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 […]

Squared Roots: Courtney Hartman x Nick Drake

Nick Drake is one of those musical unicorns who achieved amazing posthumous success, though enjoyed very little acclaim while alive. Having recorded and released three albums between 1969 and 1972 — Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter, and Pink Moon — Drake was working on a fourth prior to his death by overdose in 1974. Drake […]

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 […]

Five Questions: Dar Williams

Time marches on, even as music stands still… at least in its recorded form. Even so, a certain generation of artists is starting to mark their musical milestones with re-issues, re-imaginings, and more. For Dar Williams, Mortal City represents her breakthrough on the folk circuit. So, for the album’s 20th anniversary, she’s taking the show […]

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 — […]

Five Questions: Tom Brosseau

Singer/songwriter Tom Brosseau moves through the world and comes to his art at a pace and a pitch unlike most others. Maybe it’s that he’s from North Dakota. Maybe it’s that he’s an old-school folkie. Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s neither. Doesn’t matter, really. What he offers up, musically, is something special. His latest release, […]

Squared Roots: BJ Barham x Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen. What, really, is there to write about him that hasn’t been written thousands of times? He’s a working-class hero, a thinking-man’s poet, an activist-artist, a national treasure, and a songwriter’s songwriter with 18 albums and millions of record sales to his credit. Over the past five decades, Springsteen has witnessed and documented in […]

Five Questions: Glen Phillips

Since bursting onto the pop-rock scene some 25 years ago with Toad the Wet Sprocket’s third album, Fear, Glen Phillips has established himself as one of the most heartfelt songwriters on the folk-rock block. His solo albums, and Toad reunions, all showcase the work of someone who feels passionately and thinks deeply. Over the past […]

Five Questions: Jonah Tolchin

A skinny white kid from New Jersey though he may be, Jonah Tolchin grew up with a love and reverence for the blues that rivals any kid from Chicago or Memphis. That passion was made clear on 2014’s Clover Lane, but is brought into even sharper focus on his latest release, Thousand Mile Night. Working, […]

Gregory Alan Isakov: “The Stable Song”

More so than many of his peers, Gregory Alan Isakov has a magical, mystical way with a folk song. There’s a tenderness to his approach that never tips into the abyss of corniness that befalls so many others. His new collaborative album, Gregory Alan Isakov and the Colorado Symphony, is a perfect example, as the […]

Courtney Marie Andrews: “Rookie Dreaming”

Somewhere, somehow, between being born in Arizona in 1990 and moving to Washington in 2011, singer/songwriter/guitarist Courtney Marie Andrews managed to spend some time in Laurel Canyon in the early 1970s… at least metaphorically. And her new album, Honest Life, seems to be the result of bending that space-time continuum because, while she keeps company […]

Five Questions: Sara Watkins

A lot of roots music lovers have watched Sara Watkins (and her brother Sean) grow up, personally and professionally, over the past couple of decades. As members of Nickel Creek and the Watkins Family Hour band, the two are bound together in many hearts and minds. But they both have solo careers, as well, and […]

Squared Roots: Ryley Walker x Ali Farka Touré

Dubbed “the African John Lee Hooker,” Ali Farka Touré rose out of obscurity, in terms of Western recognition, with a little help from Ry Cooder, when the two joined forces for Talking Timbuktu in 1994. Many more collaborations and accolades followed in the wake of that project, but Touré’s success back home in Mali was […]

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 […]

The Singular Sensation of Ani DiFranco

Over the course of her more than 25 years of making music, Ani DiFranco has been widely celebrated and often emulated. The trouble is, DiFranco’s work is a moving target which words and imitation fail miserably in hitting. She would argue — and has — that hers is a living, breathing body of performance art […]

Michaela Anne: “Where Will I Be Found”

Over the past few years, a lot of ink has been spilled about outlier country artists who honor their heroes rather than chase the trends. The women oft-cited in that regard are Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, and Ashley Monroe, though lately, another wave has joined their fray — Margo Price, Dori Freeman, and Michaela Anne, […]

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 […]

Squared Roots: LP x Roy Orbison

Roy Orbison was the kind of artist who defied all qualifiers and quantifiers. His voice, alone, could stop time. And his songs stand the test of it. Though Orbison had myriad contemporaries, he had no counterparts. Not really. His indelible talent and understated style collided to create a mesmerizingly mysterious allure. Across his more than […]

Four Questions: Sarah Jarosz

The talent that Sarah Jarosz wields is truly something to behold. Like some of her peers — Sierra Hull, Parker Millsap, Mipso, and others — the width and depth of what she has done and will yet do is a little bit mind-boggling. And her gorgeous new album, Undercurrent, warrants even further acclaim as it […]

Five Questions: Sean Watkins

Most folks in the roots music world are very familiar with Sean Watkins, if not through his years as one-third of Nickel Creek (alongside Chris Thile and his sister Sara) or his ongoing Watkins Family Hour project, then certainly through his solo records. The guitarist/singer/songwriter always seems to have new music pouring out. His latest […]

Born Again: A Conversation with Mavis Staples

Sixty–five years into her recording career, Mavis Staples’ incomparable voice and infectious spirit are truly wonders to behold. Born in 1939 to Oceola and Roebuck “Pops” Staples, Mavis got her start early, singing in church and at home. Pops eventually put together a family band, and though Mavis was the youngest, she soon became the […]

Brandy Clark: Big Day in a Small Town

“Ain’t we all the stars playing the leading part in our own soap opera?” Brandy Clark belts out that question to kick off Big Day in a Small Town, positing the premise of not just the opening track (“Soap Opera”), but all 10 songs that follow it. The towns that anchor Clark’s new album may […]

Five Questions: Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones

Sometimes, two artists come together out of nowhere and, as great as the parts might be, the whole is even greater. That’s just what happened with Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones. The singer/songwriters discovered a shared love of a classic sound and set about crafting a collection of their own. Through Little Windows, Thompson and […]

Squared Roots: Ryan Beaver x Kris Kristofferson

Of all the country music legends in the world, there’s something truly special about Kris Kristofferson. He was — and is — a walking paradox. Gentle, yet rugged, poetic, but grounded, his personal spirit always pervaded his professional pursuits, bringing with it an air of wonder that reflected the sly, seemingly kind knowingness of his […]

Heather McEntire Splits the Difference

When you’re born and raised in the South as singer/songwriter Heather McEntire was, being queer demands certain virtues because that singular incarnation is far from a simple proposition. Asked to sum up the experience in a few words, McEntire says, “Complicated. Revolutionary, frankly.” She laughs, then adds, “Brave. I also like that the visibility is […]

Five Questions: Penny and Sparrow

The two gents who comprise Penny and Sparrow — Kyle Jahnke and Andy Baxter — didn’t set out to be musicians. They were living together with a bunch of other guys in a house during college and, basically, stumbled into an artistic collaboration that worked… really, really well. With Jahnke focusing on guitar and Baxter […]

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 […]

Five Questions: Dori Freeman

When you come from a musical tradition that includes legendary artists like Hazel and Alice, Loretta Lynn, and Ola Belle Reed, you have some mighty big boots to fill. But that formidable legacy hasn’t dissuaded Virginia’s Dori Freeman from stepping into the spotlight with her eponymous debut. Produced by Teddy Thompson, the set balances a […]

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 […]

Wild Ponies Continue to Shine, Radiantly

When you lay every fear and foible, every hurt and healing out for the whole world to see as Wild Ponies did on 2013’s Things That Used to Shine, the album’s follow-up surely can’t be faulted for cutting a little bit loose. That’s certainly the case with Radiant, the rough and tumble new release from […]

Five Questions: Carrie Rodriguez

Having bridged various cultural gaps her whole life, singer/songwriter/fiddler Carrie Rodriguez feels right at home constructing the same sort of unifying structures with her music. Rodriguez does so by reaching back into her family’s history and her culture’s heritage to find the perfect bilingual voice to inhabit the recently released Lola. Her open-armed, heartfelt artistic vision […]