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An Evening With Ellis Paul

"Despite his success and sense of history, Mr. Paul remains an artist with his eye on the future and an interest in discovering the transformative potential in his music." - The New York Times

Some artists document their lives through their music. Others chronicle their times. It’s a rare artist who can do both, telling their own story through songs that also encapsulate the essence of people and places who have helped define their era overall. Woody Guthrie comes to mind, and so does Bob Dylan. Bruce Springsteen certainly as well. Yet few others, for whatever genius they may possess, can relate their own history to the history experienced by those who find that common bond, be it in a coming of age, living through the same realities or sharing similar experiences.

Ellis Paul is one of those gifted singer/songwriters.Though some may refer to him as a folksinger, he is more, for lack of a better word, a singular storyteller, a musician whose words reach out from inside and yet also express the feelings, thoughts and sensibilities that most people can relate to in one way or another, regardless of age or upbringing. The exhilaration of the open road. A ​celebration of heroes.​ ​The hope for redemption. Descriptions of those things that are both near and dear. The sharing of love..., intimate, passionate and enduring.

These are the scenarios that emerge from Ellis Paul’s new album, Chasing Beauty, a set of songs which detail, in typical Paul fashion, stories of people and places that reflect larger truths about us all. “Kick Out the Lights (Johnny Cash)” pays tribute to that fearless American icon name-checked in its title. “Plastic Soldier” offers homage to a wounded soldier returning from Afghanistan. A real-life barnstorming pilot takes the spotlight in “Jimmie Angel’s Flying Circus,” while iconic Boston blue collar musician Dennis Brennan takes the focus in “Waiting on a Break.” Even the Empire State Building and the Boston Red Sox get their due, via “Empire State” and “UK Girl (Boston Calling),” respectively.

In reality, these stories are a continuation of tales Paul has told for more than a quarter century, over the expanse of nineteen albums, numerous critical kudos (15 Boston Music Awards alone), inclusion in several movie soundtracks, and stages he’s headlined both near and far. “I’ve got a car with over 4​75​,000 miles on it, and it's my third road vehicle,​” Paul declares. “I’ve been doing 200 shows a year for over twenty years. There isn’t a town in the country where I won’t find a friend. I’m a nomad. And I’m gonna write and play until I’m gone.”

No doubt he will. Still, it’s somewhat ironic that Paul gravitated towards this bigger world of intent and expression given that the place Paul considers his hometown these days isn’t New York or Nashville, or Boston or Austin or ​Charlottesville, VA. where he lives, but rather Presque Isle, Maine, a tiny enclave surrounded by three rivers. Not surprisingly, the name translates to “almost an island.” Presque Isle shares a vanishing tradition with many small towns these days, where family farms are giving way to industrializ​ation​ ​and giant corporations, and earning a livelihood from the land is no longer the simple option it once was. Nevertheless, it’s still a haven for traditional values and for people as real and authentic as the soil they once tilled. If there’s one grace left to cling to, it’s the grace of nature’s beauty, sealed off by the surrounding mountains and fields.

Likewise, his geographical origins also couldn’t have been further from the world at large. He was born in the dead of winter in the small town of Fort Kent, Maine, a place nestled right up next to the Canadian border. He came from humble origins, a family of potato farmers who could count among their forebears a veteran of the battle of Gettysburg, whose heroism on that field of honor earned him the 140 acres of Maine farmland that his descendants would continue to sow. It was the place that taught Paul the meaning of hard work and self-reliance, and the values that accompany as much drive and determination any individual could muster.

As a boy, Paul found his escape in athletics, working out as a runner and testing his mettle in the open spaces near his home. He became a star competitor, and enjoyed the advantage of traveling throughout the nation after being given opportunities to compete. Along the way, he saw more of the country than most people do in a lifetime. “I was lucky to be able to travel for competitions all over the U.S. and to see places I once could only dream of,” he recalls. “The Olympic Stadium in Los Angeles, the endless plains of Texas, the Kansas prairie, the Rocky Mountain in Wyoming. Every trip was funded by a hat the town passed around on my behalf, and it never came back empty.” When Paul finished second in a nationwide track competition, he was met at the airport by the high school marching band and a fire engine with spinning lights that drove him in triumph through town. In an expression of hometown pride, the mayor handed him the key to the city.

​No one ever told Paul he had to follow in his family’s tradition. He was a dreamer after all, and he had seen enough of America to know there was more out there than his little town could ever offer. Consequently, his ambitions were never destined to stay bottled up for long. He would write, paint, play trumpet and sing in the school choir. “I never had anyone tell me I had to be a farmer,” Paul insists. “I had plenty of people telling me how my hard work and talent ​c​ould take me places​. T​hat’s enough to get you dreaming, And enough to make you believe those dreams are within reach.”

Indeed, Paul found those dreams were within his reach, at least in terms of his imagination. However​ their pursuit would take him far from home. His first destination was Boston College, courtesy of a ​​track​ scholarship. Yet as Paul describes it, his athletic endeavors, combined with his academic responsibilities, served to rob him of his creativity. It was only after he suffered a knee injury which forced him to take a year off that he rebounded with a new form of expression, made possible when his girlfriend’s sister gave him a secondhand guitar. “A mysterious, lustful partnership with the instrument followed,” Paul concedes. “It became a marriage, a friendship, a lifelong bond that only comes when you find that one thing that becomes an extension of yourself. I played for hours, choosing to write ​my own original ​​songs and sing instead of studying, socializing or exploring what the Boston streets could offer after hours.”

After graduation, Paul did find time to explore those paths, while taking opportunities to indulge his creative ambitions. Working as a teacher and social worker with inner city children by day and pursuing the possibilities offered by Boston’s fertile music scene at night, he gained prominence in local coffeehouses and open mic nights. It was the same circuit that opened the door for other like-minded artists of the day, and in turn, gave Paul exposure to such creative contemporaries as Shawn Colvin, Dar Williams, Patty Larkin, John Gorka, Catie Curtis, and Bill Morrissey. It also helped him win a Boston Underground Songwriting competition and placement on a Windham Hill Records singer/songwriter compilation, bringing him his first hint of national exposure at the same time.

The major tipping point in his career came with the opportunity to open for Bill Morrissey, one of New England’s most prominent folk artists. Paul would repeatedly ask Morrissey about his own influences and seek his advice on who he ought to listen to. “You know, that’s a very smart thing to do,” Morrissey muses. “It helped set him apart. A lot of young singers I meet are not curious about what went on before; they just say, ‘I want to sing another song about my life.’ Paul has a sense of roots, of connectedness to the whole history of folk music; he sees the thread that runs through all the generations of this music.”

It was mutual admiration that caused Paul to ask Morrissey to produce his first full album, 1993‘s Say ​Something. It was released on Black Wolf Records, the label he founded with ​Ralph​ Jaccodine, the man who would become his manager. “​Ralph was fulfilling a dream to get into the music business,” Paul recalls. “Starting with a folk singer isn’t a rocket​ launch, but we got off the ground. We started a label and began a lifelong​, DIY​ ​partnership and have been​ ​in the trenches​ for over 20 years.​”

Paul also became infatuated with the music of Woody Guthrie, drawn to Woody’s social consciousness and the humanitarian streak that ran through his work. He even had a tattoo of Guthrie imprinted on his right shoulder, referring to it as “a badge of who he ​was.” His commitment to Guthrie’s legacy eventually led to his inclusion in a ten day celebration of Woody’s work held at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in September 1996, an event that included such notables as Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bragg, the Indigo Girls and Ani DiFranco and which was presided over by Guthrie’s daughter Nora. Later, when Guthrie’s hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma hosted the first Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in July, 1998, Paul was tapped as one of the headliners. He has since made this an annual part of his touring schedule,​ garnering the honor of being named an honorary citizen of Okemah in the process. The connection with Guthrie continued into the new millennium when Nora Guthrie invited him to put music to a set of her father’s lyrics. He later participated in the “Ribbon of Highway” tour, a communal salute featuring such luminaries as Arlo Guthrie, Marty Stuart, Ramblin’ Jack Ellott, Nanci Griffith, Guy Clark and Janis Ian, among others. ​

There’s likely no greater evidence of how Guthrie’s insights and humanity have rubbed off on Paul than in this particularly telling tribute from Nora Guthrie. "A singer songwriter is only as good as the times he reflects,”she said in praising Paul. “In times like these, when so many nuts are running the show, it's comforting to know that Ellis Paul is actually holding our sanity on his own stage! Wise, tender, brilliant and biting, Ellis is one of our best human compasses, marking in melodies and poems where we've been and where we might go if we so choose to. Personally Ellis, I'm goin' where you're goin'!​"​

Where Paul is “goin’” is to practically every place a microphone beckons and a crowd of the folk faithful awaits. He’s become a staple at the Newport Folk Festival, ​played Carnegie hall, and venues from Alaska to Miami, Paris and London. In addition to his 19 albums released on the Rounder and Black Wolf record labels, his music has appeared on dozens of distinguished compilations. A ​Film/​DVD entitled ​3000 Miles​​ -- part concert film, part documentary, part instructional video -- provides a further prospective on both the man and his music. He’s also released a pair of children’s albums, earning him honors from the Parent’s Choice Foundation ​for both.​ ​H​is latest, ​"​The Hero In You​" has been turned into a​ picture book, detailing the lives of great American heroes​.​ Ellis' literate, evocative and insightful writings are further showcased in a book of poetry and short stories entitled “Notes from the Road,​" already in it's third pressing. ​

It’s no wonder then that recently Paul received ​a ​prestigious​ honor: an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the University of Maine, which also asked him to ​write the school's ​a​lma ​mater a​s well as ​deliver its commencement address in May 2014.

Happily, his music has been shared with a wider audience as well, through commercials, documentaries, TV shows and in the soundtracks of several blockbuster films, among them three by the Farrelly Brothers -- “Hall Pass” (starring Owen Wilson and Alyssa Milano), “Me, Myself, & Irene” (starring Jim Carrey) and “Shallow Hal” (starring Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow). Peter Farrelly summed up the sentiments of all those who have come to know and appreciate Paul’s music by referring to him as “a national treasure.”

Not surprisingly, Paul’s consistently been heralded by others as well. ​O​ne writer noted “that it reminds you how much we need storytellers back in pop music -- storytellers with empathy, fine eyes and an understanding that even though we live in a soulless, indifferent would, out music doesn’t have to reflect our culture." ​Another reviewer was even more pointed. “Ellis Paul is one of the best singer/songwriters of his generation,” she commented. “And for many of us he is the face of contemporary folk music. Few are as smart, as literate, as poetic as Paul. I cannot think of another artist on the acoustic music scene is better loved by fans, or more respected by his contemporaries.”

Indeed, he is all that, and in a very real sense, even more. He’s an observer, a philosopher, and an astute storyteller who shares with his listeners the life lessons he’s learned, and in turn, life lessons they ought to heed as well. By affirming and defining who he is, Ellis Paul affirms and uncovers the essence of us all.

-- Lee Zimmerman (writer/reviewer for American Songwriter, No Depression, New Times, Country Standard Time, Blurt, Relix, and M Music and Musicians​)​

"Despite his success and sense of history, Mr. Paul remains an artist with his eye on the future and an interest in discovering the transformative potential in his music." - The New York Times

Some artists document their lives through their music. Others chronicle their times. It’s a rare artist who can do both, telling their own story through songs that also encapsulate the essence of people and places who have helped define their era overall. Woody Guthrie comes to mind, and so does Bob Dylan. Bruce Springsteen certainly as well. Yet few others, for whatever genius they may possess, can relate their own history to the history experienced by those who find that common bond, be it in a coming of age, living through the same realities or sharing similar experiences.

Ellis Paul is one of those gifted singer/songwriters.Though some may refer to him as a folksinger, he is more, for lack of a better word, a singular storyteller, a musician whose words reach out from inside and yet also express the feelings, thoughts and sensibilities that most people can relate to in one way or another, regardless of age or upbringing. The exhilaration of the open road. A ​celebration of heroes.​ ​The hope for redemption. Descriptions of those things that are both near and dear. The sharing of love..., intimate, passionate and enduring.

These are the scenarios that emerge from Ellis Paul’s new album, Chasing Beauty, a set of songs which detail, in typical Paul fashion, stories of people and places that reflect larger truths about us all. “Kick Out the Lights (Johnny Cash)” pays tribute to that fearless American icon name-checked in its title. “Plastic Soldier” offers homage to a wounded soldier returning from Afghanistan. A real-life barnstorming pilot takes the spotlight in “Jimmie Angel’s Flying Circus,” while iconic Boston blue collar musician Dennis Brennan takes the focus in “Waiting on a Break.” Even the Empire State Building and the Boston Red Sox get their due, via “Empire State” and “UK Girl (Boston Calling),” respectively.

In reality, these stories are a continuation of tales Paul has told for more than a quarter century, over the expanse of nineteen albums, numerous critical kudos (15 Boston Music Awards alone), inclusion in several movie soundtracks, and stages he’s headlined both near and far. “I’ve got a car with over 4​75​,000 miles on it, and it's my third road vehicle,​” Paul declares. “I’ve been doing 200 shows a year for over twenty years. There isn’t a town in the country where I won’t find a friend. I’m a nomad. And I’m gonna write and play until I’m gone.”

No doubt he will. Still, it’s somewhat ironic that Paul gravitated towards this bigger world of intent and expression given that the place Paul considers his hometown these days isn’t New York or Nashville, or Boston or Austin or ​Charlottesville, VA. where he lives, but rather Presque Isle, Maine, a tiny enclave surrounded by three rivers. Not surprisingly, the name translates to “almost an island.” Presque Isle shares a vanishing tradition with many small towns these days, where family farms are giving way to industrializ​ation​ ​and giant corporations, and earning a livelihood from the land is no longer the simple option it once was. Nevertheless, it’s still a haven for traditional values and for people as real and authentic as the soil they once tilled. If there’s one grace left to cling to, it’s the grace of nature’s beauty, sealed off by the surrounding mountains and fields.

Likewise, his geographical origins also couldn’t have been further from the world at large. He was born in the dead of winter in the small town of Fort Kent, Maine, a place nestled right up next to the Canadian border. He came from humble origins, a family of potato farmers who could count among their forebears a veteran of the battle of Gettysburg, whose heroism on that field of honor earned him the 140 acres of Maine farmland that his descendants would continue to sow. It was the place that taught Paul the meaning of hard work and self-reliance, and the values that accompany as much drive and determination any individual could muster.

As a boy, Paul found his escape in athletics, working out as a runner and testing his mettle in the open spaces near his home. He became a star competitor, and enjoyed the advantage of traveling throughout the nation after being given opportunities to compete. Along the way, he saw more of the country than most people do in a lifetime. “I was lucky to be able to travel for competitions all over the U.S. and to see places I once could only dream of,” he recalls. “The Olympic Stadium in Los Angeles, the endless plains of Texas, the Kansas prairie, the Rocky Mountain in Wyoming. Every trip was funded by a hat the town passed around on my behalf, and it never came back empty.” When Paul finished second in a nationwide track competition, he was met at the airport by the high school marching band and a fire engine with spinning lights that drove him in triumph through town. In an expression of hometown pride, the mayor handed him the key to the city.

​No one ever told Paul he had to follow in his family’s tradition. He was a dreamer after all, and he had seen enough of America to know there was more out there than his little town could ever offer. Consequently, his ambitions were never destined to stay bottled up for long. He would write, paint, play trumpet and sing in the school choir. “I never had anyone tell me I had to be a farmer,” Paul insists. “I had plenty of people telling me how my hard work and talent ​c​ould take me places​. T​hat’s enough to get you dreaming, And enough to make you believe those dreams are within reach.”

Indeed, Paul found those dreams were within his reach, at least in terms of his imagination. However​ their pursuit would take him far from home. His first destination was Boston College, courtesy of a ​​track​ scholarship. Yet as Paul describes it, his athletic endeavors, combined with his academic responsibilities, served to rob him of his creativity. It was only after he suffered a knee injury which forced him to take a year off that he rebounded with a new form of expression, made possible when his girlfriend’s sister gave him a secondhand guitar. “A mysterious, lustful partnership with the instrument followed,” Paul concedes. “It became a marriage, a friendship, a lifelong bond that only comes when you find that one thing that becomes an extension of yourself. I played for hours, choosing to write ​my own original ​​songs and sing instead of studying, socializing or exploring what the Boston streets could offer after hours.”

After graduation, Paul did find time to explore those paths, while taking opportunities to indulge his creative ambitions. Working as a teacher and social worker with inner city children by day and pursuing the possibilities offered by Boston’s fertile music scene at night, he gained prominence in local coffeehouses and open mic nights. It was the same circuit that opened the door for other like-minded artists of the day, and in turn, gave Paul exposure to such creative contemporaries as Shawn Colvin, Dar Williams, Patty Larkin, John Gorka, Catie Curtis, and Bill Morrissey. It also helped him win a Boston Underground Songwriting competition and placement on a Windham Hill Records singer/songwriter compilation, bringing him his first hint of national exposure at the same time.

The major tipping point in his career came with the opportunity to open for Bill Morrissey, one of New England’s most prominent folk artists. Paul would repeatedly ask Morrissey about his own influences and seek his advice on who he ought to listen to. “You know, that’s a very smart thing to do,” Morrissey muses. “It helped set him apart. A lot of young singers I meet are not curious about what went on before; they just say, ‘I want to sing another song about my life.’ Paul has a sense of roots, of connectedness to the whole history of folk music; he sees the thread that runs through all the generations of this music.”

It was mutual admiration that caused Paul to ask Morrissey to produce his first full album, 1993‘s Say ​Something. It was released on Black Wolf Records, the label he founded with ​Ralph​ Jaccodine, the man who would become his manager. “​Ralph was fulfilling a dream to get into the music business,” Paul recalls. “Starting with a folk singer isn’t a rocket​ launch, but we got off the ground. We started a label and began a lifelong​, DIY​ ​partnership and have been​ ​in the trenches​ for over 20 years.​”

Paul also became infatuated with the music of Woody Guthrie, drawn to Woody’s social consciousness and the humanitarian streak that ran through his work. He even had a tattoo of Guthrie imprinted on his right shoulder, referring to it as “a badge of who he ​was.” His commitment to Guthrie’s legacy eventually led to his inclusion in a ten day celebration of Woody’s work held at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in September 1996, an event that included such notables as Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bragg, the Indigo Girls and Ani DiFranco and which was presided over by Guthrie’s daughter Nora. Later, when Guthrie’s hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma hosted the first Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in July, 1998, Paul was tapped as one of the headliners. He has since made this an annual part of his touring schedule,​ garnering the honor of being named an honorary citizen of Okemah in the process. The connection with Guthrie continued into the new millennium when Nora Guthrie invited him to put music to a set of her father’s lyrics. He later participated in the “Ribbon of Highway” tour, a communal salute featuring such luminaries as Arlo Guthrie, Marty Stuart, Ramblin’ Jack Ellott, Nanci Griffith, Guy Clark and Janis Ian, among others. ​

There’s likely no greater evidence of how Guthrie’s insights and humanity have rubbed off on Paul than in this particularly telling tribute from Nora Guthrie. "A singer songwriter is only as good as the times he reflects,”she said in praising Paul. “In times like these, when so many nuts are running the show, it's comforting to know that Ellis Paul is actually holding our sanity on his own stage! Wise, tender, brilliant and biting, Ellis is one of our best human compasses, marking in melodies and poems where we've been and where we might go if we so choose to. Personally Ellis, I'm goin' where you're goin'!​"​

Where Paul is “goin’” is to practically every place a microphone beckons and a crowd of the folk faithful awaits. He’s become a staple at the Newport Folk Festival, ​played Carnegie hall, and venues from Alaska to Miami, Paris and London. In addition to his 19 albums released on the Rounder and Black Wolf record labels, his music has appeared on dozens of distinguished compilations. A ​Film/​DVD entitled ​3000 Miles​​ -- part concert film, part documentary, part instructional video -- provides a further prospective on both the man and his music. He’s also released a pair of children’s albums, earning him honors from the Parent’s Choice Foundation ​for both.​ ​H​is latest, ​"​The Hero In You​" has been turned into a​ picture book, detailing the lives of great American heroes​.​ Ellis' literate, evocative and insightful writings are further showcased in a book of poetry and short stories entitled “Notes from the Road,​" already in it's third pressing. ​

It’s no wonder then that recently Paul received ​a ​prestigious​ honor: an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the University of Maine, which also asked him to ​write the school's ​a​lma ​mater a​s well as ​deliver its commencement address in May 2014.

Happily, his music has been shared with a wider audience as well, through commercials, documentaries, TV shows and in the soundtracks of several blockbuster films, among them three by the Farrelly Brothers -- “Hall Pass” (starring Owen Wilson and Alyssa Milano), “Me, Myself, & Irene” (starring Jim Carrey) and “Shallow Hal” (starring Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow). Peter Farrelly summed up the sentiments of all those who have come to know and appreciate Paul’s music by referring to him as “a national treasure.”

Not surprisingly, Paul’s consistently been heralded by others as well. ​O​ne writer noted “that it reminds you how much we need storytellers back in pop music -- storytellers with empathy, fine eyes and an understanding that even though we live in a soulless, indifferent would, out music doesn’t have to reflect our culture." ​Another reviewer was even more pointed. “Ellis Paul is one of the best singer/songwriters of his generation,” she commented. “And for many of us he is the face of contemporary folk music. Few are as smart, as literate, as poetic as Paul. I cannot think of another artist on the acoustic music scene is better loved by fans, or more respected by his contemporaries.”

Indeed, he is all that, and in a very real sense, even more. He’s an observer, a philosopher, and an astute storyteller who shares with his listeners the life lessons he’s learned, and in turn, life lessons they ought to heed as well. By affirming and defining who he is, Ellis Paul affirms and uncovers the essence of us all.

-- Lee Zimmerman (writer/reviewer for American Songwriter, No Depression, New Times, Country Standard Time, Blurt, Relix, and M Music and Musicians​)​

(Early Show) Charlie Parr with Special Guest Chicago Farmer

An easily confused and very shy individual, Charlie Parr has been traveling around singing his songs ever since leaving Austin Minnesota in the 1980's in search of Spider John Koerner, whom he found about 100 miles north at the Viking Bar one Sunday night. The experience changed his life, made him more or less unemployable, and brings us to now: 13 recordings, 250 shows a year or more, 200,000 miles on a well broke in Kia, and a nasty fear of heights. Resonator fueled folk songs from Duluth Minnesota

An easily confused and very shy individual, Charlie Parr has been traveling around singing his songs ever since leaving Austin Minnesota in the 1980's in search of Spider John Koerner, whom he found about 100 miles north at the Viking Bar one Sunday night. The experience changed his life, made him more or less unemployable, and brings us to now: 13 recordings, 250 shows a year or more, 200,000 miles on a well broke in Kia, and a nasty fear of heights. Resonator fueled folk songs from Duluth Minnesota

(Late Show) Jackson Howard with Aris Paul

Distinguished by interesting and intricate acoustic guitar and floating vocals with a touch of blue-eyed soul, Jackson Howard’s songs grab your ears and your soul in captivating ways. In an age when lyrics are losing their importance, Jackson puts the poetry back into songwriting while remaining universally relatable.
In April of 2014, Jackson released his first EP A Place to Cross to a packed house at Blueberry Hill in St. Louis a few days after making his first television appearance on Fox2 News. Over the next year he gained momentum locally performing several times a week throughout the greater St. Louis area. That July, Jackson went back to the studio to begin work on his first full length album “About Life”, released on January 2nd 2015 at Off Broadway in St. Louis as well as at an East Coast release at Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center in Pennsylvania.
In the summer of 2015, a song from About Life caught the attention of Grammy-nominated producer Billy Smiley. By September the two were recording a new album at Dark Horse Studios in Franklin, TN. The album (set to be released in the spring of 2017) boasts the talents of Johnathan Crone, Daniel O’Lannerghty, Andre DiMuzio, Jared Kneale (drums – Kacey Musgraves, Ben Rector); sound engineering by Billy Whittington (Amy Grant), Ritchie Biggs (Civil Wars, Lone Below), and Billy Smiley (White Heart, Newsboys), and production by Billy Smiley.

Distinguished by interesting and intricate acoustic guitar and floating vocals with a touch of blue-eyed soul, Jackson Howard’s songs grab your ears and your soul in captivating ways. In an age when lyrics are losing their importance, Jackson puts the poetry back into songwriting while remaining universally relatable.
In April of 2014, Jackson released his first EP A Place to Cross to a packed house at Blueberry Hill in St. Louis a few days after making his first television appearance on Fox2 News. Over the next year he gained momentum locally performing several times a week throughout the greater St. Louis area. That July, Jackson went back to the studio to begin work on his first full length album “About Life”, released on January 2nd 2015 at Off Broadway in St. Louis as well as at an East Coast release at Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center in Pennsylvania.
In the summer of 2015, a song from About Life caught the attention of Grammy-nominated producer Billy Smiley. By September the two were recording a new album at Dark Horse Studios in Franklin, TN. The album (set to be released in the spring of 2017) boasts the talents of Johnathan Crone, Daniel O’Lannerghty, Andre DiMuzio, Jared Kneale (drums – Kacey Musgraves, Ben Rector); sound engineering by Billy Whittington (Amy Grant), Ritchie Biggs (Civil Wars, Lone Below), and Billy Smiley (White Heart, Newsboys), and production by Billy Smiley.

(Early Show) Overcoats with Special Guest Yoke Lore

Overcoats is the New York-based female duo of Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell. Their debut album YOUNG captures a sound rich in minimalism and melody: songs of connection and tension, on the depths of love and challenges of family. 

Overcoats' music draws strength from vulnerability, finding light through darkness, and the catharsis of simple, honest songwriting. YOUNG is about a transformation: the passage into womanhood, sung through the shared experience of two best friends.

On their first single "Hold Me Close," Hana and JJ's melodies are purity in unison, providing two distinct but entwined perspectives on the complexity of love. In their words, "the song is about finding solace in the present when the future and past seem impossible to understand. It's about loneliness and disillusionment that we can feel in relationships, and how we must persevere anyway in hopes of finding the beauty in love."

Elion and Mitchell were drawn to each other when they first met in 2011, finding connection in their diverse love of music and an immediate closeness that verges on sisterhood. Their meeting was transformative emotionally as well as creatively. Both halves of Overcoats describe the first time hearing each other sing as an epiphany: the harmony of their voices leading to personal, individual discovery. This bond forms the foundation of Overcoats, and it fills the ecosystem of YOUNG with its stunning sound and sentiment.

Album opener "Father" unfurls in clouds of three-dimensional sound: a cathedral of echo over waves of delay and the din of incidental noise. There is a rare resonance in Overcoats evident from these opening tones: between their separate (but inseparable) voices, flawlessly intuitive performance, and sublime musical production. Their harmonies slide from brassy to silken with elegant ease, floating over muted rhythms wrapped in lush swells of synthesizers.

YOUNG was written by Overcoats and co-produced by Nicolas Vernhes (Daughter, The War On Drugs, Dirty Projectors, Cass McCombs) and experimental R&B artist Autre Ne Veut, with additional production from Myles Avery and mixing by Ben Baptie (Lapsley, Lianne La Havas, Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson).

Their palette is stealth and simple electronics, with traces of folk, pop, and bluegrass embedded within. Like a spectrum from Sylvan Esso to Simon & Garfunkel, Overcoats creates music deeply rooted in emotion, and guided by the search for its innate expression through voice and electronics. Songs that began as bedroom creations flourished into rich but restrained productions, with careful craft illuminating the nuance of Overcoats' unique songwriting.

On YOUNG, Overcoats creates music of mutual empowerment, at once synthetic and organic, wistful and uplifting, triumphant and subdued.

"The Fog" is a bay of lonesome, oscillating synth chords: its boundaries defined by the reflection of echoic finger snaps. Elion and Mitchell find clarity through a lovers' haze, their stoic verses liberated by resounding chorus: Freedom is when I'm without you / When the fog lifts I'm the only one I see.

"Leave The Light On" layers looped and transposed vocals over thumping two-step 808 and punctuations of club-ready brass. Showing the true breadth of influence, songs like "Little Memory" and "Smaller Than My Mother" are laced with gospel and jazz, strands woven in with Vernhes' and Autre Ne Veut's natural touch.

YOUNG has a clear, vertical ambience that lets the topical vibration of the music shine through. This is the arrival of a magical collaboration: a rare unification of two hearts under one imagination. Elion and Mitchell are bound by absolute belief in one another, and the confidence that every creation is compelled by shared purpose.

Like its arc of transformation, from "Father" to album closer "Mother," Overcoats captures the notion that we are the intersections of our parents' greatest fantasies and biggest follies. YOUNG is a startlingly wise portrayal of these complexities: of love, on inspiration, and the legacy of family.

Overcoats is the New York-based female duo of Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell. Their debut album YOUNG captures a sound rich in minimalism and melody: songs of connection and tension, on the depths of love and challenges of family. 

Overcoats' music draws strength from vulnerability, finding light through darkness, and the catharsis of simple, honest songwriting. YOUNG is about a transformation: the passage into womanhood, sung through the shared experience of two best friends.

On their first single "Hold Me Close," Hana and JJ's melodies are purity in unison, providing two distinct but entwined perspectives on the complexity of love. In their words, "the song is about finding solace in the present when the future and past seem impossible to understand. It's about loneliness and disillusionment that we can feel in relationships, and how we must persevere anyway in hopes of finding the beauty in love."

Elion and Mitchell were drawn to each other when they first met in 2011, finding connection in their diverse love of music and an immediate closeness that verges on sisterhood. Their meeting was transformative emotionally as well as creatively. Both halves of Overcoats describe the first time hearing each other sing as an epiphany: the harmony of their voices leading to personal, individual discovery. This bond forms the foundation of Overcoats, and it fills the ecosystem of YOUNG with its stunning sound and sentiment.

Album opener "Father" unfurls in clouds of three-dimensional sound: a cathedral of echo over waves of delay and the din of incidental noise. There is a rare resonance in Overcoats evident from these opening tones: between their separate (but inseparable) voices, flawlessly intuitive performance, and sublime musical production. Their harmonies slide from brassy to silken with elegant ease, floating over muted rhythms wrapped in lush swells of synthesizers.

YOUNG was written by Overcoats and co-produced by Nicolas Vernhes (Daughter, The War On Drugs, Dirty Projectors, Cass McCombs) and experimental R&B artist Autre Ne Veut, with additional production from Myles Avery and mixing by Ben Baptie (Lapsley, Lianne La Havas, Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson).

Their palette is stealth and simple electronics, with traces of folk, pop, and bluegrass embedded within. Like a spectrum from Sylvan Esso to Simon & Garfunkel, Overcoats creates music deeply rooted in emotion, and guided by the search for its innate expression through voice and electronics. Songs that began as bedroom creations flourished into rich but restrained productions, with careful craft illuminating the nuance of Overcoats' unique songwriting.

On YOUNG, Overcoats creates music of mutual empowerment, at once synthetic and organic, wistful and uplifting, triumphant and subdued.

"The Fog" is a bay of lonesome, oscillating synth chords: its boundaries defined by the reflection of echoic finger snaps. Elion and Mitchell find clarity through a lovers' haze, their stoic verses liberated by resounding chorus: Freedom is when I'm without you / When the fog lifts I'm the only one I see.

"Leave The Light On" layers looped and transposed vocals over thumping two-step 808 and punctuations of club-ready brass. Showing the true breadth of influence, songs like "Little Memory" and "Smaller Than My Mother" are laced with gospel and jazz, strands woven in with Vernhes' and Autre Ne Veut's natural touch.

YOUNG has a clear, vertical ambience that lets the topical vibration of the music shine through. This is the arrival of a magical collaboration: a rare unification of two hearts under one imagination. Elion and Mitchell are bound by absolute belief in one another, and the confidence that every creation is compelled by shared purpose.

Like its arc of transformation, from "Father" to album closer "Mother," Overcoats captures the notion that we are the intersections of our parents' greatest fantasies and biggest follies. YOUNG is a startlingly wise portrayal of these complexities: of love, on inspiration, and the legacy of family.

(Late Show) The Lovely Cur / Cape Cod / Gary Smith

Join Club Cafe for an evening of local music featuring The Lovely Cur, Cape Cod and Gary Smith. Tickets only $7.

Join Club Cafe for an evening of local music featuring The Lovely Cur, Cape Cod and Gary Smith. Tickets only $7.

The Family Crest with Special Guest Trevor Sensor

From the onset, Liam McCormick, the mastermind behind The Family Crest, knew that Beneath the Brine was an audacious project. But so is The Family Crest itself.

The brainchild of McCormick, The Family Crest was started as a recording project in 2009 with co-founder John Seeterlin (bass). "We were in another band and had become disillusioned about what that band had become about," explains McCormick. "Everyone wanted to be rock stars at the expense of the music. John and I were actually planning on leaving music at that point because we wanted something that in ten years we could be proud of."

Instead of leaving music, they set out to reinvent how it could be created, starting The Family Crest. "We always liked making music with people -- getting a bunch of people together and singing. So we put ads everywhere," says McCormick. "We posted on Craigslist and emailed old friends from school." The outcome was greater than the original duo imagined, with 80 people credited on the first recording the band produced. From that a band emerged, at the urging of the guest musicians, who wanted to hear the songs performed live. "We've worked with a lot of conservatory students as well as people who just sing in the shower," McCormick adds. "It became a lot about giving these people a chance to express themselves without being locked into a commitment."

Now a seven-piece core band, boasting over 400 "Extended Family" members, The Family Crest will release Beneath the Brine in February 2014 on Tender Loving Empire. Just with its previous recordings, the San Francisco band set out to capture a plethora of instruments -- including bassoon, vibraphone and French horn -- in unique places, such as living rooms, churches and cafes across the West Coast.

Following on the heels of last summer's The Headwinds EP (which earned fans in WXPN and Paste), Beneath the Brine shows that McCormick's ambition was well placed. The expansive breadth of arrangements - from dark, classical romanticism ("Beneath the Brine") to horn-laden sounds akin to the Roaring 20s ("Howl") -- are complemented by the incredible range of McCormick's voice. Beneath the Brine also showcases The Family Crest's ability to infuse pop into complex arrangements, with songs like "Love Don't Go" and "The World." The album is a sweeping soundscape befitting the oceanic theme of the title and what SPIN notes as "ambition wide enough to swallow you whole."

It has also proven The Family Crest's belief that anyone can be musical when given the opportunity. "We live in a very disconnected age," notes Laura Bergmann (flute/keys), "so it's a really special experience to have a recording session in a cafe that's open to the public and to sing next to people you've never met before, doing something together that's tangible and very meaningful."

"When I listen to the record," adds McCormick, "it's like listening to the last two years of my life. All of my best friends that I've met are in one place, together."

From the onset, Liam McCormick, the mastermind behind The Family Crest, knew that Beneath the Brine was an audacious project. But so is The Family Crest itself.

The brainchild of McCormick, The Family Crest was started as a recording project in 2009 with co-founder John Seeterlin (bass). "We were in another band and had become disillusioned about what that band had become about," explains McCormick. "Everyone wanted to be rock stars at the expense of the music. John and I were actually planning on leaving music at that point because we wanted something that in ten years we could be proud of."

Instead of leaving music, they set out to reinvent how it could be created, starting The Family Crest. "We always liked making music with people -- getting a bunch of people together and singing. So we put ads everywhere," says McCormick. "We posted on Craigslist and emailed old friends from school." The outcome was greater than the original duo imagined, with 80 people credited on the first recording the band produced. From that a band emerged, at the urging of the guest musicians, who wanted to hear the songs performed live. "We've worked with a lot of conservatory students as well as people who just sing in the shower," McCormick adds. "It became a lot about giving these people a chance to express themselves without being locked into a commitment."

Now a seven-piece core band, boasting over 400 "Extended Family" members, The Family Crest will release Beneath the Brine in February 2014 on Tender Loving Empire. Just with its previous recordings, the San Francisco band set out to capture a plethora of instruments -- including bassoon, vibraphone and French horn -- in unique places, such as living rooms, churches and cafes across the West Coast.

Following on the heels of last summer's The Headwinds EP (which earned fans in WXPN and Paste), Beneath the Brine shows that McCormick's ambition was well placed. The expansive breadth of arrangements - from dark, classical romanticism ("Beneath the Brine") to horn-laden sounds akin to the Roaring 20s ("Howl") -- are complemented by the incredible range of McCormick's voice. Beneath the Brine also showcases The Family Crest's ability to infuse pop into complex arrangements, with songs like "Love Don't Go" and "The World." The album is a sweeping soundscape befitting the oceanic theme of the title and what SPIN notes as "ambition wide enough to swallow you whole."

It has also proven The Family Crest's belief that anyone can be musical when given the opportunity. "We live in a very disconnected age," notes Laura Bergmann (flute/keys), "so it's a really special experience to have a recording session in a cafe that's open to the public and to sing next to people you've never met before, doing something together that's tangible and very meaningful."

"When I listen to the record," adds McCormick, "it's like listening to the last two years of my life. All of my best friends that I've met are in one place, together."

Andy Shauf with Special Guest Julia Jacklin

Andy Shauf is a storyteller, a singer of heartbreak and regrets, isolation and loneliness, reflecting his prairie surroundings in Regina, Canada. Meticulously written over four years, Shauf’s The Bearer of Bad News is a warm and welcoming album, bathed in weathered piano, dampened drums, softly-strummed guitars and clarinet, which lends its unique timbre to frequently brighten – or hauntingly underscore – the songs’ darker undercurrents. Fans of Elliott Smith, Nick Drake and Harry Nilsson, take note.

Andy Shauf is a storyteller, a singer of heartbreak and regrets, isolation and loneliness, reflecting his prairie surroundings in Regina, Canada. Meticulously written over four years, Shauf’s The Bearer of Bad News is a warm and welcoming album, bathed in weathered piano, dampened drums, softly-strummed guitars and clarinet, which lends its unique timbre to frequently brighten – or hauntingly underscore – the songs’ darker undercurrents. Fans of Elliott Smith, Nick Drake and Harry Nilsson, take note.

Leif Vollebekk - Presented by Opus One & 91.3 WYEP

"A friend told me it was Saturn returns and that may be true. I was about to turn thirty and I knew that if I didn’t change direction I was going to end up exactly where I was headed."

At the end of Leif Vollebekk’s twenties, his own songs didn’t sound right. He had spent an entire year on the road, playing almost 100 shows, but every night his favourite moment came only right at the end, covering a song by Ray Charles or Townes Van Zandt. Every time he got home from tour he took a hot shower and lay still under a window, listening to Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, feeling saved, wondering why his own music didn’t give him that. Why the songs he had written himself always felt like so much work.

He booked himself a secret show. One night only at a Montreal dive bar – not to play his own songs but other people’s. Leif found a rhythm section and they rehearsed once. Then midnight unspooled. Leif called it the most fun he had ever had playing music: Ray Charles and Tom Waits over a locked groove; Bob Dylan and Kendrick Lamar over a slow pulse. The light was dark blue and purple.

It was time, Leif understood, to make a dark blue and purple record. An album of locked groove and slow pulse, heavy as a fever. And the lesson he learned from singing all those other people’s songs was that none of those other artists seemed worried about anything except laying down their own souls, flat out. “I used to think, ‘This will be kinda like a Neil Young song,’ ‘This will be kinda like a Bob Dylan song,’” he recalled. “I kinda ran out of people to imitate. And then there was just me.”

His first new song came to him on his bicycle. He wasn’t thinking, wasn’t trying, but the rhythm, the chords, the melody – it all just fluttered up. He tried at first to let it go: the song was wasn’t meticulous enough, it wasn’t studied or conceived. The next morning it still came back to him, incontestable. “I told myself, ‘You’re never saying ‘no’ to a song ever again,’” Leif said. “I realized I had been saying ‘no’ to a lot of songs, over the years.” Twin Solitude is what happened when Leif stopped saying no. The songs started coming so fast: fully formed, impossible. “Vancouver Time” took 15 minutes; “Telluride” took less. It was as if the songs were waiting for him. Instead of obsessing about the details of recording, “I just showed up to the studio and went, ‘Let’s see what happens.’”

What happened was, they got it: “Big Sky Country” and its patient, coasting tranquility, “Into the Ether”, which rides to reverie with the Brooklyn string duo Chargaux. There’s “East of Eden”, an interpolation of Gillian Welch, which doesn’t seem like it ever ought to end. For a beautiful album, Twin Solitude is deceptively brave, filled with unexpected refrains. “When the cards get stuck together / so hard to pull them apart,” Leif sings, “I think your face is showing.” Then: “Ain’t the first time that it’s snowing.”

Yet in its heart, above all, Twin Solitude is a gesture back to Leif’s long nights under a pink moon, when a record was the only thing that could keep him company. Besides a wink to Hugh MacLennan’s novel Two Solitudes, this is the unlonely loneliness of the album’s title. “It isn’t a record I made for other people – it’s the one I made for myself,” Leif said. “It’s the album I wish I could have put on.”

Listen to it in a rental car in cold weather, with the windows all rolled up. Listen to it laying by an open window. Listen to it all the way through, alone. “By the time the last notes die away, all that’s left should be you,” Leif told me. “And I’ll be somewhere else. And that’s Twin Solitude.”

"A friend told me it was Saturn returns and that may be true. I was about to turn thirty and I knew that if I didn’t change direction I was going to end up exactly where I was headed."

At the end of Leif Vollebekk’s twenties, his own songs didn’t sound right. He had spent an entire year on the road, playing almost 100 shows, but every night his favourite moment came only right at the end, covering a song by Ray Charles or Townes Van Zandt. Every time he got home from tour he took a hot shower and lay still under a window, listening to Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, feeling saved, wondering why his own music didn’t give him that. Why the songs he had written himself always felt like so much work.

He booked himself a secret show. One night only at a Montreal dive bar – not to play his own songs but other people’s. Leif found a rhythm section and they rehearsed once. Then midnight unspooled. Leif called it the most fun he had ever had playing music: Ray Charles and Tom Waits over a locked groove; Bob Dylan and Kendrick Lamar over a slow pulse. The light was dark blue and purple.

It was time, Leif understood, to make a dark blue and purple record. An album of locked groove and slow pulse, heavy as a fever. And the lesson he learned from singing all those other people’s songs was that none of those other artists seemed worried about anything except laying down their own souls, flat out. “I used to think, ‘This will be kinda like a Neil Young song,’ ‘This will be kinda like a Bob Dylan song,’” he recalled. “I kinda ran out of people to imitate. And then there was just me.”

His first new song came to him on his bicycle. He wasn’t thinking, wasn’t trying, but the rhythm, the chords, the melody – it all just fluttered up. He tried at first to let it go: the song was wasn’t meticulous enough, it wasn’t studied or conceived. The next morning it still came back to him, incontestable. “I told myself, ‘You’re never saying ‘no’ to a song ever again,’” Leif said. “I realized I had been saying ‘no’ to a lot of songs, over the years.” Twin Solitude is what happened when Leif stopped saying no. The songs started coming so fast: fully formed, impossible. “Vancouver Time” took 15 minutes; “Telluride” took less. It was as if the songs were waiting for him. Instead of obsessing about the details of recording, “I just showed up to the studio and went, ‘Let’s see what happens.’”

What happened was, they got it: “Big Sky Country” and its patient, coasting tranquility, “Into the Ether”, which rides to reverie with the Brooklyn string duo Chargaux. There’s “East of Eden”, an interpolation of Gillian Welch, which doesn’t seem like it ever ought to end. For a beautiful album, Twin Solitude is deceptively brave, filled with unexpected refrains. “When the cards get stuck together / so hard to pull them apart,” Leif sings, “I think your face is showing.” Then: “Ain’t the first time that it’s snowing.”

Yet in its heart, above all, Twin Solitude is a gesture back to Leif’s long nights under a pink moon, when a record was the only thing that could keep him company. Besides a wink to Hugh MacLennan’s novel Two Solitudes, this is the unlonely loneliness of the album’s title. “It isn’t a record I made for other people – it’s the one I made for myself,” Leif said. “It’s the album I wish I could have put on.”

Listen to it in a rental car in cold weather, with the windows all rolled up. Listen to it laying by an open window. Listen to it all the way through, alone. “By the time the last notes die away, all that’s left should be you,” Leif told me. “And I’ll be somewhere else. And that’s Twin Solitude.”

Angaleena Presley with Special Guest Joe Zelek

Wrangled
 
If "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"/"Butterfield 8"-era Elizabeth Taylor and David Lynch had a baby, and Wanda Jackson was her babysitter, the result would be Angaleena Presley. Strong as jalapeno juice, capable of standing down a twister and a drunk redneck on a tilt, she maintains a reverence for songs, unvarnished truth, be who you are dignity and a brazen sense of "oh, yeah."
           
With Wrangled, the ebony haired songwriter from Beauty, Kentucky ups the bar on her critically acclaimed American Middle Class by sharpening her focus, widening her range and finding metaphors and doppelgangers for feminism, the music business and the unseen underclass who's just trying to get by. But as thrilling as that is, Wrangled also opens a portal into a new kind of country: textural, trippy, frozen in time, urgent, tranquil, but then raw punk and rural.
           
"You have three minutes to change someone's mood or life," begins the woman who co-produced this record with multi-instrumentalist Oran Thornton, pragmatically. "You really only have so many words, and you have to make them count. My heart is open all the time, and I have a sensory disorder: I see things, hear things, feel things most people miss - and it all goes in there.
 
"When I make my work tapes, I'm trying to capture those moods. I'll come up with percussion parts banging on a skillet, just to give it a vibe, I shook a pill bottle on a track, built a loop that's a cigarette lighter. You start there, and then hire geniuses and tell ‘em there are no rules? It's like unicorns pooping rainbows everywhere - and guzzling beer!"

Certainly plugging in Keith Gattis ("those guitar parts are like the devil coming out of the bowels of Hell; he plays wrong notes on purpose"), Mark Knopfler vet Glenn Whorf on bass, steel player Russ Pahl (deemed "a sonic innovator" by Premiere Guitar), Eric Church drummer Craig Wright, with help from bluegrass stalwart Shawn Camp, featured vocalist Morgane Stapleton, John Prine bassist David Jacques and former Wallflower drummer Fred Eltringham is a good place to start.

For while Presley's lyrics are carefully turned narratives of tiny movies, she knows her words are only as potent as the musicians supporting her songs.
 
Laughing, she admits, "I'm 40. I've got nothing to lose. I've been in every nook and cranny of this business, and I want to be in this business the way that I am. There's a vision and a sound that I have in my head, and that's what I'm going to get… When we started mixing, I said, ‘I want this mixed like a Tom Petty record.' When the mixes came in, there was a guitar way over here (on the left) and there was steel over there (the other side of the sonicscape)."
           
It makes perfect sense. With a sultry, sulky sensuousness, Presley conjures an unsentimental vision of how one becomes warped by the expectations fed to youngsters in the record business with  "Dreams Don't Come True," written and sung with her fellow Pistol Annies Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe; the loping yearn to fit in "Outlaw," or the cocktail elegance satiny stroll of preacher seduction "Only Blood" that turns into a classic Scotts-Irish death ballad.  For Presley, it's not just about shining a light on inconvenient truths, it's also about music that's as sophisticated as the nuances in the stories she tells.
           
Whether it's putting a fake mean girl on notice in the sugary acoustic shuffle "Bless My Heart," with the greatest Dollyism - "I know you ain't that blonde, so don't you play dumb with me" - this side of Parton, confessing "I'd rather eat dirt than bake another prize-winning cherry pie" in "Wrangled" or reminding herself things are often less dire than they seem on the Guy Clark co-written and recitated "Cheer Up Little Darling:" with the admonition "It feels like a tight spot, but it's just a loose end," Presley exudes a grace that matches every situation. Even the blaring wawa inflected snarl of "Country," with a solid free rap by Yelawolf, rings with clarity and truth.
           
"What I do is open doors and make it okay to start conversations about hard things," offers the woman who loves Etta James, Nina Simone and Loretta Lynn. "My son is in jail, or on pills… My daughter's a meth whore… Because it happens, and it's a shame, but it's not a shame. It's life."
           
Raised in a town with one stop light, where coal put food on the table and clothes on the backs of the locals, the girl "groomed to be popular" by her teacher mother watched opportunity fade, work dry up and people recede. She understands how things can go wrong for good people - and she brings it
           
With the young knocked up girl realizing nobody wants "the mother to be" in the sleek take on "High School," or the feathery drift that captures weightlessness of chasing the dream at the margins of "Groundswell," Wrangled looks at tight places with kindness and brutal clarity. Even the high pressure "marry up" mother in the lurching, serrated guitar stomp "Mama I Tried" is given brutality and hilarity as Presley confesses, "I painted up my face like some rodeo clown/I choked on cheap perfume as I spread myself around/ I strutted my stuff at every juke joint in town."
           
"I try not to pigeonhole myself: I want this (record) to be music someone at Berklee would listen to, or my father sitting on the front porch, eating squirrel gravy. And no, I didn't set out to be this edgy, renegade person, but I don't know how to do it the other way. And I've spent hours rotting away in writers' appointments getting at nothing - that's not for me."
           
Taking her cues from firebrands Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton who co-wrote "Only Blood," Jason Isbell and even Brandy Clark, Presley would rather protect the music and write songs that genuinely matter. Maybe in part from her standing Wednesday writing appointment with Guy Clark - "He made me a better person, a person who didn't tolerate bullshit" - or maybe it's just that she's lived life without a safety net and understands.
           
"I've been divorced, broke and didn't know what to do. I've stared that down, thought, ‘Well, I could just knock that iron over, burn it all down and catch the house on fire.' But songs save my life all the time, both hearing and writing them - and so I wrote, ‘Housewife's Prayer,' and I just kept going."
           
Keeping going is a key for Presley, who co-wrote the resiliency kiss-off and anthem that swings like the Rat Pack in full rut "Good Girl Down" with Wanda Jackson. Somewhere between early Peggy Lee and sultry Keely Smith, it's equal parts distilling Jackson's experience, honoring her own struggles and admitting that the love of the music is bigger than boys or business or anything else.
           
"It's interesting to hear her perspective of when she came up, and what stands out is nothing's really changed that much about being fair. But here's a woman who changed everything, who dated Elvis Presley, and she's still going!  When we wrote, she was all done up; she apologized for being late, saying ‘I took a little tumble coming off the plane…' And up close, you could see she'd really had a fall. When I suggested maybe we postpone, she said, ‘You can't keep a good girl down…' and I knew we had to write that."
           
Real life. In songs … with players who want to explore the possibilities. For the woman who identifies as a feminist, it's a pretty simple equation. "I'm a feminist who fights with love, a kill ‘em with kindness person - but also a kill ‘em with honesty. The most powerful weapon we have is honesty and vulnerability: showing your weakness and your truth is the greatest weapon we have."
           
For Wrangled, a dark record buoyed by great levity, Presley has done just that. All of the women are smart and savvy, real about their emotions and willing to lay it out there. After being told by several Music Row business types they "love what you do," but her songs were "unpitchable" for today's country, the feisty Betty Page evoker doubled down.
           
"This isn't about girl power, but everyone having a fair chance," she decries. "I want a world where some little girl can wake up and still be Loretta Lynn. There are dudes in my hometown and (what's on country radio) those are their anthems. I wouldn't take that away from them for anything. But there are those girls in those town who need anthems, truth, songs they can live in - and where are they going to get them?"
           
Presley pauses for a moment, leans in, then conspiratorially winks. "You know, women're only getting better and stronger. And all of this? It's only making us grow."
           
Like her songs, with a smile, Angaleena Presley has laid it all down. Nothing more needs to be said. All we have to do is listen.

Wrangled
 
If "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"/"Butterfield 8"-era Elizabeth Taylor and David Lynch had a baby, and Wanda Jackson was her babysitter, the result would be Angaleena Presley. Strong as jalapeno juice, capable of standing down a twister and a drunk redneck on a tilt, she maintains a reverence for songs, unvarnished truth, be who you are dignity and a brazen sense of "oh, yeah."
           
With Wrangled, the ebony haired songwriter from Beauty, Kentucky ups the bar on her critically acclaimed American Middle Class by sharpening her focus, widening her range and finding metaphors and doppelgangers for feminism, the music business and the unseen underclass who's just trying to get by. But as thrilling as that is, Wrangled also opens a portal into a new kind of country: textural, trippy, frozen in time, urgent, tranquil, but then raw punk and rural.
           
"You have three minutes to change someone's mood or life," begins the woman who co-produced this record with multi-instrumentalist Oran Thornton, pragmatically. "You really only have so many words, and you have to make them count. My heart is open all the time, and I have a sensory disorder: I see things, hear things, feel things most people miss - and it all goes in there.
 
"When I make my work tapes, I'm trying to capture those moods. I'll come up with percussion parts banging on a skillet, just to give it a vibe, I shook a pill bottle on a track, built a loop that's a cigarette lighter. You start there, and then hire geniuses and tell ‘em there are no rules? It's like unicorns pooping rainbows everywhere - and guzzling beer!"

Certainly plugging in Keith Gattis ("those guitar parts are like the devil coming out of the bowels of Hell; he plays wrong notes on purpose"), Mark Knopfler vet Glenn Whorf on bass, steel player Russ Pahl (deemed "a sonic innovator" by Premiere Guitar), Eric Church drummer Craig Wright, with help from bluegrass stalwart Shawn Camp, featured vocalist Morgane Stapleton, John Prine bassist David Jacques and former Wallflower drummer Fred Eltringham is a good place to start.

For while Presley's lyrics are carefully turned narratives of tiny movies, she knows her words are only as potent as the musicians supporting her songs.
 
Laughing, she admits, "I'm 40. I've got nothing to lose. I've been in every nook and cranny of this business, and I want to be in this business the way that I am. There's a vision and a sound that I have in my head, and that's what I'm going to get… When we started mixing, I said, ‘I want this mixed like a Tom Petty record.' When the mixes came in, there was a guitar way over here (on the left) and there was steel over there (the other side of the sonicscape)."
           
It makes perfect sense. With a sultry, sulky sensuousness, Presley conjures an unsentimental vision of how one becomes warped by the expectations fed to youngsters in the record business with  "Dreams Don't Come True," written and sung with her fellow Pistol Annies Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe; the loping yearn to fit in "Outlaw," or the cocktail elegance satiny stroll of preacher seduction "Only Blood" that turns into a classic Scotts-Irish death ballad.  For Presley, it's not just about shining a light on inconvenient truths, it's also about music that's as sophisticated as the nuances in the stories she tells.
           
Whether it's putting a fake mean girl on notice in the sugary acoustic shuffle "Bless My Heart," with the greatest Dollyism - "I know you ain't that blonde, so don't you play dumb with me" - this side of Parton, confessing "I'd rather eat dirt than bake another prize-winning cherry pie" in "Wrangled" or reminding herself things are often less dire than they seem on the Guy Clark co-written and recitated "Cheer Up Little Darling:" with the admonition "It feels like a tight spot, but it's just a loose end," Presley exudes a grace that matches every situation. Even the blaring wawa inflected snarl of "Country," with a solid free rap by Yelawolf, rings with clarity and truth.
           
"What I do is open doors and make it okay to start conversations about hard things," offers the woman who loves Etta James, Nina Simone and Loretta Lynn. "My son is in jail, or on pills… My daughter's a meth whore… Because it happens, and it's a shame, but it's not a shame. It's life."
           
Raised in a town with one stop light, where coal put food on the table and clothes on the backs of the locals, the girl "groomed to be popular" by her teacher mother watched opportunity fade, work dry up and people recede. She understands how things can go wrong for good people - and she brings it
           
With the young knocked up girl realizing nobody wants "the mother to be" in the sleek take on "High School," or the feathery drift that captures weightlessness of chasing the dream at the margins of "Groundswell," Wrangled looks at tight places with kindness and brutal clarity. Even the high pressure "marry up" mother in the lurching, serrated guitar stomp "Mama I Tried" is given brutality and hilarity as Presley confesses, "I painted up my face like some rodeo clown/I choked on cheap perfume as I spread myself around/ I strutted my stuff at every juke joint in town."
           
"I try not to pigeonhole myself: I want this (record) to be music someone at Berklee would listen to, or my father sitting on the front porch, eating squirrel gravy. And no, I didn't set out to be this edgy, renegade person, but I don't know how to do it the other way. And I've spent hours rotting away in writers' appointments getting at nothing - that's not for me."
           
Taking her cues from firebrands Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton who co-wrote "Only Blood," Jason Isbell and even Brandy Clark, Presley would rather protect the music and write songs that genuinely matter. Maybe in part from her standing Wednesday writing appointment with Guy Clark - "He made me a better person, a person who didn't tolerate bullshit" - or maybe it's just that she's lived life without a safety net and understands.
           
"I've been divorced, broke and didn't know what to do. I've stared that down, thought, ‘Well, I could just knock that iron over, burn it all down and catch the house on fire.' But songs save my life all the time, both hearing and writing them - and so I wrote, ‘Housewife's Prayer,' and I just kept going."
           
Keeping going is a key for Presley, who co-wrote the resiliency kiss-off and anthem that swings like the Rat Pack in full rut "Good Girl Down" with Wanda Jackson. Somewhere between early Peggy Lee and sultry Keely Smith, it's equal parts distilling Jackson's experience, honoring her own struggles and admitting that the love of the music is bigger than boys or business or anything else.
           
"It's interesting to hear her perspective of when she came up, and what stands out is nothing's really changed that much about being fair. But here's a woman who changed everything, who dated Elvis Presley, and she's still going!  When we wrote, she was all done up; she apologized for being late, saying ‘I took a little tumble coming off the plane…' And up close, you could see she'd really had a fall. When I suggested maybe we postpone, she said, ‘You can't keep a good girl down…' and I knew we had to write that."
           
Real life. In songs … with players who want to explore the possibilities. For the woman who identifies as a feminist, it's a pretty simple equation. "I'm a feminist who fights with love, a kill ‘em with kindness person - but also a kill ‘em with honesty. The most powerful weapon we have is honesty and vulnerability: showing your weakness and your truth is the greatest weapon we have."
           
For Wrangled, a dark record buoyed by great levity, Presley has done just that. All of the women are smart and savvy, real about their emotions and willing to lay it out there. After being told by several Music Row business types they "love what you do," but her songs were "unpitchable" for today's country, the feisty Betty Page evoker doubled down.
           
"This isn't about girl power, but everyone having a fair chance," she decries. "I want a world where some little girl can wake up and still be Loretta Lynn. There are dudes in my hometown and (what's on country radio) those are their anthems. I wouldn't take that away from them for anything. But there are those girls in those town who need anthems, truth, songs they can live in - and where are they going to get them?"
           
Presley pauses for a moment, leans in, then conspiratorially winks. "You know, women're only getting better and stronger. And all of this? It's only making us grow."
           
Like her songs, with a smile, Angaleena Presley has laid it all down. Nothing more needs to be said. All we have to do is listen.

SZLACHETKA with Special Guest Jack's Shadow

SZLACHETKA (pronounced SLA-HET-KA) draws your gaze back to a simpler time when music was less about stylized production and more about its experiential nature. His songwriting finds inspiration in the threads that connect us, weaving a tapestry of familiar moments that pay homage to the past while leaning into a future that promises both wonder and grace. Now based in Nashville, SZLACHETKA grew up in New England and began his career as the frontman for the acclaimed roots-rock band, The Northstar Session, with whom he recorded five albums and appeared in the second season of TV’s “Parenthood”. After nearly a decade of touring he left the band and struck out on his own, releasing his first solo album in 2014, “Waits for a Storm to Find”.
SZLACHETKA is a prolific songwriter who relishes the interplay of collaborative writing and the serendipitous connections that materialize on the road. Over the last year he has written with Jamie Kent, Jamie Wyatt, Austin Hanks (ZZ Top), Kevin Savigar (Rod Stewart, Kelsea Ballerini), Paul Freeman, Jeff Silbar (Wind Beneath My Wings), Wyatt Durrette (Zac Brown Band), Scott Underwood (TRAIN), Katelyn Clampett, Matt Brown, and Andrew Leahey.
SZLACHETKA’s sophomore album, “Heart of my Hometown” is set for release in the summer of 2017.

SZLACHETKA (pronounced SLA-HET-KA) draws your gaze back to a simpler time when music was less about stylized production and more about its experiential nature. His songwriting finds inspiration in the threads that connect us, weaving a tapestry of familiar moments that pay homage to the past while leaning into a future that promises both wonder and grace. Now based in Nashville, SZLACHETKA grew up in New England and began his career as the frontman for the acclaimed roots-rock band, The Northstar Session, with whom he recorded five albums and appeared in the second season of TV’s “Parenthood”. After nearly a decade of touring he left the band and struck out on his own, releasing his first solo album in 2014, “Waits for a Storm to Find”.
SZLACHETKA is a prolific songwriter who relishes the interplay of collaborative writing and the serendipitous connections that materialize on the road. Over the last year he has written with Jamie Kent, Jamie Wyatt, Austin Hanks (ZZ Top), Kevin Savigar (Rod Stewart, Kelsea Ballerini), Paul Freeman, Jeff Silbar (Wind Beneath My Wings), Wyatt Durrette (Zac Brown Band), Scott Underwood (TRAIN), Katelyn Clampett, Matt Brown, and Andrew Leahey.
SZLACHETKA’s sophomore album, “Heart of my Hometown” is set for release in the summer of 2017.

@clubcafelive

56-58 South 12th Street, Pittsburgh PA 15203 (In Pittsburgh’s Historic South Side)