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Your Country's Right Here: Amber Rubarth Wows at FloydFest

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.

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Your Country's Right Here: Lucero Showcases 'Women & Work'

Ben Nichols, frontman of the punk alt-country band Lucero, talks like a man who has been musically reborn.

Or maybe it’s more apt to liken his attitude to that of someone who worked and worked and then finally solved the New York Times‘ Saturday crossword puzzle ” in ink, first time through. Sure Lucero has always had a cool punk, alt-country sound that won them fans well beyond the band’s Memphis, Tenn., home base. But now think of Lucero’s punk, alt-country sound as super charged, thanks to the addition of new players and instrumentation. You can hear it all on the band’s new release Women & Work, on ATO records, home of the Drive-By Truckers, My Morning Jacket, and other like-minded musicians.

“When we [recorded] Women & Work all eight pieces had been on the road for a couple years,” said Nichols of the group’s cohesive musical direction. “We had time to gel, as a complete unit and it was the first time everyone had been involved [in recording a Lucero record] since day one. We had discovered what was possible and went into this record knowing exactly where we stood and exactly what sound we were going for.”

Not that Nichols and the other original members of the 14-year-old band didn’t have the determination or talent or enthusiasm to find that musical sweet spot before. It’s just that, like solving a puzzle, they needed to find the key to the tricky questions. In this band’s case, it was how to whip Otis Redding soul into Lucero’s punk country sound and have a pleasing result.

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