West Coast Beats: Indie Rocker Madeline Kenney

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Raised in the Pacific Northwest, ​Madeline Kenney keeps a soil-tethered root to the natural world in her art.

A move to the Bay Area in 2013 plus a chance encounter with Chaz Bundick (Toro Y Moi) led to their collaborative recording of her ​Signals EP,​ followed by Kenney’s debut album, ​Night Night At The First Landing.​ Both works are marked by Kenney’s huge voice and unexpected lyrical knots.

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In October 2018, Kenney released her sophomore work, ​Perfect Shapes​, with help from Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak). Dealing with subjects of femininity, societal pressures, expectation, value and self-worth, Kenney and Wasner presented a deeply collaborative work that resulted in a critically acclaimed moment of musical bravery and harmony.

 

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Memphis Singer Liz Brasher Makes Her Stunning Full Length Debut

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Liz Brasher makes her own kind of southern music — one that’s caught halfway between the garage, the church, the bar, and the bedroom. She’s a soul singer. A guitar-playing rocker. A one-woman girl group. A gospel revivalist who sings the praises of secular bands like the Box Tops.

It’s a diverse sound rooted in the influence of Brasher’s two homes: her adopted hometown of Memphis, where she recorded her debut LP, Painted Image, for Fat Possum Records; and her childhood stomping grounds in rural North Carolina, where she was raised in a musical, multi-ethnic household.

I’m half Dominican, half Italian, and also Southern,” says the songwriter, who grew up singing Baptist hymns in an all-Spanish church. “It’s a different type of southerner, and that’s why the music I make sounds like a different type of the south. By nature, I’m mixed. That’s been my whole life — having to reconcile two different cultures, or the religious and secular world, or the different genres that have all influenced me. From the time I was born, I realized I was going to be a big mix.”

Brasher’s musical horizons expanded as she grew older. Raised on everything from the spirituals of Mahalia Jackson and harmony-heavy hooks of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, she moved to Chicago during her late teens. There, as a college student living far north of the Mason-Dixon line, she gained a new appreciation for the sound of her southern roots. She dove deep into the early icons of American music, from Stephen Foster to Delta Blues heavyweights like Geeshie Wiley and Leadbelly. That led to an appreciation for latter-day pioneers like Bob Dylan and the Staple Singers, two acts that modernized old-school American traditions to suit a new generation. Inspired, Brasher taught herself to play guitar, then began writing songs shortly thereafter.

After a move to Atlanta brought her back south, Brasher began playing shows, fronting her lean, three-piece live band — later championed by Rolling Stone as a “soul power trio” — for the first time. A love for the music of the 1950s and 1960s eventually convinced her to relocate to Memphis, where labels like Stax and Sun Records had shaped popular music during the previous century. She felt at home there. Like her, Memphis was a melting pot of influences, its internal soundtrack filled with music that crossed generation gaps and genre lines. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that her songwriting flourished in the new town, inspiring the material that appeared on Brasher’s Outcast EP — released in April 2018, not long  after her acclaimed appearance at SXSW.

Both releases showcase not only Brasher’s robust voice, but her guitar playing and songwriting chops, as well. Inspired by everyone from Pops Staples to surf guitar icons The Ventures, she approaches her electric guitar from a melodic, moody perspective, often using tremolo and reverb for big, bold effect. She cranks up the fuzz for Outcast’s rock & roll title track, then makes room for sweeping strings and swirling organ on Painted Image’s soulful standout, “Cold Baby.” Meanwhile, she attacks the instrument with rhythmic stabs on tracks like “Body of Mine,” underscoring her own melodies with blasts of chugging attitude. Just as wide-ranging as her musical influences are her song’s story-based lyrics, which tackle everything from Biblical themes to heartbreak. No wonder NPR became one of her earliest champions, honoring Brasher as a buzz-worthy “slingshot artist” months before Outcast’s release.

“I don’t like rules, and I don’t like to be put into a box,” says the singer, songwriter, guitarist, and bandleader. “I make music that’s garage rock meets the Delta blues meets gospel meets soul. It’s southern music — my version of southern music.”

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Her full-length debut album, Painted Image on Fat Possum Records dropped today.

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A Sound Recommendation: Boston Folk Duo Ari & Mia

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photo:  Kat Waterman

 

Ari & Mia reference the styles of Southern and Northeastern fiddle music and the early American songbook to create a realm where their own compositions cross paths with older traditions. Their stylish and sophisticated music honors the sounds of Appalachian cottages, rural dance floors, and urban concert halls. Combine this with their innovative approach to songwriting and the result is a captivating sound.

Since 2008 the sisters have toured all across the U.S and Australia and are both graduates of New England Conservatory’s cutting edge Contemporary Improvisation department. They’ve opened for Cheryl Wheeler, performed alongside Sarah Jarosz, and played at venues such as Shalin Liu Performing Arts Center, Club Passim, the Parlor Room, New Bedford Folk Festival, and Jordan Hall. Both are award winning songwriters.

Strikingly beautiful, distinctive and exhilarating, with expressive vocals that will find a way into hearts and minds”  No Depression

Ari & Mia are not creating a new music; they are taking it to another level and exploring areas that have not been attempted in decades. Their all-acoustic, pure and honest approach has significance. Treading the edges of traditional folk in a more faithful manner, they share the lyrical wizardry of 70’s bands Steeleye Span, Tir-na-Nog, and the Incredible String Band, with searing harmony as good as The Beach Boys. The sisters sing in unison like two violins,” continues No Depression on the review of their most recent release, “Out of Stone.” Their two previous albums, “Land on Shore” and “Unruly Heart,” ranked high on the national folk radio charts and the duo anticipates the release of a brand new album Sew the City in March.

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We recorded Sew The City in the gorgeous and isolated Great North Sound Society in Parsonsfield, ME,” says Ariel. “An old farmhouse was the perfect place to access quiet and creativity.”

The sisters produced the album themselves, and it was engineered by Ariel Bernstein, with help from GNSS intern Abigale Sullivan. Bernstein also provided insightful input on the production side. “We recorded all of the takes live together in one room, other than a few third harmony parts that we overdubbed and Ariel Bernstein’s added percussion on two tracks,” says Mia. “This resulted in an album that sounds exactly like what our audience would hear at a live show. The sound is organic and full, and it features intricately designed parts for all four of our voices—two vocals and two instruments.”

Recording Sew The City felt freeing and exhilarating for the pair, “most likely due to being isolated in a gorgeous place where our only goal was birthing this album,” says Ariel. “We allowed ourselves to be influenced by the place itself, like when we recorded ‘Unquiet Grave’ directly after we had visited the extremely old and definitely haunted basement. It was late in the evening and raining buckets outside.”

With a sound that SingOut! Magazine praised as “a traditional rootsy grounding with a clear background of classical training” as well as “soothing and fresh, tasteful and accomplished,” the sisters have toured across the United States and Australia since 2008, and both are both graduates of New England Conservatory’s cutting-edge Contemporary Improvisation department. They’ve performed alongside Sarah Jarosz, have opened for the likes of Cheryl Wheeler and Catie Curtis, and have played at venues such as Shalin Liu Performing Arts Center, Falcon Ridge Folk Festival’s Mainstage Emerging Artist Showcase, Club Passim, the Parlor Room, New Bedford Folk Festival, and Jordan Hall. Both are award-winning songwriters: Mia’s song “Across the Water” won the 2010 John Lennon Songwriting Contest in the folk category, and Ari’s song “Old Man” was a semi-finalist for the 2016 International Songwriting Competition.

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Rickie Lee Jones Announces Vinyl Reissues

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After years out of print, Rickie Lee Jones ’ first two albums will be available on LP. Rickie’s self-titled debut album and the lauded follow up Pirates were re-released digitally and on CD via AWAL Recordings in the latter half of 2018. Now they will receive their long overdue vinyl reissues on January 18. 

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Rickie Lee Jones skyrocketed to fame in 1979 when as a barely known artist she appeared on Saturday Night Live. Performing her biggest hit “Chuck E’s In Love” in her trademark red beret, Time Magazine instantly dubbed her “the Duchess of Coolsville.” Since then she has gone on to win two Grammy Awards, appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone twice, and included in VH1’s 100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll.

Released in 1979, her self-titled debut on Warner Brothers won her the Grammy Award for Best New Artist and reached #3 on the Billboard Albums chart. The album’s brilliant songs include the exceptional “On Saturday Afternoons in 1963“, the haunting “Last Chance Texaco“, and the popular “Chuck E’s In Love“, a top 5 pop single. Check out Jones’ Coolsville 1979 Trilogy featuring the music videos for “Coolsville“, “Young Blood”, and “Chuck E’s in Love” below.

Two years after that Grammy-winning debut, Jones released her much anticipated sophomore effort Pirates, which was awarded 5/5 stars by Rolling Stone and called “a remarkable piece of work” by The New York Times. The album featured an all-star band supporting Rickie, including Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, Victor Feldman, and trumpeter Randy Brecker.

Longtime Times music critic Jon Pareles said “The few unconventional songs on (her debut album) hardly foreshadowed what Miss Jones would attempt – and pull off – on ‘’Pirates’ in 1981…’Pirates’ was unabashedly ambitious.”

In recent years, Pirates’ reputation has continued to grow. British magazine The Word included the record as one of pop music’s 25 Most Underrated Albums of All Time while NPR Music listed it on their 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women.

Contemporaneous with that chart’s publication, Rickie performed the album in its entirety as part of NPR’s “Turning the Tables” live show at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park in 2017. On the NPR site, in a feature about Pirates, Alison Fensterstock said, “Few pop artists have ever been as effortlessly cool; still fewer have managed to create a piece of art that sounds like it could have been crafted thirty years before it was, or thirty years after. Pirates has been influential, but rarely imitated. Who could?”

With a busy year ahead, Jones will play her first shows of 2019 in the Northeast this February. Full list of tour dates below.

Tour Dates:

2/21 – New York, NY @ Sony Hall in NYC
2/ 22 – Toms River, NJ @ The Jay and Linda Grunin Center for Arts
2/23 – Beverly, MA @ The Cabot
2/26 – State College, PA @ The State Theatre
2/28 – Derry, NH @ Tupelo Music Hall
3/1 – Albany, NY @ The Egg
3/2 – Old Saybrook, CT @ The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center
3/3 – East Greenwich, RI @ The Greenwich Odeum
6/7 – Park City, UT @ Egyptian Theater
6/8 – Park City, UT @ Egyptian Theater
6/9 – Park City, UT @ Egyptian Theater

A Sound Recommendation: The Blueflowers

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It’s pretty tough to leave the world of Blueflowers once the song starts. You may not want to. The Detroit-based outfit set the mood, they dim the lights, they spark the projector and they transport the listener.

Led by the husband/wife songwriting-duo of singer Kate Hinote and guitarist/producer Tony Hamera, Blueflowers evoke a noir-drenched neverland clouded by a surreal, cinematic haze of reverb.

The group began performing and recording in 2008, eventually self-releasing their debut Watercolor Ghost Town, in 2009. Produced by Hamera, The Metro Times called it “…a genuinely beautiful and touching piece of work…Hinote’s voice remains note-perfect and goosebump-inducing throughout; the musicianship is finely executed and lovingly arranged.”

The Metro Times would crown their 2011 follow-up In Line With The Broken-Hearted, Detroit’s “Best Indie-Release” of the year. Retrospective Magazine credited their sensibility for striking “a weepy but wonderful wall of sensuous sounds, sad but strengthening, emotionally deep without being a downer.” With longtime members David Johnson and Erica Stephens on acoustic guitar and bass, the group welcomed talented journeyman drummer Jim Faulkner on drums after their first couple of years together.

2012’s Stealing the Moon was a transcending trip “down the rabbit hole,” as RUSTZINE called it, inducing vibes of a “David Lynch-esque Blue Velvetworld of dark shadows, cigarette smoke and strong liquor…” Hamera, meanwhile, with his production of the record, cited the dreamy, mellifluous melodrama of icons such as Roy Orbison, The Zombies, Mazzy Star and Nick Cave. Local keyboardist/singer Erin Williams joined to further augment the dark beauty of these songs after having enhanced The Blueflowers’ live show the year leading up to Stealing the Moon’s release.

Hamera and Hinote welcomed their first child in 2012, which surrounded them with the creative chaos and energy they needed to write and record their fourth full-length album, 2014’s At the Edge of Disaster, and earned them a nomination at that year’s Detroit Music Awards, as well as their introduction to the world of licensing, with multiple television placements. “This is one of the most sumptuous albums I’ve heard in forever. Every chord, every note, every word out of Kate Hinote’s lovely throat drips with dark, romantic foreboding. …this is what Patsy Cline would be doing were she alive today. Hamera’s ringing, jangly guitars call to mind everything from Duane Eddy to Peter Buck, and the trippy title track that leads off the CD has a sultry neo-Spaghetti Western vibe.” – Scholars & Rogues

In 2017, Stephens left the band to pursue other interests and Blueflowers’ original drummer, Marvin Shaouni, returned on bass with a few song ideas of his own to hash out. Shortly after, when keyboardist/vocalist Williams moved out of state, Blueflowers returned to a five-piece, and had some creative energy to expel. The result of all this transition and new collaborative effort is the 2018 release Circus on Fire, which may sound like a different band to some.

After nearly 10 years, Blueflowers are still exceptionally adrift between cemented genres. They were never “country,” in the traditional sense, though they’re “western” in a surreal sorta way. It was the twang and the reverb, the mystique and the neo-goth splendor, the evocation of a sound, a style, and a presence that pulled you away toward some lucid dreamsphere beyond a sunless horizon. They diverged from the woolly garage and howling rock n roll of its native music scene and glided further still from the post-punk and indie-pop that propagates along the east coast, and took you west, or at least elsewhere, into a sort-of weird west, into the dark west.

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A Sound Recommendation: Singer-Songwriter Ryan Gibeau

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Ryan Gibeau, a New Hampshire native is a singer/songwriter residing in Brooklyn, New York. His stunning music is a concoction of heartfelt honest lyricism, soulful melancholy soundscapes and alternative pop/rock. Gibeau’s songwriting is an emotional and poignant documentation of a love lost. Through his use of powerful and authentic musicianship Gibeau has been resonating with listeners across the nation.

Gibeau’s debut album entitled Quiet Fall is an eclectic journey through style and mood, narrating a love story from start to finish. With essences of pop and alternative rock, the use of strings brings a unique flavor to the tracks. Thematically the album is about seeing the change you need, taking care of yourself and leaving behind what isn’t right for you. Sometimes we turn life against ourselves, play victim and it stops us from inspiring others. Quiet Fall is about empowering yourself, seeing that change is necessary and getting back up. Written as an immersive and meaningful album designed to inspire others to be your best self, Gibeau reveals “The album was inspired by a relationship kept together by two people suffering from emotional addiction, what it takes to leave and how to get back on your own feet”.

Leading single ‘Flying Away’ was written whilst flying to Los Angeles to leave behind an unhealthy on-again/off-again relationship. The act of finally and physically leaving allowed the lyrics and chords to almost fall out of Gibeau, essentially sonically journaling his experiences and emotions. ‘Flying Away’ highlights the songwriters signature style of beautiful string arrangements, organic instrumentation and raw vocals that tug on your heart strings.

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Room Gets Hotter’ features twangy guitars, smokey vocals and a throbbing bassline. Gibeau reveals, “The theme of my music centres around the concept of love. Often the music subconsciously surfaces and the songs write themselves. I love the exploration and discovery in my songwriting”.

Ryan Gibeau has found success performing to sold out audiences at some of the most prestigious venues in New York. He continues the next chapter of his musical endeavour with Quiet Fall set for release this month.

 

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