31 Days of Women: Lori McKenna


 Credit: Becky Fluke

Lori McKenna is well known for penning some of country music’s most memorable songs including Tim McGraw’s “Humble & Kind” and Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush.” The Massachusetts-based songwriter is also a solo artist and during a discussion on Saturday (March 3) at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, McKenna announced that her Dave Cobb-produced 11th studio album will be released in July. Titled The Tree, it will feature songs about family including one about her dad called “People Get Old.”

“The goal is to write a great song and to write the best song we can write that day,” she told the audience at the CMHOF. “Sometimes a song will lead you to where it wants to go . . . the best way to write a song is to not worry about what anyone else thinks.”

I chatted with McKenna ahead of the release of her tenth studio album, The Bird & the Rifle, where she discussed writing her first song at the age of 12 and the story behind “Humble & Kind.”

McKenna says that “Humble & Kind” is fairly simple and the list of hopes and dreams for her children featured throughout the song was easy to write being a parent. While she always starts with verses when it comes to songwriting, McKenna said for “Humble & Kind” the chorus came first.

“I knew that I lucked out in finding that chorus, to be honest, and then everything else was easy to put in there,” she explains. “It was just a matter of editing it down and putting it all in the order that worked in my head the right way.”

“I had the title and I knew I wanted it to be things I wanted my kids to know,” she says, explaining her process. “Once you get there, there’s a lot of information. You could overshoot the song. It was more about editing and taking out ‘put the toilet seat down.’ That didn’t necessarily have to be in it.”

Concert Reviews Festivals

CMJ: 5 Bands to Watch

Earlier this month, hundreds of bands visited New York for CMJ. Here’s a look at 5 to keep on your radar.

1. Savoir Adore

Last year I interviewed this act as a preview to CMJ. Unfortunately I never caught a show so I made it a point to witness them live this time around. Performing for WFUV’s showcase at the Living Room, Savoir Adore revealed their impressive harmonies alongside foot stomping rhythms and catchy lyrics.

Playing many tracks off their new record Our Nature, the band hushed the packed room as their soaring vocals echoed throughout the venue. Songs like “Sea of Gold” and title track “Our Nature” make the Brooklyn based band an act to watch.

2. Wax Poetic

That same night Wax Poetic took the stage at the Living Room. With sultry vocals from lead singer Sissy Clemens I couldn’t help but think of Amy Winehouse. Alongside gritty guitar and jazzy percussion features the band stood out. Not to mention their memorable lyrics. The introspective “Beautiful” struck a chord with lines like, “The darkest corners of my life can’t always shine a light.” Meanwhile, the sultry “No Escape” captivated before “On A Ride” (also the title track to their latest album) closed the set.

3. Suzanna Choffel

Perhaps my favorite part of CMJ was seeing TV darling Suzanna Choffel perform in the flesh. Having written about her as a contestant on The Voice singing cover songs it was refreshing to hear her original music. Her set at ZirZamin was a southern fused jam which showcased her bluesy and at times raspy vocals. While some tracks featured her rock style others had a slight island feel.

“This is what I hope I don’t do while walking in the streets of New York,” Suzanna said while introducing her song “Stumble.” “I have bad ankles and don’t do heels. Cowboy boots are good, sneakers are better.”

With a solid instrumental breakdown and her come-hither vocals the track impressed. Meanwhile, the poignant “Hello Goodbye” struck a chord. Written in memory of her favorite club Momo’s in Austin, Texas, the stripped down track showcased her vocals.

She couldn’t end the night without talking of her time spent on The Voice. “I’m on a little show maybe a couple people like it, it’s called The Voice,” she said. “Unfortunately I don’t do original music [on The Voice]. I think there should be a show called The Song,” she added before closing the set telling concertgoers to “Stay tuned to NBC for yours truly.”

4. Bess Rogers

I’ve caught Bess Rogers several times live over the past few years and her angelic vocals never cease to amaze me. Her intimate set at Rockwood Music Hall had the packed room mesmerized. If you weren’t there, you may recognize her voice from the Cherrios commercial as she recently wrote a new jingle for them as well as new single “The Perfect Day.”

Her set included a combination of older fan favorites and newer tracks from her album Out of the Ocean. Fun numbers like catchy “Math & Science” had the crowd tapping their feet along while the beautiful “In the Waves,” a track about a mermaid calling her love back to the water, showcased Bess alone on vocals and guitar before added piano parts.

5. Kimbra

I interviewed Kimbra the day of her first of two sold-out performances at New York’s Webster Hall. Having skyrocketed to popularity in the U.S. after her feature on Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” the 22-year-old finds herself on her first U.S. headlining tour.

Her set that Friday was nothing short of jaw-dropping. Dressed in a multi-colored tutu, Kimbra pranced around stage with a sense of ownership. Her lively performance captivated and whether it was her more upbeat numbers or slowed ballads that hushed the room like “Two Way Street,” her soulful vocals were memorable. Catch her live while you still can!

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Artist of the Week: Katie Moore


I witnessed Katie Moore live last September in Canada during the Emerging Music Festival. While going through my music collection recently I stumbled on her latest release, Montebello. Moore told me that the self-funded album took four years to produce with her friends and fellow Canadian musicians from rock band Plants and Animals. With emotive vocals showcasing her heartbreaking, yet relatable lyrics, Moore blends old country, folk, bluegrass and rock influences for a standout release.

Songs like album opener “Something On Your Mind” captivate the listener with her wavering vibrato and whispered vocals. Alongside impressive guitar licks, striking piano and fitting percussion, the song strikes a chord.

When she’s not performing her own music, Moore tours with friend and rapper Socalled.

“We were neighbors in Montreal and we shared a back alley. He lived in this basement apartment that everyone would go into through the kitchen window and hang out,” she said. “He knew that I sang and thought that it was country music. I like country music, I just feel like if you were into country music you wouldn’t call it that. It’s folky and rootsy. It’s a bit similar to rock country from the 60s with some organs and keys, but it’s nothing like today’s country music which is sort of like pop music.”

While she doesn’t classify herself as country, it didn’t stop Socalled from collaborating with Moore. He found the sample, “There is nothing so unusual about being a Jewish cowboy” and decided to make a Jewish cowboy song and enlisted Moore’s help.

“I wrote the words and I sang. That was the first thing we did together. The song is called “You Are Never Alone” and it became a hit in France because he’s on a French label and then he asked me to tour with him. I don’t know how it got to where it is today where I do most of the singing, but it’s pretty fun.”

Socalled later contributed to Moore’s release, playing piano on many of the tracks.

Moore says she gets inspired by things that people say. One song in particular she contributes to her guitarist.

“If someone will say something I’ll write it down. Our guitar player came over my house for rehearsal once and he’s known for his great expressions. He was really hung over and he said, ‘I can’t wake up every day like this, Katie.’ And I was like, “Wake Up Like This!” And I wrote a song for it.”

While she has her guitarist to thank for the song’s inspiration, Moore’s songwriting chops earned her the SOCAN ECHO Songwriting Prize, beating out nominees Arcade Fire, Austra, Handsome Furs, and PS I Love You.

“Wake Up Like This” showcases her country roots with slowed, raspy vocals, and title track “Montebello” has more of a R&B feel with distinct drum and organ elements, further exhibiting her versatility.

Never afraid to reveal too much in a song, Moore says music is therapy.

“If I don’t feel really strongly about a song it’s painful to play it again and again because it feels like a fraud. Sometimes if you’re missing a line somewhere and if I were to try to put in anything because it sounds good, I know that it’s not real.”

Having beat out Arcade Fire and continuing to tour, Moore isn’t slowing down anytime soon.

“I’m working on songwriting. I feel like in 15 years I’ll be pretty good. I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

For more on Katie Moore, visit her Website.

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International Pop Overthrow Hits LES To Showcase Rising Talent

The traveling music festival known as the International Pop Overthrow (IPO) is in New York City this week, as a number of bands take the stage on the Lower East Side for a massive showcase of up-and-coming talent.

Festival founder David Bash conceived the idea – to introduce bands from all over the world to the masses and have them play together under one platform – in 1997, and a year later, the first edition was held in Los Angeles, Calif., where 120 bands performing throughout 10 days.

Three years later it became a traveling festival when New York and later Chicago and Liverpool got added to the bill. Today, IPO is held in 16 cities throughout the US and Canada. A major success in Los Angeles, Bash said it took convincing from bands who continually played the festival before it went on the road.

“It was really more just urging of bands, who I think didn’t want to travel as far and thought it would be cool to have it at a place where they lived,” he said. “I’m glad they did that. It was immediately fun and successful.”

For more on the International Pop Overthrow, visit CBS.

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CMJ 2011: Five Bands to Watch

Over 900 bands performed throughout New York this past week during the annual CMJ Music Marathon. For five days and five nights, music lovers scoured the City to discover up-and-coming acts, and in some cases found themselves new fans. Here are five acts from the festival to keep on your radar.

1. Alabama Shakes

Friday afternoon I attended the “Beyond Blogfamous” panel where Bruce Warren, Assistant Station Manager/Programmer of WXPN, raved about Alabama Shakes. He said something along the lines of them being the one band that has a shot of bringing rock & roll back. Naturally, I was intrigued. Turns out they were playing later that night at Bowery Ballroom so I made sure to catch their show.

From the moment Brittany Howard belted her first lyric on set opener “Hold On,” she captivated every ear in the venue. Her voice brings to mind Amy Winehouse with the power of Aretha Franklin. A distinct ’60s Motown vibe is heard throughout many of their tracks. On “You Ain’t Alone” she growls, “If you’re gonna cry, cry with me” while the rest of the band adds to the mix. With bombastic guitar riffs, soulful keyboard interludes and a heart pounding drumbeat, Alabama Shakes prove they’re a force to reckon with. As one festival-goer told me during the show, “You feel like you’re watching something special.” I couldn’t agree more.

2. Deep River

I featured Deep River as a Band of the Week last year and their set Saturday night at Rockwood Music Hall reminded me just why. The Virgina based trio exude confidence, often joking with the audience and enticing fan participation while onstage. With alternated singing between Rachel Beauregard and Bryan Dawley along with Luke Brindley on guitar, the country-fused band transported the New York City venue to the South. With foot stomping rhythms and mandolin accompaniment throughout much of their set, the band impressed. Newer songs like the soulful “Settin’ the House on Fire,” co-written in Nashville, showcase the band’s staying power.

3. Matt Cranstoun

Earlier last week I interviewed Matt Cranstoun and he informed me that he’d have gospel singers performing with him during his CMJ showcase Saturday night. I couldn’t remember ever witnessing gospel singers perform at a rock show so I was curious. Though his set only lasted for 30 minutes, Cranstoun and his backup singers held the room in the palm of their hands.

As each song ended, the audience hollered for more. From Cranstoun’s crisp singing style to soaring musical accompaniment from his band and the help of three powerful gospel singers, his audience was the most engaged of any CMJ showcase I attended. After the set, I praised their performance and Cranstoun said, “November 19th will be much better.” The day of his record release for The Last Drop of Color, he’ll be performing Nov. 19 at Mercury Lounge.

4. The Parlotones

Having opened for Coldplay at 60,000 capacity venues, the South Africa-based band stopped in New York during CMJ for a performance at Highline Ballroom. Though the room was a bit smaller than the crowds they’re used to, The Parlotones didn’t alter their set in the slightest. Between frontman Kahn Morbee’s charismatic and theatrical stage presence, arena friendly choruses, and killer guitar riffs, the band won over their American audience. Songs like set opener “Life Design” satisfied with haunting vocals while The Parlotones’ energetic encore included a fast-paced Elvis Presley cover of “Burning Love.” While the band has sold more records than Coldplay, Oasis and The Killers combined in South Africa, it’s only a matter of time until the rest of the world catches on.

5. We Are Augustines

You know you really like a band when you attend more than one of their showcases during CMJ. Brooklyn-based We Are Augustines wowed a sold-out crowd at Bowery Ballroom Wednesday night. With gritty guitar, soaring horn interludes & frontman Billy McCarthy’s emotive, wavering vocals, the band had a similar effect at each of their remaining festival performances.

The band took the stage shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday night and had the audience screaming along until the close of their set an hour later. “I hope this is a celebration for you because it is for us. It’s been a little while since we’ve headlined here so we appreciate it,” McCarthy said. The majority of their show included songs off debut release, Rise Ye Sunkin Ships along with a solid cover of Joe Strummer’s “Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Songs like the energetic “Chapel Song” hypnotized while the poignant “Book of James” struck a chord. For more on the band, read my interview here.

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Matt Cranstoun to Perform Soulful Tracks off Upcoming Release at CMJ

Matt Cranstoun’s powerful vocals make the listener take notice. Set to perform Saturday night at Brooklyn’s The Rock Shop, his show will include three gospel singers and a full band.

With so many showcases during CMJ Music Marathon, Cranstoun advises music fans to support independent artists.

“Everyone should support independent music and art. Go to CMJ. See 10 bands perform. If you don’t like one, walk out, you have the option to do that,” he said. “That’s the beauty of CMJ, there’s so much going on. You can find 10 shows that you should enjoy.”

Cranstoun began his music career at eight-years-old behind his father’s drum set. Once high school came around he joined numerous bands and soon afterward decided to take the solo route and moved to New York.

“I didn’t know what to expect so I came up here and started the real songwriter thing where you play by yourself. That was a whole new vibe for me and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since,” he said.

For my complete writeup, visit CBS. Matt performs tonight at 10 p.m. at The Rock Shop in Brooklyn.

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Brooklyn Band Savoir Adore Takes Over CMJ With 8 Showcases

For Brooklyn-based Savoir Adore, what began as a 48-hour challenge between two friends soon morphed into a band.

A band that’s scheduled to play 8 different showcases at the CMJ fest this weekend.

“Deidre [Muro] and I were both solo artists in New York. We were frustrated with our current situations so we said, ‘Why don’t we try to collaborate over the weekend? See what happens,’” says Paul Hammer.

Over the course of that weekend Hammer and Muro decided to record an EP and gave themselves rules, which included no acoustic guitar.

“That EP formed the band. It was never intended to be a band; it was just a fun recording project that ended up getting passed around,” Hammer said. “We were so excited at what we created that we kept doing it.”

For my complete article, visit CBS.

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Lights Resolve Prepare for CMJ 2011; Credit Music Festival For Success

A week before their debut album, Feel You’re Different, is released, a band from Long Island is ready for their CMJ Music Marathon showcase.

Having played the festival for the past three years, Lights Resolve frontman Matthew Reich says CMJ has helped with the band’s success.

“CMJ has been a platform literally for us to take the stage and for people to learn about our band. I think a lot of people found out about us through CMJ because we did shows at Bowery Ballroom, Bowery Poetry Club,” he said. “We were on certain shows where people found out about us and now we’re some of those people’s favorite bands. It’s great to have that kind of festival with a built in audience that may not be your normal audience so you can tap into a new crowd.”

For my complete writeup, visit CBS. Be sure to pick up a copy of Lights Resolve’s debut release next week and catch them tonight at Maxwell’s in Hoboken.

Related Links:
Q&A: with Lights Resolve
Rolling Stone Names Lights Resolve Band to Watch
Lights Resolve Win Opening Slot On Rock Band Live Tour
Lights Resolve Tear Up the East Coast
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Brooklyn’s The Spring Standards Take The Stage At CMJ 2011

“I like to say that music is the language of our friendship,” Heather Robb says of her band, The Spring Standards, who will perform at the CMJ Music Marathon & Film Festival Tuesday evening.

The Brooklyn-based trio, made up of Robb, James Cleare and James Smith, met while in high school, and what started as friendship quickly turned into a band. At fifteen, the trio began playing and writing original material together.

Years later, after a brief separation followed by a reconnection, their three-part harmonies and energetic live show has continued to captivate audiences.

Having played CMJ before, Robb said it’s different being a New Yorker at a New York festival.

“In a lot of ways you feel more at ease. You feel a greater sense of, ‘I’m from New York. I know this city. This is our community,’” she says. “You feel more interested in creating an atmosphere where bands traveling from far away can feel comfortable as opposed to trying to feel comfortable yourself.”

For my complete article, visit CBS. For more on The Spring Standards, visit their Website. They play a free CMJ show tonight at 8 p.m. at Rockwood Music Hall.

Concert Reviews Festivals

Akron/Family, Elliott Brood Electrify at Emerging Music Festival

Over the weekend, thousands of music fans trekked to Rouyn-Noranda, a small Québec mining town north of Montreal, for the Emerging Music Festival. In its ninth year, the festival showcased numerous Canadian acts, many alternating between English and French during their sets.

Throughout four days, 60 bands performed in local bars, restaurants and theaters, some who drove several hours just for a 30-minute slot onstage. A communal environment, the bands remained in town for the weekend and it was common to attend a show and stand next to the artist you saw perform the day before.

The festival kicked off Thursday night simultaneously at an outdoor stage on Seventh Street and at local church Agora Des Arts, allowing attendees to run back and forth across the street to witness multiple acts.

Montreal rockers Passwords took to the outdoor space, where locals congregated. Both young and older audience members were taken by the aggressive, lush set, which served as an impressive introduction of what to expect in the upcoming days.

Across the street in an old church, eerie red lighting surrounded the ethereal Muse Hill during their set, which blended jazz, folk, and country undertones. The unique performance included an interview with Hunter S. Thompson blasting from speakers alongside Juno-nominated saxophonist Chet Doxas. The band transformed the church into a 50s jazz revival with a solid cover of Jimmy Giuffre’s “The Train and the River.”

For my complete review, visit Billboard Pro.