Basia Bulat: 5 Albums That Changed My Life

Canadian songbird Basia Bulat is back with her fourth album, Good Advice. Captured and produced by My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James in Louisville, Kentucky, it follows 2013’s highly-acclaimed Tall Tall Shadow and two years of touring with the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Daniel Lanois and Destroyer.

Bulat and James first met at Austin City Limits, and became friends while touring together in 2013. When it came time to record her new album, Bulat was determined to continue the experiment that began with Tall Tall Shadow – challenging her creative process, experimenting with different sounds. Despite a shared love for classic gospel, soul and country, Bulat and James resolved not to make a throwback record, instead transforming her slow acoustic demos into swift and bright pop songs.

In their review of Good Advice, Pop Matters wrote, ‘Bulat positions herself gracefully as a singer with more than one dimension, one that knows that being serious, sad, and joyful can happen in the same body simultaneously.” In a similarly glowing take, The Guardian said she sings “with the sorrowful stoicism of a classic country crooner – rhinestone-encrusted melodrama and misery cascade around her, synthesised gospel colliding with the stately majesty of Grizzly Bear or Beach House.’

We invited Basia Bulat to share with us five albums that changed her life.

* * *

Leonard Cohen:
New Skin for the Old Ceremony

I was in high school when one of my best friends introduced me to Leonard Cohen’s music, and since then it has always felt tied to my teen years and the kinds of friendships you make in that formative time. It’s still one of my favorite albums, and had an influence on how I sing and how I feel about singing – that there’s always got to be some kind of truth to be found in the song.


Cat Power:
You Are Free

There was a year where I listened almost exclusively to Cat Power. This album and The Greatest are two that will always be in my heart. I admire both her power and her vulnerability as a writer – the way she can express both in a single line made me want to write songs at a time when I didn’t think anyone would ever hear them.

Sam Cooke:
One Night Stand – Live at Harlem Square Club, 1963

I can remember so vividly the first time I heard the intro to “Bring it on Home to Me” on this album, and being floored by it. I still think it’s one of the most beautiful things ever recorded to tape. I always think about this album when I’m getting ready to go on tour – the energy in the room shakes you from the speakers so many years after it was recorded.

Belle and Sebastian:
The Boy with the Arab Strap

I love the storytelling on this album and the way the darkest lyrics are paired with the sweetest melodies. I connected to it so strongly the first time I heard it, and perhaps another reason why the record changed my life is because of how much I connected to the live show the first time I saw them…and every time I’ve seen them since. I think I’ve seen Belle and Sebastian in concert more than any other band!

Jim James:
Regions of Light and Sound of God

This is one of my favorite records of the past decade! I find myself putting in on in all kinds of situations…and it’s one of the reasons why I wanted Jim to produce my record. The ideas, both philosophical and musical, really resonated with me, and still do every time I listen to it. It feels like both an invitation and a mystery.

Bjørn Hammershaug
Originally published on, February 2016

Sam Outlaw: Bringing Back Bakersfield

Sam Outlaw might bear a name that conjures a gruff, bearded biker type à la Waylon & Willie.

But this here Outlaw is rather a sharp looking former salesman who makes classic California country and is just about to release his highly-anticipated sophomore album, Tenderheart.

The Bakersfield Sound, popularized by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard in the late 1960s, evolved directly at odds with the string-based Nashville Sound blossoming at the same time. Enter Gram Parsons, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Emmylou Harris and the Eagles, who turned Los Angeles into a hotbed of country-rock in the 1970s. In the early 1980s, Dwight Yoakam came west and made a career with his punk-infused honky tonk, even singing with Buck Owens on the “Streets of Bakersfield”: ‘I came here looking for something/I couldn’t find anywhere else…’

But not too many followed, and the country gold rush turned towards Nashville where it has remained. Now, Sam Outlaw might not be able to revitalize the California country sound all by himself, but he’s doing a tremendous job in reinvigorating its roots. Far from the premises of Nashville’s bro-country, he’s exposing a tender heart beating for country’s neo-traditionalists, smooth countrypolitan and L.A.’s legendary singer-songwriters.

No Depression nailed this point just perfect when they reviewed his debut album Angeleno back in 2015: ‘With that voice, the hat and those looks, Sam Outlaw could be a straight-up mainline Big Country Star. He could be wowing the Nashville scene, starring at the Grand Ol’ Opry, working up to headlining that city’s Bridgestone Arena. He could sing about beer, trucks and gals, finding love and, better still for songwriting inspiration, when love walked out the door. He could buy a ranch and ride horses. Game over. Success. But that ain’t the story so far.’

No, Sam Outlaw seems to have other plans. Still based in the town south of Bakersfield, he uses L.A. as a backdrop for his exquisite songwriting, as demonstrated in new standout tracks like “Bottomless Mimosas,” “Bougainvillea, I Think” and “Dry In the Sun.” The new album marks a progression in his songwriting efforts, but it remains rooted in the same environment as his critically lauded debut, and it was made together with many of the same folks that collaborated on Angeleno, including harmony singer Molly Jenson, Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes) and Bo Koster (My Morning Jacket).

And when it comes to his name, Outlaw is as authentic as it gets, that being his mother’s maiden name. We chatted with Sam Outlaw about his upcoming album, dropping this Friday via Six Shooter and Thirty Tigers.

* * *

Congratulations with a new album. What do we get and what’s it about?

Thanks! Tenderheart is about matters of the heart and how our choices lead us down one path or another. We’re all on a journey to find our truest self, and while we can’t always control what happens to us we have a choice in how we behave. After a while behaviors become habits and habits ultimately determine the state of our hearts. This album tells stories from my past, present and maybe even my future.

What is the biggest difference between Tenderheart and Angeleno?

Angeleno had a pro producer (Ry Cooder) and was tracked at a fancy studio in North Hollywood. I self-produced Tenderheart from a small house in the San Fernando Valley.

What inspired you the most when you started writing the songs that ended up on this album?

Los Angeles inspires me. The aesthetic of the city – past and present – and the stories I find in this place. I wanted to show off my softer side but also went full rock on a few tunes. Los Angeles is the birthplace of Country Rock and that legacy is all about combining styles and trying new things.

Did you have a clear idea or vision on how Tenderheart should be from the get-go, or did it develop along the way?

Both. Some of the songs had been played a lot on the road so we had them pretty figured out going in. Some of the songs got finished in the studio. We’d choose arrangements on-the-spot and I’d finish writing the lyrics after the basic tracking was complete.

What can you share about the recording process and working with this material in the studio?

Basic tracking was knocked out in 2.5 days, but then I had to go back on tour. I finished the record whenever I’d get home from tour and have a day or two off. Took a while to finish just because I was touring so much. My engineer is a genius named Martin Pradler. He’s the guy that Ry works with a lot and he engineered Angeleno. I asked Martin to co-produce Tenderheart with me because he’s so much more than just an engineer. He helped shape the sounds and even played some percussion and synth stuff. He’s also tight with Mike Campbell from the Heartbreakers so we had some pretty cool guitars lying around the house.

What kind of feelings or sentiment do you wish leaving for the listener after hearing it?

The songs and records I enjoy the most are the ones where it seems like the songwriter is writing about themselves but also somehow writing about me. I was experiencing lot of different emotions when I wrote these songs and when I tracked them so I suspect the listener will pick up on that.

Please describe a preferred setting to ultimately enjoy the album?

Best bet is always to pick your favorite room, smoke a little weed and listen through your best headphones. Next best option is to hit the road and turn up the car stereo.

What would be the headline of the worst review?

Like, if someone hates the album and writes a scathing review? If my music creates intense emotions, good or bad, at least it’s getting to somebody. Maybe the worst review would be purely apathetic. Something like “Sam Outlaw’s new album is so forgettable I had to immediately re-listen just to write this headline”.

What’s in your opinion is the most perfect album ever made and why?

Fuck man, I hate these questions, ha ha. Too many to choose from but I’m still over the moon for Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 album good kid, m.A.A.d City.

How do you view the status of the album format in 2017?

Gone are the days of going to a store, buying a CD, cracking the case and leafing through the liner notes. I kinda miss my Discman.

Bjørn Hammershaug
Originally published on, April 2017.

Rodney Crowell: Loyalty to Americana

In one of the many memorable scenes of the pivotal music documentary Heartworn Highways, we’re invited into Guy Clark’s Nashville home on Christmas Eve of 1975.

Gathered round a table packed of booze bottles and cigarette butts, we get a raw, close glimpse of some of the prime country outlaws of the time, a joyous, drunken party including Clark and his wife Susanna, Steve Young, Richard Dobson, a young Steve Earle – and of course, Rodney Crowell.

Rodney Crowell blew into Nashville from Houston in 1972, and immediately soaked up the vibes of Music Row and its backstreets. Nashville was by then already well known for luring musicians, poets and artists of all kinds like moths into headlights, and in the early 1970s it hosted one of the most vibrant music scenes of the world.

In this vital and competitive environment, Crowell worked hard and learned fast, and soon turned into a fixture of the scene. He first earned reputation as a renowned songwriter, backing singer and musician in Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band, and eventually as a highly acclaimed solo artist. His classic debut album Ain’t Living Long Like This – a title he’s long rejected – dropped in 1978, and the big commercial breakthrough occurred a decade later with the brilliant Diamonds & Dirt.

Crowell is widely recognized as one of the forerunners of the 1980s new traditionalists movement, and along with his Nashville cohorts of the early 70s, he set the template for what is today known as Americana. As he recently stated when talking about his new album: I have declared my loyalty to Americana. It’s a hard category for people to get their heads around, or at least the terminology is. But all the people who represent it – Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and more recent stars like John Paul White and Jason Isbell – share a common thread. Whether they are actual poets or their music exemplifies a poetic sensibility, generally speaking, the Americana artist shuns commercial compromise in favor of a singular vision. Which resonates with me.

So many artists have appreciated and benefited from his songwriting skills over the years, including Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Bob Seger, Keith Urban and Alan Jackson. He’s been awarded with two Grammys, he’s a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the recipient of the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting from the Americana Music Association. And even as great as he was in the earlier days, his musical career has only gets better with age.

Following The Traveling Kind, his lauded collection of duets with longtime collaborator Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell’s first album in three years: Close Ties.

Aside from his eclectic musical approach, Rodney Crowell’s undisputed strength as a songwriter balances equally on personal recollection and literary sophistication. The final song on Close Ties is entitled “Nashville 72,”, a songs that takes us back to the heydays and some of the finest singers and songwriters ever, friends and sources of inspiration like Townes van Zandt, Mickey Newbury and David Olney. In the song, Mr. Crowell dwells back to those times when:

‘I first met Willie Nelson with some friends at a party / I was twenty-two years old and he was pushing forty / There was hippies and reefer and God knows what all I was drinking pretty hard / I played him this shitty song I wrote and puked out in the yard / Old School Nashville, Harlan Howard, Bob McDill / Tom T. Hall go drink your fill and blow us all away….’

Close Ties is a loosely based conceptual album where Crowell reflects on his past, back to his less glorious childhood days in East Houston, moving to Nashville, making friends and losing lovers. It’s a life story wrapped into one album, with songs written around the 2016 passing of his close friend, mentor and fellow Texas troubadour Guy Clark, preceded by his wife and close associate, Susanna Clark, a couple years prior: “I found my way around this town with a friend I made named Guy/Who loved Susanna and so did I…”

In the centerpiece songs “It Ain’t Over Yet,” Crowell duets with his former wife Rosanne Cash, on what is the first time the two appears on record together since Cash’s 1990 album Interiors.

It ain’t over yet, ask someone who ought to know
Not so very long ago we were both hung out to dry
It ain’t over yet, you can mark my word
I don’t care what you think you heard, we’re still learning how to fly

Close Ties is a personal, poetic and profound experience, written by someone who used to be a kid learning from the giants and now is a legend himself. Crowell manages not only to look back, but also look ahead, continuing to extend the path carved out by the songwriters who preceded him.

We asked Mr. Crowell to share with us 5 albums that changed his life, and are utterly proud to share his picks with you:

* * *

Emmylou Harris: Pieces of the Sky

Emmylou’s first album opened with a song of mine called “Bluebird Wine.” Because of her popularity, many more recording artists started covering my songs. It was Emmylou who facilitated my moving to Hollywood. Forty-plus years later, we’re both still rolling along.


Hank Williams’ 78’s

My father was an excellent country singer. However, he never made a record. Therefore, I have to place in the number two slot the stack of Hank Williams 78rpm singles that, from the age of three, I played constantly on a small, portable record player. Hank’s songs and the sound of my father’s voice furnished the soundtrack to my childhood.

The Beatles: Meet The Beatles

Like so many working musicians today, in 1964 I watched The Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show and bought the album the very next day. If you weren’t alive in the early ’60s, it’s hard to grasp just how deeply The Beatles affected the global psyche. Their music affected a paradigm shift in an entire generation’s consciousness. I, like so many others, became convinced that playing music was the most effective way to attract a girlfriend. With that in mind, I hijacked my father’s guitar, learned to play, and never looked back.

Bob Dylan: Bringing It All Back Home

A year-and-a-half after The Beatles took America by storm, Bringing It All Back Home hit the streets, instantly infusing the mid-’60s narrative with an adult dose of plutonium. It took my friend and I two days to get past “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” the album’s opening cut. From then on every song worked as primer for the apocalyptic last track, “It’s Alright Ma I’m Only Bleeding.” Whereas the Fab Four inspired a transformation within the existing social and cultural structures – mainly by framing teen angst with broad-stroke love songs – Dylan transformed the ongoing transformation. Certainly The Beatles took notice. Soon after their songs began taking on a more surreal slant. As did the culture. Change complete.

Mickey Newbury: Live at Montezuma Hall

When Guy Clark turned me onto this superb album, I was in a quandary about how to approach the kind of lyric writing I was hearing from gruff baritones like Guy, Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Jeff Walker and Kris Kristofferson. At the time, I was a natural tenor and worried I’d be forever without the kind of vocal gravitas my contemporaries used to convey their poetic sensibilities. The sound of Newbury’s voice was more in the vein of Roy Orbison. And yet his poetry was as profound as any of the songwriters I just mentioned. After a nine-month period during which I listened almost exclusively to Live At Montezuma Hall, I began writing songs like “Till I Gain Control Again” and “After All This Time.” It would take a couple of decades before I found the true center of my voice, but my ongoing study of Newbury’s singing and songwriting gave me the courage to soldier on.

Close Ties is out now through New West Records.

Bjørn Hammershaug
(Originally published on, April 10, 2017)

Andrew Combs: Canyons of My Mind

No other region in the U.S. has a more distinct, mythical and complex narrative than the South, as masterfully told by William Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor, captured by Errol Morris (Vernon, Florida) or Robert Altman (Nashville), or more lately in the HBO series Quarry or the newly-acclaimed podcast S-Town.

But none have managed to describe everyday life of the American South as wonderfully striking as photographer William Eggleston. His quiet color pictures deal less with a clear subject or storyline, rather he tells magnificent tales of complexity and mystery found in the ordinary and mundane.

Called ‘one of Nashville’s most poetically gifted young singer-songwriters’ by NPR, with his wry observations and sharp eye for small details, Country-soul troubadour Andrew Combs could just as well have created the soundtrack to an Eggleston exhibition.

He also is a child of the South; born in Dallas, now residing in Nashville where he pens his personal and pastoral stories. And just as he himself has moved through the South, his music is rooted partly in the musical tradition of Texas songwriters like Guy Clark, Mickey Newbury and Kris Kristofferson and partly in 1960s Countrypolitan (Glen Campbell, Charlie Rich), while politely nodding to West Coast-tinged soft-rock (Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther, Eagles). Andrew Combs might well be described as a musical prism, reflecting the multifaceted depth of southern mythology and culture, but by doing so he has also unquestionably carved out a niche on his own.

His sophomore album, All These Dreams (2015), earned him lots of deserved recognition to a broader audience and brought him up to the elite division of New Nashville, where the borders between mainstream country and blue collar Americana thankfully is increasingly blurred out. He’s been touring with the likes of Justin Townes Earle, Eric Church, Shovels & Rope and Caitlin Smith.

Friday, April 7, Combs released the much-anticipated album Canyons of My Mind through the respected New West Records & Loose Music. We had the opportunity to have a brief chat with him ahead of album release.

* * *

Congratulations with a new album. What do we get and what’s it about?

Thanks. Well, I guess it’s a collection of songs that may or may not give the listener a look inside my brain.

What will you say is the biggest difference between Canyons of My Mind and All These Dreams?

I tried to stretch myself musically on this record. I toyed around with my vocal approach, as well as different song structures. I also think this record was a little more raw and in the moment than All These Dreams.

What inspired you the most when writing the songs that ended up on this album?

The fearful apprehension of getting older. I find it scary, but also exciting.

Did you have a clear idea or vision on how Canyons of My Mind should be from the get go or did it develop along the way?

Definitely developed along the way. I never know what I’m doing until I get it done.

What can you share about the recording process and working with this material in the studio?

I worked with the same producers as my last record: Jordan Lehning and Skylar Wilson. They’re my buds and we always have a fun time collaborating. A big part of how this album sounds come from the engineer/mixer Jeremy Ferguson. He really knocked me out. And the band of course brought these tunes to life: Dom Billett on drums, Mike Rinne on bass, Ethan Ballinger on guitar, and Jordan and Skylar on keys. It was a good crew to work with.

What kind of feelings or sentiment do you wish the listener will get after hearing it?

Maybe the same feeling I get staring at swift moving water. Or a low flying bird. Calming with a sense of dread.

Please describe the ideal setting to ultimately enjoy the album?

On a drive. Or possibly at home with an adult beverage.

What would be the headline of the worst review of this album?

Ha-ha! I don’t really know, nor do I want to try and conjure one up. It seems like a difficult and depressing hole to start digging.

What’s in your opinion is the most perfect album ever made and why?

I have a few, but for the sake of time I’ll name one: Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy A Thrill. There’s a whole lot of Steely Dan hating that goes on in the world, and some of it I understand. But this record, sonically and song-wise, is perfect.

Bjørn Hammershaug
(originally published on, April 3, 2017)

Sam Outlaw: Hillbilly Deluxe

(Først publisert i januar 2016, i forbindelse med hans første Norgeskonsert i april 2016.)

‘Outlaw combines Glen Campbell’s ‘70s crossover-country, James Taylor’s breeze-borne melodicism, and George Strait’s neotraditional ranch-hand aesthetics into a laid-back blend.’ (, The Best Country Music of 2015)

Det første vi legger merke til er navnet. Hvor kult er det ikke å spille countrymusikk og faktisk hete Sam Outlaw? Få karakterer har en like sterk posisjon i amerikansk westernmytologi som outlawen, selve symbolet på en som hever seg over loven, dyrker frihetsidealet og går sine egne veier på tvers av normer og regler er liksom grunnfestet i fortellingen om det autentiske Amerika og selvsagt en egen retning innen countrymusikken.

Men Sam er ingen egentlig Outlaw. Han ble døpt Sam Morgan hjemme i Sør-Dakota, og tok sin avdøde mors pikenavn da han peilet inn mot musikken. Naturlig nok. Han er heller ingen lurvete omstreifer fra Sør-Dakota. Outlaw har bodd i det sørlige California det meste av livet, stiftet familie og skaffet seg en godt lønnet stilling i reklamebransjen. Alt lå til rette for et A4-liv, da han etter å ha bikket 30 bestemte seg å bytte ut jobb og dress med gitar og Stetson på fulltid. Det kler ham særdeles godt, det er som om musikken har levd i denne mannen i alle år og bare ventet på å komme ut.

Outlaw har ikke den typiske hipster-tilnærmingen til countrymusikken, han står nærmere fars gamle musikksamling bestående av stil-ikoner som Charley Pride, Don Williams og Glen Campbell enn kule, skjeggete rabbagaster, og har allerede rukket å spille med veteraner som Clint Black, Asleep at the Wheel og Dwight Yoakam. Særlig sistnevnte er en naturlig referanse, ikke bare i stil og stemme, men også med tanke på hvordan Yoakam bygget karriere som country-artist med base i et eklektisk Los Angeles. For Sam Outlaw og musikken fra det sørlige California så nært sammenknyttet at han like gjerne kaller sin egen stil for ’SoCal Country’.

Sør-California forbindes vel ikke først og fremst for countrymusikk, så slik sett er Outlaw en outsider, men som han sa i et nylig intervju med Taste of Country: ’I might be some dork in a cowboy hat, but if I move to Nashville, I’ll be just another dork in a cowboy hat.’

Områdene i og rundt Los Angeles har da også sine country-tradisjoner, ikke minst med Bakersfield-soundet (Merle Haggard, Buck Owens) som var en forløper for outlaw-countryen – og som sentrum for framveksten av folkrocken på slutten av 1960-tallet med navn som Flying Burrito Brothers, The Byrds og Linda Ronstadt i sentrale roller. Outlaw forsyner seg av begge disse retningene, legg til en bris av mild vestkystpop (Jackson Browne, Eagles, Poco) og moderne, kosmopolitisk påvirkning, så bør han være rimelig godt plassert. Han står på stødig grunn et sted mellom Bakersfield og Laurel Canyon, mellom Glen Campbell og Glen Frey. Det er da heller ikke de mest progressive kreftene som får utløp hos Sam Outlaw, men han framstår som en tradisjonalist som evner å virke både forfriskende og fornyende for dagens ører.

Med dette frodige bakteppet har han gitt ut bemerkelsesverdige Angeleno (sluppet i USA i sommer, ute nå i Europa), et album som knytter countrymusikkens røtter og vestkystens tradisjoner sammen i en moderne setting. Outlaw fikk samlet et herlig lag til innspillingen, inkludert Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Bo Koster (My Morning Jacket) og Gabe Witcher fra Punch Brothers, samt ingen ringere enn Ry Cooder og sønnen Joachim som begge spiller og produserer her. Få har omfavnet Los Angeles’ multikulturelle south-of-the-border tilknytning i like stor grad som Ry Cooder, og hans grenseløse holdning kan spores for eksempel i det mariachi-draperte åpningssporet ”Who Do You Think You Are?”

Angeleno er gjennomgående nydelig framført og arrangert, og ikke minst bestående av et sett selvsikre låter av lang holdbarhet, framført av stemme som bærer i seg Californias mange fasetter, både dens solfylte, håpefulle glans – og de knuste drømmene som ligger igjen bak fasadene.

Bjørn Hammershaug

Tidenes Beste Fotballag

Tidenes drømmelag i fotball, naturlig nok sterkt påvirket av barndommens uutslettelige minner av VM-kamper på flimrende tv-skjermer og fotballbøker med sirlig innlimte kort. Det er mulig historien spiller meg noen puss, og veldig sannsynlig at det er mulig å sette sammen et ‘bedre’ lag sett med dagens øyne. Men dette er mitt lag:

Rinat Dasayev (Russland)








Claudio Gentile (Italia)
Daniel Passarella (Argentina)
Paolo Maldini (Italia)
Terry Butcher (England)

Zico (Brasil)
Michel Platini (Frankrike)
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Tyskland)
Giancarlo Antognoni (Italia)

Eder (Brasil)
Mario Kempes (Argentina)

Dave Cobb: The Mayor of New Nashville

Producer Dave Cobb is the extraordinary genius behind some of the greatest country and Americana recordings over the last couple of years.

Modern day favorites like Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Anderson East and Jamey Johnson are just a couple of artists benefiting from cooperating with the multiple Grammy nominee, as are more established stars like Waylon Jennings and Oak Ridge Boys.

Now [March, 2016], Dave Cobb has set out for his most ambitious project yet: The wonderful all-star compilation album Southern Family captures the full spirit of New Nashville, including Stapleton, Isbell, East, Zac Brown Band, Miranda Lambert, John Paul White, Brandy Clark and many more.

The album is inspired by White Mansions, a 1978 concept album documenting people’s lives during the Civil War, written and produced by Paul Kennerley and Glyn Johns, and featuring musicians like Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter and Eric Clapton. “I’ve been possessed with it and I try to convert everybody to it for years,” Cobb recently confessed to Rolling Stone. ‘I really steal half of my tricks from that one record.’

In essence, Southern Family is a gathering of Dave Cobb’s tight-knit friends and musical family.

Emblematic of the Nashville scene as a whole today, the project merges mainstream country with Americana and folk in the vein that has come to characterize so much of Cobb’s work over the years, which eschews genre boundaries in the pursuit of good, true music. In a 2015 interview with Music Row, Cobb said of the album:

‘This really encapsulates Nashville right now. There’s something to it. There’s something in the air. There’s a lot of great things about Nashville. There’s something here that doesn’t exist anywhere else in my lifetime. I’m sure this happened in London in the ‘60s and California in the ‘70s and maybe New York in the late ’50s or early ‘60s. But I think, right now, Nashville is the home of music.’

We hooked up with Dave Cobb to get to know more about new mayor of Nashville and his Southern Family.

*   *   *

What was your favorite music when growing up?

The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC…

Are there any particular albums that you remember fondly?

The Beatles Revolver was really a lesson in production, experimentation and pure songwriting. It was an absolute textbook for me.

How did you land as a producer in the first place?

By accident, really. I was in a crap record deal and the band broke up because of it. I realized my favorite part about being in a band was the studio, so I produced a couple friends bands and they got record deals, so it seemed really natural.

What intrigued you about that part of music making?

The experimentation, and really figuring out how to milk every emotion in a song.

Did you have any role models when you first started up?

Yeah, [producers] Brendan O’Brien, Glyn Johns and Rick Hall.

How do you approach the various artists you work with? Is there something specific you’re looking for?

I’m always looking for a voice. If they move me I just go with my gut and don’t worry about anything else.

What is the role of a producer to you?

A 5th member, a friend, a co-writer when needed, and a facilitator.

Are you proactive in shaping the output, or do you work more towards capturing their sound?

Absolutely. Each time I walk into the studio it’s different. I’m always song- and performance-motivated, I help arrange, write, motivate… Whatever it takes.

What’s a perfect recording to you?

Glen Campbell – Wichita Lineman

What is your favorite studio of all time and why?

RCA studio A in Nashville. A lot of my fave records were made there. It’s like a classic vintage guitar; it always has a song in it.

Do you think you have a ‘signature sound,’ and if so what characterizes a Dave Cobb album?

Honesty I would say, I’m always looking for raw emotion on albums.

What is your Southern Family project about in a nutshell?

Getting my heroes and fiends in Nashville to write honest songs about their families while capturing Nashville at this moment in time.

What were you trying to do by rounding up this talent cast of characters?

Really showing the strength, support and unity of Nashville.

Many of the artists you’ve worked with straddle the gap between commercial country and the folk/Americana segment. What’s your view on these two “sides” and do you look at yourself as one who builds bridges between the two?

I just wanna make honest records with the artist. We never really worry about titles.

You’ve worked on many of the best and most acclaimed albums in the last couple of years. Has the response in some way been surprising to you?

Absolutely! None of those records were made to be hits, they were all just made to be the most true to the artist they could be.

One of the most, shall we say, colorful artists you’ve worked with lately is Wheeler Walker Jr. What were those sessions like, and were you ever able to keep a straight face?

Sturgill Simpson introduced me to The Ben Show, Wheeler’s other alias [a.k.a. comedian Ben Hoffman]. Sturgill and I were both big fans. It was like being at a week long stand up comedy show.

Any other exciting future projects you’d like to share with us?

I’m excited about a few things, the new Lake Street Dive album, Lori McKenna, and my cousin Brent Cobbs’ record.

Bjørn Hammershaug

Originally published on read.tidal, March 2016.

Yo La Tengo: Fakebook

Fakebook is the fourth album from Hoboken, New Jersey’s own Yo La Tengo. Released by locally-based Bar/None Records in 1990, the record is comprised of 11 cover songs and four retoolings of original material.

For these recordings early collaborator Dave Schramm (formerly of Human Switchboard, and later The Schramms) returned to his graceful duties on guitar, as he also did for Stuff Like That There (2015). Core members Ira Kaplan (vocal, guitars) and Georgia Hubley (vocals, drums, organ) are also joined by Al Greller (The Schramms) on double bass and Peter Stampfel (Holy Modal Rounders, The Fugs) playing the fiddle. The album is considered a breakthrough for the band, who would go on to sign with Matador where they remain to this day.

With their first couple of albums Yo La Tengo had gradually earned the attention of the indie community as a band ostensively operating in the shadows of The Velvet Underground, juxtaposing noisy guitar cascades with kind, tender melodies.

Having covered both The Kinks and Love on their 1986 debut, Ride the Tiger, and basically foreshadowing this album with the song “Alyda” off its blistering predecessor, President Yo La Tengo, a year prior, the band had already demonstrated a broad repertoire early on. With Fakebook Yo La Tengo shrugged off any chance of being pigeonholed. The album is thus a transitional album toward the eclectic bliss in years to come, which also stands up as a wonderful listen by its own terms.

A lush, mellow and acoustic affair, Fakebook is an anomaly in a catalog defined by anomalies, and they’ve never sounded quite as likable through the duration of a full LP since. Rather than radically reinterpreting the material, the greatest feat of Fakebook lies in Yo La Tengo’s ability to gently blur the borders between covers and their own songs, transforming it all into one strong and concise piece of work.

Saturated with sweet harmonies and a carefree atmosphere, the sound is intimate and friendly, whether it’s channeled through country-folk or juicy doo-wop (“Emulsified”). Pure gems like “Speeding Motorcycle,” “Can’t Forget” and “The Summer” capture a band still very much in its infancy, while possessing a sense of early-set maturity and sophistication that paved the way for much greatness to come.

Yo La Tengo is one of the most critically acclaimed bands for the last couple decades, and rightfully so. If a common thread can be found in their music, it’s in the dynamic alternation between excessive feedback orgies and graceful, airy dream-pop, while never staying in one place too long.

As a band drawing inspiration from a myriad of sources, Fakebook can be seen as both an homage to their own family tree and a way to introduce their audience to some wonderful songs and songwriters. Some are well-known (The Kinks, John Cale, Cat Stevens), others are more obscure (The Scene is Now, Daniel Johnston), but all are hand-picked and lovingly presented on a silver platter.

The band gets more experimental, explorative and inventive on most of their other records, but Fakebook makes for a perfect start – as well as a perfect ending.

With a catalog of remarkably few weaknesses, and a well-deserved reputation for their live shows, Yo La Tengo is first and foremost an album band. Their late ‘90s records, I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One (1997) and And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (2000), are especially well-regarded, but this is a band that has been incredibly consistent and constantly evolving throughout their career, leading up to this year’s Stuff Like That There, an album that shares the same feeling and format of Fakebook with a seamless mix of covers and originals.

Yo La Tengo is one of those rare bands you can grow up with, and grow old to, without ever feeling the times have changed. Within their loose framework, the band exists in a perpetual state of exploration, constantly testing their own musical boundaries – and, by consequence, ours.


Bjørn Hammershaug

Wire: Albums That Changed Our Lives

Since their inception in the days of punk, forming in London in 1976, Wire has continuously evolved and transcended musical trends like no other.

Their first three albums – Pink Flag (1977), Chairs Missing (1978) and 154 (1979) – are all rightfully considered post-punk masterpieces that established Wire as a driving force in British art-rock, and set them apart from both peers and influences. Wire has had a huge influence in modern music, ranging from R.E.M., Sonic Youth, hardcore punk and post-punk revivalists (Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party) to the whole Britop craze (notably Blur and Elastica).

And aside from a five-year hiatus in the early 1980s, as well as a lengthy one in the 1990s, Wire has managed to repeatedly reinvent themselves sonically and refuse to call it a quits. Their last couple of studio efforts have been remarkably strong, most recently the lush and wonderful mini-album, Nocturnal Koreans, featuring music originally developed while they worked on their former, self-titled album from 2015.

Wire have also managed to keep the core of the band more or less intact, still based around Colin Newman, (vocals, guitar), Graham Lewis (bass) and Robert “Gotobed” Grey (drums). Guitarist Matt Simms joined around 2010. As a democratic unit the quartet decided to participate a round of 5 Albums That Changed My Life with one album each, turning the feature into a quartet as well. And a great one it is.

 *   *   *

Todd Rundgren: A Wizard, a True Star
(Bearsville, 1973)

“Life-Changing” is a difficult thing to be precise about. I experienced the Beatles (well the ’60s in general actually) in real time at an age when I was too young to have any cynicism and unable to understand the sub-text (but totally got the magic). David Bowie and The Velvet Underground soundtracked the moment when I started to have independent means, a rite of passage to adulthood, even if that was only from holiday jobs. And 1976/1977 would have sounded very different had the Ramones not existed. I could have chosen from any of those and many more but instead have gone for a record I bought in a sale in a record shop in Winchester when I was on my Art Foundation year.

Todd’s A Wizard, A True Star is a record that is hard to categorize. On one level it didn’t sound like anything else at the time (especially in its use of synthesizer) but on another level there’s quite a lot of him doing his blue-eyed soul thing and there’s even a cover of a song from The Wizard of Oz! The first side (which opens and closes with “International Feel”) ranges between peerless beauty, out-and-out silliness and virtual un-listenability, all in pretty quick succession, but it’s the way that the opening of “International Feel” grabbed my attention like nothing ever had before that has stuck with me. A synthesizer bong followed by the aural equivalent of something reaching escape velocity that opens out into a great keyboard riff over which a drum fill builds and then we are off. By the time the song segues into “Never Never Land” we are only 2:50 in and half of that length is intro and outro!

I didn’t really understand how records were made when I first heard this album but you could hear it wasn’t necessarily the sound of a band playing. There’s some kind of quality from it that you get from fiddling about in the studio which I felt drawn to. Rundgren is a great songwriter but not everything here qualifies as songs (and I mean that in a good way). Plus there are at least five covers on this album. It’s bewildering and somewhat unexpected. There is a sense that although he’s serious about the work he doesn’t take himself even slightly seriously. As well as a songwriter, Rundgren is also a great guitarist (and bass player) and a fantastic singer. He could have made a career out of any of those but chose instead to fiddle about in the studio and make something unexpected. What’s not to admire?

— Colin

Neil Young: After the Gold Rush
(Reprise, 1970)

The album I have chosen is After The Gold Rush by Neil Young, his solo commercial breakthrough, released in August 1970. I heard pre-released tracks first, late at night on Radio Luxemburg, played by Young’s fellow Canadian DJ David Kid Jensen. I was knocked sideways by the album’s astonishing variety, wide emotional landscape and dynamic power… From the delicate love ballad “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” to the aggressive anti-racist rant of “Southern Man,” through the magic realism of “After The Gold Rush.” A passionate blend of melody and words, economically arranged, delivered unswervingly by Young and a band containing Stephen Stills, Nils Lofgren and Jack Nietzsche. After The Gold Rush gave me thrilling, sustaining food for thought.

— Graham

Cream: Wheels of Fire
(Polydor, 1968)

In 1968, when this came out, I would have been 17. I had their first two albums, so I was already a Cream fan, but this went way beyond what they had done before and it had a live half – for someone who had never seen a band live this seemed so exciting, especially as it had a 15-minute drum solo on it. What could be better? 15 minutes of pure drums!

Also “Crossroads.” I was not aware that it was a Robert Johnson song at the time – it just had this raw, surging and driving sound. This was definitely not pop music – trumpet, glockenspiel, tubular bells, cello, bizarre lyrics, “Pressed Rat and Warthog” recited by Ginger Baker. Ginger’s drumming in general, but especially on this, affected me more than any other drummers. It was so diverse and imaginative it just sounded like he would never run out of ideas.

— Robert

Grouper: Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill
(Type, 2008)

This record contains a world for the listener to get happily lost in for ages. Melodies emerge and dissolve, atmospheres come and go, and the effect overall is very special. It was the first Grouper LP I’d bought, but having since picked up all the others over the following years I feel all are essential listening. It’s influenced me to have confidence in quiet and the combination of noise and beauty and to explore the creation of immersive sound over a side of vinyl.

— MatthewWIRE Bowery Ballroom 2o15 Photo Matias Corral

Originally published on read.tidal, April 2016
Bjørn Hammershaug