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.
Currently comprised of founding members Willy Vlautin (vocals, acoustic guitar and electric guitar) and Dave Harding (bass, backing vocals), along with Sean Oldham (drums, percussion, vibes and backing vocals), Dan Eccles (guitar) and Paul Brainard (pedal steel, piano, acoustic guitar, trumpet, backing vocals), the Portland, OR-based alt country quintet Richmond Fontaine can trace its origins back to 1994 when the band’s founding duo met at Portland Meadows Racetrack, where they bonded over betting on the ponies and their mutual love of Husker Du, Willie Nelson, X, The Blasters and The Replacements, and they quickly decided to collaborate together. After a lineup change with the band expanding to a quintet, they developed reputation for a sounda that frequently meshed elements of rock, country, punk, folk and Americana paired with Vlautin’s narrative-like songwriting, which resulted in praise from the likes of nationally and internationally recognized media outlets including Uncut, Q Magazine, Mojo, The Independent, The Sun and others.
Interestingly, over the past decade, the band’s Vlautin has developed a reputation as a critically applauded and commercially successful novelist with his debut novel The Motel Life winning a Silver Pen Award from the State of Nevada and landed on the The Washington Post’s Top 25 Books of 2007 — and later, the book was adapted into the critically acclaimed motion picture, TheMotel Lifewhich starred Emile Hirsch, Stephen Dorff, Dakota Fanning and Kris Kristofferson. Vlautin’s 2008 sophomore novel, Northline was a San Francisco Chronicle Top Ten Bestseller. 2010’s Lean on Pete won the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction and was named Hot Press’ book of the year. 2014’s The Free continued an incredible run of prolificacy which included the band’s 9 preceding full-length albums, an instrumental soundtrack for Northline, two live albums and an EP.
After a three year hiatus from recording, the members of Richmond Fontaine returned to the studio with their long-time producer and collaborator John Askew to write and record, 2016’s You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To, which was released by one of my favorite labels, Fluff and Gravy Records across North America and Decor Records across Europe. And if you’ve been frequenting this site over the past couple of years, you may recall that I wrote about album single “Wake Up Ray,” a jangling bit of old school country-influenced alt country with Vlautin’s novelistic attention to detail, which managed to created a very real, lived in world in which the song’s characters wake up every single day to a lonely life and an even lonelier house that they’ve learned to hate — and yet they’re aware that because of the choices they made, that their position (if not, their very fate) is largely inescapable. But underneath the surface, is a wistful and mournful recognition of life and love’s impermanence.
Following the release of You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To, the members of the band formally announced that it would be their final traditional album and tour; however, as the band’s Vlautin was putting the finishing touches on his fifth novel, Don’t Skip Out on Me which is slated for a February 13, 2018 release through HarperCollins, he was able to round up the band to record an instrumental, companion soundtrack, and while a digital download of the soundtrack will be bundled with the book, Richmond Fontaine’s long-time label home felt that it deserved it’s own release — February 16, 2018 with an extremely limited vinyl release both in the States and in Europe, through Decor Records.
Soundtrack single “Horace And The Trophy” while clearly nodding to classic, 60s and 70s Renegade Country, 70s AM rock possesses an obvious cinematic quality, as though it should be part of the soundtrack of a deliberate, thoughtful road trip movies, featuring rugged, heartbroken and rootless loners crisscrossing the continent, fleeing a troubled past or an uncertain future.
Several months ago, I was invited to be a panelist on a Baby Robot Media hosted panel titled “Your First PR Campaign” at this year’s Mondo.NYC conference in Lower Manhattan, a conference created by some of the original organizers of the beloved and sadly defunct CMJ Marathon. In fact, after speaking at the panel, I along with several colleagues went to a nearby bar, where I watched my beloved Yankees lose a confounding and infuriating heartbreaking Game 2 of the American League Division series against the then-defending League Champion Cleveland Indians. At some point, I went from networking and mingling mode to yelling and cursing at the TV – and I couldn’t tell if these people, who I had worked with in some capacity for much of JOVM’s history were amused, knowing how much of a Yankee fan I am or if they were horrified. But the postseason when your team is in it is another thing altogether. I’ve frequently told a story about sitting in Clem’s with my dear friend and colleague Natalie Hamingson after watching the New York Rangers lose Game 7 of that year’s Conference Finals to the Tampa Bay Lightning at home, in which I went into a furious 45 minute, expletive laced tirade. About half way through, the bartender at the time said to Natalie, “I don’t think I’ve seen him that angry before.” In my mind, I thought “if I was at home, I would be throwing things at my TV,” but that’s another issue altogether.
Thanks in part to built-in travel days within the postseason schedule, and the weather actually holding up in early October, I was able to squeeze in some live music coverage at this year’s Mondo.NYC. Because I had spoken at Baby Robot Media’s PR campaign panel and worked with them for a good 6-7 years or so, the company’s co-founders had personally invited me to come out to the showcases they were hosting at Piano’s during the weekend. Admittedly, I just wasn’t able to do any research prior to the actual live music, so I went into everything with no expectations and a clear mind as to what I might be seeing – and interestingly enough, I wound up being pleasantly surprised by the variety of the acts I caught throughout that particular weekend. However, in a weekend with several impressive acts – including British folk singer/songwriter Hannah Scott, New York-based Americana singer/songwriter Mieka Pauley, Austin, TX-based Americana act Fairbanks and the Lonesome Light and Kellindo Parker, best known as Janelle Monae’s sideman, there was one decidedly clear champion of the weekend, the classically trained, Sebastian, FL-born, Somerville, MA-based singer/songwriter Hayley Thompson-King.
Thompson-King’s solo debut album Psychotic Melancholia was released earlier this year through Hard to Kill Records, and the album is a “Sodom and Gomorrah concept album” that in some way is an amalgamation of several different sources and wildly disparate sources. The overall concept of the album is largely influenced by her childhood obsession with the stories of the so-called wicked women in the Bible. “I was the skeptical kid with her hand up in Sunday school,” Thompson-King recalls in press notes. “Also, I spent weekends performing with my church youth group called Clowns for Christ. I guess you could say I was obsessed with getting to the bottom of what exactly would send one to hell. I consider myself agnostic at this point, but I’m still inspired by the questions I had as a kid about disobedience, and about the characters I was taught to believe were evil, like Lot’s Wife and Judas and Lucifer. Upon revisiting these stories, I was inspired by their questioning. I thought they were strong and exciting, and I could put myself in their shoes.” Along with that, the album’s material draws from the Sebastian, FL-born, Somerville, MA-based singer/songwriter and guitarist’s small. Southern town upbringing, in which her father was a team-roper and trained cutting horses, and she grew up riding and showing American Quarter horses. “I spent a lot of time in the dually listening to country music,” Hayley Thompson-King recalls. “And then I went to opera school.” And lastly, the material which references Romantic period art also draws from her classical training at the New England Conservatory of Music, where she earned a Master’s in Operatic Performance.
And while having an operatic sweep with seemingly larger than life characters with oversized emotions, the album’s songs interestingly enough manage to possess a deeply personal and introspective nature. “I write about real things that have happened in my life,” Thompson-King says in press notes. “My relationships, like with my folks, the people I love, but using the landscape and stories of outside characters. They’re all about me, I guess, but it’s easier to write if I’m looking at a third party. So I look at myself as another character.” But perhaps more important, that voice, man; while there have been some comparisons to operatically trained vocalists like Pat Benatar and Heart‘s Ann Wilson, as well as Linda Ronstadt, which are all pretty damn reasonable, Thompson-King’s vocals throughout the album switch from feral howls and yelps, the sort of defiant, and self-contained resiliency and pride that only women possess, a world weary ache from a messy life, full of bad (if not completely fucked up) decisions, dysfunctional relationships with shitty, irresponsible lovers and good, decent ones – before ending with a gorgeous and sparse rendition of Schumann’s “Wehmut,” which translates in English to “Melancholy” and features Thompson-King singing in operatic German “Ich kann wohl manchmal singen / als ob ich fröhlich sei / Doch heimlich Tränen dringen / Da wird das Herz mir frei” (“Sometimes I may be singing as if I were full of joy, But secretly the tears are flowing and then my heart feels free”).
Simply put, it’s a powerful and incredibly self-assured debut but it’s arguably among my favorites released this year. Now, as you can imagine this year has been incredibly busy as I’ve had to manage the responsibilities of an involved day job with that of this blog, but several weeks ago I spoke to the incredibly thoughtful and charming Hayley Thompson-King via email about Psychotic Melancholy, her classical training and how it’s influenced her own creative work, how much the Sun Records sound has influenced her on this album and more in a rather revealing interview. Check it out below.
WRH: You grew up in the tiny town of Sebastian, Florida near Melbourne and Vero Beach, and as the impressively detailed press notes I was provided mentioned, you spent great deal of your youth riding and showing American Quarter horses and your father was a team roper, who trained cutting horses. It’s understandable that you would have grown up listening to a helluva lot of country music; but I understand that you’re a classically trained opera singer, who went to opera school, which defies the stereotype of the country singer/songwriter. How did you get into opera? Did you have any of your friends or others make fun of you for singing classical opera? How has your classical training influenced you and your work? When did you realize that you needed to write for yourself?
Hayley Thompson-King: I’ve always had classical leanings…When I was about 12, I basically woke up one day and my voice had changed…like I hit puberty and all of a sudden I had a ton of vibrato and could speak Italian (just kidding about the second part 🙂 But, ya, it was very natural for me to sing classical music. No one made fun of me! (…to my face…At least not for that!) I feel grateful that I had the opportunity to attend college and then graduate school. I think besides being able to control my voice and all it’s little nuances, the training has helped me to be able to analyze music. To dig into what the composer and lyricist are trying to convey and then honoring that…which is great for country music because it’s tradition to sing other people’s songs. I take every note and every lyric very seriously and when I break from that, it’s intentional… As a songwriter, it’s sort of a blessing and a curse…it takes me a long time to compose the “right” song because every note and every word have to serve the plot…It’s challenging for me to rattle off something visceral like Louie Louie (one of the greatest songs of all time, in my opinion).
Realizing I wanted to go down this path- what feels like performance art; using my brain, my feelings, experiences, and my body to express something- came about 7 years ago. I became tired of waiting for someone else to tell me when or whether or not I could make art. So, I wrote, produced and released my first record (an entirely analog production) called Save The Rats; it was the first release on my label, Hard To Kill Records.
HTK: Please don’t judge me, but I am LOCKED on Traditional Holiday Favorites: Christmas Music of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s on Sirius XM…I have no excuse.
WRH: How would you describe your sound to those unfamiliar with you and your work?
HTK: I like to say it’s Psychedelic Country or Alt-Classical. Some folks have said Garage Country or even Riot Girl.
WRH: Earlier this year, I stopped by both of Baby Robot Media’s Mondo.NYC Showcases at Piano’s without any expectations of anything and honestly without researching any of the artists or anything, and out of all of the very talented artists, you and your backing band blew me away. I’m a jaded New York-based music journalist, so I don’t say that often! One of the things that I noticed that you and your backing band seemed incredibly road tested. How did you meet your backing band and how long have you been playing together?
HTK: Oh, that is very kind of you to say! I have about 5 musicians who I work with regularly (2 guitarists, 1 drummer and 2 bass players). Everyone who plays with me has one instruction from me: serve the song. I don’t need them to be perfect or play it like the record, I just want to play together in the moment and serve the song.
That show, I had my original bass player (who played on the record) Chris Maclachlan. Chris is a classically trained singer and bassist for seminal Boston band from the 80’s called Human Sexual Response. He’s been with me the longest…we started as a duo and that was when we began incorporating classical repertoire. I had Rob Motes on drums and Nick Mercado on guitar. My other Bass player Ben Voskeritchian is in a band along with Rob and Nick called These Wild Plains from Boston. Their whole band approached me with the idea to go on the road opening me and then backing me up. They are fantastic musicians, they listen to everything I do and respond…I feel really lucky to have them in the band. And my other guitar player (who played on the record and also engineered and co-produced) is Pete Weiss.
WRH: I’ve listened the album a number of times and sonically it’s like you and your backing band manage to bridge honky tonk country with the Sun Records/early rock sound — I can’t help but think of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and so on because the album’s material has this raw, feral quality to me. Was that intentional? And how much has that particular period influenced you?
HTK: It’s funny you bring that up…and I’m so glad you pulled that thread. I’m also a college professor on the side 🙂 And I’m preparing for a course right now in Rock and Roll History so listening to A LOT of Elvis. I think ‘feral’ is the perfect term. That music was highly intelligent the way Nature is… and I think results from a feeling of being bound. There is a release and it doesn’t feel contrived, but rather instinctive. AND, most exciting, the audience was effected that way! In my music, I’m working completely instinct-driven, so, yes, I’d say those artists have influenced me.
WRH: The album reportedly stems from your childhood obsessions with the Bible’s wicked women, doubters and questioners, questioning what exactly made them “evil,” and in some way viewing them in a very different, empathetic prism in which you put yourself in the shoes of Lot’s wife, Judas and Luficer among others while tying that together with your own personal experiences. When I read that in the very detailed press notes about you and the album, my immediate thought was “holy shit, that’s pretty heady — for anything these days.” When you began writing the material for the album, did you begin with that overarching theme, crafting material so that it would hew to it — or was it something that came about subconsciously and organically as you were writing?
HTK: As far as the concept for the record, one day as Pete (Weiss) and I were working on pre-production, he said jokingly, “this sounds like a Sodom and Gommorah concept album”. So, that kind of stuck because it was a way to talk to people about what the hell is going on in this body of work. But, truly this was not something that I was in control of… I was guided and sensed it was divine intervention. My entire life, I’ve been haunted by these characters because, it seems to me, they were pawns in a game… Isn’t Judas the real martyr? I realize that this might come across as blaspheme, but I’m resigned to burning in whatever hell being a reasonable person gets you sent to.
WRH: You and your backing band spent the closing months of 2016 and the early months of this year writing and then obsessively revising and then recording the material that wound up comprising Psychotic Melancholia. How much revising and tweaking went into the writing sessions? And when did you know that you had finished, fully-fleshed out songs?
HTK: Pete (Weiss) and I got together in little pre-production sessions before we went into the studio and tweaked some of the songs… those sessions involved adding a chord here or there, some arrangement choices, and our plan of attack for mic-ing/live recording/vocals. Most of the songs were fully formed at that point. Then we went to the studio and a lot of what you hear is live with some minimal editing/overdubs. BUT, a couple of the more kinetic pieces (Lot’s Wife and No Room) needed to be played live in order for us to get the feel… so we booked a couple things and then went back and recorded those… they are mainly live, but what you are hearing is probably the 3rd version of both of those. I just get a feeling when something is right and the band trusts that… so that’s how we work.
“Dopesick,” and “Old Flames” are among my favorite songs on the album. What can I say, a sad song sometimes just works, you know? In any case, there’s a deep and visceral ache to them that comes from very real, lived-in experience, while drawing from some of the country songs I’d expect to hear while in some beer and whiskey soaked honky tonk. What is the story behind those two?
HTK: “Old Flames” is actually a cover song. It was written around 1978 by Hugh Moffatt and Pebe Sebert (Sebert is the mother of Ke$ha!). I only add a cover if I feel a deep connection to it and if I feel I can bring something new to the table…for that one, I had been trying to write about being in love with my partner…I found it VERY challenging to write about joy. I started playing that song and it said the things that I wanted to say about my love. (I’m still trying to write originals about this topic and getting much better at expressing this these days)
“Dopesick” is an old song. I probably wrote it about 5 years ago. It’s also about someone very close to me who was struggling…but, in hindsight, it’s also about me. It’s my favorite song.
WRH: I’ve mentioned this to a number of artists I’ve interviewed but I think that the one of the keys to an exceptional album is when the song order is so perfect that it creates a very specific mood, and if you were to rearrange the songs, it would be a different album with a wildly different mood — closing the album with a rendition of Schumann’s “Wehmut” is an eccentric yet gorgeous and fitting way to close out an album with a huge, operatic sensibility. Did you have any difficulties in arranging the material as it appears on the album or was it something that you always knew?
HTK: It took me about 3 days to do the song order…which, to me, felt long. I was taking into consideration the tempi, flow of the keys and lyrical arch…but really, this was the only way it could be. On the vinyl (which I’m planning to release this spring, but am hoping to get some label support for), each side will end with a Schumann piece….I think the whole thing works beautifully for a record where you listen to one side and then flip:
Large Hall, Slow Decay
No Room For Jesus
Mondnacht (music -Schumann / poem – Eichendorff)
Mondnacht (Moon Night):
It seemed as if the sky
Had silently kissed the earth,
That she in the shimmer of blossoms
Could only dream of him.
The breeze blew over the fields,
The grain stalks gently surged,
The forests rustled softly,
So starbright was the night.
And my soul unfolded
It’s pinions so wide,
Flew over the silent lands,
As if it were flying home
Sometimes I may be singing
As if I were full of joy,
But secretly tears are flowing,
And then my heart feels free.
The nightingales will sing,
When spring breezes play outside,
Their melody of yearning
Out of their prison’s tomb.
Then all the hearts are listening,
And everyone is glad,
But none can feel the sorrows,
The bitter grief in song.
WRH: What’s next for you?
Well, we are home working on a couple videos and doing some writing and light recording in January…and teaching my R&R History course at the college of course. We’ll be doing about 3 weeks east of the Rockies in March. I turn in my grades for \ on May 14 and on May 15 we leave for a month long tour in Scandinavia which ends at the Stockholm Americana Festival. I’m pretty excited about spring. I’m hoping to get back to NYC a few times in the next couple months…we’ve had such exciting crowds there (including yourself 🙂 It feels like the audiences really get what we’re doing and like the artistic aspect of it. So, that’s the plan.
Lightfoot’s third full-length album New Mistakes is slated for an October 13, 2017 through Sonic Unyon Records, and as you may recall, the album’s first single “Paradise” found the Hamilton, ON-based JOVM mainstay thoroughly reinventing her sound while still retaining some of the essential elements that first caught the attention of this site and elsewhere — including Lightfoot’s personal and deeply heartfelt lyrics and booming, soulful vocals; however, “Paradise” may arguably be one of the most anthemic songs she’s released to date, as it’s rooted around the sort of bluesy shout and stomp reminiscent of T. Bone Burnett, The Black Keys and others. Of course, the song clearly pushes the Canadian JOVM mainstay’s sound towards a decided, blues rock direction — but it does so while revealing an artist, who has found her own, unique voice.
New Mistakes‘ latest single, the atmospheric “Norma Gale” may arguably be Lightfoot’s most singer/songwriter-like songs, as it was inspired by her meeting and befriending Norma Gale, a country singer/songwriter, who developed a great following in Nashville and wound up playing with Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty during the 1970s. As Lightfoot explains in press notes, the song chronicles Gale’s life, as she’s trying to make a name for herself as a musician — while raising a young son as a single parent. “I kept in touch with Norma and her son, and let them know when I finally made it to Nashville to do some writing, but unfortunately, she had passed away two weeks earlier,” Lightfoot recalls. Unsurprisingly, based on Lightfoot’s own work, I can see why she would be drawn to Gale and her story — and as a result, Lightfoot empathetically conveys the strength and resolve to achieve your dreams, even when things are at their most desperate. And as a musician, how can you not see yourself in the struggle of those before you, who have tried to make a name for themselves?
Lola Kirke is a British-born, New York-based singer/songwriter, musician and actress, best know for starring roles in Mistress America and Mozart in the Jungle, as well as a supporting role in David Fincher’s Gone Girl; but along with that, she’s also the daughter of drummer Simon Kirke, best known for stints in Bad Company and Free and Lorraine Kirke, the owner of Geminola, a vintage boutique known for supplying outfits for Sex and the City. As a singer/songwriter, her self-titled debut EP features four, plaintive songs that Kirke has personally dubbed Cosmic American.
The self-titled EP’s latest single “Not Used” is about learning to live with a lover’s absence and as a result, the single possesses a visceral longing and ache paired with a spectral yet old-timey, honky tonk-like arrangement . But at its core, is the acceptance of the lingering ghosts of one’s past and the awkward attempt to move forward with one’s life to the best of their abilities. And interestingly enough, the recently released music video was directed by and stars Lola Kirke’s sister, who spends the entire length of the song vigorously exercising in her small apartment — and as Jemina Kirke explains about the video treatment “Those transitional, soul-level-change moments we experience are never dramatic. Epiphanies don’t really happen. They’re a myth. Real transformation is boring and uncomfortable, like working out on your birthday when you have no plans. Change slips in unnoticed while you’re busy trudging through something pretty unremarkable.”
Currently comprised of core group of bandleader and founding member Beau Bedford, Nik Lee, Daniel Creamer, Matt McDonald, Ryan Ake and a constantly evolving and rotating cast of collaborators and friends, The Texas Gentlemen were initially assembled as an all-purpose backing band for an eclectic array of singer/songwriters including Leon Bridges, Nikki Lane, Shakey Graves, Delta Spirit’s Matthew Logan Vasquez, Jack Ingram, Terry Allen, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Ray Benson, Joe Ely and many others, and in a similar fashion to The Wrecking Crew, The Muscle Shoals Swampers (who once backed Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and lengthy list of soul legends), Booker T. and The M.G.’s and The Band. Last year, the members of The Texas Gentlemen backed the legendary Kris Kristofferson at this first Newport Folk Festival appearance in more than 45 years, and the set lead to a series of critically applauded shows across Texas.
Building on their growing reputation as a go-to backing band, the band signed to New West Records, who will release their full-length debut effort TX Jelly on September 15, 2017. Recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL, the album, which was produced by the band’s Bedford was recorded live to tape over four days in a raucous recording session and features material that touches on the blues, soul, folk, country rock, gospel and Southern rock. As Bedford described the recording sessions to the folks at Paste, “We set up our own version of Rock ‘n’ Roll Summer camp and invited our friends down to FAME studios. We figured at worst, we would have a great time as friends hanging out in one of the most historic studios in America. There was so much mojo once we turned all of the gear on, sounds just started popping out of the speakers, and the songwriters couldn’t help but feed off the energy. TX Jelly is the fruition of years of kinship and a deep hunger by our collective group for American roots music.”
“Habbie Doobie,” TX Jelly’s first single is a sweaty, funky and hook driven bit of down home, Southern rock that sounds as though it draws from The Allman Brothers, The Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Black Crowes but with the free-flowing improvised feel of a bunch of old friends jamming and hitting upon a groove, with each individual musician knowing where the other was going next. And while easily displaying the cool, self-assuredness of old pros, the song is a decidedly bold introduction to the band as an individual unit.In fact, interestingly enough the recently released video for “Habbie Doobie” features the members of The Texas Gentlemen jamming and goofing off in their Dallas, TX-based Modern Electric Sound Recorders Studio in a way that you’d almost expect them to do.
You may recall that earlier this month, I wrote about Erin McLaughlin, a Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter, whose solo recording project Ruby Force reportedly captures her personal journey of self-discovery through hard-fought and honest storytelling-based songwriting focusing on tales of love gained and lost and her own life. And with her soon-to-be released Ruby Force debut Evolutionary War, McLaughlin along with an incredibly accomplished backing band featuring Elijah Thomson, who has played with Everest, Delta Spirit and Father John Misty; Richard Swift, who has played with The Black Keys, The Shins, The Arcs and Foxygen; Frank Lenz, who has played with Pedro The Lion; and Sean Watkins, who has played with Nickel Creek have written deeply personal yet accessible material based on a particular period of McLaughlin’s life; in fact, as she explained to Rolling Stone, “it strings together like a narrative essentially, about how I love.”
“Cowboy,” which I wrote about a few weeks ago is a sweet, old-timey/honky-tonk-inspired country song, and the song’s narrator describes a hotly passionate yet dysfunctional, romantic relationship with a cowboy, who persistently and predictably breaks her heart; but she defiantly and proudly loves him because after all, they’ve been through everything and anything together. And although you’ve likely heard such a theme in countless country songs, McLaughlin delivers her lyrics with a beguiling mix of easygoing, self-assuredness, earnestness, flirtatiousness and self-effacing irony.
“Church and State,” Evolutionary War’s latest single, much like the preceding single was inspired by a deeply personal experience — and in this case, “a mystically transitional phase in my life when my best girlfriends and I were living in a tiny Victorian house on the literal corner of Church and State Streets in Redlands, CA,” McLaughlin explained to The Bluegrass Situation. “We were playing at the Martini Lounge on Saturday nights and singing harmonies in the church band on Sunday mornings. So, you know, the song pretty much used me to write itself.” While lyrically, the song reveals a novelist’s attention to detail — particularly the aging woman in a pink rocking chair, stomping her beat to a rhythm, the feeling of love and comfort the song’s narrator feels by being around her beloved friends and the woman who’s love and devotion saved a young cowboy from hell; but paired with a slow-burning and atmospheric arrangement that gives McLaughlin’s vocals room to stretch and roam. Interestingly, her vocals manage to channel Bonnie Raitt, circa “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” And from this new single, I think that McLaughlin may arguably be one of country’s up-and-coming stars.
Comprised of the Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Courtney Jaye, who has spent stints in Nashville, Atlanta, Austin and elsewhere; and Bay Area-based singer/songwriter Zach Rogue, the frontman of indie rock act Rogue Wave, the country music duo of Rogue and Jaye can trace their origins back to a December 2013 songwriting session, in which the duo quickly recognized they had an instant and easy-going simpatico — perhaps based in their backgrounds as songwriters influenced by country, whose material frequently possessed a wistful, late night, drinking in the honky tonk vibe and the results the critically applauded debut single together “Til It Fades.” As Zach Rogue explains in press notes “We have this thing, and I don’t really know know why, it’s just a comfort level. We have this easy spirit with each other, where I like hearing here sing and I feel very comfortable proposing ideas.”
The duo’s debut effort together, Pent Up features a backing band consisting of Bands of Horses’Bill Reynolds (bass), Floating Action’s Seth Kauffman (guitar) and Grace Potter and The Nocturnals’ and Natalie Prass’ Michael Libramento (drums) and was recorded and engineered by Logan Matheny at Bill Reynolds’ Nashville-based Fleetwood Shack Studio and mixed and mastered by Mikael “Count” Eldridge in San Francisco. Officially released earlier this month, the album has been released to critically praise from a number of major media outlets including The Associated Press, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, American Songwriter and others, with Rolling Stone Country recently naming the duo one of their “10 New Artists You Need to Know,” and when you hear the album’s latest single “Golden Lady,” you’ll see why as the duo pair an easy-going, 70s AM rock and late night honky tonk twang with Jaye’s gorgeous yet wistful vocals. And while clearly drawing at Americana, 70s Renegade Country, indie rock and pop without being too tethered to them, the song also finds the duo subtly nodding at psychedelia with some pedal effected guitar.
In fact, much like the sources the duo draw from sonically and thematically, “Golden Lady” reveals the duo’s cool self-assuredness as the single is a recording featuring a bunch of old pros, who’ve made it seem way too easy — but at the same time, there’s an understated emotional honesty; the sort that comes from living a full and messy life of mistakes, foibles, joy, heartache, loneliness, being lost and found and lost again, and profoundly life altering experiences and experiencing them as completely and fully as possible — and with an effortless gracefulness.
As the duo’s Courtney Jaye explains, their latest single details an all-too common frustration with the universe and one’s seeming inability to cope with a personally damaging situation and learning how to be patient, how to be alone and how to love yourself before loving another and learning how to trust yourself and letting things go at the time and pace they’re supposed to. And in fact, the recently released video Ben Bennett and shot and edited by Stefan Colson is shot in hazy, golden light and throughout Jaye is shot hemmed in and trapped in a person-sized tube and cocooned in fabric. And while Jaye is struggling to break free, there’s a sense that some of this is self-inflicted. In fact, as Jaye explains in press notes, “this video symbolizes being trapped by your own fear, self-doubt and lack of trust in universal timing.