Although she’s only 27, singer, songwriter, banjo-player, and guitarist Molly Tuttle has been a professional musician for over a dozen years and has accomplished more than most musicians twice her age. The Bay Area-raised Tuttle began playing guitar at the age of 8 and by the age of 11, she was playing onstage with her multi-instrumentalist father Jack Tuttle. She then recorded a 2007 duet album with him at the age of 13. She joined The Tuttles with AJ Lee. She was joined by two other siblings in the band: Sullivan (guitar) and Michael (mandolin). They released INTRODUCING THE TUTTLES in 2011, followed two years later by ENDLESS OCEANS. In between the Tuttles albums, she was awarded merit scholarships to the Berklee College of Music for music and composition, received the Foundation for Bluegrass Music’s first Hazel Dickens Memorial Scholarship, won the Chris Austin Songwriting Competition at the Merlefest Music Festival, and was named Best Female Vocalist and Best Guitar Player by the Northern California Bluegrass Society.
While attending the Berklee College of Music, she joined the all-female Bluegrass outfit The Goodbye Girls, who released a 2014 EP and a full-length album two years later. During this period, she also released an EP with fiddler John Mailander and became a member of supergroup The First Ladies of Bluegrass. After relocating to Nashville, Tuttle released her first solo EP, RISE, in 2017. That same year, she signed to Compass Records, finally releasing her debut solo full-length album – WHEN YOU’RE READY – in 2019. During this long and prolific journey, Tuttle has continued to grow as an artist and as a human being. In March 2020, just as the world began to slow to a halt thanks to the pandemic, she also faced the sudden devastation of a tornado that ripped through East Nashville. Stuck amid a world that had suddenly been turned on its head, Tuttle turned to the music that had inspired her long and fruitful journey. Working remotely with producer Tony Berg, she recorded all her parts alone and forwarded them to Berg. The resulting album is her 2020 release …but i’d rather be with you.
…but i’d rather be with you is a personal album that seeks to not only revisit that music that inspired her as a musician, it is also a record that reconnects her – and the listener – to a time that was more hopeful. It is also a release that embraces more than just bluegrass – there are also touches of Country, Pop, Folk, and other genres. Her spirited rendition of The Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow” is the perfect encapsulation of the album, touching on the life-affirming joys of music. However, it also mirrors the realities of rebuilding something new out of something old. The rest of the album Tuttle-izes songs by artists as diverse as Cat Stevens, Rancid, The National, FKA twigs, Karen Dalton, and The National. Musically, the album is pure Molly Tuttle even as it passes through different musical universes. Regardless of the original genre, all musical roads on …but i’d rather be with youlead back to Molly Tuttle.
Neil Innes was best-known for his work with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band,The Rutles, and his association with Monty Python. However, it almost seems unfair that a gentleman so musically gifted is remembered for his humor more than his fantastic and wildly eclectic back catalog of great songs. From his ‘60s recordings with the Bonzos to his final album released just prior to his death in December, 2019, Neil Innes was an exceptional songwriter, taking his influences, blending them together and creating many instant classics. He may not have been prolific, but he sure made each release matter.
HOW SWEET TO BE AN IDIOT was his official solo debut album after five albums with the Bonzos (1966-1972), one with The World (1970) and two with Grimms (1973). While his overall history of bing involved with humorous projects and the title and album cover of HOW SWEET TO BE AN IDIOT may lead you to believe that this is a comedy album, that isn’t entirely true. The album is funny, fun, eccentric, and eclectic but it shouldn’t be filed under ‘comedy’ in your local shops. This is a Pop album, through and through.
If you loved Innes’ work with the Rutles, there are certainly plenty of musical nods to The Beatles here, although they are far more subtle than anything by the Rutland lads. “Dream (On)” could be a Ron Nasty solo release, followed by “L’Amour Perdu”, which could be a Rutles-era Dirk McQuickly vaudeville-influenced nuggets. Then again, “Momma B” could easily have been a Rutles rocker…
There’s more to HOW SWEET TO BE AN IDIOT than Rutles references. “Song For Yvonne” is the perfect vehicle for his eclectic creativity and his gift or melody. “Immortal Invisible” has a wonderful Gospel groove. “Topless-A-Go-Go” could have been recorded in the middle of a New Orleans bender. “Feel No Shame” is a good-time rocker with a shot of Rhythm & Blues – and boy does that instrumental riff sound familiar! The album’s closers are the most serious cuts on the album – “This Love of Ours” and “Singing A Song Is Easy”. The former is a heartfelt, moody mid-tempo ballad with a slight reggae stomp, while the latter is a melodic, uplifting sing-along with a hint of Gospel and a touch of melancholia. If all you’ve heard is his more humorous material, you’ll be surprised at how emotional Innes can be on these last two tracks.
And about the title track, “How Sweet To Be An Idiot”… this reviewer used to own a vinyl copy of the album that featured the ‘piano and vocal’ version of the song, so hearing the ORIGINAL album version with full band and string quartet was a surprise and a real treat. The two different arrangements may be radically different, but the feel – the ‘vibe’, if you will – is still very similar.
BUT WAIT! THAT’S NOT ALL!
This expanded reissue features 10 bonus tracks including the ‘piano and vocal’ version of “How Sweet To Be An idiot”, and some great non-album material including the miraculous “Recycled Vinyl Blues” (you have to hear it to believe it!) and so much more.
HOW SWEET TO BE AN IDIOT is proof that Neil Innes should be considered, first and foremost, a musician and songwriter before you even add in humorist, comedian, or whatever silly names you want to throw at him. Don’t think of him as a former Rutle, Bonzo, or Python – just think of him as Neil Innes. You’ll rest easier at night, trust me.
It has been nearly 25 years since Conor Oberst began his musical journey under the name Bright Eyes. He was originally a member of Omaha, Nebraska Indie Rock band Commander Venus, who split in 1997. Then, operating under the name Bright Eyes, he compiled A COLLECTION OF SONGS WRITTEN AND RECORDED 1995-1997, which was released at the beginning of 1998. At the end of the same year, the second Bright Eyes album, LETTING OFF THE HAPPINESS, hit the shops and raised the eyebrows of critics and music fans alike. By the time of 2000’s FEVERS AND MIRRORS, Conor and Bright Eyes – which now included Mike Mogis as part of the core line-up – were Indie and Alternative Rock darlings. The band reached their commercial zenith in 2005 with the album I’M WIDE AWAKE, IT’S MORNING, an album that featured recent band addition Nate Walcott. However, after the release of 2011’ THE PEOPLE’S KEY, Oberst called a time-out on the band and each member went their separate ways. Bright Eyes had taken hiatuses before but this one ended up lasting nearly a decade.
While Oberst’s main project was Bright Eyes, he also participated in many other projects including Desaparecidos, Monsters of Folk, and Better Oblivion Community Center along with his own solo releases. While fans embraced his other musical endeavors, their hopes of a new Bright Eyes album dimmed as time went on. However, unbeknownst to many, the idea of Bright Eyes’ return was hatched nearly three years ago. Oberst attended a Christmas party thrown by Walcott in 2017. He mentioned the idea to his bandmate and they both reached out to Mogis, who immediately agreed. A lot had changed since they released their previous album in 2011, but the trio accepted all the challenges that time had thrown at them and dived into a new Bright Eyes project. And then, as they prepared for the release of their latest opus, a worldwide pandemic hit….
DOWN IN THE WEEDS, WHERE THE WORLD ONCE WAS is the highly-anticipated Bright Eyes album, their first in nearly a decade. Their most collaborative release yet, DOWN IN THE WEEDS… is an album that finds Oberst at the wheel with Mogis and Walcott riding shotgun and occasionally steering the project into new and interesting directions. And while the album was in motion before the pandemic, this is a release that accurately reflects the mood of our times. Once you rip off the shrinkwrap and immerse yourself in DOWN IN THE WEEDS…, you’ll find anxiety, creativity, emotion, hope, and, flowing threw it all, the joy of making music together. Tracks like “Dance And Sing”, “Just Once In The World”, “Tilt-A-Whirl”, and “One And Done” represent just some of the moods on display on DOWN IN THE WEEDS…, an album that heralds the miraculous return of one of America’s most beloved Indie bands.
Dave Rayburn: As you began to shape your list of song options for this new covers album, what prerequisites did you have in mind? Tanya Donelly: The overarching theme of it is, loosely, songs that just run through my head all the time for whatever reason. So, it’s kind of a part tribute, part exorcism exercise. (laughs) That was the main theme of it. The one exception to that would be The Pretenders song “Kid”, which my friend Laura… Bill Janovitz’s wife… sort of suggested that one when I asked her.
Dave: So, if we were to look at your record collection, the albums that these songs come from are likely more dog-eared than the rest. Tanya: Yes! (laughs) Absolutely. Yip.
Dave: Not everyone may be familiar with The Parkington Sisters. How would you best describe them, and how did they become the core group behind this new record? Tanya: They’re brilliant. I would say, edgy folk. Very New England, but they just have their own twist on everything, and you can tell when you’re listening to them as soon as the song starts. I met Nora Parkington first, which is the only one who is not playing on the album (laughs)… I met her first at Hot Stove Cool Music which is a benefit I do every year here (in Boston). And, she was playing with several bands that night. I sort of fell in love with her playing, and then we became friends. Then I started listening to her family band and was just immediately in love. And when Joe Spadaro asked me to do a covers album, my knee-jerk reaction was to say no. It’s not that I didn’t want to do it, I just felt like… should I?… and, can I? And, all of the songs I love have already been done perfectly. But then the idea to have it sort of pulled together under one cohesive sound that I loved led me to the Parkingtons. I play guitar on just one song on this album because I just really wanted it to be their vision and their sound, and when I got in touch with them initially, I was like… I want it to sound like you… and it does.
Dave: Yeah, I was gonna say, with the arrangements, they kind of transform the songs into different vehicles, swapping out well-known guitar riffs in songs like “Let Me Roll It” (Wings) and “Kid” with fresh, exciting string flourishes. So, that’s kind of what you had in mind in giving it all a different stamp? Tanya: Mm-hmm. Yes!
Dave: Well, you’ve got a long history of releasing your own interpretations of classic material ranging from Henry Mancini to Neil Young to The Smiths and beyond. Creatively, what do you consider to be the most challenging aspect of recording songs that you already consider to be perfect in their original incarnations? Tanya: Just making sure that I’m not lazy about it. That’s been a real challenge with doing the Sunday Series too, is just having a week to do them. I just want to make sure that it does the song justice. And also, to understand that, as I’m saying, many of these songs have already been done perfectly, and I genuinely mean that. So, not to make myself too crazy about it, but… imagining that the songwriter is just sitting on jury the whole time you’re recording… (laughs)
Dave: It’s a fine line to decide to do a faithful cover or to take the dare and try and reinvent a little bit. But, putting that in mind that maybe Chrissie Hynde is watching you the whole time you’re doing this… that might help you decide what to do. (laughs) Tanya: That’s right. Yeah. (laughs), especially with that one, I was always thinking… what would Chrissie think?
Dave: And on that subject, songs like “Kid” as well as “Different Drum” by The Stone Poneys are monumental in stature if for nothing else other than the vocalists that brought them into the world. That’s a large spotlight to fill, but you manage to channel their subtle honesty with no problem. What other empowering female voices of your younger years would you say helped form your own voice and give you the confidence to be in your own spotlight? Tanya: Well, every single one of the Go-Go’s. Every last one of them. From a very early age on it was Joni Mitchell. Janis Ian when I was really little. I was completely obsessed with her. And, there’s really no undermining how excited the Go-Go’s made me feel to play guitar. And then, the women I’ve played with. Not to sound corny, but I’ve played with some power-packed women and some game-changing women. So, absolutely I would say the women I’ve shared the stage with for thirty plus years.
Dave: It’s been noted that Leonard Cohen is one of your songwriting heroes. On this new record, you present “Dance Me To The End Of Love” from his 1984 album, VARIOUS POSITIONS. When were you first impacted by his work? Tanya: Well, my dad has always loved him along with Tom Waits, and so I was raised with it. As soon as I hear his voice, I just want to hear every word. I don’t want to miss a word. In a crowd of many, he’s probably my favorite lyricist of all time. He’s just one of those artists that has always been in the foreground for me my entire life, from childhood on. I don’t forget about him. There’s never been a period in my life where I’ve said… hey, I haven’t listened to that in a while. He’s a constant for me. And, in particular, VARIOUS POSITIONS is my favorite. I love ‘em all, but that one is one that I just come back to so regularly.
Dave: Mary Margaret O’Hara may be the most obscure artist you draw from on this collection, yet “You Will Be Loved Again” may be the most potent performance on this record, with a lush mix of harmony vocals highlighting its delivery. The song also closes the album, which carries the same hallmark of O’Hara’s 1988 debut, MISS AMERICA, as well as Cowboy Junkies’ 1990 album, THE CAUTION HORSES. It’s powerful and coincidentally has the timeless feel of a Cohen-esque standard. What led you to select this song to wrap up the record? Tanya: Well, as you’re saying… it’s a closer, and that’s it. It has to be the last thing. When Throwing Muses were on tour in England, Ivo Watts-Russell gave that (MISS AMERICA) to us to listen to in the van and we were just floored. I mean… silent throughout the whole listening of it. And to this day, I think for all of us, it’s probably up there on our favorites. First of all… all props to her band because the instrumentation on that album is so cool. It’s just so interesting and spidery and I just love it. And, with her very odd but perfect rhythm weaving in and out of everything, and that clear, gorgeous, vast-ranged voice of hers… it’s just beauty.
Dave: Your multi-faceted career with Throwing Muses, The Breeders, Belly, as well as your busy solo work and guest collaborations have covered much ground over the years, but you’re far from done. In the post-pandemic world, following this release on American Laundromat Records, which creative outlet of yours might we see emerge next? Tanya: I’m working on an album with Dylan In The Movies right now. And then Gail Greenwood, from Belly, and I have been writing some songs together. That’s been ongoing. We’ve got a few under our belts already. In quarantine we’ve been writing them and then sending them to Paul Kolderie. And he’s been sort of tweaking things. And then Belly… we were curating a festival in Providence that was supposed to happen in August with a bunch of bands. It was supposed to be us and Buffalo Tom and Madder Rose and Kate Hanley… a bunch of people. And now, that is going to be pushed back to 2021. So that will be probably the next big live project… and hopefully we can do it then.
Special thanks to Tanya Donelly, Joe Spadaro, Mike Donohue and Jocelynn Pryor.
For nearly 35 years, Tanya Donelly has been an important player in the Alternative Rock world. From her time with groundbreaking quartet Throwing Muses (which she co-founded in 1983 and left in 1991) to her stint with The Breeders (1989-1992) and her work with Belly (1991-96), Donelly’s musical journey has been unpredictable but most certainly influential and inspiring. While the first decade of her career was in the Alternative Rock spotlight, her solo career has purposely been low-key but has still been met with acclaim from fans and critics. Beginning in 1996, she has released a handful of solo albums and a string of limited EPs, each of them exploring different facets of Donelly’s talents. But just because she continued to move forward didn’t mean that she turned her back on her past – she has reunited a few times with her Throwing Muses mates, and even reassembled Belly in 2016 for a new album, issued in 2018. While not as prolific as she was in the ‘90s, Donelly’s work is still just as vital.
And this is when the Parkington Sisters enter the picture. Ariel, Sarah, and Rose Parkington were raised playing music on Cape Cod. Each of the sisters is a songwriter, a singer, and accomplished musician. They’ve released their own albums while also sharing concert stages with artists like Bruce Springsteen, Mavis Staples, Dispatch, and Dropkick Murphys. With each release and tour, their audience has continued to grow. With their commercial profile rising even higher, their union with Donelly comes at the best time possible. With the world in turmoil thanks to the pandemic, our hearts and minds are in search of something to believe in. Leave it to Tanya and the Parkington Sisters to deliver everything we needed… and more!
TANYA DONELLY AND THE PARKINGTON SISTERS is an album that showcases the talents of these four talented musicians (plus friends Jon Evans and Matthias Bossi providing the rhythm section). While this is a collection of cover versions, the ladies steer the songs into new territories. These haunting, emotional arrangements are feature lovely and warm vocals framed by cello, violin, viola, piano, and guitar. The unique interpretations on this album bring new life to The Kinks’ “Days”, Paul McCartney & Wings’ “Let Me Roll It”, The Pretenders’ “Kid”, Michael Nesmith-via-The Stone Poneys’ “Different Drum”, Split Enz’s “The Devil You Know” (penned by Neil Finn), The Go-Go’s “Automatic”, and others. The album is quite beautiful, providing the proper amount of shadow and light in a world that is desperate for something that will lift them from despair. While this album may not bring immediate jingle-jangle joy to your life, it will most certainly bring hope. And love. And warmth. So, embrace TANYA DONELLY AND THE PARKINGTON SISTERS with all of your might and never let go.
Like all musical genres, Jazz has many subgenres. And those subgenres have subgenres. From Bebop to Fusion, Swing to Bossa Nova, there’s a subgenre of Jazz for every mood and every phase of your life. One subgenre that has become very popular since the late ‘70s and early ‘80s is Smooth Jazz. Often considered ‘mellow’, Smooth Jazz is generally downtempo, filled with mood, atmosphere, and emotion. Artists who are most associated with the Smooth Jazz genre include Boney James, Dave Koz, Brian Culbertson, Rick Braun, and many others. One of the most prominent and respected guitarists in Smooth Jazz is Norman Brown…
Born in 1970 in Shreveport, Louisiana, Brown began playing his brother’s acoustic guitar at the age of eight. Initially inspired by Rock and Soul artists, he switched his interests to Jazz after hearing legendary guitarist Wes Montgomery. Discovered by Jazz drummer Norman Conners, Brown signed with Motown Records and released his debut album, JUST BETWEEN US, in 1992. His 1994 album AFTER THE STORM won the Jazz Album of the Year Award at the Soul Train Music Awards. In the midst of his solo career, Brown was the co-founder of BWB a Smooth Jazz side project/super trio in 2002 with Kirk Whalum (saxophone) and Rick Braun (trumpet). By 2007, Brown had a #1 Smooth Jazz radio hit with “Let’s Take A Ride” (from the album STAY WITH ME). Brown has continued to release critically and commercially successful albums including SENDING MY LOVE (2010), the Grammy-nominated 24/7 (with Gerald Albright/2012), LET IT GO (2017), and HIGHEST ACT OF LOVE (2019).
Norman Brown returns in 2020 with the Shanachie Records release HEART TO HEART. Featuring musical assistance from Peter White and Jeff Lorber, HEART TO HEART is an album that showcases the many facets of Brown’s talents. A tasteful player, Brown only plays notes that need to be played. And he makes each note count. Even without words, his playing is emotional. In many ways, his playing says more than any review or interview can ever say. To be completely predictable (and proud of it), this is music from the heart. From the George Benson (and Wes Montgomery?) tribute “Heading Wes” to the funky, upbeat “Unconditional”, HEART TO HEART is a musical gift from Norman Brown to you. And it is one gift that you – we – should all be grateful for.