Cory Henry is a multi-instrumentalist and producer with a catalog worthy of a man twice his age. His primary instrument is the organ, and he began playing at the age of two. At the age of six he competed at the Apollo Theater and made it to the finalist round. In 2010 he co-produced Jay White’s Larger than Life. Later that year he released his first album Christmas With You, which featured his lively renditions of Christmas classics and prominently showcased his skill as an improvisor. Kim Burrell’s Grammy nominated and Stellar Award winning Love album released in 2011 boasted several tracks that were written and produced by Henry. That year he wrote for and produced much of Krishnar Lewis’ One Lover’s Trilogy album and released his first, “Leave you alone”.
Henry is primarily known for harmonically rich organ playing that owes a greater debt to the virtuosic unpredictability of Tatum and Peterson than it does to Jimmy Smith and other members of the Hammond organ pantheon. In his best moments he seems to capture the breadth of the Jazz and Gospel idioms and produce something altogether new through his unique blending of the two genres. Although he possesses a great deal of technique, in his solos he regularly subordinates it to a narrative arch and exhibits a maturity that surpasses his years. Unlike many virtuosos he is a great accompanist, and perhaps this is why he excels also as a producer and sideman.
At the tender age of nineteen he had the opportunity to begin traveling with the Jazz legend Kenny Garrett as his organist in a stint that lasted three years. He has done television work playing on the third season of Sunday’s Best for BET and on the Jimmy Fallon Show. He has worked with Yolanda Adams, Sara Bareilles, Stanley Brown, Ray Chew And The Crew, P. Diddy, Kirk Franklin, Rob Glasper, Ron Grant, Lalah Hathway, Derrick Hodge, Israel Houghton, Joe, Shaun Kingston, Donald Lawrence, Mary Mary, Donnie McClurkin, Michael McDonald, Boyz 2 Men, NAS, Snarky Puppy, Tommy Sims, Bruce Springsteen, The Roots, Hezekiah Walker, Bishop Jeffrey White, Betty Wright, the late Timothy Wright, and many others. Henry’s awe inspiring impromptu YouTube performances have gained him a loyal and sizable following. His latest release, “First Steps” was released in the Spring of 2014 and went to #1 on iTunes Jazz Chart.
“Over the past two years, the Charleston quintet Weigh Station has made a name for itself as a gritty, blues/rock band with an affection for live performances. The band’s ability to meld the sounds of hard rock and moody blues makes for a jam session that transcends both genres for a blazing concoction that speaks as much to the soul-searcher as it does the head-banger.”
Right there, at two minutes and ten seconds into the first song, “Long Way Down.” The part where Gary Nichols sings, “Girl, we both know where your soul is bound.” Only he bleeds it as much as he sings it. He sounds murderous, maniacal. Her soul is bound for nothing skyward, for nothing heavenly. And he’s fine with that.
Richard Bailey’s banjo plays funky, little Kentucky-goes-to-Memphis rolls. Tammy Rogers’ fiddle soars. Brent Truitt’s mandolin chops time, and Mike Fleming’s bass pounds the downbeat. And all that is righteous and right-on. Elevated, even. But Nichols—he lets loose something the opposite of righteousness. It’s a howl, full of hurt and anger and life. Starts on the highest E note that 99.9% of male singers can hit, then ascends into a sweet falsetto, and then opens up like the gates of Hell, into a reeling screech.
“That made me dizzy for a second,” Nichols says, remembering the moment he sang the line. “Really, I almost passed out. There are certain lines in SteelDrivers songs that require a little bit of Wilson Pickett.”
Nichols knows about Wilson Pickett, who recorded “Mustang Sally” at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, less than three miles from Jimmy Nutt’s NuttHouse, where the SteelDrivers recorded these Muscle Shoals Recordings. Nichols is from Muscle Shoals. He grew up as a guitar slinger and a soul shouter, which should not be any help in fronting one of bluegrass music’s most engaging outfits. But part of the reason the SteelDrivers are such an engaging band is the seemingly incongruous blend of soul and slink, blues and country, mountain coal and red dirt.
“I think that’s what moves people when they come to see us: the realness and rawness and edge,” says Rogers, who formed the SteelDrivers in 2005 with Bailey, Fleming, multi-instrumentalist Mike Henderson, and soulful singer (and now-acclaimed contemporary country artist) Chris Stapleton. That version of the SteelDrivers received three GRAMMY® nominations and won an audience that was surprised and initially saddened by the 2010 and 2011 departures of Stapleton and Henderson. But the entries of Nichols and virtuoso mandolin talent Truitt have created a SteelDrivers band that carries the gutbucket ethic of the original combo, but pleases in different ways.
Nichols, who initially felt an obligation to replicate Stapleton’s mighty vocal turns, emerged as a vocalist of distinction, as a monster acoustic guitarist and as a songwriting force who wrote or co-wrote five of Shoals Recordings’ 11 songs. Rogers stepped up her songwriting as well, and she has credits on all but one of the album’s remaining songs. The one outlier on The Muscle Shoals Recordings is “Drinkin’ Alone,” a romp penned by Jay Knowles and former SteelDriver Stapleton. Wait, check that…
“Chris Stapleton and Mike Henderson will always be SteelDrivers,” Rogers says. “They aren’t in the band playing shows, but they are part of our sound, and part of our story.”
Truitt’s fluid mandolin added another virtuoso element to a group that is undergirded by Fleming’s upright bass and baritone harmonies.
“Mike is responsible for a lot of the emotion of the songs,” Nichols says. “He stands out more on this record vocally than he ever did before, and as a bass player he’s a big part of our sound. We don’t have a drummer, so he and I have to be the kick, snare, and high hat. He’s the backbone; I’m the hips.”
That’s not to say that this is all about swagger and sway. These Muscle Shoals Recordings hold much in the way of plaintive beauty. “Here She Goes,” written by Nichols and Dylan LeBlanc, is songwriting at its most honest—no posturing and no fronts. It’s a song about divorce, without blame: “If I were honest, I’d say she stayed too long,” Nichols sings, to a soundtrack aided by Jason Isbell, Nichols’ childhood friend and musical partner, who co-produced the track (and “Brother John”).
In the studio, the band kept pushing the tempo, perhaps to assuage the sadness and, perhaps, because it’s sometimes easier for master musicians to play with reckless abandon than with somber certainty.
“After we played it through, I spoke up and said, ‘Maybe it needs to be a bit faster,’” Rogers says. “Jason said, ‘Well, maybe we can just try harder.’ He was right, and we tried harder.”
Nichols and Isbell played together as teens when Nichols fronted Gulliver, a band that included bass man Jimbo Hart and drummer Ryan Tillery. When Nichols scored a major label deal with Mercury Records in 2006, he hit the road with Hart and Tillery. When Nichols exited Mercury, Hart and Tillery joined Isbell’s 400 Unit band.
Way back then, Gulliver worked with Jimmy Nutt, upon whose studio the SteelDrivers converged in late 2014 to make an uncommon and instantly identifiable album. Nutt cut his teeth at Rick Hall’s FAME studios, and Hall is the guy who produced “You Better Move On,” “Fancy,” “Slip Away,” and, come to think of it, Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally.” All that stuff is supposed to be a world removed from Nashville, from bluegrass, from banjos and mandolins. But the SteelDrivers place it all in close proximity. They make music born of collisions of traditions, from meldings of things assumed un-meldable.
“This stuff is all related,” Nichols says. “The note selection, the melodies, and the licks are the same. It’s just a different accent.”
Nichols and the SteelDrivers speak in their own accent, one that charms and sears and beguiles. This is a band like no other, by inclination but not by calculation. Nichols, Rogers, Bailey, Fleming, Truitt … Those of us who have listened all know where their souls are bound. Bound to triumph. Bound to rise. Bound to matter. Bound to resound. Bound to impact. Bound to roar and shimmy, to howl and heal. A damn good band, this one. If you don’t believe it, start around two minutes and ten seconds into “Long Way Down.” That’s the stuff, right there.
It’s been a good few years for the relentlessly hard working six piece rock band from Durham, NC, whose sophomore album After It All will be coming out on April 7, 2015. Since the release of their debut album Carry The Fire in the summer of 2012 and 2013′s follow-up EP Chasing Twisters, Delta Rae has been profiled everywhere from NPR and Time to Forbes. Rolling Stone proclaimed that “if Fleetwood Mac came up in North Carolina, they might resemble Delta Rae.” VH1 hand selected them for their “You Oughta Know” Artist Of The Month program, and they performed not once, but twice on both The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Conan. Live is where Delta Rae truly flourish, having spent the last year and a half playing to sold out venues from coast to coast, even sharing the stage with First Lady Michelle Obama when they performed during a Democratic rally at UNC Chapel Hill. They’ve played pretty much every festival under the sun, including Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits and Voodoo, and are excited to be hitting the road again this spring.
Family and Friends:
As these things so often do, Family And Friends began as a lowly seedling of inspiration. “Good music, good people.” A stalk gave yield to branches. One became six, a collective of musicians by trade, lovers by spirit. Inspired by a life worth living, the Fam and Pals remained rooted with three ambitions in heart, mind, and soul: the people, the music, the memories. The reflection represented by blend of earnest folk rock and a communal spirit pouring a collective heart into something bigger than itself. An intangible force of an unfaltering love worth giving away. A Family And Friend tree ever-growing, ever-lasting.
Somewhere between bonsai orchestra and over-filled rock band lies the Collection, a band who’s name is as self-descriptive as it is ambiguous. With an army of instruments and influences, the 7+ member ensemble creates songs layered with strings, brass, and woodwinds, crescendoing like a gigantic wave crashing on a shore of folk melodies and rock rhythms. The vocal ranges echo the myriad of instrumental textures, accompanying death and hope filled lyrics, weaving in and out of spiritual survival and thriving. But, though there are many seemingly different elements that make up who the Collection is, the sound is a unified one, the sound of a family with a common name; And that’s what the Collection is and invites us to be – a big family.
Looking like a man from leaner and meaner times, Willie Watson steps on stage with a quiet gravitas. But, when he opens his mouth and lets out that high lonesome vocal, you can hear him loud and clear.
His debut solo album, Folk Singer Vol. 1, was produced by David Rawlings at Woodland Sound Studios, the studio he co-owns with associate producer Gillian Welch in Nashville, TN, over the course of a pair of two-day sessions, for their own Acony Records label. The album spans ten songs from the American folk songbook ranging from standards like “Midnight Special,” “Mexican Cowboy” and Richard “Rabbit” Brown’s “James Alley Blues” to the more obscure, like Memphis Slim’s 12-bar blues, “Mother Earth,” Gus Cannon and the Jug Stompers’ “Bring it With You When You Come,” Land Norris’ double-entendre kids chant, “Kitty Puss” and St. Louis bluesman Charley Jordan’s sing-song “Keep It Clean.” Like the music, Willie can be murderous, bawdy or lustful, sometimes in the course of a single song, with a sly sense of humor that cuts to the quick. He counters a masterful bravado with the tragic fragility of one who has been wounded. “There’s a lot of weight in the way Willie performs,” says Rawlings, longtime friend and producer of Watson’s previous band, Old Crow Medicine Show. “He’s had some tragedy in his life, which has informed his art. There’s an emotional edge to what he does because of who he is as a human being. Willie is the only one of his generation who can make me forget these songs were ever sung before.”
Born in Watkins Glen, N.Y. – best-known for its race track and the rock festival of the same name which took place there, featuring the Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead and The Band – Watson grew up listening to his father’s basement record collection, including Bob Dylan and Neil Young, before stumbling on a Leadbelly album at the age of 12. Combined with having heard plenty of local string bands – featuring old-time banjo and fiddle – Willie experienced an epiphany.
“As soon as I heard that record,” he recalls, “I was hooked.”
With a voice that could quaver in the operatic style of his favorite, Roy Orbison, Willie went on to discover North Carolina Appalachian fiddle and banjo players Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham, who played songs like “Cripple Creek,” “Sugar Hill” and “John Brown’s Dream” on a compilation cassette of “round peak style” music. He began to unearth Folkways albums, including the label’s groundbreaking 1952 Harry Smith compilation, Anthology of American Folk Music, which helped kick-start the ‘60s folk revival lovingly captured in the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. He discovered like-minded souls in Old Crow Medicine Show.
“When we started that band, I found people that were cut from the same musical cloth,” he says. “They were my age, into the same thing, going down a similar road. We started sharing our influences, trading records and playing together.”
A few years down that road, Watson’s work with Old Crow is already a large part of the reason that banjo and guitar driven music is heard everywhere in the air these days. On Folk Singer, we find Willie defending his musical turf. A true solo album in every sense, Watson is now center-stage, armed with an acoustic guitar, banjo and the occasional mouth harp. Indeed, hearing Watson’s skillful and subtle banjo and guitar accompaniments and soaring vocals unadorned for the first time is a revelation.
“Part of me always toyed with this idea of going it alone,” he explains. “I had to relearn some things, how to fill out all that space.” Watson takes the skeletons of these songs and breathes his own life into them, on stage and on record.