May 30, 2019
Apr 23, 2019
Mar 8, 2019
|Photo by Chad Cochran|
by Kasey Anderson
“It seemed odd to lose my relationship with a manager and label because I made a rock ‘n’ roll record, but that’s what happened.” Andrew Leahey is stuck in Nashville traffic, talking to me about his new album, Airwaves, the making and release of which brought Leahey to yet another unexpected career crossroads. The good news this time around was, after undergoing a life-threatening brain operation and rebounding to play 180 shows in 2016 in support of his debut album, parting ways with a manager and label was, if not small potatoes, certainly a less dire set of circumstances.
“In Nashville it’s easy to lose perspective. Nashville is the center of the Americana world so when I took this album to my label and my manager, the immediate response was, ‘Well we don’t really know what to do with this,’ which is like, really? It’s not a hard-to-understand kind of music.” In fact, for anyone who grew up during the era when Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers or Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band dominated the charts, Airwaves is a very-easy-to-understand and equally-easy-to-embrace album, full of bright, chiming guitars, swagger, and anthemic choruses. According to Leahey, this was very much by design.
“We started playing ‘Make it Last’ at shows before we had even begun working on the record and it caught on immediately,” Leahey says. “For me - for us - we play a lot so it was important to make a record where any song could kick off a show, or could close a show. Songs that were maybe bigger in scope than the songs on my last record. And as we saw people at shows responding to those songs, it was an indication to me that we were on the right path. I wanted to make a Heartland Rock ‘n’ Roll Thriller,” Leahey’s thought is interrupted by his own laughter, “on a much, much smaller scale, obviously.”
Leahey and his band, The Homestead (and friends, including the 400 Unit’s Sadler Vaden), succeeded there, and Airwaves is indeed loaded front-to-back with songs that recall Petty, Springsteen and T. Rex. “Flyover Country” edges closer to what Americana purists - if there is such a thing - may have expected from Leahey while “Working Ain’t Working” recalls some of David Lowery’s twangier leanings but, by and large, Airwaves is kindred in spirit to the bands now relegated to Classic Rock Radio.
This is not to say Leahey and his band are unwelcome in Americana circles by any stretch of the imagination. Long a fixture at Nashville venues like the Basement and the 5 Spot, and with an ongoing gig in Elizabeth Cook’s band, Leahey continues to run in the same circles he always has, maybe just a little further out towards the fringes. “It’s all the same small pond,” he says, “I guess I’m just one of the weirder-looking fish right now.”
“When I came back from the operation, I really had to start over -- to repay all my dues, with my own songs, working on other people’s records, all of it. I struggled with it but ultimately, I had to rediscover what it all meant because I’d had it taken away from me so -- not that I didn’t appreciate it before the operation -- every opportunity is meaningful to me in a very different way now.”
Perhaps because of that, and likely also because Cook is one of the most dynamic and talented artists to come out of Nashville in the last several years, Leahey isn’t looking to relinquish his role in her band any time soon. “I love playing with Elizabeth, and my hope is I’m able to continue to balance both jobs because that’s a really important gig to me. I guess if there comes a time when I’m unable to carry both workloads, that would be a pretty good problem.”
Beyond Cook’s band, Leahey mentions that in Nashville especially, he’s happy to be known as more than just a singer, songwriter or bandleader. “It’s important to me that people remember I’m a player, too,” he says, “it’s really important to have those two halves come together and make a whole.”
With Airwaves, Leahey has achieved that symmetry. There’s no filler here. Just unabashed, infectious rock ‘n’ roll from an unapologetic Disciple of Petty. But make no mistake, this is not imitation. Following in the footsteps of others without tracing those footsteps is a delicate balance but Leahey and his band pull it off admirably.
Having survived the Nashville traffic snarl, Leahey has arrived home to meet the demands of his cat, and my own dog has grown restless so we agree that this is as good a time as any to cut things off, but before we go I tell him that to my ears, this album is as much a testament to Leahey’s own survival as it is to Petty or Springsteen or Stevie Nicks or anyone else.
“Yeah,” he says. “It took everything I went through to get to this point, to get to this record. Sometimes I wish I’d had some of these realizations when I was 22 but you really don’t know anything at that age beyond hormones and being pissed off at your hometown. I’m glad I’m here. I’m glad I’m here now.”
I tell Leahey he’s not alone. A lot of folks are glad he’s here now, too.
Feb 27, 2019
Dec 17, 2018
Americana artist Boo Ray shares with us his Christmas playlist of some of his favorite holiday tunes. See what he has to say about these great song below and his Spotify playlist is directly below that.
While you're there, make sure to check out Boo Ray's new song "Don't Look Back" from his forthcoming (Feb.15) album Tennessee Alabama Fireworks (which can be preordered here)!
Elizabeth Cook & Boo Ray "All Strung Out Like Christmas Lights"
Because Elizabeth Cook is the coolest
Dwight Yoakam "Santa Can't Stay"
I love the line “he threw a present really hard and almost hit mama’s new boyfriend Ray”. This song’s full Yoakam’s signature rockabilly vocal licks too, which I love. That 80’s production will complement any Christmas sweater, from the gaudiest candy-cane/snowman aplique to the homeliest moth eaten Uncle Fester pea-green cardigan.
Merle Haggard "If We Make It Through December"
Since I was a kid i’ve always liked how contemporary and musical Merle Haggard’s arrangements and songs are. There’s a singer songwriter quality to Hag and an virtuoso ensemble sound akin to the way James Taylor, Leland Sklar and Jim Keltner made music sound.
Erin Enderlin "Cowboy Christmas"
Cowboy songs have some specific criteria for me. The language, vernacular and meter have to be just right. I heard a Tommy Lee Jones interview where said the language of Cormac McCarthy’s characters is perfect. Erin’s Line “Barb wire and fence posts like garland on trees” gets right to me.
Nikki Lane "FaLaLaLaLove ya"
I totally dig the song. The Christmas bells, the production, the melody and Nikki’s vocal are real stylized like a Hollywood Christmas TV Show number with fake snow falling and lens flares in holiday colored lights.
John Prine "Everything Is Cool"
John Prine’s meter is kind of like what Brandlford Marsalis said about Louis Armstrong’s minimalist trumpet playing, “There’s a whole lot of information in those couple of notes.” “I was walking down the road... man” is so plain t’s actually funny” almost like a Steven Wright bit. In contrast, the next verse “I saw a hundred thousand black birds just a flying through the sky- they seem to form a teardrop from a black-haired angel’s eye” is brooding poet/ bleeding heart romantic territory. I love that Prine covers those two nearly opposite poles
of perspective with complete dexterity.
JD McPherson "All The Gifts I Need"
Great sounding recording. I dig JD’s songs and style, the way his vocal melody rides on Jason Smay’s drum beat is a thing for sure. The songs got a smart lighthearted spirit to it.
Johnny Cash Family Christmas "Opening Dialogue"
The first thing that really got to me about Johnny Cash was that antique automotive/farm equipment machine sound that he made with his band, seeming to emulate the sound of V-8 motors, tractors, horses hooves, and the click clack of trains. It's powerful, clever, creative, real singer/songwriter sounding, intricate and simple at the same time. Then I got into his rockabilly look and wearing all black. But it's always really been about the sound of his voice and his story telling. Even as a kid I'd watch that gospel series he filmed in Jerusalem because I just liked the sound of his voice and listening to the way he'd spin a yarn.
Corb Lund "Just Me And The Ponies"
Excellent cowboy Christmas song. Corb's cowboy correct to me like Wynn Varble, Willie Nelson & Chris Ledoux are. That stuff has to be handled just right; the meter, vocabulary, vernacular and stoic nature of the story teller.
The Band "Christmas Must Be Tonight"
Rick Danko's bass sound just slays me. It's the deadest, most flatulent sounding thing ever. I'm damned crazy about it. I dig Danko's vocal on the verse a bunch and I love how Levon's accent and tone jump out on "how a little baby boy"... Yeah man this is a perfect ramblin', good stiff eggnog of a song. Cheers!!!
Little Feet "Six Feet Of Snow"
It'd makes sense to me if someone called Lowell George a musical humorist. His subtle, clever impish wit is my favorite. The honk, plink and twang of the guitars on this track are funny as hell to me. It's absurd and wonderful because of it, and Lowell leans into it too with lines like "It's raining in stilettos from here clear down to Mexico". Maybe if you could trace the DNA of a particular kind of humor Lowell George and Billy Gibbon might be kin.
Lindi Ortega "Blue Christmas"
The 6th tuned lap steel/dobro can't help but suggest the Hawaiian pacific sound. And who doesn't want to waller in the extra bittersweetness on another holiday not spent on a deserted island with Lindi Ortega. Can you imagine what she'd look like wearing coconuts and palm leaves? For real though, Lindi Ortega's Christmas album "Tennessee Christmas" is a blast.
The Mavericks "Baby Please Come Home"
I'm crazy about The Mavericks and think they're on fire right now musically. Raul sings with a belting cheers and the Christmas bells and sleigh bells through the whole song deliver a fully manic holiday experience. Their whole Christmas album is a must have.
Dale Watson "Santa And My Semi"
Yep, lets finish off this playlist with a swanky texas sounding Dale Watson number. I dig when certain Texas singers have a particular kind of crooning voice and the way their accent sounds real Trucker. Merry Christmas and shiny side up to all the truckers out there working in tough weather this holiday season.