Tag Archives: country

Album Review – Shovels & Rope’s “Swimmin’ Time”

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The music world has known its fair share of unforgettable husband-wife duos, from Johnny and June to Jack and Meg. Two years ago, the Charleston-based married duo Shovels & Rope — consisting of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst — exploded onto the festival scene with an unharnessed charisma and on-stage animalistic magnetism that left audiences floored. With non-stop touring and sweat-drenched performances, Trent and Hearst continue to prove that they belong among the ranks of great married musical duos.

Last month, Shovels & Rope offered up more of their soulful, folk-country flair with the duo’s new album, “Swimmin’ Time,” a nautical narrative of love and loss, drenched in haunting harmonies and stripped-down, simple arrangements. On “Swimmin’ Time,” Trent and Hearst dive deep into the abyss of emotion to give listeners a glimpse into their passionate, personal voyage.

The album opens with “The Devil Is All Around,” a vivid gospel-rock love song. With eyes closed, lyrics come to life and the listener can envision Trent and Hearst fighting through life’s obstacles together — ‘til death does part them. “Bridge On Fire” feels like a 50s throwback with a drum-rich tempo and deliberate harmonious crescendos, leaving a trail of burnt hopes and dreams in its ashy wake.

“Evil” turns up the rock ‘n’ roll and perpetuates the album’s devilish theme, with confessions of violent and ugly sins that drip with an honesty strong enough to tear down facades. “After The Storm” starts to pick up the wreckage from the first three tracks and highlights the power of Shovels & Rope’s magically interwoven vocals. Though the bulk of the track stays low and slow, it truly shines in the chorus’ momentous waves and surges of beautiful, yet guttural cries.

“Fish Assassin” is a playful but quick stomp-clapper that brings listeners to the muddy banks of intercostal waterways. “Coping Mechanism” gives listeners a current spin on a 50s rock ‘n’ roll standard, with bouncy background keys and delta blues overtones. “Pinned” leans on Shovels & Rope’s country-folk foundations and translates as a timeless duet about broken promises, cheating and unsolicited advice.

The title track, “Swimmin’ Time” buoys to the surface with church choir intensity and ghostly sink-or-swim premonitions, conjuring up buried thoughts of an apocalyptic flood. In line with the aquatic theme, “Stono River Blues” pays tribute to the waterway that flows near the duo’s home, and evokes images of Trent and Hearst exploring the tidal channel’s nooks and crannies. While the track can certainly be taken literally, metaphors are strategically anchored throughout, giving it a depth that is commonly found in Shovels & Rope songwriting.

“Ohio” takes listeners on a trip down to the murky waters of Louisiana with blazing horns and a gritty outlaw story. The brassy sway of “Ohio” adds another layer of sound to the album, giving it an even more interesting acoustic texture. “Mary Ann & One Eyed Dan” is a playful, diner love story filled with faith and potential. “Save The World” follows suit with a positivity and sweetness that permeates the energy and love often seen on stage between Trent and Hearst.

The album comes to a close with “Thresher,” a homage to the USS Thresher (SSN-593), a nuclear-powered attack submarine that was lost at sea off the coast of Cape Cod in 1963. The track chronicles the last minutes for the 129 submariners upon the vessel. With moments of faint, garbled communications and fading sonar pings to carry out the track, Shovels & Rope recreates the sinking with an eerie authenticity. Ending the album with “Thresher” leaves listeners mournful and uneasy, but also forces introspective and empathetic thought. It represents the duo’s intention and intensity like no other song on the album.

“Swimmin’ Time” may just be one of this year’s best albums. In an age when listeners can pick and choose tracks from any album, track order and album themes seem to get lost in the iTunes shuffle. However, “Swimmin’ Time” is an album that needs to be listened to from start to finish, in order. Trent and Hearst have created an emblematic masterpiece that is greater than the sum of its parts. Collectively, the album floats above the rest while maintaining a depth of soul and spirit that can shine through the thickest, foggy night. “Swimmin’ Time” sails effortlessly across the most critical of ears and marks another success in Shovels & Rope’s musical passage.

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Interview – Emily Minor

minor

“North Carolina is the best place in the entire world.  No matter where this job takes me, Carolina holds my heart.”

~Emily Minor

With a relentless loyalty to her southern upbringing, Wilmington native and East Carolina University graduate, Emily Minor epitomizes the idea that you can take the girl out of Carolina, but you cannot take the Carolina out of the girl.

Three years ago, after graduation and a life-changing experience on American Idol, Minor packed up her acoustic guitar and college memories and moved to the epicenter of country music–Nashville, Tennessee. With husband John by her side, Minor jumped into the country music scene feet first, with a big dream and nothing to lose.

Evolution of a Fan caught up with Minor recently to chat about life in Nashville, on the road, and what she enjoys most about being a musician.

EOAF: How did your upbringing affect the type of musician you are today?  What kind of music were you exposed to at an early age? 

I’m extremely lucky that I was raised in musically diverse home. Our radio played anything from Buck Owens to Stevie Ray Vaughn, from Billy Joel to Whitney Houston. I was always exposed to great music and artists.

EOAF: What musicians would you have on an iTunes playlist?

It’s a lot like what I grew up on, a little bit of everything. I enjoy some of the new country on the radio today but I really love old country. It’s not unusual to find Merle Haggard or Brenda Lee on my iPod. 90’s country is great too, I love Brooks ‘N Dunn. It’s a broad spectrum–Hall and Oates, Aerosmith, and I love working out to Katy Perry.

EOAF: What is your songwriting process like?  Do you tend to write the lyrics first or melody? 

Typically an idea for a hook comes to me first and I can usually sing it the way I would hear it in a song. Usually lyrics will come to me and then I’ll sing it back to my husband and together we’ll create a melody on our guitars.

EOAF: Do you play any instruments? 

I play acoustic guitar when I’m writing and learning new songs at home. I don’t play anything while I’m on stage and maybe eventually I will. I love to entertain and sometimes its hard to run across the stage and jump around with a guitar strapped to me. Not to mention, I play with a bunch of ridiculously talented musicians. I leave them instruments to them.

EOAF: What types of things/events/experiences inspire you to write? 

 I’ve been lucky to live a very uneventful, happy life so sometimes it’s hard to draw from personal experiences but every now and then I’ll write something that relates to my life. I find a lot of inspiration in whats going on with my friend’s life, whats going on around me, or something that has happened to someone I know back home. It’s a lot of fun to make up stories and write about them, create situations in my mind.

EOAF: Your EP has some really great songs on it.  What new songs are you testing on the road and when can your fans expect an LP?

Thank you! I have been writing a lot. At one point this summer it was like my creative juices were just pouring out of me and everyday there was a new song to write. I’m still writing a ton and now we’re in the beginning phases of choosing what songs are good enough to put on the new album. We’ll start the work for a new album this winter. I can tell you that you can expect more songs written by me and my co-writers and a lot of what you heard on the first album. Great, turn it up loud, sing-along songs and some tear-jerker ballads too.

EOAF: Where were you when you first heard one of your songs on the radio and how did it make you feel?

I was in a McDonald’s parking lot and it came on the radio. i had just finished and interview with the station and they were playing it right after the interview aired. I just sat there and listened. I close my eyes and just took in the moment and soaked it all up. And then I screamed and jumped up and down! You never really get used to hearing yourself on the radio. It’s always a treat to hear your songs played. It’s a very rewarding three and a half minutes.

EOAF: What have you learned about the music industry since moving to Nashville?

I’ve been in Nashville for three years now and my mind has been like a sponge. I just soak up everything I hear and read and try to learn as much as I can. For one, I’ve learned that there are so many talented people in town. You never know if you’re going to pop into a songwriter night and see the guy who wrote Eric Church’s “Springsteen” or hits for Diamond Rio. That’s awesome to me. I’ve also learned to be nice to everyone and to never speak badly about someone. You never burn bridges. You never know who someone is, who they know, and how it could come back to hurt you. You can’t make judgements in that town.

EOAF: How hard or easy has it been to connect with other songwriters and producers in Nashville?  

Networking is what Nashville is all about. You’ve got to shake hands–it’s just how the world turns there. It’s really easy to go into a writer’s round and hear someone great and approach them later about writing together. They’re just like you. They want to meet new people, broaden themselves as writers, and have something new to look forward to. Everyone is so friendly in Nashville, It just takes walking up and introducing yourself. Even the big time celebrities are down to earth and don’t mind stopping for a picture or to talk. I saw Vince Gill once and just walked right up to said hello. He is one of the nicest people I’ve met.

EOAF: I’ve read that you really enjoy being out on tour.  What are your favorite and least favorite things about being on the road?  

Of course playing to new people and being on stage is the best part, but I also just enjoy the riding time with my band. We’re one big family, they’re the brothers that I never had. We joke on each other, laugh, get into a little trouble. When you’re on the road for that long with the same people, you have no choice but to like each other and make the most of it. We have a great time. My least favorite thing would be missing out on friends and family things. I have to miss a lot of birthdays, weddings, family dinners–and sometimes that’s tough.

EOAF: What type of venue/music event do you enjoy the most? (listening room, bar, club, festival, songwriters session, etc)?

It’s so hard to choose because they’re all great. I love to play a listening room or writer’s round because it’s very intimate and people are there to listen to your work. They listen to your lyrics, take it all in, and really hear the message you’re trying to deliver. Festivals are fun too because it’s family friendly and I love watching all of the little kids dance around and have a good time. It’s also a great way to meet the fans, hear what they have to say, and get your music in their hands. I really enjoy singing the National Anthem too and I’m always honored to be asked.

 EOAF: What do you enjoy the most about performing live?  Any specific experiences that stand out from your shows?

Nothing is better than being on stage. It’s a high for me. Every now and then we’ll take some time off to recharge or spend some time writing and after a couple of days, I’m losing my mind! I’m ready to get back on the road and play. the best part is watching people sing along to the songs you’ve written, or having them request that you play one of your own songs. That’s always the highest praise. My shows are always super fun but for the most part nothing crazy usually happens.  I once had two grandmas start fighting while we were playing. It was hilarious.

EOAF: Tell me a little bit about your backing band.  How did you guys get together?

We all met through mutual friends. That’s how it works out there. You start playing with people and then they’re unavailable for a gig so you call a friend of theirs who can do it and it’s all one big link. Right now I’m very fortunate to have some talented guys on the road with me. My guitar player is my husband, John, and with him we have a fiddle player, bass, drums, acoustic guitar, and occasionally keys. Not to mention they’re all super nice and down to earth which goes along way with me. You can be a really great player but if you aren’t easy to get a long with and friendly, it’s not going to work out.

EOAF: What is your favorite song to cover and why?

I love to do anything by Aerosmith. If I could die and come back as someone else in this world, I’d be Steven Tyler. I just love everything they’ve done. Right now we cover “Crying”. I saw Steven Tyler and Carrie Underwood cover it and I thought, “I HAVE to do that!” I also love the song “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You” by Heart. I watched my Mama sing along to it on the radio as a little girl and I love singing it now. I’m country to the bone but I’ve got a little bit of a rock ‘n roll heart too. I’d love to work some Fleetwood Mac into my set.

EOAF: What is your “must have” when you are on the road?

I always have my own pillow and blanket. I’m peculiar about hotel linens and their cleanliness so I always have my own blankets and pillows. I’d also be lost without dry shampoo for my hair.  It’s great for in-between days. Oh yeah, and my husband. He manages me and plays in the band so I probably shouldn’t leave him at home or I wouldn’t know where to go or what to play!

EOAF: How do you feel when you come back home (to NC) to perform? 

North Carolina, especially Greenville and Wilmington, have been so good to me. And even all of the little towns around. Everyone is so supportive and caring. I can always count of seeing some familiar faces in the crowd and someone is always wanting to feed us or offer up a shower and bed for a nap.

EOAF: What do you miss about Greenville?  How did your time at ECU prepare you for where you are today?

Greenville is so wonderful and near and dear to me. I grew up in Wilmington but in a lot of ways I feel like I really grew up and learned who I was in Greenville. The small town, the close-knit community, I just love that. I really miss Saturdays in the stand cheering on the Pirates too and tailgating with my friends. I majored in Education at ECU. I thought I needed a “real” career, but I started a band while I was in college. Getting my start playing around Greenville really taught me so much and prepared me to move the band to Nashville and take this more seriously.

EOAF: What do you do when your aren’t writing or touring?  Any other interests or charity work?

I’ve been blessed to work with some great charities over the past couple years. I’ve done some breast cancer and heart research events and I always appreciate being asked to join them. I try to spend as much time with my family any chance that I get. We are all very close and I miss them terribly. On normal days, I spend my time doing things like grocery shopping (my favorite place!) and laundry. I find them relaxing and it brings a sense of normalcy and routine to my life.

EOAF: What advice would you give to a young musician who wants to pursue a music career?

Start a band! Play! To anyone who will listen, it doesn’t matter if you make money. The money will come. Just start a band with really great musicians, practice, take yourself seriously, but not too seriously. No one likes a big ego. And get on the road and play, get your music out there. It doesn’t hurt to move to one of the music capitals of the world,  Nashville, LA, New York. Atlanta’s music scene is really growing a lot too. Surround yourself with people who are doing what you want to do.

It is clear that fame and recognition have not gone to Minor’s head.  She maintains her homegrown charm and light-hearted spirit, which translates into relevant music that keeps her fans coming back for more. Minor’s fall/winter tour is underway.  Check out her website and catch her as she blows through your town!

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Spring Music Festival Spotlight – MerleFest 2013

Racn - 2002

MerleFest, April 25-28, 2013 @ Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro NC

MerleFest is a family friendly music festival that was founded in 1988 in memory of Eddy Merle Watson — son of American music legend Doc Watson.  For over 25 years, the festival has maintained its original purpose–to raise funds for Wilkes Community College while celebrating “traditional plus” music. Today, MerleFest is considered one of the top music festivals in the country, drawing more than 75,000 festival goers and some of the biggest names in traditional bluegrass, country, Americana, folk, rock and more.  This year’s festival will feature over 90 musicians on 14 stages over the course of four days, so festival goers are encouraged to download the MerleFest app before they arrive to ensure the ultimate festival experience!

In true MerleFest fashion, festival organizers have gone above and beyond to congregate the best of the best at WCC.  This year’s lineup features rising musicians like The Black Lillies, Pokey LaFarge, and Delta Rae alongside industry vets like Jim Lauderdale, Jerry Douglas, and headliners The Charlie Daniels Band, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Warren Haynes & Gov’t Mule. Additionally, local favorites, The Avett Brothers, have signed-on to closeout the festival on Sunday afternoon, but not before their talented father, Jim Avett, takes the Creekside Stage to perform a special family gospel set.  In addition to this year’s stacked lineup, Sam Bush will host an all-star tribute jam on Saturday night to honor the life and music of the festival’s founding father Doc Watson, who sadly passed away last year.

While it is true that MerleFest mainly involves relaxing and enjoying the company of old and new friends while taking in amazing live performances, there are also several opportunities for fans to get involved and play some music themselves.  Musically inclined fans can join others to pick, sing, and learn at Jam Camp, Pickin’ Place, and The Songwriters’ Coffeehouse.  Young festival goers may enjoy spending some time in the Little Pickers Family Area, while fans of all ages can venture out into the WCC campus woods for a Nature Walk.  MerleFest also features a series of contests for musicians and songwriters, including The Merle Watson Bluegrass Banjo Championship, The Doc Watson Guitar Championship, and The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.  The twelve finalists for the CASC will perform on the Austin Stage on Friday, April 26th at 2:00 PM, and will be judged by a panel of music industry professionals, including Jim Lauderdale.  The first place winner will receive a performance slot on the Cabin Stage that evening.  All proceeds from the CASC benefit the WCC Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship.  And, last but certainly not least is the Saturday night Midnight Jam — a fun and often rowdy festival tradition!

If you are looking for a music festival to kick off the spring season, MerleFest is for you!  Load up your car, head out to Wilkesboro, set up a tent at one of the many surrounding campsites, and be prepared to have your mind blown by some of the music industry’s best.  Multi- and single-day tickets are still available. For more information about MerleFest, musicians, and festival events, please visit  www.merlefest.org.

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Jim Avett @ In Your Ear Recording Studio – Richmond, VA

Storytelling and Songs

Storytelling and Songs

To launch their 2013 concert series, JAMinc.–a local non-profit organization that promotes music appreciation through education, performance, and support–brought in singer/songwriter/master storyteller Jim Avett from Concord, NC to perform for a sold-out crowd at In Your Ear Recording Studio in Richmond, VA this past Friday night.

As a part of his collaboration with JAMinc., Jim spent time before his evening performance visiting two Richmond schools–Maggie Walker Govenor’s School and Douglas Freeman High School. This push to get talented musicians into Richmond area schools is part of the core mission at JAMinc. Over the past decade, they have successfully reached over 47,000 K-12 students in the Richmond area.

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

During his time with the students, Jim shared his stories and songs, and offered them encouragement rooted in reality. He “encouraged them to be the best they can be,” not only in music, but also in life. This “just do your best” theme is pervasive in any music from the Avett family, indicating a firm belief that each of us has a purpose in life, and doing our best is always enough to make an impact.

Later that evening, music lovers gathered in the listening room at In Your Ear Recording Studio for Jim’s show. Many of those present had never seen Jim perform live, but were eager and excited to hear the music of the Avett family patriarch. Little did they know, they were not only about to hear a gifted singer/songwriter, but also one of the best storytellers this side of the Mason-Dixon line.

Unlike the crowd, I have had the pleasure of seeing Jim Avett perform several times. While no two shows are alike, I have heard most of his stories a time or two. Though he is always quick to apologize for his redundancy, it is in his redundancy that lessons are reinforced and new connections to music are created. Therefore, it’s not surprising to still find myself completely engaged and entertained when he dives into one of his old trusty tales about getting his first guitar, the art of picking, or his admiration for great songwriters like Tom T. Hall. Somehow Jim’s stories never wear thin. They never get old. Perhaps it’s his lighthearted country charm and down-home humility, or the simple wisdom and appreciation for what is true that keeps listeners like myself coming back for another helping of Jim Avett.

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

Flanked by lead guitarist Ray Morton and fiddlers Ali and Justine Parker, Jim took the stage in his trademark cowboy hat and black leather vest, and did what he does best–took listeners on a musical journey through his life. During the first half of the show, Jim wove childhood stories in with the songs that have shaped him into the musician he is today. His set list was thoughtful–deliberately complimenting tales about growing up in the foothills of NC, learning his first guitar chord progressions, and stealing history lessons from Johnny Horton songs. He delighted the captivated audience with classics like, All I Have to do is Dream, Wreck of the Old ’97, Sink the Bismarck, Keep on the Sunny Side, (Old Dogs, Children and) Watermelon Wine, and Hey Good Lookin’.

After a short intermission, Jim, Ray and Ali returned to the stage to play original tunes from Jim’s most recent albums “Tribes” and “Second Chance”–and you better believe that the stories continued as well. As Jim explained the details behind each songs, it was evident that he not only writes from personal experiences, but also through a keen observation of others, which he displayed in songs like Willard and Decisions. Through his tough facade, hardened by a lifetime of honest and dirty work, a sweet and candid family man emerged as he spoke fondly of his his wife Susie and their three children. With ease, he admitted his propensity for writing love songs, before transitioning into some of his favorites including Leaving Knoxville, Through the Passing Years, Tribes, and Saying Goodbye. Jim also treated the audience to a new song called, World Goes Round and Round–a heartfelt story of a grandaddy walking along a wooded path with his granddaughter and offering up a lifetime of advice.

With his first performance in Richmond, VA on the books, Jim proved, once again, that he is a master of lyrical imagery. With his stories and songs, he painted a picture of a simpler, fonder time that many of us long for, as we forge ahead into the tech-savvy, hustle-bustle world in which we live.

In a city so defined by its history, Jim Avett has gifted Richmond with his own little piece of the past–a kind reminder that sometimes we must look back through the history of music to allow ourselves to evolve and move forward in our own story and song.

Take a listen to a short interview with Jim just before his set at In Your Ear Recording Studio:

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A Legend Lost – Doc Watson (1923-2012)

Docs in Boone, NC

This week we lost one of our most treasured Americans.  After a full life of hard work and harder flatpicking, legendary musician Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson peacefully passed on at the age of 89.  Born in Deep Gap, NC, Doc was known far and wide as a masterful guitarist and storyteller whose music spread across countless genres, including folk, bluegrass, country, gospel and blues.

Two years ago I was fortunate enough to catch Doc’s set at the Newport Folk Festival.  I, like many who did not grow up in the south, knew ‘of’ Doc but was not being very familiar with his canon of work.  When I saw that he was in the line-up, I knew I couldn’t miss out on the chance to see and hear him perform live.  On that sunny Saturday in late July, festival goers of all ages funneled their way into the small space between the main Fort Stage and side Harbor Stage to be within an ear shot and maybe even get a glimpse of NC’s native son.  Joined on stage by his longtime musical partner David Holt and grandson Richard Watson, Doc treated us all to an unforgettable musical experience that afternoon.

During his set I felt like I was sitting on Doc’s front porch listening to him pick, sing, and tell stories, rather than standing shoulder to shoulder in the hot sun with hundreds of fans.  His songs told stories of love, the Lord, and life’s lesson.  Between songs, he captivated the audience with tales of his childhood and his lovely wife Rosa Lee.  Despite his age, Doc still possessed an impressive nimbleness in his fingers and a childlike spirit.  There was a natural ease about him as he talked to his fans as if they were kin.  Throughout the set, bouts of laughter and song rang out from the crowd, and it was easy to see how this humble, honest man from NC had made such a profound impact the world of music over his lifetime.

Doc Watson was one of the greatest musicians of all time, and he selflessly shared that gift with the world over the past eight decades.  While Doc certainly leaves behind a tremendous musical legacy, he also leaves each of us a sweet reminder to make the best of the life we are given.  Though he wanted to be seen as “just one of the people”, Doc will always be remembered as a gift from above.  Rest in peace Doc.

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