Bruce Robison

AUSTIN, TEXAS - In regard to the Lone Star State’s finest tunesmiths, Bruce Robison lands at the top of the heap. His songwriting turned the heads of some of the industry’s biggest artists and took them to the top of the charts (Dixie Chicks’ No. 1 version of “Travelin’ Soldier,” George Strait’s recording of “Wrapped” and the beautiful Tim McGraw/Faith Hill rendition of “Angry All The Time,” to name a few). While those achievements might be considered the pinnacle of a song writing career to some, Robison has never been one to rest on his laurels. He is always creating.

The last two releases from Robison were as a duo project with wife and acclaimed singer/songwriter, Kelly Willis. Cheaters Game and Our Year were released just over a year apart in 2013 and 2014, respectively, to rave reviews.

After touring extensively to support the duo’s releases, Bruce turned his focus toward his other passion project, The Next Waltz, a “virtual social house” of music, videos and interviews spotlighting the artists and songs that make up the pedigree of this generation’s cream of the crop. In his studio located just outside of Austin, Robison hosts and records an evolving array of artists who share in his commitment to continue the tradition of collaborative creativity. Everything in Bruce’s studio is recorded on analog tape “with no digital shenanigans – just like back when music was good.”

From Robison’s perspective, that difference - between digital and analog – makes all the difference. In fact it’s so important to him, that tag line appears on the liner notes of Bruce’s brand new album, Bruce Robison & The Back Porch Band, to be released on April 28. While immersed in the process of capturing some of his favorite songs and artists for The Next Waltz, Robison was inspired to round up his own band and lay down a collection of originals, co-writes and covers to put his personal stamp on. With a list of musician credits that could easily be mistaken for a hall-of-fame roll call, Robison delivers a truly organic listening experience that includes “happy accidents and all kinds of things that just feel real.”

Bruce Robison & The Back Porch Band is a “real” nine-track album made up of good-time, light hearted romps (“Rock n’ Roll Honky Tonk Ramblin’ Man”) and wistful, sometimes bittersweet ballads (“Long Time Coming”; “Still Doin’ Time”). Even The Who’s “Squeezebox” – which Robison calls a “a great country song by some English dudes” - fits perfectly in the mix. Long-time friend, Jack Ingram, appears with Robison on “Paid My Dues,” (written by Jason Eady and Micky Braun of Micky and the Motorcars) for a rowdy honky-tonker version. Robison marvels, “The song that I cut with Jack, there’s not even one overdub on it. That sounds like a simple thing, but I’ve never done that in my entire career, where we don’t even go in and fix anything.”

“Recording the way we do really allows the players to bring their own voices, their own styles, into the music,” says Robison. “That’s the kind of vibe I’m trying to get back to. I want to let people see how cool this process is and how much it has to do with country music, and how the kind of music that we make is tied to those traditions.”

Elise Davis

Vulnerability and carnal desire go head-to-head on Elise Davis’ The Token releasing September 9th via Make The Kill Records / Thirty Tigers.

Story and storyteller are one and the same. “I really can’t express my vulnerable feelings – especially towards men I've had feelings for over the years,” Elise confesses, “But, I have no trouble writing down painfully honest lyrics about it.”

The Token puts a microscope on the southern dynamic between the sexes, and the Little Rock, AR native’s inner turmoil, founded on her life’s trajectory against a more traditional path. Elation and ache play a tug-of-war.

Davis has a keen sense of a bad idea. Plenty of songs in this cannon pass off as mere lurid insight, but Elise’s observations give salacious lyrical points layered depth. One can tell she has spent endless hours observing interpersonal dynamics and honing the craft, both professionally and personally.

In 2012, Elise relocated to Nashville without a safety net. She landed in Music City after playing countless shows ranging from prominent support slots to gigs in hotel lobbies; she'd paid her dues before she'd even arrived. She knew that the pursuit of a song was her path.

After a short time in the new city, a friend mentioned a contest in American Songwriter Magazine – all she had to do was upload a few mp3s. “I submitted songs I’d been performing live for years,” Elise said. Shortly thereafter, she received an email explaining she’d reached the Top 100. Then another one saying I was in the top 25...then the top 5. “I have to admit, I ignored it. I didn't think it was real. They had to track me down to tell me I'd won.”

The contest awarded Elise a publishing deal and a crash course in the Nashville songwriting technique, and she spent the next two years arriving to scheduled co-writes with some two-hundred writers. This proved to be an invaluable education in the craftsmanship and collaboration. Through this process, Elise truly defining the individuals she wanted to work with to craft songs. In the end, there were only a handful of the two-hundred Davis felt a strong enough connection with to write the material that ended up on the album.

Additionally, the process of delivering songs with a broader message in hope of a Music Row cut brought Davis's artistic mission and method into sharper focus; her own songs with handful of confidantes were quietly getting more personal, more vivid, more yearning. A more introspective scope emerged, defined by rock-solid imagery and honest exploration of motives.

After a couple of lackluster recording sessions with a ticking clock in Nashville, Elise had a realization. Through her creative evolution, she knew she needed to take a step back from where she’d honed her craft.

In 2015, a newfound manager pointed her in the unlikely direction of Sam Kassirer – keyboardist in Josh Ritter's band and an accomplished producer known for work with the likes of Ritter, Lake Street Dive, Erin McKeown, Langhorne Slim, and others. The intersection of Davis's recent songwriting realizations and Kassirer's more textured approach to recording was a defining dynamic in the output, with Sam’s production techniques matched the open-hearted and clear-headed nature of Davis's songs while toeing a line between neo-country-soul and more indie realms.

Late night phone calls and escalating email threads put The Token into motion. Davis had always produced her own recordings by default; “I couldn't afford to do it any other way.” The arrival of a sounding board and collaborator of Kassirer's capacity proved to be a revelation.

Producer and artist decamped to Kassirer's Great Northern Sound Society studio in rural Maine in winter of 2015. “I'd never been to Maine before,” Davis admits. “getting outside of my day-to-day songwriting rituals allowed my songs to develop in a more authentic way. Nothing but snow and woods all around. Middle of nowhere. Phones didn't work...it allowed me the space to recognize Sam and I’s vision. Everything about the process was creative and real.”

The instrumental support was delivered by guitarist Josh Kaufman (Day of the Dead collaborator with Aaron and Brice Dessner of The National, Craig Finn, Bob Weir), bassist Bradley Cool (Shannon Van Etten, Indigo Girls), drummer Matt McCaughan (Bon Iver, Hiss Golden Messenger).

With the producer and instrumental support she needed, Elise’s southern sensibilities are pushed into the foreground by skeletal rhythmic backdrops and guitar textures. Southern twang was pushed to new heights by the band’s dynamics, and, while tracking live for the first time, Davis's songs blossomed. This sonic dynamic parallels the song’s message here, where Kassirer and the band’s more modern sensibilities underscore Elise’s Arkansas upbringing and inner dialog.

The opening title track – her steely, determined, plainspoken vocal against just electric guitar, bass, drums, and organ awash in spring reverb – is the mission statement for what follows and the Elise Davis of today.

A compelling, thematically unified work, The Token takes place in unremarkable corners, in kitchens and diners, on porches. Bacon, bourbon, and (ex-) boyfriend t-shirts are set-dressing for interwoven narratives outlining lust, loss, need, and envy in a distinct and unique fashion. “There's a right way to ask me for my love,” she pleads. “Don't you want it?”

The snarling, bluesy “Benefits” is ushered in by a fiercely distorted tremolo guitar as Davis observes true love just prior to celebrating her own no-strings-attached situation. “Pick up the phone / I don't feel bad about it,” she sings. “Not knocking love / I just haven't found it,” she adds, clearly unrepentant about biding her time while feeling a need to pursue a path that began in Little Rock.

Davis is as upfront about her desires as she is about her needs – and she's a survivor. Witness the tenderly wounded “I Go to Bars” or the hurting resignation of “Diamond Days,” where she wonders just what could have been: “I chose to take my time, she chose to take his name, someday I might wish I had done the same...but who am I kidding.” But Davis is no shrinking violet; she's fearless, even overtly predatory. On Penny, “don’t want you to take your eyes off me. Cause, honey, I’m a lot of things, but I ain’t naive.”

The Token is a rare piece of art born of risk and actually sounding like a risk that paid off. Elise Davis is putting her human condition in the forefront for all to hear; The Token delivers an unrelenting living contradiction, one born of her past while wrestling with the present.

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