Cristina Vane Reclaims American Identity on Debut LP Nowhere Sounds Lovely

Photo Credit: Oceana Colgan

A nomad since birth, crossing borders from France, Italy, England and finally overseas to America, home was not so easy to define for Cristina Vane. On her debut LP Nowhere Sounds Lovely, released April 2nd, the Nashville singer-songwriter documents her experiences on a road tripacross the United States, rediscovering her roots and exploring her own questions of identity, both personally and musically. A wholly unique venture from her typical realm of folk rock, Vane fleshes out picturesque and anecdotal ballads with added doses ofthe Western styles of music she stumbled upon and came to love on her journey.

Born to a Sicilian-American father and Guatemalan mother, the family’s constant migration around Europe paved the way for the singer’s unique style, owing to a diverse exposure of manifold international music markets. In her adolescence, Vane resonated with the sounds of electronica, ‘90s British indie bands and classic rock ‘n’ roll groups predominant in the eclectic European music scene of the time. Influenced by artists like Alanis Morissette, The Cranberries, Dire Straits and Depeche Mode, Vane felt compelled to siphon her disposition into angsty tones of folk and blues rock. Belting out full-bodied vocals and intimate guitar vibrations on her previously released tracks and EPs was only the beginning of an evolutionary road for her musical career.

After moving to the U.S. at the age of 18, Vane chewed over matters of identity and her position in the world as a musician as well as the physical and emotional idea of home. Drawn to the music scene and sense of community in LA, she migrated to the West Coast, employing her passion and knowledge of music by working in a folk guitar shop. While attempting to settle in a city she had hoped to call home, Vane felt lost in the overwhelming crowd of other locals. On “Will I Ever Be Satisfied”the musician ardently expresses her longing in a beautifully sung melody on top of an old hymn-like tune: “I have asked too many questions/Andonly echo no reply/Into these voices I have listened/They cannot know me or my strife.”

With pondering thoughts and a desire to pursue music more seriously, the artist packed up her instruments, gave up her apartment and set out on a five-month tour across the U.S. arranged entirely on her own. “Traveling Blues” sets the scene of what the trek was like on the road – sleeping in tents at campsites and on strangers’ couches, playing gigs in tiny bars and backyards, aimlessly moving along without knowing the road ahead. It wasn’t all glitz and glamour. “Sometimes you’ve got to get lost to get your feet back on the ground,” she sings, followed by, “This path leads to nowhere/Nowhere sounds lovely/Well I’d sure like to go there.” Craving the thrill of adventure rather than a fancy vacation, the musician rolled along an unfamiliar path that would change her life forever.

Encountering the great American sights from Utah to Texas to Louisiana, Vane had the chance to reclaim her identity as an American in a country she had roots in, but never fully explored. “Badlands” and “Dreaming of Utah” gives listeners insight into the awe of experiencing the wonders of these sights for the first time. Embroidered with grungy electric guitar riffs and gliding notes, “Blueberry Hill” provides a snapshot of the Western desert landscapes, “high on that mountain” in Taos, New Mexico, a spot frequented by the musician on her route.

Visually satiated with the picturesque landscapes of the American plains, Vane also had a chance to develop an infatuation with the historical music of the South. By then, the idea that she had to leave LA for Tennessee had crystalized in Vane’s mind. “[The trip] was totally inspiring,” she tells Audiofemme. “I came back and realized that I needed to move to the South to get closer to the history that’s still alive.” Vane set off for Nashville, picking up the banjo, pedal steel guitar and even a little fiddle along the way, with the intention of writing an album more reflective of her cherished memories of the American South.

The musician soon began piecing together songs blended with elements of Appalachian mountain, old-time and bluegrass music. “Over my journey I started to learn more about Hank Williams, The Carter Family and [other] country music,” she explains. “When I got into the studio five months laterI had some songs I had written from last summer; in my head I was referencing a country waltz, and I said ‘let’s put pedal steel on it.’ I never played with those things in my life, but I knew that was the vibe I wanted for that song.” With the guidance of Cactus Moser, a Grammy Award-winning producer known for his work with Wynonna Judd, Vane crafted a well-rounded album packed with lush melodies, heartfelt lyrics and musical memories she acquired on her trip.

As a foreigner for most of her life, Vane was moved by the culture of community in the South, deeply rooted in its music. “Family is important,” she says. “It’s Southern culture. If you think of some of the roots of its musical genres, family has a really deep meaning for a lot of people.”

With her travel stories, her experiences, and the Southern music she unearthed, Vane was able to satisfy her thirst for community and belonging, confidently calling Tennessee home. Embellished with the slow wails of the electric guitar intertwined with the fiddle, “Satisfied Soul” encapsulates the delightful afterglow of her travels and the comforting bliss of finding home.

A vibrant compilation of documented travel stories, Nowhere Sounds Lovely commands attention with its impressive mash-up of blues, rock, bluegrass and old-time music. With each song telling a different story (as Vane puts it, like “an ice cream cabinet where you can choose any of the flavors,”) the album evokes the wonder and exhilaration of being lost in unfamiliar places and in the search for a deeper meaning of belonging. Through her album, Cristina Vane hopes to promote acceptance between those with deep cultural roots and those lost wanderers or nomads, like herself, without any roots at all. “There’s nothing wrong with being proud of where you’re from, but there is something wrong with alienating people because they’re not born and raised somewhere,” she says. “Some of us don’t have that luxury.”

Follow Cristina Vane on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Joan Osborne Tackles Abuse of Power, Climate Change, and Immigration on Trouble and Strife

Photo Credit: Jeff Fasano

Joan Osborne has been releasing albums since 1991, showing notable breadth as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist with music ranging from original rock and folk compositions to blues and soul covers. She’s earned seven Grammy nominations along the way, a testament to her prowess. Her tenth studio album, Trouble and Strife (out today), shows her continued growth as an artist, incorporating multiple genres and using her platform to speak out about some of the world’s biggest injustices.

Osborne considers the album a response to the current political climate in the U.S., particularly political corruption. “It’s calling out people who are abusing their power, and it also is trying to uplift people because we all have a lot of work to do to deal with this situation,” she says. “I think it’s important to use music to energize people and to give them a positive frame of mind.”

On “Hands Off,” she simultaneously addresses powerful men who use their status to get away with sexual assault and corporations that are abusing the environment. “Hands off of the fathers/Hands off of the mothers/Hands off of the sisters/Hands off of the brothers/Hands off of the oceans/Hands off of the sky/Hands off of the children/Give them wings to fly,” she sings against pounding bass and wild electric guitar.

On “What’s That You Say,” she speaks out about the country’s treatment of immigrants, collaborating with immigrant advocate Ana Maria Rea, a Texan who came to the U.S. from Mexico to seek safety after her father was kidnapped. Rea opens the song by speaking in Spanish about her plight, then Osborne soulfully sings lyrics she wrote based on interviews with her.

“It seems like we used to celebrate the immigrants who come and work hard and make a life for themselves, and it seems like as a nation, at least a big chunk of the population has forgotten that,” she says. “So I wanted to write a song about a person who has lived that immigration experience and who has made this country better because of coming here.”

The rest of the album ranges from the bluesy, keyboard-heavy “Panama” to the hopeful ballad “Whole Wide World” to the Western-inspired “Trouble and Strife,” where Bob Dylan’s influence comes through in the quirky vignettes of various American lives. In the catchy, classic-rock-esque “Boy Dontcha Know,” she talks about feeling uncomfortable in your gender role, and in “Never Get Tired (Of Loving You),” she lightens the mood with a love song to her daughter.

The album’s depth and range, both musically and topically, belies how quickly it was written: Osborne says she wrote all the songs in three days. “I had booked some musicians to come to my home studio, and I wasn’t sure what we were going to do even a week and even four days beforehand,” she remembers. “I didn’t know exactly what I was going to give them to record, and I just sat down and locked myself in a room, and for three days went through my ideas and my notebooks and my recordings and came up with most of these songs in a big rush.”

She then played the musicians rough demos, and together, they transformed them into sophisticated songs. “What I wanted was for people to feel like they were in that room with these amazing players and just experience these songs in the way I experienced them after giving them to this great band and having them transform it into something so wonderful,” she says.

The album is being released through her own record label, Womanly Hips Records, which she started early in her career, believing that no one would offer her a record deal. In response to fans she met while touring who wanted to buy her music, she poured over DIY manuals and figured out how to release records herself, naming the label in the interest of celebrating her own figure. Of course, she would eventually sign to a major to release her breakout LP Relish in 1995, which features her biggest hit to date, the Eric Bazilian-penned song “One of Us.” After releasing its follow up, Righteous Love, via Interscope in 2000, she returned to indie labels, including her own, to put out her releases.

Osborne has always been an activist as well as an artist, with a history of volunteering for Planned Parenthood and raising money for the organization through her concerts; she even promoted them at the women’s music festival the Lilith Fair after being expressly forbidden to do so by the hosting venue. But she considers Trouble and Strife the album to wed her artistry and activism more than any other. “I just feel like we’re the adults in the room right now in this country, and we have a responsibility to do everything we can to try to make the future a livable place for the next generation,” she says.

She hopes that after listening to the album, people see that “it’s possible to make our country and our world a better place with their participation,” she says. “I hope it’s a message of hope and energy, and I’m not lecturing to people — the music should be entertaining and fun to listen to, and you can dance to it as well. I wanted to have music that was fun to listen to and was energizing and uplifting, so I hope that’s what people take away from it: a sense of uplift.”

Follow Joan Osborne via Facebook for ongoing updates.

Margalee Offers a Tender Slice of Familial Love With Let the Mad World Spin

margalee band

margalee band
Photo Credit: Bill Russell

Concept EPs are something that I would like to see more of. This “tidbit” style of album creation appeals to me for a variety of reasons, but the biggest one, I believe, is that it normalizes the process of creation. By no means am I suggesting making a themed or shorter work is easier than making something more expansive, but I do think that they tend to show the cracks a little bit more, but in a way that adds to their charm. It’s the musical equivalent of a zine, those beloved micro-works known for their ragged edges, both literal and metaphorical.

Oakland’s Margalee have put out one such slice-of-life, a four track EP that is essentially a love letter to singer, instrumentalist, and producer Margaret Potts’ mom. While the band normally makes eclectic rock, this stripped-down experiment, titled Let The Mad World Spin, does not feel lesser, nor does it feel under-produced, which can happen with concept EPs done on the fly (or in quarantine).

Track one, “gratitude for moms,” is a rambling kitchen-counter note given space to expand beyond the page. “[Thanks for] doing all the wifey things that you had to do/I don’t even know what that means/because you taught me that a woman can be anything she wants/and Dad did the laundry” Potts sings, laughing on the last word. Right off the bat we have a sense of this family and the lightness and informality between them. Potts lets the song ramble off towards the end, asking, “What do you call a mother’s love/for a child and vice versa?” Its a worthwhile question, but Potts doesn’t need to provide an answer — finding the perfect metaphor is not the point here.

Rambling, talk-singing, and non-music sounds are mainstays of the concept EP, and “Let the Mad World Spin” is no exception. 60’s and 70’s folk are also some clear influences that Potts pulls to inform certain musical choices, and her voice, which she changes on pin turns, sometimes dips into a throaty warble that would be off-putting if you couldn’t hear her smiling her way through it.

“get yourself a dream” is another strange song. It relies on a lot of repeated syntax, but still holds some great lyrics, like the beginning of the second verse: “like a rusty bucket returning to the same well/yes, the same hell hoping for water/is is possible?” Potts could have just been riffing and happened to land on some quality turns of phrase, but as any artist knows, waiting for inspiration is… well, like being a rusty bucket returning to the same dry place.

One of Potts’s strengths is knowing what to emphasize, but with the precision of a musical theater kid mid-soliloquy. In “blooms,” which starts off rather slow and soft, Potts quickly brings us in another, more energetic direction when she starts in on “I like the subtle power of blooms in a West Oakland garden/how do they manage vulnerability? In a cosmos with black holes/ how do they flower shamelessly?” the whole time, her inflections chase with ease, somehow fitting eleven syllables in that second line without making it sound forced.

“let the mad world spin,” was the immediate standout, the most solidly constructed of the four songs and with a few experimental elements that drew me in immediately, like little high-pitched sound integrated into the song early on before becoming a percussive instrument. It’s a quick little thing at under two minutes, but sums up the themes of the EP nicely: womanhood, personal autonomy, nature and the community found there.

All and all, Let the Mad World Spin is a strong showing from Margalee, a folk-rock testing ground for expressing what I assume was a concentrated burst of feeling for Potts’ mother and her adopted town of Oakland. Short works can, of course, be sloppy, but more often than not, they are a welcome green light for our spur of the moment ideas and how perfection and a three-act structure are not always necessary to create something of emotional and artistic resonance.

PLAYING ATLANTA: Cicada Rhythm Brings It Back Home with “Cecilia”

I’m a nostalgic person. I love anything that reminds me of the classic rock, country, and introspective singer-songwriters, like Joni Mitchell or Simon & Garfunkel, I listened to growing up. Having wiled away many a day to the sound of harmony-laden songs playing through a radio, the overwhelming feeling of delight and pure bliss that washed over me when I heard Athens-Atlanta folk group Cicada Rhythm for the first time took me right back to the slow, late summer days of my childhood.

Melodic and unassuming, Cicada Rhythm has a way of subtly blending the sweet simplicity of ’60s and ’70s folk music with the hustle and bustle of 21st century life between the slide of fingers on acoustic guitar strings, the swell of a standup bass, and crisp harmonic vocals. Founded in the most Americana of manners by bassist Andrea DeMarcus and guitarist Dave Kirslis, Cicada Rhythm has wandered far from its beginnings in the sleepy college town of Athens, GA, sharing the stage with the likes of modern folk heroes The Wood Brothers. But rest assured, the group’s roots run deep.

I got the chance to catch up with Andrea and Dave following the latest installment of their Stuck in My Head cover series, the Simon & Garfunkel classic “Cecilia,” to talk all things touring, musical guilty pleasures, and brand new Cicada Rhythm music.

AF: How did the magic that is Cicada Rhythm get together? Was this the first band for both of you, or were you in bands before?

AD: This was my first band! Dave had played in multiple bands, mostly local acts. We met when Dave hopped off a freight train and called my friend to pick him up. I was in the car! From there, we would casually share songs we had written and eventually decided to play together.

AF: How did you fall in love with music in the first place?

AD: I played piano from an early age and sang in the church choir. At 11, in my elementary school musical program, I chose to play bass in the orchestra. After that, I had many encouraging teachers who helped me pursue classical music as a career. Dave picked up the guitar around age 11-12 because his dad found one on the side of the road. He mostly taught himself to play, and is just generally still fascinated by the instrument. He plays every day and jamming with his friends evolved into playing in bands and booking shows.

AF: You guys tour all the time; how does being on the road affect you as writers? Do you write while you’re touring, or save it for the off-season?

DK: Writing on the road is something that I want to learn how to do. Reading or writing in a vehicle has always made me feel dizzy, but it’s something I’m trying to overcome. I’ve spent a lot of time on the road this year. In the past I’ve mostly written at home, but I’ve learned that has to evolve and I’m excited to change the environment I create in. Andrea is prolific and can write a song in her sleep. I’ve seen her create them at home and on the road!

AD: It’s true, I have written a song in my sleep! But I have to wait until the muse strikes me. Songwriting has never been something I can prescribe myself daily. I can write on the road, if I’m feeling that spark, but mostly I write at home. I feel like my writing has changed a lot since we started performing with more band members and on bigger stages. So much more is possible! But, writing is very emotion-based for me. I think it stems from the necessity of wanting to explore my deepest goings on, my true thoughts.

AF: Cicada Rhythm is based between Athens and Atlanta. What’s it like to be part of the music history of Athens and the booming music scene of Atlanta at the same time?

DK: The music scenes of Atlanta and Athens are vastly different and uniquely special. Surprisingly there is not much of a connection between the two scenes, despite only being 70 miles from each other. 

In Athens, there is Point A to Point B. In Atlanta, there is Point A to Point Z5. Atlanta is so spread out and the music scene is not centralized like in Athens. Athens is a couple square miles packed with studios and venues whereas Atlanta has a massive surface area encompassing many outside cities in its music scene, with artistic spaces scattered among them. We feel lucky to have been deeply connected to both music scenes; they are both so special and filled with talent, and a lot of that talent is under the radar.

AF: If you had to pick one place in Atlanta and one in Athens for a great show, where would it be?

DK: For me, Northside Tavern in Atlanta and Georgia Theatre Rooftop in Athens.

AD: Well, The Earl has a special place in my heart. And in Athens, I would also pick the Georgia Theatre!

AF: Now for the fun question: any musical guilty pleasures?

DK: I love some John Anderson songs. I drive [the band] crazy listening to  “Wild and Blue” or “Seminole Wind.” His voice just does something great for me.

AD: My guilty pleasure is definitely the Dixie Chicks! I know some of those songs by heart!

AF: What’s next for Cicada Rhythm?

AD: Cicada is looking forward to our next recording project! We hope to have it done sometime in 2020, so keep your ears open!

Cicada Rhythm is currently on tour with Kishi Bashi (see dates below). Follow them on Facebook for ongoing updates.

11/1 – Norwalk, CT @ Wall Street Theater
11/2 – Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Steel
11/3 – Boston, MA @ Royale
11/4 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
11/6 – Indianapolis, IN @ The Vogue
11/7 – Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom & Tavern
11/8 – Washington, DC @ Lincoln Theatre
11/9 – Charlottesville, VA @ Jefferson Theater

PLAYING DETROIT: Frontier Ruckus Share “Enter the Kingdom” Video

Frontier Ruckus has been dishing out deeply personal, heavy-hearted folk rock for fifteen years. Their latest installment of polite devastation comes in the form of Enter the Kingdom. Their fifth record (released in the February of this year) comes full circle with the striking visual for the album’s title track, which premiered on Billboard last week.

Written, edited and directed by Ohio native and Detroit transplant Jay Curtis Miller, “Enter the Kingdom” is a beautiful midwestern narrative following the death of a family’s matriarch, an estranged father figure and a wedding that shrinks, swells and sings in the absence of both. Frontier Ruckus frontman Matthew Milia admits the video’s interpretation may stray from his personal connection to the song’s meaning, but agrees that the clip still explores the weight of loss and the complexities and frailties of family. “The family’s scattered, all that once mattered will die/ I sleep in the bush that separates the houses/ I wake with a push from random ex-spouses” sings Milia, alongside a sweeping string section and tender backing vocals. Miller accents the drama by pairing childhood flashbacks, mental projections and delicate close-ups that feel more like portraiture than music video. Just over seven minutes long, “Enter the Kindom” gives space to connect, reflect and dive deep into a world that only Frontier Ruckus can create: quiet tales of surrender, triumph and heartbreaking malaise.

Grab the tissues and enter Frontier Ruckus’ uneasy kingdom below:

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ALBUM REVIEW: Vagabon “Infinite Worlds”


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Vagabon press photo by Ebru Yildiz

Laetitia Tamko opens her debut record with “The Embers,” painting herself as “a small fish” in a world of fiercer creatures. “You’re a shark that hates everything,” she repeats. “You’re a shark that eats every fish.” In the music video, Tamko sits on a bus, surrounded by nondescript white guys with blindfolds on, unaware of her presence as she sings. But then she finds the freedom in being left to herself, dancing, comfortable in her own space in the world. Later, the men carry her above them.

Watching it reminds me of the recent conversation between Dirty Projector’s Dave Longstreth and Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold, bemoaning the lack of new, good and original indie rock. The conversation, which took place on Instagram, earned some well-deserved eye rolls and the criticism that the two don’t realize the major players in the genre are increasingly non-male and non-white; they only had to look beyond those that mirrored themselves to find musicians like Tamko, who has created an amazing album that contains an emotion and fire that makes it seem beyond just her first major release. Her talent for introspection, as well as a worldly awareness, make it easy to get lost in her universe. 

On Infinite Worlds, quiet, indie-folk moments give way to heavy rock and in the middle of it all, the dreamy, electronic jam “Mal à L’aise.” Her best lyrics rise out of sadness instead of being brought down by it, and use the feeling of being small or out of place as motivation to push back. The song where it all comes together in a perfect, heartbreaking way is “Cold Apartment,” which builds and pulls back until words seem to escape Tamko; her soaring vocals dissolve over crashing drums and power chords until we’re left with just the gentle guitar melody the song started with. The album feels new and fresh, even after a few listens. If you haven’t heard it yet, check it out below.


PLAYING DETROIT: Frontier Ruckus “Our Flowers Are Still Burning” Video

Frontier Ruckus

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Frontier Ruckus
Frontier Ruckus

Matthew Milia and his gaggle of lovelorn folkies – otherwise known as Frontier Ruckus – return with a sardonic make-out party prelude to their forthcoming record Enter the Kingdom. The sad, sensual clip for latest single “Our Flowers Are Still Burning” offers a camcorder view of social loneliness ahead of the album’s February 17th release. A slow-dance, folk-ified, Big Star-esque confessional with a touch of reversed male gaze, “Flowers” instills hopeful resonance with listlessness revery, something the Frontier gang has championed and expanded upon.

Singer and guitarist Anna Burch documents the party through a vintage handheld, a perfect companion to Ruckus’ boxes-in-your-parents-attic aesthetic. The low-key gathering is standard Detroit, containing a quiet cast of characters who find temporary love, lust and casual catharsis in one another. Burch wanders upstairs to discover Milia alone, singing and soaking fully clothed in a running shower as spit swapping commences downstairs. Whether Milia is struck by social anxiety, heartache or an overwhelming sense of not knowing his role in the grand (and not-so-grand) scheme of things, Burch lovingly coerces him from his bath time meltdown with the promise of a cake decorated with sugary, saccharine letters spelling out the song’s title.

The band leaves the house party in the dead of winter, Milia still wet and without a jacket or a lover, but surrounded by his Frontier Ruckus bandmates, resigned to keep on trucking even in the harsh light of the morning after.


Grab a tissue or a kiss and take a sad soak with Frontier Ruckus below:

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For this week’s New Music Monday, we have the debut track “Worn” from indie-folk rockers DRISKILL.

DRISKILL was birthed in Wilmington, NC by the joined forces of banjo player Ethan Driskill, and guitarist JD Williamson. The duo is climbing their way through the Wilmington music scene and out across America, just in time for the release of their first full-length album, Country Blues, slated to drop April 8 via Attic Space Records.

Even far away from the country mountains, city dwellers in Brooklyn can appreciate the nostalgic and heartfelt lyrics telling the tale of the comforting folk rock. We all feel worn down, a little beat up, and torn from time to time. Take a minute and reacquaint yourself with how lovely folk music can be by listening to “Worn” below.

VIDEO REVIEW: Courtney Barnett “Pedestrian At Best”


Courtney Barnett is one busy Australian. She’s a record label owner, visual artist, and of course a singing, songwriting, guitar-playing musician. If her 2013 release The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas left you in desperate need of an official album from the Melbourne musician, the wait is nearly over: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit will be released via  Mom + Pop Music on March 24th.

Barnett has also released the album’s first single, “Pedestrian At Best.” The accompanying video is a hilarious, self-deprecating portrayal of fame and the anxieties it produces, revealed in lines such as “What are we going to do when everything falls through?” and “Put me on a pedestal, and I’ll only disappoint you.” Barnett plays a sad clown at a fair who wears a “Clown of the Year 2013” badge, and just can’t catch a break. She’s ignored by the crowds in favor of 2014’s Clown of the Year and jipped by an unimpressed ticket-taker. The members of her band appear in the video as well, booing her as she makes balloon animals, crashing into her on a go-kart course, and stealing her money. “I must confess I’ve made a mess of what should be a small success,” she sings in her signature, composed ramble, over crashing cymbals and crunchy power chords.

Even if her time in the spotlight hasn’t been so easy, at least it inspired some killer songs. Check out “Pedestrian At Best” below:

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TRACK OF THE WEEK: The Apache Relay “Katie Queen of Tennessee”


Instant charm seems to be the direction of The Apache Relay’s new sound, at least according to their single, “Katie Queen of Tennessee.”  A swirling violin swings us into this catchy track that sounds like an oldie from the radio. Perhaps that is its sweet allure, as it harkens back to the 50’s-60’s crossover sounds of Roy Orbison.  The track is a far cry from this Mumford & Sons opening act, who are normally classified as a folk rock band.  There’s less acoustic guitar strumming, kick drum thumping, and chant-like vocals.  “Katie Queen of Tennessee” instead focuses more on the blending of subtle sounds, from the sweet-singy harmonies to the ethereal pick of its guitar chords. The use of strings is also a nice addition, as it has less banjo twang, and ends up sounding more symphonic  and whimsical.  The vocal harmonies are a throwback to the classic love song with multiple tracks layered over on other.

“Katie” incapsulates the ol’ tried and true struggle of a person in deep, unreciprocated love who is forever soliciting attention from his object of affection.  Although the song’s appeal lies deep within its ability to channel a much more simpler musical time, at the end, it achieves a reinvigorating sound coming from an artist who may have been pigeonholed from the get go. This song challenges what we know about him, and that in its own respect makes “Katie Queen of Tennessee” a very endearing listen.

LIVE REVIEW: Quilt @ Mercury Lounge


Quilt’s show on Feb. 28 was supposed to take place at Rough Trade, so obviously it took place at Mercury Lounge instead. It was an early show, with Quilt mounting the stage promptly at 9pm, but that seemed to suit the night’s comfortable vibe.

Natalie Mering, otherwise known as Weyes Blood, opened the show, joining Quilt for the remaining duration of their North American tour. She sings with her eyes closed, swaying gently as she grasps the microphone or strums her guitar, alone on stage but completely captivating the audience nonetheless. Her deep, ‘60s vocals bear a strong resemblance to Nico’s, but her loose-fitting, all white pantsuit somehow made her seem like a female John Lennon that night. Mering closed her set with a spellbinding cover of “Everybody’s Talkin,” originally by Fred Neil but made famous by Harry Nilsson. She infused the frequently covered track with her own soulfully haunting style, spinning it into some kind of trippy gospel song.

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Weyes Blood

Then came one of my favorite moments of every show: the moment when the venue’s lights are dimmed and the audience hushes its tones, turning away from its conversations to look towards the stage in anticipation of the main act. Quilt are a band that know how to milk that moment, and they appeared on stage with quietly reverberating guitars, framing their entrance with an ambient sound that whooshed all around the room, building up tension slowly but surely. The four-some took their time syncing up to each other, leisurely allowing themselves the right moment to start playing. And then, they started.

Opening with recently released Held In Splendor’s last song, “I Sleep in Nature,” Quilt used the hazy, lazy song to settle into their groove. Their live performances make it clear that their tunes hardly follow a pattern, which means their shows are equally as schizophrenic: you may be flailing to try and keep up with their guitar freak-outs one second, and the next, you may be gently swaying with arms floating listlessly by your side. “Saturday Bride” was a particularly memorable display of this ability, as Quilt flipped from one pace to another in virtuosic fashion, coaxing some dancing out of the laid back crowd. At a live show, you start to wonder how the band are able to keep up with their own compositions.

Many of their songs bled seamlessly into one another, with Quilt hardly saying a word other than “Thanks.” In fact, it was only about halfway through the show that the band greeted the crowd, adding a complaint about the bitter cold. But the room was warm and aglow with Quilt’s vintage folk sounds and Anna Fox Rochinski’s hypnotizing, honeyed vocals. Her gorgeous voice shone with songs like the popular “Arctic Shark.”

The brick walls and intimate size of the Lounge made for a great setting, but with music like this, you can’t help wishing you were outside in the sunshine, your bare toes dancing on fresh grass and the sun melting through your eyelids. Quilt’s songs truly come to life when played live. You get the feeling that the band are just having a great time jamming with one another, and they warmly invite the audience to have a great time with them.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

LIVE REVIEW: Nicole Atkins @ Bowery Ballroom


By mid-February, NYC concertgoers have grown just about impervious to the slushy trek from subway to venue. Anyway, I wasn’t about to miss Nicole Atkins‘ set at the Bowery Ballroom on Thursday on account of what I’ll optimistically say was a “wintry mix.” It rained, it snowed, it rained again; puddles as deep as kiddie pools menaced every corner of every block, making street-crossing a kind of Choose Your Own Adventure where the worst case scenario always meant plunging calf-deep in ice bath (or falling in it, God forbid, which I haven’t yet seen somebody do, but I’ve heard stories). In the Lower East Side, I walked gingerly along the beams of some dismantled wooden packing crates an enterprising person had propped up as bridges over the teeming slush rivers. But all that would have been fine—standard, even—if the actual apocalypse hadn’t occurred on Thursday, about an hour and a half before Nicole Atkins was slotted to go on stage. For about ten minutes, the snowfall dipped into a theatrical, pummeling, rainstorm, with lightening that lit up the whole island and claps of thunder that brought one man flying at the door of his apartment building in a panic as I passed by. He thought we were being bombed.

I’m going to try my best to resist making puns about weird weather patterns and the absolutely killer set that was brewing over the Bowery—but jokes aside, Nicole Atkins’ performance was, uh, electrifying. In a seventies-inspired, color-saturated kimono, she took the stage before the (relatively) few but faithful to ecstatic applause, and launched promptly into the passionate, glamorous “Vultures.” It turned out to be one of the only songs of the night off Mondo Amore. The overwhelming majority of the set list came off Slow Phaser, the New Jersey singer/songwriter’s February 4th release. Next up came “Who Killed The Moonlight,” the opener off the new album, with all the vocal drama and tempo-pushing guitar work of the studio version. Atkins stuck to vocals for the length of the set, leaving instrumentation in the capable hands of her six-piece backing band, which featured a grand total of three Daves and two Zachs (!), as well as a rogue Sam. They kept in synch with each other—and Atkins—with the momentum of a single, powerful machine. Atkins brought back up vocalists into a track or two as well, adding to the playful surge of glam-rock power that has always lined Atkins’ work.

“Girl You Look Amazing” was a feel-good highlight of the night, as Atkins bounced around the stage and pointed flirtatiously at women in the front row as she sang the line from which the song takes its title. Atkins told NPR in an interview that she got the idea for that line– “Girl, you look amazing,” after half-singing her praises for a tasty-looking plate of sushi, and then had a dream in which the song had been turned into a dance hall glam hit. I imagine that might be typical of Atkins’ songwriting style—the numbers she performed on stage felt like kaleidoscopic collages of different snatches of imagery and turns of phrase, half experienced and half dreamt up. Slow Phaser comes across this way. It’s easy to submerge yourself in its powerful, sometimes otherworldly, orchestration, but at the same time, the focal point never drifts far from Atkins’ voice.

“It’s Only Chemistry,” followed by “The Tower” as an encore, closed out the night. As comfortable in the new material as she was in the old, Atkins made a virtual showcase out of Slow Phaser on Thursday. The endeavor was a little risky, but garnered enthusiastic response—the new album might be Atkins’ most ambitious, broad-spanning album to date, and the blazing vocal lines and catchy, powerful beats translated sparklingly to live performance.

Listen to “It’s Only Chemistry,” off Slow Phaser. This song made for a great finale on Thursday night, although I did miss the banjo line that only appears in the studio version:

LIVE REVIEW: Sean Kennedy and Bill Bartholomew @ Rock Shop

406256_10152017955950384_1693866279_nThe Rock Shop is a seductive, darkly lit bar with a rock n’ roll vibe, which unfolds into a cozy performance space in the back.  As a Park Slope local, I’m keenly aware it’s one of the few solid venues in the neighborhood to catch independent musicians. I still mourn that South Paw is being turned into a rock wall gym for children. The Park Slope moms won that round.  But still, Rock Shop leaves hope for local indie rock lovers.  This night celebrated folk/Americana artists with dynamic lead singers.  Listening to solo artistSean Kennedy and self-titled band Bill Bartholomew back to back, I was struck not only by the contrasting vocal styles, but also by their divergent approaches to songwriting and performance.

Folk music has seen a revival and reinterpretation as of late, but is still rooted in its oral tradition.  Stories pass down from generation to generation in the form of lyrics, and focus on themes centered around class.  The Americana genre encompasses music that is patriotic, nostalgic, and rooted in early American music forms such as bluegrass, folk and country.  Bill Bartholomew captures the essence of both genres, and melds these characteristics with his own rock and roll vision.

Bartholomew’s lyrics take precedence in his songs, and his vocals give a crystal clear, clean-cut delivery.  His music tends to carry listeners along with his upbeat, energetic demeanor.  A few poignant folk style ballads are in his repertoire as well.  “Morgantown” looks into social responsibility of small town lower class struggles.  These ballads capture Bartholomew’s vocal expressiveness best.

Vocalist Gabriella Rassi is truly what makes this group unique.  She added beautiful harmonies to Bartholomew’s singing, and also plays the harmonium, which for those not familiar, is a portable pump organ made popular in the late 19th century.  This piece adds a fantastic vintage sound to the music, and without her, the band risks sliding into too commonplace a sound.  Already Bartholomew’s vocals and songwriting style are reminiscent of folk rock band Wilco, which in many ways is a compliment, but without a compelling difference in sound, Bartholomew’s music has already been done.

Bartholomew has put in the work with songwriting and fronting the group, and he often does perform his sets solo.  But as an audience member, I found it frustrating that some potential stand out moments from the other artists were overshadowed and struggled to cut through the mix.  Rassi’s voice and harmonium playing were often buried in the songs (although this is partly a sound engineer issue).  Overall, the set was energetic, honest and well honed.  Bill Bartholomew and the Governours’ song “World on a Wire” is a notable song to check out.

Another performance of the night was Sean Kennedy, who is not to be confused with the Scottish Michael Bublé doppelganger of the same namesake (yes, this is a real person). Kennedy performed a solo act with guitar and exposed, emotive vocals.  His stripped down performance and sorrowful, sensitive mystique garnered the rapt attention of a few young, single ladies in the crowd.  A ways into his set, he divulged some lyric meaning to reference a time he recently spent living with his grandmother to save money.  His grandma’s neighbor was a woman who apparently had the hots for him.  His storytelling is unusual at times, but also strikes a chord with the dreamer and the struggling artist.

Kennedy’s singing voice is striking.  He has a wispy tenor timbre, which is exposed and sorrowful.  This distinctive vocal choice can be a dangerous one if not kept in check, as these higher, mood driven tones can border on a whiney quality if not backed with strong conviction and depth.  Kennedy crossed this line a few times.

As I listened, I imagined his music fitting best on an indie compilation, where artist variation is sought after.  His sound is well packaged and immediately accessible.  Yet by the end of the 45-minute run, my ears began to fatigue of such similar emotional content.  Kennedy could do well to add another musician to the mix for longer sets.  The power in his emotive, sorrowful sound could be explosive if balanced with more instrumentation and fully exposed only on rare occasion.

The evening’s folk/Americana vibe was refreshing to hear, as each artist added his or her own signature twist to the genre.  Folk and Americana styles are relevant today as the storytelling tradition continues to express the experiences of our time.  The singer/songwriter tradition is alive and well in Brooklyn, and elsewhere.