Elenowen Bio



Supporting For the Taking

By Emily J Ramey

Written for Elenowen

There’s something so liberating about the deliberate letting go of others’ expectations to press on in a direction of your own choosing. Husband and wife singer/songwriters Josh and Nicole Johnson have lit upon their common voice after acute introspection, roads traveled, trials overcome, years lived. Resonating within themes of finding themselves in each other and the infinite possibilities of what’s ahead, Elenowen’s sophomore full-length For the Taking is a collection of modern songs keeping an indie tradition alive.

Those familiar with Elenowen’s appearance on the inaugural season of NBC’s The Voice, their debut album, Pulling Back the Veil, or their follow-up singles and EP, will recognize their characteristic tender melodies, lyrical motifs, and incandescent acoustic work, but there’s something new and exciting in this assortment of songs, perhaps a result of the overwhelming fan support they received by funding the album with Kickstarter, which served to reassure the young duo about their place in the world. Of their freshly realized niche, Nicole says, “We’ve been doing this for a long time, but it feels like we’re newborns, starting all over again.”

“We’re basically starting from scratch,” Josh agrees. “In a way, this record feels a lot like our first one. The whole tone and the way we’re going about this album are synonymous with our debut. It’s back to just us.”

The music of Elenowen straddles decades by bridging today’s folk rock troubadours with the lo-fi buzzing arrangements of the 70s, their distinctive combination of musical precision and emotional abandon bolstering a collection that alternates between dense, full-bodied rockers and minor, mercurial guitar melodies.

Opener “Desert Days” sets up Elenowen’s fresh Fleetwood Mac-inspired vibe with a driving beat, jangly harmonies, and a refrain written long ago that seems to have foreshadowed their current stride: “Someday we’re going to find the things that we have been looking for.” Balmy, wavering guitar riffs echoing throughout sketch a vital, resolute landscape for the album. “Half A Mile,” which pops a familiar feeling efficiently into a clever combination of words – “When I look at myself, I see lost; you look at me, you see found. That’s all that counts.” – is another first-listen favorite with its country-tinged major tones and heavy-handed reverb.

At the far end of their melodic spectrum, the melancholy, pleading “Place From Where I Fell” channels fellow Nashville duo The Civil Wars, Nicole’s vocals hovering finely above Josh’s minor harmonies, murky instrumentation cresting in an insistent, fluid orchestral tide. And the sparse, vulnerable “One by One” brings to mind the bare vocals and steady symphonic cadence of the musical Once’s duo The Swell Season.

“Losing the Lonely” is the album’s most magnetic track, a shimmering, upbeat ode to open, eager love. The chorus rings, “First thing I see in the morning, first dream I have at night; without a single warning, you got this heart of mine;” Elenowen’s newfound spirit is embodied here between the drum beat and the slide guitar, balanced delicately to create their own bright-eyed brand of retro folk rock.

“Cold Hard Truth” has a raw resilience to it that can only be explained by the unique circumstances under which it was recorded. “I was so winded because I was having contractions,” Nicole explains. “Nine months pregnant and trying to sing, it’s such a sweet memory though, every time I hear that song.” And “For the Taking” was the only track on the album recorded live in one take, a detail that imbues the chorus with a quiet gravity. The closing melody is both gently defiant and refreshingly acoustic, a nod to their past with roots planted confidently in their future.

This is the story of two people that made each other’s music better, two people that fought against their odds for the music they wanted to achieve together. For the Taking is a bold step on a path yet unexplored, but if you ask Elenowen, it’s the one they’ve been working toward all along. ”This is where we’re supposed to be,” Nicole finishes; “I feel really good about it.”

Elenowen’s new release, produced by Music City staples Jeremy Bose and Trent Dabbs, will be available January 20, 2015. For more information about Josh and Nicole and For the Taking, go to http://www.elenowen.com.

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Susan Werner Bio

Susan Werner

Susan Werner

Supporting Hayseed

By Emily J Ramey

Written for Susan Werner

Midwestern folk bard and “Empress of the Unexpected” as dubbed by NPR, Susan Werner is as unshakable as the earth and as unpredictable as the weather. It is fitting then that on her newest release, the downtown Chicago-based singer-songwriter set out to pay homage to American agriculture. On Hayseed, Werner lends her characteristically ardent voice to common agrarian themes like love for the land, patience for the rain, and the travails of farmers and their families. Each song dons a new perspective, sketches a different facet of true rural living, establishing Hayseed as a barbed but candid representation of the agricultural community.

Listeners will recognize Werner’s own brand of Americana roots sprouted on 2011’s Kicking the Beehive; however, the collection of sharp, passionate originals that appear on Hayseed hit much closer to home. “Everything was mandolin and banjo and upright bass and fiddle,” she says. “A sound that’s as (forgive the term, but it finally applies) organic as a sound can get.” The album itself was homegrown using a Pledge Music campaign to fund its production; Werner incentivized fans with rewards like handwritten family recipes and signed ears of corn. A percentage of the money raised was donated to farming charities as well: Practical Farmers of Iowa in Ames, Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) of Spring Valley, Wisconsin, and The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas.

Hayseed was produced by Crit Harmon (Martin Sexton, Lori McKenna, Mary Gauthier, Ed Romanoff), a songwriter and music producer from Boston. “I chose Crit to produce because he’s a songwriter himself; that was hugely important to me,” Werner says of Harmon. “And also because he grew up in Missouri and knows the business end of a honey wagon. I knew he’d get the spirit of the songs, the sense of humor and the sense of place in the songs. I also knew he’d assemble the best cast of players possible. This is the A list of the A list of the Boston area players.” That cast includes legendary guitarist Duke Levine, dobro genius Steve Sadler, and Red Molly’s Laurie MacAllister on backing vocals. “He totally got when I said this should sound like it’s being played on the front porch of a farmhouse,” Werner continues. “Iowa isn’t the south, but you can throw a rock and hit Missouri, and that’s about as urban as this album could dare get.”

Hayseed is the fourth in a series of concept albums, beginning with 2004’s I Can’t Be New, which features original songs in the style of Cole Porter and George Gershwin, followed by The Gospel Truth in 2007 and Classics in 2009. “I like concept albums because they give the audience and the artist a place to meet and something to talk about, right from the word ‘go,’” Werner states. “And it seems everybody has something to say about farms and farmers these days.”

Werner, a farmer’s daughter herself, is intimately acquainted with the trials and tribulations of American farm life. Her keen yet caustic perspective has led to the creation of the derisive, acerbic cast of characters that populate the album. “I wanted to show that farmers are just like everyone else,” Werner explains. “Honest, hard working, kind, generous, jealous, and capable of murder.”

Underneath its glib, satirical wash, Hayseed is tender and benevolent, Werner’s way of saluting her upbringing. “There’s something affectionate and at the same time wry about Iowans take on where they’re from and the world in general. Our worldview is sweet but cynical.” Werner’s next words serve as example: “Growing up on a farm is part poetry and part horror,” she says, “but it taught me that you can love a place as much as you can love a person.”

After all, it seems her pastoral childhood is what drove Werner to music in the first place. “I started playing guitar when I was very young. Like many farm families, we played music as a form of social entertainment. Boredom can be a kind of gift, and I think being out there in the middle of nowhere, we made the best of it by cultivating the ability to play music.”

At age five, farm girl Susan Werner made her debut, playing guitar and singing at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Manchester, Iowa. At 11, she began playing piano. After earning a degree in voice from the University of Iowa, she attended Temple University in Philadelphia, performing in numerous recitals and operas while completing her graduate studies. Werner still on occasion closes any one of the 125 club dates she plays annually throughout the US and Canada with “Un Bel Di” from Madame Butterfly or “Habanera” from Carmen, but she ultimately opted to forgo a career as an opera singer, dedicating herself to songwriting instead, building a reputation at coffeehouses and folk festivals from DC to Boston.

After launching her career with the self-released Midwestern Saturday Night in 1993, her second recording Live at Tin Angel impressed executives at Private Music/BMG, which released her critically acclaimed major label debut Last of the Good Straight Girls in 1995. She also received critical accolades for her subsequent recordings Time Between Trains (VelVel, 1998) and New Non-Fiction (Indie, 2001). She has toured the nation with acts such as Richard Thompson, Keb Mo, and Joan Armatrading, and was featured in a 1998 Peter, Paul, and Mary PBS special as one of the best of the next generation of folk songwriters.

On Hayseed, Werner employs her shrewdest charm and duskiest wit to deliver an assortment of tunes as hilarious as they are insightful. “There’s a certain sense of humor that goes along with farming because things don’t always turn out the way you expected,” she states. “If you can’t laugh about it, you’re not going to be farming for long. It was important to me to honor that part of things with the songs. If the songs weren’t funny, then they missed the mark.”

Opener “City Kids” sets a tart, jocular tone its snarky commentary on what Werner refers to as “the Revenge of the Nerds.” “The character in this song is surprisingly resentful, but the truth of it is that if you grew up on a farm, you always did feel a little square, a little behind,” she explains. Over a lilting minor banjo melody, Werner channels the biting, brooding attitude of the farm kids, practically spitting the title phrase: “All the city kids, they had fluffy little dogs, a dog that sits and begs, a dog with all four legs, didn’t smell like hogs.”

The countrified, hyperbolic “Herbicides” is saturated with Southern-accented sarcasm. “It’s another fact of farm life that itself deserved a song, but I didn’t know what new to say about it,” Werner laughs. “And this is something entirely new to say. The song speaks for itself.”

“Something to Be Said” is quiet and reflective, one of the few tracks that takes a moment to say something serious. “I was doing some shows in rural Nebraska, and this little girl wrote a note that said, ‘Thank you for coming to this waste of cornfields,’” Werner says. “It made me so sad that this kid felt that way about where they were growing up. I thought that needed addressing. Kid, you’re overlooking something. It may have taken me many years to see it, but I really do see it now.”

And slipping effortlessly into yet another character’s voice, the viscous, plodding “Egg Money” slinks suspiciously, wading into the dangerous waters of marital discontent and the wrath of a woman scorned, charting the story of a farm wife’s revenge.

Other Hayseed highlights include the punchy, sweltering “Bumper Crop,” a track that struts and sways like a 70s-era rockabilly number, the hushed and silvery “Plant the Stars” written about Werner’s father, and “Ode to Aldo Leopold,” a lustrous, ebbing closer boasting traditional harmonies, molten slide guitar, and lyrics like, “The land will outlive us all, however long we all shall live, and when the future comes to find the legacy we leave behind, may they say of us that we’ve been kind; we left the land with more to give, for the land will outlive us all.”

“This record matters now because there’s a changing of the guard taking place in American agriculture,” Werner explains. “Farmers like my father and mother are retiring, and new farmers are starting out. I wanted to honor my parents and their way of life, and I want to be part of the conversation about what happens next, what farming looks like this year, next year, ten years from now.”

The ultimate purpose of making Hayseed, though, is broader, more light-hearted. “Maybe the reward of it all is just this simple: to write a song like ‘Egg Money’ or ‘City Kids,’ to see a song like that make my parents laugh, my brothers laugh, my cousins, my high school friends, and know people all across the country will laugh,” she says. “Well, there you have it. Mission accomplished.”

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Jeff Austin Bio

Jeff Austin

Jeff Austin

Supporting Jeff Austin going solo

By Emily J Ramey

Written for Jeff Austin

Mandolinist Jeff Austin is unstoppable. He is celebrated for his fleet fingers and penchant for improvisation on stage, but those qualities also speak volumes about how he chooses to live. Austin has cultivated his natural musical abilities and allowed himself to be driven by his boldest instincts. In this way, he has been able to build positive, exciting momentum around his life’s greatest passion.

Austin’s enthusiasm for the vast, vibrant world of music was rooted in him as early as he can remember: “I was always raised very musically. My mom always had music playing; she always sang.” It’s no surprise then that Austin himself grew up singing too. From beginning to end of his years in grade school just outside of Chicago, he sang in classes, choirs, and musicals, allowing his musical influences to lead him where they may. “I started listening to Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings,” Austin says. “And then the Beatles, that turned into Bob Dylan, and then the Grateful Dead and Phish.”

Austin continued this fearless course of action, attending University of Cincinnati and majoring in Musical Theatre, until he a stumbled upon a crossroads that threatened to derail all of his plans. “I remember standing in front of the Grateful Dead three weeks before I dropped out of college and thinking, ‘there’s so much more to this music thing than being educated and being told what you are,’” Austin explains. “You can take what you think is your value and throw it at a crowd of people, and they will throw it back to you. The beauty is that nothing is black and white. It’s all grey; it’s interpreted at the moment.” Austin goes on to illustrate what this meant for his future: “At the time, I was auditioning for Broadway and off-Broadway shows. I walked away from everything I was set up to do because I realized that I just wanted to be in a band.”

Serendipitously, he met banjoist Dave Johnston around the same time. He encouraged Austin to try the mandolin so as to join his band The Bluegrassholes, so Jeff learned how to play the only way he knew how – with music: “I would listen to Not for Kids Only, which is a record of kids’ songs that Garcia/Grisman put out, nothing too fast. I would listen over and over and over and find the notes on my mandolin.” Picking up an instrument for the first time was exhilarating for Austin. “I never took lessons,” he admits. “I just threw myself in that world. I’ve always kind of learned in the line of fire.” The line of fire inspired Austin to be better, so he kept coming back. “For the better part of 3 years, I jammed night after night with these guys. There’s something about the pace, the speed, the aggressiveness, the chasing of the beat.” Austin was hooked.

In 1998, Austin and Johnston relocated to Nederland, Colorado. While attending a club called the Verve, Austin met Adam Aijala and Ben Kaufmann, with whom he and Johnston would form the Yonder Mountain String Band. Together, the four musicians created a wild, high-energy niche among the bluegrass legends of old and the up and coming jam band scene. Over fifteen years, Yonder Mountain String Band built an intensely loyal fan base; played festivals and venues across the nation, sharing the stage with legends like Jon Fishman, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzman, Earl Scruggs, Pete Thomas, and Jimmy Herring; and released five studio albums and five live recordings.

“My time with Yonder taught me what was possible,” Austin says. “It showed me that if you worked hard at it and you believe in it and there’s a part of you that’s meant to do it, it will happen. It’s clichéd, but it’s true.”

It is with this rich personal history at his back that Jeff Austin will step out into the spotlight as a solo act. “My ideal sound is between Phish, My Morning Jacket, and Zac Brown Band.” Austin plans to continue songwriting for his solo project but might be weaving in a bit of mainstream, in the style of his John Scott Sherrill/Shawn Camp co-write “Fiddlin’ Around,” featured on Dierks Bentley’s 2010 bluegrass album Up on the Ridge. “I love writing a three-minute song with a hook that would grab a five-hundred-pound marlin as much as I like writing something that goes, ‘okay, after the bridge, it’s going to open up and just go wide.’”

Indeed, “wide” is what Jeff Austin is all about. He wants new and different, complex and interesting. He wants everything the music world has to offer, and he’s willing to work hard to get it.

For more information about Jeff, go to http://www.jeffaustin.com.

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Bonnaroo Article

“Bonnaroo Superlatives and Overall Festival Wrap-Up”

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

the infamous arch

Well, I survived my first Bonnaroo… something that I wasn’t so sure of going into the weekend… but I came out okay on the other side, and what’s more is that I can honestly say I had the time of my life. I feel comfortable now saying that I was genuinely worried about the lack of sleep and the heat and the sweat and the dirt and the general lack of hygiene and everything else unpleasant that comes with a four-day camping festival in Tennessee in June (and I feel comfortable saying this now because they were in fact real concerns, not just the girly dramatizations of my mind), but no matter how much all of those things affected my experience, I (and I think it’s safe to say that 95% of my Bonnaroo peers would say the same) walked away with a smile and a sunburn and remained otherwise unscathed.

In general, my days (other than the day we actually got there and set up camp, which was slightly different if only in time frames) went like this:

8:00-8:30 — Wake up sweaty and hot as a result of the sun beating down on my tent, creating a tiny makeshift sauna; position myself directly under the oh-so-valuable tent ceiling fan (yes, they have those!!) to try to go back to sleep; wake up five minutes later, still burning up, and exit tent into the bright, dewy morning
8:30-9:30 — Trip to the nearest porta-potties/wash stations; back to the campsite to try to sleep just a few more minutes in a lawn chair; greet fellow campers as they emerge and do the exact same thing; eventually give up on sleep and grab the nearest Gatorade/bottle of water/liquid of any kind; make breakfast, which could range from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to an orange to a beer to instant grits
9:30-10:00 — Turn the car on to charge up my phone; use this precious 30 minutes to also change clothes in the car with the AC blasting

a lovely middle of the scorching day shot

10:00-11:00 — Sit around in lawn chairs and various other minimally physical activities to reduce the chances of sweating, some of which included reading, drinking beer, spraying each other with misty fans, making sandwiches, telling stories and reminiscing about the events of the previous day, cheeseball eating contest, etc.
11:00-11:30 — Get ready to leave the campsite for the day; pack backpack with water, coozie, power bars, flashlight, picnic blanket, wet wipes, toilet paper, sunscreen, schedule, phone, wallet, sunglasses, etc.; apply copious amounts of sunscreen; fill misty fans with melted ice water from coolers; grab road beer; zip up tent; lock car
11:30-12:00 — Walk into Centeroo; set lunch meeting time and place; split up for various shows beginning at noon
12:00-3:00 — Go to shows (approximately three); fill up water bottle (approx. twice); reapply sunscreen (approx. once); eat lunch or snack
3:00-4:00 — Find a shady place (if possible) to lay out picnic blanket and take a nap
4:00-6:00 — Go to more shows (approximately 1.5, depends on the day and the schedule); drink more water; maybe do a little shopping or just walking around (because the heat is somehow more bearable when moving as opposed to just standing or sitting and sweating)
6:00-7:00 — Lay the picnic blanket out again (probably near one of the bigger stages in order to sit and enjoy one of the bigger acts); take turns going to get dinner

a Bonnaroo summer sunset

7:00-10:00 — Rejoice in the setting of the sun and the resulting cooler temperatures; find a place farther up in the crowd for the headlining act; rock out to the headlining act
10:00-11:00 — Leave the headlining show a little early to beat some of the crowd; walk back to the campsite
11:00-12:00 — Spend some quality time at the wash stations with some freezing cold water, a bar of soap, a toothbrush, and some shampoo; lean head over sink to wash dirt, sweat, sunscreen, etc. out of hair; use giant cup to wash/rinse arms and legs; use washcloth to rinse rest of body as well as possible; resist wasting time washing dirty, dirty feet
12:00-1:00 — Sit around at the campsite, drinking beer, wiping dirt off feet with wet wipes, competing in a cheeseball eating contest (again), texting Mom to let her know we’re still alive and well, talking about what late night shows to attend
1:00-2:00 — Take a nap before going back to Centeroo for the late night show
2:00-2:15 — Wake up and realize the late night show is starting right now and also realize that sleep sounds like such a better option
2:15-8:00 — Glorious slumber in the cool, refreshing night

the 20-something people on stage for Mumford's encore

As far as the music goes, there were some good shows and some great shows. With the exception of The Black Keys ending their set 30 minutes early with no encore to follow, I was never disappointed by an act’s performance. It seemed like every artist I watched was throwing him/herself into the performance, despite the heat and the sun and all other circumstances. The best example of that fact was Mumford and Sons’ show. They played as if Bonnaroo 2011 was the last show they’d ever play, which is of course, far from the truth. And their encore consisted of a 7-minute rendition of “Amazing Grace,” sung and played by members of Apache Relay, Mumford and Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Cadillac Sky, as well as the legendary Jerry Douglas himself. Yeah. So the Award for Best Encore goes to Mumford and Sons.

The Award for Most Eclectic Crowd goes to Primus.

The Award for Best Frontman goes to Robert Plant and Band of Joy.

The Award for the Best Sit Down and Chill While Listening Act is a tie between Amos Lee and Iron and Wine.

Bela and his banjo

The Award for Best Spot in the Crowd goes to Bela Fleck, not really for anything he did, except for the fact that I knew I could only enjoy a portion of the performance from far away, only being able to hear the music. To truly get the full experience at a Bela Fleck and the Flecktones performance, I knew I would have to be so close that I could see how fast and nimbly their fingers were moving. It was incredible, and well worth the elbowing and the extra sweat factor involved in standing among thousands of other hot, sweaty people. And I can now officially say that I’ve seen the original lineup of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, which is quite something in and of itself.

The Award for Best Main Stage Act is a tie between The Decemberists and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.

The Award for Best Big Name, Daytime Act is a tie between Alison Krauss and Union Station and Old Crow Medicine Show.

The Award for Best Act that Piqued My Curiosity and I Now Need to Look Up goes to Beirut.

David Mayfield and sister Jessica Lea

The Award for Most Surprising Act goes to The David Mayfield Parade. I had heard of the band before, mostly in relation or conjunction with Mayfield’s also musical sister Jessica Lea Mayfield, but knew very little about them beyond that. I went to their Thursday night show because friends of mine dragged me along. And wow! They are fantastic! We were right up front for all the action on stage, which included corny jokes and unbelievable guitar solos from the larger-than-life, boisterous bearded man that is David Mayfield himself, a tiny yet impressively adroit little fiddle player, a female bass player whose long blonde hair hung directly in front of her face 80% of the show, a ginger lead guitar player, and an equally as epicly bearded drummer with an unexpected but lovely singing voice. The band blew me away and in doing so, registered themselves as by far my favorite show of Thursday’s line up. I bought their album immediately after returning home (well, immediately after a shower, that is).

The Award for Best Up and Coming Act goes to The Head and the Heart.

The Award for Most Unexpectedly Large Crowd is a tie between Florence and the Machine, Neon Trees, and Sleigh Bells.

The Award for Oldest Crowd is a tie between Gregg Allman and Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers.

the six-piece from Music City

The Award for Best Local Act goes to Apache Relay, who just killed an all-too-short Sunday evening set. Theirs was the last show I attended before leaving Manchester forever (read: until next year), and it was one hell of a way to close out the festival. The six piece band had all the instruments for a bluegrass or Americana band, but these guys played nothing if not straight up rock. I actually have the privilege of being able to say that I know most of the members of Apache Relay, each of them being former Belmont students like myself, but even fully understanding how talented each of these guys is did not prepare me for their exceptional stage presence and raging, fiery, exciting set. Nashville can be so, so proud.

The Award for Best Introduction goes to The Black Keys for having Aziz Ansari.

The Award for Best Dance Show goes to Walk the Moon.

And the Award for Best Headliner goes to My Morning Jacket.

I could go on and on about Crazy Things That Happened at Bonnaroo, or Awesome and Unexpected Collaborations on Stage, or How I Managed to Get In on Thursday and Out on Sunday in Under an Hour Each, but truly, truly, the festival called Bonnaroo is an experience that you can only fully understand after having experienced it for yourself. And everyone’s Bonnaroo is completely unique. So, my final words on the subject are simply these: I will see you there next year.

The Civil Wars’ “Barton Hollow” Review

Album Cover

The Civil Wars

“Barton Hollow”

February 2011; Sensibility Music LLC

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

The Civil Wars have sprouted from the ground like a slender vine, winding slowly at first and then shooting into the sunny mainstream through a series of fortunate accidents. Young duo though they may be, Joy Williams and John Paul White make a remarkable pair. Their dynamics are poised and expressive, and their voices meld exquisitely, as one might have thought only siblings’ might.

The duo’s customary guitar and violin instrumentation is occasionally accompanied by ethereal piano tones that act as lingering sprigs of fresh greenery among the folksy brambles that preoccupy the rest of the album. On the whole, Barton Hollow is a sinuous tribute to centuries past and melodies forgotten, saturated with captivating turns of phrase.

Opener “20 Years” billows and lopes, beginning the album with an almost whimsical guitar lick. “C’est la Mort” is a delicate, pleading tune, the American folk cousin to the tentative, graceful chords of European duo The Swell Season (of Once fame). The Civil Wars’ breakout hit “Poison and Wine” exudes desperation and heartache, wading through the melancholy with one recurring phrase: “Oh, I don’t love you, but I always will.”

“My Father’s Father” trots lightly, beads of sadness clinging to the tune like dew, manifested in an echoing slide guitar. Then, the title track roars in, blazing and flaring like an old-world forest fire; harmonies glow hotly as blistering strings flicker alongside their voices. The album’s lone instrumental, “The Violet Hour,” directly follows “Barton Hollow,” acting as water splashed across the flames, elegant and haunting.

“Girl with the Red Balloon” is a refreshingly minor track, an elegiac tale of love lost and a girl who is “always and never alone.” “Forget Me Not” washes over the listener like a summer rain – warm, gentle, cleansing; the tune is reminiscent of traditional country duets, steady and broad, made modern by a twinkling mandolin.

The Civil Wars can be proud of their extraordinarily rich debut. Barton Hollow musters the beginnings of a long, lovely road, and speaking personally, I’ll “walk miles and miles in my bare feet” if I have to.

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Kent Blazy and Cory Batten Article

“‘The Road Less Traveled By’” with Kent Blazy and Cory Batten

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

Kent Blazy and his company I Want to Hold Your Songs Publishing are onto something.  Kent has used his extensive knowledge of the music business and his wisdom as a songwriter to introduce a brilliant new dynamic to the songwriting process.

Kent Blazy

Kent Blazy

Blazy saw a need for collaboration and an opportunity for progress: “My target was to make it be like some of the great publishing companies in Nashville that I had heard about. […] They worked with young writers, and somebody mentored them and helped them along, wrote with them, and that’s what I was attempting to do with this company,” he explains.

That’s where Cory Batten comes into the picture.  “Cory and I started this thing six years ago that we still do every Thursday, at least.  We get together, and we talk, and we write, and it ended up where it’s as much me receiving all the talent he has as it is me mentoring to him,” says Blazy.

As one might expect, each has his own respective songwriting accomplishments.  Blazy paved his way to the top with his natural good humor and kind heart.  He lays claim to Garth Brooks’ first #1 hit, “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” which happened to be Blazy’s first as well.  He followed it up with two more #1 songs with Brooks, “Ain’t Goin’ Down (’Til The Sun Comes Up)” and “Why Ain’t I Running.”  Kent Blazy’s songs have also been recorded since the early 80s by such key artists as Gary Morris, Mark Gray, LeRoy VanDyke, Moe Bandy, Kenny Rogers, George Jones, etc. and into the more current era with cuts by Diamond Rio, Clay Walker, John Michael Montgomery, and dozens more.

Batten has worked his way up with raw talent, and makes up for his lack of decades of experience with a youthful eagerness and sprightly fortitude.  Batten has recently achieved bragging rights with two of his songs – Blake Shelton’s “She Wouldn’t Be Gone” and Crystal Shawanda’s “You Can Let Go.”

They’re an interesting pair, Kent Blazy and Cory Batten – award-winning songwriters, ones who have an extraordinary knack for striking our common chord with poignancy and truth – and yet, surprisingly, their respective foundations were modest and minimal at best.  Blazy remembers his first experiences playing music:

“I learned [how to play] listening to records.  Remember what they were?” he laughs.  “But nobody ever told me that there was standard tuning.  I had this little guitar, I was trying to figure things out off the record, and I remember thinking, ‘Why are they playing in G minor?  Why are they playing in E flat?’”

“The only formal lessons I had were from this kid three streets over,” Blazy confesses.  “He was a really good guitar player, and if I bought him a pack of cigarettes, he’d show me a guitar lick.”

Cory Batten

Cory Batten

Batten turns out to have had little more proper training.  When asked, Batten argues that it just seemed to him like “a road somebody else has already gone down.”

“I had formal lessons for about a week. […] I just remember dreading going to my lesson.  I learned enough to just get by,” he admits.  Although, we discover that Batten had encounters with a lesson or two a little later in life as well:

“I had a friend that taught me a couple of chords on the piano.  In between college classes, I would play around… I only knew four chords, but you know, I would move them up and move them down, and eventually I figured more out,” he says.

Cory Batten and Kent Blazy became uncommonly remarkable songwriters and musicians without any legitimate lessons.  It seems, instead, that they were driven to strive to succeed by their passion for music alone.

Batten thought his career in Nashville might be over when his first publishing deal ended short of his contract and moved back to his home in Tucson, Arizona.  But eight months later, he found himself drawn back to his dreams.  He packed his truck and headed back to Nashville.  Blazy’s magnetism appears to be just as irresistible:

“You know, it was like the minute I started [playing music], I knew that was what I wanted to do.  It’s sort of an unexplainable [sic] thing – just like Cory talking about loading up the truck and moving here.  How crazy do you have to be to do that?  But everybody does, and you can’t explain it.  That’s kind of how it was when I first got the guitar and started playing.  I thought, ‘Boy, I’d like to do this the rest of my life,’” he recalls.

And it has been that enthusiasm, that eagerness to work for what they want to achieve that has stimulated their success.  A desire to have music surrounding them in every facet of their lives, and contentment with their individual accomplishments, together have made Kent Blazy and Cory Batten the songwriters they are today.

Both of these men have the most modest beginnings and the humblest of hearts, consistently proving to each other and to everyone in the industry that formality and training, guitar lessons and a music degree, though undeniably helpful and occasionally providing a paved road to success, are not the only way to the top.  These songwriters took the “road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference” (thank you, Mr. Frost).

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Column Abstract

“‘Songwriter’s Muse’ Abstract”

By Emily J Ramey

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Acoustic GuitarTo me, songwriters seem like pensive people.  Not people who separate themselves from the rest of us, but rather people who understand the world a little better than we do, or at least can express their perceptions of it in more profound ways, and therefore relate differently to it.  Songwriters, good ones that is, have an uncanny ability to seek out our universally human fears and desires and articulate them in a manner to which we can not only connect, but feel as if those were the words we would have chosen ourselves, had we but had a far more expressive vocabulary.  When we lack the capacity to convey our true hearts, we often find the words in songs.  Words set to music reach their audience on a divine level, a plane on which we feel more ardently and openly.  I believe it is the power to elevate our thoughts that generates such a passion for music in all of us alike.

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