Road Trip Recap: Gibson’s Summer NAMM Jam

Legendary guitar manufacturer hosts star-studded event in Music City

By Brent Thompson

On July 18, Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon provided a spacious and inviting setting for Gibson’s 2019 Summer NAMM Jam. Les Pauls and 335s roared with authority as an eclectic mix of artists performed in the nearly three-hour event. Jason Isbell, Lee Roy Parnell, Chris Isaak, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Cassadee Pope, Parmalee, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jim James and Nathaniel Rateliff – among others – played to a capacity crowd.

Chris Isaak
Jason Isbell
Jason Isbell
Cassadee Pope
Lee Roy Parnell
Ray Wylie Hubbard & Aaron Lee Tasjan
Parmalee
Jim James
Nathaniel Rateliff

The Deeper Meaning: A Conversation with Jimbo Mathus

By Brent Thompson

Photo courtesy of the artist

Jimbo Mathus’ musical existence is characterized by a revolving collection of people, instruments and genres. A solo artist that has been associated with several projects – most notably Squirrel Nut Zippers – Mathus is continually exploring new creative avenues. In April, Mathus released Incinerator [Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum Records], an 11-track collection that includes contributions from Lilly Hiatt and Andrew Bird. On Thursday, July 18, Mathus will perform at The Nick with Kate Taylor Hollingsworth opening the 10 p.m. show. Recently, Mathus spoke with us by phone from his Taylor, Miss. home.

Birmingham Stages: Jimbo, thanks for your time. How is your touring schedule these days?

Jimbo Mathus: It’s really mixed. With the Zippers, I go sometimes for two, three or four weeks. With Incinerator, I’m just starting with where people know who I am and might be interested in what I’m doing and I try to expand out from there. I’ve had a solo career since mid-’90s and it’s just one foot in front of the other. There’s no hard and fast rule.

Birmingham Stages: If you will, talk about the creation of the album.

Mathus: The producers were Matt Patton and Bronson Tew. Matt’s in Drive-By Truckers and The Dexateens and Bronson’s a great engineer and musician from Alabama. They just got me in there and we started New Year’s Day in 2018 and we really had no plan other than to get me in there and be real comfortable. Instead of tracking the songs on guitar, I tracked them on piano and we left a lot of space. We work pretty fast and we don’t over-work a record. We started this about a year ago and it’s already out and we’re touring behind it.

I like to make records that mean more and I should know what I’m doing after 40 years. I like to have a record with a purpose and a meaning, not just a collection of songs for the sake of a collection. I started seeing a concept take shape – the concept being, “Why is it that I do all these albums and why do I create all this music? Why has this been a lifelong passion and a calling?” I started realizing how much of what I do as a songwriter is capturing people and remembering people and how much people come and go in my life. There are a lot of songs dedicated to people that have been a huge influence on me that have passed away. There are a lot of songs on there about people in my life now that are inspiring and motivating to me. So, it took on this meditation on mortality and what’s the deeper meaning. At that point, I started looking back on songs in my history and one song is 30 years old. So I did go back and reimagine some things. Going back 30 years to a song, that’s a lot of recollection. I was pondering some things but didn’t have the bigger picture. After almost 300 songs and dozens of albums, there has to be a purpose – that’s what I’m searching for.

Birmingham Stages: I’m close to you in age and it can be hard to accept that we are to the point where losing family and friends becomes more and more common.

Mathus: We’re on the downside. A song like “Never Know Till It’s Gone” is a perfect example. You can ponder those things, but as a writer and musician people ask me to come perform music at funerals. To be a part of that part of life – it’s a real honor and a real privilege.

Birmingham Stages: How do you view the current musical climate? Some artists applaud the accessibility to listeners via iTunes, Youtube, Spotify and satellite radio. Other artists say it’s a challenging time to be found among the crowd.

Mathus: I think there are two parts to that. Yes, someone in Siberia can download my album and find me. When I came along, you had to physically go places and be very active. Now, you can easily do it and I like that a lot. There’s a lot more noise out there. How do you get through? Well, I’ve been a journeyman musician for all these years. I’ve had major highs – I’ve sold millions of records and I have Grammys and all that, but over the long term it’s about staying focused. Hopefully, a record like Incinerator comes out and can cut through the noise a little bit. There are people who want some bark and experience in their music and I can offer that through my songs and youthful zeal I present onstage and in the studio.

Birmingham Stages: With the large catalog of music you’ve created, how do you construct your set lists these days?

Mathus: The studio band is basically my backing band, so we’re basically presenting the Incinerator album in its entirety with all the harmonies. So, it’s more of a meditative show. Otherwise, it’s whatever I feel like doing [laughs].

Birmingham Stages: Keeping on the topic of your catalog, how do older songs stay fresh to you after you performed them hundreds of times?

Mathus: I can go back to that initial moment when the song came to me. Songs are like tombstones to me – you can go back and revisit them and the memories flood back. It’s like re-creating a moment and a memory.

Jimbo Mathus will perform at The Nick on Thursday, July 18. Kate Taylor Hollingsworth will open the 10 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 21+ show are $8 and can be purchased at www.thenickrocks.com.

People Will Respond: A Conversation with Hollis Brown’s Mike Montali

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez

From Simon & Garfunkel to KISS and The Ramones, Queens, N.Y. has a rich musical history. Hollis Brown is a Queens-based band that plays a timeless brand of rock & roll befitting of its borough. In June, the quartet released Ozone Park, a 10-track collection produced by Adam Landry [Deer Tick, Rayland Baxter, Nikki Lane, Vanessa Carlton]. On Friday, July 12, the band will perform at The Nick with Onehundreds and VOLK opening the 10 p.m. show. Recently, Hollis Brown vocalist/guitarist Mike Montali spoke with us by phone from his New York home.

Birmingham Stages: Mike, thanks for your time. How did the Ozone Park material take shape? Were these newer songs, older songs or a mixture of both?

Mike Montali: I think it was a combination of both. A few of the songs had been around for a little while. We did three records in six years or so and we toured them all until the next one was out. We had written a couple and put them on the back burner, not knowing if they would be anything at all and we have a few of those right now – it’s always good to just be writing. We wrote a couple of them specifically for the album with the direction we wanted to take the sound. It was a bit of both – probably half and half.

Birmingham Stages: If you will, talk about working with Adam Landry and the decision to record the album in South Florida.

Montali: Adam is a great producer. We met him through a friend named John McCauley – who’s in a band called Deer Tick – and he was working with him on a record and we really liked that record and John recommended Adam. He produced our record down in Nashville and when this record came around we called him up and our executive producer wanted us to use this studio down in Ft. Myers, Fla. and we said okay. We called Adam up, got him down there and we made the record happen that way. It was really a great experience because it was an escape from city life to be on the beach and go fishing after the sessions. It was a pretty cool experience and you can feel the summer vibe on the recording.

Birmingham Stages: You recorded and mixed the album in nine days. It must have been nice to work so quickly and efficiently.

Montali: That’s how I like to do things. I get bored really quickly, so taking two days get a drum sound would drive me crazy. We like to be as prepared as we can and go in and get that raw sound. If you’re prepared, you can do that and not wasted time and money. The raw idea is usually the better one.

Birmingham Stages: How do you feel about the current musical climate? Some artists applaud the accessibility that’s available via iTunes, Youtube and other modern outlets. Other artists say it’s difficult to be found among the crowd given that anyone can easily record and distribute music.

Montali: I think both exist – I think it’s a combination of the two. Depending on what day it is, I can feel either way. I think both are true, but at the end of the day it’s all relative. There are obstacles, but you have to keep doing what you believe in and work harder than the next group and people will respond.

Birmingham Stages: How would you describe your writing process?

Montali: I usually do stuff on my iPhone. Paul Weller said, “When the faucet opens, try to catch as much water as you can.” Usually it comes pretty quickly and you try to catch it before it goes to the next person.

Hollis Brown will perform at The Nick on Friday, July 12. Onehundreds and VOLK will open the 10 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 21+ show are $8 and can be purchased at www.thenickrocks.com.

Road Trip: String Cheese Incident’s “Independence Incidents” in Atlanta

By Adam Johnson

Fox Theatre 

Atlanta, GA

July 5 & 6

They’re not shows, they’re incidents. If you’re new to it – or if you’ve not yet experienced it – that’s ok. “Give it a try, have an open mind and then form an opinion” was the advice given to us at my first incident. Keith Moseley (bass player for SCI) gave us that advice. I didn’t need to wait to form my opinion – I was already hooked. 

Fast forward to the 2019 “Independence Incidents.” What better way to celebrate our freedom than dancing with 4,500 of my closest strangers!?

The positive energy from the Fox Theatre could be felt for a 10 block radius. At first glance the Fox looks like she would be a small room with cramped rows and aisles. This could not be further from the truth! The room opens up and seems to be ever expansive. There isn’t a bad seat in the place. The staff is very friendly and I even noticed several unable to fight the urge so they busted out and started dancing with us! 

The first night highlights for me were…

Set 1: 

The funky explorations started early and you could not tell that they had not been in the Fox prior to this. The first stretch from “Got What He Wanted > Will it Go Round in Circles > Got What He Wanted > Rhum and Zouc” – SCI really opened up on this first series and set the tone for a really funky weekend. They wrapped up set one with a really fun version of “All We Got” that left us ready for more.

Set 2:

Opening strong with “Rollover > Impressions” – they had a lot of fun with both of these and kept the energy climbing. Then to get a great cover tune with “You Wreck Me” into “Bumpin’ Reel” had me smiling ear to ear!

Encore:

The encore sending us off with a cover of the reggae tune “Could You Be Loved”

Full Set List from July 5 2019 (credit to friendsofcheese.com)

Set 1

Black Clouds

Got What He Wanted

Will It Go Round in Circles

Got What He Wanted

Rhum N Zouc

Gone Crooked

Miss Brown’s Tea House

Cedar Laurels

All We Got

Set 2

Rollover

Impressions

You’ve Got the World

You Wreck Me

Bumpin’ Reel

Vertigo

Rollover

Encore

Could You Be Loved

Night 2:

Saturday night picked up exactly where Friday left off with lots of funk, dance and even more exploration. My personal highlights were:

“Hi Ho No Show” – they stretched this one out a bit and gave us time to really get into a groove!

The stretch from “45th of November” all the way to end of the set with “Into the Blue” – this seemed like the show was never going to stop. It is absolutely amazing how the guys can carry you from one song to the next and you really don’t even realize it’s happening!

“Yield Not To Temptation” with Rhonda Thomas singing to open the set was an unexpected treat! 

The best part of the weekend for sure was from “Search > Joyful Sound > Rumble > It Is What It Is > Colorado Bluebird Sky” – I’ve thought a lot about how to describe this and I can’t quite get my head around it. The show peaked at the start of “Search” but then again, and again and again. And when I thought that was it… they hit us “Colorado Bluebird Sky.” As if that wasn’t enough… they bring Rhonda back out and cover Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” for the icing on the cake. What a great way to celebrate our freedom! 

Set 1

Song In My Head, 

Water > Hi Ho No Show, 

Valerie (Amy Winehouse Cover),

 45th of November,

 MLT > Boo Boo’s Pik-A-Nik > Into The Blue

Set 2

Yield Not To Temptation (Rhonda Thomas on vocals)

It Is What It Is > The Big Reveal,

Bhangra Saanj,

Search > Joyful Sound > Rumble > It Is What It Is > Colorado Blue Bird Sky

Encore

I Wish (Stevie Wonder Cover with Rhonda Thomas on vocals)

SCI will be back on stage in Dillon, Colorado for two nights (7/16-17) prior to their three-night Incidents on the Rocks July 19-21.

Abby Anderson Performs at Tuscaloosa Amphitheater

By Brent Thompson

Some words of advice to those attending the Rob Thomas concert in Tuscaloosa on Sunday night: Be. On. Time. At 7 p.m., Abby Anderson will take the stage and you will want to catch her set. Rising country star Anderson is supporting Thomas on his 44-date Chip Tooth Smile tour while her latest single “Good Lord” climbs the charts. The Texas native and Nashville resident has received praise from Rolling Stone, The New York Times and The Washington Post in addition to being named to CMT’s 2018 “Next Women of Country” class.

Abby Anderson will perform at Tuscaloosa Amphitheater in support of Rob Thomas on Sunday, June 30. Showtime is 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at www.ticketmaster.com.

Marian McKay & Her Mood Swings Perform at Elyton Hotel

By Brent Thompson

On Wednesday, June 26, Marian McKay & Her Mood Swings will perform on the Elyton Hotel rooftop from 6-9 p.m. Anyone familiar with Birmingham’s music scene is aware that McKay – the owner of landmark Charlemagne Records – has been a fixture on the local jazz scene for a number of years. The Elyton rooftop at sunset will provide the ideal setting for McKay and her catalog of timeless standards.

Elyton Hotel is located at 1928 1st Avenue North. For more information, visit www.elytonhotel.com.

Hayes Carll Performs at Saturn on June 27

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: David McClister

Hayes Carll has forged a renowned career since the release of his debut album, Flowers & Liquor, 17 years ago. Garnering Americana and Austin Music Awards – plus a 2016 Grammy nomination – the singer/songwriter has enriched the Texas singer/songwriter legacy while offering a unique style of his own. On Thursday, June 27, Carll will perform at Saturn.

In February, Carll released his sixth album, What It Is [Dualtone Records]. Co-produced by Brad Jones and Carll’s singer/songwriter wife, Allison Moorer, the 12-track collection finds Carll singing about staying in the moment and – more importantly – enjoying the moment.

Actor/musician Ben Dickey will open the 8 p.m. show.

Hayes Carll will perform at Saturn on Thursday, June 27. Ben Dickey will open the 8 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $20 and can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.

Son Volt Performs at Saturn on June 23

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: David McClister

In one respect, it doesn’t seem possible that Son Volt is in its 25th year of existence. On the other hand, with its timeless blend of rock, folk and country, it’s difficult to ever imagine a music scene without the band in it. On Sunday, June 23, the Jay Farrar-led quintet will return to Birmingham to perform at Saturn.

In March, Son Volt released Union [Transmit Sound/Thirty Tigers], a collection of 13 socially and politically-themed songs. The return of guitarist Chris Frame and the addition of new drummer Mark Patterson provide a spark to Union’s familiar-yet-fresh sound.

Newgrass/Americana string band Old Salt Union – which includes Farrar’s nephew, Jesse, on bass – will open the 8 p.m. show.

Son Volt will perform at Saturn on Sunday, June 23. Old Salt Union will open the 8 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $25 and can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.

Diverse Sounds: A Conversation with Los Coast’s John Courtney

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Andrew Bennett

Earlier this month, the pop/psychedelic/soul quintet Los Coast released its debut album, Samsara [New West Records]. But the band – John Courtney, Trey Privott, Megan Hartman, Damien Llanes and Natalie Wright – has been garnering a following in its hometown of Austin, Tx. for quite some time. A noted performance at 2016’s Austin City Limits Festival and an extended residency at the Austin club C-Boy’s allowed listeners to tap into the band’s hooks and funky grooves. On Friday, June 21, Los Coast will perform at Saturn. The show is part of Good People Brewery’s Saturn Nights series. Recently, Courtney spoke with us by phone from his Austin home.

Birmingham Stages: John, congrats on the release of Samsara. The songs are new to us, but I know your band has lived with them for quite some time.

John Courtney: It’s funny you say that – we spent a long time recording it. Seeing people’s reactions is really exciting and that’s the new part of it. It’s like we spent all this time baking this cake and now everyone gets to enjoy it.

Birmingham Stages: How did the material for Samsara take shape? Are these all new songs or have some been around for a while?

Courtney: It’s actually a mix of all sorts of things. Some of the songs Trey wrote when he was younger and they got reimagined. Some of the stuff I’d written and brought to the table. For the most part, Trey and I basically locked ourselves in a room for a couple of months and just wrote and wrote. Up until that point, all the bands I’d been in had been about just playing shows – which is always awesome – but until I met Trey, I’d never really focused on songwriting and song-building. Once we got together, the two of us just sat down and hammered out. It was a good process.

Birmingham Stages: There is a cliche in music that artists have their whole lives to write for the first album and then get six months to write for the follow-up. With that said, are you continuing to write while you promote and tour behind Samsara?

Courtney: I’m always making demos and cooking stuff up on my laptop. I’ve got bass, keyboards and guitar that run through this program I have. I just like to cook stuff up – going to back to the food metaphor – and sometimes it’s easy and fun, but sometimes I really sit down and pour over it. I like to keep my chops up and I like making stuff in different genres, so when the time comes to put stuff out there I have a catalog of stuff I’ve been working on.

Birmingham Stages: You mentioned different genres and Los Coast is known for exploring different styles in its sound. How would you describe your band’s stylistic approach?

Courtney: I think that we just like to listen to a lot of different kinds of music and I think that the glue that holds it all together is Trey’s soul voice. We really like the idea of every song standing on its own and not being too much like any other song of ours. In pursuing that goal, we started exploring different soundscapes and that led us to dabble in different genres.

Birmingham Stages: Did the songs continue to evolve even after you took them into the studio?

Courtney: Oh yeah, for sure. We were nit-picky about this album. There’s stuff you don’t expect to happen when you go in, but it does. When you’re relaxing and goofing off in the studio, that’s when a lot of cool stuff comes out of nowhere and we say, “Roll tape! Roll tape!” [laughs]

Birmingham Stages: You attended Berklee College of Music. How does the academic side of your training affect your playing and songwriting?

Courtney: In a lot of senses it is second nature – being able to play the scales and know what they are – but I had to learn to unlearn. I found that when I overthought it, the music became a little stiff. So I had to find that sweet spot where it’s in the back of my head but I’m letting intuition still guide me. If I start from just the theory standpoint, it always comes across as forced or contrived.

Birmingham Stages: How do you feel about the current climate of the music industry? The accessibility to listeners is easier than ever, but that also seems to create clutter.

Courtney: Wow, that’s a really good question. It is more difficult to get noticed, but since people can listen to all sorts of music whenever they want, I think people’s ears have expanded and people are more interested in diverse sounds. It’s a challenge to stand out. It’s an exciting challenge, so how do we make ourselves different? We try to be original.

Good People Brewery Presents: Saturn Nights with Los Coast on Friday, June 21. Venture Boi will open the 9 p.m. show. Admission is free and the event is 18 and over. For more information, visit www.saturnbirmingham.com.

By The People For The People: A Conversation with James Felice

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Lawrence Braun

With few exceptions, lineup changes are inevitable if a band exists for any length of time. In a three-year span between album releases, The Felice Brothers – a timeless-sounding folk quartet led by New York natives Ian and James Felice – revamped its rhythm section by adding drummer Will Lawrence and bassist Jesske Hume. In May, the band released Undress [Yep Roc Records], a collection of 14 songs cut live-to-tape with minimal overdubbing. On Sunday, June 9, The Felice Brothers will perform at Avondale Brewing Co. Recently, James spoke us with us by phone from his New York home during a tour break.

Birmingham Stages: James, thanks for your time. When did the current tour begin?

James Felice: We started at the end of April. We’re having a really good time.

Birmingham Stages: If you will, talk about the creation of Undress.

Felice: Most of [the songs] are pretty much songs that were written for the record. The only older song is “Jack Reminiscing” – that one has been in rotation for years, but the rest of them were mostly written by my brother, Ian, or in sessions the winter before we recorded the record.

Birmingham Stages: What prompted you to release “Jack Reminiscing” on this album?

Felice: We had a bunch of these older songs that had been sticking around for forever and we decided to record a bunch of them without even really practicing them. That was the one that sounded the best, so we put it on the record.

Birmingham Stages: It has been three years since your last release [2016’s Country Ham]. How did you and Ian decide that 2019 was the right time for a new record?

Felice: A couple of different things, but if there are no songs then there’s no record. The first thing that has to happen is you have to have some stuff that’s worth recording – that takes time and energy for sure. I was out on the road with Conor Oberst for most of 2017 and Ian was doing a solo record, so neither of us really had time to focus on the band, writing songs and making the record that we wanted. We realized that, when we had time, we needed to make another record. It’s been too long – three years is too much time.

Birmingham Stages: Your band has always been known for a timeless sound while maintaining a current, relevant take on politics and society. How would you describe the band’s songwriting approach?

Felice: Ian does a lot of the songwriting and he is a more politically-minded man than I am. Our music is observational and is in the tradition of folk music – he and I are both really inspired by the work of Pete Seeger. There’s a political bend to good, powerful folk music that I think is really important and is sometimes overlooked. A lot of times, folk music is hokey or played for nostalgia when it was actually really timely when it was being made, especially in the ’30s and ’60s. It’s music made by the people for the people on the ground level. It gets a bad rap when the event of the day passes us by.

Birmingham Stages: Do songs continue to evolve even after you take them into the recording studio?

Felice: Oh yeah, for sure – a lot of songs change. The title track – when we started recording it, it was much more of a guitar-driven folk song. We started hacking away it and now it has a cool, funky vibe to it that we had no idea would happen when we brought the song to the studio but we’re happy that it did.

Birmingham Stages: It seems that the addition of Will and Jesske have given your band a shot in the arm. If you will, talk about their contributions.

Felice: They’re fantastic people to play music with – they’re hard-working and they’re both extraordinary musicians and both great singers. They’re the whole package and we’re so lucky to have them.

The Felice Brothers will perform at Avondale Brewing Co. on Sunday, June 9. Johnathan Rice will open the 7 p.m. show. Advance tickets are $12 ($19 if under age 21) and can be purchased at www.avondalebrewing.com.