Posted in Uncategorized

Benjamin Dakota Rogers Filters Old Folk Stories Through TikTok on Paint Horse

Benjamin Dakota Rogers lives in a barn apartment on his family’s farm in small town Canada. It’s right nearby his brother’s blacksmith studio. His style of music and the era many of his lyrics take place in sound like they’d be right at home in a barn near a blacksmith. That’s part of why I was shocked to learn that Rogers chose most of the tracks for his album based on how well they did on TikTok. 

“A lot of the songs on the record, as weird as this sounds, I whittled down on TikTok,” said Rogers. “I did this experiment last year where I posted every day on TikTok and it’s been really great for my career and really informative on writing songs. If that one went viral, people want to hear that one or people are connecting with that.”

That’s how he opted to include a cover of “Blackjack County Chain” on his album, a song that was once banned from the radio out of fear that it would encourage violence against police. It’s a well-chosen cover because it fits the theme and era the album strives for and shows just how closely Rogers’ originals resemble folk music of old.

By and large, TikTok got it right. Rogers’ voice sounds like a slightly unhinged Amos Lee and the stories populating his album are often violent, dark, and dramatic. It’s a real throwback to a time when mainstream folk music sounded a lot more like this.

“I think the first folk songs were written in more violent times, so people were writing what they knew,” Rogers said. “I think now people who write those things are influenced by those stories. I think violent stories are easily contained within a three minute song.”

“Charlie Boy” is one of the strongest examples. Charlie murders a groom on his wedding day after being lied to by his bride and despite those around him trying to calm his temper. It’s tragic to see what a little manipulation does to what seems like a relatively simple man. It’s also another example of how Rogers places only men in the crosshairs of his characters.

“The conflict in the stories, especially for the era that I’m writing in, works better with two guys fighting,” Rogers explained, noting that many of his stories take place between 1850 and 1920.

For all the old-time energy Paint Horse gives off, and for all that TikTok contributed to the selection of the music, it’s one song that breaks both those rules that comes out sounding the strongest. “Arlo” tells the story of a widowed truck driver doing his best to stay afloat after his farm went under. The ‘cancerous’ growth of suburban development is something Rogers can relate to.

“I spend a lot of night outside and I was noticing that you could see the glow from lights from subdivisions coming up over the trees on our property,” Rogers said of his farm.

Though TikTok crowds didn’t go wild for the sad tale, Rogers included it because of the way he felt playing it.

“It’s the only song that didn’t have TikTok success, but I think that people who aren’t on TikTok might connect with it,” Rogers said, explaining that songs like Arlo are easier to play live because he feels them in his gut.

I’d have to agree with his gut. Arlo may not fit perfectly with the rest of the album, but a top notch sad song that hopelessly rages against the way things have become is timeless in a way few other songs can be.

Above is the full episode as aired on WUSB’s Country Pocket, including both my interview with Benjamin Dakota Rogers and the songs we discussed, starting with Charlie Boy, which leads to an inevitable tragic ending. The interview begins afterward. You can hear the show live every Monday at 11am on WUSB 90.1 FM or check the blog to watch it as a YouTube playlist. Visit and for more.

Posted in On Air

Jaimee Harris Escapes Generational Pain Through Raw Honesty in Boomerang Town

Jaimee Harris named her sophomore album Boomerang Town after the town she grew up in. It seemed to have a certain gravitation effect on those who tried to leave and certainly didn’t impress Harris.

“It felt to me like a lot of folks who tried to leave my hometown ended up coming back, and ended up coming back pretty quickly,” she explained. “It’s not small enough to be a small town with small town charm and it’s not big enough to be a city. I think it’s not only common that you might feel stuck, but I think it’s common particularly in areas like this where the Evangelical Christian foot is on your face, that although the concept should be redemption that it’s harder to overcome that.”

The album Harris created is superb and weighty, tackling subjects like suicide, alcoholism, grief, and religion. It’s a reflection of not only her own struggles but the stories of folks from her boomerang town that she was so expertly able to inhabit. The title track is told from the perspective of a friend’s older brother who impregnated his girlfriend at a young age. Another is from the point of view of a mother who lost her young son to a bullet. 

Harris’ own story and that of her family is woven into the album. Though she managed to leave her hometown in her pursuit of music, a family history of suicide and alcoholism inhabits “The Fair and Dark Haired Lad.” The song captures at least three generations of pain, from her grandfather down to her.

“I’ve been in recovery for a little over nine years now, so my understanding of alcoholism is constantly changing,” Harris said. “I was able to see what my grandfather was dealing with and what other people in my family were up against. I’ve been privileged to have less of it, though my biology and mental health still goes there.”

Other standouts on the album include the comforting “Love is Gonna Come Again,” the boozy and hazy “Sam’s” and the deconstructionist “On the Surface.” But no song feels quite as raw as “How Could You Be Gone,” a portrait of grief Harris wrote with her partner Mary Gauthier, who happens to be a fantastic musician and songwriter in her own right. It describes what Harris experienced after losing her mentor Jimmy LaFave.

“Some days I can think about Jimmy and talk about Jimmy and I can hear him sing and I can laugh,” Harris said. “And other days someone can barely mention his name and I start bursting out crying, and her passed away in 2017. There’s several days when I want to call him and tell him that he died. There are all these moments when I physically pick up my phone and try to call him.” 

Throughout the album, the realness and power of Harris’ emotions come through on her well-constructed songs. Longer tracks feel epic in scope rather than drawn out and even the more hopeful tracks feel genuine and possible. Harris seems destined to become one of Americana’s greats after an album like this. 

Above is the full episode as aired on WUSB’s Country Pocket, including both my interview with Jaimee Harris and the songs we discussed, starting with the epic Boomerang Town, which serves as the title track. The interview begins afterward. You can hear the show live every Monday at 11am on WUSB 90.1 FM or check the blog to watch it as a YouTube playlist. Visit and for more.

Posted in On Air

Jill Barber Celebrates the “Homemaker” and the Beauty in Family Life

Jill Barber is an acclaimed musician and songwriter who has traveled the world sharing her thoughts. Yet she still finds the time to act as a homemaker to her children, husband, parents, and friends. Though her mother was a homemaker in the traditional sense of the word, Barber wrote “Homemaker” to celebrate all the people who care for others. 

“What I want to do is celebrate the work that goes unseen, the invisible work that you’re not getting paid for but is deeply valuable for society,” Barber said.

The title track “Homemaker” is tender and deeply empathetic. Barber realizes how difficult it is to do the work involved in running a home, whether that means doing the dishes or instilling values in her children. She’s gained a new appreciation of what her mother did for her.

“As a kid, I thought of my dad as the one who worked and my mom was just at home,” Barber said. “But my mom did all the heavy lifting raising us two kids.” 

Homemaker is a job that Barber had to on a more full-time basis during the pandemic with her concerts cancelled and her children constantly at home.  It wasn’t easy.

“There were days when I would scream into a pillow at the top of my lungs just to have a release,” Barber admitted. “And I’m sure I’m not the only one out there.”

Two of the most powerful tracks on the album, “My Mother’s Hand” and “Big Eyes” delve into the mother/child relationship in a way that show’s Barber’s deep reverence for the bond. “Big Eyes” is particularly effecting when she mentions her wish that her children always look at her the way they do now, a wish that’s completely understandable but hardly realistic as the kids enter their teenage years.

“I think they look to me like I’m their home base,” Barber said. “They always return to Mom because I’m a safe place for them. Although now that they’re getting older, part of their job is to break away from us.” 

Barber’s investment in her role as a homemaker translates to great songwriting material. Her desire to set a good example for her children led to thoughtful songs both about them and for them, such as the cheery “Helium,” the one song on the album that may work better for a younger audience.

“Beautiful Life” describes the “major double-edged sword” that Barber considers social media to be and her embrace her messy but beautiful real life. She finds herself bothered by the distortions and curations that social media tends to pressure people to put forward, even admitting that it’s something she does on her professional account. As a parent, she worries about her kids logging on one day.

“I’m worried about all of us,” Barber said. “I think we all have to get literate and wise to it. It can be very deceptive, comparing yourself to the people you see. I’m not one of those people who quits it or says we can’t do it, but I think we need to teach our kids how to use it.”

“Instant Cash for Gold” is a brilliant lead to the album that ruminates on dying dreams. It speaks to Barber’s determination surrounding her music career even though there’s disillusionment that doesn’t gel with other parts of the album. Barber seems unlikely to ever trade her dreams in at a pawn shop as evidenced by “Helium” and the powerful “Woman of My Own Dreams.” 

In terms of pure melodic magic, “Joint Account” featuring Slow Leaves shines brightest. It’s tender, hopeful, and, much like a lot of this album, demonstrates a healthy relationship beautifully.

Above is the full episode as aired on WUSB’s Country Pocket, including both my interview with Jill Barber and the songs we discussed, starting with “Beautiful Life,” which both talks about social media and is shared on a social media platform. The interview begins afterward. You can hear the show live every Monday at 11am on WUSB 90.1 FM or check the blog to watch it as a YouTube playlist. Visit and for more.

Posted in On Air

On Lavender, Gemma Laurence Sings Love Songs that Shimmer

Gemma Laurence’s Lavender is a honeyed collection of quiet and awkward moments that slowly tell the story of great personal growth. It’s hard to overstate how sweet Laurence’s voice sounds, how well the accompanying instruments contribute to the mood, or how real and precious the flawed love stories feel slipping through her hands. And with positive, tender songs about the queer and trans experiences, Laurence immediately shows that she’s a vital part of the growing queer country movement. 

“Adrienne,” a love song about one of Laurence’s first queer experiences, is notable for the way it holds up awkward details as something that contributes to the romance of the night.

“First dates are always so awkward,” Laurence said on a recent episode of Country Pocket. “There’s such a beauty in that awkwardness. It’s universal for any person on a first date but it’s also quintessentially queer too.”

Laurence credits the pandemic for giving her a unique chance to reflect on moments like the one in “Adrienne” and write songs about them. She does not make many mistakes during Lavender’s eight track runtime. The capturing of fleeting a moment in “35mm” is delicate while the earnest insecurity of “Watchdog” gathers a bit more energy. “Canyon Moon,” the only track that doesn’t sparkle lyrically, contributes plenty through its deep, layered, earthy sound. The album’s slow, rich instrumentation and attention to intimate details throughout makes it a consistently great listen. 

Lavender’s title track, which Laurence says she’s most proud of, isn’t autobiographical like most of the other stories. She wrote it as a song of joy for a friend who was coming out as trans.

“It’s just meant to be a love song to a friend saying I see you, I hear you, and I know that coming out is really difficult, especially for people in the trans community,” Laurence said. “I sent it to her, it meant a lot to her, and I thought it might be worth putting out for other folks who aren’t getting that message elsewhere.” 

While the words in the song and the building music show clear compassing and as solid of a grasp on the metamorphosis that any cisgendered person can have, it’s Laurence’s decision to write the song in the second person that I found particularly effective. It’s a great thing to tell an inspirational story, but it’s so much more important to speak directly to a person and tell them that they’re seen. 

The album closes on a song called “Rearview,” which is the first to capture Laurence outside the paradigm of a relationship. She sings about learning to dance with the person in the mirror.

“It’s really hard being alone.” Laurence said. I’m sure we’ve all felt that. It took me a long time of being by myself to kind of know how to be by myself and not feel like I was incomplete without another person.”

Though she wrote the song a couple years earlier with instrumentation that wouldn’t quite fit on Lavender, Laurence knew it was the right way to conclude her album and celebrate her personal growth.

“When we rerecorded this song I felt this triumphantness,” Laurence said. “I just felt so excited to finally be getting back to New York, to be ready to embark on this mission and have this album about to come out. It really felt in that moment when I was writing that song that there were just bigger things than romance.”

Above is the full episode as aired on WUSB’s Country Pocket, including both my interview with Gemma Laurence and the songs we discussed, starting with Lavender, which displays remarkable encouragement. The interview begins afterward. You can hear the show live every Monday at 11am on WUSB 90.1 FM or check the blog to watch it as a YouTube playlist. Visit and for more.

Posted in On Air

Austin Mayse Delivers A Collectivist Message with a Texas Accent

Austin Mayse’s “Wretch Like Me” is a sprawling track that starts out listing a few of his weaknesses before going into a lengthy explanation of his personal philosophy. Dignity, tolerance, community, multiculturalism, and love are prominent themes. It’s a remarkable song that Mayse formed after viewing posts on social media by conservative Christians.

“I would see things using the Christian example as ways to be against somebody,” Mayse said. “Using your religion to discriminate is not what I got from all those lessons growing up. If that makes me a wretch that needs to be saved somehow, that’s fine. You don’t have to worry about me.”

Most of the humility Mayse displays in the song is genuine. When he talks about not having all the answers or telling people what to believe, he means it. When he talks about burning bridges and drinking, that certainly tracks with lyrics on some of his other songs. Mayse said that his song is coated in just enough sugar to go over well with Texas audiences on both sides of the aisle. But when he questions how there could be divinity for a wretch like him, there’s a bit of an edge there.

“It’s more of a rhetorical question,” Mayse explained. “How could somebody who believes in equal rights for everybody deserve to get into heaven? I don’t think there’s that strict of a policy, and I’d rather be somebody who stands up for others than be somebody with a golden ticket punched into somewhere that I don’t understand or can define.”

Mayse’s sense of community and caring showed up elsewhere in our interview. When discussing his song “Rattlesnake,” which admires character traits in certain animals, he notes that wolves succeed as a pack.

“There’s this fierce individualism in the American culture, but really we’re stronger when we stick together,” Mayse said. “We can stand up for ourselves, but helping out those who can’t is what makes us strong.”

Elsewhere on the album, Mayse makes a strong impression with a lyric about being on “the Southern side of a Northern campaign” on nights he drank too much. It’s a nerdy way to explain that he was both in the wrong and burnt to the ground for his intransigence. The Civil War is a frequent topic in roots music, but I’ve never heard it used to describe a hangover before.

“Bluebonnets” uses the characteristics of the short-blooming Texan flower to describe a shielded woman and “The Rose of Thorndale” is a tribute to Mayse’s relationship done up like old Western mythology. Lastly, Mayse earned a few points with me by choosing a relatively unknown Walt Wilkins song to close out his appearance on my radio show.

Above is the full episode as aired on WUSB’s Country Pocket, including both my interview with Austin Mayse and the songs we discussed, starting with The Sober Light, which starts our conversation about his turn away from alcohol. The interview begins afterward. You can hear the show live every Monday at 11am on WUSB 90.1 FM or check the blog to watch it as a YouTube playlist. Visit and for more.

Posted in On Air

Autumn Ragland Sings About The Faces We Wear on Guardian

In her song “I Think I Love You Too Much,” Autumn Ragland, the lead singer of a band that bears her last name, mentions putting on an ‘everything’s all right’ face to please a person she dedicates an unhealthy amount of energy to pleasing. To hear her tell it, it’s not a face she wears well.

“People tell me all the time I can’t keep a straight face if I’m mad. It’s probably really bad.”

Unfortunately, it is one she has to wear all the time in the music industry.

“I’m having to put that face on and smile and be perfect,” Ragland said. “It’s miserable actually. You don’t see that on the guy’s side. They don’t have to put that much effort in. I would see guys at the same event in jeans and sneakers and having a sour look on their face and people are still flocking to them.”

That’s a topic she covers exceptionally well on “Throwing My Life Away.” It’s the second time Ragland has released the song, but this time it comes with a Sunny Sweeney harmony and improved production value. Autumn Ragland rightfully complains about the double standard women face, especially in light of the songs she tends to release.

It would be more than a little jarring to see Autumn sparkling and smiling wide as she sings about topics like her mental health diagnosis on a song like “Guns In The House,” a particularly effective and sparse tune clocking in at less than two minutes. It’s heartbreaking to hear her realization that she’ll be dependent on medication and susceptible to dangerous thoughts for the rest of her life, and it’s not a moment that would make sense recounted with a smile.

“I don’t like that the way I physically present myself is supposed to say more about my music than my music does and that seems to be the case,” Ragland explained. “It makes no sense that I’m required to be really good and deep and write these songs and be true to myself but I also have to do the complete opposite of that and be fake.”

The song was one she captured right after a visit with a doctor.

“They were telling my husband to keep an eye on me and make sure there’s no weapons in the house.” Ragland said. “I’m not going to do anything like that, but I’ve had moments where it felt like that. If I had access to weapons it would’ve been the end for me.”

Elsewhere on the album, the title track is particularly worth listening to. It’s a genuinely sweet love song with a vocal performance to match. “I’m Not Mad, I Just Miss You” isn’t quite as happy, but the details feel real and further expand on the difficulties of being on the road in a way that goes beyond the cliches.

Above is the full episode as aired on WUSB’s Country Pocket, including both my interview with Autumn Ragland and the songs we discussed, starting with “I Think I Love You Too Much,” which I relate to by thinking about how much I let my cat get away with. I’ll let you decide how sad that is. You can hear the show live every Monday at 11am on WUSB 90.1 FM or check the blog to watch it as a YouTube playlist. Visit and for more.

Posted in On Air

American and Family Histories Drive Roger Street Friedman’s Love Hope Trust

In a time of ever-worsening division, Long Island musician Roger Street Friedman is arguing that love, hope, and trust are feelings that should flow in more than just our closest relationships. They may be necessary for the survival of our society.

“Like anyone else I can get sucked into the political arguments on Facebook, but I just came to realize it wasn’t serving me or anyone else,” Friedman said. “Really, the way to approach life is to understand that we’re more alike that we are different. We all want the same things, which is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The voices we are hearing are the most extreme voices. It’s not how most people feel.”

In our discussion, Friedman and I were pretty much in agreement that we have to hope for the best and that most people were deserving of love. But we disagreed on just how realistic it is to trust folks on the other side of the aisle in a time of attempts to overturn elections and undermine democracy. I was against the idea. While Friedman noted that his song was “aspirational, he added that misinformation and biases have a lot to do with how people think and that they alone aren’t to blame.

“Understanding what these people are exposed to and what they’re going through makes me hopeful that if I were across the table drinking a beer with somebody that we could have a reasonable and rational discussion,” Friedman said. 

“The Ghosts of Sugarland” is one of the more impressive pieces of activist songwriting from 2022. It specifically tells the story of the prison slave labor Southern states and business such as Imperial Sugar exploited in the years following emancipation. Clocking in at nearly 7 minutes, the song tells the whole story from how a mass grave found at a former prison revealed the horrors that befell the newly freed Black population and the legal maneuverings that allowed it all to happen.

“I was so angry that I never learned about it in school,”  Friedman said. “And then to think about what’s going on now where they’re trying to not teach Black history in school because they don’t want people to feel bad, it just felt like the time was right to tell this story. It was not that long ago. It wasn’t outlawed in Texas until 1912.” 

While the song rightly condemns the 19th and 20th century Whites involved in the scheme, it more gently prods the modern listener to reconsider the true cost of their luxury goods and the complacency it may inspire. Given the product being produced at the plantation, the line about ‘sugarcoating’ what’s taught in schools feels particularly bitter.

Elsewhere on the album, “Mother and Son,” “Thankful For This Day,” and “Multiply by Two” are particularly worth listening to. Friedman really shines when he’s focused on love, positivity, and relationships absolutely packed with the love, hope, and trust he hopes society at large can adopt. “Mother and Son” is especially remarkable in the way it manages to fold in stories from so many family members to create a portrait of a woman I probably would’ve liked a lot.

Above is the full episode as aired on WUSB’s Country Pocket, including both my interview with Roger Street Friedman and the songs we discussed, starting with the title track, which challenged my more distrusting nature. You can hear the show live every Monday at 11am on WUSB 90.1 FM or check the blog to watch it as a YouTube playlist. Visit and for more.

Posted in On Air

Bo Armstrong’s Multilayered Optimism About Long Term Relationships on “If your tired heart is aching…”

Long term relationships form the bedrock of our society and for most people it will be the state in which they spend the majority of our lives. Songwriters usually focus on the beginning and end of relationships, the red hot infatuation and the heartbreak and anger. Bo Armstrong’s “If your tired heart is aching…” spends most of its runtime aiming somewhere in the middle, exploring the highs and lows of love that (hopefully) lasts. 

While many one-subject albums tell a more coherent story, Armstrong chooses here to come at the same subject from a few sharply different angles. One song uses autobiographical details to believably declare “somehow I love you more now than I did then,” while an older character in another song describes marriage as “forty years of getting by/and life and death and restless nights/and every now and then you come up winning.” Two songs are clear about a relationship ending while others hint that one is on the rocks. I asked Armstrong why he chose to view the subject through such a varied lens.

“I think that was the most honest way for me to do it, Armstrong said. “It would be totally disingenuous to try to present everything as perfect even though I think I have a wonderful relationship with my wife and with my family, but I think it’s easier for folks to relate to some of the nitty gritty. There would be a whole lot of eye rolling going on if there were 10 tracks like “More Than I Did Then.”

Much as listening is a key part of communication in a long term relationship, sharing the perspective of a woman, particularly a strong, reasonable, and realistic one is vital to Armstrong’s credibility on his chosen topic. Rather than trying to imagine himself in a woman’s place, Armstrong covers Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her.” Naturally, he’s a huge fan of the track.

“It may not take anything in particular to end a relationship so much as love just runs out, and I think that’s one of the special things about that song,” Armstrong explained. “There’s so many heartbreak songs about these massive turning points in a relationship that cause something to end, but I think “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” is such a beautiful song because you don’t have that moment. It’s just a bunch of little things over time where two people fall out of love.”

Rarely does inserting a cover actually improve my opinion of a singer/songwriter’s judgment and skill. In this case it does. It also pairs fantastically with “Stranger In My Bed,” an original that starts off deflecting responsibility for failing to maintain a relationship and ends by shifting to the first person and vowing to correct those mistakes. It’s a psychologically complex song that hints at exhaustion, anxiety, and anger threatening the relationship but never even hints that the partner any hand in those emotions developing. “Collecting Dust” further explores the themes of repair, uncertainty, and hope to close the album’s story. Such inconclusiveness may be frustrating to some listeners, but I suspect it will hit just right for those dealing with struggles in their own long term relationships. As for Armstrong, his own experiences mirror some on the album.

“I’ve been in a relationship with my wife now for 15 years and I was starting to realize that there are moments when you’re not doing all the little things that you used to,” Armstrong admitted. “That’s not necessarily this awful thing, life is taxing, it doesn’t mean you love that person any less. You just have to find new ways of showing it over time.”

Despite some of the challenges he presents on the album, Armstrong claims he’s optimistic about long term relationships.

“That’s all rooted in the decision to engage in the relationship to begin with,” Armstrong said. “The second I met the girl who was going to become my wife I was 100% confident that she was who I was supposed to marry and who I was supposed to live the rest of my life with. So whenever there are moments that particularly difficult or challenging, it’s just reminding yourself of why you’re there in the first place.” 

Two songs don’t quite fit with the rest of the album. “Why, Dallas?” is a well-written break up song but fails to fit into the narrative arc established between the two musical interludes. “Which Way’s Home” is the only song to occur outside those interludes and is more clearly meant to be taken in separately. Armstrong uses it to trace his interesting life that started in Texas, moved to boarding school in the Northeast to play hockey, and as of now ended up in Nashville making music. While he admires the independent spirit of the Texas music scene, he sees good in Nashville as well, even if he concedes there’s no place for the kinds of songs he writes on a mainstream radio station. 

“People in Nashville are after the song as much as they are about the glitz and glam that surround it,” he said. “I actually think in the last few years there’s been a resurgence in the emphasis on songwriting even on commercial radio. It’s getting there.” 

Speaking commercial radio, I’ll include Bo singing Billie Eilish and Dua Lipa in the playlist below.

Above is the full episode as aired on WUSB’s Country Pocket, including both my interview with Bo Armstrong and the songs we discussed, starting with “He Think’s He’ll Keep Her,” a rare cover song I’m spotlighting in one of my discussions. You can hear the show live every Monday at 11am on WUSB 90.1 FM or check the blog to watch it as a YouTube playlist. Visit and for more.

Posted in On Air

Tiffany Williams Sings About Self Agency, Love, and What it’s Really Like to be a Coal Miner’s Daughter

The late great Loretta Lynn proudly declared herself a coal miner’s daughter, expressing pride over her parents’ hard work and nostalgia for their simple but sufficient upbringing. Tiffany Williams, a coal miner’s daughter herself, feels that pride, but used her song about the topic to express something a little different.

“You’re always worried about them and you always wish they didn’t have to do it,” Williams said. “It’s just that constant fear. But there’s also a pride. You’re proud that they’re brave enough and capable enough and hard working to go and do that.” 

Her title track, “All Those Days of Drinking Dust,” is complex. There’s gratitude for the hard work generations of men in her family performed, but also a sense of survivor’s guilt that she went on to live a more comfortable life. Instead of Lynn’s sweet memories, Williams sings about her fear during a cave in and her pondering if God has jurisdiction underground. She also mentions having to watch her father suffer through health issues.

“He has black lung, so he struggles with his breathing sometimes,” Williams explained. “He coughs a lot. One time he hit the roof with his head, but my dad is the kind who if he hurt himself he’d just put black electrical tape over it and be done.”

The sacrifices made by the Williams men on the first track and the expectations of a woman named “Carletta” on the second track create a great tension between sacrifice and self agency that Williams returns to repeatedly. “Harder Heart,” “Know Your Worth” and “No Bottom” all express regret over being too forgiving, too generous, too eager to please. “Know Your Worth” is motivational and tries to inspire others to stand up for themselves, but “No Bottom” opens with with the sort of line that summarizes Williams’ struggles in a defiant and humorous way: “If I had to do it different/I’d have pissed more people off.”

“I sometimes looked back on my younger self and thought I wasn’t empowered and that I was meek or soft spoken, which I was to some degree,” Williams said. “But I always went after what I wanted and I always followed through on the dreams and desires I’ve had.”

Those desires have led Williams through an interesting life including studying in Germany, working at a school for the deaf and the Tennessee State Legislature, and going to graduate school to study Appalachian language. And that doesn’t even touch on her launching a musical career in Nashville at age 31. Despite having some of the better vocals I’ve heard on an album this year, Williams originally wanted to just be a songwriter.

“If you don’t do something you don’t know if you can do it or not,” Williams, who sang in church and a high school choir, said. “That’s why it’s good to try everything.”

Williams explained that she wrote the songs on this album individually and not as a package. Still, it can be hard to reconcile her stories of wanting more self agency with the deep devotion and longing “The Sea” and “Wanted It To Be” present. “The Sea” in particular is haunting and powerful, but in metaphorically offering up her life for love, Williams seems to go back on her desire to know her worth and have a harder heart. While Williams chose to end her album on the careful love song “The Waiting,” it’s a more patient love that really combines the themes of this album correctly for me. 

“When I Come Back Around,” a duet with Silas House, features two people working on their own dreams. They leave open the possibility of a relationship if the timing works out. They pretty clearly hope for it. But it’s not their first priority right now. Instead of sacrificing dreams for a mundane life, this song is about sacrificing that mundane life for the dream. Making friendships and a relationship work through a busy life has been all about choosing the right people, Williams explains.

“It’s good when you trust a relationship and know you can go back to that relationship and it’s still there; it’s not damaged because you weren’t tending to it,” she said. “I met my current partner on tour. I went to an open mic and he was hosting. But because he does music too, he understands I’m going to be depleted. I think the thing is to choose good people to have in your life and they will understand you can’t always be there.”

Above is the full episode as aired on WUSB’s Country Pocket, including both my interview with Tiffany Williams and the songs we discussed, starting with the title track, which presents a much more complex picture than a similar Loretta Lynn song. You can hear the show live every Monday at 11am on WUSB 90.1 FM or check the blog to watch it as a YouTube playlist. Visit and for more.

Photo by Danielle Shields, courtesy of Tiffany Williams.

Posted in On Air

Kenny Foster and the Wisdom Found ‘Somewhere In Middle America’

When Kenny Foster left his Missouri home for Nashville, he quickly realized that he wasn’t from the South. But he did come to crave what he calls ‘Southern’ or ‘Hillbilly’ wisdom. 

“It’s this idea that things can be learned by watching others, listening to others, reading, telling stories.” Foster said. “We are all standing on top of everything that’s been done before us. At our best, that’s what we’re doing here.”

Between Nashville and Missouri, Foster collected plenty of it. And he gladly dispenses it throughout his album ‘Somewhere In Middle America.’ It’s what makes this album different than so many other Americana or country albums set in a small town. There’s an expected celebration of the lifestyle to be sure, but it goes much deeper. It’s almost as if Foster is sharing a memoir at the same time as crafting a guide to truly find enjoyment in middle American life.

On ‘Good For Growing Up,’ Foster imagines a new family moving into his childhood home. He does his best to teach the new young resident all the secrets of living there from the early childhood experience of fearing the pipes in the closet to the teenage years of sneaking out. On ‘Said to Somebody,’ the advice is for an older audience and about the things we need to say before it’s too late. Foster, who studied philosophy in college, is at his strongest when he’s sharing such folk wisdom.

When I spoke with Foster, he was at his childhood home on an extended Thanksgiving visit. He spoke glowingly of his parents and his childhood, even if he grew up with limited resources. ‘Poor Kids’ spins that into a positive, talking about the richness his childhood held in terms of imaginative adventures.

“It was more magical because you didn’t know what you were up against,” Foster said. “The joy existed between your ears.”

‘Copy, Paste, Repeat’ gets into the difficulties of growing into adulthood in the confines of a small town, especially for anyone who happened to be a little different. 

“Sometimes people stay where they are just because they feel like they should, and I think that had a little bit of heartbreak for me,” Foster said. 

His own decision to head off into the world was made easier by the support he received at home. 

“I’m grateful for the roots my family provided, but also my father always said he wanted to provide wings as well so his kids could go off knowing who they were and they had a place where they belonged,” he said. “Leaving, as difficult as it was, held excitement. It’s a pretty big undertaking and it can’t be understated just because it’s become so normal in modern life. It hasn’t been long that we as a society have been doing that.”

‘Farmer’ is a song that pulls the wisdom and the branching out together and winds up being the strongest on the album. It talks about how middle American virtues like patience and hard work are worthy for someone to pursue even away from the farmland where they learned them. Foster confirmed that he wanted to pass down the wisdom he acquired growing up to his newborn, even if he leads a different life than his parents did. In fact, he hopes the apple once again falls a little farther away from the tree.

“I really hope he doesn’t go into music or philosophy,” Foster said smiling. “Maybe we can push him to some things that are more practical. But I’m not going to hamper anything he wants to do.”

Love, support, folk wisdom, and lots of good music. Sounds like a childhood full of lots of joy between the ears to me.

Above is the full episode as aired on WUSB’s Country Pocket, including both my interview with Kenny Foster and the songs we discussed, starting with Poor Kids, which brought back those memories of early childhood when my imagination was a force for whimsy instead of worry. You can hear the show live every Monday at 11am on WUSB 90.1 FM or check the blog to watch it as a YouTube playlist. Visit and https://kennyfostermusic.comfor more