Tag Archives: americana

Album Review – Mipso’s “Old Time Reverie”

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“Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller

Ferris Bueller was a man of the people–an 80’s pop culture icon created in the era of John Hughes’ brilliance.  Ferris’ words continue to find footing thirty years after audiences caught their first glimpse of the vested hero on the big screen.  He was right–life does move pretty fast.  In our current culture of instagramification it can require some serious effort to slow down, stop multitasking and take a break from all of the Facebook updates and Tweets.

Fortunately, there is a simple solution that often yields positive results–music.  Music is that powerful catalyst that forces you to look up from the glow of your iPhone.  When the sound of joyful voices melting together into a rich harmony hits your eardrum, you can no  longer ignore the goosebumps on the back of your arms and the calming breath in your chest.  Music pulls you away from all of the noise.  It frees you.

On their third studio album, Old Time Reverie, Mipso serves up just that–freedom.  Sitting down with this album transports the listener back to a simpler time, though not one without its own set of obstacles, as evidenced by the album opener “Marianne.”  With a happy fiddle playing peek-a-boo throughout the song, one may mistaken “Marianne” for a jovial tune.  Lyrics tell a different story, one of the forbidden love of an interracial couple in 1960s North Carolina.  Mipso sets the storytelling bar high with “Marianne,” a familiar approach for the band’s album openers–hook the listener from the get go and hold ’em ’til the end.

Down in the Water” follows with Rodenbough’s timeless, crisp vocals at the forefront.  The simplicity and tone of the song feel hymnal, even baptismal at times.  However, the beauty of the song emerges in its content and transcends church walls as Rodenbough pleads for a quiet and content mind–a very relatable request.  “Eliza,” a lover’s plea laced with three-part harmonies, brings a little folky waltz to the album and is sure to be a live fan favorite.

On “Bad Penny,” Terrell hits the ground running, taking listeners on a wild lyrical goose chase with his ever evolving gift of storytelling.   The song’s fiddle line elicits images of a Smoky Mountain family feud, even though the story unfolds in modern-day NYC.  It is in playing with these lyrical and musical contradictions that Mipso continues to grow and evolve as a group.

With Sharp on lead vocals, “Momma” tugs at the heartstrings, combining a Simonesque melody with Mipso harmonies and honesty.   “Father’s House” highlights the gospel influence that often accompanies Mipso’s bluegrass roots.  Here the band uses religious imagery to tackle feelings of isolation and uncertainty in life and death.

“Captain’s Daughter” sets sail on the high seas, telling the story of a lonely seaman who yearns to reunite with his land-bound love, Annabelle.  Rodenbough’s fiddle brings in Celtic tones, transporting the listener across the pond to a more rustic land where passion is fierce in both love and trade.

“Stranger,” a more modern love ballad for the group, pumps the brakes while breaking hearts.  “Honeybee” picks up the pieces and brings in a bit of sweet springtime sunshine.  Terrell convinces listeners that he’s singing from a very personal space, though in his songwriting prowess perhaps he’s just that good.

Everyone Knows” slithers in with a desperado darkness, fit for a Tarantino flick.  Though a bit of a departure for Mipso, it stands tall as the album’s best track.  On “Everyone Knows,” Mipso stepped out boldly into the dusty town square, pulled their pistols and walked away unscathed.   The only thing missing now is an accompanying video.  Jon Kasbe get your camera ready.

The album closes with “4 Train,” a love song set to a steady locomotive cadence.  Touching on familiar emotions that accompany love, “4 Train” shines a spotlight on each band member’s talents, book-ending the album perfectly.

Old Time Reverie offers listeners a solid collection of stories, steeped in traditional acoustic instrumentation and tight-knit harmonies at a steady rocking chair pace.  With each listen, you may find it easier and easier to pull yourself away from the hustle and bustle and take a moment to really live inside the beauty of a carefully crafted song.

Ironically, the members of Mipso weren’t even born when Ferris first delighted downtown Chicago with his famous renditions of “Danke Schoen” and “Twist and Shout.”  Yet, somehow they collectively possess his spirit, charm, and ability to captivate an audience.  On Old Time Reverie, Terrell, Sharp, Robinson and Rodenbough further reveal the old souls that live in their youthful vessels–wise beyond their years, much like Mr. Bueller.

Mipso is a four-piece folk/bluegrass band out of Chapel Hill, NC consisting of Joseph Terrell (guitar), Wood Robinson (double bass), Jacob Sharp (mandolin) and Libby Rodenbough (fiddle).

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Album Review – Justin Townes Earle’s “Absent Fathers”

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If album titles could speak of the wounded heart of an artist, Justin Townes Earle’s latest installment, “Absent Fathers,” would be screaming humbly from a Nashville rooftop. This 10-track album is the companion to Earle’s fifth studio album, “Single Mothers,” which was released last year. Earl recorded all tracks live with his four-piece touring band before settling them into their parental album positions. Taken as a pair, these albums bare the soul of a boy-turned-man and his journey to solid ground.

“Absent Fathers” softly, but unapologetically, reveals a side of Earle that longed for a stable father figure, one who could have saved him from the depths of addiction and heartache and taught him how to be a gentleman. Sadly, most fathers who leave a son at the age of two years are not typically equipped for such a noble post. Such appears the case for Earle’s father, alt-country artist Steve Earle, who has certainly faced demons of his own.

Despite his life’s turmoil, Earle, whose voice finds itself nestled somewhere between the muddied mumble of Dylan and the rocker rasp of Springsteen, has catapulted himself into the Americana spotlight with a blue collar mix of folk, blues and country. Much like his godfather, the late Townes Van Zandt, Earl’s vocal delivery teeters on melodic spoken word, often with an unpredictable cadence.

On “Absent Fathers,” Earle’s style translates as if he were reading straight from his personal journal — raw emotion with very little frill, yet full and layered. So layered in fact that on the opening track, “Farther From Me,” it is unclear whether Earle sings of heartbreak from a young love or from being abandoned by his father. It is one of the album’s strongest tracks, tacked down by loneliness and suffering, but unfastened by a hopeful and simple guitar arrangement.

Earle’s unique vocal pacing is most apparent on “Why” and “Least I Got The Blues,” two short tracks that maintain Earle’s wide-open narrative, but have trouble finding a strong footing when measured against the others. “Call Ya Momma” is a mellow, bluesy, rock tune that tells the tale of quarreling lovers on the brink of a forever farewell.

“Day and Night” opens with the lonely whine of pedal steel accompanied by lovely finger picking. This track displays the beauty of Earle’s songwriting with striking lyrics of the uncertainty the day brings as the night is put to rest. “Round the Bend” picks up the pace as the album’s truck-stop rocker, evoking images of Earle standing on the side of a dusty country road using the last of his pocket change to call to his jilted lover.

“When The One You Love Loses Faith” brings Earle’s blues influence to the forefront. With his head hung low, Earle sings of the familiar woes that come to anyone who has loved and lost. Gears shift back to country on “Slow Monday,” which strangely possesses shades of a Randy Newman animated tune and sums up the commonplace opinion of the most dreaded day of the week. “Someone Will Pay” is an upbeat revengeful track with a punchy guitar solo interlude.

The album’s final track, “Looking For A Place To Land,” is a somber but encouraging tune that chronicles the trials of a man eager to evolve beyond boyhood dreams and a painful past. With delicate guitar picking and heart-on-his-sleeve lyrics, Earle ends the album with a story unto which his listeners will attach their own past memories and future optimisms. It is in this unpolished openness that Earle so easily connects to his listeners. As Earle’s story evolves, he will certainly continue to find stability and safety within the Americana’s halls and heart.

Collectively, “Absent Fathers” tells just one part of Earle’s multifaceted life story. Even with a first listen to the album, it is clear that songwriting from the soul is therapeutic for Earle. He sings of his mistakes to make amends with himself and creates a bond with his audience that is rooted in honest emotion and a desire to do better. The album itself finds perfection is its simplicity, relatability and underproduction, which lends listeners a clean and uncluttered collection of songs from the emotional pages of Earle’s past.

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Album Review – Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Remedy”

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It appears that Old Crow Medicine Show has finally become a household name, though the final push to get there may not fully reflect the band’s talent and years of hard work. After 16 years of sidewalk busking, cross-country touring, superb songwriting and recording, it was pop-country star Darius Rucker’s cover of the band’s “Wagon Wheel” that brought O.C.M.S. into the mainstream fold.

Timed perfectly to ride the wave of Rucker’s “Wagon Wheel” success, the Nashville-based band just released its eighth studio album, “Remedy,” which carries a collective sound that screams O.C.M.S., while adding a couple of nuances that slightly shift the band’s course.

First, with the departure of former member Willie Watson — who left the group to pursue a solo career — comes a vocal void that is glaringly obvious to any listener who has been following the band’s trajectory. Watson’s trademark timbre always added an Appalachian authenticity to songs that frontman Ketch Secor is not quite able to reproduce, though he comes very close.

Second, on “Remedy” Secor and crew include tracks that make an obvious nod to modern country music. This direction will certainly appeal to the mainstream country music fan, and potentially secure their current spot in the limelight. However, long-time fans may find it unsettling.

Fortunately, these country tracks are scant and the meat of the album stays true to the traits that have made O.C.M.S.. great for so many years — old-timey salt-of-the-earth storytelling peppered with parody, punk-rock energy, and good old-fashioned traditional folk instrumentation.

Listener response aside, “Remedy” may be just what the doctor ordered. The album is fun and carefree with top-notch songwriting and strategic introspective moments. O.C.M.S. has always possessed the gift of storytelling through their songwriting, making it difficult to distinguish personal experience from that of a stranger, deceased soldier, leathery farmer or backwoods moonshiner. This storytelling gift has created a genuineness that has earned the band a loyal following over the years.

There are several glimpses of this level of storytelling on “Remedy,” though with less historical reference than on previous albums like “Carry Me Back.” Rather, “Remedy” feels very present, as the boys hail Music City, lament loss, explore the ups and downs of prison life, and tackle pessimistic attitudes. The album’s upbeat tracks can do no wrong, while selective ballads feel overworked with pedestrian themes.

The album opener, “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer,” gets things rolling with a hot prison teaser, steaming with enough vivid imagery to keep prisoner acting on their best behavior. “8 Dogs 8 Banjos” follows and explodes with a feverish fiddle and rolling banjo arrangement along with fun call-and-response lyrics, making it near impossible to sit still. This track will translate perfectly on stage, and is sure to become a fan favorite.

“Sweet Amarillo” marks the second time O.C.M.S. has taken an unfinished song by legendary musician Bob Dylan and made it their own. Here, dusty winds blow a bit farther West from Nashville, Tenn. giving the sweet cowboy ballad more of a Texan texture—of which Dylan reportedly approved. “Mean Enough World” is like a steam engine cranking through the station with a perfect combination of whiny harmonica, speedy banjo picking, and finger wagging lyrics begging for a light at the end of the tunnel.

Though the sentiment is powerful on the next two tracks, they struggle to keep up with the album’s musical caliber and therefore feel a bit out of place. “Dearly Departed Friend” fills the album’s fallen soldier quota, but falls flat and translates like a country Jimmy Buffett tune. While “Firewater” is a poignant chronicle of band member Critter Fuqua’s struggle with alcoholism, it fails to live up to its musical potential. Hopefully, both of these tracks will evolve and improve as they are road tested.

“Brave Boys” picks spirits back up in true O.C.M.S. fashion with a raucous cadence, fiddle solos and enough band hollering to reach coal miners in West Virginia. “Doc’s Day” is the perfect old-timey, playful tribute to Doc and Merle Watson, fit for front porch jam and sweet tea sipping.

More tributes follow as O.C.M.S. bows down to the bounties of their current hometown, Nashville, Tenn. “O Cumberland River” praises the southern waterway’s beauty, utility, and power as lyrics recall the devastating 2010 river flood that wreaked havoc on Music City. “Tennessee Bound” jumps right in line with a typical O.C.M.S. rambling homecoming tune, sung with pure pride and joy.

“Shit Creek” proves that O.C.M.S. still possesses the lyrical talent and musical prowess to keep fans satiated. This track turns up the fiddle speed dial just passed “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” mark and is chock full of enough river/relationship metaphors to keep listeners busy for a while. It ranks as one of the album’s best.

O.C.M.S. continues the tradition of keeping a light-hearted outlook on life with “Sweet Home,” a spirited sing-a-long about heading to the pearly gates. The album closes with “The Warden,” a stripped-down, harmony-rich ballad sung from the point of view of an observant criminal. This track is an outstanding example of an unhurried O.C.M.S. song that maintains the band’s rich storytelling abilities and traditional sound.

Overall, “Remedy” delivers what O.C.M.S. fans desire — mountain music with a good mix of fundamentals, fun and fire to keep things moving forward. The few weak spots on the album are overshadowed by the boot-stomping, hand clapping pace, strong songwriting, and consistent mingling of harmonica, fiddle and banjo across tracks. This album will certainly continue to grow the band’s fan base in different directions and motivate new fans to catch a live O.C.M.S. performance, which is where these boys really shine, much like a big ol’ full moon over that muddy Cumberland River.

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Interview: Jiggley Jones

Photo: Beauty By Grace

Photo: Beauty By Grace

To kick off the new year, Evolution of a Fan caught up with Americana singer-songwriter Jiggley Jones, out of Coatesville, PA.  Last year was a huge year for Jones, who took home the  Songwriter of the Year award at the 2013 International Music and Entertainment Association Awards (IMEA), which was held in Ashland, Kentucky.  Jones took some time to chat with us about his music, fans, and family.

Evolution of a Fan: How did your upbringing affect the type of musician you are today?  What kind of music were you exposed to at an early age?
Jiggley Jones: I only dabbled in music when I was really young, singing at church and playing the clarinet in elementary school. It wasn’t until my later teens that I started to get serious about my love for music. I think the radio was my main influence musically when young and as I got older and bought my own albums I was finally able to branch out a bit.

EOAF: What does it mean to you, to have won the 2013 IMEA Songwriter of the Year award?

JJ: Wow, “Songwriter of the Year”. This is my forte, my bread and butter, my contribution. It means everything to me to be recognized for that!!

EOAF: What is your songwriting process like?
JJ:  I do try to block out time to write because I really need to focus on the mental side of the music without distraction. I usually start with a guitar chord progression or “riff” and then I’ll “scat’ sing a vocal melody over that. I might even put in some vocal harmonies before I sit down and painstakingly work out the lyrics. Usually they will be based off of how the music is “moving” me at the time.

EOAF: What types of things/events/experiences inspire you to write?
JJ: Everything I’ve stumbled across in life inspires my lyrics. Mostly I generalize so the listener can put their own life into the song. Once in a while I get more specific but overall music means emotion.

EOAF: How does “storytelling” play a part in your  music?
JJ: I have told a few specific stories in the past but I feel the story is up to the listener to develop in their own mind.

EOAF: Why type of venue/music event do you enjoy playing the most?
JJ: I really like the coffee house or small “tight” room/bar. The sound quality is usually perfect for what I’m doing which most of the time is me with my acoustic guitar and maybe one other instrument at most.

EOAF: What do you enjoy the most about performing live?  Any specific experiences that stand out from your shows?
JJ: There’s an energy in the air that can’t be simulated in any other situation. There’s always that pressure to get it right and perform with the emotion that you need on a consistent basis. So playing live pulls out that inner you and when you’re on, you’re on. It’s always nice to get those compliments at the end of the night also.

EOAF: Which musician/band has had the most profound influence on your songwriting/performing?
JJ: Classic rock was always my go-to influence. I still listen to it today. Mix some old Neil Young with some acoustic Led Zeppelin, and throw in some Eagles and Steve Miller and there you go.

EOAF: What musicians would you have on an iTunes playlist?
JJ: Other then the ones I just mentioned I would go more current and throw in some Blackberry Smoke, Zac Brown, Dave Matthews, and maybe go real old school with Mozart.

EOAF: Is there a story behind your name?  If so, care to share?
JJ: Well it’s certainly not that interesting of a story but Jiggley is a real nickname that I’ve had for years. I was at a party one night up in New York and that name got stuck to me during the night somehow and of course that spread like wildfire. Everybody that ran in that circle of friends called me that from then on. Fast forward a handful of years and when this project started I thought I’d use my old nickname just for fun. Everybody once again seemed to like it, so it stayed.

EOAF: In our crazy technology driven world, what is the best way for you to get the word out about your music?  What seems to work best (word of mouth, social media, etc.)?
JJ: Definitely social media. Because of that I have an international fan base instead of just local and I’ve never left the country, so that pretty much sums it up.

EOAF: What kind of support have you received from the music scene in PA?
JJ: I love Pennsylvania and you’ll find just as many music lovers around here as anywhere else. The one problem with being from rural Pa is that there aren’t a lot of original venues around and you have to travel. As far as support goes, I have a lot of old friends from my local area who follow my social media sites.

EOAF: What do you think of the re-emergence of “roots”/”Americana” music in the mainstream?  Good, bad, indifferent?  Any rising acts that you really like?
JJ: Man if it weren’t for the re-surgence of Americana/roots stuff I think I’d be in big trouble as a songwriter, lol. I have to say that I do like The Lumineers and I think that they and maybe Mumford and Sons have really given Americana that “mainstream” push. I’m sure there are plenty of others I didn’t mention also.

EOAF: What was your experience like writing music for various MTV shows?  Have you watched MTV lately?  Do you think it still is an important avenue for musicians?
JJ: There are other music video choices these days which is great. MTV specially, though the innovator of the popular music video, has changed away from that format it seems. Maybe YouTube has something to do with that I don’t know. We didn’t write music specifically for MTV, they actually picked up what we had written and used pieces of it on the shows as soundtrack stuff.

EOAF: How has your work with Bright Star International changed you?  Why is this charity so near and dear to your heart?
JJ: To be honest, though I am on the Bright Star roster, I haven’t worked with them yet. I am definitely looking forward to working with them and the various charities that are involved with children. I have three youngsters myself and they mean the world to me. It kills me to think that there are kids out there that don’t have the opportunities to thrive in life. Bright Star themselves are not a charity but an organization that hooks artists up with charities. What a great idea !!

EOAF: Have you always been a Taylor guitar guy?  Tell us a bit about your guitar and how it helps you tell your story.
JJ: This is my first Taylor and I don’t think I’ll ever change from that. One day I picked up a friend’s Taylor and instantly fell in love with it. I just wish I had enough money to go out and grab up a few more of them. It’s mainly a comfort thing and that means a lot to me as I’m playing for long periods of time. The feel is great, the sound is great and the quality/workmanship is great. What more can I say.

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Photo by Beauty By Grace

To learn more about Jiggley Jones and his music, please visit: http://jiggleyjones.com/wordpress/

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IROCKE to Live Stream Avett Brothers’ Letterman Performance

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IROCKE, the #1 source for live streaming concerts around the world, will be live streaming The Avett Brothers’ performance on Letterman tomorrow night.  Even if you can’t be there in person, you can still catch all of the action online!

RSVP here and be sure to tune in on Wednesday, Oct. 30 (8:00 PM, ET/5:00 PM, PT).

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Interview – Bob Crawford of The Avett Brothers

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Just in time for the 55th Annual Grammy Awards, I caught up with Bob Crawford, bassist for The Avett Brothers, to talk about their new album “The Carpenter”, their first Grammy nomination, songwriting, and learning to play the fiddle, among other things:

EOAF: Congratulations on the success of “The Carpenter”.  How would you describe the album?

Crawford: Mature, thoughtful, intentional, poignant, pensive.  I think it’s heavy, and I think that’s where…I’ve had friends that I have had since I was 19, I’m 40 now.  I’ve had them say “I don’t know about this one.  It’s not your best.”  I think maybe we lose some people as we go, but maybe we gain people in some ways.  Maybe people come and go.  It’s not 2007 anymore, and it’s not 2005.  It’s a different time for us and I think you are being honest about where you are in life and that being reflected in your art and what you do and the way you do it.  It’s definitely going to change.

EOAF: How do you feel about how songs from “The Carpenter” have translated live?

Crawford: Oh they are great!  I think they have really translated.  You know what they have done?  Some of them,  like “A Father’s First Spring” and “February 7”, some of these song help us slow down on stage and try to meditate on being intense and calm at the same time.  It’s been a lot of fun.  It’s really fun to translate something like that live.  We’ve had slow songs in the past–God knows we have tons of them.  There’s a controlled, an intentional controlled aspect that comes musically, like a hang-there-in-space-and-time and have that patience.  I’ve always thought Neil Young did that so well with songs like “Harvest Moon”–how he could have a very intense mid-tempo.  That’s tricky for a musician.  It’s very hard.  The inclination is to play faster, because your heart is beating faster because you are on a stage and there are people.

EOAF: Is there any song from The Carpenter that you really love to play live?

Crawford: “Live and Die” is getting really comfortable.  It’s starting to feel like an old trusty.  We are getting better, with the last two albums, at holding songs back before the release.  We were never good at that before.  We’ve gotten better at that.  When you record the song, but you don’t really know them, you know your part and you know the section that you did a million times, but you don’t know it like when you are on stage and let it fall out of you.  When you record the record, there’s about a year before you really start playing the songs intently and constantly, and then they take on a life of their own.  So, they are coming.  Some of them are still in the coming phase, but some of them have been very surprising to play, like “Life” has been fun to play and “Paul Newman [vs. the Demons]” has been fun to play.  That can be really fun to play.

EOAF: You played “Life” for the first time live at The Christmas Jam in Asheville.  That was exciting to see you guys added last minute to the line-up.  How was that experience for you?

Crawford: It was fun!  Scott [Avett] and I used to live in Asheville, and I remember a time when the Christmas Jam came around.  For a couple of years we were asked to participate, but we do our New Year’s show in Asheville.  So it was finally good that this year we could be a part of it. It was really great, because we hadn’t played together in about a month and a half.  I mean we had practiced, but we hadn’t done a show.  It was fun because I was actually really nervous, but we did great.  I was like, “This is great I am nervous!  This is awesome.”

EOAF: That is a great feeling, and it was also a very different crowd.  The majority of the people there were sort of that jam-band crowd.

Crawford: Yeah!  It was nice to get that support.  I could also tell from the stage that [the audience was] really there to see String Cheese [Incident].  That made if fun.  It was nice to be in a room that we’ve sold out, and played two nights there before, and for it to be a new room—for the lighting to be different and for there to be no backdrop behind us.

EOAF: “The Carpenter” was nominated for the Best Americana Album award for this year’s Grammy’s.  Congratulations!  Where were you when you found out? 

Crawford: Thank you so much.  I was at home in bed.  I started getting texts saying “Congratulations” and this and that.

EOAF: How does the Grammy nomination play into your or The Avett Brothers’ definition of success?

Crawford: I think it’s always nice to be patted on the back, or nice to have someone tell you good job.  Let’s face it.  It’s great to get a compliment.  I mean, it’s always nice, but I don’t think it’s why we do it, and it’s not even necessary for us to continue doing it—to get those kind of accolades.  We’re going to keep doing what we do probably until it doesn’t seem useful anymore, until there’s no need to write songs, until we feel like we’ve plateaued, or we feel like we have nothing to say, or until people stop coming to see us live.  But I think the first thing, besides a tragedy, that would hasten us not doing it would be if we had nothing to say.  We always told ourselves earlier that we would stop doing it if it seemed like we plateaued—if it seemed like it wasn’t going anywhere any longer, you know.  I don’t know that we are there yet.  I think we hope to do it forever. Maybe there are years to take off, or we can take a break, but I hope it can still exist in the same light.

EOAF: It is great that you guys have been getting recognized more for what you are doing.  In that notoriety you have been asked to play with some pretty big names over the past two years—Bob Dylan, you’ve played for Tom T. Hall, and you did the Crossroads sessions with Randy Travis.  Is there anything from those specific experiences that really stands out to you? 

Crawford: Well they are all really touching and exciting.  Obviously the Bob Dylan thing is surreal.  It’s even surreal now because it doesn’t even feel like it really happened.  You know? It’s one of those things.  “Did that really happen?”  It was really exciting to work with Randy Travis.  He was great, I mean really awesome.  He was great to be around and a really nice guy.  I think we really blended well together.  I think it’s a nice match and definitely a connection there.  They are all really great, but we have to keep in mind that to share the stage with somebody or to collaborate isn’t the main thing.  To be able to do these things is great, and we should be thankful for them, enjoy them and savor the moment, but it’s not the main thing.  Take it as it comes, but we have that thing that we do and that needs to come first and foremost.

EOAF: Did you grown up in NJ?

Crawford: I did, I grew up in South Jersey.

EOAF: So is it safe to assume that you didn’t grow up listening to people like Doc Watson and Tom T. Hall?

Crawford: Yes, I started listening to Doc Watson in 1992.  A friend of mine drove me down to MerelFest.  Actually, the first time I saw Doc was at the Cowtown Bluegrass Festival with that same friend who told me about MerleFest.  Then I saw Doc I saw at The Bottom Line in New York City before I moved down here.  I remember the first time I saw him my friend was like, “That’s a legend.  You got to see a legend”.  I didn’t even know who he was at the time.  I was fortunate enough to see him many, many times after that.  We opened up for him one time and of course we played MerleFest all those years, and the last time I saw him was when we played the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco.  He was out there and he was playing with David Holt, and we watched him from the side of the stage.  I’ll never forget it.  It was a very sad day when he passed–very, very sad day.

EOAF: You have recently added the mandolin and fiddle to your contributions to the band.  How did that come about?

It came about because Scott and Seth [Avett] are very open to and very supportive of things that I try to do.  The fiddle has been the most recent, and I seem to be getting some traction with it.  Beginning to play something at the age of 40, you know, I wish I’d been playing all of these instruments when I was 15 or 16 years old, but that wasn’t the case.  But the fiddle has been a real mental savior the past couple of years for me, and I feel myself growing in it in a lot of ways.  Scott and I–before my daughter got sick–we started playing old-time music like Tommy Jarrell and Skillet Lickers, Charlie Poole, and Uncle Dave Macon–just old-time music and we would just kind of go do our thing.  Doc Watson when he was very young with Clarence Ashley, that’s a really good album if people can find that—really, really good.  Doc was very, very young.  It’s awesome.  Anyway, we’d just be backstage and play these old-time tunes and try to learn them.  They were just claw hammer banjo and fiddle tunes.  It just kind of grew out of that.  We still do it.  When my daughter got sick, he’d come visit me at the hospital, and we would play.  It’s kind of our thing.  Hopefully someday…well maybe even not…maybe it doesn’t have to be something that we do for people.  Maybe it’s actually something that we can do for us, but it’s been a lot of fun.

EOAF: The cool thing about when you get in the spotlight on stage, is that everyone just goes crazy.  I think it stems from the fact that the spotlight is always on Scott and Seth so much, but the fact is that you are the third brother.  When you sing your songs or do your upright bass spin [the crowd goes wild].  By the way how many revolutions can you get on that thing when you spin it around?

Crawford: (Laughs) Well like I always say, any monkey can spin a bass, and someday I am going to teach one to do it just to prove my point.  But I love this job I have and the guys I travel with and play with. I’ve been blessed in so many ways, and I am so thankful for that.  I just want to enjoy my remaining years, as many as they may be, just playing music and loving music and learning songs.  I have just been fortunate with life.

EOAFr: Have you done any songwriting recently for yourself or your side projects?

Crawford: Not since my daughter got sick.  David Childers and I did another Overmountain Man record, which will be out January 22 (“The Next Best Thing”, Ramseur Records).  It was recorded before Hallie (Crawford’s daughter) got sick, and I’ve got several songs that are on that [album].  The fiddle was kind of that thing that I did when things got out of the critical phase and I had time to tinker, you know like 45 minutes a day, or a half hour a day in the hospital.  I just kind of tinkered on the fiddle and tried to get to know that more.  I feel myself closer to writing now.  I write down little things here and there.  I think at some point, there was a time after Hallie got sick, I thought, “I’m living it, I don’t have to write about it,” you know?  Life is so intense I don’t have too much time for that.  I think the big thing that we’ve been though–my family and people who have been through far different and far worse things—in some ways sometimes I think there are far worse things that you can go through as horrible as what we have gone through.  You kind of get the feeling, and not in a bad way, that no one can really understand what you are going through or what you feel, like your friends and family members.  You kind of just feel like, man, you kind of feel frustrated and angry.  You don’t want anyone to go through what you are going through.  You certainly wouldn’t even want your worst enemy to go through what you are going through, so you feel like no one really understands what you are going through.  The idea of writing about it—if someone can’t truly understand or empathize, for good reason–what would be the point?  Other than journaling, which I have done intentionally, how would it come out and what would you say?  I think it’s just a matter of getting my head to the right place to write about it.  I think I am going to write at some point, I just don’t know what or when.

EOAF: In terms of your daughter, the entire Avett Nation community has been hopefully uplifting for you and your family.  Since then—and probably before then–a lot of the fans have gotten together around Avett Brother shows, and organized community events or fundraisers.  How does that make you feel, and what part do you think you guys play in that?

Crawford: I don’t know what part we play in it.  We do what we can, and we do as much as we can.  I know we all have charities that we support and try to do all we can for.  I am really glad people do it.  Any kind of service, I’m glad people do it.  I’d like to dedicate my life more to service.  Any time you can serve someone else, it’s probably the greatest thing you can do as a human being.  When I think about God and practicing your faith, I think that service to others is probably number one to what we can all do as human beings.  I don’t think I’ve served anyone as well as I think that my wife and I and our family has been served during our time.  We’ve been served amazingly by so many, so many friends and family members, and of course the Avett family and the Avett community has served us as well. I think that is something that I always keep my mind present to—ways to serve.  I just think service is one of the most important things that we can all be doing.  Look at the world and the country and people’s attitudes, people being divided along political lines—I think if people just focused on serving each other and serving someone other than themselves, a lot of these compromises we need would be evident.

EOAF: You guys used to play at Peasants here in Greenville, right?

Crawford: Yes, we did.

EOAF: Did you know they are reopening?

Crawford: No, but I am glad to hear that.

EOAF: There is a push to get music back in Eastern NC, so if you all are ever back in this neck of the woods, even if any of your side projects want to come through here, I know the town would be very happy to have you. 

Crawford: Thank you!

EOAF: By all accounts you were pretty instrumental in pushing the [Avetts] out of their comfort zones and having them go on tour in the beginning.  There are obviously tons of young singer/songwriters and bands in the Eastern NC area trying to make it, for example, Nick and The Babes is just one of them.  What would be your advice to a young band or singer/songwriter out of this area who really wants to get noticed?

You mentioned Nick.  He and I are friends and have worked together a little bit.  I definitely think that people should take notice to them.  I think that the advice is to get out of the area.  Spend as much time as possible on the road and just travel around and around and around and around and just try to share what you do with the country.  There really is no easy way.  I can only say this because this is what we did, and this is what works for us.  There are probably other ways to do it but I don’t know those ways.  I haven’t experienced that.  I know there is a ton of talent out there, and I wish this was a time in my life when I could go out and see more of it.  I know there are a lot of really great musicians and there is plenty to be taking notice of.   I hope they will have the presence of mind to reach outside of their comfort zone and listen to some other music.

The original interview appeared in Mixer Magazine.  I would like to thank Bob Crawford for his time. To learn more about The Avett Brothers and their music, please visit www.theavettbrothers.com.

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Album Review – Nick and The Babes’ Blue

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Listening to Raleigh-based Nick and the Babes’ sophomore album, Blue, is like taking a soul-searching drive along the back country roads between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Outer Banks — windows down, music up and heart in shambles.

Blue offers listeners a more varied musical landscape than the band’s first album, including stripped-down acoustic ballads, face-melting electric guitar jams and even a twang-heavy country duet. With production completely in-house, NATB were able to showcase songs that reflect their diverse musical backgrounds, while staying true to their trademark sound.

Upon first full listen, Blue feels innocent and even playful, yet further lyrical investigation reveals a lurking darkness. Throughout the nine-track album, NATB downshift from reckless romantics to heartbroken dreamers, tackling themes of lost love, infidelity, one night stands, regret and loneliness.

“Moving From the Bedroom” opens the album as a light and airy acoustic lover’s plea with melancholy undertones. “Magnetic Heart,” a relatable story of a love so wrong you can’t run away, shifts into a full-band arrangement with electric guitar riff teasers — the album’s first of many.

“Squeeze,” which proves to be one of the album’s best songs, has an old crooning country feel sweetened by the honey harmonies of ECU grad Anna Vaughn Creech. Though lyrics like, “I wish that I could leave my hand for you to hold at night. When you feel the tears come on, squeeze real tight” initially lend themselves to a morbid visual, the song’s powerful sentiment is delivered beautifully by lead singer Nick Bailey and Creech.

“Stalker” is a fast-paced, upbeat song that will have listeners drumming along well before they realize they are jamming out to a song about a peeping Tom. “Stalker” succeeds in the same way their first album’s hit, “Punch You in the Face,” did, showing NATB have certainly perfected this tricky style of songwriting.

After “Runaround,” the album picks up speed and the electric guitar pulls back into the lead. “Girl I Know,” which was featured in Our State magazine’s Carolina Song Contest, delivers the funk with a down-and-dirty piano and guitar duel, making it the clear frontrunner on Blue. Here, NATB successfully translate their live show energy into a studio recording, a difficult feat for any band that draws fans from live shows.

“My Love” is a spacious and dreamy instrumental that transitions seamlessly into “Morning Light,” a beautiful deconstructed acoustic ballad that ironically evokes imagery of the dreaded walk of shame. On “Blue’s” longest and final track, “Red Carpet,” NATB turn on the turbo boost and drive it home with an epic electric guitar solo courtesy of Bailey.

As a whole, Blue is a solid album. The musical peaks and valleys that are sprinkled throughout the album offer an ear-pleasing variety of sound and approach that keep the listener engaged and invested. It is clear that NATB are evolving, moving forward and feeling more comfortable in their songwriting skin.

Support eastern North Carolina music and grab a copy of NATB’s “Blue” on iTunes or Amazon.

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