Genre Archives: Singer-Songwriter

Jessica Lea Mayfield

For fans of Sharon Van Etten, Hurray For The Riff Raff, Lady Lamb, Deer Tick, Avett Brothers 

Make My Head Sing…

Jessica Lea Mayfield has gained widespread acclaim for singing delicate confessions about love, heartbreak, and contradictory emotions in a way that captivates listeners and enchants critics. Whether she was heartbroken, or breaking hearts, Mayfield’s acoustic strumming and laid back demeanor have remained consistent since her earliest recordings.

However, on her third album, Make My Head Sing…, Jessica takes on distorted guitar tones, crashing drums, and heavy riffs that would more likely evoke a comparison to her idols of the early 90’s, than any modern day artist. The album was recorded at Club Roar in Nashville and was co-produced by Jessica, along with her husband Jesse Newport and features Matt Martin on drums. It finds Jessica in a place where she is ready to take control of her music, and elevate her reputation from folk songstress to rock star.

This is by far the heaviest, most rocking album you’ve ever made. Have you been holding back before this?

I would always kind of go more in that direction, and I’d have people encouraging me to go less in that direction. “You should do more of this and more of this” and I thought “okay, right?” My close friends and family hear the record and say it sounds the most like me that they’ve ever heard. And it feels like the first record that I’ve ever made.

You produced this one with your bassist, Jesse Newport, right?

Yeah, he’s my husband. We recorded it together in Nashville, and it took us nine months to record it and we had been referring to it as “our record baby.” It’s the first child that we’ve had together. I’m sure that, you know, we’ll have more babies and maybe real ones, but it’s been interesting getting to this place, meeting someone that’s a lot like me and getting to a point where we can sort of finish each other’s ideas. I’ve never had that kind of work relationship or romantic one where someone else knows what I’m thinking of.

Where did you first meet Jesse?

Jesse and I met at this festival in Iowa. He was one FOH for this other band that played there. The night that we met, we really hit it off. The tour that they were on, they were like one state behind us and we couldn’t catch back up the whole rest of the tour, and at the end, once their tour had ended, I had three days left and Jesse just came and met up with us and rode along the rest of the way And I hired him at the time to be my front of house, So we could date. And it worked so well that we pretty much immediately got married.

You worked with Dan Auerbach on your first two albums. What made you decide that it was time to take over the reigns on this one?

I feel like I’m at a point in my career where I know what I want, and all the things that I didn’t want or didn’t like, I’m capable of changing and making things more the way that I want. If you want something to be done the way you want it to, you’ve gotta do it yourself. I felt like I wasn’t going to make another record unless it was fun for me and special and it meant something.

On your earlier albums, you were tagged as a young folkie type. Did it take a while to get the courage to say “No, I want to be what I really am rather than what you want me to be”?

I was feeling some pressure to work on new stuff and make a new album, and I was really not wanting to move forward with the way things were. I was bored and I needed new ways to express myself, and I found that the best way to express myself is playing guitar. I think 24 was the year of deciding to be myself and what I’d love to do is to get out there and play guitar and have fun and hopefully get paid for it.

So it took nine months to make the album. Was it do a song, take a break, do another song, take a break?

We’d been down in Nashville in a studio called Club Roar. It was this big warehouse-y space and we’d go down there for about two weeks at a time and work on two or three songs, essentially just me and Jesse, once we’d wrapped our heads around it, we’d get the drummer, Matt Martin, to come over. The whole record is just me and Jesse and Matt. I think a lot of my favorite bands are guitar, bass, and drums. I wanted to simplify things. Bands are so big these days, I wanted to get in the studio and make a fuckin’ rock record and hear real guitar tones and something heavy. I almost only listen to music from the ’90s; I just don’t hear any music that…I just don’t hear it. It’s like everybody’s on some dubstep folk anthem thing or something. I don’t know.

So as far as the songs go, this is a heavier set of songs than you’ve done before. But there are other modes also. Like “Standing in the Sun” is probably the most straight-up poppy song you’ve ever done. Where did that come from?

You think so? That’s one that’s been around for a little while. I wasn’t sure how to record it, but I like where it landed. I would argue it’s one of the darker ones, in that it was written about me from a friend’s perspective, so it’s got this vibe of a friend telling me to go outside and be happy and don’t just shrivel up and die. I really do like so many different kinds of music that it all comes together in some form, but I really think this is the closest that I’ve gotten to coherently expressing what I like about music the most.

And the same time, “Party Drugs,” even though it comes back to the stripped-down, singer-songwriter sound, it seems so different from anything on your previous albums.

Yeah? “Party Drugs” is the song that inspired the whole record and the title of the record. It was the first one we recorded, and we recorded the guitar and the vocals here at the house. I was completely butt-ass naked, it was three in the morning and we were gonna go to bed, and I was like “We need to record this song right now” and it started the whole rabbit trail of me and the guitar. Actually I bought this baritone guitar (her name is Barry) at the Guitar Emporium in Louisville, Kentucky, and it’s this black glitter sparkle Gretsch, and that guitar is the reason I wrote this song, probably. It’s what got me into making another record and obsessed with playing… I found that guitar and it was $420, and I was like “This is a sign from Satan to buy this guitar” and I started playing guitar more.

 

Julien Baker

For fans of Frankie Cosmos, Big Thief, Lady Lamb, Whitney, Angel Olsen 

Sometimes, things just seem to happen for a reason. The pieces fall into place in unexpected ways, and life takes a turn no one could have predicted. This rings strikingly true for the solo career of Memphis, Tennessee’s Julien Baker.

For years, Baker and a group of close friends have performed as the band Forrister (formerly The Star Killers), but when college took her four hours away, her need to continue creating found an outlet through solo work. The intent was never to make these songs her main focus, yet the process proved to be startlingly cathartic. As each song came into shape, it became more apparent that Baker had genuinely deep, surprisingly dark stories to tell from her thus far short life (she turns 20 this fall). Tales of her experiences are staggering, and when set to her haunting guitar playing, the results are gut wrenching and heartfelt, relatable yet very personal. There’s something wonderfully hypnotizing about Baker gently confessing her soul with such tremendous honesty.

At the prompting of a friend, Baker ventured to Richmond, Virginia to record a number of her new songs at Spacebomb Studios. The tracks from this session were circulated among Baker’s friends, meeting high praise and lots of encouragement for the songs to see a proper release. Soon, she found a home on 6131 Records’ increasingly diverse roster, and plans were made to release her debut full length, ‘Sprained Ankle.’

To call ‘Sprained Ankle’ a happy accident would be misleading as to the nature of these poignant, emotive songs. Yet no one, least of all Baker, could have predicted she’d be releasing an album, especially as a solo artist. Thankfully, now the world will be able to share in her passion and sorrow.

 

Paul Cauthen

For fans of: Whitey Morgan and the 78’s, Luke Bell, Tyler Childers

Paul Cauthen remembers sitting alone in an Austin house after a weekend-long bender. A life making music seemed to be slipping away. Wide awake with nothing to lose, he fell on his hands and knees right there, bowed his head, and threw down a divine gauntlet.

“I dared Him,” Cauthen says, recalling his desperate challenge to God. “I said, ‘Use me. I’ll be a rag doll. Just put me out there, let’s go. I dare you.’”

Most people don’t plead in the form of a dare. That blend of vulnerability and brash confidence is part of what makes Cauthen and his music — which often hinges on the same paradox — so compelling. Whether it was by heavenly intervention or sheer force of will, Cauthen emerged with My Gospel (Lightning Rod Records), his mesmerizing full-length solo debut. Produced by Beau Bedford, the record is both an artistic and personal triumph. My Gospel captures a young artist in full possession of a raw virtuosity that must sometimes feel like a burden: If your singing takes listeners on white-knuckle rides and you write like a hard-luck Transcendentalist poet who abandoned the East Coast for the desert, you’d better do both. Anything else just wouldn’t feel like living. “I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do in life,” Cauthen says. “So I just kept on working. Even when I didn’t hardly have money to eat, my songs allowed me to get into the studios. I wrote my way into this thing.”

The album is called My Gospel, but make no mistake: These are songs about Earthly struggles to love, connect, and just get by. “I’m not super religious,” Cauthen says. “I don’t believe God is this guy wearing a white cloak who comes down with wings and beautiful sandals. I do believe that people are put into other people’s lives for reasons, and those reasons are unexplained. I believe that is God.”

Americana music fans will remember Cauthen’s name from Sons of Fathers, the raucous Texicana group he co-founded in 2011 with bassist David Beck. The band earned glowing praise from Rolling Stone, NPR, and others, thanks to two albums that climbed into the Top 10 of the Americana Music Chart. “We had just played a show with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, playing for 7,000 people,” Cauthen says. “And I quit. I just knew it wasn’t where I was supposed to be anymore.”

That was three years ago — and the impetus for ending up in that apartment in Austin. Cauthen has since learned to channel his racing mind and rumbling baritone into the blues, gospel, and rock-and-roll that fuel My Gospel with gale-force power. Over the course of three years, Cauthen recorded the album in several different studios across the country: Willie Nelson’s Arlyn Studios in Austin; FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals; Sargent Recorders in Los Angeles; Modern Electric Sound Recorders in Dallas. The result is a quintessentially American album unlike anything in recent memory. “We were going for timeless. We were going for righteous. Those were the two words that we focused on while we were recording,” Cauthen says. “That’s it.”

Cauthen has been the strongest, loudest singer in the room for as long as he can remember. He grew up in Tyler, Texas, where his grandfather — a songwriter and gospel song leader originally from Lubbock who worked with artists including Buddy Holly, Sonny Curtis, and other Crickets — taught Cauthen and his two sisters to sing harmony. “He threw us all in the bathtub because it sounded really good in there,” Cauthen says with a laugh. Sundays and Wednesday evenings were spent at the Church of Christ, singing a cappella in the choir. “My granddad was all about music. He’d always ask people, ‘Can you sing? What songs do you know?’” Cauthen lovingly imitates his grandfather as he shares the memory, changing his inflection to sound both excited and earnest.

When his grandfather died, Cauthen was 10 years old and heartbroken. He abandoned the guitar he’d taught him to play. “It made me too sad,” he says simply. But his grandmother pushed him to pick it up again, and she handed over his grandfather’s ’58 Gibson acoustic along with Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger as she told him, “Learn every bit of Willie’s licks. Then you’ll be a guitar player.” She also put plenty of Elvis, Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, the Everly Brothers, and more in his hands.

As a teenager, Cauthen got into more trouble than most. He got caught with weed and did a little time in jail, then got kicked out of college. “You have to get kicked out of something in order to be a true songwriter, whether it’s kicked out of school, or kicked out of your house, or kicked out of a marriage, or kicked into jail,” Cauthen says, only half-joking. “I got all those on my résumé.” He started working in oil and natural gas to make ends meet, surveying land and enjoying being outside. But all the while, he never stopped singing.

Cauthen delivers the songs on My Gospel with the tortured showmanship of Jerry Lee Lewis and seductive ease of Elvis. The idea of a life-affirming power found in the connectedness of people courses throughout the record. The album kicks off with “Still Drivin,’” which calls up the swampy finger-picking of Jerry Reed as it proclaims survival. “It’s my don’t-give-up anthem,” Cauthen says. “Keep on truckin.’” As he thunders, “Still drivin’ / when’s this break gonna come?” the word “break” points to both a career breakthrough and the universal need for rest. “I love to leave the plots of songs open-ended,” he says, enjoying the different possibilities for interpretation the track allows.

Cauthen co-wrote all of the songs on the album with his motley crew of “favorite songwriting buddies” save two, “I’ll Be the One” and “Grand Central,” which he wrote alone. As Cauthen begs for a chance in “I’ll Be the One,” he swivels between cocky self-assurance and humble beseeching, crooning, “Oh, I could be your kind of guy / whatever that is, cold, sweet, shy.” It’s a signature Cauthen vocal performance: playful but also masterful. “Grand Central” uses crying steel to capture the loneliness of rock bottom. Written in about seven minutes not long after he left Sons of Fathers, the song offers a moving portrait of a man who’s running out of options but remains proud as he mulls over self-inflicted wounds, confessing, “The only one that’s hurting is me.”

“You’re as Young as You’ll Ever Be” has assumed deep personal significance for Cauthen. He wrote the song with his dear friend Victor Holk just four months before Holk died after suffering third-degree burns in a house fire. Holk, who was a sound engineer for Sons of Fathers and Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, came to Cauthen with the line that became the song’s title and heart. The two had never written together before. “It’s a haunting song for me. I don’t…” Cauthen trails off, then adds, “It’s hard to play. It’s a song I’m blessed with because Victor was a selfless human being that was all for music and the arts.” The track is one of several on the album that urges listeners to seize the day. Smoldering, piano-laced “Let It Burn” lingers in regrets and memories as it elevates the seemingly mundane. “I’m just really trying to put somebody into a place where they can take it all in and totally comprehend what happens around them,” he says. “These little moments that we have with somebody that were super beautiful that we take for granted.”

The sauntering “Saddle” utilizes guitar, horns, percussive shakers, lush background harmonies, wolf howls, and Cauthen’s vocal prowess to conjure up imagery fit for a John Ford film — and sweep his target off her feet. The American West is one of the ever-present undercurrents on My Gospel: “Marfa Lights” compares a romance to the famous, sporadic heavenly light show in West Texas. “It’s a mysterious, cosmic love song,” Cauthen says.

Cauthen soars when he explores that conflicted space of crying out for help and demanding it. “Hanging Out On the Line” is one of the most stunning examples, enriched by gospel harmonies courtesy of Muscle Shoals veterans who contributed to landmark Aretha Franklin and Etta James albums. The same gorgeous harmonies flood the title track, which also serves as the album’s show-stopping closer. Cauthen launches into “My Gospel” starkly alone before being joined by the otherwordly chorus. Started with Owen Temple and finished in Muscle Shoals with Bedford and guitar player, Nik Lee, the song is a tender acknowledgement of weariness and an invitation to rest in truth, sung with empathy and love. “You have to give up everything, forfeit yourself to the situation, and hope to God that your talents are good enough,” Cauthen says of the recording process. “That’s how great records are made.”

Ultimately, Cauthen is on a mission: to make music he can be proud of that also serves a higher purpose. “On this album, I wanted to push a message that tells people that life’s short. Love the ones you’re with. Just take any opportunity to run with it — don’t think twice.”

 

Zola Jesus

For fans of Perfume Genius

For over a decade, Nika Roza Danilova has been recording music as Zola Jesus. She’s been on Sacred Bones Records for most of that time, and Okovi marks her reunion with the label.

Fittingly, the 11 electronics-driven songs on Okovi share musical DNA with her early work on Sacred Bones. The music was written in pure catharsis, and as a result, the sonics are heavy, dark, and exploratory. In addition to the contributions of Danilova’s longtime live bandmate Alex DeGroot, producer/musician WIFE, cellist/noise-maker Shannon Kennedy from Pedestrian Deposit, and percussionist Ted Byrnes all helped build Okovi’s textural universe.

With OkoviZola Jesus has crafted a profound meditation on loss and reconciliation that stands tall alongside the major works of its genre. The album peaks of tragedy with great wisdom and clarity. Its songs plumb dark depths, but they reflect light as well.

 

An Evening With Over the Rhine

For fans of The Innocence Mission, Patty Griffin, Lori McKenna

When you listen to Over the Rhine, the supremely talented wife-husband duo of Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler, you quickly fall under the spell of Karin’s compelling voice, ethereal and earthy at once, and then you notice their subtle, satisfying arrangements, all the instruments so exquisitely balanced, and finally the lines of the songs start hitting you. Paste Magazine praises their “lovely, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting musical mosaic.” The Washington Post applauds their “understated, country-tinged charm.” The Wall Street Journal describes their album, Meet Me at the Edge of the World, as “subtle and elegant, with airy musical arrangements and breathtaking vocal harmonies that fit the title of the album.”

 

Martin Sexton Trio

An intimate seated show.


Welcomed by Isthmus


“The real thing, people.” – Billboard

For fans of Jackie Greene, Bob Schneider, The Wood Brothers, Colin Hay

In 2017 American singer-songwriter Martin Sexton extends touring in support of his ninth studio release, Mixtape of the Open Road. The Wall Street Journal and CMT premiered tracks from the album that since garnered much critical acclaim.

“Outstanding taste in songwriting as well as a soul-marinated voice.” – Rolling Stone

Syracuse native Sexton got his start singing in the streets and subways of Boston in the early ’90s. Still fiercely independent and headlining venues from The Fillmore to Carnegie Hall, he has influenced a generation of contemporary artists. His songs have appeared in television series such as “Scrubs,” “Parenthood,” and “Masters of Sex” as well as numerous films, though it’s his incendiary live show, honest lyrics, and vocal prowess that keep fans coming back for more.

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