Presented by Lenz. In partnership with Eddie's Attic
Amplify Decatur Music Festival featuring Lucinda Williams and her band: Outside on the downtown Decatur square
Noah Gundersen, John Moreland, Packway Handle Band, Harold Holloway & Co., Kristen Englenz
Atlanta, GA, 30030
Doors 3:00 PM / Show 4:00 PM (event ends at 11:00 PM)
We’ve all heard about the iconic vibe of Route 66, the neon lights on Broadway and the ocean air of the Pacific Coast Highway. But there are untold stories emanating from countless blue highways across the land – like Interstate 20, which cuts a 1500-mile swath from South Carolina to Texas, and cuts deep into the spirit of those who’ve spent their lives traversing it.
Lucinda Williams is one of those people, and with the expansive, enveloping The Ghosts of Highway 20, she brings those stories to life – and gives listeners a remarkably vivid look at how the highway has been a literal and figurative backdrop throughout her entire life. The intensely involving 14-song collection may be the most deeply felt, deeply affecting work of Lucinda Williams’ illustrious 35-plus-year career, a career that has been established on a foundation of remarkably personal songs.
“It is literally a map of my life in a lot of ways,” says Lucinda. “We were driving between shows and between cities, and I kept seeing things that brought me back to times and places in my past. Like when we played in Macon, Georgia, a place I lived when I was five or six years old, I got out of the bus and I was transported back to when I saw this street singer, Blind Pearly Brown. It was like nothing had changed. All these things started percolating in my brain, and the songs just came.”
The thread of Highway 20 connects those songs, mirroring the winding route of the road itself, a street that cleaves close to Williams’ childhood homes, the final resting place of her mother, the sites where signposts of her formative years are forever planted. The connection runs deep here, particularly on the dark and moody tones of the album’s poignant title track, on which Lucinda ponders the lives that were lived, the legacies that were left and the imprints that remain on her own soul, conveying those vignettes with a palette that’s nuanced enough to give the listener pause to ponder, but unvarnished enough that her message is impossible to miss.
She cuts closest to the bone with “Dust” (a song built around a poem written by her late father, poet laureate Miller Williams, whose “Compassion” she interpreted on 2014’s Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone) and “Bitter Memory,” a bracing consideration of times gone by, one that doesn’t sugarcoat things with the usual veneer of nostalgia. Lucinda continues down that path with “Louisiana Story,” a sequel of sorts to her classic “Baton Rouge” that captures its faded Delta setting with a wizened beauty. “I didn’t want to repeat myself, but I kept coming back to the story I was telling there,” she explains. “I wanted to describe, like a photograph of what I recall back then – the humming of the fans, the tar sticking to the bottom of my feet when I went out to play and other vivid recollections that I’ve never forgotten from that time.”
The sense memory is strong here, in Lucinda’s storytelling, and in the interplay between the musicians, notably guitarist Bill Frisell (who last joined her on Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone). His intuitive, incisive playing – especially in tandem with fellow guitarist Greg Leisz, adds sunshine and shadow, darkness and light, sometimes within the same passage. That pair underscores the heretofore unheard tenderness that Lucinda brings to the lullaby-gentle “Place in My Heart” and a palpable layer of grit to a surprising version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Factory” (a darkly pensive Darkness on the Edge of Town tale about “Men [who] walk through these gates with death in their eyes,” an image that fits seamlessly into the album’s hyper-real depictions of life).
“I know people throw the word around a lot, but this is one of the most organic things I’ve ever worked on,” says Greg Leisz, who co-produced and played guitar on the album. “There aren’t any overdubs, there’s no sweetening, it was the musicians getting into a headspace and bringing the songs to life. We were ecstatic to see how the whole thing came together, how [Lucinda] reacted to seeing the process unfold. It was a one- of-a-kind experience.”
Lucinda Williams has been maneuvering down a path all her own for more than three decades now, emerging from Lake Charles, Louisiana, where her iconoclastic upbringing helped her forge the stunning Lucinda Williams (aka, the Rough Trade album). Somehow, that milestone 1988 set eventually disappeared from shelves, but was reissued 25 years later, as a deluxe edition that garnered unanimous acclaim -- including Jim Farber of New York’s Daily News hailing it by calling it “A perfect work. There’s not a chord, lyric, beat or inflection that doesn’t pull at the heart or make it soar.”
For much of the ‘90s, Lucinda moved around the country, turning out work that won immense respect inside the industry – as borne out by the Grammy afforded Mary- Chapin Carpenter’s interpretation of Williams’ “Passionate Kisses.” While her recorded output was sparse for a time, the work that did was invariably hailed for its indelible impressionism – like 1998’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, which notched her a second Grammy Award. Over the next decade, she crafted such classic sets as West (2007), and Blessed (2011), which the Los Angeles Times dubbed “a dynamic, human, album, one that’s easy to fall in love with.”
Lucinda credits the injection of vitality and passion that emerged in part to Tom Overby, her partner in both life and music, who’s acted as both a sounding board and collaborator, contributing production ideas and offering encouragement to forge forward in directions that she might not have otherwise explored. That creative connection has grown increasingly electric over the years, as borne out by 2014’s Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, which Blurt’s Fred Mills referred to as “A snapshot—or feature- length film, take your pick – of a woman fully renewed and at the height of her creative powers.” The album won the 2015 Americana Music Association Award for Album of the Year.
The Ghosts of Highway 20, which has its roots in the sessions that produced that last outing, takes things even further. Williams stretches fearlessly here, experimenting with jazzy vocal phrasing that’s reminiscent of Van Morrison’s more adventurous offerings, and giving full voice to her literary side – which has its roots in childhood encounters with Flannery O’Connor (who her late father called his “greatest teacher”). The most dramatic example of that freewheeling spirit arrives at the close of the album – in the form of the 13-minute “Faith and Grace,” a churning groove powered by the drumming of Jamaican legend Carlton “Santa” Davis (best known for his work with the late Peter Tosh) and Jamaican hand drummer Ras Michael, whose haunting vocals add to the track’s intensity.
“That song does sum up what the album is all about for me,” says Williams. “It isn’t a jam, it’s a groove, and I just got into the room with those guys and went off. I had no idea what I was going to do, but I went with it, we all went with it, and it felt so spiritual, so real. It surpasses anything I’ve ever done, I think – and it makes me really excited about where I could take things in the future.”
For Noah Gundersen, the past few years have brought about immense growth and change, both as an artist and as a young man grappling with issues of identity and independence. It should come as little surprise, then, that his stunning new album, 'Carry The Ghost,' is so heavily influenced by existential philosophy. What's so striking, though, is hearing a 25-year-old articulate such weighty themes, packaging them into heartbreakingly gorgeous melodies with a plainspoken language that cuts to the quick upon first listen. Then again, Noah Gundersen has never aimed for ordinary.
Though only a little more than a year has passed since the 2014 release of 'Ledges,' 'Carry The Ghost' finds an older, more sophisticated Gundersen attempting the difficult work of unraveling our purpose here, searching for answers about the nature of man and the meaning of our relationships. Gundersen came to an understanding of himself as the sum of his experiences, a view he embraces as a positive one and which led him to delve into the works of existentialist writers and philosophers like Ortega. For Gundersen, the personal history that shapes each and every one of us is the titular ghost, and it's the thread that ties the entire record together.
The album's more ambitious scale showcases a natural evolution following the success of 'Ledges,' which earned raves everywhere from NPR's World Café to CBS Saturday Morning. Hailed as a "powerful debut" by SPIN, the record delivered on the promise of a string of previous EPs, which poetically tackled issues of faith and doubt and loss and desire as Gundersen transitioned into adulthood. It earned him a devoted national fan base, with many introduced to his music through placements on popular television series like 'Sons of Anarchy,' where his introspective and brooding songs proved to be an invaluable piece of the storytelling.
With 'Carry The Ghost,' Gundersen once again looked inward to find inspiration. "This album grew out of a desire to know myself, to know how I was supposed to live," he explains. "And in that process, I realized that maybe there is no 'supposed to be.' The concept of 'Carry The Ghost' is that we're made by our experiences and to accept that instead of fighting it. The last several years have been a process of accepting things as they are and to not see them as so black and white or right or wrong, to accept that we're not made to be a certain way, but that we are involved in an ongoing process of becoming."
Recorded at Seattle's Litho Studio, 'Carry The Ghost' explores issues of self-discovery and existentialism with an erudite sophistication across 13 magnificent tracks. Collaborating more than ever before with his touring band—which includes his sister Abby and brother Jonathan—Gundersen set out to push boundaries and confound expectations, experimenting with tone and structure and creating rich sonic textures that ebb and flow beneath his stirring, solemn voice.
The album opens with "Slow Dancer," a haunting piano meditation on the anger and frustration that can often be a part of the process of healing from a broken heart. "Light me up again if it makes you feel free," he sings. Dramatic as it can be, this is not an album about conflict, but rather acceptance and understanding. "Why try and fix it?" he asks on "The Difference." "Maybe you were made this way / Maybe the pieces were intentionally different." Later in the album, he strives to "understand the space between the man and the mirror," and on "Show Me The Light," he looks to his first love and recognizes, "You were the worst and the best thing that happened to me."
"With 'Show Me The Light' in particular, there's a dualism that shaped me and I'm ultimately grateful for, even though it was painful," says Gundersen. "There are good things to be taken from most bad things. Again, that's the idea of embracing our history."
"There's a social and religious tendency to see ourselves as inherently broken and in need of fixing," he continues, "and this is me challenging that idea, saying, 'Maybe we were made this way and maybe we are not actually broken and maybe it's okay that we don't have the answers.'"
While Biblical references have frequently played a role in Gundersen's songwriting, he casts off his last subconscious bonds to religion in "Empty From The Start," which plays out as something of an existentialist manifesto. "This is all we have / This is all we are / Blood and bones no holy ghost / Empty from the start," he sings. But rather than leading him to embrace nihilism, the revelation causes Gundersen to find more meaning than ever in humankind, and brings out a new degree of selflessness, as he concludes, "The only thing worth loving more than me is loving you."
"If we are ultimately alone and there is no God and no one will ever truly know what's going on inside of us, I think the most valuable thing we can do is to at least attempt to know someone," he explains. "And that's what I think love is, whether it's romantic love or familial or simply friendship or companionship. To make someone else feel slightly less alone, and in that process become slightly less alone yourself, that to me seems like one of the few truly valuable things that we can do in this life."
The concepts of value and meaning are clearly ones that occupied much of Gundersen's consciousness during the writing of the album. He tackles the notions on "Selfish Art," asking, "Am I giving all that I can give? Am I earning the right to live?"
"I think that's a question that I've come to terms with more recently," he says. "I realized while writing these songs that so much of what I do in life as a professional artist, the idea of getting paid to talk about your feelings, is inherently selfish and narcissistic. While I do believe in the transformative nature of art, I have to be conscious of not becoming self-obsessed, which can come so easily."
It's a difficult balance, but perhaps the greatest triumph of 'Carry The Ghost' is that Gundersen pulls it off with a seemingly effortless refinement. This is the sound of a songwriter looking inward to look outward, accepting his limitations to liberate himself. It's the sound of an artist pushing himself mentally and musically to understand his place in the world and seize control of it, and in doing so, illuminating a portrait in which others may see themselves. If Ortega is to be believed, 'Carry The Ghost' is the sum sound of Noah Gundersen's past, but it's also nothing short of a thrilling preview of his future.
Some days, being John Moreland has to hurt. As others bury experiences and stifle regrets, Moreland pokes old wounds until you're sure they've got to be bleeding again. It's painful. But in Moreland's care, it's also breathtakingly beautiful. With the release of his highly anticipated third solo album High on Tulsa Heat (out April 21st via Thirty Tigers), he offers another round of the lyrics-first, gorgeously plaintive songs that have earned him devoted listeners across the country.
Moreland started writing when he was 10 years old, the same year his family moved from Kentucky, to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he still lives today. He turns 30 this year, but he's been slinging songs for more than half his life. He started fronting local punk and hardcore bands in high school. After graduation, he had an epiphany. "I'd just overexposed myself to punk and hardcore to the point that it just didn't do anything for me anymore," he says. The remedy? He ditched his music for his dad's: CCR, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Steve Earle.
"I think what appealed to me about it was lyrics," he says. "In hardcore, there might be great lyrics in a song but you have to read them off a piece of paper to know it. I was 19 in 2004, and Steve Earle had put out 'The Revolution Starts Now,' and I remember hearing the song 'Rich Man's War' and totally feeling like somebody just punched me in the chest."
Moreland's been chasing the chest punch ever since, composing pointedly and prodigiously. "I've always written to make myself feel better, I think," he says. "It's my way of figuring stuff out — figuring out where I stand. You can't do that without emotion. You can't do that insincerely."
When Moreland released In the Throes in the June of 2013, the album didn't just charm listeners — it stunned them. American Songwriter proclaimed that "[t]hose not familiar with the Oklahoma City singer-songwriter should remedy that pronto," while No Depression declared the collection "isn't so much songwriting as alchemy with words and music." MSNBC host Rachel Maddow heard his songs and joined the chorus, tweeting: "If the American music business made any sense, guys like John Moreland would be household names."
If In the Throes ignited Moreland's 2013 summer, FX's Sons of Anarchy poured gasoline all over the fire that fall. The hit series featured three Moreland-penned and -performed gems: "Heaven," off of his Earthbound Blues, the second of two full-length albums he released in 2011; and "Gospel" and "Your Spell," both from In the Throes.
As word continued to spread and Moreland played more and more shows, a pattern began to emerge: his songs hit listeners hard. While his precise, evocative lyrics often get the credit, his voice — a scritchy-scratch baritone capable of soul-shouting but especially potent in its subdued default register — ensures his lines linger.
"I got so used to playing in bars where you're just kind of in a corner," he says. "You're just background music, and nobody gives a fuck about you. It was so soul sucking. I would try to sing in a way that would get people's attention."
For Moreland, that didn't mean screaming or gimmicks. "If you just sing it like you mean it — like so hard that people can't ignore it…" He trails off for a second, then concludes: "That's what I was trying to do."
These days when Moreland performs, rooms ordinarily buzzing with drunken chatter and clanging glasses fall silent.
When he decided to head back to the studio to record the follow-up to In the Throes, Moreland admits he felt more pressure than in previous sessions. "I just tried to ignore it because I figured it's probably not a good way to make a record," he says. "But yeah. It was in the back of my mind."
High expectations must agree with him. High on Tulsa Heat is a triumphant sequel, pulsing with the sharply drawn imagery and cutting vulnerability that his listeners have come to expect. Produced by Moreland, the 10-song collection features a strong cast of players including Jesse Aycock (Hard Working Americans, Secret Sisters), John Calvin Abney (Samantha Crain, The Damn Quails), Jared Tyler (Malcolm Holcombe), Chris Foster, and Kierston White.
Stripped-down arrangements rooted in gritty rock and roll punctuate and cushion Moreland's compositions. Tracks including "Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars," "Heart's Too Heavy," and "Cleveland County Blues" set the tone, trafficking in relentless honesty and folk.
Buoyant lament "Sad Baptist Rain" tackles internal conflict. "I was just trying to grab this scene of being a 16-year-old church kid in the parking lot of the punk rock show trying to reconcile having some fun with my Southern Baptist guilt," he says, with a hint of a laugh. If "Sad Baptist Rain" is about self-acceptance, "White Flag" warns of self-destruction. "It's a song about wanting or needing somebody so bad that you're willing to destroy yourself for it," he explains.
"American Flags in Black and White," grapples with nostalgia, and while Moreland initially seems to condemn it, he ends up acknowledging its comfort, framing the past as everyone's guilty pleasure. He never really condemns or judges anyone — except himself. "Anytime I do write a song that I feel like is more like pointing a finger at somebody, it never feels good and I always just end up throwing it away," he says.
The album also includes the first recording of live show staple "Cherokee." Based on a vivid dream, the song explores longing, shame, forgiveness, and love. "I want it to be open ended," he says of "Cherokee" and his songs in general. "I don't want to be told what happened or how to feel."
"You Don't Care for Me Enough to Cry" proves once again that Moreland does intoxicatingly sad as well or better than anyone, but the concluding title track rollicks victoriously, relishing the thought of a safe place — an idea Moreland says serves as a loose theme for the album. "A home is something I've really wanted," he says. "But that means you have to figure out what that really means and what it is. The record is about those questions."
Packway Handle Band
2015 was a busy year for the Packway Handle Band. The band kicked off the year with the release of their Yep Roc Records debut, Take It Like A Man, a collaboration record with producer and folk surrealist, Jim White. The band cruised the Caribbean aboard Kid Rock's annual Chillin' the Most Cruise for the second consecutive year and then spent the summer with Kid Rock and Foreigner for forty amphitheater shows on the Cheap Date Tour. The tour took the Athens, GA five-piece to all corners of the continental United States and included 10-consecutive sold out shows at the DTE Energy Music Theater in Detroit, a feat that was commemorated by Billboard Magazine. The guys capped the summer with several fall festivals including the Americana Music Festival in Nashville, Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco, CA. After a well-deserved break from the road, the band went back to the studio with producer Scott McCaughey (REM, Wilco, Minus 5). This much anticipated effort will feature special guests Bill Berry (REM), Brad Morgan (Drive By Truckers), Matt "Pistol" Stoessel, and Thayer Serano. As the record was being finely tuned, Packway Handle Band played a select number of dates in early 2016, including the South Sounds Music Festival, Zac Brown's Southern Ground Music and Food Festival, Papa Joe's BanjoBBQ, and a string of dates with Steep Canyon Rangers.
The story goes that Englenz learned to read musical notes before she was able to read words, demonstrating her natural aptitude for music. Later, she went on to play piano, guitar, and French horn, and was awarded a scholarship to study music performance at the University of North Carolina Asheville. She has such a natural gift for melody and mimicry that she can summon birds to respond back to her voice. (She once even won an international bird-calling contest in 2009). Today, she is making her name as a performing singer, songwriter, and musician in the Southeast. Her soulful singing has a range and depth of feeling that has led many to compare her to vocal greats Stevie Nicks and Joni Mitchell. Kristen's deeply felt songs carry layers of meaning, which peeled back, reveal a vulnerability and passion for emotional expression.
Kristen's new album, The Extent of Play, recorded at studilaroche by Atlanta sound engineer Benjamin Price (Little Tybee, Hello Ocho, Faun and a Pan Flute) features her breathy voice and finger-picked guitar in a stripped down, live-to-tape setting. Tracks on the album are spun together with carefully layered lyrics that reflect the human condition and makes one feel what most people are too hesitant to openly express. Kristen's sound is enhanced but not overpowered by the ethereal notes coming from guest musicians George Kotler-Wallace's (Book of Colors) pedal steel, and subtle support from Ryan Donald's (Little Tybee) bass.
"The Extent of Play has a genuinely appealing quality absent from nearly every other local release in this genre," writes Jeff Clark of Stomp And Stammer. "There is a stirring intimacy to these performances that holds you in their grasp."
Englenz's debut music video for her original song "Bells" recreates her musical journey of personal expression through by using 1,175 photographs to create a stop-motion video. Clues to Englenz's musical and geographic influences are meticulously woven into a Abelardo Morell-like narrative. "Bells" is about the constant effort to find, understand, and claim oneself,"explains Kristen. "I wanted the video to represent a modern version of Richard Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk, which you should never ask me to spell, but it means a piece which synthesizes all the arts. In this case it's a video containing original photography, lyrics and music."
Englenz has appeared at Jack of the Wood, UNC Asheville, and Altamont Brewing Co. in Asheville, NC; The Red Light Café, Mammal Gallery, Eddie's Attic, and The Red Clay Theatre in Atlanta,GA; New Earth Music Hall, and the Go Bar in Athens, GA. She has opened for Americana artists Hannah Aldridge, Richard Buckner, and Lara Ruggles. Her original track "Georgia Peach" recently debuted on 98.1 FM the River, Asheville's adult alternative station.
"Kristen is a sweet, kind, and talented young woman; and those qualities come through in spades in her music. You'll leave her show mellow, thoughtful, and entertained, " comments Mark Van Allen (Zac Brown Band, Govt Mule, Clay Cook), pedal steel aficionado, recording engineer and producer of the audio recording of "Bells".
$40.00 - $145.00
Lenz Presents: Amplify Decatur Music Festival on the downtown Decatur Square.
Come enjoy a beautiful night of music and all Decatur has to offer. Tickets are sold with re-entry to the festival and will feature craft beers, local food, and more!
Proceeds go to support Decatur Cooperative Ministry's work helping the homeless in DeKalb County.
In partnership with Eddie's Attic. More info can be found at www.amplifydecatur.org.
See you there!