Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Liner Notes: Signature Sounds 20th Anniversary Collection: Rarities From the Second Decade

If you’d been prescient enough, 20 years ago, to suggest that in 2014 Signature Sounds Recordings would have a catalog of more than 100 releases, a Top 20 album, and a three-day celebration of the label’s artists, the most astute of scene-followers in Western Massachusetts would’ve told you to dream on. Even Signature Sounds president Jim Olsen, who co-founded the label and runs it with Mark Thayer, would’ve thought you were crazy. “We started the label as a glorified hobby, with no grand ambitions,” Jim reflects. “And Signature Sounds has grown slowly and organically.”

Organically, for sure. The Signature Sounds moniker is first seen on a pair of CD compilations released in conjunction with radio station WRSI in 1992 and 1993 as benefit projects to help fight hunger in Western Mass. But Signature Sounds isn’t incorporated until September 1994 and its first official release, Boneyard, by former Van Morrison sideman John Sheldon and his band Blue Streak, innocuously bearing the catalog number SSRC 1227, appears in January 1995. Including a duet with James Taylor, the CD hints at big things to come.

Jim, already known back then as the host of The Back Porch, the popular Sunday morning radio show featuring an array of Americana, bluegrass, country, and alt-country music, slowly begins building a catalog and roster of artists for the label. In 1997, Signature Sounds becomes his full-time job. By the time the label celebrates its 10th anniversary, it’s been home to dozens of acclaimed releases, including ones by Josh Ritter, Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer, Lori McKenna, Mary Gauthier, Salamander Crossing, Mark Erelli, and Richard Shindell.

And that’s only the first chapter in the Signature Sounds story. During the next few years, in an environment where record labels are constantly becoming more and more generic and the trend toward downloading makes physical CDs less essential for some music fans, the independent Signature Sounds continues to buck the system and thrive. For proof, you need look no further than the CD you hold in your hands. Signature Sounds 20th Anniversary Collection: Rarities From the Second Decade not only showcases the artistry as well as many of the artists who’ve populated the label in its second decade, but it’s a treasure trove of hard-to-find and previously unreleased gems that help define the Signature Sounds sound.

“We had some great material that hadn't been heard, and it was fun to round it all up,” Jim explains. “We didn’t want any demos, home recordings, or live stuff. We wanted everything to be intended for a release.” So there’s a Lake Street Dive track that was released as a vinyl 45 for Record Store Day 2014;  rare tracks by Crooked Still and Jeffrey Foucault; a bonus LP track from Winterpills; a newly recorded track by Chris Smither; EP tracks including one by Zoe Muth & the Lost High Rollers; previously unreleased cuts by Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem, Peter Mulvey, and others; and much more from the vaults, including a celebratory hidden track by the Signature Sounds artists who hold the distinction of bursting onto the Billboard top-selling 200 albums chart at a lofty Number 18.

So what’s been a key ingredient in the success and the durability of the Signature Sounds label… especially at a time when most record labels no longer have a true identity? “I think there is a continuity in what we do,” Jim explains. “We’ve only added one or two new artists a year, and worked with many of artists for a long time. Our artists tend to be friends and tour partners, which lends a real sense of community to the label.”

Back in the day, a small handful of record labels had personalities of their own. If you were a jazz fan, for instance, chances are you could trust a label such as Impulse Records to put out music worth seeking out, even if you were unfamiliar with a particular artist. For Jim, Reprise Records, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. was just such an inspiration back in the 1960s and ’70s: “They signed amazing but non-commercial artists like Randy Newman and Ry Cooder. And they stuck with their artists even when their records didn't sell. In time it has become clear that they were a visionary label.”

Just like Signature Sounds.

And just like the selections spanning this 20th Anniversary Collection, music from Signature Sounds—yesterday, today, and tomorrow—is always worth listening to. After all, good taste is timeless.

—David Sokol, Hadley MA, November 2014

David Sokol was music editor for the Advocate Newspapers from 1977 to 1993, going on to edit New Country magazine, which featured early Signature Sounds tracks on its monthly samplers, and Disney Magazine.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

LUCIUS, DAWN LANDES, AOIFE O’DONOVAN OPINE ON KRISTIN ANDREASSEN’S NEW “SPECTACULAR” ‘GONDOLER’ (FEBRUARY 17)

WFUV’S JOHN PLATT: “GONDOLIER IS A BEAUTIFUL RECORD”

DAWN LANDES: “WARNING: THESE SONGS WILL FOLLOW YOU AROUND FOR DAYS”

Kristin Andreassen’s musical voyage from traditional folk to indie folk – culminating in the new album ‘Gondolier’ (February 17) – are apparent in the company that she keeps. On any given night, she might be hosting an old-time music jam in Brooklyn, recording backup vocals with Sufjan Stevens, calling a square dance in upstate New York, or singing onstage at Terminal 5 with Lucius.

WFUV’s John Platt, who hosted a set of hers at the On Your Radar concert Tuesday night, told the packed house, “‘Gondolier’ is a beautiful record.”

Andreassen says, “Being a part of the community in Brooklyn has been one of the most fulfilling parts of my career.” That respect is reflected right back at her from her peers:

Dawn Landes, with whom Andreassen has toured, says, "Andreassen has made another gorgeous album. These songs feel at once familiar and completely original. Her melodies seem to flow from a primeval stream. It's a perfect bed for these bemusing tales and subtle turns of phrase. Warning, these songs will follow you around for days! They are wonderful company."

Aoife O’Donovan, her former bandmate who sings on ‘Gondolier,’ says, “In Sometymes Why, we used to call Kristin ‘the mistress of metaphor.’ Her knack for drawing deep (and sometimes dark) meaning out of seemingly sweet lyrics is uncanny. On this new album, Kristin Andreassen has arrived at a whole new level- the production is spot-on, the songs eerily unique yet timeless, and her singing pristine. Gondolier is a spectacular record that we're going to be listening to for a long time…”

Holly Laessig of Lucius, with whom Andressen has sung backing vocals, says, “Kristin's new record Gondolier - it's an ear's chance to get a break from the New York winter and take a warm summer drive. "

Jess Wolfe, also of Lucius, declares, “Kristin's voice is effortless and silky smooth. The songs are refreshing and yet familiar. A gem for all to be delighted!”

Kristin Andreassen Tour Dates

12/17: Marlboro, NY - Concert & Square Dance (w/ Chris Eldridge & Mike + Ruthy)
12/31: Olivebridge, NY – Ashokan New Years Eve square dance
1/7/2015: New Haven, CT - Cafe 9 (w/ Chris Eldridge)
1/8/2015: Brooklyn, NY - Jalopy Theatre (APAP Showcase)
1/9/2015: New York, NY - Don’t Tell Mama (APAP Showcase)
1/10/2015: 1/10/2015: Cooperstown, NY – Cooperstown Concert Series (opening for David Wax Museum)
1/11/2015: Huntington, VT – Valley Stage (w/ Jefferson Hamer)
1/13/2015: New York, NY – Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 1
1/14/2015: Baltimore, MD – Calvert Street House Concerts
1/16/2015: Raleigh, NC – Duke Energy Center for the Arts (opening for Aoife O’Donovan)
1/18/2015: Charleston, WV - Mountain Stage
1/20/2015: Knoxville, TN - The Blue Plate Special
1/21/2015: Nashville, TN - Music City Roots

Monday, December 15, 2014

KINGSLEY FLOOD SET TO UNLEASH 2015 DOWNPOUR OF NEW MUSIC: EP ‘TO THE FIRE’ OUT JANUARY 13, FOLLOWED BY SUMMER EP, FALL LP, VIDEOS, TOURING, ETC.

NPR WORLD CAFÉ TO FEATURE BAND AS “NEXT” ARTISTS WEEK OF DECEMBER 22

NEWPORT FOLK FEST MAIN STAGE ’13 SET LAUNCHED BAND TO NAT’L RECOGNITION

Kingsley Flood will be unleashing a deluge of music throughout 2015, including the January 13th EP ‘To The Fire,’ a summer EP, a fall full-length album, multiple music videos, and a rigorous touring schedule. The ambitious volume of output from the Boston and DC-based six-piece recognizes that the music business has changed and moved on from the era of the traditional album cycle. It also represents a shift in leader Naseem Khuri’s songwriting, channeling his personal journey as the son of Palestinian immigrants struggling to make change.

Since their breakout set opening the Newport Folk Festival in 2013, Kingsley Flood has opened tour dates for Lucius and Josh Ritter; earned raves from AV Club, Paste, Rolling Stone, Billboard, NY Times; played a session for Esquire; and premiered a video with NPR Music.

For ‘To The Fire,’ the fast-rising band partnered with producer Paul Kolderie (Radiohead, The Pixies, Speedy Ortiz) and crystallized the musical traits that help it stand out: the horn/violin combination that alternates between epic orchestral sweep and lush, low-key ambience, electric guitars that move from melodic arpeggios to howling feedback, an ever-expanding palette of keyboard textures and a versatile rhythm section, all topped off by Khuri’s raspy, desperate lead vocals.

On To The Fire, Khuri turns the focus inward, shifting from the chronicles of failed American dreams depicted on previous release (and Boston Music Awards Album of the Year) Battles, to his own struggle as a wanna-be do-gooder struggling to change the world around him.  Shaped by his Palestinian-American heritage and his hard-working immigrant parents, he spent his twenties working for organizations focused on conflict and inequality, in the Middle East and in his own backyard. The songs showcase both biting ambition and a reckoning that change is hard to come by.

To The Fire begins to explore that evolution.  “All In All” sets a danceable beat to the voice of political leaders in Khuri’s adopted home of Washington who leave their own behind on the way up.

“Set Me Off” may be the hardest-rocking Kingsley Flood song to date and one of its catchiest. The leftfield Ellie Goulding cover “Anything Could Happen” is reinvented as an indie rock song with hints of desperation. The Beatles-influenced “Thick of It” reality-checks that burning desire to change the world. The piano-based “Cavalry” fights complacency with the need to feel alive with Randy Newman-esque detail.

But like everything from Kingsley Flood, it’s the energy, dynamics, and musicianship that give life to Khuri’s reflections. From intricate arrangements and inspired lyricism to flashes of punk, the band behind To The Fire still delivers an experience that Paste Magazine said “is rapidly making an impression nationally [with its] rowdy on-stage anthems."

Upcoming Tour Dates:

January 9: Rock and Roll Hotel, Washington, DC
January 10: Boot and Saddle, Philadelphia, PA
January 16: Mercury Lounge, New York, NY
January 17: Stone Church, Newmarket, NH
January 30: The Sinclair, Cambridge, MA

‘To The Fire’ Track List
1.     Set Me Off
2.     All In All
3.     Thick Of It
4.     Anything Could Happen
5.     Cavalry

Of the band’s Newport Folk set, Rolling Stone said, "Kingsley Flood kicked off the main stage, shirking the rain with puddle-splashing, foot-stomping folk rock and their signature high energy."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

SUGAR RAY & THE BLUETONES LEADS BLUES MUSIC AWARD NOMINATION FIELD WITH SEVEN


Sugar Ray & The Bluetones – the storied blues ensemble celebrating its 35th anniversary this year with the deeply felt new album ‘Living Tear To Tear’ (Severn Records) – led the Blues Music Award nominations today with seven:

+ Band of the Year – Sugar Ray & The Bluetones
+ Album of the Year – ‘Living Tear To Tear’
+ Traditional Album of the Year – ‘Living Tear To Tear’
+ Harmonica - Sugar Ray Norcia
+ Bass - Michael "Mudcat" Ward
+ Traditional Male Artist - Sugar Ray Norcia
+ Song for "Things Could Be Worse”

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

‘THE GLOAMING’ AMONG NPR’S 50 FAVORITES OF 2014

It’s been a remarkable year the Gloaming and NPR has capped it by naming the self-titled album (Brassland) one of its 50 favorites of 2014.

Bob Boilen writes, “There has never been an album quite like this, spare and textured, representing past and future as well as transcending all you may think you know about Irish music.”

Monday, December 8, 2014

SIGNATURE SOUNDS SCORES FOUR IN THE AMERICANA RADIO CHART TOP 100 FOR 2014, WITH LAKE STREET DIVE AT #7

LAKE STREET DIVE SHARES VIDEO FROM ‘SIGNATURE SOUNDS 20TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION: RARITIES FROM THE SECOND DECADE’

The Americana Music Association’s top one hundred airplay chart for 2014 has four Signature Sounds albums on it. Lake Street Dive’s ‘Bad Self Portraits’ came in at number seven. The others were Peter Mulvey’s ‘Silver Ladder,’ Zoe Muth’s ‘World Of Strangers,’ and Chris Smither’s ‘Still On The Levee.’

Signature Sounds is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this winter with a concert series, a tour, and celebration at next year’s Green River Festival. On March 3, the storied label will release ‘Signature Sounds 20th Anniversary Collection: Rarities From The Second Decade’ featuring thirteen unreleased tracks, eighteen tracks in total from the likes of Lake Street Dive, Crooked Still, Eilen Jewell, Chris Smither, and others.

Lake Street Dive has shared its in-the-studio video of “What I’m Doing Here,” from the ‘Signature Sounds 20th Anniversary Collection: Rarities From The Second Decade’: