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Widely regarded as one of the foremost songwriters of her generation, Suzanne Vega released her latest album, An Evening of New York Songs and Stories, on September 11, 2020 (Amanuensis/Cooking Vinyl). “I recorded these songs at the Café Carlyle in New York City,” Vega says of the album. “It’s a small, exclusive club that has hosted legends from Eartha Kitt to Judy Collins, and is also known to be the place where Jackie Kennedy met Audrey Hepburn. I love it for its bohemian old-world glamour! I included songs that were inspired by New York City or for which New York provided the backdrop, including “Walk on the Wild Side” by my late, great friend, Lou Reed—a song I rarely heard him sing himself.”
An Evening of New York Songs and Stories finds Vega backed by longtime guitarist and musical director Gerry Leonard, bassist Jeff Allen and keyboardist Jamie Edwards. Produced by Leonard, mixed by Grammy Award-winning engineer Kevin Killen and mastered by Grammy Award winner Bob Ludwig, the album was recorded in early 2019 and includes familiar songs like “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner” and deep cuts from Vega’s catalog including “Frank and Ava” and “Ludlow Street.” The mix of repertoire also features “New York Is My Destination” from Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers, Vega’s 2016 album from her one-woman play about the Southern gothic novelist Carson McCullers.
Vega emerged as a leading figure of the folk-music revival of the early 1980s when, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, she sang what has been called contemporary folk or neo-folk songs of her own creation in Greenwich Village clubs. Since the release of her self-titled, critically acclaimed 1985 debut album, she has given sold-out concerts in many of the world’s best-known venues. Known for performances that convey deep emotion, Vega’s distinctive, “clear, unwavering voice” (Rolling Stone) has been described as “a cool, dry sandpaper-brushed near-whisper” by The Washington Post, with NPR Music noting that she “has been making vital, inventive music” throughout the course of her decades-long career.
In 2007, Vega released the Grammy award-winning Beauty & Crime on Blue Note Records, a deeply personal reflection of her native New York City in the wake of the loss of her brother Tim Vega and the tragedy of 9/11. Vega’s love for the city shines through as both its subject and its setting, and she mixes the past and present, the public with the private, and familiar sounds with the utterly new—just like the city itself.
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On her latest release, The Balladeer, Lori McKenna herself is offering her most uplifting and uptempo album in a catalog that spans 20 years. Produced by GRAMMY award winning Dave Cobb and recorded in Nashville’s historic Studio A, The Balladeer follows an incredible stretch of career momentum, including two consecutive Grammy wins as a songwriter for Best Country Song: Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” and Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind.”
For The Balladeer, McKenna composed three tracks with “Girl Crush” collaborators Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose, collectively known as the Love Junkies. The remaining seven were written alone as she pulled moments from her life and turned them into songs.
“I’m at the age now where you can see really well where you’re going, because you’re helping your parents -- and you’ve lived through what your kids are doing,” McKenna says. “It’s this weird emotional time where you’re like a bookkeeper, writing it all down, trying to make sense of it and add it all up somehow.
The release of The Balladeer continues a series of landmark years for McKenna following her 2018 album, The Tree. Nominated for “Album of the Year” at the 2019 Americana Music Awards, the album received widespread critical acclaim and landed on several “Best of 2018” lists including Entertainment Weekly, Paste, Slate, The A.V. Club, The Washington Post and Rolling Stone. In 2016, McKenna’s album “The Bird & The Rifle” was nominated for three GRAMMY awards as well as three Americana Awards.
In addition to her career as a solo artist, McKenna continues to enjoy tremendous success as one of the music industry’s most in-demand songwriters. In 2017, she became the first woman ever to win the Country Music Association’s Song of the Year award two years in a row and also won back-to-back Grammys for Best Country Song for “Girl Crush” performed by Little Big Town and “Humble and Kind” performed by Tim McGraw. Moreover, she became the first female to ever win Songwriter of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards that same year. In addition to writing songs for a multitude of award-winning artists including Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Little Big Town, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Hunter Hayes and Reba McEntire, McKenna also co-wrote “Always Remember Us This Way,” which was featured in the Academy Award-winning 2018 film, A Star Is Born.
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Born in Miami, during World War II, Chris Smither grew up in New Orleans where he first started playing music as a child. The son of a Tulane University professor, he was taught the rudiments of instrumentation by his uncle on his mother’s ukulele. “Uncle Howard,” Smither says, “showed me that if you knew three chords, you could play a lot of the songs you heard on the radio. And if you knew four chords, you could pretty much rule the world.” With that bit of knowledge under his belt, he was hooked. “I’d loved acoustic music – specifically the blues – ever since I first heard Lightnin’ Hopkins’ Blues In My Bottle album. I couldn’t believe the sound Hopkins got. At first I thought it was two guys playing guitar. My style, to a degree, came out of trying to imitate that sound I heard.”
In his early twenties, Smither turned his back on his anthropology studies and headed to Boston at the urging of legendary folk singer Eric von Schmidt. It was the mid-’60s and acoustic music thrived in the streets and coffeehouses there. Smither forged lifelong friendships with many musicians, including Bonnie Raitt who went on to record his songs, “Love You Like A Man” and “I Feel the Same. (Their friendship has endured as their career paths intertwined over the years.) What quickly evolved from his New Orleans and Cambridge musical experiences is his enduring, singular guitar sound – a beat-driven finger-picking, strongly influenced by the playing of Mississippi John Hurt and Lightnin’ Hopkins, layered over the ever-present backbeat of his rhythmic, tapping feet (always mic’d in performance).
Smither’s first albums, I’m A Stranger, Too! (1971) and Don’t It Drag On (1972) were released on Poppy Records, home of kindred spirit Townes Van Zandt. By the time Smither recorded his third album, Honeysuckle Dog with Lowell George and Dr. John helping out, United Artists had absorbed Poppy and ultimately dropped much of their roster, including Smither. Smither made his next record in 1985, when the spare It Ain’t Easy on Adelphi Records marked his return to the studio.
By the early ’90s, Smither’s steady nationwide touring and regular release of consistently acclaimed albums cemented his reputation as one of the finest acoustic musicians in the country. His 1991 album, Another Way to Find You, was recorded live in front of an in-studio audience with no overdubs or second takes. This would be the first of two albums with Flying Fish Records.
In early 1997 Smither released Small Revelations. It climbed the Americana and Triple A radio charts and led to concert dates with B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Nanci Griffith, and the hugely successful, original Monsters of Folk’ tour with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Dave Alvin and Tom Russell. Small Revelations also generated several film projects for Smither. Emmylou Harris recorded his song, “Slow Surprise,” for the The Horse Whisperer soundtrack on MCA.
With the release of his 12th recording Leave The Light On (2006) on his own imprint, Mighty Albert, Smither began a new label relationship with the renowned acoustic and modern folk label, Signature Sounds. Smither followed these fan-projects with Hundred Dollar Valentine (2012), a ★★★★★ (MOJO) studio record of all Smither-penned songs. In 2014 Smither released Still on the Levee (2014) – a double-CD retrospective. Recorded in New Orleans at the Music Shed, this career-spanning project features fresh new takes on 24 iconic songs from his vast career and some very special guests including the legendary Allen Toussaint and Loudon Wainwright III.
The coffee table style book Chris Smither Lyrics 1966-2012 and Signature Sounds’ Link of Chain – an all-star tribute record including a stellar list of artists offering their takes on some Smither favorites including Josh Ritter, Bonnie Raitt, Loudon Wainwright III, Dave Alvin, Peter Case, Tim O’Brien, Patty Larkin, and many others were fan-favorite accompaniments to the retrospective CD .
In October 2020, More From The Levee, the follow-up to the 50-year career retrospective Still on the Levee, was released on Signature Sounds.
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LADAMA is a group of four women, virtuosic musicians, and educators— Lara Klaus, Daniela Serna, Mafer Bandola and Sara Lucas— from different countries and cultures of the Americas, who are sisters in song, rhythm and spirit. Harnessing music from their respective countries of origin, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and the United States, the group utilizes traditional and non-traditional instruments from across the Americas, but with a modern twist to produce Latin Alternative music.
LADAMA’s debut, self-titled album, released in the Fall of 2017, could not be more timely; nowadays, both Latin America and the United States are deeply in need of projects that transcend boundaries and defy norms. This is precisely what their debut album, crafted carefully on a journey through Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and New York, represents. With music composed by the members of the band, it delivers a fresh take on a myriad of traditional, Pan-American rhythms all coming together seamlessly into LADAMA’s unique blend of enthralling sounds. Reimagining South American and Caribbean styles like cumbia, maracatu, onda nueva and joropo and blending them with soul, R&B and pop, they created a new sound all their own.
OYE MUJER, LADAMA’s 2nd full-length album released in the Summer of 2020, is a declaration to women and a call to humanity. Working with renowned Brazilian producer Kassin (Jorge Ben, Bebel Gilberto, Caetano Veloso), in his studio in Rio de Janeiro, the four women of LADAMA, along with their bassist and musical collaborator, Pat Swoboda, created a collection of songs sung in Spanish, Portuguese and English that channel the personal experiences of being human in the midst of global crises, unprecedented climate destruction and immigration. Having matured together since their debut, it is a bold step forward towards seamless musical and compositional unity as a band; now each “Dama” takes a turn as lead singer as the others support her as instrumentalists and arrangers. Where the first record was based on organic, roots percussion and rhythm, this one is charged, visceral and electric. Featuring collaborations with Betsayda Machado (Venezuela), Spok (Brazil), Eliot Krimsky (New York) and others, LADAMA soars as one with a fiery urgency that must be heard.
LADAMA met on the road in 2014 while touring Los Angeles, Arizona, and New Mexico as part of the prestigious OneBeat Program. Between individual performances, leading youth workshops and public music-making events, Lara, Daniela, Mafer and Sara uncovered a common dream of building communities through sound and empowering women and youth through music.
LADAMA delivers an utterly unique experience as they flow from the electric to the acoustic, from Spanish to English and Portuguese, and from the high plains of Venezuela to the Colombian coast. Their art proves that borders are meaningless, transporting us to a future where the world communicates across continents and cultures through sound and story.
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Barnstar! began as the brainchild of Zachariah Hickman (bassist for Josh Ritter, musical director for Ray Lamontagne) for a local bluegrass supergroup featuring some of Boston’s best musicians and songwriters. Using the familiar tools of the genre—guitar (Mark Erelli), fiddle (Jake Armerding), mandolin (Taylor Armerding) and banjo (Charlie Rose)—Barnstar! forges its own brand of song- based bluegrass, gloriously harmonized and raucously played.
The band debuted in 2011 with C’mon!, a mix of distinctive originals and unexpected covers (Neil Young, Dawes, The Traveling Wilburys) cut live in the studio. Despite juggling various high-profile sideman gigs behind other artists, the lads in Barnstar! managed to cause quite a stir with relatively few appearances. Whether playing above 10,000 feet in the Colorado mountains, dressing up like pirates on a boat cruising around Boston Harbor, or starting a small skirmish over the last CD in Shrewsbury, England – shouts of “C’mon!” followed the band everywhere they went.
In February 2015, Barnstar! proudly unleashed its sophomore release Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out! (Signature Sounds), which sports a more richly textured sound than its predecessor. “What continues to define Barnstar!,” says Zachariah Hickman, the band’s mustachioed leader and producer of the group’s albums, “is that we’re not singing songs as an excuse to play a solo. We like to sink our teeth into songs that have a narrative or a story to them, and then make them our own.”
Ultimately, Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out! is most compelling as a showcase of the combined virtues of innocence and experience. Each of the group’s members is a multi-instrumentalist, but with each member limiting himself to his native instrument they can make a song roar and soar, or whisper and lilt with equal intensity. Though collectively they share over 80 years of professional experience, it is exciting to hear a group of seasoned musicians coming to a new project as equals, sharing lead vocal duties and switching harmony registers to cover whatever part is needed.
Up until now, the members of Barnstar! may have been best known by the company they keep as sidemen and accompanists. But in short order, Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out! could very well turn the narrative upside down: suddenly, it’s Barnstar! that becomes the household name.
THE GREEN SISTERS
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Hailing from a small farm in rural Massachusetts, the four Green Sisters were raised with music accompanying their chores. Their sound spans a wide range of bluegrass, barbershop, blues, country, and lots of original songs which fit right into the mix. They’ve been playing venues in New England regularly for the last several years and have garnered quite the following; it’s hard not to smile when treated with their tight harmonies and high energy tunes. Their live show is where they really shine, bouncing their jovial banter around the stage as only siblings can.
The sisters’ second studio album, Blink of an Eye, was released in late 2020.
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Mtali Banda is a musician based in Massachusetts. In 2017, he released his debut album, “Rites of Passage”, where his ensemble, The Mtali Banda Oneness Project brings a blend of jazz, hip hop, and soul. Currently, Mtali is pursuing his PhD in Afro-American Studies from UMass Amherst, and is also scheduled to release an EP later this year, titled “Black Boy Fairytales”.
Mtali Banda grew up in the midwest and south--Madison, Wisconsin and later Atlanta, Georgia. The son of a Malawian refugee father and an African-American mother, all the sounds he was exposed to growing up can now be heard in his music. He has shared the stage with Sonia Sanchez, Claudia Acuna, Talib Kweli, The Soul Rebels, Anik Khan, and The.Wav. His musical versatility has brought him all around the world.
He has recorded in Southern Africa and performed with several well-known African artists from his family’s home country Malawi, including Faith Musa and LAWI. As a first generation Malawian-American, he is a part of the growing Southern African music scene that has embraced jazz and soul music as a means for social change.
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Florida-based artist, Matthew Fowler, is the perfect storm of all the essential singer-songwriter elements: a flawlessly raw yet organic voice, intricate melodies, compelling musicianship, and an overwhelmingly rich and rootsy sound. He released his homegrown debut album, “Beginning”, comprising of songs written between the ages 14 and 19 years old. The record, which was recorded live in his kitchen back home in Orlando, was first singled out by American Songwriter Magazine who hailed: “Fowler shows the same mastery of earnest, strummy, songcraft as established artists like Damien Rice and Ben Howard.”
Since the album’s release, Fowler’s musicianship has been lauded by notable publications such as The Bluegrass Situation, CMT Edge, Acoustic Guitar Magazine, and Huffington Post.
Fowler's stage dynamic has formed into a capturing experience; he’s performed live on various NPR affiliates, has an Audiotree session under his belt, and has opened acts like Richard Thompson, Damien Jurado, The Weepies, Sea Wolf, Angel Olsen, and many more.
PBS’ nationally syndicated "Music City Roots” applauded Fowler’s songwriting stating, “He shows poise and command way beyond his years. He delivered his lines over muted, minimal acoustic guitar and then answered those words with explosive chordal bursts, like punctuation”.
Matthew’s fervor for performing live will see him back out on the road, where he’s transitioned into a national touring artist. He continues honing new tunes and has a new record slated for a 2021 release with Signature Sounds.
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New York singer-songwriter, harpist and guitarist Lizzie No is one of the most exciting new voices in contemporary Americana music. Her 2017 debut album, ‘Hard Won,’ was hailed as “simultaneously understated and fervent” by Billboard Magazine. No’s 2019 album, 'Vanity,' was a hit at college radio stations across the country, cracking the NACC Top Adds Chart. Rolling Stone Magazine called the first single, "Narcissus," a "crisp alt-rock gem" and a "Song You Need To Know." After dropping a surprise home-studio-made EP in 2020, Lizzie is currently working on her third studio album and sharing music and writing with her loyal subscriber base on ampled.com/artist/lizzieno. This summer she joins the Basic Folk podcast team as guest cohost.
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Love Crumbs is a folk-rock, indie, and Americana group based in Massachusetts. Known for blending poignant lyrics with smashing female vocals, their nostalgic, timeless, heart-on-sleeve sound harkens to a bygone era. “There are great singers, and then there are great voices. Voices that grab you from the jump and make you go “Who is this?” Ali from Love Crumbs falls into the latter category” writes Postcard Elba.
Their first two single releases, ‘Cavalcades’ and ‘Ellipses’ garnered the group attention from celebrated outlets like American Songwriter, a place on Hype Machine’s popular chart, and multiple Spotify Editorial Playlists like Fresh Finds.
“[T]here are some artists so fizzing with potential that their success seems predestined,” Keep Walking Music writes of Love Crumbs. Stay tuned for more releases from Love Crumbs in the summer of 2021.
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Little Roots is an enriching and engaging family music experience. Classes are centered around the creation of a joyful musical experience in early childhood, but are intentionally enjoyable for the entire family! As longtime professional musicians, Little Roots founders, Annie Stevenson and Maggie Shar, recognize the value of quality live music for people of all ages. Maggie and Annie select and write songs rooted in a variety of folk music traditions. The repertoire is fun and accessible, including elements of storytelling and exposure to various instruments. Children will enjoy group singing with guitar, banjo, or ukulele to accompany, hand and stick drumming, bells, movement, dance, and more! Annie and Maggie believe that music is for everyone and strive to empower children to sing as they learn to speak and dance as they learn to move.