Category: Americana

New Video: The Gorgeous Visuals for Nicki Bluhm’s Heartbreaking and Tender Ballad “Battlechain Rose”

Nicki Bluhm is a Lafayette, CA-born, Nashville, TN-based singer/songwriter, who’s perhaps best known for a six year stint as the frontwoman of Nicki Blum and The Gramblers, an act that included her ex-husband Tim Bluhm with whom she also released two collaborative albums as a solo artist. Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site over the past few months, you may recall that her recently released, Matt Ross-Spang-produced full-length effort To Rise You Gotta Fall marks the Bluhm’s first solo album in several years, and that the album’s material was influenced by and written one the course of one of the most difficult and life-altering transitions of her life — a period in which she got divorced, The Gramblers went on hiatus and she then followed that all with a seemingly spur of the moment move to Nashville. “These songs are quite personal,” Bluhm says in press notes “They are the conversations I never got to have, the words I never had the chance to say, and the catharsis I wouldn’t have survived without.”

Interestingly, while Bluhm’s relocation to Nashville was a spur of the moment decision, it was influenced by a series of writing sessions that had her frequenting the city. As Bluhm says the city was inspiring  “because of all the songwriting going on here. When I could come to Nashville on writing trips, it was just percolating . . . it was intoxicating.” Around the same time, Bluhm met renowned producer, engineer and mixer Matt Ross-Spang, who was in town working on another album, and as the story goes, Ross-Spang and Bluhm quickly hit it off. “I really needed someone who was going to take the reins and have a vision for the album and he really did,” Bluhm says of meeting Ross-Spang. “My ex-husband had been my musical director, co-writer, and producer on all my records except one and I was looking for someone to step into that leadership roll, which Matt did very gracefully. I was looking for a clean slate; the only baggage I wanted to bring into the studio were the words to the songs I was singing. I wanted it to be a fresh experience; I didn’t want to even have history with anyone in the room that would pull me into old habits or ways of thinking.  So we agreed we’d record in Memphis.”

Recorded at Sam Phillips Recording, the Rise You Gotta Fall sessions were primarily centered around the live tracking of a backing band of accomplished ringers that included Will Sexton (guitar), Ross-Spang (guitar), Ken Coomer (drums, percussion), Al Gamble (Hammond B3), Rick Steff (piano), Dave Smith (bass), Reba Russell (backing vocals), Susan Marshall (backing vocals), Sam Shoup (string arrangements) and a number of special guests. “We really just recorded live and we didn’t do that many takes of each song,” Bluhm says. “The final versions we ended up with were all one take. It was really refreshing to go analog. It minimized over thinking and second-guessing; forced us all to stay in the moment and play from the heart. . . Throughout the session there was a lot of listening and trusting. Matt really spends time curating his sessions and who he decides to bring in; he knows how to keep the vibe right. What you are hearing is, as Jerry Phillips would say, ‘not perfection but captured moments in time.’”

“I had lost my partner in so many ways,” Bluhm recalls in press notes, “my musical partner, my life partner, my creative partner, and all of a sudden I was left on my own, to start my own engine. It was really intimidating and scary,” she says “but I had support from my management, my agent, my friends and family, and ultimately I just had this guttural drive that I didn’t even know I had in me. I was on auto-pilot, ready to move forward and take the steps I had to take to keep moving forward. When the album finally comes out it’s going to be like setting a caged bird free.” Unsurprisingly, album title track, “To Rise You Gotta Fall” is an effortlessly self-assured track that’s indebted to Memphis and Muscle Shoals-era soul — and as a result the single reminded me quite a bit of Nicole Atkins‘ Goodnight Rhonda Lee and Natalie Prass, complete with a “you-are-there-in-that moment” immediacy and a fully-fleshed out narrator, who has the resiliency and determination that comes from living a complex, messy life, full of struggles, heartbreak, setbacks, small victories and crushing losses — while pointing out that life will always find a way to kick your ass and it will always push you towards wherever you need to be at that particular moment.

The album’s second and latest single, the tender ballad “Battlechain Rose” was co-written with Ryan Adams and as Bluhm told American Songwriter, the song was inspired by a restless night in which her mind wouldn’t stop turning with thoughts of the past, of what she could have and should have done differently, of her inability to move forward and of her despair of knowing that relationship has become a phantom limb of regret and heartache.  “Battlechain Rose” is arguably one of To Rise You Gotta Fall’s standout tracks as the song’s arrangement is roomy enough for Bluhm’s effortlessly soulful vocals to simply and earnestly express the heartache at the core of the song — and by far, it has some of the most gorgeous imagery I’ve heard in quite some time. In some way, the song sonically and thematically nods at Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” and the oft-mentioned and sadly forgotten Sandra Rhodes solo album Where’s Your Love Been as the sense of loss and ache is both palpable and familiar.

Directed by Scott Sax, the recently released video for “Battlechain Rose” is an incredibly symbolic vision, unsurprisingly centered around the lingering ghosts of a relationship that has ended in an embittering and confusing fashion and its lonely aftermath.

New Video: Ruby Boots Returns with a Coquettish and Stomping New Single

Throughout the past couple of years, I’ve written a bit about the Perth, Australia-born, Nashville, TN-based singer/songwriter and guitarist, Bex Chilcott, and as you may recall, Chilcott has led the sort of life that could have easily inspired a dozen or so country albums. At 14, the Perth-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter left a deeply dysfunctional home and eventually worked her way up the desolate, Western Australian coast, before ending up in Broome, a culturally diverse and ramshackle, tiny dot of a town on the map, where reportedly it doesn’t pay to ask people too many questions about their pasts — or why they ended up there of all places, And while in Broome, Chilcott worked for weeks at at time on a pearling trawler, where she worked with incredibly hardened men, doing backbreaking, exhaustingly hard labor, and alcohol was prohibited. Her time on the sea doing backbreaking work with the men she was surrounded by was quite profound, and in her free time, the Perth-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter spent her free hours contemplating life and teaching herself guitar and songwriting, which eventually lead to her singing her own original material. 

Returning from a self-imposed exile from civilization, Chilcott learned that people actually wanted to listen to her originals — and that was when she began to perform as Ruby Boots. Chilcott’s first two Ruby Boots efforts were critically praised for being bold, unafraid and unabashedly honest works centered around stories on tough and unlucky sorts, who see their lives and affairs of the heart as deathly serious matters. With the buzz surrounding her early work, the Perth-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter and guitarist has shared stages with an impressive array of internationally acclaimed artists like Father John Misty, Shakey Graves, Justin Townes Earle, Shovels & Rope, Nikki Lane, Reverend Horton Heat, Tony Joe White, Kris Kristofferson and others. Building upon a growing profile, Chilcott’s 2015 Ruby Boots debut Solitude featured guest spots from The Waifs’ Vicki Thorn, along with some of Australia’s top alt-country talents, including Dewey Lane, Jordie Lane, Bill Chambers, The Sleepy Jackson‘s and Eskimo Joe‘s Lee Jones, who has been one of Chilcott’s frequent collaborators.

Chilcott’s Beau Bedford-produced Ruby Boots sophomore album Don’t Talk About It was released through Chicago, IL-based label Bloodshot Records earlier this year, and as you may recall, the album features the acclaimed Southern rock/Country and Western band The Texas Gentlemen, fronted by the album’s producer, as her backing band. Lyrically and thematically, the album follows the restlessly odyssey of a restless and somewhat aimless drifter, with tattered, beaten up and heavily stamped passport in hand, essentially capturing the life of a woman who’s been tossed about by the rough undertow, breakers and currents of life and its messiness but without losing hope, strength or her will to survive and thrive. Granted, just underneath the surface is a world weary acceptance that life will break your heart in countless ways — and when you think and feel that you can’t go on anymore, life will push and shove you forward, and towards where life needs you to be. 
Earlier this year, I wrote about Don’t Talk About It’s sparse, bare-knuckle, and unabashedly honest, a cappela “I Am A Woman,” a single centered around the raw ache and regret of someone, who has lived a full and messy life of shitty decisions frequently inspired by even shittier situations, dysfunctional and furiously passionate relationships with irresponsible lovers and with decent, honest ones, too. And yet, through the song there’s the quietly defiant resiliency and pride that from my experience I’ve only ever seen in women. As Chilcott explained in press notes, “‘I Am a Woman’ was conjured up amid recent events where men have spoken about, and treated women’s bodies, the way no man, or woman, should. This kind of treatment toward another human being makes every nerve in my body scream. These kinds of incidents are so ingrained in our culture and are swept under the carpet at every turn—it needs to change. As tempting as it was to just write an angry tirade I wanted to respond with integrity, so I sat with my feelings and this song emerged as a celebration of women and womanhood, of our strength and our vulnerability, all we encompass and our inner beauty, countering ignorance and vulgarity with honesty and pride and without being exclusionary to any man or woman. My hope is that we come together on this long drawn out journey. The song is the backbone to the album for me.”

“It’s So Cruel,” the latest single off Chilcott’s critically acclaimed sophomore album is a swaggering and gritty, power chord-based, honky tonk anthem and a coquettish love song, full of swaggering confidence in which its narrator essentially says throughout “look, you fucking dummy, i’m the best thing in your life and you need to recognize it — now!” Unsurprisingly, the recently released video produced and directly by Joshua Shoemaker features Chilcott as a guitar playing force of nature.  

Nicki Bluhm is a Lafayette, CA-born, Nashville, TN-based singer/songwriter, who’s perhaps best known for a six year stint as the frontwoman of The Gramblers, a band that featured her now ex-husband Tim Bluhm (with whom she also released two albums), and for recent high-profile collaborations with the likes of Phil Lesh, Infamous Stringdusters, Ryan Adams and others.  Slated for a June 1, 2018 release, the Ross Sprang-produced To Rise You Gotta Fall Bluhm’s first solo album in several years, and the album, which was written over a difficult and life-altering period in which she got divorced and made a spur of the moment move to Nashville, TN — and as a result, the material is a deeply personal chronicle of her state of mind. “These songs are quite personal,” Bluhm says. “They are the conversations I never got to have, the words I never had the chance to say, and the catharsis I wouldn’t have survived without.”

Interestingly, while Bluhm’s relocation to Nashville was spur of the moment decision, it actually came from the result of a number of writing sessions in the city. As Bluhm notes, the city was inspiring “because of all the songwriting going on here. When I would come to Nashville on writing trips, it was just percolating . . . it was intoxicating.” Around the same time, Bluhm met with renowned producer, engineer and mixer Matt Ross-Spang, who was in town mixing a record, and as the story goes Ross-Spang and Bluhm hit it off immediately.  “I really needed someone who was going to take the reins and have a vision for the album and he really did,” Bluhm says of meeting Ross-Spang. “My ex-husband had been my musical director, co-writer, and producer on all my records except one and I was looking for someone to step into that leadership roll, which Matt did very gracefully. I was looking for a clean slate; the only baggage I wanted to bring into the studio were the words to the songs I was singing. I wanted it to be a fresh experience; I didn’t want to even have history with anyone in the room that would pull me into old habits or ways of thinking.  So we agreed we’d record in Memphis.”
Recorded at Sam Phillips Recording, the sessions revolved around live tracking featuring a backing band of accomplished pros assembled by Ross-Spang featuring Will Sexton (guitar), Ross-Spang (guitars), Ken Coomer (drums and percussion), Al Gamble (Hammond B3), Rick Steff (piano) and Dave Smith (bass), with Reba Russell and Susan Marshall (background singers), Sam Shoup (string arrangements) and various special guests. “We really just recorded live and we didn’t do that many takes of each song,” Bluhm says. “The final versions we ended up with were all one take. It was really refreshing to go analog. It minimized over thinking and second-guessing; forced us all to stay in the moment and play from the heart. . . Throughout the session there was a lot of listening and trusting. Matt really spends time curating his sessions and who he decides to bring in; he knows how to keep the vibe right. What you are hearing is, as Jerry Phillips would say, ‘not perfection but captured moments in time.'”
 
“I had lost my partner in so many ways,” Bluhm continues in press notes, “my musical partner, my life partner, my creative partner, and all of a sudden I was left on my own, to start my own engine. It was really intimidating and scary,” she says “but I had support from my management, my agent, my friends and family, and ultimately I just had this guttural drive that I didn’t even know I had in me. I was on auto-pilot, ready to move forward and take the steps I had to take to keep moving forward. When the album finally comes out it’s going to be like setting a caged bird free.”
Album title track “To Rise You Gotta Fall” is an incredibly self-assured and effortless track that manages to to be clearly indebted to classic Memphis and Muscle Shoals soul while nodding at contemporaries like Goodnight Rhonda Lee-era Nicole Atkins and Natalie Prass, as it reveals a careful attention to craft but with a “you-are-there” immediacy. Along with that, the song’s narrator reveals a resiliency and determination that comes from living a full, messy life full of struggles, heartbreak, loss and so on. As the song and its narrator seem to suggest, life will find a way to kick your ass but it’ll also find a way to move you forward towards where you need to be.
Bluhm will be on tour to first build up buzz for and to support her first solo album in some time and it’ll include a two night stay at Chicago’s Vic Theatre in April and a July 25, 2018 stop at The Bowery Ballroom. Check out the tour dates below.
 
TOUR DATES:
April 11 – Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue*
April 12 – Madison, WI @ Majestic Theatre*
April 13 – Chicago, IL @ Vic Theatre*
April 14 – Chicago, IL @ Vic Theatre*
April 15 – Saint Louis, MO @ The Pageant*
April 17 – Cincinnati, OH @ Taft Ballroom*
April 18 – Ann Arbor, MI @ The Ark*
April 19 – Indianapolis, IN @ The Vogue*
April 20 – Knoxville, TN @ Bijou*
April 21 – Brevard, NC @ Songsmith Gathering
April 22 – Charlotte, NC @ Tuck Fest
May 27 – Colorado Springs, CO @ Meadowgrass Music Festival
May 28 – Aspen, CO @ Belly Up
May 31 – Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater
June 1 – Eagle, CO @ Bonfire Brewing Block Party
June 2 – Taos, NM @ Music on the Mothership
June 3 – Flagstaff, AZ @ Hullabaloo
June 5 – Solana Beach, CA @ Belly Up
June 7 – West Hollywood, CA @ The Troubadour
June 8 – San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
June 10 – Crystal Bay, NV @ Crystal Bay Club Casino
June 12 – Chico, CA @ Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
June 13 – Arcata, CA @ Humbrews
June 14 – Eugene, OR @ HiFi
June 15 – Portland, OR @ Dog Fir Lounge
June 16 – Seattle, WA @ Tractor Tavern
July 13 – Atlanta, GA @ Atlanta Botanical Gardens
July 14 – Charlotte, NC @ Knight Theater
July 19 – Scranton, PA @ Peach Music Festival
July 20 – Alexandria, VA @ Hamilton
July 22 – Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair
July 25 – Floyd, VA @ FloydFest
July 25 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
July 26 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Foundry
July 29 – Nashville, TN @ 3rd & Lindsley
 
*Nicki solo supporting The Wood Brothers

New Audio: Introducing the Laid-Back and Mischievous Sounds of Country Supergroup Traveller

Traveller is an indie rock/Americana supergroup comprised of some of contemporary Americana’s most accomplished and acclaimed, contemporary, solo artists: Jonny Fritz, a singer/songwriter who, has been considered a logical heir to country music legend Roger Miller; Cory Chisel, a Grammy-nominated, singer/songwriter who has collaborated with Rosanne Cash and Rodney Crowell and runs a recording studio in a former Wisconsin monastery that’s also an arts space; and Robert Ellis, a a critically applauded artist known for being a rather inventive singer/songwriter. Interestingly, the act can trace its origins to when longtime friends Ellis and Fritz had been collaborating together for some time got a ridiculous idea to head to India to write a country album.  The duo set off on their epic journey to India but after an ill-advised, exuberant jump into the Ganges, Ellis got ill and almost died. Fortunately though, Ellis was able to kick his illness and recover — and the idea of their collaboration didn’t die either.

Several months later, Ellis and Fritz recruited Chisel, and within a couple of weeks the new band had written an album’s worth of material, which they followed with their live debut at the Newport Folk Festival and sets at Stagecoach and Austin City Limits. Reportedly, the trio’s aesthetic and songwriting approach  draws from the likes of both The Highwaymen and The Traveling Wilburys, supergroups in which each individual member plays to their well-known and beloved strengths while taking turns showing off their chops as been-there-done-that, played-every-venue-including-that-shitty-one-that-stank-of-stale-beer-and-puke old pros — but they do so with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor throughout.
 
Western Movies, the supergroup’s highly-anticipated, forthcoming full-length debut is slated for a May 4, 2018 release, and the album’s latest single “Hummingbird” is a jangling and twangy bit of old-timey rock/country that to my ears manages to nod to The Beatles and to George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You” but with a mischievous sense of humor, complete with some winklingly ribald double entendres and pop cultural references that give the song a wild anachronistic feel.
 

New Video: The Moody Sounds and Visuals for Blake Brown and The American Dust Choir’s “Up in Arms”

Blake Brown is a Denver, CO-based singer/songwriter, who after participating in a number of collaborative projects, founded Blake Brown and The American Dust Choir in 2013 with the idea that it’d give him the flexibility of playing solo while collaborating with a revolving cast of friends, who could play whenever they were able to do so; in fact, the revolving cast behind The American Dust Choir has featured members of The Fray, The Films and Tennis. However, after three EPs and countless live shows, the band has settled on a permanent lineup featuring Brown, his wife Tiffany Brown, and longtime friends Jason Legler, Adam Blake, and Trent Nelson.  

The Joe Richmond-produced Long Way Home, Blake Brown and The American Dust Choir’s full-length debut was released earlier this year and the album while further cementing the band’s reputation for a sound that meshes indie rock with folk/Americana paired with complex melodies and heartfelt lyrics based around experiences within Brown’s personal life — in particular, heartbreak, deception, reflection, growing up and becoming adult and so on. Adding to a growing profile, the band kicked off the release of their debut with an official SXSW showcase, in which they opened for Keith Urban. 

“Up in Arms,” Long Way Home’s latest single is a twangy bit of indie rock that nods at Fleetwood Mac and 70s AM rock, complete with a rousingly anthemic hook and some impressive guitar work and while being unhurried, the track manages to be tinged with the bittersweet memories and experiences within a relationship; in fact, the recently released video is shot with superimposed double exposures, meant to evoke the duality between the inner and outer worlds of its protagonists. 

Live Footage: Ruby Boots Performs “I Am A Woman”

Bex Chilcott is a Perth, Australia-born, Nashville, TN-based singer/songwriter and guitarist, who has led  the sort of life that could easily have inspired a dozen or or more country and western albums.  At 14, Chilcott left a dysfunctional and conflicted home and eventually worked her way up the desolate Western Australian coast, before she ended up in Broome, a ramshackle and culturally diverse, tiny dot on the map, where reportedly it didn’t pay to ask people too many questions about their pasts — or why they ended up there. While in Broome, Chilcott worked for weeks at a time on a pearling trawler, where she worked with incredibly hardened men, doing backbreaking, exhausting labor and alcohol was forbidden.  Naturally, the time on the seas, the backbreaking work and the men she worked with was profound and in her free time, the young Chilcott spent hours contemplating life and teaching herself guitar and songwriting — and then later, to eventually sing her own material. 

Returning from a self-imposed exile from civilization, Chilcott learned that people actually wanted to listen to her originals — and that was when she began to perform as Ruby Boots. 

Chilcott’s first two Ruby Boots EP received attention for bold, unafraid and unabashedly honest music that told tales of tough and unlucky souls, who see both their lives and affairs of the heart as deathly serious matters. And as a result, Chilcott has shared stages with the internationally acclaimed artists like Father John Misty, Shakey Graves, Justin Townes Earle, Shovels & Rope, Nikki Lane, Reverend Horton Heat, Tony Joe White, Kris Kristofferson and others. Adding to a growing profile, Chilcott released her full-length debut Solitude, an effort that was released back in 2015 and featured guest spots from The Waifs’ Vicki Thorn, along with some of Australia’s top alt-country talents, including Dewey Lane, Jordie Lane, Bill Chambers, The Sleepy Jackson‘s and Eskimo Joe‘s Lee Jones, who has been one of Chilcott’s frequent collaborators.

Chilcott’s long-awaited sophomore, full-length effort Don’t Talk About It was officially released through Chicago, IL-based label Bloodshot Records today, and the Beau Bedford-produced album features the acclaimed country and Southern rock band The Texas Gentlemen as her backing band. Lyrically and thematically, the album charts this drifter’s restless odyssey, tattered and beaten up passport in hand, capturing the life of someone who’s been tossed ashore by the breakers and currents of life, but hasn’t lost hope or her will; but with the recognition that life will break your heart more ways to count, and when you think you can’t go on much further, life pushes you forward anyway.

Don’t Talk About It’s latest single is the sparse, bare-knuckle, a capella “I Am A Woman,” and the single, which will further cement Chilcott’s growing reputation for crafting personal and unabashedly raw and honest songs, full of the ache and regret of a messy life featuring shitty decisions influenced by shittier situations, dysfunctional and furious relationships with irresponsible, dangerous lovers and good, decent ones. And throughout, there’s the quietly defiant and self-contained resiliency and pride that from my experience I’ve only seen in women.  Interestingly, in some way the song makes a subtle nod at Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” spiritually and thematically — but clearly from a very modern sensibility. As Chilcott explains in press notes, “‘I Am a Woman’ was conjured up amid recent events where men have spoken about, and treated women’s bodies, the way no man, or woman, should. This kind of treatment toward another human being makes every nerve in my body scream. These kinds of incidents are so ingrained in our culture and are swept under the carpet at every turn—it needs to change. As tempting as it was to just write an angry tirade I wanted to respond with integrity, so I sat with my feelings and this song emerged as a celebration of women and womanhood, of our strength and our vulnerability, all we encompass and our inner beauty, countering ignorance and vulgarity with honesty and pride and without being exclusionary to any man or woman. My hope is that we come together on this long drawn out journey. The song is the backbone to the album for me.”

The live version features Chilcott with three of her Nashville songwriter friends contributing backing vocals — Philip Creamer, Nicole Atkins and Kashena Sampson and was shot in the lounge room/living room of Chilcott’s best friend Nikki Lane.