PREMIERE: Beth // James Process Grief Through “Voicemails”

Photo Credit: Madeline Northway

In the studio video for “Voicemails,” duo Beth // James strike a balance between vulnerability and strength. 

The song was penned by the husband-and-wife duo of Mikaela and Jordan Burchill, an indie-Americana duo based out of Austin. Mikaela’s father passed away in 2019 and one day, she found herself going through old voicemails on her phone left by her late father. Hearing the sound of his voice saying “Call me when you get a chance” acted as a trigger that prompted the singer to write the personal song.

“I always save voicemails on my phone of people who I love in my life. I saved a bunch of voicemails from my dad and I hadn’t anticipated needing to use them so soon,” Miakela expresses to Audiofemme in a phone interview. “I was having a really rough day and I listened to one of them and it totally wrecked me, and then I wrote this song about it. It’s a song packed full of memories about him. I was thinking about all of the things that we’ve done together and that remind me of him and made him who he was.” 

“Voicemails” details all the nuances that made her father memorable, from reading the morning paper on the back porch with coffee (or whiskey) in his mug, to the story he’d frequently tell about the time he saw a young James Taylor perform in a coffee shop. But the song takes an emotional turn in the chorus as Mikaela professes with tender, yet passionate vocals, “I wish that I could call you back/Oh I wish it was as simple as that/Oh I wish that life was fair/But you’re not really there.”

Mikaela notes that while it was easy to write the lyrics, they proved challenging to sing – she admits breaking down in tears while in the recording studio. “Trying to sing about that from an honest place, it’s hard. You got to do it and get through it,” she says with a laugh. “We do like to have a positive spin, even on sad songs like this, and I think the positive message in this one is that you should remember the people that you’ve lost and think about the memories that you’ve had with them. That’s good thing to do and that’s a healing thing to do.”

“It’s always going to be a hard song to sing and a hard song to write, but I wanted her to feel great about it,” adds co-writer Jordan, who considered himself a support system as Mikaela released these emotions through song. “I love my wife and it was hard watching her having to do that because they’re all lyrics that hit home. Watching her record the vocals for the album was tough.” 

The couple gives the song new meaning with a live performance of “Voicemails” at Studio 1916, premiering exclusively with Audiofemme. Filmed in a house in Kyle, TX (just south of Austin) more than a hundred years old, the duo takes the song inside the sacred space and gives it a stripped down spin. With the camera panning slowly throughout the room, each musician gets a moment to shine in the soft lighting that bounces off the old-fashioned wood paneling, checkered curtains and eclectic tapestries on the wall. “We wanted it to be very real. We wanted to have a representation of the song that was somewhat like the album – a bit more lifted, but still emotional,” Mikaela describes. The singer-songwriter is poised at the piano, which connects to the song’s origins as she began writing the song on piano.

“Every time I sing it, it’s a little bit new and different. I think that has to do with where I am in my healing process. It’s easier to sing now, but it still feels vulnerable when I do it, especially once we all lock in together into that zone. I do feel like recording this video we all were very much in the zone together and it felt like we were all one unit performing it together,” she continues. “It felt really good.”

“I like that the house has a history and that the song has a history,” adds Jordan.

The couple agrees that the most vulnerable lyrics of the song come in the first verse as Mikaela poignantly sings, “I bet you’d like my new songs/I’ve been trying so hard/Just want to make you proud of your girl/While I’m falling apart,” connecting to the father and daughter’s mutual love of music that bonded them. “That’s so true, because he was always a really big supporter of our music and I know he would love this record. I know he’s listening to it somewhere out there,” Mikaela says. “Voicemails” is featured on Beth // James’ upcoming debut album, Get Together, set for release on June 3.

“He would love this record,” reflects Jordan. ”It hurts that he can’t hear it.” 

Seeing as the track was a healing mechanism for Mikaela, the singer-songwriters hope that it will have the same effect on others who are going through the grieving process, and know that they’re not alone. “Especially these past two years, there’s been so much loss in the world. We all know somebody who’s dealt with this in the past two years and hope they find comfort in the song,” Jordan remarks of how he hopes “Voicemails” will impact listeners.

“Many times that people hear it, they are reminded of their own memories with their own person. People have told me that they also save voicemails, or this sounds like their dad or mom, so it’s cool to hear that. It makes me feel real good,” Mikaela affirms. “It’s an experience that unfortunately everybody’s going to have at some point. I really want people to feel seen and like they’re not going through that alone. Everybody feels that together.” 

Follow Beth // James on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

5 of the Best Country Christmas Songs of 2021

Photo Credit: Andrew Eccles / Ilde and Jim Cook for Cookhouse Media

The Christmas spirit is in full swing in Nashville, and with it comes a variety of holiday songs from some of the best artists in the city. The 2021 holiday season finds the likes of Pistol Annies, Brett Eldredge and singer-songwriter Lori McKenna offering festive Christmas-themed projects that capture the heart of the season. Additionally, Grammy-nominated Americana singer Allison Russell offers a moving rendition of a Christmas classic, and rising star Tenille Townes channels childhood memories on “Christmas Cards.” Some are playful, some are nostalgic, and others honor the reverence of the holiday. Here are five of the best country Christmas songs.

Lori McKenna – “Christmas Without Crying”

It’s difficult to pick the most compelling song off singer-songwriter Lori McKenna’s exquisite EP, Christmas is Right Here, but “Christmas Without Crying” showcases the Grammy winning songwriter’s mastery of lyrical imagery like no other. Here, McKenna bypasses the fanfare of the Christmas season to capture the many layers of nostalgia the holiday brings. The poignant number finds her exploring the glory days gone by, painting an image of herself on Christmas morning with a smile on her face so big her eyes are closed. But she also touches on the memories, and people, of the past that cross one’s mind during the holiday season. By acknowledging the specifics of what makes the holidays bittersweet, McKenna tells a Christmas story that is bound to resonate in one’s spirit. 

Best lyrics: “You can roll past that old high school and smile/At the glory days long gone by/You’ll be thinking about Grandpa/When you’re stringing up those lights/And that will be why/You can’t make it through Christmas without crying” 

Pistol Annies – “Joy”

It’s certainly a Hell of a Holiday when the Pistol Annies team up for their first Christmas album! Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angeleena Presley do not disappoint with their mix of sharply written originals and respectable covers. In between all the biting words and sassy phrases, the Annies sneak in “Joy,” a humble, acoustic-guitar led acknowledgment of how the feeling of joy reveals itself in simple ways. Each member of the trio beautifully conveys this, Presley sharing how joy shines through a smile, while Lambert admits it’s in slowing down time to realize what truly matters. For Monroe, who recently finished her final chemotherapy treatment for a rare form of blood cancer, joy is love, the driving force behind all that motivates her to keep moving forward, like a friend offering a hand to hold. From a group that often relies on their quick wit and clever lyricism to tell a tale, this is a welcomed moment of pure joy.

Best lyrics: “Love, so many ways/That’s all it takes/To get up and goin’ again/Love, all the joy it brings/Takes the time it needs/To show up like a long lost friend/Love, joy, it takes time” 

Allison Russell – “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

You’d be hard pressed to find a more stirring rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” than Allison Russell’s. With deep violins and electric guitar supporting her, Russell’s voice carries the weight of the classic Christmas song. Her robust vocals blend gentleness with honesty and emotion, allowing each word to simmer. Russell’s vocal runs could give Judy Garland a run for her money, as her mournful interpretation reminds us that Christmas is not holly jolly for all. As a bonus, check out the Montreal native’s recording of the song in French, which is just as enchanting as the English version. 

Best lyrics: “Have yourself a merry little Christmas/Let your heart be light/From now on/Our troubles will be out of sight”

Brett Eldredge “Mr. Christmas”

Brett Eldredge is arguably the king of Christmas music in the country world. His 2016 holiday LP Glow set the precedent for modern country Christmas albums with his jazzy swagger and Sinatra-like voice. He follows Glow with the equally strong 2021 effort, Mr. Christmas. Complete with a big band sound, the album’s title track sees Eldredge appropriately taking on the persona, tirelessly shining his holiday spirit with nods to candy skies, glitter trees and festive parties. Revelers won’t be able to deny the holiday cheer after one listen of this jazzy tune. 

Best lyrics: “Call me Mr. Christmas/I’ll make your spirit bright/I’ll dry your eyes with candy skies… Yeah, every wish will come true/Yeah, I’ll be Mr. Christmas for you”

Tenille Townes – “Christmas Cards”

One of two originals on her four-track EP Songs For Christmas, Tenille Townes’ “Christmas Cards” puts a nostalgic stamp on the collection. The Canadian native taps into the experience of letting go, while also expressing gratitude for the memories made along the way. She connects the magical childhood feeling of making a Christmas card in crayon for a beloved friend to the present day, as an adult looking back on the changing seasons. Her pure voice reflects the song’s honesty, creating a sweet Christmas tune that has equal power to bring a smile to one’s face and tears to their eyes. 

Best lyrics: “Someone you loved along the way/Becomes someone you used to know/Thank you for the picture, thank you for the past/And I hope you smile as easy in between the camera flash/So here’s to another year/Here’s to our memory” 

Adia Victoria Honors Her Roots on Powerful New LP A Southern Gothic

Photo Credit: Huy Nguyen

For Adia Victoria, creating A Southern Gothic was a demanding process physically, emotionally and spiritually. “I think that this was a record that walked with me through one of the most difficult periods of my life,” Victoria expresses to Audiofemme in a Zoom interview from the porch of her Nashville home. “It was a very physical process of writing this record.” 

Though the exquisite new album captures Victoria’s deep Southern roots, she had to travel across the globe in order to tap into them. In January 2020 – just before the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic – the South Carolina native jetted to Paris where she met with creative partners Jack Jones and Marcello Giuliani, equipped with another important travel companion: books. As a frequent traveler to the City of Light, Victoria often brings literature with her, this time immersing herself in the words of Southern writers, along with Alan Lomax’s famous recordings of field workers, absorbing the sounds of a pick ax hitting the ground to the breaths between members of a chain gang.

“Words hit different over there for me, and my relationship with speech and rhythm and words. I’m hearing spoken words differently there. You could walk for miles in the city and never run out of things to ponder. For me, that’s the perfect recipe to create art. Art just pours out of me there. I go to Paris in order to see more clearly. I think the distance gives you a little bit more of a boundary. It’s not so raw to write about over there. I get to tap into a different part of myself,” she observes.

“When I was writing the beginning portion of this record, I was far away from the South, but trying to root myself there,” she continues. “I needed to feel connected somehow to the dirt and the landscape of the South where so much of myself and stories I tell are created through that interaction of the land and the person. A lot of what guided me in the initial stages was wanting to pay reverence to the Black folk that came before me who created the blues while bent over crops and cotton.” 

After arriving back in Nashville from her trip abroad, Victoria got to work with creative partner and instrumentalist, Mason Hickman. While crafting the album, Victoria was working as an Amazon warehouse employee, lyrics naturally coming to her as she walked the aisles fulfilling orders. The singer recalls a particularly grueling shift, feeling depleted by the eighth hour and experiencing intense anxiety with the pandemic raging and many unanswered questions lingering. “It was in the thick of hell and I was walking and I was like, ‘What am I doing here?’ I felt so lost,’” she remembers.

But this painful moment turned into a source of refuge as a song began to form in her mind that manifested into “Carolina Bound,” pouring out the sense of desperation she felt for her home state of South Carolina. “I long for my mother brother and sister too/To see and smell the ocean turn my pain into blues,” she sings over a melody that strikingly blends the bluegrass nature of the banjo with the pain of the blues. “I mean to leave and not be found/Like a river run underground/I am Carolina bound.”

“I felt this homesickness, this primal need to go back home,” Victoria conveys of the song’s origins. “It literally came out of my body writing, walking, and working. The song definitely helped me transcend the dread of the present, and I feel like that’s something that the blues has always been for Black people. It’s been a transcendent art form for us, like a cultural heirloom that we’ve passed down,” she says. “There’s been so much drudgery done to our bodies that sometimes the blues of the mind, the poetics of the blues, have been our best means of escape and transcendence from the bullshit.” 

The singer-songwriter and poet brilliantly captures her roots and reverence for the history of her ancestors through her voice. Intentional about not wanting to make a record that was “strictly autobiographical,” Victoria takes into account the harmful traditions of the South from multiple angles across A Southern Gothic, asking as many rhetorical questions as she offers observations, stepping outside of her own perspective to see from the vantage point of many other compelling characters.

We meet a “Mean-Hearted Woman” who is coldly forced out of her home on Christmas morning by a husband who’s found another lover. Jason Isbell, Margo Price, and Kyshona lend supporting vocals on the standout “You Was Born to Die,” which finds Victoria flexing the dynamics of her voice, layered over a melody that’s as much a character in the story as the lyrics themselves. The sobering “The Whole World Knows” follows a struggling drug addict who feels like an outsider in her church-going community, while a young woman mourns the death of her sister in “My Oh My.” Victoria proves she has a fierce tongue and spirit to match on “Deep Water Blues,” undeterred in addressing white supremacy head on, proclaiming, “Now it’s been too many times I been put in a place/To have to wipe up a mess a white man made/Like my grandmama did and her mama did too/So I’ll be awful glad to get me clean of you/And let the water do what water do.”

“I wanted to almost have the record be a meditation on the way that perception is seen in the South. Who’s the narrator of one’s life? Is it you, or is it the way people perceive you? What does it cost a person who’s not able to live up to what it takes to belong in a group? What does belonging even mean? What are the ways that we’re asked to sacrifice ourselves in the name of Christianity and respectability and good manners?” she reflects. “I wanted some of the songs to be looking at this girl who can’t belong from an onlookers’ perspective and then some to let her speak and let us hear her prayers and her meditations. I don’t know which perception is accurate.”

Stepping outside of her own frame of mind didn’t come without its challenges. The singer cites “Far From Dixie” as the song she felt most vulnerable writing, a process that required time and patience. “I was in a troubled way and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say,” she admits. “I’ve learned never to write down what you don’t mean. Even if it’s not about you, if it’s not true to you coming out of your hands, I’d rather drive people crazy for a year than commit to something that I knew was not the heart of what I needed to say.” 

Always one to honor her word, Victoria reclaims the narrative of the phrase “Southern Gothic,” often defined in literature by flawed characters, darkness and a feeling of alienation. With this powerful body of work, Victoria owns her space as a prolific Southern storyteller like the ones who came before her. “Typically when people think of Southern Gothic, they’re thinking of a particular aesthetic of the South that is centered in whiteness and centered in white dread and white anxiety and white fear of ‘the other.’ But I wanted to reclaim that title to be used as a marker of a Southern Black girl’s experiences growing up doubly othered and skewered so far outside the dominant culture narrative that centered itself only by excluding you. I wanted to center the mythologies of a Black Southern girl. I wanted to center her experiences and place them shoulder to shoulder with other Southern writers who claim to speak for the South,” she explains. “It was my way of putting my work under that umbrella of Southern narrative and Southern storytelling. It’s my way of authorizing the experiences of girls that look like me, who grew up where I did.” 

Much like the respite the album-making process provided her, Victoria hopes that A Southern Gothic compels others to look inward. “A Southern Gothic, it’s a story. It’s a record that’s very much rooted in my body, rooted in the South, rooted in the dirt. It’s a record that kept me rooted when I wanted to float off into a cloud of anxiety last year. It’s kept me rooted to a true part of myself that exists audaciously independent of all the madness and the chaos. It showed me that there’s a part of me where art comes from that’s mine and it exists purely for itself and it can save your life, that part of you,” she professes of the album’s personal impact. “I would hope that it challenges [listeners] to engage with the lessons that the dominant narrative has imparted upon us to really question the particularities of the way that you walk through the world, the way the world walks through you, and consider the weight that is taken on by society’s eye upon you. How does that alter you? I would challenge them to listen more closely to their inner lives.” 

A Southern Gothic arrives on September 17. Victoria recently launched season two of her podcast, Call & Response. She’ll open for Jason Isbell at the Ryman Auditorium on October 24 and appears on his upcoming covers album, Georgia Blue, set for release on October 15. 

Follow Adia Victoria on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Maggie Rose Brings Understanding to the Table with Timely Have a Seat LP

Photo Credit: Ford Fairchild

“Who I am inherently as a person is someone who wants to change and push the envelope,” Maggie Rose professes on a phone call with Audiofemme. “I really think that sustainability in any career, but especially in music, can only be achieved if you’re switching it up and changing it and pushing yourself and exploring your capabilities further.” 

Rose lives and breathes this proclamation. Having had her fair share of experiences trying to find her identity in the music industry, it’s not hard to see how much she’s evolved from the 21-year-old who made an impression in Nashville under the name Margaret Durante with a countrified cover of Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody.” Under independent Emrose Records, her back-to-back singles “I Ain’t Your Mama” and “Better” landed inside the Top 30 on country radio. More than a decade later, she’s donning a bold pixie cut and a fierce look in her eye to match, putting forth a brazen sound that continues to showcase her powerful voice.

She shed her mainstream country image with 2018’s Change the Whole Thing, a live album that further proved her superb vocal chops while introducing her undeniable soul sensibility. “It left everything on the table and laid it bare. I realized what I could do as a singer and the beauty and urgency of live music, how important that was to me. That led me to realize that I’m a soul singer too,” she describes of the organic project. “That really unlocked a huge thing for me.” 

The album came at a time when the Maryland native felt she had nothing to lose, “untethered” from the confines that gated her creativity in the past. Asking herself what kind of music she really wanted to make, her response was to bring all the players in one room, writing songs with Larry Florman and Alex Haddad of Nashville-based rock band, Them Vibes, and recruited Bobby Holland to produce.

“It turned out to be so magical. The experience itself was so enjoyable and educating for me and freeing, but also the product was beautiful. It was really something that was genuinely new, and I said, ‘Okay, we have to make the whole LP this way,’” she recalls. “It felt like 10 years or more into my career, a rebirth of sorts.”

Change the Whole Thing proved to be an imperative step in Rose’s artistic journey, leading to the bluesy, jazz-infused sound that defines her latest album, Have a Seat, out Friday, August 20. Recorded at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the album reflects the music she was raised on, Rose calling on the iconic voices that came before her in the studio including Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Bobbie Gentry.

“I know I don’t I know everything/But you’ll never know what I can bring/
To the table if you don’t have a seat with me,” Rose wisely sings on album opener “What Are We Fighting For,” a reminder to set aside differences to foster real communication. The album’s titular phrase here has the effect of a warm welcome to the listener to sit at a table where there’s always a place for them. 

Though recorded primarily before the pandemic, the album is arriving at a time when the U.S. is seeing a surge in cases of COVID-19 due to the Delta variant, and follows a year of civil unrest and rallies around the world for social equity in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. “I realized that these themes of inclusivity, a little frustration with the social and political contention of the world, and wanting to be heard and to hear other people and be an individual, all of those were themes that were even more resonant with me after what we’re all going through,” she contemplates of the album’s title. “It is about making room for everybody at the table and giving each other the space to speak our minds, even if we don’t agree with each other. I think having the empathy and compassion to do that is the most loving thing that we can do to our fellow man, stranger, or people that we know very well.”

“On a specific individual level, for me, it was having had this conversation for so many years of where I belong on the musical landscape,” Rose adds. “This is my way of being like, ‘this is my seat right here. I belong here and only I can fill it and only this person can fill that seat,’ and having pride and power in claiming it.” 

Throughout the album, gritty, yet subtle electric guitar compliments Rose’s smooth voice, neither one overpowering the other on songs like “For Your Consideration” and “Saint” that simmer like a slow burn, while “Are We There Yet” and “Do It” capture the throwback funk, soul and R&B melodies driven toward the goal of giving a live audience a night they’ll never forget (along with lyrical depth).

During a time of forced pause in 2020, Rose also tapped into the art of listening. “That was a period of time for me where I was home and really taking in the world around me and doing some self-reflection and dealing with how isolation can magnify our own internal struggles and voices that negate our efforts,” she says. She launched the Salute the Songbird  podcast where she engages in deep, honest discussions with fellow artists ranging from Valerie June and Amythyst Kiah to This Is Us star Chrissy Metz, Rose absorbing their knowledge while listening to her inner voice. “I’ve always thought of development as grinding and rehearsing and playing shows and being out there and staying out there, and we did in many ways, but this was also a huge state of development for me that I probably wouldn’t have undergone in this short of a time if we hadn’t had this crisis fall in all of our laps.”

Her personal reflections go deep on the album, particularly on “Saint.” The smoldering, blues-leaning number finds her confronting a false sense of perfection projected onto her by others that she’s also made a habit out of accepting for herself. “I’m only human/I’ve made my mistakes/It’s hard to feel high when you’re falling from grace,” she states point blank in the lyrics while owning her “restless heart,” promising to “keep falling” as she watches her halo fade. It’s perhaps the most human song on an album filled with them. “Masterfully written” by Charlotte Sands, Jon Santana, and Brett and Brigetta Truitt, Rose says she felt an immediate connection to the song. “That one really floored me and made me feel seen and give myself a break. I’m not a saint; why are you expecting that of me? Why am I expecting it of myself?”

Then there’s “For Your Consideration,” a song that blends empathy with anger. The swampy, bluesy melody caters to the lyrics that encourage those on opposing sides to put down their egos and access compassion to see from one another’s perspective. “Just look at all the room I’m making for your consideration,” she sings in the defining line. “I really love that song for this moment,” Rose observes. “It’s really quite dynamic in the range of emotions that we’re going through in that song. [It] feels to me at this moment, even if it’s loud and overwhelming, expression has to happen right now, because I think that we’ve all been sitting in our own corners. Isolation can create paranoia, can make us feel misunderstood, and we start having these narratives in our head that aren’t true and maybe we wanted to duke it out.”

Meanwhile, “What Makes You Tick,” featuring Marcus King, ponders what compels us to do what we do, while “Telephone” addresses the toxicity of social media and the “erosion of information” as it passes from one person to the next, like the childhood whispering game. But “Help Myself” is where Rose gets most candid. The playful melody doesn’t distract from the clever lyricism as she takes aim at Instagram culture and its endless supply of self-help remedies to numb the pain, the lyrics addressing how our culture has adopted the habit of nursing our wounds with internet tips as opposed to doing the deep work that leads to true healing.

While in the writers’ room with Whissell and Kyle Dreaden, Rose says the trio had countless examples of “dodging unsolicited advice,” offering a dose of humor in the chorus where she nods to “pills and candy” as self-medication, eventually delivering the punchline with the admission “Despite what the experts said/I’m only here to help/I just can’t help myself.”

“We’re in a minefield of ‘here’s this quick fix to solve all your problems,’ and then we implement them and we’re still dealing with the same problems,” Rose says. “I think there are a lot of things that we can do to help ourselves, but it seems like we’re wading through a sea of tips and quick fix solutions when we really should be doing the harder work of looking inward and figuring out what the root of the problem is.” 

Looking inward is at the core of Rose’s process, hoping that the intention she poured into Have a Seat will be felt by those who need to hear its messages. “Songs always change for me. I think they are these beautiful things that start to absorb meaning as they live longer. I don’t think that they really start their lives until you give them away, so that’s why we released this music,” she shares. “I want it to be an experience. I don’t want people to think that I have the answers, but I hope it’s thought-provoking. I hope people have fun and there’s a huge level of escapism. It was really awesome to be so intentional about this project. It feels like a triumph.” 

Follow Maggie Rose on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for ongoing updates. 

Joy Oladokun Chases Darkness and Light on Major Label Debut in defense of my own happiness

Photo Credit: Nolan Knight

Joy Oladokun has crafted noteworthy art with her major label debut album, in defense of my own happiness, out June 4 via Republic Records. Leaning into cinematic melodies that embrace a pop, R&B and folk-friendly blend, the Nashville-based artist has a voice rich and lush with stories of pain transformed into power. Across the album’s 14 songs – which include fantastic collaborations with Maren Morris and 23-year-old singer-songwriter and poet Jensen McRae – the Arizona native and child of Nigerian immigrants embraces themes of bettering oneself and cleansing her soul, shedding the trials of the past while standing tall in her own grace.

You can catch Oladokun on the road this year as an opening act on Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s tour in September, in addition to appearances at Bonnaroo Festival on September 2 and Austin City Limits Music Festival on October 1. Visit Oladokun’s official website for more information. In the meantime, here are five standout tracks on in defense of my own happiness. 

“Breathe Again” 

Featured in season 5 of This is Us, all it takes is one listen to “Breathe Again” to become an instant fan of Oladokun, even without NBC’s endorsement. Her voice sparkles like a gemstone under the light on this gentle piano number accented by a soft orchestra. “Breathe Again” serves as a true demonstration of raw vulnerability as Oladokun shares her personal, innermost thoughts with the world. Fragile enough to bend, but strong enough not to break under the pressure, Oladokun takes a hard look at herself as she’s trapped by inner demons, yet reaching toward the light. “Breathe Again” feels like a moment of self-betterment and rebirth, making for one of the album’s most triumphant moments.

Best lyrics: “Follow me down where the waters run deep/I’ll let you drown in the worst of me/If my intentions are good why can’t I come clean”

“Hold my breath until I’m honest/Will I ever breathe again” 

“I See America”

The album’s second shortest track is also among its most thought-provoking. Here, Oladokun takes an aerial perspective on the melting pot that is America. Rather than taking a stark political stand, she looks at unity from a refreshing perspective. Blending subtle observations with potent lyrics that manifest god in the form of a man on the street with a tear drop tattoo on his cheek and dirt under his fingernails, she also manages to illuminate the balancing act of human relationships. As she reprises the pinnacle mantra, “When I see you/I see us/I see America/I feel your pain/I share your blood/I see America,” it has a powerful way of manifesting in the listener’s spirit.

Best lyrics: “I feel your pain/I share your blood/I see America” 

“Mighty Die Young”

With a voice like an echoing beacon in the darkness, the dynamic artist delivers a tribute to the fearless leaders who used their voices to lift up noble causes, leaving this earth with glitter in their eyes, smoke in their lungs and dust on their tongues – symbols of a job well done. In two minutes and 18 seconds, Oladokun counteracts those who’ve dealt her more than her fair share of indignity with an endless well of kindness, ending the song with the fitting proclamation and a declaration of resiliency.

Best lyrics: “I’m not mighty/I’ve only just begun/The mighty die young” 

“Heaven From Here”

Alongside glimmering harmonies from duo Penny & Sparrow, Oladokun confronts mortality in this gentle piece. She sings of seeing a heavenly view through the cracks of the stained glass windows in an abandoned house once shared with the person she loved, now a relic of their faded union. With a plucked acoustic melody that evokes the feeling of rain bouncing off a window pane, the song finds her asking the universe to give her another day to enjoy life. It is as much a song about perspective as it is about pondering the mystery of life, likely to prompt deep thought in anyone who listens deeply.

Best lyrics: “Just terrified of getting older/‘Cause no one goes with you to the other side”


Oladokun ends the album on a light note with “Jordan.” Despite being baptized in the sacred Jordan River only to be bound in chains, she’s soon freed by a deep love. Building a new promised land with the person who saw past the scars and turmoil to the beauty underneath, the lyrics celebrate what they’ve built together. Carried by a peaceful instrumental, Oladokun culminates the song with the declaration,  “now I’ve found love, there’s no turning back” — ending her beautiful debut album with a defining statement that sets the stage for a bright future. 

Best lyrics: “You loved me though I was not lovely or deserving/You kissed the curse from my lips/And taught them to rejoice again” 

Follow Joy Oladokun on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Allison Russell Finds Truth, Reconciliation and Forgiveness on Debut Solo LP Outside Child

Photo Credit: Francesca Cepero

Allison Russell has created a masterpiece with Outside Child. As a member of acclaimed supergroup Our Native Daughters alongside Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah and Leyla McCalla, and one-half of duo Birds of Chicago with partner JT Nero, Russell steps out boldly and bravely with her debut solo album, released May 21. With a voice that is modern, yet timeless, Russell calls to the listener’s soul with eleven compelling compositions wherein the Montreal native explores the deep trauma of her past, processing the abuse she experienced as a child at the hands of her stepfather.

“This is my attempt at truth and reconciliation and forgiveness – a reckoning and a remembrance,” Russell says in a statement about the album that she admits was difficult to write, comparing it to “sucking the poison from a snake bite.” “This is my attempt to be the hero of my own history.” The singer accomplishes this through deep, vivid imagery and awe-inspiring storytelling that captures both darkness and light, offering a profound perspective on the human condition.

Here are five standout tracks from Outside Child.


The album’s third track finds Russell immediately addressing the violent physical abuse she endured throughout her childhood. Persephone, who in mythology is the goddess queen of the underworld and spring growth, materializes in the form of a friend Russell runs to as an escape from the abuse. “My petals are bruised, but I’m still a flower,” Russell observes, flexing all the dynamics in her voice. The song exudes a sense of softness in contrast to the tense subject matter it encompasses, as the steel guitar glimmers like a ray of sunshine that casts light in the darkness.   

“Hy Brasil”

The cinematic score that opens the song immediately pulls the listener in with its striking blend of horns, gently shuttering symbols and foreboding drums, all establishing an ominous feeling that Russell allows to simmer for nearly a minute before she speaks a word. There’s a sense of heaviness and intrigue as Russell connects another myth to her complex reality; one can almost imagine traversing the Atlantic Ocean to find the unreachable island of Hy Brasil, with its black rabbits and 21 petals of daffodils shrouded in the mists West of Ireland. “Though I drowned for 10 years/I’m still rising/Stronger for my pain and suffering/My body’s been broken/But my heart’s reborn/I’m freer than the sky,” Russell chants, her intoxicating voice calling to her ancestors as she channels the empowering mantra born from pain and sorrow, her unwavering presence felt through the speakers on one of the album’s best.

“All of the Women”

Russell digs deep into her roots on this track, where a steady kettle drum provides a meditative beat throughout the homage to the one in three women who’ve endured violence and sexual abuse – and the many lives lost to such crimes. Experiencing the song is akin to walking through a dense, dark forest where the North Star reveals itself in the form of an unbreakable woman that remains unbroken despite the relentless trauma she’s faced – much like Russell herself. Get ready for chills as she wails, “It’s fear I can bear/’Cause I’m stronger than anxious/I’m tougher than luck/Never been despised so much/Or hit so hard I couldn’t get back up,” with the sound of choral voices backing her to emphasize the immeasurable strength and resiliency she, and the many others who have experienced abuse, carries within. It feels as though Russell is summoning the souls of all the women who “disappeared” and offers a melody that rings in one’s head long after the song is over, alongside a message that resonates even deeper.


On the album’s lead single, Russell demonstrates some of her purest, most universal lyricism, providing a bit of respite from the heavy material, even as she revisits the painful moments from the past. Embracing all elements of the universe, Russell finds herself in the darkness and light, from the dove on the battlefield to a “violent lullaby.” But in line with a recurring theme of the project, Russell experiences a rebirth through lyrics, “I’m the moon’s dark side/I’m the solar flare/The child of the Earth/The child of the Air/I am The Mother of the Evening Star/I am the love that conquers all.”

“Joyful Motherfuckers”

A title like “Joyful Motherfuckers” is destined to be gold, and Russell certainly does not disappoint. Between a simple, plucked acoustic guitar with sprinkles of piano and soft drums, Russell ends the album on a gentle note that finds joy through the “fearless lovers,” “rainbow shooters,” “hopeful sinners” and “true forgivers.” Trading between English and French, each lyric is rich in wisdom and profound thought in a way that feels as though she’s reconnecting with her childhood self. “You got love in your heart/But it’s way down in the dark/You better let it see the sun/This world is almost done,” she professes, closing the album with the universal call to action: “Show ‘em what you got in your heart.” As Russell processes her trials and triumphs through this unforgettable collection of songs as a stronger, wiser and joyful woman, she provides healing not only for herself, but the world at large.

Follow Allison Russell on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Ashley Monroe Is Full of Joy on Latest LP Rosegold

Photo Credit: Alexa King

Ashley Monroe and engineer Gena Johnson were sitting on the front steps of historic RCA Studio A, located on Nashville’s iconic Music Row, where the two were recording Monroe’s 2018 alum, Sparrow. Nursing a bottle of Mexican Coke, Monroe handed Johnson her pair of rose gold sunglasses as she told her, “‘the world looks so much better through these. You have to put these on for just five minute and embrace it, take it in.’” Unbeknownst to the friends and artistic collaborators at the time, the seed for Monroe’s new album, Rosegold, was planted. Those seeds come into full bloom this week with the LP’s April 30 release.

Not long after Sparrow was made, new melodies began coming to Monroe’s mind that were a far cry from the traditional country sound the 34-year-old established since moving to Music City from her native Knoxville, Tennessee as a teenager. Intent on creating a “very specific sound” that deviated from her critically acclaimed 2013 sophomore album Like a Rose and Grammy-nominated 2015 follow up, The Blade, the songs took form after she left her record label, allowing her an artistic freedom where she deeply connected to the songwriter within. “Something was inspiring me in the songwriting core of myself of ‘create this feeling that you’re feeling and amplify it and freeze it and reverb it and layer it and harmonize with it.’ I wanted it all to be very different,” Monroe defines to Audiofemme in a joint phone interview with Johnson. “I wear rose gold sunglasses, so I feel like that’s what it feels like when you put this record on.” 

Replacing her signature twang with synthesizers and strings and adding pop beats where bluegrass-style instruments used to be, Monroe called upon trusted confidant Johnson to engineer the project. Johnson, whose extensive credits include serving as engineer for Chris Stapleton’s 2020 album Starting Over and Brandi Carlile’s Grammy-nominated By the Way I Forgive You, along with assistant engineer on the late John Prine’s Grammy winning 2018 album The Tree of Forgiveness, made history at the 2021 ACM Awards by becoming the first woman nominated for Audio Engineer of the Year.

Johnson recalls getting a phone call from Monroe early on in the album’s writing stages, and that Monroe described the new songs as “full of joy” and “full of love.” “I was blown away,” Johnson recalls of hearing “Flying,” the first song of the new batch that Monroe sent to her. “I was hooked from the very beginning.” 

After penning the songs, Monroe would take them to Johnson’s “lab,” the two spending hours dissecting the songs and adding the right effects to bring them to life. The longtime collaborators trusted the process throughout, allowing the creative energy to take force – like adding a melody to “Groove” that came to Monroe in a dream days before mastering was complete, or Johnson going so far as to purchase new sound equipment to elevate the melodies. They also added little tricks along the way, such as the sound of a camera flashing on “See,” or whale noises layered over a hip-hop beat on “I Mean It.”

Each song was given a treatment that emphasized its meaning; for instance, the pair consciously made “Flying” feel exactly like its namesake when the piano and strings meet the pop bass. “I really work with emotion and experimentation,” Johnson explains of her process. “It was inspiring to be able to go out of my comfort zone and what I wasn’t used to doing as much and really go 100 percent in what feels good and not what it is right for a specific genre. Not having those limitations was epically creative and opened a door for me, too.” 

Perhaps just as distinct as the sonic evolution is the lyrical one. Monroe was intentional about leaning into lightness with Rosegold, a contrast to the heartache and sorrow that was wrapped around her angelic voice on her previous records. Many of these darker tales were inspired by Monroe’s real-life tragedies, such as when her father passed away from cancer when she was 13 years old. “My life was bad, and I’m not saying that lightly,” she says with a slight chuckle. “Shockingly, it went from great to bad times, and then I held onto music in a different way.” The East Tennessee native was adamant about making a “joy-based” record this time, a by-product of becoming a mother to three-year-old son Dalton in 2017, whom she was pregnant with at the time of making Sparrow. “I think that my last record opened the door to this new part of me,” she says. “This love switch has been turned on inside of me and set on fire in a sense that I haven’t felt in a long time.” 

Monroe brought this joy-based mindset into the lyrics, a direct reflection of the quiet moments she experienced at home with her husband and son during the COVID-19 pandemic, sprinkled like gems across the project. “There were a lot of moments of stillness with the sunshine shining in the windows that I was trying to hold on to,” she details. “Lyrically, I wanted all of the words and all of the things I was saying and all the melodies to line up to take people away and freeze time for everybody for a second. I was hyper-focusing on words and talking about love that also provided the feeling that we were going after, that warm feeling, that moment in time when everything is okay and you’re just drenched in joy.” 

Those moments of pure joy shine through in such potent imagery as “you’re a California/Pourin’ that sunshine on my soul” on “Gold” to the love-soaked “I Mean It” where the singer feels deeply present, Johnson purposefully accentuating all aspects of her voice as she sings, “I’d be in the dark without your light/When I tell you I can’t live without you baby/I’m not talking crazy/I mean it/Your love’s the only breath I’m breathing.”

Then there’s the gentle “Til it Breaks” that Monroe wrote with a friend in mind who was going through a challenging time. Though written pre-pandemic, Johnson says she was brought to tears by the encouraging number that feels like a hopeful hand extending through the darkness, as Monroe reprises in a meditative manner, “let it melt away.”

Monroe brings her own inner odyssey to light in the introspective album closer, “The New Me.” Co-written by Monroe and her longtime friend and songwriting collaborator Brett James, she spent hours re-working until her distinct vision was met. “Take a peak inside my soul/All the rust has turned to gold/It’s different now/I can’t wait ’til you see,” she beckons, the eclectic ballad serving as a symbol of rebirth. “It means reborn on the inside,” Monroe says. “Once you truly understand how to love, and the power of love, and once you are humbled by it and surrender to it in a way, you’re a different person.”  

It’s no coincidence that an album built on purity and light ends with a choral of angelic vocals leading into the words “I’m alive and on fire/Now that I’m ready to love,” sending the listener out with the chills that Monroe and Johnson felt while making the dynamic project. “We both know what a gift is and what something you’re born to do is, and we both feel like we’re doing what we’re born to do,” Monroe reflects.

“I think setting our intentions and being really intentional about having joy and leading with positivity, and knowing where we’re at and having big conversations and getting in the right mindset, was huge. It’s all emotion to me. Anytime we could get goosebumps ourselves, we knew we were doing it right,” Johnson observes. “The record to me feels like love through and through. From the beginning to the end in different stages, it embodies it.” 

Monroe initially believed that Rosegold would only be a collection of five songs. But it later doubled in size to encompass 10 tracks as experimental as the woman who created them, one who embraces the artistic process at every step. “I always like to give people chills. I think that’s a good sign. That means that you’re connected to the spirit when you can supply a set of chills to someone. I wanted all of these to be constant joy chills,” Monroe proclaims. “I felt like it was telling a complete story.”

Follow Ashley Monroe on Facebook for ongoing updates. 

Americana duo Ida Mae Mythologize the Touring Life with “Road to Avalon”

Photo Credit: Joe Hottinger

Americana duo Ida Mae have a way of creating magic through their music. Comprised of husband and wife Christopher and Stephanie Jean Turpin, the duo traversed across the pond from their native London to Nashville where they’ve released two spectacular projects in the form of their 2019 debut album, Chasing Lights, and follow up 2020 EP, Raining For You

But all roads lead to Avalon – a faraway, mythical land they capture in “Road to Avalon,” the opening track on their upcoming sophomore album, Click Click Domino, out July 16th via Thirty Tigers. The duo capture the mystical feeling of Avalon — the famed island in Celtic mythology that serves as a place of renewal —  in the song, which opens with the plucking of a haunting banjo and ringing ukulele. Met with their equally enchanting voices, the lyrics call on vivid imagery that compares highways to ribbons, the twosome traveling roads so deep they feel like lost dogs with “raw boned, stony feet.”

Part of what makes Ida Mae stand out is the way they allow the music take its time, each note simmering as they detail the “heartaches and visions” they experienced on the road to their destination. The couple says the song was inspired by the cities they passed through that felt abandoned or forgotten, with the goal of creating a “sparse Trans-Atlantic dream state,” honoring this mission through lyrics one can’t help but want to dissect. “We are the names that came before you/Now we’re just drifters barricaded at the border/Sharing whispers in the shadows painting pictures on our gallows,” they sing, with a sense of passion that can be felt through the speakers. 

“Road to Avalon” is merely a continuation of the distinct and eclectic sound Ida Mae has established over the years – the melodies allow the mind to wander, while the lyrics pull you back in with their poetic nature. The gorgeous title track from last year’s EP, which will also appear on Click Click Domino, exemplifies the duo’s songcraft. “Raining For You” evokes the feeling of driving through wide open spaces as they sing, “In the stillness/You begin to rust/A heartbeat ain’t enough without some love/The night keeps calling/The sky keeps falling/And I keep raining for you.”

Despite the grandiose, cinematic nature of these tracks, most of them were recorded in the couple’s home-built studio, in two or three live takes. Initially, they had wanted to record Click Click Domino in a more traditional studio setting, with the English producer who helmed their debut; though their plans were stymied by the halt of international travel, they leaned into faithfully reproducing the energy of their live show, giving new life to the songs they’d played to enthusiastic crowds night after night before the pandemic hit.

You can hear that energy best in the scorching “Click Click Domino” as it offers a searing take on the vapid world of social media with its “aesthetic apathetic,” “prima donna playboys” and “populism politics” as told over a bluesy, gritty, guitar-heavy melody. 

Ida Mae dance among a beautiful marriage of country, bluegrass and folk, their production efforts taking the listener for a scenic ride through their imaginations — proving they have what it takes to leave a distinct mark on the modern world of Americana music. 

Follow Ida Mae on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Kelly McFarling Relishes the Lushness of a Lost Time on Deep The Habit

As we reach the year anniversary of the pandemic and all of the disarray it has brought into our lives, people have begun to reflect on how it’s changed them. One such person is Bay Area singer-songwriter Kelly McFarling, who released her latest LP Deep The Habit on March 12. She recorded the album pre-COVID but chose to delay the release until now. Rather than worrying about how some of the original meaning might be lost, however, she hopes that it has become all the more poignant; calling Deep The Habit “a very beautiful time capsule of this group of people who I really miss a lot,” McFarling admits that although so much has changed, “it feels nice to celebrate it right now.”

The delightfully mellow collection of ten songs is welcome in this new paradigm, comforting in its warmth and its new spin on old classics. McFarling intended for the record to sound like a feminine take on J.J. Cale or Dire Straits. She felt “like there was a little gap in that canon,” saying, “I wasn’t hearing a lot of female voices within that realm, and I kind of wanted to have more of a female-fronted version of that.” But McFarling infuses this traditionally masculine, bluesy-Americana sound with softness and vulnerability, giving us something refreshing and honestly soothing. Moments of pop sheen, like the hook on “Birds,” give the record a touch of witchy Stevie Nicks cool, and McFarling’s refinement of her folk sound on previous records (like 2017’s Water Dog, 2013’s Ridgeline, and 2010 debut Distractible Child) calls to mind Hiss Golden Messenger or Molly Sarlé. 

There’s a lushness to Deep The Habit, one born of McFarling’s effort to highlight the talent of the musicians she has playing in her band (Tim Marcus on pedal steel, Oscar Westesson on bass, Nick Cobbett on drums, Andrew Brennan on guitar, and Brittany Powers on backing vocals). “I think it’s kind of an evolution we’ve been doing, of folk music into a more lush, rock album,” she explains. “More instrumentation, more complex arrangements for a band. My previous album was a lot more stripped down, in a folk realm. [On Deep The Habit] I was going for something that would really showcase the band that I’m playing with right now.” 

She names family as the major theme of the album, but notes that the word has many connotations – “questions about family, about whether or not to have a family… the family I’m building in my life.” On a more macrocosmic level, the theme of “family” as it relates to humanity in general (and the demise of our planet as we know it) haunts the listener as McFarling croons “Am I the last of my kind?” over and over on the hook of “Last of My Kind.” “I think another major theme is connection to the natural world, and having that tie into family as being a citizen of the planet and the changes that are happening there – just feeling a lot of sadness about that,” she says.

These musings on family and humanity are more poignant in March 2021 than they ever could have been in early March 2020; many of us are at a point where we’ve never gone so long without seeing our families and loved ones, while having also been robbed of the daily interactions that instill our lives with a sense of familiarity and comfort. McFarling acknowledges this, saying, “It is interesting to me how many of those themes were coming up, and maybe even being foreshadowed before this all happened. I’m sure people will perceive it differently based on the pandemic, but it was all [written] before.”

This consideration makes the idea of a time capsule all the more dynamic, something living inside us and changing with us, as opposed to something buried deep in the ground. The resentments and frustrations we might have felt of those close to us maybe don’t glare the same way they used to, in the absence of these same people. And alternatively, the joy and pleasure we felt in their company becomes all the more precious and golden in hindsight.

The concept of family has become more dynamic for McFarling in this time as well, as it relates to her relationship with her partner, co-producer, and guitarist Andrew Brennan. Quarantined together, they’ve begun to collaborate musically more than ever, though she emphasizes that he already was a major part of Deep The Habit. “Andrew is one of the major evolutions of this record we’re about to put out as well, because he has a huge part in the arrangement and some of the writing, getting it ready for this big band,” she explains. “I feel like the record we’ve been making during quarantine has been the next step in that collaboration.”

While some bemoan long empty hours and too much togetherness, McFarling basks in the positive aspects of it. “I tend to get inspired when things are a little foundationless and tricky, so this time has been ripe for that,” she says. “My husband and I are stuck in a house and we are using that time to write songs together, which has been really beautiful.” 

She heads back into the studio to record another album in May, noting how weird it is to be recording and releasing an album at the same time, no album cycle, no tour. More than anything else, she wants the listener to take from this album its overarching joy, despite its deep themes and sometimes melancholy sound. “I think a lot of that has to do with the band and how joyful it was to play music together. You can hear that in the way that these songs came out,” she says. “The joy that comes through in the record makes me appreciate that we got to do that. I know that we’ll get to do it again, but not getting to do it, and then hearing the songs, and hearing the sounds together is bittersweet – but also hopeful for me.”

In the end, that’s all any of us can do when life throws us the unexpected – try not worry about what’s out of our control and find joy in what is. Kelly McFarling sums it up nicely on album track “Just As Small”: “You can see just how small you really are/While we aim for what is coming/And we ache for what is gone.”

Follow Kelly McFarling on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

al Riggs Commemorates the Birth and Death of the “Emo Revival” on Latest Single

Like any music scene, the Emo Revival of the early 2010s was littered with problematic men wielding power over others. Durham, North Carolina-based singer-songwriter al Riggs returns to that era, not to wallow upon those treacherous slopes, but rather to share honest stories of pain and heartache born out of it. With the aptly-titled “Emo Revival,” premiering today via Audiofemme, al Riggs emerges as a remarkable storytelling vessel, a somber amber glow of guitar and gentle percussion pulsing around them.

“This is about a lot of stories that are not mine to tell, but mainly it’s about witnessing the birth and death of a musical movement in real time,” Riggs tells Audiofemme. “Entire mini-civilizations pop up from time to time and it’s always fascinating to be on the sidelines and witness it until you realize that these are real people (and all that implies) and not the magical architects some folks would have you believe. What a fuckin’ weird time it was. This is a song about someone hoping a dead movement comes back, for good and ill.”

Riggs beholds the emo flame as it ignites and then sputters out on the final stanza. “You weren’t ready to grow that fast/You had friends, then you didn’t have friends,” they cry. “Just a wall to de-thumbtack and shove into a box/Then move on like your future depends on the revival/Then you moved on like your future depended on the revival.”

“Emo Revival” is Riggs’ “pathetic version” of Joni Mitchell’s 1970 classic “Woodstock,” from her Message to Love album. “It was a very specific moment in time that we’re still reckoning with, but I wanted to write it in a way that was as poetic or faux-poetic as any song written about the hippie movement,” they explain.

Usually one to start with a phrase or a title first, Riggs crafted the song around the very loaded term “emo revival” from observing online discourse around very specific bands like The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die and Brightside. Riggs’ performance also speaks to the experience of many friends and ex-friends who once saw their careers flash like a comet in the night sky. “That era was certainly fun, and we got a lot of great music out of it. But I definitely don’t want to go back there,” they say. “I can attest for people I know personally ─ that whole ‘movement’ was just chock full of creeps and people who just wanted to reign supreme.”

“Emo Revival” appears on Riggs’ forthcoming LP, I Got A Big Electric Fan To Keep Me Cool While I Sleep, out April 2 via their own Horse Complex Records. The single is a bit of an outlier to the album’s overarching theme of relationships and queer domesticity. Calling to Father John Misty’s 2015 record, I Love You, Honeybear, in regards to structure, Riggs traces “the path of where I started to where I am now, in terms of my relationship with my now-husband” across 10 other songs ─ Riggs also notes lead single “America’s Pencil” as the other track which lies far outside the general theme.

The record begins with “The Most,” a deceptively anxiety-ridden intro into a an album that ultimately blooms into much brighter, warm colors. “It is a weird way to start an album that’s ultimately about a happy subject, but I think it works as a reminder that the story of the album is an excursion,” Riggs notes. “It’s not an easy path and doesn’t have a 100 percent happy ending. There are good days and there are bad days.”

Later, a cover of “Ragged but Right” finds Riggs linking up with two “bookends on the same spectrum of queer country, the past and the present,” in genre stalwart Patrick Haggerty, frontman of Lavender Country, and Paisley Fields, who has recently broken out with their 2020 record, Electric Park Ballroom.

“I had this song in my head for years,” says Riggs, noting the George Jones version they gravitated toward most growing up. “It’s one of those rare country songs that actually has a happy ending and a contentment to it. It’s someone who has lived a long, troubled life, and finally has settled down with a family and realizes there’s nothing wrong with that at all.”

In their own right, al Riggs is prolific in the Americana scene. They’re most known for a high level of output, often releasing two or more records in a single year. Since their debut in 2016, Riggs has recorded and released nine studio albums, including 2020’s Bile and Bone with producer Lauren Francis. Despite such a consistent stream of music, I Got A Big Electric Fan To Keep Me Cool While I Sleep feels wholly special in the bunch.

“I have figured out how to write about myself in a way that doesn’t seem glorifying or self-pitying. I’ve learned how to better indulge more universal themes and let the songs grow,” they say. “I’ve also learned to let things change and get better. I think the same can be said about my relationship and marriage. We’ve been together for four years. That’s the longest relationship I’ve been in, and I think one of the reasons why is patience. There’s always room for improvement and compromise. It’s easy to spot what is and isn’t worth fighting for.”

“I’m very lucky to have a partner who is tremendously empathetic and works with me in a way that doesn’t feel condescending. He meets me where I am, and that’s rare,” they continue.

Their husband is arts journalist Dustin K. Britt, who actually wrote the press release around the record, and for a very specific reason. While the record certainly explores their relationship, Riggs did not “want to think of him as my muse. It is absolutely not that kind of relationship at all. I hate that trope ─ that this person is my muse and nothing else. It’s a dangerous way to be in a relationship and to make an album.”

Riggs adds, “He points out in the press releases that he only really shows up once or twice over the whole album. It’s not specifically about him, or even me, although it is sometimes. It’s more about the growth between myself and him and the actual bonding and congregation of feelings.”

Follow al Riggs on Twitter and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Alt-Country Artist Tracy McNeil Explores New Beginnings on You Be The Lightning

Photo Credit: Ian Laidlaw

At the beginning of 2020, country singer Tracy McNeil had decided to finally stop dividing her life, giving up her day job as an educator and packing up her belongings to dedicate her life to touring her music. That new chapter began with the February 2020 release of her fifth album You Be The Lightning via celebrated label Cooking Vinyl Australia; it features her Americana-style approach to country, influenced by both her Canadian roots and adopted hometown of Melbourne. While the universe had other plans, necessitating a temporary return to teaching, You Be The Lightning has been critically acclaimed, securing high rotation across mainstream stations ABC Radio & Double J, and community radio airplay across Australia.

Tracy and her five-piece band The GoodLife finished off 2020 by achieving an ARIA Award nomination for Best Blues and Roots Album, an Australian Music Prize nomination, and an award for Best Country Album at the Music Victoria Awards. From April to July this year, McNeil and her band will tour around Australia. It’s not the rollicking, barnstorming tour she may have envisioned when writing You Be The Lightning, but it’s live and loud and that’s redemptive in itself.

You Be The Lightning is a rejuvenation, a rebirth, sparked by a human place, wanting to feel alive and connected the world,” says McNeil. “It’s about really wanting to feel something. It’s not biographical, but it’s inspired by what I was seeing around me in terms of people sleepwalking through life and not recognising their full potential.”

McNeil studied dance in Canada after finishing high school and began doing open mic nights a few years later. This was the beginning of her solo music career; she assembled a band in 2006 for her first album, Room Where She Lives, and at the same time was offered a position in post-graduate studies in Australia. McNeil opted to research the music scene in Melbourne, which conveniently enabled her to network and befriend local musicians including Jordie Lane, Liz Stringer, Steve Hesketh from The Drones, Melbourne singer-songwriter Suzannah Espie, and The Idle Hoes, some of whom went on to appear on McNeil’s records. McNeil organised a few gigs around town, ultimately juggling both study and full-time employment with her fledgling Melbourne music career.

“I moved here in 2007 to do my teaching post-graduate diploma in education,” recalls McNeil. “I was going to go back to Canada ten months later as a performance and dance teacher. However, I ended up teaching in a high school here. In fact, I’m doing some teaching in Brisbane at the moment. It’s a double-life: music and a solid day job as a teacher! I did quit in 2020, which was because I intended on music  being full-time, so I was purely writing music and planning the tour and now I’m doing some short-term teaching work until the tour starts.”

In February last year, just prior to Melbourne’s first lockdown, McNeil lead Dan Parsons (guitar), Bree Hartley (drums), Brendan McMahon (keyboards) and Craig Kelly (bass) into a compelling live set at the Stag and Hunter Hotel in New South Wales’ Newtown. That night, she performed “Drunken Angel,” the track labelmate Lucinda Williams made into a classic on her 1998 album Car Wheels On A Gravel Road. McNeil likes to do justice to each song, much as Williams has done her entire career. There is no strict genre that McNeil feels beholden to, apparent in the variety on You Be The Lightning. “There was a Neil Young Harvest-esque vibe on one track, whereas on another we layered up the drums and tracks in a very pop style,” McNeil says.

Recorded live to tape – a mix of analog and digital – at The Aviary Recording Studios over three weekends, You Be The Lightning took over a year to complete. This was due to McNeil’s teaching obligations, but it was also the meticulous layering of overdubs, vocals, guitar, and final touches co-produced with Parsons at the helm. It’s been a time of endings and awakenings for McNeil, whose marriage to a fellow musician (that she prefers not to discuss) ended during the making of the record but created the space in which Parsons and McNeil could fall in love with each other.

“The whole experience was tumultuous,” she admits. “It was a very personal time for me, the making of that record. I recall the tape machine broke during ‘Stars’ and we had to go back and start again. I’ve never had a more emotional rollercoaster ride making a record. It was a vulnerable record in terms of themes and working with Dan to produce it. The whole process of falling out of love and into love made it a crazy time to make this album.”

The songs are largely fictitious, a change in approach after the rawness of grief and healing captured on 2016 album Thieves, which was emotionally and energetically sculpted by the death of her father, Canadian singer-songwriter Wayne McNeil. You Be The Lightning was less of a catharsis and more of a record of her emotional landscape over the four years it took to write, rehearse and finally record the songs she’d labored over.

Parsons has proven the ideal collaborator and partner in every sense. “Dan and I have similar musical taste and we think very much on the same page when it comes to music,” McNeil explains. “Dan is far better than me on articulating how to execute ideas in a way that we can accomplish it in studio. Dan’s the musical director of the band, I would say. I trust him completely, and he trusts me completely.”

The irony, McNeil explains, is that when two artists pursue their dreams, it can have dire consequences for the relationship in the long run. “Being on the road together is romantic on so many levels, but it’s not my first rodeo with being with another artist… it’s hard,” she says. “You’re both chasing an end goal that, if everything goes to plan, would move you away from each other.”

The couple have been writing together, and often played shows as a duo prior to the pandemic, scouting audiences and venues for GoodLife gigs. The forthcoming Australian shows will be a welcome treat to fans who’ve waited to see You Be The Lightning live – not to mention a relief for McNeil, her partner, and her band. “We’re chasing the same target and our dreams merge,” she says. “We really look forward to focusing our energy in one direction for a little while.”

Follow Tracy McNeil & the GoodLife on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Shannon Clark & the Sugar Triumph Over Loss on “Let It Ride”

Shannon Clark & the Sugar hail from Greenville, Ohio, home of the American sharpshooter Annie Oakley. It’s a connection that feels natural when listening to their upcoming album Marks on the Wall, a collection of what lead singer Shannon Clark often calls “Midwest Americana Soul.” The record (out May 14, 2021), twists and turns in terms of genre, but their latest single “Let it Ride” may be the most personal, a shot to the heart. It’s a diary entry straight from Shannon’s past and a call to action for the future.

“I’ve buried a daughter way before her time/I’d take her place a million, million times/but I let it ride,” Shannon sings, his eldest daughter Navie Clark’s husky voice vibrating slightly as it echoes his own. The pace of the drums, played by Shannon’s wife Brittany Clark, is steady, acting as a form of meditation throughout. It’s a song that could easily play in the back of a nouveau western film, the story behind the lyrics lost in moving images. But once a listener’s ear tunes in, the story can’t help but move into focus.

“Everything in that song, every line that I sing in that song is real,” Shannon explains. “I do have a sister that lives in Modesto, I don’t ever get to see her. She’s my half sister. My dad, who I didn’t meet ’til I was 24, I found him, he didn’t find me. My mom went through a lot of abusive relationships when she was younger.” For Shannon, the journey of this particular blues song is exploring the negative elements of his past before shrugging them off triumphantly – leaving them not in the dust, but as a carefully placed notch in the belt of existence.

Shannon’s love of music started from a childhood soundtracked by classic country and rock ‘n’ roll acts, from Patsy Cline to Queen. His mom was a radio disc jockey for fifteen years, working at a few major stations in Dayton, Ohio. “She was really well known around the area,” Shannon says. “She was a single mom, so I would go to the radio station – she got to drag me along because she didn’t always have a sitter. She’d work the late shift, I’d be coloring on the floor of the radio station while she was spinning records. That’s kind of where I got my start I guess, my love of music. She’d drag me to concerts, make me sit in the press box with her until it was over.” Shannon even met Reba McEntire and Vince Gill, but remembers his 6th grade self being impatient, angsty, and less-than-impressed.

Shannon and Brittany grew up in the same small town, even went to the same church, but ultimately met playing music. “I was playing in a band and we had a big show coming up. Our band broke up and I needed a drummer to fill in,” Shannon remembers. “I asked her because someone said she was playing drums, and she did, and we became really good friends. That grew into more; 16 years later and we’ve got these guys running around.”

It was a moment of kismet that mirrored Brittany’s newly found passion for drumming. She had been practicing for a few years before she joined the band, but performing was never top of mind – her first show was the one she performed with Shannon. “It was kind of an accident because my uncle had this old drum set that he’d had when he was in high school,” Brittany recalls. “It was from the sixties. Just this old piece of crap, full of dust. He was like ‘Hey if you want this, take it. Otherwise it’s going to the trash’ right? So I took it, drug it home, cleaned it up and put new heads on it.”

She practiced by playing along with her CD collection, particularly Sheryl Crow. “I would listen to these Sheryl Crow albums and I would learn every single song,” she says. “I would just play religiously. I would come home from school, I wouldn’t even do my homework, I would just go down and play drums for two hours. I know I drove my parents crazy… There wasn’t really a motivation to be in a band. I just loved playing. It was an itch I had to scratch. No lessons – Sheryl Crow taught me.”

The band started out as a pop punk group called Everybody Else Wins. Brittany was 16 when they recorded their first record. “I always kind of wrote the same way, but I put it behind heavy guitar riffs and catchy melodies,” Shannon said of the time period. “My love for music was always deeper than what I was doing then. That was what was popular. When you’re young you don’t always have a lot of depth of knowledge. It took me ’til later to realize that wasn’t the kind of music I really loved.”

The band was on the move, touring and performing at Warped Tour in 2006 and 2007 on the Ernie Ball Stage. Then Shannon and Brittany’s second daughter passed away, and their hearts just weren’t into touring. The Clark family kept creating music, but kept it at home, teaching eldest daughter Navie how to sing harmonies to Ryan Adams songs.

“I started playing guitar when I was younger,” Navie Clark tells Audiofemme. “My dad bought me a guitar and I was maybe four or five, and I kinda always had one lying around. But I didn’t really get serious about playing ’til about a year ago, year and half. I think I was getting into new music, my taste was expanding and I wanted to be able to play this music I was hearing. And I think piano, we just had this gap in the band. We needed someone to play.”

“I’m proud of her because she has a record player and she plays good records, but she does like Harry Styles,” Shannon says. “It’s my guilty pleasure music,” Navie responds with a grin.

For the last three years, the family has performed as Shannon Clark & the Sugar, bringing together Shannon’s love of Glen Hansard and Amos Lee, Brittany’s love of John Prine, Bob Dylan and Brandi Carlile, and Navie’s love of old-school Dolly Parton.

Their upcoming album Marks on the Wall is the first album Shannon and Brittany have sat down in a studio and written together; previously, Shannon took the lead on songwriting. “[Brittany’s] always felt self-conscious about writing,” Shannon explains. “She didn’t think she could be a writer – she didn’t have that creative spark, she told me. These are her words, not mine. As we progressed, I’m coming in constantly, she’s doing dishes, taking care of the kids, and I’m like ‘Hey check this out, listen to this song, listen to this riff,’ and she’d always give me ideas and pointers. Our whole marriage she’s done this, so she’s really been writing with me since we were first together.”

As the album progressed, Navie also began finding her place in the band, taking the harmonies her parents wrote and rearranging them. The resulting music is layered: a father’s voice speaking his truth, his daughter’s voice echoing it back to him.

Navie has also had to step up in a big way for a sixteen-year-old musician. Michael Chavez, John Mayer’s former touring guitar player, played guitar on the record. Navie takes his spot in the band’s live performances, singing not only the harmonies she’s written, but also the guitar licks Chavez created during the recording process.

The band worked with Grammy award-winning producer, Mark Howard (Bob Dylan, U2, Neil Young, Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, Emmy Lou Harris, Willie Nelson) on the record. It was Howard who insisted on a recording rule: three takes, we’re done. “This record’s not perfect; it’s not supposed to be,” Shannon says. “We wanted to capture moments so the performances are raw and they’re emotional and they’re live. We sang together in the room instead of separate tracks. I feel like you can feel that on this record and that’s what I wanted.”

Brittany was behind the idea of an imperfect recording, too, adding, “If you go to a live performance you’re going to hear chairs squeak or something off. [The record has] that live feeling.”

Much of the record is deeply personal to the Clark family, touching on personal histories and deep-seated pain. It’s the reaction to the pain they’re interested in exploring in songs like “Let It Ride.”

“It doesn’t matter when the rain comes, as long as you get dry,” Shannon says of the song. “Everyone’s gonna have something that happens to them. I think a lot people can hold on to those things their whole life and it effects their lives. Those people hold power and those situations hold power over that person. They can never be who they were meant to be, they can never develop into a regular beautiful person because they’ve got all this baggage they bring with them constantly. And I think that it’s important to let it go.”

“Let it ride,” Brittany and Navie echo in unison.

“Once you can commit it to a recording, that’s therapeutic too,” Brittany says. “You can get it off your chest, it’s concrete somewhere and you don’t have to carry that.”

The Clark family is disturbingly well-adjusted, easily joking with one another, poking each other about a recent fight they had just before the interview (Brittany spent the majority of the conflict banging on her drum set). They speak a common language: music, the driving force in their lives. It’s the medium in which they speak to one another and to their audience. For now, with COVID-19 still raging throughout the country, live shows are at a standstill, but the band is chomping at the bit to perform some mini-tours, just as they did when they were starting out. In the early days, they’d leave their young children with a family member.

“We would try to go play three or four shows, and come back,” Shannon recalls. “We never wanted to be bad parents – that was more important than the music to us.” Now that Navie is in the band, they don’t have to worry about that too much – and Shannon Clark & the Sugar have never sounded so sweet.

Follow Shannon Clark & the Sugar on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Amanda Shires and Jason Isbell Take Compassionate Stance on Abortion with “The Problem”

Photo Credit: John Shearer

Amanda Shires goes where country artists have rarely gone before with her new song, “The Problem,” a heart-rending ballad that shines a spotlight on abortion.

Gentle piano notes act as a guiding force as Shires and her husband Jason Isbell narrate the story of an 18-year-old couple who are met with a surprise pregnancy and face a challenging decision. The lyrics take us into the complex inner dialogue as the couple weighs the options, the singers’ emotional, steady voices transporting the listener into the thoughts they share aloud with one another, Isbell asking “What do you want to do?” with Shires responding “I’m scared to even say the truth, this has been the hardest year.” “Is it even legal here?” Isbell ponders.

Shires’ character carries the weight of the situation on her shoulders, stating that she’s trying not to think of names while wondering “Is a chrysalis a butterfly?” before packing a punch at song’s end where she vulnerably shares “Do you think God still sees me/Coming out of this twilight sleep/I’m not sure who I am/Staring into my empty hands.” But what makes the song especially poignant is Isbell’s unwavering support for his partner’s decision, the two singing in unison “It’s gonna be alright” before he assures her, “I’m on your side.”

Written four years before its timely release on September 28th 2020 – International Safe Abortion Day – Shires channeled the stories of friends’ experiences into these teenage characters. But Shires also has a deep personal connection to the subject matter, sharing in in an interview with The Boot that she had an abortion when she was in her late 20s. She became pregnant not long after Isbell’s 2012 stint in rehab for alcohol and cocaine addiction. Shires determined that terminating the pregnancy was “the absolute right decision” and was met with support by Isbell. The two later married in 2013 and welcomed a daughter, Mercy Rose, in 2015.

To give back to those in the same position she was once in, Shires is donating 100 percent of the proceeds from “The Problem” to the Yellowhammer Fund, an Alabama-based abortion fund and reproductive justice organization. “It’s regionally specific to where we live; Jason is from Alabama. Unfortunately in our area, there is not enough support, community education or access,” Shires shares in a statement to Audiofemme. “Yellowhammer provides access to women’s health and women’s reproductive issues where options for terminating pregnancy are fewer and far between. I prefer women to have access to healthcare instead of taking it in their own hands to their detriment. I wanted the proceeds to go to Yellowhammer because we believe in the same things – being able to make choices without shame or state interference.”

Yellowhammer Fund Executive Director Laurie Bertram Roberts is “honored” that Shires chose the organization as a beneficiary, saying the “beautiful” song brought her to tears the first time she heard it. “There’s so many things in the song that resonated with me,” Roberts shares with Audiofemme.

The words in between Shires and Isbell’s voices particularly struck a chord with the activist. As co-founder and former executive director of the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund, Roberts has spent countless hours on the phone fielding calls from those seeking an abortion for themselves or a loved one. She describes how Shires’ piece captures the very essence of the people on the other end of the line. “The thing that resonated with me is it sounded so much like so many of our callers,” Roberts says. “The conversation was just so real to me. It’s so much of what people relay back to me in conversations over the phone; they sit and have that conversation with their significant other or their parents.”

“The Problem” is powerful because it puts a human face on what can be an agonizing decision, regardless of the circumstances. Roberts says that the Americana-singing couple resemble the variety of ages and backgrounds the clinic sees in its clientele. “They look like people who would be at a clinic more so than what people have in their mind as a stereotype of who would go to a clinic,” Roberts explains. “I also think it’s groundbreaking that she was even willing to share it. She’s in a long line of abortion storytellers, but there aren’t many that have done it in song.”     

Laurie Bertram Roberts. Photo credit: Yellowhammer Fund

While all of the lyrics contribute to the compelling story, when Shires sings in her Dolly Parton-esque voice, “No one even has to know,” it directly correlates to how Yellowhammer staff engages with patients, assuring them that whichever decision they choose will be met with compassion. “Those are strategic choices that people have to make because of the culture of shaming and stigma that we have around abortion,” Roberts states about a woman’s decision whether or not to publicly share that she’s terminated a pregnancy. “Something I’ve talked about with my staff is the power of having all of your options, whether or not you choose to have an abortion or not. Sometimes being able to weigh all your options makes your parenting more powerful, even in an unplanned pregnancy, because it means that when you go ahead and decide ‘yes, I’m going to parent,’ you’re not resentful about it. You don’t feel trapped, because even if it was unplanned, you had all your options and you were like ‘I choose this.’ Even though you didn’t plan to get pregnant, you chose what option and what road you wanted to take, and that is a very different journey than ‘I’m pregnant and I didn’t plan on being pregnant and now I’m stuck.’ I think about those things all the time for our people that call us. They should not have to weigh those things, it should only be their decision.”

As Shires emotionally bares “This has been the hardest year” followed by Isbell’s simple, yet haunting question, “Is it even legal here?” Roberts remarks that their exchanges echo sentiments expressed by Yellowhammer’s clients, while also breaking through the larger media narrative surrounding abortion. Though attempts have been made to restrict access and services across all 50 states, abortion remains legal in the US; this is the first statement people hear when they reach the Freedom Fund voicemail, though Roberts explains that that media coverage on potential clinic closures tends to obfuscate that simple fact. “That’s something I’ve heard over and over again for the last six years of doing this work,” Roberts remarks in regards to Isbell’s question. “All we see is this very politicized information around abortion, not reality. The thing I like about the song is that it’s not angry, politicized, it’s not any of that – it’s just a story about life.”

Golden Shoals Examine Privilege, Politics, and Life on the Road with Third Album

Amy Alvey and Mark Kilianski are preserving the ethos of old Americana music, not only through their band Golden Shoals’ songs but also through their performance style. With Alvey on fiddle and guitar and Kilianski on guitar and banjo, they’ve toured on foot with backpacks, lived in vehicles, and floated between Asheville, Boston, California, and New Jersey over the past seven years. Their third album, Golden Shoals, memorializes this time on the road, embodying the roots style the band has mastered while also putting a twist on it.

“Mark and I have been pretty much living on the road since 2016, so a lot of these songs — I mean, most of them — were written as we were traveling just because that was our way of life,” says Alvey. The result is a combination of love songs and meditations on larger issues like race, class, and gender.

In the single “Love From Across the Border,” Kilianski reflects on toxic masculinity and how it’s affected his relationships: “It took me far too long before I finally realized/I didn’t know how to compromise/I was so high/I didn’t know that I was hurting you/I didn’t know that I was hurting myself too.”

Alvey examines her own race and class privilege in “Sittin’ Pretty,” which contrasts her own relatively carefree life with vignettes of the lives of American families who are struggling to make ends meet and those embroiled in tragedies like school shootings. The lyrics grow increasingly grave as her voice remains happy-go-lucky against lackadaisical guitar and fiddle melodies, creating an appropriately eerie, uneasy feeling.

“Reading and hearing about all the stuff that was going on in the news was pretty terrible, and meanwhile, Mark and I were feeling sort of disconnected from it all because we were living a life where we were just kind of going to the next gig and figuring out where we were going to stay afterwards; we were doing our jobs and getting form point A to point B,” says Alvey. “At this point, I’m now making much more of a pointed effort with myself to just be more involved, and just because it’s not affecting me doesn’t mean there aren’t things I can do, whether it’s educating myself, donating to organizations, listening, and following activists of color.”

The album’s bold ventures into heated topics is its biggest strength, combined with its lyrical depth as it explores spirituality, politics, and everyday life. In “Brood of Hate,” Kilianski sings of an unnamed “monster in the White House” in a haunting tune accompanied by mesmerizing banjo, observing that “everyone wants to be Jesus Christ, but nobody wants to die.” In “Going Down, Down, Down,” he declares that “the soul is not a blank check so much as a sack of cash buried underground.”

The album also provides new perspectives on romantic relationships in tracks like the wistful breakup song “New Friend” and the ballad “I’ll Fall in Love Again,” which Alvey refers to as a twist on the Hank Williams “sad country boy song” template, reimagining the disappointment of being “friend zoned” by celebrating the friendship it entails. “[Kilianski] wrote it at first and then he changed the meaning of it, because I think this is another part of this toxic masculinity culture, where being friend-zoned is seen as this shitty thing, like ‘I can’t believe she friend-zoned you.’ He changed the ending to celebrate that [even if] you can’t be lovers with them, a friendship is an equally valuable connection.”

Alvey and Kilianski met in 2008, when both were students at the Berklee College of Music. Previously trained in classic violin, Alvey was excited to learn to play bluegrass and folk songs, and Kilianski similarly learned this new style after playing rock and jazz guitar. They started playing together locally, then decided to embark on their first tour while en route to Arkansas to visit a friend. They’ve also partaken in an annual tradition of hiking around Massachusetts with instruments and tents, playing at community concerts.

They originally called the band “Hoot and Holler,” a nod to a phrase used in square-dance calling, and to “hootenannies,” old country parties where people would pass a guitar around and sing. But a few years ago, they changed their name to avoid confusion with another Hoot and Holler. It also reflects their changing sound, evident on the new album, with drums, electric guitar, and more thorough production than their past work. And in addition to the usual stripped-down duo songs, they recruited musician Landon George to play upright bass and drums.

Still, the new album retains the band’s traditional Appalachian mountain music influence; the chorus of the first track, “Everybody’s Singing,” is a composite of traditional bluegrass and classic country lyrics, as well as an instantly recognizable line from Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel.” Not only does it provide insight into Golden Shoals’ influences, it embraces unabashed, genre-spanning love for all kinds of music – especially the soul-affirming sing-along.

“We’re always just trying to write better songs, make better music, always trying to stay true to ourselves – whatever that means,” says Alvey. “Just serving the songs as we hear them to help share our authentic voices.”

Follow Golden Shoals on Facebook for ongoing updates.

S.G. Goodman Lives the Change She Hopes to See on Striking Debut Old Time Feeling

Photo Credit: Meredith Truax

S.G. Goodman stands as a pioneer for rural voices through her captivating debut album, Old Time Feeling, with a distinct way of embracing Southern traditions while slashing through harmful stereotypes. She demonstrates Southern hospitality by delivering groceries to her elderly neighbor, and in the same breath, denounces Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, asserting in her song “We Don’t Want You Mitch McConnell” that the state has “suffered” under the senior Kentucky senator’s reign. She makes it a point during a phone interview with Audiofemme to encourage her fellow Kentuckians to vote for Amy McGrath, the Democratic nominee running for McConnell’s Senate seat in the 2020 election, Goodman’s left-leaning views providing an antithesis to those who believe the South isn’t socially advanced. “The South has a bad reputation when it comes to civil rights and certain social injustices, and that’s true, we should definitely own that. But I would say that this current administration has proven that a lot of the things people want to point their finger at when it comes to the South, it’s actually everywhere, but the South is the main scapegoat,” Goodman analyzes.

Raised by a large extended family of farmers in Hickman, Kentucky, a town so small it didn’t have a stop light, Goodman was taught from a young age the values of hard work and dependability. The farmer’s daughter-turned-singer-songwriter is now using her voice to tell an all-encompassing Southern story on her glowing album, Old Time Feeling. She describes the 10-track compilation as a mix of “good, basic love songs,” like the “Tender Kind” of love she sings of on the gentle steel guitar-driven track, and “politically-leaning songs,” owning her identity as a sharecropper’s daughter who’s clever enough to know what outsiders think when they hear her thick Kentucky accent on “The Way I Talk.”

“Ultimately, that’s a pretty good picture of a lot of people’s experience in life, which is we’re human beings – we feel things and we do things,” she describes of the album. “I do write about my experience with living in a rural place, and I take that really seriously. I try to be respectful of my characters, no matter the P.O.V. that’s happening in the song, and not ever make a decision to not include something that may be a colloquialism for where I’m from, but try to be authentic through the process.”

Lyrically brilliant and stirringly poignant, Goodman strikes an intimate balance between spotlighting the plight of her home region, along with its beauty, through her music. This delicate dance is wrapped up in the album’s compelling opener “Space and Time,” touching on the lack of acceptance she felt from her community upon coming out as gay, yet acknowledging that each person she’s encountered has left a sincere impression. “I owe my life to even my enemies/The ones who have loved me/The ones who have tried/Their grips on my heart/And their grips on my mind…I never want to leave this world without sayin’ I love you,” she cries. It’s the last line of the chorus that opens the album, leaving an impact on the listener as meaningful as the one imprinted on her by her hometown. “It has a lot to do with reflecting on what makes a life, a life – the sum of all of our experiences happen to be other people and their involvement in your life. We can learn from good situations and from hard situations, but they still are a part of your life,” the singer observes. “I think sometimes when you don’t feel like you’ve said something as eloquently as you wanted, sometimes the best way is just coming out and saying the obvious. It’s not a bad way to start out an album by presenting a song that says exactly what you meant and all that you had to say.”

Goodman continues to directly express her opinions as she joins the thousands of people around the country who have flooded the streets to march for racial justice, taking to heart the lessons instilled in her as a child. “Being a farming family, the family’s work is everyone’s work,” she recalls. “A big thing that was stressed at my house was if you don’t know what to do, then you should find something to do.” Goodman channels this initiative into her music, particularly in the universal line “Be the change you hope to find” that she professes in the album’s hopeful title track, words she doesn’t merely sing, but has turned into action to create the just world she seeks.

“There are a lot of people marching in the streets in rural, mostly all-white towns across Kentucky. It has been really powerful. I’m not surprised that rural communities would take part in this because I know that there are people here that will call out injustice when they see it. It’s brought about a lot of long overdue discussions and I think there’s no getting back to normal. We’re as a society asking hard questions of ‘what do we want our world to look like?’ and we actually do have the power to change that,” she says. “How else are things going to change unless you pick up the hammer yourself?”

Follow S.G. Goodman on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Nicole Boggs & The Reel Infuse “None of Your Business” with ’70s Rock Nostalgia

Credit: Duende Vision

Nicole Boggs is unwilling to be put into a box, both socially and musically. Since the singer-songwriter released her jazzy debut album Overcome in 2013, her sound has ventured into different genres with the help of guitarists/songwriters Alex Kramer and Sam Gyllenhaal and bassist Loren D. Clark, who together form Nicole Boggs & The Reel. Their latest single, “None of Your Business,” exemplifies the group’s versatility as well as its latest mission: to bring back ’70s rock ‘n’ roll.

“28 long days ago, you passed the joint and said you didn’t love me/And all that I could think to say is, ‘That’s a whole lot of bad news to get at breakfast,'” begins the single, a tongue-in-cheek declaration of independence from a an ex-lover. The song was inspired by a turbulent breakup Boggs went through, but she says it’s more broadly “a ‘fuck you’ to anyone who is standing in your way.”

In contrast to Boggs’ soul and jazz-inspired solo music, “None of Your Business” and the rest of the Nashville-based band’s eponymous EP (out July 3) is heavily influenced by bands like The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac. Boggs also hears hints of ’90s Sheryl Crow in the single, which was recorded during a live show at Nashville’s Ocean Way studio — quite possibly because she brought in Nashville musicians who had worked with Crow for it.

The video similarly gives off nostalgic vibes, with the band members divided into Brady Bunch-esque quadrants in between flashes of psychedelic imagery and old TV shows, along with footage of them doing everyday things, like chopping vegetables. Boggs jokes that the only idea she had for the video before making it was that she wanted to incorporate fruit — and, indeed, you will spot her on the floor surrounded by fruit toward the end.

“If you watch the video, you can kind of tell there wasn’t a plan,” says Gyllenhaal. “I think that makes it more fun to watch just because of all the random stuff we do in that video.”

This is the first EP the group members all wrote together, which makes it more cohesive than their past work. Their personalities shine through sarcasm, loud three-part harmonies, and fun, energetic grooves you can’t help but stop and listen to – and of course, all those guitar riffs. “We were having trouble finding a regular keyboard player, and everything happened to be built around the sound of three guitars, which in of itself creates something that feels more dry and aggressive and in-your-face,” says Boggs.

The songs are each in their own way about “not taking shit and standing up for yourself,” says Boggs, who took inspiration from her own experience as a woman in the music industry. On the first single, “Money,” which draws from conversations she’d had with industry big-wigs, she declares her unwillingness to sell her soul for fame. “I’m Gonna Break Your Heart,” a single released in April, is one of the band’s bluesier tracks, with hints of the Black Keys, as Boggs warns a future lover, “I’m a mean bitch and I tear everything apart.”

The band is currently working on new material that responds to turbulent times with their most political music thus far, in light of recent instances of racial violence and protests against police brutality.

“I see that being the future for us,” says Boggs. “We’re standing up for the injustices right now, and these are the tools we have to do so.”

Follow Nicole Boggs & The Reel on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Brandi Carlile Brings Nashville to New York in “Road to the Garden” Mini-Doc

Bradi Carlile plays Madison Square Garden

Brandi Carlile crossed a music threshold when she made her headlining debut at Madison Square Garden in 2019, the folk music visionary watching a seemingly out-of-reach dream come to life before her eyes.

The legendary venue chronicled Carlile’s journey to the stage with a two-part, four-minute series titled “Road to the Garden” that offers viewers a glimpse inside Carlile’s perspective as she prepares for the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Ever the eloquent speaker, Carlile is introspective as she describes what this coveted opportunity means to her. “I am a visualizer and I’ve visualized some really big things in my life. But this might’ve actually been outside of my imagination,” she explains in a voice over that opens the mini-doc, capturing the final moments before she walks on stage. MSG completes the holy trinity of New York venues that artists dream of performing in, including Radio City Music Hall and Beacon Theatre. Carlile remarks that taking the stage at the pair of other iconic institutions felt like climbing to the top of the career ladder. But the only way she could see headlining the Garden was in an “abstract sense.”

“I just wanted us to be on a really monumental stage some day. But this feels really profound to me,” the Grammy Award winner reflects as her longtime collaborators Phil and Tim Hanseroth (known as “the twins”), sit nearby on the bus, making their way to the Garden. Shots of Carlile and the twins walking on a custom red carpet that boasts her logo, leading them into the venue are among the memorable moments featured, along with a photo of the marquee advertising the show, which Phil refers to as a “We Are the Champions” type moment.

Part two of the video series shares footage from rehearsal, Carlile playing to an empty arena that will later be filled with thousands of fans, the singer laser-focused on giving them a high caliber show. She delivered on that promise and was clearly in her element on the massive stage as she proclaims to the capacity crowd “I am home,” a declaration that’s met with boisterous cheers of approval. Viewers listen in as she belts such signature songs as “The Joke,” her powerful voice soaring into the rafters. “There is not a nerdy little outcast with a guitar in the world that doesn’t dream of what I’m seeing right now,” she professes as the camera scans the packed house of roaring patrons, delighting in the set that included guest appearances by Mavis Staples and Carlile’s supergroup, The Highwomen.

While fans get to witness an awe-inspiring moment in Carlile’s life, they also watch her convey the humble mentality that got her there. “I would say love is my driving force. Love and forgiveness, radical positivity,” she manifests. “I hope that people leave here a little more willing to express themselves freely and believe that a stage like Madison Square Garden is not unattainable for any of us – because it wasn’t for me.”

Satin Nickel Modernizes Old American Roots in “Free”

Image credit: Milos Balać

Satin Nickel has a sound unlike any other band. Consisting of Samantha Aneson (vocals, guitar, banjo), Morgan Hollingsworth (vocals, guitar, mandolin), Ariana Karp (cello), Nikola Balać (drums), and Andrew Shewaga (bass), the quintet seamlessly blends old American roots styles with modern folk and rock influences. “Music becomes more interesting as time goes on, in my opinion, because of the creation and fusion of genres,” says Aneson, and her work is proof of that.

The group’s songs are as varied as the music it draws from. “Call It” sounds almost like a show tune, with Aneson’s rich, earthy voice lamenting a relationship that’s doomed despite the love remaining. “Just Keep Running” is reminiscent of a country song, with Hollingsworth providing the vocals. “Secondhand Smoke” utilizes the harmonies and call-and-response format of an old American folk song. “In the Rearview” is a mellow folk ballad with an indie rock drumbeat.

In their latest single, “Free,” off their upcoming album Shadow of Doubt (set to be released April 10), Aneson sings about the conflicting emotions she experienced after moving away from her family and friends to pursue a fuller life in New York, asking, “Is it smart running from an empty heart?” Her voice soars through gorgeous high notes in the refrain: “Oh I’m free, oh I’m free.”

“I’ve always been a super adventurous type,” says Aneson. “I knew from a young age I wanted to live in several different places throughout my life, but I didn’t realize how much I would miss the place I came from and the people there. As an adult, I’ve lived on the other side of those decisions, and though I wouldn’t trade the opportunities and experiences I’ve had, I’ve lived with a lot of remorse. I’ve missed out on valuable years with my parents, for which the longing only grows stronger as they get older.”

The rest of the album includes more music about “losing people and finding something to gain in the midst of that loss,” as well as “moving forward through doubt,” she says.

It’s no coincidence that Aneson’s voice sounds like it’s meant for the stage; she and Hollingsworth met while they were studying theater. “When we moved to New York, we reconnected and bonded over our love of folk music, the Punch Brothers, and using songwriting to heal,” Aneson recalls. “We both were going through a lot at the time and were churning out songs that, when we shared them with each other, we knew belonged together.” Since then, they’ve added the three additional members to their band and released a self-titled EP and three singles.

On Shadow of Doubt, the band branches out of its folk and Americana influences to incorporate electronic and ambient sounds. “We’re big fans of traditional folk and bluegrass, and we’re really interested in the ways we can infuse electronic and rock music into those styles,” says Aneson. “There’s a track on our upcoming album in which the instruments trade fours, which is a hallmark of bluegrass jamming, but it’s in the midst of a California pop-style song.”

“We’re interested in playing folk music without the confines of the singular genre,” she adds. “Let it all come out.”

Image credit: Milos Balać

PREMIERE: Anna Lynch Explores Love in the Age of Tinder on “Do You Miss Me Yet”

In the first lines of her new single, “Do You Miss Me Yet,” Asheville-based singer-songwriter Anna Lynch sings, “Do you miss me yet/ Or are you watching the phone?/Am I on your mind/ Or am I already gone?” It’s one of the most present and poignant songs on her lush, bittersweet new album, Apples in the Fall, the much-awaited follow-up to  her 2013 self-titled debut.

On the album’s cover, drawn by Colin Derham, Lynch brandishes an apple in the strong pose of Rosie the Riveter. It’s a nod to her roots in Sebastapol, CA, once known as the “Gravenstein Apple Capital of the World” before being overtaken by wine vineyards. “The apple industry died in my hometown… it’s a little tragic because it was this great small town thing but now there isn’t an industry anymore,” explains Lynch, noticing that the story there mirrors the death of her own simple, romantic naivety.

In Lynch’s case, that naivety has been replaced with self-respect and understanding. “Do You Miss Me Yet”  is one of several songs on the collection that calls out the pitfalls of online dating culture—a culture Lynch, who’s now happily partnered, spent many years wading through. She felt dehumanized as she swiped on Tinder, found herself “ghosted,” and spent hours overanalyzing her dating situations. Apples in the Fall documents every painstaking step in that journey — from the radiant highs of connecting with a potential lover to the sullen, dejected low of meeting your own loneliness.

For its part, “Do You Miss Me Yet,” lives where heartbreak and denial meet at the end of an amorous fling, pulling in her frustration and confusion in the Tinder age. Lynch, who cites Patty Griffin as a major influence, wrote the song in the airport in Austin, where she spent two months visiting friends a few years back, and where she began seeing a man knowing full well it wouldn’t last past her stay in the city. As a result, “Do you Miss Me Yet” is present in a difficult emotional place—its repeating minor melody leaps and falls like a once-optimistic lover, while her lyrics both enjoy and protect against her feelings for this person. It’s a strangely familiar suspense, and Lynch masterfully pulls the listener into it, as do many of the songs of Apples in The Fall.

I am currently in a relationship. Can’t say it’s perfect but it’s really interesting how once you’re in one, none of that Tinder stuff even matters,” says Lynch. “You can spend hours and even years – ask me how I know, ha – spinning yourself in circles: ‘Okay so this guy, I texted him last night, but then he hadn’t texted me this morning, but should I text him or should I wait, am I going to seem like a jerk like I’m playing games, does he want me to play games?’ It turns your romantic little-girl self into this almost-machine of who is going to one-up the next person. Like, am I going to ghost them or are they going to ghost me? That’s not a real thing, that’s not how people calculate a relationship. The Tinder thing doesn’t make any sense.” With her tender voice, Anna Lynch offers the insight she’s gained from struggle, now stronger and wiser for the wear.

Katie Pruitt Finds Her True Identity With ‘Expectations’

Photo by Alysse Gafkjen

Katie Pruitt’s Expectations is a declaration of self-acceptance.

“I’ve never really been a subtle writer,” Pruitt admits in a phone interview with Audiofemme. “I’m pretty damn straightforward.”

Pruitt proves this statement across her 10-track debut album that takes the listener into her innermost thoughts and personal revelations. She recounts personal experiences spanning the past four years – particularly moving away from her conservative North Atlanta suburb to attend Belmont University in Nashville, owning her sexuality and embracing her true identity in the process. “It was a pretty personal record,” she admits. “I knew I wanted to use these songs to tell my stories as accurately as I could.”

Pruitt uses this poignant body of work to share her journey to self-acceptance, beginning with “Wishful Thinking,” which confronts the false narrative that true love is as picture-perfect as we see in the movies; rather, it is embracing ones flaws is a true expression of love. She tackles mental health struggles in “My Mind’s a Ship (That’s Going Down),” which sees her surfacing from a state of depression, depicted through a mundane daily routine she’s longing to escape from. “For me, the answer to that was gratitude for things I already had instead of looking for things that I wish I had.” she explains. “I feel I keep having that revelation over and over again.”

But she ventures to a truly personal space with “Normal.” With a softly strumming guitar, Pruitt takes us inside the halls of her Catholic school where she said seven hail Mary’s for copping an attitude while feeling “scared as hell” because she knew she was different from her classmates. “I feel like a lot of times, I just did what I was told up until leaving Georgia. There wasn’t really much diversity, so I didn’t really have many examples of what living an individualistic life looks like,” she explains, conscious to add that she was raised by a community of “good people.” “I feel I looked around and everyone was wearing the same clothes brands and saying the same things and acting the same way, and it just started to seem pretty robotic. I started to really reject it the older I got.”

Using college as an escape, Belmont became a sanctuary for the young star, surrounded by creative, artistic people who broke gender norms and immediately welcomed into the LGBTQ community, a sense of belonging she didn’t always receive in her hometown. She captures this suffocating feeling in the stirring “Georgia,” which she cites as the most vulnerable song she wrote for the album. The stunning piano ballad takes a stark look at how Pruitt predicted her community and parents would react when coming out to them, envisioning her mother shouting at the top of her lungs and her father screaming with rage that he didn’t want a daughter whose soul wasn’t saved. “He thought if I told the world/They would not see me as the same girl/ They’d say I don’t belong/That’s where he’s wrong,” she sings with a voice that could shatter one’s heart like glass in the gentlest way.

But in spite of their initial opposition, Pruitt’s parents came to terms with her sexuality – in large part thanks to “Georgia,” which she almost didn’t include on the record. After having a conversation with her parents about the content of the song, they embraced the its message, knowing it could help others. “I love my parents. They’re great people – they just struggled with this, and now we’re in a great place. The thing about the song and this story is that it’s not unique to me, and there’s people that this could help.” Priutt says. “[My mom said] ‘If you really think there’s people that this could help, I agree with you that it’s important to share.’ Honestly that was like the biggest gift. Talking about the hard stuff has gotten us to a better place ultimately.”

Pruitt’s most awe-inspiring revelation shines in “Loving Her,” a heartfelt tribute to her girlfriend, Sam. Here, she fearlessly stands up for their love in the face of adversity, opening with a striking line that sees her giving up her spot in heaven if it means she can openly love another woman. “You see I used to be ashamed / To write a song that said her name / ‘Cause I was too afraid / Of what they all might say / But if loving her is wrong / And it’s not right to write this song / Then I’m still not gonna stop,” she sings delicately, but with confidence.

“Loving Her” serves as the crown jewel of self-acceptance on Expectations, a project that begins with self-questioning and doubt and comes full circle with the anthem she calls a “big realization.” “[It’s] not only a personal revelation, but a religious revelation,” she proclaims. “If there is a God, he’s not worried about if I’m gay or not. So that first line isn’t supposed to be knocking religion – I just don’t buy that God thinks like that, and I don’t think you should either. That’s breaking all these conventions that I’ve grown up being told and this is my new religion. This is what I believe now.”

With these heartfelt affirmations, Pruitt finds true self-worth, now living freely in her identity, a powerful evolution that she pours into her compelling debut record. “Through accepting myself, I can make room for actually loving someone for real,” she observes. “Nina Simone said it’s important to make art that reflects the times. [I do it] in a very small way, but it pushes society forward.”

Follow Katie Pruitt on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PLAYING NASHVILLE: Kyshona Armstrong Premieres ‘Listen’

Photo by Hannah Miller

“Why won’t you listen?” It’s a simple question packed with dense meaning, and is the core message of Kyshona Armstrong’s new song “Listen,” premiering exclusively with Audiofemme. It’s the title track from her forthcoming LP, set for release on February 28.

Co-written by Armstrong and Toronto-based singer-songwriter Emma Lee, “Listen” was born out of a conversation between Armstrong and someone who’d asked her opinion about a recent societal event, a conversation that became more like a debate. “Sometimes all people want is for you to hear them,” Armstrong shares with Audiofemme.“I noticed even with myself, I’ll ask someone a question and then I’m not even listening because I’m trying to figure out how I want to fix it; what can I say in response to it, rather than just hearing a person.”

Armstrong brought her observations into a writing session with Lee, the two building the track’s instrumental before crafting the lyrics. Like spoken word poetry put to music, the song presents a series of questions that lead to the main point in the chorus that repeats, “Why won’t you listen?” She opens the song with a powerful question: “Why you gotta interrupt/when I’m not done talkin’?’” before proclaiming “Yeah, I know you want to help/but you’re deaf to the mission.” For Armstrong, the latter notion delves into her personal frustration with those who are more interested in the “gory pieces” of her work – with such organizations as the Oasis Center, which supports at-risk youth, or teaching songwriting to women who are incarcerated at the Tennessee Prison for Women – than they are with the meaning behind it.

“’Deaf to the mission’ to me means you’re not even hearing the purpose behind what I’m doing,” Armstrong explains, adding that she feels she can convey humanizing stories to her audience of the people she meets in places such as prisons and homeless shelters. “My mission is to be a voice and a vessel for those that feel lost, forgotten and silenced.”

In the music video, Armstrong captures the subtle tension of the song. She called on many of her family members and friends to help tell the story, pairing them up to have playful, yet effective arguments with one another. While their exchanges are muted, Armstrong reveals that to bring out that tension, the couples argued about a range of topics from what toppings to put on a pancake to her sister-in-law reprimanding her niece about her outfit. “They could feel that hum underneath while they were acting,” Armstrong describes of the atmosphere on set as the song was playing in the background. “This is what the song feels like – it’s just this tense moment. It’s about people and feelings.”

For Armstrong, the idea of “listening” all boils down to empathy, which involves stepping into someone else’s reality and trying to see the world from their point of view. She hopes that through the song, people will feel compelled to take action and engage in true listening. “I think ‘listen’ is a more active thing than it sounds like. Listen to someone else’s story, then try to put yourself in their shoes and see how they might walk through the world and might feel in this moment – just pan out from your own world,” she observes. “I hope people take a moment to really think about how can they listen more – or better.”

Aubrie Sellers is Close to Her Identity on ‘Far From Home’

Aubrie Sellers’ sophomore album “Far From Home” will be released on February 7. Photo courtesy of Aubrie Sellers

When Aubrie Sellers’ new album, Far From Home, is released, you’ll notice a distinct message etched into the vinyl: “We are traveling through this wild, wild land.”

It’s a line from the title track that sets the pace for Sellers’ journey of self-discovery she poured into Far From Home. “This album was really about ‘I’ve got to make sure I’m embracing who I really am,’” Sellers shares with Audiofemme. “It’s a lot about me finding my place in the world as a person.”

Solidifying her place is something the singer has long been adamant about. Though the daughter of Grammy winning songstress Lee Ann Womack and hit country songwriter Jason Sellers, the young starlet established a distinct sound with her 2016 debut record New City Blues that strikes a delicate balance between grunge and blues that’s layered with an angelic voice much like her mother’s; a style Sellers has dubbed “garage country.” She carries this unique sonic identity into Far From Home, a 12-track display into the mind of an introverted artist who doesn’t shy away from a challenge.

 The 29-year-old notes more than once that the sophomore project feels “grown up,” a result of the past several years she’s spent touring. Being a front woman on the road made her feel exposed to the world, while powering through the grind of tour life and constant interactions with people caused her to break through her shell. She says being onstage was a “serious challenge” when she first began touring, especially as someone who lives with anxiety. As a self-described “intuitive being” who feels other people’s energy, Sellers compares life on the road to throwing herself into the deep end, knowing the only way she could become comfortable in the craft was to go through the uncomfortable growing pains. But the self-proclaimed perfectionist recognizes the importance of embracing imperfection, particularly in music. “It doesn’t feel human to be that way. I think it’s more important that we express ourselves vulnerably,” she says.

Sellers defines vulnerability in Far From Home, particularly as she conveys what it’s like to have anxiety in “Worried Mind.” “Change is the only way we move forward and we grow, but for somebody who’s anxiety prone, you constantly feel like you’re fighting battles because it’s so difficult to make that change,” she explains. “Something I’ve learned about myself is that all change, it’s going to be hard for me, and you cannot move forward or grow without it and the only way to learn whether it’s right for you is to do it until you feel like it’s wrong for you to be doing it.”

She cites the ethereal “Haven’t Even Kissed Me Yet” as one of the album’s most potent moments, comparing to a journal entry that captures the feeling of going against one’s intuition. “Drag You Down” is an edgy, guitar-heavy rocker that’s more about empathy and less about dragging someone into the depths of depravity, while “One Town’s Trash” is a tribute to all the outliers looking for sanctuary in like-minded people, something Sellers has experienced first-hand. “I definitely feel a lot of the time like I don’t quite align with the people around me,” she chuckles. “[It’s] about realizing that maybe if you find yourself constantly in a situation where you feel like the people around you don’t get you, that you can go continue your journey to search and find the people who do.”

Sellers intentionally opens the album with its namesake song, one that symbolizes her personal self-discovery and hopes it inspires others to do the same. And just as purposefully as she begins the album with such an ode, she completes it with “One Town’s Trash,” a symbol of venturing on one’s own path to find their place in the world. “We’re all here together and part of this human experience and it’s challenging and it feels like we’re in the jungle half of the time. I think that message and that song are the embodiment of this album and how I feel and where I am as a person,” she observes of “Far From Home.”

“It’s almost like you’re looking at your reflection in a way because you’re imprinting your own life on to these songs,” she continues about the album. “I hope they listen to the record and it’s a self-discovery process for them and they can hear themselves in it.”

 Far From Home will be released on February 7. Sellers will join Robert Earl Keen for several tour dates throughout January and February. She’ll also support Tanya Tucker on the CMT Next Women of Country: Bring My Flowers Now Tour during select dates in February and June.

PLAYING ATLANTA: Chris Coleman and The Reason He Leaves

One thing that I’ve noticed as the years go by is that, as we get older, our lives get simpler. Not that the problems, stresses, or worries disappear, but the things that kept us rattled as teenagers into our early twenties seem to settle into their designated place, and the things that really matter – family, friends, our four-legged children – become our focus.

Atlanta Americana artist Chris Coleman knows that all too well. After years on the road, as a solo artist and a sideman, he captured that wisdom on 2017 LP The Reason I Leave. It’s an intimate, emotive, eleven-track time capsule of the lessons learned, the mistakes made, and, ultimately, the peace he found on the road and in the music.

Though he’s been hard at work on his next record, Chris sat down with Audiofemme to talk all things music, travel, and a lifelong love for freedom.

AF: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, Chris! Let’s dive right in. We know you’re an avid traveler; how has your time on the road inspired you as a musician? 

CC: I grew up in an army family, so in a way, I’ve always been a transient person. I remember as a kid, we would move every two or three years. I’ve lived everywhere from San Diego, to Washington D.C., to Atlanta, and now my wife and I live in Athens, Georgia. We have a Sprinter Van we’ve built out as a camper and travel in quite often. When we aren’t on the road for work, you can usually find us road tripping to our favorite places or snowboarding. I find myself so inspired traveling in the van, simply because most of life’s distractions are thousands of miles away.

AF: Your songwriting is reminiscent of Ryan Adams, Neil Young, and Dawes, diving deep into your stories and experiences. How does music allow you to express yourself? Do you ever find it difficult to translate your emotions and experiences into music? 

CC: I started playing guitar and writing music really young. Moving to new places so often as a kid, I definitely struggled to find where I fit in. I’ve always had my guitar and a passion for music. All of the artists I admire tell a story with their songs, and I try my hardest to do the same. I find the best kind of peace when I write about the things that are difficult to talk about. For me, it’s way easier to write a song about my emotions or experiences than it is to talk about them.

AF: Was there a moment when you realized music was more than just a hobby? 

CC: Music has always been my life. I’ve kind of felt my whole life that music is what I was made to do. I just turned 31, and I’m at that age where a lot of my friends are slowing down from touring, focusing on side hustles, and studio stuff. I really can’t picture myself doing anything but traveling, playing music, and writing songs. It’s my passion, it’s my hobby, it’s my career.

AF: You’ve recently built a studio of your own. Do you plan to record your next album there?

CC: I’m really excited about my new space! We moved from a 500-square-foot tiny house, so we’re really enjoying the elbow room. Just having all of my instruments out and accessible has been huge. I’m not sure if I’ll do my next record here or not. I’m writing a bunch and demoing new ideas here for now though!

AF: What’s your creative process like, and what inspires the music? 

CC: The creative process always starts with a trip for me. I wrote this last record in Park City, Utah and in the van on a National Parks road trip. Being outside someplace beautiful, with no cell phone service, really inspires me. There’s something about being outside with just my wife, my dogs, and my guitar that clears my head. I’ve been trying to conjure that same inspiration at home my whole life.

AF: How has being in the Atlanta music scene impacted you as a musician? 

CC: Freelancing for different artists as a guitar/keys/bass player over the years has forced me to branch out and try many different styles of music. I’ve gotten to meet and learn from a ton of different great players with a variety of styles. I can’t imagine how different my playing would be without Atlanta’s influence.

AF: What’s next for you?

CC: I’ve been writing for my next record and touring with a new Atlanta band, MyFever. It’s been a huge stretch for me since their style is new for me. I’ve enjoyed the challenge though.

Keep up with Chris and his travels via Facebook and Instagram, and stay tuned for his upcoming release. 



Americana folk artist Ty Cooper delivers some smooth, soulful music in the form of his latest EP Fool. The EP is full of inspiration and drips with passion, and it’s evident upon first listening to his crooning vocals that it’s a piece that Ty’s put his heart and soul into. Fool is a showcase of romance and relationships, with an emphasis on the sometimes embarrassing, awkward things love can make us do. It’s brutally honest and raw, an album that evokes a smile as well as a sobering reality check. Recently Ty made the move to Nashville where he’ll certainly be sure to draw even more musical influence for future pieces. We spoke with Ty about his new release and the creative process behind its creation, as well as some dreams and aspirations he has for his own musical future.

Can you tell me a bit about your musical history and background with performing?

As a child, I had access to all kinds of different music. My parents would listen to everything from the soul music of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding to the bluegrass music of Ralph Stanley and The Osborne Brothers and everything in between. I have always enjoyed just about every type of music there is, and I think that shows up in my music. I have two brothers ten years older than me that introduced me to a ton of music that a lot of people my age never have a chance to hear: Nineties music, from R&B to rap, rock, pop, and all kinds of stuff. I have very eclectic taste in music as a result.

I saw The Temptations movie when I was kid, and that’s what really sparked an interest in performing. I would memorize the dance moves and sing and dance in the mirror until I had a respectable rendition of their performance. I didn’t start actually performing until right after high school, but I have been [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][performing] regularly ever since.

Where do you draw inspiration from, both for Fool and in a general sense?

Inspiration can come from all kinds of places. Usually, it comes from personal experiences or things my close friends have experienced. For Fool, it was mainly the recent relationships I had been in and how I was pretty foolish in all of them, as we all are sometimes. The EP is a story of falling in and out of love and kind of the stages of how that happens.

Who are some artists, dead or alive, that you wish you could perform with? Why them in particular?

Some artists I would love to perform with are Otis Redding, Jerry Lee Lewis, and The Avett Brothers. Otis Redding because he is a legend and has one of the greatest voices of all times, and I just wish I could have been in the building for one of his shows. Jerry Lee Lewis because, by all accounts, he was crazy on stage and anything could happen at any time, which I’m sure would guarantee for some fun.  The Avett Brothers because they’ve been a favorite band of mine for many years, and I’ve seen them countless times live and they never disappoint. They were a huge influence on me when I first started playing music, and it would be amazing to share a stage with them.

I saw that you recently moved to Nashville. Was that to get more involved in the music scene Tennessee has to offer?

The move to Nashville was one I had wanted to make for a long time so I could really pursue music as a career and explore what opportunities a place like Nashville has for me. I feel like I have so much to learn about the city and the business, but I’m excited to finally take the next step and see what happens.

What are you hoping your fans will take away from Fool?

For anyone that listens to Fool, I hope I’m able to evoke an emotion in them. There’s a lot to take away from it, whether that’s happiness, sadness, or anything in between. I just want to make music that people can understand and relate to, but most of all I just want to make music that makes people happy.

What stops are you most looking forward to in your upcoming tour, and why?

The stop I’m most looking forward to is at Peach’s Grill in Yellow Springs, Ohio. I feel like I grew up as a musician at this venue. I have been going to their Tuesday Open Mic for many years, and it was a place for me to try new things and really evolve as a songwriter and performer. I have made so many great friends there, and I just feel at home on that stage. It’s a great town, and it’s very close to my hometown so I will get to see so many familiar faces that will make for a great atmosphere for a show.