Futurebirds Return to Saturn on December 9

By Brent Thompson

Photo courtesy of the artist

In a career spanning more than 13 years, Athens, Ga.-based Futurebirds has built a loyal following through incessant touring and a steady output of releases. On Friday, December 9, the septet – Carter King, Daniel Womack, Thomas Johnson, Brannen Miles, Spencer Thomas, Tom Myers and Kiffy Myers – will return to Birmingham for a performance at Saturn. My Morning Jacket guitarist and Futurebirds producer/collaborator Carl Broemel will open the 8:30 p.m. show. In September, Futurebirds released its second project with Broemel, the EP Bloomin’ Too (No Coincidence Records). Tickets to the 18+ show can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.

South by Northwest: A Conversation with Reign LaFreniere of Bluphoria

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Jena Yannone

With a recent relocation, two new singles making waves and its first holiday song (“When The Snow Falls”) available, it’s an exciting time to be Bluphoria. The Oregon-based quartet – Reign LaFreniere, Dakota Landrum, Rex Wolf and Dani Janae – now calls Nashville home and recently released the singles “Walk Through The Fire” and “Set Me Up” from its forthcoming full-length album on Edgeout Records. Produced by Mark Needham (Fleetwood Mac, Imagine Dragons, Mt. Joy, The 1975), the album finds the band effectively blending its pop, rock, psychedelic and blues influences into a unique style of its own. Recently, LaFreniere spoke with us by phone from his Nashville home.

Southern Stages: Reign, thanks for your time. We are enjoying “Walk Through The Fire” and we are looking forward to the full-length release in 2023. On the new album, how did the body of material take shape? Are these newer compositions, older ones or a mixture of both?

Reign LaFreniere: A majority of the songs were written a year before the recording except for “Set Me Up,” which was written a month or two before we went into the studio. Our next single coming out was written four or five years ago. I said, “I like this song – if I don’t put it on the album now, it’s never going to get on there.”

Southern Stages: When you record a song that was written several years ago, do you continually tweak it or does the recorded version stay true to the original version?

LaFreniere: There are a lot of tweaks. Originally, the song had a whole jam breakdown and it was six or seven minutes long. We just kind of cleaned it up a bit. A lot of our writing has been getting more concise over the years. We try to figure out how to make them concise but still fun and unpredictable.

Southern Stages: If you will, talk about working with Mark Needham and how that partnership was formed.

LaFreniere: We were looking for producers and our label was helping us shop around. He reached out to us and said he’d be interested in producing the record for us because he liked the demos on there. He was the fifth member in that whole production. He added this element of experience that none of us have. He was also great in the sense that he didn’t push for anything – he really let us put our ideas into the songs. It was great to have that freedom and support.

Southern Stages: How do you feel about the music industry climate in the age of Spotify, satellite radio, Youtube and TikTok?

LaFreniere: I think it’s a double-edge sword. You can get your music out easier, but it’s easier to be lost in the crowd. I’m just along for the ride and I’m excited to be able to tour. I just want to put my head down and do the work.

Southern Stages: We understand that Bluphoria has released a holiday song, “When The Snow Falls.” What can you tell us about it?

LaFreniere: We’re required to make a holiday track and the last couple of bands on the label covered one. In the middle of summer, I thought I might as well write a new song. I had this melody in my head and we put a classic blues swing thing on it and had fun with it. I even did an Elvis talking breakdown in the bridge [laughs].


Book Review: Sun Records Celebrates 70 Years in Style

By Brent Thompson

In the fast-and-furious age of iTunes, Spotify, SiriusXM, TikTok and Youtube, sometimes we need a reminder of where Rock’n’Roll began. Fortunately, that reminder comes in the form of The Birth of Rock’n’Roll: The Illustrated Story of Sun Records & the 70 Recordings that Changed the World, a hardcover treasure that Sun Records has delivered via Owen Weldon/Insight Editions (November 2022). Renowned journalists Peter Guralnick and Colin Escott have been charged with the honor – and responsibility – of being our tour guides on a 256-page journey through Sun’s legacy and importance. The first record label to record Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, Sun’s catalog includes “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “I Walk The Line” and “Breathless” among countless other classics. A foreword by the recently-deceased Lewis lends weight and emotion to the project. Will music completists learn anything new by reading this book? Maybe not, but it’s still a worthwhile return visit to the blocking-and-tackling of Rock’n’Roll. More importantly, The Birth of Rock’n’Roll will potentially turn a new generation onto Sun’s significance and influence on today’s music.


For the Love of Leonard: A Conversation with David Stegall and Reid Brooks

By Brent Thompson

You know Leonard Cohen’s music whether you realize it or not. Though he never achieved breakthrough success in the U.S., the Canadian singer/songwriter (1934-2016) left a lasting legacy with his iconic song “Hallelujah.” First released by Cohen in 1984, the song was later recorded by John Cale and Jeff Buckley. In addition, “Hallelujah” has been featured in television series including The West Wing, The O.C. and Without a Trace among others. On November 11, David Stegall and Reid Brooks – backed by The Famous Blue Raincoats – will expand your knowledge of Cohen with a performance of The Music & History of Leonard Cohen at WorkPlay. The show marks a repeat engagement, having previously been performed in Birmingham and Atlanta. Recently, we sat down with Stegall and Brooks to discuss the project.

Southern Stages: Given Leonard Cohen’s vast catalog, how did you select the songs that comprise your setlist?

David Stegall: I went through every live album I could find and started checking off the ones he always did. Whatever he did most in concert, we did those. The last four or five songs we play he never did live because he stopped touring and they’re ones that we just like.

Reid Brooks: We really wanted it to be what he would do. It’s a good replication of a Leonard Cohen show. We knew we wanted to tell the story of Leonard’s life, so we also went through album by album. We tried to pick songs from different albums and not do a lot of songs from just The Future.

Southern Stages: The concept of your show seems similar to The Maverick Lounge Series in that it drills down on both the life and music of a certain artist.

Stegall: That’s where we got the idea to do it. I figured this show would lend itself to that format because a lot of people have heard of Leonard Cohen – particularly “Hallelujah” – and a lot of singer/songwriters have always loved Leonard Cohen, but he was never hugely popular in the U.S. He was popular in Canada and Europe. He’s got a lot of name recognition, but people aren’t familiar with his work.

Southern Stages: Are there any plans to take this show to other markets around the country?

Stegall: When we did the first show, I was getting inquiries from all over the world. I was getting emails from Europe, Canada and Australia. We would love to do it – we’ve just got to get a few shows under our belt.

Southern Stages: The timing of this show is good as there is currently a healthy market for cover and tribute bands these days. Yacht Rock Revue, Rumours and Black Jacket Symphony are some successful acts that come to mind.

Stegall: Tickets are affordable, too. You go see The Eagles and you’ll pay $175 per ticket. And there ‘s an educational aspect to our show.

Brooks: That’s what makes this show different – there’s a narrative that goes with the show.

The Music & History of Leonard Cohen – performed by David Stegall and Reid Brooks – backed by The Famous Blue Raincoats – will take place at WorkPlay on Friday, November 11. Showtime is 8 p.m. Advance tickets to the 21+ show are $18 and can be purchased at www.workplay.com.





Connected and Inspired: A Conversation with Lizz Wright

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Jesse Kitt

The daughter of a minister and musical director, Lizz Wright has been immersed in music since her childhood. In a recording career spanning nearly 20 years, Wright has effectively blended jazz and gospel music into her own unique style. Recently, the vocalist and restaurateur launched a record label, Blues & Greens Records. On Sunday, October 23, Wright will perform in the Jemison Concert Hall of the Alys Stephens Center. Wright spoke with us by phone as she prepared for her upcoming tour.

Southern Stages: Lizz, thanks for your time. Where is your home base these days?

Lizz Wright: Chicago is my home base and I still have a spot in Asheville where I go sit by the creek. I actually have a little cafe [in Chicago] – we serve breakfast all day and we have salads. It’s called Carver 47 – It’s named after Dr. George Washington Carver and it’s got a focus on juices and smoothies and we also have a cafe garden. It’s a nice neighborhood spot.

Southern Stages: Between your singing career, your cafe and your record label, you seem to stay busy.

Wright: I love it! My father had a big garden and my grandfather is an amazing gardener. I come from a family of gardeners. We’ve always had a relationship with the land and I didn’t want to be the first generation that didn’t have that quality. Something about serving people makes me feel connected and inspired. It’s so much easier to sing when I have that in my life. I gave myself permission to have an unusual structure.

Southern Stages: On this upcoming tour that brings you to Birmingham, how long will you be on the road?

Wright: It’s going to keep me out for a while. I’ll be in Europe for three weeks, so I’ll be out until mid-November. It’s the longest run I’ve been able to put together since Covid happened. I’m very excited and singing feels like a long vacation.

Southern Stages: I’ve always heard that European audiences have a tremendous appreciation for American jazz music.

Wright: I think the charm of the American experience is easier to see if you’re not standing in the middle of the chaos. It’s much easier to see how beautiful it is. I find that the world at large is fascinated with the U.S. and how people deal with each other and how much we influence each other. Art seems to be a way for them to look deeply into that.

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

Wright: That’s a great question. I’ve started listening to my music again lately and I am yearning to sing some things I haven’t sung in a long time, but also to test songs that I’m about to take into the studio. There are some songs from my twenties that no one’s heard in a while and the words mean something so different to me.

Southern Stages: I like to ask artists how old songs stay fresh to them, but you touched on that by saying the lyrics develop new meaning over time.

Wright: It’s better to sing songs that you need to sing because you’re going to meet them with a lot more appreciation and attention than something that’s programmed or predetermined.

Southern Stages: You mentioned testing songs on the road. If you will, talk about that process.

Wright: I like to bring them to the people first. If they’re alive between us, I can get to the right thing in the studio. It’s important that I don’t get something high-gloss in the studio that doesn’t carry with the people. If it as life on the road, it’ll be fine in the studio. Craig Street – one of my producers – taught me how to work backwards like that and it’s been an effective tool.

Lizz Wright will perform in the Jemison Concert Hall of the Alys Stephens Center on Sunday, October 23. Tickets to the 6 p.m. show are $39 and can be purchased at www.alysstephens.org.

Review: Bobby Weir & Wolf Bros.

By Brent Thompson

Thanks to its members’ various touring ensembles (The Dead, Dead & Company, Furthur and Phil Lesh & Friends among others) – and a steady stream of live shows that continue to be released – no batch of songs has lived on like The Grateful Dead’s catalog. So, it would be understandable to overlook or even discard the latest addition to the fold, Bobby Weir & Wolf Bros. Live In Colorado Vol. 2 (Third Man Records). And while the song titles will ring familiar – “Terrapin Station Suite,” “Brokedown Palace” and “Ripple” among them – the arrangements are fresh and Weir’s backing band (Don Was, Jay Lane and Jeff Chimenti) breathes new life into these well-worn staples. With respect to covers,  Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” slides nicely into “Eyes Of The World” along with a rendition of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried.” If you aren’t a Deadhead, this album probably won’t change your mind. If you are an existing fan, this album is a very worthy addition to your (likely vast) Dead collection.


Concert Shots: Goose in Atlanta 10-2-22

By Brent Thompson

Goose wrapped up a two-night stand at Atlanta’s Pullman Yards on October 2. Over the course of two sets, the band performed “Yeti,” “Arise” and “California Magic” alongside cover versions of “Pumped Up Kicks,” “No Rain” and “A Fifth of Beethoven.”







Road Trip Recap: AmericanaFest 2022

By Brent Thompson

Nashville rolled out the red carpet for the annual American Music Festival (AmericanaFest) from September 13-17. Each day, the city’s famed nightclubs, rooftop bars, restaurants and private event spaces were filled with hours of music. Defined by its indefinability, Americana music offers up an array of genres including rock, pop, country, blues and bluegrass. Once again, we were there to document the sights and sounds of music’s greatest week.

Hank Williams, Jr. & Dan Auerbach


Molly Tuttle


49 Winchester


Nikki Lane & Joshua Hedley


Jim Lauderdale


Robert’s Western World


Robert’s Western World


The Concert & The Classroom: Catching up with John Paul White

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Alysse Gafkjen

In addition to being a recording and touring musician, John Paul White is co-founder of Florence-based label Single Lock Records. These days, the singer/songwriter has added yet another endeavor to his already busy career – teaching at his alma mater, University of North Alabama.

“I’m teaching Songwriting & Artist Career Development this semester,” he says. “I’m artist-in-residence and I’m teaching a couple of classes and I’m still touring and still writing and still doing Single Lock Records. I got a call from the dean, who’s a friend of mine, and I said, ‘You might be knocking on the door at exactly the right time.’ I’ve toyed with the idea for a long time and I’ve always wanted to come back to my alma mater and give back. It’s been a while since I’ve been in school, but I can distinctly remember wishing there were people with real experiences in the industry that could’ve given me insight at the time. It’s incredibly rewarding. I’m still trying to figure out the balancing act of touring and writing going along with this.” On October 22, White will perform at Alabaster Jubilee at 7 p.m.

White initially forged his career in a music business that looked far different from today’s industry. However, he knows that teaching aspiring artists these days means including streaming, social media and other modern topics into his curriculum.

“As much as I don’t want to,” he admits. “I’m from a generation that didn’t do any of that stuff. It was pretty blissful – just creating and touring and creating and touring. Now, we’ve learned through Single Lock Records, it’s just part of it. Whether you like it or not, you have to actively think of a way to sell yourself every day – if you don’t, you get left behind. I’m really glad that in the earlier stages of my career I did not have to do all that stuff. Some artists love it and they thrive because they enjoy doing it.”

Speaking of another modern reality, White mentions that Covid’s shockwaves are still being felt among touring musicians.

“I think we haven’t really felt the effects of it yet,” he cautions. “Now that people are touring again, people aren’t buying tickets the way they used to. If they are buying tickets, every single artist is touring at the same time trying to make up for lost time. So, more and more artists are realizing, ‘I’m not going to get back out of the hole.’ We all, as a community, actively check on each other. I have no data on this, but I would venture to say that 85 to 90 percent of musicians are struggling. A lot of people are timid about going into a crowded rock club shoulder-to-shoulder with people when you’ve been trained to keep your distance. Some people don’t want to do that and some people don’t want to follow Covid protocols – they’re on one side of the coin or the other.”

Never one to sit still, White recently found himself performing with a symphony accompaniment. In April, he will perform in Birmingham at Alys Stephens Center with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.

“I have to give credit to Daniel Stevens, who’s the conductor at UNA,” White says in an enthusiastic tone. “It was his brainstorm to have the Shoals Symphony play with me. Here, at Norton Auditorium in Florence, we had two performances. My band sits in front of the orchestra – it’s overwhelming and it’s hard to concentrate on your song lyrics when this gorgeous symphony is happening behind you. The Alabama Symphony got wind of it and reached out and said, ‘Can we bring it down here and you do it with our folks?’ I said, ‘That was the dream in the first place.’ Who knows? Maybe we can take this around the country and this will be the first step toward it.”