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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Robert Schwartzman Article

Robert Schwartzman

“The Music Man”

By Emily J Ramey

Written for BMI: MusicWorld

Robert Schwartzman is a man refreshingly fanatical about the art of making music. Despite, or perhaps as a result of, having seen rapid success with his California retro rock band Rooney, the 28-year-old singer/songwriter is absolutely bursting with new ideas, projects, and overall zeal for the industry, which is more than evident in the way he talks about his songwriting process: “I get excited by chords; I get excited by melody; I get excited by lyrics… something has to spark excitement, and you just run with it. It’s a domino effect either way, but the process is specific to whatever’s occurring in that moment.”

“Learning by ear inspired me to start writing music, taking feelings and stories from my life and turning them into a song,” he explains of his early penchant for songwriting. “It was the thrill of having something in my hands that didn’t exist before.”

As for influences, Robert cites “oldies but goodies” as his inspiration, then and now. “You know late fifties, early sixties, cruising with your friends with the top down and milkshakes,” he says. “I’ve always thought – and still do – that that music is really simple and so… right; the innocence of that music has always inspired me.”

These threads are discernible in Rooney’s distinctive flashy guitars, chunky rhythms, and summery melodies, but Schwartzman, ever the opportunist, is on the verge of expanding his repertoire with a solo venture as well. “The band has been a big part of my life and it’s important to me, but there’s still a need to be able to take chances and try other things. I played all the instruments, they’re all my songs; on every level, it’s my record.”

Schwartzman’s debut will be released this fall, with plans for a tour following closely behind. After all, the live show is what it’s all about, Robert claims. “I like the feeling of playing music to people. Playing a live show sort of helped me understand how people are affected by music. When you perform something, you feel it in a different way; you feel like you’re putting it all on the line.”

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Paul McDonald Article

Paul McDonald

Idol‘s Lone Songwriter”

By Emily J Ramey

Written for BMI: MusicWorld

Paul McDonald draws musical inspiration from his life, which, if you’re up on your pop culture you’ll know, has been positively brimming with spectacular, whirlwind song material. The 26-year-old singer/songwriter placed eighth on season ten of American Idol, met, dated, and got engaged to Twilight starlet Nikki Reed, and toured the country, playing arenas, as part of the Idol tour… all within the first eight months of 2011.

This sort of dizzying fate is new to all American Idol contestants; however, unlike his bright-eyed, freshly scrubbed young competitors, McDonald was living a musicians’ life before the show, writing and touring endlessly as the front man of The Grand Magnolias, a Nashville-based Americana rock band.

The veteran songwriter in a cast of budding performers, McDonald has been a wild card element from the beginning, but Paul’s effortless charm, uncomplicated passion, and raspy tenor vocals promoted him to an easy favorite. “It wasn’t my goal to win American Idol,” he admits. “I kind of did it for fun, but we’ve met so many great people, and it’s opened up so many doors.”

Amid all these new avenues and opportunities though, his songwriting process has remained remarkably the same. Of his compositions, Paul says, “They come in different waves. Sometimes I’ll pick up my guitar and a song will just come out or sometimes I’ll write the guitar part or the piano part and then put lyrics over it later. It’s just kind of how they come out of my body, you know?”

“I’ve tried to open my mind to a lot of different kinds of records and experience different artists, make my writing a little bit better,” he elaborates. “And there’s a whole lot of stuff to write about right now because this is such a serious transition period.”

“I’ve got a lot of material to work with, and I’m just going to go into the studio and take my time, try to make something really good,” Paul states in a rare moment of solemnity. “To me, it’s really never been about anything more than making good music and playing good songs.”

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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 Strokes’ “Angles” Review

Album Cover

The Strokes

“Angles”

March 2011; RCA Records

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

So far as I can tell The Strokes newest release is causing controversy, a rift, if you will, among fans and critics. Listeners that relished in the darkened, raw fascinations of the band’s previous works may not welcome Angles’ differences, but early critiques of The Strokes’ fourth studio album are praising their radical ingenuity and youthful willingness to change their winning formula without turning their backs on it altogether.

I have to side with my fellow critics on this one though. I haven’t been much of a Strokes fan in the past, and not because I can’t appreciate the shadowy places from which Casablancas’ creative springs flowed, but there just wasn’t more than one or two tracks for me to grab hold of. Angles however sprawls musically, but without feeling scattered, courses without overflowing, thaws without burning.

The first Strokes record written collaboratively as a band is happier than ever before; in fact, at times I would even call it positively bouncy. Highlights include kitschy opener “Machu Picchu,” which seems to serve as the bastard child of Muse and Hot Fuss-era Killers; new wavy “Two Kinds of Happiness” and its master guitar work; “Taken for a Fool,” which is the closest on Angles to old Strokes material; the Billy Joel-ish “Gratisfaction;” and the broad, beautiful “Life Is Simple in the Moonlight.”

The Strokes seem to be turning a corner and looking west into a summery, molten setting sun. It’s different than previous albums, but it’s worthwhile in its own right. Give Angles a chance.

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Landon Pigg’s “The Boy Who Never” Review

Album Cover

Album Cover

Landon Pigg

“The Boy Who Never”

September 2009; RCA Records

By Emily J Ramey

Landon Pigg is the archetype of good singer/songwriter, folksy and eloquent, sentimental and warm.  And his second full-length album, The Boy Who Never, is the perfect soundtrack for a cool, wind-whipped, burnt orange autumn, which to me, always seems an ideal time for introspection and wit.

The Boy Who Never, as a title, projects fairy-tale fantasy, youth, and playfulness onto Pigg’s new music.  On the album, Pigg starts out carefree and whimsical, breezing through his best-known song “Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop,” and into a few more fresh and upbeat tunes.  Then, the 26-year-old songwriter becomes somber and hushed, fading the album out with delicate grace and poignant weight.  The feeling of the project as a whole is of seasons changing, fall diminishing into frosty, quiet winter.  The Boy Who Never lacks climax or revelation, Landon Pigg clearly trading shocking revelations for subtle discoveries.

A few of the most memorable tracks include the crisp, cheery opening tune, “This Far;” the smooth and brassy tune, “A Ghost;” the golden, enchanting single “Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop” with its gentle, lofty vocals and sugary, sentimental lyrics; the sweet, eager “Take a Chance” about taking risks in relationships with witty lyrics like, “I didn’t wanna be tied down/But now I see/Not being tied down/Ain’t the same as being free;” the steady, clever “Speak to the Keys” with its catchy, imaginatively musical chorus; and “Look So Tired,” a hushed and feathery ballad, with lovely, soft piano accompaniment by Landon himself.

Landon Pigg seems to be maturing as a songwriter before our very eyes.  He undoubtedly knows how to write a charmingly love-stricken hit for national fame, but I don’t think he’s lost an understanding of the importance of writing as himself.  The down-to-earth, silver-tongued Nashville native is growing up, regardless of the deceiving title of his album.  I feel comfortable speaking for Music City when I say, we’re proud of him and where he’s headed.

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