This week on Music City Roots, it’s another killer show featuring sets from Shonna Tucker & Eye Candy, Julie Roberts, Willie Sugarcapps, Jason D. Williams, and The Barefoot Movement. Jim Lauderdale hosts.
About the artists:
Shonna Tucker grew up in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, listening to the same salty-sweet mix of soul and country that made up the Arthur Alexander and James Carr singles recorded there decades before. She played bass in the Shoals scene from her high-school years until starting an eight-year stint as bassist and singer for the Drive-By Truckers. During Tucker and bandmate John Neff’s time with the band, they released critically acclaimed albums like “Go Go Boots”, which rose to #35 on the Billboard charts and garnered significant praise. They both played on Betty Lavette’s “The Scene of the Crime” which was nominated for a Grammy, followed by “Potato Hole” with Booker T. Jones, which won a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental album at the 52nd awards show. The band made appearances on both David Letterman and Jimmy Fallon’s late night shows, and toured with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
The music she makes today in Athens, Georgia, flows from the same vein as the music she grew up with: songs that haunt and float like Dolly Parton’s “Down from Dover” and ones that pulse and move like Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle,” rockers that are right at home on the stage of the 40 Watt downtown and folk songs that are at home among the donkeys and hens on her farm outside town.
Shonna’s band, Eye Candy, includes four of the most prolific players in the Athens music scene: John Neff on guitar and pedal steel, Bo Bedingfield on guitar, Neil Golden on keyboards, and Clay Leverett on drums. For nearly twenty years, John has been one of the town’s most sought-after collaborators in the studio and on the road. Bo is singer/songwriter and leader of the Wydelles, and has backed up several other local songwriters on drums and guitar. Clay led the Athens rock band Lona for eight years before starting honky-tonk band the Chasers, and has played drums and toured with Bright Eyes and Now It’s Overhead. Neil, former member of the Glands and Elf Power, also writes and sings for Golden Brown.
Shonna Tucker and Eye Candy’s debut album, “A Tell All”, was recorded by Kyle Spence (Harvey Milk). It features ten songs about love and jealously, nights spent on the road and nights spent in the kitchen, the things men do to women and women do for men. “All these songs came fast, in a few months time,” explains Tucker, ‘There was no theme or plan at all. Inspiration came from what was happening around me and that was a lot of different things. The first single, ‘Since Jimmy Came’ is about a very young and single mom who thought she had found true love until she had her son. The realization of priorities. Nature at it’s finest.”
The record will be released October 15th on Sweet Nectar Records/Red Eye, and the band will hit the road to bring this killer collection of songs to life.
Julie Roberts’ first new full-length release in almost three years, “GOOD WINE AND BAD DECISIONS” marks the acclaimed singer/songwriter’s defining musical moment thus far. Just as significantly, the album represents Roberts’ debut with the legendary Sun Records, world-renowned home to such icons as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison. The first new release on Sun in decades, “GOOD WINE AND BAD DECISIONS” is a genuine milestone in the label’s storied history, as well as Roberts’ own incredible artistic and personal journey.
“I feel like I’ve finally found a place to be,” she says. “Where my music really fits. I’m really excited about that. It doesn’t seem real in a way. Maybe when I see the actual record with the Sun label on it.
“There’s some pressure to live up to the Sun Records tradition, but I just keep reminding myself to do what I do, to do the best that I can do. I’m so thankful that they believe in what I do enough to let me do it.”
Sun Records famously brought together a variety of musical genres to create something altogether new, and “GOOD WINE AND BAD DECISIONS” very much carries on that great tradition. The album reflects Roberts’ ardor and admiration for such like-minded artists as Ray LaMontagne, Norah Jones, and Amos Lee – diverse singer/songwriters who fuse elements of folk, R&B, rock, and classic country into a distinctly modern brand of Americana.
“Bluesy, soulful country – that’s a sound I’ve always been drawn to,” she says. “Because that’s my vibe too.”
“GOOD WINE AND BAD DECISIONS” was recorded over the spring and summer of 2013 with her longtime collaborator, songwriter/musician Jason Collum, and his multi-talented partners at the Nashville-based production company Sorted Noise.
“They understand me as an artist,” Roberts says of the Sorted Noise team. “They all do. They understand my goals and where I want to be.”
Roberts’ most recent album, 2011’s extraordinary “ALIVE,” recounted a particularly difficult period in the singer’s life, a trying time that saw her losing her home and car to the historic Nashville floods just as she was being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. A strikingly personal song cycle, “ALIVE” served as Roberts’ public affirmation of her thankfully continuing presence. “GOOD WINE AND BAD DECISIONS” is by design, a more upbeat and direct affair, setting her rich vocals to a number of favorite songs written and collected over her career but “saved for the right project.”
“I don’t know that there’s a particular story I’m telling,” Roberts says. “I’m just doing songs that I love, that I’m drawn to. I just wanted it to be a collection of songs that I connect with.”
Spanning hell-raising honky tonk to tearjerking ballads, songs like “When It’s Over,” “Keep Me Up All Night” and the boisterous title track – written in collaboration with Collum and others – are among Roberts’ finest to date, blessed by a frank, straightforward lyrical voice as resonant and emotive as her own remarkable singing. Roberts credits the lifelong influence of such indelible women as Patsy Cline and Barbara Mandrell, not to mention her own adored mother, whose romantic travails inspired the album’s heartbreaking “Old Habit.”
“When I write I’m kind of tapping into the music I listened to growing up,” she says, “the traditional country music Mama always listened to. I’m just drawn to that sound and that kind of honesty.”
Other highlights include the fiery “Gasoline and Matches,” written by and featuring vocals from the illustrious guitarist/producer Buddy Miller, as well as a delicious cover of Bobbie Gentry’s timeless “He Made A Woman Out Of Me,” penned by Fred Burch & Donald Hill and selected from the late Sun Records owner Shelby Singleton’s expansive song catalogue.
“There are so many songs I really love,” Roberts says, “I’ve actually got way more songs than I can put on a record. That’s a good problem to have.”
Having already spent much of her life singing and performing, Roberts first stepped into the national spotlight with 2004’s self-titled debut album. Fueled by the top 20 Country smash, “Break Down Here,” “JULIE ROBERTS” quickly earned RIAA gold for sales in excess of 500,000, as well as a plethora of critical praise. “One of the most auspicious debuts in years,” declared Entertainment Weekly in an “A” rated rave. “(Roberts) cuts through country’s dross to find its bluesy heart. In choosing songs of substance and sensuality, the South Carolina native harks back to the confessional style of Linda Ronstadt, packing hidden hurts and dashed dreams into every chorus.” The New York Times agreed, praising “JULIE ROBERTS” as “an album full of addictive and complicated love songs,” further naming “Break Down Here” as “one of the year’s best country ballads.”
Roberts was an undeniable sensation, making a wide range of national TV appearances, including three memorable performances on NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and five appearances on ABC’s Good Morning America, not to mention being paired alongside Rihanna in Clinique’s “HAPPY” campaign. In addition, she was the first-ever focus of CMT’s In The Moment, documenting how she rose from Universal Music Group Nashville assistant to a breakout star in her own right. Multiple honors also followed, including an array of nominations from the Country Music Association, the Academy of Country Music, and the CMT Awards.
“MEN & MASCARA” followed in 2006, making a top 5 chart debut on Billboard’s “Top Country Albums” tally while also entering among the top 25 on the overall Billboard 200. The album – which marked Roberts’ first foray into songwriting, with four co-writes among the tracklisting – again earned widespread applause, with Allmusic.com extolling it as “a Nashville country album that transcends the usual clichés to a remarkable extent.”
Having spent years touring and recording, Roberts took a brief hiatus from music to recharge her batteries and confront a number of personal challenges. She returned stronger than ever with 2011’s “ALIVE” and the “WHO NEEDS MISTLETOE?” holiday EP, both released via her own independent Ain’t Skeerd Records. The Yuletide-themed EP received critical hosannas across the board, with the New York Times hailing it as “Ms. Roberts’s best work since her smoldering self-titled 2004 debut. Like that album, this EP is spare and desperate-sounding, with plenty of spaces for Ms. Roberts’s lovely husky voice to seep into.”
Now, with the imminent release of “GOOD WINE AND BAD DECISIONS,” Roberts is eagerly anticipating a full-scale return to the road, with plans calling for nearly non-stop touring long into the indefinite future. She is also quick to point out that, despite her ongoing battle with MS, she is more than prepared to tackle whatever challenges the endless highway might offer.
“I want people to know that I can still do whatever I want,” she says. “It’d be way more stressful for me to not be doing what I love. I would worry more for my health sitting home than playing shows every night. That’s where I love to be.”
Roberts’ spirited enthusiasm rings loud and true throughout “GOOD WINE AND BAD DECISIONS.” Together with the powerhouse support of both Sun Records and Sorted Noise, the gifted songstress has given her substantial all to craft an album that stands simultaneously as her most grounded and most adventurous, an undeniably special collection of songs touched by a truly unique artist’s authenticity, resourcefulness, and passion.
“God gave me this opportunity that I’ve asked for,” Julie Roberts says, “so I’m putting everything I’ve got into it. Everything. Every bit of energy, every bit of emotion. I’m just going for it. I’m doing what I love and I’m praying that other people love it too.”
Way down in lower Alabama, almost every weekend for the past two years, folks have been coming together for a music gathering called The Frog Pond at Blue Moon Farm. One part house concert, one part Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble, the affair has hosted some of the country’s finest songwriters, pickers, bluesman and troubadours ranging from Mary Gauthier to Alvin Youngblood Hart, Malcolm Holcombe to Randall Bramblett, Sergio Webb to George Porter, Jr. It was here that frequent encounters between reoccurring artists—Grayson Capps, Will Kimbrough, Corky Hughes and the duo Sugarcane Jane featuring Savana Lee and Anthony Crawford—led to the birth of a band, the aptly named Willie Sugarcapps.
At first it was simply songwriter-in-the-round and jam session-styled collaborations, but it quickly grew to become something more. There was chemistry between the five distinct musicians that inspired a repertoire of songs demanding to be documented. They recruited Capps’ longtime partner and Grammy Award-winning producer/engineer Trina Shoemaker to record them, which resulted in the self-titled, debut album, Willie Sugarcapps. The collection presents ten impeccably crafted songs imbued by relaxed performances, angelic harmonies and country Zen sentiment. Band members often take turns singing lead as they switch up between fiddle, banjo, mandolin, lap steel, bass and even ukulele.
“Willie Sugarcapps is a homecoming for all of us,” explains Will Kimbrough. “It’s coming full circle back to the beginning of why we do this in the first place and the joy of what happens when you play and sing with people who are alike in spirit and mind.”
Their collective musical experiences mingle together to create a new kind of organic and artisanal music. It’s laid back, it rocks, it comes from classic country, from the blues, from New Orleans and from the best kind of rock ‘n’ roll. It tells a story through five individual voices full of character and experience with humanity, energy and soul. It’s comforting to know that music in the hands of these five artists still happens for no other reason than purely the sake of the music itself.
Enthusiastic, Reckless, Stormy, Rock & Roll in its natural state… This explains why the Kansas City Star pronounced Jason D. Williams as “the past and future of rock & roll.” The Beacon Journal dubbed him as “The worlds greats piano player.” Most importantly this reminds you of why you got into rock & roll in the first place, to get a little wild.
After seeing a live show there will be no doubt why fans and critics alike agree with that summation of the dynamic piano player from Memphis. Jason D. has the same musical innovation and on the edge attitude as Jerry Lee and Elvis.
Jason’s style is difficult to describe. From Classical to Rockabilly to Country to Jazz and on to Rock & Roll, Jason D. adapts to each different concert setting he performs.
Television cameras love Jason’s energy and style. He has appeared on such shows as MTV’s News at Night, MTV The Week in Rock, Pat Sajak Show, LIVE! on ABC, Regis and Kathie Lee Show, VH1, VH1’s This is Country, Crook & Chase, Nashville Now, Music City Tonight, Entertainment Tonight, that’s just to name a few.
Jason is on the road over 200 days a year playing to crowds in every setting, from clubs to amphitheaters and many corporate sponsored events. Jason D. is unique, talented and full of raw energy. This is one act you have to see and hear to believe.
Johnson City’s The Barefoot Movement have been making waves in the folk world since the release of their 2011 debut album Footwork.
2013 brings the release of a new album, cross country touring, and all manners of shoeless excitement. Their new effort, Figures of the Year, comes on the heels of their west coast tour, opening for Anti Records artists The Milk Carton Kids from Denver to San Francisco to Vancouver. The record itself is a journey through a year, each song telling its part of the larger story, with both original and traditional numbers, complete with all the elements that make up the Barefoot sound: lush harmonies, thoughtful instrumentation, and memorable melodies.
From the foot-tapping instrumental “Sheepherder” to the emotional ballad “Thunder” and everything in between, these roots music newcomers have assembled quite the collection here, both old songs and new, offering something for everyone.