Wanna See Bon Iver Perform in Wisconsin? Pledge to Vote

Less than three weeks after Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon covered Bob Dylan and Leon Russell at a Bernie Sanders rally in Iowa, the singer announced a trio of Wisconsin shows Monday that requires a “pledge to vote in order to gain access to presale tickets for all three shows.”

The fall concerts, set to take place at La Crosse’s La Crosse Center on October 5th, Wausau’s Grand Theater on the 7th and Appelton’s Fox Cities PAC on the 8th, will take place one month before the presidential election. Vernon has partnered with the 46 for 46 campaign, an organization that aims to “help elect the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee by working to increase civic engagement through music and pop culture,” the group says.

As Vernon noted in his announcement about the shows, President Trump won Wisconsin in the 2016 election, the first Republican to win the state’s 10 electoral votes since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Bon Iver is not the first to partner with 46 for 46, who are staging “rally concerts” in each musician’s home state. Nathaniel Rateliff (Colorado), Lissie (Iowa), Patty Griffin (Maine), Houndmouth (Indiana), Dashboard Confessional (Florida), Sylvan Esso (North Carolina), Tacocat (Washington) and Cha Wa (Louisiana) have all signed on to participate throughout the year.

Managers Christopher Moon and Kyle Frenette — the latter acting as Bon Iver’s manager until 2018 before briefly running for Wisconsin’s 7th district in Congress — conceived the 46 for 46 project in 2019 in “the states that matter most during the lead-up to the 2020 election,” they told Billboard last year.

“I voted for [Obama], he was elected, he seemed like a very good leader, and I thought everything would be taken care of,” Frenette said. “It almost seems like that was this country’s M.O. in a way. Meanwhile, you’ve got the GOP sweeping in on the state level and putting all of these things in place and taking advantage of the political divide.” Vernon had previously headlined a rally for Wisconsin Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin around the 2018 midterms, an event that inspired Frenette and Moon to form the organization.

Most of the shows are set to place between August and October, with organizers asking fans, according to Billboard, to “pledge 46,” a wide-ranging initiative that could involve donating $46 to a campaign or the Democratic party, volunteering 46 hours or talking to 46 people about the whoever becomes the Democratic nominee.

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Stream Vein Side Project Fleshwater’s New Demo

Back in 2018, the Boston hardcore band Vein released Errorzone, a splattering and overwhelming debut album of frantic chaos, time-signature switch-ups, titanic choruses, and occasional bursts of shit like jungle breakbeats. The album, influenced both by nu-metal and by the math-damaged hardcore of Dillinger Escape Plan, was a powerful beast, and it’s made Vein one of the biggest young hardcore bands out there. Now some members of Vein are making entirely different music in a new band called Fleshwater.

We don’t yet know which members of Vein are in Fleshwater. There are no credits on the Bandcamp page, and Vein simply tweeted a link to Fleshwater’s three-song demo over the weekend, writing that some members of Vein have this other thing going. But it’s out there now: Three songs of murky, dreamy ’90s-style metallic alt-rock. There’s a little bit of shoegaze in the sounds on that demo, and there’s a whole lot of Deftones. (Vein, as it happens, played at Deftones’ Día De Los Deftones festival in 2018.) Seems like, between this and Higher Power’s 27 Miles Underwater, there’s a whole lot of Deftones in hardcore-adjacent music lately.

Anyone, that’s fine, since Vein is great and Deftones are great. The Fleshwater demo is a cool piece of hazy guitar-trudge music, and I could see it leading in some interesting directions. Stream it below.

You can name your price to get Fleshwater’s demo at Bandcamp.

Brendan Benson Finds it’s “Good To Be Alive” Off Upcoming Seventh Album

When Brendan Benson was evicted from his Nashville studio, he had to completely reconstruct his setup. The building where he recorded for many years, and since launching his own Readymade Records in 2012, was being demolished and turned into a parking lot, so he had to reconfigure some semblance of a working studio fast.

“I put most of my stuff in storage and moved into the basement of my home with a very stripped down setup,” Benson tells American Songwriter. “No drums, no loud guitar amps—I was forced to use other methods.”

Everything pared down, The Raconteurs’ guitarist and co-writer found himself experimenting with more digital elements and wrote “Good To Be Alive,” setting the theme of his seventh, full-length album, Dear Life, out April 24. 

“I got into programming and what I could do using the software,” says Benson. “It was out of necessity, but I ended up really enjoying that process, too. I now have a proper studio again where I can get on the drums and crank up the guitars, but often I opt for the programmed stuff. I never know what will happen.”

More drum machines percolate throughout Dear Life, produced and performed nearly in its entirety by Benson at his Readymade Studio.

His first solo album since 2013’s You Were Right, and his first under Jack White’s Third Man Records, Dear Life takes on real life—family, music, love, mortality—of the producer and songwriter, who debuted in 1996 with One Mississippi. A decade later, Benson found himself alongside White, bassist Jack Lawrence, and drummer Patrick Keeler collaborating on The Raconteurs, who released a third album, and first in 11 years, Help Us Stranger in 2019.

No stranger to producing, Benson has already worked with Young the Giant, Robyn Hitchcock, and Keeler and Lawrence’s other band The Greenhornes. The consummate songwriter throughout his nearly 30-year career, he’s also co-written The Raconteurs’s tracks with White since its inception.

Dear Life is a collection of electrified and harmoniously erratic arrangements only Benson could concoct with 11 songs encapsulating his dynamic songwriting, bound by tight hooks and digitized beats.

Shifting around Benson’s musical orbit, Dear Life steadily moves from the rowdier “I Can if You Want Me To” to guitar-steered “Half a Boy,” and the punk-fixated “Freak Out.” Fatherhood and family are the base of “Richest Man” with Benson’s banter on life’s hardships on groovy closer “I Quit.”

Fused in piano and drum-drenched funk, new single “Good To Be Alive” leaves Benson cognizant of the pains of getting older, yet optimistically chanting It’s good to be alive.

Benson remembers a friend called the album “life affirming.” He concurs. “I thought it was a joke at first but then realized, well, it’s about life and death for sure,” says Benson. “I don’t know if that’s positive or optimistic or whatever, but that’s what’s going on with me.”

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4/26 Washington DC – U Street Music Hall
4/28 Boston MA – Great Scott
4/29 Brooklyn NY – Music Hall of Williamsburg
4/30 Philadelphia PA – Johnny Brenda’s
5/4 Toronto ON CANADA – Horseshoe Tavern
5/5 Detroit MI – The Loving Touch 
5/6 Chicago IL – The Empty Bottle
5/7 St Paul MN – Turf Club 
5/11 Los Angeles CA – The Roxy Theatre
5/12 San Francisco CA – The Chapel
5/14 Portland OR – Holocene 
5/15 Seattle WA – Tractor Tavern 

World Premiere Track – Dom Flemons “Til The Seas Run Dry”

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Grammy Award winner and two-time Emmy nominee Dom Flemons is known as “The American Songster.”

Flemons is a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, actor, music scholar, historian, and record collector. He is considered an expert player on the banjo, fife, guitar, harmonica, jug, percussion, quills, and rhythm bones.

A co-founder of the Grammy®-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, he was a member of the group from their inception in 2005 through 2013. As a solo artist beginning in 2014, Flemons has performed at prestigious venues all around the world including Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Grand Ole Opry, Philadelphia Folk Festival, Newport Folk Festival, opening ceremony at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Cecil Sharp House, and served as a U.S. representative at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching, Malaysia.

His third solo album, Prospect Hill, was released in 2014 after Flemons spent many years learning and playing with tradition bearers such as Marty Stuart, Taj Mahal, Guy Davis, Mike Seeger, and James “Boot” Hanks, among many others. After spending decades listening to a variety of vinyl records, 78s and CDs, Flemons took these musical influences and transformed them into an album that redefines “The American Songster.” In 2020, this seminal release returns in an amazing expanded edition.

Prospect Hill: The American Songster Omnibus, due out February 28, 2020,  is a two-CD and Digital collection containing a three-part journey: the original Prospect Hill album; the 2015 Record Store Day nine-track EP What Got Over (originally vinyl only, now making its first appearance on CD/Digital); and a third section, The Drum Major Instinct, a set of 12 previously unissued instrumental tracks that focus on moods, rhythm experimentations, and “the beats.” The two albums serve as a comprehensive overview of Flemons’ repertoire, which spans over 100 years and bridges the gaps among blues, country, jazz, bluegrass, folk, and hip-hop beats. Flemons has recorded original songs and instrumental tracks that paint a mosaic of American music ranging from the songsters of the 1920s to the present.

This recording is part of the African American Legacy Recordings series, co-produced with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Black Cowboys spent 55 weeks on the Billboard Bluegrass Charts, peaking at #4. Items from the album have been included in the American Currents Class of 2018exhibit at theCountry Music Hall of Fame alongside Reba McEntire, Jeannie Seely, Chris Stapleton, Molly Tuttle, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Kane Brown, Dan Auerbach, Dan + Shay, John Prine, and more.

Of this World Premiere track, Flemons told us:

I wrote ‘Til The Seas Run Dry’ in the style of the early jazz revival groups of the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. The records of New Orleans jazz musicians like Billie and DeDe Pierce, Sweet Emma, Danny Barker, Percy and Willie Humphrey and Creole George Guesnon turned me onto the folk roots of jazz. These recordings were partially created as a response to the development of Bebop jazz, which made a conscious effort to move away from the older dance styles that define New Orleans jazz, big band, and swing.

I began to research the folk roots of jazz after listening to the field recordings of folklorist Samuel Charters and the Library of Congress recordings of songster Jelly Roll Morton. Morton defined jazz not so much as a definitive repertoire but a style that one could place upon any material written or otherwise. This means that a musician could ‘jazz’ up a song by adding extra elements to a tune which inherently gives it more character or flavor.

‘Til The Seas Run Dry’ is a song that embodies the classic ‘head and hum’ arrangements that placed jazz on the world stage. In writing the lyrics, I’m reminded of my early years in college when I used to go to the local coffee shops and listen to the jazz studies graduate students jam on the Bebop songbook.  This fueled my own desire to get deep into the sounds of Charles Mingus, Art Blakey, Teddy Wilson, Dave Brubeck, and an album by the Herb Hall Quartet album called ‘Old Tyme Modern’.

This version of ‘Til The Seas Run Dry’ also features a black string band ensemble which includes myself playing Big Head Joe the Giant six-string banjo and Mike Seeger’s Gibson six-string banjo, Ben Hunter on the Fiddle, and Guy Davis on Harmonica. In a special bonus episode of American Songster Radio, I talk about the musicianship and playing styles that create this exuberant recording. The Bands That Shaped ‘Til The Seas Run Dry’:

American Songster Radio Episode 17.

Dom Flemons on Facebook

*Feature image Timothy Duffy

Early Music From Members of the Allman Brothers to be Released March 27

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Very early music from members of the Allman Brothers Band will be released on CD for the first time March 27, and vinyl that has been out of print since the late 1960’s will be available as well. In all, four albums will trace three of the band member’s nascent music projects including the Allman Joys, Hour Glass and 31st of February.

Formed just out of high school and originally called The Escorts and then Allman Joys, Duane and Gregg Allman recorded the band’s only session work in August 1966, which wouldn’t be released until 1973 and has been out of print since.  After the Allman Joys went their own ways, Duane and Gregg formed Hour Glass, releasing their self-titled debut in 1967 and Power Of Love in 1968, both on the Liberty label. What is telling in these early recordings are hints of what would become signature Allman Brothers Band sounds. You can hear moments of what would become guitarist Duane Allman’s signature licks, as well as his little brother Gregg’s Hammond B-3 prowess and his soulful, bluesy voice.

The fourth release is a September 1968 recording session for Scott Boyer, David Brown and ABB drummer Butch Trucks’ band the 31st of February. These demo sessions for their second, unreleased album feature probably the earliest versions of Gregg’s hit “Melissa,” and would be released as Duane & Gregg in May 1972.

The Allman Brothers Band formed in March 1969, and the original lineup of Duane Allman, Gregg Allman, Jaimoe, Butch Trucks, Berry Oakley and Dickey Betts would go on to become one of the biggest rock bands in the world, bolstered by their definitive 1971 live album, At Fillmore East. The Allman Brothers Band earned seven gold and four platinum records and they are members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and were given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.

Allman Brothers Band

Chicago Blues Artist Dave Specter Asks “Just How Low Can One Man Go?”

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Internationally renowned Bluesman Dave Specter has released a new video “How Low Can One Man Go?” from his newly released, critically acclaimed album: Blues From The Inside Out. Starring Dave and his band, and with a special guest appearance by the legendary Jorma Kaukonen, from Hot Tuna/Jefferson Airplane and a member of The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Dave explores the insanity of this presidency through lyrics and visuals.

“This song came from the incredible frustration so many of us have endured as we watch our government and democratic norms burn around us,” says Specter. “Basic human decency has been thrown into a cesspool of misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia and racism. This song was inspired by protest songs of the past and troubling times in the present.”

Appearing with Dave in the video is Brother John Kattke (piano), Harlan Terson (bass), Marty Binder (drums), Devin Thompson (vocals) and world renowned artist Marcos Raya. The video was created and directed by Bill Brichta, Jon Siskel, and Dave Specter.

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Specter has earned an international reputation as one of the premier talents on the Chicago music scene. For the past 35 years Dave has toured in 20 countries and appears on over 45 CDs, LPs and DVDs as a guitarist, bandleader and/or producer.

Released on Delmark Records in October 2019, Blues From The Inside Out is the most expressive project of Specter’s 35-year career. Featuring his debut as a vocalist, the album is an exciting and timely celebration of blues, soul, jazz, funk and gospel. It has charted #1 on Living Blues Radio Charts, and received rave reviews both nationally and internationally.

Dave Specter

*Feature image Harvey Tillis

BB King Blues Band & The BB King Estate Have Joined Forces – “The BB King Experience”

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The B.B. King Blues Band are thrilled to announce their new partnership with The B.B. King Estate. This joint venture now finds the two forces working together to bring the world The B.B. King Experience, the band’s new working name. In addition to the upcoming world tour (dates listed below), the single “Rock Me Baby” featuring George Benson, Tito Jackson and Claudette King will be released this summer.

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Five years since the passing of the great B.B. King, his towering influence over the blues world, and beyond, remains undimmed. King’s music will never be forgotten, and the iconic bluesman’s presence is felt stronger than ever as his spirit will appear on tour. With over 100 years of cumulative experience between them, the “Experience” not only supported King, but they would start each show by performing onstage before B.B. came on-stage. The B.B. King Experience’s current line-up includes: James ‘Boogaloo’ Bolden (trumpet). Russell Jackson (bass and vocals), Wilbert Crosby (guitar and cocals), Darrell Lavigne (keyboards). Claudette King (vocals) and Myron ‘Big Jack’ jackson (trumpet.)

The bands last album was released in May 2019 and debuted at #1 in the Billboard Blues Charts. The Soul of the King featured many a-listers inluding Taj Mahal, Joe Louis Walker, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Kenny Neal & Michael Lee.


James ‘Boogaloo’ Bolden (trumpet/lead & backing vocals)
Born in Houston, TX, James Bolden began his musical training under the guidance of Edmund C. Broussard. Bolden later seized the opportunity to study classical trumpet under Houston Symphony Trumpeter Richard Schafer. James went on to play with local union bands that performed with a wide array of artists such as Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes, Temptations, Supremes, Spinners, and James Brown. Bolden eventually was given the opportunity to join the Duke Ellington Orchestra where he thrived for years. Bolden later joined the band of B.B. King and became bandleader during a stint of over 35 years. James Bolden now continues his association with B.B. King by joining B.B. King’s Band as bandleader.

Claudette King (Vocals)
Blues/jazz/r&b/singer Claudette King, is the youngest daughter of ultimate blues master B.B. King and is quick to cite her father as her main “inspiration.” Trained in the gospel of the Baptist church from age 13, King has developed some of the emotional authority that one associates with her mighty mentors: Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Koko Taylor, Chaka Khan, Mavis Staples, Mahalia Jackson, even Michael Jackson. The affable singer will tell you: “I got a bit of everybody inside of me.” Conscientious and hard-working, she shows her own style, her own identity, through rhythm, phrasing, and timbre with ease and confidence. A long-time Californian, currently based in Atlanta, Claudette has released one European album to date.

Russell Jackson (bass guitar/lead Vocals/backing vocals)
Starting his 41-year career in 1974, Russell Jackson moved to Chicago in 1976 and gained his blues stripes working with Otis Clay, Buddy Guy, Bobby Rush, and others like Charlie Musselwhite and WIllie Nelson. For 8 years, Russell toured exclusively with B.B. King as his bass guitarist for over 17 years. Jackson was the first artist to put slap bass on a live blues recording, (Live at Old Miss 1979). During the 1990’s, he recorded with Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne on his Juno Award winning CD. In 1992, the Russell Jackson Band debuted and Jackson released three CD’s of his own material. Present day, Russell is the Music Director for the New Generations of the Blues European Tours, formerly known as The Chicago Blues Festival. Jackson was welcomed into the B.B. King’s Blues Band because of his extraordinary talent.

Wilbert Crosby (guitar and vocals)
Born and currently based in Chicago, Crosby has had the opportunity to perform and record with a diverse group of artists such as Pops Staples, Mavis Staples, Aretha Franklin, Charlélie Couture, and Carey Bell. A love for Blues, Gospel, Jazz and Soul music has been a part of his life since childhood. His father was a local tenor saxophone player in Chicago in the 1950’s and his godfather was Howlin’ Wolf’s blues drummer S.P. Leary, Crosby was always surrounded by legendary artists. By the time he was 10 years old, he was playing guitar with his father’s band during their rehearsals. In 1983, Wilbert began playing with Pops Staples and went on his first international tour. Already interested in composition, he had the opportunity to compose and arrange for other artists including Carey Bell. Out of their collaborations and creative efforts, the album, “Good Luck Man” (1997) won the W.C. Handy Award. Accolades have adorned Crosby’s career. He was awarded the Albert King award in 1996 and has performed at the White House during both the Clinton and Bush administrations. He performed the Grammy awarded song, “Have A Little Faith” with Mavis Staples at the 2005 Grammy Awards. Additionally, he played with Pops Staples at the 1995 Grammy Awards in an all-star jam with Bonnie Raitt, Phil Upchurch, WahWah Watson, Isaac Hayes & Maria Muldaur.

Darrell Lavigne (Keyboards/Vocals)
Lavigne has been performing on stages around the world, most notably New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Rotterdam JVC Jazz Festival Netherlands, and the Berlin Jazz Festival. He began his musical life at age 10, first on guitar then trumpet, but piano became his instrument of choice. “I wanted to explore harmony and the colors of music. Piano represented that for me.” Darrell’s influences came for the usual jazz sources as Monk, Bud Powell, Ahmad Jamal, Hancock, and Corea. Charlie Parker, Coltrane, and Miles Davis. Early musical exposure in addition to the mentoring by Ellis Marsalis and Edward “Kidd” Jordan helped Lavigne become one of the most sought-after pianists around. Darrell has gone on to record two albums with then Columbia Jazz Artist, Kent Jordan, write for one (Night Aire) and produce another (Out of This World). Over the years, Darrell has performed with artists BB King, BB King’s Blues Band, Kirk Whalum, Marion Meadows, George Duke, Hubert/Ronnie Laws, and Everette Harp to name a few. He continues to produce and write for a number of artists. Discography: Blue Orleans (Fertile Crescent, 2000); Kidd Jordan/IAQ-Kidd Stuff (Danjor); Michael Ward-After The Kiss (Sweet Music Records, 2006).

Mar 21—Burghausen Jazz Festival—Burghausen, Germany
Mar 28—Sac & Fox Casino—Powhattan, KS*
Apr 18—Gemeindesaal—Lubdewerra, Germany
Apr 19—Tanje Ju—Dresden, Germany
Apr 20—Vienna Blues Festival—Vienna, Austria
Apr 22—Blues Festival Basel—Basel, Switzerland
Apr 23—Scala— Ludwigburg, Germany
Apr 24—Blue Note Idar—Oberstein, Germany
Apr 25—Harmonie—Bonn, Germany
Apr 26—Quasimodo—Berlin, Germany
Apr 27—Hamburg Blues Club—Hamburg, Germany
Apr 28—Musiktheater Piano—Dortmund, Germany
Apr 29—Colos-Saal—Aschaffenburg, Germany
Apr 30—La Pigalle—Paris, France
May 1—Under the Bridge—London, England
May 2—Blues Garage—Hanover, Germany
May 24—Great Lakes Center for the Arts—Petoskey, MI
May 29—Vorstin City—Hilversum, Netherlands
May 30—Duvel Blues Festival—Puurs, Belgium
May 31—Rib City—Raathe, Netherlands
Jun 12—The Devon Lakeshore Ampitheatre—Decatur, IL
Jun 13—Tinner Hill Music Festival—Falls Church, VA

*featuring Tito Jackson

The B.B. King Experience

Willie Nelson Continues!

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Days before winning his 2020 GRAMMY award for Best Country Solo Performance for “Ride Me Back Home,” Willie Nelson played a 70-minute concert in Ontario, California for Inland Empire fans. 

Willie opened the show with “Whiskey River,” his 1973 hit single. Willie and the audience kicked off in unison, singing the lyrical plea, “Whiskey River take my mind.” From that opening verse on, the night was a huge celebration of his music and career as America’s larger-than-life, living country legend. The audience had a pure adoration for him.

Framed within the stage’s backdrop of a Lone Star flag, his eight-piece band (featuring son Lukas Nelson on guitar), breezed through a setlist of one music treasure after another as only Willie could sing them. A good vibe the whole way. Nothing awkward or political, just music that brings everyone together. 

The whimsical country shuffle “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die,” now more than ever, captures the current sentiment of our times as states legalize cannabis. 

Singing “On The Road Again” could be considered a proclamation that night, after taking time off having canceled some 2019 dates. Now back touring, he not only made good on his promise that he would get back on the road, but at 86 years of age, he is still as great as ever.

“Always On My Mind” is the best at showcasing Willie’s gentle and down-to-earth voice that is so comforting. It evoked many fond memories.

Steering the mood to serene, Wille serenaded the house to the Django Reinhardt’s instrumental “Nuages,” demonstrating his jazz guitar skills. Winding down the show, Willie delivered the old Mac Davis country waltz “Hard To Be Humble.”   

Ending the show on an even higher note, Willie closed with a sweet, inspirational medley of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away.” The evening’s opening act, Tennessee Jet, joining in.

Willie’s concert was a feel-good and unifying event. Everyone who ever liked his music should make it a point to see him live if they haven’t yet. 

Set list:

Whiskey River

Still Is Still Moving For Me

Beer for my Horses

Good Hearted Woman 

Texas Flood

Its All BS

Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys

It’s All Going To Pot

Smoke Me When I Die

On The Road Again

Always On My Mind

Jambalaya / Hey Good Lookin’ / Move It One Over


The Only Hell

Hard To Be Humble

Will The Circle Be Unbroken / I’ll Fly Away

This and other live recordings of the tour are available for download.

Tom The Suit Forst – World of Broken Hearts

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At 57 years-old, regional vice president for Cox Media Tom Forst signed the last check for his children’s college tuition. With that task crossed-off his list, he was able to move on to the next one: quitting his job and launching a music career. World of Broken Hearts, Forst’s EP, shows that he made the right call joining the musical circus, with five tracks featuring his soulfully worn voice, huge rock grooves, and thoughtfully layered tracks.

World is one of those albums that reveals itself over repeated listens. On a song like “Late Night Train,” it’s easy to focus on the thundering beat and the stout guitar, courtesy of Paul Nelson, which sounds like Leslie West in his prime, Nelson mimicking the Mountain man’s signature vibrato with slide guitar. Forst’s voice weaves its way through it all, calmly reassuring, but also with intent and intensity. But eventually you begin to notice the other elements. The electric banjo, courtesy of Forst, bobs beneath the track, like waves lapping against the side of a boat. Background vocals subtly augment his own, giving some selective punch, without drowning Forst out. It’s a credit both to Forst and to producer Ethan Isaac.

Building sound upon sound is hard, but a rock track can be forgiving. The title track is equally complex, but also quiet and acoustic, a riskier layering gambit. Here, Forst uses his voice, acoustic guitar, strings, and more of Nelson’s slide guitar, to create a beautifully poppy song that spotlights the ragged beauty of Forst’s singing. Forst’s vocals are wisely kept front-and-center, with the lightly-woven track gently lifting him from below.

“Everything is Falling” is a bombastic ballad featuring singer Christine Ohlman, best known for her beehive and her role as vocalist in the Saturday Night Live band. The song’s melody and prominent organ recall Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” but with a more contemporary sound. Forst benefits from Ohlman’s presence, pushing his own vocals to keep up with hers.

The album ends with a funky take on “Hoochie Coochie Man,” made famous by Muddy Waters. Where Waters’ defining take has a zen-like simplicity, Forst pulls out all of the stops, throwing in a slither of a groove, piles of organ, and an army of guitars. On the one hand, as a blues purist, I’m of the mind that Waters perfected the song, so why even cover it? But I’m also impressed that Forst found another angle on something so iconic, and that the take is interesting and works.

EPs can feel like speed dating. Artists are trying to get across their essence in a few pithy moments. It’s not just a hard thing to do, it’s arguably impossible. Yet Forst has managed it here, wisely selecting strong songs that, while thematically similar, also spotlight his range. Also helping things are stellar performances, all of it making you grateful that Forst traded his suits for a guitar.

Tom The Suit Forst

Blues Belter Whitney Shay to Unveil New Album

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On February 21st, Ruf Records will be releasing Whitney Shay‘s new album, Stand Up! It’s not just an album title, it’s an order, forcing anyone who hears Shay’s brand of rocket-fueled R&B onto the dancefloor. A flame-haired stick of dynamite in a sparkling dress, this San Diego phenomenon has made an album for dancing, drinking and dreaming, with songs to soundtrack the peaks and punches of life. “I make high-energy soulful rhythm ‘n’ blues,” Shay explains, “that makes people dance and feel something deep inside.”

Stand Up! is sure to mark the global explosion of a singer-songwriter who’s long been threatening to go ‘boom.’ Coming up the old-fashioned way, with word-of-mouth shows blazing her reputation across the planet, Shay is a four-time winner at the San Diego Music Awards, and recipient of a nomination at 2019’s prestigious Blues Music Awards.

Stand Up! was tracked at Austin’s Wire Recording Studio with producer Kaz Kazanoff. Setting the pace with the title track’s brassy soul and smoky quickfire vocal, this new record’s upbeat moments twist from the rolling groove of “Tell The Truth” to the dirtied-up funk of “P.S. It’s Not About You,” with Shay’s all-star studio band rising to the occasion.

“One of my favorite memories was recording the duet ‘Far Apart(Still Close)’ with Guy Forsyth,” the singer remembers. “Within an hour we were singing together and cracking each other up. Laura Chavez’s brilliant guitar solos really shone and the interplay between her and Derek O’Brien on Equal Ground, we jokingly referred to as ‘Godzilla versus Mothra,’ because they are both such monster guitarists! Then there’s Red Young, who’s such an artist on organ, and when we would let him rip – like he did on the end of Stand Up! – he added the perfect amount of soul to every track.”

The songs on Stand Up! co-written with Adam J. Eros, bring you deep into Shay’s headspace, with themes that span from the personal to the socio-political. “Being a strong, independent woman, raised by my single mother and grandmother, many of the songs on this album deal with themes of equality and female empowerment,” she says. “’Someone You Never Got To Know’ is about not knowing how to mourn the passing of someone that you never got to have a relationship with. When I recorded that song, I was in tears, and we ended up using that take, because of the emotion in it.”

Whether it’s raucous or wracked with pain, every note on Stand Up! is real. Shay and her band take Stand Up! out on the road for Ruf Records’ 2020 Blues Caravan showcase. “When I perform,” says Shay, “I want people to dance and be engaged. To me, music has always been about catharsis, the purging of sad experiences. If I can make the audience leave smiling and feeling like they’ve forgotten about the troubles of their day, I’ve done my job.”

Check out this video with Whitney Shay, along with Blues Caravan partners Jeremiah Johnson and Ryan Perry!

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Whitney Shay

2020 Ruf Records Blues Caravan Dates

*Feature image Andy King

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