Roots Culture Redefined

LISTEN: Hilary Hawke, “LILYGILD”

Artist: Hilary Hawke
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Release Date: May 24, 2022

In Their Words: “I wrote the tune ‘LILYGILD’ because I wanted to create something beautiful. It was the winter of 2020, and things were rough here in NYC. I was pretty isolated in a tiny apartment with no roommates and I was longing to have something new in my life to be excited about. To me, the banjo is the most versatile instrument in terms of tone, creativity and creating texture in songs. Sometimes people think the banjo can only sound very crisp and loud and I always try to counter that in my playing. One day, I got this melody stuck in my head, day in and day out I was humming and singing it. Although the tune sounds moody and brooding, when I finished writing it, I felt so much happiness. The name ‘LILYGILD’ comes from the Shakespearean expression, ‘to gild a lily.’ Meaning, when something is already beautiful, you don’t need to add unnecessary ornamentation. I wrote and recorded the tune from the heart, and didn’t feel the need to ‘gild’ it with extra production, or anything beyond guitar and banjo playing around a couple microphones.

“Especially in this world of social media, if feels good to recognize that things can be natural, simple and special. I kept this in mind as the concept for the entire album, on which ‘LILYGILD’ is the title track. A couple months later, I tested out the tune to a very small group of people in the backyard of this great bar called Sunny’s, along the water in Brooklyn. I had to play outdoors in the winter and I had on fingerless gloves and was drinking hot toddies to stay warm. Needless to say, the song stuck and ‘LILYGILD’ stands out as the only fingerpicked tune on the album. It starts in a minor key then elevates into a major key for the B section where it all wraps around back to the minor A section again. I’m joined by the wonderful guitar playing of Reed Stutz who captured the creative landscape and expression I was hoping for. We improvise through the tune though we stay connected to the melody, and let the banjo and guitar stay natural and exposed.” — Hilary Hawke

WATCH: Early James, “What a Strange Time to Be Alive”

Artist: Early James
Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama
Song: “What a Strange Time to Be Alive”
Album: Strange Time to Be Alive (produced by Dan Auerbach)
Release Date: August 19, 2022
Label: Easy Eye Sound

In Their Words: “I think it’s okay to admit you feel crazy or uncomfortable in your own skin — those are very human feelings that we need to say out loud. I hope this record reminds people that everyone feels crazy sometimes, and that the real crazy people are the ones who won’t admit self-doubt.” — Early James

“James is very particular with his lyrics and makes such uncommon choices, so I wanted to keep it raw and let that shine as much as possible. His writing is so idiosyncratic; there’s not one song that feels like anything you’ve heard before. But then there’s also something in his sound that feels carved out of stone, like it’s from another time — it’s a very strange mix.” — Dan Auerbach

WATCH: Grant-Lee Phillips, “Remember This”

Artist: Grant-Lee Phillips
Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee
Song: “Remember This”
Album: All That You Can Dream
Release Date: May 20, 2022
Label: Yep Roc Records

In Their Words: “This is a father-to-daughter conversation. It’s a song for my daughter, who is just beginning her teen years. Such a strange time to be 14, I would imagine. All the natural growing pains are complicated by a lingering pandemic and a disruption of life. I feel for these kids. And I feel for their parents. The song is a reminder of that bond. While a part of this album is fixated on social issues, in songs like ‘Remember This’ I can speak in the most personal way about and to the people I love.” — Grant-Lee Phillips

LISTEN: Amythyst Kiah, “Sugar” (Tori Amos Cover)

Artist: Amythyst Kiah
Hometown: Johnson City, Tennessee
Song: “Sugar” (Tori Amos cover)
Release Date: May 12, 2022
Label: Rounder Records

In Their Words: “When I was 15, I fell in love with Tori Amos’ music. I was constantly playing her first five albums on repeat and even learned some of the songs. She inspired me to want to write songs — I wanted to be a guitar-playing version of her. She manages to take very specific, very personal things that happened to her and turn them into songs that the listener can relate to and feel, even without having had that specific experience. Her use of metaphor in her storytelling, her distinctive voice and piano playing, was just so powerful and different than anything I had ever heard before. Her live version of ‘Sugar’ is one of my favorite recordings, so I hope I did the song justice!” — Amythyst Kiah

LISTEN: Jesse Smathers, “Under the Weather”

Artist: Jesse Smathers
Hometown: Floyd, Virginia
Song: “Under the Weather”
Album: Jesse Smathers
Release Date: May 13, 2022

In Their Words: “Brink Brinkman is a name that has been reputable in the bluegrass genre for years. Brink sent me this tune and I couldn’t pass up recording it. The song was reminiscent of something you would hear by the first-generation favorites. The lyric sounded 80 years old, and initially that’s what gravitated me to it. When recording, all of the instruments organically complemented each other to pay homage to those first-generation stylists that influenced us all. I couldn’t be more excited to share ‘Under the Weather’ with you!” — Jesse Smathers

WATCH: Joy Oladokun, “Purple Haze” (on ‘The Late Show With Stephen Colbert’)

Artist: Joy Oladokun
Hometown: Casa Grande, Arizona; now Nashville, Tennessee
Song: “Purple Haze”

In Their Words: “I wrote ‘Purple Haze’ while I was in LA after some wildfires, and I noticed the sky was not the color that it should be. It made me think about the world we live in and all the information we get on a daily basis. It almost feels like we might be on our way out as a species but there are wonderful things like family, friends, partners, dogs — things that inspire us towards beauty and excitement. Even if this all ends, it was worth the experience.” — Joy Oladokun

Photo credit: Scott Kowalchyk

LISTEN: Janiva Magness, “Don’t You Forget About Me”

Artist: Janiva Magness
Hometown: Detroit, Michigan
Song: “Don’t You Forget About Me”
Album: Hard to Kill
Release Date: June 24, 2022
Label: Fathead Records

In Their Words: “I feel like [Hard to Kill] is a retrospective — not just of my musical life, but of my life. At this point, with what I’ve been through in my life top to bottom, you know what? The gloves are off, and the rules are, there really aren’t any rules. … This track is movin’ and groovin’ in a funky and joyful Stax style, with a story about deeply loving and moving on. I dare you to stay in your chair on this one. … Dig it!” — Janiva Magness

In This Outdoor Acoustic Session, Tyler Childers Takes “Matthew” to Pickathon

Tyler Childers is one of those artists who so gracefully toes the line between being a bluegrass singer and leading a country band. It’s really a match made in heaven, but the glimpses of Childers indulging one of these two facets are made ever the sweeter by his balancing act. In this recent video release from Pickathon, Childers leads his song “Matthew” from behind an acoustic flat-top guitar, flanked by a fiddler and a banjo player. The album version of the song stands to lose nothing, but this stripped-down performance on video is a testament to the songwriting prowess that Childers has built his career on. As Bob Dylan once said, “A song is anything that can walk by itself,” and Tyler knows that better than most. Like the Kentuckian has likely done countless times in his upbringing, Childers delivers it straight, not working too hard to bring extra frill or pomp to the song about a working man.

With His Soulful Voice Front and Center, Allen Stone Remakes His “Bed I Made”

Allen Stone‘s APART is a step toward the simpler heart of his sound; it’s a record of acoustic, stripped-back renditions of his best songs. Charming and soulful, Stone’s music is usually adorned with fun arrangements and lively backing bands, but in this new record, his incredible voice and gripping writing style stand front and center. APART was released late last year on ATO Records and includes some of his most loved compositions, including “Unaware,” “Give You Blue,” and the song performed in this clip from Jimmy Kimmel Live!, “Bed I Made.” Although Allen Stone’s name may not be the first to come to mind in roots music circles, his sound draws heavily from classic soul artists. He recreates the same magnetism of singers like James Brown, Etta James, and Aretha Franklin while still innovating fresh, deeply groovy music. In short, we think you’ll like him.

Randy Holmes/ABC

WATCH: William Beckmann, “In the Dark”

Artist: William Beckmann
Hometown: Del Rio, Texas
Song: “In the Dark”
Album: Faded Memories
Release Date: April 29, 2022

In Their Words: “‘In The Dark’ is probably my favorite song on this record. It’s honest and came from a real place. There is a central theme throughout most of the songs on this album that stems from ‘In the Dark.’ It’s the sense of longing, and distance between two people as time passes. Feeling so close yet so far away. That is why I decided to name the album Faded Memories.” — William Beckmann