Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Sharing a Six Pack and Galaxing with Wild Ponies

Wild Ponies (web | Twitter) recently released Galax, their third full release as a band and fifth including two albums under Doug and Telisha Williams' own names.

For Galax, Doug and Telisha opted to leave the studio and temporarily relo to a barn that belonged to Doug's late grandparents in Galax, Virginia. The duo rallied a mix of musicians - Fats Kaplin, Will Kimbrough, Neilson Hubbard and Audrey Spillman from Nashville - and a handful of legendary, local players.

After a few run-throughs, the makeshift, all star band spent the next few days laying down tracks - without playback. They recorded in the morning as well as evening to embrace the varying sounds of the barn and chirps and croaks from neighboring critters.

The resulting effort includes original music, traditional songs, a reprise from a previous Wild Ponies album, and a cover of a Jon Byrd song. Each song - though complementary to the whole - includes a variety of instrumentation: pedal steel, banjo, fiddle, upright bass, Telecaster, etc.

Galax opens with the up-tempo, bluegrass'ish Sally Ann. The song is rich with fiddle, Telisha's upright bass, harmonies from all, and echoes of the barn.

The second song, Tower and the Wheel, was included as a fantastic, original track on the band's previous album, Radiant. But it's even more striking on Galax with the varied musical arrangement and recording location.

Hearts and Bones takes the tempo down a healthy notch. Telisha's vocals are spot on. Depending on the song, she can range from sultry to funny to biting. But she can also be truly deep in meaning and rich in delivery - including on songs such as Hearts and Bones.

As the album heads for the homestretch, the band covers songwriter Jon Byrd's Jackknife, a song that emanates influences of Kristofferson If you haven't already done so, check out Byrd's discography if you want legit, contemporary country music.

On the doorstep of Americanafest in Nashville in September, Doug and Telisha recently took time to share a six pack with me about their new album.

TMC: Though East Nashville is now your home, your roots are in Virginia. When did you brainstorm the idea to record an album in Doug’s grandparent’s barn?
D&T: We actually went there right before we recorded Radiant to get away and finish up some of the songs for that record. Nobody lives at the farmhouse anymore. There’s no cell signal, no internet – the perfect place to escape and focus for a few days. Once we were there and settled in, we were struck with the idea to do this record, and it felt so urgent. We started making calls and working towards it as soon as we left the farm!
TMC: Did you schedule your slate of songs to be played and recorded during specific times of the day based on expected weather, critter sounds, moods of the musicians, etc.? Or did you jump around and experiment with the ones you planned to tackle?
D&T: I’d like to say it was that coordinated, but we were really just throwing the arrangements around and playing music together. There were specific songs that we wanted specific instruments on, but we didn’t consider what the weather or wild life were doing. We weren’t listening back as we recorded, so we didn’t really know that we were capturing all of that until we got back to Nashville. We did decide to save Hearts and Bones until it was dark and a little cooler outside, and we opened up all the doors and tried to get a little cross-breeze in the shed, which is why the night sounds are so prominent on that one.
TMC: Which songs, if any, did you record during multiple times of the day so that you could compare versions later?
Basically, we’d present a song to the group, play through some ideas on the arrangement, then hit record. Once the arrangements were worked out, we’d only play the song 2 or 3 times. We all knew when we had the take. It’s a feeling – not perfection. The only time that we did a song at different times, is the last song we recorded, Hearts and Bones. We did one or two takes and it was just so hot. We decided to take a break, head down to the New River Trail, splash around in Chestnut Creek, and wait for the sun to go down. Doug’s mom made an amazing meal, we lit some candles in mason jars, left the shed doors open, and gave it another swing. Right before we recorded, Neilson looked at Telisha and said “You told me before we came here that this shed was your favorite place in the world to sing. Think about why, and sing that.” Of course, she completely bawled her way through that take and it was completely unusable. But we knew we had the right vibe- just thinking about that lyric “Every heart beats and breaks,” and the people who weren’t with us anymore, but who are still so much a part of that place and a part of our musical lives. My grandparents would’ve been so proud. Anyway- we did it one more time and that’s the one that made it on the record.

TMC: You included Tower and the Wheel on your last album, Radiant. How did you revisit the song for Galax knowing the recording setting was going to be much different?
D&T: We wrote that song on that trip to the farm that inspired this whole project. We had to include it on the record. That Catawba Tree is just as much a part of our lives there as any family member. She’s been providing, in one way or another for a lot of years, and she deserved a spot on the record. Also, since the instrumentation was going to be so different, we thought revisiting the song could be interesting.
TMC: Y’all wrapped up the recording and returned home without listening to tape. How confident were you that a solid set of recordings had been captured? Or were you a bit nervous or anxious about a solid effort that may not have yielded what you’d hoped for?
D&T: As we were loading up the cars to head home, Doug put his hand on Neilson’s shoulder and said, “If we get home and there’s nothing on those hard drives or they get stolen on the way, it doesn’t matter. What we just experienced is enough.” It’s true. Playing music with those people in that space in that moment was enough. It was so fun and full and real and special. We were pretty stoked when we got to hear what was captured, though.
TMC: You obviously were excited about recording this type of album – and were focused on recording while also enjoying the moment of the sessions. But did you also allow yourselves to brainstorm or absorb ideas for possible projects down the road?
D&T: We do usually have our next project swirling around in our heads, but we don’t this time, and it feels okay. Galax is coming out just over a year after Radiant, so it feels good to just enjoy this time. We’re really excited to get out and tour this record in the US, UK, Holland and Germany. I know we’ll be inspired along the way, but for now we’re just going to enjoy what we made in the shed.
After several appearances during the week of Americanafest, Wild Ponies' official Galax release show is Monday, September 18th at the Family Wash in East Nashville. From there, they hit the road - hopefully in a town near you. Get this album, go see 'em play, meet them, enjoy their genuine niceness, and buy 'em a PBR or shot of bourbon.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Sharing a Six Pack with Walter Salas-Humara

Americana music is difficult to define. Few agree on it's origins either. Dylan? Woody Guthrie? Gram Parsons? Townes? Who knows. Who cares!

Regardless of those debates - a couple of albums from the genre hooked me in the late 80s. One was by a band called The Silos. I remember buying the CD at Turtles Music in Chattanooga, TN though I don't recall a specific review that led me to it. I soon backtracked one release to Cuba and then began buying their future releases as well as solo albums by Walter Salas-Humara, the band's guitarist, lyricist, and vocalist. (web | Twitter | Instagram)

After "the bird" release, the band's music went well away from what many would refer to as Americana. Yet the sound was unique to Salas-Humara, and I continued my enjoyment of each release.

Because of Walter's multiple connections, his name has led me to additional bands and songwriters over the years such as:
  • Michael Hall (web | Twitter) - former frontman of the Wild Seeds and long-time writer for Texas Monthly magazine. The two of them plus Alejandro Escovedo released a couple of albums under the name The Setters.
  • Tom Freund (web | Twitter) - a former member of The Silos and now a solo artist and talented bassist.
  • Jonathan Rundman (web | Twitter) - like me, a fan of The Silos. But he went a step further and worked with him on his fantastic album Public Library.
  • The Vulgar Boatmen (Twitter) - a band of which Walter was a member in his college days. He later produced their album You And Your Sister.
While Walter has toured for years - solo and with multiple line-ups of The Silos - he has only played Nashville a handful of times over his three decades as a performer. Fortunately for us middle Tennesseans, Walter is returning after about a long absence. He along with Will Kimbrough will play The Basement on Wednesday, December 14.

Walter was kind enough to share a six pack of Q&A with me in advance of the show.

TMC: Like many, my first intro to The Silos was "the bird album" on RCA. I then got Cuba and found an address for the Record Collect label - which turned out to be you! A mail exchange between us delivered me Lagartija on CD and the Boatmen's You And Your Sister on cassette (both of which I still have).

I'm pretty sure I've got every Silos and WSH release since then as well as a handful of releases from folks who've worked with you. What parts of the country - or maybe the world - do you tend to find the most fervent fans of your music?
WSH: It's pretty evenly spread out across the US and Europe primarily. Of course, the places where I performed most often I'm still able to reach the most people. I have great fans all over and wish it was possible for me to play in all countries of the world. I'm a very lucky guy to be able to travel and sing my songs.
TMC: 2016 saw the release of two albums - Explodes & Disappears as a solo effort and Work: Part One, a retrospective of sorts with new, acoustic versions of songs by The Silos from over the years. Did either bring you bit more excitement or joy vs. the other? New songs as opposed to new approaches to Silos classics?
WSH: These are two completely different animals. It's always exciting recording new material, especially when one has such a great cast of characters participating in the project. It's also exciting to get another crack at recording songs that you've been performing for many, many years. These songs change over time and have different meaning, particularly since I mostly perform acoustic these days. The Work: Part One album is produced by Richard Brotherton, an old great friend and very talented musician, so it was a joy to be able to work with him.
TMC: Though you've played Nashville a few times over the ages, the city hasn't been a regular stop for The Silos or you individually. It's hard to believe the last time you were here was about a decade ago. What is it about Nashville that has drawn you back this time?
WSH: When Drew Glackin passed away in 2008, I took a long hiatus from performing. I'm really just getting back into it over the last couple years, making new albums and getting out there as a solo artist. Nashville is such an important music city, so I'm psyched to be back and performing there again. I hear Nashville has changed a lot, and I have a day off. So I'm excited to check it out.
TMC: You've worked with other bands and songwriters over your career such as The Vulgar Boatmen (Twitter), Jonathan Rundman, Michael Hall, etc. Most of those collaborations had varying sounds and lyrical approaches. Was that a deliberate approach on your part - to work with distinct types of songwriters and bands? Or more just a case of randomness - "hey, we should do a record together!”?
WSH: Life just kind of happens and, and I connect with lots and lots of fellow musicians. Of course there are certain places that I return to over and over as the years go by and certain friends that I see more than others. Fortunately, nowadays it's so easy to communicate electronically and even collaborate that way. This has opened up a whole new world for me. Sometimes you just want to get a particular feeling or story down, and you sit by yourself and do it. You can take as much time as you want, work it over and over, and it's very rewarding when it comes out well. The experience of collaborating with others is very different, it can be like work or it can be like play, and sometimes you click and sometimes you don't. But when things go right, the sum is very often better than the parts, and the song goes in directions that one person could never have taken it.
 TMC: The Silos has had a number of different line-ups over the years, but it was always still a band. The last release was Florizona almost six years ago. Is The Silos still a thing? Or at this stage of your life, career and music's business model, is it primarily just WSH going forward? Do you consciously write songs that seem to fit you as a solo performer vs. those that may become a Silos song?
WSH: The Silos are still a thing, We still perform every once a while, mostly in New York City and the occasional festival. I've been performing mostly solo lately, and it's been really liberating both musically and logistically. I have so many great musician friends in so many different cities and towns, and when they are available I get to work with them. For example, in Nashville, the great Will Kimbrough will be accompanying me on guitar. These different collaborations make every concert unique and is a very exciting way to tour.
TMC: You've been at this for wow - *cough* 30 years. Longer I suppose considering any writing and performing you were doing in the your college days. Your base of operation has changed from Florida to New York City to Austin to Arizona and likely other places of which I have no clue. What have you enjoyed about having long stretches of 'home' in different places - yet also consistently riding the road?
WSH: I spent most of my adult life in New York City and have close family there. For me, it's the most exciting city in the world, the most diverse and the most culturally educated. There is always an adventure to be had anytime you leave your apartment. Today I live in Flagstaff near the Grand Canyon. The overwhelming beauty of the Southwest and of the West in general is something everyone, especially every American, should experience and enjoy. I’ve had so many incredible outdoor adventures since I've been living out here - camping, hiking, biking, rafting, skiing, etc - in the most amazing environments - mountains, deserts, rivers, lakes, geothermal areas, etc. In my life, I've been very lucky to experience a fascinating combination of the cultural and the natural. I feel that everyone should be aware and participate in both equally.
Though I've been a fan of Walter and the various iterations of The Silos, my opportunities to see them live have been scarce. I was fortunate to see The Silos around 2005-2006 at The Basement in Nashville. In October 2007, I happened to be in Philadelphia for work and fortunately caught Walter with Anders Parker at The Khyber.

That particular weeknight show was not well attended, but it remains special to me because of the echoes of Walter's songs in the building and because I got to hang a bit with Drew Glackin, at the time The Silos' bassist. Like me, Drew happened to be in town and simply came to enjoy the evening. We shared a beer, re-connected about the Nashville show, lamented the lack of folks at the show, and enjoyed the music. Sadly as Walter referenced, Glackin died just a few months later from a previously unknown heart condition.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Coal Men - Pushed To The Side

Dave Coleman and Dave Ray - two of East Nashville's nicest gentlemen - are also two of the most talented. Along with bassist Paul Slivka (another nice and talented guy by the way), the trio as The Coal Men (web | Twitter) will release their new album Pushed To The Side Friday, August 19th.

Though Dave squared have played together for over 15 years, I was introduced to their music only three years ago with the release of their previous album, 2013's Escalator. For Pushed To The Side, Coleman leveraged the talents (and niceness) of other East Nashville songwriters and friends including Stephen Simmons and Bob Delevante.

The title of the album's opener - Depreciate - may catch the eye of many CPAs. If so, they will likely be disappointed as the song has nothing to do with accounting. An aging, tour van serves as the metaphoric, contemplative vehicle. “It’s really about growing older gracefully and trying to find your self worth,” Coleman admits. “That’s part of what this band has tried to do. We’ve always been committed to being who we are and not chasing trends.”

I'm nearly ready for the junkyard
Counting down the miles
I can't remember all my travels
But boy I rode 'em out in style

All the luster and the shine
It's bound to chip and fade
The day you roll it off that line
You depreciate

Coleman co-wrote a trio of songs with West Virginia-to-Nashville transplant Jeff Wickland. The pair wrote three compelling "story" songs. In a pleasantly-paced 3/4 time, Willy Jett seems to be a hard-working coal man who enjoys partying harder. During one of his weekend adventures, the listener is introduced to Lilly, a one-night stand for Willy.

Willy came down from the coal camp
dreaming of a woman on his arm
And he found one down at the corner
Lilly took him with all of her charms

Two songs later, Lilly Hurst gets her own song. After perhaps getting dismissed as a rent-by-the-trick quickie for Willy, the listener learns of Lilly's much tougher ... and violent reality.

Nix came back one night needing his comfort and rest
He walked in on Lilly Hurst doing what she did best
Which man she was with, I guess I never did hear
Nix drew a line, left Lilly bleeding ear to ear

The trio of the Coleman-Wickland songs is completed with Travis. I've not heard The Coal Men play the song live yet - and I suppose it'll be a tough one to include in a set list. C'mon y'all, get up and dance! - nah, that's not gonna work with this one. Travis is one of the saddest, loneliest, searching, songs of loss you'll hear. I can only hope the song represents a truly fictional character rather than a true life experience of Coleman or Strickland. Unfortunately, however, Travis' story is an all too real one for many struggling young folks and those around them.

Travis lived across town by the railroad track
Just him and his dad and four dying walls of a shotgun shack
His mind was restless, it ached and it groaned
He walked this town, head hung down, most days he stayed stoned
He walked out alone deep into the black
Travis and a .38, the night he never came back

How could it happen to one of our own?
How did Travis live and die alone?

Though the aforementioned three songs are pretty deep, Speeding Like A Demon lightens the mood a lot. A co-write between Coleman and Simmons, Speeding is a fun, upbeat song about criss-crossing the state of Florida trying to make one gig after another. With Luther Perkins-ish guitar picking, I could imagine the song being championed by someone like Jerry Reed back in the day.

Pounding rain, orange cones, engine whines, the engine moans
Speeding like a demon to get to the show

Dotted lines, yellow lines, highway signs, and power lines
Speeding like a demon to get to the show

Coleman's guitar strumming and Ray's continual rim shot back beat give Faithless Eyes a bit of a Tell Tale Heart vibe - albeit with a false relationship commitment rather than a murder at the core. Careful when listening to this one though as to not self-incriminate!

Faithless eyes do not cry tears
Faithless eyes just mark the years
Of all the burdens brought on by lustful desires

Faithless eyes are not blind
They all see things that remind
The man that sees through them his love cast aside

The next-to-last song is Stones River. Co-written with Delevante, the structure of it reminds me a bit of Tennessee from the previous album. For me personally, Stones River hits even closer to home. Tennessee has been my life-long home. I grew up specifically in the suburb of Donelson - east of East Nashville. The Stones River separates Donelson from Hermitage to the east.

  • I permanently separated from several friends in junior high who lived on the other side of the river and were zoned to a different high school.
  • The Stones feeds Percy Priest Lake - a site of many fun times during my teen years.
  • The river is fed by McCrory Creek - a creek that ran behind the small Methodist church I attended as a kid. I spent many summer camp weeks splashing in that creek - waters that carried our sweat and laughter to the Stones.

The Singer (from Louisville) closes the album. Through the previous 11 songs of the album, Coleman's seemingly effortless guitar work, Ray's varied and generally subtle percussion, and Slivka's steady bass lines are ever present. But their consistency allows you to center in on the lyrics - to ponder and contemplate. A couple of seconds after Stones River ends, guitar feedback, Slivka's bass riff, and Ray's snare rim clicks throat punch you to realize it's time to wake up. The song is completely different musically than all others on the album yet tells another story.

The song features a local singer getting regularly heckled by his audience and is based loosely on a Tommy Womack short story. It's also possible this lyric from Womack's incredible Alpha Male and the Canine Mystery Blood may be embodied in Womack's story and Singer:

I'm singing all the songs I've sang for years
And when it's a band gigging, it's rocking
And when it's solo, the people talking while I'm singing
Make me depressed, you think I could take a hint

With Singer being so different from the rest of the album and slotted as the closing song, I'll still state the obvious pun by noting it was ... pushed to the side ... as far as it could go.

From start to finish - the eight songs noted here and another four - are compelling listens and make Pushed To The Side a must-get.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Tommy Womack - NAMASTE

I can say unequivocally, without hesitation, with favorable bias, and with complete transparency that I am a Tommy Womack fan (web | Twitter). For dang near 30 years, I've listened to his music repeatedly - first as a member of Government Cheese, then (and now) as a solo artist, and in his other bands such as The Bis-Quits and Daddy.

Tommy's songs aren't generally ones you'll crank at an outdoor, tailgate, societal type of soiree. Though if you and your pals are long-time Cheese fans, you can probably still rock Camping On Acid and Fish Stick Day for the masses. Otherwise, I generally advise folks to absorb Tommy's lyrics like a topical ointment - frequent application with slow but predictable and steady results.

In the Cheese days, I drank a lot of beer, laughed a ton, tried to make a move on the gal I eventually married, and talked throughout the shows. In Womack's post-Cheese career, I don't do any of those - at least to an excess.

Those who know me best know I like to talk. A lot. I'm not the best listener - never have been, likely never will be. Yet for whatever reason, Tommy Womack can alter my natural inclinations. I listen to his lyrics intently.
  • I do still laugh along with lyrics to many of his songs. 
  • Some of his songs have made me - and still do - tear up a bit. (Don't believe me? Listen to Willie Perdue 3x, and we'll meet over an uncut onion to see who is really real.) 
  • Some have made me say with relief Whew, glad I've met him, but I'm damn glad I live MY life.
  • Some have dropped my jaw and made me ask How in the world man...., and long to give him a comforting hug.
Womack's latest album NAMASTE delivers a bit of all of the above. The album has a true arc of intensity. Near its beginning and end are are songs about hair and hot flashes. In the middle sits a couple of songs with messages as thick as a Carnegie Deli sammich.

After the album's opener Angel, Tommy jumps right in the humor with both feet with Combover Blues. I'm not there - yet - but many men of similar age will likely relate and commiserate.

As a complementary track, Womack again offers up a healthy dose of humor - this time for his female listeners. Hot Flash Woman is the second to last song on the album.

As Combover Blues ends, Womack takes the tone up a notch with two back-to-back serious but enjoyable songs: End of the Line and It's Been All Over Before. For those familiar with his discography, the two songs remind me a bit of If That's All There Is To See and She Likes To Talk from his previous albums, There, I Said It! and Stubborn, respectively.

NAMASTE then hits its apex of relevance at the middle of the album.

I first heard God Part 3 a couple of years ago during an in-the-round, songwriter's evening at a now-departed West Nashville bar. After I re-hinged my jaw, I've been looking forward since that evening to hearing it as an officially released song. On the recorded version, Womack is backed with a rhythm section with a sound similar to the Tennessee Three - an appropriate sound considering Johnny Cash was another songwriter and performer who tussled regularly with his beliefs.

Back around 2007, I was at The Basement on 8th Avenue in Nashville for Tommy's record release show of  There, I Said It. The album was (and still is) incredible. He'd just been featured on the cover of the Nashville Scene, he was sporting an out of the ordinary beard, his voice was hoarse ... and he hugged me as he came into the place that night. I recall greeting him and offering him a handshake with congrats. He gave me a hug instead. That was fine and all, but I did chuckle in surprise. Only recently did I - and others - learn he had hit a wall about a week earlier. Badly. Little did we know...

Out of that experience followed I Almost Died. Musically, the song is an enjoyable listen. The transparency and pain of the autobiographical lyrics, however, makes it very challenging to absorb.

After the listener is left clearing his or her throat, rubbing his knee caps and looking around the room, Tommy does return you to the comfort of your couch and a good laugh with When Country Singers Were Ugly and the aforementioned Hot Flash Woman.

He then combines humor and sarcasm in the shaken-AND-stirred, jazzy, spoken-word commentary Nashville. Not a lot to watch here - just listen, visualize Music City, cringe and laugh.

NAMASTE will be available far and wide for sale beginning this Friday, June 24, through just about every conceivable channel. I recommend it at whatever max metric floats your boat.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Sharing a Six Pack with Wild Ponies

About three years ago, Wild Ponies released their raucous and compelling Things That Used To Shine. Though the album's songs varied musically, the ever-present theme was one of candor. Dark memories from some very tough experiences needed to be shared, and the songwriting duo of Doug and Telisha Williams did so wonderfully.

With three more years of touring under their belts, Doug and Telisha have returned with a new, eleven-song release, Radiant, to be released May 13th. Though the scars remain from the experiences that shaped much of the previous album, Radiant is much broader - lyrically and musically.

Doug (Twitter) and Telisha (Twitter) are joined by drummer Megan Jane (web | Twitter) and famed instrumentalist Fats Kaplin for a richer, more expansive Wild Ponies sound.

D&T and I recently shared a six pack as I learned more about the new album, songwriting, touring, etc.

TMC: Y'all dealt with some really tough and extremely personal subject matter on Things That Used To Shine. Radiant is a much more diverse collection of songs. Did you write, compose, ponder and then decide on songs for a particular theme this time? And how did you go about the process of whittling down your options to the 11 you chose to include on the album?
Telisha: We did deal with some tough and personal stuff on our last record, and this record seems to be in a voice of someone who’s healing, who can see things a bit more clearly now. The voice of Radiant feels more daring, less afraid, but maybe that’s because that’s how I feel now. As for whittling down the songs, we actually recorded 13, and listened over and over for the ones that seemed to fit together sonically and thematically for this record. I love the 11 that we ended up with. Those other 2 will find a place in a future record I’m sure. 
Doug: Yeah, it definitely feels like we were writing this record more with two feet on the ground. As far as song selection, that’s always hard. Because you love them all. In the end it just came down to fitting the arc, and I think these 11 songs do that. This is probably the most “sonically” cohesive record we’ve ever made. 
TMC: The title track - Radiant - was written with a bit of help or inspiration by a young'un, right? Recap some of the backstory for the songwriting collaboration through your service to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
T: Yeah, we volunteer with Words and Music, the songwriting curriculum program from the CMHoF. We LOVE participating in this program, and we’re actually scheduled to do it again in May. Often, the songs that are submitted are about tacos, pizza, summer vacation, or Mine Craft. Two years ago, Mariah Moore, a sixth grader at the time, submitted a song with incredible imagery and a wondrous vibe. We loved it. We put music to her words and saved it for the end of the Words and Music Program day, but Mariah wasn’t there to hear it. We couldn’t let the song go though. We came home and worked on it a bit more, added a verse and shifted some words. We love this song, and we’re happy to have collaborated with such a fine young woman. We’ve since met Mariah and her family, and they like what we’ve done with the song. Mariah has continued to write and we’re excited about what her future holds as a creative individual!
D: Yeah, we’re pretty excited about this one. We love the CMHoF, it’s one of the things we always tell friends visiting town to check out. And the Words and Music program is great. And Mariah is a great kid. We were stunned by what she wrote, and I love the way the whole song turned out. 
Old Catalpa Tree

The old Catawba stands alone with gnarled arms from broken bones
hatchet scars she’s tucked beneath her bark
She’s seen houses built, barns fall down, children playing all around, 
as families lived and died in her front yard
Winter snows, summer nights, burning fires electric lights, 
machines that turn to rust and fall apart
She’s held a thousand horses tied, she’s sheltered brides and grooms who’ve cried, 
she’s watched as lovers made love beneath the stars

TMC: Tower and the Wheel just slays me. It's a very visual song. Was there a particular tree you spotted that spawned the song - either recently or days gone by?
T: Doug, this one’s yours, though I will say that I identify with that ol’ tree when I sing that song. She’s a bad ass, and she’s been through hell. She’s still standing, and in many ways, she’s more beautiful than ever.
D: Yeah, this is about a specific tree. It’s a tree on my grandfather's farm just outside of Galax, VA. Both of my grandparents are dead, and nobody lives there anymore. But my mom and her sister still own the farm. Telisha and I took some time off and went out there by ourselves - just to be there and write without any distractions. Anyway, that tree has been there for… I don’t even know. It’s huge. Massive. It shades the whole front of the driveway, and it’s a good place to pull up chairs in the gravel and sit and play music. It’s also got a ring around it where we used to tie the horses while we saddled them. And, I do remember throwing hatchets at her trunk when I was a kid. Terrible, but she survived it. We cut our wedding cake right under those branches, too, so even thought it’s a pretty metaphorical song, it’s got a lot of literal imagery in it. 
- - - - - - -
Following Tower and the Wheel - based on the Virginia tree so very personal to Doug - is Mom & Pop.  The song is a wistful goodbye to a locally owned store that's been in the family for years and multiple generations. "Progress" - big box stores, shopping without employee assistance, paying the least amount post for the cheapest crap one can import, etc. - has driven the store to extinction. My grandmother used to work at a local grocery store in Estill Springs, TN. I recall a time or two as a kid helping her price and stock canned goods during my summer visits.

Our family didn't own that little grocery. Nor did my grandmother work at Garner's very long. Yet my brief time working with her brings back neat memories. The store disappeared decades ago as larger chains moved to town and gas stations became convenience stores with self-serve pumps. In that respect, Mom & Pop really resonated with me somewhat on a personal level.
- - - - - - -

TMC: Unplug The Machine immediately brought to mind Billy Joel's We Didn't Start The Fire. It's a bit unique as well. Y'all stomp the gas pedal during it, and the song differs a great deal style-wise when compared to many of your stunning ballads. Is it fair to say it took a few attempts to get the lyrics right with all the different references and syllabic alignment (how'd ya like THAT phrase)?
T: Syllabic Alignment? Don’t go talking over my head, now. Yeah, it’s safe to say that I sang that song 156 times before recording it. I guess this is the song Billy Joel would’ve done if social media had been around. I love that soft, soulful, magical-voiced Robby Hecht is the cowriter on this one. You should hear the iPhone voice memo recording of Robby on the day we wrote it. We definitely punked it up a bit. 
D: Ha! Yeah, it took some work. The hard part was trying NOT to make a strong statement on any one of the things we’re mentioning in the song, but instead let the whole song be a statement itself. Does that make sense? We’re just all so damn connected that we miss the things around us… But, the world has been spinning for a long time. 

TMC: The last few years, you have toured the month of December with Amy Speace and Rod Picott. And the opening song, Born With A Broken Heart, was co-written with Amy. How has time in the van with them affected your approach to songwriting? And how do you think you may have influenced either of them?
T: I don’t think you can spend time with other people, especially other artists and not have some influence seep in. We’ve written with Speace before, and we like writing together. We have different approaches, which leads to an intriguing balance. I don’t know how we’ve influenced them. They’ve both been at this music career thing a little longer than us, so I think we still bring an enthusiasm to the game. 
D: Well, you know, I think we make them nicer people. Sometimes we all four hold hands while we ride down the road. It’s great. No, seriously - Amy and Rod are two of our best friends. They’re both amazing writers. No bullshit type writers. Every word counts. They don’t just keep saying the same thing over and over after they’ve said it once, you know? Like, they’re great with economy when they’re making a point in a song. I hope their ability to really get in and get out of a phrase in a song without belaboring it is wearing off on me. Basically, I like that they don’t just go on and on about something from verse to verse. Also, I like that they both write stirring, poignant, potent, honest songs without using too many words. 
TMC: Home Is Where The Road Goes may be my fave track. Y'all have been at this biz a few years now. How do you find that right balance between being road hounds and playing your songs vs. the comfort of collapsing onto your own couch in East Nashville?
T: We’re still looking for that balance, and maybe we always will be. You have to be intentional about it. We have to find time to be a couple and family. Taking Hazel on runs and having friends over when we’re home helps us to settle in, but home is where the road goes. 
D: It’s definitely tough. God, we love the road. But we also love being in East Nashville so much. Life isn’t easy for anybody. If one of the toughest things I’ve got to deal with is how much I love both home and on the road. I think I’m petty lucky. 

Wild Ponies spend a great deal of time on the road. So buy their new album, check out their previous releases, check the touring schedule on their website, go see a show, talk to them a bit before and after the gig, and share a PBR and/or a shot of fine bourbon with them. I believe you'll find all of that to be solid advice.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Sharing A Six Pack with Ashleigh Flynn

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing and then meeting Ashleigh Flynn (web|Twitter) in East Nashville. Her album, A Million Stars, knocked my socks off then and continues in rotation today.

Through many months and miles of touring, Ashleigh composed another gaggle of fantastic songs. She polished a bunch of 'em and compiled seven of them into a new, live EP.

Well no, not that kind of live.

Her new EP, The Low Arc of the Sun, is a truly rich collection of songs - lyrically and musically. It includes five new songs, an original song first released by Flynn over a decade ago, and a fun cover of Buck Owens' Tiger By the Tail. The album will be released April 19th.

I feel as if Flynn doesn't write her songs so much as she paints her lyrics. Her word choices are more than just a simple turn of a phrase. Many lines evoke one or more of the five senses.

Sweet grass and sage, heat of the day
- Swee Grass and Sage

A heart's made to rest
The sound of a bird singing high from her nest
- Sweet Grass and Sage

Leaves from trees cherry
Blossom petals falling
Like I am falling endlessly, endlessly
- Fallen

Wrapped around so heavy like a woolen blanket wet with rain
- Fallen

I put my boots on and a big downy coat
A hat, scarf and mittens of woven wool
We go out walking in our city turned white
Snowflakes dance under the evening street lights
- Winter Song

In the yard, yellow roses bloom

The EP includes very nice production work such that all instruments are noticeable in the mix - guitars, fiddle, bass, brushes on a snare, high hat, steel, etc. Striking the right balance is tough enough to do in a studio environment much less in a live recording setting.

I recently had the opportunity to reconnect with Ashleigh and share a six pack of Q&A about her new release.

TMC: The faint echos - both vocally and musically - resulting from the songs being recorded live are truly an enjoyable aspect of the EP. Was this a sound you were looking for in choosing to record and release a live album rather than one recorded in a studio?
Ashleigh: YES! I have found that working in a studio can at times be so tedious as to knock the soul out of a recording. I really like the energy that comes from playing live...although often times it makes it hard to capture a listenable performance - pitchy-ness, tempo, tuning issues all can hamper a live tracking of a song. But if you are able to harness that energy, I think it makes for a way. This is why I chose to make this EP live - in a nice room on a spiritual day. 
TMC: A Million Stars was a concept (ehh, thematic?) album about strong female characters - fictional and factual. A theme for Low Arc - if there is one - isn't nearly as obvious to me. Have I missed something? Ha. I'm curious if you had a collective idea for the EP as well the process of choosing from your songs the ones you opted to include.
Ashleigh: The Low Arc of the Sun is a nod to the winter solstice. The show at which the EP was recorded was based around this idea - and most of the songs have some reference to the passing of time (as least in my mind), so that's the thread. 
TMC: For all the knocks by many on Hee Haw (some...well, many of them deserved), the show really did have its relevance with appearances and performances by some great artists. My dad had the Best of Buck Owens: Vol. 2 on LP. Though I learned to dig Tiger By The Tail and Act Naturally through his playing of the album on his Zenith fold-down turntable, I most closely associate my listening of Buck with Hee Haw. What did the show mean to you growing up in Kentucky and then later with reflection after you settled in Oregon?
Ashleigh: I grew up watching Hee Haw and LOVED IT! Like clockwork on Saturday night, I would watch in my parents' room as my mom got ready to go out. I had no idea how misogynistic it was at times or how powerful and damaging the stereotypes that it celebrated were. I just loved the was like watching a cartoon. Regardless, I LOVE Buck Owens' songs and that Bakersfield sound. Like I say on the record, it was really part of the soundtrack to my childhood.  Tiger By the Tail made it onto the album because it is an utter joy to play. It tells the story of a woman who takes her fella and probably the world by storm, and he has to hang on for dear life! Sometimes I feel like time is a Tiger, and I'm clinging to its tail for dear life!
TMC: Your voice grabbed me from the time we first spoke in East Nashville a couple of years ago to your vocals on each song. I guess I'm at a loss as to how to describe it to folks without their hearing it themselves. Beyond your songwriting talents, what vocalists have shaped your approach to singing?
Ashleigh: Thank you! I grew up loving and listening to Motown and to my older sister's records, Fleetwood Mac - Rumors, Jackson Browne - Running on Empty, James Taylor - Sweet Baby James as well as my dad's Willie Nelson and bluegrass records. Then I became a Led and Deadhead in high school. In college out in Colorado, I went to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival for a bunch of years throughout the 90s. That's what really turned my sights to songwriting and singing. I'd hadn't ever sung before that. There I discovered Nanci Griffith, John Hiatt, Lyle Lovett, Shawn Colvin, Patty Griffin, Emmy Lou Harris. 

TMC: Barrow was previously released as the lead track on Chokecherry over a decade ago. For The Low Arc, you chose to slot it as the last song. Any particular reason for the book end slotting?
Ashleigh: The EP was recorded on the winter solstice of 2014 in front of an intimate audience at the Secret Society Ballroom in Portland, Oregon.  The effort included some fine local musicians. We wanted to honor the coming of the light with a curated song cycle.

Barrow was written about my quest to rekindle my late grandfather’s spirit (the only other working musician in my family who died of MS in Ireland) by following a footpath known as the Dingle Way to its most southwestern tip. After getting there, I had the good fortune to glimpse the summer solstice sunset as I pondered my bloodline and the passage of time as marked by the coming and going of the light.
TMC: The EP includes wonderful and strong musical arrangements and performances. Will you be in a position to tour with a band in support of the new release?
Ashleigh: I sure hope so! I really love the band. They are all outstanding musicians and great people. We are available for festivals and tours for sure - especially on the west coast. But you know, anything is possible under the right conditions.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

CXCW2016 - Jay Stott

Colorado's Jay Sott was a three-year vet of Couch By Couchwest. He has notched a fourth year on his gun with this year's submission to the micro-couch edition from his new record, Dirt & Headache.

The new album was officially released less than a week ago, and it's a good 'un. The opening to Jay's submission from it - Gotta Fool The Devil - reminds me a bit of another devil-titled song: Todd Snider's The Devil You Know.

Twitter: @jgstott
Instagram: jgstottmusic
Facebook: JGstott

Jay's performances from prior years of CXCW:

CXCW2015 - The River Don't Care
CXCW2014 - After The Flood and Stolen Cars
CXCW2013 - Remember When