Nashville’s Caitlin Rose first appeared on the radar of music critics late last year with the release of her widely praised debut full-length Own Side Now. Rarely does an artist display this level of uninhibited honestly and vulnerability in her writing; the fact that this wisdom is found at the start of Rose’s career promises that she’s not going away any time soon. Drawing inspiration from female greats like Linda Ronstadt, Patsy Cline and Stevie Nicks, Own Side Now is an exquisite collection, showcasing a maturity that few possess at such a young age. Time magazine named it one of the Top 10 Albums of 2011.
Although steeped in the country tradition, Rose’s music is not constrained by that heritage. Her confessional style and wry observations place her very much in the 21st Century, but it is her heart-wrenching honesty, lyrical prowess and dexterous lyrical delivery that sets her apart from her peers
The Parson Red Heads
A band whose music harkens to the most prolific and inventive elements in the canon of West Coast psych-folk, the Parson Red Heads celebrated the release of Yearling, their second album, in 2011 and toured supporting that release with Blitzen Trapper, Viva Voce, Alela Diane and Fruit Bats. Yearling delivered on the great promise that has been steadily building during their eight years as a band. Some of the album was recorded over a series of many months first in a familiar setting, Red Rockets Glare Studio in their former home of Los Angeles, with close friend and sometimes member Raymond Richards producing. But most of the songs on the record were done later on unfamiliar terrain, at Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium in North Carolina with alternative pop legends Chris Stamey and Mitch Easter producing and engineering, respectively.
“The best of these folks who write songs make you think about time, and I find myself thinking about time a lot when I listen to Robert Ellis. When he and his Boys are plugged in, the final hours of a night race along in a sweaty, whiskey-soaked blur. And when he sits on a stool -- with just his guitar, voice and songs -- time slows down, as he spins tales of love and life and the way they twist together and are torn apart as we march along to some destination chosen by the great rearranger.
We talk about his folk and his country as though they’re hot and cold handles on a faucet.
The temperatures are perhaps different but it all has a fluid consistency. There are quieter
songs about making a home and louder songs about breaking a home, but they’re all
about being here now . . . even if they sound old as time while still being well built for
the future. All of it could easily be classified as country, of a sort with the great writers
and players Robert studies and admires, from George Jones to Paul Simon. Why deal
with something as cold as genres. It’s American music through and through.
-- Andrew Dansby
Brought up in Lubbock and Mineral Wells, Texas, 5-string fiddler/singer/songwriter Amanda Shires played with the Texas Playboys as a teenager and was a founding member of the Thrift Store Cowboys. In 2005, while still a regular member of that group, Shires released her solo debut, Being Brave, a mostly instrumental showcase for her traditional fiddle chops. But the fertile Texas music scene was overripe with side-person work for the talented young player and backup singer, so she relocated to Nashville—“to get uncomfortable and make myself grow some guts,” as she put it once—and proceeded to write and record the first two albums to really put her on the roots-music map: 2008’s Sew Your Heart with Wires, a collection of duets co-written and recorded with singer-songwriter Rod Picott; and what Shires calls her “true” solo debut, 2009’s West Cross Timbers, which No Depression dubbed one of the year’s best 50 releases.
Because she was on the road so often—averaging 120-160 dates per year in the States and in Europe—it took Shires 16 months to record her follow-up, 2012’s Carrying Lightning. But that album has garnered tremendous critical acclaim and attention from the likes of NPR (Tiny Desk Concert, All Songs Considered) and such publications as The Wall Street Journal and Texas Monthly. In the meantime, she appeared in the movie Country Strong, has resumed her extensive touring schedule, and frequently accompanies Justin Townes Earle and Jason Isbell, among others.
JEFF The Brotherhood
Jake and Jamin Orrall, aka JEFF the Brotherhood, are seen by many to be latter-day pioneers of the Nashville rock scene, but they see themselves as brothers who can't remember not playing music together for fun. Their family-owned, vinyl-centered record label, Infinity Cat Recordings, has been a pillar of support for Nashville bands since 2002 (with 60 releases to date) and was named "Nashville's Best Record Label 2010" by the Nashville Scene. But their first love has always been the Brotherhood known as JEFF.
Known for their relentless touring and their "we'll play anywhere" mentality, they have built a reputation for stripping rock music down to its basics, and delivering mind-bending live shows with Jamin's three drums and three cymbals and Jake's three-string guitar and ferocious vocals. JEFF the Brotherhood's work ethic practically defines D.I.Y., from their simple but compelling videos to their self-produced and critically acclaimed albums, EPs and singles.
Hayes Carll is an odd mix. Wildly literate, utterly slackerly, impossibly romantic, absolutely a slave to the music, he is completely committed to the truth and unafraid to skewer pomposity, hypocrisy and small-minded thinking. In a world of shallow and shallower, where it’s all groove and gloss, that might seem a hopeless proposition. His “Another Like You” was American Songwriter’s #1 Song of 2011 and his most recent full-length, KMAG YOYO, was the Americana Music Association’s #1 Album and made Best of Lists for Rolling Stone, SPIN and a New York Times Critics Choice.
But more importantly than the critical acclaim is the way Carll connects with music lovers across genre lines. Playing rock clubs and honkytonks, Bonnaroo and Stones Fest, he and his band the Gulf Coast Orchestra merge a truculent singer/songwriter take that combines lean freewheeling squalor with brazen Gen Y reality and a healthy dose of love amongst unhealthy people. Like so many writers before him, there’s no agony in the ecstasy--just the wonder of capturing the perfect character in the song. When you’re six beers down on a 12-pack night, you know Hayes Carll understands. And at a time like that--whether in your own backyard or some jam-packed bar--that’s the best kind of friend to have.
Erin Enderlin has had songs recorded by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Terri Clark, Lee Ann Womack, Adam Brand, and Luke Bryan. These include Jackson’s top 5 hit “Monday Morning Church,” which won an NSAI award as one of the 10 “Songs I Wish I’d Written” honored in 2005, as well as Lee Ann Womack’s single “Last Call,” which won the same award in 2009.
Hailing from Conway, Arkansas, Enderlin moved to Nashville in 2000 to attend Middle Tennessee State University. Having her grandparents (H.D. and Wanda Clinton) to thank for an early introduction to country music, Erin’s influences include Reba McEntire, George Jones, Conway Twitty, Tim McGraw, Tammy Wynette, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton. She just recently completed her first solo album, which was co-produced by Jamey Johnson.
The Unsinkable Boxer
The Unsinkable Boxer are a Glasgow, Scotland-based band focused around the musical leanings of vocalist/ tunesmith Colin Taylor. His latest incarnation has been described as '
“intelligent pop for music lovers” and “melody laden music not to surf on top of , but to dive into.” His previous work has been hailed in the UK by such luminaries as BBC Radio 2's Johnny Walker and Bob Harris. The eponymously titled 2010 debut combines a classic British sound with flourishes of Americana. At times epic , at times sparse, it delivers the sweetest punch to the heart. A new album is in the can and is currently being mixed in Seattle with plans for a release before the end of 2012.
Colin Gilmore is one of the latest in a long string of talent to come out of Lubbock, Texas. He grew up surrounded by the sounds of Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Joe Ely and his father, Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Moving to Austin at age 14 put him right in the thick of the burgeoning punk rock scene. "That was where the creativity and passion were," he recalls. Colin has toured the world with two albums under his belt. The latest, Goodnight Lane, received 4 stars in Mojo and Uncut, and developed a solid fan base. He is currently recording his third album.
Chatham County Line
Chatham County Line is an all acoustic, suit-wearing, single-mic performing outfit formed at the turn of the century from the Y2K ashes of a couple of terrible bands in Raleigh, NC. They put out their first album in 2002 and with it's original compositions and hard lean towards the traditional bluegrass sound the folks down at Ye Old Bluegrass Magazine began to dust off their "Best Band Ever" Award. Unfortunately for them, following the release of their third record Speed of the Whippoorwill, everyone realized that these boys weren't so easily pigeonholed and they'd spend the next two records just furthering that confusion. 2012 finds CCL relentlessly touring behind Sight & Sound, their July released double-live album and DVD combo super-set. Look for another brilliant studio release from these pigeons in 2013, and as always, remember live is the way to experience life.
Lori McKenna didn’t begin performing her songs in public until age 27, after she and her husband already had three children. Eventually, she became a staple of the Boston folk music scene, where she became friendly with Mary Gauthier. “We were the two old ladies in a sea of young faces,” she jokes. When Gauthier picked up and left for Nashville, she brought McKenna’s music to the attention of her publisher, who got it into the hands of Faith Hill, who fell hard for McKenna’s songs. Hill recorded three of them for her album Fireflies. McKenna’s way of articulating the love, pain and pathos of domestic life had a huge impact on Hill, and Hill’s very public championing of her music led other artists to McKenna’s songs. Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood, Alison Krauss, Keith Urban and LeAnn Rimes are among the many that have recorded her songs in recent years.
The increased acclaim for her songcraft led to a record deal with Warner Brothers, who released her 2007 album Unglamorous. Working with Tim McGraw (who co-produced the album), an appearance on Oprah and an opening slot on McGraw and Faith Hill’s Soul2Soul tour made public McKenna’s talents. Her most recent release, 2011’s Lorraine, makes it clear that McKenna continues to be a master at chronicling the small, difficult moments between romantic partners as they navigate their relationships
Although Springfield, Ohio native Griffin House didn’t begin playing guitar and writing songs until he was 18, the power of his music struck an emotional connection with audiences immediately. The athletically gifted House shocked his family by turning down a golf scholarship to focus on a new path making music. “Sports were really a big part of me and how I grew up,” he says. “So deciding not to take that scholarship was a turning point for me in choosing a new path for myself, a new life making music.” There were some issues to deal with first, however -- he couldn’t play the guitar he’d bought from and friend, nor had he ever written a song.
His intelligent and heart-felt lyrics and melodies in such songs as “The Guy Who Says Goodbye to You Is Out of His Mind” and “Better Than Love” have garnered commercial and critical acclaim alike. From being featured on the CBS Sunday Morning Show, to touring with the likes of John Mellencamp and the Cranberries, House continues to gain national recognition and currently is headlining his own tour across the U.S.
A singer-songwriter acclaimed by a galaxy of artists from Bob Dylan to Elton John, Chris Martin to Michael Bublé, and Steve Earle to Lucinda Williams for his insight into the human heart and a melodic purity (to paraphrase admirer Elvis Costello) unheard since the heyday of Paul McCartney, you’ll find Ron Sexsmith straight after the Sex Pistols in any self-respecting encyclopedia of modern music.
Over 11 albums, Sexsmith has amassed a sizable and consistently enthralling body of work that few songwriting recording artists can match for consistently sky-high quality. As legendary record producer to artists from Dylan to U2, Daniel Lanois, says in Love Shines, the documentary about the making of Sexsmith’s most recent album, Long Player Late Bloomer, “Not a lot of people have Ron’s gift: the ability to see a tiny snapshot of a feeling, then expand upon it and deliver a beautiful song. The songs are like Polaroids.” Among the many artists who have covered those songs are: Rod Stewart, Michael Bublé, k.d. lang, Feist, The Brodsky Quartet, Curtis Stigers and….Nick Lowe.