Sunday Music Interlude — Adia Victoria, SHEL, and onDeadWaves

I haven’t written about music in a while, so it’s time to catch up on some of the more interesting new acts and new projects that I’ve come across.

Originally out of South Carolina, Adia Victoria now calls Nashville home.  Her interesting bio can be found at here.  Her original music is a combination of country and electric blues, punk, garage rock, and a modern type of dark Americana roots music borne of the narrative tradition and neo-folk.  Her voice consists of a girlish rasp wrapped in an alto silkiness.  You can learn more about her at her website at

She was named WXPN’s Artist to Watch for July 2016, and just performed on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert.  The performance from this last appears below.


SHEL is a group of four sisters out of Fort Collins, Colorado.  I wrote about them back in September 2014 as they were just out of the egg, featuring their neo-folk music after an EP and first album.  They have since matured and have come out with a critically hailed album entitled Just Crazy Enough.  They just played live on with John Diliberto.   Here they are performing a couple of selections that reveal both their developing maturity and natural talent informed by that maturity.  The first is “Let Me Do.”  The song begins as a deceptively simplistic song that then changes both tempo and melody, carried by the ethereal combined voice of their harmony vocals in the call and response from narrative to chorus.

Speaking of ethereal, here is SHEL performing “I’m Just a Shadow.”  This is first class neo-noir folk and roots music.  The following Lyric Video highlights the emotional power of the lyrics.

It is probably time for a shout-out to John Diliberto at  I actually came across John’s taste in music through the program Star’s End, which is still on-going.  There I was introduced to ambient and space music in the 1970s when I split time between visits to my home state of New Jersey and during trips from my job in Washington, D.C.  FM radio waves being as they were, especially in the early morning over weekends, I would occasionally be able to tune into the program, which memory serves was out of Philly, while driving down some deserted highway with the star-streaked night sky above, and wish that the feeling of my movement through time and space, the fresh air from the open windows, the firmament of the night sky, and the music–which seemed to transport me to some other dimension–would never end.  Then, after years traveling and at sea, I was reintroduced to John as music critic through his contributions to the long-missed CD Review magazine.  His thoughtful, eloquent, and informative reviews opened my world to new music and new musical genre’s that I would probably not otherwise have explored.  There are a few critics that fall into this category which, for me, includes Ralph Gleason, Leonard Feather, Ira Gitler, John McDonough, Robert Christgau, Gary Giddins, Orrin Keepnews, Greil Marcus, Dave Marsh, Michael Cuscuna, and David Dye, among a few–all good company.

This serves as introduction to another project to which I was introduced through and Mr. Diliberto.  It is the group onDeadWaves.  The group consists of British singers Polly Scattergood and James Chapman.  Their maiden album is this month’s Echoes CD of the Month.  According to the review by John Diliberto, onDeadWaves’s sound is like “a meeting of Lanterna, driving across the desert in a 57 ‘Chevy, with Leonard Cohen and Lucinda Williams in the backseat.”  Their music, also called “shoegaze west”, seems more varied, especially when confronted by the 60’s Byrd’s-like guitar and unrestrained punk of the song “California.”  Overall, though, I can hear the influence of the moodier neo-noir song-styling of Lana Del Rey through most of the songs.  Perhaps Ms. Del Rey was onto something after all.

Here they are the song “Blue Inside”.  Other videos are also available at the Echoes site linked above.


Sunday Music Interlude — Brandi Carlile performing “The Eye” and Josh Ritter performing “The Stone”

Brandi Carlile is a neo-folk and country singer-songwriter with a great sense of time and place.  According to her Allmusic biography, she grew up in the small and isolated town of Ravensdale, Washington, which is about 50 miles outside of Seattle.  There she lived the life of imagination and didn’t find formal schooling to her liking.  She joined the Seattle music scene at a very young age, and eventually formed a local band.  Her style started out within the rock & roll tradition, especially focused on the classic rock of the 1970s, but then she began to find her own voice and music.  That voice, powerful and clear, breaks into the emotive style reminiscent of the folk, bluegrass, and country traditions.  Here she is performing a song from her latest album.  The song is “The Eye” and the album is The Firewatcher’s Daughter, which was released this past March.  It is an album, according to the New York Times music critic Jon Pareles, where her life is embedded in her music.  That is a high praise for a songwriter documenting her times and the human condition.

Josh Ritter is also from the Northwestern United States.  According to his bio, he hails from the town of Moscow (pronounced with a long ‘o’ at the end in lieu of the ‘ow’), Idaho, best known as the home of the University of Idaho, a place to which I have an ersatz connection.  He studied neuroscience at Oberlin College for a while, but dropped out to pursue a music career, with Dylan and Johnny Cash among his biggest influences.  Attracted to contemporary folk, he sought gigs on the east coast that supported the genre, and found a means of self-financing his tours for a few years before finally being picked up by a major label.  Since 2001 he is considered one of the leading lights in contemporary folk, though his music has, at times, at least for me–and particularly over the last couple of years–has swerved into verbosity, fractured prose, navel gazing, and parody.  A recent divorce seemed to magnify these negative traits, lacking the emotional strength, subtlety, and compassion of confessional musical predecessors like the Thompsons’ Shoot Out the Lights, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, and Roseanne Cash’s The Wheel.

To a certain extent comparing any artist’s work to these classic works is somewhat unfair, but given the high esteem and standard to which Ritter is held, it is useful to point out that he did not attain the same level of connection to himself and the world at large in the wake of what one would view as personal pain and tragedy.  Earlier in his career he confused addressing big subjects with the a connection to the world at large.  Such a path in music is not an intellectual or literary discourse–it is an emotive one.  Hipsters and intellectuals may like his music, but folk is and was always intended to be the music of the people.  It is the humanizing palliative in a world where people are too tired, too overworked, and too frustrated to listen to a lecture, otherwise the power of the dehumanizing elements win out.  If you want to connect with people you have to do it on their terms.  Ritter seems to have learned this lesson in his latest album, Sermon on the Rocks.  Here he is performing the song “The Stone.”


Saturday Music Interlude — Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear

Every once in awhile in music, amidst the complexly produced and orchestrated (for which, in their own right, there are also pleasures to be found), comes something so authentic and real that it takes you in.  Such is the case with Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear.  They were the WXPN Artist to Watch last month and appeared on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert which, if you’ve never checked it out, is the place to go on-line to see live some of the best up-and-coming acts and talent.  Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear’s performance on that program comprises the music video to follow.  Rolling Stone probably made the call early, listing them at the top of their “20 Best Things We Saw at Americana Music Fest 2014”.

This family duo, mother Ruth “the Mama Bear” Ward and son Madisen Ward, are out of the Kansas City, Missouri area.  Among most sources this is the totality of the bio they decide to publish, but thanks to we have a better feel for their roots and influences.  Ruth Ward, who was born in Gary, Indiana, back in 1952, has been into music for quite some time, leaving home at the age of 19 and kicking around coffee houses with her guitar while traveling the American Southwest and Midwest, and managed to make two independent albums along the way.  She met Kenneth Ward, her husband, and they settled down in Independence, Missouri, where they raised a family with Ruth putting her musical dreams on the back burner.  Madisen, who was born in 1988, shared the love of music that animated his mother.  Just like her, he began performing at the age of 19 at coffee houses and small clubs in St. Louis and Independence.  By 2013 they were performing together in and around Kansas City and their infectious music began to draw attention.  Since the Rolling Stone article I’ve run by some odd and sundry live performances of their work but now they have their first album out entitled Skeleton Crew.


Sunday Music — KT Tunstall performing “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Invisible Empire”

Talk is that she is in L.A. to pursue a movie career, movie soundtracks, and work on her next album.  For those of you unfamiliar, KT Tunstall hails from St. Andrews, Fife in Scotland.  She hit the music scene in 2004 and took it by storm.  Every album seems to get better than the last.

Here she is on an early performance from the U.K. on the iconic John Dylan cover which became for her a signature song for awhile–let’s hear it for the dustbin!

Before heading to L.A. for a change of career in 2014, she released the excellent Invisible Empire//Crescent Moon album.  Here she is with a live version of the title song from the first half of the album.

Her musical and emotional growth are apparent simply in the juxtaposition of the videos and we are the richer for it: documenting insights for all of us to ponder as we navigate existence.  Let’s hope we hear something again soon from KT.

Return from Travel Musical Sunday Interlude — Heather Maloney performing “Woodstock”

Anointed one of the five music artists to watch for April 2015 by SPIN magazine, Heather Maloney is a singer-songwriter with an expressive, disciplined, and strong musical voice.  According to her website, she studied jazz and operatic vocals in New Jersey for several years, but couldn’t quite find her place or her voice in those disciplines.  As anyone who follows either of those musical traditions, while they provide a devotee with artistic heights rarely achieved in more folk-based or pop-based musical pathways, they are ones that provide few financial and material rewards.  Still, she followed her muse to a silent meditation retreat in central Massachusetts.  Oddly, she admits, three years of mostly silence allowed her to focus on the musical path that she decided to pursue.  With guitar in hand she performed in coffee houses, libraries, and meditation centers across New England the Northeast.  She signed with groundbreaking indie label Signature Sounds in 2013, which also carries Lake Street Dive and Josh Ritter.  This break gave her more exposure in the music industry and among other artists.  What follows is the song that made her mark, one of the most difficult songs to tackle, especially given its author: Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock.”


Saturday Night Music — Whitehorse performing “Sweet Disaster”

Wow.  If some of the licks sound familiar it’s because you remember them from The Zombies’ “Time of the Season.”  Whitehorse consists of husband and wife Canadian singer/songwriters Melissa McClelland and Luke Douset.  Since forming Whitehorse in 2011 they have pursued solo careers, but in their collaborative effort they have established a unique sound of southern and country-and-western influenced North American roots music that feels as if it could be out of a modern western road movie.  Their latest album, Leave No Bridge Unburned, has already garnered rave reviews, following on the heels of their critically acclaimed album The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss.  There is not a weak track on either offering.  Check them out.

Here is the official video release from Six Shooter Records.  You decide which version is better.

Sunday Early Morning Music — Ryley Walker performing “Primrose Green”

Designated the March Artist to Watch by WXPN in Philadelphia, Ryley Walker is a guitar virtuoso and folk/singer-songwriter out of Chicago.  His first CD, which was released last year, was the well-received All Kinds of You.  His talent is extraordinary and his musical interests span traditional folk, Celtic, jazz-folk, British late ’60s era folk-rock, country blues, and psychedelica.  His new full-length CD is entitled Primrose Green.  The title song is what follows and it is very reminiscent of Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, and Donovan.


Saturday Music Interlude — French for Rabbits performing “Hard Luck Stories”

Out of Wellington, New Zealand, French for Rabbits is a folk-rock/dream-pop duo composed of vocalist/keyboardist Brooke Singer and guitarist John Fitzgerald.  They have been performing since 2011 and have just come out with their debut album.  The subjects of their songs reflect the cold seafaring and rocky coastal environment of their origins, especially in the case of Singer, who hails originally from Waikuku Beach.  But, of course, nothing is that simple in art.  Listening to their music evokes in the mind more significant connections and analogies.  Their music has matured and gained greater complexity since their first forays in 2012 and 2013.  Among the best is “Hard Luck Stories”, which follows.  Its tone is simultaneously dreamy and organic at the same time, overlaid with Singer’s beautiful vocals that leads us through her lyrical world of loneliness and desire.


Saturday Evening Music Interlude — Three from Mary Fahl

There is only one word to describe the music and voice of Mary Fahl: breathtaking.  Hailing from Rockland County, New York, she has been making music since the early 1990s, initially with the respected group October Project, which had a loyal and growing following until Epic records unceremoniously dropped them.  Her music has been featured in film and television, which spans genres from pop/rock, to classical, to alternative rock, and to folk.  Her powerful contralto voice has been compared favorably to Grace Slick.  Among current artists I would compare both her music, breadth, and themes with Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine.


Saturday Music Interlude — Field Report performing “Home (Leave the Lights On)”

Anyone who leaves home for long periods of time for work or service can appreciate this song.  Field Report is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin band fronted by singer Chris Porterfield.  The band garnered almost universal critical acclaim on its initial self-titled debut in 2012.  Since that release the band has reduced its membership from a septet to a quartet.  They are WXPN’s band of the month to watch and have already garnered raves from fellow musicians as varied as Mark Eitzel and Richard Thompson.  Critics have compared their music to Blood on the Tracks-era Dylan and Nebraska-era Springsteen.  The music is organic and genuine.