. And the fact that Light was mastered by none other than Sean Magee at Abbey Road Studios, London, does not hurt.
Light contains nine songs and features “Light” (the title-track), “Dawn,” “Emily,” “Free,” “Black Road,” and a ripping Allman-esque revision of “California,” which revives the great southern rock anthem for us in epic fashion.
Light evokes a certain sophistication that can only come with twenty years of playing together, but the heart of the Moses Guest sound remains the same: it’s southern, it’s classic, it rocks, and it jams.
Rick Thompson: keys, vocals
Jeremy Horton: bass
James Edwards: drums, vocals
Graham Guest: guitar, vocals
Glen Ackerman is a Houston area bassist, composer, and educator. Additionally, he is the band leader of his own fusion jazz ensemble. Much of his recording experience is attributed to artists working with the Texas based record company Blue Bamboo Music. Furthermore, he has composed and arranged for Houston area recording artists Kristine Mills, Cody Joe Tillman, and Henry Darragh.
As a performer, Glen prefers the Jazz idiom but has experience performing in many genres. He has shared the stage with nationally acclaimed artists such as Randy Brecker, Bill Evans, and Bill Charlap, as well as top call regional bandleaders including Woody Witt, Joe LoCassio, and Paul English.
Glen currently teaches Electric and Double bass at Houston Community College.
Henry Darragh has established himself as an in-demand musician in the flourishing Houston jazz scene. Since his 2009 debut album, Tell Her for Me, he has continued composing, arranging, producing, directing and playing for several artists and groups. He arranged Jacqui Sutton’s Frontier Jazz Orchestra debut album, Billie and Dolly, and played on her FJO’s Notes from the Frontier. He contributed an original song for Omni Brass’ Red. Henry also played trombone on the electronic album, Heavy Heights and has recorded for Karina Nistal and Zin. Henry’s 2015 sophomore release as a leader, Too Much Monday, features his sextet playing original, standards and a few other covers. Following that release, he was nominated in three categories in the Houston Press Awards. In Spring 2016, Henry completed a commission for the Houston Grand Opera for their Veterans Songbook.
In between sessions, Henry performs as a pianist, vocalist, and trombonist around town at local restaurants, hotels, clubs, private parties; local festivals such as the Bayou City Arts Festival, the Katy Jazz Festival, and the Texas Jazz Festival. Henry recently finished his doctoral studies at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston in December 2015 and has been hired on as adjunct faculty at UHCL. He recently signed on as musical director of a musical produced by Dance Houston that will show in Miller Theater in October 2017.
Tomorrow Forever, Matthew Sweet’s fifth album of new material in this century, the first since 2011’s Modern Art and 14th overall in a recording career spanning more than three decades, is teeming with his signature sounds and ongoing preoccupations. But the expansive 17-song work—available June 16, 2017, in CD, double 180-gram-vinyl LP, CD and digital configurations via Sweet’s own newly launched Honeycomb Hideout imprint through Sony’s RED Distribution—takes these familiar elements into previously unexplored territory, reflecting profound changes in his life. Essentially, Tomorrow Forever contemplates a knotty epistemological question: Does what is real extend beyond what the consciousness can readily grasp?
In early 2014, Sweet, his wife Lisa and their cats moved from their longtime home in the Hollywood Hills to their native Nebraska. They bought a house on the outskirts of Omaha, 40 miles from Matthew’s hometown of Lincoln, where his elderly parents still lived. The 80-year-old house was spacious enough to accommodate Matthew’s high-end studio—formerly Lolina Lane, now Black Squirrel Submarine—and a vast array of instruments, as well the Sweets’ collection of big-eyed art and Matthew’s pottery-making tools.
Soon after relocating to Nebraska, Matthew’s team launched a Kickstarter fund in order to crowd-fund his next album, but before he’d even gotten the project started, life happened. As he was getting acclimated to his old/new surroundings, his mother passed away, spending her difficult final days surrounded by her family. Never before had Matthew experienced the loss of someone near to him, and it stopped him in his tracks. But an extended period of grieving was followed by one of the most fruitful sustained bursts of
inspiration in his prolific career.
“When I started cranking out stuff, I did as many as I needed for that time,” Matthew recalls. “Before Ric [Menck] showed up to play drums, I got 10 or 15 ideas going, and then we played those. I eventually recorded 38 songs, and all of them are as pro as the ones on the record. There are things that for one reason or another didn’t make it, but a lot of them go beyond what I wound up using. So in a way, I was trying to bottle the essence of something that was even more sprawling and full of moodiness. The record is actually
pretty simple compared to what went through my head while I was making it.”
With Matthew, the creative process is never calculated; ideas fly into his headspace, he grabs them as they come and takes a ride, not knowing the destination. In this flurry, they multiplied like Star Trek tribbles, eventually taking a coherent form in his mind.
Purely in terms of its guitar payload, the new album is a breathtaking Fourth of July fireworks show, with axes trading volleys from the left and right channels in old-school-stereo fashion, as Sweet breaks out a lineup of killer players, each sporting a distinct style, like a modern-day Moby Grape or Buffalo Springfield. They shine on incandescent tracks like “Trick of the Light,” the power-pop instant classic that opens the album, the bristling, Zuma-esque midtempo churner “Bittersweet” and the glorious four-guitar jangle fest
“Music for Love.”
Guitarists Jason Victor (Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3, Dream Syndicate), Val McCallum (Jackson Browne), John Moremen (The Orange Peels), Gary Louris (The Jayhawks) and Paul Chastain (Velvet Crush) blaze away in various combinations alongside the rhythm section of Menck (Chastain’s partner in Velvet Crush) and Sweet on bass and guitar; from song to song, he adds keys and Mellotron to his lead vocals and backing harmonies. The Bangles’ Debbi Peterson drums on four tracks and The Zombies’ Rod Argent brings his elegant piano touch to “Haunted,” which unfurls with a “Layla”-like majesty, and “Hello,” in which Matthew straps himself into his time capsule for another journey to and from the future.
On the second song, “Entangled,” he ruminates on the nature of time, a metaphysical notion he’s tackled throughout his discography, the rock & roll equivalent of Kurt Vonnegut’s celebrated novel Slaughterhouse Five. “Follow time as it flows both ways,” the chorus begins, “Dreaming in another direction/In universes all around/We’re meeting in another dimension/Each one unaware.” The song was inspired in part by Matthew’s monitoring of physics courses online. “‘Entanglement’ is a physics term,” he points out.
“Einstein defined it as ‘spooky action at a distance.’ It’s a hard-to-understand concept, where, if you change an electron on one end, the electron it’s paired with changes on the other end. They don’t have to be in the same place. Because you do one thing on this end, you know another thing happens on that end.”
This interactive relationship could serve as a metaphor for the way Tomorrow Forever came together: Much of this interaction was done long-distance, 21st-century-style, as song files flew back and forth between Matthew and his collaborators over the Internet. After he and Menck finished a basic track, typically consisting of drums, bass, rhythm guitar and a scratch vocal, he sent it to each musician he’d asked to contribute to the song in question, with the open-ended instruction, “Play whatever you want.” When the finished part arrived, Matthew experienced the cyberspace equivalent of “Look what came in the mail today.” He then wove the part into the track, building it piece by piece, while adding his multi-tracked backing vocals, any additional instrumentation he felt was needed and a lead vocal—although in several cases he wound up sticking with the original scratch vocal.
As the ideas swarming in his head were coalescing into batches of songs, Matthew’s fans were coming through big time. In the end, their donations to the Kickstarter fund would enable him to optimize every aspect of the project, from the elaborate gatefold packaging featuring Harlequin cover girls painted in the early ’60s by Maio from his own collection to the album mastering by Abbey Road’s Sean Magee, best known for his nuanced remastering of The Beatles’ and John Lennon’s catalogs.
“Because of the generosity of the people who contributed, I wanted to make sure that everything on the record was really good and solid,” Matthew says. “They’ve been waiting for it for a long time, and I feel like I owe it to them.”
Matthew’s reward to those donors who were originally promised a set of demos (as it turned out, he didn’t cut any) is Tomorrow’s Daughter, a 12-song LP culled from the sessions; longtime fans will draw parallels between this limited-edition satellite record, as he describes it, and the previous companion pieces Goodfriend and Son of Altered Beast. When that one arrives, 29 of the 38 songs will be in circulation.
Matthew doesn’t know where this flood of inspiration came from, but he has an inkling. “Maybe it came from being in a new place, getting to recreate my studio here,” he speculates. “Also, I feel connected to being here in a way that I haven’t felt before—the feeling of having two feet on solid ground. But having said all that, after my mother died, I couldn’t even think about writing songs or starting to record for months and months. And in the end, I’m pleased, because I feel like I do get close to dealing with my feelings about her death at certain spots on the record. So that does inform it, but at the same time, it doesn’t completely overtake it being a rock & roll record, or enjoyable rather than purely depressing. I had a lot of feelings about her death, and dying, but then I just sat down and wrote a bunch of songs. Some of them are connected to emotional stuff for me, obviously, because the songs aren’t devoid of feeling.”
That’s an understatement. “Haunted” is laced with mortal dread, while “You Knew Me” digs deep into the complicated nature of blood ties, concluding with a hard-earned epiphany: “You knew me/I knew you too/Afraid of yourself/Afraid of me/Afraid of myself/Afraid of you.” The penultimate “Hello” ponders the possible existence of multiple universes and parallel dimensions, opening into the climactic “End Is Near,” which closes the album on a note of unvarnished directness and gut-punch poignancy. A thorny contemplation of the finality of life, the song burrows down to the raw nub of the human condition.
“I had a lot of different feelings, but I didn’t necessarily sit down to write a song about this feeling and that feeling,” Matthew recalls. “I just wrote batches of songs, and then it became clear what they might be about. For as long as it took to make the record, I didn’t agonize over writing, or rewrite songs; it was all quick and mysterious, like always. It’s just that I was dealing with moving for the first time in 20 years, and dealing with my mom—just the shock of it all, in general, was what made it take as long as it did. What I mean is, I
don’t think any of it was overwrought; most everything is just the first thing anyone played.”
When an uncommonly gifted artist trusts and follows the lead of his intuition, the results can be magical. In terms of its musical density, thematic depth, emotional immediacy and sheer scale, Tomorrow Forever could be described as Matthew Sweet’s All Things Must Pass. That wasn’t the plan—there was no plan. It just turned out that way.
“Right after we moved here,” says Matthew, “I made this video for Kickstarter, and in it, if anything, I was promising myself that I was going to make a really heartfelt record.”
Nick Diaz’s life journey and musical ventures have led him to travel to New Orleans, New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and his current home of Austin, Texas. Along the way it seems that although his environment changed, the tribulations of love and intimacy would always remain a constant, as expressed on his new EP, The Love Balloon. The roots rock outfit of Buenos Diaz bring a refreshing interpretation to one of the most respectable movements in American music, staying true to the staples of old school blues melody, without being pretentious and never losing sight of having a good time.
Nick Diaz immersed himself in the culture of classic Texas Rock n’ Roll at an early age, studying the music of legends like Jimmy Vaughn, Ian Moore and T Bone Walker while becoming a part of the Houston blues scene. Nick began to learn the guitar without the assistance of a mentor or school program, using his pure appreciation for the music he grew up with as his drive to develop as a songwriter. His performance skills eventually led him to be a part of the production team for David Fishof’s Rock and Roll & Roll Fantasy Camp and play for a multitude of high profile acts, until he moved to San Francisco. After spending time reflecting on the relationships, break-ups, and musical developments of his travels, he moved to Austin to begin working on his first release as Buenos Diaz.
The Love Balloon is a tribute to the pain of lost love as well as an excellent showcase of Nick’s capabilities as a modern blues guitarist. The album is danceable and fun while still maintaining a smooth, never too serious melancholy. While the album aesthetic is similar to that of classic Texas Rock n’ Roll acts, tracks like “The Love Balloon” incorporate a crooning warmth similar to that of 50’s soul ballads, making an even more interesting platform for Nick to execute his effortless guitar solos. The album was recorded at Beebe Gunn Studios, Houston, TX and features Nick Diaz (vocals, guitar), Mark Riddell (bass, vocals), Matt Johnson (drums), Barry Seelen (organ), Mike St. Claire (trumpet) and Smoota (trombone).
Having a sixth sense is something Pisces people take for granted. But March-born singer-songwriter Suzanna Choffel’s latest album, Hello Goodbye, contains one song that proved remarkably prescient even to her. When Choffel wrote “Go Forth,” an inspirational ballad whose lyrics seemingly impart advice from a loving parent, she thought the only thing she was trying to hatch was the album. A week later, she learned she was pregnant with her first child.
Several of Hello Goodbye’s songs could be associated with major events in Choffel’s life. She’s had many in the last few years, from appearing on season three of The Voice and moving from her Austin hometown to New York for three years, to earning a major grant from Black Fret, an Austin artist development group, and performing before thousands of January 2017 Women’s March participants at the Texas State Capitol.
But just as that song predated knowledge of her pregnancy, many tracks on this album — an earthy, lush folk-funk mélange of blues, jazz, soul, dreamy electro-pop and her unique vocal colorings — predated those experiences, along with such events as a scary brush with mortality after leaving her baby for the first time to perform in France. (Fortunately, only possessions were lost when the chateau where she was staying burst into flames.)
Ironically, those post-recording experiences serve as detailed illustrations of the album’s central theme: How to reconcile the push-pull of opposing desires? For Choffel, that manifests as a struggle to balance the seemingly conflicting pursuits of family life and musical adventures. But swimming in opposite directions is what Pisceans do.
Even the album itself reflects that duality; its vinyl-oriented sequencing creates a distinct mood shift from side A to side B.
“Side A is more low-key, sweet and soft, and side B is more of the funky dance tunes,” Choffel explains. It’s not a concept album, but she notes, “As we laid out the tracks, I realized it kind of told a story — not intentionally, but that’s how it fits together. You want to take people on a journey.”
Without her journey to New York, it would have been a different story musically. “I think it took me moving away to embrace some of the rootsier, funkier sounds that found their way on here,” Choffel says. “Especially in ‘Sinkin’ Down,’ ‘Lately For You’ and ‘Keep on Movin’ — some of the grittier, bluesier ones.”
On that last one, a swampy rocker, the Greyhounds’ Andrew Trube slithers slide guitar riffs around Tedeschi-Trucks Band drummer JJ Johnson’s cymbal taps and New Bohemian Brad Houser’s bass notes as Choffel casts a spell with her breathy alto. She starts low and slow, but as she sings Your blood is hot from your head down to your soul/It’s hard to stop a fire once it’s out of control, her smoldering passion intensifies. As syncopated hand claps and Johnson’s relentless rhythm strokes finally send her over the edge, her voice explodes into Patty Griffin territory.
Producer David Boyle, who’s worked with Griffin, Bebel Gilberto and several other Choffel favorites, encouraged her to connect with her rawer blues/soul/R&B side. “I absolutely adored R&B and hip-hop in high school,” she recalls. “I really do feel like that’s my roots — from ever since I heard Stevie Wonder when I was a baby, to getting into Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu and so many others.”
She taps it further in the flowing pop-soul groove of “Hello, Goodbye.” Like “Continental Drift,” the opening track, it examines that afore-mentioned conflict.
“It’s what a lot of what my lyrics end up being about,” Choffel admits. In the title tune, a Beatles nod only in name, she reflects on love and transition, and how some doors must close before others can open.
We never even had to start it, we knew there was a fire there all along.
Laughing late into the night on a stage of changing lights and even now that it’s all gone,
Oh you are the light I’m trying to find, the sight inside my blind blind mind.
Oh you are the hello hello hello to every goodbye.
In that one, her decision is clear. In “Continental Drift,” she’s puzzling it out, her poetic lyrics sounding like an inner voice insisting, And so you have to decide on which plane will you reside/One will rise an empire and the other one will fall. Here, Choffel’s vocals float on the dreamily ambient vibe created by Charlie Sexton’s mando-cello, David Garza’s acoustic guitar and backing vocals and Johnson’s brushed skins. That atmospheric, Zero 7 quality also permeates “Inspire Me,” on which Choffel plays lead ukulele, and “Go Forth,” which also addresses ambivalence.
Side A ends with “I Could Be Loved,” also written when her relationship felt less certain. Boyle kept it uncluttered, with light jazz guitar and understated drum taps. There’s also a slight Bob Marley-inspired reggae inflection that’s drawn some friendly ribbing from pals who recall her Voice stint; her final song was Marley’s “Could You Be Loved.” (Her elimination earned loud protest from Rolling Stone, which praised her as “one of the only singers on anyone’s team … who had the sort of voice you’d want to listen to for an entire album.”)
She began using that voice at a young age, writing songs and playing piano before kindergarten. She played sax in her high-school band, then added guitar, and performed in various bands while attending Texas State University before earning a degree in musical technology from the College of Santa Fe. After a sojourn in Brazil, Choffel released Shudders & Rings, her first album, in 2007. In 2008, the track “Raincloud” earned 350,000 YouTube hits in 24 hours, causing the Austin American-Statesman to crown her the city’s first YouTube superstar. In 2009, she was named Indie Artist of the Year at the Austin Music Awards; she’s also scored several songwriting competition wins. In 2011, Choffel released Steady Eye, Shaky Bow; it was later released in Europe as Archer.
Hello, Goodbye flows naturally from those works while exploring new territory. Case in point: “New Word,” the product of a writing-group exercise in which participants must use a particular phrase in a song, is rendered as sophisticated, Madonna-influenced club-pop.
But the album ends on a different note with “Wish You Well,” a lovely benediction in which Garza’s harmony vocals and acoustic guitar counterpoint Choffel’s dusky alto as she sings, Oh we are the hearty and we are the weak/We are only as good as the words that we speak/If my heart is a temple, my tongue will be the bell … And I wish you well.
With a spare, yet elegant arrangement in which every note, every breath has its place, the gorgeous duet is both a gentle lullaby and an enthralling finale — one that leaves you thinking, so what if Hello, Goodbye took its sweet time getting here? Like that other bundle of joy, its arrival is certainly welcome — and unquestionably worth the wait.