Mountain Stage with Larry Groce
Lee Ann Womack, James McMurtry, Inara George and more
Sun · March 25, 2018
Doors: 6:30 pm / Show: 7:00 pmCulture Center Theater
$15.00 - $20.00
Available to Mountain Stage Members January 12 at 10am.
On-sale to public: January 19 at 10a.m.
Advance Tickets: $20
Advance Tickets for Mountain Stage Members:$15
Day of Show: $35
Available online, by phone (877.987.6487), or at Taylor Books - Downtown Charleston.
Become a Mountain Stage Member for public radio perks and early access to tickets! mountainstage.org/memberhttps://mountainstage.ticketfly.com/event/1626349/
Anybody who has paid attention to Womack for the past decade or so could see she was headed in this direction. THE LONELY, THE LONESOME AND THE GONE (ATO Records) — a breathtaking hybrid of country, soul, gospel and blues — comes from Womack’s core. “I could never shake my center of who I was,” says the East Texas native. “I’m drawn to rootsy music. It’s what moves me.”
Recorded at Houston’s historic SugarHill Recording Studios and produced by Womack’s husband and fellow Texan, Frank Liddell (fresh off a 2017 ACM Album of the Year win for Miranda Lambert’s ‘The Weight of These Wings’), THE LONELY, THE LONESOME AND THE GONE marks the culmination of a journey that began with Womack’s 2005 CMA Album of the Year ‘There’s More Where That Come From,’ moving her toward an authentic American music that celebrates her roots and adds to the canon. It also underscores the emergence of Womack’s songwriting voice: She has more writing credits among this album’s 14 tracks than on all her previous albums combined.
Womack had made the majority of her previous albums in Nashville, where the studio system is so entrenched it’s almost impossible to avoid. Seeking to free herself of that mindset, Womack says, “I wanted to get out of Nashville and tap into what deep East Texas offers musically and vibe-wise.”
So Womack and Liddell took a band to SugarHill, one of the country’s oldest continually operating studio spaces. In an earlier incarnation, the studio had given birth to George Jones’ earliest hits, as well as Roy Head’s mid-‘60s smash “Treat Her Right”; Freddy Fender’s ‘70s chart-topping crossovers “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” and “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights”; and recordings from Lightnin’ Hopkins, the Sir Douglas Quintet, the 13th Floor Elevators and Willie Nelson.
Womack found the lure of East Texas irresistible. "I love local things, and I missed local music,” she says. “I grew up in Jacksonville. It was small, so I spent a lot of time dreaming, and about getting out.” It required only a short leap of logic to view Houston, and specifically SugarHill, as the place to record.
Womack and Liddell found a perfect complement of musicians, players who clicked right away and became a one-headed band. Bassist Glenn Worf (Alan Jackson, Bob Seger, Tammy Wynette, Mark Knopfler and others), drummer Jerry Roe (numerous Nashville sessions and his band Friendship Commanders), guitarists Ethan Ballinger, Adam Wright (Alan Jackson, Solomon Burke and others), and Waylon Payne (son of singer Sammi Smith and Willie Nelson's longtime guitarist Jody Payne) formed the SugarHill gang. Engineer and co-producer Michael McCarthy, known for his production work with Spoon, brought vintage gear from his Austin studio and help capture a sharper sound for sessions recorded entirely to analog tape.
“I got everybody out of their comfort zone and into a new element,” says Womack. “And it was funky there. This place was not in the least bit slick. Everybody there, all they think about is making music for the love of making music. Everyone comes in with huge smiles and positive attitudes. It was much different than what we were used to."
Womack had brought a handful of songs to record, including the gospel-inspired original “All the Trouble”; the poignant “Mama Lost Her Smile,” in which a daughter sorts through her family’s photographic history looking for clues to a long-secret sorrow; and the love-triangle conversation “Talking Behind Your Back,” which she penned with Dale Dodson and Dean Dillon, the writer of several George Strait classics. To make the final cut, Womack and the band had to be able to get to the heart of the songs and shine their light from the inside out.
A trio of long-time favorites found their way onto the album, too. Womack joined a long list of legendary voices irresistibly drawn to Harlan Howard’s “He Called Me Baby,” putting a sultry Southern groove underneath its mix of sensuality and sorrow. On “Long Black Veil,” a tale of betrayal and closely held secrets that became a ‘50s classic as recorded by Lefty Frizzell, she taps into a ballad tradition that runs centuries deep. Womack recorded the album’s final track, a haunting version of George Jones’ “Please Take the Devil Out of Me,” standing on the same gold-star linoleum floor where Jones cut the 1959 original.
Capturing the reality of East Texas music isn't always easy. Being in Houston and at SugarHill helped make that happen, inspiring an approach to the recording process that everyone embraced from the first note played. "Music down there — including Houston, Beaumont, Port Arthur and all the way through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama — is this huge melting pot,” Womack says. “I love that, and I wanted that in this record. I wanted to make sure it had a lot of soul in it, because real country music has soul, and I wanted to remind people of that."
“When you make albums, and aren’t just going for singles, you really have to treat them with respect,” Liddell adds. “We did that at SugarHill, taking a bunch of like-minded lunatics and seeing what happened."
In Houston — with all its history, its eccentricity, its diversity and its lack of pretense — those like-minded lunatics found a place where they could flourish.
“We all felt we weren’t going someplace just to make a record,” Womack says. “We were going someplace to make a great record.” Don’t just take her word for it, though. Listen. And when Womack and the music take you there, you’ll find you want to stay.
"I wanted to make a video for this song that captured the feeling one can have when grief feels completely insurmountable and life pushes you around," says Inara. "So serenading the ocean felt like a good way to capture that feeling. I had this clear idea in my head, and my director, Jeremy Cohen, was able to bring it to life. I feel really proud of this video. It was also one of the harder shoots I've ever done. The ocean is no joke. I was getting sand out of my ears for at least a week."
"Release Me" follows on the heels of "Young Adult" from Dearest Everybody, Inara's first solo album since the release of Accidental Experimental in 2009. Of The Bird and the Bee (her collaboration with Grammy-winning producer, singer, and instrumentalist Greg Kurstin) and the Living Sisters fame, Inara was recently featured on Foo Fighter's "Dirty Water" and Superfruit's "Everything," which she co-wrote for their debut album Future Friends. This summer, Inara also performed alongside that dog. at Riotfest and duetted with Shirley Manson and Garbage at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.
He is a big man.
Seated, alone, cradling his acoustic guitar.
He looks like nobody who is famous.
Then he begins to sing, to caress the song "Break My Heart Sweetly," and all that remains is to whisper, "Oh, my god."
In Colbert's studio everybody stood, like they were in church.
Big Bad Luv is the record John Moreland made after, after everything in his life changed. For the better.
He sings in one of those accents from flyover country that's impossible to locate and implausible to mimic. (Texas, by way of Northern Kentucky, but mostly Tulsa, as it happens.) He sings directly from his heart, with none of the restraint and filters and caution the rest of us would apply for public protection. He sings with resolute courage.
And writes. Writes with simple eloquence about love and faith and isolation; the human condition; what every song and poem and novel is about, at the core: Life.
"Break My Heart Sweetly" came from his second solo album, released in 2013 and titled In the Throes. High on Tulsa Heat, released through Thirty Tigers, landed him on Colbert's stage (that's the LP Colbert held up). Song placements on "Sons of Anarchy," an emerging artist nomination from the Americana Music Association.
Enough sales to compel Moreland to give up his DIY label operation, and sign with 4AD. "It grew to the point where I couldn't really handle everything myself," he says. "Even with a manager and a small team, I came to the conclusion that I'd like to play music and not worry about the other stuff."
Enough success to buy a measure of peace, and not more pain. "I expected to just play in the corner of the bar and have people not really pay attention, make $100, go home and go to work the next morning, doing something I didn't like," Moreland says. "So, yeah, I didn't really expect to be here. But, then, on the other hand, I did. I feel like I'm good enough to be here. And I've always been confident, even when I probably shouldn't have been. I knew I was an outsider. I didn't have a lot of faith in the music industry to let me in. But I guess they have. To some extent. That's what I hoped for, but I wasn't sure that would be how it worked."
"In churches learning how to hate yourself/Ain't grace a wretched old thing" he sings, the song called "Ain't We Gold." Big Bad Luv is unmistakably a rock 'n' roll record. If, that is, one understands the term to include Ray Wylie Hubbard, John Hiatt, and Lucero. Or The Band, maybe. Insistent songs, coming from a voice as elegant as unfinished barn wood, songs which insist upon their words being heard.
His fourth solo album, not discounting two records with the Black Gold Band and a third with the Dust Bowl Souls. Nor discounting early excursions into hardcore which were not youthful indiscretions but crucial training in the emotional honesty of confessional songwriting. A rock album, to be performed by a rock band. A partial break with the solitude of solo touring.
"Two or three years ago," Moreland says, "it would have been impossible to picture touring with a band. Now that's changed. I think I'll still do some solo or stripped down shows, but I have the option to bring a band with me if I want. Ultimately it's just what the songs felt like they should be."
Big Bad Luv was recorded down in Little Rock, mostly with a crew of Tulsa friends: John Calvin Abney on piano and guitar, back from Tulsa Heat; Aaron Boehler on bass; Paddy Ryan on drums; Jared Tyler on dobro. And then Lucero's Rick Steff on piano, which ended up being the catalyst for completion.
"I always start off writing whatever comes naturally," Moreland says. "Once I've got seven or eight of those, then I'll take stock and look at what I've got, figure out what belongs on a record together, and what might not. Then I'll figure out what kind of songs I need."
Three sessions over ten months, sandwiched between touring dates and life. The final sequence roughly approximating the order in which songs were written. "I chose the sequence for what I thought worked best musically," he says, untroubled.
"Quick bursts of recording," Moreland goes on. Gives off a quick laugh. "It's not like we're sitting there over-thinking the performances, I'm definitely a fan of just hit record and play it. But then there's long stretches where I'm not in the studio, when I'm listening to what I did, asking how do I turn this into a record?"
The key turned out to be Rick Steff's promise to record next week, even though Moreland didn't have songs, not a one. "I went home and wrote five songs in four days and finished up," Moreland says. Another deep, wry laugh.
Big Bad Luv is, at least by comparison…maybe…a happier record? "I don't think I'm writing songs that are that much different," Moreland says. "It's always been a positive thing at heart, even if a song isn't sunshine and rainbows. At the very least my songs have been a way to exorcise negative feelings so that I can move on. And hopefully they provide that same experience to listeners. So that's what I'm still doing. I think it's a positive thing. I think this record, there's definitely a change in attitude, but it's the same point of view."
Oh, yeah. And Tchad Blake mixed it. "He's also the only person I've ever worked with on a record whose name I can drop."
"Slow down easy, I've been hauling a heavy soul," he sings, this song titled "Slow Down Easy." Carrying it for all of us, but no longer alone.
New album released 23rd February 2018 on Joyful Noise Recordings
“One second you’re dozing off in the passenger seat on the way to a gig, and the next, there’s fire and hell flames and black smoke and your face is bleeding and you can’t see, and you can’t process information, and you think it’s all over.” Jeff Prystowsky is describing one of the scariest moments in his life, as The Low Anthem’s tour van crashed and subsequently wiped out Prystowsky for several weeks, as well as wrecking loads of their gear and instruments in the process.
However, the accident also acted as an inadvertent impetus for their latest record whilst Prystowsky was in recovery: a John Cage-influenced concept record. A beautiful, elegiac and largely acoustic – though peppered with subtle yet immersive electronics and humming ambience – album of twelve tracks that barely stretch past the two-minute mark. Recalling the more progressive moments of artists such as Sufjan Stevens and Lambchop, it’s a record of a deep richness, loaded with extreme subtleties and with a space and delicacy counter to the group’s previous dense and complex album.
The album feels like a new palate for the group and comes at the end of a period of profound change and evolution. Not only did the van crash cancel their tour (after just four dates) but, combined with some record company troubles, it led to the album they were due to tour all but disappearing. Eyeland was the group’s deeply experimental 2016 album, one that was their first in several years and one that was also a direct response to a world in which they had found themselves but didn’t really want to be.
Prystowsky formed the band with Ben Knox Miller and after the huge success of their 2007 debut album, What The Crow Brings, the band found themselves signed to Nonesuch and Bella Union for their even more successful follow-up Oh My God, Charlie Darwin. They toured the world and were reluctantly lumped in with the so-called "folk revival". However, night-after-night of performing their early material was not ultimately where they wanted to land. “The moment was losing its mystery. We were scared of becoming robots,” the band said after six years of reflection.
They returned to their hometown of Providence, Rhode Island back in 2012 and instead poured their energy into their local community by restoring a vaudeville-era theatre and building their own recording studio within. The band were still enamoured with music itself and holed down here for years experimenting and learning to record and produce what would become Eyeland but they were no longer the group that they had once been. “It’s like eating stale bread,” Prystowsky says. “Fresh bread is better. You want to cook with fresh ingredients and eat it while it’s still warm. If you wait too long, the moment is gone. So you reheat it but with each reheating, a little bit is lost…until it can’t be reheated anymore.”
The pair are involved with the running of The Columbus Theatre, they help book and promote shows and are in attendance for every new production, burrowing themselves at a grassroots level into their community. It has become an important place for them in terms of an inspirational creative space. “It’s a magical place with a long history,” Prystowsky says. “I like to call it a palace of music. You’re walking into a theatre from almost a hundred years ago, still intact, built for the acoustics of music, pre-the invention of the PA. It’s so unlike anything in the 21st century that it ignites your creative muscles to work. You immediately lose your frame of reference, in a good way.”
Five years on since moving back to Providence, building a recording studio then recording a deeply experimental, stylistic u-turn of a record in Eyeland before having to ditch the whole thing after a near miss accident, the band are now finally into a groove of their own, under their own terms. They are settled and have found themselves again both in terms of a sense of place as well as musically.
This feeling of comfort, confidence and newfound identity shines through on The Salt Doll Went To Measure The Depth Of The Sea, an album that was triggered when Knox Miller was reading John Cage’s biography Where The Heart Beats, by Kay Larsen. He soon became transfixed by the
salt doll fable he came across. The salt doll fable basically tells the story of a doll that wants to know itself, and what it’s made of. A teacher tells it, “salt comes from the ocean,” so it goes to the sea. When the doll puts its toe in, it knows something, but loses its toe. Then it puts its foot in, knows even more but loses its foot...and so on, until it’s completely dissolved, never to return to the shore.
This fable soon blossomed into a full album that Knox Miller wrote on stripped down equipment (given that all the band’s usual stuff had been destroyed or damaged in the crash) and the end result was an album that, according to Prystowsky: “Is a concept album with a story arc weaving through the songs like a constellation. It’s an underwater circular journey to the bottom of the sea following the salt doll who, attempting to measure the sea (and thus, know its true origins), in the end, becomes part of it. Along the way this non-human, conscious chemical compound, encounters all kinds of fantastical oceanic things.”
Knox Miller wrote the song cycle whilst Prystowsky was recovering from a concussion and it became a part of him in the process. A project to immerse himself into completely, mirroring the tale of the salt doll but also filling the void left by the absence of his usual creative partner (who soon returned to good health to help finish the record.) “I ate it, I slept it” Ben says of the process.
It finds the Low Anthem of 2017 a vastly different band from the one that emerged 10 years ago with their debut. One that has experienced more ups and downs that many would manage in an entire career but also one that now feels settled in their skin and only interested in venturing toward the horizon instead of re-treading old ground.
Culture Center Theater
West Virginia State Capitol Grounds
Charleston, WV, 25305