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The Show On The Road with Z. Lupetin
49 minutes | Sep 16, 2021
Sammy Rae & The Friends
This week, we talk to Brooklyn-based bandleader and jazz-roots singer extraordinaire Sammy Rae, who for the last four years has barnstormed the country with her kinetic octet The Friends. Look, when you’re young and inspired, you drop out of college, you’re waiting tables and you think about starting a jazzy pop band - most people (as well as common sense and basic economics) tell you to start small. Get a few like-minded musicians in a room, work and work your best songs, try packing out a few local shows, put some radio-ready singles on the internet, do a music video or two. See what happens. But Sammy Rae does her own thing and has done pretty much the opposite. Much like your host of this fine program (who went against all advice and began Dustbowl Revival as an 8-10 piece genre-bending New Orleans-string band mashup in 2008), Sammy has harnessed the open-minded, countercultural energy of Broadway musicals, the slinky funk-pop of the 1970s AM radio and her own rapid-fire poetic style to create a massive sound that could only be made with three singers, two saxophones, and a fearless, seasoned rhythm section. And they all are friends who don’t just treat this as a temporary weekend gig. Too much too soon? Well, ask the packed houses up and down the Eastern Seaboard if they care about playing it safe. Sammy knows the road ahead for The Friends won’t be easy - but so far, the response from listeners has been undeniable. Starting at tiny supportive clubs in New York like Rockwood Music Hall and graduating to the biggest rooms in one of the hardest towns to impress, the group struck a nerve with their debut EP The Good Life in 2018 - with the standout jazzy experiment “Kick It To Me” gaining nearly ten million steams and counting. "Don’t record songs over four minutes long," they keep telling us. "No one will pay attention!" Yet their most listened to track clocks in at nearly seven minutes. What’s the lesson here? For Sammy it’s finally learning to trust her instincts and be herself. Their upbeat EP Let’s Throw A Party dropped in 2021 - and make sure you stick around to the end of the talk to hear how Sammy’s experience as a queer teenager in a Connecticut girl's Catholic school informed their new track “Jackie Onassis.”
54 minutes | Sep 2, 2021
This week, we go on a deep dive with Madi Diaz, a sought-after Nashville-based songwriter who may have dropped among the most devastating and powerful break-up albums of the decade with her newest LP History Of A Feeling, a searing debut on Anti- Records. If you’ve made it to the doldrums of your mid-thirties, you’ve probably had your heart broken once or thrice. Diaz is no exception, except unlike the rest of us who may try and forget all about those lost love affairs, Diaz does the opposite. She chronicles the destruction of her last relationship with a craftsman’s precision, creating a series of unvarnished, seething, diaristic songs about an ongoing and fractured grieving process. Diaz opens with the gut-puncher “Rage,” which says a lot even if it's under two minutes long. Is it ok to not be ready to move on? To hate that you HAVE to move on? Soon after she’s “Crying In Public” and immediately after that she’s baring her teeth in the standout acoustic single “Resentment” - which was initially covered by moody pop hero Kesha. Does it get brighter from there? Not exactly, but it’s better that way. It could be way off base, but maybe History Of A Feeling is our updated Jagged Little Pill without the pop artifice. Not that Diaz sings at all like Alanis, but a similar hope for heartbroken catharsis weaves its way throughout. Working with Big Thief collaborator and soulful producer Andrew Sarlo surely helped capture the intimate vibe, with certain songs barely needing more than a guitar and her direct, cutting voice. Without an army of synths or the armor of an orchestra behind her, or the security blanket of a band smoothing out the edges, the rawness of the emotion in each song sings out louder. Diaz, who grew up in Lancaster, PA with a dad who had his own Frank Zappa cover band (she mentioned that she indeed had her own teen version) and then later dropped out of Berklee College of Music to hit the road with her own work, has never been afraid to pick at the shrapnel in some of her deepest wounds to create songs that leave their own mark after you listen. She’s put out more atmospheric pop-forward work - like We Threw Our Hearts In The Fire (2012) and Phantom (2017) - for a decade, but this quieter, more personal record feels like she’s finally found her sound. Pulling no punches, Diaz bravely includes songs like “Man In Me” which hints that she lost a long-time partner who also then transitioned. In a way, it was almost a double-loss that left her feeling confused and guilty for feeling angry at all. And yet - when we reach the end of History Of A Feeling, the feeling we get isn’t bitterness or rage any longer - it may be that most elusive of the grieving steps: acceptance. And maybe even forgiveness.
53 minutes | Aug 19, 2021
Hiss Golden Messenger
This week, we dial into North Carolina for a comprehensive conversation with Grammy-nominated songwriter MC Taylor, who for the last decade and a half has created heart-wrenchingly personal and subtly political music fronting the acclaimed roots group Hiss Golden Messenger. With his newest release Quietly Blowing It, Taylor continues to tell stories that are at turns hopeful and devastating – as if deeply examining his own faults and features as a father, husband, citizen and artist can help us understand our own struggles during this deeply strange time. Despite the often delicate delivery of his vocal performances, it isn’t a shock to see that Taylor, who grew up in California before heading to the south, did start in the hardcore and punk worlds before he became one of the faces of the Americana resurgence. While a song like “Hardlytown” feels like a jangly lost Basement Tapes take from The Band, Taylor subtly mines his own confusion about how broken our once-ambitious country has become. Why can’t we come together to address climate change, gun violence or systemic poverty? Is he doing enough? While Taylor has been open about examining his own depression and doubt over the last few years, it’s through these songs that we can see a light at the end of the dark tunnel forming. Maybe it’s the personal acceptance of the confusion and helplessness that makes Quietly Blowing It pack such a quiet punch and seem somehow sonically uplifting. During our conversation, Taylor would be the first to tell you that while folky slow-burn songs like “Way Back In The Way Back” seem to exalt the healing power of nature while questioning the broken bureaucracies that govern our unique American way of life (“up with the mountains, down with the system!”) he isn’t trying to make a statement. One thing that we all learned to do during our ongoing lockdowns in 2020 and beyond is to think smaller. We don’t have to change everything from the moment we wake up. Maybe it’s about going within and seeing the world just from the scope of your own neighborhood, your own family, your own green growing hissing backyard. A song doesn’t have to solve it all in one go. Gathering confidence from in his previous standout records Heart Like A Levee (2016), Hallelujah Anyhow (2017) and the Grammy-nominated Terms Of Surrender (2019), it’s clear that while the last few years haven’t been easy for Taylor, he’s reaching new heights creatively. Quietly Blowing It may seem like a defeatist message – but actually its more like laying all the cards on the table. Honesty is freeing. Taylor will be embarking on a rare solo tour coming up, which would be an amazing way to see his intimate brand of songwriting up close.
49 minutes | Aug 5, 2021
The Ballroom Thieves
This week, we bring you an intimate conversation with avant-folk instrumentalists and songwriting team Martin Earley (guitar, vocals) and Callie Peters (cello-vocals) - the driving forces behind New England’s The Ballroom Thieves. Beginning as a hard-traveling duo, also featuring longtime percussionist Devin Mauch, over a decade ago at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, the band began to turn heads and fill rooms when they added Peters and her fierce and poetic singing-style around eight years back. The Queen-meets-Wings stacks of harmonies, gorgeous string arrangements and slam-poetry off-kilter lyrics instantly made them stick out from their gentler rootsy peers. They recorded the beloved harmony-drenched debut A Wolf In The Doorway in 2015 and followed up with their soulful, expansively electric Nettwerk debut Deadeye, which has been streamed over 50 million times and counting. A tasteful covers record followed as they established themselves as international festival favorites. 2020 was supposed to be a triumphant year for the group, but of course that’s not how anything went last year, for anybody. Their playfully experimental and fearlessly political release Unlovely (your host Z. Lupetin’s new favorite record of this fractious era) got buried in the late winter tumult of the new pandemic, forcing the group to call off all touring and shelving all promotion. Holed up at home, the chastened group hoped the world might discover the deliciously angular anthems like “Vanity Trip," “Homme Run” and the epic tempo-jumping opening title track (featuring fellow New England harmony-masters Darlingside) at a later, calmer date. The world has not gotten calmer of course. Earley and Peters had to push off marrying each other and percussionist Devin Mauch had to make the tough decision to leave the group and focus on his art career after a decade sharing stages across the world with his friends. Despite all this, our talk was an upbeat one. The group recently returned to performing live and sold out their hometown venue the Sinclair in Boston with an expanded group of musicians backing their ever-evolving sound. New music is on the way - but in the meantime, give yourself a day to sit with Unlovely: one of the true lost gems of the 2020 musical year.
64 minutes | Jul 22, 2021
Lake Street Dive
This week, we bring you a conversation with members of the internationally loved soul-pop pioneers Lake Street Dive. Starting out as jazz nerds storming local folk festivals and tiny rock clubs around Boston, they’ve since become a well-oiled touring phenomenon, headlining Red Rocks, touring Europe, playing late night on Colbert and Kimmel, all while never settling into an easily nameable genre. In 2021, after three years since their last, they celebrated the release of their much-awaited seventh studio album 'Obviously.' Most notable bands are like sunsets: they flash their colors, they create a few memories and fade away. And most groups that attempt somehow to connect virtuoso players in the jazz, roots and rock ‘n’ roll scenes never actually live in the same town and each have a Beatles-esque knack for singing sublime harmony and writing effortlessly killer hooks (see fan favorites like “Go Down Smooth,” “Good Kisser” or their new Tik-Tok earworm “Hypotheticals”) and also have their own solo groups? Maybe they last a few fiery tours and finally disband. And yet Lake Street Dive have become a steady standard-bearer in the nascent Americana world – and only seem to be getting tighter and more creative 17 years in. Founded in 2004 by luminous singer Rachael Price, upright bassist-songwriter Bridget Kearney, high-energy drummer Mike Calabrese, and the recently departed guitarist-trumpeter Mike “McDuck” Olsen at The New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, the group caught new wind and inspiration after adding kinetic keyboardist/singer-songwriter Akie Bermiss in 2017. After months of planning, we finally caught up with Calabrese and Bermiss on the Zoomways to discuss how they are forging a fresh path forward after a tough year and a half away. Make sure you stick around to end of the episode to hear how they meticulously created their knockout a-cappella pop gem “Sarah” which closes out their new LP.
19 minutes | Jun 24, 2021
Menahan Street Band (The Daptone Sound)
This week, we bring you a rare conversation with the braintrust behind the brass-forward instrumental supergroup the Menahan Street Band: Thomas Brenneck and Homer Steinweiss. If Tarantino and Scorsese ever needed a custom-made 1970’s greasy soul soundtrack, MSB might be the perfect choice. While the timeless Daptone Records sound has gone worldwide thanks to breakout stars like the late Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley, most don’t know the bandleaders and songwriters behind their intricately arranged works. Guitarist/producer Brenneck has been the secret sauce in helping hitmaker Mark Ronson create the vintage backdrops for crossover stars like Amy Winehouse, while Steinweiss’ slinky drumming can be heard across the Daptone universe, including on Jones, Winehouse and Lee Fields and The Expressions records, not to mention his work with Lady Gaga, St. Vincent and Bruno Mars. For the first time in a decade, MSB – which includes Dave Guy (The Roots), Leon Michaels (The Black Keys) and Nick Movshon (The Expressions) – have reconvened the troops to create their most effortlessly cinematic collection yet: the cheekily titled The Exciting Sounds Of The Menahan Street Band. The album art alone signifies a sensual, intimate evening is ahead to whoever listens. Is the design NSFW? Maybe. Brenneck called into the taping from outside LA and Steinweiss from his studio in New York City. The conservation jumped back to how they formed the group in 2007, how they convinced Bradley to join them in making new music (he had been doing James Brown impression work) and how they find that out-of-body improvisational zen zone which creates the aural moods of mystery and intrigue – showcased best in the reverby Bond-like jam “Starchaser.” A favorite surreal moment that Brenneck mentioned was driving through Brooklyn hearing their song sampled by Jay-Z. For a moment, their horns were blaring from every car radio on the island. While hip hop legends often find their beats and backdrops from classic soul and R&B vinyl, notables like Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott and 50 Cent have mined the funky MSB catalog for years. Sir Paul McCartney also used their services. If you need an instant vibe, they’ve got you. Even in sparkling trumpet-led themes like “Glovebox Pistol,” which clocks in at a minute and eight seconds long, you can see a velvet-boothed, smoke-filled scene unfolding, bringing to mind the lush scores of The Godfather or The Score. Only recently have star backing-bands like The Wrecking Crew, The Swampers, and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section come to be appreciated for creating some of the most beloved songs in the American pop canon, from The Beach Boys and Aretha Franklin, to Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and The Staples Singers. It can be argued that in the 21st century, Brenneck and Steinweiss (and the work of The Menahan Street Band) deserve to be in that conversation. With one listen of The Exciting Sounds Of The Menahan Street Band, you are transported – exactly where, is up to you.
41 minutes | Jun 17, 2021
This week, we journey to northern Louisiana for a unique conversation with sprightly blues and southern rock singer Robert Finely, who began making music in his cotton-growing family in the 1960s, and has been rediscovered and empowered through his remarkable partnership with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. His funky and cheeky comeback album Goin’ Platinum (which sounds like a lost Motown gem) came in 2017 and in May of 2021, he celebrated the release of the deeply personal follow-up Sharecropper’s Son. As you can hear in the taping, even in his late sixties, Finley is a playful force to be reckoned with and isn’t shy about sharing how faith and music have gotten him through decades of tragedy and hardship. In 2019 he even reached the semi-finals of America’s Got Talent. Growing up in a religious home where blues and soul music was rarely allowed to be heard, Finley worked as an army helicopter repairman and professional carpenter for many years, often keeping his keen musical ideas to himself. He may now be legally blind, but the always-sharp dressed Finley (he loves a snakeskin jacket) was spotted busking on the streets of Helena, Arkansas and the blues-obsessed Auerbach was smitten with Finley’s raw, swampy Jimi Hendrix meets James Brown tone. Both of his critically-applauded releases subsequently came out on Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound, which has become a home for previously unheralded black artists like Yola, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, and Leo Bud Welch.
61 minutes | Jun 10, 2021
This week, we place a call into Woodstock, NY, where we speak to a respected singer, songwriter, sometimes drummer and beloved daughter of Levon Helm of The Band: Amy Helm. Growing up in the home of two working performers (her mother is singer Libby Titus, who wrote songs covered by Bonnie Raitt and Linda Ronstadt) wasn’t always the easiest for the introspective Helm, but it gave her a fertile proving ground to begin her exploration in creating her own soaring songs in the folk, blues and soul traditions. She waited until she was forty-four to release her acclaimed first solo record Didn’t It Rain, with her father lending his signature earthy drums on several tracks – and this year, she teamed up with multi-instrumentalist and producer Josh Kaufman (Taylor Swift, Bonny Light Horseman) to create What The Flood Leaves Behind, her most emotive and lushly-realized project yet. With her dogs often joining the conversation from her upstate home, Amy dives into her early years trying her hand at singing in New York City cafes, having folks walk out of her folk fest shows because her band was too loud, founding the band Ollabelle, joining her stepdad Donald Fagen’s group Steely Dan onstage, backing up legends like Stax soul artist William Bell and finally reconnecting with her dad in her mid-thirties as he began his late life renaissance, hosting his epic Americana throwdowns called “The Midnight Rambles.” It was being a member of that crack “ramble band” that gave Amy the final push to pursue her own lead voice. While Levon famously struggled with heroine addiction and the foibles of post-Bob Dylan and The Band fame fallout, it was when he got clean and took Amy under his wing that both of their stars began to rise again. You can hear Amy singing on his gorgeous return in 2017’s Dirt Farmer. Becoming more ambitious, Amy laid down her upbeat rock-n-soul-tinged second album with producer Joe Henry in LA with notable players like Doyle Bramhall II, Tyler Chester, and a vocal choir of Allison Russell, JT Nero (Birds of Chicago) and Adam Minkoff. This Too Shall Light was released in 2018 on Yep Roc Records and Amy began to be recognized as one of the most powerful singers touring the Americana circuit. Her newest record was recorded at her spiritual home, Levon Helm Studios, where each ramble still takes place on the weekends. During the pandemic, Helm had a unique idea to keep her creative muscles strong, even when live music gatherings were not technically allowed in public. She began setting up “curbside concerts” for her friends and any curious fans who missed her songs, touring around Woodstock with her guitar, bringing a little joy to her shut-in listeners during New York’s darkest hours. Stick around to the end of the episode to hear her introduce the spiritual opening track of What The Flood Leaves Behind, “Verse 23.”
50 minutes | Jun 3, 2021
CAKE (John McCrea)
This week, a rare career-spanning interview with the ever-curious frontman, activist and rock hitmaker John McCrea, who founded one of the most beloved and yet misunderstood bands of our time - CAKE - in Sacramento in 1992. Despite putting out unlikely ubiquitous radio hits like “The Distance,” “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” and “Never There” featuring the signature combo of dry speak-singing, spaghetti western brass, muscular guitars and spacey synths, and becoming one of the best selling groups of the 1990s and early 2000s, John and an ever-changing group of collaborators have always operated more like a DIY garage band. They produce and record everything themselves and exist outside the music industry spotlight - only putting out their oddball genre-defying work when it’s ready. While you may have forgotten some of their danceable favorites that burned through college and indie-rock radio - with further study, songs like “No Phone” which tackled our toxic relationship to technology (even before smartphones came out) now seem both deeply of, and way ahead of, their time. Critics were often confused by their lyrically dense, subversively political records like 'Motorcade Of Generosity,' 'Prolonging The Magic' and 'Comfort Eagle' - and with their obtuse album art, strange homemade videos, McCrea’s conspiratorial slam-poet frontman delivery and his shaggy Sacramento-based bandmates, it was all quite atypical in the era of shiny studio-created MTV and radio-ready rock. And yet their legions of fans, including our host Z. Lupetin, ate it up and continue to anxiously wait for what’s coming next from the group. After a decade of home recording and environmental activism (with a recent emphasis on combating deforestation) McCrea hints that a new album and a return to playing may finally be in the works.
43 minutes | May 13, 2021
This week, we jump in our podcast time machine for a face-to-face (remember those?) interview with the acclaimed blues and roots guitarist and singer-songwriter Samantha Fish. Now based in New Orleans, the pod caught up with Samantha at the Sugar Magnolia Music Fest in Mississippi before the world shut down – and to be real, until recently, the very idea of airing this interview seemed inappropriate. Two songwriters speaking into one mic at close range? With everyone crammed into a little trailer? No sanitizer in sight? Indeed. And yet as in-person interviews are set to commence and venues are reopening at last, it felt good to remind ourselves what a real Show On The Road conversation felt like. There are no Zoom glitches or quick edits needed here. We talk about favorite restaurants in New Orleans, dream festival lineups, guitar solo self-esteem pep talks, we question if Elvis’s ghost is watching over us as we record – and you’ll notice the sound is not pristine, but maybe that’s the best part. You can hear the squeak of the seats, the grit in the voices before they are warmed up for an upcoming set. There’s a band warming up in the background and you can hear Samantha tuning her acoustic guitar just off mic before playing her favorite forlorn love-song “I Need You More” at the end. For folks who are not familiar with Samantha’s work, she’s been one of the hardest touring bandleaders on the blues and Americana circuit since she started recording out of her hometown of Kansas City a decade ago. She was still slinging and delivering pizzas then, but now she’s an award-winning veteran of various music scenes now, a headliner at music fests from the Crescent City (she played her first Jazz Fest) to jazz and blues gatherings across Europe and beyond. With seven albums and counting under her belt, including her Memphis brass-embellished newest Kill Or Be Kind – and her standout rocker Belle Of The West, (created with Luther Luther Dickinson – which we discuss at length here,) Samantha is proving again and again that she is in it for the long haul. One of the more moving moments of the talk centers on Samantha’s memories of growing up playing the drums and jamming with her musical family. Even then she didn’t see many girls like her taking the lead guitar as their destiny – she had to believe in herself before anyone else would, and here she is. Representation matters and Fish is showing a whole generation of young players that despite Rolling Stone barely mentioning women in their ongoing “greatest guitarists of all time” lists – there are new people who walk and talk and look a little different taking up the mantle of guitar god (or goddess).
56 minutes | May 5, 2021
This week, we bring you a deep dive with the silky-voiced southern gothic-folk songwriter Lera Lynn, who has recently gained notoriety for her mysterious and lushly cinematic sound, as heard in her haunting 2020 LP On My Own (on which she writes, produces and plays every instrument on each song) and in the music of HBO’s True Detective (produced by T-Bone Burnett), on which she also became a cast member in Season 2. We’ve all had our dark moments during this last year. For Lynn it was figuring out how to put out a new album, which she had painstakingly make herself in isolation (see Springsteen’s moody and homemade Nebraska,) right as her first baby was on the way without any family being allowed to help shoulder the load. At times the burden seemed too much to bear - but what emerged was a touchstone set of songs that unintentionally seemed to pinpoint the exact center of our collective dread - and the flickers of hope of a new beginning that can come out of a such a societal time-quake. Searching reverby rock standouts like "Are You Listening?" seem to be calling out into a void that we never knew we had, perhaps reminding us again how much we need human touch, friendship, family warmth and true soul connection. While we are currently emerging into the light-filled end of this Covid-19 tunnel, it’s important to note that this interview was conducted back in 2020 in the thick of the harshest lockdowns (the taping footage was lost, then finally found) and songs like “Isolation” hit the exact pain point for many artists like Lynn who once thrived on bringing live-music’s unique sweaty joy to strangers in a new town each night. Lynn’s rising calls of “Is anybody out there?” ring like echoes from a very recent bad dream - a dream of course that is still very much a painful reality in many parts of the world. Coming out of the fertile roots rock scene of Athens, GA, Lynn’s earlier records like the intimate and country-inflected Have You Met Lera Lynn? from 2011 and its pop-forward follow ups The Avenues (2016) and Resistor (2017) focused mostly on her endlessly warm and rich voice - and the fury and frustration she was processing growing up an only child of an alcoholic dad. But it was her guest-star-laden LP Plays Well With Others (2018) where Lynn began to realize the extent of her gifted arranging and vocal powers together. Teaming up with a murderer’s row of Americana artists like Shovels & Rope, John Paul White of the Civil Wars and Rodney Crowell, it may be the most high-spirited of her works - like a basement party jam session going off the rails in all the best ways. The tough year at home did make Lynn come to appreciate how far she’s come since those early days - maybe it took a decade of hard-won acceptance and practice to be able to create On My Own without any help from other musicians or producers - and the result is a wonder to hear. Now if she could just play it for an actual live audience. Stick around to the end of the episode to hear her introduce her favorite broken-romance number "So Far."
65 minutes | Apr 28, 2021
This week on The Show On The Road, we bring you a truly inspiring talk with the activist, author, and free-spirited feminist folk icon Ani DiFranco, who just released her lushly orchestrated twenty-second album: Revolutionary Love. Many things have been said about the music Ani DiFranco has created for the last thirty years since she burst on the scene with her fiery self-titled LP in 1990. With her shaved head on the cover, fearlessly bisexual love songs, dexterous guitar work and hold-no-prisoners lyrics sparing no one from her poetic magnifying glass, DiFranco’s persona became almost synonymous with a rejuvenated women’s movement that blossomed in the late-1990’s Lilith Fair moment. And yet she was always a bit more committed to the cause than some of her more pop-leaning contemporaries, who faded away as soon as their hits subsided. Framing herself somewhere between the rebellious folk-singing teacher Pete Seeger and the gender-fluid show-stopping rock spirit in Prince, (who she recorded with after he became a fan,) DiFranco was always just as passionate about raising awareness for abortion rights, ensuring safety for gay and trans youth and bringing music to prisons, as she was promoting her latest musical experiment. She began playing publicly around age ten, and as a nineteen-year-old runaway from Buffalo, NY, she started her own label, Righteous Babe Records, that allowed her to operate free of corporate (and overwhelmingly male) oversight. Indeed, despite gaining a wide international fanbase she has released every album herself since the beginning — as well as championing genre-defying songwriters like Andrew Bird, Anaïs Mitchell, Utah Philips, and others. It was DiFranco’s encouragement that helped Mitchell’s opus Hadestown become a Tony-winning Broadway smash. DiFranco may have been deemed a bit too left-of-center for pop radio, but her beloved 1997 live record Living In Clip went gold. Let’s get something out of the way real quick: was this male podcast host initially a bit intimidated to dive into her encyclopedic album collection after admiring her work from afar and believing the songs were not meant for his ears? Indeed. I grew up with girlfriends and fellow musicians who rocked Ani’s Righteous Babe pins and patches on their jean jackets like they were religious ornaments. What I found during this mind-bending conversation, and after listening to her polished and mystical newest record especially, was that DiFranco has never tried to push away people that don’t look or talk like her — or tried to mock or belittle conservative movements she doesn’t agree with or understand. There is a deep kindness and empathy in her songwriting that I never expected and in her 2019 autobiography, No Walls And The Recurring Dream, she acknowledges how lonely and exhausting it can be trying to fight against a societal tide that doesn’t want to stop and give you space to be who you are. What became increasingly clear during our conversation was that DiFranco wants to make music for everyone. She prides herself on her quirky, multi-generational fanbase — with grandparents and kids, dads and sons, daughters and aunties alike singing along to favorites like “Both Hands,” “Untouchable Face,” and covers like Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” at packed shows across three continents. I had my own goosebumps-inducing moment singing with Ani that I’ll never forget. The oldest folk festival in America, The Ann Arbor Folk Fest, once put me on stage to sing harmony on “Angel From Montgomery” with DiFranco at the acoustically perfect Hill Auditorium. I attended the University Of Michigan years earlier and I saw John Prine sing that classic in that same room, and it felt like a full circle moment. Seeing how DiFranco transfixed the crowd that night, and how the women songwriters and musicians offstage especially watched her with such admiration made me want to see what her music — which I had never fully listened to — was all about. If you have a chance, listen to Revolutionary Love start to finish, and stick around to the end of the episode to hear DiFranco read lyrics as poetry.
60 minutes | Apr 21, 2021
This week, we feature a conversation with one of the rising stars in our current roots music renaissance: a gifted Oklahoma-born singer-songwriter who grew up in the Pentecostal church and creates a fiery gospel backdrop behind his tender then window-rattling rock-n-roll voice: Parker Millsap. When you’ve been touring hundreds of days a year down southern backroads from Tulsa to Tallahassee since you were a teenager like Parker has, you know a thing or two about how to keep your head when things go off the rails. But it was the forced year-long break during the pandemic that really made him stop and accept how far he’s come from his intense, anxious, folky debut Palisade in 2012 (he released it when he was 19), to his soulful self-assured new record Be Here Instead. What’s clear is we see a relentlessly hard-working performer who no longer has to chase the next gig for gas money, or has to worry if the world will accept his work. Holed up outside of Nashville with his wife, Millsap let the songs do the talking.
36 minutes | Apr 14, 2021
This week, a special rebroadcast of our conversation with the three-time Grammy award winning roots n roll poet and rogue founding father of the thriving Americana movement - Steve Earle. The conversation was recorded outside Romp Fest in Kentucky on Earle’s tour bus. Remember when we could do stuff like that? After nearly four decades of relentless recording, international touring with his loyal group The Dukes, and a commendable fight to overcome his own substance abuse troubles, (not to mention six marriages and counting) Earle watched his talented song Justin Townes Earle go down a similar path - only to lose his fight with depression and opiates, passing away at the age of thirty-eight in August of 2020. With a new intro, we try and honor Justin’s memory and highlight Steve’s haunting newest record JT, where Earle tries to process his son’s passing by recording a collection of his most cherished songs.
64 minutes | Apr 7, 2021
This week, we feature a conversation with one of most admired and sharp-witted singer-songwriters in the fertile Nashville Americana scene, Caroline Spence. A sought-after lyricist who mines her own vulnerabilities and lovelorn past to tell delicately crafted story-songs, her voice seems to always hover angelically above the page, bringing to mind new-wave country pop heroines Alison Krauss or her vocal hero, Emmylou Harris. Growing up in Charlottesville, VA daydreaming to Harris’ signature twangy honey-toned records like 'Wrecking Ball,' Spence admittedly was a bit starstruck when the silver-maned lady herself came on board to sing harmonies on the title track of Spence’s newest LP 'Mint Condition.' It quickly became a critic’s darling and an Americana radio staple nationwide. As a conversationalist, she usually leads with cheerful southern modesty, but beginning with her 2015 debut 'Somehow,' Spence wasn’t afraid to push at country music’s guy-centric boundaries. She brought aboard a talented group of genre-defining collaborators like blue-eyed soul hero Anderson East and folk pop favorite Erin Rae to give the songs new heft. Her follow-up 'Spades And Roses' brought more lush atmospherics to her yearning acoustic stories, elevating the clear-eyed feminine power behind emotive songs like “Heart Of Somebody.” While Spence will tell you she is just furthering the empowered spirit of roots songwriter pioneers who came before her, during this time of high anxiety, her deeply felt love songs like “Sit Here and Love Me” and “Slow Dancer” seem especially fitting, touching on her bouts of depression and her inability to connect with the ones who are trying to help her through. Sometimes sad songs truly do make people happy, and if you’re feeling a bit low, maybe pop on her newest single “The Choir,” about finding your people when you need them most.
59 minutes | Apr 1, 2021
This week, we feature an intimate conversation with beloved soul and R&B singer Bettye LaVette. Covering her remarkable six decades in show-business, we dive deep into her beginnings as a Detroit hit-making teenager during Motown’s heyday (her neighbor was Smokey Robinson), to her early career touring with Otis Redding and James Brown, and the hard times that followed as a music industry steeped in racist and sexist traditions largely turned its back on her. While other soulful song stylists like Sharon Jones, Tina Turner, Mavis Staples and others have seen their status and popularity rise with time, LaVette remains a best kept secret in the nascent Americana circuit, with younger listeners just discovering her remarkable work covering anyone from The Beatles to Neil Young to Billie Holiday. After nearly dropping out of music, her remarkable comeback began in 2005 with a string of acclaimed records - bringing her from half-filled bars to singing “Blackbird” at The Hollywood Bowl with a 32-piece orchestra, being nominated for five Grammy awards, and being inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. One thing you’ll notice immediately is her fiery laugh which punctuates the episode - even when telling the darkest stories like her early manager getting shot and her 1960s hits being recorded by white artists, leaving her versions largely forgotten. Her Grammy-nominated newest LP 'Blackbirds,' produced by legendary drummer Steve Jordan, shows her at her most vulnerable best.
57 minutes | Mar 24, 2021
The Tallest Man On Earth
This week, we take the show to the countryside of Sweden for an intimate talk with Kristian Matsson, poet-songwriter and masterful acoustic multi-instrumentalist who has released five acclaimed albums and two EPs over the last decade and a half, performing as The Tallest Man on Earth. Growing up in the small hamlet of Leksand, a three hour trek from Stockholm, Mattson was in rowdier indie-rock outfits like Montezumas before breaking out with his own dreamier acoustic material - gaining international notice with his breakout solo offering 'Shallow Grave' in 2008. Tours with Bon Iver across North America gained Matsson an adoring audience in the states, where he ended up setting up shop in Brooklyn. Most often performing solo even on the biggest stages, Matsson is known to have seven or more intricate tunings for his guitars and banjos, and with his high, cutting voice and cryptic, nature-inspired lyrics, he has been compared to some of his heroes like Roscoe Holcomb, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon but with a Swedish-naturalist touch. Songs like “Love Is All” or “The Gardener,” while gaining tens of millions of steams on folky playlists, pack quite a punch, often detailing how the cold cruelty of the animal kingdom filters into human life with its many frailties. In 2019, Matsson found his marriage to a fellow Swedish singer-songwriter ending and he holed up in his Brooklyn apartment to write, produce and engineer his newest Tallest Man On Earth LP, 'I Love You. It’s A Fever Dream.' Like Springsteen’s eerie and emotional 'Nebraska,' Matsson's collection is a clear-eyed view of our current state of interpersonal (and even societal) isolations. Standout songs like the warm guitar and echoey harmonica opener “Hotel Bar” - though written before he knew what would happen with our current pandemic - seem to capture the lost closeness and romance of our very recent past, where one could fall in love with a new stranger every night in a new town and think nothing of it. Sequestered in a small house in the middle of Sweden since the world shifted last year, a new Tallest Man On Earth album is sure to be on its way. Admittedly Matsson is going a bit stir-crazy away from the road, but really he’s grateful to be able to have the time to explore and create new sounds without any distractions. A fall tour of the states is in the works (fingers crossed), including an opening slot at Red Rocks joining Mandolin Orange and Bonny Light Horseman.
53 minutes | Mar 17, 2021
The Allman Betts Band
This week - it’s a rock-n roll-family affair with a special conversation with Devon Allman and Duane Betts - two guitar-slinging sons of the iconic Allman Brothers Band who formed their own soulful supergroup in 2019 - The Allman Betts Band. With their debut record 'Down To The River,' Allman and Betts - who took turns playing alongside their revered dads Gregg and Dickey as teenagers - finally banded together to create a new collection of the soaring slide-guitar-centered Gulf-coast rock and brawny road-tested blues that both pays homage to their heady upbringings and forges their own way forward. Even their touring bassist has a familiar name to Allman die-hards: Berry Oakley Jr., whose dad was one of the Allman Brothers' founding members when they formed in 1969 out of Jacksonville, FL. While many groups were stuck at home licking their wounds as the pandemic shut down most touring options, Devon and Duane’s crew tapped into the nascent drive-in circuit, bringing their spirited 2020 release 'Bless Your Heart' to a whole new set of excited fans. Always sticking to their southern roots, they laid down both records at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios with producer Matt Ross-Spang (Jason Isbell, Margo Price, Elvis Presley.) While history is always dancing in the margins of the songs, it’s clear on this second offering that they wanted to create stories that didn’t only reflect their roaring live shows. Standout songs like the soft piano ballad “Doctor’s Daughter” show the group roving in new, more nuanced directions - while “Autumn Breeze” is a pulsing, slow-burn, but features the effortless twin guitar lines that made their dads' work so instantly recognizable. Of course playing in the family business wasn’t always a given for the guys - especially Devon who only met his hard-touring father Gregg at sixteen. Devon first started hanging out with young Duane - then only twelve - in 1989 on the Allman Brothers' 20th Anniversary tour. As he describes in the episode, Devon wasn’t sure he wanted to follow in his father’s hard-to-follow footsteps, but once he sat in on “Midnight Rider“ and the crowd went crazy? It was off to the races. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Allman Brothers' breakout record 'Live At The Fillmore East' - which I grew up listening to on loop with my father. Though Duane Allman died tragically in a 1971 accident before his namesake was born, and Gregg passed away in 2017, their spirit lives on in the Allman Betts’ epic live show - which is already gearing up for the tentative 2021 touring season.
67 minutes | Mar 10, 2021
Low Cut Connie
This week, we call in to Philadelphia for a conversation with the highly-theatrical pianist and tireless, much-adored performer Adam Weiner, who for the last decade has gained a cult following around the world fronting his soulful bizarro-rock outfit Low Cut Connie. Some artists have retreated into obscurity during the pandemic shut-down; some have made turned lemons into personalized live-stream lemonade. But Adam took it to another level when he launched his often twice-weekly vaudevillian interactive web show “Tough Cookies” from a back bedroom in March. Charging around his small home stage like a schvitzing piano preacher, often losing clothing along the way, Adam has learned nearly six hundred covers in the last eight months alone - from Barry Manilow to Cardi B’s "WAP" to Macho Man to an entire Little Richard set, which he performed to honor his hero after his passing. He then interviews anyone from Beyonce’s dad to members of Sly and the Family Stone - in short, it's a rollercoaster every week that you kind of have to watch to believe. Alongside his 2020 LP Private Lives, Low Cut Connie’s heartfelt and sweat-dripping sets have gained him some famous supporters: Elton John for one, fellow New Jersey-born hero Bruce Springsteen for another - and that up-and-coming playlist presenter Barack Obama unexpectedly placed Low Cut Connie’s defiant cabaret rocker “Boozophilia” on his must-listen list. Indeed, this taping - which often showed Adam jumping from his piano to his guitar to play favorites like the Kinks-esque “Revolution Rock N Roll,” initially had to be delayed so he could play an inauguration event for new president and Philly-piano lover Joe Biden. While Adam is basking in some much-earned attention, it hasn’t always been an easy road. He readily admits to scrapping by on side jobs into his mid-thirties, for years playing around dim New York City piano bars as his sequined alter-ego Ladyfingers. If Adam's learned anything during this strange era, it’s that people desperately still need live music - in all its spur-of-the-moment, sweaty glory. One of the more moving stories he tells is seeing groups of nurses in beleaguered hospitals taking a much needed break to watch his livestreams. Much like his hero and patron Elton John, Low Cut Connie’s songs can leap from intimate folk-rock to greasy soul to bombastic musical theater and back with ease - and his relentless spontaneity keeps fans waiting for that he will do next.
53 minutes | Mar 3, 2021
Béla Fleck and Abigail Washurn (Rebroadcast)
This week, we’re bringing back a favorite episode featuring banjo heroes Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn. We caught up with this well-traveled roots music super couple a few years back on a tour through LA (back when live music was a thing). As we reckon with the one year anniversary of the music industry’s full shutdown, most touring artists and songwriters find themselves still sequestered at home with their partners, families or podmates (and in Abigail and Béla’s case, two rambunctious kids who can be heard in the taping). The beautiful connection and respect Fleck and Washburn have for one another on stage and at home is on full display during the episode - and if you follow their social media, you’ll see they are truly making the best of this dark downtime. Both could be considered pioneers not just in advancing the banjo into the mainstream - but in creating nuanced multi-lingual world music with an instrument once thought to only belong in front porch jam sessions or in barnstorming bluegrass bands. As we jump into women’s history month - now would be a good time to thank all the hard working moms, grandmas, sisters, aunties, wives, caretakers and creators of all stripes who helped make it possible for your favorite music to exist. We will be back every Wednesday with new episodes.
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