Jon Dee Graham
Jon Dee Graham is a legend on the Austin music scene. He's been inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame three times, in 2000 as a solo artist, in 2008 as a member of the Skunks, and in 2009 as a member of the True Believers. In 2006, the readers of the Austin Chronicle named him Austin Musician of the Year. In 2008, Graham was the subject of a portrait-of-the-artist documentary, Swept Away, which is available nationally on DVD. In its final issue, No Depression magazine called the film, "superb." Shortly after the films release in the Spring of 2008, Graham survived a one car crash on Texas' I-35 that claimed his spleen, left him with a zipper scar up his chest, and permanently wreaked havoc on his back and neck. Despite a massive hospital bill – or perhaps because of it – Graham was back at work about one month later at his beloved Continental Club in Austin. He's barely slowed down since, finding time to write and record a new album – his first studio record since 2006 -- and making time to develop a new weekly live residency, Jon Dee and Friend, -- whose guests have included Kelly Willis, Alejandro Escovedo, James McMurtry, & Curt Kirkwood amongst others. It's Not As Bad As it Looks, Graham's 2010 release is about -- you guessed it – second chances, hope, sin & redemption, the constant search for higher meaning and a path forward, and trying to walk that fine line life often forces upon you. And it's all delivered through Jon Dee Graham's unique prism of pointed lyrics, searing guitar, and arrangements that sway between touching ballads and balls out rock with a punk edge. "I know this is loaded and I am way too close to it" Graham says, "but I think it's my best record since my first one, Escape From Monster Island." It's Not As Bad As It Looks was recorded at Austin's Wire Recording with Stuart Sullivan at the helm. Graham produced with his long-time musical partner and cohort, Mike Hardwick. Another stalwart compadre, Andrew Duplantis, of Son Volt, was on bass. And Joey Sheffield held down the backbeat with help from another Austin fixture, drummer Daren Hess. It's Not As Bad As It Looks is Graham's seventh record overall and his fourth album with Freedom Records.
Bonnie Whitmore may have a heart of gold, an outsize personality and a roof-raising laugh, but don't be fooled: her debut album has a body count. No fewer than two men die by Bonnie's own hand over the course of the record: one of them is burned alive, one the victim of a knife that, in Whitmore's own words, "just slipped." Take a look at that album cover and consider what secrets she's trying to get you to keep quiet. And then think twice before you spill 'em.
It's all part of a grand plan – one methodically designed by Whitmore – from album cover, to album content. The songs concern themselves with the slow disintegration of a relationship, and the album's title – Embers to Ashes – is meant to represent that story's painful arc – from the first fires of young passion to the scorched ruin of heartbreak. As a killer, Whitmore's the last you'd suspect: Embers to Ashes is full of sly, spry country music, whiskey-soaked songs that recall prime Loretta Lynn and early Neko Case and, in their more uptempo moments, Miranda Lambert at her rowdiest. But be warned: those revelers carry daggers, and there's a bit of arsenic in that glass of cherry wine. As Whitmore herself puts it, "Nothing says 'go to hell' better than an uptempo, catchy song!"
Whitmore learned her way around country music early, touring at the ripe old age of 8 with her parents and her sister in a traveling roadshow cheekily titled "Daddy & the Divas." "Basically, my dad had children so he could have a band," she jokes. "He really wanted a bass player, so I learned how to play bass. My sister played the violin."
Whitmore's father has a pilot's license – an accomplishment Whitmore herself would later achieve – so he'd fly the family to their gigs at remote Texas bars and overcrowded fall festivals. And though they were a family act, Bonnie often stole the show: "As a little girl with a big voice singing 'Gold Dust Woman,' a lot of times I'd get the biggest applause."
As much as she loved playing with her family, the older she got, the more she wanted to strike out on her own. "I started to realize that I loved playing music," she says. "So when I was 16 I started writing my own songs." As her teen years progressed, Whitmore began working as a session player with other local musicians, while still continuing to perform with her family from time to time. For her first proper statement as a solo artist, she wanted to do something conceptual – something that told a story from beginning to end.
"I wanted to set up the album so it's: 'Boy meets girl, they breakup, but then there's the kind of postscript. At the end of the album, you have to deal with the lingering memory of that lost love."
Whitmore realized that vision to a striking degree. The title track is the kind of rough-and-tumble country song that would do Kathleen Edwards proud, but its rollicking rhythms conceal a sinister message: "Well, the preacher said until death do us part/ so you're gonna have to pay for this broken heart." "Tin Man" barrels forward like vintage Liz Phair, Whitmore using the classic Wizard of Oz character to pillory a heartless ex. Its lyric is built on a sly double-entendre: "Replaced by a girl named Mary who shares my middle name" (Whitmore's middle name is "Jane"). "She Walks" is a sparkling, mid-tempo number with all the ache of Lucinda Williams or Gillian Welch, while "Cotton Sheets" plays out like a bright update of Mary Chapin Carpenter's "Passionate Kisses," Whitmore cannily using its central metaphor to stand in for the tension between upper and lower class.
She's just as adept on the record's softer numbers. "You Gonna Miss Me" is a slow ramble Whitmore wrote around the time she was moving from Texas for a brief stay in Tennessee. "I was really concerned about how leaving was going to be, and I think I was hopeful that I was going to be missed," she explains. "Sometimes, if I'm really emotionally involved when I'm playing a show, this song can get me to the point where I'm almost in tears."
The album was cut in a marathon two-day session in the studio, guided by the sure hand of producer Chris Masterson. "Chris produced my sister's record, Airplanes" Whitmore explains, "and it's unbelievable the things that he pulled together when we worked together. He had such great vision -– he could hear sounds that weren't there yet. I went into the studio with the intention of doing an EP, and he pushed me to do a full album."
The gambit paid off – Embers to Ashes is full of ragged, rugged, instantly memorable country songs, a document of a relationship where passion burns hot, bright and quickly, and danger looms like a thunderstorm in the distance.
"I'm so grateful I have songwriting as an outlet, because it lets me relieve some of my darker emotions," Whitmore explains. "Instead of going and maybe being a bit destructive, I just write songs instead. I know sometimes I write angsty songs, but that's how I get the angst out." Then she pauses and adds, with a wry smile, "Kinda makes you wonder about the people who write all those happy songs!"
Hailing from New Haven County, Michael Hunton brings you old time Americana infused with delta blues, roots, Appalachia, a few good stories, and a bottle of whiskey. Performing in bars, street corners, back porches, living rooms, and bonfires, Hunton cultivates an old sound inspired by the likes of Doc Watson, Son House, Charlie Parr, Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt that will take your mind to a time filled with juke joints and freight trains. In 2015 Hunton released the album entitled "Catch That Train”, gloriously filled with stories of sin & redemption, second chances, and finding your path home - wherever that may be. Come and stay a while, and you just might find yourself hollerin’, stompin’, laughin’, and reaching for the nearest bottle of bourbon too.