Your Country's Right Here: Risa Binder Makes Country Pop

Risa Binder not only lives in Nashville, she revels in it.

The country-pop singer songwriter may have grown up in Columbia, Maryland, but her heart was in Music City, after she found Loretta Lynn and then other icons such as Alison Krauss. Little wonder that the reality of living and working in Nashville — not to mention actually having Krauss drop by the studio in which Binder was recording her debut “Paper Heart” — still takes her breathe away.

“I just go and sit in the Bluebird Cafe and soak everything up,” said Binder. “Nashville is so crazy. It’s so exciting to be hear and hear a song come to life and play it and know others hear it. It’s all about everyone creating music.” (more…)

Oh My Darling

Separately, Elora Taylor and Dee Filc are just two twenty-something ladies from Oakville, Ontario. Together, they become something even better, a folk duo called Tallulah Darling that plays stripped down, bare bones rock and country. Though the two cite influences like Miranda Lambert, Loretta Lynn, Dixie Chicks, and Toby Keith, you’ll find more street edge in tracks like Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop. There, a serpentine bass, buzzsaw guitar riffs, and cheeky lyrics are loosely combined for raw, unrefined rock. Metal Heart, on the other hand, is a more lackadaisical meditation on love, wrapped up in acoustic guitars and falsetto vocals. Finally, on This Is Not A Joke, those country roots are unearthed. With the wistful, confessional appeal of Taylor Swift, Mulligan delivers her simple request: This is not a joke so please stop smiling. Mute adoration, however, is permitted.

Your Country's Right Here: Janie Fricke Joins with the Roys for "The Country Side of Bluegrass"

Janie Fricke has once again added to her already hefty musical arsenal.

After going from a jingle singer (Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Red Lobster are among the corporations that featured her vocals) to a back up singer for A-list hit makers including Elvis Presley, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, to a duet partner with Merle Haggard and Charlie Rich, Fricke became an A-list singer herself starting with the 1981 solo hit Down to My Last Broken Heart. Now the singer, who has 18 No. 1 singles, is touring behind Country Side of Bluegrass and reintroducing her songs and voice to a new generation of fans.

At first when they asked me to do it, I thought it’d be pretty interesting, said Fricke of the album she completed with famed Nashville producer Bil VornDick. Then the whole plan came together that included [recording and some touring] with the Roys.

Combining the sound of the brother and sister duo of Elaine Roy and Lee Roy, two-time Inspirational Country Music Duo of the Year award winners, with the much-lauded Fricke whose awards include the much coveted CMA Female Vocalist of the Year Award, give the album’s 12 tracks (plus the Ring of Fire bonus track) true distinction.


Sound and Vision: Why Recording Artists Should Look on the Bright Side of Piracy

I’m a music fan that didn’t have a lot of pocket money as a kid. I bought what I could afford and taped the rest off radio or made a tape from my friend’s copy of the album.

That’s what John Taylor of Duran Duran recently told Time Out Melbourne on the subject of illegal downloading. When I read Taylor’s comments, I applauded as if his band had just completed a rousing encore of Skin Trade. Finally, a pop star who understands what it’s like to be low on cash but high on music.

Back in the old pre-Internet days, before iTunes, Amazon and having access to the latest hits 24/7 on YouTube, if you couldn’t afford to pay to listen to the music you loved anytime you wanted to, you had to improvise. For me, and, apparently, for Taylor, that meant pushing a tape recorder up the speakers of the radio, waiting for your favorite song to come on, pressing play when it did, and praying for no outside noise to interfere with the sweet music coming from the speakers.


Sound And Vision: Strange Bedfellows — The Best of Music's Unlikely Collaborations

“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 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 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.


Your Country's Right Here: The Roys Talk Family, Music and How Fans Inspire Them

The Roys may be the toast of bluegrass music, especially after having just won the prestigious Inspirational Bluegrass Artist of the Year award from the Inspirational Country Music Association, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their feet firmly on the ground.

The duo are hard at work writing for their next album, the follow up to the critically-acclaimed Lonesome Whistle that included the hot single “Coal Minin’ Man,” that went to No. 1 on Power Source’s Bluegrass Top 35 chart and HotDisc International Top 40 Chart.

They also recently announced that they will host the First Annual Christmas 4 Kids Celebrity Golf Tournament in April, soon after they return from their first ever Australian concert tour. The tournament is yet another facet of Christmas 4 Kids, that developed from the Christmas Caravan founded in 1982 by Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn and the Oak Ridge Boys to help needy children over the holidays.

Siblings Elaine and Lee Roy took a few minutes to chat with OurStage about how they developed their passion for bluegrass, how they write such terrific songs and what their fans mean to them.

OS: Wow, you have had some year!

ER: We are very excited. In one year, our lives have changed a whole lot.

OS:  How did you come to play bluegrass? I’m sure your high school friends were playing rock and pop, so that couldn’t have been cool.

LR: Our mom and dad listened to nothing but traditional country and bluegrass. Our grandpa was playing the fiddle and mandolin and banjo and our aunts and uncles played music all the time. We were around that so much, I remember, from the time we were really, really young. I can remember mom and dad playing Merle Haggard, George Jones, Bill Monroe. That’s what we were around, that’s what we listened to our whole lives.


Jordyn Mallory Vs. Taylor Swift

It’s pretty remarkable to think of all the things Taylor Swift has accomplished at such a young age. At only twenty-one years old she has already released three studio albums, won four GRAMMY Awards, and was the youngest artist ever to win the coveted CMA Award for Entertainer of the Year. On top of all of her awards and accolades, she was also played a key role in the growing popularity of country music in general. The combination of elements from country and pop music in her style allowed her songs to catch the ears of die hard country fans as well as casual listeners. She opened up the world of country music to many people who had never given it a chance before, subsequently boosting its popularity in the mainstream. Her story has inspired young artists all over the country to pick up acoustic guitars and start writing songs. One OurStage artist in particular, Jordyn Mallory, seems to be following right in Taylor Swift’s footsteps.

OurStage's Jordyn Mallory

Taylor Swift












Sound And Vision: Justin Timberlake as Elton John and Six Other Wish-List Music Biopics

Every great screen biography of a music superstar needs three key ingredients to really sing: 1) An icon with the greatest story never told. 2) A talented lead actor or actress gunning for an Oscar nomination”singing talent and striking resemblance optional (Angela Bassett didn’t sing a word in What’s Love Got to Do with It, and she looks nothing like the film’s subject, yet she was Tina Turner). 3) Kick-ass songs.

Fantasia Barrino
as gospel great Mahalia Jackson is coming soon. The Elton John Story (aka Rocketman) is reportedly finally in the works (I’d cast Justin Timberlake over mentioned favorite James McAvoy and pray that he can nail a British accent), as is Aretha Franklin’s (with or without Halle Berry, the Queen of Soul’s No. 1 choice), Anne Hathaway as Judy Garland and Sacha Baron Cohen as Freddie Mercury.

Robert Pattinson was announced as a possible Kurt Cobain at one point last year, but it’s hard to imagine that we’d get the true story as long as Courtney Love is around to kill it or put her spin on it. Ryan Gosling has the chops to pull off Cobain, but he’s already in everything and he’s several years older than Cobain was when he committed suicide. Note to aspiring biopic producers: One doesn’t have to cast a “star” as the star. Some biopics (Amadeus, starring Tom Hulce as Mozart; La vie en rose, with Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf) do just fine without huge names.

Now that she’s gone too soon, too, it’s probably only a matter of time before we get Amy Winehouse‘s “untold” story. Note to aspiring biopic producers: Tabloid-era stars are best left alone unless, as with Eminem’s 8 Mile, the focus is on life before they were famous. Otherwise, we’ve already seen the action play out in the pages of Us Weekly and People magazine.

But what about those biopics in various stages of development and non-development? Here are six that I’m dying to see.

1) David Bowie: The star. The spectacle. The songs… Iman. I can’t think of a rock icon whose story is more deserving of the screen treatment. It would be a shoo-in for the Best Costume Design Oscar, and with a star like Jonathan Rhys Meyers (who already played a Bowie-esque figure to perfection in the 1998 film Velvet Goldmine), an actor worthy of the material.


Your Country's Right Here: Stealing Angels Will Swipe Your Heart

Before you ween yourself from listening to more up-and-coming country musicians”after all, there are only so many hours in a day”you owe it to yourself to check out the music of Stealing Angels.

Caroline Cutbirth, Jennifer Wayne and Tayla Lynn”who are currently on a tour ten-day tour of Iraq and Kuwait to entertain US troops”are set to release their first album Paper Heart in a few months. Early word is that the songs are musical magic. The trio, who are related to Daniel Boone, John Wayne and Loretta Lynn respectively, have been wowing audiences as they have toured in support of Lady Antebellum, Kid Rock and others.

“We were just three girls in Nashville trying to make it,” said Lynn of her chance meeting with Cutbirth and Wayne. “Our agents got us together for an audition for a reality show (that never materialized) and it just went from there.”

Although happenstance brought the three together, the music they crafted was anything but random. Famed producer Paul Worley was so captivated by the trio’s sound that he signed them to his Skyville Records label and produced their upcoming album. That, say the trio, made their music truly come alive.

“Paul is a genius and the way he produced it is magic,” said Cutbirth, who had met Wayne a few months before they made the acquaintance of Lynn. “The first couple times welistened to it, it sounded like poetry. It’s that beautiful.”

Yet the two singles Stealing Angels have released”the title track of the album and the song “He Better Be Dead” (check out the music video below)”are about the universal topics of romance and heartbreak to which everyone can relate. Although the three said they had plenty of fodder for songs, the real trick was to take their three solo songwriting artistry and make them one.

“Everyone talks about heart break and love in different ways,” said Cutbirth. “We started writing together and that really helped us gel as a trio even though we were each solo artists. I’m more more pop country, Jen is more Patsy Cline and Tayla is more Lucinda Williams. We bring that all together when we write songs.”

It’s almost too easy to say the three were born to continue the tradition of country music, yet listening to them you do begin to wonder if destiny has played a role in their careers.

“I remember when I was nineteen years old standing in the wings at concert when really realized who my grandmother was,” said Lynn. “The shows she puts on, the woman she is and what she’s done for country music. I just knew I had to perform…And now we’ve gotten so many fans of [my grandmother’s] and John Wayne and Daniel Boone, it sure feels right.”

Find out more about Stealing Angels by going to their Web site.

Your Country's Right Here: Ashton Shepherd Ready To Debut 'Where Country Grows'

Fasten your seat belt”All indications are that Ashton Shepherd‘s sophomore album Where Country Grows is going to skyrocket when it’s released July 12.

Just consider that “Look It Up,” the first single from the album, entered the Top 20 soon after it was released. That was followed by tremendous buzz about her EP of the same name. Critics reviewing her new album can’t sing their praises loudly enough.

None other than Rolling Stone lauded Shepherd for having the “the biggest, brassiest singing [voice] on either side of the Mason-Dixon.” The critic went on to praise the album’s “ten smart, soulful songs” and compare her to Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn.

That praise might go to the heads of many but not this native of the small town of Coffeesville, Ala. (population 340). Shepherd recently took time out of her jam-packed schedule to talk a bit about her career, her family, the new baby she has on the way and just where she’s headed from here.

OS: This album marks the first time you co-wrote songs. What is your favorite memory about writing with Dean Dillon, Dale Dodson, Bobby Pinson and Troy Jones? Did you dread it?

AS: Me and Bobby wrote a couple of songs with Troy. One of my favorite memories, and this is me telling on myself, is that before going in my husband and I were parked outside [my publishing company]. I was saying I had just found out I had to write with two people and I got so aggravated. I felt so intimidated and I was kind of fussing. I walked in there, though and had the best time! We wrote a ballad that almost went on this record. We’re holding that for another time. And we wrote “Tryin’ To Go To Church” and laughed and laughed. I am a God fearing person and didn’t want to sound like I was preaching or being disrespectful to the Good Lord, but I wanted to say “Lord I’m really trying. I am going to get to you! My goal is to get to you.”

OS: How are you going to celebrate your new album’s release?

AS: Oh, my, I’m going to be really busy that week. Wow, I need to think about that. I’m sure we’ll have a little celebration. To be honest, I’d rather celebrate after this baby is born and I can have some [champagne].

OS: It’s funny to think about your daughter and know she will always know you as famous.

AS: You know, my husband and I have talked about that a lot. We talk about what if we really do someday have a lot of money, wouldn’t it be weird if our little girl or [our son] James never have to eat potted meat sandwiches or something? Part of the grit that builds who you are comes from living that way. We try to keep things realistic around our son. We just try to raise him old school. He knows he’s not going to have a cell phone or Facebook page at age six.

OS: What’s your favorite pre-show ritual?

AS: I really don’t have any. I guess the one I have is to put on some really good old country music and listen to it in the bus. One I like to play is “Jukebox Junkie.” That one is so great for driving down the road! We just try to pick kicking cool songs.

OS: So what has been your craziest fan request?

AS: Oh I had this [teenage] boy come up. I heard him ask security something and I heard them say “She won’t do that,” and I thought, “Oh dear.” He came up and asked if I would kiss him on the cheek. I said “No, my husband might get mad!” I turned it into a bit of a joke but it was pretty gutsy of him to come up and ask!

OS: I hear your son James likes Lynyrd Skynyrd. Who turned him onto them?

AS: Me and my husband! When we got iTunes that was one of the first things we did, download all the Skynyrd classics. My son is a huge Skynyrd fan. He is to the point of randomy asking questions [about the band] when we’re in the car. That’s the music he plays drums to, too. He loves [the song] “Gimme Back My Bullets.”

He knows Conway Twitty and a lot of country, too. He likes country music and he always wants to know who I’m on stage with. When he met Josh Turner he said “I know who you are. I’ve seen you on TV.” He wanted to sound like he knew everything!

OS: What did your son say when he learned you were expecting?

AS: “We are going to have a new little one!” I kept it hidden from the media until we had two or three appointments, but I let him call my parents and some of my family. He is so excited. He can’t wait until [September 15, my due date].”

OS: When you were a kid, what was the first  record you bought?

AS: The first groups of records I ordered ordered were Confederate Railroad and BlackHawk. I like my women on the trashy side!

OS: So many great things are happening for you this year. What do you think is next?

AS: We are really excited about this year. These are all God’s special gifts and…the rest is in his hands.

Find out more about Shepherd’s music, her upcoming concerts and more on her Web site and check out the video for “Look It Up” below.