Not that long ago, Austin, TX musicians Dawn and Hawkes were finalists in our Intel Superstars competition. Garnering comparisons to Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, this real-life couple turned folksy duo recently took to the The Voice to perform their cover of The Beatles‘ “I’ve Just Seen a Face.” Within seconds of their opening lines Adam Levine (Maroon 5) and Shakira had already expressed interest, with Levine saying that it was his “favorite performance [he’s] ever seen on The Voice.” In the end, they chose Levine. You can watch it all unfold below. (more…)
The sweet, timeless, close harmony awesomeness of the Everly Brothers is compelling bait for musicians. The material has been covered time and again by notable fans of the duo, whose string of hits in the ’50s and ’60s place them forever among the greats of early rock and roll and influenced generations of songwriters. Look no further than the classic “Love Hurts,” recorded first by the Everlys and hundreds of times since, including hit versions by Roy Orbison, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, Nazareth, and Joan Jett.
That bait was enough to bring together two unlikely bedfellows – Norah Jones and Green Day‘s Billy Joe Armstrong. The pair leave their trademark smooth jazz and pop-punk stylings, respectively, at the door to pick up where Parsons and Harris left off, delivering a tribute to an entire album, 1958’s Songs Our Daddy Taught Us.
Man, did we want to make fun of this. But we can’t. It’s too good, too faithful to the music and too full of the natural gifts of these two artists to be dismissed. Check out the first track being streamed by Warner Bros, along with a lengthy Q&A with Jones and Armstrong, over at Stereogum.
How else to explain the Nashville-based singer/songwriter/producer/musician Osenga’s “story” Leonard, The Lonely Astronaut, released on September 18. Perhaps the album’s theme was born of his love of science fiction and folk? Sure, rockers have explored this concept for years”David Bowie‘s 1973 album Aladdin Sane and Pink Floyd‘s 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon come immediately to mind”but it’s fairly new territory for folk. Credit Osenga’s eclectic taste in music for the turn.
“I was into grunge and then Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, all the shows on the big stages,” he said of his early influences. “The music was heartfelt but they could hide the fact that they were heartfelt by putting on a big show. When I moved to Nashville I became friends with folk artists and really got into Paul Simon, Emmylou Harris…..And I’m a huge literary nerd, too, so that helped make this.” (more…)
In the past two weeks, Little Big Town earned it’s first No. 1 hit for the single “Pontoon,” received a Single of the Year nomination from the County Music Association, and watched as its just-released album Tornado ttook the No. 1 spot on the Billboard country chart and No. 2 on the Top 200 chart with 112,758 albums sold in its first week.
It’s almost too easy to say the vocal quartet”known individually as Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook”is a prime example of the old adage “good things come to those who wait.” But consider that it has been 13 years since the band formed and it just hit No. 1. And even “Pontoon,” which was released in April, didn’t really soar until the song was performed in June at the CMT Awards.
In the middle of the swirl of excitement, Jimi Westbook took a bit of time out to talk about the band, its new music, and just where they will go from here. (more…)
It’s difficult to imagine a more poignant moment than when Ricky Skaggs and his band Kentucky Thunder played a moving rendition of “You Can’t Shake Jesus,” at the recent FloydFest in southern Virginia.
Although the 15,000-plus fans that packed each of the four days of the festival heard from a top-flight roster of artists including Emmylou Harris, Brandi Carlile, the Punch Brothers, Jackson Browne, and others, it was Skaggs’ virtuoso playing and heartfelt vocals that enticed concertgoers to stand in the searing sun and cheer, even as FloydFest wound down. Although Skaggs also teamed up with Bruce Hornsby for some power-packed songs, it’s difficult to imagine anything more lovely than the set Skaggs and his band played before meeting and greeting fans.
“It’s the most unusual gospel record I’ve ever done,” Skaggs told the crowd about Mosaic, the album from which “You Can’t Shake Jesus” was taken. “It’s not bluegrass and it’s not country, but you’ll like it. It’s good.”
Anyone wanting to sum up Skaggs’ career and appeal could likely turn to that line for reference. After making a name for himself as a major country star, he moved to bluegrass and even dabbled in other formats with special interest in gospel and Christian-themed songs. The result included 24 singles on Billboard’s Top 20, including 12 at #1 and an array of awards and honors, including 14 GRAMMY Awards, eight CMA Awards (including Entertainer of the Year), eight ACM Awards, two Dove Awards and nine ICM (Inspirational Country Music) Awards.
The headliners at this year’s FloydFest”including Alison Krauss & Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas, Ricky Skaggs, Brandi Carlile, and the Drive-By Truckers”were as amazing as you’d expect from internationally known and much-lauded musicians. But the real treat at the 11th Annual FloydFest, a four-day world music festival in Floyd, Virg., was arguably the array of up-and-coming artists certain to burst into prominence not too far into the future.
Amber Rubarth was clearly at the front of that line. Perhaps that’s not surprising when you consider she’s a fixture on New York’s indie scene and has won such accolades as the Grand Prize in NPR’s Mountain Stage New Song Contest. Her recent album A Common Case of Disappearing, which features duets with Jason Reeves and Jason Mraz, debuted at No. 13 on iTunes. Watching her spin her musical web of alt-country, folk tunes on various stages at FloydFest, one couldn’t help but be struck by her poise and warmth, which translated into her music.
“I was really shy growing up,” said Amberth when discussing her set. “Music gave me the outlet to be able to get out my feelings and get out things I wanted to say that were more personal, even if I couldn’t say it in a conversation. It’s really powerful for me. It’s a way of healing, releasing, really.”
Those feelings translated to the audience, too, when Rubarth joined the Ivy League Hillbillies set that had nine up-and-coming musicians on stage and when she played her own sets”including a brand new song “The Maiden and the Ram,” that got the audience dancing.
Madi Diaz sure doesn’t act like a musical prodigy when you chat with her about her music. Aren’t those who attend the famed School of Rock in Philadelphia and Boston’s Berklee College of Music supposed to be a bit, uh, pretentious? That sure doesn’t fit the personality of this polished and pleasant twenty-something woman with an infectious laugh whose self-depracating humor reflects some of the bubbly, uptempo songs on her brand-new album release Plastic Moon.
The only problem with the songs on the album”full of all kinds of bang-on-the-dashboard beats and thoughtful lyrics”is that they are so compelling that stalwarts of every format wants to claim it as their own. No matter. Let the pop and rock and alt-country folks battle it out”Diaz is really all about getting the music to the listeners no matter how they find her.
“It’s pop I think, and indie I think. And then [a business associate] mentioned CMT and I said ‘Sure that’s great. We’ll take it!'”said Diaz with a laugh. “It’s like the first time I’m sure people heard Led Zeppelin or Frank Zappa”and of course I’m not comparing myself to them”–but I am sure people didn’t know where they fit [in terms of musical format] either!”
And it’s clear that she cut her musical teeth on an array of songs that she just loved, no matter the format.
When I was a teenager, Madi Diaz recalled, my dad and I would hang out in the living room and learn songs by bands like the Eagles and Alice in Chains. We’d pick parts to harmonize and sing our way through them, over and over. My dad would get so excited when he figured out something by Yes or the Mamas and the Papas, then he’d let me pick my favorite Silverchair song or whatever I was obsessing over at the moment and we’d learn it together, too. It was the best.
She was well schooled to embrace it, too. At what one might call her father’s insistence, Diaz began to study piano at age five. Although she grew up amidst the Amish of Lancaster, PA, her parents kept feeding her a steady diet of music that ranged from Metallica to Sheryl Crow and The Beatles. It was that background, combined with her formal studies, that guided her toward her musical passion (songwriting) and her musical partner Kyle Ryan, a fellow Berklee student from Lincoln, NE.
“When I started writing for myself, I realized that I was gravitating toward painfully yearning David Rawlings, Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris [music],” she said. “I really thought Americana was where I wanted to be. It still is in some ways. It resonates with a rawness that I love.”
But for now, Diaz’s musical journey is tied up in the indie rock pop sounds of Paper Moon, and that’s just where she wants to be at least for now.
“It’s funny, especially the way things are right now. You never know where or what it is going to take you, where it catches,” said Diaz. “Sometimes you stumble to find the pace. The entire process has literally been that. Moving to Nashville, writing with a million people and then [Kyle and I] writing by ourselves, and then all the rushing, stumbling and then really finding your gait.”
Don’t miss Diaz’s new album and be sure to check out her upcoming video, especially filmed for Valentine’s Day (and featuring her brother’s metal band! Really!). Find out all about it and more on her Web site.
Watch Diaz’s video for “Let’s Go” below:
“I get high with a little help from my friends,” Ringo Starr sang on the Beatles‘ 1967 classic. These days, so do many of music’s top stars. Two’s company, and so is three and sometimes four. The more the merrier, the higher and higher they get.
On the charts, that is.
In the Top 40 of Billboard’s Hot 100 for the week ending December 10, seventeen songs were collaborations between separate recording entities. Four of them featured Drake, and three apiece featured Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, who both appeared on tracks with Drake and with each other. But will.i.am featuring Jennifer Lopez and Mick Jagger”and debuting at No. 36 with “T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever),” which the threesome performed on the November 20 American Music Awards”was probably the one that nobody saw coming.
Old-school Rolling Stones fans must be cringing at the idea of Jagger going anywhere near Lopez and will.i.am so soon after Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera went to No. 1 by invoking his hallowed name on “Moves Like Jagger.” But for a sixty-something legend like him, hit records”even if in name only, a la Duck Sauce‘s GRAMMY-nominated “Barbra Streisand”are a near-impossible dream unless they’re in tandem with other, often younger, stars.
The EditoriaList is the devious brainchild of one Scott Janovitz, who will use this space to summarize, in convenient list form, the best and worst of whatever occurs to him. Anything related to music, anyway. Janovitz claims to be a Boston-based writer, music producer and award-winning singer and songwriter, but according to the research we can piece together is more likely a petty thief. He is highly opinionated but will begrudgingly listen to those who disagree with him in order to explain to them why they are wrong.
10. Light of Day (1987)
Who in 1987 wasn’t waiting for the Michael J. Fox – Joan Jett big screen pairing? The only question was what the vehicle would be. A rom-com? Sci-fi thriller? A Tango & Cash“esque buddy cop action-comedy? A Back to the Future sequel where Marty meets The Runaways in 1977? To everyone’s surprise, what we got was an unexpectedly gritty family drama, centering on the relationship between brother and sister Joe and Patty (Fox and Jett), who perform together in a struggling E Street-esque bar band called The Barbusters. I have just told you the worst part of the movie. The Barbusters. This blow is softened by the appearance of the great Michael McKean as a band member”one of McKean’s THREE appearances on this list.
Paul Schrader, writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, wrote and directed this film and in fact commissioned a song by Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen came back with Born In The U.S.A. but decided to keep that one for himself. Too bad, it could have been a hit. The Barbusters do a decent job with his alternate effort, the title song Light of Day.” And, hey, look, Michael J. Fox can sing. This begs the question”what the hell, Robert Zemeckis? The idea it’s Fox’ voice singing Johnny B. Goode in Back to the Future is the least credible part of a movie about a time traveling DeLorean that runs on plutonium.
9. 8 Mile (2002)
Everyone said Eminem was basically playing himself in this film about an aspiring rapper from Detroit with a fucked-up mom and few prospects aside from an innate and unique lyrical flow. But it’s a mistake to go into this thinking it’s the Eminem Story. Em and director Curtis Hanson wisely keep Em’s character B-Rabbit sullen and low-key. The rapper is not a great actor, but he plays this one just right, with visibly crippling insecurity and remarkably restrained rage. The cleverness of the impromptu rhymes staged on street corners and at club battles are just short of believable, but (spoiler alert) at the end, when B-Rabbit destroys all comers with Eminem’s signature delivery, disbelief is easily suspended. Eminem won an Oscar for the great lead song Lose Yourself.
Not only is this the title of Ortega’s debut album, released June 7 on Last Gang Records, but the term is a reminder of this phase of her career. The former Interscope artist, whose well-known for her work with The Killers’ Brandon Flowers and the UK band Keane, took a look at her art not long ago and realized her heart belongs to country.
“It was a metamorphosis,” Ortega said of the direction in which her songwriting traveled. “I was writing songs and they had [the flavor of] Nora Jones and k.d. lang, that vibe. And my favorite record [of late] is Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. I love that warm, old school vibe and tried to capture that essence in this recording.”
The Toronto resident’s commitment to the sound was underscored on a trip to Nashville when she found real-life little red boots. Since her manager purchased them for her, they’vebeen her constant companion as she has recorded her new album and toured.
“I slipped them on and I could literally hear a chorus of angels,” she said. “It happened to be my birthday at the time, too. I’ve had them now for about two years and the soles are coming off but I’m keeping them always.”
Perhaps it’s not surprising that Ortega’s music sounds like a mix of sounds from Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. Those and other traditional country performers made the music that Ortega was raised on.
“My mom was huge into country and that is what got me into country,” says Ortega who has “Bird on a Wire,” from a Leonard Cohen song, tattooed on her wrist. “I love Johnny [Cash], Willie [Nelson], and of course a lot of country people covered Leonard Cohen.”
Frequent trips to Nashville is just what Ortega needed to let the country flow into her own songs.
“I found awesome people there, friends who came to visit me in Toronto,” she said. “It was cool to hear how my music and styling fit in with the Nashville way of writing. My brand of country comes from the old school and it’s really, really cool to mesh it with new country ideas.”
Clearly the love is there for roots fans, too, who put the new album at No. 10 on the roots chart, behind recent releases by Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and other major artists.
“The next part of my story is to tour,” said Ortega. “I’d love to be heavily touring across the United States and working on a new record. It’d also be amazing to do some collaborations. This is all just icing on the cake.”
Find out more about Lindi, her album and her upcoming concerts on her Web site.