In the 1990’s the North Carolina-based band The Connells experienced international success with their single, “’74-‘75”, an acoustic ballad from their album Ring, which reached #1 in Europe and was certified Gold in Germany, Norway, and Sweden. Now Bicycle Records is set to release Stone Cold Yesterday: The Best of The Connells, a sixteen track greatest hits package that will hit shelves September 9th. This best of collection encompasses music from albums released through the years 1987-1998 including One Simple Word, Ring, Fun & Games, Still Life, Boylan Heights, Weird Food & Devastation and New Boy where The Connells worked with producers such as Mitch Easter (R.E.M./Let’s Active), Hugh Jones (Echo & the Bunnymen) and Lou Giordano (Bob Mould) to Tim Harper (Whiskeytown) and Jim Scott (Wilco).
Incorporating varied genres from roots rock, jangly pop and Celtic sounds (“Scotty’s Lament”) into their introspective, thoughtful tunes, the Connells today would certainly find a home in Americana. Catchy riffs, earnest vocals and insightful, often moody and sometimes complicated lyrics are at the forefront on tracks including radio hits “Something To Say” and “Stone Cold Yesterday” as well as fan favorites “One Simple Word, “Fun & Games” and “Uninspired.”
The album also includes the driving “Slackjawed,” the harmony-filled “Carry My Picture,” and the insightful “Still Life,” “Still life has its virtues ‘cause everything in motion leaves or its just left behind” before closing with (one of my personal all-time favorite songs ever) “New Boy” a song where the triad of lyrics, delivery and melody combine perfectly to deliver those all-important emotions.
Stone Cold Yesterday: The Best of The Connells is a must for any Connell's fan, but will serve as the perfect introduction to a new audience who, after giving it a spin, will quickly become new fans.
Thirty-plus years later, The Connells continue to tour and record. For more information, visit their official website.
On September 9th, singer-songwriter Elise Davis will release her debut album, The Token, an intense and personal look at a woman who experiences the inner turmoil of wavering between wanting to remain independent while also yearning for real love and commitment. Produced by Sam Kassirer, The Token begins with the title track (which leaves one wondering where being “the token” is more pronounced), and is followed by thirteen additional songs that are replete with no holds barred, gritty stories simmering with a dark undercurrent, smoldering sensuality and a sense of vulnerability and questioning.
In its narratives, The Token is home to fleshed out, yet complicated females dealing with the realities of love and relationships. There’s the waitress in “Benefits” who looks on – with skepticism or jealousy or a mix of both - a couple in love noting that she prefers beer drinking, pot smoking and having a friend with benefits who shows up with a “whiskey and a smile…and that’s just my style” even though she’s warned that “this kind of love is surely venomous;” the “Pretty Girl” whose almost joyous, retro melody carries along the story of one woman advising another on how she helped her by her indiscretions with her man, “It’s not a game that you lost/It’s just a bullet that you dodged/A train wreck that you got off;” and an ex-couple in the stripped back “I Like It” whose undeniable chemistry sparks when they meet at a party.
The dichotomy of wanting freedom and commitment is sensed again in the doo-wop flavored “I Just Want Your Love,” as well as in “Penny” who has zero qualms about engaging in a relationship that has no strings attached; while the opposite is found in “Motel Room” where she sadly aches for more than just the occasional rendezvous, “I’ll pretend the way it doesn’t bother me/At least tonight your heart is beating a little faster with my touch,” and “Diamond Days” as she second guesses leaving a relationship, “I chose to take my time/She chose to take his name/Someday I might wish I would have done the same” ultimately deciding, “Who am I kidding?”
Davis embraces true happiness in “Finally” (the only lighthearted song on the record) where she realizes what’s in front of her and paints a blissful picture of birds singing, coffee brewing and dust dancing in the sunlight before returning to embodying the femme fatale in the guitar heavy “Make The Kill” where she conquers another man to get over an ex (and maybe have a little revenge). But it’s perhaps the final two songs where Davis is the most vulnerable. A stunningly impactful and hopeful piano ballad, “A Love I Can Rely On” relates the story of a new relationship where she lays out exactly what she wants, “It’s new, but it’s something I wanna get used to/So if u want every little piece of me/Honey you should know exactly what I need…I want a love built to last not a fire that freezes when the flowers fall and the cold winds blow” while the closer, “I Go To Bars and Get Drunk” finds her reverting back to the bar, drinking in whiskey, stale cigarettes, and judgment. And although she doesn’t mind being alone, one gets the feeling that she does mind being lonely in love…and it hurts. “Sometimes I think you can think about it too much/So I just go to bars and get drunk.”
The Token is a painstakingly honest look at the female struggles intertwining love, relationships, and commitment that, imbued with a myriad of emotions, make for a record that is all at once completely raw, real and relatable.
Originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but now calling Nashville home, singer-songwriter Katie Buxton picked up the guitar and wrote her first song at age twelve and since then has focused on songwriting and music. In 2012 she was chosen as a finalist in the Sing for the Trees Songwriting Contest with her song “The World Moves By” and in 2013, Katie attended the Berklee Five Week Performance Program where she was a finalist in the Songwriting Showcase and received mentorship from Melissa Ferrick and Sally Taylor, daughter of James Taylor.
Katie’s four-song debut EP, From Songbirds, was released in March, 2016 and now, Buxton is readying a new, heartfelt single. "You Flew."
"You Flew" is about loving someone who, for whatever reason, is not ready to love or be loved and how the person left behind must learn to let go. Buxton’s airy vocals, accompanied by a sparse arrangement and an ethereal, atmospheric melody, spark a swell of emotions that touch deeply and intensely.
"I was a building, you were a bird
I was rooted and hoped you were
I wanted steady, I wanted you
But I loved deeper than you asked me to
So you flew"
Seattle based band Woodland West blend Americana, Bluegrass and more on their debut album, Devil to Pay, which was released on August 19th. The five-piece - Chuck Dunklin [electric and acoustic tenor guitar], Amir Reoven [percussion, vocals], Dan Rogers [bass, vocals], Stephanie Ward [vocals, acoustic guitar, violin], and Luke Yanz [vocals, mandolin, keyboards] - trade vocals and riffs on an album that is eclectic, yet entirely cohesive.
Beginning with “Mother Mountain,” Woodland West transports you to a place of clean air, greenery and scenic mountaintops with Ward’s sweet and airy vocals perfectly complimented by Yanz’s skillfully played mandolin. Led by Yanz's soulful vocals, “Rosalie” is an out-and-out infectious, bluesy, psychedelic jam; while the travelling percussive beat of “Late at Night” accompanies the tale of being separated from one you love, and the glorious instrumental “Caribbean Kiss” embraces an island flavor.
The album is rounded out by the (at times) gothic feel of the rollicking “Desert Rose,” the heavyhearted title track, and the absolutely beautiful story of two lovers in “A Little Bit Wild.”
While the songs on Devil to Pay all clock in over four minutes (and sometimes extend to ten), you’ll never find yourself wondering “when will this be over.” Carried along by heavenly harmonies, thoughtful lyrics, buoyant melodies and accomplished instrumentation, Woodland West’s Devil to Pay just might be your new favorite music discovery.
Lauren Adams began her musical career in 1978 and has since opened for Rita Coolidge and Leon Russell, among others; in addition, she is the founder of the ten-year long music series “The Americana Music Circle” in Los Angeles. On August 19th, the multi-instrumentalist released her latest album, Somewhere Else, a collection that brims with emotion in it’s twelve well-told narratives.
The album begins with the uplifting, harmony-filled “It Takes What It Takes” where she sings, “I won’t give into hate/I’ll fight for love’s sake.” That’s followed by the bluegrass-inspired “Somewhere Else” which, replete with mandolin and upright bass, deals with the realities of a break-up; the folk tale of “Henry (From Saginaw, MI), and “Heavy, Heavy Heart” where Adams’ warm-hearted, gentle vocals deliver the lyrics intimately, striking a chord.
The varied emotions that accompany relationships can be found on a triad of additional tunes: loneliness and yearning permeate the ballad “Miss You,” accepting the end of a relationship is the focus of “The Shoe Fits” while the waltz and accordion of “Oh Marie” tell the tale of a woman who “leads with her heart” and ends up getting hurt.
The album is rounded out by the rocking, playful duet “We Try Harder,” the 70’s feel of “Bayview Drive,” which details the passage of a family over time, and Adams’ rendition of the John Anderson classic, “Seminole Wind.”
If you’re looking for honest, emotional storytelling paired with lovingly sung lyrics and precisely played melodies that leave a mark, the only place to go is Somewhere Else.
In Americana music, songs of protest and cultural commentary are nothing new. There is a long and storied history of troubadours lending their voices to such songs. With California-based singer-songwriter M. Lockwood Porter’s third album, How To Dream Again, we have another fine example of what it is to question the promise of The American Dream, examine our prejudices and appreciate the importance of an open heart and an open mind.
The album is sonically diverse, drawing on rock and acoustic influences, and lyrically cohesive in its message. Each of the ten songs featured on the album could stand alone but together they offer a comprehensive look at where we have been as a society, where we have to go and a way to get there.
In “American Dream Denied” and “The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be,” the driving rock drives home the frustration and anger felt by many left behind when working hard and playing by the rules doesn’t necessarily insure success. The slower, acoustic instrumentation found on “Reach The Top” echoes the sadness that can come when we realize that the materialism we embrace comes at a heavy personal cost. The mid-tempo “Sad/Satisfied” cautions against giving in to the opposite, yet equal, dangers of cynicism and complacency.
There is a fine ballad in “Joe Hill’s Dream” which tells the true story of Joe Hill, a Swedish-American laborer and activist born in 1879 and becoming a hero to his union, immigrants and all laborers through his protest music. A moving commentary on the stain of racism that still haunts us is presented on “Charleston” which focuses on the June 2015 shooting at Emmanuel Church.
Through all this, the album does offer some possible remedies to the sadness and frustration in the power of love that can keep us from closing our minds and hearts. “Bright Star” and “Strong Enough” speak of romantic love and, commitment. Love in the broader contexts of spirituality and compassion is embraced in the album’s final song, “Dream Again.”
Porter’s message in How To Dream Again certainly may be controversial and will definitely make some listeners uncomfortable but that is the point of any body of work dealing in social commentary. Music that makes you think can be a good thing and that’s what you’ll find with this album.
To find out more, visit www.mlockwoodporter.com
Singer-songwriter Ethan Fogus will release his new record, Southbound, on October 14th. The follow-up to 2013's A Door Swings Back, the new project contains ten tracks, two of which we have had the chance to preview: “I’ll See You When I See You” and "Windowbox Flowers.”
Opening with snare drum and harmonica, “I’ll See You When I See You,” which was co-written with Matthew Pendrick (Slow Parade), hits the shuffling melody sweet spot in a heartfelt story about the end of a relationship. “Packing up/Moving on/Sarah, if you don’t want me around/Then I guess I’ll see you when I see you.”
A poignant, well-crafted duet, “Windowbox Flowers,” finds Fogus, with the vocal assist of Meg Brooks (The Brookes), pondering maintaining a relationship full of difficulties. A quiet, effective, and impactful track highlighted by gentle guitar and soft piano, the song explores a relationship where they “pay our rent/but dollars and cents aren’t enough” further questioning “you asked me to wait, how much longer do I wait?”
If “I’ll See You When I See You” and “Windowbox Flowers” are a glimpse of what is to come, then I, for one, eagerly await Southbound.
The Southbound album release will be held on October 13th at The Red Light Cafe in Atlanta.
It’s been three years since powerhouse vocalist Sarah Simmons wowed audiences on the NBC reality show, The Voice impressing the judges and America with her five-octave range before ultimately landing in the final eight. Now Simmons emerges with her first full-length album, Freedom. Released on August 26th, the twelve track collection highlights Simmons ability to adapt to multiple genres of music, demonstrating an impressive range that can deliver grit like Bonnie Raitt, reach heavenly heights like Sarah McLachlan or hit hard like Amy Lee of Evanescence.
Produced by Marshall Altman (Amy Grant, Eric Paslay) at House of Blues studio, Freedom allows Sarah’s unique voice to shine on songs that are emotional, honest and intense. The album opens, appropriately, with the edgy title track before segueing into the ethereal “War In My Mind” and the soulful explosion of “Honey I’m Fine” about hiding emotions from the world.
The album showcases Simmons versatility (vocal and melodic) on songs like the lovely piano ballads “One More Day” and “Let It Go,” the pulsating dance track “All We Want” and the gorgeous and sprawling “Stone.” Freedom is rounded out by the haunting “Bridges,” “Your Next Lover” which wishes an ex-lover well “as crazy as it sounds,” and “Staring At The Sun” a moving song written for Sean Reeder, a close the friend who tragically passed.
Simmons has said that the songs on the album are “about truly allowing yourself to be free from people, places and things that are toxic to your life. It’s about loving other people for who they are and loving yourself — and truly walking into freedom in life and being your complete self.” They’re sentiments that she expresses well, imparting encouragement and optimism; so allow yourself the freedom to experience it, learn from it...and enjoy it.
While BJ Barham’s songs for American Aquarium are always personal, genuine, and connect with the listener, those traits have never been felt more strongly than on his solo effort Rockingham, which was released on August 19th. Written in the aftermath of the Bataclan attacks in France (except for three previous AA songs), when Barham and American Aquarium were only a couple of hours away in Belgium, Rockingham paints a picture of home - North Carolina - in substantive snapshots of the lives of those who reside there.
Beginning with “American Tobacco Company” Barham’s unmistakable voice, that delivers weariness and sadness so well, conveys the story of his grandfather who worked in a tobacco factory and the difficulty of making ends meet and achieving the American dream, “…. Now I sit here on a line and watch these big machines crush my dreams…I work my fingers to the bone just to have a little something I can call my own.”
In “Rockingham,” Barham reflects on the town where he was raised, on “broken promises and glory days,” and the undeniable pull to return while in “Reidsville,” he narrates with bleak resignation the story of a young couple whose life may not have turned out the way they planned, remaining in a small town that sealed their fate.
Supported by a beautifully understated piano, “Madeline” the stirring story of a father speaking to a young daughter, will leave anyone that has a child in a swirl of emotions. “I wish I could tell you that the world is a safe place, but I have seen the darkest side of people/but when the day they put u in my arms my arms got lost in yours, I learned that we are taught not born with evil.” But it’s on “Unfortunate Kind” – a contender for song of the year if there ever was – where that impact is felt ten-fold. With Barham, who almost whispers the lyrics, and a guitar, the song tells the story of a marriage, 39 years, that (perhaps initially surprisingly) goes the distance until one slips away through dementia.
Detailing the plight of a farmer who is having difficulties as nothing grows, “O Lover” narrates how he takes matters into his own hands to support his family. “You can’t call yourself a farmer just because you plant a seed/You must bargain with the dirt, your hands must blister they must bleed/Only then will you find beauty not in the bloom, but in the weeds.” Building on that theme is the closer, “Water In The Well,” a stark look at the life of a farmer, his concerns, fear of failure and worries for the future. “The bottom doesn’t look so bad when the bottoms all you know/So what will I do when all else fails…only time will tell.”
Teeming with the dark realism of lost hope, small towns and shattered dreams, Rockingham’s authentic stories are absolutely felt by the listener (whether or not you are a farmer, parent or elder), cementing Barham’s place as a songwriter with an ability to capture depth and emotion that is on par with few others.
Led by Nottingham singer-songwriter Phil Smeeton, Magic Car - which also consists of Hazel Atkinson on vocals, Martyn West on guitar, Doug Ebling on drums and John Thompson on bass – will release their fourth album, Meteorites, on August 26th.
On Meteorites, the band puts forth a distinctive Americana sound throughout twelve tales concerning everything from road trips, love, and even a dominatrix. The spritely mandolin sets the scene of sunshine and a gentle seaside breeze on “Fritz’s Beach” while a water theme continues, but with more of an island feel on “One Eyed Jack’s.” Smeeton and Co. take a folk approach with “Only In America” while Atkinson’s vocals turn sultry on the unique “Manwhippa!” The album also includes the harmonica-laced sorrowful tale of the “King Of Pool,” the story of infidelity on “Someone Else’s Wife” and the wonderfully bass-heavy “Working Woman.” Meteorites closes with the playfully written “The Bends” in which he issues a warning to a woman that he is “a funny fish baby, I swim on his own” and the piano-laden, bluesy “Good Man Gone Down” about a man who is “lost and out of reach.”
Interesting stories paired with pleasant melodies make Meteorites worth checking out. Give it a listen.