Beth Snapp – Don’t Apologize

“To me, this EP is a continuation of a journey. My second project was largely an account of just coming out of a storm. I had survived, I knew things were going to get better, but there was some healing and processing to be done. As time passed, and I did the work to heal, I emerged into a new place. I realized that surviving the storm wasn’t enough. I realized I was put on this Earth to do more than survive.”

Beth Snapp is describing her new EP, tellingly titled Don’t Apologize. A collection of soothing and supple melodies, underscored by a bracing backing band, it offers astute observations about the challenges, expectations and ability to overcome obstacles — either self-imposed or those that result from outside interference. It’s a personal tale gleaned from lessons learned, from a need to face those realities and cope with them accordingly. Snapp delivers these songs with clarity and conviction, sharing universal truths that can resonate with us all.

Produced and mixed by Gar Ragland, engineered by Grammy winner Julian Dreyer, and recorded at Echo Mountain Recording Studios in Asheville, North Carolina, Don’t Apologize features a stunning array of guest contributors, including celebrated cello player and pianist Dave Eggar, guitarist Phil Faconti, Black Lillies frontman Cruz Contreras, and her band mates Jason Crawford, Jay Farmer, Kevin Jackson, and Justin Short.

Indeed, the song titles are as revealing as the expressive melodies themselves, a sequence of sound that reaches from the comforting caress of the title track, the mellow musings pervading “Princess Dream” and the restful, reassuring “Counting Down,” to the jauntily paced “Little Much,” the banjo ramble of “Easy to Love,” the upbeat urgency of “Scream” and the easy but unapologetic “Confessions of an Exhausted Thirty-Something.” It’s a set of songs that run through a gamut of emotions, doing so with both vibrancy and vulnerability.

“I wrote a collection of songs to remind me, but also those around me, that it is perfectly acceptable to not apologize for loving yourself as the imperfectly perfect soul that you are,” Snapp says. “It is acceptable — no, imperative — to be proud of yourself and what you’ve worked for. It is important to not be ashamed for putting yourself out there for any reason – be it reaching out to another person, trying something new, doing hard things, or simply being yourself.”

This is nothing new as far as Snapp’s concerned. That astute awareness is part of her DNA. As a child, she felt well connected to the Appalachian environs where she was raised. Notably, most members of her family hailed from the area of Southwest Virginia that the Carter Family once called home. Her mother, aunt and cousin sang together in a gospel trio, leaving her with an indelible impression and a determined desire to sing. By the time she was in high school, she was performing regularly at her church, at weddings and even at funerals. By the time she was completing her graduate studies, she was ready to venture out on her own and begin offering her original compositions.

“I met some fantastic bluegrass players and songwriters that took me under their wing and gave me advice on how to develop my craft,” she recalls. “I feel like I’m a bit of a late bloomer in some ways, but I’m working hard to be as quick of a study as possible.”

Clearly, she’s succeeded. Her debut album, 2014‘s That Girl in the Magazine featured contributions from Dave Eggar, Tim Stafford, Rob Ickes, and Trey Hensley as well the Stafford’s bluegrass band Blue Highway. Her sophomore set, Write Your Name Down, was released in 2017 and introduced the song “Grime and Grace,” which brought her honors that year as a semifinalist in the prestigious NewSong Songwriting Competition. It also gave her entry to open for such singular artists as Iris Dement, Scott Miller, Jill Andrews, Cruz Contreras and Dave Eggar, as well as make a series of guest appearances on albums by Eggar, Stafford and Blue Highway.

Ultimately, it earned her continued kudos from those who found themselves enticed by her unerringly accessible fusion of folk, bluegrass, roots and pure pop. Leah Ross, Executive Director of the ever-popular Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion festival, described her as a “local jewel.” Tim Stafford insists that of all the artists coming out of East Tennessee in the past two decades, “Beth is easily the most original and talented.”

Tom Netherland, writing in the Bristol Herald,” declared, “Beth Snapp sings like a cage-less bird flies. Freedom waves in her delivery of lyrics, upon the wings of which glide distinction and the boundless glory of a soul undeniable.”

Those are heady praises, but Snapp remains modest. “I feel like my career is just beginning,” she confesses. “I’ve laid some groundwork, but now I’m at a jumping off point, and it’s time to jump.”

Jump she has. With Don’t Apologize, Snapp has taken an enormous leap forward and landed safely, with her talent obvious and intact.

Pony Creek – Pott County

Pony Creek, a musical collaboration between Ryan Osbahr and Billie Frost, was formed in the spring of 2016.  Hailing from the Omaha/Council Bluffs metro, the name “Pony Creek” is derived from a small creek by the same name that runs between the duo’s homes.

In May of 2016, along with a full band consisting of Eric Nelson (guitar), Travis Goddard (guitar, banjo, mandolin), George Cooper (bass), and Tim Blair (drums), Pony Creek released their debut album Easy Way Out to critical acclaim in the Midwest.  The album was nominated for “Album of the Year” by the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards and Pony Creek was nominated for “Best Country” artist by the same institution in 2016 and 2017.  For the past two summers, Pony Creek have become regulars in the Okoboji, Iowa music scene, consistently performing in front of sold out crowds.

Playing a variety of folk, blues, Americana, country and rock, Pony Creek has quickly made a name for themselves as one of the region’s hottest new acts.  Whether playing Spencer, Iowa’s Wheels Up festival for RAGBRAI 2017, Manning Main Street RAGBRAI 2018 festival, or rocking the crowd for southwest Iowa’s Tri City BBQ Fest in Denison, Pony Creek delivers family friendly entertainment that connects with all ages.  Opening for national artists such as Jeremy McComb (Nashville), The Voice alumni Curtis Grimes (Texas), Jason Eady (Jackson, MS), Jon Langston (Nashville), and Tucker Beathard (Nashville), the band continues to gain popularity in the Midwest region.

In September of 2018, Pony Creek released its follow up album entitled Pott County, a 15 track country/rock album that draws influences from Dwight Yoakam to Kacey Musgraves.  Pott County is a mash-up of storytelling that includes small town life, heartbreak, happiness, love, family, addiction, revenge, and more.  It was recorded in Omaha, Nebraska at ARC Studios and mastered by Lurssen Mastering, a world-renowned multi-Grammy Award winning mastering studio.  Pony Creek’s music can be found on AMI Jukeboxes nationwide.

Bob Thomas – Shadows

Award winning singer/song writer Bob Thomas was born and raised in Los Angeles. First and foremost Bob is a story teller and is renowned for his music about cowboys and the old west.

The King James Boys – Time To Go Home

The King James Boys are an all gospel, bluegrass band that blends southern gospel harmonies with modern bluegrass sounds. After much encouragement and prayer, The King James Boys were led to pursue ministering and singing abroad. The King James Boys are still doing what they started out doing and that is sharing the gospel with others through the music!

Stryker Brothers – Burn Band

There’s a mythical, fraternal pair known only as the Stryker Brothers whose ghostly chords and verses have haunted the desolate Texas prairies for decades. There isn’t much known about the brothers. No legal records of the two exist. It was only a year ago that a set of original, reel-to-reel tapes were discovered. Those who had come across the Stryker Brother’s music before the tapes were discovered were rumored to be transfixed by what they’d heard… drawn in like moth to flame. Entranced.

Many drove for days into the barren Texas landscape to feel closer to the Strykers’ ghostly serenade, some never to return. So, what happened to the brothers? Did they really perish in a prison fire? Did they go into hiding? Are they ghosts, earth-bound, playing for eternity under a lonely Texas sky? Perhaps we’ll never know, but it is said that during the hottest Texas summer nights — if you listen carefully — you can hear their intoxicating melodies playing amid the moonlit shadows on those desolate desert plains.

Braden Gates – Pictures Of Us

BRADEN GATES is writing hard hitting topical songs giving us a street
view of our times and that are delivered with honesty and conviction.
PICTURES OF US is his fourth album – his first release on Borealis
Records.

Comanche Moon – Country Music Deathstar

Mark Erikson (MHE): We get asked a lot, “what kind of music do y’all play?” It’s always been kind of a tough question for us because it really has more to do with what we were listening to growing up than it does with current genre categories. In the sense that our sound is country, it’s because we grew up in the country listening to a lot of 90s country like George Strait, Chris LeDoux and Garth Brooks, as well as traditional forms like bluegrass and old cowboy fiddle tunes. But we also listened to a lot of bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Allman Brothers Band, and that kind of music had a huge influence on our sound. So when people ask about our sound, you can spend a paragraph saying that, or you can just call it “Country Music Deathstar.”

The Hangin’ Cowboys – West

The Hangin’ Cowboys are a high-energy country band. They can make the audience laugh, cry, shout and sing. The Hangin’ Cowboys sound is firmly rooted in the traditional sound of Americana. 


Band members include:
SHAUN SPARKS: Lead vocals acoustic guitar
JEFF “FANNY” SCHNITTKER: Electric guitar, vocals
RUSS EIKERMAN: Bass, boots
“SMALL DAVE” MERRITT: Keys & Oratory
“Mello” Matt Ihrig: Drums

The Hot Seats – Stupid Mountain Too Big

PF HotSeat here, ready to provide you with useful (?) information about the songs and tunes and general feeling of this new album. The album is called Stupid Mountain Too Big. Yup, that’s what it’s called. Ben came up with the name and idea, and I wrote the song to accompany it. I guess it started as an attempt to write a bunch of songs with faux nostalgia for the things that occupy the mindspace of oh so many country songs – home, trains, love, mountains, old time living, etc. It took a turn somewhere, and we basically have two albums in one – one that hits on this aforementioned conceit, and one that tells a general story of life, from procreation all the way to the inevitable realization of the inconsequential nature of existence. You know: life. The second one contains some actual nostalgia and sentiment, something we have strayed form a bit as a band, but hey, we’re 17 years old now, on the edge of adulthood, and we have become reflective. Or shiny, we might just be shiny.

We had a lot to say, and hadn’t made an album in nearly 3 years, so it’s a long album, more reminiscent of those that we put out in 2002-3. You may notice some different instrumentation here, you may notice some stripped-down tracks as well. Being all spread out and busy, we have to be spry and improvisational. We tried different arrangements and brought new people into the studio to make up for those that couldn’t make the dates. We said to ourselves, “the time for banjos and accordion has come.” And the skies parted, and black rain fell at our feet. Nevertheless, we persisted.

What makes a band? Is it 5 pairs of legs with accompanying feet? Is it desire? The will to spend a lifetime together, crammed into a moving box or flying tube? Is it the name? It’s probably the name. We’ve had two names, one was questionable, the other one is too. What isn’t questionable is that we are a band, I’ve seen it in print. .38 Special is also a band. You ever heard Hold On Loosely? Or Hang On Sloopy? Never really understood how I could lose control if I was holding on tightly, not until I entered pubescence, anyway.

But hey, you’re not here for that kind of talk, you wanna hear about the songs, amirite? There’s an arc to some of the songs, a separate arc to others, and others stand alone as dots on a featureless plane. All told, I’m envisioning some kind of double banana situation with gnats flying around them, floating gracefully in the vacuum of space. I’d like to see .38 Special write a song about THAT! 

Austin Lucas – Immortal Americans

Austin Lucas has come home.

It’s been over two decades since the songwriter packed his bags and left Bloomington, Indiana, the Midwestern town where he spent his childhood years falling in love with rock & roll, embracing his punk roots, and standing his ground whenever intolerant locals didn’t understand his way of life. He returns to that place—both creatively and physically—with his seventh studio album, Immortal Americans. Written after a tumultuous period that found Lucas getting sober, supporting his partner through a battle with cancer, and breaking up with his longtime record label, Immortal Americans is a clear-eyed album for murkier times, rooted in stripped-down heartland rock songs that find the artist reflecting upon the changes in both his hometown and himself.

Co-produced by Lucas and Will Johnson (Centro-matic) and recorded/engineered by Steve Albini and captured in a series of live, full-band performances, Immortal Americans was written after Lucas resettled in Bloomington. He’d been away for years, touring the world as an independent solo artist before signing a record deal with New West in 2013. In many ways, the albums he released during that period were reflections of the music he’d grown up with, from the mountain music of his father (bluegrass musician Bob Lucas) to the punk records that soundtracked his teenage years. Appropriately, Lucas earned a fan base as a folksinger with punk roots—or was it the other way around?—while touring the country with artists who represented both ends of that spectrum, sharing shows with Willie Nelson one minute and Chuck Ragan the next.

Somewhere along the way, his vices began to get the best of him. He started drinking too much. He gained weight. His marriage crumbled. Albums like 2013’s cowpunk-inspired Stay Reckless and 2016’s Between the Moon and the Midwest shone a light on those challenges, tackling everything from divorce to depression. When Lucas hit rock bottom though, he stopped writing about his temptations and instead, left them behind for good. He headed back to southern Indiana, resettling himself in a town that had changed considerably since he left.

There, in a region suffering from an opioid epidemic, an HIV crisis, and a homelessness problem, Lucas focused on rebuilding his career and his body. He got sober, shedding more than 100 pounds. He recounted the stories of his youth, where, as an outsider in a small town, he dodged beer cans hurled by passing drivers. As he once more walked the Bloomington streets, he learned to embrace his own fighting spirit again. The album’s title track, “Immortal Americans,” emerged from that period of self-discovery.

“My friends and I had to fight for who we were,” he remembers of those early days in the Midwest, “and it was an alienating, anxious, and oftentimes scary way to live. This song is about that fight. It goes out to the most marginalized and at-risk human beings who live in our country, all the people who live on the outside of mainstream society and have to fight every day for their identities and for their existence—because those are the true immortal Americans.”

Meanwhile, Lucas’ new partner was fighting a different sort of battle. Lucas had discovered a lump on her body during their first evening together and the mass turned out to be cancerous. He became not only her romantic partner, but her caretaker too, nursing her back to health after a life-altering surgery and a string of energy-sapping chemotherapy sessions. Lucas continued writing music throughout the process, strumming an acoustic guitar quietly while his girlfriend slept in the next room. Although much of Immortal Americans is influenced by that experience, album standouts like “The Shadow and Marie” tackle the experience directly, shining a light on his partner’s vitality and unending beauty.

“The song opens up with dark lyrics,” he admits, “but the overall point is, ‘We’re still alive. We still have so much to be grateful for. As long as we’re still here, there’s beauty and joy.’ I wrote it to remind my lover that even though she’d been through a crazy ordeal in which her body was permanently changed, she was still beautiful to me. The song may start out on a low note, but as it builds, it goes to a place that’s brighter. It pushes toward something better. In many ways, that’s the theme of the whole record.”


When it came time to record his new songs at Steve Albini’s studio in Chicago, Lucas didn’t reach too far beyond the songs’ unplugged origins. He’d already been cut loose from his record label, which meant he was free to chase down his muse without any sort of outside influence. He consolidated his sound accordingly, stripping away the electric guitars and dense sonic landscapes that had permeated his recent albums. In their place, he focused on acoustic instruments and a restrained rhythm section, gluing everything together with lyrically-sharp songs that measured the distance between his rocky past and even-keeled present. The band—whose members included his Dad, who’d traveled north to play banjo with his son—crowded into the same room at Electrical Audio and played together, resulting in an all-analog album that’s both raw and real.

“I wanted it to sound like human beings playing instruments,” says Lucas, “I knew the best thing for this batch of songs was for them to sound as organic as possible. I sang live, playing guitar at the same time, and we worked very quickly. It was an in-the-moment kind of album.”

Immortal Americans is Austin Lucas’ homecoming album, created during a whirlwind period of tumult and regrowth. With its gothic heartland sound and autobiographical lyrics, it’s also Lucas at his most honest, rooted in a string of largely unamplified anthems that don’t rely on electricity to pack a punch.

“I was watching the changes in Bloomington and reflecting upon the changes in my own life,” he sums up. “Not all of this is happy stuff, but there’s hope. There’s light in the darkness. I really do believe in second and third chances, because I know how many chances I’ve received. You have to keep fighting, because that’s what makes life worth living.”

Or, in other words, that’s what makes you immortal.