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The Political Buzz around Country Music

by Ashley Winward | April 8, 2015

In the past couple weeks, news of Texas senator Ted Cruz’ run as a candidate for the Republican nomination has stirred up controversy but not on the front you think it might: the musical kind.

Ted Cruz (AP photo)

Ted Cruz (AP photo)

Recently in an interview with CBS News, senator Cruz said that while he grew up listening to rock, it was after the 9/11 attacks that he began listening to country music.

“I actually find this intellectually curious, but on 9/11, I didn’t like how rock music responded, and country music collectively, the way they responded, it resonated with me, and I just have to say just at a gut level, I had an emotional reaction that said these are my people,” Cruz explained in the interview.

As news channels reported on this comment, MSNBC program Now with Alex Wagner discussed the topic, while sparking another controversy entirely. senior editor Jamilah Lemieux sat on a panel and, when discussing the comments made by Cruz, said, “Nothing says ‘let’s go kill some Muslims’ like country music.”

The comment was recanted by MSNBC later on in the segment saying that the network does not condone the comment which was made.

Country music has not been shy about its patriotism in the slightest; many songs were written about the war on terrorism and about the love we have for our country as well as our troops. When I think of patriotism, I often think back to Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red White & Blue (The Angry American)” which proclaims, we’ll put a boot in you’re a**, it’s the American way.” John Michael Montgomery’s performance of “Letters from Home” talks about writing our loved ones overseas and how important it is to let our soldiers know that we’re thinking of them.

Alan Jackson even spoke specifically about the 9/11 attacks in “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” asking, “Did you dust off that bible or go home and buy a gun?” While these are all very patriotic and war-centered songs, the country genre is not these songs alone.

What about the fun loving songs of Luke Bryan or Florida Georgia Line? How about the female power of Carrie Underwood or Miranda Lambert? Remember when country was just about kicking back with a beverage around a bonfire and relaxing or rolling down the highway with the windows down in your pickup truck? To me personally, country music is about having fun, loving others and appreciating family and friends. Patriotism is certainly a piece of the puzzle, but I would hate to see a genre so underappreciated to be pigeon-holed into simply “patriotic tunes.”

Many have noted that being a country fan on the political front may be the best choice for Cruz’ campaign. A resounding amount of republicans classify themselves as country fans, so why not scream your love for Brad Paisley from the mountain tops? But to use musical preference as a leveraging tool in a political campaign is an odd way to go. While I accept all musical tastes for what they are, I feel as though the country genre shouldn’t just be defined for one topic. Whatever gets people listening though, right?

I Found My Friends review

by Andrew Lagambina | April 8, 2015

There are a lot of Nirvana fans out there. Since the band’s meteoric rise in the nineties all the way to the present day, more than 20 years after Kurt Cobain’s tragic death, millions upon millions of people have listened to the band’s music, bought books about the band, and have even grown so rabid that publishing houses have made Cobain’s private journals a bookstore staple.


However, even with all this merchandising and fandom, far too many people have no clue who the people in this band were. Why where they so important? Where did they come from? Why should I appreciate them in a time where every other band that puts out an album sounds something like them?

I Found My Friends: The Oral History of Nirvana helps answer these questions in a way that most other biographies fail to achieve.

Nick Soulsby interviewed over 150 musicians, producers and other people that were in some way affiliated with the band to create an intimate history of the band, and I challenge you to find somewhere else.

What’s interesting is how little Soulsby writes himself. Rather than telling the story, he includes paragraphs upon paragraphs of interviews with the musicians that played house shows and stadium concerts with the band, as well as the people in the industry that helped them get where they were going.

The people that were there tell the story, and paint a picture of what it was like to be a punk from Washington state in the late 80s and early 90s. Did you know that more often than not, it was Krist Noveselic, the band’s bassist, who stole the spotlight while the band was first getting started? Can you name the various drummers that played with Nirvana before Rock’s now-Lord and Savior Dave Grohl joined the band? Do any of these questions pique your interest? If so, I’d buy this book now.

Even those fans that think they know everything about Nirvana will probably find more than a few interesting stories that they hadn’t heard before.

In recent years, there’s been a lot of examining of Nirvana’s career. There are countless books that outline the record deals and the big shows and the struggle with fame, but few will make you feel like you were there in the way I Found My Friends manages to.

It’s truly an experience to read a nonfiction book that weaves a story as compelling as this, and it’s no wonder, considering how long people have loved Nirvana, and how dedicated those fans are, and now is the perfect time for those fans to start reading. With the Kurt Cobain Biopic, Montage of Heck coming out later this year, it makes sense to brush up on your Nirvana knowledge before going to see what exactly their front man was all about. I highly recommend this book.

Local Gigs of the Week

by Ashley Winward | April 8, 2015

local gigs of the week

Toads Place

April 9: Barstool Hoedown

April 10: Lil’ Bibby with Wavthang and Dublin


The Space 

April 8: Picture Perfect with For the Win, Young Lincoln and Tonsil Hockey

April 10: Vindicated with A.V.B., Lonny &Aloe Yoroi, Augment, DJKB, ETA, Positive ID and The Vanguard Disaster

April 11: Sarah Barrios & Riley Lynch with Jenna Rose, The Brazen Youth, Allie Martocci and Carly Underwood

April 12: Guest House with Forget This, Dear, Dear Pines, Orders and Rare Beasts

April 13: Comeback of the Year with Wolf Gone Astray


BAR (21+) 

April 8: Landlady with Oh, Cassius! and All-caps LADD

April 15: Funky Dawgz Brass Band with MOJO


Cafe Nine (21+) 

April 8: Tal National with The Mountain Movers

April 9: Orkestar Bam with The Harris Brothers Balkan Band

April 10: MAKU Sound System with Rudenya and Fernandito Ferrer

April 11: Lipgloss Crisis presents Spring Fever Burlesque

April 12: Elm City Folk Festival

April 13: Brennen Leigh & Noel McKay

April 15: The Density Twins

Livewell’s Latest

by Shannon Livewell | April 8, 2015

James Bay brings chaos & calm to 2015

Two years ago, I was scrolling through some Burberry Acoustic Sessions on YouTube when I came across an awkwardly endearing British singer/songwriter who was propped on a fire escape with guitar in hand. With soulful vocals and emotional chords behind every breath, James Bay instantly made me a fan of his music.

Within the last year, Bay has been making constant strides towards progress, even performing as a part of The Spotify House down at SXSW two weeks ago. Recognizing there was a need for more of his powerfully evoking music, Bay released his debut full-length album, Calm And The Chaos on March 23. He recorded the twelve-track masterpiece at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, Tenn.

James Bay (Photo obtained via Facebook)

James Bay (Photo obtained via Facebook)

I would like to preface this review by saying—covering all of the amazing aspects of this album is extremely daunting, so as much as I want you to value my musical opinion, I strongly suggest you listen, start to finish, and formulate your favorites for yourself. It’ll be hard to choose!

The album opens with a guitar and drum driven instrumental, contrasting with Bay’s smooth and “calm” vocals. “Craving” is the opening track for a reason; it gives the listener a comprehensive idea of the story-telling artist that Bay is. The verses talk about the mundane steps we all walk through in our daily life. There is no fairytale-like moral of the story, just raw feelings and honest words. The hook repeats by saying “I’m craving something I can feel,” reiterating the pattern of life that repeats like the “ticking of clocks.”

“Let it Go” is the third track on the album and even the opening guitar has melancholy warmth to it. The lyrical content in this song is more like a poetic letter. It talks about the phases that a relationship can go through when both individuals are striving to hold onto themselves but realizing their identities are changing as they grow closer together. There is a struggle evident between choosing to walk away or stay, ironically backed by a continuously simplistic instrumental. Bay’s vocals are the star of this track, with no overproduction.

The seventh track, “Move Together,” combines indie folk and alternative music with R&B elements. This is a nice change of pace for Bay as it allows him to express the soulfulness that sometimes hides behind the lyrical content of his other songs. Once again speaking about relationships, which seem to be the theme of this album, Bay preaches that a couple must move together to get to the same place. He finds a clever way to hide literal and physical meaning behind the idea of this track. This is the perfect song to drive your relaxing Sunday afternoon.

While I could go on and on about every single song on this album like how much I love the chorus of “Scars” and the way “Hold Back the River” will make you want to get up and dance. It is easier to say this is, by far, my number one choice for the album of 2015 thus far and, with over 64,000 combined sales bringing Calm And The Chaos to the number one spot on UK charts, it’s safe to say that others agree.

Interview with Justin Levinson

by Elyse Von Der Fecht | April 8, 2015

Justin Levinson is a singer/songwriter from Burlington, Vermont. Renowned for a catalog of songs covering everything from power-pop to country to “feel good heartbreak.”

Justin Levinson (Photo provided by Justin Levinson)

Justin Levinson (Photo provided by Justin Levinson)

Levinson has earned steady praise from audiences and critics alike since his 2005 debut. Seven years and four acclaimed albums later, Justin maintains a solid presence that has seen him share the stage with acts like Matt Wertz, Will Dailey, Churchill, Ryan Cabrera, and toured with artists such as Tyler Hilton, Aaron Carter, Teddy Geiger and more. Here is what the talented musician had to say.

Elyse: What made you want to become a singer?
Justin: I grew up in a very musical household. My Father is a music teacher and he got me started on lessons at an early age. I pretty much grew up with The Beatles by my crib. It wasn’t until my teens when I started singing and joined the chorus in school.

E: What is the best thing about touring?
J: The best part about touring is meeting so many great people. I love to hangout with the crowd after the show and talk to fans. I also enjoy getting to know the other acts, club owners and all the folks involved in the production.

E: What is the worst or hardest thing about tour?
J: The hardest thing for me is sleeping. I get excited and anxious about the shows and I start analyzing how I performed the night before. I feel like I become a bit of an insomniac. Sometimes I also miss my dog Gigi.

E: If you could travel anywhere for a show, where would it be?
J: I’d really love to tour Europe someday! That is definitely on my bucket list.

E: Whom are you dying to open for in the near future?
J: I’d love to open for FUN., such a great band.

E: Whom would you want to write songs or an album with?
J: I actually have never done any co-writing in my career and I’m not sure if it’s for me. Someday I’d like to write a musical maybe then I can collaborate with some top-notch arrangers and producers.

E: How do you go through with writing your songs?
J: Usually I start with a chord progression and start humming a hook. Lyrics just fall into place after that. I always try to write from the heart.

E: If you weren’t in the music industry, what would you do?
J: I’d most likely be involved with baseball in some way. I love the art of pitching and have been a huge Atlanta Braves fan since I was a youngster. Maybe a pitching coach or scout.

E: What do you hope to accomplish in the next few years?
J: I’d love to continue what I’m doing and tour as much as possible. Would love to get a few music placements in film and TV as well.

Keep an eye out, he is working on new music in the studio.

Album of the Week

by Ashley Winward | April 8, 2015

One Direction member headed in new direction

by Ashley Winward | April 1, 2015

This week 1D fans around the world cried out when news struck that member Zayn Malik had quit One Direction after five years.

Zayn leaves One Direction (AP photo)

Zayn leaves One Direction (AP photo)

Recently, several media outlets had reported that Malik left their current tour prematurely due to stress, leaving in the middle of a run through Africa and Asia. The band still has a European and North American leg that takes them through the fall.

While I cannot speak as a fan of the band, this news brings to light an issue that’s been plaguing musicians for years; the balance between celebrity and normalcy. In Malik’s statement to fans he wrote, “I am leaving because I want to be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight.”

When we put artists up on this pedestal of fame, it can be easy for fans to forget that these people are also human. With how fast these guys went from X Factor contestants to worldwide phenomena, it’s been practically a five year push to continue putting out hits with no let up. No matter how much you enjoy the experience, there’s no denying that this is a very stressful situation for the body and mind.

It was only a matter of time before someone was to finally break down.

While some fans have been understanding of this fact, others have been acting as if the man has died, posting pictures on social media of candlelight vigils and getting the twitter hashtag #foreverinourheartszayn trending worldwide. While this part of his life’s journey has ended, there is still so much left for Malik to do, just out of the millions of public eyes.

Personally, I don’t blame him for this decision; there is only so much one person can handle and it’s okay to take a step back and reevaluate another musical path.

I will say that the whole situation could have been handled better. To leave midway through a tour can be frustrating to both the band and artist. With tickets already sold expecting a certain lineup, there will always be complaints in this sort of situation. Will fans still go? Probably. Will there be an uproar when the remaining four members approach the stage? Only the good kind.

No matter what bad happens there will still be fans flocking for a chance to see “The First Tour Without Zayn 2015” because they’ll be witnessing history. Good or bad, there’s something powerful about being a part of a historic moment of your favorite band’s history.

For all my fangirls, I completely understand your pain. While I may not be a 1D fan, I’ve experienced my fair share of band breakups before. It’s just important to remember that Malik is a human being with personal needs as well. As fans, we must accept this and support the artists we care about in whatever future endeavors they may partake in. If that means letting him live a quiet life, then we just have to remember that they’re happy.

Who knows? This might not be the last we see him; he has gone on record to say that he would love to try the production side of the industry. While the fate of the UK crew may be off in different directions, it will be the music that keeps them together in our memories.

Motionless in White return to Irving for second sell out show

by Ashley Winward | April 1, 2015

This past weekend Motionless in White returned to New York City to headline the Beyond the Barricade tour, bringing along friends For Today, New Years Day and Ice Nine Kills. This was the second sold out show at Irving Plaza and the crowd reflected that, coming out in their most interesting garb to thrash about to the Pennsylvania natives.

Ashley went to see Motionless in White in New York City (Photo by Ashley Winward)

Ashley went to see Motionless in White in New York City (Photo by Ashley Winward)

Motionless in White is one of those bands that can have a very specific looking fan; all black everything, leather and spikes, pale white makeup to match lead singer Chris “Motionless” Ceruli, a style very synonymous of the stereotypical Marilyn Manson look. It’s something that I appreciate about metal and bands like Motionless in White, the fan base is dedicated, and dressing up allows a sort of escapism that entices fans.

Opening the evening was Ice Nine Kills, hailing from Boston, Mass. The band’s whose name comes from Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. Lead singer Spencer Charnas started their set off guns blazing with “Connect the Cuts” and continued with a charged set mostly sampling their most recent release, 2013’s The Predator Becomes the Prey. While their time on stage was short, it was certainly memorable, with Spencer’s dark and theatric stage presence. The band moved fast through a total of five songs, stopping briefly midway to ask the fans to light the room with their lighters and cell phones for “Me, Myself and Hyde” their newest single. The band’s instrumentation as a whole was really tight and strong, impressing me as my first time seeing them and a new fan.

New Years Day clearly had the female support in the room when they took to the stage; the screams as singer Ash Costello could have your ears ringing alone. The sass she gives when she spits out her lyrics match her strut across the stage. For such a little girl, she really owns the place. While I wasn’t familiar with a lot of their songs prior to the show, I really enjoyed “Death of the Party,” as well as their closing song, “Defame Me.” The music was definitely heavy but fun to dance to at the same time. The highlight of their set was probably when Chris Motionless came out to join the band to sing his part on “Angel Eyes” off of their Victim to Villain album. You can check out New Years Day all summer on the Vans Warped Tour.

For Today was the direct support for Motionless, a Christian metalcore group from Iowa. Their set was primarily based on their most recent album Fight the Silence, which has hit the top of the charts in both the US hard rock and Christian categories. Opening with their hit “Break the Cycle” the pit absolutely erupted. There is nothing these guys bring more of than energy. Singer Mattie Montgomery puts so much heart in his performances; you can tell that he’s genuine in what he does and that’s something I can appreciate. While I do like their music, I have a hard time watching their live performances. Being a Christian group, Montgomery does take a significant amount of time out of their performance to speak the word of god and tell his story of coming to the church. While I am not against any religions, and I am a firm believer of every person’s freedom of speech, it is something that I do not feel comfortable with in the setting of a concert. I would probably not attend another for today show unless it were to see other bands of interest. If they spend a little more time playing music and a little less time talking I think it would be a different story.

Soon it was time for the lights to dim, the candles to be lit and for Motionless in White to take to the stage. The set began with bass player Devin “Ghost” Sola, appearing in a slipknot-esque mask wielding a chainsaw; nothing too out of the ordinary for this band. Opening with “Death March” it was clear that it was going to be a wild show. Spanning all three of their albums over a 14 song set, there was no hit gone unplayed. One of the only song selections that I would say I was disappointed with was that only two songs of the puppet trilogy were performed (The First Snow and Grand Finale). There were quite a few collaborations throughout the set; Ash Costello of New Years Day joined Chris to sing Maria Brink’s (of In this Moment) part in “Contemptress” and Spencer of Ice Nine Kills sang on “Abigail” much to my surprise.

I was also pleasantly surprised to hear their cover of Rammstein’s “Du Hast” so seamlessly into their set. I’ve seen Motionless perform once before at Warped Tour, but seeing them in a dark and eerie setting at night added so much to the ambiance of their music. Closing out the night with “Devil’s Night,” they were greeted by members of New Years Day equipped with silly string, streamers and balloons, as it has neared the end of the Beyond the Barricade Tour. You can check out Motionless in White this summer opening for Slipknot.

As I write this, resting my sore throat and aching muscles, I can assure you that every bump and bruise was worth the amazing experience. Motionless in White put on such a phenomenal stage show that I’m so glad I was introduced to their music, I highly recommend everyone give them a listen. Everyone needs a little walk on the dark side some days.



Livewell’s Latest

by Shannon Livewell | April 1, 2015

Alina Smith isn’t just in Nashville for the ‘Free Beer’

Emerging singer-songwriter Alina Smith hit the country music scene this year with her catchy single “Free Beer.”

The track had its’ debut on Sirius XM The Highway’s “On the Horizon” program, where they have listeners vote to keep new songs (and artists) on the air. Hailing from Russia, Smith puts a unique spin on a classic genre and isn’t afraid to take risks in a sometimes uniformed industry. I was lucky enough to speak with her about her recent growth and the aspects of her life that keep her motivated to continue making music we all love.

“I got started in the music business when I was six,” Smith explained. “I auditioned to be in this kids’ singing group called ‘Aurora’. The next thing I knew, I was on a tour bus with them rolling through Europe. We played a show almost every night and I loved it!”

With a start in the industry as a six year-old touring through Europe, Smith was clearly destined to continue a prosperous career in music. I wanted to understand that musical environment in Russia while she was growing up. In the U.S. we tend to forget that things are different in other countries; in Italy, kids drink wine at dinner and in Ghana, they start work as early as eight years old. With such varying customs, it is important to understand how music is expressed elsewhere and the way that could affect artists who aren’t domestic to the country they gain fame in.

“I’m not sure what it was like for the other kids my age,” said Smith. “But since I was on the road with ‘Aurora’ all the time, everything was always about music and performing it. For example, our managers didn’t let us go swimming or eat ice cream, because they were afraid we’d catch a cold and lose our voices. Of course, we still did it on the sly,” she joked.

While music was always a part of Smith’s life, I was curious about what constituted her move to Nashville, Tenn., primarily a country music based city.

“I knew I wanted to be a country artist and Nashville is the place for that. Compared to moving from Russia, it was a relatively painless process. Although I really do miss the West Coast weather,” she admitted.

As far as her career as a songwriter, Smith said that the singing came first due to how young she was when she originally started performing.

“I started writing in my early teens and it’s been my favorite since then. There’s nothing like getting that little spark of an idea and watching it grow into a song!”

Speaking of little sparks that turn into big ideas, Smith’s hit single “Free Beer” has been a fan-favorite on The Highway for months now. As a huge fan of The Highway on Sirius myself, I’ve always been curious as to how songs are chosen to be a part of the “On the Horizon” sector.

“It was totally serendipitous. My management has an open door policy – artists just come and go whenever they feel like it,” Smith said. “It was one of those times I just showed up to say ‘hey.’ When I walked in, they were all in the conference room with John Marks, who programs The Highway, playing him my music! I’m pretty sure John thought we staged my appearance, but it was really random. He added ‘Free Beer’ to the ‘On The Horizon’ segment of the show shortly after that.”

“It’s been great to watch the song grow organically,” she continued. “Since it’s a little edgy for country music, I was worried about how it might be received, but a lot of people seem to get it. I’ve seen a bunch of girls posting the lyrics and I can’t tell you how many guys have offered to buy me beer,” she laughed.

“To me it’s a total girl power song. Girls don’t need to hook up with guys to have a good time—just take the beer and hit the dance floor with your friends! Nothing against guys either—I have a great one here at home—I just think it’s fun to take the players and flip their game against them every once in a while.”

Because Smith is at a point her career where “Free Beer” is becoming a second identity to the emerging singer/songwriter, I wanted to spark interest in the rest of her portfolio and have fans get to know a little more about the woman behind the catchy hook.

“My songs are all like my babies, so it’s hard to be partial. Songs like “Free Beer” are really fun to perform, but there are also some ballads I’ve written that really hit home any time I sing them.”

With such an edgy stylization on a solidified genre, it is interesting to hear about Alina’s main influences – both personally and musically.

“I have a very broad musical taste. Obviously, I’m a huge country fan, traditional or new, but I also listen to a lot of pop, R&B and hip-hop. Michael Jackson is my favorite pop artist of all time. And as far as country, I love strong females, like Loretta Lynn or Miranda Lambert. Personally, I tend to pay attention to a lot of entrepreneurs outside of the music industry,” she went on. “Especially the girls. Barbara Corcoran is very inspiring, so is Sophia Amoruso.

This uniquely empowering singer/songwriter has much more on the way for fans and soon-to-be fans alike. She encourages everyone to stay up to date on her latest music news by following her on Twitter and Instagram (@alinamusic). Alina Smith has taken the country music charts by storm and is bound to continue on this trend with her refreshing take on classic stories that are sure to grab your attention and keep you wanting more.

Local gigs of the week

by Ashley Winward | April 1, 2015

local gigs of the week

Toad’s Place
April 1: New Found Glory with Turnstile, This Wild Life and Turnover

April 2: Break Science with Marvel Years and Vibe Street

April 7: The Game

The Space
April 3: Lineup Atlantic with Joey Loglisci, London Eyes, Chronic Rhythm and Nothing Special

April 8: Picture Perfect with For the Win, Young Lincoln and Tonsil Hockey

BAR (21+)
April 1: Dinowalrus with Glamour Assassins and Terrible Roars

April 8: Landlady with Oh, Cassius! and All-caps LADD

Cafe nine (21+)
April 2: Roger Street Friedman with Seth Adam

April 4: Eugene Mirman with Andrew Donnelly

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