Friday, April 26, 2024
Grace Bowers is a 17-year-old guitarist and band leader. She’s quietly emerged as not only a phenomenon on her instrument of choice, but also as an enigmatic musical presence. It’s why she’s been sought after by everyone from Devon Allman, Margo Price, Tyler Childers, Kingfish, Susan Tedeshi and earned acclaim courtesy of Rolling Stone and more.
Just 23 years old and already a seasoned veteran of Nashville’s elite songwriting community, Conner Smith has emerged as one of Country’s most hotly-anticipated artists – one knows the past can still inspire the present, and good things come to those who wait. An uncommon talent mixing prime-of-life passion with old-soul perspective, the rising singer/songwriter has spent 15 years matching a honeyed vocal to propulsive hints of bluegrass and the warmth of ‘90s Country, an instant-classic sound infused with riveting modern appeal.
Since their humble beginnings out in the Panhandle town of Lubbock, Texas, Flatland Cavalry has embraced their surroundings and rural West Texas roots. Formed in 2014 while attending Texas Tech University, Cordero and company made their presence felt within the Hub City’s songwriting circles and dancehall circuits. Banking on Cordero’s earnest pen and the band’s blend of country instrumentation, toe-tapping grooves, and earworm choruses, Flatland quickly became a regional sensation.
Saturday, April 27, 2024
Kenny Brown is an American Blues slide guitarist skilled in the North Mississippi Hill Country Blues style.
He began hearing Otha Turner, Napolean Strickland and others who played at picnics across the road from his home at 7 years old. Brown apprenticed with Mississippi Joe Callicott, who moved in next door to his home in Nesbit, Mississippi, from age 12 to 15, when Callicott died.
Around 1971 Brown began playing with two other musicians. Johnny Woods would make an occasional playing partner until his death in 1990. More steady was Brown’s learning with R. L. Burnside, who claimed Brown as his “adopted son,” In the early seventies they started to perform in their region, and would keep up as a duo for thirty years sometimes joined with Calvin Jackson on drums. Cedric Burnside joined their tours from about 1994, as Burnside’s reputation surged in the 1990s and early 2000s. Brown first appeared abroad in Sweden in 1989.
Kenny, along with his wife Sara, are the key founders of blues festival, The North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic. Brown continues to perform locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally and currently lives in the North Mississippi Hill Country.
Billie Allen and the Pollies
The band is a hybrid of four piece rock outfit The Pollies and fellow Alabamian, and frontman, Billy Allen. The story of what fused Allen and The Pollies is one that begins in a bar 8 years ago. This particular bar was on Allen’s gig circuit and it just so happens to be where Jay Burgess (founder of The Pollies) was having a drink that evening. While there was intrigue and potential in that first chance meeting, the two would remain ships in the night, each building their own careers, until years later when the stars would align at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals. As the story goes, both Allen and The Pollies, who were all occasional session musicians at Fame, were finally in the room together and the track on deck was Little Richard’s “Greenwood, MS”. To hear Allen retell this part of the story is to hear a man talk about the beginnings of a priceless friendship. “There was an immediate romantic musical connection,” Allen said. “This is my band.” To hear Burgess tell it, the feeling was mutual. Over the subsequent year, the two groups rehearsed, toured, wrote, and gelled together under the moniker Billy Allen + The Pollies. The joining of Billy and Jay (along with the other charter members of The Pollies: Spencer Duncan, Jon Davis & Clint Chandler) was like the clicking of a dislocated bone back into true.
Hailed by Pitchfork as one of the “most exciting and skillful storytellers” working today, Jaime Wyatt is the kind of generational talent whose raw, honest lyricism is matched only by the power of her huge, unmistakable voice. Wyatt first began turning heads with her breakout 2017 debut, Felony Blues, which chronicled her now much-publicized battle with addiction and transformative journey through the criminal justice system. Wyatt’s 2020 follow-up, Neon Cross, tackled even more profoundly personal revelations. Both records arrived to universal acclaim, with NPR praising Wyatt’s “remarkable voice” and Rolling Stone lauding her “lush, layered, and complex” performances.
Bass Drum of Death
Bass Drum of Death’s new album Say I Won’t is the end result of a journey that took singer and bandleader John Barrett from a small town in Mississippi and sent him across the world and back home again. The music still rips, with blown-out guitars and drums that sound like bombs going off, and the melodies are catchier than ever, hollered in Barrett’s trademark yelp. But the music hits differently now, more at peace with itself, propelled by a new swagger. Say I Won’t is the record of a veteran band finding its stride and leaning into it, stripping back the excess and finding the raw core of their sound.
Say I Won’t, the band’s fifth record, comes at a time of massive change for Barrett, having relocated from New York to his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi during the pandemic. The record is also a homecoming of a different sort, with the band rejoining the ranks of Fat Possum, also in Oxford, the label that released their first record GB City in 2011.
“Moving back to Oxford was a much-needed reset,” says Barrett. “When I started, I just wanted to play in a punk band and drink beers and travel around. I didn’t really think much past that. And I got really burned out. When I moved back home, I started writing songs again, just for fun. I realized I wanted this record to have more of a hometown feel. The switch back to Fat Possum was easy. It’s much better working with people I know and love and love everything they do.”
Charlie Mars lives on a gravel paved County Road in the hill country of Yalobusha County, Mississippi. Why? He used to live in a college town with all the college town stuff that musicians like.
He has released 7 studio albums, a series of EPs, and several singles over the past 20 years. He’s shared the stage with the likes of REM, KT Tunstall and Steve Earle, and has been profiled in Forbes, USA Today, American Songwriter and many major media outlets. If you ask him, Charlie says he’s made a living playing in small clubs and backyards. But he still wants to have a tour bus and play in front of big crowds. “It’s fun to have a dream. It keeps me going” he says. “I can’t believe I made it this far in music. I figure while I had the chance, I should try to represent the people and the culture that shaped me.”
The follow-up to Francis’s 2019 debut Changes—a New Orleans-R&B-leaning effort that landed on best-of-the-year lists from the likes of KCRW, KEXP, and The Current, and saw him hailed as “the reincarnation of Allen Toussaint” by BBC Radio 6—In Plain Sight was written and recorded almost entirely at the church, a now-defunct congregation called St. Peter’s UCC. Despite not identifying as religious, Francis took a music-ministry job at the church in 2017 at the suggestion of a friend. After breaking up with his longtime girlfriend while on tour in fall 2019, he returned to his hometown and found himself with no place to stay, then headed to St. Peter’s and asked to move into the parsonage. “I thought I’d only stay a few months but it turned into over a year, and I knew I had to do something to take advantage of this miraculous gift of a situation,” he says.
Mixed by Grammy Award-winner Dave Fridmann (HAIM, Spoon, The Flaming Lips, Tame Impala), In Plain Sight finds Francis again joining forces with Changes producer and analog obsessive Sergio Rios (a guitarist/engineer known for his work with CeeLo Green and Alicia Keys). Like its predecessor, the album spotlights Francis’s refined yet free-spirited performance on piano, an instrument he took up at the age of four. “From a very early age, I was playing late into the night in a very stream-of-consciousness kind of way,” he says, naming everything from ragtime to gospel soul to The Who among his formative influences. With a prodigy-like gift for piano, Francis sat in with a dozen different blues acts in Chicago clubs as a teenager, and helmed a widely beloved instrumental funk band called The Heard before going solo. Along with earning lavish acclaim (including a glowing review from Bob Lefsetz, who declared: “THIS IS THE FUTURE OF THE MUSIC BUSINESS!”), Changes led to such triumphs as performing live on KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic,” sharing the stage with members of The Meters at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and touring with such acts as Lee Fields & The Expressions and Black Pumas.
Christone "Kingfish" Ingram
Ingram’s journey began in the city of Clarksdale, in Coahoma County, Mississippi, just 10 miles from the legendary crossroads of Highways 61 and 49. Born to a family of singers and musicians, he fell in love with music as a child, initially playing drums and then bass. At a young age, he got his first guitar and quickly soaked up music from Robert Johnson to Lightnin’ Hopkins, from B.B. King to Muddy Waters, from Jimi Hendrix to Prince. Through classes at the Delta Blues Museum, he learned the history of the blues and the basics of how to play them. Under the tutelage of Richard “Daddy Rich” Crisman and the late Bill “Howl-N-Madd” Perry, he not only developed his own playing sound and style, but also earned his “Kingfish” moniker, courtesy of Mr. Perry. From the classrooms of the Delta Blues Museum, Kingfish progressed quickly as a musician, playing Clarksdale’s famous Ground Zero Blues Club and Red’s Lounge stages before beginning to travel the U.S., and abroad, all while still in high school. The young guitarist performed at the White House for First Lady Michelle Obama as part of a delegation of student musicians from the Delta Blues Museum. By age 16, he was turning heads and winning awards, including the 2015 Rising Star Award, presented by The Rhythm & Blues Foundation.
Ingram’s sophomore release 662 won the GRAMMY Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album, won the Blues Music Award for Best Blues Album, and topped both the DownBeat Critics’ Poll and the Living Blues Critics’ Poll. Since his 2019 debut, Kingfish has been nominated for a total of 10 Blues Music Awards and has won them all. He’s also won 11 Living Blues Awards. In 2022, Ingram enlisted indie rapper Big K.R.I.T. for an imaginative and moving remix of his track Another Life Goes By (Mississippi Mix). Ingram’s original song and accompanying video candidly explore systemic racism, and what it means to grow up Black in America.
There’s a double meaning to the title of What Now, the revelatory new album from singer/songwriter Brittany Howard. “With the world we’re living in now, it feels like we’re all just trying to hang onto our souls,” says the Nashville-based musician and frontwoman for four-time Grammy Award-winning Alabama Shakes. “Everything seems to be getting more extreme and everyone keeps wondering, ‘What now? What’s next?’ By the same coin, the only constant on this record is you never know what’s going to happen next: every song is its own aquarium, its own little miniature world built around whatever I was feeling and thinking at the time.”
With five Grammy® wins and sixteen nominations, Howard follows up her massively acclaimed solo debut Jaime—a 2019 LP that landed on best-of-the-year lists from the likes of Pitchfork, the New York Times, and Rolling Stone – with What Now, drawing an immense and indelible power from endless unpredictability. Over the course of its 12 tracks, Howard brings her singular musicality to a shapeshifting sound encompassing everything from psychedelia and dance music to dream-pop and avant-jazz—a fitting backdrop for an album whose lyrics shift from unbridled outpouring to incisive yet radically idealistic commentary on the state of the human condition. At turns galvanizing, cathartic, and wildly soul-expanding, the result is a monumental step forward for one of the most essential artists of our time.