David Jacobs-Strain Bio

David Jacobs-Strain

David Jacobs-Strain

Supporting Geneseo

By Emily J Ramey

Written for David Jacobs-Strain

Expounding upon classic themes of broken hearts, winding roads, and flashbacks of Oregon summers, David’s newest work, Geneseo, is a collection of contemporary songs in keeping with longstanding folk traditions of Robert Johnson and Woody Guthrie. “I try to make art that you can dance to,” says David, “but I love that darker place in my mind where Skip James, Nick Drake, and maybe Elliot Smith blur together.”

The album plays with traditional refrains and modern execution, balancing silvery slide guitar with warm bass and resonant drums. Imperfect vocals, conviction saturating every note, harken back to an age that has provided much of David’s inspiration, of one-take recordings, singing for supper, and the hard-won American dream that raw talent will endure. “I’m fascinated by the way that rural blues inscribes movement and transience,” the young songwriter explains. “There’s a crossroads where a thing can be both enchanting and dangerous.”

Those familiar with David’s previous studio work, Stuck on the Way Back, Ocean or a Teardrop, Liars Day, Terraplane Angel, or his live follow-up, Live from the Left Coast, will recognize his characteristic casual harmonies, incandescent lyrical motifs, and complex guitar work, but there’s something new and exciting in this compilation, perhaps a result of the overwhelming fan support he received by funding the album with Kickstarter. “It feels great to have people stand up and say that it means something to them.”

29-year-old David nurtured his musical abilities early while growing up in small-town Oregon: “I got my first guitar for $10 at a garage sale when I was nine years old.” Something struck with a chord with David, who began playing street corners and farmers’ markets in middle school without the burden of formal musical training. “I don’t read tablature; I don’t read music. I play totally by ear.” He found inspiration among his pioneer blues heroes as well as current acts like Lucinda Williams and Taj Mahal, all the while developing his own class of cool, undulating refrains.

The Stanford dropout was playing festivals across the country, including the prestigious Newport Folk Festival, by the time he was nineteen and has been featured at a dozen since, including Merlefest, Telluride Blues Festival, Philadelphia Folk Festival, and Seattle’s Bumbershoot. He’s taught at Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch, and at fifteen years old was the youngest faculty member ever at Centrum’s Blues and Heritage workshop.

On the road, he’s shared the stage with champions of the folk, blues, and jazz communities, musicians like Lucinda Williams, Boz Scaggs, Etta James, The Doobie Brothers, George Thorogood, Robert Earle Keen, Todd Snider, Taj Mahal, Janis Ian, Tommy Emmanuel, Bob Weir, T-Bone Burnett, and Del McCoury. But Geneseo, more than any of his previous recordings, feels like a confident step into his own, fleshing out a distinctively contemporary niche among sounds and influences of a bygone era.

Geneseo began as an experiment. Camped out in a converted 19th century church, Strain recorded guitar and vocals on a laptop, rarely using more than one microphone. “It was winter in rural upstate New York. We had very little daylight but endless old instruments to try.” A road trip to Los Angeles brought in drummer Scott Seiver (Pete Yorn, Flight of the Conchords), and bassist Jon Flaughers (Ryan Adams) and David Immergluck (Counting Crows) on pedal steel as well, after a chance meeting in a Hollywood bar.

“All the songs were written, but I didn’t have a budget or a plan,” David explains. “I couldn’t stand waiting, so we just started recording ad hoc.” Caitlin Carey of Whiskey Town sent harmonies and fiddle tracks by email, Band of Horses’ bassist Bill Reynolds Dropboxed a track for the impressionist blues closer “Josephine,” and long-time collaborator Bob Beach recorded harmonica solos in Philadelphia. By spring, the record was an overwhelming collage of sounds and parts. To pare the record back down to its organic core, David enlisted Beau Sorenson (Death Cab for Cutie) and Billy Barnett (Frank Black, Cherry Popping Daddies): “Everything that would fit on twenty-three tracks was moved to analog tape, then we turned off the computer screen and mixed as if it were 1953.”

Despite his youth, David Jacobs-Strain is cultivating, without hesitation or pretension, a presence among the founding greats of our time. “Music is the only job I’ve ever had; I have no back up plan,” he declares. “I’m going to put everything I have into this… or I’m going to try.”

David’s new release will be available June 25, 2013. For more information about David and Geneseo, go to http://www.davidjacobs-strain.com.

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The Delta Saints Bio

Supporting Death Letter Jubilee

By Emily J Ramey

Written for The Delta Saints

Photo by Melissa Madison Fuller

The Delta Saints

The Delta Saints are not what they say they are. Delta? Absolutely. But saints? One might call them “cautionary tales” long before the term “saints” ever came to mind; however, there is something devout about their bayou rock, a dirty, distinct sound they’ve zealously refined on their debut full-length, Death Letter Jubilee. Alternating between raucous melodies and slow-burning odes to the devil in his many forms, Ben Ringel (vocals/dobro), Dylan Fitch (guitar), David Supica (bass), and Ben Azzi (drums) explore themes of difficult love, the wanderer’s high road, and the moral low road using their unconscious fascination with the classical elements – earth, air, fire, and water – as a natural vehicle for their briny narratives.

With Death Letter Jubilee, The Delta Saints are blooming into life not as a pretty flower might, but perhaps a mushroom explosion from an atomic bomb or a feral thunderhead. After two self-released and well received EPs, Pray On and A Bird Called Angola, fans demanded a full length and happily burst through the band’s Kickstarter goal to get it. “That is a feeling like no other,” Ben Ringel claims. “It’s awesome and also humbling. And it’s good pressure on us to succeed. It’s the kind of pressure we were able to harness and strive off of.”

The members of The Delta Saints each moved to Nashville for college in 2007. They first found common ground as old-world-loving, good-bourbon-swilling musicians and began playing together around town before they had any plans to record. As the searing harmonica and howling vocals of their live show began garnering notoriety in a city known well for its indifference to anything less than worthwhile, The Saints rode their roots rock wave right into the studio.

On the heels of 2010’s A Bird Called Angola, the band toured tirelessly, playing more than 150 shows a year, including a slot at Arkansas’ Wakarusa Festival and two summers headlining in Europe during which they performed on the long-running, renowned German TV show Rockpalast. Road tested and weather worn, The Delta Saints have seen wholly organic growth, working diligently in the name of a roots revival alongside fellow up and comers Alabama Shakes and Gary Clark Jr., becoming The Black Keys of a bygone era, all the while harnessing the brackish delta current into something gripping and bold.

“Liar” opens Death Letter Jubilee with a swaggering bass line and a blazing guitar riff, the “Come on!” refrain in the chorus echoing like a command, beckoning listeners to settle in for the long haul. “’Chicago’ is just written about the first time I was ever in Chicago,” Ringel explains. “We were there for 18 hours, and there was a blizzard, so it was snow and wind and bitter cold. Right before bed, I looked out this big third story window, and all I could see was amber light from the streetlights and snow, and for some reason that image just stuck.” The song itself generates a heat fit to ward off that blizzard weather, featuring a rare but incendiary brass section and an immovable beat that marks the tune as an early highlight.

“Death Letter Jubilee” is by far the most magnetic track on the album. There’s something eerie about its cacophonous Orleans-inspired chorus, the warm buzz of harmonica, the tinny trumpet whine, and the way one can’t help but be swept away by the utterly irreverent revelry. “I love songs where sonically you get one emotion from it, and then you look at the lyrics and it’s not at all what you expected,” Ringel says of the song’s musical inspiration. “And everybody has certain emotions that they’re not proud of. The idea that you can be glad about somebody’s ultimate demise… it’s such a negative thing, but everybody feels something a little like that.”

“Jezebel” melts down into a sweltering lo-fi blues number, its minimal instrumentation muddled and viscous as though the song was written on an old front porch when it was just too damn hot to do anything but sing. And like water thrown over flames, the crackling and steaming “Out to Sea” cools the album with its haunting refrain: “Oh, oh, river run, straight out from the hurt that seems to pour from me, and oh, oh, river speak, just haulin’ ass down the Calabash, just headed out to sea.”

“It was a new direction for us on a lot of different fronts,” Ringel admits of the tune. “It’s quiet and it’s sweet and it’s sad. It explores the idea of that cheesy, sappy movie line, ‘I can’t live without you,’ but this is more like, if you’re going to say it, what does that really mean?”

“Sing to Me” starts out sluggishly, forlornly, a rusted locomotive gathering speed with lyrics like, “I come to you now with blood on my hands, the law on my tail, and my conscience be damned, my sweet little babe, my sweet honeybee,” before running off the rails completely, harmonica flashing, drums galloping. And “River,” a second listen gem, is a brief interlude deep into the album in which an ethereal female gospel choir seems to sway and billow in the breeze on balmy Sunday afternoon.

“The main thing we wanted for Death Letter Jubilee was for it to have movement,” Ringel states. “We wanted people to listen and have an emotional journey similar to the one we had while making it.” That journey has left them energized and confident about the future, while still enjoying each stop along the road: “We want to grow, and maybe even grow faster, but we understand that it’s all in due time. We want to fully realize the weight of our experiences, and be able to savor them too.”

The Delta Saints’ new album will be available January 2013. For more information about The Saints and Death Letter Jubilee, go to http://www.thedeltasaints.com.

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Adele’s “21” Review

Album Cover

Adele

“21”

February 2011; Columbia Records

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

So, full disclosure: I love Adele. She’s beautiful and sharp and unbelievably talented. The girl won two Grammys for an album that she recorded while still a teenager. “Chasing Pavements” and her debut album 19 led Adele into international recognition as an authentic young voice expressing the bittersweet turbulence of adolescence awakening into adulthood.

But that was then. Sophomore release 21 speaks to new worlds opening at her feet, genre wise, shifting from R&B tinged with jazz to a full-blown amalgamation of blues, pop, and soul while remaining true to the British singer/songwriter’s signature style – that boldly ardent, wrenching voice of hers.

Thematically, 21 addresses a young woman’s mercurial ventures in love, darkly resonating and coolly evocative. The album permits tiny glimpses into the singer’s own heavy heart, forcing us to feel something – to relive ancient heartbreaks, to summon up past wrongs – pleading with us to wade back through our common woes. Adele writes from a more mature place and sings more passionately her own stories.

From the first moments, we hear might and confidence swelling in those lusty alto notes. Single “Rolling in the Deep” is a powerful and magnetic kick off to 21 that has Adele wailing about betrayal: “Think of me in the depths of your despair.” “Rumour Has It” maintains Adele’s robust new sound with sleek harmonies and swanky beats. The yearning, symphonic “Turning Tables” ebbs and surges like a midnight tide, silvery strings sweeping across an arcane melody.

The elegantly bleak imagery of “Set Fire to the Rain” allows the tune to billow and tumble, the music itself calling to mind a reckless downpour. “He Won’t Go” struts musically, recalling 70s-style R&B; Adele’s loose rhythm and casual vocals prove just how easy it is for the young singer/songwriter to croon her way through any heartbreak. “Take It All” blends jazzy piano with gospel flair, Adele’s vocals taking on a brisk quality, exuding chilly poise.

Brassy horns on “I’ll Be Waiting” stir in a dynamic beat that heats up like a fever. The richly dulcet “One and Only” is full-bodied and golden, a tune brimming with sweet, sweet soul. And Adele’s acoustic cover of The Cure’s “Lovesong” soothes like a slow, velvety, almost sensual ballad.

Adele’s 21 is her musical and emotional pièce de résistance and therefore should not be taken lightly. Where 19 was a tentative step into the spotlight, 21 is a voluptuous, retro-inspired collection of “look-at-me!” moments. Do not pass this one up.

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Amos Lee’s “Mission Bell” Review

Album Cover

Amos Lee

“Mission Bell”

January 2011; Blue Note Records

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

Amos Lee, despite being a musician, a singer, a songwriter, and a performer, is one of those strong, silent types. With his thoroughly unpretentious attitude and totally recognizable voice, Lee floats through the music world with seemingly little effort other than pure and wide-ranging talent. Lee has made a name for himself as a gentle and organic addition to the modern American folk songbook, ranking among fellow songwriting pros Ray LaMontagne, Colin Hay, Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, and Blue Note label mate Norah Jones.

With his newest release, Lee confirms his ability to mellow out any afternoon and ease any sorrow. Mission Bell is Lee’s fourth album and first since 2008’s Last Days at the Lodge, and this time, Lee has invited everyone from Willie Nelson to Lucinda Williams, Priscila Ahn to Pieta Brown to be guests on the album.

In the past, Lee’s musical style has encompassed folk, soul, and jazz, but Mission Bell branches out further still, exuding traditional country and gospel overtones and exploring nearly religious themes while maintaining his characteristically mild manner and fluently rich melodies.

Highlights of Mission Bell include the subtle, strolling rhythm of “Windows are Rolled Down,” and the quietly radiant “Violin,” featuring Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam, that washes over the listener with a warm, salty spray. The shadowy, minor “Out of the Cold” breathes a darker aspect of Lee’s tonality into the album with lyrics like, “Looking at the pictures up on the shelf/He feels a mere shadow of himself/22 years, still he feels so old/It takes a lot of lovin’ comin’ out of the cold.”

The soulful, rumbling “Jesus” is a dense and bluesy electric number that has Lee all but howling as the guitars buzz and the beat swaggers. Acoustically traditional “Cup of Sorrow” belongs in a mossy old whitewashed Baptist church; it drones like a quaint country hymn, complete with sweetly warbling organ, gospel-y chorus, and pleas for wisdom. And “Clear Blue Eyes” with Lucinda Williams is a folksy duet that swoons and wanders forlornly.

Amos Lee’s music drifts into a room the way a summer sun streams through a leafy canopy, light and golden and softly diffused. His melodies are understated and supple, soothing the listener and dusting off sounds of simpler days. Despite the slight diversion from what we’ve come to expect from Amos Lee, Mission Bell is a solid collection for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

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