Adam Levy’s recommendation: “One artist who moves me consistently is Sam Phillips. Her songs are smartly written, yet she always keeps them from sounding fussy or fussed over. Her melodies get stuck in my head and I never mind them sticking there. Some of her lyrics race along with the pace of taut short stories (imagine Tobias Wolff as a singer/songwriter), while others are more dreamlike. She’s a strummer — not a fingerpicker — and I love the way her guitar lopes and swaggers through her songs.”
New to Sam Phillips? Adam suggests you start here: My favorite Sam record is A Boot & A Shoe. Song for song, I think it’s her most consistent batch, and the production is seductively gritty. My other fave is Fan Dance — released a few years prior to A Boot and a Shoe To me, these two feel like companions. (I’ve no idea if Phillips thinks of them that way.) Both records were produced by T-Bone Burnett, and the cast of session players is similar — including drummer Carla Azar and guitarist Marc Ribot.
About our guest author, Adam Levy: We at Rocktorch.com recently found out about Adam Levy on a WFUV segment and we really liked what we heard: skillful guitar work perfectly laid under intimate, well crafted lyrics. We dug around the Web for his bio info and found out that his grandfather wrote “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and the theme from the TV series Gilligan’s Island (how cool is that?!) and that he has backed the likes of Norah Jones, Ani DiFranco and Tracey Chapman. But the interesting thing is that there is not a ton of bio info on his own site. Instead the music and reviews of his work speaks for itself. Of his most recent record, The Heart Collector, No Depression says, “A great album overflowing with warm and soulful songs that enchant the ears and captivate the heart,” and Minor 7th writes, “It’s his guitar virtuosity, melancholy melodies, vocals — multiple musical personalities — that will surely mesmerize you.” Levy gets a lot of jazz coverage, but there is definite crossover potential here; we see him as a gifted singer-songwriter. Be sure to check http://www.adamlevy.com to check Adam’s concert schedule, join his mailing list and more.
Shelby Earl’s recommendation: “There are a number of artists who move me or whose music makes me feel deeply, but there is one at the top of the heap – one who regularly takes me somewhere special with his music: Icelandic artist, Jonsi. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Jonsi live multiple times, both with his band, Sigur Ros and solo (I even got to see him play IN Iceland!) and every show has been extraordinary. I don’t know what Jonsi’s spiritual beliefs or practices are, but to me he seems undeniably tapped into the divine. He lays himself bare when he plays music and he takes his listeners to church every time. It’s as though he is dedicated to beauty above all else in his art. Through his ethereal voice and his songwriting – both seemingly full of immense heartache AND hope – and through instrumentation so beautiful it’s almost painful (strings, winds, keys, heavy rhythm, layered voices, etc), Jonsi’s music is utterly transcendent. And not only is he a brilliant artist, but I had the opportunity to hang out with him after a Seattle show in 2010 and found that he’s also an incredibly kind and genuine person. How rare and exciting to learn that an artist’s heart is as beautiful as the music they make. He is an inspiration on all levels.”
New to Jonsi? Shelby suggests you start here: “I would recommend every Sigur Ros album – especially Takk (2005) and Með suð í eyrum… (2008) – but above all I would recommend Jonsi’s debut solo album Go (2010).”
About our guest author, Shelby Earl: Shelby’s story is the sort of underdog tale that both inspires and restores faith for artist-wannabe office workers who think about trashing their steady gig and risking it all to pursue their dreams. Shelby spent her days at several arts related jobs in the Pacific Northwest, including stints at The Experience Music Project and as a music liaison at Amazon, but her true calling was song craft and performing. “To be totally honest, I was pretty unhappy those last couple years doing the 9-5,” Earl told Spinner, so she quit, threw herself into writing and caught the attention of two heavyweights on the indie music scene: John Roderick, lead singer of The Long Winters, who went on to produce Shelby’s collection of tunes, and Rachel Flotard, the can-do powerhouse behind Visqueen who also runs Local 638 Records. Her debut, Burn the Boats quickly gained support from Earl’s long time acquaintance, Ann Powers (NPR/LA Times) who passionately wrote “… I don’t want this record to get lost in the avalanche of releases that confronts every critic and music fan…Burn the Boats is an album beyond trends, a classic work of singer-songwriterly craft and beautifully framed confession.” Praise for Earl poured in from other outlets as NPR made At the Start the song of the day and Seattle Weekly dubbed the same track as “…an early frontrunner for best song put out by any artist in 2011.” To cap off this feel good story, Burn the Boats snagged the number one spot on her former employers’ (Amazon) “Outstanding 2011 Albums You Might Have Missed” list. Be sure to visit Shelby’s site for tour dates, to join her Facebook page and more.
Joe Grushecky’s recommendation: “My favorite CD of the past couple of years is Horsefly by a journeyman singer/songwriter/guitarist named Pat McLaughlin. I saw Pat play at Douglas Corners in Nashville and was blown away by his band and songs. The CD has everything I look for: great playing, impeccable grooves, intelligent meaningful lyrics, and passionate soulful singing. I think it really speaks to an audience that has a few miles on them (like me!). I have listened to this album endlessly.
Also, I have recently discovered Eli “Paperboy” Reed and his Come And Get It CD. I grew up listening to a lot of soul music, both mainstream and obscure stuff. Eli has an authentic sound. It is timeless, modern, and retro all at the same time. I like the horns and really admire his singing. My son discovered it in my car CD player. “Hey Dad, listen to this!” Listen indeed.”
About our guest author, Joe Grushecky: Joe has been making straight forward, righteous rock records since 1979. His first record with the Iron City Houserockers caught the attention of Rolling Stone’s Greil Marcus as he wrote, “…their debut album is strong, passionate and a little desperate…I hope they’re around for a long, long time.” The praise continued into the early ’80s as Joe and the band released three more albums, including Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive which was slugged by Rolling Stone as “a new American classic.” Joe split with his first band and took a position as a special education teacher in Pittsburgh (where he still lives and teaches today), but the rocker was far from finished. He formed a new group, The Houserockers, put out three more three more gutsy, earnest records and in 1995, Joe released American Babylon, a collection produced by fellow working class hero, Bruce Springsteen, whom Joe had met through Steve Van Zandt. Bruce co-wrote two of the songs for the album and even toured with Joe and the band. That marked the first of several collaborations between Joe and Bruce (the most recent being a November, 2011 two-night stand in Pittsburgh, review here) including the pair co-writing Code of Silence which has become a staple in Bruce’s live show. Joe has a new live CD out called We’re Not Dead Yet and you can catch his full-throttle performances by checking his tour page.
Alyssa Graham’s recommendation: “Two of the greatest influences on my music, my life and my worldview are Neil Young and Nick Drake. I have spent numerous hours and days listening, loving and disappearing to these two profound and magical artists. However, I would like to take this opportunity to talk about two of my more recent obsessions, namely Francoise Hardy and Serge Gainsbourg. Gainsbourg is one of the most interesting, creative and diverse artists I have ever explored. Gainsbourg has experimented in jazz, funk, pop and rock. He often explored morbid sexuality and suffering and recorded concept albums with themes like Lolita and Nazis. He is “limitless.” His music is always progressive and always deep and it challenges me to go deeper into my own music and expression. When talking about Serge Gainsbourg and how he influenced French pop music it is impossible not to point out the sensual, lush and dreamlike voice and music of Francoise Hardy whom Gainsbourg often worked with. Hardy’s beautiful and spare sound can always lull me into a deep peaceful meditation. The subtle arrangements and the whisper and hum of Francoise’ vocals allow me to imagine and create in a continuous world of beauty and euphoria. She is a constant source of inspiration for me and was a big influence on my current project, The Lock, Stock & Soul EP.”
New To Serge Gainsbourg and Francoise Hardy? Alyssa suggests you start here: “Gainsbourg’s 1971 concept album Histoire de Melody Nelson is a great place to start. Often referred to as his “Lolita-esque” pseudo-autobiographical album, Histoire De Melody Nelson is a combination of funky guitar styling, dark string arrangements and spoken word like vocals. A quintessential Gainsbourg creation. A new super deluxe version coming out this month. Also, 1971, Francoise Hardy’s LA Question is truly a masterpiece. Subtle and spare, seductive and romantic, La Question is brilliantly produced and offers everything you could ever want from this dreamy and stunning artist.”
About our guest author, Alyssa Graham: Alyssa co-led a band called Blindman’s Holiday in college, and the group was quickly recognized by Entertainment Magazine as one of the best college bands in the country. The hype helped the band nab touring gigs with The Band, Lisa Loeb, and The Wailers. Alyssa then enrolled at The New England Conservatory and released her debut album, What Love Is, in 2005. The album was chosen by All About Jazz as one of its “Best New Recordings of 2005” and set the stage for her 2008 release, Echo, a collection that was named one of the “Top 10 Vocal Albums of the Year” by iTunes. Alyssa most recently released Lock, Stock & Soul, an album that features contributions from Meshell Ndegeocello (bass) and David Garza (vocals) and is described by Team Graham as “a full-circle return to Graham’s longtime musical loves: Neil Young, Nick Drake, Bob Dylan.” You might hear a bit of Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell in there, too, as well as echoes of Norah Jones, and for good reason: For this record, Alyssa was able to snag Grammy-winning producer Craig Street, who produced Jones’ breakthrough Come Away With Me, and Jesse Harris, who penned Norah’s smash Don’t Know Why. Alyssa has friends in high places and utilizes them perfectly on this collection.