Today on Music City Roots, it’s a weekend full of rockin’ beats as we listen to live sets by Donna the Buffalo, Peter Cooper, River Whyless, and Korby Lenker, with Jim Lauderdale as host.
About the artists:
Nashville, Tenn. (April 16, 2013) – More energized and focused than ever before in their near 25-year career, roots-music troubadours Donna The Buffalo will debut their first studio album in five years, Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday, on June 18 via Sugar Hill Records.
The follow up to 2008’s acclaimed Silverlined, which reached the Top 10 on the Americana charts, Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday—the group’s 10th studio album—proves the band as a consistent steward of Americana music, their signature sound—traditional mountain music infused with elements of Cajun, rock, folk, reggae and country—an eclectic and extraordinary melting pot of such.
In creating the new album, founding members and songwriter-vocalists Jeb Puryear (vocals, guitar) and Tara Nevins (vocals, guitar, fiddle, accordion, scrubboard)—joined by band members David McCracken (Hammond organ, clavinet), Kyle Spark (bass) and Mark Raudabaugh (drums)—convened in a rustic church in Enfield, New York, along with co-producer Robert Hunter. The building overflowed with vibe, and the music poured out as the group recorded take after live take to old-school analog tape, with as few overdubs as possible. What resulted are the 14 organic and authentic tracks that make up Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday.
“We tried to do the record and keep in tact the things people love about us,” says Puryear. “We’re really excited to start sharing Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday,” adds Nevins, “because making this record was a very personal process that was also a lot of fun.”
The album will be worked at Americana and AAA radio this spring and summer, with the emphasis track being “I See How You Are,” a tune penned by Nevins. In addition, the band will be touring heavily throughout the remainder of the year to promote Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday. Festival dates include MerleFest, The Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance, Nashville’s Dancin’ In the District, Strangecreek Music Festival, Blue Ridge BBQ and Music Festival, The Great Blue Heron Festival, Red Ants Pants Festival, Targhee Bluegrass Fest, Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival and MagnoliaFest, among many others.
Peter Cooper is an East Nashville-based singer, songwriter, touring artist, sideman, producer, college professor, and award-winning journalist. His first solo album, Mission Door, released in 2008 received critical acclaim as have his two albums with duo partner Eric Brace and his most recent solo project, The Lloyd Green Album. He is a Grammy-nominated producer for the acclaimed 2011 release I Love: Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow.
Upon the completion of Peter Cooper’s debut album, Mission Door, American Songwriter magazine proclaimed it “Cooper’s diploma from the Tom T. Hall School of Damn Good Songwriting.” Cooper’s second solo album was The Lloyd Green Album, another step in his on-going collaboration with the pedal steel Hall of Famer. He has also released two duo works with Eric Brace, You Don’t Have to Like Them Both and Master Sessions (with Lloyd Green and Mike Auldridge). Cooper’s work has won praise from each of his chief influences: Hall, John Prine, Todd Snider, Eric Taylor, and Kris Kristofferson. The latter said, “Peter Cooper looks at the world with an artist’s eye and a human heart and soul. His songs are the work of an original, creative imagination, alive with humor and heartbreak and irony and intelligence, with truth and beauty in the details. Deep stuff. And they get better every time you listen.”
Named one of Nashville’s “10 Most Interesting People” by Nashville Arts & Entertainment magazine, Cooper is also a session player, a producer who has worked with Snider, Emmylou Harris, Ricky Skaggs, Fayssoux Starling McLean, and others, a professor of country music at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music, and a senior music writer at Nashville’s daily paper, The Tennessean.
River Whyless is named in spirit of its ongoing love affair with the natural world. Since its formation in 2009 the band has toured extensively, playing hundreds of shows from coast to coast and into Canada. Its debut album A Stone, A Leaf, An Unfound Door was recorded in the band’s home studio in Asheville, NC and released in March of 2012. Its sound has been described as folk-rock, nature-pop, and baroque-folk, but in the end the members of River Whyless hope only to lend craft to their passions.
Korby Lenker is a sneaky-good songwriter. And singer. And multi-instrumentalist.
An abbreviated list of Lenker’s achievements so far includes: a significant amount of airplay on the legendary Seattle indie rock station KEXP; a BBC 2 interview with Bob Harris, which is only about the highest honor a rootsy singer-songwriter touring the U.K. can get; opening slots for acts ranging from Willie Nelson to Ray LaMontagne, Nickel Creek, Keith Urban, Susan Tedeschi and Tristan Prettyman; a successful run with one of the hottest young West Coast bluegrass bands of the aughts; and wins in the Merlefest folk songwriting contest as well as the Kerrville Folk Festival’s elite New Folk songwriting competition.
Lenker’s composition “My Little Life” brought him the Kerrville honors this year. It doesn’t seem possible that one song could work so well in such disparate worlds, but it also proved its powers as a galvanizing piece of indie-pop, drawing a small army of likeminded, rising Nashville artists and personalities—Jeremy Lister and Katie Herzig to name two—to make lip-syncing, ukulele-strumming cameos in Lenker’s music video.
The song—which is on the Heart of Gold EP he co-produced with A-list keyboardist Tim Lauer this year—itself points to the uncommon mixture of abilities Lenker has honed. It’s imminently accessible and effortlessly tuneful, plus the lyrics express a familiar idea in playfully unexpected ways while pointing to thoughtfulness just beneath the surface. You can tell the guy’s well-read, but he never comes off as too clever for his own good.
“I like it simple,” says Lenker. “I just do. As soon as there’s a weird chord, I’m like, ‘Why? That’s all been done. Who cares?’ What’s really hard is to hit people in the heart and to reach them. That’s what I’m trying to do: make music that’s easily likeable, but with a kind of secret sophistication. I’m always trying to write a song that you can hum along with on the first listen. You’re like, ‘Yeah, I’d like to hear that again.’ Then maybe you hear it 20 times and you’re like, ‘Damn, that’s actually something I’m going to think about now.’”
But there’s a lot more than that to his instinctual, unorthodox journey from being brought up as a mortician’s son in rural Idaho to being recognized as one of the more innovative voices in Nashville’s current music scene.
Back in high school, Lenker had a cover band that enabled him to try on various alt-rock identities. “We covered ‘Under the Bridge,’ by Red Hot Chili Peppers,” he says, “and I didn’t know this at the time, but I listened to it recently and I’m like, ‘Whoa, that’s Korby trying to sing like Anthony Keidis. And this is Korby trying to sing like Trent Reznor.’”
After that, he got really into transcribing Trey Anastasio guitar solos as part of his music theory studies at Western Washington University. He also spent a semester in West Virginia with only his Martin D-18 acoustic guitar for company.
Here’s a bit of insight into the spontaneous spirit that makes Lenker’s music so interesting: He picked up a bargain bin copy of the journalistic snake handling memoir Salvation on Sand Mountain, and, with that alone to go on, decided to drive until he found one of the mountain churches mentioned in the book.
Lenker got new perspective, and a song about a snake-handling preacher, from the experience. “I ended up going home with one of the families,” he says. “We rode home with the snake in the box in the backseat. And I got to be friends with this kid who was my age—I was 23 at the time, and he was 23. We couldn’t have had more different backgrounds. He had an 8th grade education. But we somehow also had a lot in common. We ended up trading letters back and forth for years.”
Lenker returned to the Pacific Northwest inspired by his Appalachian adventures and fully immersed himself in the region’s bluegrass scene, forming a band called The Barbed Wire Cutters that proved to be an immediate hit in those parts. And he found ways to apply his pop-honed sensibilities to that tradition.
“I like it tight,” he offers about his experience fronting the 5 piece bluegrass outfit, which SPIN magazine called “The Young Riders of the bluegrass revolt”. “I like the solos short and I like harmonies in tune…it was all song-driven for me.”
All this time, Lenker was also making solo albums, and that became his primary focus with the folk-leaning Bellingham, which went over wonderfully in the U.K. and landed him on Bob Harris’s BBC Radio 4 show. After a move to Seattle, he got the urge to plug in again, hooked up with Candlebox drummer Scott Mercado and made a nimble modern rock record called King of Hearts that got lots of spins on KEXP and a 4 star review in UK mainstay MOJO magazine.
Toward the end of the last decade, Lenker followed his muse down to his present home of Nashville where he’s not only continued to hone his own unique artistic voice, but launched a stripped-down series of performance videos dubbed Wigby, spotlighting kindred musical spirits he’s found.
“I love those videos,” he says, “because it’s just people being great. It’s not production—it’s just, ‘Can you sing? Can you write a great song? Can you play your instrument well?’”
Deep down, Lenker is drawn both to the sort of unadorned expression the discerning folkie crowd treasures and to the sort of playful pop embellishment and electronic textures that may land one of his tracks in a primetime T.V. show or film any day now.
And there’s nothing at all wrong with having it both ways musically when it comes this naturally. “I can’t abandon either one of them,” Lenker says, “because they’re both so me. One of my favorite musicians in the world, bassist and composer Edgar Meyer once said in an interview ‘The boundaries of music have been and always should be limitless.’ I couldn’t agree more.”