Southern Senses Archive: John Fogerty – BLUE MOON SWAMP (1997) Review

  • john-fogerty-bms

Original version published 09/14/15 on Southern Senses


 

Having successfully revived (pardon the pun…or don’t) his career numerous times throughout the decades, former Creedence frontman John Fogerty could rightly be known in the industry as “The King of Comebacks.” But perhaps no single career revival (punnier) has served as more of a reminder of Fogerty’s greatness, nor has stood the test of time as well, as Blue Moon Swamp. The album is a country and rock blend at its finest—a mesh which Fogerty helped bring to the forefront of popular music almost three decades earlier. After it’s original release in 1997, the record was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Rock Album, and here’s why:

01. “Southern Streamline”

If you want to appeal to a Southern audience, sing about a train. The lighthearted romance theme coupled with the “peppy” side of Fogerty’s signature CCR sensibilities makes the track one of the best upbeat songs Fogerty has penned this side of “Bad Moon Rising.”

03. “Blueboy”

A signature opening lick (something which set most of Fogerty’s CCR tunes apart from the proverbial “pack”) is gloriously present in “Blueboy.” Lyrically, the song paints a scene of by-gone, simpler times when country folk gathered in town on Saturday to watch a local boy play his guitar.

04. “A Hundred and Ten in the Shade”

One of the best tracks on the record, “A Hundred and Ten in the Shade” is a blues-based tune permeated by Fogerty’s patented swamp rock sound. The addition of The Fairfield Four on vocals gives a fitting spiritual quality to the “fingers-to-the-bone” work depicted in Fogerty’s lyrical lamentations.

06. “Bring It Down to Jelly Roll”

As a songwriter, I don’t think I would ever use the word tandem “jelly roll” in my tunes. Offhand, it seems “Jelly Roll” is the name of a club or joint, and Fogerty is telling the listener to “bring it down to Jelly Roll” for a one of a kind good time. Still, I’ve never heard of Fogerty addressing the meaning directly, but according to the internet consensus (Isn’t that all that matters in these days?), the tune is a tribute to New Orleans jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton. Regardless, “Jelly Roll” the song is a rockin’, Southern-dripping track reminiscent of the Stones’ “Honkey Tonk Women” and has remained one of my favorite BMS tracks from first listen.

09. “Rambunctious Boy”

Beginning with bluegrass-themed, a cappella harmony featuring The Lonesome River Band, followed by a short burst of mandolin, “Rambunctious Boy” is prime example of Fogerty excellence. The track ultimately feels like something The Eagles would have been proud to have produced.

10. “Joy of My Life”

“Joy of My Life” is Fogerty’s favorite track from the record, and incidentally, it’s mine too. A beautiful love song Fogerty penned for his wife Julie, “Joy of My Life” is by far the sweetest, most romantic thing Fogerty has ever produced and is only enhanced by Fogerty’s wonderfully appealing dobro licks. I contend that had this song been released by any major, mainstream, male country music artist at any point in the last 20 years, it would have been a mammoth hit.

11. “Blue Moon Nights”

Rounding out the Blue Moon Swamp Top Tracks is the almost-title track “Blue Moon Nights.” “BMN” is a happy little ditty that, though much more stripped than most of its brethren, ultimately serves as one of the best reminders of Fogerty’s rockabilly roots and why, after nearly 50 years, Fogerty has remained an American music staple.

Album Rating: 9/10 (Original: 4/5)

 

Sub Categories: Rock, Country, Country/Rock, Americana, Roots Rock, Swamp Rock, Blues Rock

Southern Senses Archive: Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors – MEDICINE (2015) Review

  • drew-holcomb-medicine

Original version published 09/14/15 on Southern Senses


 

In many ways, Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors’ release Medicine is a prime example of a core Southern sound heaped with a plethora of good old-fashioned folk trappings. There’s a certain Tom Petty-roots rock element to the entire affair that perfectly suits the musical stylings of the group, particularly the vocal forte of Holcomb. At the same time, Drew and the gang seem to channel a veritable smorgasbord of timeless artists without seeming like copycats, effectively blending multiple genres into the core Southern/folk style.

Without further ado, the Top Tracks:

01. “American Beauty”

As an artist, I tend to approach the first song of a record or performance as a figurative splash of cold water in the listeners’ faces—get their attention and blood pumping early. As the opener of Medicine, “American Beauty” completely shies away from that philosophy and instead draws the listener in with an Amos Lee-esque folk tune about a one of a kind girl, perfectly setting the tone of the record. 

02. “Tightrope”

“Tightrope” continues the folk tradition established by “American Beauty,” but the musical stakes feel raised by the track’s a slow-building, epic quality. An extremely rhythmic acoustic guitar allows for a distinction to be made between this track and the other folk-based tracks on the record, as well as other similar tracks at large. The refrain “I want to go wherever you go,” though simple, is as fine of expression of love as I’ve heard.

03. “Here We Go”

“Here We Go” is a marked departure occurring surprisingly early in the record, but it nevertheless remains my favorite track of the project. “Here We Go” is very much jazz-based. It’s uptempo, grooving, catchy, and a little reminiscent of Jack Johnson, while the instrumental break channels Ray Charles piano stylings at its onset, before switching to a country/western guitar lick more akin to a late ’40s Hank Williams, Sr.

05. “Avalanche”

“Avalanche” returns us to the smooth folk, singer/songwriter vibe, but the track is elevated by the harmony vocals of Ellie Holcomb and a chorus that reminds me very much of the late ‘60s Beatles sound.

06. “Heartbreak”

While “Heartbreak” is overall melancholy, it possesses a distinct, easy, Jimmy Buffett-beach feel. The bridge veers into alternative pop/rock territory and sports the wonderful inaugural line “Held you like a fire.”

07. “You’ll Always Be My Girl”

Picture this:

You’re a young lad in 19th-century rural America at the town dance on Saturday night, and you ask the band (who happens to be Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors) to play the prettiest waltz they know for you and your sweetheart. They play “You’ll Always Be My Girl.” This is one of my favorites from the record.

08. “Sisters Brothers”

Rounding out the Top Tracks is more jazz, but this time, it’s dark. The backing vocalists sing the titular refrain like a haunting, gospel choral arrangement, while blues and rock-infused piano and guitars arrive later in the track to cement the ominous atmosphere. The track is in many ways reminiscent of a great track called “Prisoner” by the band’s good friends NEEDTOBREATHE. “Sisters Brothers” is another of my personal favorites.

Album Rating: 4/5

Other Categories: Folk, Singer/Songwriter, Folk/Rock, Pop/Folk, Roots Rock, Americana, Pop/Rock, Alternative

Southern Senses Archive: Ode to Independent Music – The True Story of UNFILTERED

  • Unfiltered Blog Banner

(Original version published on Southern Senses 10/21/15)*

A year ago, I was sitting in my office, staring at the computer screen, refreshing the iTunes window every few minutes, and watching incredulously as my sophomore album, Unfiltered, climbed higher up the Top 200 Singer/Songwriter chart. Over the course of the morning, I saw my album cover, adorned with my face, sit next to, across from, above, and below album covers (often also sporting faces) of timeless greats like Bob Dylan and James Taylor, as well as hit modern acts such as Jason Isbell, Ed Sheeran, James Bay, Drew Holcomb, Ben Rector, and American Idol runner-up, Crystal Bowersox. To be legitimately featured on a list of any kind with just one of these artists would’ve been a dream come true for me.

I say this not to imply that a Top-200 chart position on a national digital sub-chart is the apex indicator of success, nor to suggest that I belong in the company of such greats. I believe, however, that the album’s charting is a testament to the efforts of a local, independent music industry and the power of fan support. Not sure what I mean? Well, here is the true story of Unfiltered:

By 2013, two years had passed since my debut release, and my drive to create had me chomping at the bits to release new material. But a lot had changed in my life in two years; namely, I was a father, and my wife was a stay at home mom. In circumstances like those, it’s impossible for a ”small time” independent musician to justify spending thousands of dollars out of his pocket on a project that might never break even in sales. I considered crowd-funding, but honestly, I really didn’t (and don’t) understand the recipe for success with that method.  

I went through other ideas before finally deciding on recording as much as I was able at home, relying on the help and expertise of local professionals for the rest, and hoping that the result would be a raw, rough album representative of my true musical sensibilities and worthy of the chosen moniker “Unfiltered.”

Production began in January 2014 when drummer Zack Farnham and I entered Brookhaven Music and Sound in Brookhaven, MS.  Zack was one of the most talented and conscientious musicians I had ever met and has since become one of the most respected drummers around and the “go-to” drummer for many acts in the burgeoning Southwest Mississippi scene. Out of the goodness of his heart, Zack had agreed to do the record for a couple of bucks and a free Chinese lunch buffet—inarguably, one of the best deals I ever made.

We entered Brookhaven Music and were greeted by the ever chill-yet-professional Tyler Bridge, the owner of the establishment and our engineer for the evening. Tyler has been (and remains) a well-known and respected presence in the local scene, having played regionally for many years and having owned Brookhaven Music for around a decade. The store had recently moved into a larger building, and Tyler and company were in the process of converting the back portion into studio space. It was in this unfinished region that Zack would be crafting rhythms for the evening— a fitting location in which to lay down the backbone for this particular record.

Over the course of the evening, Zack hammered through the tracks effortlessly while Tyler and his assistant for the night, brother Nick Bridge, another area go-to musician, provided a wonderful working environment filled with comically relieving anecdotes. Within a mere 4 hours, the percussion was complete. Next, Tyler, an accomplished bassist, was left to overlay bass on the record at his convenience, while I set about scheduling the ever-elusive Sam Mooney for a keyboard session in my home studio (and by studio, I mean a small room crammed with sound equipment).

At the time, Sam already had several accomplishments under his belt, including the 2013 Mid-South Talent Competition title, and has since gone on to boast a #1 nationally selling EP, perform across the Southeastern United States, appear on a plethora of radio and television programs, and host his own FM radio show in Oxford, MS.  Sam arrived at my house in Jayess, MS, on February 22, sat down at the Yamaha P-140 keyboard, and began a near-symphonic orchestration of piano pieces to perfectly compliment my rough ’n’ ready tunes. 

Sam had to return for a second session, though not because he lacked the talent or preparation to finish in the first, but because he and I spent most of the time in studio “nerding out” over all things music—unquestionably, for me, one of the highlights of the entire production.

Next, with guitar in hand and cables running under the door, I shut myself in the walk-in closet of my back bedroom and set about recording the acoustic guitar tracks. It was in this same closet that I squeaked out over 40 separate vocal tracks between and during weeks of sinus infections and bronchitis which plague me annually during the spring months.  It was also here that Brittany D delivered her exceptional vocal performance on “Company,” which would become the “hit” (and I use the term loosely) duet track from the record. 

Next, I delivered the raw tracks to producer/engineer/musician Nick Smith for electric guitar overdubbing and final mixing and mastering at Dipping Vat Studio, located literally in the middle of the woods in Monticello, MS. Nick’s guitar skills are incomparable (see the track “Just For Fun”), and the studio’s location could not have been a more fitting end point for the record’s production. It was also there that Nick tapped Mark Guion for a saxophone overdub for the track “Not The One To Say (I Told You So).” Besides being the local high school band director, Mark is an incredibly talented and accomplished musician, and he delivered a stellar sax track to cap off production.

The finished tracks, in all their bare-boned glory, were delivered to digital retailers worldwide in September, and on October 21, 2014, Unfiltered peaked at #92 on the iTunes U.S. Singer/Songwriter chart.

Since then, I’ve started a new band, played more shows in more places than ever before, appeared on great local programs such as Music from the Shady Side, started this website, and gotten to know even more great musicians and fans.  But I think a highlight for me will always be the day that proved, beyond a doubt, with the support of fans and the help of exceptional, talented people who care more about making music than making money, albums recorded in closets, half-finished studios, and backwoods on shoe-string budgets can find a place in this world.

I’m trying not to get too sappy here, so I’ll end now by saying, with all the gratitude my figurative heart (‘cause, you know, a literal heart is a muscle) can muster, thank you all!


*In 2015, Cole Powell and bandmate/wife Brittany D launched Southern Senses, an online publication dedicated to showcasing the best music and cuisine from the Southern United States. With talented site contributors (including Southern rocker J. F. Oakes and restaurateur Christa Reid Neil), the site gained immediate success, attracting the attention of  renowned restaurateur Robert St. John and retired NFL tight end Reggie Kelly, among others. Though Powell opted to discontinue the site in 2017, select articles can be found on the blog section of colepowell.net.


Join Mailing List
And receive a FREE digital copy of Redux.


Southern Senses Archive: J. F. Oakes – ACKNOWLEDGE THE CORN Review

  • Acknowledge the Corn
(Original version published on Southern Senses 09/14/15)*
A man of great understanding and a singular wit, J. F. Oakes is a Mississippi-based independent singer/songwriter, best known for his work with Baton Rouge, Louisiana country/southern rockers The 484 South Band.  After two albums and seven-ish touring years with the band, Oakes released his debut solo record Acknowledge The Corn in 2014.  The album title itself gives us a glimpse into the mind of a knowledgeable, humorous “artiste,” as the phrase “acknowledge the corn” is an old expression meaning simply “admit your mistake.”
 
Top Tracks:
 
1.  “Can’t Go Back”
 
The album opener is an uptempo country tune about “the good old days” and regrets of lost love.  With toe-tapping, hand-clapping pace and a relatable theme, the track is easily one of the most “mainstream” songs on the record.  One of the best segments of the track occurs at the end of the song when Oakes strings together versions of various colloquialisms and delivers a vocal performance which perfectly sum up both the feel and theme of the song:  
 
They say that youth is wasted on the young
It’s just enough wisdom to get your own self hung
I thought the moon was hung on you
 
2.  “Blame”
 
“Blame” is a dark, driving, blues-anchored duet with singer Abbey Graham.  “Blame” was one of two tracks Oakes released via social media ahead of the record’s debut; therefore, I had a chance to catch the tune early.  I was immediately struck by the pairing of the male/female vocalists singing about “bad love,” which, coupled with unique, driving guitar and bass riffs, makes this track inarguably one of the highlights of the album.
 
4.  “Road Less Traveled”
 
Of all the songs on the album, “Road Less Traveled” seems like it most belongs on a record called Acknowledge the Corn—not because the song is a mistake that needs to be admitted, but because it is the track that best matches the quirkiness and folksy humor that the album title elicits.  The track opens with Oakes delivering a half-grunt salutation before the music begins, and it’s all fun and toe-taps from there.  I think Roger Miller would have been proud to have written this one.
 
6.  “These Chains”
 
“These Chains” is an emotionally powerful, slow gospel/blues tune featuring a lamenting Oakes addressing God in search of spiritual freedom, while an appropriately “sadly-uplifting” organ takes center stage in the music.  There is also a quick C to D to C slide throughout the song that adds a nice differentiation to the otherwise standard chord progression.
 
7.  “Sweet Memories”
 
My favorite track is “Sweet Memories.”  I would say this track is about my hometown, but I don’t technically have a hometown.  A “home woods,” or “home pasture,” or “home zip code” maybe, but no “hometown” in the traditional since.  Nevertheless, this song speaks of the county in which I was raised and the town nearest my home, Monticello, Mississippi—a place where Oakes has spent most of his life.  Whether you’re from the area or not, this song has a broad universal appeal to all those who grew up in or near a small town in simpler timesan appeal which is only enhanced by the easy, Southern feel and major chord progression of the tune.  The song is in some ways the antithesis of the opener “Can’t Go Back.”  While “CGB” focusses on regrets for past mistakes and seems to long for a life “redo,” “Sweet Memories” celebrates all the experiences of youth and vows to cherish them.
 
8.  “Before I Go”
 
“Before I Go” is another duet with singer Abbey Graham.  Much like “Sweet Memories” is the opposite of “Can’t Go Back,” “Before I Go” stands in stark contrast to “Blame” as a peppy celebration of love with all its ups and downs.
 
12.  “Burning Bridges”
 
The album-closing “Burning Bridges” sounds like the quirky younger brother to “These Chains,” and that isn’t a criticism.  The stand-out element to me on this track is Oakes’s display of vocal chameleonism, as he appropriately and effectively changes his tone and phrasing from the first 11 tracks on the album.  If I didn’t know Oakes as a performer, and someone had told me that Oakes brought in a guest vocalist for the track, I would have said, “Well, yeah, you can tell.” But that’s a testament to the vocal talent of Oakes, whom I know (from hearing him live) has many more stylings in his bag of vocal tricks. 
 
Album Rating:  4/5
 
Genres:  Southern, Country, Rock, Country/Rock, Southern Rock, Blues, Roots Rock, Americana, Folk


*In 2015, Cole Powell and bandmate/wife Brittany D launched Southern Senses, an online publication dedicated to showcasing the best music and cuisine from the Southern United States. With talented site contributors (including Southern rocker J. F. Oakes and restaurateur Christa Reid Neil), the site gained immediate success, attracting the attention of  renowned restaurateur Robert St. John and retired NFL tight end Reggie Kelly, among others. Though Powell opted to discontinue the site in 2017, select articles can be found on the blog section of colepowell.net.


Join Mailing List

 

Southern Senses Archive: 10 Best Creedence Clearwater Revival Album Tracks

  • CCR

Southern Senses counts down the top deep cuts from the legendary band.

(Originally published by Staff 12/10/15)*

Creedence Clearwater Revival is widely known (and sometimes derided) for being a “singles band,” having churned-out a whopping 20 Billboard Hot 100 hits in their short, four-year existence.  Yet many fail to realize that some of CCR’s best material were those tunes which never aired on pop radio:  the album-only tracks.  With a criteria of “no singles released in the U.S. during the band’s original existence or singles released outside the time period which achieved ‘hit’ status,” our panel of experts has voted and delivered a comprehensive list of what they believe to be the album-exclusive cream of the crop.  Continuing our celebration of the 45th anniversary of Pendulum, here are our picks for the 10 Best CCR album cuts:

#10.  “Good Golly Miss Molly” – Bayou Country – 1969   

CCR wasn’t primarily a cover band, but when they recorded covers, they delivered versions that would at least come close to, if not surpass, the originals.  Number 10 on our list is no exception.   A Little Richard cover, “Good Golly Miss Molly” serves as a reminder of CCR’s rock ’n’ roll roots and a demonstration of the group’s ability to bring something fresh to a tried-and-true style.  Another element that elevates the track is J. Fogerty’s dual lead vocal tracks (one leaned hard right, the other hard left) which engulf the listener into the song.  – Cole Powell, Editor

#09.  “It Came Out of the Sky” – Willy and the Poor Boys – 1969

About as much fun as you can have with a song. Fogerty has some incredibly thought-provoking lyrics in so many songs and is able to tell stories with ease and heart, but I didn’t list very many in my picks. This one is not as deep, as so many of his are, but the craft of storytelling is still there.  – Daniel Bridger, Sounds Writer

#08.  “The Working Man” – Creedence Clearwater Revival – 1968

There are several songs that expressed John Fogerty’s undying admiration for the working man. I chose the one that had the literal title. Same bluesy feel you’ll hear with early Cream if you need an audio reference.  –  Daniel Bridger

#07.  “The Night Time Is the Right Time” – Green River – 1969 

Dylan’s version of “Night Time” on his country album (Nashville Skyline) was certainly adequate, but John Fogerty took it to another place and another level. His riveting riff right out of the box and the gravel in his voice makes you believe what he is saying.  – Richard Garrett, Guest Panelist

#06.  “Tombstone Shadow” – Green River – 1969 

 A great track about J. Fogerty’s actual encounter with a fortune teller in San Bernardino, CA, “Tombstone Shadow” is classic CCR blues/bock with a funky groove and ominous lyrics which tie perfectly into the group’s “swamp” mystique.  – Cole Powell

#05.  “Penthouse Pauper” – Bayou Country – 1969

One of the best examples of CCR’s lyric-driven blues/rock that makes you want to sing along, “Penthouse Pauper” is a masterwork of perfection for Fogerty’s vocal and guitar styles. – Brittany Powell, Tastes Writer

#04.  “Keep on Chooglin’” – Bayou Country – 1969

Masterful mouth organ work. When you can alternate between playing scorching lead on guitar to playing the same licks on the harmonica without missing a beat or a note, you are the real deal. The length of the song sneak previews a then new-fangled concept that was just taking hold of the radio airwaves—the fledgling, after-dark FM radio stations playing the full-length tracks. – Richard Garrett

#03.  “Ramble Tamble’” – Cosmo’s Factory – 1970

They don’t have to say a word on this one. The music alone is worth the listen. The arrangement and change in styles in the middle are unexpected and very much welcomed.  – Daniel Bridger

#02.  “Wrote a Song for Everyone’” – Green River – 1969

Yes he did!  Some were feel good, some were introspective, some were statements, some were fantasy (no pun Intended), some were reality. Seems like there was something for everyone. I believe this one was definitely from the heart, especially knowing what came later in Fogerty’s life; it wasn’t all sunshine all the time. Pain, loneliness, even despair are there in this song, but they are counterbalanced with a seeking hope, a searching for an answer that will put all things right.  Maybe he didn’t have anybody that he could talk to about things.  But the songs continued to be written. And we were/are the beneficiaries.  –  Richard Garrett

#01.  “The Midnight Special’” – Willy and the Poor Boys – 1969

Landing at #2 on the only Southern Senses panelist ballot it didn’t top, CCR’s version of early 20th century folk song “The Midnight Special” seems to have gained near-universal approval from our panel as the band’s best album cut, and there’s a reason for that.  Perhaps it’s the deep, blues-infused sound of the band breathing new life into the classic song.  Or perhaps it’s Fogerty’s signature voice delivering lines depicting the bleak outlook of prison life.  I think, though, Fogerty himself may have hit on the most probable reason for the song’s appeal during a live show in 1970 where he introduced it as “a great ol’ sing-a-long song.”  – Cole Powell

Bonus:  The Bubbling Under Chart

All of our panelists agreed that relegating this “Best” list to 10 songs made the task of completion near-impossible given the quality of CCR’s album material.  Therefore, we’ve included three tracks that came in just shy of cracking our top 10 list:

#13.  “Feelin’ Blue’” – Willy and the Poor Boys – 1969 

A  “simple” but genuinely presented Mississippi-style track.  I can almost look across that dry and dusty cotton field from my run-down shack, shading my eyes to peer up the hazy gravel road to see what is coming to lay me low now. – Richard Garrett

#12.  “Bootleg’” – Bayou Country – 1969 

A classic, dark, swampy-sounding song which speaks of human nature’s attraction to “forbidden fruit” set atop a unique and engaging acoustic guitar rhythm. – Cole Powell

#11.  “Cotton Fields’” – Willy and the Poorboys – 1969 

Being from Mississippi, and hearing John Fogerty’s interpretation of this song makes me believe he’s secretly a native son. Old soul coming out of a young man’s voice. – Daniel Bridger


 

*In 2015, Cole Powell and bandmate/wife Brittany D launched Southern Senses, an online publication dedicated to showcasing the best music and cuisine from the Southern United States. With talented site contributors (including Southern rocker J. F. Oakes and restaurateur Christa Reid Neil), the site gained immediate success, attracting the attention of  renowned restaurateur Robert St. John and retired NFL tight end Reggie Kelly, among others. Though Powell opted to discontinue the site in 2017, select articles can be found on the Ramblings of a Mad Man blog section of colepowell.net.


 

Join Mailing List

Southern Senses Archive: Sam Mooney – FIND MY WAY Review

  • SS 2016-03-29 Sam Mooney Find My Way Cover

Rising Mississippi pop/rock star delivers with follow-up to iTunes chart-topping debut.

(Original version published on Southern Senses 03/29/16)*

Nearly two years after his #1-selling iTunes debut, Brookhaven, MS, indie pop/rock wunderkind Sam Mooney is back with his sophomore effort, Find My Way, set for international release April 5, 2016, and I am ecstatic to report it’s been well worth the wait.  The record is not so much a departure from Mooney’s previously established style as it is an expansion on that foundation into territory which, for Mooney, was largely heretofore unexplored. As a whole, the project runs in the range of several current pop/rock acts including Eric Hutchinson, Andy Grammer, and Ben Rector but also channels a plethora of other artists and styles both old and new.  It’s also worth noting that production here is top-notch and that the EP was mastered by seriously credible Nashville engineer Hank Williams, who boasts mastering credit for a host of hot artists (primarily in the country genre) including Blake Shelton, Zac Brown Band, Florida Georgia Line, and Taylor Swift.

1. “Southern Starlight”

With a smooth, easy, Southern feel to the instrumentation, melody, and vocals and an immediately ingraining titular refrain, “Southern Starlight” is sure to be commercial gold in regard to Mooney’s target audience.  This tune is a strong opening track which boasts a solid guitar riff played by Mooney himself. Repeated throughout the song, the riff is simple, catchy, and signature—the trifecta for a commercial project—and is heavily reminiscent of classic “feel good” rock riffs of the ‘70s.  In fact, the entire track is “retro-feel-good” (especially with it’s soul-based backing vocals which can be heard throughout the record), yet simultaneously also stays both modern mainstream and indie pop.  It’s reminiscent of some of the Dirty Guv’nahs work.

2.  “Hard to Miss You”

An “in-your-face” tune with attitude,  “Hard to Miss You” is a blues/rock-based track with a 2000s pop/rock bend somewhere near the range of Maroon 5’s “Harder to Breathe.”  The track boasts some of Mooney’s best lyrical work to date with parallel rhyme schemes and unique turns of phrase:

“I bet you think your silence

Is the sound of sweet revenge

But your passive aggressive violence

Let’s me know I’m gonna win”

Mooney also makes a very gutsy call for a predominantly commercial pop record by ending the song on a fairly extensive, masterful instrumental jam featuring Mooney slamming away in a triplet piano riff style that has become something of a signature of his.

3.  “Name”

Track 3, “Name,” is an easy, flirty “love at first sight” tune that’s sure to be a favorite among the incurable romantics in the audience. In keeping with Mooney’s 2000s pop/rock sensibilities, the lyrics are very Train Save Me San Francisco album.  Musically, it leans John Legend/soft side of Maroon 5’s Songs about Jane record.  That being the case, it’s also the least original out of the bunch for Mooney when compared to the tunes from his first effort, Somewhere in Between.  If Mooney’s published catalog were put on a spectrum, “Name” would fall dead center between “Cupid’s Got Me Good” and “Carefree Tonight,” both offerings from his previous release.  Not that that’s a bad thing, as both of those songs are solid tracks, but when compared to the other tunes on Find My Way, “Name” is much less of an artistic branch out for Mooney.

4. “Find My Way”

The title track opens with a sound and feel very much in the vein of a Sam Smith or Adele ballad.   Further into verse 1, it’s very reminiscent of Gavin DeGraw’s “Soldier” from his Sweeter album.  It seems at first glance that this is definitely the most commercial and universally appealing track on the project and ripe for a pop radio single release.  Then, Mooney hits the chorus, and it becomes clear this track wasn’t written to play into any mass, teeny pop ballad scheme.  Instead, this song seems to have been written as a personal tale of Mooney’s faith—an unabashed “Christian track” right smack dab in the middle of an otherwise secular indie pop release.  The move is entirely unexpected and uncompromisingly gutsy, effectively yielding Mooney’s deepest and “meatiest” thematic catalog entry to date.  Though there’s nothing wrong with the tales of feel-good flirtations and “good love gone bad” to which Mooney has stuck close through this point, this track is elevated far above the lyrical tropes of its compatriots by the sheer weight of its theme.  The lyrics touch on religious and philosophical concepts and questions which philosophers and theologians have been debating for centuries, forming Mooney’s most profound lines yet:

“Soul-searching as if it’s mine to save”

“If I’m on the right path then why am I crying?

Or am a fool to question my role?”

What starts as a track comparable to any number of hit tunes from current mainstream pop ballad acts ultimately ends up being something like a “popier” cut from Christian-oriented alt rock powerhouse NEEDTOBREATHE.

Despite Mooney running the risk of alienating audience members who don’t share his faith or those who just don’t care for contemporary religious musical fare, I think, with Mooney’s huge following in the Southern United States, this track has enormous potential to be a breakout.  The chorus, featuring more of those soul-based vocals, this time with a gospel/spiritual quality, is particularly powerful.  The track is ultimately a plea for peace and guidance in the midst of uncertainty, and I think that is going to resonate with a large number of listeners.

5.  “Mississippi in the Spring”

Something of a piano-driven, hipster pop/folk tune, “Mississippi in the Spring” seems to be a very personal song for Mooney and is just the right amount of sweetness and sappiness to become many Mississippi couples’ personal love song forever.  The lyrics here again are very Save Me San Francisco with the track playing akin to “Marry Me” and “Hey Soul Sister” from that record.  The minimalistic production is quite different from the rest of the release, yet vastly appropriate for the tune, demonstrating more of Mooney’s diversity as well as his willingness and desire to showcase that diversity.

Ultimately, Find My Way is an extremely well-produced commercial, indie pop/rock affair with enough eclectic influences and unexpected artistic choices to elevate it above its peers and quite possibly above Mooney’s chart-topping debut Somewhere in Between.  And though some fans of that previous record might not quite “get” this release as much as, or like it as well as, its predecessor, I think most established followers will embrace Find My Way while new listeners will be quite impressed enough to lookup that debut entry in Mooney’s expanding catalog.

Rating: 5/5

Categories:  Pop, Rock, Blues, Jazz, Soul, Folk, Soft Rock, Pop/Rock


 

*In 2015, Cole Powell and bandmate/wife Brittany D launched Southern Senses, an online publication dedicated to showcasing the best music and cuisine from the Southern United States. With talented site contributors (including Southern rocker J. F. Oakes and restaurateur Christa Reid Neil), the site gained immediate success, attracting the attention of  renowned restaurateur Robert St. John and retired NFL tight end Reggie Kelly, among others. Though Powell opted to discontinue the site in 2017, select articles can be found on the Ramblings of a Mad Man blog section of colepowell.net.


 

Join Mailing List

Southern Senses Archive: Tony Norton – Songs from an Unfinished House Review

Brookhaven, MS, Indie Folk singer/songwriter delivers passionate, personal debut.

(Original version published on Southern Senses 03/24/16)*

Over the last couple of years, singer/songwriter Tony Norton has become something of a staple in the Southwest Mississippi music scene, performing regularly at singer/songwriter events and festivals around the area and hosting Brookhaven, MS’s premier weekly event:  the Magnolia Blues BBQ Company Open Mic Night.  It is, therefore, no surprise that his debut effort, Songs from an Unfinished House, has been long-anticipated and well-received by fans.  But how does the record hold up under scrutiny?

First and foremost, Tony Norton is a storytellerone of the best the region has to offerand subsequently, the release is, first and foremost, an exemplary effort of his craft. The record boasts blends of country, rock, and blues (that perfect storm of Southern music) but leans predominantly folk, a style to which Norton’s vocal and acoustic guitar stylings, as well as his musical sensibilities, are perfectly suited.

The production is overall sparse and basic with no frills, complimenting the from-the-heart-and-gut songwriting style Norton employs throughout the effort—exactly the feel I believe Norton is trying to achieve.

Top Tracks:

01.  “Back from Memphis”

Kicking off with an old west bar-style piano from regional keys master Marvin Curtis, the album opener, “Back from Memphis,” is a delightfully lumbering tune with a melancholy feel, featuring a tale of a particularly interesting night involving the titular city.  “If I don’t make it back from Memphis / I fell in the bottle / Walked myself right down to the river / Lord, I sank to the bottom,” goes the refrainthe first example of Norton’s honest, down-to-earth songwriting style which permeates the album.

02.  “Kings of Lincoln County”

Probably the best song on the record (and one that has become quite popular in Norton’s home town), “Kings of Lincoln County” speaks of Norton’s experiences as a youth in his home county in Southwest Mississippi and is set atop a perfect blend of easy-feeling country, folk, and bluegrass.  The song reflects on the adventurous times of youth and all the fun, romance, danger, and heartache that comes with them.   Norton’s ability to tap into relatable events in the life of the every man and turn them into poetic rhythms is on full display here, as exemplified in this tune’s chorus:

”Oh we were living each second

Like the next was not in sight

And we knew the best way to live 

Was to never die

We were running down our youth 

As if it had a bounty

’Cause we were 

Oh we were 

The Kings of Lincoln County.”

04.  “The Shovel”

A slow, stripped ballad of more of that country, folk, and bluegrass blend with beautifully crafted lyrics depicting the plight of the working man in the vein of classic folk, spiritual, and blues tunes.  For a modern musical stylistic reference, think some shades of Amos Lee’s work.

05.  “Goin’ South”

Though the least belonging track on the record in terms of style, “Goin’ South” is a driving, uptempo, heavily distorted electric guitar-driven affair which offers a welcomed differentiation in the flow and displays Norton’s otherwise hidden 90s alt rock sensibilities.

06.  “Sadie”

Another slow, stripped tune, “Sadie” is a painful lament of loss whose tune sounds like something straight out of a folk songbook filled with tunes from rural 19th century America.  A mournful violin from musician Jake Patrick compliments the feel and story to perfection.

10.  “Gasoline House”

A crowd-pleasing staple at Norton’s live shows, “Gasoline House” is a grooving, straight-up, in-your-face, lyrically biting blues/rock tune about bad love, replete here with gratuitous electric guitar, piano blues riffs, and a phenomenal harmonica turn from guest Scott Albert Johnson.  The tune also features the most catchy refrain on the record:

”Don’t drop a match in the Gasoline House”

The record is predominantly a feat of impressive song craftsmanship from one of the best songwriters/lyricists this author has heard in the area.  The songwriting, overall style, as well as the one-of-a-kind voice, are reminiscent of any number of classic upper echelon artists in the country/folk range, including Johnny Cash, Roger Miller, John Prine, and Bob Dylan.  The earnest music and, more importantly, the heart-felt lyrics are sure to strike a chord with “down-home” Southern folks everywhere.

As a vocalist, Norton is a unique brand.  As an artist, he is a perfect executor of his own blend of folk-based country stylings.   And as a storyteller, Tony Norton is most certainly a King of Lincoln County.

Album Rating:  4/5

*In 2015, Cole Powell and bandmate/wife Brittany D launched Southern Senses, an online publication dedicated to showcasing the best music and cuisine from the Southern United States. With talented contributors (including Southern rocker J. F. Oakes and restaurateur Christa Reid Neil), the site gained immediate success, attracting the attention of  renowned restaurateur Robert St. John and retired NFL tight end Reggie Kelly, among others. Though Powell opted to discontinue the site in 2017, select articles can be found on the Ramblings of a Mad Man blog section of colepowell.net.

Southern Senses Archive: Reggie Kelly Interview

  • Photo-Jun-19-3-49-12-PM

The former Bulldog, Bengal, & Falcon talks KYVAN Foods & Southern tradition

(Originally published on Southern Senses 04/05/15)*

Following a successful collegiate and professional football career, Mississippi native Reggie Kelly has embarked on an entrepreneurial venture which is bringing the tradition of Southern soul food to kitchens across America.  Southern Senses editor Cole Powell recently had the chance to chat with Kelly about Kelly’s Southern roots and his increasingly successful company, KYVAN Soul Food Selections.

SS:  First, thanks for taking your time for this interview!  It’s an honor and privilege, sir.

You’ve had a very successful stint in the NFL, so before we get into KYVAN, can you tell us a bit about your football career?  I’m sure many of our readers will remember you from your time as a Mississippi State Bulldog!

RK:  My name is Reggie Kelly, native of Aberdeen, Mississippi.  During my time at AHS, I started out playing QB, and my senior year, I played Tight End. In 1995, I went on to play under Coach Jackie Sherrill at Mississippi State University.  I was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 1999, Round 2, Pick 42nd.  Played 13 years—5 years with the Atlanta Falcons and 8 years with the Cincinnati Bengals.

SS:   So, for years, you enjoyed a very successful football career, and now, you’re owner of your own company, KYVAN Foods, which is supplying a stellar line of products to Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Firehouse Subs, and a host of other national companies.  Can you share with our readers the story of the birth of this venture?  How you went from NFL tight end to food industry entrepreneur?

RK:  My wife Sheila and I held football camps in our hometown of Aberdeen. The football camps were designed to reward the kids who have excelled academically in the classroom. We invited fellow NFL stars & coaches to volunteer and make the events special for the kids. True to form, after the camps, our family cooked for the volunteers, and they raved about the flavor and goodness of the meals. “Their responses were overwhelming and brought a smile to our face when they expressed their enjoyment of the meals and the difficulty of finding flavorful meals like these anywhere else. Those compliments started the ‘wheels to churn’ in our mind and a light bulb flashed, prompting my wife and I to ‘come up’ with a great idea… a Soul Food Line!”

SS:  You’ve mentioned two things right there that I think are going to resonate with our readers:  “Mississippi” and “Soul Food.”  First, for those who don’t know, I want to mention that some of your sauces are actually produced right here in your home state of Mississippi.   Now, you said people expressed “the difficulty of finding flavorful meals like these anywhere else.”  I think that says a great deal about Southern cuisine.  I’m not sure people from other regions really understand what an impact Southern food has on its people, so, can you expand on that a little bit?   How great an impact did growing up with that “Soul Food” have on how you approached food in general and subsequently, the way you approached your product line?

RK:  I didn’t come from a family of chefs but cooks.  Growing up, my family always taught me to prepare our meals with love. We prepared them in such a way that first time visitors would feel welcome and feel apart of the Kelly Family.  Our family recipes, and now KYVAN products, were always meant to stir your soul, and that is the reason our company is named KYVAN Soul Food Selections.

SS:  Before we get into the products themselves, I want to talk a bit about the marketing for the company, which I think has been very well done.  First, since we cover music on Southern Senses as well, and I’m an independent music artist myself, I have to mention the theme song that plays on the KYVAN website—I love it!  The a cappella harmony, that opening bass vocal— just wonderful.  “Appreciate The Goodness!” goes the refrain.  “Appreciate The Goodness!”  That’s KYVAN’s slogan.  Fantastic slogan, by the way.  Where did that phrase originate and how did you decide on that phrase to represent your brand?

RK:  My wife and I were thinking about mottos that would fit the KYVAN brand and we immediately came up with “Appreciate the Goodness!”  Appreciating the goodness goes far beyond just our food.  Our company is built up  with a team of professionals that exemplify integrity…we believe that is good.  We engage in countless acts of community service…we believe this is good.  Lastly our products, the quality, uniqueness of our products, exemplify goodness…and we believe this is good.  Every facet of the KYVAN Brand represents, the way things are suppose to be done…with good intent.

SS:   That’s such a phenomenal mindset and approach to have as a business owner, and I think that stands as a very inspiring testament to your personal character, which brings me to something else I wanted to touch on. The “About” section on the KYVAN website ends with “God Bless” and the Scripture reference John 3:16.  Faith is another big part of Southern culture, and I found those unabashed references to your Christian beliefs to be refreshing.  Would you like to talk a bit on your faith and the impact it has had on you and your company?

RK:  Mississippi is the Bible Belt of the South, and I am true to my belief.  My belief is that I believe in God and his Son, Jesus Christ.  I know without Him I am nothing and I wouldn’t be where I am without Him.  He is my main priority and serving and honoring Him in all that I do is a must!  With God on my side I am able to do all things and I know what is meant for me is for me according to His will.  Christ is a big part of my life, and I do my best to represent Him to the upmost so that others can see Him through me, based on the way I live my life.  God is so good, and it is my duty to inform others of his goodness and that I am where I am today only because of Him!  

SS:  Thanks so much for sharing that testimony with us.  Three major tenants of Southern culture are food, faith, and family.  You’ve just talked a good bit on the first of those two, and the third, family, is obviously very important to you as well, as you’ve mentioned the impact your family had on you growing up, and your wife being an integral part of development of this venture.  But also, as I learned while preparing for this interview, the name KYVAN itself comes from your family.   Would you like to share with our readers the origin of that name and why you chose it?

RK:  Family is very important me too.  KYVAN is simple:  it is a combination of my 2 kids names, Kyla and Kavan.  Just like my kids are unique, so are our products.  It’s my goal to pass down to my kids and to everyone else the gift passed down to me:  An Appreciation of Good Food.

SS:  Let’s get down to that “good food”  and talk products.  You have a great selection of items.  Almost every kind of sauce one can imagine:  barbecue, hot, wing, Asian.  You have salsa which just won Best Hot Salsa at the Hot Pepper Awards.  You have seasonings.  And you have something that particularly got my mouth watering as I was browsing the KYVAN website, Honey Apple Butter.  If you had to pick a favorite product, what would it be?  Or would it just be too difficult a task for you to choose one over any of the others?

RK:  KYVAN Mild Honey Apple Salsa, but that is a tough question.  They are all Good!

SS:  Great answer!  You also have recipes on the KYVAN website specifically crafted to make use of KYVAN products.  Which of these recipes would you personally recommend most for our readers to try at home?

RK:  

KYVAN BBQ Baby Back Ribs 

INGREDIENTS:

2 Slabs of baby back ribs

Gallon of apple cider or apple juice

KYVAN Dry BBQ Rub

KYVAN Sweet BBQ Sauce

DIRECTIONS:

Clean ribs and remove the thin film on bottom of ribs.

Season ribs with desired amounts of BBQ rub and then place ribs in a deep aluminum pan.

Pour apple cider over the ribs and let marinade overnight in refrigerator (covered).

Before cooking, remove from apple cider and slightly pat ribs dry.

Add more rub if desired.

Let ribs become room temperature and set grill to 250-275 degrees (charcoal grill is preferred).

Let ribs cook for 2 hrs (don’t flip ribs) and then brush BBQ sauce on ribs and let cook another 30 minutes.

Remove ribs from grill and enjoy.

SS:  Okay, last KYVAN question, then I’m going to throw it back to football for just a minute to close us out.  What’s in store for KYVAN in the near future?  

RK:  Our goal is to expand in more foodservice outlets across the country.

SS:   Okay, with Super Bowl 50 still fresh on everybody’s minds, I want to ask you, as a 13-year NFL veteran, what did you think of the game overall?   Any thoughts on Peyton Manning’s potential retirement?

RK:  It was a great game.  Peyton has had a stellar career, and what a great way to possibly end his career than with a Super Bowl win.

Reggie Kelly Official Website:  http://reggiekelly82.com/

KYVAN Official Website:  http://kyvan82.com/


*In 2015, Cole Powell and bandmate/wife Brittany D launched Southern Senses, an online publication dedicated to showcasing the best music and cuisine from the Southern United States. With talented site contributors (including Southern rocker J. F. Oakes and restaurateur Christa Reid Neil), the site gained immediate success, attracting the attention of  renowned restaurateur Robert St. John and retired NFL tight end Reggie Kelly, among others. Though Powell opted to discontinue the site in 2017, select articles can be found on the Ramblings of a Mad Man blog section of colepowell.net.


Southern Senses Archive: Chris Stapleton – Traveller Review

Country hit-writer makes solid showing with throwback-feeling, Blues-heavy debut.

(Original version published on Southern Senses 10/15/15)*

At some point over a year ago, a friend let me hear a 2013 song called “What Are You Listening To.”  Though the tune delved into some of the standard modern country music tropes that aren’t usually my cup of tea, other elements in the track, such as distinct blues and Southern rock influences, caught and held my attention.  But perhaps no element struck me more immediately than the singer’s powerful, rough, Southern-heaped, blues/rock vocals.  That singer was Chris Stapleton.  “Who is this fellow?”  I thought.  Shortly there after, I read his story and discovered he was, as Country Weekly would put it a few months later, “Nashville’s Best-Kept Secret.”   But no need exists for me to expound on Mr. Stapleton’s credentials as they are listed very succinctly on his official website as follows:   

“He has written five No. 1 songs for George Strait, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Darius Rucker and Josh Turner and contributed cuts to several major motion picture soundtracks. He’s also been nominated for three Grammy Awards and won the International Bluegrass Music Association Emerging Artist of the Year award as a member of The SteelDrivers.

His songwriting credits span all genres and artists from Adele to Jason Aldean and he’s recorded with everyone from Miranda Lambert to Don Williams.” 

After 15 years working as a highly respected artist in the music industry, Stapleton finally released his debut full-length, Traveller, an effort that I think his long-time fans have found well worth the wait.  To me, the most remarkable element of the record is the obvious calculation of Stapleton’s songwriting. Whether musically veering blues, country, or pop or lyrically teetering between cliche and profound, the album always appears to be directed so by Stapleton and company, who seem gloriously aware of the difference between art and commercialism and see no reason the two can’t coexist.  

Top Tracks:

1.  “Traveller”

The album kicks off with the titular track, which, at various points throughout the song, brings back nostalgic feelings of 60s, 70s, 80s, and even 90s country, as well as classic Southern rock.  Even more fascinating is the tale behind the song’s genesis: Stapleton wrote the tune on a road trip through Arizona/New Mexico as he watched the sun behind the mountains while his wife slept in the passenger seat.

2.  “Fire Away”

My personal favorite track from the record, “Fire Away” is a heartfelt country, blues ballad, showcasing the stellar vocals of Stapleton and boasting some of the best lyrical content on the record. 

3.  “Tennessee Whiskey”

Originally a 1980s country/western tune recorded by both David Allen Coe and George Jones, “Tennessee Whiskey” is reimagined here as a late 60s-ish, slow-dance, soul-meets-blues/rock track with a lo-fi leaning sound that is very reminiscent of much of Alabama Shakes first record, Boys & Girls.  A close second favorite track for me.

5.  “Whiskey and You”

“Whiskey and You” begins the record’s segue into more traditional country territory and is probably the best of the more country-fied tunes.  The acoustic guitar-only ballad sonically clears the way for Stapleton’s vocals (and speaking voice) as he delivers the lines of a conceptually clever chorus:  

“One’s the devil, one keeps driving me insane

At times I wonder if they ain’t both the same

But one’s a liar that helps to hide me from my pain

And one’s the long gone bitter truth

That’s the difference between whiskey and you”

7.  “More of You”

If you like classic country/western from the 40s, 50s, and early 60s, you’ll love this waltz which brings to mind several classic artists including Hank Williams, Sr. and George Jones.

10.  “Might As Well Get Stoned”

A lo-fi-ish Blues-based rocker that sounds like it was deliberately written to be the next classic bar tune—and that is no a criticism.

13.  “Outlaw State of Mind”

A swampy, blues-leaning tune with plenty of outlaw country influence.  Could be another candidate for the bar circuit of the future.

14.  “Sometimes I Cry”

Another lo-fi Blues tune.  This one opens up with solo electric guitar instrumentation and sees Stapleton deliver more vocal excellence and showcase his range.

Album Rating:  4/5

Sub Categories:  Country, Country/Western, Blues, Rock, Blues Rock 

*In 2015, Cole Powell and bandmate/wife Brittany D launched Southern Senses, an online publication dedicated to showcasing the best music and cuisine from the Southern United States. With talented site contributors (including Southern rocker J. F. Oakes and restaurateur Christa Reid Neil), the site gained immediate success, attracting the attention of  renowned restaurateur Robert St. John and retired NFL tight end Reggie Kelly, among others. Though Powell opted to discontinue the site in 2017, select articles can be found on the Ramblings of a Mad Man blog section of colepowell.net. 

Southern Senses Archive: StoneCoats Interview

The StoneCoats on debut album, influences, and making music in Mississippi

(Originally published on Southern Senses 03/08/16)*

Coming off the January release of their debut full-length Poor Boy Blues, Brandon, MS-based Southern music band, The StoneCoats, took some time to chat with Southern Senses editor Cole Powell about making the record and their industry experiences thus far:

SS:  Hi, guys.  First, thanks for taking the time to speak with us.

SC:  Hi, Cole.  Thank you for giving us this opportunity.  We are very excited about it!

SS:  I want to start by focussing on that country/rock/blues blend that we here call “Southern” music and which can be heard on your debut full-length, Poor Boy Blues, available now worldwide through just about every digital retailer in existence.  Can you guys expand a bit on your influences and how you worked to bring those influences into this record?  

SC:  Our influences range from a variety of different artists.  Most of the artists or groups we like, we picked up from our parents while we were growing up and listening to old records with them, or hearing them talk about the music of their youth.  Living in Mississippi, we have a large blues influence as well.  It is really hard not to have some blues influence when it has been so essential and has affected just about all genres of music.  However, we do appreciate and study the early blues artists out of interest and pure enjoyment as well.  Some of these artists are Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, and many, many others.  Our influences aren’t just limited to the blues though.  Ranging from Americana to Rock, we have several other influences which include, but are not limited to, the following:  Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, CCR, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Cream, Derek and the Dominoes, and many more.  Therefore, our musical influence and foundation is very versatile since it is drawn from all across the musical spectrum.  

SS:  What was the typical songwriting process like?  Highly collaborative?  Or was there a sole or dominant writer?

SC:  When we were writing this record we never said, “Okay, this is what we want to sound like.  This is what direction we are wanting to go.”  We just sat down and wrote.  We did what was natural, and we did what came to us.  Instinctively, we subconsciously pulled a little bit from all of our influences while writing.  Because of this, a wide variety of sounds and origins can be heard on Poor Boy Blues.  From soft rock songs like “Another Thought For Today” with its mellow feel, to songs such as “Cheated Heart” with its country twang telling the tale of heartbreak from the pedal steel guitar, and to everything else in between, it is easy to see how all of our influences have come into play while crafting and shaping this project.  While writing, the music almost always came first.  Usually someone would come to the practice room with a chord progression, or even a melody or a riff, and we would work on it.  However, sometimes someone would play something while we were warming up, and we would literally see it come to life in front of us as we worked on it.  Overall, the writing process was something very special for all of us to be a part of and for all of us to contribute to.  Writing for us was almost always a collaborative effort, with the exception being “Cross That Bridge” which was written by Brannon.  As a band, that’s just how we work for the most part.  That is how it’s been since day one.  We just know how to bounce ideas and creativity off of each other.  

SS:  Did the band write every song on the record?  

SC:  All of the songs on Poor Boy Blues are originally written by us with only one exception.  “Roll It Over” is a Derek and the Dominos song that we decided to put on the album.  Eric Clapton is another influence of ours by the way he combined the blues with rock.  Therefore, we thought that by putting this song on the record it would not only challenge us, but pay homage to that concept as well.

SS:  You guys mentioned usually writing the music first, some times starting with a riff.  One quality I felt Poor Boy Blues has that also defined a lot of those influences you mentioned, but that I don’t hear much from artists any more, is a signature riff for many of your songs.  “When You’re Down,” for instance—that intro just immediately grabs the listener as something unique.  Can you, or I guess more precisely, the two guitarists of the group, expand a little bit of the riff development process?  Do you set off consciously to make a riff? “I’m gonna come up with a new riff today!” Or is it more an organic case of sitting around, goofing off with the guitar, and striking something new?   Or do licks some times just pop into the mind randomly?

SC:  Well, it’s actually a little bit of both to be honest.  Sometimes we will have a solid chord progression that we all like and then someone says, “This could really use a riff or something over it.”  Therefore, at this point we set off to intentionally write one.  However, sometimes it’s more organic when coming up with the riff.  Sometimes there’s a solid groove going on when we are just messing around on the instruments and someone will hit a few licks that sound cool, so then we set off to write around that.  But our minds are always working and functioning in this creative way, so it’s always a good possibility that we will hear a random riff in our heads and turn it into something that we can work with later.  

SS:  This one’s for Brannon.  As with the band’s noticeable myriad of musical influences, I also heard a lot of different vocal stylings from you on the record.  On “Blues Boogie,” you’re more dark blues and rough-edged.  “Cross That Bridge,” you lean more country.  On “Cheated Heart,” I feel you’re channeling Tom Petty heavily.  I heard a bit of Ronnie Van Zant at times too.  I think the great singers are those who sound like they sound because they choose to sound like that, meaning, they could choose to sound differently (within the bounds of their vocal chord structure and strength, of course) if they wanted.  To me, it seems you’re doing something that very few do, and that’s altering the sound of your voice from song to song as the change in music styles dictates.   Do you feel that bit of vocal chameleonism separates you from not only the current Southern music pack but also some of those past greats that you guys mentioned earlier?

Brannon:  It’s funny you mention that because it’s something that I didn’t notice fully until the album had been completed.  Each song has a different feel, and I want to do my best to convey that feeling to the listener.  I think it definitely sets me apart as a vocalist in modern rock, and it’s nice to be in a band where I have that kind of freedom.

SS:  A lot of acts come and go and never make it nearly as far or play nearly as long as The StoneCoats have thus far.  How tough has it been to successfully navigate Mississippi’s indie music scene (which I know from personal experience can be rough waters to traverse) and begin to branch out further regionally?

SC:  Well, one thing that has really helped out along the way is being close to one another. That has helped out during some of the tougher times. We are a family. Two of us are actually brothers, and Bran is like a brother also. Ashten has been with us for two years, so when we hit a rough spot, we work through it. We also know that we want to make a career out of this, so we refuse to give up or quit. We work really hard at what we do, and we have a great manager who helps us and a great team around us who is not afraid to tell us when we need to get it together or work on something. As far as playing in Mississippi goes, one thing that we have had to learn how to use to our advantage is social media. Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook have been a huge help. Through social media, we can let people know when and where we will be. Social media has revolutionized the industry, and we try to use it to our advantage. If you read about the greats, as we call them, all of them had to pay their dues, and we have been paying our dues. However, we have had a lot of great people help us along the way that we can’t thank enough and great opportunities that have opened a lot of doors for us.

SS:  I think you guys hit on a great point about social media marketing.  I see so many acts not take advantage of such a fantastic, free promotional tool, and I think “How can you not be blasting everything you’re doing all over the web?”  So, kudos to The StoneCoats for taking advantage of those resources.

Tell us about some of your “big” moments in the industry so far.  I know the Hard Rock appearances are something worth bragging about for sure!  

SC:  Yeah, we have been very fortunate to have some great opportunities, and we are definitely thankful.  We have played the Beale Street Hard Rock Café in Memphis, and we played the Bourbon Street Hard Rock in New Orleans.  In Memphis, we played in front of Epic Records.  We had the chance to meet some pretty important industry guys.  That was such a valuable learning experience in itself.  In New Orleans, we actually played for the Hard Rock Rising competition.  A few bands were chosen from each region to play, and we happened to be one of the bands from this region chosen.  The grand prize for the winner was a trip to Spain, where the band would play at a festival in Barcelona.  We finished second overall in the Southeastern United States region.  Recently, we were nominated for an American Music Guild award, and we had to travel to North Carolina for the ceremony because we where asked to perform live.  While we were there, we had the chance to meet a lot of artist who have had an impact on the industry.  Billy Paul and Dee Dee Sharp, along with many others, were there.  We actually had the chance to work with David Cook and perform live with Melanie Safka, who played at the original Woodstock.  Getting to hangout with her and hear her stories was a very cool experience for us.

SS:  Three of you also got to appear in the James Brown biopic Get on Up.  Care to elaborate on that experience a little for us? 

Leighton:  Filming Get On Up was an incredible experience all together.  Since it was in Mississippi, we sent our information to the casting directors hoping to do something musical.  However, we were placed in other roles.  Carson and Brannon were extras for the scene that was being shot.  I played the drummer for the Rolling Stones, Charlie Watts.  There was a very cool scene that I was able to be a part of.  It was the scene where James Brown bursts into the Rolling Stones’ dressing room while they were getting ready, and demands to know why he wasn’t going to be closing at the 1964 T.A.M.I. Show.  That was a very cool moment.  The room was set in 1964, of course, so it felt like I was actually there.  There were replica guitars there from the sixties.  I felt like I was actually experiencing a part of history first hand.  We had to shoot the scene for what felt like a million times.  Of course, everyone smoked inside then.  They gave us fake cigarettes that would burn up super fast, and they smelled terrible.  By the time that scene was over I think I had smoked about a pack and a half of the things.  Overall, it was a very long day.  Shooting for 12 hours, it took us all day to complete a five minute scene.  We definitely have a new found respect for actors, directors, and everyone else who makes a movie happen after the experience.  The best part was getting to meet all of the actors.  We met stars like Chad Boseman, Dan Aykroyd, Tate Taylor, and Craig Robinson.  All of these people were incredibly nice, and they were super fun to hang out with.  We were invited to the premier and cast party in Jackson as well.  One thing is for sure, we have never watched a movie the same way since we have had the chance to see how it was actually shot. 

SS:  Now, what’s on the horizon for The StoneCoats?  Big gigs?  Working on another album already? 

SC:  We are always working towards playing bigger gigs, and even gigs beyond the area that we usually play. We would love to start playing festivals.  As far as recording, right now we are working on a small blues EP in North Mississippi with Matt Nolan. He has always been the front man for The Spunk Monkees and is an incredible artist, songwriter, and producer.  He is recording the album at his studio and helping produce it. It’s an album of blues cover songs that the blues fathers of Mississippi, and others, did in the past.  As Mississippi musicians, not only are we artists, but we are also curators in a sense.  We want to preserve the rich history and influence of the music from this part of the world, and for us this project is a great way to pay tribute to that.  Not only that, but we love the blues.  The rawness and reality of the subject matter of the blues is something that everyone on Earth has experienced.  The blues is one aspect of humanity that connects us all together, and we want people to know that.  We want people to see not only the musical influence these men had on the world, but the influence that they have had on humanity because they honestly played from their souls about the heartbreak and tribulations they experienced. Even though a lot of these artist played from a personal perspective much of it applies to the larger world.  We are no different today. Our generation can spark a movement and a moment out of all the turmoil and hurt to make a better world. We would love to help spark a movement of love and unity with our music and our art. It’s our job to preserve this and pay it forward.  We don’t want to forget these roots. 

SS:  I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about life outside of the music biz.  I’d like to hear from each of you on your interests apart from writing and touring.  What do you like to do outside of music?  Hobbies?  Any sports fans in the group?  Film buffs?  Foodies?  

Carson:  I am actually in my sophomore year in college studying history. I really enjoy reading anything historical or political. I like to read autobiographies, especially the ones of my favorite musician or of a former president. I also love to collect guns and target practice. I like to play video games and beat Ashten. I love to discuss politics and have heated debates with my close friends. I am a family guy. We have a really close family, and we have a lot of fun together so I tend to hang out at home. 

Leighton:  music is just one particular interest in my life.  I am an all around nerd in every sense of the way when it comes to the devotion to other areas of study in life.  I love reading and writing my own short stories, essays, and even plays, and I also have an interesting physics, chemistry, and astronomy hobby.  Most of the time I’m engaging in one of these topics, or I can be found at church.  I love studying theology, and I look for ways to do effective ministry for Christ every way possible.  For relaxation, and an escape from the mundane, I can be found tending to my vegetable garden. 

Ashten:  I usually work during the day, so in my free time, I usually just come home and relax a bit. I just listen to a bunch of music and hang out with the guys most of the time. Since I live with the Bristows we always just play video games (where I usually lose to Carson in fifa), but it’s like a family here. I watch anime more often than I’d like to admit. The guys call me a weeaboo. Google it. But in my free time I usually get into the Scripture. I go to church and hang out with friends. I watch a lot of movies and things on Netflix. Does that mean I get to be sponsored by Netflix now? And, oh yeah. I smoke a lot of cigarettes if that counts as free time. 

Brannon:  If I’m not writing music, I’m eating.  I have a group of friends that likes to eat at a different restaurant each week.  Jackson has some of the most incredible food joints that are virtually unknown, even to people that have lived here all their lives.  Go down to Martins one day and get their squash casserole.  It will change your life.

SS:  We’ve covered a lot of ground here, but before we go, is there anything we haven’t touched on that you guys would like to say to the people who may be hearing about you for the first time?  Anything you’d like to say to the fans that have shared this journey with you thus far?

SC:  First of all, we want to thank the fans for the interest and support.  Second of all, we want to let them know that they are just as involved in this journey as we are.  We want them to know that even though we love being artists and playing music that this band is not the end of a means, but this is the means to an end.  That end is leaving a positive impact on the world and changing it so it can be better, whether that’s on a large scale or wether it’s a single person’s life.  This is what we believe it means to be successful.  We hope to do just that by using this music as a platform.  We want the fans to know that they are involved in this as well.  If we could let them know anything, it’s this.  


 

*In 2015, Cole Powell and bandmate/wife Brittany D launched Southern Senses, an online publication dedicated to showcasing the best music and cuisine from the Southern United States. With talented site contributors (including Southern rocker J. F. Oakes and restaurateur Christa Reid Neil), the site gained immediate success, attracting the attention of  renowned restaurateur Robert St. John and retired NFL tight end Reggie Kelly, among others. Though Powell opted to discontinue the site in 2017, select articles can be found on the Ramblings of a Mad Man blog section of colepowell.net.