Tag: Elvis Presley

A Q&A with Jennifer Silva

Jennifer Silva is a Boston-born, New York-based singer/songwriter. Influenced by Stevie NicksAretha FranklinTori AmosThe Rolling StonesFlorence + The Machine and Alabama Shakes, the Boston-born, New York-based singer/songwriter has received attention for bringing a sensual and soulful energy to her live shows — and for lyrics that explore universal and very human paradoxes — particularly, the saint and sinner within all of us.

Silva’s debut EP was an EDM collaboration with DJ Sizigi-13 under the mononym Silva — but since the release of that effort, her material has leaned heavily towards singer/songwriter soul, rock and pop with 70s AM rock references, as you’ll hear on her most recent album, the Reed Black-produced Bluest Sky, Darkest Earth.

Silva’s latest single “I Wash My Hands” is a shimmering and gorgeous country soul/70s AM rock-like song centered around a fairly simple arrangement of guitar, bass, vocals and drums that’s sonically indebted to Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac. Interestingly, the song was originally written as a weary lament over a major relationship that has come to an end – but the song manages takes on a heightened meaning, reflecting on a heightened sense of uncertainty and fear, suggesting that maybe Mother Earth is attempting to wash her hands of us.

The recently released video for “I Wash My Hands” was created during the mandatory social distancing and quarantines of the COVID-19 pandemic – and it features Silva, her friends, family, bandmembers and voice students, separated by quarantine but connecting through the song.

I recently exchanged emails with Jennifer Silva for this edition of JOVM’s ongoing Q&A series – and naturally, we chat about her new single and video, her influences –including her love of Stevie Nicks, and her songwriting process. Of course, with governments across the world closing bars, restaurants, nightclubs and music venues to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the impact on the music industry – particularly on small and mid-sized venues, and the touring, emerging and indie artists who grace their stages, has been devastating. Over the course of the pandemic, I’ll be talking to artists about how the pandemic has impacted them and their careers. And in this interview, Silva reveals that the much-anticipated follow-up to Bluest Sky, Darkest Earth has been rescheduled, with her and her backing band figuring out how to finish it with the use of technology. Then add lost gigs and the uncertainty of when you’ll be able to play or promote your new work, and it’s a particularly urgent and uneasy time. But the dedicated will find a way to keep on going on for as long as they can.

Check out the video and the Q&A below.

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Photo Credit: Paxton Connors

Jennifer Silva_IWMH

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WRH: Much of the world has been in quarantine and adhering to social distancing guidelines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. How are you holding up? How are you spending your time? Are you binge watching anything?

Jennifer Silva: The world is upside down right now and it’s been a rollercoaster of emotions for me.  Shock, depression, anger, acceptance — feels like the stages of grief sometimes! I really miss my friends and my social life. Playing shows, my band. The good news though, is that my family and I are safe, healthy and well stocked. We left Brooklyn right before it got really bad and headed upstate. So, I’ve been in the woods, pretty secluded, with limited cable news (thankfully) and some great outdoorsy vibes all around me.  I’m very lucky and I really can’t complain. I’ve been spending the time connecting with my family, homeschooling my daughters, cooking, knitting, reading and writing songs!  We’ve been living a simple life these days and that’s actually a great thing sometimes. I just started watching Ozark on Netflix, finally, which is perfect for this quarantine! I’m always down for an epic drug/murder/survival story. Oh, and wine.

WRH: Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, festivals have been postponed or cancelled outright, artists of all stripes have postponed, rescheduled or cancelled tour dates. Most of the world has been on an indefinite pause. How has COVID-19 impacted you and your career?

JS: This has got to be the hardest part of it all for me. I’ve also had to cancel shows, but, most significantly, literally one week before the pandemic really hit NYC, I was in the studio with my band and producer (Reed Black of Vinegar Hill Sound) tracking my next record.  We spent two full days laying down all the music and scratch vocals for 10 tracks, and I was so hyped and excited for the next two months of recording all the overdubs, lead vocals, background vocals and getting that final mix completed. Now, we must wait. Luckily though, we have the rough mixes to listen to and some of my band members are working on and planning overdubs at home. It’s frustrating but I’m still so grateful to have had those days in the studio. What we have already, sounds amazing!

WRH: How did you get into music?

JS: I’ve been singing all my life.  My father played guitar around the house throughout my childhood, and so at a young age I was singing classic rock and soul music to my family. “The House of the Rising Sun” (The Animals), “Bring it on Home to Me” (Sam Cooke) and “To Love Somebody” (Bee Gees) were my first covers!

I also went to Catholic school as a girl where the nuns always made me sing the solos at the Christmas and Easter performances. And of course, I was singing in Church every week. That really helped shaped me as a singer because I was taught to belt without shame because it was a “gift”, so I have always been a loud singer, haha. I’m not religious anymore (thankfully), but man, I love me some Church hymns! And there is nothing like the acoustics in a Cathedral.

WRH: Who are your influences?

JS: I have so many influences from so many different genres of music.  The Animals, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Lionel Richie, David Bowie, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke and all of Motown were early loves of mine.

Then I had a whole Neo Soul moment, falling in love with singers like Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and Jill Scott. They definitely influenced me with their powerful female energy and style and the vocal choices they made. I also love 80’s and 90’s female badasses, like Tori Amos, Bjork, PJ Harvey, Hole, Garbage, Madonna and Annie Lennox. Artists with true points of view and the guts to say it.

I love Blues and Jazz greats like Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Etta James, Ray Charles, Lead Belly. Their emotional rawness and vocal prowess has always been a guide.

Singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Tracy Chapman, T. Bone Burnett, Dolly Parton, Rufus Wainwright and Joni Mitchell have helped shape my lyric writing and storytelling. I love Lana Del Rey as well.

Vocalists like Amy Winehouse, Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, Stevie Nicks and of course, Aretha Franklin will always be the pinnacle of greatness for me. These artists INSPIRE me.

WRH: Who are you listening to right now?

JS: There is so much amazing music out right now. The talent level in this industry can be intimidating actually! Right now, we’ve been listening to a lot of indie rock and singer-songwriters like Marlon Williams and Aldous Harding, Töth, The Dø, Future Islands, Julia Jacklin, Sun Kil Moon, and Heartless Bastards.  And we are always playing The National and Arcade Fire. The Grateful Dead and Tom Waits are spun pretty regularly too around here. And of course, we’ve been listening to lots of John Prine since his recent passing from Covid-19.  What a loss.

WRH: I’ve probably referenced Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back” more times than any other journalist in town. I think of a certain synth sound – and that song comes to mind. Plus, I love that song.

I know that Stevie Nicks is a big influence on you. What’s your favorite all-time Stevie Nicks song?

JS: One thing I really love about Stevie, which I read in her biography a few years ago (by Zoe Howe), and that I can totally relate to, was that she didn’t have any formal musical education. She just had her gorgeous melodies and emotional lyrics and really, just a simple catalog of basic chords.  Lindsey [Buckingham] would get frustrated with her because he’d have to finesse her songs so much to make them work. “Dreams,” for instance, only has 2 chords! But her songs were always their biggest hits. She tapped into an emotion and style and energy that people love and her voice is just absolutely unique and powerful. In a way, the reason she was so successful with her songwriting was because she wasn’t trapped in a musical box. She would write whatever she felt, and her uniqueness and melodies were memorable and beautiful. She inspires me so much! It’s nearly impossible to choose one favorite Stevie Nicks song, but I’ll go with “Edge of Seventeen.”  A close second is probably “Landslide.”

WRH: Your first release was an EDM-like collaboration with DJ Sizigi-13. Since then your sound has gone through a dramatic change. How did that come about?  How would you describe your sound to those unfamiliar with you and your sound?

JS: After my old band broke up in 2014, I was searching for new musical collaborations on Craigslist. I connected with Sizigi over email and we decided to make a song together.  One song led to four, over the course of a few months. I knew going in, EDM wasn’t going to be my personal sound forever, but I was down for the challenge of writing to existing beats and learning to record all my vocals at home with GarageBand. I bought a microphone and set up a vocal booth in my closet with towels on the doors to pad the sound.  I learned to edit. I love my lyrics and vocals on those songs, and I am very proud of the work I did. So, ultimately, I chose to have the record mastered and to release the 4 song EP independently. It was a stepping-stone for me.

The music I make now is all me though. I pen all of the lyrics and write the melodies on guitar, or sometimes I use my Omnichord (a vintage electronic harp/synthesizer from the 80s, which is AMAZING) and then my band brings it all to life!  My sound can be described as indie rock soul. I love the Alabama Shakes so that’s a decent comparison, I hope. The lyrics are evocative and dramatic, and the music is organic rock, but I always sing with soul. I also love to explore the saint and the sinner in all of us and tap into themes from my Catholic upbringing — like with “The Convent” from my last record Bluest Sky, Darkest Earth and “Purgatory Road” which will be on my next record. I am inspired by elements of the occult (tarot cards, following your intuition, voodoo) and I use nature and other metaphors to write about complicated relationships.

WRH: Rockwood Music Hall celebrated their 15th anniversary earlier this year. Sadly, during this century, existing 15 years as a venue in New York time is like 149 years. Rockwood Music Hall invited an All-Star list of artists, who have cut their teeth playing the venue’s three stages to celebrate. The bill that month included JOVM mainstay Anna Rose, acts that I’ve covered like Eleanor Dubinsky, Christopher Paul Stelling, The Rad Trads, Mike Dillon, Melany Watson, as well as Jon Baptiste. How does it feel to be included with those acts?

JS: It feels amazing! I am so lucky to have played a small part in Rockwood’s incredible history. It was an absolute honor to play the stage that night, and to join that list of talented artists. Rockwood Music Hall was the first place I ever played in NYC. I remember getting an early Saturday afternoon acoustic slot with my old guitarist and playing to a mostly empty room. It was still so damn exciting to me, the opportunity to play that famous stage.  Fast forward a few years later to my packed record release show on Stage 1 and then my graduation to Stage 2, last year. Rockwood has supported me since Day 1 and to help celebrate their anniversary, on the very stage where it all began for me, made me so proud!

WRH: Your Rockwood Music Hall set included a cover of one of my favorite Lead Belly songs ever “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” It’s one of those songs that for whatever reason doesn’t seem to be covered a whole lot. So, what drew you to the song? And how much does the blues influence you?

JS: I have been listening to Lead Belly for a very long time. I only knew his version of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” and never actually heard Nirvana’s version until many years later, which is what I think most people think of when they hear that song these days. I used to love singing that song in the car with my boyfriend. We each took a verse. It always seemed so chilling and powerful and it really tells a story that leaves you wanting more. You are right though, it’s not covered a whole lot and when we first tried in rehearsal, we knew it would kill. Everyone really responds to that one.

I generally gravitate toward big singers. Full voices filled with heartache and soul and you get that in spades with the Blues.  The Blues are rooted in emotion and that kind of expression comes naturally for me. Lead Belly and Big Mama Thornton are definitely my favorite blues artists, but I also really dig Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Son House, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Bessie Smith. I love how Bonnie Raitt, Larkin Poe and Gary Clark, Jr. are keeping that tradition alive and having success with Modern Blues too.

WRH: How do you know when you have a finished song?

JS: I know a song is finished when I love the melody and lyrics enough to play it over and over again, day after day and when I can get lost developing the vocal runs. A good sign is when my family really responds to it as well. I also think nailing the bridge usually seals the deal for me. That’s when I write over my penciled lyrics and chords, in my black, Papermate flair pen and make it final!

I’m not a person who usually tinkers on a song for years though.  I write most songs in a few hours, or a couple of days or maybe, up to a week. I like to capture the emotion of a sentiment and get most of it right and then move on to the next song. In all honesty, the best songs write themselves in 10 minutes! I actually wrote my new single “I Wash My Hands” quickly like that.

WRH: Your latest single “I Wash My Hands” and its accompanying video officially drops today. It’s a gorgeous country soul/70s AM rock song, a weary lament of someone who’s desperate to move on from a relationship or some other major life tie. You wouldn’t have known this at the time, but the song has an eerie double meaning that reflects our current moment of uncertainty and fear. Curiously, how does it feel to have written something that initially was supposed to be about something specific that suddenly transforms into something altogether different?  

JS: Thanks. I think the lyrics are very relatable for anyone in a long-term relationship who understands that compromise and respect are needed for a couple to survive and more importantly, thrive. But in this unprecedented moment in our lives, that can also be said about humans and our planet. Fear of Covid-19 leaves us all washing our hands like never before, so now, this track also invokes Mother Nature’s demand for more respect. She is also washing her hands of our abuse, forcing us all to pause while she shows us just how powerful she is. It’s humbling.

WRH: The video for the song is pretty intimate almost home video-like visual, as it features a collection of loved ones, including family and friends lip synching along to the song – while they’re in quarantine. How did you come about the concept? And how did it feel to have your loved ones participate in the video?

JS: Last week, my brother Chris and I were talking on FaceTime, about the need for interconnectedness even while social distancing. We thought about how lonely people are, even though we are Zooming and chatting on the phone, more than ever.

We thought it would be really special if I could get some of my friends and family to lip-synch parts of this song and create a montage. Video production resources are limited here in quarantine, but everybody has a phone with a camera and time on their hands!

The video is like being on a Zoom call but this one makes me feel so happy every time I watch it! It’s all my favorite people singing my song. People in Brooklyn, California, Detroit, New Jersey, New England, and even as far as Kenya! Everyone just really came through and had fun with this project, including my voice students, family members and close friends. People I haven’t seen in two months or more! I don’t know when I’ll see them again frankly, but the video makes me feel connected to them and I think it makes them all feel connected to each other. I love it so much.

WRH: What’s next for you?

JS: While I’m quarantined, I’m going to keep making art. Keep writing music. Keep singing.

I’m also going to continue to work on my next album. Right now, the plan is to release it in the Fall, so I’ve got shows to book and all the pieces in between to plan. Follow me on Instagram (@sheissilva) for all updates, single and video releases and of course, details about the album release party and tour dates.

Please stay safe and healthy, everyone. I’m sending vibes to you all. We will get through this. And I think we will be stronger for it. And don’t forget to keep washing your hands!

New Video: Follow Acclaimed JOVM Mainstays Tinariwen on a Cinematically Shot Journey in the Desert

I’ve written quite a bit about the internationally acclaimed Algerian Tuareg pioneers of Desert Blues and JOVM mainstays Tinariwen over the past handful of years. And as you can recall, the act can trace its origins back to the late 1970s when the band’s founding member, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib (guitar) joined a small group of Tuareg rebels living in refugee camps in Libya and Algeria. The rebels Ag Alhabib hooked up with had been influenced by radical chaabi protest music of groups like Nass El Ghiwane and Jil Jilala, Algerian pop rai, and western artists like Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Carlos Santana, Dire Straits, Jimi Hendrix, Boney M, and Bob Marley  — and they started writing music that meshed the traditional folk music of their people with Western rock, reggae and blues-leaning arrangements.

Despite a series of lineup changes since their formation, the act has toured regularly across the European Union, North American, Japan and Australia, playing some fo the biggest festivals of the international touring circuit — and at some of the world’s biggest clubs and music venues. But one thing has been consistent: they’ve firmly established a sound that evokes the harsh and surreal beauty of their desert homeland, centered around the poetry and wisdom of a rough and tumble, proud and rebellious people, whose old-fashioned way of life is rapidly disappearing as a result of increasingly technology and encroaching Westernization and globalization. And while 2017’s Elwan (which translates into English as “The Elephants”) thematically touches upon on the impact that Westernization and technology has had on the lives of their people, their exile from their homeland as  result of religious and ethnic infighting, the uncertain future of their homeland and their longing to be back in their homeland — with the tacit understanding that many within the band may never see their homeland ever again.

Slated for a September 6, 2019 release through Anti- Records, the acclaimed JOVM mainstays’ forthcoming album Amadjar reportedly is as close as listeners can get to the proverbial soul of the band as it was recorded in a natural setting. Accompanied by their French production team, who arrived in an old camper can that has been converted into a makeshift studio, the Saharan Africa JOVM mainstays’ journey to the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott takes about 12 days or so. Every evening, the caravan stopped to set up camp and the band went to work under the stars to prepare for the recording sessions, talking through things, and letting their guitar motifs, thoughts and long buried songs come. Then, during a final two-week camp in the desert around Nouakchott, the band, joined by The Mauritanian griot  Noura Mint Seymali and her guitarist husband, Jeiche Ould Chigaly, recorded their songs under large tent in a few live takes, without headphones or effects.

Once recorded, a host of Western musicians added additional instrumentation including the Bad Seeds’ Warren Ellis, who contributed violin; Micah Nelson, the son of the legendary Willie Nelson and a member of Neil Young‘s backing band, contributed mandolin and charango; Sunn O)))‘s Stephen O’Malley contributes guitar; Cass McCombs, who contributes guitar; and Rodophe Burger.

Lyrically and thematically, the album explores the continuing political, social, humanitarian and environmental problems faced in their home country of Mali and continues Tinariwen’s pursuit to highlight the plight and issues of their people through their music. The album continues the band’s ongoing work of highlighting the plight of the Tuareg community — from the collapse of infrastructure and public services, climate change and the ongoing political and military conflicts that have plagued their homeland since it gained independence in 1960.

Interestingly, “Kel Tinariwen” Amadjar’s latest single continues in a similar path of its predecessors as its centered around shimmering and looping acoustic guitar, call and response vocals, handclaps and drums and while the addition of a sinuous electric bass line  helps to modernize the song, the song feels as though it’s an effortless synthesis of the ancient and the modern. Thematically, the song touches upon two ancient things: the treacherousness of those power mad and greedy sorts, who will sell out their people — and a triumph of the righteous over them. Cass McCombs contributes some trippy vocals towards the song’s coda and his guitar work. 

Directed by Celidja Pornon, the recently released video for “Kel Tinariwen” is a cinematic and intimate shot visual that follows the band and their crew as they travel through the desert with their makeshift recording studio. We see tons of earthy browns and oranges, eerily beautiful landscapes, enormous and seemingly endless skies, and Van Gogh-like suns. Over the course of their journey, they stop for the night, set up camp, play dominoes, joke and chat and at night, they jam and write songs — the songs that represent the struggles and concerns of their people and of their homeland. We also get glimpses of the band performing for an ecstatic group of Tuaregs, who cheer them up and record every moment. 

New Audio: Tinariwen Releases a Gorgeous and Brooding Collaboration with Warren Ellis, Noura Mint Seymali and Jeiche Ould Chighaly

I’ve written quite a bit about the internationally acclaimed Algerian Tuareg pioneers of the Desert Blues and JOVM mainstays Tinariwen over the past couple of years. And as you may recall, the act can trace its origins back to the late 1970s when the band’s founding member, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib (guitar) joined a small group of Tuareg rebels living in refugee camps in Libya and Algeria. The rebels Ag Alhabib hooked up with had been influenced by radical chaabi protest music of groups like Nass El Ghiwane and Jil Jilala, Algerian pop rai, and western artists like Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Carlos Santana, Dire Straits, Jimi Hendrix, Boney M, and Bob Marley  — and they started writing music that meshed the traditional folk music of their people with Western rock, reggae and blues-leaning arrangements.

Upon relocating to Tamanrasset, Algeria, Ag Alhabib started a band with Alhassane Ag Touhami and brothers Inteyeden Ag Ablil and Liya Ag Ablil that had played traditional Taureg music at various weddings, parties and other occasions across both Algeria and Libya. As the story goes, when the quartet had started, they didn’t have a name; but people across the region, who had seen them play had begun calling them Kel Tinariwen, which in the Tamashek language (the tongue of the Taureg people) translates roughly as “The People of the Deserts” or “The Desert Boys.”

In 1980, Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi issued a decree inviting all young Tuareg men, who were living illegally in Libya to receive full military training, as part of his dream of forming a Saharan regiment, comprised of the best young Tuareg fighters to further his territorial ambitions in Chad, Niger, and elsewhere across Northern Africa. Al Alhabib and his bandmates answered the call and received military training. Whether or not the founding members of the band truly believed in Gaddafi’s military ambitions would be difficult to say — but on a practical level, a steady paycheck to support yourself and your family certainly is an enticement. Five years later, Ag Alhabib, Ag Touhami and the Ag Ablil brothers answered a similar call by leaders of the Libyan Tuareg movement, who desired an autonomous homeland for their people, and wound up meeting fellow musicians Keddou Ag Ossade, Mohammed Ag Itlale (a.k.a “Japonais”), Sweiloum Ag Alhousseyni, Abouhadid Ag Alhousseyni, and Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni — all who had sang and played guitar. At this point, the initial lineup was completed and the members of the collective began writing songs about the issues and concerns of their people.

Then the members of the band built a makeshift studio, vowing to to record and distribute music for free to anyone, who supplied them a blank cassette tape. Within a short period of time, the band’s cassette tapes were highly sought-after and were popularly traded throughout Saharan Africa.

In 1989 the collective had left Libya and relocated to Ag Alhabib’s birthplace of Tessalit, Mali; but by the next year, Mail’s Tuareg population revolted against the Malian government — with some members of the collective participating as rebel fighters in that conflict. After the Tamanrasset Accords were reached and agreed upon in early 1991, the members of Tinariwen, who had fought in the conflict had left the military and devoted themselves to their music full-time. In R1992, some of the members of the band went to Abidjan, Ivory Coast to record a cassette at JBZ Studios, which they followed up with extensive gigs for their fellow Tuaregs across Saharan Africa, which helped furthered the reputation they had developed primarily by word-of-mouth.

A collaboration with renowned French, world music ensemble Lo’Jo helped expand the band’s profile outside Saharan Africa. They also played a live set at Africa Oye, one of the UK’s largest African music/African Diaspora festival. Building on the increasing buzz, the band released their full-length debut The Radio Tisdas Sessions, which was their first recorded effort to be released outside of Saharan Africa. Interestingly, since their formation back in the late 70s, the collective have gone through a series of lineup changes, gradually incorporating younger generations of Tuareg musicians, many who haven’t seen the military conflicts that their elders have, including bassist Eyadou Ag Leche, percussionist Said Ag Ayad, guitarist Elaga Ag Hamid, guitarist Abdallah Ag Lamida, and vocalists Wonou Walet Sidati and the Walet Oumar sisters.

Despite their lineup changes, Tinariwen has become internationally known, as a result of regular touring across the European Union, North America, Japan and Australia, frequently playing some of the world’s biggest festivals and biggest music venues and clubs. But one thing has been consistent throughout — they’ve continued with a sound that evokes the harsh and surreal beauty of their homeland, centered around the poetry and wisdom of a rough and tumble, proud and rebellious people, whose old-fashioned way of life is rapidly disappearing as a result of technology and encroaching Westernization.

Additionally, a contentious and bloody series of infighting and wars between the various religious and ethnic groups across the region have splintered several nations throughout the region — including most recently Mali and Libya, where members of Tinariwen have proudly called home at various points of the band’s history. Unsurprisingly, the band’s last full-length effort, 2017’s Elwan (which translates into English as “The Elephants”) thematically focuses on the impact of Westernization and technology has had on their people and their way of life, their exile as a result of the religious and ethnic infighting that has destroyed their homeland, their longing for their ancestral homeland, the uncertain future of their homeland — and the tacit understanding that some of the band members may never see their homeland ever again.

Slated for a September 6, 2019 release through Anti- Records, the acclaimed JOVM mainstays’ forthcoming album Amadjar, reportedly is as close as listeners can get to the proverbial soul of the band as it was recorded in a natural setting. 

Accompanied by their French production team, who arrive in an old camper can that has been converted into a makeshift studio, the Saharan Africa JOVM mainstays’ journey to the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott takes about 12 days or so. Every evening, the caravan stopped to set up camp and the band went to work under the stars to prepare for the recording sessions, talking through things, and letting their guitar motifs, thoughts and long buried songs come. Then, during a final two-week camp in the desert around Nouakchott, the band, joined by The Mauritanian griotte Noura Mint Seymali and her guitarist husband, Jeiche Ould Chigaly, recorded their songs under large tent in a few live takes, without headphones or effects.

Once recorded, a host of Western musicians added additional instrumentation including the Bad Seeds’ Warren Ellis, who contributed violin; Micah Nelson, the son of the legendary Willie Nelson and a member of Neil Young‘s backing band, contributed mandolin and charango; Sunn O)))‘s Stephen O’Malley contributes guitar; Cass McCombs, who contributes guitar; and Rodophe Burger.

Lyrically and thematically, the album explores the continuing political, social, humanitarian and environmental problems faced in their home country of Mali and continues Tinariwen’s pursuit to highlight the plight and issues of their people through their music. The album continues the band’s ongoing work of highlighting the plight of the Tuareg community — from the collapse of infrastructure and public services, climate change and the ongoing political and military conflicts that have plagued their homeland since it gained independence in 1960.

Amadjar’s latest single is a gorgeous yet brooding track centered around looping and shimmering acoustic guitar, explosive blasts of pedal effected electric guitar, handclap led-percussion and bursts of soaring violin. And much like its predecessor, “Taqkal Tarha,” the song is an effortless synthesis of something far more ancient and seemingly older than time with a subtly contemporary feel. I’ve seen a translated version of song’s incredibly poetic lyrics — and in translation, they indirectly evoke Revelations, The Upanishads and other religious texts, as it paints a picture of the end of the world. And yet, the song’s narrator finds himself confronted by the fact that he’s got his trusty camel and the endless road ahead. 

New Video: Watch Acclaimed Indie Rock Act Night Beats Take on The Sonics

Deriving its name from Sam Cooke’s Night Beat album, the Seattle, WA-based psych rock/garage rock act Night Beats was formed by its Dallas, TX-born, Seattle, WA-based founding member and creative mastermind Danny “Lee Blackwell” Rajan Billingsley back in 2009 when Billingsley relocated to Seattle to study comparative religion at the University of Washington. That same year, Billingsley self-recorded the Night Beats debut EP, Street (Atomic), which was released through Holy Twist Records. 

After trying out a couple of different lineups, Billingsley recruited his high school friend and former B.B. Mercy drummer James Traeger to join the band. Traeger relocated from Austin, TX, where he was studying at the time to join Billingsley. The band played for a while as a duo before recruiting Tacoma, WA-born Tarek Wegner (bass), who once played with The Drug Purse and Paris Spleen to join the band. Early in their history, the band toured across North America extensively — and within weeks of releasing the H-Bomb EP the band was signed by Chicago-based label Trouble in Mind Records, who re-released the album in the fall of 2010. The re-released EP wound up topping several college radio while helping the band develop a reputation for a sound that incorporates elements of early R&B, psych rock, blues rock, funk and soul. (Unsurprisingly, the band has toured with the likes of The Black Angels, Roky Erickson, The Zombies, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Strange Boys, Black Lips, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and The Growlers.) 

The following year, the band released a split EP with The UFO Club through Austin-based label The Reverberation Appreciation Society, which they followed up with their self-titled debut album. They also released a 2012 split single with TRMRS, which was released through Volcom Vinyl Club. 2013 saw the release of their sophomore album Sonic Bloom through The Reverberation Appreciation Society. The band supported the album with touring across North America, Europe, Israel, South Africa and Australia. 

2014 saw the band go through the first of a series of lineup changes. Tarek Wegner left the band and eventually released an EP What Colors Last, as well as a full-length effort Soul Fuckers, which was supported by a West Coast tour with Tomorrow’s Tulips. Meanwhile, Night Beats signed to London-based label Heavenly Recordings, who released the band’s acclaimed Robert Levon Been co-produced third album Who Sold My Generation in 2016. The album also featured Been, who’s best known for his work with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club contributing bass. Jakob Bowden was recruited to tour in support of the album. 

The last half of 2016 saw the band go on an UK and European Union tour without James Traeger. Throughout 2017, Evan Synder toured with the band. During a 2018 US tour opening for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Jonah Swilley sat in on drums with the band. Last May saw the band touring Spain with Evan Synder playing drums. Bowden wasn’t with the band either. 

This year has been a rather busy year for Billingsley. Night Beats’ Dan Auerbach-produced Myth Of A Man was released in January — and the album found the band’s founder playing with a backing band of session musicians, who had worked with the likes of Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin. Perhaps as a way of explaining Traeger’s and Bowden’s absence from the album, the official press release simply said that the album was “written during a particularly destructive period of the band.” Additionally, Billingsley along with an all-star backing cast featuring The Mystery Lights’ Mike Brandon, Black Lips’ Cole Alexander and Warbly Jets’ Julien O’neil recorded and released a Record Store Day album, Night Beats Perform The Sonics’ Boom, an exact track-by-track over of The Sonics classic (and beloved) 1966 album Boom. 

Night Beats Perform The Sonics’ Boom finds Billingsley and an indie rock All-Star backing band treading a line between faithful cover meant to keep the legacy of The Sonics’ classic album alive for contemporary listeners while imbuing the material with a fuzzy  and soulful take. Album single “Let The Good Times Roll” manages to sound almost like it were released sometime between 1966-1968 but with a gritty, mod rock vibe reminiscent of The Who Sings My Generation-era The Who. 

Directed, shot, and edited by James Oswald on what looks like grainy Super 8mm film, the recently released video follows Billingsley and his backing band on tour, split between the yellow and white lines of endless blacktop, the band playing sweaty and passionate  shows in front of rapturous fans, and intimate backstage footage featuring the band getting themselves together before playing. As someone, who has covered and seen thousands of shows, the video captures the spirit and soul of a show in a way that feels warmly familiar. 

   

New Audio: JOVM Mainstays Tinariwen Team Up with Micah Nelson on a a Gorgeous and Meditative New Single

Over the past couple of years of this site’s nine year history, I’ve written quite a bit about the internationally renowned Algerian Tuareg pioneers of Desert Blues and JOVM mainstays Tinariwen. The act can trace its origins back to the late 1970s when the band’s founding member, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib (guitar) joined a small group of Tuareg rebels living in refugee camps in Libya and Algeria. The rebels Ag Alhabib hooked up with had been influenced by radical chaabi protest music of groups like Nass El Ghiwane and Jil Jilala, Algerian pop rai, and western artists like Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Carlos Santana, Dire Straits, Jimi Hendrix, Boney M, and Bob Marley  — and they started writing music that meshed the traditional folk music of their people with Western rock, reggae and blues-leaning arrangements.

Upon relocating to Tamanrasset, Algeria, Ag Alhabib started a band with Alhassane Ag Touhami and brothers Inteyeden Ag Ablil and Liya Ag Ablil that had played traditional Taureg music at various weddings, parties and other occasions across both Algeria and Libya. As the story goes, when the quartet had started, they didn’t have a name; but people across the region, who had seen them play had begun calling them Kel Tinariwen, which in the Tamashek language (the tongue of the Taureg people) translates roughly as “The People of the Deserts” or “The Desert Boys.”

In 1980, Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi issued a decree inviting all young Tuareg men, who were living illegally in Libya to receive full military training, as part of his dream of forming a Saharan regiment, comprised of the best young Tuareg fighters to further his territorial ambitions in Chad, Niger, and elsewhere across Northern Africa. Al Alhabib and his bandmates answered the call and received military training. Whether or not the founding members of the band truly believed in Gaddafi’s military ambitions would be difficult to say — but on a practical level, a steady paycheck to support yourself and your family certainly is an enticement. Five years later, Ag Alhabib, Ag Touhami and the Ag Ablil brothers answered a similar call by leaders of the Libyan Tuareg movement, who desired an autonomous homeland for their people, and wound up meeting fellow musicians Keddou Ag Ossade, Mohammed Ag Itlale (a.k.a “Japonais”), Sweiloum Ag Alhousseyni, Abouhadid Ag Alhousseyni, and Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni — all who had sang and played guitar. At this point, the initial lineup was completed and the members of the collective began writing songs about the issues and concerns of their people.

Then the members of the band built a makeshift studio, vowing to to record and distribute music for free to anyone, who supplied them a blank cassette tape. Within a short period of time, the band’s cassette tapes were highly sought-after and were popularly traded throughout Saharan Africa. 

In 1989 the collective had left Libya and relocated to Ag Alhabib’s birthplace of Tessalit, Mali; but by the next year, Mail’s Tuareg population revolted against the Malian government — with some members of the collective participating as rebel fighters in that conflict. After the Tamanrasset Accords were reached and agreed upon in early 1991, the members of Tinariwen, who had fought in the conflict had left the military and devoted themselves to their music full-time. In R1992, some of the members of the band went to Abidjan, Ivory Coast to record a cassette at JBZ Studios, which they followed up with extensive gigs for their fellow Tuaregs across Saharan Africa, which helped furthered the reputation they had developed primarily by word-of-mouth.

A collaboration with renowned French, world music ensemble Lo’Jo helped expand the band’s profile outside Saharan Africa. They also played a live set at Africa Oye, one of the UK’s largest African music/African Diaspora festival. Building on the increasing buzz, the band released their full-length debut The Radio Tisdas Sessions, which was their first recorded effort to be released outside of Saharan Africa. Interestingly, since their formation back in the late 70s, the collective have gone through a series of lineup changes, gradually incorporating younger generations of Tuareg musicians, many who haven’t seen the military conflicts that their elders have, including bassist Eyadou Ag Leche, percussionist Said Ag Ayad, guitarist Elaga Ag Hamid, guitarist Abdallah Ag Lamida, and vocalists Wonou Walet Sidati and the Walet Oumar sisters.

Despite their lineup changes, Tinariwen has become internationally known, as a result of regular touring across the European Union, North America, Japan and Australia, frequently playing some of the world’s biggest festivals and biggest music venues and clubs. But one thing has been consistent throughout — they’ve continued with a sound that evokes the harsh and surreal beauty of their homeland, centered around the poetry and wisdom of a rough and tumble, proud and rebellious people, whose old-fashioned way of life is rapidly disappearing as a result of technology and encroaching Westernization. 

Additionally, a contentious and bloody series of infighting and wars between the various religious and ethnic groups across the region have splintered several nations throughout the region — including most recently Mali and Libya, where members of Tinariwen have proudly called home at various points of the band’s history. Unsurprisingly, the band’s last full-length effort, 2017’s Elwan (which translates into English as “The Elephants”) thematically focuses on the impact of Westernization and technology has had on their people and their way of life, their exile as a result of the religious and ethnic infighting that has destroyed their homeland, their longing for their ancestral homeland, the uncertain future of their homeland — and the tacit understanding that some of the band members may never see their homeland ever again. 

Slated for a September 6, 2019 release through Anti- Records, the acclaimed JOVM mainstays’ forthcoming album Amadjar reportedly is as close as listeners can get to the proverbial soul of the band as it was recorded in a natural setting. Accompanied by their French production team, who arrive in an old camper can that has been converted into a makeshift studio, the Saharan Africa JOVM mainstays’ journey to the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott takes about 12 days or so. Every evening, the caravan stopped to set up camp and the band went to work under the stars to prepare for the recording sessions, talking through things, and letting their guitar motifs, thoughts and long buried songs come. Then, during a final two-week camp in the desert around Nouakchott, the band, joined by The Mauritanian griotte Noura Mint Seymali and her guitarist husband, Jeiche Ould Chigaly, recorded their songs under large tent in a few live takes, without headphones or effects.

Once recorded, a host of Western musicians added additional instrumentation including the Bad Seeds’ Warren Ellis, who contributed violin; Micah Nelson, the son of the legendary Willie Nelson and a member of Neil Young’s backing band, contributed mandolin and charango; Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley contributes guitar; Cass McCombs, who contributes guitar; and Rodophe Burger. 

Lyrically and thematically, the album explores the continuing political, social, humanitarian and environmental problems faced in their home country of Mali and continues Tinariwen’s pursuit to highlight the plight and issues of their people through their music. The album continues the band’s ongoing work of highlighting the plight of the Tuareg community — from the collapse of infrastructure and public services, climate change and the ongoing political and military conflicts that have plagued their homeland since it gained independence in 1960. 

Interestingly, Amadjar’s latest single is the gorgeous, acoustic track “Taqkal Tarha.” Centered around a shimmering and looping acoustic guitar line, a propulsive bass line, percussion that evokes a galloping horse and call and response vocals paired with Micah Nelson’s playing, the song manages to be an effortless synthesis of an ancient sound — one that’s older than time itself, with something far more contemporary (albeit subtly so). 

Live Footage: JOVM Mainstay Yola Performs “Faraway Look” on “CBS This Morning: Saturday Sessions”

Over the past few months, I’ve written a bit about the rising Bristol, UK-born, London-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Yola. And as you may recall, the JOVM mainstay has led a rather remarkable life; the sort of life that I think should eventually be made into an inspiring biopic: Yola grew up extremely poor; but she was fascinated by her mother’s record collection, and by the time she was 4, she knew she wanted to be a performer. Unfortunately, she was actually banned from making music, until she left home. Additionally, she has overcome being in an abusive relationship, stress-induced voice loss and literally being engulfed in flames in house fire, all of which have inspired her Dan Auerbach-produced full-length debut Walk Through Fire, which was released earlier this year through Easy Eye Sound.

The up-and-coming British singer/songwriter has received praise from a number of media outlets both nationally and internationally, including NPR, Rolling Stone, Wall Street Journal, The Tennessean, Refinery 29, Billboard, American Songwriter, BrooklynVegan, Nashville Scene, Paste and Stereogum. But perhaps much more interesting she has opened for James Brown and joined renowned trip hop act Massive Attack before traveling to Nashville to work with Auerbach and a backing band that features musicians, who have worked with Elvis and Aretha Franklin.  

Now, as you may recall, album single “Ride Out in the Country” was a Muscle Shoals-like take on honky tonk country that to my ears recalled Sandra Rhodes’ under-appreciated Where’s Your Love Been. Centered around twangy guitar chords, lap steel guitar, some Rhodes electric organ, a soaring hook and Yola’s easy-going and soulful vocals, the song is an achingly sad breakup song, written from the perspective of someone reeling from a devastating breakup, complete with the recognition that your former lover has moved on and that maybe you should be doing so too — even if it’s profoundly difficult for you. Walk Through Fire‘s latest single is the slow-burning, swooning, Phil Spector Wall of Sound, meets classic Motown Records-like “Faraway Look.” Centered around an old-school arrangement and a soaring hook, the song is roomy enough for Yola’s incredible vocal range to shine. Interestingly, the song is about that precise yet profound and deeply awkward moment when it’s so obvious that you’ve fallen in love with someone that everyone else notices, including your object of affection. And in that peculiar moment, it’s now or never. 

So far this year has been a huge year for the rising Bristol-born, London-based singer/songwriter: she made her New York debut earlier this year at Rockwood Music Hall, played a breakout performance at this year’s SXSW — and she’ll be opening for a number of acclaimed artists including Kacey Musgraves, Lake Street Dive and Andrew Bird on a select series of US tour dates, which will include performances Newport Folk Festival, Hollywood Bowl, Austin City Limits Festival, Lincoln Center Out of Doors and Brandi Carlile’s Girls Just Wanna Weekend in Mexico. She also made an appearance for Mavis Staples rotating birthday celebration tour. And earlier this year, she made an appearance on CBS This Morning: Saturday Sessions, where the rising JOVM mainstay and her backing band performed a gorgeous live version of “Faraway Look.”

Earlier this year, i wrote about the up-and-coming Bristol, UK-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Katey Brooks, and as you may recall, with the release of 2016’s I Fought Lovers EP, Brooks quickly earned a national and international profile for a sound and songwriting approach that has been compared favorably to the likes of Jeff Buckley. In fact, material off the EP received enthusiastic airplay on  BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 6 and  the CBC, and praise from Billboard, Pride and The Advocate. Adding to a growing profile, Brooks has shared bills with an eclectic yet impressive list of artists that includes Newton Faulkner, Ghostpoet, Martin Simpson, Deaf Havana, Lamb‘s Lou Rhodes, Mike and the Mechanics, and Mystery Jets, and has played at some of the world’s biggest festivals including Glastonbury, WOMAD, the 2012 Paralympics and Australia’s National Folk Festival. She also has appeared on a compilation with Anais Mitchell, Ane Brun and Marissa Nadler and recorded a track with The Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman and Paloma Faith

Interestingly, Brooks has a complicated and messy upbringing. She grew up in a cult, and as a child, she found refuge in music.“It was a very chaotic upbringing, full of some pretty colourful and sometimes unsavoury, characters. But when I sang, I felt free and connected. For as long as I can remember, it’s been my way of getting what I need to say out,” she reveals in press notes. She began singing gospel, old spirituals and the songs from the likes of John Lennon and Elvis Presley — but by the time she was a teenager, she entertained her peers with soul renditions.

When she turned 16, the Bristol-based singer/songwriter turned down a spot at the renowned BRIT School. “It would be interesting to know what would have happened if I had gone there, but I try not to dwell on that,”Brooks says in press notes. “I always think that you’re where you’re meant to be. And if I had gone, I probably would have ended up writing slightly less authentically to myself. But who knows, because if all the things that have happened in my life nevertheless happened, maybe I still would have written the way I do.”

When Brooks turned 20, she became extremely ill and her life was on pause as she was convalescing; but as she was convalescing she joined a songwriters group led by her friend, Strangelove’s Patrick Duff. “We would get together and play our songs to each other. It was really therapeutic.” Around this time Brooks was convinced that she had to devote her time to music. “So one day I just put on my own gig at the (Bristol) Folk House,” she laughs. “I sort of became an artist and promoter overnight,” Brooks recalls.

Sadly, shortly after making the decision to focus on her music, the Bristol-based singer/songwriter experienced a turbulent period of heartbreak and tragedy: the year she turned 22, her mother became ill and died — and shortly after that, one of her best friends went missing and died. “That’s definitely had an effect on the course of my life, and my writing,” Brooks says in press notes. “People have come up to me after gigs, particularly after songs I wrote during that time, saying ‘there’s a lot of sadness in your songs’ and it’s like ‘well, yeah.’ But I guess I’m lucky that I have songs that I can write, as a means to deal with things.”

Along with those hardships, Brooks has struggled to come to terms with her own sexuality. “In my most recent work I’ve finally been able to sing directly about women instead of using the mysterious ‘you,’” Brooks mentions in press notes. “I’m a private person in a lot of ways and I never wanted to be a poster girl for anything. But a few years ago I just thought screw it; I want to sing completely honestly. It felt like a weight lifted.”

Brooks latest single is the classic soul-inspired ballad “All of Me.” Centered around a spectral arrangement featuring a looping 12 blues guitar, a gospel-like backing vocal section, a two-step inducing rhythm section and Brooks achingly plaintive and soulful vocals, the new single will further establish the Bristol-based singer/songwriter and guitarist’s ability to mesh craft, earnestness and ambitious songwriting in a thoughtful and natural fashion. But along with that much of Brooks’ material comes from real, lived-in places — in particular, the song’s narrator bitterly calls out a lover on their ambivalence. It was inspired by a personal situation with someone I was prepared to give my world to. They proclaimed deep love, but then proceeded to behave in ways that were completely incongruent with that proclamation”, revealsBrooks. Words can be very powerful and beautiful, but ultimately, when it comes to showing someone you love them, they’re cheap and easy to deliver. Actions tell us everything we need to know about how someone feels about us, and if they respect us – in every kind of relationship.” 

 

 

 


New Audio: Permanent Records and RidingEasy Records Release a Gritty and Funky Track from Eight Edition of Brown Acid Compilation

I’ve written a lot about Permanent Records’ and RidingEasy Records ongoing collaboration on their increasingly expansive series of proto-metal and pre-stoner rock compilations Brown Acid over the past few years. And as you may recall, each individual edition is based around RidingEasy Records’ founder Daniel Hall’s and Permanent Records co-owner Lance Barresi’s extensive, painstaking research and curation — with Hall and Barresi spending a great deal of time tracking down songs’ creators, most often bands that haven’t written, played or recored together in 30 or 40 years, and then encouraging them to take part in the compilation process. As Permanent Records’ Barresi has explained in press notes for each of previous editions of the compilation, “All of (these songs) could’ve been hits given the right circumstances. But for one reason or another most of these songs fell flat and were forgotten. However, time has been kind in my opinion and I think these songs are as good now or better than they ever were.”

Having the original artists participate as much as possible in the compilation can give the artists and their songs, a real second chance at the attention and success that they missed. Plus, these songs can help fill in the gaps within the larger picture of what was going on in and around regional and national underground music scenes during the 60s and 70s. Following the critical and commercial success of its first seven editions, RidingEasy Records and Permanent Records’ edition of 60s and 70s proto-metal and pre-stoner rock Brown Acid: The Eighth Trip is slated for release on April 20, 2019 (4/20 y’ll!) continuing what has become a bi-annual tradition for both labels — and this site. And much like its preceding editions, the eighth edition finds Barressi and Hall digging deeper and deeper into the well of hard rock, psych rock, proto-metal and pre-stoner rock primarily from the States — with the addition of a Canadian band. The album’s first single was from “School Daze,” a seamless synthesis of MC5, Jimi Hendrix and Grand Funk Railroad from Detroit‘s Attack — or more precisely St. Clair Shores.

Originally recorded in 1969, Memphis-based act Grump took on “Heartbreak Hotel,” popularized by a fellow Memphian that you may have heard of, by the name of Elvis Presley — and Grump’s rendition is a gritty and funky stomp that recalls Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride,” and Grand Funk Railroad.