Damon Fowler, Selwyn Birchwood, Kenny Neal

Damon Fowler

After spending much of the past year touring with the band Southern Hospitality, Damon Fowler is back with his third solo project for Blind Pig Records, Sounds of Home. Damon chose swamp blues master Tab Benoit to produce and record him at Tab's rural Louisiana home studio, and their collaboration has resulted in Damon's strongest effort to date. The tension between his measured, laid-back vocal delivery and the hallmark intensity of his guitar virtuosity has never been keener, and the stories told in his songwriting here – sometimes in collaboration with long-time writing partner Ed Wright and Benoit – exhibit a combination of depth, grace and humor very few of his contemporaries can match.

Damon sets the standard for what is to come on the first track, "Thought I Had It All." It's an introspective, brooding tale shot through with razor sharp, frenetic guitar leads. Other songs like the title cut and "Where I Belong" flow in an easy Southern groove. Damon offers up two covers, peppering Johnny Winter's "TV Mama" with slithering slide guitar runs, and doing a great version of Elvis Costello's "Alison." The country tinged "Old Fools, Bar Stools, And Me" offers a poignant take on a familiar theme. "Do It for The Love" is a sweetly contemplative ballad featuring the lyrical counterpoint of Damon's lead guitar and Tab's pedal steel. The album closes with an inspired, finger-picked rendition of the traditional gospel song, "I Shall Not Be Moved." As with Damon's legendary live performances, Sounds of Home takes the listener on a tour through the rich traditions of American roots music, presented by one of its foremost practitioners.

Alongside his solo career, Damon joined forces with fellow guitarist JP Soars and keyboardist Victor Wainwright in 2011 to form the southern roots rock group, Southern Hospitality. SoHo quickly became a strong draw on the national circuit due to their early, roof-raising live performances and their first recording, Easy Livin', on Blind Pig. Of their first show BluesWax said, "Southern Hospitality, after a single gig, has significant players in the blues world taking notice. Fowler, Wainwright and Soars share much love for the songs of the South. The hot jazz and funk of New Orleans, classic country, gospel, soul, and blues that became rock 'n' roll in Memphis and went global by way of a trucker named Elvis." Hittin' The Note called the album "a dozen potent shots of pure Southern pleasure. The roughneck, laid-back ways of this fine debut are reminiscent of the best days of Southern rock." Damon has neatly managed to balance his participation in SoHo with his own, well-established solo endeavors.

On the strength of his hybrid of roots rock, blues, and sacred steel, the Florida native started wowing audiences with his musical exploits as a teenager, building a reputation as one of the hottest young players on the scene. Adding songwriting and vocal skills to his repertoire over the years has brought him many accolades, with critics extolling his originality and maturity as well as his technical guitar expertise. In 2008's "Best of Tampa" poll, Creative Loafing magazine named him "Best Guitarist… And Slide Guitarist… and Lap Steel Player… And Dobro Player." Fowler's guitar work has been compared to Johnny Winter and Jeff Beck, while his slide guitar has a hint of the late Duane Allman. He can play fiery guitar runs with the best of them, but it's his lyrical work on lap steel and Dobro that makes him stand out among the legions of guitar heroes.

Damon's Blind Pig debut, 2009's Sugar Shack, showcased a fresh and exciting rising star coming into his own as a performer and writer. Damon's sparkling original compositions paired perfectly with well-chosen cover tunes from Billy Joe Shaver, Merle Haggard, and the Amazing Rhythm Aces. The critical reaction to its release was unanimously laudatory. The Chicago Sun Times proclaimed, "Make way for the next big-time guitar slinger, wire-walking Tampa, Fla., native Damon Fowler. This kid can play, garnering big raves for his power trio's live shows. Even better, he shows no need to kill you with pyrotechnics on his major-label debut."Hittin' The Note said, "With this album, Damon Fowler is really just starting to open up shop, and I suspect he'll be open for business for a long time to come," while Billboard noted, "He's a formidable slide guitar player, and has also mastered lap steel and dobro as well as electric guitar; his playing throughout the album is deft. Indeed, Fowler may be so skillful that he prefers pickin' tasty to larger-than-life guitar heroics."

In 2011, Blind Pig released Devil Got His Way, which went a long way toward fulfilling the tremendous potential that his acclaimed debut promised. His remarkable songwriting skills and vocal expressiveness were maturing, and his instrumental voice, by turns incendiary and deeply lyrical, got even stronger. The styles and moods of the songs on Devil Got His Way ran the gamut. The sharp title cut told a sordid tale, punctuated by furious slide guitar runs. "After The Rain" was a beautiful, meditative ballad. "Tight Rope" recalled the playful tone of Leon Russell's version, without sounding derivative. From the swampy nighttime heat of "Cypress In The Pines" to the wistful, R&B feel of "You Go Your Way" to the ironically rock anthemic "American Dream," Damon showed the uncanny ability to make all the flavors of American rock'n'roll uniquely his own. Like its predecessor, Damon's second Blind Pig release garnered high praise from reviewers everywhere. As Living Blues put it, "Devil Got His Way is full of lyrically rich, confident songwriting and shimmering Americana-laced guitar. Fowler is as expressive a songwriter as he is a singer and instrumentalist. He's preaching an otherworldly, Americana-themed gospel from a six-stringed pulpit. He is a roots guitar guru in the making."

Damon Fowler's star is on the rise. As Wade Tatangelo put it in a feature piece in March, 2013, in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, "Damon Fowler's big, dimple grin cuts through the darkness as he stands outside the historic cottage he calls home in Bradenton Beach. It's the same endearing smile he's flashed on stages across the country and, in recent years, abroad, for nearly two decades. But these days, his smile shines just a bit brighter. In the past year Fowler has married, become a father and witnessed his music career reach new heights thanks to the formation of the super group Southern Hospitality."

And to this list of accomplishments we can now add the release of a superb new recording, Sounds of Home.

Selwyn Birchwood

Selwyn Birchwood, Florida's rising young blues fireball, is a guitar and lap-steel-playing bundle of pure energy. He delivers his original songs with a revival tent preacher's fervor and a natural storyteller's charisma made all the more impactful by his raw, unvarnished vocals. Birchwood plays high-octane blues – at once deeply rooted, funky and up-to-the-minute – with true passion and honest emotion. With his band feeding off his drive and exuberance, the striking 6'3" 29-year-old with his trademark Afro roams the stage (often barefoot), ripping out memorable guitar licks with ease. His ability to win over an audience – any audience – is proven night after night on the bandstand. With his warm, magnetic personality, Birchwood is as down-to-earth as his music is fun, thought-provoking and vital. His mission is to spread his music far and wide, to share his joy, to play his heart out, and to push the blues into the future. "There's nothing I'd rather be doing than playing the blues," he says. "And I try to convey that with every song and with every performance."

In 2013, Birchwood catapulted from local hero to shooting star. He won the world-renowned International Blues Challenge, beating out 125 other bands from the U.S. and abroad. He also took home the Albert King Guitarist Of The Year Award. It wasn't long before Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer offered Birchwood a contract. His debut album, Don't Call No Ambulance, is a fully realized vision of contemporary blues. Birchwood's original songs range from raucous romps to hill country stomps, from searing, serious slow blues to modern blues rock. Between his uninhibited sense of fun and adventure and his serious-as-a-heart-attack musicianship, Don't Call No Ambulance is a window into the future of the blues. "All originals and no filler," he says of the album. "It's that genuineness of emotion in the songs that people can hear."

The Tampa Tribune says Birchwood plays with "power and precision reminiscent of blues guitar hero Buddy Guy. He is a gritty vocalist [who is] commanding with his axe." According to Iglauer, Birchwood is the real deal. "Selwyn Birchwood is a terrific young blues talent with a huge future. He writes smart, infectious, fresh songs and delivers them with a warm, conversational vocal style and a fun-loving attitude. He's a killer guitarist, switching between a regular six-string and lap steel. Live, he's a ball of energy, interacting with the audience like they were in his living room. Selwyn is destined to be one of the next stars in the blues world."

Birchwood, his father from Tobago, his mother from the UK, was born in 1985 in Orlando, Florida. He first grabbed a guitar at age 13 and soon became proficient at mimicking what he heard on the radio. But the popular grunge rock, hip-hop and metal of the 1990s didn't move him, and he quickly grew bored. And then he heard Jimi Hendrix. "He was larger than life. What he did was mind-blowing. When I realized Hendrix was influenced by the blues, I found my path," he says. By 17 he was deep into the blues, listening to Albert King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins and especially Buddy Guy. As luck would have it, just as Birchwood was discovering Guy, the blues master had a concert scheduled in Orlando. Birchwood was there, front and center. "I was floored," he recalls. "I completely connected with the blues. I knew I had to make this music."

As Selwyn's guitar proficiency grew, a friend told him that his neighbor was a blues guitarist and had a band. The 19-year-old Selwyn went over to check it out and jam. The guitar-playing neighbor turned out to be the Texas-born blues legend Sonny Rhodes, who was instantly impressed with the enthusiastic young guitar slinger. Within one month's time, Rhodes asked Birchwood to pack his bags and join him on the road. It was an incredible experience for Birchwood, as Rhodes took the youngster under his wing, not only teaching him guitar and lap steel, but also how to conduct business, how to run a band, how to reach an audience. "Sonny always said, 'Play what's in your heart.' I've never lost sight of that," says Birchwood.

Rhodes insisted Birchwood go to college and always held the guitar spot in his band open for Selwyn whenever he was available. It was a win-win situation, as Birchwood – through hard work and scholarships – received his MBA from The University of Tampa. "I challenged myself to get that degree," Birchwood says. "These days, it's not good enough to just be a good player." Combining the musical lessons learned from Rhodes and his business acumen, Birchwood, now living in Tampa, formed the current version of The Selwyn Birchwood Band in 2010. The band, with the same members still together today, features veteran musicians older than Selwyn, testifying to Selwyn's musical chops and his leadership skills. On stage, they play off each other with ease, feeding each other energy, sharing the fun with the audience.

In 2011 the self-released FL Boy helped the band land gigs outside of their Tampa home, where they were becoming local heroes. Birchwood and his band won their way to spots at the 2012 and 2013 International Blues Challenges in Memphis. After taking ninth place in 2012, they came back determined the next year, taking first place. Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer was sitting at the judges table at the time. "I saw Selwyn's potential in 2012. He absolutely deserved to win in 2013," he says. The victory opened more doors for Birchwood, increased his exposure and helped the band land a deal with Intrepid Artists booking agency, which led to more and better gigs.

The Selwyn Birchwood Band has been touring non-stop since winning the IBC. The band has performed at festivals including The Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, Springing The Blues Festival, The Tampa Bay Blues Festival, The North Atlantic Blues Festival, The King Biscuit Blues Festival as well as on The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise. Birchwood has opened for major blues stars including Robert Cray and Buddy Guy and has shared the stage with another friend and teacher, Joe Louis Walker (who guests on Don't Call No Ambulance's The River Turned Red). He recently had the opportunity, when performing in San Francisco, to bring his friend and mentor Sonny Rhodes on stage to sit in with his band. It was a moment Birchwood will never forget. "He did so much for me; it was a real honor to return the favor, if only a little."

With Don't Call No Ambulance, Selwyn Birchwood steps onto the world stage, bringing a new wave of blues to a new generation of blues fans. "If I can play my music, travel the world, bring happiness to people, then I'm blessed and happy," he says. "It's like Sonny always told me, 'If you follow your heart, you'll always get what you want.'"

"A powerhouse player and emotive performer…his band, his material and both his skilled guitaring and soulful vocals are the essence of fully-formed. Birchwood is a major player. Highly recommended."
--Rolling Stone

"Selwyn Birchwood is an indelibly modern and original next-generation bluesman; his tough vocals, guitar and lap steel touch on classic Chicago blues, Southern soul and boogie." --Washington Post

"Watch out for Selwyn Birchwood…a genius revelation and a pleasure. Roaring Fender Strat and down-south lap steel guitar." --Blues Matters

"Selwyn Birchwood is making waves, surprising people and defying expectations. Be on the lookout. He revels in the unexpected." --Living Blues

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