DREW HOLCOMB & THE NEIGHBORS
Drew Holcomb’s songs have always charged his listeners’ hearts and minds while inspiring them to think, feel, dance, and love. But with his new album, Dragons, his subject material finds the singer using a finer brush and mixing more of the joys, struggles, and specific moments of his own life than ever before to help him paint his masterpieces and connect with fans on a universal level. With its modern production, careful sense of craft and collaboration, and rafter-reaching anthems carrying profound, intentional lyrics, the album represents Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors’s biggest moment yet, a powerful portrait stretched across a wide sonic canvas.
The story of Dragons is the culmination of myriad events, connections, challenges, and years of hard, determined work for Holcomb, both as a bandleader and a family man. For the last decade, the Tennessee-based musician has established himself as one of Americana and Southern roots music’s freshest upstarts, building his following and critical appeal with every release, show, and venture. From his position as curator and entrepreneur with various undertakings—from co-creator of the successful, diverse Moon River Music Festival that makes its sold-out home in Chattanooga this Fall, to the Magnolia Record Club vinyl subscription program that he founded and curates on a monthly basis—to his role of husband for the last 14 years and father to three children, Holcomb cites the nature of his life of late as equal parts “collaborative” and “chaotic.” Having released a full-length Neighbors album, Souvenir, in 2017 to much acclaim, a co-released EP with Johnnyswim, Goodbye Road, in 2018, enjoyed the stripped-down and mostly sold-out “You & Me” tour with his wife, singer Ellie Holcomb, in 2018 and early 2019, and opened larger shows for Willie Nelson and the Zac Brown Band with The Neighbors, Holcomb’s legend and reach continues to grow. So when it came time to begin work on a new album, he forced himself to try something different and to mine untapped territory—and in a manner he had never before attempted.
As Holcomb embarked on the tour for Souvenir in 2017, he disciplined himself to write new songs in a more consistent manner than his past efforts. Where his previous work was written more in lump sum moments during specific blocks of time set aside for creative outburst, he found that spending two to three days each week with his guitar in hand and working on new material yielded better results in both quantity and diversity. Inspired to “throw off some self-imposed shackles” in terms of subject matter and style, the new material was shaping up to point him in an altogether new and exciting direction—and perhaps because he had opened himself up to writing while his “normal” life was rolling along, the songs began to take on a more intimate point of view.
To assist him with the scope of the challenge, Holcomb turned to his friends and peers for collaboration—in fact, six of Dragons’s ten songs are co-writes. Even though he was writing about his own unique experiences, Holcomb discovered that the support of other trusted ears and hearts proved valuable beyond his estimation. From working with the legendary Lori McKenna on several songs and country songwriting star Natalie Hemby on another, to previous tourmate Sean McConnell as well as Zach Williams of The Lone Bellow, Holcomb learned how to reap the benefits of sharing without being territorial while ultimately serving his own vision for the pieces at large. He also co-wrote the song “Bittersweet” with producer and songwriter Cason Cooley (Ingrid Michaelson, American Authors), loving the process and result so much that he invited Cooley to produce the entire album.
Cooley took Holcomb and the Neighbors to the esteemed Echo Mountain studio in Asheville, North Carolina, to record in January of 2019. They shared a vision for the finished album that would give it a more modern sound than Holcomb’s previous recordings, with his songs balancing the line of large, layered anthems with nuanced singer-songwriter moments—or, as he says, “expanding the emotional architecture of the songs so that the bigger themes and emotions would have space to hit harder.” Having always allowed his band—including Rich Brinsfield on bass, Nathan Dugger on guitar, and session drummer Will Sayles—to play by its own rules, Holcomb and company again embraced that ethos and remained open-minded for the inclusion of any instrument, tweak, technique, or style as long as it served the human element and earnest feeling of each song. Several were tracked live with minimal studio tweaking occurring afterwards, and others were built over time with a more fastidious approach. The result is Holcomb’s brightest and most complex album yet, a focused and cohesive affair that challenges the sonic notions of where his music can travel while still connecting directly to his listeners’ hearts.
Dragons begins with “Family,” an infectious, upbeat stomper about the universal yet unique nostalgia of growing up, as told through the reflective lens of fatherhood. “My family gave me wings to be a songwriter,” Holcomb says. “Family can drive you crazy but it can also be the tie that binds.” A staple in the band’s live set for the past year, it originally had more of a front porch feel but evolved into its worldly, amped-up Paul Simon-esque version during the recording process. Next, “End of the World” is an electrified clarion call for unity, community, and revelry in the upside-down world of today—Holcomb’s take on eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die. “Sometimes throwing a party is the only way to fight off the darkness, and I wanted it to be an epic, boisterous, raise-your-glass-and-yell-with-me anthem,” he says. The song forced him out of his comfort zone and stretches him to new vocal and melodic heights, resulting in one of the most rewarding moments of his career to date.
A similar triumph from a different corner of his soul is “You Never Leave My Heart,” a touching and tender daydream filled with sadness that Holcomb wrote right after the New Year about the death of his brother nearly 20 years ago. For most of that time he had been unable to write in a way that captured the full scope of grief and emotional loss, but last January he found the right words and sings them through the most intense and sublime vocal performance of his career, leaving every piece of his heart on the studio floor in the process. Meanwhile, songs for his son and wife, “See the World” and “But I’ll Never Forget the Way You Make Me Feel,” showcase a similarly sensitive approach, highlighted by Holcomb’s knack for multi-level details and his ability to share the intimate moments of his most meaningful relationships in a universal way.
But the album’s true heart is its eponymous song, “Dragons,” a strong, vibrant tune about wrestling down the various roles we all play while living a life filled with love and pride. Inspired by Holcomb’s grandfather, a larger-than-life personality who embodied the spirit of living to his peak until his final days, the song imagines his ghost-like return to visit Holcomb in a dream. It is a bombastic number about bearing witness to the truth and justice the world lacks, despite not knowing what tomorrow might bring. And while searching for a title for the entire record, Holcomb recognized the song’s bigger implications and realized how its message exemplifies the larger work.
“A big part of this record for me was about taking stock of the many roles I play and synthesizing them into the emotions of these songs,” Holcomb says. “I’ve made peace with the fact that I live a pretty normal life—I’ve got a happy marriage, healthy kids, a job I enjoy immensely—and yet still I’m reminded of the quote: ‘Always be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.’ Everybody is trying to fight their way through some sort of hell; people wake up every morning and there are dragons they have to slay that day. What I’ve learned is that music is here to help us overcome and get through life and survive those moments.”
For Drew Holcomb, music is what helps us try to understand our place in a world full of equal parts chaos, confusion, love, and community, and Dragons is his reminder to all of us to keep fighting the good fight and to never give up.
Birdtalker is Zack and Dani Green, Andy Hubright, Brian Seligman and Jesse Baker.
Zack and Dani were married in 2012 and soon after their wedding tried writing a couple songs together. They liked it, so they wrote a couple more. Andy, a friend from college and very talented drummer, was into the songs and started beating on stuff while Zack and Dani played them. It sounded good. While these 3 were playing the songs at Shakespeare in the Park one August afternoon, Brian became interested in adding his immense talent to the mix as well and began playing along with mandolin and guitar. It sounded even better. Birdtalker as these 4 members wrote and practiced for about a year when yet another talented friend and Birdtalker’s biggest fan, Jesse, expressed interest in lending his bass sounds to the band. It is the combination of each member’s specific offerings that gives Birdtalker the life and sound that it now possesses. And it doesn’t hurt that they all like each other a heck of a lot, too.
Zack and Dani write songs as a way to share ideas they care about and sentiments they feel deeply. Playing music has proven to be a powerful avenue for connection and communion, within the band as well as with listeners. Birdtalker’s hope is simply that the more music they write and share, the more true and vulnerable interactions may be born from it.
Bombadil is a trio of North Carolina and France-based vocalists, songwriters, and visual artists. The band specializes in technicolor Americana pop, with knitted three-part vocal harmony. They use traditional instruments (acoustic guitar, bass and drums), and combine them with lush piano and keyboard sounds to create a singular sonic landscape.
Bombadil’s sound is a wonderful collection of colorful folk, good-hearted lyrics, and thoughtful melodies. Their superb live show always has a full schedule of performances throughout North America and Europe. The band has received press coverage in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Paste, and their songs have been featured in the movie Trainwreck and the Hulu original series Runaways.
“My heart is so blue,” sings Jade Bird on her song I Get No Joy. “I’m singing for nothing.” It’s a fakeout, of course: while the 21-year-old songwriter’s debut album certainly chases emotions from their depths to their peaks, there’s no lack of purpose here.
“I’ve never wavered in terms of wanting to do music,” she says. “But you often waver in terms of how you can change it, how you can add to a field that’s so saturated and if it’s worth it. Is my contribution going to do anything, going to help anyone? And it does. You get young girls coming up to you who want to play the guitar and listen to visceral music and play and shout, and that’s sick.”
It’s not so long since Jade was one of those young girls, searching for inspiration and release in music. Born to an army family in Northumbria, she moved first to London and then to Germany, before her parents split when she was seven, and Jade and her mother moved to Bridgend, South Wales, to live with her grandmother, whose marriage had also foundered.
In Bridgend, Jade learned the piano; one of her mother’s partners introduced her to the gothic, psychedelic, country-tinged alt-rock of Mazzy Star, her first love and the first thing she learned to play on guitar. That early taste of the good stuff led her on to classic country music – Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton. “That’s the stuff I really connected with, the struggling songs,” she says.
She began writing her own songs at 12, the beginning of a phenomenal drive that’s taken her around the world in the past couple of years. School in Bridgend didn’t offer her the opportunity to follow that ambition. “Unless you’re bilingual, in the arts, it’s impossible to get anyone to care about you,” she explains. “It was like, well, I’m 16. I don’t really wanna do a science A-level… and if you do a BTec in a normal college it’s kinda hard to get a good knowledge of the subject. So London was the place.”
Looking around the arts schools on offer for 16-year-olds in the capital, Jade picked on the one that seemed the best: the ultra-competitive Brit school. On her second try, she got in. “People are like, oh, you went to get famous,” she says. “Not really… or if you do, you soon realise that if you don’t work hard then that school does not get you favours.”
Jade’s work ethic mean she was far from coasting – most nights during her A-level studies, she was out gigging around London. “I was constantly ill, I was constantly tired from a gig the night before,” she laughs. At the Spiritual Bar in Camden, she learned to project her powerful voice, to grab an audience’s attention, and also, through a chance meeting with a lawyer, found herself a manager. Her debut EP, Something American, was recorded in 2017, the year after her graduation, at the Rhinebeck, New York studio of Simone Felice of the Felice Brothers, a few miles from Woodstock.
“I’d never been to America,” she recalls, “and I was going through quite a bit at that point, I was having huge anxiety, everything you get when you’re an 18-year-old girl, and I just always wanted to make things work. I’d seen my mum work really hard, and my grandma, and so I always had this ethic, you keep grafting. But then you stand there on this mountain, and it’s so cliched, but you see the ranges and you realise how small you are, and there’s this creative spirit… it was just kind of all perfect for me.”
As well as the EP, the majority of the songs on the album were written in that storied musical area, in a barn on Felice’s property guarded by a ferocious farmdog called simply “Girl”. The rattling, rambunctious “I Get No Joy” tracks Bird’s progress from nagging worry to release, but in its sound also demonstrates a broadening of her palette from the Americana and country inspirations that helped Something American get her noticed stateside (she toured the US with country artist Brett Cobb in 2017, and bagged radio playlists and TV appearances on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as an acclaimed set at South by Southwest) to darker, rockier tones. She’s “really into my 90s alt-rock” at the moment, she says – Sonic Youth are a current favourite – but her “holy trinity” are Tori Amos, Alanis Morissette and Patti Smith. “And I love what’s happening in the States with female musicians in indie, like Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus.”
Jade Bird is a perfectly constructed album of tight, hooky songs, from the bluesy garage rock of “Going Gone” and “Uh Huh” to the more reflective and melancholy “My Motto”, which stretches her remarkable voice, with its raw emotional and agile musicality, to the full. The track list was whittled down painstakingly in Rhinebeck from 200 songs written over the course of a year in which she’s toured furiously, testing every song out live. She was also longlisted in the BBC’s Sound of 2018, and performed the album’s lead single, the irresistibly soaring Lottery, not only on Jools Holland but on Tonight with Jimmy Fallon alongside the Roots. “That was ridiculous,” she enthuses. Her biggest thrill on the way up, though, has been closer to home: her biggest headline show, at Electric Brixton in London in November. “My mum said to me, we’ve seen bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in smaller venues and got really emotional. I thought, it’s true. This is crazy.”
Another huge shift for Jade personally has been overcoming disillusion and falling in real love. “I didn’t really expect that, someone like me. I’m always, like ‘I don’t need no man!’ Or if I do have a man, I kind of make sure that I’ve got it and then put it on the side. I’m just very driven.”
The songs on Jade Bird dive into a welter of emotions, from sharp cynicism to fear, vulnerability and the rush of possibility on the likes of Ruins. “This album’s all of my past and my present,” she says. “It feels quite freeing… a lot of people say, how do you write certain things when you’ve not experienced it, or you’re so young? My parents split and then both grandparents… so yeah, I kind of saw all that all the way through. My mum had some tricky relationships… you just see things that make you grow up quite quickly and little details that you put in your songs eventually.”
For all her experience, the feeling you take away from the sharp statement that is Jade Bird is an uplifting energy; not bubbly blind optimism, but strength for the fight. “I’m an incredibly positive person,” says Jade. “Because the facts are we’re all fucked. The environment’s changing, politically we’re fucked. Great. But people who work in the arts are supposed to believe in magic, that’s your job: to believe in magic. To believe that imagination can exceed problems… I want people to have hope for a future.”
Even death, in the album’s final closer, finds a positive spin. Why exactly is a 21-year-old singing about being transformed into a song if she dies? “My mum and I, we’re close, she had me at 20, she pretty much brought me up by herself,” Jade explains. “And she always says if you left this earth, for whatever reason, I’m not staying… that’s always really upset me, and I was like, oh, if I was going to write a song to try to make someone stay on the earth without me, if I’ve already gone, what would it be?”
More than death, what Jade fears is “my potential and the music’s potential… I’ve always had this image of me at 80 years old, and I’m looking forward to getting old, but at the same time it’s fucking scary to me, to think, oh, I could have done that, I could have done that. I could have done that free jazz album and never did it. And that’s to me that’s where it comes from the drive, the biggest defiance of regret… that perfect album you listen back to, that’s why I’m doing it. I’m always chasing that.”
She won’t stop, of course, but listen and you’ll see that Jade Bird has left herself no room for regret in 2019, with so much more to come.
Start Time: 8:00
The best bands are formed not by people who decide on music as a viable career path, but by people who have no choice.
“When I was ten I got a nylon-stringed guitar and a Beatles songbook and that was it: I was going to be a songwriter,” says Will Taylor of Flyte, who have just made an album of perfectly constructed songs rich with deep harmonies, sunny melodies, and the happy/sad uncertainties of life and love. “I didn’t even do my A levels. I love reading, I’ll continue to educate myself, but I was so sure I wanted to be in a band that staying at school seemed completely pointless. Mum was a bit upset, especially as she’s an English teacher, but I think I made a good case for it.”
Find Your Muse Open Mic welcomes Beth Bombara
Picture a street in working-class Baltimore some 30 years ago. Kids play in the shadows of the row houses that line the sidewalks. Their parents sit on the stoops leading up to front doors. It all seems normal at first glance.
But zoom in on one of these homes — that old duplex built back when this part of town was still mainly open fields. Inside is a completely different community, where fundamentalism, hippie values and volatile, unpredictable emotions coexist and collide. Escape is difficult: the only way out is to pass through the bedrooms of people you might be trying to get away from.
This is where Eliot Bronson grew up. Yeah, he often wanted to slip away from there, but the first thing he saw once he exited was the Pentecostal Church across the street where his father and grandfather had preached and where congregants spoke in tongues.
So Eliot looked inward instead.
“For better or worse, I’ve always been a weirdo,” he remembers. “I was reading about Zen Buddhism when all my friends were getting high and drunk in high school.
“Of course,” he adds, “I did all that stuff later.”
He also observed. In this kaleidoscopic family, where glossolalia and, on occasion, alcohol-fueled ravings, sometimes bled into each other, Bronson found shelter in music. At age 15, he got his first guitar and started teaching himself to play. “Right away, I wanted to write my own songs,” he says. “My house was pretty chaotic, crazy, and unhealthy, so I took to music like it was a life raft. It was something I could do to keep myself alive.”
Punk rock was his shelter at first. Then one day his dad put on a few of his favorite LPs — Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’, something by Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. Eliot had heard these albums a thousand times before. This time, though…
“… it resonated with me,” Eliot says. “It wasn’t just in the background. I tuned into it for the first time. There was a magic and a power there. It didn’t talk down to the listener but it was also high art. It asked you to be smart and to become a better version of yourself. For me, this was a moment when it became my music, not just my parents’ music.”
From local coffee houses and venues beyond Baltimore, Bronson sharpened his writing and performance. He cultivated a working approach that involved singing to himself as ideas came to him and never jotting down chord changes or lyrics once he had committed the finished version to memory. A local following grew. Astute observers saw something different in the young artist’s work. The Baltimore Sun even anointed him “a folk singing wunderkind.”
Expanding his range, Bronson toured as one-half of a duo. They moved to Atlanta and picked up a gig in a room frequented by The Indigo Girls, John Mayer, Shawn Mullins and other discerning clientele. When his partner quit to take a sensible non-musical job, Bronson persisted on his own. His songs won first-place honors at MerleFest’s Chris Austin Songwriting Contest and Eddie Owens Presents “Songwriter Shootout.” He issued several solo albums, including a self-titled release in 2014 that prompted Glide Magazine to describe him as “a gorgeous, magnificent hybrid of (Ryan) Adams, Jason Isbell and Jim James.” Bop n Jazz upped that ante by heralding him as “maybe the best singer/songwriter since Dylan.”
Writers may have trouble topping these accolades, though that’s what Bronson’s latest album merits. Scheduled to release Aug. 25 on Rock Ridge Music, James offers songs that are more like pictures than movies, capturing moments and digging deeply into their meanings. A stomping beat, raw harmonica and searing electric slide drives the opening track, “Breakdown In G Major,” followed by a selection of songs that only confirm Bronson’s restless, escalating excellence.
“Good Enough,” for example, captures a relationship in its final stage — a stage that may end tomorrow or stretch on for years. Bronson sings it sorrowfully, asking the rhetorical question of whether “‘good enough’ is good enough for you” from this point. “When I stumbled onto that line, I was like, ‘That’ll probably stick,’” he says. “But I think the song really came from the first line, ‘Were we really that young?’ Sometimes it takes just one line to resonate with me and get me to start writing.”
Then there’s “The Mountain,” whose elusive grandeur delivers a powerful message but leaves it to the listener to parse its meaning. “There’s a very literalist current in writing and music right now,” Bronson observes. “There aren’t a lot of layers to lyrics these days. It’s just what you see on the page. So when you don’t write that way, you get, ‘What are you hiding?’”
He laughs and then concludes, “I don’t look at it that way. For me, it’s more about how you feel when you hear it. What does it do for you? That’s the message!”
One more, “Rough Ride,” is a departure for Bronson. Here, the meaning is clear: When 25-year-old Freddie Gray fell unaccountably into a coma in the back of a Baltimore police van, much of America expressed shock and outrage. So did Bronson, but he channeled those emotions into this song.
“I had mixed feelings about writing this because I don’t like inserting my political or social beliefs into art,” he explains. “Art should be about connecting people, not drawing lines between them. But I was listening to Dylan’s Desire album at the time, especially ‘Hurricane.’ I always wanted to write a song like that. It was like, ‘How can you tell a story almost journalistically with great emotional impact and yet not come off heavy-handed?’ I wanted to see if I could do it. Now I’m glad I did.”
Known for his empathetic work with Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and other utterly original artists, producer Dave Cobb played a critical role in bringing James to fruition. “His honesty and old-fashioned vibe were so appealing to me,” Bronson says. “They leant themselves to the way I created. And, of course, it was a huge boost to have this great artist/producer at your back.”
They had worked together previously on his 2014 release, Eliot Bronson. “But this album is different,” Bronson points out. “It’s more sparse and economical. My voice is stronger. And I think it’s a step away from the purely Americana vibe of the last one in a direction that I have a hard time defining. I’m excited to discover how this music will define itself.”
Wherever he’s bound, Bronson promises to write and sing the truth as he sees and feels it. “For the really great artists, like Dylan or Paul Simon, you never quite find what you’re looking for,” he says. “As you get closer, it changes. It stays elusive. What I want to do now isn’t the same as what I wanted to do five years ago. And that’s what keeps me going.” And it’s that shift that drives Bronson to continue to refine his art.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tom Mackell might surprise listeners with the southern influences in his music. After attending college in the south, he made the necessary pilgrimage to Nashville in 2015 to find inspiration, collaborate with diverse artists, and build his unique voice and sound that juxtaposes Northern roots against traditional Southern sounds. Tom’s style is as diverse as it is accessible, from easy listening, beachy tunes to late-night tailgate jams. Tom is no stranger to the road: he has toured across the nation with Sister Hazel as well as The Voice alumnus Tony Lucca. Tom co-wrote “Restless Heart” off Lucca’s new record “Ain’t No Storm” which hit #3 on the iTunes Singer-Songwriter chart in March 2019. Now calling Charleston home, Tom has a brand new EP titled “A Life I Once Knew” that will surely become a go-to record for any Americana, country, and acoustic music fan. Listen now at tommackell.com.
Share in an evening of indie-Americana with singer-songwriters Joshua Radin and Deb Talan and Steve Tannen of The Weepies. These musicians explore the intricacies and adventures of love with distinctive sentiment and exceptional lyricism.
About Joshua Radin
Love and the complications surrounding it have long been Joshua Radin’s songwriting forte. Featured in more than 150 different films, commercials and TV shows, Radin’s songs have reached large audiences with their ability to convey all of the ambivalence and excited uncertainness of new love.
About The Weepies
Deb Talan and Steve Tannen began writing songs together the night they met. Soon after, they formed The Weepies, an indie junket launched by the now husband-wife duo’s harmonies and insightful songwriting. Their charming performance style and prolific work ethic have led to the sale of more than 1.5 million records and fans across the globe.
Robert Earl Keen announces the launch of his eighth annual Christmas show with his most extensive tour yet!
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Keen’s theme for this year’s tour is COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS: Lunar Tunes & Looney Times. He and his band will pay homage to the space race and all things celestial in an out-of-this-world evening of family holiday fun. “This show will turn on the psychedelactic jukebox and light up the tree of tranquility!” Keen adds. “The countdown begins now!” In T-minus 122 days and counting, concertgoers will blast off with Keen’s classic “Merry Christmas from the Family,” fan favorites, and unearthly covers from his band members.
Opening act: Shinyribs