Take a Look in the Book by the Legendary Ingramettes is composed of ten electrifying tracks strung together by the voices of three inspiring and talented musicians. Not only that, but this album carries 65 years worth of stories and history led by the incomparable voice of Almeta Ingram-Miller.

The story of the Legendary Ingramettes began in the 1950s when Maggie Ingram performed as a gospel singer amidst the rising popularity of black male gospel quartets. A mother of five, Maggie worked to balance her familial responsibilities with her label as the “Gospel Queen of Richmond”. She performed alongside bands including the Six Trumpets and Silver Stars Quartet until 1961 when she recruited her children to perform as Maggie and the Ingramettes. 

Throughout her tumultuous life, battling a divorce, poverty, and oppression, her reliance on Jesus and gospel music persisted. When Maggie passed away in 2015, her daughter Almeta took over the group and kept the voices of her family alive. Take a Look In the Book is the first album produced with Almeta at the head. 

The first of many memories is that of family prayer time. The Family Prayer, the first song on the album, commences with an electrifying keyboard riff followed by excited anticipation for this sacred time of day. The vocals are intense as a consistent chant, “Come on, come on, come on…,” calls listeners to share their enthusiasm. Almeta recalls that her mother would “call us ’round the table Sunday morning, one by one, name by name.” As the first song on the album, it solidifies the album’s purpose: to uplift humanity through the gospel.

The album then transitions to the title track Take a Look in the Book which maintains the feverous gospel performance. With a chorus echoing behind her, Almeta assures listeners that “You’ve got an answer to all of your problems” if you read the Bible. Other songs that highlight the relentless devotion and powerful voices of these strong women include Rock of Ages and Time Is Winding Up

As the tracks continue, dark images of realities for African Americans’ in the twentieth century pierce the gospel fervor. Grandma’s Hands, originally produced by the late Bill Withers, incorporates memories of her own grandmother who “would pick that cotton until her fingers would bleed” in rural Georgia. Another song that allows us a glimpse into Almeta’s life is When Jesus Comes. This song was written with family hardships in mind, specifically the years that followed Maggie’s husband leaving her with five young children to raise. Despite the difficulties, Maggie’s dependence on Christ assures her that “everything will be alright.” 

Perhaps the most powerful songs are those that speak to resilience and glory. I’ve Endured, originally written by Ola Belle Reed, is an eight-minute ballad that parallels the life of Almeta’s mother, Maggie. I imagine Almeta’s emotional voice is inspired by the gratitude she possesses for her mother. The final song on the album, Until I Die, speaks to the family’s devotion and strength that will persist through the hardships of life. 

Coming from someone who doesn’t consider themselves particularly religious, this album still managed to resonate with me. It exemplifies not only that faith is crucial in enduring, but also that music is a powerful means of story telling. 

Listen and buy the album here

Juanita Stein’s 10-track album Snapshot offers a profound take on grief. Produced alongside Ben Hillier, Snapshot processes Stein’s emotions following the unexpected death of her father in 2019. With her brother Joel on the guitar, Evan Jenkins on drums, and Jimi Wheelwright on bass, the talented group comes together to create a remarkable album. 

The bluesy tracks take many twists and turns as Stein leads her listeners down a psychedelic path bursting with folk, rock, and country music. The unique sound pairs well with the exploration of perhaps unanticipated feelings associated with grief. I say unexpected because grieving artists so often center their music on feelings of anger, despair, and loss. While there is no shortage of those emotions in Stein’s album, she also grapples with curiosity, shock, emptiness, confusion, and many other emotions associated with death. The instrumentals echo in the background of the lonely journey Stein takes as she encounters a new world without her father. 

Stein’s sultry voice kicks off the album in 123456 and continues to play a distinctive role throughout all tracks. Her voice works in combination with guttural electric guitars and resonant percussions to create a dream-like sensation. In the reflective LOFT, Stein ruminates on fond memories of childhood and uncovers feelings of nostalgia. In a bluesy voice she croons, “The endless starry skies, vast coastline, the distance between us and the rest of the world….” Feelings of innocence persist through this song, painting the picture of an angelic time in life.

However, songs like Hey Mama and Snapshot shatter this image of perfection. In Hey Mama, Stein addresses both her parents and expresses concern about how grief may be impacting specifically her mother. She shares, “Hey mother I’ve been thinking about your heart. The weight of this boulder drags you down too far…Hey mother, I’ve been thinking about you.” It appears she is battling not only her own grief but that of her loved ones.

The eeriness remains in the title-track Snapshots where she asks: “You are a snapshot of my mind. All I can do is build a frame, assess the memory yet again. I call your name, no one’s there. There’s no spell to ease the pain, only a photograph remains.” She sings not with anger but with a curiosity as she explores a new life without this person who played such an integral role. These feelings are perpetuated by a pulsing guitar and Stein’s luminous “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing”. 

In Lucky, perhaps my favorite song on the album, Stein questions her ability to overcome challenges. Her voice fluctuates from low and steady to high and honeyed. She begs the question: “Do I have the courage and do I have the strength to do everything I can? Start all over again?” The final song, In The End, is more upbeat and optimistic with hearty guitars strumming in the background. Stein still struggles but seems to find some comfort in the shared human experience of grief and loss. 

Juanita Stein is searching for meaning in a time of deep loss. I give her credit for sharing such a deeply personal and salient experience with the world. 

Listen to Snapshot here.

Buy Snapshot here.

Reviewed by Mae Hunt

Arlo McKinley’s soulful album, Die Midwestern, is chock-full of vulnerability and brutal honesty. Released on August 14th and recorded with Oh Boy Records, the 10-track album contains songs reminiscent of indie folk (We Were Alright) and others that are cut and dry country (She’s Always Around). The album highlights McKinley’s versatility, which is also evident in his Post Malone and Rihanna covers! In all, the album can get just about anyone feeling both sentimental and appreciative of good music. 

In 2014, McKinley released his debut album with his band The Lonesome Sound, which turned into nominations for Album of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, and Best Americana Act from the Cincinnati Music Awards. Since then, McKinley has performed alongside musicians including Tyler Childers, John Moreland, and Jason Isbell. The highly anticipated Die Midwestern speaks volumes about McKinley’s talents. I particularly enjoy the intensely personal look McKinley gives us of his life as he often reflects on his experiences living in Ohio and breaking free from ties there.

Let’s start with the title-track, Die Midwestern. The bluegrass song begins with light-hearted instrumentals – a guitar, violin, and keyboard – just the right ingredients to create a classic country cocktail. The lyrics reflect on McKinley’s rocky relationship with his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. He sings: “I’ve been thinking that I should go, ’cause if I don’t leave now I’ll never leave Ohio.” This song is a great segway into the rest of the album as it introduces the physical place where many songs take place.

The raw and emotional Bag of Pills is a frank reflection of the drug abuse plaguing his home town and impacting both his loved ones and himself. He begs, “Hell Jesus, can you save me? Didn’t think so, guess that you’re busy.” The stark contrast between powerful instrumentals and voice-cracking vocals emulates the rockiness and unsteadiness of drug use. The passion and grief McKinley puts forth in his vocals tells me how close to home this song hits.

Similarly, The Hurtin’s Done shares the harsh realities of mental illness (without glamorizing it, might I add). In chilling lyrics, McKinley sings: “Ghosts that still haunt me, I’ll fight one by one, ‘tiIl the hurting is done.” In so many of his songs, including this one, his voice is paired with simply a guitar, emphasizing the loneliness of the lyrics.

Finally, what is a classic country album without a little heartbreak? Songs like Whatever you Want and Once Again detail the different waves of falling in love. In the slow, violin-based, ballad Whatever You Want McKinley shows his romantic side and admits to being so in love he will do whatever she wants, almost giving himself up. Once Again shares that softness and vulnerability by expressing the simultaneous fear and hope that loving again may bring. Mckinley croons: “My heart is rusted I’ve been broken and I’ve been busted. But if you tell me that I can trust it, maybe this heart can love once again. 

Despite overarching themes of grief, McKinley includes glimmers of hope towards the end. In the final track, Walking Shoes, McKinley sings “I don’t wanna get high anymore, I don’t wanna fight anymore, I don’t wanna settle old scores I just wanna come home.” He appears transformed – ready to mend relationships and better himself, moving onto bigger and better things!  

Listen to and buy the album here

Interviewed by Mae Hunt

In Part Two of Wonk’s interview, we talk about her experience releasing an album in the midst of a pandemic and her new life living and working at a yoga studio in Ecuador. Wonk shares some insight into how she chooses to see the positivity in the midst of difficult times. It’s a deep conversation and emphasizes how she isn’t afraid to dance to the beat of her own drum!

WT: Wonky Tonk TL: Twangrila

TL: So the album was released in April, which was right in the midst of the pandemic. That must have been quite an interesting time to release an album.

WT: It was. And you know, I pitched it in a mystical way, of these numbers that just felt right. So, it was April 24th, and all these round numbers, I think they’re feminine and creative to me. And I was in Ecuador. I was supposed to come home. I had a tour lined up, so big, with the biggest people, Charlie Parr, and the now-deceased Justin Townes Earl. I had Wonky Tonk beers being released and distributed on two different occasions, and CD release parties, and all that stuff.

And then, my plane got canceled, COVID happened. I think it’s interesting with this record, because it fought to be alive, and I fought for it to be alive, and everyone in my life who loved the songs so much, even when I wanted to give up, they would keep it alive. And so, it felt a little bit like, it’s okay that it’s coming in COVID. I surrendered to ego and said: “You know what? We worked to give these songs the best life, and they’re going to live a really long life. It’s okay if they don’t take the world by storm and then are forgotten.” 

I feel like it’s a long con or a slow burn, instead. 

TL: Absolutely. In the midst of quarantine, I know many people felt isolated and down. In a way, the album came at the perfect time for many.

WT: Thank you. You’re such a great listener. (laughter) Thank you for understanding. You have no idea.

TL: I think the same of you, so I appreciate it! How about quarantine? I know you’ve been in Ecuador for nine months now. How have you coped with the cancellation of your tour and being stuck in Ecuador?

WT: A multifaceted, beautiful question. Right before I left for Ecuador, I had created with my friend, Rich. We made a music video for “Wonk On” that explores the five stages of grief. And in that, I embody every stage, which was a very strange experience. COVID has created this thing that has made everything that used to work not work, including our coping mechanisms.

So, after this, I go through the grief, and go through all of the stages, the depression, the anger, all of it. I’ve got that music video that’s now floating around, under the radar, which is fine because I truly believe it’ll reach who it needs to reach in these moments. And now I’m in Ecuador. It’s called Shamanic Arts in Tantra Yoga School. I googled the word and I bought a ticket and I showed up, not even knowing that Ecuador was at the equator.

I’m on a mountain and there’s someone here who is a guitar and instrument donor. He has allowed me to borrow this beautiful, handmade guitar for the last nine months. I’ve just been creating and putting a lot of energy into Patreon. Really, really taking music and Wonking it up in a really big, creative way because I truly believe that music and creation is how you heal. How you remember your heart and how you remember yourself.

I’m getting more intimate with music as it is meant to be rather than getting swept up in all of the business-y stuff that really sort of ruins my heart (laughter). That’s why I’m here in Ecuador, remembering my heart. And Ecuador’s great. 

Four of my planes going home have been canceled, so I’ve just been here. We make all kinds of  mantra videos – yesterday I even posted it. We did a goddess mantra for Shakti, this feminine energy. And then, it was like, “Oh, it’s the full moon. That should be the harvest moon. Let me do a cover of Neil Young ‘Harvest Moon.’” And so, to have these Shakti tantric mantras and then Neil Young next to each other (laughter). That’s a good summary.

TL: Thank you for sharing that. It honestly sounds like a brave decision to go down to Ecuador in the first place. I’m so glad to hear that you’re having such a healing experience and you’re able to get in touch with music in a way that you may not have been able to, had this not happened. 

WT: Exactly. It’s beautiful. It’s because I choose it, you know? I couldn’t choose my record, all of that I’ve paid for and fought for, got released and no one cares because it’s COVID, and then my tour. I always say, “How do I turn the shit into gold?” and without being delusional. I could be caught up on—I mean, I see pictures of the Facebook Memories and I’m like, “Oh, live music. Oh, the road. Oh, I miss all of this.” 

But at the same time, it’s just taking this open space and figuring out something new to do with it. 

TL: Absolutely. And you make it sound so easy, but it is an intentional decision to be able to see the bright side of that situation. I’m curious as to, what is it inside of you that allows you to make those intentional decisions and to not get hung up on the turmoil the pandemic has caused?

WT: (laughter) I can’t believe you’re 24 years old, well-spoken, and beautiful. Just everything.

TL: You’re so nice.

WT: (laughter) You’re awesome. Part of the reason I came to Ecuador was that—I have this app called “Active,” and it’s just a joke of a physical activity sort of thing. It’s what’s got me into yoga. It’s this guy that’s going, “You have survived everything up until now.” And truly, to give yourselves compassion for that, but I have gone through some—you know, everyone has those things in their life, but it was pretty tumultuous. 

And especially in the last three years, I had cervical cancer, and a brush with death engaged to a very scary, dangerous person that I didn’t know was any of that. So, coming out, I am now cancer free.

TL: Congratulations. That’s amazing.

WT: Thank you. It is amazing. I think it took that cancer, and it took this person to really rock my world. I feel like those two moments were really a smack in the face and I started listening. I know I’m this sparkles and love, but it’s not this, “Choose love and light, love is so good,” it’s that love is the hardest thing, like our exploring and our love for ourselves. And so, I had to take responsibility for, “Wow, how did I get in these situations? Because I chose them. Yes, people were bad, but I chose to be here whether I knew it or not.”

And so, I needed to learn how to love myself and to trust myself and others, because this trauma had really rocked everything. 

TL:  I’m trying to soak it in, because one of my last questions was just going to be, I know the Wonky Tonk movement is one of love. I wanted to ask what inspired that movement, but I feel like you just answered that. It sounds really like it wasn’t inspired by something external, but it was inspired within yourself. The idea that it’s a movement of self-love is something so powerful.

WT: Amen. Yes, I think just in summation of putting those two things together, that what I’m learning is that we all have a pilot light inside of ourselves, and it just needs an ignition. I think for a lot of my life, I tried to be other people’s light, being their love, being their heart for themselves, trying to save them when they wouldn’t save themselves, and that beat me down. Now, I’m learning here, and within myself, that I am supposed to take care of my own light so I can be light in someone’s lantern on their path to remember theirs.

I know that sounds all woo, but that’s that self-love. I can’t shine bright and illuminate the darkness for someone else to find their own way if my lantern is just dwindled. 

Something bad happens or something great happens. It all comes through me and I have to play guitar. I always played instruments when I was sad, and it needed to be this coping instead of a release. Now, when I’m sitting here playing things, they start in the darkness and then they turn it into this beautiful light. I just wrote a song about, “What do I do with all this pain?” I went down to lay down the guitar and I felt that I had created the darkness around me. 

I picked it up, put it back in my lap and an entire different song came out, and it was, “What do I do with this?” I feel it and I let it go in this beautiful way that’s not trite at all or contrived. I think that’s what it is, that listening, the self-love is listening to that intuition that we forget about. I could have put that guitar down and been like, “No, F it. I’m in a bad mood and I’m in this painful mood. All my friends are dying. Everyone’s sick,” this and that. 

Instead, it was something in me, just this little, tiny voice said, “No, try one more time. That’s not what we were trying to say.” And then, it came out in this beautiful strength. To listen to ourselves is the biggest love. And that’s what Wonky Tonk is, and what it continues to be in this musical world. 

TL: Absolutely.

WT: That’s why I love my Patreon because it’s a space to reinvent what Wonky Tonk is. Not even reinvent, but reestablish in the world, because music people never got it. Again, that’s self-love, trusting ourselves, to just imagine and play and listen and create and dance and sing and cry and scream. (laughter)

TL: It really does sound like there’s a little bit of magic happening in your movement and in your music-making process. I can tell that the process of creating music for you does serve as an outlet. I can assure you that your songs serve as an outlet for many people, including myself. I’m so grateful for everything that you are, and everything that you create and how you are so free-spirited and such an individual in a world that sometimes doesn’t necessarily reward that kind of individualism. 

WT: Yes, girl. (laughter)

TL: (laughter) So, thank you is what I’m trying to get at. Thank you. I appreciate it. 

WT: And thank you, because it really is, it takes one to know one. I know that’s such a phrase, but a lot of people, it takes somebody to be—if it’s not already in your language, you can’t hear what I’m trying to say or what I’m moving through, and you are there, girl. You are a match. I am so grateful that you even just exist, let alone that we get to talk. 

TL: (laughter) I feel the same. I feel the very same, so thank you. It’s been such a pleasure. I’m going to close off with the questions and stop the recording, and then we can sign off after that. Thank you so much.

Interviewed by Mae Hunt

Wonky Tonk is more than just music – she is a movement. In this long and heartfelt conversation, Wonk discusses not only her latest album, Lesson and Lovers, but she also details her music-making process, her life in Ecuador, and her latest projects (see her WONK ON video here. Read Part One of the Interview for an authentic and easy-going dialogue that illuminates Wonk’s compassion and resilience. 

WT: Wonky Tonk TL: Twangrila

Twangrila: I am here with Wonky Tonk who recently released Lessons and Lovers with her band, the High Life. First off, I have to congratulate you on Lessons and Lovers. As you know, as I mentioned, I absolutely loved the album. I think that there is such grit and fearlessness to it.

Wonky Tonk: Thank you, thank you. I love that you like it. (laughter)

TL: (laughter) Before we get into the album, I’d love to hear a little bit about how you got to where you are today. You grew up in northern Kentucky, right?

WT: That is correct. I grew up in Fort Thomas slash Covington, Kentucky. I think how I got to where I am has such a broad answer— (laughter) Yes, grew up in northern Kentucky and always felt very out of place, so travelled and created in trying to make my own space. 

TL: That’s amazing.

WT: Yes, and after all that time, I ended up at the equator. (laughter)

TL: Very far from home. 

WT: (laughter) It’s true.

TL: I also read that you served with AmeriCorps for a couple years, is that true?

WT: Oh wow, I love that you know these things. It is true. I graduated college and didn’t know what to do, so I joined AmeriCorps, this Montana Conservation Corp and I went to Montana. We would pack horses 20, 30 miles into parks in Wyoming and North Dakota and Montana. And we would build and maintain trails. And then, I came home, and I joined one in Cincinnati called Children Hunger Alliance, where we went into low-income neighborhoods and taught health and P.E. in after school programs.

TL: That’s great. I also served with AmeriCorps for a year after graduating, so I had to give them a shoutout. I think it’s definitely an important experience, so I wanted to bring that up in this conversation. 

WT: I love that. Maybe we can talk about that later because I’d love to hear about your experience.

TL: Absolutely. It was an integral experience for me, so I love to chat about it.

WT: Beautiful, I can’t wait to listen. (laughter)

TL: Great. So, getting back to the album, one thing that really struck me about it was the lyrics, and how raw and powerful they are. It’s just so clear to me when listening that they were written with such strong emotion. I’m wondering if you could elaborate a little bit on what the songwriting process looks like for you.

WT: Oh, my goodness. I always say one of my favorite songwriters is named Guy Clark. He has a song slash record, and there’s a lyric in it that says, “Some days you write the song, some days the song writes you,” and part of the reason I’m in Ecuador is, I’m quite a mystical person (laughter). I love magic and glitter and imagination. I really feel, I don’t think about a song, I don’t write it. I’m just in service to the song. I know this is kind of grotesque, but I always think about when you know you have to go to the bathroom. It’s like, “Oh, got to go to the bathroom. Have to find a bathroom. This is going to happen.” 

So, it’s at any moment that happens with a song, and it’s not that it’s inspired by anything or I’ve got a melody, nothing. It just drops from the heavens and it’s inside my brain. If I don’t do something with it, it’ll go away, and it’ll find someone else who will do something with it. So, I always keep my voice memos handy. People don’t like it too much and think I’m unprofessional, but I don’t like to edit them so much, because often a whole song falls out, and then I have to listen to the voice memo to learn the song that just came through me. Does that make sense?

TL: It does! I think it’s a powerful process, and being on the other end of it, as a listener, it’s very evident to me that the songs are so created based on strong emotion. 

WT: Yes, thank you. Again, with the Guy Clark quote, especially with records and songs, people always talk about songs being their babies. One of the things with this, I’m always like, “These songs chose me, and I need to give them their best life.” It’s not so much—aside from “Everyone’s got a Brian,” sometimes when someone makes me mad, I have to just take anger and create something else out of it, but the rest of the time, it’s more like, “Oh, these songs need the best life. How will the world hear them in the way they want to be presented?” not, “What do I want to say?” or “What do I want someone to understand?” 

It’s kind of like being of service to them and letting them speak.

TL: Absolutely. It’s so funny that you mention “Everyone’s Got a Brian,” because I did have that as a question later on. I’m very curious, if you feel comfortable sharing, what your inspiration was for that song. I feel like that song in particular’s got to have someone or something behind it.

WT: (laughter) There’s a lot going on in the world. There’s a lot of -isms going on in the world, and when I would tour, I encountered many mean sounding men. One telling me there’s nothing he can do to fix my voice, another telling me, “Honey, that’s not an amp, that’s a monitor so don’t touch anything but your guitar now, okay?” Like really condescending. 

And this particular fellow was at Fountain Square and my whole band was there. He was such a jerk face that it made the whole entire crowd at Fountain Square uncomfortable. We continued to talk about him for many band practices. It was just this joke slash release. Eventually, it became this song we loved to play the most, and I said, “You know what? This isn’t very Wonky Tonk in total understanding, but like, let’s just play it live.” Now, people when we finish playing, they’ll all scream, “Yeah, F that guy.” (laughter)

TL: It is an anthem. 

WT: It is. It’s so much fun. And it’s really fun to create something from anger, right? You can really stew in it or whatever else. I don’t want to repeat the song and re-experience the anger, because that’s just poison in my body. So, how do I turn the anger into something that is like an anthem that is fun and blows off steam? And so, it became this beautiful High Life concoction of that creative rage. 

TL: Absolutely. It’s a productive use of all that rage. I love that song. 

WT: (laughter) Thank you. 

TL: Speaking of your band, the High Life, they sounded amazing in the album as well. What was it like working with them?

WT: Oh my gosh, I love them. I love them, I love them. I always say I finally found some people that spoke Wonk, because I’ve had a lot of beautiful and talented bands, people in my life, but these musicians, we create. It’ll be during any moment where it’ll be like, “Oh.” We look at each other and we just start going off script or doing whatever else, and really just flowing with whatever the feeling is. 

We just kind of bounce the creation off of it. And again, these guys and gals are all there for the sake of the song. So, it was never part of ego or skill. It was always like, “Oh, let’s put this piano in there. I hear it. I hear it. I hear it.” And so, they put it in, and we just dance. It was such a beautiful, drama-free, organic dance and creation. I can’t say enough about how much I love all of them.

TL: That sounds like an amazing experience. They sound like great people.

WT: That is a fact, yes. (laughter)

TL: Can you walk me a little bit through the recording process, where you recorded, how long it took, anything else about it? I know it happened pre-COVID, so it probably feels like ages ago.

WT: (laughter) Right? A whole other world. Certainly. We started recording up in Akron with an old, so I thought, friend of mine and awesome musician and recorded the majority of the base of everything. We laid down all of the tracks live. But then, this guy decided to take all the tracks, take my money, and never gave me anything. (laughter) Eventually, there was this beautiful, beautiful human being who saved my butt many a time. His name is John Hoffman, and he picked up the pieces when I finally got a hard drive of things. 

And we recorded a little bit at Ultra Suede Studios, but then Ultra Suede got shut down. Then, we recorded a little bit in a basement somewhere, and then we recorded in a storage space, (laughter) and we had to convert all these file types, and I had to call in somebody else to do this. The logistics of that were painful, but the recording process was beautiful. Oh yes, and we recorded at the Lodge in Dayton, Kentucky. It just moved everywhere, just because sometimes, like in “Brian,” sometimes people can’t be people. 

But John Hoffman saved my butt. We moved from space to space to space, creating and putting back together the pieces. The actual recording of it and the painting of those things was beautiful. Lessons, for example, we had finished recording a lot of the overdubs, like the piano and the extra, beautiful glitter parts. I remember going like, “This record, it’s not done yet.” I said, “John, can I go home and write the final song, come back and we’ll try it out?” 

Again, I only had one chorus. We sat there and we just recorded the next day. I made it up, and we captured that moment, and then High Life added all the sparkles. It was  this organic process, even through all that turmoil. So, that’s a very long answer because there are two sides to it, right? The logistics in this side, and then the actual creation. So, sorry I ranted.

TL: It sounds like it was a bit of a roller coaster, but it ended up all coming together, which is great.

WT: Yes. It fought to live.

Part Two of the Interview is coming soon.

Read Twangri-La’s review of Lessons and Lovers here

Listen and buy Lessons and Lovers here

Reviewed by Mae Hunt

I imagine Zephaniah OHora has an enchanting ability to sooth a roaring crowd using just his voice. Each track in his new album, Listening to the Music, is calm and steady, filled with a tenderness and humility that is rare in music today. Though controlled, the album manages to keep listeners on their toes with the inclusion of upbeat songs bursting with steel pedal guitars, fiddles, and even some much appreciated piano. 

Originally from New Hampshire, OHora was introduced to music through his congregation’s worship group.  It wasn’t until his mid-20s, after relocating to Brooklyn, NY, when he began pursuing music professionally after performing regularly at a classic country bar, Skinny Dennis. Since then, OHora has proved that you don’t need to be a native Southerner to create classic country music. Listening to the Music was created in tandem with the late Neal Casal, whom OHora hopes is remembered through his outstanding work on the album. 

The twelve tracks are kicked off with Heaven’s On the Way, a song about appreciating daily life and enjoying the moment. Full of country twang, this happy-go-lucky song also features John Graboff on the pedal steel guitar. OHora sings, “We’re not worried about tomorrow, what’s comin’ around the bend. We’ll map it out together and raise hell along the way.” 

Though the album starts off on a happy note, it certainly doesn’t stay that way. Black and Blue, for example, is about a romance-gone-wrong, layered with guitar riffs and colorful keys. Similarly, It’s Not So Easy Today tells the class tale of trying to overcome a bad heartbreak. The electric guitar wails in the background as OHora cries, “I’ve had time to see it my way. It’s not so easy today.” 

All American Singer interrupts a slew of sad songs with its friendly optimism. Inspired by O’Hora’s own self-reflection in the wake of national political and social unrest, this song focuses on tolerance and equality. OHora says: “When it comes to crime and equal pay I think it’s time to find a better way. I’ll stand up for democracy, I’m proud to be an All American singer.” 

Finding peace through O’Hora’s identity as a musician returns in the album’s feature track, Listening to the Music. The combination of OHora’s soft voice and easy-going acoustics allows listeners to get lost in the song. When he sings, “Sends a shiver down my spine, I felt the great divine, listening to the music once again,” I can feel that shiver down my spine! 

The album’s final track, Time Won’t Take Its Time, seems to relay an acceptance with his own life. O’Hora explains how “30 is turning to 40” and that many of his plans have not yet come to fruition. Though a lot of his previous songs are focused on romance, he admits to finding peace in traveling through life “single and free.” He even graces us with a brief but impressive yodel to close out the track!


The album includes a range of emotions, from the palpable excitement in Riding That Train to the painful When I’ve No More Tears to Cry. Ultimately, OHora seems to suggest that we can find peace and solitude through good music. This quote from Listening to the Music says it all:  “An old time country song comes on and I forgot my troubles listening to the music again.”

Listen to and buy the album here.

Reviewed by Mae Hunt

If it’s one thing I’ve learned about Margo Price, it’s that she is not afraid to swim against the current. This American country singer-songwriter has found huge success, but not without turning some heads. After the success of her first two albums, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter and All American Made, Price was encouraged to ride out that success by signing with a large record label and by collaborating with popular artists. She, however, decided to take a different path and pave her own road to fame. 

Her autonomy and riskiness is evident on her latest release, That’s How Rumors Get Started. This 10-track album, signed with the indie label Loma Vista, takes musical risks that cultivate an album largely (but not entirely) defined by classic rock. The upbeat album is an instrumental powerhouse.

Price finds a lyrical balance between highly personal and widely relatable. While many songs refer to individualized experiences, such as her personal challenges with fame (Twinkle Twinkle), others refer to classic themes, such as falling out of love (What Happened to Our Love?). Twinkle Twinkle stands out on the album as the closest to hard rock that Price offers listeners. With a powerful electric guitar that drives the song, Price discusses how she coped with her transition from childhood into fame:  “If it don’t break you it might just make you rich. You might not get there and on the way it’s a bitch.”

Similarly, Stone Me toys with the idea of nostalgia in childhood and the difficulties of adulthood. This slow-paced song reminds me of the childhood chant: Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me. Price croons about how people try to drag her down with their harsh words. She says: “Through the mud and rain you can drag my name. You can say I’ve spent my life in vain. But I won’t be ashamed of what I am.” The sweetness in her voice as she sings suggests that she is taking the higher road and moving forward with her life unapologetically.

The title-track, That’s How Rumors Get Started, accurately defines this album’s overarching message. This powerful song summarizes exactly what Price is trying to get across with this album: be yourself despite what others may think. Clearly, her past challenges in the music industry have motivated and inspired Price to create this edgy album. 

Price’s carefree attitude is evident in her personal life as well, as she advocates for certain social and political movements including Black Lives Matter, mask-wearing, and closing the gender wage gap. I stumbled across one quote in a Rolling Stone review that stood out to me: “There’s countless things I’ve said that definitely cost me record sales. But you have to stand up for what you believe. When people say, ‘You’re not going to be the Dixie Chicks’ – I hate the analogy. I never was trying to be the Dixie Chicks. I’m trying to be Neil Young, motherfuckers.”

Margo Price, you are doing a fantastic job! Ultimately, this album is worth listening to not only for the musical edginess but also for the self-empowerment you will inevitably feel after listening. 

Listen to and buy the album here

Reviewed by Mae Hunt

Listening to Jason Isbell’s Reunions will inevitably leave you feeling nostalgic, but with an urge to rock out nonetheless. Backed by his band, the 400 Unit, the 10-track album mirrors Isbell’s own personal challenges while providing listeners with meticulously produced country rock music. Isbell has won four Grammys (out of four nominations!) and two UK Americana awards (out of two nominations!) – so the success of Reunions does not surprise me. Nonetheless, the Alabama singer has struck gold yet again on his seventh album. 

Let’s begin with the opening track: What’ve I Done to Help? Reflecting on our current political and social turmoil, Isbell engages in self reflection and questions his individual impact on society. The nearly seven minute song is guided by a heavy base and states: “Now the world’s on fire and we just climb higher, ’til we’re no longer bothered by smoke and sound. Good people suffer and the heart gets tougher.” This song sets the tone for the following tracks, most of which stems from self-reflection and the desire to contemplate past turmoils. 

For example, It Gets Easier is directly tied to Isbell’s own battle with alcoholism. In this song, Isbell wisely advises a fellow alcoholic that although it gets easier, it never becomes easy. In a profound verse, he sings: “Last night I dreamed that I’d been drinking. Same dream I have ’bout twice a week. I had one glass of wine, I woke up feeling fine, and that’s how I knew it was a dream.” 

Similarly, St. Peters Autograph was written for his spouse, Amanda Shires, when she was grieving the loss of a friend. This song, perhaps the most sentimental and emotional on the album, is a testament to not only Isbell’s prolific songwriting skills but his ability to pour his heart into his music. The softness of this song, Isbell’s tender voice, and the quiet instrumentals coalesce to create a truly moving piece of music.

In contrast to the intimacy of St. Peters Autograph, Overseas is a roaring rock song with bluesy undertones, combining guitar, fiddles, and synths. Also written in relation to his spouse, Amanda Shires, Isbell shares the devastation and heartbreak that comes with long-distance. Written at the time when Isbell and Shires (also a singer-songwriter) were touring separately, this is yet another powerful song that tugs on the heart-strings. 

Other songs I can’t neglect to mention include the crowd-favorite Dreamsicle, which details sad memories of childhood and left me feeling nostalgic, and Letting You Go, the album finale that follows Isbell’s determination to put his daughter’s needs before his own. The common theme strung throughout the album is perhaps Isbell’s ability to make his own personal experiences relatable, while invoking a strong sense of emotion in his listeners.

Finally, I will leave you with arguably the most nourishing and hopeful song on the album, River. In a metaphoric act, Isbell uses the river to wash away his sins, choosing forgiveness over anger. With piano in the background, Isbell sings: “River, here’s my secrets. Things I cannot tell a soul, like the children that I’ve orphaned and the fortune that I’ve stole.” It is almost baptismal, as though he comes clean after fully admitting his sins. This song is the crux of the album, as each track offers an honest look into Isbell’s life, the pain and the pleasure, with the ultimate goal of forgiveness and acceptance. It’s as though his lyrical transparency has set him free of his past, allowing him to walk confidently towards whatever his future has in store

Listen to and buy Reunions here.

Reviewed by Mae Hunt

A large majority of We Still Go To Rodeos stems from the everlasting theme of romance, both the dreamy highs and the harsh pitfalls. On Don’t Give Up on Me, Rose sings about falling for someone and fighting for that love. Rose hums, “Don’t know what your momma told you, but I know what mine told me. When you find a thing worth fighting for, you fight until you bleed.” Her voice is sweet with acoustics dancing in the background, creating a dreamlike state that correlates a passionate romance. 

In Home with You, Rose croons about a continued flame and thrill in a long-term relationship. This optimistic song expresses dreams of creating a happy life with her lover. In a slow drawl, she sings, “You’ve been my man for so long. It blows my mind how much you still turn me on.” There’s a certain beauty in embracing that old flame that never dies.
In another track-of-frustration, A Hundred Shades of Blue, Rose sings not only about feeling depressed, but also about how often these feelings are invalidated. She sings, “I know a hundred shades of blue. Yes I do, yes I do. If I described each one to you, what would you do? What would you do? Would you understand or would you reprimand each of those hundred shades of blue?” I think this song is particularly important because it validates feelings of depression and despair by emphasizing how frequently they are pushed away as temporary and unimportant.
In stark contrast to the intense highs of love, Rose also sings about the pitfalls. In You’d Blame Me for the Rain, Rose seems to have given up on a relationship that has been going downhill for a long while. It’s calm, cool, and collected which is completely different from Believe Me Angela, a bold plea directly addressed to a younger woman who had an affair with her partner. Rose struggles to balance feelings of hatred and solidarity with Angela, singing: “Angela I like that name. I know you’re not who I should blame. I talked it over with my friends and went and keyed his car instead….” 
Last but certainly not least, I can’t review this album without mentioning the opening track, which also happens to be my personal favorite. In Just Circumstance, Rose empathizes with those who are handed an unlucky deck in life. I draw parallels between this track and In a Rut, which is a fiery track that encapsulated the frustration of being in an emotional downturn. Overall, Rose has an impressive ability to encapsulate many life experiences into 12 short songs. I will definitely keep tabs on this artist and recommend you do the same!
Listen to or buy We Still Go to Rodeos here.

Reviewed by Mae Hunt

Country musician Ted Russell Kamp’s recently released album, Down in the Den, is dense with soulful and diverse tracks. Kamp is well-known as a bassist for popular bands (including Shooter Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Whitney Morgan) but takes center stage on these 14 tracks. This album, his 12th independent record, highlights Kamp’s powerful vocals, lyrical abilities, even his trumpet-playing skills. Most of the album was recorded in Kamp’s home studio, The Den, which inspired the album title. 

What impressed me most about the album was Kamp’s range, both lyrically and instrumentally. Though primarily rooted in Americana music, Kamp offers his listeners diversified tracks, which include a range of instrumentals: bass, acoustic guitar, trumpet, banjo, dobro, and keyboard. In addition, Kamp pulls in various artists to create a diverse mix of songs. All of these elements combine to cultivate an album that ranges from whimsical to sensitive to soulful. 

Down in the Den is kicked off with the upbeat and cheerful Home Sweet Hollywood. Country rock to the core, this song details Kamp’s experience being in the heart of Hollywood’s music industry and prioritizing music over money. His love for the place that he considers home is evident, as he sings: “Home sweet Hollywood, you gotta be crazy to stay. Home sweet Hollywood, I wouldn’t have it any other way.” 

In one of my favorite tracks of the album, Waste a Little Time, Kamp light-heartedly sings about romance. The song begins with a single trumpet (yes, it’s Kamp on the trumet!), which is later accompanied by guitars and keyboard (which are also by Kamp’s hand!). His musical prowess is certainly evident here, as in many other tracks. Other talented musicians join Kamp’s instrumentals, including Mike Bray (vocals), Jim Doyle (drums), and Bart Ryan (guitar). Together, the vocals and instrumentals coalesce to create a tongue-in-cheek melody: “We got nowhere to be and not a thing to do, we won’t do nothing that we don’t want to do. So waste a little time, waste a little time with me.”

In another whimsical track, Hobo Nickel, Kamp sings about a happy-go-lucky vagabond with few belongings, no destination, and loads of freedom. The song is brimming with fingerpicking banjo and guitar while Kamp sings cheerfully along. That same fingerpicking technique appears in Stick With Me, though this track introduces a sensitive element to the album. In this love song about a marriage proposal, Kamp drawls: “Must have been a million miles before I found you, waiting tables in an Oakland drive. I’m a better man and ready for a round two. I hope this ring will say what words just can’t.”

In the ballad Only Son, Kamp’s voice is joined by Shane Alexander on vocals and together their voices carry the deep track, accompanied by Dan Wistrom’s pedal steel. Only Son contemplates the concept of time and how quickly it passes: “Time rushes by like a river will flow. Years they will come and the years they will go.” As the pace and momentum increase, the instrumentals pick up and transform the track from soft to sweeping. 

Each and every one of the 14-tracks are worthy of attention, but to wrap it up, I’ll touch on the album’s finale. Take My Songs With You, written with Kristen Proffitt, is the perfect resolution. Down in the Den contains songs that can be listened to in various states. For example, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I might throw on the blissful The Good Part. On the other hand, when seeking comfort from a higher power, I would listen to the sentimental track, Hold On. Ultimately, the album’s closing track is Kamp’s hope that listeners will take pieces of the album with them moving forward. I certainly will!

Buy Down in the Den here.