Review: St. Paul & The Broken Bones break new ground

By Brent Thompson

Since forming over a decade ago, the Birmingham, Ala.-based octet St. Paul & The Broken Bones has been known for putting a modern spin on the classic soul/R&B sounds of yesteryear. Though the band has not lost its grit or its fire, the recently-released Angels In Science Fiction (ATO Records) finds Paul Janeway and company breaking new stylistic ground. Hatched as Janeway wrote letters to his then-unborn child, the album’s caution of the perilous world that lies ahead is palpable in its music. From the swampy “Oporto-Madrid Blvd.” to the hypnotic “City Federal Building” to the stripped-down “South Dakota,” there is an underlying tension that contrasts from the band’s previous catalog. Recorded in Memphis at Sam Phillips Recording Studio and produced by Matt Ross-Spang (Jason Isbell, Old Crow Medicine Show, John Prine), the album has a timeless quality – sonically, it could have been recorded last year or 40 years ago and that’s a good thing. Angels In Science Fiction is a healthy breakthrough that should find the band retaining its old fans and attracting new ones.

Wilder Woods Performs at Iron City on April 21

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Darius Fitzgerald

Wilder Woods is a busy man, especially when you take into account that the singer/songwriter is also NEEDTOBREATHE’s frontman Bear Rinehart. On Friday, April 21, Woods will perform at Iron City with special guest Abraham Alexander. Currently, Woods is touring in support of his sophomore release, Fever/Sky (Dualtone Records). “I’ve been in a band for 20 years, and a band is a democracy where you make decisions together. Wilder Woods is a different outlet. I’m giving myself the freedom to to do what I want to do and say what I want to say,” he says in a recent press release. Advance tickets to the 8 p.m., all-ages show are $31 and can be purchased at www.ironcitybham.com.

Concert Shots: Sierra Ferrell at Saturn 4-12-23

By Brent Thompson

Sierra Ferrell is creating a frenzy with listeners and critics alike as her sold-out show reiterated at Birmingham’s Saturn on April 12. Mixing traditional country sounds with calypso and gypsy jazz, the West Virginia native – touring in support of her release Long Time Coming (Rounder Records) – held the crowd in her hands.

 

Concert Shots: Tab Benoit at Saturn 4-11-23

By Brent Thompson

Louisiana gunslinger Tab Benoit has a longtime, loyal following in Birmingham and his fans packed Birmingham’s Saturn on April 11. Benoit mixed in old favorites including “We Make A Good Gumbo” and “Night Train” alongside James Taylor’s “Bartender’s Blues” and a timely version of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.”

 

Big Sky Mining: A Conversation with Torrin Daniels of Kitchen Dwellers

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Ed Coyle

Wise River winds 30 miles through the state of Montana and is also the title of the latest release by Kitchen Dwellers. The Bozeman, Mt.-based quartet – Torrin Daniels (banjo), Shawn Swain (mandolin), Joe Funk (bass) and Max Davies (guitar) – crafted the album during the Covid downtime. Produced by Cory Wong – a musician/producer best known for his work in the jazz and rock fields – the result is a 10-track effort that finds the band staying to true to its traditional roots while revealing an array of other influences. On Wednesday, April 19, Kitchen Dwellers will perform at Saturn. Recently, Daniels spoke with us by phone from his recently-adopted home of Portland, Or.

Southern Stages: Torrin, thanks for your time today. Where are you right now?

Torrin Daniels: We’re at home – I just moved to Oregon this last fall. Our bass player just had a baby a couple of days ago so we’re taking a little break right now.

Southern Stages: Where are the band’s members located these days?

Daniels: Up until this fall, we were all in Bozeman, Mt. Right around September, our bass player moved to Raleigh. N.C. and I moved to Portland. There are still two guys in Montana. I really like the Northwest and I’ve always enjoyed going on tour here and it’s not really that far from Montana.

Southern Stages: We are really enjoying Wise River. Are these songs older ideas that had been around for a while in bits and pieces, newer compositions or a mixture of both?

Daniels: Some were in bits and pieces, but most of them came about during the peak quarantine period of Covid in 2020. It was the most collaborative way we’ve written songs  – we had a studio in Bozeman that we could go to every day. Since we weren’t on the road, it was a thing to do. We were able to go in and meet up with each other almost every day because we were lucky enough to still live in the same town and really put some time in on all those songs. We really crafted those songs together which we really hadn’t done before as a band.

Southern Stages: How did you guys end up working with Cory Wong?

Daniels: He reached out to our manager – he and some folks at our management company are friends. He had shown an interest in working with a string band and had never done that before. He’s kind of a wild guy and, even if something isn’t in his wheelhouse, he is adventurous and fearless enough to reach for that. We’re kind of a weird band as far as string bands go, so we said “Yes” to it and were excited to work with him on it.

Southern Stages: The commercial musical climate these days seems receptive to string band music given the success of your band, Billy Strings, Molly Tuttle, Greensky Bluegrass and others.

Daniels: I think that right now is a really exciting time in bluegrass and folk music and Americana. I think a lot of people that have been searching for their sound are finding it right now. This generation of bluegrass players and string band players, we are coming from a wider range of influences than a lot of bluegrass players have in the past. When you’re talking about bluegrass, there’s always a very high grade of musicianship. From our band’s standpoint, we’re just now getting to the sound we’ve been looking for. In the new songs we’re writing, you can hear a wide range of influences.

Southern Stages: Some artists tell me this is a great time to be in your position given instant access to listeners via Youtube, Spotify, satellite radio and other modern outlets. Others say it’s a difficult time for an artist to be found among the crowd. How do you view the current state of the industry?

Daniels: It’s weird because it really is a double-edge sword. It’s super accessible. If you know how to use the right avenues, you can find almost any given show that a lot of bands play nowadays. You can find that show recorded somewhere in some capacity – that did not use to be the case. If you hear a band did a one cover [song] on their tour, you can search for that video on Youtube and you can find that three minutes of specific music. But on the other hand, if people don’t feel like seeing you, they look you up on Spotify and make up their mind about you without ever seeing you. I always think of Pearl Jam – when they first became a band, it was a couple of groups coming together. They sold out their first five or six shows at larger theaters and no one had seen that particular band yet. Your music can be found anywhere nowadays, but some people definitely use that as an excuse to not go see your band. And there’s clutter too – there are tons of bands.

Southern Stages: How would you describe your band’s songwriting process?

Daniels: It can form in may ways in our band. It started with whoever’s song it was, they would almost finish it and get a very full idea of what they wanted the song to be and the rest of the band would finish it out. Nowadays, we have a lot more songs where someone just comes in with a melody or an idea of where they want the song to go and there are a lot more people adding and suggesting. It’s a lot more collaborative nowadays which I think has been producing some of the better songs that we’ve written

Southern Stages: Obviously, your band’s style of music lends itself to improvisation. But with that said, there are also songs you have played hundreds of times by now. How do those songs stay fresh for you after so many performances?

Daniels: Part of it is that we’re always working on our craft. As a bluegrass musician, you are always encouraged to re-examine your musicianship and always improve on your harmonies and rhythm playing. It’s as necessary to practice your rhythm playing as much as your lead playing. There are always different ways to improve on your playing and get better at bluegrass and string music. I think that is one of the ways we feel about good about songs we’ve played forever – we nail them more and more as we progress.

Kitchen Dwellers will perform at Saturn on Wednesday, April 19. Sicard Hollow will open the 8 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $17 and can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.

 

Concert Shots: Goose at Avondale Brewing Company 4-2-23

By Brent Thompson

Goose’s Alabama debut performance was a success to say the least. Playing to a frenzied, capacity crowd at Birmingham’s Avondale Brewing Company, the Connecticut-based quintet’s two-set ride included “Yeti,” “California Magic,” “Dripfield” and the Grateful Dead’s “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.”

Melody Is Number One: A Conversation with Guster’s Brian Rosenworcel

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Alysse Gafkjen

Guster has built a devoted following in a recording career spanning nearly 30 years. Band members Brian Rosenworcel, Ryan Miller and Adam Gardner met as freshmen at Boston’s Tufts University in 1991 and Luke Reynolds joined the fold in 2010. In addition to a steady stream of releases, tours and multiple television and film placements, the band is also known for its activist endeavors. On Tuesday, March 21, Guster will perform at the Lyric Theatre in a show presented by Code-R Productions. Recently, Rosenworcel spoke with us by phone as the band prepared to embark on its current tour.

Southern Stages: Brian, thanks for your time. Where are you right now?

Brian Rosenworcel: I’m home in Brooklyn, New York and the tour starts outside of Austin at Willie Nelson’s Luck Festival. We just got added to that, so we are starting there on March 16th and we’ll be up your way about a week later.

Southern Stages: Where are the band members based these days?

Rosenworcel: We’re spread out – I’m the only New Yorker. We met at college in Boston and spent eight years growing the band there, so we call ourselves a Boston band but though no one lives there anymore. The other guys are up in Vermont and Maine.

Southern Stages: With members living in different states, how does the tour rehearsal process work for Guster?

Rosenworcel: We are definitely at a stage in our career where we could show up, walk on stage and hit it out of the park. We know these songs and every night people in the crowd are disappointed we didn’t play their song. But we like to get together and add new material – maybe a cover – so it’s more interesting not just for them but for us. It remains to be seen how much prep we do for this run – this is just three weeks and it’s mostly focused on the South where we rarely focus.

Southern Stages: With a large catalog of material under your belt, how does the band comprise its set lists these days?

Rosenworcel: I’m the guy for this and it depends on the venue. If people are sitting down, that might take you one way. If it’s Friday night in a rock club, it might go in another direction. We have a lot of flexibility and versatility in what we can do, but the main thing I do is I look at what we played the last time we were in town. With us, it’s a lot of the same people coming out from the last time so I like to provide a totally different set list. If we play two nights somewhere, we don’t repeat a song. There are so many songs and they’re all pretty good – if we substitute one for another, then the night doesn’t suffer.

Southern Stages: How would you describe the band’s writing process? Is there a typical format or is it done on a song-by-song basis?

Rosenworcel: It definitely changes song-to-song with us and it always has. We have to deliberately get together for three days up at my friend’s place in Maine and jam. In those sessions, we’ll end up with a bunch of ideas we are excited about and then we’ll go home and put a melody on top of this or a lyric on top of that – whatever’s missing. They generally start from the band in the room, but sometimes Ryan will send in an idea – he’s our main melody guy and melody is our number one focus. It can be any direction – lyrics are always last. We are at a point where we’ve recorded enough over the pandemic period and honing in on an album and that’s exciting to us.

Southern Stages: When do you anticipate the next album will be released?

Rosenworcel: I think this year we’ll have new music. We have to get on the same page about which songs people are most excited about. If we don’t see eye-to-eye there, we’ve got to figure it out but usually we end up seeing eye-to-eye – the cream rises to the top. We’re in that stage now and that’s exciting. It’s been a fragmented process of recording – when we first started it was 2020 and Luke wasn’t comfortable getting into the studio with us right in the throws of Covid. We did a whole second batch just now and it came out really good, so we are excited to start introducing some of this to people.

Southern Stages: Some artists say this is a great time to be in your position given the easy access to listeners via Spotify, YouTube, satellite radio and other outlets. Others say the current climate fosters clutter and over-situation. How do you feel about the state of the industry?

Rosenworcel: This dates back to Napster and we were there when it pivoted from a record industry that sold physical albums to an Internet that was able to provide wider access. I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of album sales we missed out on because of Napster, but we never really saw it that way. We always thought, “There’s now all these people that know our music who maybe otherwise wouldn’t and they might come to a show.” We never made any money from album sales and we were always in debt to our record company, so people that stole our music really didn’t affect our bottom line. So, we may as well have more people hearing our songs. We’ve always been focused on exposure, exposure, exposure. In the last few years when the live music industry was temporarily hit, that was a shock to our system because we didn’t have a recording business to fall back on. It’s good to be back out there and see people are still coming to shows. You can’t replace the feeling of being in the room.

Southern Stages: As a drummer, are you a “gear head”? Do you comb music stores while you are on tour?

Rosenworcel: I’m like the opposite of that [laughs]. In the studio, if I have an idea I’m just as likely to enjoy playing it on my suitcase or a drum. If it sounds unconventional or weird, that appeals to me more. I’m not super technical – I’m more creative.

Code-R Productions presents Guster with special guest Nicole Atkins at the Lyric Theatre on Tuesday, March 21. Tickets to the 7:30 p.m. show are $28.50-$33.50 and can be purchased at www.lyricbham.com.

With Much Respect: A Conversation with Marc Broussard

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Jeff Fasano

In a recording career spanning more than 20 years, Marc Broussard has made a steady habit of giving back via his S.O.S.: Save Our Soul philanthropic album series. On March 3, the Louisiana-based singer/songwriter released S.O.S. 4: Blues for your Soul. Released on famed guitarist’s Joe Bonamassa’s Keeping The Blues Alive label, the project finds Bonamassa and fellow Bluesman Josh Smith sharing production duties. Offering eleven cover versions by artists including Son House, Little Milton and Johnny “Guitar” Watson, the album finds Broussard reuniting and collaborating with longtime friend Calvin Turner on the original track “When Will I Let Her Go.” On Saturday, March 18, Broussard will perform at the Lyric Theatre in a show presented by Code-R Productions. Recently, Broussard spoke with us by phone from his Carencro, La. home.

Southern Stages: Marc, thanks for your time. We are enjoying S.O.S. 4.

Marc Broussard: Thanks so much. I’m really proud of it.

Southern Stages: How did you partner up with Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith?

Broussard: I reached out to my buddy, Calvin Turner, to talk to him about the project and pick his brain. Cal said, “I’ve been doing arrangement work for Joe Bonamassa for the past couple of years – you probably ought to reach out to him.” I had Joe’s number, but we were never really close. I said, “Cal, grease the wheels for me and I’ll reach out.” I did, assuming I’d get some help on the project. Before you knew it, Joe and Josh said, “We want to produce this thing for you and we want to play on it.” I told them it’s a charity record and they said, “No problem – we want in.” It was very organic and I love seeing a project come together between musicians.

Southern Stages: That’s a lot of talented hands on deck!

Broussard: I couldn’t be more pleased with it. I’ve known Cal for years – he started out with me 20 years ago as a sideman. To be back in the studio with Cal was a joy – it gave me a level of comfort that made my job very easy.

Southern Stages: If you will, talk about recording the album at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles.

Broussard: In the lobby, there’s a jukebox of nothing but number one hits that were all recorded in the building.  Everybody from Fogelberg, [Prince’s] Purple Rain, Led Zeppelin and Foreigner – you name it. It’s all been done there.

Southern Stages: How did you select the 11 cover songs for the project?

Broussard: The same way we do it for every one of these albums. I basically ask all of the stakeholders – the guys in the band, the producers and management – to put some playlists together for me to listen to. I generally go through all of those playlists and cross-reference the [songs] that are in multiple playlists and we start whittling them down democratically from there. Management always wants more hit songs and the band always wants more obscure tunes. It’s a process, but ultimately I get the final say.

Southern Stages: When covering material, is there a challenge in retaining the integrity of the original songs while placing your own stamp on them?

Broussard: Initially, when we did S.O.S. 1, the intention was to capture lightning in a bottle and not deviate from the original arrangements at all and vocally pay as much homage as possible to the original creators so that I could introduce my young fans to the music that had shaped my life. Each project has kept a bit of that spirit. We’ve gotten away when we felt like we had the license to, but why try reinventing the wheel? Ultimately, it’s about paying the kind of respect that these songs are due. People have lived with these songs and have deep relationships with these songs – it behooves us to treat them with as much respect as possible.

Southern Stages: With a large catalog of material under your belt, how do you comprise your set lists these days?

Broussard: The last two years have been difficult because I’ve had such a different cast of characters coming in and out of the band. I was with the same group of guys for more than a decade and Covid put the kibosh on the whole deal. The guys ended up in other areas of life and the music business. I’ve had to stick to the same set list over the last two years, but I feel like I’ve got a really good set of guys right now and we’re in the process of reshaping everything. It’s a matter of getting guys up to speed when it comes to how deep the catalog is because a Saturday night crowd isn’t the same as a Tuesday night crowd and a club crowd isn’t the same as a theatre crowd.

Code-R Productions presents Marc Broussard at the Lyric Theatre on Saturday, March 18. Seth Walker will open the 8:00 p.m. show. Tickets are $29.50 – $44.50 and can be purchased at www.lyricbham.com.

The Artists Call The Shots: A Conversation with Brit Taylor

By Brent Thompson

Photo courtesy of the artist

Brit Taylor’s notion to take one step back in order to take two steps forward in the music industry paid off. Quitting her publishing deal in 2018, Taylor started a cleaning business and used the money she earned to self-release her 2020 debut album, Real Me. For her follow-up, the recently-released Kentucky Blue (Cut A Shine Records/Thirty Tigers), Taylor enlisted the aid of producers David Ferguson (Johnny Cash, John Prine, Del McCoury Band) and  singer/songwriter Sturgill Simpson. The result is a 10-track collection that will appeal to fans of Simpson, Margo Price and Tyler Childers. On Friday, February 24, Taylor will perform at Dave’s Pub. Recently, she spoke with us by phone from her Nashville area home.

Southern Stages: Brit, thanks for your time. We are enjoying Kentucky Blue. Are the songs on the album newer compositions, older ones or a mixture of both?

Brit Taylor: They were all written from 2018 to now. “Cabin in the Woods” was the oldest song. They were all written after or during the making of Real Me.

Southern Stages: The album has an incredible production team in David Ferguson and Sturgill Simpson. If you will, talk about the experience of working with them.

Taylor: It’s been a dream come true. I remember the first person that ever told me about Sturgill was a songwriter named Stephanie Smith. we were sitting in a writing room and Stephanie said, “Have you heard of this Sturgill Simpson guy?” I said, “No, but with a name like Sturgill he has to be from East Kentucky [laughs]” That day I went down the rabbit hole and listened to all of Sturgill’s music and got to know him as an artist. It’s just strange that I would remember a moment like that.

Southern Stages: Was David or Sturgill your initial contact regarding the project?

Taylor: I had a meeting with a producer that I didn’t want to make a record with one day and I was getting frustrated. David Ferguson popped in my head – he’d been a friend and mentor since 2018. I texted him and said, “What about me and you make a record together?” He texted me back immediately and said, “What about me and Sturgill doing it?” I thought I was going to wreck off the highway. Sturgill listened to the material and they asked me to send them 30 songs and they scheduled the session that day. It was [recorded in] three days of tracking and I did one day of vocals.

Southern Stages: It must have been nice to record it quickly and maintain the spontaneity.

Taylor: I think there are so many different ways to make music and I don’t think any of them are wrong – it’s whatever fits in the moment. I like it when it goes quick because there’s still human error and there’s a realness when you make a record that quick that I really like.

Southern Stages: Your career timing seems good as fellow artists  with traditional sounds like Sturgill, Margo Price and Tyler Childers are all having success.

Taylor: I think so. I think there are so many ways to find new music and I’m excited that the stuff I grew up on is making its way back around.

Southern Stages: Continuing your point about the ways to find new music, how do you view the current climate? Some artists say it’s a great time to reach listeners through modern outlets such as Spotify, Youtube and satellite radio. Others say the current climate makes it difficult to be found among the crowd.

Taylor: I think both of those things are really true, but you can’t focus on the bad. There are too many things that will tear you down as an artist and you just can’t focus on that. To me, the music industry right now is like the wild west – anything goes and the artists call the shots. The artists have more power than they’ve ever had. If this was the ’90s or ’80s, somebody like Tyler or Sturgill would’ve had to have a record deal to do what they did. We didn’t have Thirty Tigers, social media and Spotify. Your only option was getting a record deal and going to commercial radio. If you didn’t fit the box, it just wasn’t going to happen. Now, we have the power to say, “I don’t need your label or your resources – I’ll just do it on my own.” That’s really empowering. Is it easy? No! It would be easier to have all the money and promotion, but if it’s not there it’s not there. It’s more of a grind but at least it’s a possibility.

Brit Taylor will perform at Dave’s Pub on Friday, February 24. Admission is free. Dave’s Pub is located at 1128 20th Street South.