So, what do you do if you create music that is completely in step with what should be popular but is apparently out of step with what is actually popular? Playing great music that reaches a specific audience is definitely admirable but it can be frustrating – for the band and their fans – if a talented act continually releases outstanding albums that don’t immediately race to the top of the charts. Sadly, this type of situation is quite common. For example, for nearly 30 years, St. Louis’ The Bottle Rockets have released a series of albums that embrace the heart of American music while reinterpreting it in fresh, new ways. BIT LOGIC is their 13th album and might be the album that finally connects them with a larger audience.
Amy Ray is best known as one-half of Indigo Girls, the Grammy-winning Folk duo she formed with Emily Saliers. Formed in 1985, the duo released an EP before signing with Epic Records and becoming one of the most popular Folk-Rock duos of all time. Although they have remained active for over three decades, Amy would use her downtime between projects to follow her own path. Beginning with her 2001 solo debut, STAG, Amy has pursued a slightly different path than that of Indigo Girls. Her voice may be instantly identifiable but her solo releases tend to travel down different musical paths that eventually converge onto the same road that she travels down with Indigo Girls. HOLLER, her 2018 album, is no exception…
The YouTube stars of today don’t understand the meaning of ‘paying your dues.’ Before American Idol and YouTube became the springboards for success, the artists of yesteryear rehearsed, played nightly in smelly clubs, and drove from city to city in a rickety van to build their audience. They wrote songs from the heart. They lived those songs before they even laid them down on tape. And the chance of them getting a record deal and achieving any level of success was slim to none. For many of them, sharing their music and baring their soul was the reason they created music. Fame was just a reward for their hard work. However, hard work doesn’t guarantee success without a little bit of luck thrown into the mix. Then again, there’s a long list of talented artists that never caught a break and have sadly faded into obscurity. Country/Americana singer/songwriter Blaze Foley spent many decades in in that sea of obscurity but now, nearly three decades after his death, this underground legend is finally getting the attention he has deserved since his humble beginnings in the mid- ‘70s.
Forty years since the release of his debut album, ALIVE ON ARRIVAL, Steve Forbert remains one of the most honest and warm singer/songwriters in Folk, Rock and Americana. Unfairly declared ‘the new Dylan’ for a brief moment in the ‘70s thanks to that debut, Forbert proved himself to be more than just a guy strumming an acoustic guitar at the front of the stage. His hit single “Romeo’s Tune” (1979) became a Top 40 hit thanks to Forbert’s earnest performance, great songwriting and that incessant piano riff. But Forbert was not one to crank out formulaic Pop or Folk – he was always moving forward while still paying tribute to his past. With more than two dozen studio, live, and fan-club albums in his back pocket, Steve Forbert still remains a songwriter that finds inspiration in the every day. His Mississippi soul may have moved to New Jersey but this is one cat that understands and connects with every inch of America.
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: THE MAGIC TREE is about to be released. How are you feeling about the way it turned out and the reaction you’ve had to it so far?
STEVE FORBERT: I feel pretty good about it. We got the cat ears and legs and tail and whiskers – I think we got the cat in the bag. It’s hard to do.
Courtney Hartman and Taylor Ashton were already successful in their respective outfits before coming together as a duo. Hartman, the singer, songwriter and guitarist for Nashville-based Americana outfit Della Mae, met Canadian singer, songwriter and clawhammer banjo player Taylor Ashton when her band crossed paths with his band, Fish & Bird, while out on the road. The two began writing songs together and within four years, they decided that they had enough material for an album. Named after one of the first songs they wrote together, the duo is now releasing BEEN ON YOUR SIDE, their debut album as a duo. On paper, their collaboration may sound like a perfect match but, in reality, it is so much better than that.
In the U.S., Mungo Jerry only scored one hit song – “In The Summertime” – and most Americans are under the impression that there wasn’t much else by the Mungos beyond that one single. My review of the Cherry Red Records five CD boxset MUNGO JERRY: THE DAWN ALBUMS COLLECTION may have surprised people unaware of those releases. But guess what? I’ve got an even bigger surprise – Cherry Red has released a second Mungo Jerry boxset containing five more full length albums from the British act! Entitled THE ALBUMS 1976-81, this set veers into Blues/Rock/Glam genres and generally avoids the jug band Folk of their earlier releases.
Best known in the U.S. for his work with Aboriginal band Yothu Yindi, blind multi-instrumentalist Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (AKA Gurrumul) is the best-selling Australian indigenous musician of all time. His 2009 debut solo album, GURRUMUL, hit #1 on the independent chart and peaked at #3 on the ARIA Charts. The album was eventually certified triple platinum. His sophomore album, RRAKALA, was awarded the Australian Independent Record (AIR) Award for Best Independent Blues and Roots Album in 2011. His third studio release, THE GOSPEL ALBUM, was released in July 2015 and debuted at #3 on the ARIA Charts. The album won him his third ARIA Award for Best World Music Album. And then suddenly, Gurrumul was gone, a victim of kidney and liver disease.
SPAZ: When writing an album like SUN ON THE SQUARE, do you tend to let the compositions flow naturally and reveal the album’s direction over time? Or do you have a preconceived idea on where you want the album to head, musically?
KAREN PERIS: We don’t usually have a plan, especially in regards to writing songs. So many songs, for me, begin and then fall away. So, an album builds slowly out of the songs we remain close to after a period of time.
It has been four years since Americana outfit Sons Of Bill released LOVE & LOGIC but the band have not been idle. This quintet – led by brothers Sam, Abe, and James Wilson – remained on the road, promoting their own brand of heartfelt heartland rock. However, touring wasn’t the only thing that slowed them down. The boys in the band took off a little time for themselves, too. Oh, and then there’s that little accident that James Wilson had – a fall on a champagne glass severed five tendons and the median nerve in his right hand. While this is definitely not a good thing for a guitarist to experience, it also hindered his ability to drive, dress himself, and other simple tasks we all take for granted. Thankfully, you can’t keep a good man down…