It’s a brand-new show from Music City Roots, and this one was their most over-sold night ever, thanks to a certain smooth singing cat named Amos Lee. He closes the show. Also on the bill, Americana superstars Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott feature music from their first duo project in a decade. Plus Angel Snow, Sam Lewis, and Bradford Lee Folk and the Bluegrass Playboys.
About the artists:
Amos Lee (born Ryan Anthony Massaro; June 22, 1977) is an American singer-songwriter whose musical style encompasses folk, rock and soul. He was born in Philadelphia and graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in English. After working as a schoolteacher and bartender he began to pursue a career in music. His manager submitted a demo recording to Blue Note Records which resulted in a recording contract and an association with singer Norah Jones.
Since that time Lee has recorded five albums on Blue Note Records and has toured as an opening act for Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Paul Simon, Merle Haggard, Van Morrison, John Prine, Dave Matthews Band, Adele, the Zac Brown Band, Jack Johnson, and The Avett Brothers. His music has appeared on the soundtracks of numerous TV shows and movies. He has performed on several late night TV shows and at a voter registration rally for Barack Obama. In 2011, his album Mission Bell debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott have a lot in common. Both musicians are accomplished singer-songwriters and multi-instrumentalists, and they both share a passion for country and bluegrass music. On Memories and Moments, their first album together since 2000′s Real Time, Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott channel their passions with heartfelt songs that balance rich instrumentals with introspective lyrics. The result is a fine piece of true American roots music.
The highest caliber of artistry is often intertwined with the deepest sincerity. As is the case with rising star Angel Snow, whose music is the truest and most honest reflection of her life. Her story plays out in self-penned songs, where detail by detail she lets the listener in on her innermost thoughts, hopes, and dreams.
Sometimes sorrowful, often hopeful, and always looking toward faith, Snow’s music is nothing if not sincere. Combine this honesty with sweeping folk melodies and bluesy guitar riffs, and the result is the captivating landscape of sound found on her new self-titled album.
Fate and faithful perseverance have brought Snow to the present, as she prepares to release her second full-length set. With a major boost from acclaimed star Alison Krauss, Snow’s lifelong dreams are coming to fruition. Krauss and Union Station recorded three songs written by Snow for the deluxe edition of the band’s latest album.
“When I met Alison I knew that something was about to happen in my life,” Snow recalls. “The stars aligned in one afternoon, and I met her at the home of a mutual friend. I gave her a CD and she asked me to come to her house the next day. She made me realize that better things were in store for me. It was more than I could have ever hoped for.
“She felt like her brother Viktor and I would have cool creative chemistry. She was right on, because a week later Vik and I wrote the song ‘Lie Awake’ on our first meeting. And that song ended up on the new Alison Krauss and Union Station record.”
Snow was the lyricist that instrumentalist Viktor Krass had long been searching for—he had written the music for “Lie Awake” more than ten years prior. She recalls, “When I heard Vik play that first riff of ‘Lie Awake’ on the guitar, I had a vision of an old white house in a field in the middle of nowhere. A family lived there and the mother was trying very hard to find a way to escape her abusive husband. And she is always lying awake at night trying to figure out how to leave. It’s an empathy story. I’m moved by stories like that. I know that very lonely feeling when you lie awake at night and you can hear the clock ticking.”
Much like the music of her greatest influences, Snow’s songs veer between imagined stories like this one and real-life experiences, always showing incredible sympathy for the suffering and downtrodden. Among her favorite songwriters are Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, Bob Dylan, Trent Reznor, and Elliot Smith.
In the two years since meeting Viktor, a renowned musician in his own right, they have written dozens of songs and started work on Snow’s sophomore album. With Viktor Krauss as producer, they recruited stellar session players including drummer Matt Chamberlain.
The album has eight new songs as well as a few updated tracks originally found on her well-received debut, Fortune Tellers.
One of the new Snow/Viktor Krauss co-writes is proving to be an early fan favorite. “‘These Days’ was probably the fourth or fifth song Vik and I wrote together,” explains Snow. “It’s about making decisions based on what your heart tells you, and being true to yourself. Theodore Roosevelt said, ‘comparison is the thief of joy.’”
Around the time of the song’s writing, Snow was deeply affected by the passing of her aunt. Her strong family ties are rooted in her childhood in tiny Chickamauga, Ga., where her two older brothers were major influences. Fans may be surprised to find out that Angel Snow is her given name, chosen by her brothers who were five and three at the time. The lofty moniker proved fitting, and she was living up to it at an early age.
Snow started singing in the church choir at age six and was soon stealing the spotlight with solo performances. She wrote her first song at age nine, but it would be several years later before she realized that music was her life’s calling. After earning a college degree in psychology, followed by a stint in acting school, she headed west, where so many others have found inspiration among the soaring mountains and natural wonders.
“I was 22 when I moved out west,” says Snow. “It was the first time I’d ever done anything completely on my own. I made the decision to venture out on a Greyhound bus. I look back on it now and it was tough, but I wanted to see this country that I’d never seen before. Working in the parks in Yellowstone and Yosemite, camping and taking in the land and mountains, it was a defining time in my life. That’s where a lot of the songwriting started, because I played guitar every day. I was always playing music with different people that I met and ‘California’ was written about that.”
“California” and the other songs on her debut Fortune Tellers exemplify Snow’s most heartfelt solo-writing. “Coals and Water” is another much-loved track from that album that has been recorded with new instrumentation for the upcoming release. Snow remembers penning the song while living in Philadelphia. “I was sleeping on a friend’s sofa that was so short that my feet hung off. But I didn’t care—it was freedom to me. I didn’t have anything except my suitcase. I was trying to follow my faith, and it was hard not knowing what the next step was going to be. I was going through the changes that you go through when you realize God is real. A year before, I remember having the feeling that there was nothing else out there.”
Her long voyage of faith has lead her to the present, where opportunity appears limitless. “It’s an amazing feeling,” she says of her success thus far. “It’s indescribable. It’s been a hard road, and a lot of hard work, but it’s all been worth it. It’s been a hell of a journey.”
Whether crossing genres or state lines, Sam Lewis has pieced together a story people need to hear. His self-titled debut album pulls together some of Nashville’s most seasoned musicians, who have helped put the breath into a body of songs that are as straight-forward and captivating as the man who sings them.
Five years of constant writing, performing and touring have become the nexus of Lewis’ self-titled debut. Sam has woven ten songs into a conversation, between himself, the band, and his listeners. The two day recording session assembled a group made up of Nashville’s top session and touring players, including guitarist Kenny Vaughan, keyboard player Reggie Bradley Smith, Derek Mixon on drums and bass player Dave Jacques. “It was amazing”, says Lewis, “because I had never played these songs with anybody before, and especially with those type of guys: professional, but also really seasoned musicianship.” Making a surprise appearance on the album is soul chanteuse Jonell Mosser, providing backing vocals on “I’m A River”.
Kicking off with the thick groove of “The Cross I Wear”, every track strikes a balance between light and dark, from the push/pull of Smith and Vaughan, to the way Lewis’ voice melts over the top of the band. “I just fell in love with his music; his delivery and his whole thing,” says Vaughan. “I thought, ‘Man, this guy has really got it going on’, which is very unusual for hardened, grim professionals like us to be impressed by somebody like that. It’s one-in-a-million. It hardly ever happens.”
The combination of Mosser’s and Lewis’ vocals bring “I’m a River” to an almost spiritual level. Every word in the album is a product of Lewis’ careful attention to detail, whether it be the fictional “Bluesday Night” or the autobiographical “Southern Greek Tragedy”. According to Steve Wildsmith, of The Daily Times, Lewis’ writing “conveys the weight of a heavy heart with well-turned phrases and searing images usually reserved for such luminaries as John Prine” that “sets him down a path well worn by contemporaries like Guy Clark and John Hiatt.” He is able to tell the story with only the necessary lyrics, leaving the rest to nuance, and the listeners own discretion.
A mere two day recording session took place at Eric Fritsch’s Eastwood Studio, in Nashville, TN. Once complete, it was put into the hands of two-time Grammy nominee engineer Brandon Bell, who mixed everything together. An appearance on Nashville’s Music City Roots, Craig Havighurst noted, “Beyond the honeyed voice and sparking band (guitar hero Kenny Vaughan included), Sam stood out for his songs, which had that been-here-forever quality. It’s no wonder this guy’s generating buzz… He sings a little like Van Morrison, making it ‘Americana’ with a groovy twist. Welcome to Nashville. More of this please.”
Music was one of the few constants in Sam’s life. His family never stayed anywhere for long, which meant that friendships were forged between himself and the music he absorbed, from Roy Orbison to Van Morrison to Willie Nelson. The influence of Ray Charles can be felt from the first note to the last beat, making Sam’s debut a complimentary companion to Charles’ own, two-volume Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. Leaving home as soon as the opportunity arrived, Sam landed in Knoxville, and later Nashville.
Sam has spent hours, in fact years, collecting and arranging the relationships and experiences he has forged. To the average person, they seem like an amalgamation of time and happenstance, but to him, they are the moral of the story. “I never once felt, in this whole process that someone just kind of pointed. No one took me by the hand, but almost every single one of these connections were very personal. I was introduced to these people that helped make this record. These are gonna be people that I’m going to know the rest of my life.” Lewis has drawn us a clear picture of where he’s going, and thankfully, he has invited us along for the ride.
Born in Louisiana and raised in Missouri, Bradford Lee Folk remembers watching his Dad pick the country blues on a 1966 D35 Martin guitar, the same guitar he plays today. He listened to Bluegrass and Country music from a young age and got his first guitar at age 14. After High School, he traveled to South America for a year where he played and sang from the streets of Argentina to the mountains of Chile. When he returned home to Missouri, he headed west on his motorcycle, chasing pretty girls to the mountains of Carbondale, Colorado. By 1999, Folk was living in a tiny homesteader cabin in Northern Colorado, working as a herdsmen on a dairy farm and driving to bluegrass gigs in his 72’ Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Folk played with various groups around town and soon, he and Caleb Roberts, a Carolina native and mandolin player, combined their passion for old hillbilly music and formed a bluegrass band called Open Road. They became known for playing high-energy, traditional Bluegrass music in Stetson hats and dark suits. Their dress, like their music, was uncommon in Colorado and they quickly gained attention from a variety of audiences. Within a couple of years, Open Road was signed to independent label, Rounder Records, and maintained a busy tour schedule. During their tenure at Rounder, Open Road released three records. The band had a bright future, a large fan base and critical acclaim for their rooted, but street-smart approach to traditional music. After Open Road’s final release in 2006, Folk left the life of a touring musician. He and a few close friends opened a honky tonk bar in Laporte, Colorado called The Swing Station. Folk helped build community support for local music with live bands almost every night of the week and he hosted a weekly bluegrass jam. Not only was the Swing Station an important hang-out for local musicians, it became a destination for nationally touring bands like Asleep At The Wheel, Hank Thompson, James King, Danny Paisley, and Wayne Hancock to name a few. When he wasn’t booking bands, bartending, or working on building maintenance, Folk continued to play music with the bar house bands two or three nights a week. After five years, Folk sold the bar unsure of what was next. Folk now resides in Nashville, Tennessee, a place that has challenged his intentions with music more than ever. Still an outsider here, he is not of Nashville, and he knows it. In spite of this, Folk’s new band, The Bluegrass Playboys, will release a record this fall. His new songs are honest reflections on his own life, it’s Bluegrass, full of contradictions, much like Bradford Lee Folk himself.