Posted in Uncategorized on July 29, 2017 by midliferocker

Once a superstar at 20, Michelle Branch had to suffer hardship before a Black Key helped her rediscover success and happiness.

By Steve Houk

One never knows how life will go. And sometimes, it takes adversity and a little fate to get back to a light that once shined so brightly.

Take singer/songwriter Michelle Branch for example. A musical prodigy as a youngster, she self-produced her first record at 17, and by 20, had two platinum albums as well as a Grammy singing with Santana. Life was kicking ass.

Ten years later, she found herself with two unreleased records, being released from her label, as well as enduring a split up with her longtime husband and a child in the mix. Life was kicking her ass.

But fate as well as piles of talent and guts has played its lucky hand for Michelle Branch. Now she has a critically-acclaimed new record, her first in 14 years, and a new lease on life in more ways than just her music. Branch feels that if things had taken another track, she might not be in the perfect place she finds herself in.

“Yeah, if those albums came out, I don’t know if I would be in the position I am in now,” said Branch on a break from her current tour supporting her new record Hopeless Romantic, which stops at 9:30 Club on Friday August 4th. “I got to make an album I’m immensely proud of, one that I didn’t have any label involvement in so I had no one telling me what to do or what they expected of this album, I was really able to make the record I wanted to make. But I also found love throughout the process, I fell in love with my producer while we were making this album, and I’m now living a life that I didn’t ever see for myself.”

That producer is Black Keys’ drummer Patrick Carney, who also co-wrote the record, and whom Branch and her 12 year-old daughter recently moved in with. When the recording of Hopeless Romantic began, romance was not in the air, yet respect and collaboration, and Carney’s desire to help Branch break out of her somewhat stimied existence, grew into something more.

“He’s just such an advocate of the underdog and he’s always like ‘Damn the man!’,” said Branch. “And he just saw this puzzle that had all the pieces and no one was there to care or put it together, and he’s like I want to help to get this out. So it was, you know, like I said, everything happens for a reason. The two of us feel like it was divine intervention. It was supposed to happen, for sure. And now I have a touring drummer who’s, ha, really good. Even if you aren’t a fan of mine, if you’re a Black Keys fan, you can come watch Patrick play my old songs with me.”


Michelle Branch and Patrick Carney

Hopeless Romantic is a wrenching, emotionally charged record that reeks of her at-the-time divorce, but is still replete with that gutsy, powerful Branch voice. And the depth of the songs resounded for both Branch and Carney as the recording progressed along with their new relationship.

“When I started this album, started writing the album, I was going through a divorce and then for the first time was dating, which was in Los Angeles.” Branch recalled. “And then I started the album with Patrick and we weren’t romantically involved when we started the record, so the songs that were written really started with losing love and trying to find it again. But in the end, they were about really finding it. And when, I was trying to figure out a title for the album, it just was kinda obvious that Hopeless Romantic was the right fit.”

Branch’s obvious musical talent started very early, and she has poignant, vivid memories of where some of her first songwriting took place and how music became her heart early on.

“I remember being like 8 years old and swinging on my swing out in the yard making up songs. As early as I can remember, I was always making up songs or I would go through my Grandma’s book of old standards. And I didn’t know how to read music so I would see the lyrics and I would make up new melodies to the lyrics. I was always making songs up. And thankfully my parents had really amazing taste in music and they always had records on in the house, and you know I’d listen to The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac, that’s like in my DNA.”

And now Branch has her own little girl who, along with her, is enduring some of life’s unexpected changes. The sentiments she relays to her daughter could be lyrics from one of her own hopelessly beautiful songs.

“She just left the other day to go spend the summer with her dad so we can go on tour. I told her, I was like, you know nothing bad ever happened from too many people loving you, or too many people in your life. I told her it doesn’t mean we’re replacing someone, we’re just adding someone to your life. No one gets replaced. So far I don’t have too many eye rolls yet.”

Michelle Branch with special guest Haerts performs Friday August 4th at 9:30 Club, 815 V ST. N.W. Washington, DC 20001. For tickets, click here.



Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on July 29, 2017 by midliferocker

A song that sat unsung for decades sparks a unique and exciting collaboration.

By Steve Houk

It’s a really cool thing when something written long ago can be resurrected in the present day, and made to shine bigger and brighter than it ever did before. It can happen in film, literature, poetry…oh, and music.

Take 15 year-old guitar prodigy Nicky Renard for example. She took a song left dormant by Swedish-born musician Max Foxx, 59, decades ago and woke it up, jostled it around and lit a fire under it with her burgeoning, clearly exceptional talent. And lo and behold, “Grovy Lane” was not only reborn and is out on Spotify and iTunes, but the two are working on a full album of songs featuring some top notch players, including an American Idol-winning singer.

“The basic parts [of “Grovy Lane”] I composed in 1976, and I wasn’t able to make it anything better than it was, it was actually quite a bad song, so I never did anything with it,” Foxx said as he and Renard were recording in the mountains of northern Europe. “It was dormant until last year when Nikki picked it up and made a complete song of it. It had been just the chords and she added all the other parts.”

Listening to “Grovy Lane”, you can surely hear some prog-rock influenced licks, and some hard rock influences, but it’s definitely a distinct sound highlighted by Renard’s wondrous older-than-her-years guitar playing.

“Max had only composed the acoustic guitar chord progression of the verses and choruses,” Renard said. “The song was left forgotten until last autumn when we were just sitting around jamming. We played with it for a while, I composed a few parts such as the intro and solo, he added a bridge, and suddenly, “Grovy Lane” was a complete song.”

The collaboration has been a wonderful surprise for the two, but Renard’s sheer, innate talent is no surprise, and has been developing for several years.

“When I was ten, it was kind of funny, because I think we watched some kind of movie about a rock and roll band,” Renard, who enters the 11th grade this fall, recalled. “I just thought it was really cool. So for my birthday, I really wanted a guitar. Luckily, my parents got me a Yamaha acoustic 3/4 guitar and I started playing quite a lot for about half a year. Then it slowed down for some reason, but when I was thirteen, I started playing more and more and more again. That’s when I realized that I actually really loved playing guitar. I started dedicating a lot of time to playing guitar.”

“It started early last year, when her level of guitar playing picked up rapidly,” Foxx added. “She started to compose songs, there is a song which will not be on the record, she composed it entirely by herself. When I listened to it, I couldn’t believe it. She was just fourteen at that time and it’s a really, really good song. And because of the quality of the music, alot of professionals in the industry have listened to it, and they can’t believe it’s hers. Based on that, we started to play together intensively. I would say second half of last year and that’s how it started.”

Once word of Renard’s talent got out, the pair found themselves in a Nashville studio courting one of the industry’s top voices, American Idol winner Caleb Johnson, to be a part of the evolving magic, and to make Grovy Lane a reality.

“We believed in our song and we wanted someone really good,” said Foxx. “We saw some guys, good singers, but not right for our job. Then the chief engineer at Southern Grand Studios played us Holding On with Caleb Johnson. I decided on the spot, I want this guy. My opinion, I would say he’s one of the ten best rock singers currently on this planet. We contacted his manager and he listened to our early version of the song, and we ended up together.”

The pair are looking to finish the record this fall when they hit the studio for three weeks starting the 9th of September, then there may be some talk of a tour. But bottom line, it’s Foxx’s wise knowledge and Renard’s constantly flourishing playing and songwriting chops that make it a great partnership.

“In very little time, she can add bits and pieces and just convert a bad song into a good song,” Foxx says proudly. “At the same time, I can do the same thing with some stuff she has. It’s a magic collaboration. The only thing I can say, especially when she’s playing her solos, when I’m watching it, I only wish I could have done that when I was fifteen.”


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on July 21, 2017 by midliferocker

A New Design (8)

I loved Linkin Park. I’m not saying this only because Chester died yesterday. Not at all. For one, their two masterpieces Hybrid Theory and Meteora took this 40-something parent of four wayyy out of his musical comfort zone, with a raw, powerful, intimidating and foreign blend of metal and hip hop that many my age wouldn’t go near. And then, there were Chester’s words, monumentally deep, torturous, desperate, desolate and wrenching, and yes, even you old man, you knew what he was talking about in there somewhere, even if you weren’t 15. But then there were the two boys Alex and Ben, a teen and tween respectively. They adored this enigma of a band, maybe for one of the reasons above, or neither, or probably just because it was loud and angry and pleading, or maybe because the divorces they’d endured made them gravitate to something that let them freely scream out their own pain and anguish, doing it privately yet defiantly within Chester’s wailing. Yes, it was the boys’ adoration that drove us to this bracing, brilliant, jarring, exhilarating music. But moreso, it was the first time the kids and grown ups could wrap their heads around the same music. We fell into the rock and roll euphoria together, we could ride the crowd and mosh it up side by side. Wow, what a concept. We took the boys to see Linkin Park twice, first time at the then-Nissan Pavilion, a big deal for all of us in our own ways. And after a Snoop Dogg opening set rife with obscenity and drug references (“Get high, get drunk and f–k!!!” Dogg blared, as we cringed and laughed), all of us ended up Wayne’s Worldesque dancing and pumping fists and screaming in unison along with this rock and hop force of nature that was LP. Mostly, you couldn’t help being mesmerized by their amazing, exhilarating, miraculous, and undoubtedly wounded lead singer. Stalking the stage pulling you into his agonized and elating howls. Yet you could make out his words perfectly. Sure, we got a couple of sly side eyes from the boys, a few ‘what are you doing’ glances. But deep down, I think they dug that we were all sharing something so powerful. So yeah, I loved Linkin Park. It’s not only because now at 56, and in the midst of another divorce, I can play Numb or In The End or, yeah, Somewhere I Belong, how fitting, and blast it in my car with the windows down, crying and feeling and trying to exorcise my own demons for just one minute. But more importantly, it reminds me of a beautiful, rare time when the magic of music bonded a generation together. It united us and our children in a way you dream about. At least for a moment, we got it, and each other. And in some ways, amidst a swirling whirl of change and emancipation for us all, God I hope we still do. 


Posted in Uncategorized on June 16, 2017 by midliferocker


A very thankful country/bluegrass legend pays homage to those who guided his way. 

By Steve Houk

If you’re Ricky Skaggs these days, well, you’re sittin’ pretty, you’re lovin’ life. Let’s look at just why.

Not only is Skaggs a country and bluegrass legend with an incredible resume — 12 #1 hit singles, 15 Grammys, eight CMA awards,  12 consecutive Grammy-nominated records, and on and on – but because of that earlier success, he is also able to live in the now, playing whatever music he wants to at this stage in his career, and seeing the music that started his career off played enthusiastically by a younger generation.

“I was afforded the luxury of having success in the 80’s,” the kind and affable Skaggs said on a break from his current tour which brings him to the Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa on June 22nd. “It kind of catapulted me, and I had some number ones and stuff. And that gave me the chance to now, years later, be able to go back and play and experience the music that got me here, that I learned on. And wow, these young rascal kids out on the road playing with me, these kids can just play, they play me under the table at 20 something years old. It’s fresh fire, fresh wind, a fresh vocabulary of the music that Mr. Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs and others started. It energizes me. It’s worked out that I can enjoy the roots music that got me started. I’m 62, and have a left foot in the past, and a right foot in the future.”

Skaggs has been playing music since he was in his mid-single digits, and when he looks back at that little kid playing that mandolin, he can see why he has been doing what he loves to do for so long.

“I was playing on TV with Bill Monroe when I was 7,” Skaggs said, “and there’s a You Tube clip of it that’s amazing [see below]. You can see the determination in my eyes, it blows my mind, the settledness of it all. There was something in him, that boy, a knowing. Whether the mind knew, or the spirit knew, there was destiny ahead.”


Ricky Skaggs helps unveil a statue of his mentor Bill Monroe at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on June 7th, 2017 (photo courtesy Steve Lowry/Ryman Archives)

And thanks to his mentor/the king of bluegrass Mr. Monroe, as well as through his own unadulterated talent, Skaggs has thrived since those very early days. He recalls something he said to Monroe just before he died, a very special moment talking to his mentor and hero that he will never forget.

“One thing I told Mr. Monroe before he passed,” Skaggs fondly recalled, “I told him that I have been to many countries, places like Burma, India, Pakistan, Thailand, all over the world. And people would come up to me and talk about bluegrass. They’d even have their own bluegrass bands in those countries. It thrilled him to death to hear that.”

Among all the accolades Skaggs has received, being a 35-year member of the Grand Ole Opry stands out as a pinnacle. He was the youngest person ever asked to join the Opry, and being around the legendary Nashville stage for so long and learning from its legendary inhabitants has truly formed who he is today.

“Being in that Grand Ole Opry family, around those legends, wow, it has meant the world to me. The love of those elders, like Hank Snow, Jimmy C Newman, Billy Walker, so many others, they spoke life to me for the first time. Minnie Pearl was always so kind, had advice for me, helped me find my way. I am simply a messenger of their music.”


Skaggs recently came to Washington to play at Ford’s Theater with the President and First lady in attendance, and later was invited to the White House for a reception. A chance encounter with a stranger under that famous roof caused him to remember just what his mission as a musician really is.

“Even in that setting, strangers come up to you,” Skaggs remembered, “and this guy comes up to me, and after introducing ourselves, he says, ‘I’m a doctor, I’m in the healing business.’  He said, ‘So what do you do?’ And I said well, ‘I’m in the healing business too, I’m a musician.’ And he looked at me kinda sideways, and I said, ‘Yes, I heal people through music.’ And that is just so right.”

And as for his fame, Skaggs knows what success really comes down to.

“I am very thankful for every award, but I know success is more than that, like family and faith. Raising kids, loving my wife. Plus I used to kinda dread after show meet and greets, it felt like work. But when I started doing it more and loving it, I thought, what have I been missing? Now it’s so great meeting people and hearing how special this music is to them. It’s a very humbling time. That’s what success really is.”

Ricky Skaggs performs Thursday June 22nd at the Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa, 4165 Mears Ave., Chesapeake Beach, MD  20732. For tickets, click here.


Posted in Uncategorized on June 13, 2017 by midliferocker


An Irish rock and roll songstress uses some profound life experiences to forge a new chapter. 

By Steve Houk

Life is full of changes. We all experience them. Some are small, and some are big. But change is part of our lives.

Imelda May has gone through some profound life changes over the last few years, as profound as it gets, really. Having her first baby, getting divorced from her longtime partner and bandmate, reassessing her career, figuring out what’s next. Yeah, some bigtime changes.

And out of all of that turbulence came a revelation: a stunning, beautiful, and for her, a very different new record, aptly titled Love Life Flesh Blood, released in April of this year. It’s not the Imelda as sassy rockabilly siren that people have come to know, although she’s still in there. It’s an introspective, deeply personal collection of music that signifies a new chapter in this exceptional singer’s life and career. And often for musicians, their music is just the elixir they need for handling the many changing tides of life.

“Well, life changes, as you know,” the sweet, affable and open Imelda May told me on a break from her current world tour that will bring her to Wolf Trap on June 22nd opening for Elvis Costello. “And as a writer, I write about what’s happening. I probably took about a year to write this album. This was a really wonderful writing time for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed making this album. And I just wanted to write honestly.”

Love Life Flesh Blood certainly is honest, brutally so. You can just feel the pain, the struggle, the sadness, and also the redemption and recovery, oozing from it’s deeply emotional songs. It is a seminal time for the lovely Irish-born May, who also decided to put her preconceived image aside and move away from what people thought she was.

“I had no plan about what album I wanted to make,” the 42 year-old May said. “But before I wrote the last album Tribal, I knew that was going to be the last album that I wrote in that vein, because I felt like I’ve hit a glass ceiling almost. You know people say, ‘Oh, I know what you do,’ and that’s terrible. You know there was a certain album expected, and creatively, I just felt a bit fenced in, and so I knew I didn’t want to do that anymore. I’ve always done all kinds of music, but I was kind of tagged with just one, and so I just wanted that to stop. So I wrote Tribal as heavy as I felt comfortable with, and put a lot of rockabilly, a lot of punk in that as well, and so I could step away comfortably, now that I’ve gone as far as I wanted to go.”


(photo by Ciaran Cunningham)

Although May knew she wanted to get out of the corner she felt painted into, she wasn’t sure what was to come next. That’s until she mined her own psyche for the intense feelings she had experienced during such a tumultuous time. The music flowed from there.

“I didn’t know what was next, and that was really liberating to just not know, and to just write and write and write and write. I just wrote so many songs, like 40, because so much had gone on, like I said, it’s a year. Things happened that caused me heartbreak and regret, and then hope and feeling guilty for being happy, and then letting myself go to happiness and desire.  I wrote what I wanted to write, and I wrote honestly before, but I found a way of kind of hiding things, meanings, in there, not in a weird way, just that’s what you do. If you’re talking to a friend, you might talk slightly different if there’s a microphone in between you. It’s that kind of vibe. If you think lots of people might be listening, you might hold back a little, but if you’re on your own with your friends, and you think no one’s listening, you just let it all out, and that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to write this like no one was listening, and just write how I felt and let it all out, and almost use the album like a diary.”

May is happy she could not only convey her deep feelings into her music, but she hopes that people can connect with the songs as much as she did when she was writing them.

“Writing is an inward thing,” May continued. “I was writing for myself, and purely for how I was feeling, but then after the album comes out, I want to connect to people, and I almost feel like once an album’s out, you’re almost, you give your songs to others in a way. If somebody else relates to it, then it belongs to them. If I can write the words that you’re feeling, then we’ve connected in life somewhere along the way, and I think that’s lovely.”


Selfie with Imelda May (left) and Bono, The Edge and Adam Clayton of U2 along with Panti, onstage in Dublin (photo courtesy U2 Twitter)

May was lucky enough to have a top shelf roster helping her out with the new record, including ace producer T-Bone Burnett and longtime buddies Jeff Beck and Jools Holland. But it was a fellow Irish rock star that she’s been pals with for a while who ended up being her most valuable adviser on the record.

“Bono didn’t collaborate as much as be a very, very, very good friend. He said, ‘If you get stuck, just give me a call.’ So anytime I’d get stuck, I’d give him a call and say, ‘I’m so close to the trees, you know, I can’t see the woods for the trees I’m so close,’ and he just put me in the right direction again, and reminded me what I wanted. He’d say, ‘Do you want to make a hit? You want to make art?’ And I’d say, ‘Oh, I want to make art.’ And he’d say, “Well, do that. If that’s what you’re feeling, write it down.’ And then, he was hounding T-Bone, like, ‘Mate, get this right or I’ll kill you,” you know? There were jokes, there was lots of joking going about on T-Bone, who’d say, ‘Would you get this small Irish man off my back?’ He’d say, ‘God, Bono’s onto me,’ because there was a couple of songs I was going to drop, and Bono was calling T-Bone saying, ‘Do not let her drop these songs.’

And as for that trademark blonde curl above her forehead that was part of her previous image? Well, losing that was also symbolic of the changes that signified a new phase of life for this very special songstress, who has come out of an intense time with a brighter future than ever.

“Do you know, I was in Dublin and I was walking around and I was getting stopped, and people are really, really sweet, but I felt like I was almost dressing up as Imelda May the singer, you know? As opposed to Imelda May, me. It was becoming the performer, and it was great while it felt like me, it was great. Like anybody, you go through changes, and when it feels like you, it’s great, and then the minute it doesn’t feel like you anymore, then it’s time to change. And now…I’m feeling good, I’m feeling really good.”

Imelda May performs as opening act for Elvis Costello & The Imposters on Thursday June 22nd at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, 1551 Trap Rd, Vienna, VA 22182. For tickets, click here


Posted in Uncategorized on May 11, 2017 by midliferocker

The guy who gave Bruce Springsteen his deep end from day one finally gets his solo turn. 

By Steve Houk

When Garry Tallent and his family moved to Neptune City, New Jersey in 1964, something really big happened.

Tallent knew no one when he arrived, so it was kinda hard to make connections. But since he had dabbled in music as a kid, beginning with the tuba (yes that’s him on “Wild Billy’s Circus Story”), he could find somewhere to fit in. So he eventually dropped the big horn and picked up a guitar, and hooked up with some scruffy new musician friends, guys like not-quite-Miami Steven Van Zandt, not-yet-Mad-Dog Vini Lopez, not-quite-Southside Johnny Lyon, and a Jersey rat sorta kid from nearby Freehold named Bruce.

Sure, they could jam and have fun and get girls and maybe some scratch on a Saturday night playing a bar, but playing music as a money making career? Really? Garry Tallent knew right from the get go that was where he was headed.

“Everybody was saying, ‘What are you doing to do after high school?’ I’d say, ‘Well, I’m going to play music.’ Even Johnny goes, ‘That’s okay on the weekends. What are you doing to do for a living?’ I said, ‘That’s it.’ He said, ‘Really?’ There was never any doubt in my mind. I would have been happy playing at bars, and that’s what I did for a long time. Just by wanting to do it, I guess opportunities come your way, and you just go with it and take it where it takes you.”

Where it has taken him is a spectacular fifty year music career, most notably travelling the globe as the only bassist ever (realistically anyway) in his old buddy Springsteen‘s world famous E Street Band. But now, at 67, after standing behind and providing the backbone for one of rock and roll’s greatest, he is grabbing the opportunity to do some long-awaited solo work where he is the front man, writing the songs, and singing them live. Tallent released his first solo record Break Time last year, and is now on a world tour that brings him to the Amp by Strathmore on May 14th.

For Tallent, although he’s stood tall on some of the biggest stages in the world, being out front is a whole new ball game, and it makes him appreciate his Boss’ job even more.

“It’s totally different, scary, exciting, new, fresh, so many different things,” Tallent said on a break during the current tour. “When I’m playing bass, I am playing the bass part, and I’m working with Max and Roy within the section. And at the same time I’m improvising things that come to my mind, yet still playing the song so it’s at least recognizable to the general public.”

“But in this case,” Tallent continued, “I’m still at the point where I’m trying to memorize all the words and all the arrangements, so there’s just so much more going on in your head. Instead of trying to figure out new things to do with things that you’ve done for 40 years, you’re finding what to do with things that you still haven’t figured out yet. But it just makes you feel like you can do anything. When you get that machine behind you, you kind of get the feeling that Bruce must feel every night. He had that freedom to just go out there and try things and have the band behind you, and making you look good. You screw up, they make it sound right. But it’s something I never pictured doing since high school.”

Tallent grew up in Detroit with a country western thing goin’ on thanks to his parents, so that DNA seeps in and soaks Break Time with a real C & W vibe that captures the old while also having a feel that is all his.

“Well, it really was my first influence,” Tallent said. “My parents are both from Tennessee and they loved Hank Williams. My father went around singing Ernest Tubb songs around the house, and my mother played a little guitar and would sing all these World War II-Webb Pierce songs, so that was really my first inkling of what music was. Then, of course, the radio in the early 50’s was pretty much the pop standard stuff. Then all of a sudden rock and roll hit right about the time that I was starting to be aware of what else was out there. That just really excited me and stayed with me all this time.”

If the old adage is true that if you please yourself, that’s all that matters, Break Time is a rousing success, being it gave Tallent exactly what he wanted. He is pleased with this first stab at doing his own thing. “It’s a first attempt. It did what I set out to do, and that was just to pay homage to the music that first struck my interest in rock and roll.”

Lucky for Tallent and other legendary side men who are making solo forays later in their careers, the industry has changed enough that they can get a record out without the arduousness of dealing with the same old nagging record company issues.

“It’s just the music business, how it’s changed. You don’t really need a huge record company behind you. You don’t really need a huge budget to make the record. I basically made it in a friend’s studio, in my own home studio. There’s no tour support. There’s really nothing that we had to have in the old days, where people had to have a deal with the big record company. So, the playing field is just evened out. Everybody has their own CD, so I’m really no different than the guy next door, except that I do have some experience being on the road. I think it makes it a little easier for me to deal with the bumps and the hurdles as I go.”


Garry Tallent is the longest standing member of the E Street Band remaining (photo courtesy Poughkeepsie Journal)

Those bumps and hurdles could also be part of the lofty expectations some fans have when it comes to a Garry Tallent tour, as in, will he play some Bruce, will Bruce show up, all that comes with being associated with such a larger than life rock star as his old pal. Early reports off the road are glowing, as fans are lovingly embracing Tallent’s own songs and his own style.

“I’m not sure of what people’s expectations are, with the record or the tour. I assume that they’re expecting Bruce Jr. So hopefully they’ll come out with an open mind and just be ready to have some fun, because that’s really all I’m after. Just to put a smile on somebody’s face.”

Tallent has wanted to do a solo turn for a while, but you never know when the phone might ring and it’s “him” again, asking if you want to go conquer the world, ya know, go down Thunder Road one more time. And even though one small tour can turn into a couple years out on the road, Tallent relishes the time playing with his lifelong friend.

“Well, (the last River Tour) was supposed to be 22 shows. I said, ‘That’d be great. Let’s do it.’  Then it turned into nine months or ten months, whatever it was. But hey, the E Street Band is something I’ve been involved in for going on, jeez, I don’t even know how many years. Going on 50 years. It’s a huge part of my life, so of course I want to be there. This (solo turn) is really a side project. Though it’s important to me, I don’t think it’s as important to the rest of the world as it is to me.”

And as for his longest running job, what does he think about being the last member standing of the E Street Band, the survivor so to speak? The humble Tallent wants no honor, no title there. He just gives thanks.

“The reason that I’m, whatever you want to call it, the last man standing, is just we’ve lost Clarence, we’ve lost Danny. Somebody said, ‘You should be really proud of that.’ It’s nothing I’m proud of. It’s something I’m thankful for. Yeah. But there’s no pride in that. The band will go on because it’s important to survive. It doesn’t mean that we don’t miss the guys that really did it with us in the early days, every day of our lives.”

Garry Tallent performs Sunday May 14th at Amp by Strathmore, 11810 Grand Park Avenue North Bethesda, MD. For tickets, click here


Posted in Uncategorized on May 5, 2017 by midliferocker

One of music’s most powerful voices creates a stunning album that speaks to her own intense passion.

By Steve Houk

You know, Rhiannon Giddens has deep thoughts.

Not just about the many details of the day, and there are surely many of those when you’re a mother of two, a wife, a Grammy winning singer/songwriter and an actress.

But as far as her overall creative thought process, she definitely goes very deep exploring the many intense facets of some of the tougher sides of African American history. She went deep with her first band, Carolina Chocolate Drops, conjuring up authentic string band sounds that beautifully conveyed the light and dark of the black experience of the early 20th century. She went deep on her miraculous debut solo record Tomorrow Is My Turn, paying homage to some of music’s most powerful, and in some cases most underrated or even ignored black female artists, by gorgeously rendering some of their most emotional songs.

But for her latest record, the stunning Freedom Highway, Giddens went even deeper, and as opposed to her first two records, wholly original. Delving into the agonizing and excruciating history of her enslaved ancestors by reading and then adapting slave narratives into song, Giddens made a record that is deeply moving, yet at times also celebratory. And she felt a particular kinship and empathy towards one particular segment of the slave population.

“When you read these stories, the plight of the African American woman is just intense,” Giddens said on a break between dates of her current tour, which comes to the Lincoln Theater May 9th. “It’s just terrible, it’s so difficult to read. As a woman of privilege now, to be able to have lived the life that I’ve lived and the rights that I have, the privileges I have, it just makes me all the more responsible to tell the stories. The complexities of these stories, the complexities of their life, I feel that deeply because I’m a mother and a woman of color living a very very different life, I just felt like it was really important to tell these stories. I didn’t really have a choice. I feel that way. The best ones really flowed through me and I gave them life, but they came from somewhere else. I do believe that. Pretty heavily. It’s not like ‘I feel like doing this today…” The songs had to be written.”

Freedom Highway is a catharsis of sorts for Giddens who thrives when thinking, feeling and writing about history that hits home is involved. When she learned these slave narratives existed, she knew she had to put them to song because they had never really had a chance before. And she realizes the painful truth that what happened yesterday is still going on today.

“I’ve always been into history, I’ve always been interested in how people live, and all of this kinda stuff,” the eloquent and candid Giddens said. “So I see what happens today as being just an extension of what happened yesterday, you know? I  always am driven to try to understand what happened at the inception of this country, at these major points, because the more I understand that, the more I understand what’s happening now. I was really into the Civil War and slave narratives from around that time, and one book in particular called The Slaves War by Andrew Ward. And these stories kind of, well, they wanted to be songs, and I hadn’t really written very much at this point, but I just remember thinking, the Irish and the English and all these people have these narrative ballad traditions, talking about what regular people were going through. But African Americans, we had to hide things and code things, if you were singing about this stuff, you’d be killed or whatever. It’s just not a part of the culture. So I just started thinking about what if.”

After recording Tomorrow Is My Turn with master producer T-Bone Burnett, Giddens realized she wanted to do something that was a little more her own, not only from a content standpoint, but a creative and production-oriented one as well.

“I knew after Tomorrow Is My Turn that I needed to do something different. I love T-Bone, and I think he did a fabulous job, it was definitely a conversation, I definitely had input into that and he was very generous. It was really wonderful. But it’s his record. I definitely knew that I needed more input, I needed to have a different relationship with this new record. I knew I wanted to put more original material on it, I knew I had this idea what the message was gonna be. I started writing more since Tomorrow Is My Turn, the New Basement Tapes project was a real jump start for that for me that told me that I can write songs, you know?”

And as far as her own creative process, Giddens has grown and prospered during this latest experience, finding ways to be more collaborative and open to new ideas while staying true to her own.

“I think that’s just such an important thing as a writer, to let go of your own expectations. Being able to let go of something that you think was the cleverest thing you’ve ever written, that’s the biggest lesson I feel like I’ve had. Being willing to take direction even if it’s just from inspiration, from your musical partner, being able to see what’s best for the song. I feel like I’ve had the most success doing that, I feel like the music lives the best when I do that, so I’m going to continue to do that. That’s really been a big growth area for me, just getting out of my own way, really. And I never want to get in my way again.”

And in a recent visit to the National Museum of African American History in Washington, not only was Gidden’s fervor for history recognized, but a surprise in one of the exhibits blew her away as well.

“The stuff in the basement there, it’s intense, I mean, I already know most of that, I lived there, I live in the basement of the African American Museum. But it’s beautiful, the way it’s put together, it’s so lovely. I think it’s incredible. You do get a feel for realness. You get a feel for the story. And I admit it, when I got to the exhibit that had the banjo and it’s got my big ass quote on there, I cried. Nobody warned me and I just walked in there and was like, oh my God!  But overall, the parallels that can be drawn to today, that’s where it lives, that’s where we need to focus. How can we become better people today by looking at how terrible that we can be.”

Rhiannon Giddens with special guest Amythyst Kiah performs Tuesday May 10th at Lincoln Theater, 1215 U Street NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, click here.