Soundrack to Our Lives: Kacy & Clayton

The Siren’s Song is the freshly released, Jeff Tweedy-produced fourth album from Saskatchewan folk duo of cousins Kacy Anderson & Clayton Linthicum.

Following their highly acclaimed 2016 New West debut Strange Country, Kacy & Clayton tap even deeper into the bottomless well of folk and country influences from North America and the British Isles. While carefully reaping centuries of rural traditions, the duo blossoms into something modern and timeless built on equal parts intricate guitars and angelic vocal harmonies.

The Washington Post just named The Siren’s Song the front-runner as the year’s best album in the Canadian-British-Americana country-folk category, and we highly encourage you to give it a listen.

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Congratulations on your new album! How would you best describe it?

Thank you! This is the first record of material we’ve made that can be performed at rodeo dances if need be.

How do you view The Siren’s Song compared to your debut album, Strange Country?

On our first three albums, we wanted to take these regional folk traditions — Anglo-American balladry, Piedmont blues, sea shanties, Cajun music, etc. — and write music that could be mistaken for traditional songs.

With The Siren’s Song, we attempted to make an album that synthesized the influences of our previous records with the production and writing style found on country records circa 1965 and the groove of South Western garage rock groups like the Sir Douglas Quintet and the Bobby Fuller Four.

How has the response been so far?

So far, so good! It’s been getting quite a lot of public radio and media attention here in Canada. My dad recently recited an entire song from the album to a group of his friends, so I consider that a success.

How did you celebrate the album release?

With a big bag of Miss Vicki’s kettle chips and a pint of cider.

Awesome! What is your next move going forward?

We’ve got tour dates planned for most of the fall that will take us through parts of Canada and the US, and also plan to tour the UK and Europe in the new year.

Soundtrack to My Life: Kacy & Clayton

Clayton’s Picks

Favorite song to listen to in the car?
“Poor Moon”: Canned Heat

The galloping high-hat and pulsating guitar vibrato on “Poor Moon” really propels my Honda CR-V and me down the road.

A song you like to sing in the shower?
“Bright Phoebus”: Mike and Lal Waterson

Here’s to Domino Records for reissuing this 45-year-old masterpiece and here’s to the Watersons and the community that surrounded them and played on this record.

A song that always brings a tear to your eye?
“Silver Coin”: Bridget St. John

Bridget St. John’s version was my introduction to this song, written by Terry Hiscock(Hunter Muskett). The chord progression and Gordon Huntley’s steel guitar part cause me to feel a pile of feelings.

Best new song you recently discovered?
“Night Wander”: Steve Gunn

When we finished making our new album in Chicago this past January, we had plans to go see Steve Gunn at Thalia Hall. Unfortunately, the spring rolls we ordered at a Vietnamese restaurant took much too long to prepare and we missed the show. Not to be denied, our drummer Mike Silverman and I watched a bunch of his KEXP sessions in our rental apartment, which is how I discovered this song.

Best song you’ve ever experienced live?
“Autumn Leaves”: Bob Dylan

When I saw Bob in Edmonton, Alberta in July, he ended the show with this song. He played a bunch of the standards he’s recorded on the past few albums that night but this was the most striking. The bowed bass and steel guitar and vocal performances were out of this world.

A song you wish you’d written?
“The Homecoming”: Tom T. Hall

This song perfectly communicates such a complete scene and conversation between a son who has lost contact with his rural roots, and his aging father on the farm.

Best song for going out on the town?
“Roll ‘Em Pete”: Pete Johnson

Big Joe Turner sings this jump blues with Pete Johnson on piano. I first found out about this record when I heard Bob Dylan borrowed from it’s intro for his song, “Summer Days” (from Love & Theft).

A song that inspired you?
“Refractions”: Bobbie Gentry

Bobbie Gentry’s records are among the most interesting and least categorizable of ’60s pop music. This song comes right out of the middle of a 5-song suite that makes up the B-side of her Delta Sweete LP. The range in melody and depth of this arrangement inspire me every time I hear it.

Best song to listen to while on tour?
“Give Me Forty Acres”: The Willis Brothers

Saskatoon legend Shakey Wilson turned me on to this truck driving anthem and it often plays in my mind while trying to navigate and park a pickup/U-haul trailer in the cities of America.

Kacy’s Picks

Favorite song that you’ve written or performed on?
“Honk If You Like Herefords”: Wolf Willow

This is one of the greatest agricultural songs ever written according to me. It was a privilege to sing this Etienne Soulodre song with these Saskatchewan sweethearts.

Best song to listen to while on tour?
“Wishing All These Things Were New”: Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard always has the best song to listen to at any point in time.

A song that represents your childhood?
“Tall Tall Trees”: Roger Miller

One thing kids and dads can bond on is Roger Miller. This was a favourite track to listen to in my dad’s truck.

Best song for when you’re head over heels in love?
“Do You Wanna Dance”: Ramones

I think that this is a universal hit for universal lovers to dance to.

Best song for a broken heart?
“My Town”: Kate & Anna McGarrigle

The best melody to sing while crying.

The song you’ve probably heard more times than any other.
“Fishin’ In The Dark”: The Nitty Gritty Band

I have been to many rural dances and listened to a lot of local country radio since 1997.

Bjørn Hammershaug

JD McPherson: Rock & Roll Savior

JD McPherson grew up on a cattle ranch in rural Oklahoma where he from early on caught up on music, discovering ’70s guitar rock and punk before, as a teen, digging backwards in the archives of ’50s rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, country, R&B, soul, delta blues and guitar jazz. Sometimes dubbed a rock revivalist and roots resuscitator, his music is highly potent by its own merits.

After graduating from college McPherson worked as an art teacher in Tulsa for a couple of years until his school board let him go, a blessing in disguise that allowed him to spend more time pursuing his musical aspirations. By then, JD had dug deeper into the music of yonder and started to fully shape an authentic retro-sound based on profound musical knowledge and vintage gear.

His debut album Signs and Signifiers saw the light of day via Chicago standup bassist Jimmy Sutton’s Hi-Style label in 2010 before receiving a major re-release by Rounder Records two years later. Rounder also launched his 2015 sophomore album, the more expansive and critically acclaimed Let The Good Times Roll, which was described as ‘flat out sensational’ (Uncut), ‘a foot-stomping, ass-shaking thing of beauty’ (Popmatters), and lauded by American Songwriter, who wrote that ‘to pigeonhole McPherson as some well-intentioned-but-why-bother? retro minded relic is missing the point.’

McPherson has gradually expanded his circle of associates and partners, including Eric Church, Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Butch Walker and fellow Oklahoman Parker Millsap. And as his musical scope has broadened along with his geographical horizon. He recently decided to move his family from Oklahoma to buzzing scene of East Nashville, where the new album was initially born.

The first attempt on recording the material was not successful, however. And while fumbling to find the right direction, JD flew over to California by the invitation from his pal, Queens of the Stone Age leader Josh Homme. Along with QOTSA and Dead Weather multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita, the three blasted out the songs way outside of McPherson’s comfort zone. Suffice to say, he returned with a clear head, new perspectives and even learned that legendary RCA Studio B was willing to host his band for making the record.

He might never be the latest craze or biggest hype, but JD McPherson is making music meant to last based on some basic, time-tested principles. As he once said: “Everybody likes rock & roll. They just either won’t admit it or don’t know it yet.”

We talked with JD McPherson about his upcoming album, the recording sessions, new directions in songwriting and why Fun House is the most perfect album ever made.

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Congratulations on a new album. What do we get?

Thanks for that. You’ll be getting a truly romantic garage record.

When you started writing songs, did you have a clear idea of what was to become Undivided Heart and Soul?

These songs first popped up when I was producing The Cactus Blossoms’ record a couple of years back. The title track was written during that time, and songs slowly began to appear in the months following.

What inspired you the most, and is there a red thread throughout the album?

I was listening to a lot of rowdy music at that time: Link Wray, The Creation, The Stooges, Broncho… A lot of that music influenced the direction of this record. This album marks three notable – notable to me, anyway – new directions in my songwriting:

1. The first time I’ve purposefully co-written songs with strangers
2. The first time I’ve told secrets in lyrics
3. The first time I’ve told a story about strangers I’ve observed in life.

These may seem normal things to do, but it was all new territory for me.

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

I think that this record was greatly influenced by where it was recorded

Because the record is so gnarly, you’d never guess where it was recorded in the historic RCA Studio B: home of hundreds of country music hits through the ’50s and ’60s, home of the early Everly Brothers hits, home of the Roy Orbison Monument recordings, home of Elvis Presley’s post-Army career hits… The place is full of phantoms.

It’s a museum in the daytime, so every day, we had to wheel in all of our equipment, record, and tear it down at night. We brought in a ton of old equipment, but there are still a few instruments and pieces of gear there that definitely informed this record

For instance, the vibraphone you hear on recordings such as “Crying” by Roy Orbison is all over the record. The piano that Floyd Cramer played on “Last Date” is on the record. Ray and I wrote a couple of songs on that piano. It was a magic piano. We couldn’t keep our hands off all that stuff.

Another thing to note is that RCA Studio B would seem to pull out songs that sound like RCA Studio B from us… lush, orchestrated… At first, that’s what I wanted… but the longer we were there, the songs got louder and fuzzier and more irreverent. It’s almost like it was in the air, like something in that room was wanting some rebellious music to happen.

How will you pair Undivided Heart And Soul with Let the Good Times Roll?

It has more in common with tracks such as “Head Over Heels” than the other R&B material. More ratty, fuzz guitar, less saxophones. Lots of electric bass. It has a bit of a punk rock streak.

How do you think you’ve developed as a songwriter since your debut?

I’ve been doing a lot of writing on the side the past two years, and it’s caused me to pay more attention to the crafting of a song. What you call ‘songcraft’. My old method was much more stream-of-consciousness; I just wrote what came immediately to mind, and that’s the way it stayed, without really analyzing it too much.

Also, I think about the recording process while I’m writing. I’m always thinking about guitar sounds, grooves, rhythms, instrumentation… even while I’m just writing lyrics.

Please describe the ideal setting to ultimately enjoy your new album.

My friend LJ listened to it and said it was ‘Good in the evening, and it’s good in the morning, too.’ Try to listen on a good system. I’ve been listening to it on good headphones.

Most perfect album ever made and why?

Ask me another time, and I’ll give you a different answer, but for now I’ll say Fun House by the Stooges, because it’s built up from the most salient ideas of the entire history of rock n’ roll up to that point in time. It’s very primitive, and somehow still carries a bit of sophistication. It’s got brains, but it breathes through its mouth. I think I may listen to Raw Power more frequently, but Fun House has the best ideas of the Stooges records.

And finally, how would you pair Undivided Heart And Soul with a meal or beverage?

Black coffee (caffeine) and bananas (potassium).

Bjørn Hammershaug

Sammy Brue: Son of Ogden, Utah

It’s been told of Ogden, Utah-born singer-songwriter Sammy Brue how, at age 10, he received a guitar for Christmas and immediately started writing songs inspired by Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. Amazingly, that was only 5 years ago, given that today Sammy Brue is just 15 years old. Needless to say, things have moved quickly for this talented young prodigy.

In his fast-rising career, Sammy has busked at the Sundance Film Festival, performed at the Newport Folk Festival, and opened for the likes of Hayes Carll, Lydia Loveless, John Moreland, Lukas Nelson, Lucinda Williams and Asleep at the Wheel.

After releasing three homespun EPs, he scored a record deal with renowned folk and Americana label New West Records, home of such songwriting legends as Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Robert Ellis, Andrew Combs, Buddy Miller and John Hiatt.

As of late Brue has been touring in support of Justin Townes Earle, with whom his relationship stems back a couple years already. Some might recognize Brue from the cover of Earle’s 2014 album Single Mothers. In a recent review of Justin Townes Earle’s concert at New York City’s Webster Hall, Popdust couldn’t help but mention this about Brue’s performance:

His voice alone is enough to bring a fighter to their knees, enough to crush the world’s treasure of diamonds into dust and enough to force the moon to stop its orbit. He doesn’t have to say much between songs; his music is brawny and heartfelt and he lets you feel everything. If he continues down this path, there is only greatness awaiting him.

Recorded down in Muscle Shoals with Alabama Shakes keyboardist Ben Tanner and John Paul White of the Civil Wars, Sammy Brue launches his anticipated full-length debut, I Am Nice, on June 16. The record demonstrates, in the wise words of New West, “the young troubadour to be a timeless talent whose catchy compositions embody the sort of wisdom, empathy and insight that’s usually associated with more experienced songwriters.”

Who is Sammy Brue? Can you introduce yourself?

Hey, everyone. I’m Sammy Brue, a young artist making music and hoping I make the right moves so you guys hear it. I was Oregon-born, but consider Ogden, Utah my home now. Something about the mountains, I guess.

Thanks, Sammy! Tell us a little about your most recent recording “I’m Not Your Man.” What’s it about?

“I’m Not Your Man” is actually an older song I wrote that has been changed more times than I can count. I’ve changed words, titles and tempo a ton, but finally I’m really happy with it how it is. John Paul White and Ben Tanner really helped out with making it come alive in the studio. I guess it comes from being the introvert kid that was too scared to talk to girls but sat back and noticed the boys that seemed to always get the girl too. Probably a lot about being put into the friend zone in there too.

Who are your musical heroes?

I have so many. It starts with the originals, though: Woody, Leadbelly and Robert Johnson. Then I worked my way forward through time. I love Etta James! Artists seem to find inspiration in these eras, I’ve noticed. You can see how [Bob] Dylan was affected by it and in return affected so many others. Even if it in no way is the same genre, artists pull from the same places, I think. You would have to call them heroes.

When and how did you first get into music?

Well, I have a dad that never listened to the radio when I was really young. He would play a ton of Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Prince along with older artists when we would go on drives and around the house. I always thought that this was what was being played on the radio. I had no clue these were recordings. Then he would bring home newer music along the same vein like Old Crow [Medicine Show] and The Avett Brothers. But it wasn’t until I was eight years old that I heard what was really on the radio, which I remember just digging the big sound of. When I got my first acoustic guitar, I was 10 years old. I remember just being drawn back the old sounds of the troubadours. That was the music and kind of songs I wanted to make.

Any album, artist or experience in particular that has changed your perspective on music?

Recording my album in the Muscle Shoals area changed everything for me. Working with Ben Tanner and John Paul White taught me so much about music and possibilities. Both of them are geniuses when it comes to arrangements. I had never really worked with anyone before that either, so it opened my mind to co-writing and collaborations.

Bon Iver also changed my perspective on creating music too. Made me want to reach more rather than being safe all the time. Another time I played a show with John Moreland, and after watching him, I changed up my approach to songwriting.

What’s the best new song you recently discovered?

“I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)” by John Mayer. I recently started picking his music apart – and by recently I’m talking about two weeks ago. I’ve known who he was, but never dug into his music until now. It’s been a good journey to see how he blends his influences with a pop vibe. He does it so well! As a guitar player, he makes me feel like a slacker.

What’s your favorite activity besides music?

I love skating every chance I get, but I get reminded all the time about how much an injury could cost. I do it anyways because why not? My skateboard isn’t welcome on tour, though! So many streets across the country I’m going to miss out on.

Cool, so what’s coming next for you?

I’m hitting the road with one of my recent heroes Justin Townes Earle. Feels like a bucket list kind of thing to me. His style and songwriting inspired me from the first time I ever heard him or found videos of him on the Internet. After I met him and started talking to him, I knew music was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life pretty much. Now we’re on the same label and releasing albums around the same time… Blows me away. Then just hoping lightning strikes.

Looking one year ahead, where would you like to see yourself?

Hopefully releasing another album. I have the second album all ready to go and keep adding songs that I feel make the cut as I go. I’ve been rehearsing with my band for the last seven months and can’t wait to hit the road with them. Just want to release this album that I love and tour it until then.

And finally, if your music was a food, what would it be?

Chocolate milk because milk comes from nature, which is the roots, and then you throw some flavor in it!

Bjørn Hammershaug

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.

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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 read.tidal.com, April 3, 2017)