The Watson Twins: Duo

Blood harmony is a topic that’s been talked about every which way to Sunday for decades now. And for good reason: It’s a magical thing, that blending of familial voices, and it’s made all the more so when the blends come from twins. The synchronicity of syllables and the rhythm of phrases seem to be […]

Jason Isbell: Live from the Ryman

Pretty much every musician who steps onto the Ryman Auditorium stage makes a comment about what a special place it is to play. What was once the Union Gospel Tabernacle and then the Grand Ole Opry House has hosted thousands and thousands of performances over its 126-year history, from church services to radio shows to […]

Hush Kids: “Goodbye Rain”

There are some who feel that two voices, when coming together, need be of differing timbres — one smooth, one rough. They would have us believe that a too-similar pairing won’t work, like a double-negative in a sentence negating itself or an opposites attract kind of quantum thinking. But some of the greatest musical duos […]

Lucy Wainwright Roche, “Quit with Me”

In an episode of his Revisionist History podcast titled “The King of Tears,” Malcolm Gladwell determines that the devil is, indeed, in the details when it comes to writing a really great weeper, and he deconstructs some of the saddest songs in country music to support his thesis. In his thinking, the flashpoints of real […]

Amy Ray: Holler

Most artists, who are part of bands, make a clean break before striking out on their own to explore other musical terrains. They might reunite every now and again for a good reason or a good cause, but that’s about it. It’s rare to find someone working within their band while pursuing solo projects on […]

Kathy Mattea: Pretty Bird

To be a singer — who isn’t a singer/songwriter — is, it would seem, to be a bit of an actor. After all, a song is comprised of characters living out a story, with the help of a musical interpreter stepping in and bringing it all to life. It’s a job that requires not only […]

Matthew Perryman Jones: The Waking Hours

“One day I’ll know as I am known,” Matthew Perryman Jones sings in “Happy,” the opening track of his fantastic new album, The Waking Hours. The line is both a hopeful prayer and a knowing promise that tugs at the heartstrings of the song cycle: the idea of letting control go and giving ourselves over […]

10 String Symphony: Generation Frustration

Millennial memes are a dime a dozen these days. If the rumors are true, they have traded homeownership for avocado toast, courtship for hook-ups, bongs for vapes, and low rises for high waists. How much can we really expect from the generation that has killed mayonnaise, in the end? A lot, actually. Because all that […]

Rodney Crowell: Acoustic Classics

At different points in our lives, we all take a moment to look back and reflect upon the steps that led us to where we are. We take stock of the things that worked and the things that didn’t, the lessons we learned and the hardships we endured. It’s all part of the process of […]

Amy Ray

A lot of artists defy categorization. Some do so because they are tirelessly searching for the place they fit, while others are constantly chasing trends. Some, though, are genuinely exploring and expressing their myriad influences. Amy Ray belongs in the latter group. Pulling from every direction — Patty Griffin to Patti Smith, Big Star to […]

River Whyless: Kindness, a Rebel

There are a number of elements that go into making a band a great band. Quality songwriting and engaging performances are certainly on the list. But one of the most basic pieces of that puzzle? A creative drummer. Four-on-the-floor is fine, of course. It has gotten a LOT of jobs done. Still, you can tell […]

Kaia Kater: Grenades

“You know me. Ain’t you seen me before?” Kaia Kater asks in “The Heavenly Track,” off her new release, Grenades. She answers with, “I’m the comfort of the stranger in the writings on the stall.” The album is full of quietly explosive lines like that, details of life rendered with precision, purpose, and poetry. “I […]

Lori McKenna: The Tree

Truth is something that we each have our own version of, based on our unique perspective of a shared world. Two people could look at the same building from different sides and describe seemingly disparate experiences. One sees windows. One does not. Each tells their truth of that moment in this world, without elision or […]

Birdtalker: One

In her stunningly brilliant piece, Nanette, comedian Hannah Gadsby talks about how jokes have two parts: tension and release. The performer creates the former in order to provide the latter and, essentially, come out looking like a champ. She laughs that it’s a somewhat abusive relationship, that of comedian and audience. Songs can be similarly […]

Lera Lynn: Plays Well with Others

Finding your voice, as an artist, is a multi-faceted endeavor. There’s the style of singing that, albeit weighted with inherent gifts, still demands work on technique and timbre to be really great. Then there’s the craft of songwriting which requires even more effort to hone. Figuring out what to say and how to say it, […]

Erin Rae: Putting on Airs

It’s not as easy as it seems to make a record that stands the test of time. Great songs and classic sounds play their part, as do brilliant performances. But the key lies in the obvious restraint such an undertaking demands in the moment and rewards only in hindsight. Timeless albums are only timeless because […]

The Dead Tongues: Unsung Passage

When most people think of the banjo, they think of bluegrass banjo, with rolls and runs that don’t always make the most soothing sound. But the banjo has so much more to offer than that, including deep, dark tones that evoke other worlds, geographically and metaphorically. That’s the kind of banjo artists like Valerie June, […]

Gretchen Peters: Dancing with the Beast

American culture has a bad habit of dismissing the voices of its elders. Hit 50 and, as far as many are concerned, you might as well drift out to sea on an iceberg. Except that icebergs are melting, and mature voices should always be considered relevant because they have, indeed, been there and done that. […]

Ben Glover: Shorebound

Music, by its very nature, is a collaborative experience. Both giving and receiving are required for it to exist, if not demanded by it. Even when an artist writes, plays, and records every single note on an album by themselves, the collaboration begins once someone else hears their work. For when we listen, we overlay […]

Katie Herzig: Moment of Bliss

Katie Herzig’s new album, Moment of Bliss, starts with a simple question: “How do you talk about a feeling, when you don’t know where it lives inside?” With that satisfyingly simple dream-pop gem, Herzig invites you into a song cycle that asks you to feel something the whole way through. Fair warning: With this collection, […]

Bluegrass Underground: Brandi Carlile Rocks the Rock

For nearly a decade, Bluegrass Underground has invited artists and fans to experience the joy of music together … underground. The Caverns, located at the foot of Monteagle Mountain in Pelham, Tennessee, plays host to both the Emmy Award-winning PBS program and other shows from March to December. Todd Mayo, owner of the Caverns and creator of Bluegrass Underground, […]

Will Dailey: Golden Walker

Songwriters, by their very nature, move through life not only from the inside out, but also from the outside in. They look and listen at the worlds within and around them, pulling it all in and pouring it all out in melody. The barriers between personal and political, fact and fiction, us and them do […]

Ben Glover: Shorebound

The opening cut of Ben Glover’s Shorebound is unlike any others in his discography. With a steady acoustic strum keeping the song’s pace, a sly slide guitar lays down a laid-back riff, and “What You Love Will Break Your Heart” casually swaggers on its way. That cut, and all that follow, are more multi-layered, so […]

Gretchen Peters: Dancing with the Beast

There’s a bittersweet beauty to the passing of time — the changes it brings are just as often heartbreaking as they are heartwarming. The inevitable tension that arises from that sway is Gretchen Peters’ most trusted muse. “The years go by like days. Sometimes the days go by like years. And I don’t know which […]

Brandi Carlile: The Work, In Progress

“A lot of times, as artists, we don’t write about what we’re good at; we write about what we struggle with,” Brandi Carlile confesses, then adds with a laugh, “I think I tend to write a lot about forgiveness because I’m quite judgmental. I’m a work in progress.” As evidenced in that thesis statement and […]

Emily Saliers: Back to Her Roots

It was 30 years ago that Emily Saliers and Amy Ray released their debut album, Strange Fire, as the Indigo Girls. They’d been playing music together for a few years, at that point, and Saliers for much longer, on her own. The daughter of a theologian, Saliers grew up in a predominantly African-American neighborhood in […]

The Orphan Brigade: Heart of the Cave

The opening strains of the Orphan Brigade’s Heart of the Cave album feel ancient, sacred, and tribal. A drum beat. A shaker. A howling choir. Voices rise up in unison, chanting, “We ain’t leaving but a pile of bones. We ain’t leaving no more.” The story begins at the end because, no matter which road […]

Five Questions: Tift Merritt

On her seventh studio album in 15 years, Stitch of the World, singer/songwriter Tift Merritt has churned out another solid set of roots-infused tunes that reach backward, forward, and side to side. You see, Merritt has a lot of musical ground to cover and she does just that, from the throwback folk-country of “Dusty Old […]

Five Questions: John Craigie

Singer/songwriter John Craigie grew up in Southern California, which easily explains his breezy, bright folk-rock sensibilities. After graduating with a degree in mathematics from UC Santa Cruz, Craigie took to the road and the recording studio, which readily explains his existential musical explorations. Craigie’s latest release — No Rain, No Rose — finds him folding […]

Valerie June: The Order of Time

One of the best things about modern roots music is its conflation and innovation, of traditions and of visions. And many of the artists making the greatest strides in that regard are Black artists, including Alabama Shakes, Rhiannon Giddens, Son Little, and Valerie June. Each brings an inimitable style and an indelible spirit to their […]

Caroline Spence: Spades & Roses

When you think about it, songwriters do an amazing thing. Taking a limited number of notes and a limited number of words, they craft infinite expressions of emotion. They turn the mundane into the sacred, the personal into the universal. It’s a wonder, really, that there are so many different ways to say — or […]

Peter Bradley Adams: A Face Like Mine

No matter the form, when it comes to art, there are a number of different tacks to take. Some artists continually push their work across new horizons. Neil Young, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Joni Mitchell come to mind, in that regard. Others — Claude Monet, Jason Isbell, and Bonnie Raitt, among them — stand a […]

Rhiannon Giddens: Freedom Highway

Sometimes, a voice comes along at the exact moment in history that it very much needs to be heard. Though Rhiannon Giddens first stepped up to the mic as part of the Sankofa Strings and Carolina Chocolate Drops in 2005, it’s on her truly stunning new album, Freedom Highway, that she truly finds her voice […]

Squared Roots: Johnnyswim x Johnny Cash

Through wars with authority and battles with addiction, Johnny Cash carved out a place in musical history for himself that is the stuff of legends. The rebellion and redemption, as well as the humor and humility, that run through his songs resonated — and still resonate — with fans around the world who have bought […]

Squared Roots: Scott Biram x Lead Belly

Though Lead Belly was merely a man, his story reads like the stuff of legends. He had multiple encounters with the law, was sentenced to a chain gang, escaped, killed a relative, and got thrown back in the hoosegow, earned himself a pardon because the governor was a fan. But then he stabbed someone else […]

Melissa Etheridge: Still Brave, Not So Crazy

“If you look back to history, you’ll see they all came from the same place,” Melissa Etheridge says, explaining the roots of American music’s myriad genres. “They all came from the same musical movement in the South, from Appalachian music to the blues coming out of the freed slaves in the early 19th century, and […]

Chely Wright: From the Heart

The 2010s have been a big dang deal in the life of Chely Wright. She kicked off the decade by coming out in a very public way with a huge media blitz supporting an autobiography (Like Me) and an album (Lifted Off the Ground), as well as the related LikeMe Foundation. Over the next few […]

Nothing to Hide: A Conversation with Dan Layus

After more than a decade at the heart of Augustana, Dan Layus recently released an official solo album, Dangerous Things. And anyone who thinks they are going to get another bunch of roots-rock anthems out of Layus has another think coming their way. The sparsely drawn, country-tinged singer/songwriter set summons Gram Parsons, Woody Guthrie, and […]

Squared Roots: Jonatha Brooke x Joe Sample

Music is full of innovators, some worthy of the word, some less so. Jazz pioneer Joe Sample certainly fits the former. Coming out of Houston, Texas, Sample’s artistic roots ran deep and wide. And he wasn’t afraid to let them reach into everything he did, blending blues, soul, gospel, and other forms into one. Sample […]

k.d. lang: Flawless, Fearless

It wasn’t the first time I heard k.d. lang’s voice that carved out a forever place for her in my heart. It was the first time I saw a photo of her for, in it, I saw a reflection of who I was or, more likely, who I wanted to be. It was 1990, maybe […]