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 […]

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 […]

Amanda Shires: My Piece of Land

Having Dave Cobb produce an Amanda Shires record was inevitable, considering the superlative work he’s done on her husband Jason Isbell’s last couple of albums. Alternately playful and poised, My Piece of Land is the wonderful result of that collaboration. Written and recorded as she stared motherhood right in the eye, My Piece of Land […]

Chely Wright: I Am the Rain

There comes a time in all great artists’ careers when they release their masterpiece. Sometimes, it’s their debut, as with Shawn Colvin’s Steady On and Patty Griffin’s Living with Ghosts. Other times, it comes considerably further into their careers. Rosanne Cash’s Interiors and Jason Isbell’s Southeastern both land there, as does Chely Wright’s new — […]

Lori McKenna: The Bird & the Rifle

When talents as enormous as Lori McKenna and Dave Cobb come together in a studio, the resulting record is bound to be special. Exhibit A: The Bird & the Rifle. Both music-makers have been riding high lately, with hit records and Grammy Awards to spare. But, if any two folks ever deserved such accolades, it’s […]

Ana Egge & the Sentimentals: Say That Now

Ana Egge is no stranger to collaboration. On her last outing, 2015’s Bright Shadow, she partnered with the Stray Birds. On her new set, Say That Now, she nabbed the Sentimentals, a folk-rock band from Denmark. The Danes provide a wonderfully complementary mooring for Egge’s buoyant voice, whether they’re working through the bluesy rock of […]

Hayes Carll: Lovers and Leavers

There comes a time of reckoning in nearly every artist’s life, a reckoning of youthful wants and maturing needs. Some go kicking and screaming into their next phase, while others go quietly, thoughtfully. Singer/songwriter Hayes Carll chose the latter route on his new Lovers and Leavers LP, a collection of 10 tender tunes that documents […]

Parker Millsap: The Very Last Day

On Parker Millsap’s new album, The Very Last Day, the young singer/songwriter takes a major sonic leap forward thanks to Gary Paczosa’s brawny production. And, while the aural landscape certainly warrants acknowledgement, the original compositions definitely deserve admiration. Millsap’s dexterity in the writing department both belies his youthful age and betrays his old-soul wisdom. Not […]

Dylan LeBlanc: Cautionary Tale

Like Jason Isbell and so many others before him, singer/songwriter Dylan LeBlanc hit bottom a few years back and emerged with a brilliant recounting and reckoning in the form of his new Cautionary Tale. Produced by John Paul White (formerly of the Civil Wars) and Ben Tanner (of the Alabama Shakes), the early ’70s-inspired album […]

David Ramirez: Fables

David Ramirez’s new album, Fables, is a jewel in the 2015 Americana crown and a must-listen for anyone who has ever waged a personal war with the capital “t” Truth. Problem is, the first two cuts of the album are so good, it’s hard to get past them to explore the other eight. “Communion” opens […]

Natalie Merchant: Paradise Is There

Even though they may be encoded with 1s and 0s or enshrined in vinyl grooves, songs are not static entities. They live and breathe, expand and contract as the years wear on. They take on different meanings for the listener, just as they do for the artist. It’s no wonder, then, that singer/songwriter Natalie Merchant […]

Jeffrey Foucault: Salt as Wolves

There’s so much going on in singer/songwriter Jeffrey Foucault’s voice that, if he were singing “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star,” it would feel like the existential wonderings of a road-worn, world-weary celestial traveler that it is rather than a simple kids’ song. Instead, on his fifth album of original compositions, Foucault offers up a collection of […]

Shawn Colvin: Uncovered

Anyone who has followed Shawn Colvin’s career for any length of time knows that she is very fond of covering songs. She can’t help it. She got her start as a cover artist in a bar band. As good of a copy cat as she is, however, Colvin learned long ago that she had to […]

Texas Forever: Hayes Carll Proves What Songs Are For

In a town so over-run with great singer/songwriters, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Nashville’s not the only place they come from. Massachusetts, California, New York, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Oregon all do their part, too. Heck, even Iowa chips in, now and then. And, of course, there’s always Texas which, on Friday […]

Patty Griffin: Servant of Love

As artists move through the world, they see and feel things that less-sensitive people don’t. Then, they retreat to their creative spaces and translate those experiences into music, paintings, and words, as best they can. Patty Griffin has long had her eyes and heart trained on the stories unfolding around her in the lives of […]

Rayland Baxter: Imaginary Man

Some might insist that comparing Rayland Baxter to Paul Simon is inappropriate, the likening of a go-kart to a Mercedes. But that would be overly reductive and dismissive of Baxter’s burgeoning talent. Baxter isn’t a carbon copy of Simon, to be sure, but how can anyone listen to “Mr. Rodriguez” and not hear the similarities […]

Shelby Lynne: I Can’t Imagine

Let’s be clear about one thing right up front: Shelby Lynne can sing. Her soulful voice is nimble enough to belt one phrase and whisper the next. Even just the opening track of I Can’t Imagine makes that point abundantly clear as its lyrics align themselves with her delivery: “I threw these colors down in […]

Jason Isbell: Something More Than Free

As soon as “If It Takes a Lifetime” opens Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free, it’s obvious that the singer/songwriter did not make Southeastern: The Sequel. Quite the opposite, really. Southeastern overflowed with cutting lyrical that rock his fellow writers back on their heels in awe every time they hear them. Lines like this (from […]

Amanda Shires at City Winery

Amanda Shires has an interesting way with both language and music. It’s there in her conversation, and it’s there in her songs. The way she chooses and collects words together in both is thoroughly endearing, and the way she winds melodies around them like so much silky twine is simply fascinating. Her melodies, you see, […]

12 Best Quips from Dolly’s Return to the Ryman

After more than a decade away, Dolly Parton returned to Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium last night for the first of two sold-out benefit shows. Greeted by a standing ovation, she got things started by saying, “For those who don’t know me, I’ll fill you in,” before heading into “Backwoods Barbie.” As she worked through an evening […]

Kacey Musgraves: Pageant Material

There’s a reason sophomore albums are considered a tough nut to crack. An artist has only a year or two to write a batch of tunes that stack up to the batch from their debut that they had their whole pre-debut life to write. Whether or not that debut was successful, the artist also has […]

Iris DeMent, Pieta Brown at City Winery

She “…was as charming as a dream, and as melancholy as a dove left solitary in its nest by the death of its mate.” Honoré de Balzac wrote those words in Despair in Love, and they sprung to mind while watching Iris DeMent work through her set last night at Nashville’s City Winery. DeMent is […]

Eilen Jewell: Sundown over Ghost Town

With a title like Sundown over Ghost Town and cover art of a silhouetted figure with an acoustic guitar in front of a vast, star-filled horizon, Eilen Jewell’s new album sends a signal that what lies therein could easily be simple and spacious country-folk songs. Uh, not quite. Yes, there are some simple and spacious […]

The Weepies at City Winery

More often than not, it’s easy enough to get a sense of an artist through their songs, and certainly their live performances. Nowhere is that more true than with the Weepies — the husband/wife folk-pop duo of Steve Tannen and Deb Talan. It was definitely true last week at City Winery Nashville, and the crowd […]

Indigo Girls: One Lost Day

On their best record in a decade, the Indigo Girls harken back even as they move forward. Rites of Passage, Swamp Ophelia, Shaming of the Sun, and Come on Now Social — arguably the best albums in the Indigo catalog — all echo softly through this set, whether in the note choices of a harmony […]

Shawn Colvin at City Winery

There are some artists who should lean their catalog toward cover songs rather than original compositions. Shawn Colvin is not, however, one of them. As wonderful as she is as an interpreter of others’ works, she’s even better as a writer of her own. But, having recently recorded a second installment in her Cover Girl […]

Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell at City Winery

With a stellar backing band, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell took the stage for the first of their sold out two-night stand at Nashville’s City Winery last night. There’s a deep familiarity shared by the two legendary artists who have been friends for 41 years, and that casual air defined their performance. It was one […]

John Moreland: High on Tulsa Heat

Falling somewhere between Jason Isbell and Tom Waits, Oklahoma singer/songwriter John Moreland sure does have a way with a song. Much like Isbell’s Southeastern before it, Moreland’s new High on Tulsa Heat explores the writer’s inner world with startling honesty. While it relinquishes regret, it refuses to forsake remorse because that’s where the healing happens. […]

Mavis Staples: Your Good Fortune

Mavis Staples has a once-in-a-generation voice and, when she wields it, she lifts spirits and saves souls with its power — something she’s been doing for most of her life. On her new four-song EP, Your Good Fortune, the legendary gospel singer teams with young bluesman Son Little who has made a name for himself […]

Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color

On their second time at bat, Alabama Shakes swing for the fences and knock it clear out of the park on the fierce, funky, and fantastic Sound & Color. The album fulfills the vision that Brittany Howard and company always had for their bluesy and soulful Southern rock band, but just didn’t have the time […]

Stacking the Deck: Joan Armatrading at City Winery

When an audience offers up a standing ovation just for an artist walking onstage, the night is surely going to be a good one, right? Well… yes and no. Stopping in Nashville on her first-ever solo tour and last-ever world tour, legendary singer/songwriter Joan Armatrading was humbled by the greeting she received from the City […]

Ten Out of Tenn at Ryman Auditorium

It’s a rare and beautiful thing to see artists support each other so readily and joyfully as the members of Ten Out of Tenn do. The Nashville artists’ collective founded by singer/songwriter Trent Dabbs and his wife, marketing maven Kristen, is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year — part of which included an encore screening […]

Allison Moorer: Down to Believing

In listening to Allison Moorer’s Down to Believing, a Wim Wenders quote comes to mind: “My advice is, don’t spend your money on therapy. Spend it in a record store.” Here, Moorer puts her own spin on that. Whether or not she spent any time in therapy to get through the dissolution of her marriage […]