Rick Lang gives a master class in Songwriting on Nine Volt Heart.

Rick Lang is a songwriter in demand these days. He’s been writing songs in bluegrass for decades and has been recorded by over one hundred artists during that span. In our interview, he seems genuinely in awe of his good fortune; repeatedly and humbly deflecting attention. But attention he’s getting. Recipient of most every award genre there is; Grammys, Dove Awards, IBMA’s, Gospel Awards. He’s been collaborating with other songwriters well before “co-writing was cool”.

Born and raised in South Eastern coastal NH, he started regionally with New England musicians but as his associations grew, more time in Nashville beckoned. His connections with Jerry Salley and Stephen Mougin have landed Rick some recording opportunities in Nashville. They have been very successful indeed. The 2018 release on Salley’s newly hatched Billy Blue Records “Gonna Sing Gonna Shout” won nominations from the IBMA and the Grammy’s.! An all star cast sing Rick Langs penned tunes.

Rick’s recent signing with Stephen Mougin’s Dark Shadows Records will result in a Fall release called “A Tale to Tell”; a batch of what Rick calls “story songs”. Our segment closes with his song based on the real life history of the Quabbin Reservoir in nearby Western Massachusetts called “Lost Town”. This is the first single from the forthcoming album.

Our conversation touches many topics from the impact of living in New Hampshire, his work on a tribute to the Boston Marathon, his New England coastal ocean album called “Undertow”, his recording of the bluegrass gospel “Gonna Sing Gonna Shout” and his experience at the Grammy Awards. We talk songwriting as well. The value of authentic experience in creating great songs is explored. But of course, there are the songs! We begin with “Gonna Sing” with the vocal work of Claire Lynch as well as the Marathon anthem, “Running for the Glory”. The segment finishes with his latest release, “Lost Town”.

Rick Lang still exhibits the awe of the songwriting process which probably explains his longevity and continued success .He was a joy to chat with and I could have spent the full two hours with him telling stories and tracing his successful musical and personal journey. Give the segment a listen.

Crys Matthews; Poet and Changemaker

Crys Matthews has been releasing albums and performing for years but her recent album, Changemakers, is a clear quantum leap in her songwriting craft. It could be that this uber-political songwriter just has more to work with in these last few years! This batch of songs takes on immigration issues, gun violence, racism, police brutality and the opioid crisis. While it is indeed unfortunate that these issues still haunt our nation, we can rely on musicians to give us perspectives to make us think. In Crys’ case, most of these songs leave us with something that we crave; hope! We can easily list societal ills without end but the process leaves us depressed or hopeless. This batch of songs portrays the circumstances as dire while offering optimism that we can work together to act in positive ways.

Our segment begins with two new songs, “Exactly Where You Are” and the title cut, “Changemakers” followed by a great intelligent conversation about her NC roots, her songwriting and of course, the issues that inspired these songs. We finish the segment with a powerful song “Call Them In” dedicated to civil rights icon John Lewis who died last July.

One of my favorite interviews with honest but powerful insights into these social issues and the songs that deal with them. Highly recommended.

In Her Words; Nine Volt Heart’s Women’s Herstory Month

March is Women’s History Month. I took a look at some of my favorite women who artists who joined me on Nine Volt Heart this past year. While there were dozens, I chose seven to highlight in this show. The musical links are in two parts to ease navigation. Part One includes musical highlights and segment in “Her Words” from Bella White, Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, Kris Delmhorst and Raye Zaragoza. The second link includes interviews and music from Anya Hinkle, Vivian Leva and Becky Buller.

Each of these artists have their own full interview on this blog if you were so inclined to dig deeper.

Anya Hinkle ponders “What’s It Gonna Take?” to fulfill our American Dream.

Anya Hinkle has released a series of singles in anticipation of a full Summer album release. After her band, Tellico, disbanded during these past difficult months, she has worked with other stellar Asheville NC musicians to release some of her best music yet .Our segment begins with the Anya-penned Tellico song, “Courage in the Morning” followed by an instrumental called “Meditation:Beyond the Shores of Darkness.” This is Anya’s first attempt at an instrumental and it is a gorgeous piece featuring Duncan Wickel on cello and Julian Pinelli on fiddle.

Our conversation touches on the varied life experiences Anya has on her journey including her work as an ethnobotonist, a cyclist, her travels throughout Japan, and of course; this latest batch of songs. We talk about the genesis of her meditation piece as well as the stunning song, “What’s It Gonna Take” with Steep Canyon Ranger Graham Sharp. The song is beautifully enhanced by the sacred steel talents of Deshawn Hickman and vocals by Wendy Hickman; both from the Mt Airy NC area. The song was inspired by the horrific events around the George Floyd murder and the Summer Protests of 2020.

We talk about her project with fellow Asheville musician Dianne Gambrell which describes the challenge of living as a Black American in NC for her entire life. The song “Struggles” is a powerful testament to her family’s challenges facing racism and discrimination in Asheville.

It is clear that social justice issues remain on the minds and hearts of musicians and artists everywhere. It is my hope that music can deal with these important issues in ways that reach listeners hearts without dividing our minds. Anya Hinkle has released a powerful song in this vein and I applaud it’s success. Give the segment a listen. And watch for more powerful songs from this important artist.

Honeysuckle is on a “Long Distance Run”.

Honeysuckle has had a monopoly on recent Boston Music Awards winning 2019’s Americana Artist of the Year and 2018 Folk Artist of the Year along the way they’ve been nominated several years in a row. Named by NPR as”a band to watch”, they’ve released a steady string of excellent albums including 2019’s “Fire Starter”. This weekend, they’ve released a brand new single featuring the now duo of Chris Bloniarz and Holly McGarry.

Our segment begins with the title cut, “Fire Starter” and finishes with the new single, “Long Distance Run”. In between, we talk about their individual paths to Berklee School of Music where they met. Our topics include their experience of this last year in terms of creativity, the loss of an original member Ben Burns, and their “plans’ for the upcoming year.

The duo have now moved to the Saratoga Springs NY area and have the luxury of being able to quarantine together and continue their creative path. There will be an upcoming release party in hybrid form at Cafe Lena and online. This talented pair of musicians have stayed positive and have prepared for the future in their “Long Distance Run”.

Chris Pierce calls out “American Silence” in his new release.

LA based musician Chris Pierce has been at it for awhile, working independently for decades. His sound has ranged from soul and R&B to his take on “The American Soul Songbook” and most recently has written a “folk protest” album called “American Silence” out this Friday. We caught up with Chris in advance of the album release to talk about this batch of songs and the times that inspired them. While Chris Pierce has faced obstacles both physical (loss of hearing at fifteen) and social (he outlines examples of racial profiling); he is a supremely positive guy. Our conversation was inspiring to me in it’s optimism despite this past year which has exposed many of our Country’s weaknesses and unfilled promises.

We talked about the value of a good record collection at a young age, his chance meeting with the musician Seal, his collaboration with musician Sunny War. We didn’t even touch on his co-ownership of a wine label, Ledbetter Syrah, or his stage production, “Reverend Tall Tree”. A full creative life; peaking with a new release that has prompted NPR and Rolling Stone to proclaim his latest the “Protest Album of the Year”.

Chris Pierce told stories about performing with Sunny War as the duo, War and Pierce, as well as his recording in the famed Muscle Shoals recording studios with the legendary backing band. We hear his soulful vocals belt out “Many Rivers to Cross” from the “You’ve Got to Feel It” recorded in that Alabama iconic studio. We also hear his duet with Sunny War called “Amen” written in response to the deadly Charlottesville protest. We conclude with the title cut of his new album, “American Silence” where he exhorts those who are allies to act in solidarity and not simply “post a facebook comment” and remain in the background.

Despite the fact that Chris has shared the stage with the likes of BB King, Al Green and Aaron Neville and toured the world with Seal, it’s my estimation that his most creative period has just begun. Listen to our conversation and you’ll agree that “American Silence” is a modern day master class in songwriting, no matter the genre.

Vivian Leva and Riley Calcagno

Vivian and Riley have merged their incredible talents to create a tasty roots music mix of old time, country and stringband music. While their 2018 album, “Time is Everything”, was decidedly a country and honkytonk affair centered around Vivian’s incredibly evocative voice, the new release shines more broadly into more varied sonic territory. Love songs, and songs of regret and longing still dominate the self titled release. The vocal duties are shared by both in songs that evoke the Americana duo, Mandolin Orange.

We begin our segment with the gorgeous “Will You”; one of the singles released in advance of the album’s March release date. Our conversation touches on both of the band members biography. Vivian is the daughter of parents who released a number of albums in the late 90’s as Jones And Leva and The Renegades. She was raised in Virginia and was exposed to music festivals as a youngster. Riley was a West Coast festival kid likewise drug around festivals from their Seattle base. They met professionally five years ago in a Washington state summer workshop while Riley was performing with his stringband, The Onlies. Vivian attended with her mother and joined the band on tour soon thereafter.

The newest disc was recorded (just in time) in January 2020 in Eunice Louisiana with the Grammy winning producer, Joel Savoy, a legend in Cajun music. Several other songs have been released along with gorgeous videos including “Love and Chains” along with “Leaving on Our Minds”. Both songs lyrically deal with issues of isolation and leaving loved ones; topics appropriate in this era. Our segment finishes with the band introducing both those songs. This is a very sweet duo with lovely vocal and instrumental interplay. The new self titled album will be available on the top-notch Free Dirt Records in March.

The Trailblazers transcend “Space and Time” on new release.

When it comes to prestigious awards, not many can match the track record of Western NC, The Trailblazers. Formed in 2016, they won Best Band contest at their local but acclaimed Merlefest followed by IBMA Momentum Awards for Best Band, Best Vocalist and Best Banjo nominations. 2019 brought the Freshgrass Award for Best Band. The band consists of brothers Daniel and Will Thrailkill on guitar and bass. Alex Edwards plays banjo and Jonah Horton plays mandolin. Daniel sings lead on all tracks. Their debut album, “A Place to Call My Own” is packed with instrumental burners and original songs along with some well placed covers of Mickey Newbury and Gordon Lightfoot.

The band released their sophomore album, “Space and Time” in November 2020. It was recorded again by Scott Vestal at his Digital Underground Studio in Tennessee. The new release shows maturity in both instrumental skill and songwriting. While the original songs are the disc’s strength, they pay homage to their eclectic tastes by covering artists as diverse as George Bensen and The Doobie Brothers. Our segment began with the instrumental “Dawson Springs” which features the fiddle of the Infamous Stringdusters’ Jeremy Garrett. It’s breathtaking in it’s speed and tone which made a believer out of Jeremy who states,” These guys are killing it right now. I love their passion and creativity and they bring a positive vibe with them wherever they play music. I’ll be paying attention to this group”. I suggest you do as well.

Our segment ends with two songs, “Sleepy Eyes” and “Deja Vu” which feature Mr. Vestal on banjo synthesizer. “Space and Time” is a big leap forward for this NC based quartet. Expect them to be headlining festivals once such large events are back again.

Cloudbelly talks about “Thou/Them” and Home Sessions on NineVoltHeart.

Corey Laitman and Anand Nayak collaborated on Corey’s “Seafoam” CD which has led to this project dubbed Cloudbelly. The creative process between these two projects could not be more different, however. Cloudbelly has been composed remotely without rehearsals or even hearing other band member’s input. A huge amount of mutual trust and respect fueled the writing of these eleven songs. Many of these songs have been released as singles and EP’s over the last year. They are compiled in the album “Thou/Them”. Our segment begins with the song, “Up in Smoke” with it’s wintery images of snow and woodsmoke. We conclude the conversation with the band introducing another new song, “Leavened”.

Cloudbelly will perform these songs in a special livestream sponsored by Signature Sounds called the Home Sessions airing on Feb 23 at 8PM.

Corner House debuts their “Caribou Party” on Nine Volt Heart.

Corner House is a quartet of Boston area stringband players who’ve found a safe way to release new music this year. “Caribou Party” will be released in early March and it’s a gorgeous collection of virtuosic instrumental tunes. The band consists of Ethan Setiawan (my guest) on mandolin, Ethan Hawkins on guitar and vocals, Louise Bichan on fiddle and Casey Murray on cello.

The band was unable to record their anticipated full length album in Canada due to pandemic restrictions but they were able to safely work on an EP in a cabin in rural Pennsylvania this past summer. There are songs about gardens and instrumentals named after wildlife. Songs about spiritual conflicts and tunes based on favorite New England destinations. All in all, it’s a diverse batch of songs representing each of the member’s contributions. Old time banjo player Allison DeGroot puts it this way ,”Caribou Party weaves together lush instrumental textures, thoughtful arrangements and intimate lyrics, culminating in an exciting collection of tunes and songs that will keep you listening to the twists and turns, while drawing you into the space of four friends making music amidst a global pandemic.”

Our segment begins with the Ethan Setiawan tune “Woolwich” and finishes with Louise Bichan’s “Hawk, Hound and the Homers” both getting their radio debut. You can join the band for their online launch party on 2/19@7PM on Bandcamp’s new streaming platform. You’ll b glad you did, it’s gonna be a party, a Caribou Party!