Tag: Wilco

Sophie Allison is a Swiss-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter and guitarist, best known as the creative mastermind behind the critically applauded indie rock project Soccer Mommy.  Allison first picked up guitar when she was six — and as a teenager, she attended Nashville School of the Arts, where she studied guitar and played in the school’s swing band. By 2015, the Swiss-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter and guitarist began posting home-recorded songs as Soccer Mommy to Bandcamp during the summer of 2015, just as she was about head off to New York University, where she studied music business at the University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.

While she was in college, Allison played her first Soccer Mommy show at Bushwick, Brooklyn’s Silent Barn. The Swiss-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter and guitarist caught the attention of Fat Possum Records, who signed her to a record deal. After spending two years studying at NYU, Allison returned to Nashville to pursue a full-time career in music.

Upon her return to Nashville, the acclaimed Swiss-born artist wrote and released two Soccer Mommy albums — 2016’s For Young Hearts through Orchid Tapes and 2017’s Collection through Fat Possum Records. Her proper, full-length debut, 2018’s Clean was released to widespread critical acclaim, and as a result of a rapidly growing profile, Alison has wound up touring with Stephen Malkmus, Mitski, Kacey Musgraves, Jay Som, Slowdive, Frankie Cosmos, Liz Phair, Phoebe Bridgers, Paramore, Foster the People, Vampire Weekend, and Wilco.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was gearing up to be a massive year for the young and rising singer/songwriter and guitarist: she began the year by playing at one of Bernie Sanders’ presidential rallies and had joined a list of contemporary artists, who endorsed his presidential campaign. Allison’s highly-anticipated sophomore album color theory was released to critical applause — and building upon a rapidly growing profile, the Nashville-based artist had been gearing up for a massive year: she was about to embark one a headlining tour with a number of dates sold-out months in advance, along with that, she had lined up appearances across the global festival circuit that included a stop at Glastonbury. Additionally, she was supposed to make her late-night, nationally televised debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

With touring being on an indefinite half for the music industry, the Swiss-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter and guitarist recognized that this was a unique opportunity to get creative and experiment with new ideas. Combining her love of video games and performing, Allison held a digital concert on the online gaming platform Club Penguin Rewritten with over 10,000 attendees, who all had to make their own penguin avatars to attend it. The concert was so popular, that her fans crashed the platform’s servers, forcing a rescheduling of the event. Allison has also performed a number of live streams events, including  NPR’s Tiny Desk At Home (which she kicked off) and Pitchfork‘s IG Live Series. And she also recently released her own Zoom background images.

Recently, Allison and company embarked on a an Bella Clark-directed 8-bit virtual, music video tour in which the band plays some of the cities she was meant to be passing through — Minneapolis, Chicago,Seattle, Toronto, and Austin. Instead of virtually playing at the more common tourist locations or a traditional music venue, the members of the band are mischievously placed in unusual locations: an abandoned Toronto area subway station, a haunted Chicago hotel, a bat-filled Austin bridge and more.performing album track “crawling in my skin.”

Continuing some wildly creative ways to maintain the momentum of her full-length debut, Allison recently launched a singles series, Soccer Mommy & Friends that sees some of her most accomplished friends and associates covering her work — and Allison covering their work. The singles series will see contributions from MGMT‘s Andrew VanWyngarden, Beabadoobee, Beach Bunny, Jay Som and a list others — with releases dropping every two weeks. The singles series first release finds the acclaimed Oakland-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Melina Duterte, the creative mastermind behind the acclaimed indie rock act Jay Som covering Soccer Mommy’s “Lucy.”

Interestingly, Jay Som’s take on “lucy” turns the jangling guitar pop anthem into a shimmering and brooding track, centered around atmospheric synths, thumping beats and ethereal vocals that to my ears reminds me quite a bit of Air’s ethereal remix of Beck’s “Heaven Hammer.” “I had an extremely fun time recording the ‘lucy’ cover,” Duterte says in press notes. “Sophie has such a special way of entwining catchy melodies and sometimes dark chord progressions. I feel very lucky to be a part of this comp!”

All net profits from Bandcamp sales from the series will be donated to Oxfam‘s COVID-19 relief fun. Oxfam is working with partners to reach more than 14 million people in nearly 50 countries and the US to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 in vulnerable communities and support people’s basic food needs and livelihoods. As we’re all aware women and girls usually bear a disproportionate burden of care in a crises like COVID-19, and Oxfam has a proven record of helping women cope during and recover after these crises in ways that allow them to be safer and stronger than ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interview: A Q&A with I AM SNOW ANGEL’s Julie Kathryn

Julie Kathryn is a New York-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, sound designer, producer and creative mastermind behind I AM SNOW ANGEL, a critically applauded solo recording project that has received critical praise from the likes of Huffington PostIndie ShuffleMagnetic MagazineCreem MagazineRefinery 29All Things Go and others.

The acclaimed New York-based artist and producer has developed a reputation as a highly sought after sound designer and producer working with Ableton and Splice.com – and she’s the co-founder of Female Frequency, a musical collective dedicated to empowering women and girls in the music industry.

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Photo Credit: Julia Drummond

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Last year, Julie Kathryn released her I AM SNOW ANGEL full-length debut MOTHERSHIP. Recorded in a cabin in the wintry Adirondack woods, the album is a concept album that touched upon themes of isolation, longing, love, paranoia and the paranormal. Since, the release of MOTHERSHIP, the New York-based artist, producer, sound designer has managed to be rather busy: she gave birth to her first child, collaborated on Sophie Colette’s attention-grabbing “In Love a Little,” and continuing on the momentum of a rather big year for her both personally and professionally, the New York-based recently released a gorgeous and spectral cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song,” featuring shimmering, reverb-drenched guitars, atmospheric synths and Julie Kathryn’s vocals. Interestingly, her interpretation of the song is centered around a plaintive yearning and vulnerability.

I recently exchanged emails with the I AM SNOW ANGEL mastermind for this edition of the JOVM Q&A. For this interview, we discuss the difficult balance of one’s creative live with being a parent, her collaboration with Sophie Colette, leveling the playing field for women producers and of course, her aforementioned cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song.” Additionally, as a result of governments across the world closing bars, restaurants, nightclubs and music venues to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the impact on the music industry – especially on small and mid-sized independent venues and the indie touring artists, who grace their stages has been devastating. Much like the other artists, I’ve interviewed this year, I’ll continue to ask artists how they’re getting by, how they’re keeping busy and of course, how this period is impacting their careers.

Julie Kathryn’s full-length album Mothership and her rendition of “Tower of Song” – and below the jump, check out the interview.

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WRH: You’re a new mommy. So before we start: Happy belated Mother’s Day. How do you balance the obligations and responsibilities of motherhood with your creative and professional life?

Julie Kathryn: Thank you! Being a mother is wonderful. It’s definitely been challenging to balance everything. Taking care of a baby feels like a full time job, as I expected it would, but I didn’t realize all the ways that I personally would be changed by motherhood – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Everything feels different now. I’m finding a way to make music in this new normal and I’m excited to see how it turns out.

 WRH: The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions in almost every aspect of our lives. For most of us, the seemingly indefinite fear, anxiety, uncertainty, loneliness and boredom of the past few months of social distancing and quarantines have been overwhelming. How have you been holding up?  How have you been keeping busy? Binge watching anything?

 JK: This is such a strange and uncertain time. I try to make a gratitude list every day to keep me balanced and thankful, particularly for my health. Also, I’m lucky that I have a clear and immediate purpose right now – to take care of my son! He keeps me focused and in the moment. I’m very grateful to be able to spend this time with him. In my free time, when I can find some, I make music, practice yoga and yes, binge watch! Dead to Me (Netflix) and Breeders (FX) are two of my recent favorites.

 WRH: How did you get into music?

JK: I’ve always been very musical. I took piano lessons as a kid. I taught myself how to play the guitar during high school. For a while, I was an acoustic/Americana singer-songwriter. Eventually, I started engineering and producing my own material, and it became much more electronic. That’s how this project – I AM SNOW ANGEL – was born.

WRH: How would you describe your sound for those, who may be unfamiliar with I Am Snow Angel?

 Dream pop. Melodic, electronic. Ambient and earthy at the same time.

 WRH: Who are your influences?

 JK: For this project, I was definitely inspired by Imogen Heap, Portishead, The Postal Service, Massive Attack, and other electronic and trip hop acts. Over the years, there are a lot of songwriters that I’ve studied, like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Bill Withers. The National is a band whose albums I’ve played on repeat for months at a time. I also love the artistry of Thom Yorke, Lou Reed, David Lynch. I love moody electronic soundscapes by artists like Trentemøller and The Knife, and 80s synth /new wave music like Roxy Music and Yaz. I also spent a lot of time listening to late 90s female R&B —  Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Macy Gray.  The list goes on and on and it’s hard to encapsulate it.

WRH: Who are you listening to right now?

JK: Today, I’m listening to meditative sounds – Max Richter, Brian Eno. Recently, I’ve also been listening to rootsy alternative rock (Wilco, Neko Case, Sharon Van Etten).

 WRH: Earlier this year, you collaborated with Sophie Colette on “In Love a Little.” As you know, I wrote about the song earlier this year – and in a lengthy statement for the song, Colette wrote:

“Working with Julie was an amazing experience – it was very hands on and communicative. We sat side by side and made decisions together from the tracing to the comping to the mixing. I learned so much about Ableton and the possibility of different soundscapes that could be created outside of traditional instrumentation.

 It became apparent to me, that working with a female producer, who inherently applied these types of sounds to her own work, came with the advantage of being able to feel the same nuances of emotion without having to explain them to each other. Each session was an open-ended conversation and quite nurturing to be honest. Something about that female-to-female energy in a room is really powerful when the ego isn’t there.”

How was it like to collaborate with Sophie Colette? Do you find it easier to collaborate with women artists and producers?

JK: Working with Sophie was a lot of fun. I really like how our collaboration turned out. We were able to tease out some interesting emotional undertones in her song. I remember her showing me moody photos of an urban landscape at night in the aftermath of a storm, with the city’s colored lights reflecting in puddles on the dark streets.  She said, “this is my inspiration for the bridge.” We spent the day sonically recreating this idea, and it became the soundscape for the bridge of her song. It was a really organic process. I do end up working with a lot of female artists, and I find that we often have similar communication styles and a shared experience of coming up in the music industry.

WRH: How do we level the playing field, so that there are more women producers?

JK: For me, being visible as a female producer who can do it all – instrumentation, engineering, sound design, mixing – is important. When I was starting out in production, it really helped me to see other women who were doing it. Also, when I work with other artists, I share my knowledge and encourage them to learn production and engineering, in whatever capacity is appealing to them.

 WRH: What advice would you give for women artists and producers trying to make it?

JK: Have fun!! The process of producing music is intense and quite involved, so it needs to be a fulfilling one. If the production process is merely viewed as a means to an end (ie, the finished product), it’s more likely to feel like a chore or an insurmountable feat. But, if the very act of creating music is thrilling and emotionally rewarding, the finished product is just the icing on the cake – a bonus. Don’t worry about doing it “right.” There are many ways to produce music. When possible, seek out mentors and collaborators who support and elevate you.

WRH: You recently released a slow-burning and atmospheric cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song.” What drew you to the song?

JK: I love Leonard Cohen. His songwriting and performance style have inspired me for a long time.  I first visited the song a few years back when my dear friend Gus Rodriguez (he performs under the name Silbin Sandovar and is a wonderful musician, talent buyer, and connector of artists in NYC and beyond) asked me to cover a few Leonard Cohen songs in a tribute show he was putting together. I immediately felt connected to the lyrical content of this song, to the existential themes of isolation and loneliness that Cohen associated with being a songwriter.

 WRH: Instead of a straightforward note-by-note cover, you turn Cohen’s song into your song. Was that an intentional decision – and was that a difficult thing to do, considering how beloved his work is?

JK: It wasn’t really intentional. It felt very natural for me to re-imagine the song in this way, and I didn’t overthink it.

 WRH: So what’s next for you?

JK: I’m working on a new EP. In some ways, it’s a sequel to MOTHERSHIP, which I put out last year. So far, it feels ambient, emotional and layered. We’ll see where it goes. I’ll keep you posted. And thank you for talking with me!!

New Video: Acclaimed Indie Artist Soccer Mommy Goes on a Virtual 8-Bit Tour

Sophie Allison is a Swiss-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter and guitarist, best known as the creative mastermind behind the critically applauded indie rock project Soccer Mommy.  Allison first picked up guitar when she was six — and as a teenager, she attended Nashville School of the Arts, where she studied guitar and played in the school’s swing band. By 2015, the Swiss-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter and guitarist began posting home-recorded songs as Soccer Mommy to Bandcamp during the summer of 2015, just as she was about head off to New York University, where she studied music business at the University’sSteinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. 

While she was in college, Allison played her first Soccer Mommy show at Bushwick, Brooklyn’s Silent Barn. She caught the attention of Fat Possum Records, who signed her to a record deal — and after spending two years at NYU, she returned to Nashville to pursue a full-time career in music. Upon her return to Nashville, the acclaimed Swiss-born artist wrote and released two Soccer Mommy albums — 2016’s For Young Hearts through Orchid Tapes and 2017’s Collection through Fat Possum Records. Her proper, full-length debut, 2018’s Clean was released to widespread critical acclaim, and as a result of a rapidly growing profile, Alison has wound up touring with Stephen Malkmus, Mitski, Kacey Musgraves, Jay Som, Slowdive, Frankie Cosmos, Liz Phair, Phoebe Bridgers, Paramore, Foster the People, Vampire Weekend, and Wilco.  

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was gearing up to be a massive year for the young and rising singer/songwriter and guitarist: she began the year by playing at one of Bernie Sanders’ presidential rallies and had joined a list of contemporary artists, who endorsed his presidential campaign. Allison’s highly-anticipated sophomore album color theory was released to critical applause — and building upon a rapidly growing profile, the Nashville-based artist had been gearing up for a massive year: she was about to embark one a headlining tour with a number of dates sold-out months in advance, along with that, she had lined up appearances across the global festival circuit that included a stop at Glastonbury. Additionally, she was supposed to make her late-night, nationally televised debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

With touring being on an indefinite half for the music industry, the Swiss-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter and guitarist recognized that this was a unique opportunity to get creative and experiment with new ideas. Combining her love of video games and performing, Allison held a digital concert on the online gaming platform Club Penguin Rewritten with over 10,000 attendees, who all had to make their own penguin avatars to attend it. The concert was so popular, that her fans crashed the platform’s servers, forcing a rescheduling of the event. Allison has also performed a number of live streams events, including  NPR’s Tiny Desk At Home (which she kicked off) and Pitchfork’s IG Live Series. And she also recently released her own Zoom background images. 

Recently, Allison and company embarked on a an Bella Clark-directed 8-bit virtual, music video tour in which the band plays some of the cities she was meant to be passing through — Minneapolis, Chicago, Seattle, Toronto, and Austin. Instead of virtually playing at the more common tourist locations or a traditional music venue, the members of the band are mischievously placed in unusual locations: an abandoned Toronto area subway station, a haunted Chicago hotel, a bat-filled Austin bridge and more. Interestingly, the video four features the virtual band playing the album’s latest single “crawling in my skin.” Centered around looping and shimmering guitars, a sinuous bass line, shuffling drumming and subtly shifting tempos, the track reveals a remarkably self-assured young songwriter, who has an unerring knack for pairing earnest songwriting with an infectious hook. (Oh, and you’ll see the band adhering to social distancing rules while virtually performing!)  

“It’s really hard having our tour be postponed because I was really excited to play all of the songs on color theory for everyone, ‘crawling in my skin’ in particular,” Allison says. “I hope this little 8-bit performance can hold everyone over until the tour can happen.”

New Audio: The Legendary Mavis Staples Teams Up with Jeff Tweedy on a Much-Needed Anthemic Bit of Uplift

Throughout the course of this site’s almost ten year history, I’ve managed to spill quite a bit of virtual ink covering the legendary Chicago-born singer, actress, and civil rights activist Mavis Staples. Going into a deep dive into her career as a member of the Staple Singers and and a solo artist will be a bit gratuitous — but throughout her career, she has received commercial and critical success, as well as a proverbial boatload of accolades. Stapes has received eight Grammy Awards nominations with the Staple Singers, winning one — a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2004. She also received a Grammy nod for a collaboration with longtime friend Bob Dylan. And as a solo artist, she’s been nominated for five Grammys, winning two — Best Americana Album for 2010’s You Are Not Alone and a Best American Roots Performance for  2015’s ”See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.”

She also has been nominated for 11 Blues Music Awards, winning nine, including Album of the Year for 2004’s Have A Little Faith, which featured Song of the Year and album title track “Have A Little Faith.” She’s also won three Soul Blues Female Artist Awards — one in 2004 and back to back wins in 2017 and 2018. Staples was also inducted into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Staple Singers in 1999, was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2016 and inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2017.

The legendary Chicago-born singer, actress and civil rights activist turned 80 last year and with her achievements, it would be understandable if she had begun to slow down; however, over the past handful of years, Staples has been remarkably busy, releasing three critically applauded albums with Wilco‘s Jeff Tweedy and last year’s Ben Harper written and produced, We Get By.

Fittingly, Staples’ latest single is the hopeful and upbeat Jeff Tweedy-produced, “All In It Together,” which also features Tweedy contributing backing vocals and guitar. Centered around a shuffling, Chicago blues-like arrangement of twinkling keys, strummed guitar, a rousing hook and Staples’ imitable vocals, the track speaks directly to our current sociopolitical moment, while gently reminding the listener that at the end of the day, we’re all in this together. And that if we don’t get together at this most important moment in our collective history, then we’re all doomed. 

“The song speaks to what we’re going through now – everyone is in this together, whether you like it or not,” the legendary vocalist explains in press notes. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what race or sex you are, where you live…it can still touch you. It’s hit so many people in our country and around the world in such a horrible way and I just hope this song can bring a little light to the darkness. We will get through this but we’re going to have to do it together. If this song is able to bring any happiness or relief to anyone out there in even the smallest way, I wanted to make sure that I helped to do that.”

The song is available on all streaming services and Bandcamp. All proceeds from the song will be donated to My Block, My Hood, My City, a Chicago-based organization that ensures seniors will have access to the essentials needed to fight COVID-19. 

Steve Smith (guitar, vocals) is a Sydney, Australia-based singer/songwriter and guitarist, who has earned a reputation for crafting a good tune, abrupt disappearances at inopportune times and for pulling together some of his hometown’s finest musicians and producers to bring his songs to life, writing and recording five albums with Fallon Cush — 2011’s self-titled debut, which introduced the band’s signature breezy and jangling 70s AM rock-like sound; 2012’s April, which premiered on American Songwriter; 2016’s Bee In Your Bonnet, which revealed a tougher alt-country leaning song and led to the band opening for Son Volt; and 2017’s Morning, which reportedly threatened the band’s future. “By the time we’d finished the last record, Morning, I thought that’d be the end of it. It was really quite difficult getting that record finished for a number of reasons,” Steve Smith says in press notes.

Produced by the band’s Steve Smith, the band’s latest album Stranger Things Have Happened was released last November through the band’s Lightly Toasted Records and was recorded and mixed at Endomusia Studios, near Australia’s Blue Mountains by Josh Schuberth with additional recording by Michael Carpenter at Love Hz Studios in Sydney. Featuring a backing band consisting of Suzy Goodwin (backing vocals), Casey Atkins (guitar, backing vocals), Tim Bryon (keys), Peter Marley (bass, backing vocals), Russell Crawford (drums) and Josh Schuberth (lap steel, percussion), the album’s material finds the members of the backing band drawing from a wider sonic palette while continuing to display Smith’s unerring knack for crafting a tunes that frequently get compared to Tom Petty, Ryan Adams, Wilco and The Jayhawks among others. “This record feels like a bit of a fresh start, there’s an energy around it. It’s a good feeling. Strange but good,” Smith says about the new album

Stranger Things Have Happened‘s latest single is the bittersweet “The Key.” Centered around shimmering and jangling guitars, razor sharp hooks and earnest, a twangy guitar solo and 70s AM rock-like songwriting, “The Key” is the sort of song you’d expect to hear late at night in darkened dive bar or old-timey honky tonk: the song captures a ruminative sense of regret over the mistakes and failures of one’s life — and how they manage to reverberate in your life as time passes. As the band says in a statement, the song “features Casey Atkins’ twangy lead guitar throughout. Casey’s a renowned and in-demand player in Sydney, and an integral part of our sound. His parts on this were his first pass. When it came to the mix, we didn’t bother looking for any other takes.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Video: Rwandan Folk Act The Good Ones Latest is the Heartbreaking Lament of a Desperate Father

The Kigali, Rwanda-based folk act The Good Ones, which features core trio and founders  co-lead singer Janvier Hauvgimana, co-lead singer and primary songwriter Adrien Kazigira and Javan Mahoro can trace their origins back to the roughy 1978. The members of the band, who were children were taught music and how to play by Hauvgimana’s older brother. Tragically, Hauvgimana’s older brother, who was also blind, later died in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The members of The Good Ones formed the band as part of the healing process after the genocide and interestingly enough, the band’s original trio featured individual members of each of Rwanda’s three tribes — Tutsi, Hutu and Abatwa — symbolically and metaphorically reuniting a country that had been split apart at its seams. But on a personal level, for each of the band’s founding members, the band was an active attempt to seek out “the good ones” after witnessing and enduring unthinkable horrors.

Most of the members of the band are small plot, subsistence farmers — with two of the band’s members living on family plots that  have been passed down through several generations. Because most Rwandans are very poor, instruments are very rare. Like countless musicians. who are poor and barely getting by, they find ways to be creative. Sometimes they may find and use a broken guitar. But in most cases, they’ll make their own instruments, sometimes incorporating their farm tools. 

Now, as you may recall, the Rwandan folk act’s forthcoming album Rwanda, You Should Be Loved is slated for a November 9, 2019 release through Anti- Records, and the album’s material can be traced from a batch of over 40 songs that the band’s Adrien Kazigira had originally written. Most of the material thematically centered around meditations on his 13-year-old daughter Marie Clare and the life-threatening tumor that has afflicted her left eye. Interestingly, the album was recorded live and without overdubs on Kazigira’s farm  — and the sessions were imbued with loss’ their longtime collaborator and producer Ian Brennan‘s mother died and a former bandmember and founding member had both died during the sessions.

While the album was recorded during a period of profound loss for the band and their producer, the album focuses on a variety of things in the bandmembers’ lives and experiences. Rwanda, You Are Loved’s first single “The Farmer” celebrates the critical role farmers play in society and to a national — but it’s also an aching lament, acknowledging the bitter irony that farmers often can’t feed their own families and are struggling to barely get by. Built around a sparse arrangement of strummed guitar, harmonized vocals, the song is a timeless one that has seemingly been sung by generations upon generations across the world — and in a variety of languages. The album’s second and latest single “Where Did You Go Wrong, My Love” is a heartbreaking song that’s one part aching lament, one part desperate plea, one part bittersweet reminiscence over the loss of innocence of a young one, as the song is about a father’s desperate attempt to rescue his daughter from going down a bad path in her life. And as a result, the song is imbued with the powerless fear that countless parents have felt about their children. Much like it’s predecessor, the song is centered around a gorgeous yet sparse arrangement: al looping and shimmering 12 bar blues-like guitar, galloping percussion and the interwoven harmonies between the band’s primary songwriter Kazigira and co-lead vocalist Havugiamana.

Sonically, the material may draw comparisons to bluegrass, country, Americana and acoustic, Mississippi Delta Blues but while coming from an older, primordial source. Countless artists consciously aim to create something timeless, the members of The Good Ones somehow manage to seemingly do so in an effortless, breezy fashion while talking about the plight of their fellow farmers, countrymen and working men. (The song features a guest appearance from Wilco’s Nels Cline.)

Lyric Video: The Hauntingly Beautiful and Old-Time Folk of Rwanda’s The Good Ones

Primarily centered around its core, founding trio of co-lead singer Janvier Hauvgimana, co-lead singer and primary songwriter Adrien Kazigira and Javan Mahoro, the Rwandan folk act, The Good Ones, who hail from the outskirts of the nation’s capital Kigali, can trace their origins back to about 1978, when its members, who were still children, were taught music by Hauvgimana’s older brother. Sadly, Hauvgimana’s older brother, who was also blind, later died in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The members of The Good Ones formed the band as part of the healing process after the genocide and interestingly enough, the band’s original trio featured individual members of each of Rwanda’s three tribes — Tutsi, Hutu and Abatwa — symbolically and metaphorically reuniting a country that had been split apart at its seams. But on a personal level, for each of the band’s founding members, the band was an active attempt to seek out “the good ones” after witnessing and enduring unthinkable horrors. 

Most of the members of the band are small plot, subsistence farmers — with two of the band’s members living on family plots that  have been passed down through several generations. Because most Rwandans are very poor, instruments are very rare. The members of the band do what poor people everywhere do. They find some truly creative ways to get by out of necessity — sometimes they may find and use a broken guitar; other times they may borrow a friend’s guitar; but in most cases they’ll make their own instruments, sometimes incorporating their farm tools.  As the band’s primary songwriter Kazigira writes material that routinely features interwoven, intricate harmonies between himself and co-lead vocalist Havugimana that may remind some folks of classic American Bluegrass — but also acoustic, Mississippi Delta Blues.  

Slated for a November 8, 2019 release through Anti- Records, The Good Ones’ forthcoming album Rwanda, You Should Be Love can trace its origins to a batch of over 40 songs that the band’s Adrien Kazigira had originally written. Most of the material centered around meditations on his now 13-year-old daughter Marie Clare, and the life-threatening tumor that has afflicted her left eye. Recorded live and without overdubs on Kazigira’s farm, the sessions were imbued with a further sense of loss: their longtime collaborator and producer Ian Brennan’s mother died and a former bandmember and founding member had both died during the sessions. The album also features guest appearances from an All-Star team of indie rock stars, including Wilco’s Nels Cline, TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker, My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields and Fugazi’s Joe Lally. 

Interestingly, despite the massive number of profound losses in the bandmembers’ lives, Rwanda, You Are Loved’s first single “The Farmer” celebrates the critical role farmers play in society and to a nation but it’s also an aching lament, acknowledging the bitter irony that farmers often can’t feed their own families and are struggling to get by.  Built around a sparse arrangement of strummed guitar, harmonized vocals, the song is a timeless one that has seemingly been sung by generations upon generations across the world — and in a variety of languages. 

Live Footage: Mavis Staples Performs “We Get By” on “CBS This Morning Saturday Sessions”

Over the past few years, I’ve written a bit about the legendary, Chicago-born singer, actress, and civil rights activist Mavis Staples and throughout a music career that has spanned over eight decades, several different genres and styles as a member of The Staple Singers and as a solo artist, Staples has had achieved commercial and critical success, as well as a proverbial boatload of accolades. Staples has been nominated for eight Grammy Awards with the Staples Singers, winning one — a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2004. She received a Grammy nod for a collaboration with Bob Dylan. And as a solo artist, she’s been nominated for five Grammys, winning two — Best Americana Album for 2010’s You Are Not Alone and a Best American Roots Performance for  2015’s”See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.” The legendary, Chicago-born vocalist has also been nominated for 11 Blues Music Awards, winning nine, including Album of the Year for 2004’s Have A Little Faith, which featured Song of the Year and album title track “Have A Little Faith.” She’s also won three Soul Blues Female Artist Awards — one in 2004 and back to back wins in 2017 and 2018. And let’s not forget that Mavis was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Staple Singers in 1999, was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2016 and inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2017. 

Staples turns 80 next month — July 10, 2019 — and while many artists at her age and with her achievements would have understandably begun to slow down, the legendary vocalist has managed to be wildly prolific, releasing three, critically applauded albums in her late 70s with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. Her latest album, the Ben Harper written and produced, We Get By was released by her longtime label home Anti- Records a few weeks ago, and as the legendary vocalist says in press notes, “When I first started reading the lyrics Ben wrote for me, I said to myself, ‘My God, he’s saying everything that needs to be said right now. But the songs were also true to my journey and the stories I’ve been singing all my life. There’s a spirituality and an honesty to Ben’s writing that took me back to church.”

“I come from a family of Mavis fans,” the multi-Grammy nominated and multi-Grammy winning Ben Harper explains in press notes, “so her music has been woven into the fabric of my life from the very start. When I got the call for this gig, it felt like my entire career, everything I’d ever written, had been pre-production for this.” 

The imitable Mavis Staples was recently on CBS This Morning’s Saturday Sessions where she and her backing band performed the uplifting album title track”We Get By.” Naturally, the track is what Staples has long specialized in: heartfelt, uplifting spirituals centered around lived-in experience — particularly, finding some way to survive in a difficult and uneasy world with your dignity, sanity and spiritual life intact.