Posted in On Air

Edie Carey Faces Life After The Lifting of The Veil

For Edie Carey, it was a car accident that shattered the veil. Carey told me that she’s used to having her guard up on cross-country tours but not so much driving around her neighborhood with her kids in the backseat. One violent impact later, that’s all changed. Many of us have had our veil incident in the last few years, be it a pandemic that invaded our country and our lungs, or the January 6th insurrection revealing to even the most apathetic just how tense our politics have become. Ironically, Carey has come to view her song “The Veil” from a place of determination. In her eyes, George Floyd’s murder has lifted the veil on racism and police brutality. Her original statement that we can’t go back anymore has changed from a negative into a call for progress. While it seems to me that many in this country are working as hard as possible to go back, I admire her optimism.

Change, vulnerability, and optimism summarize much of the album. “Hold on a little longer/holding on doesn’t mean that you can’t cry,” Carey says on the inspirational but realistic “Rise.” Tracks like “Who I Was” and “The Old Me” yearn to recapture lost magic, whether in a relationship or just in life.

“I Know This” is a pandemic era song if I’ve ever heard one, but one written from the perspective of a parent rather than that of a bored touring musician. The shift in perspective makes song devastating instead of cute. Of trying to raise her children through an era of COVID, mass shootings, and political turmoil, Carey sings: “They look to me to tell them what to do/But you can’t train for this/Blind shots in the abyss/I’m terrified but I’m supposed to be bulletproof.” Learning how to slow down may have been a universally relatable experience during the pandemic, but I can’t place in my mind any of the dozens of songs I’ve heard on the topic as easily as I can the above lyrics.

“The Cypress and the Oak” carries the strongest melody on the album and draws inspiration from a poem that describes a symbiotic relationship in nature. Carey wrote the song as a commission for a couple and changed a few details to make it more “universal” when releasing it on the album.

Above is the full episode as aired on WUSB’s Country Pocket, including both my interview with Edie and the songs we discuss, starting with the album’s title track. 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 credit Tim Carey.

Posted in On Air

Musician and Lawyer Paula Boggs on Janus, Trump, and Hope

Paula Boggs wrote a song about her enslaved ancestor that ended on a note of hope. King Brewster was born to an enslaved woman and the white man who claimed to own her before being set free following the Civil War and the passage of the 13th amendment. He made a life for himself: he owned property, had a number of children, and registered to vote. When reconstruction ended, his hard-earned gains were stripped away by a newly emboldened white supremacist movement in the south. When I heard the song, I saw parallels to today. The Supreme Court gutted the voting rights act and unsurprisingly, white Southerners are working to wrestle basic rights back from people who look a lot like King.

But Boggs is steadfast in her belief that tomorrow could be better. That hope seems out of place to me, but Paula is informed, intelligent, and has her reasons. Slavery was ended, she explained, because the tools to make positive change were built into our admittedly imperfect system of government. Crazy as political times may seem, that same constitution that finally recognized King as a free man and a citizen still exists, and in a much stronger form than it did back in the 1860s. Boggs, who definitely understands more about the law than I do, thinks we can use those tools to do the right thing. I sure hope she’s right.

Above is the full episode as aired on WUSB’s Country Pocket, including both my interview with Paula and the songs we discuss, starting with the aforementioned King Brewster, which features the great Dom Flemons. Boggs also speaks about what outrage led her to resign from her government post to protest Donald Trump. She’s a real inspiration. 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, Reviews

The Singing Butcher Kills It On Debut EP

I’ve thanked many artists for writing a song during my years hosting a radio show and for the most part I’ve gotten ‘thank you’s back. My conversation with Timothy George, who performs as The Singing Butcher, went differently in the most delightful way.

“That’s awesome,” George said. “I don’t have dreams of singing that song in front of 20,000 people. I have dreams of someone sending me a Facebook message to the band page and saying ‘Holy shit. That song really helped me.’”

“It also makes you feel a little less crazy,” George added after a brief pause.

George’s ambitions are made clear on his debut EP The Butcher Papers, a collection of five introspective songs with complex arrangements and deeply felt vocals that at times bordered on unconventional.

“I’m not classically a great singer,” George admitted. “I’m pitchy and gravelly, and I can be a bit nasally. But I don’t think those songs would’ve had the same effect if they were sung a different way. I don’t think you can convey the same emotion without sounding like every long note is destroying you

He had just been discussing his vocals on “Big Two-Hearted River,” a six-minute Western centered around a prisoner arrested for doing some butchering on something more human than the meats at the job George, as his moniker suggests, continues to work. He did have one critique for his vocal work, though.

“I feel like my performance on the record would’ve been a lot better if I hadn’t been so hungover every time I tried to sing vocals,” George said.

During an interview for the April 3rd episode of Country Pocket on WUSB, George was also frank about his struggles with anxiety. He wrote “Whatever Keeps Your Love Around” after seeing the effect his anxiety had on the women he’s dated. In the song he struggles with a significant other’s compliments, ultimately deciding to accept them while disagreeing with them.

“It’s whatever keeps you here. I need you. I don’t know what I’d do without you. But you probably shouldn’t be in this relationship.” George said of the song’s message.

The Butcher Papers has an unusually full and varied sound for a debut EP from a singer-songwriter. “Indiana Gal,” originally about a woman from Louisiana, features Dixieland horns in its second half. “Whatever Keeps Your Love Around” switches from fingerpicking to electric with backing singers. It’s only the wanderlust-driven “Early Morning Heat” that sounds conventional and entirely within George’s vocal range.

“I knew I was going to be performing predominantly as an acoustic artist for a while, but that wasn’t serving [my songs],” George said. “So I wanted to try to create different flows and different feelings and different movements to one song, so it’s not just one thing.”

George succeeds here. The five tracks feel as fleshed out as an album, and not just because they total 26 minutes long. Each is fully realized, and together they make The Singing Butcher a compelling act to watch as he gets ready to record his next project.

Posted in On Air, Reviews

Robert Randolph Talks “Got Soul” and Keeping Listeners Feeling Up

Pedal steel guitar innovator Robert Randolph’s latest album is jubilant and energetic, full of reverb and motivation. It’s a jolt of positivity that comes at the right time for many.

“Everybody’s sorta depressed with a lot of stuff going on in the country and the world,” Randolph said during an interview for the April 3 episode of Country Pocket on WUSB. “People are just looking for something like this to pick them up.”

Count Darius Rucker among those who received this boost. His guest vocals on the track “Love Do What It Do” are among the best in his career largely because it’s so obvious he’s having the time of his life jamming along with Randolph and the family band.

Randolph knew he wanted a soulful country vocal on the track and auditioned the track for an incredibly receptive Rucker over the phone. The fun song with down-home charm provided both Randolph and Rucker with plenty of opportunities to dig into riffs with their respective instruments.

“I’ve collaborated with other people before, and they weren’t too excited,” Randolph said, describing the collaboration process as one some musicians view as more of a job or a favor than an expression of their art. “But [Rucker] kept saying ‘Yeah man, yeah man, I can’t wait’ and while he was in the vocal booth, he was just really excited about it.”

Cory Henry, someone Randolph described as a “great soul” who’s on the path to be “the next Herbie Hancock” also turned in a spirited guest vocal on a cover of Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You.”

“I always had that song in the back of my head to record it one day,” Randolph said. “It’s about time we really start learning to appreciate what others do for us and the joy that someone can bring to us. It’s alright to tell them ‘thank you.’”

Randolph’s signature steel guitar playing is the primary draw on Got Soul. He plays it the way he would in the Pentecostal church he grew up in on “Heaven’s Calling.” The pedal steel rarely makes an appearance outside of country music, and on this track, the sound is quite similar to something you’d hear played at the Grand Ole Opry. On other cuts, like the title track “Got Soul,” Randolph uses it much like a traditional electric guitar, except of course with more reverb and the ability to sound more comfortable at higher notes.

Higher octave and even falsetto harmonies on tracks like “Shake It Off” and “I Want It” sound excellent and contribute to the joyous energy central to the album. The brief “Lovesick” stands out for Robert’s shredding and cousin Marcus’s remarkable drum playing.

Randolph chose to end “Gonna Be Alright,” a song he retooled from a message to a depressed friend to one with a wider audience.

“It just seemed like it should have a little bit of a wider message for the time that we’re in with everyone freaking out and thinking that it’s the end of the world, World War III… So we wanted to re-tweak the lyrics to fit what’s going on today.”

With those changes, it became the best choice to end the album.

“I’m always looking for the positive ending. It’s always to keep people’s minds up. It’s one of those things I carried out of the church. The slogan was you come in here feeling down, but you’re supposed to leave here feeling up.”

Posted in Uncategorized

Sunny Sweeney Hands Country Music Fans a Real Prize with Trophy

Just about every song has multiple layers and meaning on Trophy, the latest from Sunny Sweeney, which turns name calling, regrets, and even gossip into country gems.

Trophy is the fourth record and second independent release for Sweeney, who became a Texas country favorite with 2014’s Provoked. The album’s title comes from a track that turns an attempted insult into an opportunity to brag. Sweeney delivers the lyrics with a taunting swagger: “Yeah, he’s got a trophy now/For putting up with you.”

“I heard that one of my husband’s exes was calling me names and I thought it would be funny to write a song about it instead of getting mad,” Sweeney said in a phone conversation for the March 20th episode of Country Pocket.

Sweeney teamed up with the influential Lori McKenna on that track and three others, including the uncharacteristically sentimental “Grow Old With Me,” which covers Sweeney’s relationship with her second husband.

“I don’t ever have love songs, but I really liked that one for some reason.”

Sweeney is one of the few songwriters who regularly acknowledges in her music that her husband is not her first.

“I think people don’t want to talk about their first relationships failing. They kind of pretend that it didn’t happen, but it did, and you wouldn’t be where you are if it didn’t.”

Sweeney captures the same energy as she did on her Texas radio number one hit “Bad Girl Phase” with “Better Bad Idea,” a rare song made better by a lack of detail. Wine and weed are specifically mentioned, but for the most part, the singer is only playing up her potential to be wild and challenging her companion to come up with the details. It’s as much a statement of rebellion as it is an over the top act of seduction.

“Unsaid” also leaves a few words out for emotional impact, this time while conveying the pain of being on bad terms with someone who unexpectedly passes away. The first three lines mention church bells and headlights in describing a funeral procession. We hear about a name written in stone early on, but the word “heaven” doesn’t appear until after the second refrain. It’s a strong indicator that the singer is struggling to accept the death, just as the decision to end the song by leaving out the third note of a repeated three-note guitar part had the effect of conveying the suddenness of the tragedy. It’s also Sweeney’s strongest vocal to date.

“Pass the Pain” and the Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay penned “Pills” play around with the idea of judgment and self-awareness in satisfying ways. “Nothing Wrong With Texas,” which came from Sweeney’s move to New York City, is most notable for its fiddle work and the impressive rhyme scheme of perspective/respect is/Texas. The Jerry Jeff Walker cover “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight” uses the title as a great double entendre.

“I’ve always wanted to record that song. I think it’s one of the greatest country songs ever written.” Sweeney said of the cover song.

“Bottle By My Bed” takes on even more meanings. The risky track is on its face about wanting a child, but also about reaching a new stage of maturity. Underneath is a feeling that perhaps a deeper, more heartbreaking problem exists for the singer. She says she only calls her husband baby “because I like the word” and describes watching the news at night alone with some beers while he suggests waiting to have a child. Her friends are all busy raising kids, so it’s easy to get the sense the singer feels little in the way of support and companionship.

It’s hard to imagine this review isn’t missing at least one layer of meaning on even the songs described in depth. As enjoyable as these songs are to listen to, Trophy is an album best thought about deeply and played repeatedly. Sweeney’s songwriting will undoubtedly hold up to that level of examination.

Posted in On Air, Reviews

Universal Favorite: Noam Pikelny’s One Man Show

For Steve Martin, comedy and singing came first. Then he embarked on a career as an acclaimed banjoist. Though Noam Pikelny is very much still actively pursuing his interest in banjo playing, he’s also picking up on a few of Steve’s old tricks.

Early in Winter 2016, I had the pleasure of seeing Pikelny on his first solo tour on what had to be the coldest and windiest night in recent memory. At the very least it was the most brutal that I’ve attempted a walk from a train station to a theater. There in Bayshore, Pikelny filled the space between songs, including many on this album, with standup comedy. There were memories of senility at the Opry and an idea for using the slide guitar to prevent suicide. The crowd, including myself, thought he was consistently hilarious. When I spoke to him for the March 20 episode of Country Pocket on WUSB, Pikelny had a different theory.

“It’s possible that it was hypothermia that led you to enjoy my banter,” Pikelny said, deadpan. “Maybe that was all fueled by some sort of primal survival instinct that laughing would maybe keep you alive.”

While not touring and recording solo, Pikelny is the banjoist for Punch Brothers. The two roles have made him somewhat of a universal favorite in the world of progressive bluegrass, particularly since he released the incredibly titled Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe. His latest album, which happens to be called Universal Favorite, finds him singing on one of his records for the first time. Pikelny admitted he doesn’t have the most natural bluegrass voice.

“So much of bluegrass vocals kind of hinges on the high and lonesome sound and singing at the top of people’s ranges,” Pikelny said. “Well, the top of my range is still in the subterranean zone. I found music that seemed to fit my voice that I felt comfortable singing that would also be a springboard for instrumental playing.”

Pikelny chose exceptionally well when it came to which cover songs he sang on. “Old Banjo” worked exceptionally well thanks to Pikelny’s exception ability to convey dry humor while singing. “My Tears Don’t Show” and “Sweet Sunny South” benefited from the deep, glum notes not many other bluegrass singers could hit. “Folk Bloodbath,” a Josh Ritter tune, used a little of both of those traits. It’s only “I’ve Been A Long Time Leavin’ (But I’ll Be A Long Time Gone)” where Pikelny runs into the limits of his voice on a few stretched out notes and some fast spoken words.

As to be expected, the best part of Universal Favorite is the banjo playing. Pikelny is pictured standing alone on a small island on the album’s cover, which is appropriate considering he’s the only musician on the album. It’s hard to tell on lush tracks like “Hen Of The Woods” and “Moretown Hop,” both of which blend twang and classical music the way one might expect progressive bluegrass. “The Great Falls” is a serene track played on a slide guitar and the attention-grabbing “Waveland” is almost unrecognizable as a banjo tune but just as graceful.

He described his approach to this album as wanting to provide an “intimate glimpse of the banjo.”

“There are a lot of things that the banjo can do that don’t necessarily happen when there’s a five piece band,” Pikelny said. “The banjo can actually be very warm and can sustain when just played solo. It was a chance to write music in a different fashion and come up with tunes that would stand up without interpretation from a band. It delivered me to a spot where I was making music that was very direct, and I wanted that to be encapsulated on the record.”

It’s Pikelny’s ability to showcase the lesser known qualities of the banjo that will likely make this album a favorite among new grass fans.

Pikelny will be playing Bowery Ballroom at a seated show on Friday, March 24. There will be sublime banjo playing and probably more than a few laughs, preferably without any hypothermia. And listen below to Pikelny explain his history with “Old Banjo” before the show airs.

Photo by Justin Camerer from Noam’s website. 

Posted in On Air, Reviews

Thoughtfulness and Fingerpicking: Cary Morin’s Cradle to the Grave.

“Please indulge me, I’m gonna cross that line,” Cary Morin sings on “Ghost Dog,” a track from his rich solo effort Cradle to the Grave. By that point in the album, seven tracks in, the line between storytelling and an exploration of the mind and reality had long since been crossed.

The combination of Morin’s heady, challenging lyrics and rich finger-picked guitar results in an album that somehow sounds like thinking feels. As the only performer on the album, Morin delivers an intensely personal experience that provokes thoughts almost as often as it deconstructs them.

On “Dawn’s Early Light,” in which Morin, who is a member of the Crow tribe, heavily references the protest at Standing Rock. He repeats the ‘if a tree falls in a forest’ thought experiment with the word ‘treaty’ in place of ‘tree’ and repurposes words from the Star Spangled Banner, both to devastating effect. In urging “no compromise,” Morin slams the United States for suppressing the ideals the nation was built on and repeatedly violating treaties with few repercussions. Yet, he feels an optimism, citing “the support that Native people are receiving for their efforts to protect clean water, not just for Native people but for everybody.”

“Another wonderful thing is the unification of all of the different Nations that have come together in support of that effort,” Morin said.

Morin does much more to explore the mind on tracks like the daydreaming “Laid Back” and his motivation on “Back on the Train.” “Mishawaka” delves into a vision or dream of the singer’s death. All are recorded live in a folk/blues fingerpicking style he calls Native Americana.

“The end result doesn’t really get edited that much,” Morin said. “I record without headphones. I basically sit in a room and play the songs. The recordings hopefully, and I believe they do, sound like my live shows.”

Just about any YouTube recording of his performances suggest this multiple Colorado Blues Challenge Solo Championship is right about that.

Morin also included a cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U” mostly courtesy of YouTube. He based his interpretation on a video of Prince performing his composition in Las Vegas and originally intended it to be released only on the video streaming service before placing it on his album. The Sinead O’Connor version of the track is the most well known, but its synth-heavy production has not aged well.

Much like the Prince video, Morin’s take on the song seems likely to sound as relevant years later. But while Prince delivers anguish and style, Morin goes with a more defeated sadness and simplicity. It’s an impressive achievement for Morin, and even more so a testament to Prince’s songwriting abilities that the power ballad sounds so good stripped down. For insight into Morin’s decision making here, listen below.

The album starts and ends with songs featuring the lyrics “watch over me/ for I’m only a child.” Though the first track, Cradle to the Grave, finds the speaker in significantly more distressed than the closing “Watch Over Me,” the idea of needing a higher power is the theme for both.

“I took that lyric from Cradle to the Grave and I tried a couple of different melodies and guitar lines,” Morin said. “I thought, ‘it’s an interesting take on the same set of lyrics, so why not use them as bookends?’”

It’s a wise choice for an album that spends so much time in Morin’s thoughts. Though he’s reaffirmed his desire to trust others and actively shape his life, it feels authentic that Morin still needs someone watching over him. It’s a believable and relatable place to be after deep thought: a bit more positive and resolute, but still needing the same things as before.

Cary Morin appears on the March 6, 2017, edition of Country Pocket on WUSB. In this clip from the show, he discusses his cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

Posted in On Air

The Traveling Ones Meet Us There On Debut

Just a little more than two years ago, Emily Villareal and Justin Ahmanson met at an open mic in Austin and came away from the encounter with a relationship and a band.

On Meet Me There, the pair displays their songwriting talents as Americana duo The Traveling Ones on an album shaped by the harmony and emotions they’ve found in their new partnership. Villareal and Ahmanson build each of their songs on a character who is fleshed out not only by strong lyrics but by interpretive vocals that often add a new dimension to both the character and the song. It’s an impressive debut made all the more accessible by the warm piano playing that runs through most of the tracks.

I spoke with the duo for the March 6 edition of Country Pocket and discovered it’s not so unusual to find a capable songwriting partner at an open mic in Austin.

“There’s a lot of talent here because a lot of people move here for music,” Villareal said. “You’re average open mic isn’t people who don’t know how to perform. It’s a lot of talented musicians who are looking to network. From there it’s easy to say ‘we should meet sometime.’ Everybody’s looking for a new project.”

Villareal provided the vocals for the album’s lead track, “Wildfire Heart.” It’s a breakup song of sorts in which the singer wearily explains that she’s unable to suppress her dreams and emotions. It’s empowering, but it’s also as bittersweet as the fiddle playing that elevates the track.

Ahmanson explained the song was based on two ideas: the unpredictable wildfires of Villareal’s native California and their shared tendency to dive into bad relationships.

“In a lot of ways, that’s what drew us to each other,” Ahmanson said. “When we met each other it was really eye opening how easy it could be to be in a relationship. I think starting off the album with laying the groundwork of our past was a cool thing to do.”

Sweet harmonies highlight a few other tracks, including “You Only Have to Break My Heart” and the passionate “Yours Tonight.” But the pair still functions best on more intimate tracks, with one taking the lead and the other providing backing vocals.

“I’m a Woman” is a quality fiddle tune from the perspective of a woman finally ready to move on from a stagnating relationship. Villareal said she at first struggled to connect with the song before delivering a performance on the album that blends frustration and swagger.

Ahmanson closes the album with his strongest performance on “Ride with Me.” The lyrics come from the perspective of someone trying to convince a significant other to stick with him through the next chapter of their lives, but the vocals sound anything but sure about the promises the lyrics are making.

“I’m almost convincing myself as the song progresses,” Ahmanson said. “I think that’s a pretty cool recording we did.”

Fans of this album are in luck: Villareal and Ahmanson said they want to continue riding together and that they’ve already written a few songs for their next album as a duo.

For more on how Villareal came to connect with “I’m a Woman,” listen here. Or, tune into Country Pocket on WUSB Monday, March 6 from 6-8pm.

Posted in On Air

Whitney Rose Literally Goes Texas on Her New EP

by Trevor Christian

Texas seems to be working for Whitney Rose. Before writing and recording her latest EP, South Texas Suite, the Canadian country songstress moved from her native Canada to Austin, a city that seems more suited to her brand of music.

Her brand of music has moved closer to Austin, too. Her last album, which was produced by Raul Malo, leaned as heavily on vintage pop as it did traditional country. This time around, the pop is almost gone. Rose explained that her year and a half in Texas had more of an effect on her that just a chance to experience some warmer weather.

“It’s probably a reflection of living in Austin for the last little while,” Rose said of her sound during an interview for Country Pocket.

Rose’s lyrics have also been heavily influenced by her time in Texas. “Lookin’ Back on Luckenbach” plays on the name of a quirky town famous for its dance hall in order to wax nostalgic. “Three Minute Love Affair” is also based on something uniquely Texan.

“That was one of the first songs that I wrote after moving to Austin and that was because I fell in love very quickly with watching people two step,” Rose said. “It was just so nice to see. It was kind of like going back in time. I’m an unapologetic romantic so that really struck me away.”

Rose learned the dance from locals and came up with a unique way of describing the experience.

“If you go out anywhere in Texas and there’s a band playing, there’s a 99 percent chance you’re going to get asked to dance,” Rose said. “It occurred to me one night that the world stops when you’re this person’s partner and it kind of becomes this little love affair that’s completely innocent. It’s like a little moment in time.”

Rose also features Texas songwriting stalwart Brennen Leigh’s work in “Analog.” Rose is the first to record this tune and it fits remarkably well with the rest of the album’s songwriting structure. Rose agreed with the message, even if she doesn’t live a completely analog life.

“I’m just as guilty as the next person of checking my phone all the time,” Rose said, “but I do subscribe to a lot of things in the song. I much prefer to listen to music on vinyl. I like to read books. I like the smell of a book so I’ll always keep those in my life.”

The EP finds its high point when Rose shows both a feisty and humorous side on “My Boots,” easily the best song she has written to date. It’s written from the point of a girlfriend who refuses to put on a high society act for her boyfriend’s parents, instead preferring to wear boots and drink whiskey around them.

A song on this topic would have been weaker if it was too self-righteous, but Rose expertly balances the strong independent sentiment with an implicit acknowledgment that she’s ranting. The first few lines are delivered carefully, almost as if the speaker is taking a deep breath in, and then speeds up when she gets to the point. By the end, the music has sped up to an almost manic pace, though it doesn’t undermine Rose’s point. It mostly just adds color and character to her message.

“I’m aware of the silliness of it,” Rose said, “but I really wanted to write a song about how important it is to embrace yourself and not alter yourself when you’re in different crowds and different surroundings.”

Also included on the EP are “Blue Bonnets,” a song about a relationship with someone who travels for work, and a short instrumental to close things out.

This interview aired on Feb 20 on Country Pocket, which airs alternating Mondays from 6-8pm on WUSB.