Nashville music

Babe & The Crystals: “The Way You Love Me”

Sometimes all you need to reignite a long dormant project is just revamping the name. Well…that and maybe a brush with death for good measure.

At least that’s what recently rekindled the creativity for Nashville four-piece Babe & The Crystals, who first started out a decade back under the handle Kid Freud. Kid Freud called it quits in 2018 and the pandemic rolled through soon after, as did a tornado that tested frontman Alex Tomkins’ limits. But with everybody ultimately okay and Kid Freud’s catalogue accruing impressive streaming numbers online, Tomkins’ latest batch of tunes proved too good to keep cooped up. And after the release of their existing material under the Kid Freud umbrella album this March, it was finally time to put that six-year hiatus to bed and re-solidify the fellas as Babe & The Crystals.

Based on how natural and rejuvenated Babe & The Crystals sounded on this month’s reintroduction “Forevereverever”, you’d have never guessed they spent so much time apart. And though that revival evoked the artsier side of indie rock (spoken word verse and crazy catchy hook included), Babe & The Crystals really shine on their millennium-enmeshed second installment, “The Way You Love Me”. If you made a dartboard of your favorite indie pop rock radio darlings from the late ’00s, “The Way You Love Me” hits the bullseye dead center between ’em all. Rock on, babe. Rock on.

Jana Mila: “Somebody New”

In an environment as dense and competitive as Americana, a unique set of lens can really help you stand out. But if that habitat appears even remotely unnatural to others, every little bit of local color improves your odds of surviving in the long run.

Meet Jana Mila. Mila’s Amsterdam upbringing was spent in the cross-cultural intersection of her family members’ individual passions: Brazilian, Big Band, and Indian. Ultimately though it was indie folk Americana that inspired the rising multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter to take her originals to local Dutch stages at the turn of the last decade. Fast forward to Summer 2022, when Mila moseyed over to Nashville for a songwriting excursion. The connections she made there led to a strong start to Mila’s studio discography with her introductory “When Times Get Rough”, which has already raked in millions of streams.

Turns out Jana Mila blends in so well with the Nashville aesthetic that you’d never guess she wasn’t a native. And that’s absolutely reflected on her ten-tune debut Chameleon. Tracked and produced at Todd Lombardo’s studio in the heart of Music City, USA, this introductory LP carefully camouflages Mila’s unique character against backdrops of West Coast Folk, ’70s rock, and Tennessee country. The announcement of Chameleon‘s August 30th release came last Tuesday alongside the arrival of its lead single, “Somebody New” – an honest reflection on a mid-relationship self-revelation. At just short of three minutes, “Somebody New” is a no-nonsense, straightforward piece of intimate storytelling and an ideal addition to your next breakup playlist, with one hell of an earworm hook.

Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors: “Suffering”

The very nature of Americana is rooted in traditional music. But it also lies at the crossroads between folk, country, and rock. So if an Americana act decides to veer into new lanes, the choices are limited and somewhat predictable. And yet it’s still such a joy to hear an artist explore new sonic territory, no matter how established they may be.

Having said that, we’re happy to hear that Nashville’s Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors will be joining us in our neck of the woods later this week. That’s right, on the heels of their ninth full-length Strangers No More, the Americana connoisseurs kick off a month-long national tour right here in town. The Find Your People Tour fires off 7:30PM this Thursday at the Scoot Inn, and our newfound neighbors will be stopping by Central Texas again for the Kerrville Folk Festival late next month.

And since Austin is such a hard left turn from Holcomb et. al’s Nasvhille stomping ground, the band gave us an early listen to their latest shifting of gears. On “Suffering”, the grit is real, and the rock is Southern. It captures the rudest elements of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, and Marshall Tucker band, albeit with that one-of-a-kind Holcomb character. Safe to say that if Southern rock is your bag, “Suffering” is so good it hurts.

Daniel Tashian: “Night After Night”

In 2019 I got a big kick out of Kacey Musgraves’ “Album Of The Year” Grammy acceptance speech for Golden Hour; it was so heartwarming to see a future country superstar acknowledge her trustworthy team, whose efforts took a record with little hype or radio recognition all the way to the top. And if you watch that video you can see one of Golden Hour‘s finest contributors, co-writer/co-producer Daniel Tashian tuxedoed front and center. Although you might not have detected Tashian’s behind-the-curtain talents until that televised moment, he’s also written for legends like Lee Ann Womack and Emmylou Harris, sung alongside Patty Griffin and Rita Wilson, and even co-composed a full album with Burt Bacharach.

In terms of strictly solo output, Daniel Tashian started off strong in his late teens with his T-Bone Burnett-produced 1996 debut, Sweetie. And yet, in the subsequent two-and-a-half decades of top-tier collaborations, Tashian’s never taken a complete co-composer approach to his own material…until now. Back when Tashian’s father Barry was a member of Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band, he probably never imagined that his son would eventually team up with fellow former bandmate Paul Kennerly, but 2022’s proven that nothing is truly off the table. As such, today Daniel Tashian announced his next full-length Night After Night, written entirely with his childhood hero Paul Kennerly, and set for release on September 23rd. The album cover makes it seem like Daniel knocked out Night After Night moments after the 2019 Grammys, but rest assured, a ton a patience and planning went into this Americana-country LP. And with a little over a month until release day, it’s easy to nestle right into Night After Night‘s head-noddin’ lead single and title track.

Sunny Sweeney: “Easy as Hello”

Even during these dog days of summer, singer-guitarist Sunny Sweeney‘s preferred A/C is Americana/Country. Sweeney first crept up over the honky-tonk horizon in 2006 with Heartbreakers Hall of Fame and earned her first three Top 40 Country singles on 2011’s Concrete, cementing herself as a must-hear for millions of new fans. Following a “Top Female Artist” nomination at the 2013 Academy of Country Music Awards, Sunny went on scorch and glow on 2014’s Provoked and 2017’s Trophy, but in the five years since then, she’s been suspiciously absent…up until now.

The Nashvillian recently returned to her Texas stomping grounds to record her upcoming fifth full-length, Married Alone. That Lone Star synergy really started flowing once Sweeney recruited KUTX favorite Paul Cauthen and Texas Gentleman frontman Beau Bedford, but it was the addition of Dallas’ Jeff Saenz that tied the knot for Married Alone‘s dream production team. However, as mentioned in a previous Song of the Day, the process came to a sudden halt when Saenz tragically lost both of his arms. Nevertheless, eight months later, Saenz was back in the studio and Married Alone wrapped up its final rehearsal dinner. So with that, consider this your cordial invitation to join Sunny Sweeney, et. al in celebrating the release of Married Alone on September 23rd. And don’t fret; you have plenty of time to mingle and jingle spurs with some of the record’s lead singles (like the retro-’70s Cauthen co-concoction “Easy as Hello”) before you two-step down that aural aisle later this fall.

The Criticals: “Absinthe”

If you didn’t get a chance to get out and have some fun this Fourth of July weekend, you’re probably pretty bummed. So if you want to get ahead of the FOMO and make your own plans for the next few days, we highly recommend checking out The Criticals. The core songwriting duo behind this Nashville quintet is guitarist Cole Shugart and vocalist Parker Forbes, who released The Criticals’ debut EP Mimosa Hygiene in late 2019. They bested the early hurdles of COVID by keeping their internal energy up and doubling down on writing, recording, and releasing songs and music videos. And by the time the band released their 2020 sophomore EP Sour Grapes, they’d just about reached critical mass.

Once social distancing mandates have became more lax, The Criticals truly began to thrive. Their formal live debut was last June in Nashville, where they sold out a 600-person venue, thanks in no small part to Forbes’ Jagger-esque antics and Shugart’s prolific picking. The Criticals have carried that “sold out headlining shows” momentum ever since, and yet still somehow had the time to track their third EP, United States of Chemicals, which dropped at the end of March. Their next tour spot in support of United States of Chemicals is 7PM tomorrow night at Empire Control Room along with CHLSY and Austin’s Strange Cadets. If you want to sweat and rock out, this is the show for you. If not, take a swig with The Criticals, who haven’t shied away from their creative relationship with booze, of “Absinthe”.

Cujo Moon: “In the Stars”

If you’ve ever listened to Neon Rain, The Wild Jays, or Dream the Electric Sleep, you’ve already heard some of Trevor Willmott’s handiwork. Outside of those groups, this Lexington-born Nashville-based singer-guitarist-producer has also racked up millions of streams with his indie-alternative-folk solo project Cujo Moon. Cujo Moon first crept up in late 2020 with his debut EP Bridges and returned with its sequel, Bridges II, the following March. Cujo Moon’s third record Tides rolled in last August, inspiring comparisons to Elliott Smith, Jeff Buckley, and Bon Iver based on Willmott’s soothing guitar strums and gentle vocals.

Last weekend, Willmott bayed away a multi-month studio leave and embraced a crepuscular mindset on Cujo Moon’s fourth EP, Horizons. As with the rest of Cujo Moon’s catalogue, Horizons was written, recorded, produced, mixed, and mastered “lone wolf” style – entirely by Willmott alone. It’s a testament to the artistic impact that only comes with an auteur approach, something many solo songwriters overlook. Be it literal or through the use of emotional metaphors, Horizons sets its sights up to the celestial spirits and complements that connection to nature with earthy, ambient sonics, including piano and synth. You certainly don’t have to be an astronomer to appreciate Horizons but tracks like “In the Stars” will have you looking at the sky with a whole new sense of understanding and affection.

Old Sea Brigade: “5AM Paradise”

A cursory glance at the name Old Sea Brigade may conjure images of surly seventeenth-century sailors, but it’s actually the solo indie-folk project of Nasvhille-via-Atlanta singer-guitarist Ben Cramer. Cramer dropped his eponymous debut Old Sea Brigade in 2016, which quickly accrued acclaim and earned Cramer touring spots alongside the likes of Julien Baker and Hiss Golden Messenger. Old Sea Brigade’s since released two full-lengths (most recently with last year’s Motivational Speaking) and had his songs featured in television soundtracks ranging from Grey’s Anatomy to Nashville. Today Old Sea Brigade announced his upcoming third LP, 5AM Paradise, due out October 28th. As you can guess from the title, this record is somewhat of a celebration of those early morning hours, but more so the maturity that surrounds them; Cramer, who recently entered his thirties, has reframed 5AM as the start of a productive day rather than a wrap on a raucous all-nighter. The ten tracks on 5AM Paradise feature some of Cramer’s closest collaborators, not to mention some of Nashville’s finest session players (including Willie Nelson bassist Eli Beaird, Hayes Carll guitarist Kris Donegan) and The Whigs’ drummer Julian Dorio. With synths reminiscent of Joy Division, effortlessly floating vocals, and one hell of a hook, the title track off 5AM Paradise may just become your new wake up alarm.

Matt Koziol: “Loving You Loving Me”

When a player becomes a hot commodity within their musical community, there’s an unsaid understanding that they could probably demolish a solo set all on their own. A perfect example is singer-guitarist Matt Koziol, who’s collaborated with country legends like John Paul White, Abby Anderson, and Jimmie Allen and enjoyed a creative partnership with Bre Kennedy as Koziol Kennedy. But as with many others, it was moving to the country music Mecca of Nashville that sealed the deal in terms of pursuing a solo career. It’s been a little over two years since Matt Koziol and Jars of Clay member/producer Matthew Odmark began taming the ten tracks on Koziol’s debut LP Wildhorse. And considering how crisp and thought-out it sounds, we’re glad they took their time with Wildhorse rather than grab it by the mane and ride it on barefoot hooves. The record dropped this morning, finally harnessing Matt Koziol’s towering talent and making it available for the masses. With summer temperatures on the rise, Wildhorse is a damn good album for a mid-May weekend. So when it’s time to clock out, saddle up with a slapback delayed country rocker that gets rowdy without kickin’ shit, “Loving You Loving Me”!

Sophie & The Broken Things: “Fire And Ice”

Nashville can get pretty chilly this time of year, but that doesn’t hinder the never-ending flow of musicians fanning their creative embers, be it performing on Broadway, recording in renowned spaces, or just staying at home and songwriting. Singer Sophie Gault’s taken part in that ecosystem since moving from rural Maryland in 2014 and has continued to bring the heat following her Americana outfitSophie & The Broken Things‘ eponymous debut in 2020. Sophie & The Broken Things caught the ear of critics and new listeners alike, as well as Grammy-winner Ray Kennedy, who lent his talents to SBT’s upcoming full-length, Delusions of Grandeur – out this Friday.

Delusions of Grandeur features ten intriguing tracks packed with timeless folk instrumentation, relatable lyrics, and of course, Gault’s enthralling vocals. And while the world waits for George R.R. Martin to finish up Winds of Winter, Sophie & The Broken Things have taken a few cues from ASOIAF for the latest, cinematic single off Delusions of Grandeur, “Fire And Ice”!

The Grahams: “Searching The Milky Way” (Luck Mansion Sessions)

You may have gotten wind of Luck Reunion’s 10th Anniversary lineup that was just announced yesterday, which’ll feature several KUTX favorites and take place a month from now out in Spicewood, just a stone’s throw away from Austin. But don’t get confused between that Texas treasure and another “Luck” legacy in the country music world – Tennessee’s Luck Mansion. This East Nashville parlor room’s been home to the likes of Sarah Jarosz, Rodney Crowell, Margo Price, Shovels & Rope, Allison Russell, and many more – including Alyssa and Doug Graham – over the past half decade. Raised in the Northeast and based in Nashville, The Grahams have been polishing their unique Americana style since 2013. Now, after four full-lengths, The Grahams and their affectionate laissez-faire aura are at the top of their game, as heard on the Live At Luck Mansion EP – out today. The Grahams embark on a two-week-long UK tour in late April and paid a passionate tribute to producer Richard Swift with the Luck Mansion rendition of “Searching The Milky Way”.

Jeremy Lister: “Christmas in Rio”

Like so many others before him, blue-eyed, Mississippi-born vocalist Jeremy Lister first fell in love with singing in his childhood church. Fast forward to 2003 when Lister relocated to Nasvhille and released his debut EP Shooting Star and jump ahead again to 2010, when he joined acclaimed a cappella outfit Street Corner Symphony, who landed second place on NBC’s The Sing Off and earned the group a touring spot alongside Ben Folds.

In the decade that’s passed since then, Lister’s chops as a crooner have only improved, scoring the jazz singer a duet with Allison Krauss, a family record alongside The Lister Brothers, and several high-level commercial and television spots. The latest from Lister is Happy Holidays, Everyone (though we would’ve also accepted Meremy Listmas), a big-band full-length featuring ten outstanding originals. But if brassy mid-century swing isn’t your cup of hot chocolate, bask instead in the sunny Southern-Hemispheric swagger of “Christmas in Rio”!

Amanda Shires: “Gone For Christmas” (feat. The McCrary Sisters)

Even if you haven’t tied the voice to the name, you’ve likely heard Amanda Shires, be it with Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, supporting the late John Prine on tour, or as one quarter of country supergroup The Highwomen. But it may surprise some of you to learn that this Lubbock-born/Nashville-based singer-fiddler’s just released her own Holiday album, simply titled For Christmas. For Christmas features the Grammy winner performing nine originals and two covers alongside an impressive cast of collaborators and a healthy balance of genuine joy and irreverent humor, heard best on “Gone For Christmas” featuring The McCrary Sisters.

The Eldridge Band: “All Away”

Based out of Tennessee, guitarist-vocalist-organist Jon Eldridge has enlisted some of Nashville’s finest for his eponymous rock project The Eldridge Band – fellow multi-instrumentalists Johnny Boyd and Caroline Browning as well as drummer Will Morrison. And after tracking their debut full-length Hindsight this past year, The Eldridge Band teamed up with acclaimed Jack White/Chris Stapleton engineer Vance Powell to mix the record and take it to another level. It’s been a couple weeks since Hindsight dropped in late November, giving us plenty of time to look back and fully appreciate how well put-together this album is; Hindsight‘s impressive sonic and dynamic range finds The Eldridge Band topping crests of psych-and-country-driven rock before effortlessly lulling back down into delicate valleys of soft piano-centric Americana, alongside some perfectly-packaged, radio-ready, harmony-heavy standouts like “All Away”!

Sara Jean Kelley: “Bleeding Stone”

Like many Americana artists, Nashville native Sara Jean Kelley grew up with an adoration for nature and has since continued to explore how us humans interact with the world that’s grown around us, be it for better or worse. Kelley first put those thoughts on record with her 2013 debut The Waiting Place, revealing the singer-guitarist’s bleak-but-humorous honesty within her lyrics while showcasing her infectiously twangy guitar and vocals reminiscent of Lucinda Williams or Patti Griffin. On the heels of her 2019 EP The Wild, Sara Jean Kelley’s set to share yet another rock-leaning meditation on the human condition and the laws of nature with Black Snake, out this Friday. Though Black Snake was tracked in just two days, you can hear how much care was put into these six rustic originals that’ll slither right into your heart without making you hiss, heard most recently with “Bleeding Stone”.

Brandy Zdan: “The Worst Thing”

Canada’s Brandy Zdan may have settled into her current home base of Nashville back in 2014, but the preceding three years she spent here in Austin was plenty enough to win over a following. This year Zdan’s zeroing in on Falcon, the full-length follow-up to her 2018 sophomore release Secretear that’s set to spread its wings at the end of the month.

Falcon features some of Zdan’s most personal reflections to date, and is a testament to how far this take-no-guff multi-instrumentalist-producer has soared in the rock aurora. Hear Zdan soar with Falcon on October 29th and get on the wing early with one of the record’s very best, “The Worst Thing“!

Ida Mae: “Little Liars”

As partners in both marriage and songwriting, Stephanie Jean and Chris Turpin’s undeniable chemistry has allowed them to easily negotiate the challenges faced by any musical two-piece. Under the name Ida Mae, their ebullient bond won the world over with their 2019 debut LP Chasing Lights, right around the same time they relocated from London to Nashville.

It doesn’t take a mathematician to determine what happened between 2019 and now, but Ida Mae’s re-emerging from the pandemic with an exceptional LP, Click Click Domino. The duo isn’t playing any games on Click Click Domino, which drops tomorrow, and you can creep into its sound early with the eery, sweet-but-sinister, “Little Liars“!

No-No Boy: “Imperial Twist”

Without getting too much into politics, I think we can all agree that the Asian-American experience has recently been catapulted into the national spotlight. And in concern to the historical context of that experience, nobody’s captured it in recent music as comprehensively as Nashville-born songwriter Julian Saporiti.

Appropriating the moniker No-No Boy from John Okada’s 1957 novel of the same name, Saporiti’s Ph.D. dissertation took him across the country to several Asian-American landmarks, often wrought with troubled history, to develop his concept album 1975. Saporiti’s dissection of what constitutes American folk isn’t obscured by his outspoken societal observations; rather the two march hand-in-hand across 1975’s dozen, sonically channeling the likes of Okkervil River, Shearwater, Grateful Dead, and The Avett Brothers while lyrically rising to the challenge of telling American folk tales from a different perspectives, perhaps heard best on “Imperial Twist”.