Bro. Stephen (or Scott Kirkpatrick) has appeared on the pages of Slowcoustic just recently and when he offered to contribute to the blog during my self imposed hiatus, I jumped at it! What I got back was his recommendations for some great music and what could be better? Getting the musician’s musician, if you will.
To warm you up, please take a quick listen to Bro. Stephen below and swing by and visit him via his label Crossroads of America and his Website and you can even follow him via the twitters @BroStephenScott.
Folks You Should Know
When trying to decide what to write for this, my instinct was to write about 5000 words about how much I love Elephant Micah and how I think he might have become my favorite songwriter of all time. However, I have written about that before, and I’m sure he’s been written about on this site. I also thought about saying how I think Frank Schweikhardt’s record Life But No More is one of my favorite records of all time, but you already know how good that is too.
Then my thoughts started to wander to some of the musical friends I have made while touring around the country for the past few years on the 4 tours I’ve done since starting Bro. Stephen in 2009. I have played a lot of shows and met so many great folks and played with so many great artists that I couldn’t begin to list them here. However, there have been a few that definitely stick out to me as some of the greatest musicians around who may or may not be on your radar. Another common factor is that each of these folks are good people.
So, here are four artists that I truly adore and that I have played a show (or forty) with. I could have written about a ton of different artists, but I’m limiting it to these four with some other recommendations at the end. They are, of course, in no particular order.
(West Lafayette, IN)
RIYL: spontaneous sing-a-longs, Biscuits and Gravy, and big families
I first met John at a really great now-defunct coffee shop in the tiny town of Pierceton, IN. He opened up the show and I probably talked through a lot of it, but I remember it being good and I believe we exchanged our CD-R EPs. His came wrapped up in brown lunch bag with handwritten information which has become his trademark over the past few years. I eventually listened to the EP and was genuinely surprised by how good it was and really bummed out that I hadn’t paid more attention at the show. The stand-out track on that little EP was a song called “Down By The Willows”.
It really isn’t often that I come across an acoustic songwriter who bypasses the tired trappings that make it so hard to sit through most songwriter sets. John does all that and he somehow skates the fine line of being completely earnest and void of irony while being a clever lyricist who tells stories with emotional heft that I can connect with. Not only that, but his guitar playing and songwriting somehow gets better and better all the time. He has become one of my favorite musicians to watch and even after playing well over a month of straight shows together, I never got sick of hearing his really incredible songs.
Of course, this is not to mention the fact that John has been touring his ass off for the past 3 or 4 years as he self-books his transcontinental excursions and occasionally filling in for other bands like Small Houses. This dude works harder than pretty much anyone I know and it’s going to pay off in a major way one of these days. I believe he finally has a full length record coming out this year and you can buy his most recent EP The Homely Seed here.
John Davey – “Spent”
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(Eau Claire, WI)
RIYL: old-timey folk appreciation, hot tea on a cold day, Radiolab
Shane Leonard, head cheese in Kalispell, is a dirty, dirty liar. The first time I met him at a show I played in Eau Claire he told me that he was a drummer and would be interested in playing music with me someday. I got to know Shane when he played drums for Bro. Stephen on a tour I did in March of this year. Well, it turns out that calling Shane a good drummer is like saying Michael Jordan was a good dribbler. It doesn’t even begin to explain how talented this multi-instrumentalist/former English teacher/improve comedy instructor is. I had no idea until he sent me the link to his EP Last Year.
I hit play on this EP expecting it to be a nice little record that I would enjoy more due to the fact that I enjoyed him as a person and less on the actual merit of the music. It took about a minute to realize I was totally wrong and about an hour after the EP ended to get the lump out of my throat. Kalispell is really special music. Somehow Shane honors the roots of traditional American folk music while imbuing it with a poetic sensibility that sets him in a different stratosphere than most musicians. It’s not just that Kalispell’s music is creative and fresh (which it is), but it is also combined with his personal and profound command of lyrics that make me question my own abilities every time I listen to it.
Shane is most definitely the principle songwriter and supreme dictator of Kalispell, but that doesn’t keep him from packing some pedigree heat in his band. Accompanying him on his tours are some pretty incredible musicians in their own right. Dave Powers plays drums in Kalispell, but he also plays drums in a number of jazz ensembles in Eau Claire as well as the local Amble Down Records band Meridene. Rounding out the trio is Ben Lester on pedal steel and you may recognize him as the drummer for the also great A.A. Bondy.
Kalispell has a full length coming out fairly soon as well, and I have no doubt that you will be hearing more about them soon.
Kalispell LIVE at Revival Records in Eau Claire, WI
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RIYL: Classy southern songwriting, true love, becoming a fan of an artist before they become famous
I was introduced to Molly by John Davey when we played a show with her in Atlanta and it was one of those beautiful nights on tour where you kind of expect a show to go poorly, but it turns out to be really a really beautiful experience that is encouraging and affirming. A major reason for this particular night going so well was because of Molly Parden. I had an old friend come to the show so I talked to him through much of the show, but made it into the room right before Molly started sound checking. I was standing in the back when she first started singing and I immediately found a chair because I had to sit down to take it in. After the show and a late-night diner run with John, Molly and her boyfriend/musical companion Danny (a great musician as well who plays under the name Besides Daniel), we all went back to her apartment and had a great time talking and Molly burned me a CD of live songs and demos. That record has spent countless hours in my car and I would be lying if I said it didn’t make me tear up more than a couple times. (Full disclosure: I cried during The Muppets, Toy Story 3, 2 episodes of the WTF Podcast with Marc Maron, and talking to Shane Leonard’s mom)
There is no doubt in my mind that, of all the songwriters I’ve ever played with, Molly has the most potential to be a very successful and major force in the future American music landscape. Her songs are gorgeous and are arranged so perfectly, yet she writes from a unique personal perspective that laces her softly sung songs with power, grace, mystery, and doubt. Her music instantly takes me back to when I first fell in love with Patty Griffin before I learned who all the “cool” bands were in town and before it was cool to be constantly ironic. There is a natural sincerity to Molly’s music that almost makes me want to reject it because of my learned aversion to earnestness, but I implore you to ignore how you think you feel about country or folk or whatever hang-ups you have and allow yourself to be pulled into the power that comes from the songs of Molly Parden.
Molly Parden- “Travelling Souls”
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RIYL: sincere personal songwriting, elaborate handcrafted packaging, Mad Dog 20/20: Orange Jubilee
I have known Laura for a couple years now and have played countless shows with her in countless different places. Every single show we play together is one of the best shows ever because she is one of the most genuinely wonderful people I’ve ever met and she is a really great songwriter with a vulnerability that works seamlessly into her art.
Recently Laura released her new full-length entitled Rumors & Legends and it might just have the most beautiful packaging of any record I’ve ever seen. She hand bound a book of artwork together as the packaging for both the CD and the gold LP and all of the artwork inside are illustrations which use the lyrics of each song to craft the image. There just really aren’t many artists out there who put the care and sweat into the overall craft like Laura does. Her songs are well arranged and beautifully orchestrated and she doesn’t get caught up in trying to be the hip new thing. She just writes really solid songs and finds creative ways to deliver it to her ever-growing audience. Before her full-length came out she released an EP that was packaged as a bracelet made by a local potter. The purchase of the bracelet allowed you to download the EP. I haven’t asked Laura how well her records sell, and that’s not for me to know, but I am inspired by how she is always trying something new and refusing to take the easy road. Her passion and determination to be a meaningful artist or die trying is one of my favorite things about her.
I am not sure why anyone would want to play music for the sole purpose of making a lot of money. The costs are too great. It is a path of continuous self-doubt, lots of bad shows, and constantly putting yourself out in the open for everyone to judge with a number system and money just doesn’t make that worthwhile. What makes it worthwhile, in my opinion, is being able to express yourself artistically, meeting wonderful new people from around the world, and being involved in a powerful artistic community. I’m pretty sure that Laura shares this view and it’s pretty obvious in everything she does. She is the best kind of musician: an honest and sincere one.
Laura K. Balke – “Telephone Lines”
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Other great folks to check out:
Golden Coins (Milwaukee, WI) [http://goldencoins.bandcamp.com/album/animal-variables-ep]
Action! (Nashville, TN) [http://www.facebook.com/actionsongs]
Moor Hound (Orlando, FL) [http://www.facebook.com/moorhound]
We Are The Willows (Minneapolis, MN) [http://www.wearethewillows.com/]
The Daredevil Christopher Wright (Eau Claire, WI) [http://thedaredevilchristopherwright.com/]
NM Kjeldsen (Indianapolis, IN) [http://www.facebook.com/pages/NM-Kjeldsen/182189181798866]
Austin Miller (Orlando, FL) [http://www.facebook.com/austinmillermusic]
Seth Wood (Nashville, TN) [http://www.facebook.com/sethwoodmusic]
Jared Bartman [http://www.facebook.com/JaredBartmanMusic]
Matt Duncan (Lexington, KY) [http://www.facebook.com/mattduncanmusic]
Adelyn Rose (Eau Claire, WI) [http://www.facebook.com/adelynrose]