Ultan Conlon (from the album Last Days of the Night Owl available DarkSideOut Records)
The muse for Ultan Conlon was geographical as he put together cuts for his recent (third) release, Last Days of the Night Owl. Songwriting took place in two cities, the tunes having dual citizenship as Ultan Conlon put pen to paper on the west coast of Ireland and the west coast of the United States from his home in Santa Monica, CA. A heartbeat quietly thumps underneath a meandering trumpet call as Ultan Conlon travels to “Ojai” in the southern California dreams of Last Days of the Night Owl while guitar strings flutter like the breeze through the open window in “As the Light Gets Low” and thick twang introduces the Country sway and classic harmonies of “Fond Memories”.
Recorded in Galway, Last Days of the Night Owl offers a timeless musical soundtracking for the songs, the playing comfortable, the music creating familiar tones that wrap around a delicate voice catching air on a powerful delivery. A sonic dreamscape comprised of a shy melody and hyper-anxious drumbeats lines “Hall of Mirrors” as Ultan Conlon pleads for love to stay on a slowly turning Country ramble in “A Weak Heart Like Mine” and relies on ragged guitar strums to draw out “Hurt Inside”. A humanness can be found in the stories collected on Last Days of the Night Owl as a marching rhythm saunters into “The Town Square” and tenderly plucks acoustic notes to cradle “The Fine Art of Happiness” while Ultan Conlon takes “The Measure” on a sunshine shuffle that travels from ‘rainy Galway to sunny L.A.’.
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The Way Down Wanderers (from the album illusions on ORG Music)
The three simple elements of love, loss, and personal evolutions are wrapped in a kaleidoscopic spin of genres on illusions, the recent release from The Way Down Wanderers. Dreamy Folk Rock in the vein of Fleet Foxes creates the moods for the title track as a defiant drumbeat leads the way in the Indie Rock textures of “All My Words” while front porch Folk taps a foot and claps hands for “Moonglow Carolina”. The musical hearts of The Way Down Wanderers beat Bluegrass as the Peoria, Illinois band opens illusions with “Principles of Salt”, continuing the rhythm with “Patient Pretender” and “Frozen Through”. A determined groove propels “Old Ford” as the songs steers through cascading guitar jangle and organ swells while The Way Down Wanderers send a love letter with “Heartland” as a Country sway makes it way through “Crooked Pines”.
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Della Mae (from the E.P. The Butcher Shoppe E.P. on Rounder Records)
Forming in 2009, Della Mae set a mission of showcasing top female musicians and to improve opportunities for women and girls through advocacy, mentorship, programming, and performance. Over the course of seven years, Della Mae built their yearly touring log up to 200 dates a year. In 2016, the string band took a break, Della Mae returning in 2019 carrying a collection of new tunes as The Butcher Shoppe E.P.Bassist Zoe Guigueno provides the backstory recalling ‘last fall we made an impromptu decision to go into the studio and record a few of our favorite songs. There were some tunes we'd been playing live for years that we'd always wanted to record; we also had a couple brand new originals that we decided to include. I think this new E.P. really showcases the energy of our live performance. I'm very proud of it’.
The Butcher Shoppe E.P.busts out of the gate at a gallop, Della Mae stirring up some Gypsy Jazz that they spread around the dance floor with “Bourbon Hound”. Original guitarist Avril Smith joins Della Mae on the E.P. along with Molly Tuttle. The pair of players pop up throughout The Butcher Shoppe E.P.along with banjo player Alison Brown who jumps in on the cover of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons”. Strings sizzle and sparkle when Della Mae lets the instruments take the lead on “No-See-Um Stomp” while harmonies and rapid fire playing propel “Bluebird Blackbird” on its journey to find love. The Butcher Shoppe E.P.crackles with the excitement the four members of Della Mae felt returning to the studio and touring. Della Mae post a warning sign on love as they change the rules for a cheating partner with Lester Flatt’s “Sleep with One Eye Open” while their collective hearts take a beating in “Whipping Post”.
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The Honey Dewdrops (from the album Anyone Can See available as a self-release)
The urban environment of their Baltimore, Maryland-homebase fades when The Honey Dewdrops decorate Anyone Can See, their recent release, with soundscapes of their original homes in Appalachia. Gentle strums and easy Folk Americana is the musical backdrop as the power of a human voice steers the stories as The Honey Dewdrops pull trouble closer staring through “Rainy Windows” to talk to a friend while “Still Life” sketches a tale that paints a picture of a homecoming while guitar strings strum sharp chords to match the changing times of “Going Rate” and hush to for the observations in “Easy”.
The Honey Dewdrops (Laura Wortmanand Kagey Parrish)wanted a spontaneous atmosphere in the sound for Anyone Can See, the duo’s fourth album release. The pair set the studio stage for the effects that wanted, sharing the backstory recalling ‘we focused in on that live energy by sitting close to each other in the studio so we could hear everything in a natural way. By recording each song in its entirety and keeping edits minimal we found the takes that had the magic often had some variation of voice and rhythm, like the songs were unfolding themselves. The process made us look at how we define what is ‘right’ in our performances. What sounded good to us was the unexpected, the improvisational moments that enhanced the arc of a song’. Dark Folk surrounds the confessions of “Ramblin’ Man” while The Honey Dewdrops offer advice to a friend talking to a memory in “More Than You Should Say” as they let their own experience be a DIY-guide for “Welcome to the Club”.
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Todd Snider(from the album Cash Cabin Sessions Vol. 3 available on Aimless Records)
Heavy on equal amounts of charm and mischief, Todd Snider comes off like that drinking buddy and stoner philosophy pal on his recent release, Cash Cabins Sessions Vol 3. Todd Snider chimes in on the world’s worth of good and bad decisions, delivering a solid opinion on everything via a laid back and thought-provoking monologue. Cash Cabin Sessions Vol 3 finds Todd Snider handling the minimal instrumentation, his ever-present guitar and harmonica in tow along with banjo as friends Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires assist on backing vocals.
“Working on a Song” opens the album, a narrative about a songwriter’s first days in Music City, the story finding footing in the present as Todd Snider introduces a Nashville chock full of people eternally ‘working on a song’ and asking themselves ‘where will I go now that I’m gone?’. “Talking Reality Television Blues” channels Bob Dylan as it gives us a clever narrative on the idiot box, switching the dial from Milton Berle to cable TV to the ugly reality of reality TV. Todd Snider sounds worn and weary on the beautiful ballads “Like a Force of Nature” and “Just Like Overnight”, bold and irreverent calling out those ‘selling out their thoughts and their prayers’ on “The Blues for the Banjo.” Cash Cabin Sessions Vol 3 drops history and names on “The Ghost of Johnny Cash” and “Cowboy Jack Clements Waltz” while a “A Timeless Response to Current Events” finds Todd Snider calling the universal ‘it’ as he sees it, ‘ain’t that some bullshit’ the response barked at the news programming since it entered our lives.
Like much of Todd Snider’s releases, he remains a sentimental fool armed with a biting wit on Cash Cabin Sessions Vol 3. Covering all of the bases, Todd Snider will break hearts just as quickly as he breaks balls.
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Patty Griffin (from the album Patty Griffin available on PGM)
The sparkling notes of a Spanish guitar flicker and bounce around Patty Griffin as she opens her recently released self-titled album uneasy for the plight of the wandering souls circling our globe with “Mama’s Worried”. Inspiration can be found in the story as the mother character puts her troubles on pause, using the power of song as her singing eases worry. Patty Griffin is album number ten for the singer/songwriter, the collected tales penned with a personal feel to the stories. The music becomes a magical balm that comforts and encourages as the moon rests her head on the sea in “What Now” while Patty Griffin basks in the natural glow emanating from the woman floating on “River” as it flows across southern lands touched by Blues and Soul in a tale of rebirth and newly discovered territory.
Patty Griffin spins in the revolving rhythms of “The Wheel” and strides into a Dixieland groove fueled by scratchy strums, horn blasts, and a thick beat in “Hourglass”. Precise words and music form songs built with equal amounts of fragility and strength, Patty Griffin offering her experience as advice to light “Luminous Places” as she embraces the abandoned child in “Had a Good Reason”. The music guides the moods on Patty Griffin, the melodies creating environment as a musical experience when dark waves of notes are tossed in “Coins” as bright strings lighten the somber tones of “Bluebeard”, frenetic rhythms churn for “Boys from Tralee”, and jazz-tinged classical guitar notes make a soft landing for the fall in “What I Remember”. An after-thought post-love letter arrives as Patty Griffin closes the album door, the last track “Just the Same” a story that follows reverberating piano notes as it replays feelings and observations as it juggles the past.
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Danny Schmidt (from the album Standard Deviation available on Live Once Records)
It is always fascinating to be a fly-on-the-wall between an artist and their relationship with words and music. Standard Deviation is the recent release from Danny Schmidt, the title a road sign for the path that Danny and his songs travel. The pen of Danny Schmidt sketches out the stories with a literary flair as Standard Deviation travels back to an infamous Bob Dylan gig in “Newport ‘65” while the acoustic guitar pickings hush as the archaic term miscarriage is expunged in “We Need a Better Word”. Intricate details provide the romance for a storyline stage set in the multi-dimensional realm of theoretical physics, string theory, quantum mechanics, and descriptive statistics in the title track as it speaks with delicately placed words. Standard Deviation paints audio masterworks when “Bones of Emotion” pulls the curtain back on December 26 unwrapping a scene of family life while “Words Are Hooks” warns of hidden barbs and alphabetized land mines.
Danny Schmidt and duo/life partner, Carrie Elkin, recently added a third name to their family marquee with the birth of their daughter, Maizy. Wasting no time pulling her weight, Maizy becoming the story source as Standard Deviation opens with “Just Wait Til They See You” and the show-and-tell for a newborn’s identity changes of “Blue-Eyed Hole in Time”. The album enters a recovery program as the tale in “Last Man Standing” reminds that every step is an individual journey as Danny Schmidt slowly strums his guitar to turn the pages of time as “Agents of Change” addresses gentrification.
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Kalyn Fay from the album Good Company available on Horton Records (by Julie Wenger Watson)
Since its debut last month, Kalyn Fay’s latest release, Good Company, has met with enthusiastic reviews from both sides of the Atlantic. The collection of ten original songs and one well chosen cover (Malcomb Holcombe’s “Dressed in White”) is testament to this Oklahoma-born songwriter’s talent as both a vocalist and lyricist. Her lovely voice is soulful and haunting, managing to convey nostalgia and longing as readily as hope and acceptance.
There’s a strong sense of place in Kalyn’s music, equally geographic and metaphoric, literal and figurative. She expertly weaves the explicit with the implied in the words themselves and the pictures she paints of her home state. In the refrain of “Oklahoma Hills,” Kalyn sings, ‘And the Oklahoma Hills are singing me a song tonight/They whisper their tales in the wind of pale moonlight, followed by, I’ve been thinking of home/I don’t know what that is/Used to be a place I didn’t visit or miss’. It’s about “home”, the idea and the physical reality, the place you often long to leave and to which you often wish to return.
Produced by Tulsa’s Jesse Aycock (solo, Hard Working Americans), who also serves as an all-purpose multi-instrumentalist sideman, the album is packed full of contributions from Kalyn’s gifted musical friends. That’s John Fullbright you’re hearing on keys and accordion, as well as Jared Tyler and Carter Sampson singing harmony and Paddy Ryan keeping time on drums and percussion, just to name a few. Without a doubt, Kalyn keeps good company, and with this album, you will, too. (Julie Wenger Watson)
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Q & A with Julie Wenger Watson (Q) and Kalyn Fay (A)
Julie Wenger Watson (JW): Although you tackle universal topics on this album, it also seems to have a real sense of 'place'. You grew up in Oklahoma and now live in Arkansas. Did that influence your writing on this particular release?
Kalyn Fay (KF): I feel like my relationship to Oklahoma is always going to influence my writing. So the answer is absolutely yes, moving away from my home influenced this record. I decided to leave near the close of 2017, and by early 2018 I had confirmed the move, all amidst finishing up songs on the record. I guess the prospect that your home (the land, the people who inhabit it) are going to keep existing and moving forward without you, alongside trying to move forward yourself, really struck a chord with me and pushed me to write some of my most honest lyrics.
JW: I love the title, Good Company. Looking at the credits, you had just that when you recorded. Jesse Aycock produced and played on the record, along with a host of Tulsa-related talent, many of whom are good friends, too. How did that add to this experience and to the end product?
KF: I knew going into the recording process of this album, I wanted to make sure I was staying true to myself. For me, that means being surrounded by people I care about and people that care about me, not just bringing in any old for-hire studio player. There had to be a connection, and I can truthfully say with everyone on this record I have the honor of sharing a genuine friendship. They understood where I was coming from, understood the songs, and helped me make something that resonated with a larger audience than just myself. By the end, it felt less like it was all about me, and more like it was about community. Which is why we landed on the title, Good Company.
JW: These songs are beautiful, and it would be hard for me to pick a favorite, but "Wait for Me" is on frequent rotation. Like many of the tracks on this album, there's an underlying sadness or wistfulness to it, but I don't think this is a sad album. In fact, I sense hope. Am I completely off base?
KF: Thank you for saying so! Yes, I think the tonality of my voice sometimes comes across as sad, but I promise I am happy and hopeful! Ha. "Wait For Me" is the song on the record that is truly my love letter to Oklahoma, and I would definitely use wistful to describe it. However, like many of the songs, it is about a thankfulness for the time spent, the experiences had, and giving a good look back. Simultaneously nostalgic and hopeful was the goal.
JW: Your Cherokee heritage is a significant part of who you are. How (or does) that come into play in your songwriting?
KF: I would say yes. I have a great respect for the land I grew up on, the spaces I grew up in, and I attribute this sense of place to growing up with some of those teachings. I was recently asked if I was a Cherokee songwriter or just a songwriter, and I asked, "what's the difference?" My experiences are always going to be influenced by being a Cherokee woman, and since all my songs are about personal experience, that inevitably comes into play. It's not overtly there, but certainly influenced.
I also chose to use the Cherokee syllabary on the album cover (special thanks to Roy Boney for helping me translate correctly) to normalize the usage of our written language!
For more information on Kalyn Fay, visit www.kalynfay.com or www.hortonrecords.org.
The Mallett Brothers Band from the album Live in Portland, Maine available as a self-release
Over the past decade, The Mallett Brothers Band have sat in the saddle of a tour van, taming the Maine wilderness one town at a time, expanding their fanbase in ever-widening circles as the bring their native state’s ‘frontier mentality’ to the business of Rock’n’Roll. Live shows build the base and it is the songs the faithful take home that brings them back with friends the next time The Mallett Brothers Band rolls through town. Live in Portland, Maine, the latest release from The Mallett Brothers, collects fan favorite tracks and lays them out as a full live set for a home state crowd.
Six independent releases from The Mallett Brothers make up the set list for Live in Portland, Maine. Brothers Luke (vocals, guitars) and Will (vocals, guitars) Mallett lead the Band through eleven tunes from their catalog, exiting the album on a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son”. Acoustic guitar strums open the performance with “Too Much Trouble”, the players slowly coming on stage to fill out the sound. Once in place, The Mallett Brothers Band lock in and rock a blend of Folk, Country, Americana, and Rock’n’Roll. The Mallett Brothers make plans for travel as they take a “Walk Down the River”, namechecking the cities and state signs outside the tour bus window in “Tennessee” and watching mental pictures screen memories of love with “Long Black Braid” as the band propels themselves back on the highway in the feral jam of “Rocking Chair” and hammer out a mighty beat returning to The Pine Tree State in “Heading Home”. The Mallett Brothers are a touring band, and a live setting is their natural habitat. Live in Portland, Maine gives listeners a chance to hear The Mallett Brothers Band in their comfort zone as the boys raise a toast in “Tip Up” and offer up some no-nonsense Yankee cowboy pride with “Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down”.
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The words of Luke Mallett (The Mallett Brothers Band)
The business of being The Mallett Brothers Band:
We have been fully independent for 10 years from the beginning that's exactly how we built the band. we really related to it as more of a Kamikaze Mission rather than touring. We block out three weeks for a chore when we just go out we fill it out. We go no more than eight hours from the home on our circuit and we're very lucky to see the results of our success in action.
Our band is a family business. I go down to Portland, Maine about two, three, four, days a week. I run into connections and do business. We really have a frontier mentality when it comes to breaking our band and bring it to a wider market. In the new music business, if music is going to be free, you have to stay on tour. It is a constant experiment to see what works and what doesn't work. We drive close to 40,000 miles a year doing shows, and that is a lot of Road songs.
First steps into a music career:
We were very lucky Growing up, music was never anything that was discouraged for my brother and myself. We got to witness my dad (David Mallett) in his career as a songwriter, a traveling songwriter, and how he provided for of us as a working songwriter.
After I got out of high school and wanted to see how I could get into a little rebellion. I left school and I was going to move to Portland and get a job. My dad basically said do whatever you have to do to keep up with your music. If you have to couch surf, it's okay. You have to do your music and nothing should be able to stop you. I don't know of any other people that have a dad who would say that to them, or any parents.
Making music in Maine:
In Maine we are really appreciated for the music we play. We live in Arcadia. We play Fort Kent Maine which still has a large population that speaks French. We play Irish folk tunes, bring Cajun music into it. People apply to their music to their location, and that's the music we play and people deal in the audience appreciate it. We really run into a lot of other bands doing the same thing up here…. Ghost of Paul Revere, my dad, and the list goes on and on. Many bands think you have to leave in order to succeed and we don't believe that. We believe we can succeed by staying right here in Maine and looking a
Sarah Potenza from the album Road to Rome available as a self-release
In an ideal world, Sarah Potenza would be filing her recent release, Road to Rome, in the self-help section under a category of Big Voices with even Bigger Messages. Not having an existing spot to sit, however, is not a stop for Sarah Potenza. Road to Rome is a manifesto for the East Nashville, Tennessee musician, the songs DIY guides to musical movement for both the mind and body. Sarah Potenza owns the characters in each story, wearing the skin of the woman standing on the corner of “Dickerson and Queen” preaching that ‘I don’t give a fuck about anything but music’ and the presence in the room for “Earthquake” as she slaps down a resume reading ‘I’m not an oyster, baby I’m a big pearl’ in “Who Do I Think I Am” while Road to Rome lights the torch with truth to lead a processional march into the title track.
Released on International Women’s Day, Road to Rome speaks openly to the women of the world though its words, and messages, not gender specific. Kicking down the doors of Road to Rome, Sarah Potenza sets the first cut, “I Work for Me”, as a mission statement. Produced by Jordan Brooke Hamlin (Indigo Girls, Lucy Wainwright Roche), Road to Rome is a female heavy production, the community vocals joining in for touring-band-anthem “Keep on Holdin’” provided by Elizabeth Cook, Lenesha Randolph, Tonya Boyd-Cannon, and Alanna Royale. A funky strut is included in the price of a listen to “I Believe” as Sarah Potenza offers an apology in “Earthquake”, puts a percussive beat under the memories of “Happiness”, and shines in the light of self-awareness for “Diamond”.
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The Words of Sarah Potenza:
On live performance:
I have the songs on this album to motivate and to inspire. It is what I want to say to people. I am out there performing a hundred or more shows a year and these songs are well beyond cathartic. if I didn't have the music, I wouldn't be who I am. I would be getting depressed about life, and this way I get to express my feelings rather than keeping them locked up inside. I'm multitasking up there. I watch videos and spend a lot of time working on myself in terms of my performance and what I can manage. I watch my videos to figure out which songs I'm going to be able to sing, considering the order to match the wear on my body. I need to do cardio and I need to think of the tour physically. I need to think about the entire show for every night, what I am doing for a set list and what I can handle.
I have to look to myself for the music I make. When you start to consider what your fans expect to hear in your voice and in your songs, you have already lost the battle. I'm not one of those people that feel I'm too cool to sell my own CDs I do it all. I am in my own small business.
On music school training:
At the risk of offending, I think there is a great deal of shame with our school system. Problems with the state schools. The class given provide books to negotiate everything in music and how to write a song though they really do not tell you what to do with that training afterwards, or how to exit in the music industry. I had hippie parents wo never stopped me from pursuing my dream. Art programs in schools do not provide the same support system. There has to be a better way
On living in your own skin:
“Who Do I Think I Am” (from Road to Rome)….well, the title really came from my performance on The Voice. I was asked for a cold audition by The Voice producers. Someone had seen one of my videos on YouTube, and The Voice people called me up and asked me to come in for audition, and what do you do with that. Do you say no? It was really difficult to perform on The Voice when you are part of a community that is completely anti-The Voice. I auditioned and I got selected. A lot of people didn't even say congratulations or anything as I was walking around town. They would ignore me. I received an email from Todd Snider after the show that was supportive. At the very end of the note, he had a PS that read ‘this is going to hurt you, call me when you know what that means’.
I've also designed a series of YouTube videos which have to do specifically with how we view ourselves. The series is called Five Minutes of Fat Fashion. I have it storyboarded and the intro song. I started this because I am so tired of hearing that we don't sell this in your size.
Recording Road to Rome:
When I was recording Monster (the previous release from Sarah Potenza), I suffered some setbacks. I was suffering from a medical condition and I really lost the connection to my inner voice. The distractions in everyday life are colossal and I had to remind myself that I have to do what I want to do this album. My first three albums, I really was into Americana and I got the chance to do something different with Road to Rome and to tell you abo