Today on Music City Roots, it’s another lovely morning of fabulous tunes from The Loveless Cafe. Host Jim Lauderdale welcomes Sons of Fathers, Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line, Kenny Roby, Gary Talley & The Road Home, and The Chapin Sisters to the stage.
About the artists:
Trends and styles may change in music, but there are just some things that are timeless…like songwriting from the heart with ear-catching melodies and rich harmony vocals. The team of David Beck (a stage name as his real name is David Whitbeck) and Paul Cauthen has created Sons of Fathers, a band with a soaring, original sound that belies their young age. They have been compared to the Avett Brothers, The Byrds, and The Everly Brothers, albeit with an infusion of Texas grease. Beck and Cauthen came together when each was working on a solo project in San Marcos, Texas. Though the two had met casually, a chance encounter at Thompson’s Island in a park on the Blanco River led them to join forces. Paul remembers, “I was walking in with my guitar and my writing notebook and Dave was walking out with his guitar and book.” As soon as the Texans starting writing and singing together, they realized that they had found something special. “We knocked out an incredible number of songs in two days,” says Paul. Singing together came just as easily. “It’s the weirdest thing. The harmony is the last thing we worry about. We just fall into sockets of harmony naturally,” says Paul. Originally called Beck & Cauthen, the group received a letter from representatives of Beck (the artist who performed ‘Odelay’ and ‘Mellow Gold’). “We had used the phrase ‘Sons of Fathers’ long before we wrote the song and we have changed the band name. It was a sign for us to change the name to something that included the whole band, not just a duo. We are all in this together and we all play a role.” Augmented with Regan Schmidt on guitar and lap steel, Dan Cohen on guitar and mandolin, and Dees Stribling on drums, the band functions as an organic unit. Sons of Fathers is an especially appropriate name as Beck and Cauthen’s heritage has helped make them who they are. Cauthen, a native of Tyler, Texas, began singing in the church at the age of seven and learning guitar from his grandfather, a preacher. He says, “Granddad was a hell of a musician. He chose the Church of Christ instead of the church of rock and roll. I remember learning to sing harmonies in the bathtub at six years old in Tyler, Texas.” Paul now has a tattoo of his grandfather’s signature on his arm and says that his grandfather influences his sense of spirituality to this day. Beck was raised in San Marcos, Texas, the son of Bill Whitbeck, a respected and renowned touring musician. “It was a different lifestyle for a young son. Dad was always on the road for business. We’ve learned from what our fathers and grandfathers have done and put those lessons into our lives,” he reflects. The catalog they have written displays elements of all their most righteous influences. Be it a country shuffle reminiscent of Robert Earl Keen, an Americana folk song steeped in the lyrical weight of Bob Dylan, or a genre-bending tune recalling the Beatles, Sons of Fathers possess something unique. “Our favorite songwriters are the most timeless ones Dylan, Paul Simon, McCartney, Lennon, Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. We also love the Texas writers: Robert Earl Keen, Willis Alan Ramsey, Roger Miller,” says Paul. As they worked up their original compositions, they began to include finely tuned elements from their live show, incorporating tight Everly-esque harmonies and high energy live arrangements. In the spring of 2011, the band ventured into the studio in the hill country town of Doss, Texas. David says, “Being up there focused us and cleared our minds.” Legendary producer Lloyd Maines joined them to co-produce their debut album. “Lloyd put the old soul way of doing things on our record, made sure everything was flowing,” says David. For a new band, they have accomplished much in a short period of time. Most notably, they made their live radio debut on WXPN’s Free at Noon series in August, 2011, a rare event for a new band without a record out. WXPN’s Bruce Warren said, “Their rich vocal harmonies are nothing short of moving.” They have also played at the legendary Gruene Hall. Radio programmer and media consultant Jessie Scott of Music Fog, who has spent her career bringing great music to audiences around the country; and Marty Schwartz, who knows something about harmonies having begun his career working with the Eagles and Elektra during the recording of ‘Hotel California,’ became involved after they heard startlingly amazing demos. Schwartz also works with McVay Media, a radio consultancy and currently with Gold Mountain Entertainment. Schwartz heard one song, Sons of Fathers’ “Adam & Eve,” and got on the next plane to Austin to see the band in person. Soon, the music of Sons of Fathers will not only be timeless, but a timely reminder of how great music can be.
“When you go to a carnival, you go into a sideshow tent, and on every stage you find a different person with a different story,” says Nora Jane Struthers. “That’s why I’m trying to do with this album – craft vignettes, and in some cases more developed narratives, about imaginary people’s lives.”
Struthers’ album Carnival, which will be issued on the singer-songwriter’s own label on April 16, is an ambitious and literate follow-up to the Nashville performer’s much-praised 2010 debut. Produced by Brent Truitt (Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss, Dixie Chicks), who also helmed Struthers’ self-titled bow, Carnival comprises 14 fresh original compositions in her “Classic Americana” vein that richly show off her skills as a sensitive and intelligent tune-weaver and a warm and persuasive vocalist.
Recorded at Truitt’s East Nashville studio, the album marks the recording debut of Struthers’ touring band, the Party Line (which takes its handle from one of the record’s songs, about the early days of rural telephone calls). The gifted group of instrumentalists includes Struthers’ longtime collaborator P. J. George (upright bass, harmony vocals, pedal steel guitar, accordion and banjo), Joe Overton (clawhammer banjo and harmony vocals), Aaron Jonah Lewis (fiddle, three-finger banjo, baritone fiddle, mandolin) and Drew Lawhorn (drums). Guests include producer Truitt on mandolin and singers Rachael Hester and Nick Woods. Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line support the album with heavy touring in theaters, clubs and festivals, including the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival and Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion.
Carnival caps three years of intense work by the 29 year old that included recognition of her group as best band at Colorado’s prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival, a stint as featured vocalist and songwriter in the Alaska-bred, Nashville-based band Bearfoot, and touring in the U.S., France and Germany.
Struthers now re-emerges as a band-leader with a smart, affecting cycle of songs sporting a timeline that stretches from the antebellum 19th-century South to the middle of the last century. Reflecting her background in literature – she taught English before undertaking a full-time career in music in 2008 – the tunes are deftly-told stories that survey the American terrain from a uniquely focused point of view.
“I realized that I was writing a collection of story-songs from a female perspective,” Struthers says. “I was able to arrange them chronologically, as teenagers, then women, then old women. The album has a narrative, from girlhood to death.”
The instrumentation and form of Struthers’ music draws on her traditionalist roots – her father Alan is himself a bluegrass musician – but with the addition of drums, this record takes a bend toward more progressive roots-rock bands like Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers.
“I’m really passionate about the stories in the old ballads and story-songs,” says Struthers. “I’m trying to bring that element of traditional music forward into a contemporary sonic space. I want story-songs to live on in a way that will be accessible to more people. That’s my artistic mission. When we hear another person’s story, we gain perspective and are changed; we’re able to see our own lives through new eyes.”
Virginia-born Struthers was educated at NYU’s Steinhart School of Education and taught at a charter school in Brooklyn, while cutting her musical teeth as a folk-rock performer in New York clubs like CBGBs and the Cutting Room. She decided to move into music full-time after attending such convocations as Virginia’s Galax Old Time Fiddlers Convention and North Carolina’s Mount Airy Fiddlers Convention with her father.
She made her recording debut in Dirt Road Sweetheart, a duo with her father, which released the album I Heard the Bluebirds Sing in 2008. Not long thereafter, she piled her belongings into her 1998 Honda Odyssey and relocated from New York to Music City.
She recorded her 2010 solo debut Nora Jane Struthers with such Nashville masters as multi-instrumentalist Tim O’Brien and fiddler Stuart Duncan. The album was received with ecstatic reviews: Bluegrass Unlimited praised it as “a marvel that combines brilliant songcraft, a sultry yet honey-hued voice, and an inspired sense of personal musical style,” while Dave Higgs of Bluegrass Breakdown called it “one of the most mesmerizing, haunting and hard-hitting projects I’ve ever heard.”
Shortly after taking first place at Telluride in June 2010, she and bassist P. J. George teamed up with Bearfoot and released an album, American Story, on Nashville’s Compass Records in September 2011. The album featured six songs either written or co-written (with Tim O’Brien and Claire Lynch) by Struthers; one of them, “Tell Me a Story,” became a top-rated video on CMT. While Struthers calls her time with the group “definitely a step up for me, and a very positive experience,” she recommitted in late 2012 to touring with her own band.
Her heightened profile as a touring performer with a popular video helped Struthers mount a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the making of Carnival. She says, “My goal was to raise $20,000 in 30 days, and I raised $22,000. It was all from touring and making new fans and meeting people.”
Nora Jane Struthers stepped forward with a distinctive sound and on-stage style – her personal collection of vintage dresses makes her one of the most visually striking of modern country artists. But the moving, perceptive, and witty songs on Carnival represent a new quantum leap, born of hard work and deep creative reflection.
“Over the past three years, as I’ve been touring and performing, I realized that primarily I’m a storyteller,” she says. “I’ve been working to hone my skills so I can do that better.” After listening to Carnival, no one will deny the keen edge of Struthers’ masterful new work.
Kenny Roby’s life in music has gone from a musical journey to an odyssey, an intellectual and spiritual quest in which he has explored a wide array of musical styles and genres, absorbing them all and incorporating them into his art. Charting the continuum of that journey takes us to “Memories & Birds,” Roby’s latest album, an ambitious vision of a Southern past littered with provocative characters and the dark and forboding places they inhabit.
An artist of considerable breadth and depth, Roby is a seasoned veteran of the music world, a talented and skilled vocalist, instrumentalist, producer, writer and performer. Raised in a musical family in upstate South Carolina, he was exposed to music from an early age. As a child, he mined his parents’ record collection, discovering the likes of Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, Ray Charles, Patsy Cline, Gene Autry, Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Sons of the Pioneers and a host of Broadway musicals and soundtracks. He also witnessed many performances of his father, a barbershop and church choir bass vocalist and choir director and his brother and sisters who also performed in church and school choirs. His older brother turned Kenny on to a treasure trove of popular music from the ’60s and ’70s, everything from the rhythm and blues of Motown and Memphis to the Beatles and the British Invasion. When he began buying records on his own as a pre-teen, his musical interests became limitless. They remain so today.
The music of his early childhood had a profound impact on Roby but he was also very impressed by discoveries he made on his own at an early age. In his late elementary school years he discovered early rap, modern soul and harder rock. In junior high school he began to delve into more hardcore rap such as Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions and began to explore reggae and punk rock. He continued to explore the roots and masters of reggae, American roots music, songwriters, blues, soul, rock and roll, country, punk rock, hardcore, contemporary rock acts and off the road acts such as Tom Waits throughout high school.
Roby’s quest took another turn when he joined the high school punk rock group the Lubricators at age 15. It was with the Lubricators that he first demonstrated his promise as a charismatic and entertaining performer and front man. He and the Lubricators moved to Raleigh, N.C., in 1991, but the band broke up two years later. That’s when Roby formed 6 String Drag, which began as an American-roots band with a fan base in the Carolinas, then quickly grew into a regional sensation throughout the Southeast and eventually throughout the US and beyond. Their 1997 album “High Hat” was released to tremendous national critical acclaim. The album was co-produced by Steve Earle and Ray Kennedy and released on Earle’s Warner Brothers imprint label E-Squared.
While with 6 String Drag, Roby’s artistic exploration bordered on outright musicology. As he discovered new musicians, he delved into their roots, tracing their influences back as far as the early 20th century and beyond. He also threw himself into modern American music at a deeper level and was greatly influenced by Doug Sahm, The Band, Ray Charles, the musical pantheon of New Orleans, and classic country.
Roby continued to hone his songwriting skills and became attracted to and influenced by songwriters such as Randy Newman and Townes Van Zandt, whose work made their dark characters come alive with compelling and often humorous and ironic narratives. When 6 String Drag broke up in 1998, Roby went solo and released three excellent but vastly different solo records: Mercury’s Blues (1999), Rather Not Know (2003) and The Mercy Filter (2006).
“Memories & Birds” was recorded between December 2011 and April 2012 and shows Roby as an artist continuing to mature and evolve. A dark, often lonely and very human record, “Memories & Birds” is filled with surprising twists and turns, shadowy corners and broken dreams. The provocative characters and the narrative thread running throughout this complex eight-song cycle evoke the stark imagery and themes of Faulkner, O’Connor, Percy and McCarthy.
These are song-stories of loss, isolation, desire, rejection, resignation, despair, aging, anxiety. There’s the young boy, “The Craziest Kid Around,” discovering the mysterious world around him and the colorful and often dangerous and conflicted characters within that world. When the craziest kid becomes a dark, defeated and criminal adult in “Colorado,” he says, “I ain’t the worst man you’ve ever known/But I’d be willing to make a bet/that every devil here ain’t born full grown/And we ain’t met all of ‘em yet”. There’s the woman trapped in the pain and despair of a loveless marriage to a returned war veteran in “Tired Of Being In Love”: “I know I can be simple/Simple used to get it done (oh it used to be enough for you)/I lay alone in bed inside his head/After dinner served for one (so alone).” In “A Short Mile” the husband confesses” “I know I’m breakin’ you/I can see it in your smile/I’m the wrong man to ride the short mile.”
Musically, “Memories & Birds” covers a wide range of Roby influences. There’s the Motown meet 60’s pop shuffle of “Tired of Being In Love,” the Townes Van Zandt rhythm and almost cowboy meets 50’s crooner vocals of “Craziest Kid Around,” and the lazy afternoon breeze of New Orleans in the title track. With a layered mix of strings and horns and background singers, each song on “Memories & Birds” is a new and pleasant surprise.
“Memories & Birds” was engineered by Jason Merritt, with additional recording by Kenny Roby and Scott McCall. The album was co- produced by Kenny Roby and Jason Merritt.
Gary Talley and The Road Home are a quartet of top-notch musicians featuring Gary Talley of the Box Tops, whose hits in the sixties included “The Letter”, “Cry Like A Baby”, and “Soul Deep”; Dave Hoffner on keys; Charlie Morgan on drums; and John Terrence on bass. Their collective concert and studio resumes are a “who’s who” of music superstars, including Elton John, Willie Nelson, Paul McCartney, Emmylou Harris, Bobby Lewis, Billy Joel, The Moody Blues, Michael Martin Murphey, Cher, Billy Preston, Billy Joe Royal, Charlie Louvin, Walter Egan, Michael McDonald, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Gary Talley and The Road Home perform their favorite songs from the 60s and 70s and make you feel like you’re hearing them for the first time, along with original songs and stories from their long careers. A bit of Rock, Blues, Pop, Country, and R&B, with each player adding his own flavor and spicing up the band’s musical dishes with tastes of Memphis, New York, Nashville, London, and the Southwest.
The Chapin Sisters were founded in Los Angeles in 2004 as a trio featuring Abigail and Lily Chapin and their sister Jessica Craven.
The Chapin Sisters’ second full length, Two, combined lush keyboards, pulsing rhythms, electric guitars, and bare acoustic tones to layers of vocals that range from deep and guttural to watery and ethereal. The songs were recorded in the woods in rural New Jersey, and the sounds of crickets and tree-frogs creep in at the beginning of “Digging a Hole” (a video for this song was directed by LA artist/videographer Aran Mann). The landscape is hinted at throughout the album; “new tracks like I Can Feel, Paradise, and Sweet Light are pastoral yet eerie, as the duo’s searing voices echo through the woods like melancholic ghosts.” (”Falling” James Moreland – LA Weekly).
The album was self-produced along with fellow musicians, Jesse Lee (Gang Gang Dance) and Louie Stephens (Rooney) and mixed by 5th band-member, Dan Horne (Beachwood Sparks, Street N’ Babe Shadow, Fiction Company) who also produced the duo’s latest EP, “Oh, Hear The Wind Blow” (released in summer 2010). TWO was released in the US & Canada in September 2010 and will come out in the UK and Europe May 9th via their own label, Lake Bottom Records.
The Chapin Sisters’ first full-length record the Lake Bottom LP was produced by Thom Monahan (Lily’s, Devendra Bandhart, Vetiver) and Mike Daily (Whiskeytown, Grace Potter). The record was critically acclaimed and named one of LA Weekly’s Top Ten Records of 2008.
The band has also released three EPs and contributed songs and vocals to various compilations and musical projects. In 2010, Abigail and Lily spent the year opening for and singing with She & Him on stages across the US and Europe. They have also performed as part of Music Go Music and also Harper Simon’s band.
Abigail and Lily are currently living in New York City and will release their newest record ‘A Date With the Everly Brothers’ on April 23rd.