Reviewed by Harry Kaplan

This absolutely floored me. No, it isn’t country music. It’s jazz. And it is some of the best jazz I have ever heard. This is why doing deep searches in Bandcamp pays off. Sometimes, you just get sand, but on this day, I found a flawless diamond. Her name is Muriel Grossman and she plays the saxophone as if it is a part of her. And it most certainly is. She is also the leader of the band. After three minutes of listening to Quiet Earth I knew this was something special. It isn’t your standard five piece jazz ensemble either. There is electric guitar and Hammond organ in addition to the drums and bass. The shortest song is eight minutes and the longest is 11:30, but the time goes fast. It is such an easy listen.

Grossmann is Austrian born and grew up in Paris. She played the flute until she was 21, when she switched to saxophone. She moved to Barcelona in the early 2000s, where she started to lead and manage her own band. This is also when Grossmann started to record and take a very active role in the recording process. She has played all over Europe and throughout the world. It does not appear that she has ever played in the US, which has to change. Once things get back to some semblance of normalcy.

One of the jobs of the band leader is to find like minded musicians that share the same musical vision and are brilliant players. Mission accomplished. These bandmates are technically brilliant and are able to improvise on the spot and move through transitions flawlessly. And they all deliver. Muriel Grossmann is playing tenor saxophone with Radomir Milojkovic playing guitar, Llorenç Barceló on the organ, Uros Stamenkovic on the drums, and Gina Schwarz on bass.

When a song starts with a little bit of strings and an absolutely blissful sax solo, count me in. Wien is an 11 minute musical journey to the stars and back. It literally elevated me and took me to places I have never been. What am I hearing? What is is it about this song that affects me so profoundly? When I dig deep and really explore the music, I think the reason is that this reminds me of a cross between something from Sun Ra or some of the more experimental Miles Davis such as Bitches Brew. What starts out as a fairly traditional sounding jazz number quickly evolves into a semi-psychedelic voyage with lush sax, flawless drumming, bluesy organ, innovative bass, and some twangy guitar that would sound right at home on any country record.

Beautiful percussion is how I would describe the opening of Quiet Earth. Then it quickly morphs into an almost structureless being. It seems everyone is playing something different. But it still works. As a listener I feel as if I am on the ground floor of something that is building and gaining momentum. The dissonance soon gives way to some beautiful and free and filled with purpose and meaning. The song then does a dance between form and structure and controlled chaos. It all works perfectly, and at the end of the journey, I feel as if I travelled many miles.

After having gone through many listens already, I am still eager to hit the play button when the music stops momentarily. Like any journey, there is much to be gained by repeat visits. I always discover something that I had never noticed before. That is the beauty of music and it is present all over in Quiet Earth. If you will excuse, my exploration is about to begin.

Listen and buy here

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan

The more I hear Charley singing, the more I absolutely love him. He is the perfect example of someone who is at the top of their craft. Not only does he have enormous talent and charisma, he also is perhaps the hardest working man in show business, now that James Brown is gone. Charley keeps his head down and accomplishes his goals. A good comparison to Charley is Peyton Manning. Another person with enormous talent with an incredible work ethic. This work ethic is apparent in Charley’s recordings. You can hear his perfection and demand for high quality. Welcome To Hard Times is a magical collection of tunes that are modern but could have been released 70 years ago and fit right in.

We don’t have the musical idols like we used to. Guys like Sinatra, Martin, Bennett, Redding, and Gaye were almost larger than life. If we had that era back, Charley would be right up there in the conversation with the legends. Yes, I said legend. And I didn’t name even close to all of them. Charley has amassed quite a healthy catalogue! In the last five and a half years, Charley has released eight albums. That’s approaching Beatle status. And all of the music is great. Again, that goes back to Charley’s work ethic and blue collar ethos.

It is extremely difficult to put Charley’s music in a box as far as classification. You will hear everything from blues, rhythm and blues, soul, rock and roll, classic country and outlaw country in Charley’s music. He is all those things, but should not be classified by anyone genre individually.

The Man That Time Forgot is a perfect example of the difficulty of trying to classify Charley’s music. This song has at least 4 different genres represented. But who’s counting? Every influence just makes the music more rich and full of little Easter eggs. This ditty starts off with some gorgeous pedal steel and quickly fades and Charley starts singing. Sad songs are part of country music and Charley certainly knows how to construct a tear jerker:

Have you ever seen a stranger just a-passing through?
And wondered where that drifter, he was headed to?
Well, the stranger’s me and it’s plain to see
I burn every bridge that I cross
I’m the man that time forgot
And I’m the man that time forgot
Yes, I’m the man that time forgot

The Man That Time Forgot by Charley Crockett

That’s a serious box of tissues right there. The realization that you aren’t the man that everyone thinks you are. The imposter syndrome. This is some seriously introspective writing.

It doesn’t get any easier. The next song, The Poplar Tree, is a song about the tree where the character of the song gets hung by the very tree that he writes about. As he was thinking about his broken heart, thanks to his girl who just left him. This is a classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was witness to a shootout where the criminal was killed. When the criminal’s posse caught up with the heartbroken man, they hung him for their leader’s murder. The song has a beautiful old timey musical feel to it, similar to something Marty Robbins might have sung.

As the title and title track suggest, these are hard times. Welcome To Hard Times is not just a song or an album title, it is a prophecy. “The dice are loaded and everything’s fixed. Even a hobo will tell you this.” Pretty heady words and this is a sentiment that everyone feels. Especially now. Life definitely isn’t fair or linear. I don’t know if this song was written prior to the pandemic, but it couldn’t fit any better into what is going currently going on. Charley has his finger on the pulse of the nation.

If you are looing for well written, high quality music that is packaged in a country music and rhythm and blues decorative box, this is for you. Look no further than right here. Once things get back to some semblance of normal, it will be the year of Charley Crockett.

Listen here

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Reviewed by Mae Hunt

Chicago Farmer’s Flyover Country has a classic, honky tonk sound that shares relatable stories geared towards our nation’s working class. The album reminds me of the phrase work hard, play hard – so many of the lyrics share stories of folks spending days working and nights letting loose. At first listen, it’s a folk-filled, southern album that will undoubtedly spark a singalong. But each time I listen, I dig up more pockets of cleverness that further convince me of Chicago Farmer’s (AKA Cody Diekhoff) lyrical and poetic ingenuity!

Let’s start with the fun stuff – there is no shortage of creativity and humor in these songs. The album begins with Indiana Line, a twangy narrative about a guy whose road-tripping from Illinois to Indiana to pay off his debts. Diekhoff leads the song on vocals and acoustic, while harmonicas, keys, bass, and drums swing alongside Diekhoff’s confident voice. As the song continues, the character’s swagger diminishes along with the likelihood of him paying off his debts. By the end of the song, he’s being chased by flashing lights, suggesting he won’t reach his destination. A true singalong song, Indiana Line is a great start to the album. 

All in One Place is another upbeat track about someone counting up their money after a long day’s work and blowing it in one place (probably a bar). Despite the light-heartedness, there’s an underlying feeling of frustration from an inability to get ahead financially. It was clearly written with heart and directed towards those who make less than they deserve. If you can’t already tell, a common theme throughout this album is making (and spending) money.

Another standout is $13 Beers, which I imagine will give just about anybody a good laugh. This song tells the story of a man who, after a long week of work, wants to get good and drunk. But, Diekhoff sings: “when I stepped inside I began to shed a tear when I read a sign that said 13 dollar beers.”  This relatable song has a bluegrass country feel paired with a strong distaste for overpriced drinks. 

Despite the obvious humor, $13 Beers (along with others including Collars and Dirtiest Uniform) opens the door for a real conversation on gentrification and comparing white collar America versus blue collar America. The entire album includes frequent but tactful commentary on the economic divide in our nation. Chicago Farmer makes a potentially controversial issue non-divisive because…well, who wants to pay 13 dollars for a beer? 

The album’s versatile, as some songs  (like Indiana Line) are perfect for kicking off the weekend, while others (like Collars) are more reflective. All of them share an underlying appreciation for living and working in the south and all that comes with it.  Ultimately, Chicago Farmer unveils a true appreciation for the flyover country – or the middle states that many Americans (especially wealthy Americans) only see when flying from coast to coast. 

Listen here

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Reviewed by Harry Kaplan

Did you ever hear the story about the country music star that did it his way without any major label support and has a following as large and as fervent as any performer out there now? Of course you have. I am talking about Cody Jinks who single handedly built a musical dynasty by doing it himself. It really is an astounding story. I would love to spend more time and really analyze how he was able to accomplish this feat and play Red Rocks as the pinnacle of his success. This is a big deal. Indie guys, regardless of the genre, don’t play Red Rocks. This is sacred ground for bands like The Grateful Dead, U2, Phish, etc. That is until last year.

Not only did Cody play the hallowed ground of Red Rocks, he sold it out. Another incredible feat considering he didn’t have close to the promotional and advertising budget as the majors, or with the aid of a ton of sponsorship money. This is also a credit to Cody’s fervent fan base that would literally follow Cody anywhere he played. Just watching the livestream and listening to the brand spankin’ new live album, I am astounded at the quality of the audio and video. It is flawless and really makes the watching and listening experience something quite special. Good quality is one of those things that most folks don’t notice, until it isn’t there. Luckily with both mediums, quality is available in abundance.

Another “wow moment” for me is the interaction between the crowd and the band. Oh, the band. I will get back to the chemistry between Cody and the audience in a few, but right now I want to give props to the band. I am completely impressed by the playing and the non verbal communication between Cody and the band. The playing is seamless and never misses a note or a beat. When we pull back the curtain, there is Austin “Hot Rod” Tripp playing those beautiful fills on the pedal steel. And yes, he lives up to his name because those solos are “trippy”. Keeping time and laying down some great rhythms is Dave Colvin (drums). Joshua Thompson is the man who fills out the rhythm section and slaps the bass strings. Drew Harakal plays the keys and also acoustic guitar. Rounding out the band is the lead guitar player, Chris Claridy. If there is a style of music that Chris can’t play on guitar, let me know.

Now back to the audience. The interaction between Cody and the audience is something special. It shows the real connection Cody has with his fan base. This isn’t the “usual” audience/band relationship. It is much deeper. When I hear the audience singing all the words of the songs as loud as Cody, it gives me chills. On the livestream right after Somewhere In The Middle, Cody acknowledges the audience participation as well as the major market snub by stating, “For having never been played on major market radio, there’s a lot people here singing along.”

There are so many memorable moments on this collection to mention them all, but I would be remiss if I didn’t at least write about a some of them. I was really touched when Cody sang Mama Song with his mother. That was really special and was definitely one of the highlights for me. Big Last Name was another one. Along with Cody, Paul Cauthen is another country musician that I follow very closely. To see him come out for a cameo on this song was fantastic. And by the way, Paul has an amazing voice, too. I wouldn’t be able to do a proper review without mentioning I’m Not The Devil, which Cody and company deliver so beautifully that the only way you know it’s live is because of the crown noise and singing.

I love songs that are heavy with pedal steel and Hippies And Cowboys delivers the goods. This song starts off almost like a jazz or blues number with a lot of open space and very soothing, cosmic cowboy riffs. The song naturally veers back into the country comfort zone, but this intro shows the versatility of Cody and the band. They mix it up musically. This is not a formula driven song. This autobiographical account does a great job of summing up Cody’s musical and world philosophy. Just a simple guy who happens to be one of the hottest performers on the planet.

There is that intangible energy there that also comes through loud and clear on the livestream and the album. I am sure being there in person was the greatest thing ever, but the live album does a great job of capturing 90% of the emotion and gravity of this momentous event. The other 10% is reserved for the people that were fortunate enough to see, hear, and feel everything in attendance on July 13, 2019.

Listen and buy Red Rocks Live here.

Los Angeles-based artist Kyle Lalone revealed his musical prowess in his latest album, Somewhere in Between. Released in April 2020, these five songs epitomize classic country music with unmatched lyrical and instrumental cohesion – which is no surprise considering he graduated from Berklee College of Music. Lalone wrote each song based on his personal journey with sobriety, heartbreak, and self-exploration. Though this is the first time I’ve encountered Lalone’s music, I know it won’t be the last!

The short album kicks off with Think Myself to Death, a youthful take on life’s uncertainties. The combination of pedal steel guitar and Lalone’s smooth voice (which was made to sing country music, by the way) creates a classic, upbeat twang. Lalone questions past choices, like moving away from his hometown and choosing to pursue country music. He speaks on the dangers of overthinking – oh, how relatable – and admits: “If I keep doing this, I might think myself to death.” 

The second track, Our Love, is a light-hearted song about falling out of love. Similar to Think Myself to Death, this song has all the key tenets of classic country music, from heavy acoustics to a honky tonk swing. In the uncharacteristically upbeat breakup song, he sings, “Our love ain’t what it used to be, it’s like driving around on a tank that is empty.” Lalone reminisces on “how it used to be” with a charming level of acceptance that he needs to move on. 

The heartbreak theme prevails in Warning Signs, though this song shifts the album from upbeat to melancholy. The slow rush of guitar emulates the aching pain of a breakup while Emily Hulslander’s soft vocals echo in the background. Lalone sings about adjusting to life without his partner, acknowledging that, “You and I rode that train until it came off the tracks, got back on time and time again….Never thought this ride would ever end.” The slowest of the five songs, Warning Signs, depicts a man struggling to balance his lingering affection for a past partner with his awareness that the relationship is over, perhaps for the better.

Lalone continues to share pieces of his past in Always Trying to Quit, a song about battling addiction. He reminisces to the days that he spent getting drunk and high only to wake up the next morning and do it all over again. He sings: “I’ve put down the bottle dozens of times, thrown my bag away…then I start thinking, get lost in my head and be drunk by the end of the day…” Similar to Our Love, this song addresses a somber subject with a level of charm and optimism unique to Lalone.

He leaves us with a truly hopeful song, as the closing track, I’m Not Gonna Drink Over You, is about moving on from his two major struggles: heartbreak and addiction. And he’s right to end the album on a positive note, as the future looks bright for this budding artist! Lalone is currently recording songs that will be released in 2021, so keep your eyes out for his newest music.

Listen and buy Somewhere In Between here

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan

This is just what the doctor ordered! Some old fashioned noise rock in the vein of The Velvet Underground, Jesus and Mary Chain, Stooges, et. al. Just some great psychedelic tinged rock and roll. I was beginning to think that rock music out of the United States was dead on arrival, but here comes Slacker Paint by the Mary Veils. I know it is only one release in the sea of auto-tune, but I am still very optimistic. I scan and listen to new releases almost every day and most are disappointing. Then I found this diamond in the rough.

The Mary Veils are A Philadelphia, PA based garage rock act. Starting out as the solo project of songwriter Brian Von Uff. Maybe Philadelphia is becoming a hub for ambient and garage-y rock and roll. The Mary Veils fit in nicely with other Philly based bands such as The War On Drugs, Low Cut Connie, and Ron Gallo. Ron now lives in Nashville, but he still has very deep Philly roots.

This really takes me back to the 80s when noise pop was in its infancy. The use of cacophonous sounds blended with lush vocals and harmonies to create a sound that is gorgeous and complete ear candy. I haven’t used that phrase in a while, but this is well deserving of that description.

Cold As A Knife is the first song that caught my ear and it isn’t letting go. This number touches me at a deeper level than just auditory. With vocals that are reminiscent of Gish era Smashing Pumpkins, this song is a musical journey and not just a song. Plenty of feedback and atypical sounds are blended with pitch perfect vocals and a serious groove that is as deep as a trench. The feeling this song evokes is a combination of contentment, peacefullness, and a tinge of chills. This is a song in the Twangri-La wheelhouse.

The Mary Veils dabble into some good punk rock power chords and vocals as well. These guys know their way around the world of 80s and early 90s post punk. Time is a little punk ditty that is effervescing with pure sonic energy. This may have been recorded in a studio but this has such a live feel. It seems they let the tapes run and just fuckin’ play. I respect the hell out of that. Plenty of ear-pleasing feedback. In case you were wondering what my favorite instrument is, it’s feedback. In addition to the lovely feedback, there are some luxurious backing vocals that in perfect balance with the feedback and the noisier elements of the song.

If you like your psychedelic music pure, as I do, then you must have a listen to The Mope. This song is heavy and dirgy, and oh so pretty. The super loud and distorted guitars are in the right place at the right time. Once the vocals begin, it’s like a Mevins/Black Sabbath hybrid. A perfect rock and roll number, if ever I have heard one. Because there is great vibe and a great melodies and harmonies, it doesn’t play quite so heavy.

It certainly has been a while, I thought rock and roll was on life support. Slacker Paint has made me change my mind. This is the auditory equivalent of having a meal at a four star Michelin restaurant. The big diffy is it won’t set you back $500 per head and you can keep your distance.

Listen and buy Slacker Paint here.

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan

This is such an intriguing release! I had never heard of Bob Frank before I got this package. I am glad this was sent to me for review. Bob Frank was a great songwriter and his music was perfect for the late 60s and early 70s. In a time when people like Jim Croce, Gordon Lightfoot, Cat Stevens, and John Denver were at the top of the charts, Bob Frank would have been an incredible compliment to those artists. Bob sang about everything including drugs, bugs, and vagrants. His writing had an incredible feeling to it. Bob was able to get down to brass tacks when describing any subject and write about it in a way that hadn’t been written before. Bob Frank was picked up by Vanguard Records in the early 70’s when Vanguard was a really big deal.

The relationship went south when Bob realized that the label wasn’t being completely honest with him. It seems executives told Bob that he had veto power over the album and that anything he wasn’t comfortable with, he could over rule. Unfortunately, this was not the case and didn’t sit well with Bob. This conflict came to a confluence one night in New York City and Max’s Kansas City. Max’s was a very famous music club at that time with the who’s who of alternative music playing there. Artists such as Iggy Pop, David Bowie, The New York Dolls, and the Velvet Underground were regulars. Bob was scheduled to do a musical showcase playing live versions of the songs on his Vanguard release. Because of the acrimony and broken promises, Bob decided not to play those songs and played new songs he was working on. When an exec from Vanguard intervened and try to get Bob to play the songs on the album, Bob retorted, ” If they want to hear those songs, tell them to go buy the fucking album.” If you are trying to make it in the business, that’s probably the worst thing you can say and it pretty much ended the relationship between Bob Frank and Vanguard.

When Bob was speaking of the story years later in the documentary, he described the events in a very matter of fact and unapologetic way. The cavalier attitude that made his song writing so great is the same thing that essentially killed his career. How is that for irony? Bob toured for a while after the Vanguard deal feel apart and eventually settled in the Bay Area where he remained for the rest of his life. The documentary has a great flow to it. Great stories and great music fill the 75 minutes.

Over the years, people began to discover Bob’s music and Bob became somewhat of a cult hero with a fervent fan base. Bob continued to write and record in the 80s and 90s as a personal pursuit. The legend of Bob Frank kept growing and even increased after Bob’s untimely death in 2019. This release is a stunning collection of Bob’s music over time and will hopefully increase the interest in a songwriter that had the musical and writing chops of one of the greats.

Buy Within A Few Degrees here

Interviewed by Mae Hunt

In this interview with Girls On Grass lead vocalist and guitarist, Barbara Endes, we discuss her roots in music, the recording process of her new singles, and what we can expect from the band in the near future!

BE: Barb Endes TL: Twangri-La

TL: So let’s start from the very beginning. You’re an extremely talented guitarist and musician. I would love to learn a little bit about your upbringing and what inspired you to become invested in music initially. 

BE: I wouldn’t say I come from a musical family. I come from an artistic family. My dad played accordion growing up and his father played. And my mother’s father was a piano player and a classical music aficionado. And there was always music around, of course. But the formal education in music I had was just in the grade school orchestra. But pretty quickly, I started cheating on that. I don’t know why just reading music didn’t appeal to me as much as memorizing it.

So I just learned what little skill I did pick up, but I was able to learn how to remember things and played by ear on the violin. I stopped focusing on the music reading aspect of it and just learned to play by ear because I think it was easier for me. And that was kind of the beginning of playing the instruments for me, but I didn’t keep doing it. At that time, there was a lot of stuff going on at my house, and I don’t think I could relax and focus on it.

But a few years later, my sister started dating this stoner guitar player guy. And I would hang around with my sister and her friends. Her boyfriend was in a band, and they’re into prog rock and all that stuff. So I started hearing a lot of guitar-oriented prog rock, a lot of King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, all that kind of stuff. My sister’s boyfriend was a really sweet, friendly guy. He would come over with his guitar all the time. He had this refinished Strat and he was a really good player. I made a guitar out of a yard stick and a piece of cardboard, which a ton of kids do, right, like playing dress up in front of a mirror, but I played with a fake guitar. Later on, Dave (the boyfriend) gave me a cheap guitar. I had a few lessons with him and then just kept going on my own.

Slowly throughout my teenage years, I picked up some stuff. I was all basically playing by ear. I was pretty young when I played in a band for the first time. I had no idea what I was doing. I was awful. But we played in the middle school talent show. I actually tried to play in the jazz ensemble in my middle school. Again, I was really floundering. I don’t know if I couldn’t get guitar lessons or I just was not focused on it or something. 

I didn’t really get anywhere until I was high school or college in terms of really understanding the instrument at all. And I feel like I still barely do. I feel like I’ve really hunkered down and focused on a few kinds of things. But I’m playing a long time, and it really has been a lifeline for me throughout my life. I don’t really have a lot of technical skill, but it’s like my therapist. Throughout my life, I’ve really depended on playing a lot. 

So I’m really glad that I’m stuck with it because there are a bunch of times in my life, I put it down. But I always picked it back up. And now, I’m writing music, and I have a band and it’s really fun. 

TL: It sounds fun. And on my end, it sounds like you’ve mastered the guitar as a listener. When did you begin to transition into songwriting? Or has that always been a part of playing the guitar for you?

BE: No, I spent pretty much all of my time learning songs of the bands that I loved growing up. I think the first song I learned was a Pink Floyd song. I learned a bunch of prog stuff when I was a teenager, which was fun because it was challenging. And then I got into jangle pop, REM, all kinds of stuff from the Grateful Dead to the Gear Daddies. And then I learned about The Clash. And I got into punk rock a little bit. In college, I learned about the Pixies and a bunch of other post punk stuff. 

But I didn’t really start writing songs until my late twenties. I wrote a bunch of songs for a little EP, I guess you’d call it. I didn’t release it or anything, but it was the first time I assembled a bunch of songs. I recorded them on a four-track cassette deck or a mixer. And a friend of mine, who is a musician, wrote commercial music and mixed it for me. 

After that, I started playing with a series of other bands and didn’t really write again until maybe my mid-thirties really, early thirties. And at that point, I was actually classic country. Here in New York, at a place called The Weal and Woe, I formed this band with my friend, Russell, who is a great country and bluegrass guitar player and harmony singer. And that’s when I started really writing enough songs where I could put together a whole set of my own material. We formed the band with Russell and Jason Cade, this amazing fiddler, and Mark Deffenbaugh, a great lap steel, a guitar player. And that was my first taste of having a band and doing my own material, which was horrifying but really helpful and gave me a lot of confidence.

TL: That’s awesome. I feel like a lot of your songs or the lyrics, at least, are both very personal and very honest. It seems as though you’re not afraid to take a political stance. Is it difficult for you to write about personal events or writing about politics, or does it come naturally?

BE: I think it’s just my personality. I have a hard time writing abstractly or about experiences that aren’t my own. Sometimes, I have a song idea and I won’t know where to take it other than to try to relate it to a personal experience. And I think that’s one of the reasons I love country music. Getting really sucked into the older classic country genre is what made me feel like I could write songs.

I mean, of course, there are examples in other genres of this. But listening to someone singing about an experience that seems really personal and straightforward and honest…it felt like that’s the way that I could express myself and not feel like a phony. So when I was in a classic country band, it really made me want to write songs for the first time. And then I went back to rock music and started Girls on Grass. But I think that that kind of lyrical approach is still the only way that I really feel comfortable writing. 

The only song on Dirty Power that is neither super political or very personal about a specific thing that’s happened to me or a series of things is Friday Night. And I just wrote that song on a whim—it was probably spurred by a movie or a show or something I don’t remember exactly. But that was the only time I’ve ever written something that was completely made up. 

TL: You mentioned this earlier but it sounds like writing is like a release, a space where you can release your energy and thoughts, which is really amazing. And I do want to talk a little bit about your most recent songs. First of all, congratulations. I am sure it feels great to be putting out music in a time where the world feels like we’re in a standstill. Would you mind telling me a little bit about the recording process, where you recorded, how long it took, things like that?

BE: It’s been really nice to be able to put something out during this time because it does feel like we’re at a standstill. The band started to really pick up some momentum finally last year. We went on a couple of short tours and played the Swamp Stomp Festival again. We were applying for festivals and trying to get out of New York more. Recording those songs was intended to build on that so that we could have something new to tour behind because Dirty Power came out in April last year. It seemed like a good way for us to keep that momentum going. 

There’s this group of musicians in New York City. There’s a scene that was around in the ‘80s here, and I guess probably early ‘90s, of all these incredible musicians who are now doing a lot of recording and producing. And mostly because Nancy’s (my drummer’s) social network, I’ve met a lot of these people and we’ve recorded with a bunch of them. 

So Jay Sherman-Godfrey did the first record – he engineered it and helped produce it. And then Eric Ambel did the last record. These guys are like titans of the alt-country scene here. And the third person in that group that we’d been talking to about maybe recording with is Mark Spencer, who’s a phenomenal musician. He’s a touring musician with Sun Volt. And he’s worked with Cheri Knight and all kinds of people. Just so talented. 

He has a studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn called Tape Kitchen, and we had considered doing Dirty Power there, and then we thought, let’s just try to do the single there. It’s a really cool, old, light industrial building on the Gowanus Canal. It’s got a recording studio on multiple floors and it’s got this big kitchen. It’s a really cool vibe. We recorded live as a trio and then did a little bit overdubbing. And we had a friend, Glenn Spivack, come in to play harmonica. And he’s just an incredible player. I mean, he basically played all of this stuff on Spill Your Guts off the cuff, right? Just one of those guys. 

It was a good experience, but it’s also really different for us because I threw the songs at the band without much rehearsal time. I just thought, let’s see what happens. Who’s Gonna Cry had a really short rehearsal time. We had two or three weeks with that one. We worked out Spill Your Guts a little longer. It was really fun to see how the band responded to a shorter gestation period for the songs. It made it really fun to record them, if kind of anxiety-inducing. But that kind of energy can be really good in the studio because the last thing I want to do is to go into the studio with the band and have everybody be bored with the songs and know exactly what they’re going to play. It’s just not as exciting. There’s always that possibility that you’re going to regret not doing something on a song because, six months later, you know the song better. It was a good experience and I think I’d like to do it again.

TL: It sounds like it was a fun experience! And it sounds like it speaks to your chemistry to be able to pull it all together without as much rehearsal as songs typically have.

BE: Yeah – they’re both really talented players. Nancy’s a pro. And she puts with up with my….I can be a little control freakish. I think a lot of songwriters might be like that. But we’ve gotten to a good place in collaboration. Again, she’s just super talented and able to lay down all different kinds of things. And Dave, too, they’re really tight as a rhythm section and they love playing together. So it’s pretty awesome place for me to be as a songwriter. 

TL: It definitely, it sounds it. I also wanted to mention the Who’s Gonna Cry music video. I’m curious as to how that idea came about. 

BE: I just love stop animation. I mean, I’ll be honest. The specifics of it were largely left to Wendy Norton, the creator. We had a collaborative connection. She told me about her concept after I pitched the general idea to her and I was into the concept. I think the southwest theme was a response on her part to the kind of spaghetti western music behind it. I just loved how she rendered us in puppets. And I actually have the puppets in my house. Well, I have the Trump puppet and I have my puppet. Nancy and Dave have their own puppets. 

TL: That’s awesome. I love that video. 

BE: Yeah. Nancy and Dave didn’t want the Trump puppet. (laughter) I don’t know what to do with it. I’m thinking of doing various things with it. 

TL: (laughter)

BE: But I’m taking my time.

TL: That’s funny. Yeah. Take your time. Think of something good.

BE: Yeah, I’m glad you like it. I love the animated videos.

TL: It’s a creative way to pair visuals with songs.

BE: Also, it’s also really fun for me to collaborate with visual artists and see what they’ll do with music that we make. I like supporting people doing their art and keeping money flowing directly between artists. I’m really happy about being able to do that.

TL: Yeah. I think that’s great. And it turned out awesome.

BE: Thank you. Yeah, I love it. It’s cute, right? 

TL: Yeah (laughter). It’s definitely cute. Thanks for all of that. I’m just curious, for my last question, what’s next for you? I know you mentioned you have a day job, so I’m sure that’s eating up a lot of your time, but what can we expect from you next music-wise?

BE: That’s a constantly evolving question in my own mind right now. This is a very tenuous time. This isn’t sexy or anything. Honestly, I’m struggling to find my creative flow right now. I’m really distracted by everything that’s happening in the world and in the US. It’s definitely throwing me off my flow. At the same time, the situation we’re in has, out of necessity, forced me to get my home recording situation more squared up. I’ve learned some new skills and done some recording that I’m really excited about. I feel like I needed to get those tools back because the only home recording I did previously was on a cassette-deck type situation.

It’s been a good time for me to work on some other skills. I’m constantly thinking about how to use those to try to adapt to the current situation with the band. So we’re working that out together. As far as playing together and songwriting, it’s [the pandemic has] slowed us down. I’ve got some new songs brewing and we’re hoping to sort out a cold weather situation where we can start playing together again. But our rehearsal space doesn’t really lend itself to being in the same room together. It’s super depressing. 

I have no doubt that if the veil of all of this pandemic is lifted and everything reset, we would just fall back into the pocket and keep going. But I don’t think it’s going to be that simple. I think a lot of the venues certainly are struggling and may close. And the festival—we got into the Waking Windows, and that would have been this spring in Vermont. But who knows.

I think even outdoor festivals might struggle to get back up and running. The only crazy but fairly solid plan we have right now is to start doing outdoor concerts this spring and try to get the gear together to make that happen. Maybe start songwriting with the idea of recording again as a band next year. But it’s just so hard to know what’s going to happen.

TL: Yeah. I think the pandemic has definitely impacted everybody in different ways. I am sure that your anticipated 2020 plan has changed. But it’s also caused a lot of us to cultivate new skills, like producing music inside. So hopefully, that brings along some new material. But whatever you have in store for us, I’m sure it will be great.

BE: You’re very kind. We’ve really received a lot of support this year, like a support for the 7-inch. And it’s really helped us keep going mentally. And so we really appreciate your interest and your willingness to help us get the word out.

TL: Yeah, of course. It’s good music. So it makes it a lot easier when it’s good music. 

BE: Thank you. 

TL: No, thank you! Thank you for taking the time today. I really appreciate it and have really enjoyed speaking with you.

Buy Girls On Grass music and merch here.

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.