Like a modern-era Wanda Jackson, Nikki Lane turns the vulnerable singer-songwriter stereotype on its ear, craftingsongs that crucify ex-boyfriendsand have no problem with one-night stands as long as she can bolt town right after. Her cooing-yet-brutal vocals are a perfect fit with an aching, mournful guitar. Her upcoming album, tentatively titled Seein’ Double—produced by, yes, Dan Auerbach—is one of Nashville’s most anticipated releases. “My songs always paint a pretty clear picture of what’s been going on in my life, so this is one moodyrecord,” she says. “There’s lots of talk of misbehaving andmoving on.”
Born in South Carolina, Lane moved to New York City and, after a messy breakup, picked up a guitar and set her sights on a music career. But the cost of living in New York proved to be too high an obstacle, so she turned to Nashville, a city she had visited extensively. “I was hell bent on living in a big city and I just couldn’t work up the nerve to come back to the South,” she says. “[When I did,] Nashville was the obvious choice for me because of my fondness for it.”
Once in town, she released the 2011 album Walk of Shame to rave reviews, as well as opening High Class Hillbilly, a pop-up vintage clothing stall, where a chance meeting with Auerbach turned into a full-fledged partnership. “During the first round of recordings, I was in an awkward mood every night I left the studio,” she says. “It was hard for me to trust that Dan was right when he said I should move a verse around or add an extra chorus. He pushed to find the right feel for each track one by one, and a few months later I found myself with a damn good record.” – Garden & Gun, April/May 2013
The late Memphis producer Jim Dickinson once called Jimbo Mathus “the singing voice of Huck Finn.” Outside the South, Mathus is likely known as the ringleader of the hyper-ragtime outfit Squirrel Nut Zippers. In his native Mississippi and throughout the South, however, Mathus is the prolific songwriter of born-in-the-bone Southern music, the torchbearer for Deep South mythology and culture. Think Delta highways, bowling-pin Budweisers and “innerplanetary honky-tonk” for the masses.
Jimbo Mathus remains a rising-star powerhouse that feeds the soul. His latest band, The Tri-State Coalition, features solid talent cut from the same Delta cloth. Mathus describes Tri-State’s sound as “…a true Southern amalgam of blues, white country, soul and rock-n-roll. As Dickinson would say, ‘If you don’t like this, there is seriously something wrong with you.’”
You know what they say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
In Theory of a Deadman’s case, they go right to the studio. In the middle of 2013, the platinum-selling Canadian quartet began working on what would become its fifth full-length album, Savages [Roadrunner Records/604]. However, everything in their lives rapidly and unexpectedly changed. Whether it be a shakeup at their label, waning interest in rock at radio, or the downturn of society at large, a myriad of issues weighed heavy on members Tyler Connolly [Lead Vocals, Lead Guitar], David Brenner [Rhythm Guitar], Dean Back [Bass], and Joey Dandeneau [Drums].
So, Connolly channeled it all into his songwriting.
“It’s such a different record for us,” he asserts. “I’m known as the guy who writes all of the ‘breakup’ songs. It would have been typical to write more, so I did just the opposite. There’s something very brutal about our culture. I got nightmares from Terminator as a kid and, now, you can watch real murders on YouTube. We’re so desensitized. I went from writing about crazy women to how screwed up we are. That’s the theme. I’d spend twenty hours a day at my home studio. I became a weird recluse, and I even grew a beard. I dug in deeper than ever for these songs. I just said, ‘Fuck it’ and went for it.”
Once again teaming with super producer Howard Benson [My Chemical Romance, Halestorm] in the studio, he tapped into the same robust riffing and primal power that coursed through the group’s 2008 platinum-certified breakthrough, Scars & Souvenirs—which yielded the #1 Mainstream Rock Radio smash “Bad Girlfriend” as well as “So Happy” and “By The Way”. Lyrically, Connolly turned his attention to the state of the world around him and churned out the band’s catchiest and most crushing statement yet.
“This is Theory of a Deadman on steroids but not with the shrunken balls and b-acne side effects,” he assures. “It’s always been with us. This nodded back to our early material but with more musicality. I got to write about something other than relationships too, and I was excited to tackle new material. People seem surprised when they actually listen, but what were you expecting a fucking OneRepublic record?”
The band don’t apologize for anything. The first single “Drown” ebbs and flows between a staggering wall of distortion and an infectious chorus from Connolly. The tide comes in with one of the group’s biggest anthems.
“I tried to get up every morning and write a song, and that lasted three days before I quit,” he chuckles. “I wrote ‘Drown’ during the second day. It’s about being alone and finding contentment within that. It’s a metaphor. No one cares if you drown or not. It’s based on how I felt at the time.”
Meanwhile, the title track functions as the album’s clarion call, and it enlists a chilling spoken word and hypnotic harmony from none other than the legendary Alice Cooper. “I had never met him before,” recalls Connolly. “I got to fly to his house in Phoenix and work on the song. He’s a super nice guy. I stole the spoken word idea from Vincent Price in Thriller. Alice killed it. I was so happy to work with him.”
The album does uphold a tradition for Theory of a Deadman, bringing another ballad to the fold, though it’s not a “breakup song” per se. This time, “Angel” swings from a bright guitar into a heavenly refrain about a different kind of love.
“I thought about being in love with an angel and how bad of an idea that actually is,” he explains. “Once you fall back to earth, you realize you have nothing in common, and you have to let her go.”
“Blow” treads the tongue-in-cheek terrain that the band excel at. Connolly even slyly sings, “Sometimes, it makes me want to blow my fucking head off” with a swaying swing.
At the same time, they also stomp into new territory altogether with their first-ever proper “country” track. For “Livin’ My Life Like a Country Song”, the boys enlisted the guitar and vocal talents of Rascal Flatts’ Joe Don Rooney. As a result, they collectively tell a rollicking and raucous little tale worthy of Nashville.
“We’ve always had a bit of Southern rock swagger,” he goes on. “In this case, Joe Don Rooney countrified it, and it turned out great. We wanted to give our take on how all of these country songs are about losing your woman and your house. All you’ve got left is a case of beer, your dog, and your trailer. She’s gone, and you’re living your life like a country song!”
That songwriting prowess solidified Theory of a Deadman as a major contender in modern rock since their self-titled 2002 debut. Most recently, 2011’s The Truth Is… landed in the Top 10 of Billboard’s Top 200 Albums Chart upon its debut, while topping the “Top Rock Albums”, “Top Alternative Albums”, and “Top Hard Rock Albums” charts. In addition, it spawned the #1 radio hit “Lowlife”, which ruled Rock Radio for three weeks straight. Along the way, the group has toured with everybody from Alter Bridge, Stone Sour, and Godsmack to Daughtry and Mötley Crüe. However, Connolly and the guys always have the same goal in mind.
“We want to give fans a great Theory of a Deadman record,” Connolly leaves off. “We owed them this album. It’s completely real, unrestrained, and unbridled. We want their acceptance above all. This is for them, and we’re all extremely proud of it.”
Savages is as tough as rock ‘n’ roll gets.
On Mandolin Orange’s third release, This Side Of Jordan, there’s a Lightnin’ Hopkins lyric, “If fate’s an old woodpecker then I’m an old chunk of wood.” “I love the imagery that creates,” Andrew Marlin, the duo’s lyricist says, “You just picture death as this woodpecker that lands on your shoulder and starts chipping away at you until there’s finally nothing left.” In 2011 around the release of Mandolin Orange’s acclaimed Haste Make/ Hard Hearted Stranger, Marlin had a near fatal accident. “It was scary,” Emily Frantz, the other half of the North Carolinian duo says, “But ultimately it brought us together during a time when we needed a nudge in that direction.”
This Side Of Jordan is the story of that healing process, with tales of love and loss, told honest and bare. The opener, “House of Stone,” quietly fades in with the hush of Frantz’s fiddle then Marlin’s guitar joins her, blooming. This moment of beauty is a gentle easing into the record that’s drenched deep in the traditional music of Southern Appalachia. Since meeting at a local jam in Chapel Hill in 2009, Marlin and Franz have intertwined gospel, folk, and bluegrass but never so seamlessly as now.
Recorded at the Fideltorium in Kernersville, North Carolina with bassist Jeff Crawford and a backing band, This Side Of Jordan still maintains Mandolin Orange’s modest aesthetic with pure and calming sounds. It’s a fitting juxtaposition to Marlin’s undeniable lyricism. Religious faith and fable thread throughout the record with Biblical references used to “convey a different point,” Frantz says. “In the south especially, we hear the Bible construed in any and every way to justify people’s comforts and discomforts,” Marlin further explains, “and it’s so frustrating to watch those stories be used to limit people’s happiness.” This sentiment inspired “Hey Adam,” where Marlin and Frantz urge in unison during the chorus, “Our Father loves you all ways.”
But this is not strictly a lyrical record. The duo’s understanding of classic country, rock, and blues naturally appears. “Waltz About Whisky” swings like a honky tonk thanks to Nathan Golub’s bending pedal steel as Marlin and Frantz plead, “Won’t someone dance with me to a waltz about whisky and turn my sad songs to lullabies?” When Marlin’s busy guitar weaves “Black Widow,” Josh Oliver’s sparse piano chords frame the track until its eerie conclusion. And “Morphine Girl” lazily trudges to James Wallace’s drum while Ryan Gustafson conjures on electric guitar.
The closer, “Until The Last Light Fades,” was written before Marlin met Frantz. With just Marlin’s mandolin and Frantz’s guitar, it’s the most fragile track on the record. Although it’s always been one of the duo’s favorites to play, it didn’t feel right on either of their previous releases. “It was so rewarding to have held out and have it come full circle,” Frantz explains in choosing the track to end the record. And as Frantz sings, “Born to die, born to die, darling you’ll live no longer than your years,” it comes across like an old adage, something faintly familiar.
Marlin and Frantz have rambled through the dark and came out together on This Side Of Jordan more confident than ever. They’ve made simply structured songs with easy chords and humble harmonies. These are the hymns that Mandolin Orange was meant to offer.
The new album from Lucinda Williams, Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone. Produced by Tom Overby, Greg Leisz and Lucinda Williams, Recorded and Mixed by Dave Bianco, Mastered by Joe Gastwirt.
The new album is her most ambitious release to date. Twenty + songs were recorded off and on between September of 2013 through March of 2014. Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone finds Lucinda tapping into her southern roots for this double album.
The songs are amplified by a range of musical talents that include Greg Leisz, Tony Joe White, Pete Thomas, Gia Ciambotti, Bill Frisell and Jakob Dylan.
When asked what he’s been doing lately, Blake Mills says he’s been “listening, writing, playing, and watching my social life wither away like the ice caps.”
Since quietly making his debut album, Break Mirrors, which critics hailed as one of the best albums of 2010, Mills has been consistently busy. He’s producing the highly anticipated sophomore album for The Alabama Shakes, and has worked as a producer with a wide variety of others as well, including ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Sara Watkins, Conor Oberst, Sky Ferreira, and Fiona Apple, with whom he toured extensively in 2013 and 2014. As a session player and sideman he has worked with Beck, Cass McCombs, Jackson Brown, Lucinda Williams, Moses Sumney and Neil Diamond, among others. Rick Rubin and T Bone Burnett frequently call upon his services as a guitarist, and equally enamored is Eric Clapton who recently told Rolling Stone magazine “Blake Mills is the last guitarist I heard that I thought was phenomenal.” Though perhaps his most significant endeavor has been creating the highly anticipated second solo album, HEIGH HO, due September 2014.
“The goals for Heigh Ho were songs, sonics, and capturing performance,” Mills said. “I love my first album and how it sounds, but since making Break Mirrors I feel like I’ve heard a lot of records that strike me as overtly ‘lo-fi’ or reverb-saturated; so I was interested in finding a combination of sounds that I hadn’t heard used together before. So I was very fortunate to be able to call on this group of people to help me map some new terrain.”
To that end, Mills asked several of his musical heroes − including Jim Keltner, Don Was, Jon Brion, Benmont Tench, Rob Moose, Mike Elizondo, and Fiona Apple (who duets on the slow-burning “Seven” and timeless sounding “Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me”) − to collaborate on what would become HEIGH HO.
“Different songs feature slightly different bands,” said Mills. “These guys are world class musicians, and also some world class record producers. That combination produced something rare; a wide open way of playing that consitantly delivers the spirit of a song. It reflects the spontaneity, maturity, and tastefulness of my all-time favorite records.”
“Blake arranged the music the way that Cézanne would’ve filled a canvas,” Don Was notes of his experience playing in Blake’s band. “He’s a mind-blowingly great artist with the type of deep vision that is the hallmark of true genius. It’s so inspiring for musicians to play with a cat like that! If he asked us to play in orange, we wanted to give him a shade that burned so brightly as to blind the unsuspecting.”
Recorded at the legendary Ocean Way studios in a room built for Frank Sinatra and used by everyone from Bob Dylan to Ray Charles, Mills created an album that references a range of genres without really belonging to any. “Sometimes it’s just necessary to make music that is without genre,” he says. “Fiona Apple once said that music can be categorized either as honest or dishonest. That honesty is what draws me in. It’s what I always hope is guiding me through my own work.”
Lyrically inspired by “situational awareness, an under casted weakness for clarity, and the impossible dream of being understood,” HEIGH HO opens with “If I’m Unworthy,” a stark, heartfelt track that takes on the weight of love with humbling grace and concludes with “Curable Disease”.
“When I first started writing what was to become this record, I was trying to be a little less personal – more topical, or character-based. But I can’t do that very well. Nothing I wrote felt real to me. That inability has really forced me to try and find a way to write about my own experiences without feeling self absorbed.”
HEIGH HO by BLAKE MILLS will be available on Record Collection/Verve Records September 16, 2014.
Carlos Hernandez and the Record Ranch Gallery (located inside Cactus Music)
will present Day of the Dead Rock Stars: The Great Gig In The Sky show in Houston from October 11 through January 2014. This unique exhibit will memorialize deceased recording artists from rock, country, jazz and blues in honor of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. An artist’s reception, which is open to the public, will take place from 6-9 p.m. on Saturday, October 11 at Record Ranch Gallery (2110 Portsmouth). Saint Arnold Brewing Company will provide plenty of Santo, while the evening will also include live music.
The 2014 Day of the Dead Rock Stars show will feature participating artists from across Texas, including Katy Seals, The Amazing Hancock Brothers, Dennis McNett, and Christopher Wallace, among others, in addition to Hernandez.
2014 marks the 30th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A. Although it would become his biggest selling album with seven top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars says “any of those songs could be played with acoustic guitar alone and still be great.” Taking this idea as its premise, Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Born in the U.S.A. (out 9/16, Lighting Rod Records) strips the album’s twelve indelible originals to the core, with contributions from Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires, Low, Nicole Atkins, Justin Townes Earle, Blitzen Trapper, Joe Pug, Trampled by Turtles, and more. Rolling Stone.com premiered Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires’ Dave Cobb-produced cover of “Born In The U.S.A,” saying these artists are “reimagining Born in the U.S.A…. with a reduced approach more influenced by that of the acoustic ‘Nebraska.'”
Isbell says of his cover, “”Born In The U.S.A.” is one of my favorites because so many people have seemingly misunderstood the lyrical content and the song’s overall tone. When you listen to the demo, the dark, minor key arrangement makes it clear that this is not strictly a song of celebration. We wanted to stay true to that version.” Amanda Shires adds, “I love that the song paints a picture of struggle in the face of the American dream, and the irony in the chorus is delivered with such force that it nearly transcends irony altogether.”
Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Born in the U.S.A. was co-Executive Produced by Logan Rogers and Evan Schlansky. Dave Cobb – whose credits include Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and Jason Isbell’s Southeastern – produced the contributions by Apache Relay (“Cover Me”) and Holly Williams (“No Surrender”). Highlights range from Low’s spectral take on “I’m On Fire,” and Nicole Atkins’ ethereal “Dancing in the Dark,” to Justin Townes Earle’s soulful, rootsy “Glory Days” and the swampy, sax-laden rock of Joe Pug’s “Downbound Train,” among others.
Winner of the Best Electronic Act Music Award 2013 in Houston.The trio formed in early 2012 and have since shared the stage with Active Child,Washed Out,Twin Shadow,Com Truise, and have even been compared to the likes of the Pixies,M83 and Moby. Together they perform dreamy tunes steeped in nostalgia and seduction for a dynamic,modern experience.
“Each song is a crescendo that never ends, an undulating wave that drowns like a movie score’s big moment stuck in a tail-eating loop” – Impose Magazine
“Each song has a clear place on the album, the record flows well and effortlessly.” -FPH
“a dark, electronic, hazy/shiny, seductive-yet-dangerous album of music to get you through those late, late nights” -SCR
“Este disco cumple su cometido, ser ese soundtrack para un recorrido nocturno por la ciudad.” – Indie Rocks Mex.
“synthy swirls and chilled-out tempo ooze 80s downtown, post-punk-club cool. There are moments in the tune where singer Elizabeth Salazar’s voice is a dead-ringer for Madonna.” – Austinist
AUTUMN GROVE out now on Normaltown Records
2012 was an eventful year for White Violet. The Athens, Georgia-based act, led by Nate Nelson, signed a record deal with hometown New West imprint, Normaltown Records; released said record, Hiding Mingling, to substantial critical acclaim; toured with psych-country upstarts, Futurebirds; and played successful shows in Los Angeles, Nashville, SXSW in Austin, TX and CMJ in New York City. All while navigating three line- up changes and dealing with the difficulties of being a rock and roll band in a swimming pool filled with day glo and synthesizers.
Now it’s 2013. Nelson, Vaughan Lamb (bassist), Lemuel Hayes (drummer), and Brad Morgan (guitarist) are back with a new single, “Autumn Grove.” If Hiding, Mingling was the winter-in-Athens album, this is its summer foil. Recorded last December with Andy LeMaster (Now It’s Overhead, Bright Eyes) at Chase Park Transduction, the song is the perfect track for a breezy late-night bike ride to a pool party with more bodies than available space. Nelson is out of the dark corners that shrouded his early songs, seeming more comfortable as the godson of Simon and Buckingham. The b-side here sees the boys developing a rather laid-back arrangement of “Lays Around Lazy.” It’s one they stumbled upon while screwing around in a friend’s basement recording space during a stop on their summer tour. Enjoy it, but pay closer attention to “Autumn Grove.” That number points to many, many great things on the horizon for White Violet.