AmericanaFest feat. Deer Tick, The Wood Brothers, Lukas Nelson, Sam Outlaw & more
Wed · September 13, 2017
Doors: 9:00 pm / Show: 10:00 pmMercy Lounge
This event is 18 and over
10:30pm - Lukas Nelson
11:30pm - The Wood Brothers
10:00pm - Billy Strings
11:00pm - Sam Outlaw
Midnight - Deer Tick
10:00pm - Brothers Comatose
11:00pm - The Lil Smokies
Midnight - Mipso
For the full festival line-up, visit http://americanamusic.org/https://www.mercylounge.com/event/1544384/
Raised in Michigan and based in Nashville, Strings — real name William Apostol — learned music from his father, who had learned it from his father, and his father before him. Maybe that’s why at 24, Strings’ songs, his articulation, his entire approach, sounds so authentic and steeped in tradition. Consider him the next in line of an Americana thread, not some upstart or bandwagon jumper.
While Strings’ profile as a guitarist and singer in the acoustic/bluegrass scene continues to grow, he has already earned some landmark achievements. He has performed with Del McCoury, David Grisman and Larry Keel. He’s landed coveted slots at festivals like Pickathon, and he’s shared bills with popular touring acts Yonder Mountain Stringband, Leftover Salmon and Cabinet. And the industry has taken notice: He just won IBMA 2016 Momentum Awards Instrumentalist of the Year (for guitar, banjo and mandolin) and was voted #1 in The Bluegrass Situation’s Top 16 of 16.
While the Billy Strings phenomenon is best experienced live and in person — if you’re in Nashville, check him out during his weekly residency at The 5 Spot — if he’s not coming to your town anytime soon, there’s a self-titled EP he released in June of 2016 to dig into, a full-length debut on the way, and a slew of sessions for taste-making outlets like KEXP, The Bluegrass Situation and Second Story Garage available online.
What’s next for Billy Strings? 2017 has him in the studio working on his first full length LP, a slew of festival and tour dates including support slots for Railroad Earth and The Infamous Stringdusters, a handful of dates as part of David Grisman Bluegrass Experience and much, much more. Keep an eye and an ear out as Billy will be coming to a town near you real soon.
These lines from the title track of Sam Outlaw's debut album Angeleno could almost serve as a haiku-like artist bio. Outlaw is a southern Californian singer-songwriter steeped in the music and mythos of west coast country, absorbing the classic vibes of everything from '60s Bakersfield honky-tonk to '70s Laurel Canyon troubadour pop and refashioning them into a sound that's pleasurably past, present and future tense.
"The music I play, I call 'SoCal country,'" says Outlaw. "It's country music but with a Southern California spirit to it. What is it about Southern California that gives it that spirit, I don't exactly know. But there's an idea that I like that says - every song, even happy songs, are written from a place of sadness. If there's a special sadness to Southern California it's that there's an abiding shadow of loss of what used to be. But then, like with any place, you have a resilient optimism as well."
While he explores those shadows on the title track and the elegiac "Ghost Town," Outlaw mostly comes down on the side of the optimists through Angeleno's dozen tracks. Opener "Who Do You Think You Are?" breezes in with south of the border charm, all sunny melody wrapped in mariachi horns, while "I'm Not Jealous" is a honky-tonker with a smart twist on the you-done-me-wrong plot. "Love Her For A While" has the amiable lope of early '70s Poco, "Old Fashioned" the immediacy of a touch on the cheek, and the future Saturday night anthem "Jesus Take The Wheel (And Drive Me To A Bar)" shows Outlaw has a sense of humor to match his cowboy poet nature. Throughout, producers Ry and Joachim Cooder frame the material with spare, tasteful arrangements, keeping the focus on Outlaw's voice. And it's a voice that indeed seems to conjure up California in the same way as Jackson Browne's or Glenn Frey's. Easy on the ears, open-hearted, always with an undertow of melancholy.
Deer Tick: undercutting expectations since 2004.
“I think a lot of my favorite artists have always done stuff like that,” Deer Tick front man John McCauley says from his home in Nashville, reflecting on his band’s love of unexpected mashups: tender lyrics layered over pissed off guitars; classical music flourishes delivered nearly naked and high. Deer Tick’s perfected it all, mostly as an outlier, revered by a legion of fans, respected by peers, but not part of any one scene. With their highly anticipated new project(s), two new albums released simultaneously titled Deer Tick Vol. 1 and Deer Tick Vol. 2, the crew from Rhode Island prove that their punk-roots rock has only gotten better with age.
Ambitious and smart, the twin albums complement one another but also stand independently. Vol. 1 is classic Deer Tick: folk-rooted acoustic guitars and soft piano cushion out-front vocals. Vol. 2 commits wholly to the band’s longtime garage-rock flirtations for a triumphant foray into punk.
McCauley sees the two records as a natural progression. “I think it’s something that was bound to happen, just because I’ve always had one foot in each door,” he says. “Every album we’ve put out has had its manic moments in one way or another. I felt good enough about everything that I was writing to think that we could truly separate our two big interests: quiet and loud.”
It’s been four years since Deer Tick’s last release Negativity, and devotees have grown restless. It wasn’t that the band––made up of McCauley, guitarist Ian O’Neil, drummer Dennis Ryan, and bassist Christopher Ryan––was withholding information. They just weren’t sure they had anything more to share. “It wasn’t anything that we actually talked about,” McCauley says. “We never said, ‘Hey, we should take a break,’ or ‘Maybe this isn’t working anymore.’ We just took some time off. We’d just done our 10-year anniversary shows, and I had a kid like two weeks later.” He pauses before adding with a hint of a laugh, “We just kind of got comfortable away from each other.”
McCauley, O’Neil, and the two Ryans popped up solo and on others’ projects. Personal lives also underwent massive changes, especially for McCauley, who married Vanessa Carlton and became a dad. The couple’s little girl is now two years old. For the first time ever, Deer Tick––an all-consuming band known for constant touring and steady artistic output––took a backseat.
When the band came back together for their beloved after-party shows at the Newport Folk Festival, the reunion reminded them what they missed about creating with one another. “Playing that week with the guys made me really want to do it––it made everyone want to do it,” McCauley says. “So we started making some plans to go in the studio.”
The result, recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, is a bold double punch that reminds us not only why Deer Tick has been so missed, but why they’ve become important artists. The songwriting on both volumes is masterful. McCauley wrote most of the tunes alone, but O’Neil and Dennis Ryan also make killer contributions. Self-aware and never self-important, McCauley excels at provocative lyrics that are sometimes confessional, sometimes accusatory. His compositions capture those internal contradictions that define us, like rock-and-roll “songs of myself” delighting in the multitudes and putting them on display.
Vol. 1 opener “Sea of Clouds” is a dreamy mediation on letting go, featuring stripped down instrumentation that swells into a mini-symphony, all anchored by angelic harmonies and McCauley’s familiar melodic snarl. It’s not the only time McCauley mulls over what it takes to move on. Heart-tugging “Only Love” mixes sadness and hope for a snapshot of impending loss. “I thought, ‘Nobody writes a song about that kind of weird, ominous feeling you get in the final 24 to 48 hours of a relationship,’” McCauley says. “I wanted to capture that mood in a song.”
Sauntering “Card House” is a flamenco-soaked threat with grotesque imagery, while lounge-ready “Cocktail” is a wry, piano-fueled stroll through fond boozy memories. “I guess it’s kind of a song about my strange relationship with alcohol––I’m still learning how to deal with it,” McCauley says. “I’m not a teetotaler. I’ve tried that. It’s not for me. I’m not into the support group thing. I enjoy life with a drink. Trying to keep my life in balance can be hard, but it’s something I’m capable of doing now.”
Tricky relationships with drugs and alcohol are addressed in different ways on both volumes. Hushed Vol. 1 closer “Rejection” pulses with vulnerability. “I wrote it about trying to help somebody in some way,” McCauley says. “What was going through my mind but I didn’t say in the lyrics is just reaching your hand out to somebody who’s going through substance abuse problems.” Vol. 2’s “Jumpstarting”––a favorite track of McCauley’s––offers the same kind of lifeline: he shouts startlingly sweet promises over crunchy guitars.
“Look How Clean I Am” immediately follows. Written and sung by O’Neil, the song doesn’t poke fun at sobriety but offers a droll takedown of how some use it as a means or marketing vehicle to further celebrity. It’s one of many genuinely funny moments on the project. Jumping “S.M.F.,” (aka Shitty Music Festival) written and delivered by McCauley, takes hilarious shots at a summer institution. “I thought I’d write that one for any band who’s ever had a bad time at a music festival. It’s one of my attempts at humor on the record, but then it just kind of comes off as anger,” McCauley says with a laugh.
McCauley wrote gorgeous instrumental “Pulse” thinking about the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. He lets his piano do the talking. “It’s a Whale” is punk perfection, all screams and growling guitars. “That’s probably the most political I’ll ever get in a song,” McCauley says. “I tried to put myself in the really dark headspace of maybe a men’s rights activist or something like that while trying to poke fun at it.” His chants of “Atta boy! Atta girl!” are the ideal blend of smirk-inducing and scary.
McCauley says he believes “Sea of Clouds” and “It’s a Whale” probably best capture the “extremities” of both records. He’s right, of course: it’s Vol. 1’s quiet vs. Vol. 2’s loud––Deer Tick’s dual personalities, finally channeled onto two distinct and equally brilliant records. “These albums represent a new phase of my life that I haven’t entirely figured out yet,” McCauley says. “I don’t really know what’s going to happen, but that’s part of the excitement for me.”
Following three critically acclaimed full-length studio albums (Songs From The Stoop, Respect The Van, City Painted Gold), the five-piece string band disrupts the traditional album cycle and focuses their 2017/2018 release schedule on a series of strategically released songs. On Sept. 8, 2017, The Brothers Comatose releases a sun-soaked new single “Don’t Make Me Get Up And Go” produced by indie-rock legend John Vanderslice. Channeling harmony vanguards The Beach Boys, “Don’t Make Me Get Up And Go” is a nod to the delicate dance between two friends and trusting fate to either bring them romantically together or not. With lyrics written by the band’s tour manager Joe Pacini, lead singer Ben Morrison lends his crooning baritone to the fast-paced, feel good song.
“Going into the studio with Vanderslice was all about capturing the moment on analog tape,” says Ben. “We set out to record in a way we’ve never previously attempted. We did it live with all of us playing in the same room as if we were performing on stage. Vanderslice really understood the sonic landscape we were going for. He’s really a super producer, being a musician who has cut a lot of records of his own and produced albums by many great artists.”
The Brothers Comatose entered Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone (San Francisco) studio with drafts of “Don’t Make Me Get Up And Go.” After working out the verses and chorus in the studio, bassist Gio Benedetti came up with the three-part harmony bridge. Vanderslice had the trio of Ben, his brother Alex Morrison, and Gio, head into the studio’s echo chamber with its five-second delay, and the boys did what they do best. They sang their hearts out, and the result is sublime.
The Brothers Comatose is comprised of brothers Ben Morrison (guitar, vocals) and Alex Morrison (banjo, vocals), Gio Benedetti (bass, vocals), Philip Brezina (violin), and Ryan Avellone (mandolin). When they’re not headlining The Fillmore for a sold-out show or appearing at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, the band is out on the road performing across America, Canada, Australia, and hosting their very own music festival, Comatopia. In 2018, The Brothers Comatose will travel to Asia for a month of cultural music exchange and education with American Music Abroad, a program directed by the State Department.
Since then, Mipso has performed over 300 shows and welcomed frequent collaborator Libby Rodenbough’s voice and fiddle to the fold – and has continued to grow as musicians and songwriters, while drawing continual inspiration from their rich North Carolina roots. Their new album, Old Time Reverie – produced by Mandolin Orange’s Andrew Marlin – is a reflection of that musical and personal growth: a gripping, mature sophomore release that finds the quartet expanding their sonic resources while doubling down on their experimentation with string band tradition.
While the instrumentation on the acclaimed Dark Holler Pop embraced North Carolina’s bluegrass heritage head-on, Old Time Reverie finds Mipso shifting their focus away from bluegrass, introducing new instruments and textures to create a distinctly different sound. Clawhammer banjo out of 1920s early country music meets atmospheric electric organ (played by Josh Oliver of The Everybodyfields) more native to 1970s pop. Add imaginative songwriting and a group cohesion gained from two years of near-constant touring, and the resulting sound is powerfully rhythmic, lyrically sharp, and woven with beautiful four-part harmonies.
Before forming Mipso, Jacob Sharp (mandolin), Joseph Terrell (guitar), Wood Robinson (bass), and Libby Rodenbough (fiddle) were just classmates at UNC-Chapel Hill, where the experience of singing together in harmony drew them together. The sound of their blended voices remains one of the band’s hallmarks. Since those college jam sessions, the four have entered a new phase of life, one where the work of making music – and the work of living – has become a more complicated affair. Many of the songs on Old Time Reverie grapple with the moral ambiguity that comes with keeping hope in a difficult world and making sense of its contradictions.
These songs, after all, were born in the South and reflect its modern day complexity. “Our progressive college town shares a county with lots of old tobacco barns and farms and churches from the eighteenth century," guitarist Joseph Terrell said. "We've chosen to stick around in this place where we're rooted, to reckon with and learn from its contradictions.”
At times, the task seems doomed: “Everyone Knows” grapples with a world that is essentially “cold and dark,” “Mama” explores the enduring scars of loss; “Marianne” follows an interracial couple’s struggle to love one another against their community’s disapproval. But if Old Time Reverie conjures a dark vision of the world, it also meditates on points of radiance. Even the wary narrator in “Father’s House” can see “a light on the porch.” The album closer “Four Train,” too, is a crinkled smile at the end of a weary day, describing love as “like a stain that won’t come out” or “like a flame that won’t burn out” – or perhaps as both.
In both theme and temperament, the album finds an interplay between the sunrise and the twilight – a tug-of-war that’s itself an old-time tradition. From “Eliza,” a lively waltz-time romp, to “Bad Penny,” a surrealist dream sequence with an Abe Lincoln cameo, the album revels in the seesaw spectrum of experience and memory, where technicolor carnival hues blend with grown-up sadness and the whispers of ghosts. Mipso’s color palette, like its soundscape, is radically inclusive.
“We come from a place where traditional music is a living, changing thing,” fiddle player Libby Rodenbough said. “So we feel like having an ear for all kinds of stuff is not only true to ourselves, it’s a nod to the tradition.” Call it what you will – to listen is to understand: it’s either unlike anything you’ve heard before or effortlessly familiar. By digging deeper and expanding further, Mipso have created their own dark daydream of Southern Americana: Their Old Time Reverie.
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