Erin Rae Goes Deep on ‘Lighten Up’ LP

Photo Credit: Bree Fish

Erin Rae’s new album, Lighten Up, is an exercise in showing up for herself. 

In early 2019, Rae and a fellow singer-songwriter friend, Louise Hayat-Camard of The Dove & The Wolf, made a pact to write a song each day and send it to each other. For Rae, it was about developing a discipline, holding herself accountable to the craft. In doing so, the songs that comprise Lighten Up started to take shape, including the title track, “Cosmic Sigh,” and “Drift Away.”

“It was when those songs presented themselves that I started to imagine what the record cover would look like and see what the album will take shape around,” Rae describes to Audiofemme. She even sketched out plans for album art and wrote out a tentative track list that helped build momentum for the project, the title itself meant to inspire the listener to lean into curiosity.

“It’s not really my style to be directive and tell people what I think they should do. It’s playing around with that term and inviting people to be curious: ‘What is she talking about? Who does she think she’s talking to?’” she laughs of the “inquisitive” phrase. “Once you get into the songs and you hear that, it’s very much my experience that I’m talking to. Take what you like, leave the rest.” The album was released on February 4; Rae is currently on tour with Courtney Marie Andrews in Australia before returning to the U.S. as a supporting act for Watchhouse, beginning on March 31.

Rae’s previous album, Putting on Airs, confronted her inner darkness and past trauma, diving into her psyche on songs like “Bad Mind.” It details her experience as a queer woman in the South, the feelings she once had to suppress now finding freedom through song. “’Bad Mind’ was a song that I was nervous to share because I was like, ‘Are my collaborators going to think this is weird that I’m talking about being afraid to be gay in this song?’” the Tennessee native pondered, instead met with support from her co-writers. “I’m still aware of the intensity of the subject matter, but it feels like through playing it, I got freed up from any sort of fear around that or being uncomfortable with it.”

Lighten Up continues this healing process. Intentional about maintaining an introspective nature through the music, she wanted to honor the shift that’s occurred in her life since Airs was released in 2018. “Once you have done some of that deep digging and done some healing work, the turning point where I’ve seen all that stuff, now I have awareness and now I want to move into the next part of my life where I’m more into connection with other people and less inhibited by old survival skills or patterns of behavior, negative beliefs,” she explains. 

A major part of this healing journey was allowing all of the walls she’d built around herself to come down. “Cosmic Sigh” directly addresses this, a vintage-sounding acoustic number that sounds like it was transported from the golden era of folk. Here, Rae intertwines this sense of growth with images of the natural world as she serenely sings, “The sun/Day is dawning in the soul/And warms the melancholy/And come what may/She’s won/There’s no need to be afraid/With her illusions falling.”

“Something that I’ve worked with a lot in my life is how anxiety and negative self-belief has hampered that connection, or if I’ve connected with people, being hesitant to be as open as I would like to be,” she says. “Letting myself be known, be vulnerable, be messy, and not seeking to have it all figured out before entering into if it’s a romantic connection, feeling like that needs to be perfect. I think primarily a lot of my work has been to repair that relationship with myself. It’s not so much about ‘What do you think of me?’ It’s ‘This is what I think of me now.’”

Songs like “Cosmic Sigh” and “Drift Away” acknowledge these energy shifts, touching on days when it feels like time has slowed down, to experiencing the magic of one’s own dreams coming to life before their very eyes. Meanwhile, “Can’t See Stars” finds Rae in a soul-cleanse, driving far past city lines to escape the madness of the modern world and soak in the beauty of the night sky.

“One thing that I really enjoy in writing is drawing the correlations between my internal experience and then that of my emotional experience in nature and life itself on the outside that’s continuing to operate amidst all of us in our human stuff that we do,” she shares. “It’s the correlation between an over-saturation of social media and constant distraction and people, the internet, always having somewhere to distract myself, and then how that can add to the disconnect from myself and my intuition and that inner stillness. The physical manifestation of that is literally not being able to see the night sky because we have a billion city lights going all the time, and just needing to create some space and some distance from that from time to time.”  

As she continues to move forward and find inner peace, Rae has a new set of survival skills she’s cultivated through vulnerability, connection and building community, all of which will carry her through to the next bright spot in her journey. “Sometimes there’s a few steps forward and you’re like, ‘I think things are getting better and I feel hopeful,’ and then there’s ‘Why don’t I try to go back to my old patterns because that’s more comfortable and I’m a little scared to move into the unknown.’ And, and then it’s ‘No, we’re going to keep going,’” she notes. “My goal for this album is for it to be giving permission and compassion for myself and whoever listens to it and relates. My intention for this is to help there be a softness towards these deeper, emotional things that we all have, so that maybe there’s some space for them to be brought into the light to be processed.” 

Follow Erin Rae on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for ongoing updates. 

Kelly Jean Caldwell Returns to the Outer Limits Stage to Celebrate Birdie LP

Kelly Jean Caldwell is not dead. The singer, songwriter, and owner-operator of Hamtramck’s Outer Limits Bar and record label laughs as she tells me a rumor of her death has been swirling around town. “The other day, someone at the bar was asking what’s the next show coming up,” she explains, “and they [the bartender] were like, ‘oh it’s the Kelly Jean Caldwell/Loose Koozies record release show, and the person was like, ‘Oh, I thought Kelly Jean Caldwell died.’” Conversely, Caldwell is one of the liveliest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to. A mother of two, she gracefully floats between answering my questions and ogling a unicorn drawing made by her daughter, Birdie, the namesake of her latest record.

Although Birdie was released in December of 2020, the record never received a proper release show due to the pandemic. So, this Saturday, June 12, Caldwell will finally play the record live at Outer Limits, joined by Monica Plaza and best friends and label mates, the Loose Koozies. Originally scheduled for last July, Caldwell explains that this show feels like a triumphant return after a year and a half of playing alone or to a computer screen. In a similar way, Birdie feels like a triumphant return to the studio after her last album release, Downriver, in 2016. She says that this record finds her at her strongest as a musician, person and a mother. “I am getting older I’m getting stronger, I’m a better musician, I’m a better lyricist,” Caldwell explains. “I feel like I’ve definitely come up as a musician. I’m more confident than ever.”

Part of this transformation is owed to Caldwell’s deeper exploration of the flute over the last few years. “My flute teacher changed my life,” she says. Though she’s played flute for years, Caldwell says taking lessons completely changed her perspective on the instrument and songwriting in general. She was pushed to go outside her comfort zone and learn things she hadn’t tried before, like reading music and playing classical songs. After months of practicing three hours a day, Caldwell’s lessons culminated in a classical flute recital at Outer Limits where she donned her wedding dress and played a full classical repertoire accompanied by friends.

This transformative experience, in tandem with all the frightening and beautiful events that accompany motherhood, helped shape the colorful sound that characterizes Birdie. The album’s title track opens with swooping layered flute melodies, reminiscent of the magic and innocence of childhood. “All those ’70s rockers have songs about their daughters but you’re not sure if it’s about their lover or their dog,” Caldwell laughs. “I was like, ‘I wanna write one like that… a creepy song about my kid.’” But, honestly, the song leans more towards tear-jerky than creepy, especially when guided by Caldwell’s instinctively poetic lyrics.

She opens the song with a dreamy description of motherly love – “Sunshine follows my flower all the time/Blue eyes water my dreams ‘til summertime.” The song then opens up into a ’60s rock-type tempo, seemingly mirroring the fast-paced and sometimes chaotic rhythm of parenting. Bright guitars and Caldwell’s vivid depictions welcome the listener into a world of vibrant colors and endless possibilities. You can imagine Caldwell running around in the backyard with her daughter, blowing bubbles and creating their own world together, especially when she sings, “She’s got glitter in her hair/She grows flowers everywhere.” She’s able to capture these moments of pure happiness like a firefly in a jar and distill them into a few simple lines.

But, ever the honest songwriter, Caldwell makes room for both the precious and ominous sides of motherhood in Birdie. She explains that “SIDS,” one of the most musically upbeat sounding tracks on the record, is about being terrified that her son was going to pass away in his sleep. “I was really obsessed with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome,”explains Caldwell. “This was about my son and he obviously survived. But, when you have a new baby, you really, or at least I, felt like they were so close to death. I really felt like they could just switch back to the other side at any moment.” 

Unless you’re really listening, you wouldn’t notice the somber nature of the song, and that’s exactly how Caldwell meant it to be. “I didn’t want it to sound sad because I didn’t want people to worry about me,” says Caldwell. “So it’s probably the most upbeat rockin’ song I’ve ever written.” She explains that channeling her worries into music was the most natural way she knew how. The song’s fuzzy guitars and punchy chorus melody beget a story of hope and tenacity while Caldwell’s trepidatious lyrics ask the morbid question: “Does it call you back/Do the stars attack/Or will the dark dream continue?” 

As a musician who has never been anybody but herself in her songwriting, Caldwell’s vulnerable lyricism allows listeners to connect on a deeper plane. Even if you haven’t experienced motherhood and the anxieties that come with it, you can relate to the paralyzing fear of loss and the euphoric happiness of being with someone you love completely. “I think that, weirdly, the more specific you get about things, the more people relate,” says Caldwell. “The more personal that I make things and the more truthful, the more people feel it.”

Follow Kelly Jean Caldwell on Instagram 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.

Esther Rose Dances Away the Heartbreak on Third LP How Many Times

Photo Credit: Akasha Rabut

Taking shape over the course of two years, New Orleans-based singer-songwriter Esther Rose offers a different outlook to romantic losses and hardships – unique from the wallowing cries of the average love song – on her third album How Many Times, out March 26 via Father/Daughter Records/Full Time Hobby. Carefully acknowledging viewpoints from both parties, Rose’s personal anecdotes are meant to move audiences both physically and emotionally.

Rose’s sweet alt-country, folk pop twangs and two stepping rhythms originate back to her experience as a fresh New Orleans local. Roaming the noisy streets filled with traditional jazz bands, the singer-songwriter found her niche in NOLA’s own eclectic country music scene. Seeing the parties of joyful folks gathered around lively country music shindigs, Rose joined in on the fun and felt particularly at home.

Other than the two-step dance accompaniment, it was the soft weeping tones of the pedal steel guitar and frantic bowing of the fiddle that particularly piqued her interest, reminding her of a beloved legend Hank Williams. Drawn to his “lonesome voice and three-chord [compositions] on the guitar” Rose felt personally connected to not only these foot-tapping rhythms, but also the warmth and intimacy of songwriting itself. Album single “Songs Remain”reminisces on Williams withthe singer’s intimate vocals accompanied with the slow strums of the guitar.

How Many Times is ignited by the spark of lyrical compositions stemming from little moments in Rose’s life – an exchange of words in arguments, overheard conversations and catchphrases born out of heart-to-heart chats. Representative of significant experiences in her life, her songwriting process served as a means of introspection and self-discovery. “I would say that our experiences as humans really shape us,” she describes. “So I use songwriting to examine my life, experiences and relationships.” 

Her affinity for looking outward at life’s circumstances causes her to analyze its meaning and her own perspective carefully and thoughtfully. She crafts her lyrical phrases with the intention of looking at the bigger picture, processing each moment with the proper care it deserves. “It’s a universal experience,” she describes. “Whatever it is that sets up the song is being present in the world and paying attention.” Listeners are given a peek into the intimacy of these referenced conversations in tracks like “Good Time,” where Rose sings “It’s a real good time for bad timing” with conspiratorial inflection, the sort of wink and nudge one might give a close friend during a night on the town.

The idiosyncratic outlook at relationship pain Rose expresses in her songs seems to be more than solely grieving and throwing blame or anger on the other party. Allowing herself to feel the torment of heartbreak, the musician simultaneously expresses her acceptance of the hurt she’s feeling while poking fun at her own negative reaction on “My Bad Mood.” She sings candidly, “You got your new blue jeans and the girl of your dreams/I guess I should go and do the same/Oh, I’m getting pretty tired of me and my bad mood.”

Rather than focusing on blue tones of the average love song, the musician has an interesting way of shaking up the vibes of the gloom through her change in tempo. On the album’s title track Rose keeps listeners engaged with a sudden change in time signature in the middle of the song. Soothed by the sustained wails of the fiddle in the beginning of “How Many Times,” the listener will find themselves tapping out a faster tempo by its end, concluding with a light-hearted touch. Other tracks, like “Mountaintop,” “Without You,” and “Keeps Me Running” carry on as the fast-paced instrumentation allows listeners to forget about emotional turmoil.

Rose’s says her affinity for upbeat tempos helps “iron out [her] nerves,” rather than giving into the emotions of bluesy, dismal sounds as a bandaid for hardship. How Many Times may have the same effect on fans, who can experience her music as the artist herself would, turning painful emotions into songs worthy of dancing to. “What I’m trying to do sonically as a songwriter [is to] explore emotions in a way that by the time I’m done writing it, it has changed the emotion into something that we can all dance to and have fun with,” she says.

With an ever-changing state of mind, Esther Rose is currently working on new music touching on themes of future fear, family, health, and the planet. “I’ve never played it out with my band,” she says of the new material. “So the songs feel really exploratory and kind of goth with a lot of different tangents.”

In the process of making How Many Times, Rose turned to the records of Faustina Masigot and Kiki Cavazos to soothe her emotional state of mind and feel a sense of companionship. “These records were there for me. I love how music is that companion for heartbreak,” Rose says. Understanding the importance of music in our daily lives and the profound effect it can have on others, Rose hopes How Many Times can similarly accompany listeners in times of sorrow, or on lonely nights, or long drives. She adds, “My dream is that my record will do that for other people.”

Follow Esther Rose on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Denise Hylands Introduces Listeners To The Dark Side of Country on 3RRR’s Twang

Denise Hylands with musician Joshua Hedley.

Every Saturday afternoon, driving home from teaching a Pilates class, I’d hit the freeway right as the theme song for Twang introduced Denise Hylands’ regular 2-hour country music show on 3RRR. I have to admit, I’ve never been a fan of country music, but there’s something contagious about Hylands’ pure passion and knowledge. I never change the dial, never even consider it. Whether it’s a rarity from the ‘50s, or a recent release by an Australian country music artist, Hylands treats every song and artist with so much respect. She’s been in the game long enough that if she didn’t love it, there’d be no point doing this.

“I’m usually the one doing the interviews!” Hylands tells Audiofemme. “I always just want to make people feel comfortable – in fact I just think of it like a chat, a conversation. I love talking to people, getting their story, finding out where they come from so that listeners get the full story.”

Hylands applied to 3RRR as an administrative assistant shortly after completing high school in 1983; landing the job eventually led to doing graveyard shifts and filling in for absent presenters. She presented her first regular 3RRR show in 1984, the Selection Show on Sunday afternoons, showcasing new releases. She was also part of the Breakfasters lineup, a show which still kickstarts many Melbournian’s mornings.

“I was already at 3RRR from 1984 when I was 18, and I did shows for 12 years then approached the program manager and proposed an idea for a country show,” explains Hylands. “There was already High In The Saddle, but I wanted to show off more alternative country, less mainstream. So, I started Twang on Monday nights in 1996 from 10 to 12pm. I did it for a year and by the year end, I was given Saturday afternoons, which I’ve done for the past 24 years. I loved that first year,” says Hylands, then adds with a juicy laugh: “The amount of people who complained!”

Recent episodes of Twang have offered interviews with Calexico, Tracy McNeil, Marlon Williams, Charley Crockett, Slim Dusty’s grandson and a tribute to the late, great, troubled troubadour, Justin Townes Earle and the legendary John Prine.

Hylands raves about McNeil and Dan Parsons, both of whom are performing in Melbourne in May. “Tracy turned up nearly ten years ago from Canada,” Hylands recalls. “She was hanging out with Jordie Lane. He’d recorded an EP in his bedroom and I really liked it, then Tracy had given me a CD when I was hanging out with Jordie and I loved what she was doing. She’s a really great songwriter, and every album she gets better and better. I was lucky to have her and Dan Parsons come to my house and do a concert there. I have an old church in the country and it was just like, wow.”

Hylands prides herself on introducing people to “the dark side” of country music. “That whole alternative country scene, that whole Americana thing which started around 1995/1996 in terms of music charts, has gone a bit crazy, and I’d like to think I’ve had a hand in this,” she says. “With country music, so many people like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, but they say they don’t love country music.” Hylands has nailed me as a listener; maybe it’s time I re-evaluate my stance.

When she’s not interviewing on air, Hylands writes reviews and stories for both Rhythms and Stack magazines. It turns out we’ve both reviewed Loretta Lynn’s 50th album.

“When she hooked up with Jack White, I love that she found new people to work with. Even hooking up with Margo Price – I love seeing her with these younger, strong female artists,” Hylands raves. “The last few albums, she brings up different versions of songs she released so many years ago. These are songs that have to be heard. She was a forerunner who spoke up on women’s rights and women’s issues, I mean she spoke about the pill and got banned on the radio. She’s an incredible woman. Her and Wanda Jackson.”

In fact, Jackson is one of Hylands’ favourite international interviews. “Wanda Jackson is in the league of Loretta Lynn, right? She was the queen of rockabilly. She dated Elvis Presley who convinced her to move from country toward rock ‘n’ roll,” says Hylands. “I’ve done two really long interviews with her. I love Wanda Jackson! She’s in her eighties now, and she calls out to her husband during the interviews, Wendell, sitting in the background.”

Jackson also interviewed another royal in the country world, Dolly Parton. “I spoke to her about her biography, and originally wanting to be a bluegrass singer,” she remembers. “I only had ten minutes, so I had to get her engaged. I talked to her about her music and her charity work, and she was just so gorgeous, so appreciative. I also spoke to Porter Wagoner once, and she wrote ‘I Will Always Love You’ about him. Talking to someone so legendary, those kind of interviews are so fantastic.”

Legends are one thing, but Hylands also has a knack for recognizing the legends of the future, like the “extremely good looking” Charley Crockett. He started out as a busker in New Orleans; now he’s released at least half a dozen albums. Plus, “he can wear a cardigan like nobody’s business,” says Hylands. “I was meant to be his tour manager but he had open heart surgery months before the tour was meant to start.”

Hylands has over 25 years of brilliant stories and has made lifelong friends with many artists, including Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. “They open their mouths and play guitar, and you just go, ‘oh my god’.” She also goes way back with previous Audiofemme subject and fellow 3RRR alumni, Mary Mihelakos; they’ve known each other since they were teens. “She was hanging around, this incredibly enthusiastic young girl obsessed with music,” Hylands says, whole-heartedly agreeing with Mihelakos’ recent induction into the Melbourne Hall of Fame. “If you’re gonna give an award to someone, give that girl some acknowledgement.”

Hylands can’t have guests for the time being due to COVID-19. But on the horizon, Hylands is very excited about the new album from Southern Culture on the Skids, who are responsible for the Twang theme, and loves being introduced to new albums by the up-and-coming indie artists managed by her friends in the States. She says, “My excitement is discovering new music every week.”

We know how she feels – perhaps that’s what keeps us coming back to Twang.

International listeners can tune in to Twang live or listen back via the 3RRR website.

‘Regifted’ was a Beacon of Light For Ty Herndon

When Ty Herndon recorded a collection of holiday classics nearly 20 years ago, he could have never imagined the time in which they’d resurface. 

On his new holiday album Regifted, Herndon breathes new life into his 2003 album Not So Silent Night, a project that’s taken on multiple forms over the past 20 years. Initially completed in 2000, Herndon released Not So Silent Night re-packaged with updated songs through his website in 2003, followed by another version with additional songs, A Ty Herndon Christmas, released in 2007. The original album came at a time when Herndon endured a series of personal challenges. He had lost his record deal three years prior and was struggling to find another one, in addition to overcoming alcoholism. “I was having a really tough time in life. At that point, I was lost, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was in a business that I felt had beat me up pretty badly, but it’s what I do. Just contemplating some poor choices in life at that point and just remembering that I was newly sober, it was a tough time,” he recalls to Audiofemme. “I just needed to make that record, so I took it back to the well of where I came from – my grandmother’s guitar.”

The recording process was as raw as Herndon’s emotions, the singer turning his living room into a recording studio where his friends helped him record the songs he used to hear echo off the walls of his grandmother’s Baptist church with her 17-soprano choir’s Christmas Cantata, including “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “Silent Night” and “O Come O Come Emanuel,” the latter of which is a duet with fellow country singer and then-boyfriend, Waylon Payne. “But the thing that wasn’t tough is sitting down on the floor in front of a microphone and singing – so simple,” Herndon continues. “And that was a superstar in my life, the gift was the superstar, and I had to follow that.”

Nearly 20 years later, that gift resurfaces in the form of Regifted, maintaining the integrity of the original album while adding a stunning rendition of “Orphans of God” featuring longtime friend and Tony Award-winning Broadway star, Kristin Chenoweth. During a year consumed by the COVID-19 pandemic that led to a shelved documentary, a new album being placed on hold and more than 100 cancelled tour dates, Herndon found himself back in a dark place – so much so that he was temporarily unable to sing. “Everything felt like it was lost. All that darkness, I lost the ability to sing, there was nothing coming out,” Herndon explains. “I found myself in a spot of such darkness that I had very little faith, and faith is the light.” 

But when Herndon’s manager brought the anniversary of Not So Silent Night to his attention, he felt a shift. “I lit up a little bit,” Herndon says of his reaction. “The minute he said that, I’ll never forget this, what popped into my brain was ‘Orphans of God’ – it’s time.” Released in 2006 by Christian group Avalon, the Dove Award-nominated song is one that Herndon has long wanted to record, but was waiting for the right opportunity to present itself. He received another sign that it was meant to be when his producer informed him that the song was already tracked, as they had recorded a piece of “Orphans of God” for a song on musician Paul Cardall’s upcoming album.

The puzzle was complete when Chenoweth agreed to sing with him, along with supporting vocals from former Avalon members Michael Passons and Melissa Greene, who departed the group before “Orphans of God” was recorded. Their voices collectively soaring on the uplifting song brought Herndon to tears. “It was so special, I sat down and I started crying,” Herndon says, adding that he was intentional about making the word “God” universal. “That was to give a lot of people out there who are just are lost, they need a hug, the word ‘God’ in this is a hug. It can be anything you want it to be because there are no orphans of love.”

Though Herndon made subtle changes to Regifted, such as taking his manger’s advice and ending the album with the a Capella rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” which opens Not So Silent Night, he says that “Go Tell It on the Mountain” is a performance almost frozen in time. “‘Go Tell It on the Mountain’ was performed exactly like we sang it on my grandmother’s back porch almost my whole life. That is the most authentic piece on the record for me,” he says.

As Herndon reflects on the album’s initial creation, he remembers it as a family affair of people who showed up for him in his darkest hour, viewing the project from a meaningful perspective. “Having some of the greatest singers who’ve gone on to do magnificent things that were singing on that record, who just showed up because I called them and said, ‘I need you guys. There’s no money involved. I need you and come sing with me,’” he recalls. “It’s been crazy that music made in joyful desperation so long ago would surface today and sound so fresh. It’s like something from another world said ‘let’s just hold this album for 20 years.’”

Though time has changed many aspects of life in between, the albums have seemingly evolved with the singer, pinpointing dark periods in life that led Herndon to the light of music and self-growth. “The biggest thing I’ve learned about myself this year is that I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was,” he says. “There’s always been that underlying, ‘I’m going to crumble at any minute,’ and how much of me is really authentic and how much me is not. I know who I am now. I know who my people are now. I know who my friends are. So I have learned full circle what Tyrone Herndon is all about.”

He keeps the advice of his grandmother close at heart, too. “My grandmother used to tell me ‘if you go to sleep with the dark, you can certainly wake up with it. If you go to sleep with the light, you can wake up with it,’” he proclaims. “So I try to go to sleep with the light.”

Follow Ty Herndon on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Ruby Mack Premieres “Jane,” a Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community

four members of Massachusetts folk band Ruby Mack
Photo Credit: Gianna Colson

Massachusetts-based folk quartet Ruby Mack, consisting of Emma Ayres (Vocals/guitar), Abbie Duquette (bass uke), Zoe Young (guitar/vocals) and Abs Kahler (fiddle), are on a mission to redefine the sacred in a way that encapsulates all people and all aspects of life. Their music shines a light on those demonized in religious scripture, particularly women and LGBTQ people, to honor and celebrate their identities. Their latest single, “Jane,” is a beautiful example of this aim, soulfully capturing the love and loss associated with the LGBTQ experience.

“Jane” was written by Ayres in response to the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, with a past partner of hers in mind. “It’s just kind of our love song to anyone who feels like they can’t openly exist as their true selves in this world,” says Kahler. “I think the world can sometimes be a pretty inhospitable place to queer folks, people of color, any kind of minority, or anyone that’s treated as other.”

Influences like The Wailin’ Jennys and The Highwomen are evident in the band’s sweet, gentle vocals and minimalistic instrumentals. The slow, mellow single consists of melancholy fiddle, acoustic guitar, a simple rhythmic bass track, and emotive vocal harmonies. “It became a powerful thing for us to all be singing the harmonies together,” says Kahler. “The parts where it’s one voice and then the other voices join kind of echoes that sense of community that we were trying to express.”

The instrumentals start off simple and build as the track picks up, with the vocals getting increasingly loud and passionate toward the end, mirroring the intensity of the emotion in lyrics like “Oh they can keep you from fresh water/You’re the cold rain set me free.” Then, you can hear Ayres’s voice crack with emotion as the song returns to her stripped-down vocals. “The goal is to make people who may not have felt that pain have empathy,” says Duquette.

“When we’re performing that song, I always feel like there’s a lot of space for silence and softness, and it feels very holy,” Kahler adds. “I feel like that was kind of a theme that ran through some of the pieces in this album that we’re releasing — just really holding space for the sacredness of life and of queer life.”

The album they’re referring to is Ruby Mack’s debut LP Devil Told Me (out October 23), which explores feminism and social justice through the lens of religion and mythology as well as modern life and recent events. The soothing folk tune “Machine Man” is an ode to blue-collar workers, and the a cappella “Breadwinner” is “a thank you to all the badass momma figures out there” who support their households, as Kahler puts it, “but also about ourselves as well: We want to be your breadwinner. Let us have that role. We can take care of you. We don’t need men to do that.”

Several songs were written by Ayres, incorporating her interest in oral tradition and storytelling. “For Icarus” retells the Greek myth of the man who flew too close to the sun, commenting on the ways people get carried away with their imaginations, and “Odysseus” is a passionate plea to the mythical hero to return home and avoid the temptation of the sirens.

Overall, the band considers the album a reclamation of the story of Adam and Eve, celebrating female curiosity and knowledge. Accordingly, the album art features a serpent wound around an apple. “Eve ate an apple because she had curiosity, and without curiosity, what is anything?” says Kahler. “We all deserve the things we need and desire, and we shouldn’t be punished for going after those things like Eve does.” This attitude is best summed up in the lyrics to “Milktooth,” an angelically sung track about challenging gender roles learned in childhood: “Holy woman said I deserve what I want.”

Given the album’s overarching themes, it’s appropriate that it was recorded in an old converted church, with the help of Ghost Hit Recording engineer Andrew Oedel. The members, who originally met through the Massachusetts folks scene after each making their own music, consider their friendship a central part of their music and aim to capture their chemistry and authentic emotion in their recordings. Nine of the ten songs on Devil Told Me — with the exception of “Milktooth” — were recorded live to achieve this.

“I feel like that sacredness and that holiness was something that space already held,” Kahler says. “And we are at our most raw and most ourselves when we’re all playing live, and I feel like that definitely translates.”

Follow Ruby Mack on Facebook for ongoing updates.

5 Thought-Provoking Songs on Forthcoming Ruston Kelly LP Shape & Destroy

Photo Credit: Alexa King

With his new album Shape & Destroy, available on August 28, Ruston Kelly embraces his self-described “dirt-emo” sound while demonstrating a mastery of the written word. Kelly has crafted a thoughtful and meaningful sophomore album that extends his reign as an alt-country king, established by his critically acclaimed 2018 debut, Dying Star. The new project is the product of Kelly’s sharp mind and expert lyricism that culminate in 13 songs – here are some of the most thought-provoking moments.


From one fan to another: close your eyes when you press play on “Alive” and allow the peaceful melody and Kelly’s words to take you inside his visions of flowers rising from the rubble and peering through a telescope at a clear blue sky – two of the many examples he provides of what makes life worth living. The song also serves as a tribute to the person who makes his experience here on earth even more pure-hearted while reinforcing the idea of immersing oneself in the simple beauties of life that exists around them – “what a beautiful moment to be alive” indeed.

Best lyric: “Front porch in the silence/Not a sound on the street/And on the horizon/The sun is setting pink/You’re cooking something in the house/Singing John Prine/What a beautiful thing to be alive.”


With “Changes,” Kelly recognizes the struggle that comes with the growing pains that transform us into the next version of ourselves, a struggle he has faced time and time again. The song is a lament of a soul in transition, Kelly bravely asking the person he loves not to give up on him as he finds himself in battle with demons he thought had vanquished, becoming a stranger to himself and the people who know him best. The song comes at a time when many of us are also facing the struggle of letting go of old habits, and as the singer graciously asks for patience and the space to grow into who he’s meant to become, one can’t help but admire his humility.

Best lyrics: “I’m just going through some changes/That don’t mean everything is rearranging.”

 “It’s easier to say than it is to do/To let go of the things I need to lose/To grow out of the old/And take the shape of something new.”


A wise English teacher once told me that quality writing requires you to have a dictionary by your side to look up the words you’re unfamiliar with, something Kelly prompted me to do when listening to “Rubber.” A quick-paced acoustic melody sets the tone for this track that finds the singer observing his own experiences, taking account of his unquenchable desire to pierce through his noise-filled mind and find the solace of silence. He pours the thoughts rattling around into his head onto paper, simultaneously pondering if he’s capable of taking on new shape like that of the material the song lifts its name from.  Upon researching his reference to French thinker Voltaire, it’s clear why he compares himself to the philosopher of the French Enlightenment era who relied on sharp wit and a free spirit to advocate for his beliefs – much like the singer himself.

Best lyric: “And she’s like Agatha Christie/And I’m more like Voltaire/Everything is a theory/Carried away with the morning air.”


Kelly asks the important questions right off the top on “Brave”: “Who am I and how will I be remembered when I die?/What will I leave behind?” These are the kind of questions we all ponder, but Kelly takes it one step further by answering this profound thought with one word. The lyrics find Kelly exploring what it means to be brave by his own definition: a man who stands behind his word, is led by selflessness and above all, values the love he’s surrounded by. These are noble quests we all strive for, yet the earnest nature of Kelly’s voice as he reaches for his higher self pulls the heartstrings in the gentlest way, making for one of the most reflective moments on the project.

Best lyrics: “I stood by every promise that I made/That I tried my best at selflessness/Never took more than I gave/And I didn’t give up to the darkness/I fought with all my might/And I never took for granted/All the love in my life/That’s how I hope I’m remembered when I die.”

“Hallelujah Anyway” 

In merely one minute and 32 seconds, Kelly delivers some of the best poetry featured on the album, as he relays his ideal transition into the afterlife. With his voice echoing through the speakers as if bouncing off the walls of a cathedral, “Hallelujah Anyway” is both a song and a prayer that sees Kelly professing that even in life’s darkest moments, he hopes to maintain the strength to find the light. He calls on pure imagery; being wrapped in a tourniquet of love as he passes from life to death; returning to earth as a flower in bloom that matches “the color of a lovely afternoon.” Backed by a chorus of voices that add haunting effect, Kelly needs only a few lines to deliver his existential message that ends the album with an awe-inspiring testament.

Best lyric: “And even when I go/If I see my soul/Sink below and down into the flames/Hallelujah anyway.”

Follow Ruston Kelly on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Colbie Caillat Goes Country with Gone West, on Their Expansive Debut ‘Canyons’

Country’s musical threads have long been tattered, torn, and intertwined. The vastness of the genre ─ from bluesy front porch pickin’ to the pristine pop-country of Patsy Cline and Eddy Arnold to today’s hip-hop filtered stride ─ relies heavily on its music-makers and a willingness to remember the past but push the needle forward. It can often seem as if mainstream radio has largely ignored its own roots, but there remains great traditional commitment on, and off, the airwaves.

Rising four-piece Gone West ─ an effort forged by Grammy winner Colbie Caillat, Justin Young, Jason Reeves, and Nelly Joy ─ call upon an array of styles, approaches, and aesthetics for their debut album. Canyons operates as a canopy of the format’s expansive countryside, switching among dusty C&W, glistening pop-framed sweeteners, and electrifying rock-fueled anthems. They never seem to lose their way, simply darting from one song to another, adding on thick harmony work you’d find on any Carter Family or Little Big Town record.

Their eponymous song cracks open the record, spinning out with dream-seeking ambitions, as they learn to let the past go and carve their own path. “I’ve gone west, rollin’ down the highway like a tumbleweed,” the lyrics keep time with the rhythmic pulse coursing in their veins. “I’ve gone west, where the canyons fall into the deep blue sea.”

Immediately, there is an invigoration and life-confirming thrill motoring throughout the entire 13-track release. Their first Top 30 radio hit, “What Could’ve Been,” is sorrow-baked, a gripping tune in which they reminisce about a former lover whose memory falls through their hands like water. “I haven’t stopped thinking about you / Has it really been this long?,” ponders Caillat, her silky voice draping over the melody. Only scorched earth remains between the two lovers, and drenched in unbridled passion, even now, the imagery they paint bubbles up in vivid, sharp colors with the chorus: “We left blood on the tracks / Sweat on the saddle / Fire in the hills / A bullet in the barrel,” the four croon together. “Words never said in a story that didn’t end / Looks like you’re on the mend and I’m on the bottle.”

It’s quintessential pop-country, dancing between sunny rays of throwback style and contemporary flair, and the quartet ride that musical saddle start to finish. “When to Say Goodbye” slides into a similar emotional side-pocket, shades of melancholy casting a heartfelt shadow, and it is their vocal framework that is most striking. “I don’t wanna leave / I don’t wanna stay / I don’t wanna keep saying the things we don’t wanna say… truth or lie,” their ache is irresistible.

“I’m Never Getting Over You” skips across a piano base, allowing Caillat’s lead vocal to break your heart again and again and again. Reeves takes the reigns in select moments, Joy and Young heaving with some absolutely stunning harmonies that’ll leave you breathless. “I can’t stop you from leaving / And you can’t stop me from loving you” is the kind of admission you don’t want to hear, but it’ll eventually be for the better. Crashing and burning is never easy in the moment, but time, and the slow climb out, leads to transformation.

An airy, acoustic arrangement, “This Time” is perhaps the crown jewel, a performance both exquisite and draining. “Oh I’m gonna stop right now and call my momma this time / Gonna take a sick day when I’m feeling great,” they sing, their words a reminder that time is a relentless force in our lives, but in relinquishing some control, we can learn to cherish the small moments before it’s too late and it all becomes nothing more regret. “I’ll keep my coffee black and sip my whiskey honest / Hold on to hope, and let go of the hate,” they continue. They unravel their heartstrings with clarity, the frays part of the journey, and its reminder to love and live life could not have had better timing. “Life and love don’t age like fine wine / There’s no time to wait to taste the sweetest vine.”

Gone West’s Canyons zip-lines over other emotional focal points (“Gamblin’ Town,” “Home is Where the Heartbreak Is”) and radio-charged ear-candy (“Slow Down,” “Confetti,” “R&R”). With a collection of producers, including Jamie Kennedy, Jimmy Robbins, Eric Arjes, Nathan Chapman, and Alysa Vanderheym, as well as themselves, the band plant their flag firmly in the modern conversation. Their foundation is so clearly nurtured that when they do veer into fluffy, feel good territory, they’ve more than earned that right. They are here to stay.

Follow Gone West on Facebook for ongoing updates.

ONLY NOISE: The Women of Country Music Offer Wisdom in Times of Crisis

Loretta Lynn’s alcohol-soaked pity party for herself in “Somebody, Somewhere” echoes quite a lot of our newly solo Saturday nights. Dolly Parton reminds us all that wealth is a state of being, rather than the (declining) value of our bank accounts. Lucinda Williams asks the simple, but potentially life-saving question, “Are You Alright?“; Ashley Monroe comforts us, singing “someday you’ll be fine, sweet as wine” on “From Time To Time“; and Kasey Chambers gets to the core of being “Happy” regardless of the circumstances. Really, if any musical genre was perfectly suited to get us through heartbreak, loneliness, and financial hardship, it’s country. And the women of country, in particular, have plenty of lessons to impart on coping with life in chaotic times – particularly those we’re collectively facing as COVID-19 rages on.

Loretta Lynn was a ground-breaker. In her 60-year career, she was brave enough to defy strictly conservative commercial radio stations to sing about abortion, rejecting drunken advances, getting on birth control, and older women desiring younger men (and pursuing them for sexual gratification). In short, she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind – even when it came to doing housework. “Well goodbye tubs and clothes lines, goodbye pots and pans/I’m a gonna take a Greyhound bus as further as I can/I ain’t a gonna wash no windows and I ain’t a gonna scrub no floors/And when you realize I’m gone, I’m a gonna hear you roar,” she sang on “Hey Loretta,” from 1973 LP Love Is The Foundation. While I don’t recommend taking public transportation, her words may help you find your voice if you feel like you’ve been stuck at home with a mop and a stack of dishes thanks to housemates who have no inclination to help with domestic necessities.

I live by Dolly Parton’s saying, “The higher the hair, the closer to God,” which is only one of the many examples of her deep wisdom. Right now, many families in America and around the world are struggling to survive on their savings, government rations (if we’re fortunate enough to qualify) and the generosity of community organizations. It’s a good time to recall Dolly’s ode to her resourceful mother, “Coat of Many Colors.” The story behind the song is true – as a child, Dolly was taunted by her schoolmates for wearing a coat made from scraps of fabric that clearly indicated a lack of wealth in her family, but illustrated the richness of their bond: “I told ’em of the love/My momma sewed in every stitch/And I told ’em all the story/Momma told me while she sewed/And how my coat of many colors/Was worth more than all their clothes.” With many dusting off their old sewing machines to make masks for healthcare workers and neighbors alike, love becomes the thread that holds everything together.

Granted, Shania Twain was singing a love song to her man with 1999 single “You’ve Got A Way,” but some of the lyrics could equally apply to your best friendships. “You got a way with words/You get me smiling even when it hurts,” she sings. “There’s no way to measure what your love is worth/I can’t believe the way you get through to me.” When it feels like the world is in chaos, sometimes you just need understanding, and it goes both ways. We all need to be there for each other.

No one knows that better than Lucinda Williams, who just released her 14th studio album, Good Souls Better Angels. Williams knows all about hard living, sacrifice, and scraping for silver linings, and on her 2009 LP West, she opens with a simple check in: “Are you alright?/I looked around me and you were gone/Are you alright?/I feel like there must be something wrong/Are you alright?/Cos it seems like you disappeared/Are you alright?/Cos I been feeling a little scared.” If you’re like me, maybe you’ve found that the simple act of asking, as Williams did, “Are You Alright?” has even more importance now than it ever has. Every phone call to a friend, Zoom meeting with coworkers, and interaction with those on the frontline begins with this simple act of kindness.

Though “having someone to hug and kiss you” may not be an ideal way to observe social distancing, admitting that you’re not alright might enable people around you to offer you resources and advice, even if it’s just on social media. Though we must remain physically distant, we can still be socially connected.

It usually takes a lot of grief, wailing, and wondering if you can handle it before you see signs of your own granite-hard resolve to live, breathe, and become who you’re capable of being. That suffering and strengthening is illustrated beautifully in Australian country singer Kasey Chambers’ “Stronger,” from 2004 LP Wayward Angel. “I thought it was good, I thought it was fine/I thought it was just a matter of time/The sun would shine/I held my breath, I covered my eyes/Thought I was just clearing the skies,” she sings, capturing that period of waiting and watching we’re all feeling right now. Though nothing makes sense to her, she finds power within (“I’m a little bit braver/I’m a little bit wilder/I can stand a bit closer to the light”), proving that the old cliche is true – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Ashley Monroe’s bittersweet tune “From Time to Time” is another reminder that everything that threatens to break us open and bleed us of all the sweetness of who we are passes. We are loved, even when we feel horribly alone. I think of the lines “Someday you’ll be fine/Sweet as wine/It’s alright to remember” when reminiscing about going out for a meal, or visiting a record store. Those little things that nourish our soul that we miss so much? Let’s remember them and know this current level of restriction isn’t forever.

These resilient women can all attest to the power of music and creativity to make sense of pain, injustice and grief. Music is redemptive, it connects us like an invisible web that reflects the light after rainfall. Even if your singing voice isn’t going to win over record executives any time soon, you’re still capable of singing along.

Tessy Lou Williams Confronts Vice and Heartache with Classic Country Single ‘One More Night’

Photo by Christina Feddersen

Tessy Lou Williams chronicles hard-to-break habits in her new song, “One More Night.”

As the daughter of Kenny and Claudia Williams of the band Montana Rose, Williams was born with music in her DNA. After years of working as a songwriter and live performer, Williams is ready to commit her voice and words to her self-titled, debut solo album, out this Friday, May 22nd. It’s bound to satisfy any traditional country fan’s appetite, and that includes Williams’ latest single, “One More Night,” premiering exclusively with Audiofemme.

The Montana-bred Williams had the idea for a song, about those insatiable vices you need one more hit of, rolling in her head for a while. But a bout with writer’s block sent her into the studio with co-writer Vanessa Olivarez to finish the tune. “It’s about that battle between your head and your heart where you think you feel one way, but you know better,” Williams explains about the song’s meaning. “It’s really not a healthy choice, but you still pine over it. You feel like you need it, but you know you don’t.”

Whether it’s another drink, one more smoke or a past love, told from the perspective of a lonely soul inside a bar at last call, Williams makes those nagging addictions feel universal. “In the writing process we were thinking about it in that bigger picture. We talk about the ‘two more cigarettes in my pack…’ you could be like, ‘I don’t need those right now,’ but you know you’re going to smoke them,” she says, analyzing the song’s opening line. Williams tells the story with mellifluous vocals reminiscent of Lee Ann Womack and Alison Krauss, wrapped around a stunning melody of crisp fiddle and shimmering guitar, creating a classic country sound. “I know I should be gettin’ stronger/Fight the way I feel inside/I tell my heart over and over/All I need is one more night,” she sings.

Williams cites the bridge that proclaims, “Am I fool enough to believe that all I really need is one more night?” as the most personal line in the song, symbolizing a moment of self-awareness. “You realize you’re being ridiculous about the whole situation – you don’t want just one more and it’s not going to be just one more. You try to convince yourself ‘just one more and I’ll be good,’” she says.

Like many of the album’s other tracks, “One More Night” is pulled from the realm of heartbreak. Describing it as one of the most “relatable” songs on the record, Williams hopes that “One More Night” offers a sense of community to listeners who have gone through something similar. “I hope people can listen to it and know that they’re not alone in their experiences, that there are others out there who can relate to their situations. You’re never alone in life and it’s okay to be sad and heartbroken – we’re all there at one point or another,” she says. “We’re all a lot more alike than we think we are.”

Follow Tessy Lou Williams on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Caitlyn Smith is a Force of Nature on ‘Supernova’

Photo by Shervin Lainez

When Caitlyn Smith learned that a dying star emits its fullest, brightest light before ceasing to exist, she took that idea and ran with it, creating a dozen tracks that challenged her to be fiercely open-hearted. Calling it Supernova, Smith wants you to feel the same chills listening to her sophomore album as she did when she learned about the cosmic phenomenon.

The new album follows her 2018 debut, Starfire, which painted Smith as a confident woman, emotional soul and brilliant storyteller – a compelling package she carries into Supernova, where she turns her true-to-life experiences of marriage, becoming a mom for the second time while touring harder than ever and dealing with the loneliness and anxiety of life on the road into song. With an album that is soulful, sultry and at times stormy, Smith tells her story with a voice that is grand enough to command a Broadway stage, yet later so gentle she could sing you to sleep.

“I really wanted to push myself with this album, to try and be more vulnerable, to dig more into the stories that I’ve really lived and experienced,” Smith shares with Audiofemme. In order to tell her story as vulnerably as she envisioned, Smith had to look inward, going on a soul-cleansing journey of meditation, therapy and “personal excavation.”

“I really leaned into trying to become a better version of myself,” she reveals. Part of this process was changing the narrative in her brain to stop the lies and negative thoughts that manifested into anxiety, a sensitive, yet universal subject matter she channels into “I Can’t.” “I wanted to tell this story because I know I’m not the only one that feels this way,” she says of the song that shares her perspective of living with anxiety and depression as an artist. “There’s a lot of different ways that we can lie to ourselves, which then creates anxiety and this stress narrative in your brain. Changing the lens into gratefulness can really change your entire outlook.”

After spending years working as a staff songwriter penning songs for other artists, including Meghan Trainor’s chart-topping duet with John Legend, “Like I’m Gonna Lose You,” and Garth Brooks’ “Tacoma,” Smith admits that it took “a little practice” to tell such personal stories about her own life in the writing room. The continuous act of songwriting helped push her out of her comfort zone, the singer categorizing the roughly 70 songs she wrote for the project by emotion. But there was a distinct deciding factor as to whether or not a track would make the cut.

“If a song didn’t give me chills at some point, I didn’t want to put it on this record,” she affirms. “I wanted people to be able to truly feel these songs.” One particular song that she feels in her bones is the title track. Inspiration struck as she was watching her one-year-old son run around the back yard and she was suddenly overcome with an “overwhelming moment” realizing how quickly her life was moving by, witnessing her parents growing older and her two young children growing more independent each day. She took this insightful idea to co-writer Aimee Mayo to create what she calls “the ultimate emo song” on the record, both reduced to tears as they discussed how rapidly they were moving through time.

“We got this vision of a supernova. We were thinking about all these tiny little details and moments of life, and for some reason it felt right to then compare it to this big, beautiful, bright blast of a supernova,” Smith begins, awe apparent in her voice. “That’s how we need to be living our lives every day – in this full, beautiful expression of love and light.’”

They transformed this grand concept into a song that touches on fleeting moments – the innocence of childhood, growing up and moving away from home – and what its like to long to feel their gravity again. “Time is like a shooting star / A supernova in the dark / You’d do anything to make it last / But it all goes by so fast,” she pristinely serenades.

“[‘Supernova’] almost stated with one word the growth and the more intense expression of myself that’s put into this album,” Smith says. “It seemed like the perfect next step in my artistry.”

Where Starfire built the framework of the artist she was destined to become, Supernova sees Smith stepping into it. Smith proves the strength of her own magnetic force when she proclaims, “Doesn’t everyone cry when they look at the stars / And doesn’t everyone try way too goddamn hard,” in the album’s closing number “Lonely Together.” “There’s something about looking at the stars that makes me feel so connected with everybody else. We’re all under this same amazing sky on this big rock hurling through space, all just trying to navigate this little life that we have and all of these big emotions,” she expresses. “It all is just way too fascinating to not write about and love.”

Supernova is set for release on Friday (March 13). Smith will perform two album release shows on May 7 at Brooklyn Bowl Nashville and her home state of Minnesota at First Avenue in Minneapolis on May 9. She’ll join Maren Morris’ RSVP Tour as an opening act in June.

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.

Punk Angst and Country Soul Collide on Kalie Shorr’s Headlining Tour

Photo by Catherine Powell

On Friday, January 31, punk-rock-meets-country goddess Kalie Shorr made her debut at Nashville’s famed rock club, Exit/In, for the opening night of her first headlining trek, the Too Much to Say Tour. Throughout her 90-minute set and two-song encore, Shorr treated the room to covers of My Chemical Romance and Nirvana, sandwiched between emotion-packed originals from her critically acclaimed 2019 album Open Book dealing with exes, angst and poignant thoughts about what it means to move forward after the loss of a family member. Here are the top moments from the show:

“The World Keeps Spinning”

After delivering a collection of powerful songs that reflect her no-holds-barred attitude about life, one of the best songs in the set came in the form of “The World Keeps Spinning.” Shorr and her co-writer Skip Black have both lost family members to overdoses – Shorr’s sister Ashley passed away in 2019 to a heroin overdose, while Black’s niece also died of an overdose at the age of 25. The chatter in the room went completely silent as Shorr began to share their stories, speaking as vulnerably as possible about the perspective that comes with losing a loved one in such an intense way.

“Glossing it over doesn’t help me, it hurts me,” she reflected. She’s turned this pain into a stirring song that recalls the tone in her father’s voice the day she got that dreaded call and puts listeners in the seat next to her as they drive by a wedding on the way to her sister’s funeral. Though filled with raw emotion and reflection, Shorr delivered it with poise and confidence, making for one of the most striking moments of the night.

Bold and brash Alanis Morissette cover 

Introducing the track as one she wholly identifies with, Shorr did Alanis Morissette justice with her cover of “Right Through You,” featured on one of her favorite albums of all time, Morissette’s iconic Jagged Little Pill. Morissette wrote the song about the qualms of the music industry and someone who wronged her along the way. “Someone who says something really shitty…we all have that one person,” Shorr prefaced before delivering a fast-paced, high-energy performance of the song that throws a metaphorical middle finger to the dark side and politics of the music industry. Shorr rocked out all over the stage, and it was clear even from the back of the room that Shorr felt the song’s message in her bones – Alanis would’ve been proud.

“He’s Just Not That Into You”

We’ve all heard this famous line from friends and family when you’re in a relationship where the other half is clearly not as invested. But Shorr has turned this unfortunate situation into an anthemic jam where she exudes all the sass, dancing around the stage like a teenage girl singing into her hairbrush in her bedroom. A highlight of the performance, and the show overall, came when she took to the crowd almost mosh-pit style, charging into the center of the room and head-banging to her heart’s content as fans surrounded her, making for the rowdiest moment of the evening.

“F U Forever”

Shorr picked the perfect way to end the show with “F U Forever.” “If you’ve ever had a garbage ex, sing along real loud,” she encouraged, her sharp wit and sense of humor coming out full force as she unabashedly shamed a low-life ex with unadulterated attitude and her middle fingers in the air. Shorr oozes with confidence, even when admitting her own flaws. The song is custom made for a live show and a guaranteed crowd pleaser, and Shorr delivered on both fronts, bringing her monumental set to a thrilling close.

Shorr will make stops in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and play two shows in Conneticut, before wrapping the tour at the Mercury Lounge in New York City on March 16.

F.E.M. Collective Brings Gender Parity to 2019 Island Hopper Songwriters Festival

Island Hopper Songwriter Festival

Island Hopper Songwriters Festival, a Florida-based fest that celebrates the songwriters behind country’s biggest songs, hit the scenic beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel last week for its 6th annual 10-day stretch. Over 80 artists performed, including Kristian Bush, Ashley Ray, Jerrod Niemann, Carly Tefft, Ryan Hurd, Gone West, Stephanie Quayle, and headliner Rodney Atkins.

Island Hopper Songwriters Festival
Rodney Atkins headlines Island Hopper Songwriters Festival.

Island Hopper included many things good festivals should have. Veteran songwriters were paired with bright-eyed new performers, local talent was on full display, an easy-to-use app helped you plan your days, and the multiple venues – many of which were free to attend – made the event accessible and non-intrusive for residents.

However, what made Island Hopper extra special was the fest’s apparent dedication to female country songwriters, many of whom are currently under represented in the industry and have responded by banding together in Nashville, and elsewhere, to make their voices heard.

Island Hopper Songwriters Festival
A crowd gathers for the final performance at the Pink Shell Beach Resort in Fort Myers, Florida.

Sheena Brook, an annual Island Hopper performer, hosted an all-female event in partnership with The F.E.M. Collective. Brook launched F.E.M. (Female Empowering Musicians) at last year’s Island Hopper and has since taken the female-fronted show to venues throughout Florida and Nashville.

“[Island Hopper] has more females than any other festival,” she tells AudioFemme. “[F.E.M.] started with a bunch of my friends from Nashville that I write with and it came from us discussing that there aren’t all the places in the world for us to play because we’re not necessarily being offered spots. It’s a male-driven situation right now, and I wanted to make a space for us.”

Island Hopper Songwriter Festival
Sheena Brook (left) and Megan Linville (right) at Island Hopper’s F.E.M. Collective show.

While some festival performances can stir competitiveness or stress, Brook’s F.E.M. shows – at Island Hopper and elsewhere – make female songwriters of all different styles and skill levels feel welcome.

“All you have to do is show up and be yourself,” she says.

Brook’s F.E.M. shows and Island Hopper’s inclusiveness are just a part of a wave of response from country’s female songwriters. A major catalyst of the sentiment, the infamous ‘tomato-gate,’ is still inspiring country’s women today.

“A couple of years back, Lucy Collins was here and she was telling the story of the radio guy who told her [that] women in radio – women songwriters – are tomatoes in a salad, you only need a few,” Brook recalled of the 2015 incident. “I think slowly, and I say slowly because we’re nowhere near where we need to be in terms of equality, but I think we’re working on it.”

Island Hopper Songwriters Festival
Sheena Brook performing at Cabanas Beach Bar & Grille.

Launching in Nashville, artists have started podcasts, female-run record labels, and showcases like the Song Suffragettes, to carve out a space where they were once told they didn’t belong. There is no end-all solution. The goal for these organizations, like Island Hopper and Brook’s F.E.M., is a snowball effect, rather than a one-size-fits-all.

“There’s so many of us. No one can have one group and everyone feel like they matter,” says Brook. “I really love what they’re doing [in Nashville] and I’m gonna do something, too. There’s room for everyone.”

Island Hopper Songwriters Festival
Ayla Lynn (left) performing with Hunter Smith (right) at Matanzas on the Bay.

Brook says she’s already looking forward to returning to next year’s Island Hopper and, of course, hosting her F.E.M. show. The 7th annual festival’s dates have already been announced, landing from September 18-27, 2020.

“[Island Hopper] does a lot of great things for our culture,” says Brook. “That support that they’ve given us, is what it takes to change things.”

PREMIERE: Loamlands Explores Southern Queer Roots on Lez Dance

Kym Register’s voice is familiar, the kind of husky twang you traditionally hear on old country records. While the medium of folk music is timeworn, the stories Register spins have a modern slant, as they speak from the perspective of a genderqueer musician living in North Carolina.

“We gotta love that’s so hard to define / Still gotta work and we have to be kind / What is it worth if I’m always on your mind?” Register croons in “Stage Coach,” the second song off Loamlands new LP. Lez Dance is full of music that needs a few turns to truly make its way into your soul; the songs are sweet and complex, dripping with tender, forlorn love. “Maureen” is the kind of sleepy tune that sticks to your bones after a few listens, with haunting lyrics that paint pictures of romance under an Appalachian moon. It’s the raw need, the helpless surrender to passion, that make song after song stand out.

We spoke to Kym about their writing process and how they define their sound. Listen to Lez Dance and read our full interview below.

AF: You grew up listening to your parents’ records, Fleetwood Mac becoming a touchstone later on in your career. What caused you to reject that music initially and what led you back to it?

KR: I think rejection of authority and the need to find my own identity – basically preteen puberty – made me reject that kind of music in the first place. And to be clear – my parents listened to a lot of pop country and a little classic rock. Growing up in the south, classic rock was just the music that defined southern and elder, two concepts that as I grow older I start to embrace rather than reject. This isn’t to say that the rejection wasn’t important, but it feels natural to work through the stigma that I had surrounding country and classic rock and for this particular record, Lez Dance, gay culture. I suppose not everyone goes through as much anti identity as this. I don’t want to assume that it is normal for someone to constantly need to be individual or different. But that is a facet of counter culture or subculture and I’m very into the weirdness and wildness that comes from those movements.

AF: Music seems to be in your family line. You play your grandad’s electric guitar and even use his amp! Are there any lessons you’ve learned from your family in terms of writing and performing?

KR: I’ve moved on a bit from my grandad’s amp and guitar – but still have them and write with them! Music has always been in my family – but not as creators necessarily. My mom can’t carry a tune – but sings loudly anyway. I don’t remember a lot about my dad but I do remember that he loved old soul / beach music. I never knew most of my family well – and never saw my grandad perform except in his house with some smokey old men. So I think what I learned about performing I learned from my queer community, open mics, friends, parking decks, elders that took me on tour from a young age. I got to play the Fillmore in San Francisco at age 27 with The Mountain Goats because John [Darnielle] met my band at the time and just wanted to hang out, liked our energy. He’s not much older that I, but that kind of elder really showed me the ropes of booking and performing. All of the conversations I’ve had with “elder” performers albeit in age or experience like Mirah, Mal Blum, Sadie Dupuis, Kimya Dawson, Sharron Van Etten, Katty Otto, Amelia Meath – I mean so many female and queer folks that are open about their experience in this field – that’s who has taught me. I’m ever grateful and indebted to the kindness that these people, who I’ve made friends with and many who have been open on the fly during a tour or short hang, have shown me over the years!

AF: How do you go about writing a song? Do you start with lyrics or is the melody the jumping off point?

KR: I just hole up in the studio and start writing. First comes the tune – then comes whatever words are on my mind. Then I analyze – what am I thinking about? That’s generally the process. For some of the more historical / storyline songs I submerse myself in news and knowledge about a story that is captivating first, then just open the gates later. I’ll edit and make sure that I’m not slinging my privilege or skewed perspective all over the place (hopefully), but it’s really free form!

AF: Loamlands is described in many ways online: folk, country, rock, punk. How do you define the band’s sound?

KR: Just like that! Influenced by Bonnie Raitt / Stevie Nicks / Prince / Kim Deal (who I have tattooed on my body) and rounded out by friendships and queer community.

AF: Your music encompasses personal experiences, a genderqueer perspective, life in the South. It’s a punk soundtrack if there ever was one. Do you ever feel pressure to represent, to accurately encompass, to be a strong voice for these often marginalized groups?

KR: Thank you for asking! No! I don’t… I recognize the privilege in making music. I can only represent my experience and tell stories that I hear from others. I hope to be able to help create space for those that want / need to tell their own stories though. That’s what I think my whiteness and economic privilege can do. And to tell stories that speak to people both in an out of the south about queerness that either they can relate to or that can help them relate to others.

AF: What albums do you currently have spinning at home? Any new artists we should check out?

KR: So many!  LIZZO all the time. Your Heart Breaks and Nana Grizol and anything off of Cruisin Records. That new Daughter of Swords and Molle Sarle (Alex’s and then Molly’s new project from Mountain Man). Always Flock of Dimes (Jenn from Wye Oak) and old school Des Ark! Team Dresch is reuniting so a lot of that right now. So much! Courtney Barnett! Solar Halos who just released a new record!

AF: Where can folks see ya’ll live? And what could someone expect from a Loamlands show?

KR: Well, it’s stripped down through the fall to promote this new record. But it’s always an adventure. I’m very ADD and can tell a story or ten in one, depending. So there is definitely rambling and always something awkward – which I live for!

We have a smattering of full band and solo shows and are looking to hop on some tours this fall and record another record so – stay tuned!

Loamlands’ new LP Lez Dance will be out 6/7 on Cruisin Records.

6/8 – Durham, NC @ North Star Church of the Arts *Record Release*
7/27 – Saxapahaw, NC @ Saxapahaw Summer Concert Series

LIVE REVIEW: Blue Healer at Rockwood Music Hall


Set the scene in your mind: An intimate setting at Rockwood Music Hall complete with dimmed lights, a hazy atmosphere, and a collection of swooning, folky, country-esque music courtesy of Blue Healer. Can you feel the relaxation and good vibes? Great. Then you now understand exactly what it was like seeing them perform last Wednesday.


It was a mixture of synths and keys as well as heavy basslines and distorted upright bass. At times, the music had an older glam rock feel, surreal and ethereal, reverberating throughout your mind. Then it would transform to a folk, country-esque show complete with energetic synths — pop folk, if you will. A lot of their songs called to mind tracks of Melee and The Black Keys.


The trio hailing from Austin recently released their debut self-titled album and played an array of tracks from it (and also tracks not on it). They played their popular single “30,000 Feet,” which was full of airy vocals from frontman and bassist David Beck and otherworldly synths from keyboardist Bryan Mammel. They also slowed things down when they played “Only the Rain,” with synths that perfectly emphasized its gentle nature. When they played “Empty Bottles” is when I really felt The Black Keys vibes from them (never a bad thing).

Their last song, “Bad Weather,” was an empowering, anthemic note to end on. But fortunately, it also wasn’t quite the end, as the crowd pretty much begged for an encore, and Blue Healer happily obliged. So their real last track, “Like Diamonds,” ended up being a way more fun way to go out. It was energetic and upbeat, complemented by crashing cymbals and a big finale drumline as well as contagious energy from the band who genuinely looked like they were having the time of their life.

As a show I went into hardly knowing the band, I was pleasantly surprised and had a great time. It also helps when the band is skilled at their instruments and loves what they’re doing, too.

EP REVIEW + VIDEO PREMIERE: Catch Prichard’s “Eskota”

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Photo by Leif Huron
Photo by Leif Huron

When I first met Sawyer Gebauer – the weighty, valley-low voice behind Catch Prichard – he was called another name. He was in another country, manning a different musical project (the melancholy Europe-based Brittsommar), and far removed from his American roots. He was physically away from home, but also emotionally and culturally. Gebauer has often discussed “home” as a symbol in interviews, namely that you can never return to it in a pure sense. It is a theme so prevalent in his work that it informed a song title on his latest EP Eskota. But in spite of his itinerant past, it seems that he’s getting mighty close to a hearth of his own making.

In the past twelve months, the songwriter has re-tethered himself to American soil after five years gone. Gebauer settled in the Bay Area last fall after a cross-country road trip that centered on the recording of this very album, in a Texas ghost town no less.

That town, was called Eskota.

The story of Eskota’s making is just as mesmerizing as the record itself, to the extent that it’s difficult to examine them separately…much like it’s a chore at times to distinguish Sawyer Gebauer from Catch Prichard, the artist from the person. There is a vague picture, but one cloaked in so much romanticism that it is blurred.

What is clear is the intent. What Gebauer set out to achieve as he drove from Wisconsin to Texas was a simpler sound, one detached from the dense arrangements of his former band. It had to be stripped down and restrained – so in order to facilitate such a mood, he and engineer Brad K. Dollar set up shop for a week in an abandoned mercantile. In the heat they lazed by day and recorded by night, drinking beer to pass the time between.

The record itself bears an authenticity that perhaps wouldn’t have surfaced had the tracks been laid in a fancy studio. Despite its simplicity (the pared down instrumentation features only guitar, pedal steel, drums and the occasional bass and Moog lines), there is a lot to chew on – a soup of intricate production details born of the location. Take for instance “Howl,” ushered in by a creaking chair and built upon the chirping Texas night. “You Can Never Go Home Again” signs off with lilting pedal steel and a faraway cough, presumably that of someone in the makeshift studio. These elements tastefully season the album like a well-prepared meal.

There is a warmth in Eskota I’ve yet to encounter in Gebauer’s music, an openness and vulnerability that doesn’t always show in his previous work. These songs seem both universally narrative and deeply personal, covering heartbreak (“So Close To It), friends remembered (“Eskota”), and becoming a native stranger (“Hometown”). Sonically it sits in a saddle between country, folk and Americana of the early ‘90s. Gebauer’s ten-gallon voice resonates over the brightness of electric guitar and pedal steel, anchoring any sweet feelings we might have with a dose of blues.

Though it’s taken a lot of mileage for him to get here, it seems Catch Prichard has arrived. Maybe you can go home after all.

Catch Prichard will play Rockwood Music Hall on October 26th.  Tickets here.

Eskota is out October 21st via Devise Records.  Stream the video by Leif Huron below:


ALBUM REVIEW: Camille Bloom “Pieces of Me”

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photo by Gaelen Billingsley
photo by Gaelen Billingsley

It was the philosopher Aristotle who said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” While I’m not certain that Aristotelian philosophy was at the forefront of Camille Bloom’s mind while songwriting, I can’t help but consider it a subconscious theme to her fifth studio LP Pieces Of Me, which she self-released earlier this month.

Despite having started her career in Seattle nearly fifteen years ago while transitioning out of another – teaching high school English à la Sting – it seems that Pieces Of Me has become the “a-ha!” moment for Bloom. The record has received widespread applause from the likes of Impose Magazine, No Depression, The Seattle Times, PopDose to name but a few. Now it has us on our feet clapping as well.

Pieces Of Me provides a remedy for a paradoxical problem: wanting to listen to a record that is diverse yet cohesive all at once. You’d be hard-pressed to find another album so adventurous in its genre-hopping. Some truly unique compositions crop up on both the bluegrass-infused title track as well as “Zombie,” a searing social commentary set to sinister, plunking jazz rhythms.

No shocker here, but some of my favorite moments occur on the album’s more forlorn cuts; take the somnolent piano ballad “Everywhere But Here” for instance, which sounds sweetly ominous with its cinematic strings and crescendo vocals. The pared-down “Turn Back to You” nourishes all of the hopeless romantic, sap-atoms I possess, and who could deny those harmonies? *Swoon*

Pieces stands tall like a well-constructed sandwich; varying ingredients piled between two hearty slabs of bread-though these slices would have to be gluten free, as Bloom informed the University of Washington’s Medicine Pulse podcast earlier this year: she suffers from celiac disease. The parallel pieces holding everything together are the album’s two versions of “Lift Me Up.”

Both commencing and closing the record, the opening iteration is a rapturous, stringed affair simultaneously hopeful and melancholy. However, the dance-remix closer paints the song in washes of synths and should absolutely be saved for the last dance. It’s the kind of late-night, low-lit pop-drama fit for Robyn herself.

Throughout Pieces you will find tasteful arrangements seasoned with swells of cello, warm trumpet tones, expertly plucked mandolin, and electric guitar so sexily understated it is baffling. While all of that might sound heady on paper, the instrumentation is grounded and never overpowers Bloom’s distinctly crystalline vocals. I suspect a large portion of the record’s success can be attributed to Camille Bloom’s new producer: Camille Bloom.

After years of recording with producers such as the acclaimed Martin Feveyear (who takes a mixing and mastering credit on Pieces) Bloom wanted to take a crack at doing it herself this time. After crowdfunding the record’s required budget and building a home studio on her farm property in Washington State, Bloom spent hours in the newly christened Silo Studio with engineer and percussionist Logan Billingsley laying down tracks, tweaking, and comping. The result is quite the accomplishment, not only reaffirming the artist’s chops as a songwriter, but her new byline as a producer to boot.

After listening to the record in full, one might ask: what are the pieces of Camille Bloom? Songwriter. Producer. Teacher. Singer. Wearer of brightly patterned shirts. Scorpio. Wife.

Even putting all of her qualifications into a list or resume seems reductive, and I am brought back to what that guy Aristotle said: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” So no matter how wonderful each piece of Camille Bloom may be, what they add up to is something so lovely that even I struggle to put it into words. So I will just let her.

(Did I mention she’s my big sister?)

Watch the video for “Pieces of Me” below.


PLAYING DETROIT: Anna Ash “Floodlights”


Michigan native and L.A resident, Anna Ash is holding on, not back. A sincere sorceress of internal voyeurism, Ash’s fragile confidence stands firm ground and shines brightly on her sophomore record Floodlights released earlier this week. Slide guitar and dusty, feathered percussion dip and sway against Ash’s strikingly pure and piercing songbird soprano. Floodlights is a poignant display of a love run dry and/or a love gone awry that rolls with the patience of an impending storm on the horizon; lightening without the thunder.

Is Floodlights a country record? Maybe. It tangos with rock n roll attitude on occasion and yanks on some folky heartstrings, too. But beyond genre displacement, the record is a grand achievement in story telling, quietly exposing the deepest layers of epidermis with a tender honesty that doesn’t require categorization, only reflection.

Recorded in Minnesota, mastered on the West Coast and the reprisal of Ash’s Michigan band (Joe Dart, Julian Allen, and James Cornelison) Floodlights creation is as well traveled as the pictorial pastures and valleys the album dares to explore. “Player” is finger waving, audacious dose of told-you-so whereas Ash’s Lucinda Williams cover “Fruits of my Labor” is a sensual peach bite coated in sultry regret and the track “Hold On” is a bouncy series of what-if’s and hypothetical missteps. No ground is left uncovered on Floodlights but it isn’t until the title/closing track that we are forced to our knees after a perilously raw journey through Ash’s beautifully tormented history. Barely exceeding a whisper, Ash compares the shake of an old car to the way her voice warbles when she lies, professing that “It ain’t gonna kill you to sleep alone once and a while.” A heart wrenching, steering wheel clenching kiss goodbye to us, to them, to who she is or was, “Floodlights” as a singular track and as a collection rattles with a tender brutality that is relatable and malleable, melted and frozen.

Mostly Midwest premiered the album this week and is streaming it in it’s entirety now. Check out the playful track “Player” below:

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TRACK PREMIERE: Gold Child “Tides”

gold child press photo

Gold Child is the shimmering, effervescent and wholly unexpected “Mermaid Country” project headed by Berklee trained vocalist and songwriter Emily Fehler, who, accompanied by a very dapper backing band including one of the best damn slide guitarists we’ve heard in a long while, has quietly gone from obscurity to buzz worthy in a matter of months. Their debut track, “Tides”, is premiering today and we couldn’t love it more. While erring heavily on the side of classic country in its form, it begins with a twinkling guitar intro and a peppy snare line. Soon Fehler’s ethereal vocals come floating into the mix, hooking the listener in for the remaining three minutes. What shines throughout is her deft songwriting skills, which show off a rare ability to craft music that’s understated without being aimless. The track’s structure and form in and of itself is something to be envied, simple yet persistently interesting, with musical turns of phrases that continuously surprise the listener until the last chord is strummed. If you’ve had any past misgivings about country music, do yourself a favor: throw them in the trash and take a first listen below to “Tides”, by Gold Child. It will surely change your mind.

Gold Child is comprised of Fehler on vocals and guitar, David Von Bader on slide, Jake Beal on drums and Jason Weiss on bass.

LIVE REVIEW: Father John Misty @ The Greene Space


I was sitting at my computer, experiencing one of the many downsides of being underemployed. Tickets for the sold-out Father John Misty concerts were going for well over $100 on Craigslist and Stubhub, and there weren’t many left. Then I saw the event post: Father John Misty, aka Josh Tillman, would be giving a short performance/interview at The Greene Space as part of the WNYC Soundcheck podcast on February 11th, for just $10.

We were somehow the first people ushered into the small studio space, and my boyfriend and I grabbed one of the few chairs in the room. My seat ended up being about five feet away from Tillman, which was amazing yet unsettling. I could hear his voice without the microphone, and see the tiny banana decal on his black velvet blazer. I was also nervous he might look directly at us, and when he walked past to step onstage, I worried I might trip him so tucked my feet under my chair.

The host John Schaefer introduced the show, and described the new Father John Misty album, I Love You, Honeybear, as a lush but subversive record with lacerating lyrics. Naturally, Tillman deadpanned “Prepare to subversively lacerated,” before playing the record’s title track.

When asked questions between songs, he wavered between hostile and conversational. He grimaced when Schaefer mentioned similarities between “I Love You, Honeybear” and Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” and cut off a question related to a F. Scott Fitzgerald quote by stating he couldn’t read. But when asked about the creation of his album, Tillman explained, “I think it was difficult just given the subject matter, which was bordering dangerously close to sentimentality… I think to some extent I was doing some kind of bartering, where I was like, I’ll let you be this exposed if you let me cloak this in impenetrable layers of goo.”

Later in the set, Schaefer talked about the band’s upcoming concerts and Tillman, suddenly friendly, rested his head on the host’s shoulder. “I’m sorry for my weird answers earlier,” he apologized, gazing at him with endearing puppy-dog eyes.

They discussed psychedelics before he launched into the set’s most animated performance, “The Ideal Husband.” The heels of scuffed tan boots twisted under his lanky frame as he sashayed his hips side to side and spun. During the bridge, he stepped off the stage, knocking the mic stand to my feet, and threw himself on my boyfriend’s shoulder. “I came by at seven in the morning,” he shouted, climbing over seats to embrace others. The woman next to us widened her eyes in fear as the guitar slung across his back came dangerously close to her face. “Seven in the morning, seven in the morning…” He picked up the mic stand and dropped it back into place, the song ending with its thud onstage.

Luckily, both the audience and artist were uninjured. Tillman found an empty chair in the first row to sing the final song, “Bored In The USA.” “Can I boo myself from here?”  he wondered between lyrics. There was no recorded laugh track in this rendition of the song and he seemed to pause slightly where it should have been, then shrug when the audience didn’t provide it. The song was strange, maybe too exposed, without it. He blew out a lighter held up from the second row, and the set ended.

“Go forth and have a productive day,” Tillman told the crowd. I didn’t really have anything productive to do, but I didn’t care. Turns out the upside of being underemployed is you don’t have to make up any excuses to see Father John Misty at noon on a weekday.

If you didn’t make it to the soundcheck, the full performance is up on Livestream and YouTube. Check it out:

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ALBUM REVIEW: Justin Townes Earle “Single Mothers”


The delightfully bespectacled Justin Townes Earle dependably releases a record every year or so, and has done so since 2007. He can be counted on for more than just punctuality, too. Not one of Earle’s records is a dud: at worst, he’s palatable and bland, and at his best, he expertly shines a light into fresh quadrants of the well-traversed territory of outlaw Americana. He comes honestly by his “darlin'”s and “mama”s–the son of Texas songwriter Steve Earle, who gave him his middle name in honor his godfather Townes van Zandt, JTE is the heir apparent of modern country, and despite what’s perhaps an understandable reluctance to fully embrace the Nashville lifestyle, the stuff seeps out of his pores. Every song is a story, piled high with neatly turned guitar work and vocals that can be mournful or flirtatious, contemplative or charming.

Often, in his songwriting, Earle plays the suave but troubled rambler. First there was “Ain’t Glad I’m Leaving,” off his full-length debut The Good Life, wherein he balks at romantic commitment and assures a protesting lover that she’s better off without him. Then came Midnight at the Movies, which included the similarly self-depracatory but audibly grief-stricken “Someday I’ll Be Forgiven For This.” As is often the case, true stories are behind the good lyrics. The years since he released his first EP Yuma haven’t been entirely smooth for Earle, who struggled with drug abuse and an arrest that led him into rehab in 2010.

He’s been sober for a couple of albums now, but his music still dips into the lonely, complicated character that defined the folk singer’s early work. The somber sections of Single Mothers, though, crystallize around the simple and deep-rooted sadness of an abandoned child–as opposed to the empty braggadocio of a loner who just can’t be tamed, not even by the love of a good woman. Maybe this interpretation reads into the title a little too much. The son of an absent famous father, Earle grew up with a single mother of his own.

But the title track–its steady beat and simple, symmetrical lyrical structure–sets the tone for the rest of Single Mothers in terms of gravity and mutedness. Reduced to its essential components, Earle’s songwriting doesn’t always grab your attention the way that his younger, more caddish self might. But there’s a payoff: you get to hear his voice at its most vulnerable.

Which isn’t to say that JTE has totally lost his swagger. “My Baby Drives” provides some rockabilly-ish, dance hall relief from the intimacy of “Single Mothers” and the forlorn next track, “Today and a Lonely Night.” “Wanna Be a Stranger” floats along with all the lightness and insta-nostalgia of small towns you drive through and don’t stop in. As a collection, though, Single Mothers tends towards interior songwriting that favors quiet payoffs over flashy country licks. In fact, it is as if Earle particularly avoided that kind of sexy troubledness that falls to those who walk out of their homes and go wandering, opting instead for the unshowy and exhausted hardship left for the single mothers who remain behind.

Single Mothers dropped September 9th on Vagrant Records, and you can order the album here. Check out the music video for “Time Shows Fools,” off Single Mothers, below!

TRACK OF THE WEEK: Adia Victoria “Stuck In The South”

Adia Victoria

Adia Victoria

“Stuck In The South,” the debut single from the little-advertised shadow figure Adia Victoria (along with her band: Mason Hickman, Tiffany Minton and Ruby Rogers), is a curious matrix, at once single-mindedly powerful and also complex, made up of conflicting impulses.

Adia Victoria’s is not a voice that sidles in politely. Rather, it slams open the door with one callused fist, stalks into the joint, elbows you off your barstool, and orders a whiskey neat. The 28-year old South Carolina native has clearly practiced making herself heard, both in the crowded Nashville bar and honky-tonk circuit where she made her bones as a performer, and also as a means of escape from the American Gothic nightmare she describes in “Stuck In The South.”

“Yeah, I been thinkin’ about makin’ tracks,” Victoria sneers in the first verse of the song, “but the only road I know, it’s going to lead me back.” She sings with an animalistic glare, conjuring not only a clear picture of her stagnant,  claustrophobic, sinister environment but also of herself as a character within it. Every twang on her guitar cuts like barbed wire, and it’s this anger, haunting and predatory, that makes the single so goddamned good. But in “Stuck In The South,” Victoria’s prowess as a storyteller is impressive too, and the track evokes the drawl and swagger of Southern rock and roll as colorfully as it does the “Southern hell” she’s trying to get away from. She seems to turn her fear of becoming a product of the South on its head, becoming unstuck not by running from her demons but by dominating them. The song immerses a listener in a three-dimensional environment, cinematically evocative and all the richer for its details and complexities.

Produced by Roger Moutenot (known for his work with Yo La Tengo), “Stuck In The South” is Victoria’s first foray into relative Internet mainstream. Her minimalist approach to releasing music–even now, after her single’s release resulted in a resounding critical chorus demanding more–makes a powerful song even punchier. Dig into “Stuck In The South” below, via Soundcloud.