Folk pop

Noni Culotta: “Gimme Sunshine”

Happy Fourth of July! As with basically any other autonomous country who celebrates their independence, the United States of America’s origin story came amidst some turmoil to say the least. But today we’re looking at another set of cross-national new beginnings courtesy of Noni Culotta.

Like countless non-native New Yorkers, Culotta’s escapades in the Big Apple only came after she was bit by the acting bug. Once up there though, Culotta recalled the traditional Irish American songs that filled her youth, embraced the spirit of busking, and went to work, eventually leveling up from subway platforms to the many bars and theatres abound in Brooklyn and Manhattan. This is when the turmoil turned up. The crushing weight of sudden COVID conditions, complicated further by a divorce, led Culotta to the tough choice of leaving the scene in which she’d seeded herself for a decade and relocating from one metropolitan area to another; from NYC to ATX.

It didn’t take all that long for Noni to acclimate back to her home state and click with fellow contributors to our “Live Music Capital”, thanks in no small part to her ever-growing repertoire of folk-pop originals in the ilk of Iris DeMent or late Austin City Limits veteran Nanci Griffith. With a reported hundred songs under her belt and an incandescent voice to match, Noni Culotta cut down her colossal collection of originals down to fourteen of some of her most heartfelt tunes and began arranging with her dream team of collaborators. The result is Noni’s debut full-length Gimme Sunshine, which came out towards the tail end of June. Looking at the forecast, that request for rays has been obliged just in time for July 4th, and the LP’s title track enters the pantheon of great “Gimme” songs, but where More, Danger, Shelter, and All Your Lovin’ tote somewhat of a “rockstar” edge, “Gimme Sunshine” instead radiates with wholesome Pet Sounds-meets-Tapestry energy whose luminous licks will have you photosynthesizing for months to come.

Wilson Marks: “Mother’s Day”

When it comes to songs about holidays (at least here in the U.S.), the most popular is of course Christmas, followed by Halloween, and perhaps…St. Patrick’s Day coming in at third? Either way, it’s a rarity to hear a “holiday” song that doesn’t lean into the Hallmark hokeyness.

But if there’s one thing that Wilson Marks does on any day of the calendar, it’s subvert expectations. On top of his life as an enthusiastic music educator and prolific sideman, this Austin singer-pianist-guitarist brought us two dozen genre-bending tunes through his first full-lengths, 2015’s What Was Made for Weathering and 2018’s Peregrine. By the time Wilson’s third dozen arrived in October 2020 with True Beauty Is in the Random, he’d established his own set of hallmarks: slick witticisms and lighthearted reflections on the flaws that unite us, instrumentation that’s carefully modified to capture a unique timbre, and an accessible style of pop that’s informed by folk and Crescent City jazz.

Marks and his backing band plan on releasing yet another full-length closer to the turn of Winter, padding out the inter-seasons with a more stripped-down EP. So with what may be your final reminder for Mother’s Day before the weekend, Wilson Marks shares one of his slinkiest singles to date. Rooted as always in true storytelling that doesn’t skimp on emotion, the simplicity and sincerity of “Mother’s Day” is shoe-in to mom’s heart, especially if she’s a fan of Graceland. And if you really want to wow her with a belated Mother’s Day date, consider taking her out to see Wilson Marks Trio live next Wednesday at the Elephant Room.

Jill Barber: “Hell No”

When we watch characters like Marge Simpson or Mad Men‘s Betty Draper, their “homemaker” status is typically the butt of a joke. However after plenty of post-lockdown reflections, the status quo has clearly shifted back to domestic preferences. And although she’s worked damn hard for her planet-spanning, twenty-plus-year success, Canada’s Jill Barber is ready to put aside almost all of it in favor of motherhood and marriage. Almost. Barber boasts a discography dating back to 2002, an impressive list of international festival appearances, three JUNO nominations, countless awards, song placement in programs like Orange is the New Black, ambassadorship with Save the Children, bilingual fluency, and oh yeah, authorship of two children’s books. With a decade of marriage under her belt and a couple kids tied to her hip, this highly-decorated debonair has entered her forties with the maternal wisdom that you simply can’t rush greatness, nor should you ascribe to outdated norms. Sure, Jill still mixes a potpourri of infectious folk arrangements and seductive jazz vocals within perspicacious pop formulas. But she’s also eager to reclaim and re-appropriate the term “homemaker” on her eleventh full-length of the same name, out next Friday. Homemaker is a jubilant piece of musical matriarchy and cooperation, plain and simple, one that recognizes that nobody succeeds alone, that twice the work for half the pay is a raw deal. Barber’s latest cut comes straight from her creative nerve center in Vancouver, British Columbia and serves as her first as co-producer, yet another testament to the power of nurturing together. So if you want to stave off these statewide winter shivers, harness the warmth of emotional energy within Homemaker and say heck yeah to “Hell No”.

Destin Shimer: “Cult Vult”

As is the case with countless musicians over the past century, singer-guitarist Destin Shimer began learning music to play during church. After a bucolic upbringing on farm in Southern Minnesota, Shimer’s family relocated to Shreveport, Louisiana but as soon as Shimer graduated high school, they headed North in search of a progressive atmosphere and any open-mic available, eventually landing in Columbus, Ohio – where they forged their first recordings – before settling down here in Austin.

With the release of their eponymous EP mid-February Destin Shimer’s proven a force to be reckoned with, thanks to their vigorous vocals, intoxicating arrangements, and almost-cavalier song titles, perhaps most distinctly on Destin Shimer’s penultimate original, “cult vult”!