Category: Country

Throwback: Happy 77th Birthday, Dolly Parton!

JOVM’s William Ruben Helms celebrates Dolly Parton’s 77th birthday.

New Audio: John Grant Tackles an American Folk Classic

Singer/songwriter and pianist John Grant started his career in earnest as the frontman and primary songwriter for alternative rock outfit The Czars. Over the past decade, Grant has carved out a reputation as a prolific and acclaimed, solo artist.

“God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” is a traditional American folk song that’s famously oft-covered, with the earliest known recordings going back to the 1940s with the likes of Elvis Presley, Bobbie Gentry, Mercury Rev, Moby, Tom Jones, and The Blind Boys of Alabama recording covers. The song famously re-entered public consciousness through a Johnny Cash cover, which appeared on the country legend’s Rick Rubin-produced American Recordings V,

Johnny Cash’s version appeared as temporary music in an edit of Netflix’s smash hit series Inside Man. The show’s director Paul McGuigan claims that it was composer David Arnold’s “brilliant idea to use the song.” They were looking at a cut of an episode when Arnold said “Well this is perfect, so why don’t we do a version of that?”

Grant was recruited to record a new version of the song — specifically for the show. Appearing as the theme song for Inside Man, Grant’s David Arnold-produced cover is a bold re-imagining of the song, giving the song a gritty, modern gospel meets electro rock air.

“I’m so incredibly honored to have the opportunity to sing this fantastic track and to work with David Arnold,” Grant says.

With the release of her first two albums — 2016’s Sirens and 2018’s Empty Sea — Berlin-based singer/songwriter, guitarist and photographer Laura Carbone received critical praise for a sound that has frequently drawn comparisons to PJ HarveyShana FalanaChelsea WolfeSt. Vincent and others. 

If you’ve been frequenting this site for some time, you may recall that Carbone and her band were scheduled to go into the studio last May to record what would be he highly-anticipated third album. But unfortunately, as a result of pandemic-related restrictions and lockdowns, Carbone’s plans were indefinitely shelved, much like countless other artists and bands across the world at the time.

While she was touring across the European Union to support her first two albums, Carbone and her band appeared on the beloved German live concert series Rockpalast. For Carbone, who grew up in a small, southwestern German town watching Rockpaalst, appearing on the show was the achievement of a lifelong dream: A who’s who list of artists and bands have appeared on the show including Siouxsie and The BansheesRadiohead, Sonic YouthPatti SmithSinead O’ConnorDavid BowieR.E.M., Echo and the BunnymenScreaming TreesLynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Charles Bradley and a very lengthy list of others. 

Inspired by the lockdowns, Carbone and her band came up with an idea: “What if Rockpalast would let us release that show as a live album?” Taken from her October 2019 Rockpalast set at Harmonie Bonn, the Laura Carbone — Live at Rockpalast is a career-spanning set featuring material from her first two albums.

I had written about three of the live singles:

  • Who’s Gonna Save You,” which found Carbone and her band deftly balancing menace and sultriness, while introducing a rock goddess, you need to know — right now.
  • Cellophane Skin” which found Carbone and company taking the tension of the original and informing with a feral intensity developed while touring. And as a result, the song finds its narrator — and perhaps, even the artist herself — turning into a seductive, yet vengeful force of nature tearing down the bonds of poisonous social norms that have imprisoned her, while demanding that we — men particularly so — examine ourselves.
  • “Nightride,” a slow-burning and brooding bit of psychedelia-tinged post punk that sonically and lyrically nods at The Doors “The End” as though covered by PJ Harvey.

Each video from the live session continued Carbone’s ongoing visual collaboration wit Olya Dyer — but the visual for “Nightride” also featured  The Underground Youth‘s Carig Dyer as a dark and handsome stranger, who picks up Carbone.

Carbone and The Underground Youth have collaborated on the recently released In Dreams EP, an effort that sees them tackling four Roy Orbison songs, which chart the age-old and universal narrative of falling in and out o love, and the deep yearning for romance and connection we all feel — even if we don’t want to always admit it. (As a personal note, I fucking love Roy Orbison.)

The In Dreams EP shines with its bittersweet blend of a reserved musical background that leaves space for Craig’s earthy voice and Laura’s soaring, ethereal vocals to connect, embrace and unravel again. Centered around sparse and atmospheric arrangements, the EP’s material is roomy enough for Craig Dyer’s earthy baritone and Carbone’s yearning and ethereal vocals to seemingly connect, embrace and unravel throughout.

In Dreams‘ latest single “Crying” finds Dyer and Carbone slowing the tempo down and stripping the song down to its barest elements — shimmering guitar. Dyer’s baritone and Carbone’s achingly tender vocals. Turning the song into a duet, subtly changes the song into a conversation between a couple, who both realize — with some aching bitterness — that their relationship has come to an end, and that there’s nothing much they could do to resolve it. At some point, all of us have been there, and the song’s universality and familiarity is what makes it powerfully transcendent.

Live Footage: Yola Performs “Diamond Studded Shoes” on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”

With the release of her critically applauded, Dan Auerbach-produced full-length debut, 2019’s Walk Through Fire, the Bristol, UK-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter, guitarist and JOVM mainstay Yola had a breakthrough year that year with a series of career-defining highlights including:

making her New York debut at Rockwood Music Hall
playing a buzz-worthy, breakout performance at that year’s SXSW
opening for a list of acclaimed artists including Kacey Musgraves, Lake Street Dive and Andrew Bird on a select series of US tour dates that featured stops at Newport Folk Festival, Hollywood Bowl, Austin City Limits Festival, and Lincoln Center Out of Doors
playing a YouTube session at YouTube Space New York
making her nationally televised debut on CBS This Morning: Saturday Sessions
receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Artist, along with fellow JOVM mainstays The Black Pumas
making her late night national television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live! 
releasing a soulful cover of Elton John‘s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,”that not only quickly became a staple of her live sets — but caught the attention of Sir Elton John, who praised her and her cover

Last year, the Bristol-born, Nashville-based JOVM mainstay had hopes to build upon 2019’s momentum with a handful of opportunities that came her way last year that many artists across the world would kill for: Early last year, it was announced that she was casted as blues and rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe in Baz Luhrmann’s musical drama Elvis alongside Austin Butler in the title role, Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Presley’s mother. Unfortunately, much like with everyone else,the COVID-19 pandemic threw a series of monkey wrenches into her hopes and plans: Tom Hanks wound up contracting COVID-19 while filming in Australia and because of pandemic-related lockdowns and restrictions, filming was delayed. During breaks in the Elvis filming schedule, she was supposed to play a series of dates opening for country superstar Chris Stapleton and Grammy Award-winning acts  The Black Keys and Brandi Carlile — with one of those shows being at Madison Square Garden, which also got postponed until later on this year. (More on that below.) 

However, Yola managed two finish her first Stateside headlining tour, a tour that included a stop at Music Hall of Williamsburg, a few weeks before the world went into lockdown.  In lieu of actual touring, the Bristol-born, Nashville-based JOVM mainstay wound up making a virtual tour of the domestic, late night television show circuit that saw her playing bonus track “I Don’t Want to Lie” on The Late Late Show with James Corden — and gospel-tleaning cover of Nina Simone‘s classic and beloved “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” filmed at The Ryman Auditorium for Late Night with Seth Meyers. 

But besides that, much like the rest of us Yola had a lot of time on her hands. The Bristol-born, Nashville-based JOVM mainstay used the unexpected gift of time and space to ground herself physically and mentally as she began to write the material that would become her highly-anticipated sophomore album Stand For Myself. Some of the album’s material was written several years previously and inspired by deeply personal moments, like her mother’s funeral. Other songs were written during pandemic isolation, and as a result they reflect on her personal and collective moments of longing and awakening — inspired and informed by Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and other movements. 

Tracks were also cowritten with Ruby Amanfu, John Bettis, Pat McLaughlin, Natalie Hemby, Joy Oladokun, Paul Overstreet, Liz Rose, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Hannah Vasanth and Bobby Wood. But importantly, the album’s material will make a connection with anyone who has experienced feeling as though they were an “other” while urging the listener to challenge the biases and assumptions that fuel bigotry, inequality and tokenism — all of which have impacted her personal life and career. “It’s a collection of stories of allyship, black feminine strength through vulnerability, and loving connection from the sexual to the social. All celebrating a change in thinking and paradigm shift at their core.” Yola says in press note, adding, “It is an album not blindly positive and it does not simply plead for everyone to come together. It instead explores ways that we need to stand for ourselves throughout our lives, what limits our connection as humans and declares that real change will come when we challenge our thinking and acknowledge our true complexity.” Ultimately, the JOVM mainstay’s hope is that the album will encourage both empathy and self actualization, all while returning to where she started, to the real Yola. “I kind of got talked out of being me, and now I’m here. This is who I’ve always been in music and in life. There was a little hiatus where I got brainwashed out of my own majesty, but a bitch is back.”

Continuing her ongoing collaboration with acclaimed producer, singer/songwriter, musician and label head Dan Auerbach, the album which was recorded late last year at Easy Eye Sound is inspired by the seminal albums she initially discovered through her mother’s record collection, as well as the eclectic mixtapes she created while listening to British radio that featured neo soul, R&B, Brit Pop and others. Featuring a backing band that includes Nick Movshon (bass), best known for his work with Amy Winehouse and Bruno Mars alongside Aaron Frazier (drums), a rising solo artist in his own right, the album is sonically is a noticeable shift from her debut, with the album’s aesthetic meshing symphonic soul and classic pop while occasionally hinting at the country soul of her critically applauded debut.

In the buildup to the album’s release last month, I’ve written about three of Stand For Myself‘s singles: 

“Diamond Studded Shoes,” a woozy yet seamless synthesis of densely layered Phil Spector-like Wall of Sound pop, country, 70s singer/songwriter pop and late 60s/early 70s Motown soul centered around the JOVM mainstay’s powerhouse vocals and some of the most incisive sociopolitical commentary of her growing catalog. “This song explores the false divides created to distract us from those few who are in charge of the majority of the world’s wealth and use the ‘divide and conquer’ tactic to keep it,” Yola explained in press notes. “This song calls on us to unite and turn our focus to those with a stranglehold on humanity.”
“Stand For Myself,” a bold and proudly feminist anthem written from the perspective of a survivor, who wants to do more than just survive; she wants to thrive and be wholly herself — at all costs. While featuring a rousing, shout-along worthy hook. a clean pop-leaning take on the famous Nashville sound and a the JOVM mainstay’s powerhouse vocals, the song, much like its immediate predecessor is undermined by incisive social commentary: Essentially, the track reflects on Yola’s belief in the possibility of paradigm shift beyond the mental programming that creates both tokenism and bigotry. “The song’s protagonist ‘token,’ has been shrinking themselves to fit into the narrative of another’s making, but it becomes clear that shrinking is pointless,” Yola explains. “This song is about a celebration of being awake from the nightmare supremacist paradigm. Truly alive, awake and eyes finally wide open and trained on your path to self actualisation. You are thinking freely and working on undoing the mental programming that has made you live in fear. It is about standing for ourselves throughout our lives and real change coming when we challenge our thinking. This is who I’ve always been in music and in life.”
“Starlight,” a sultry and lush, Quiet Storm-inspired song featuring twinkling keys, a sinuous bass line, a soaring hook, strummed guitar, shuffling rhythms paired with Yola’s vocals expressing vulnerability and longing for human connection and touch. “‘Starlight’ is a song about looking for positive physical, sexual and human connections at every level of your journey towards love,” Yola explains. She adds: “The world seems to attach a negative trope of cold heartlessness to the concept of any sexual connection that isn’t marriage, this song looks through a lens of warmth specifically when it comes to sex positivity. Understanding the necessity of every stage of connection and that it is possible for every stage of your journey in love, sex and connection to be nurturing. Temporary or transitory doesn’t have to be meaningless or miserable. In the right situations every connection can teach us something valuable about who we are, what we want and what is healthy.”

Last night Yola performed a slightly stripped down and jammy version of her chart-topping single “Diamond Studded Shoes” on Jimmy Kimmel Live.