Tag: Late Show with Stephen Colbert

New Video: Dayglow Releases a Nostalgic “School House Rock!” like Visual for “Woah Man”

20-something Aledo, TX-born, Austin, TX-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Sloan Struble is the creative mastermind behind the rapidly rising, critically applauded indie rock/indie pop project Dayglow. The project can trace its origins to Struble’s teenaged years, growing up in a Fort Worth suburb that he has referred to as a “small football-crazed town,” where he felt irrevocably out of place. Aesthetically and thematically, the project finds Struble crafting material centered around a hard fought, hard won optimism. 

Much like countless other hopelessly out of place young people across the globe, Struble turned to music as an escape from his surroundings. “I didn’t really feel connected to what everyone else in my school was into, so making music became an obsession for me, and sort of like therapy in a way,” Struble said in press notes. “I’d dream about it all day in class, and then come home and for on songs instead of doing homework. After a while I realized I’d made an album.”

Working completely on his own with a minuscule collection of gear that included his guitar, his computer and some secondhand keyboards he picked up at Goodwill, Struble worked on transforming his privately kept outpouring into a batch of songs — often grandiose in scale. “Usually artists will have demos they’ll bounce off other people to get some feedback, but nobody except for my parents down the hall really heard much of the album until I put it out,” Struble recalled. With the self-release of 2018’s Fuzzybrain, the Aledo-born, Austin-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer received widespread attention and an ardent online following — with countess listeners praising the material’s overwhelming positivity. 

In 2019, Struble re-released a fully realized version of Fuzzybrain that featured Can I Call You Tonight,” a track that wound up being a smash-hit lat year, as well as two previously unreleased singles “Nicknames” and “Listerine.” With the two new singles, the album further establishes Struble’s reputation for illuminating emotional pain in a way that not only deeply resonates with listeners but while managing to make that emotional pain feel lighter. 

Struble kicked off 2021 with the infectious and sugary pop confection “Close to You,” a track indebted to 80s synth-led soul — in particular Patti Labelle and Michael McDonald‘s “On My Own” Cherelle’s and Alexander and O’Neal‘s “Saturday Love” and other duets, but imbued with an aching melancholy and uncertainty. He then made his national late night TV debut on Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where he, along with his backing band, played “Can I Call You Tonight.” 

Continuing upon that momentum, Struble’s highly-anticipated Dayglow sophomore album Harmony House is slated for a May 21, 2021 release through his own Very Nice Records and AWAL. He’d been writing new material after the release of Fuzzybrain and at the time, he found himself drawn to piano-driven soft rock from the late ’70s and early ’80s. Simultaneously, he was also watching a lot of Cheers at the time. “At the very beginning, I was writing a soundtrack to a sitcom that doesn’t exist,” Struble recalls. And while actively attempting to generate nostalgia for something that hadn’t ever been real — as well as something most of his listeners had never really experienced — the album’s material thematically is about growing up and coping with change as an inevitable part of life.

“Woah Man,” Harmony House‘s third and latest single is a carefully crafted, slow-burning ballad. Featuring an airy, soft rock-inspired arrangement of strummed acoustic guitar, electric guitar and atmospheric synths, “Woah Man” is centered around lyrics informed by personal experience and newly acquired wisdom — and Struble’s unerring knack for writing an incredibly memorable hook. Interestingly, the song reveals a young artist, who is readily accepting that the only certain thing in life is change and that moving forward often means letting go and experiencing the ride for better or worse. 

“’Woah Man’ is one of my favorite songs I’ve written so far. I initially wrote it for a friend who was going through a hard time, but then later realized that I was really writing about myself,” Struble explains in press notes. “In the middle of so much change, growth, and responsibility, I found myself feeling a lot of pressure. After months of feeling like I had the world on my shoulders and that I was growing up too fast, I realized that in order to grow, you have to move on sometimes. You have to let some things go. And for me, what I needed to let go of was the feeling of being in control of everything. I had to let go of holding on (very meta, I know). I just remember finishing the song and feeling so much relief and clarity about who I am becoming. The song has continued to help me through so many different stages of growth in my life— I hope it does the same for you.”

The recently released, gorgeously Johnny Chew animated video for “Woah Man” is a nostalgia-inducing and dream-like visual that’s indebted to Schoolhouse Rock!, Yellow Submarine and Peanuts. But at its core is the realization that while life is simultaneously complicated and beautiful. “I wanted the ‘Woah Man’ video to have a sentimental/nostalgic feeling to it,” Dayglow’s Sloan Struble explains in press notes. “Three things that make me feel those emotions are Charlie Brown, School House Rock, and the Beatles movie, Yellow Submarine — so with the wizardry of Johnny Chew, we made the ‘Woah Man’ music video combine all three of them.”

20-something Aledo, TX-born, Austin, TX-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Sloan Struble is the creative mastermind behind the rapidly rising, critically applauded indie rock/indie pop project Dayglow. The project can trace its origins to Struble’s teenaged years, growing up in a Fort Worth suburb that he has referred to as a “small football-crazed town,” where he felt irrevocably out of place. Aesthetically and thematically, the project finds Struble crafting material centered around a hard fought, hard won optimism.

Much like countless other hopelessly out of place young people across the globe, Struble turned to music as an escape from his surroundings. “I didn’t really feel connected to what everyone else in my school was into, so making music became an obsession for me, and sort of like therapy in a way,” Struble said in press notes. “I’d dream about it all day in class, and then come home and for on songs instead of doing homework. After a while I realized I’d made an album.”

Working completely on his own with a minuscule collection of gear that included his guitar, his computer and some secondhand keyboards he picked up at Goodwill, Struble worked on transforming his privately kept outpouring into a batch of songs — often grandiose in scale. “Usually artists will have demos they’ll bounce off other people to get some feedback, but nobody except for my parents down the hall really heard much of the album until I put it out,” Struble recalled. With the self-release of 2018’s Fuzzybrain, the Aledo-born, Austin-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer received widespread attention and an ardent online following — with countess listeners praising the material’s overwhelming positivity. 

In 2019, Struble re-released a fully realized version of Fuzzybrain that featured Can I Call You Tonight,” a track that wound up being a smash-hit lat year, as well as two previously unreleased singles “Nicknames” and “Listerine.” With the two new singles, the album further establishes Struble’s reputation for illuminating emotional pain in a way that not only deeply resonates with listeners but while managing to make that emotional pain feel lighter. 

Struble kicked off 2021 with the infectious and sugary pop confection “Close to You,” a track indebted to 80s synth-led soul — in particular Patti Labelle and Michael McDonald‘s “On My Own” Cherelle’s and Alexander and O’Neal‘s “Saturday Love” and other duets, but imbued with an aching melancholy and uncertainty. He then made his national late night TV debut on Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where he, along with his backing band, played “Can I Call You Tonight.

Continuing upon that momentum, Struble’s highly-anticipated Dayglow sophomore album Harmony House is slated for a May 21, 2021 release through his own Very Nice Records and AWAL. He’d been writing new material after the release of Fuzzybrain and at the time, he found himself drawn to piano-driven soft rock from the late ’70s and early ’80s. Simultaneously, he was also watching a lot of Cheers at the time. “At the very beginning, I was writing a soundtrack to a sitcom that doesn’t exist,” Struble recalls. And while actively attempting to generate nostalgia for something that hadn’t ever been real — as well as something most of his listeners had never really experienced — the album’s material thematically is about growing up and coping with change as an inevitable part of life.

“Woah Man,” Harmony House‘s third and latest single is a carefully crafted, slow-burning ballad. Featuring an airy, soft rock-inspired arrangement of strummed acoustic guitar, electric guitar and atmospheric synths, “Woah Man” is centered around lyrics informed by personal experience and newly acquired wisdom — and Struble’s unerring knack for writing an incredibly memorable hook. Interestingly, the song reveals a young artist, who is readily accepting that the only certain thing in life is change and that moving forward often means letting go and experiencing the ride for better or worse.

“’Woah Man’ is one of my favorite songs I’ve written so far. I initially wrote it for a friend who was going through a hard time, but then later realized that I was really writing about myself,” Struble explains in press notes. “In the middle of so much change, growth, and responsibility, I found myself feeling a lot of pressure. After months of feeling like I had the world on my shoulders and that I was growing up too fast, I realized that in order to grow, you have to move on sometimes. You have to let some things go. And for me, what I needed to let go of was the feeling of being in control of everything. I had to let go of holding on (very meta, I know). I just remember finishing the song and feeling so much relief and clarity about who I am becoming. The song has continued to help me through so many different stages of growth in my life— I hope it does the same for you.”

Live Footage: Dayglow Performs “Can I Call You Tonight” on “Late Show with Stephen Colbert”

20-something Aledo, TX-born, Austin, TX-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Sloan Struble is the creative mastermind behind the rising, critically applauded indie rock/indie pop project Dayglow. The project aesthetically is centered around a hard-fought, hard-won yet palpably sincere optimism — and can trace some of its origins to Struble’s adolescence, growing up in a Fort Worth suburb that he has referred to as a “small football-crazed town,” where he felt irrevocably out of place.

Like countless other out of place young people across the world, Struble turned to music as an escape from his surroundings. “I didn’t really feel connected to what everyone else in my school was into, so making music became an obsession for me, and sort of like therapy in a way,” Struble said in press notes. “I’d dream about it all day in class, and then come home and for on songs instead of doing homework. After a while I realized I’d made an album.”

Working completely on his own with a minuscule collection of gear that included his guitar, his computer and some secondhand keyboards he picked up at Goodwill, Struble worked on transforming his privately kept outpouring into a batch of songs — often grandiose in scale. “Usually artists will have demos they’ll bounce off other people to get some feedback, but nobody except for my parents down the hall really heard much of the album until I put it out,” Struble recalled. With the self-release of 2018’s Fuzzybrain, the Aledo-born, Austin-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer received widespread attention and an ardent online following — with countess listeners praising the material’s overwhelming positivity.

In 2019, Struble re-released a fully realized version of Fuzzybrain that featured Can I Call You Tonight,” a track that wound up being a smash-hit lat year, as well as two previously unreleased singles “Nicknames” and “Listerine.” With the two new singles, the album further establishes Struble’s reputation for illuminating emotional pain in a way that not only deeply resonates with listeners but while managing to make that emotional pain feel lighter.

Continuing upon that momentum, Struble kicked off 2021 with the infectious and sugary pop confection “Close to You,” a track indebted to 80s synth-led soul — in particular Patti Labelle and Michael McDonald‘s “On My Own” Cherelle’s and Alexander O’Neal‘s “Saturday Love” and other duets, but imbued with an aching melancholy and uncertainty.

Recently, Struble and his backing band made their national late night TV debut on Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where they performed his attention grabbing single “Can I Call You Tonight.” Interestingly, the single reveals a young artist, who is self-assured beyond his years and can craft an infectious, pop hook paired with earnest, heart-on-sleeve lyricism and shimmering instrumentation. Interestingly, the live footage features a similar aesthetic to the “Close To You” video –including a soft, dreamy pastel color schemes.

Struble is currently working on his highly-anticipated Dayglow sophomore album, which is slated for release this year. Be on the lookout.

Live Footage: HAERTS Performs “For The Sky” on “Late Show with Stephen Colbert”

Throughout the course of this site’s decade-plus history, I’ve spilled copious amounts of virtual ink covering JOVM mainstays HAERTS. Tracing their origins back to a budding high school romance in Munich, the acclaimed indie pop act have evolved as its founding (and core) duo — Nini Fabi (vocals) and Benny Gebert (keys, guitar) — have evolved: HAERTS was formed when the duo met their now-former bandmates while studying at Berklee College of Music. Upon graduation, the quintet relocated to Brooklyn, where they quickly built up a profile and released their major label, self-titled, Jean-Philip Grobler-produced. full-length debut.

After a series of lineup changes in which the band’s founding duo has remained, Fabi and Gebert relocated to the woods of Upstate New York, where they worked on and released their sophomore album, 2018’s New Compassion. Since the release of New Compassion, Fabi and Gebert have embraced their early international roots by splitting their time between Berlin and New York — and during that same period, they have been fueled by a renewed spirit of collaboration with musicians and visual artists they’ve long admired including Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste and Julian Klincewicz, who they worked with on POWER/LAND.

As you may recall, the duo’s third album Dream Nationis slated for a March 12, 2021 release, and the album’s material is reportedly marked by a sense of urgent intensity: Fabi and Gebert wrote the album over the course of about a month — and as soon as they finished, they recorded most of the album with their touring band during a week-long, live recording session in New York. Then they went to Los Angeles, where they put the finishing touches on the album and collaborated with Ed Droste on the album’s first single “For the Sky.” (I’ll be getting to that one in a little bit.)

Sonically, Dream Nation will continue to draw their long-held comparisons to Fleetwood Mac and First Aid Kit, but with subtle nods at Portishead and Lamb. “We went into the studio without setting limits or parameters other than that we wanted to make a record that moves you emotionally and physically,” Fabi and Gebert explain. “We wanted it to feel like an invitation into the strange and fantastical night time world, like the songs they play just before the lights come on, when the party is almost over, and the polish is gone.”

Recently Fabi and Gebert were on Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where they performed a gorgeous, acoustic version of Dream Nation’s first single “For the Sky,” a song that as Nini Fabi explained in press notes “came from a dream I had when I first found out that I was pregnant, which was the catalyst and beginning of writing new music.” Naturally, the acoustic version finds HAERTS stripping the layers of the studio version to leave the studs and beams — Fabi’s soaring vocals and the song’s heartfelt, lived-in lyricism.

The live footage was shot in a paradisal backyard and features HAERTS’ core duo with their gurgling, new baby. And admittedly while the live version of the song is just gorgeous, there are few things that I find myself drawn to:

This family is so adorable. They radiate love and happiness.
The kid is absolutely in love with mom’s voice.
Imagine this child being told that they inspired an album and its first single before they were even here; that mom shot a video for that same song, pregnant with you; and when you were finally here, they performed the song on Colbert with you in her lap.

Live Footage: Washed Out Performs “Too Late” on “Late Show with Stephen Colbert”

Ernest Greene is a Perry, GA-born, Athens, GA-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, best known as the creative mastermind behind the acclaimed synth pop/chillwave act Washed Out.  Washed Out can trace its origins back to around 2009: After earning an undergraduate degree and a Master of Library and Information Sciences degree from the University of Georgia, Greene was unable to find a job as a librarian. As the story goes, Greene moved back in with his parents and began writing and producing material in his bedroom studio, as well as with local electro pop act Bedroom. 

Shortly after posting Washed Out material on his MySpace page, the Perry-born, Athens-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer was discovered and championed by a number of influential blogs, who compared his sound to Neon Indian and Memory Tapes. Greene released his first two Washed Out EPs in rapid-fie fashion that August and September. And building upon a growing profile, Greene played his New York City debut — which interestingly enough, was only his second live show ever — at the now, long-shuttered Santos Party House.

2010 saw Greene continue the amazing momentum of the previous year: he played that year’s Pitchfork Music Festival and “Feel It All Around” became the opening theme song for the acclaimed TV series Portlanadia.

In early 2011, Greene signed with Sub Pop Records, who released his his full-length debut Within and Without, an album of icy yet plaintive synth pop to critical applause and commercial success: the album peaked at #26 on the Billboard 200 and #89 on the UK Albums Chart. He ended a breakthrough 2011 by co-curating that year’s ATP Nightmare Before Christmas in Minehead, UK with Battles. 

Greene’s sophomore Washed Out album 2013’s Paracosm was a decided change in sonic direction, as it featured a warmer, tropical-inspired sound that paired organic instrumentation with electronic production — while retaining the ethereal quality of his previously released material,. The year ended with Life of Leisure EP track “New Theory” being featured as background music in a scene of the rom-com The Spectacular Now.

The Perry-born, Athens-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer’s third album, 2017’s Cole M.G.N. co-produced Mister Mellow was released through renowned hip-hop label Stones Throw Records, and the album found the acclaimed artist’s work seemingly taking on a bit of a J. Dilla-esque beatmaking feel. 

Since the release of Mister Mellow, Greene released a handful of singles including “Face Up” as part of Adult Swim’s applauded Singles Series. Earlier this year, the Perry-born, Athens-based artist released “Too Late,”  a track that sonically was a return to form: a swooning yet bittersweet bit of synth pop centered around layers of arpeggiated synths, stuttering beats, Greene’s ethereal and plaintive vocals and a soaring hook — but with a subtly Mediterranean feel.

As it turns out, “Too Late” was unofficially the first single off Greene’s highly-anticipated and long-awaited fourth album Purple Noon. Written, recorded by Greene with mixing handled by frequent collaborator Ben H. Allen, the album’s production followed a brief stint of writing with other artists — most notably writing with Sudan Archives on her debut Athena. Those collaborations allowed Green to explore R&B and modern pop and those sounds have made there way into Purple Noon‘s material. Not only is the material reportedly the brightest and more robust sounds he’s ever worked out; it’s also a decided step forward: unlike his previous released work, the vocals are placed front and center at the mix, with slower tempos, bolder, harder-hitting beats and a more comprehensive dynamic depth.

Deriving its name from Rene Clement’s 1960 film Purple Noon, which was based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mister Ripley, the album’s material is deeply inspired by the coastlines of the Mediterranean — with Greene paying tribute to region’s island-based culture, elegance and old-world charm. But the surroundings serve as the backdrop to stories of passion love and loss — with a deeper, perhaps more urgent emotional intensity: the album’s first single “Too Late” is a tale of a first meet, with all the confused and swooning emotions that come about. 

Recently Greene was on Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where he performed “Too Late” with a gorgeous split camera perspective that offered and extreme close up on Greene performing the song: we see his fingers as they tap various functions on his drum machine and synths — and Greene singing through a two microphone set up. Behind him, a gorgeous sunset on the beach. 

Purple Noon is slated for an August 7, 2020 release through Sub Pop Records. 

Live Footage: JOVM Mainstays Black Pumas Perform Their Gorgeous Cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”

Over the past 18 months or so, I’ve spilled quite a bit of virtual ink covering the Grammy Award-nominated Austin, TX-based soul act and JOVM mainstays, Black Pumas. Led by Grammy Award-winning producer, songwriter and guitarist Adrian Quesada and 27 year old singer/songwriter Eric Burton, the act can trace its origins back to when Burton, a popular street performer in his native  Los Angeles busked his way across country to Austin, where he eventually met Quesada.

Now, as you may recall, the acclaimed Austin-based soul act their critically applauded and commercially successful self-titled, full-length debut, an effort that featured the smash hit “Colors,” which amassed over four million YouTubeviews —and being one o the most added songs to Adult Album Alternative (AAAA) radio. Along with that, the band had gone on a relentless tour schedule that brought their uplifting live show across North America and the European Union, including three separate stops in the New York area: The Knitting Factory, last May; Mercury Lounge, last July; and Brooklyn Bowl last September. Additionally, during that same period of time the band has made begun to make the rounds across the nationally televised talk show circuit, playing  Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Ellen Show and others.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the members of the acclaimed, Austin-based JOVM mainstay act had been covering Tracy Chapman‘s  smash hit “Fast Car” during their live sets — and their rendition has quickly become a fan favorite. Unsurprisingly, the song and its lyrics resonate deeply with Burton — and although the Black Pumas cover is fairly straightforward and loving rendition, it comes from a deeply personal place, as though Burton could have written it himself. “To me, ‘Fast Car’ is a song of hope, dreams and a relentless heart to go somewhere and be someone,” says Burton. “I learned the song when I first began to busk and of the covers that I knew, it garnered the most attention from the random passerby. As a musician and artist, I’m attracted to songs that make us reflect on our daily struggles for making life worth living for.”

Recently, Black Pumas performed their gorgeous and heartfelt cover of “Fast Car” on Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Interestingly, with each repeated listen of the Black Pumas cover, I’m reminded of what a great song “Fast Car” is — and how much I loved it.  Sometimes a great song is an artist reaching down within themselves to tell the truth as they see it, paired with their voice and a guitar — or whatever instrument they feel fit. 

Live Footage: The Raconteurs Perform “Help Me Stranger” on “Late Show with Stephen Colbert”

Comprised of founding duo Jack White (vocals, guitar) and Brendan Benson (vocals, guitar) along with Jack Lawerence (bass) and Patrick Keeler (drums), the Nashville, TN-based supergroup The Raconteurs can trace their origins to when White and Benson, who have been longtime friends were hanging out together and wrote “Steady, As She Goes,” and after they wrote it, it inspired them to start the band, with the band’s founding members recruiting Lawrence and Keeler, who were once members of The Greenhornes to complete the band’s lineup. The band came together in Detroit during 2005 and wrote and recorded material when time allowed.  White and Lawrence went on to form The Dead Weather with The Kills Alison Mosshart.

The Raconteurs long-awaited third, full-length album HELP US STRANGER was released last month through Third Man Records — and the album, which also marks the first batch of new material from the band in a decade, finds the band further pushing their sound in new directions, meshing enormous power chord-based riffs with blues, psych rock, Detroit funk and Nashville soul. Now, as you may recall, album single “Bored and Razed” was a sleazy power chord-based 12 bar blues with an anthemic hook, delivered with a swaggering AC/DC-like air. “Help Me Stranger” finds the band playing a swaggering and dusty old-school blues filtered through modern rock, complete with anthemic hook.  While in town for a nubmer of promotional activities for the new album, the band had a two-night run on Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Live Footage: The Raconteurs Perform “Bored and Razed” on “Late Show with Stephen Colbert”

Comprised of founding duo Jack White (vocals, guitar) and Brendan Benson (vocals, guitar) along with Jack Lawerence (bass) and Patrick Keeler (drums), the Nashville, TN-based supergroup The Raconteurs can trace their origins to when White and Benson, who have been longtime friends were hanging out together and wrote “Steady, As She Goes,” and after they wrote it, it inspired them to start the band, with the band’s founding members recruiting Lawrence and Keeler, who were once members of The Greenhornes to complete the band’s lineup. The band came together in Detroit during 2005 and wrote and recorded material when time allowed.  White and Lawrence went on to form The Dead Weather with The KillsAlison Mosshart. 

HELP US STRANGER, The Raconteurs long-awaited, third full-length album officially dropped yesterday through Third Man Records — and the album, which also marks the first batch of new material from the band in a decade, finds the band further pushing their sound in new directions, meshing enormous power chord-based riffs with blues, psych rock, Detroit funk and Nashville soul. HELP US STRANGER‘s latest single “Bored and Razed” finds the members of The Raconteurs playing sleazy power chord rock, centered around a boozy, 12 bar blues arrangement, a rousingly anthemic hook, delivered with a swaggering AC/DC-like air.

The members of the Raconteurs have been busy doing promotional activities for their new album that included a two-night run on Late Show with Stephen Colbert in which they performed “Help Me Stranger” and “Bored and Razed” and in-store appearance and performance at Rough Trade. Check out the live performance of one my favorite songs off the album “Bored and Razed,” which they played last night. 

Live Footage: Ibeyi Performs “Deathless” with Harlem Gospel Choir and Onyx Collective on “Late Show with Stephen Colbert”

Deriving their name from the Yoruba word for twins ibeji, the French-Cuban twin sibling duo Ibeyi (pronounced ee-bey-ee), comprised of Lisa-Kainde Diaz and Naomi Diaz have become JOVM mainstays and a critically applauded, internationally recognized act. Interestingly, the Diaz sisters are the daughters of the late and renowned percussionist Anga Diaz, best known as a member of Buena Vista Social Club, and for collaborating with Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzalez and Compay Segundo. The elder Diaz died when the girls were 11, and upon his death, they studied Yoruba folk songs and the cajon, an Afro-Carribean drum, which their father had specialized in throughout most of his musical career. 

While Yoruba is primarily spoken throughout Nigeria and Benin, it has been spoken in some fashion in Cuba since the 1700s when the slave trade brought Africans to the Caribbean — and to the island. When the Diaz sisters began studying their late father’s musical culture and heritage, it gave them a much greater understanding of the man, where he came from while putting them in touch with their ancestral history. Unsurprisingly, the Diaz sister’s self-titled Ibeyi debut, which was released to critical praise in 2015, thematically dealt with the past — the loss of their father, their relationship with each other, their father’s and their own origins and roots, while sonically the duo’s sound possessed elements of contemporary electro pop, hip-hop, jazz, the blues and traditional Yoruba folk music in a way that brought to mind Henry Cole and the Afrobeat Collective‘s Roots Before Branches as both albums conscientiously made a spiritual and musical connection between the African Diaspora in the West and the motherland. 

Up until last year though, some time had passed since I had personally written about  the Diaz sisters, and as it turned out, they had spent the better part of 2016 writing and recording the material that would comprise their sophomore effort Ash, which XL Records released late last year. Now, as you recall the album’s first album, “Away Away,” lyrically and thematically focused on accepting pain as a necessary part of life, while celebrating life for its complicated entirety.  Of course, sonically speaking, the track further cements their  reputation for resoundingly positive messages sung with their gorgeous harmonizing paired with slick and swaggering electronic production. However, the material overall reportedly finds the Diaz sisters writing some of the most visceral, politically charged material they’ve released to date; but while centered on who the Diaz sisters are after a year in which racial, gender and sexual identity issues are among the most important and vexing of our current time. 

“Deathless,” Ash‘s second single found the Diaz sisters collaborating with contemporary jazz great Kamasi Washington, who contributes saxophone lines that mange to be mournful, outraged, proud, bold and riotous — within a turn of a phrase. The song is inspired by one of the most outrageous and humiliating experiences of Lisa-Kainde Diaz’s life — she was was wrongly arrested by French police for a crime she didn’t commit. Throughout the song is a sense of fear, knowing that the police could practically do anything they wanted without reprisal; of righteous rage that’s palpable yet impotent in the face of a power that can crush you at will; of the burgeoning recognition that you can never escape racism or unfair treatment; and the shame of being made to feel small and worthless while knowing that it’ll happen repeatedly throughout your life. As Lisa Kainde explains in press notes I was writing Deathless as an anthem for everybody!” For every minority. For everybody that feels that they are nothing, that feels small, that feels not cared about and I want them to listen to our song and for three minutes feel large, powerful, deathless. I have a huge amount of respect for people who fought for, what I think, are my rights today and if we all sing together  ‘we are deathless, ’they will be living through us into a better world.”

Just the other day, the Diaz sisters made their major television debut performance on Late Show with Stephen Colbert, which features the Harlem Gospel Choir and Isaiah Barr of Onyx Collective on the last day of Black History, as a fiery and passionate reminder of the plight of black folk across the African Diaspora. 

Live Footage: The Legendary Mavis Staples Performs “Build A Bridge” on “Colbert”

Now, more than enough ink has been spilled throughout Mavis Staples‘ eight decades in music, both as a member of the legendary The Staple Singers and as a solo artist, so I won’t delve into her biography or what other journalists have written about her because I think that for the sake of this post, it’s largely unnecessary; however, whether as a member of The Staple Singers or as a solo artist, Ms. Staples has released some of the most important, influential and beloved songs of the 60s and 70s — and in my book, the woman is a revered, national treasure. Of course, unsurprisingly, Staples has seen quite a bit of American history — including the bitter and shameful prejudice, racism, ugliness, injustice and violence of the Jim Crow-era South, the Civil Rights era, the hypocrisy and wishy washiness of White moderates and liberals, the election of Barack Obama — and yet . . . as the old adage says — the more things change, the more things remain the same. And while the same hate has always remained, rooted around race, gender, class, ethnicity and nationally, for the first time in a couple of  generations, the discussion of whether or not this country has lived up to is ideals have forced itself back into the national consciousness. 

Staples’ soon-to-be released album If All I Was Was Black continues her ongoing and critically applauded collaboration with singer/songwriter and producer Jeff Tweedy — and interestingly, the album marks the first time that Tweedy has composed an entire album worth of music for Staples. And as the story goes, when Tweedy and Staples convened to write the album’s material, the duo found themselves recognizing that this was a critical historical moment, in which they wanted and needed to say something about the current state of things here in the US and about the various fissures along race, politics, gender, gender identity and so on.  “We’re not loving one another the way we should,” the legendary vocalist says in press notes. “Some people are saying they want to make the world great again, but we never lost our greatness. We just strayed into division.” Tweedy adds, “I’ve always thought of art as a political statement in and of itself — that it was enough to be on the side of creation and not destruction. But there is something that feels complicit at this moment in time about not facing what is happening in this country head on.”

Naturally, some of the album’s material reportedly expresses anger and frustration — after all, how it could it not? In some way, Election Day last year felt like major gains made by dear friends in the Black, Latino, LGBQT and Muslim communities were wiped away. And yet, the material while still rooted around Staples’ legendary optimism, the material is balanced with a grounded realism that essentially says “well shit, there’s quite a bit of hard work, love and empathy that’s needed to make things right. Interestingly, when I heard album title track  “If All I Was Was Black,” I was immediately reminded of Syl Johnson‘s aching and bitter lament “Is It Because I’m Black.” in the sense that Staples’ latest single is an earnest and hopeful plea to the listener, imploring them to look into the heart and souls of every individual they come across, and to see them for their unique abilities; to render one’s skin color as relatively unimportant as the color of one’s eyes.

The album’s latest single “Build A Bridge” focuses on the growing sense of alienation, loneliness and misunderstanding of modern life — with Ms. Staples boldly suggesting that many of the world’s problems could be solved if people could allow themselves to be vulnerable and empathetic to the plight of others, so that they can see both the glorious differences in others and the universality of all.  For Ms. Staples sake, I hope we can all try before it’s too late. 

Recently Ms. Staples, Tweedy, their backing band and members of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert band performed the song on Late Show with Stephen Colbert.