Born Yesterday is a bookend to New York singer-songwriter, Margaret Glaspy’s lauded 2016 debut Emotions and Math (ATO Records). “In releasing it, I feel set free to sink deep into my new inspirations while taking a break from the road and make something entirely new.” Glaspy continues, “These songs are the end of this chapter and mark a new beginning!”
Emotions and Math was featured on many Year-End lists when it was released in 2016, including The New York Times, NPR Music, Billboard, Mother Jones, and more. Glaspy toured the record intensely, playing countless shows throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. This season on the road birthed her new EP released on ATO Records, Born Yesterday. Margaret recalls, “I wrote these songs on the road, in my hotel, on the plane, and at soundcheck. They were the product of the little time that I had to myself – three songs about different sides of love: love gone wrong, love gone right, and love at a distance.” She continues, “Born Yesterday is a bookend on the adventure that was my last record, Emotions and Math.”
Glaspy self-produced the new EP, which frames these love stories in catchy choruses, dark harmony, and her ever evolving sense of the electric guitar. Her finely tuned ear for production and tone shine on Born Yesterday.
“There’s a disarming spirit of generosity in the musicianship of Julian Lage, and a keener sense of judicious withholding. A guitarist with roots tangled up in jazz, folk, classical and country music, he has spent most of his life bathed in a bright, expectant light.”
–New York Times
On Modern Lore, Julian Lage’s second studio recording with his trio, the composer and guitarist focuses on the groove, building his melodies and solos around the work of the prodigious rhythm section of double bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen. Modern Lore finds Lage playfully flipping the script he followed on his acclaimed 2016 Mack Avenue debut, Arclight. That album — produced, like Modern Lore, by Lage’s friend and collaborator, the singer-songwriter Jesse Harris — was his first trio set on electric guitar and found Lage inspired by the sounds and the attitude of the freewheeling, pre-bebop jazz era, when, as he puts it, “country music and jazz and swing were in this weird wild-west period.” This time he incorporates the sensibility, if not the outright sound, of early rock and roll, a similarly hybrid form driven by rhythm, personality and a passion for the electric guitar.
“Last time it was specifically a combination of the electric guitar being a lead voice interacting with those pre-bebop songs. I wanted to do a jazz record the way I had always craved to do one,” Lage recalls. “Modern Lore is the evolution of that sound, through the lens of original compositions. These pieces are more designed in the image of early rock and roll, early Little Richard, early Bo Diddley, wherein the first measure of music sets the tone for the whole experience. The sound of the band driven by these grooves and the guitar is more of an explosive voice, it bends more; it’s more dynamic.”
Opening with the exuberant “The Ramble,” Lage’s set of all-original new material is largely up-tempo, though on tracks like “Atlantic Limited” and “Splendor Riot” the trio adopts a hypnotic, lyrical stride. And, on “Revelry” and “Pantheon,” it grows more pensive. Throughout, the beat is concise and steady. Lage’s solos are action-packed musical monologues, stuffed with brilliant melodies and off-the-cuff inspiration. The penultimate track, “Earth Science,” is an outright scorcher.
“I wanted all the songs on this album to be borne out of a danceable groove, a kind of sensuality, something that felt great even before the guitar was a part of it,” Lage explains. “Kenny and Scott have this unique way of transforming these pieces, creating variations that morph into completely new feels. It’s kind of kaleidoscopic. With that in place, I wrote melodies that were singable to me.”
Lage was already an established guitar virtuoso when at age 27, he picked up the Telecaster for the Arclight sessions. That was, in a sense, a return to his roots: When he was four years old, his dad, a visual artist, had made him a plywood guitar, based on a Fender Esquire he’d traced from a Bruce Springsteen poster. As a young and preternaturally gifted musician, Lage found supporters in such artists as vibraphonist Gary Burton and veteran jazz guitarist Jim Hall, who would become Lage’s mentor and friend. Though Hall passed away in 2013, he remains a profound influence on Lage. In fact, Lage first encountered Colley and Wollesen when they were backing Hall at the famed Bay Area jazz club, Yoshi’s in Oakland, CA. Since then, Lage has more than fulfilled the promise of his youth, collaborating with a diverse range of fellow artists, including guitarist-singer Chris Eldridge of Punch Brothers, bassist Steve Swallow, and iconic avant-garde composer John Zorn; often appearing with the house band on Prairie Home Companion; and composing for and fronting this trio.
For Modern Lore, the trio cut the tracks at Reservoir Studios in midtown Manhattan. Then Lage brought in keyboardist Tyler Chester from the Blake Mills trio to add some very subtle textures. As Lage notes, “In the most tasteful way, Tyler brought a spirit to everything that really ignites the sonic palette.” Tom Schick, Wilco’s longtime engineer, mixed the album in Chicago and producer Jesse Harris contributes acoustic guitar on “Whatever You Say, Henry.”
Once again, producer Harris was an important editorial voice, both arbiter and cheerleader. Says Lage, “Jesse and I shared a vision and a craving for a body of tunes that focused on directness and the space we could leave. We were adamant about keeping the music in that zone, that warmth and clarity, within which the beat of the song could really thrive. This was our dream for these songs.”
“Every time I record with Scott and Kenny, I wish I could do this every day,” Lage admits. ” The sound I’m craving takes many forms; it can be very restrained or it can be wild and crazy. It kind of depends on the context. With Modern Lore, the music sets the foundation for a mutlitude of directions, all rooted in a kind of sensual narrative.”
As one of the most prodigious guitarists of his generation, Lage has long displayed an ability to explore a wide range of sounds, ideas and genres. But what delights him here — and will, in turn, captivate his listeners — is the the artful simplicity of Modern Lore.
“Growing up, people would always say I was too happy to be depressed, or too social to have anxiety,” says Liza Anne Odachowski, the critically acclaimed songwriter better known these days by her stage name Liza Anne. “In their eyes, because I was one thing, I couldn’t also be something else. I think we all exist in duality, though. I can be everything and nothing all at once.”
Duality is at the core of Liza Anne’s arresting new album, ‘Fine But Dying,’ her debut release for indie powerhouse label Arts & Crafts. Synthesizing the elegant sincerity of Angel Olsen with the wry lyricism of Courtney Barnett and the unapologetic candor of Feist, the music is both tough and vulnerable, bold and withdrawn, a helping hand and a middle finger. Firing on all cylinders with distorted alt-rock guitars and explosive drums one minute, hushed and delicate the next, it’s an eclectic collection that reflects the messy complications of growing up in the modern age, as the 23-year-old grapples with the fallout of falling in love, reckons with the patriarchy, and stares down the panic disorder she refuses to let define her. ‘Fine But Dying’ is the sound of an artist taking total control of her life and her art, a proud misfit crafting an aggressively infectious kiss-off to an industry (and a society) that’s tried to box her in from day one.
“Being a young woman playing music in Nashville, everybody had their opinions of who I should be and what I should do next,” says Liza Anne, whose music is as decidedly un-Nashville as it gets. “They wanted me to be happier and softer and easier because people are conditioned to only experience women in entertainment as a force of goodness and kindness and light. But just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I have to be soft and happy and nurturing all the time. It’s pretty inhumane to expect a human being to represent only one side of themselves. We embody too many contradictions.”
‘Fine But Dying’ follows Liza Anne’s self-released 2015 breakout album, ‘Two,’ which garnered more than 20 million streams worldwide. NPR praised the record’s “deeply introspective” songwriting and “searing reflections,” while Nylon called it “a stunningly somber album” and dubbed Liza an artist with the “keen ability to turn even the smallest of feelings into a sweeping song.” The record earned her dates with Joseph, Margaret Glaspy, The Oh Hellos, and Bears Den, among others, as well as festival slots from ACL to Daytrotter Downs.
Though Liza Anne commands a stage like she was born to do it, a career in music was far from her mind as she grew up in the quaint, sheltered community of Saint Simons Island, Georgia. She discovered songwriting one summer at sleepaway camp, when a guitar class helped her realize that the notebooks she’d been filling with poetry and prose could be set to melodies. Raised in a deeply religious household, Liza’s first taste of public performance came on Sundays when she served as a local worship leader, and though she’s since moved on from the church, the experience proved to be formative for her.
“I learned at a very young age how to manipulate an entire room full of people to feel what I’m feeling,” she says with a laugh.
When it came time to cut ‘Fine But Dying,’ Liza Anne brought both her band and her producer, Zach Dyke, to France’s legendary La Frette studio, a 19th century mansion on the banks of the Seine. Dyke and Liza’s recording chemistry had been undeniable since they first met during college in Nashville, and though Liza dropped out of school to tour full time, the pair’s creative relationship continued to grow deeper and break new ground.
“Zach is my best friend and my magic charm,” reflects Liza Anne. “Working with him just feels like working with your other arm or another part of your brain.”
In a six-day whirlwind, they recorded eleven new songs that embodied the raw energy and tense emotion that Liza Anne had long carried in her head but never yet captured on tape.
“This is my ‘woman at her wildest self’ album,” she says. “It’s a place for me to express all of the things about womanhood and the human condition that I was experiencing without fear of feeling like I’m ‘too much’ or ‘not enough.’ People used to talk about my music in such sweet terms, but they weren’t sweet things that I was going through. With this record, I’m not sugarcoating anything any more.”
On album opener “Paranoia,” Liza Anne weaves together lilting pop sensibilities with moments of frenetic release as she confronts insecurity and doubt. The result is an addictive, Cranberries-meets-St. Vincent gem, and it proves to be a perfect entry point to an album unafraid to bare the multitudes it contains. Liza’s crystalline voice is alternately beguiling and jarring as she sets her distress to music on “Panic Attack,” sends up the hollow phoniness of southern hospitality on “Small Talks,” and sneers and snarls her way through the third-wave feminist anthem of “Kid Gloves.” On the gentle but bruising “I’m Tired, You’re Lonely” she channels the eerie beauty of Jeff Buckley, while “Closest To Me” is a reverb-soaked look in the mirror, and “Control” faces off against some of the darker voices in her head.
“There are moments in the song ‘Control’ that question what it feels like to be in love,” says Liza Anne. “The whole album is really a catalog of my first few years of falling in love with someone but doubting I had the capacity to actually do it.”
‘Fine But Dying’ proves that Liza Anne is a woman with the capacity to do far more than she’d ever given herself credit for. By casting off the restrictions of who and what she “should” be, by writing with unrepentant emotion and without concern for the constructs and confines of “femininity,” she was able to discover her truest self and create an album of incredible power and vision, one that fully reflects the rich duality of its author.
“This album gave me space to find my voice,” says Liza Anne. “In the end, I always want to make art that’s provocative and that challenges the stereotypes of what women are supposed to be or how they are usually experienced. Songwriting isn’t just fun for me, it’s necessity. It’s my way of escaping my body and inhabiting it at the same time.”
Photo Credit: Brett Warren