The Great Joan Osborne Takes Time to Reflect 

September 8, 2023
Marty Halpern

Joan Osborne has been riding a wave of creativity the last few years. She’s quite aware of this and has no intention of hopping off her musical surfboard anytime soon. Osborne’s latest release Nobody Owns You (her third since 2020) makes an incredibly strong case as a career best. A three decade plus long career as one of the finest vocalists around.  

Osborne dons many hats throughout the album. Her first collaboration with producer and co-writer Ben Rice. There’s the reflective Osborne looking back on her career in Should’ve Danced More, So Many Airports, and Great American Cities. The motherly Osborne comes out in the title track Nobody Owns You and Women’s Work. Time of the Gun and Dig a Little Ditch offer Osborne’s realistic take on current events. The album peaks with her role as a daughter in the super personal Secret Wine and The Smallest Trees. 

Osborne’s vocals are as on point as they’ve been throughout her career. However, it’s the lyrics and music behind the vocals which set this album apart from her others. Both are as simple and direct as can be. There’s no preaching and complaining. Just Osborne reflecting on the same life events her longtime listeners are undoubtedly going through. Sending a daughter to college and into the real world. Watching a parent’s mental and physical decline. The end of a long-term relationship or simply looking back on the long road you’ve traveled with no regrets.  

SlideandBanjo caught up with Osborne to discuss her latest release. She begins by noting the difference between this record and the others from her storied career. “This record came out of a time of a lot of personal upheaval. That left me emotionally raw. It’s not great, but it allows you access to your emotions and deep feelings. I used that to write these personal songs. This record is the most personal I’ve ever done. It’s partly in response to turning 60 last year. That’s a moment when you take stock of your life and ask yourself, if I only have “x” years left on the planet, what am I going to do with that time? What needs to be done that I need to stop waiting to do? There’s a directness in the songwriting that comes from that desire to get to the heart of the matter. I’m an admirer of people who write that way. From Hank Williams Jr. to Lucinda Williams or Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. Writers who cut to the meaning and say things in simple language.   

Osborne says she and Rice were in a similar mental headspace making the album. That led to a unique connection that flows throughout the album. “It was great working with Ben. He was interested in all the different poems, lyric ideas, and songs I brought him. It may have been connecting with him on a personal level. His father passed and he was experiencing this loss in his life when we were working together. He was enthusiastic about all my ideas. His thorough way of working really allowed the songs to blossom quickly. If we were working on lyrics and the song needed another verse. I felt I could go in a room for half an hour and come back with two or three options. It became obvious what I was trying to say. That’s a good position to be in as a writer. You say it a couple of ways. The one that’s the best becomes clear to everyone.” 

As Osborne explains, her life and musical experiences gave her the confidence to be as direct as possible throughout the album, “I wanted to write songs that are unique to me. This is what my life is like now. I’ve written songs in different ways before. Short stories with characters. But I didn’t want to do that this time. I wanted to be straightforward and say what’s on my mind in a simple way. I’m not sure if anyone is paying attention to what I’m doing. I have my fans and am so grateful for them. As far as larger music business, it’s not like my name is on everyone’s lips. That can be liberating because if no one is watching, you can do what you want. Not be worried about what others think. It was a permission to be straightforward and personal. I ended up feeling really good about writing songs like this at this point in my career. I’m not bored with this. I have things I didn’t have years and decades ago I can dig into. It’s a rich time for me as an artist and I am happy to tap into those things.” 

The highlight of the album is the song Secret Wine. Written for her mother who is starting to show signs of Alzheimer’s, Osborne’s simplistic tale of fear and hope will hit you deep in your soul. “I don’t want to let her go. But if I must, I must. Please take her hand and comfort her and show her who to trust.” According to Osborne, the song was originally a prayer, but was converted into a song thanks to her in-studio collaboration with Rice. “My mother is beginning to show signs of Alzheimer’s. She’s losing bits of herself. That’s difficult to watch. The song Secret Wine is about that. Hoping she can replace the things she’s losing with something positive and wonderful. There are negative things about her slipping away. But she also has a childlike energy which is a beautiful thing to see. It’s like she’s stepping back into this more innocent time. The song is a wish for protection for her.”  

She continues, “I wrote this after talking with my sisters about the things that were happening with my mom. I brought it to Ben in the studio. He and I worked on the music. His father just passed, and he was going through his own time of dealing with loss. We were so appreciative to have the studio to come to and bring all these emotions. We needed that sanctuary to work through all the stuff going on in our lives. Otherwise, we’d just be going nuts.” 

Smallest Trees, an homage to the innocence of being a child is another highpoint of the album. Osborne channels some Bob Dylan like imagery with the lines, “Oh the smallest trees hold the most beautiful birds, and the smallest mouths speak the most beautiful words.” She reflects on her memories of that special time in her life. “That’s from thinking what it was like to be a small child. Remembering the moments I felt so much love for my family and my mother especially. It was like that love had replaced every cell of my body and that’s all I was. As we get older, we can lose touch with that feeling. I have a young nephew. When his mom or I walk into a room, he explodes with happiness and launches himself at you. To feel that kind of love is a beautiful and ephemeral thing. It doesn’t last forever your capacity to do that. Maybe we get back to it as we get older. I’m hoping that happens to me. But it’s there in childhood. I don’t think there are many songs about that.” 

Osborne tries to impart some motherly words of wisdom in the title track Nobody Owns You. “You’re as free as the wind in the street and it’s time to stand up on your feet. Darling, you’re complete. Nobody owns you.” While her daughter may not be ready to listen to these pearls of wisdom, Osborne is confident others will. “My daughter is eighteen and done with me for now (laughs). That’s very natural and I don’t take it personally. I feel these are still words of wisdom worth saying. So instead of talking to a wall, I put those thoughts into a song. Hopefully, at some point she’ll listen. Until she does, it’s out there for anyone who needs it. It’s a message young women can stand to hear. As far as we’ve come in supporting them and telling them they can be whatever they want to be. There’s another cultural undercurrent that makes them feel everyone has to like them. Nobody can be mad at them. They have to look a certain way. Act a certain way.  You can’t step out of line. Can’t make mistakes. I think it leaves them open to being manipulated by people who don’t have their best interest at heart. I wanted to say it in a simple way that you don’t have to give yourself to people who aren’t on your side.” 

Albeit more tongue and cheek, the theme of knowing your true value continues in Women’s Work. “This is for the women with full time careers while raising kids with their partners. They also have that second shift at home.” Osborne muses. “Often, do more than an equal share of the work at home. Their male partners believe and are totally convinced they do half as much. And it’s just not true. (Laughs). The song is leavened with a bit of humor. But it’s a song that if women stepped out and went on strike, this whole place would fall apart.” 

Current events are front and center in Time of the Gun and Dig a Little Ditch. Instead of preaching and looking for solutions to a never ending problem, Osborne uses both offerings as a way of accepting the times and navigating through them as unscathed as possible. “It seems like this era we’re living in is defined by the number of tragedies and mass shootings. Guns have usurped our communal lives as Americans. Whether you want to deal with it or not, it’s around you all the time. You hear about an awful shooting and then you send your kid off to school and wonder if it’s going to happen to them. We’re all living with this right now. That’s where the title came from. We’re living in a time of the gun. I hate that, but I can’t turn away from it. I should understand it and face up to it. Figure out what it means in my life. What am I going to do about it and what is everyone going to do about it?” 

She continues, “With Dig A Little Ditch I came up with the line, ‘Dig a little ditch and push the devil in.’ I thought there are devils all around us. You don’t have to look far to find them. It’s a very simple message of what you can do. You have to dig a little ditch and put the devil in. That’s the work we’re doing right now. I tried to put it in a simple poetic language.” 

Riding high from another album that dazzles from start to finish, Osborne is focused on keeping her current wave of momentum alive. Her perspective on the world has changed. That’s natural. Everyone’s does as they get older. What hasn’t changed is Osborne’s steadfast focus on her lyrics and vocals. According to Osborne, it never will. “I’m always trying to make the lyrics as good as possible. As a singer that’s one of the main things I have to work with. I need to connect with those lyrics. Even if they’re fun, party lyrics. I need to feel them while I’m singing. I put a lot of time and energy into the lyrics. Wanting them to be something I can authentically perform and connect with.” 

“I’m so lucky to have work that I still want to do. Hopefully, I can keep doing it for a little while longer. I’m excited by being able to write songs like these at this point in my career. I feel like there’s another chapter to dig into about what can happen next. Ben and I had such a great time working on the record. Hopefully we’ll get together and write some songs soon. I’m still in that high of being in that zone of creating stuff. I don’t want to step out of it yet.” 

Joan Osborne Nobody Owns You 

Womanly Hips Music 2023 

Karina Rykman- I Live to Defy Convention  

August 21, 2023
Marty Halpern

Bassist Karina Rykman already has a resume most young musicians would sacrifice an appendage or two for. She’s toured the United States with high profile gigs at Bonnaroo, Sweetwater 420, and Red Rocks. She’s rocked Iceland. She played with her favorite band Phish for some magical moments during a soundcheck at Madison Square Garden. She’s sat in on multiple occasions with the house band for “Late Night with Seth Meyers.” Another long shot bucket list item she never expected to cross off so quickly. Especially given her musical output has been six spread out single releases. 

For “six singles Rykman” as she jokingly calls herself, that’s no longer the case. Her supremely overdue debut album Joyride is a showcase of Rykman’s musical growth since her first single Plants was released in 2019. The album, written and recorded with longtime friend Gabe Monro is bursting with diverse flavors. A buffet of the multiple musical styles Rykman has already tasted.   

Rykman happily used the services of longtime pal and Phish frontman Trey Anastasio who let her use his Barn Studio to record the album. If that wasn’t enough, Anastasio also plays on five of the nine songs on the album. And if that wasn’t enough, Anastasio suggested Rykman work with his famed engineer/album mixer Bryce Goggin at The Barn. Which she did.  

The results speak for themselves. You get plenty of Trey in Joyride and All That You Want. Beacon is filled with the vibe she’s picked up as the bassist in Marco Benevento’s band. All of that is surrounded by “core” Rykman. There is Plants. A reworked version of Elevator. A new rocker Run of the Mill and trippy Fever Dream. 

Rykman, who has gone well out of her way multiple times giving inside access to her pre-debut endeavors, sat down for a thorough interview with Marty Halpern to finally discuss the release of her first album. 

Photo- Brantley Gutierre

S&B- Hey Karina! Wow. This has been a long time coming. Your debut album is here. I’m sure you’ve dreamed about the process of releasing your first album for years. Has it been everything you imagined? 

Karina- It’s a super surreal moment in my life. I gotta say. It feels like a long time coming mixed with the new. I don’t know what to think about all of it. It’s so cool to have a completed larger body of work gracing the masses. It’s fantastic. I’m happy as a clam. I’m super delighted with how it turned out. It’s surreal to think how long it’s been while also being so short. I’m happy to have it finally come out.   

S&B- Despite not having that “official debut album” you’ve been releasing and performing your original music for years. Your music caught the eye of Trey Anastasio many years ago and he was so giving to help you with the album. To have someone of his stature help out a rookie must be hard to process? 

Karina- I’m humbled to be mentored by someone I love and respect so deeply. It started at Peach Fest in 2021. Trey and I hadn’t seen each other since the pandemic. Trey ran up to me. I didn’t know he had been keeping tabs on my music. He named all my songs and how much he loved them. I was like Whoa! I didn’t realize he paid such close attention. He took a profound interest in helping with the creation of my first record. He offered me The Barn to record the album. It’s his studio since the late 90’s where he’s written and recorded many of Phish’s albums. That was a surreal moment for sure. Bryce Goggin, his engineer and producer mixed it. Trey wanted to coproduce it. It was an amazing time. Every second you spend talking to the guy you learn something. It’s special to get insight from someone who has been at it for so long with so much success. With a heart and mind as open as his. He’s an incredible human and I’m so thrilled to get to work and learn from him. 

S&B- The thing that threw me when I saw the track list for the album is most of the songs you’ve released aren’t on it. I thought City Kids, No Occasion, and all the others would be there. With the exception of Plants and Elevator it’s all new stuff. Why did you make the decision to leave out most of the songs you’ve already released? 

Karina- It was difficult to even keep Plants and Elevator. Elevator even got a facelift. Plants is exactly the same. It’s the Elevator we all know and love with a more bombastic outro and live drums. It was stuff I wish I could have done to Elevator when I wrote it. It’s a fan favorite and staple closer to my set. I think we finally got it to a place I’m really happy with. Plants, I wanted on my first record. It was my first song ever. It represents a formative special place in my heart in that regard. I felt it deserved a slot on my first record. I shied away big time from keeping my prior singles. The last thing I want is for people to listen to the album and be like, I’ve already heard these songs. I wanted a fresh slate with new music. The songs that made the record are the ones I thought sounded best together. Using the old songs is the easy way out. We don’t do the easy way out. 

S&B- Even with all the new songs on the album, there are some that didn’t make the cut. “Atom Dance” which I think is one of your best, isn’t on there. How did you pick what made the final cut? 

Karina- The goal is to have a huge repertoire. Our band is in its infancy. There’s been a lot of new tunes we’ve been working on. We’ve debuted a few to see what happens. God willing, Karina’s second album won’t come out too long after this one. I’m constantly writing and permutating. Trying to be prolific and figure out what makes sense.   

S&B- How much of the album did you have started when you met up with Trey in 2021? Was this fresh stuff you hadn’t done before because you were working on City Kids, No Occasion, etc.? Or was it freshened up and changed after you met him? 

Karina- Most was already written. All That You Wanted, Run of the Mill, Skylark/ Slowlark, and Trampoline. Joyride was not. It was written a few months later. Beacon is another that was written. I had been kicking these around for a long time. The ones I was proud of. The cream, I feel, rose to the top. What made sense revealed itself to me. Trey came in and for a lot of those tunes, like Joyride. He came in and reharmonized the chorus for the outro and added his guitar. The same for Trampoline. The song was essentially written, but he had a concept about what to do at the end. He added the end solo to Run of the Mill. He reharmonized the chorus for Fever Dreams and did an outro that was super interesting. It was cool to work with him and see his understanding of choral harmony. That’s way advanced and he was able to add embellishments I would have never thought of. It was a push and pull. Very symbiotic. He was always saying anything I do, or play don’t be afraid to throw it in the garbage can. I really appreciated that. In the end I took all his advice, and it sounds like a Karina record. We didn’t overdo it. I’m thrilled these songs are going to finally see the light of day. I’m ready to let them go and let them have life.” 

S&B- Looking at the individual songs on the album, a lot have lyrics. You still have some that are instrumental. Do you think you’re leaning 80/20 on songs with lyrics or do you think you’ll convert to all songs with lyrics? Or is it just how things worked out for this album? 

Karina- Let’s call it 80/20. I love instrumental music as well. I’m not afraid to have both. Sometimes I write a song and really feel it needs lyrics. Then it turns into an instrumental that works on its own. That’s what happened with Plants and Skylark/ Slowlark. It’s a happy medium. I live to defy convention. I’m not scared of any of this. Whatever comes out is cool. We have Atom Dance and several others that are instrumental that are great in the live set. I look forward to recording those and seeing where they fit in my recorded music catalogue. I don’t stand on ceremony on any of this stuff. What comes out, comes out.   

S&B- I’ve told you many times, I think you’re the most underrated act out there. You have this bubbly, always happy persona, but people don’t realize you’ve been slaying it on the road for a while. What’s it like to go back and create recorded versions of these songs you’ve been crushing on the road night after night? 

Karina- It’s great with the first two singles out. I’m seeing people in the crowd sing the lyrics. It is a rewarding and fantastic feeling. To give them the context of the studio versions of these songs is exciting. To me it amplifies everything. I’m so excited to have people know the tunes before they come to the show. I was just six singles Rykman for a long time. Now there’s so much more.   

S&B- Let’s talk about your band, Adam November and Chris Corsico. You met Adam at a party, started playing music together and haven’t stopped since. Chris has broken through a new level musically. Can you talk about the synergy between the three of you and how it’s shaping your vision on what you want to put out creatively? 

Karina- It’s shocking to remember my two NYU buddies where we used to jam in Adam’s bedroom. Now to playing all these crazy venues to ravenous audiences with my two dearest friends. It cannot be overstated how much I adore those two. What a joy it is to travel the world with both men. They’re so dedicated and diligent and always down for trying things out. Experimentation. Going in any direction. It’s an exciting thing. We’ve had an amazing year. I love them so much on and off the stage. We hang out all the time. We travel together. Eat dinner together. Go on vacation together. We’re super bonded. They’re spectacular players and even more spectacular gentlemen.   

S&B- The three of you are going to hit the road in support of the album. There’s one big change this time. You are going to be the headliner each night. Moving another step up the musical ladder. You must be bursting at the seams to get out and share this music with your fans.  

Karina- I can’t wait to play these shows. The fact my New York show sold out 3 months in advance is so incredible. I would have never dreamed about all that. It’s going to be a delight to play these songs, old songs, and even newer songs for the people out there. It’s a dream come true. My vision is to have the most fun possible. Play the songs I’m so damn proud of with my best friends. Enjoy every second of it. Soak it up like a sponge. I hope my stoked attitude permeates into the audience. The audience barrier breaks down and we all have an experience greater than the sum of our parts. I literally live to do this and the only thing I want is to be able to keep doing this as long as possible. I’m like a degenerate gambler who can’t leave the blackjack table.   

S&B- Another bonus for you making this album was working with your super close pal Gabe Monro. You have a long history and to be able to bring so many years of collaboration into the world must be special. 

Karina- He’s one of my best friends and a spectacular collaborator. We wrote just about all these songs together. To work with Gabe, Trey and Bryce was such a great moment. An amazing meeting of the minds. The most creative, humble industrious people that are so excited and immeasurably good at their craft. Gabe is one of the most special people I have the pleasure of knowing. All we do is write songs. It’s such a pleasure to have somebody like that to sit with and work through ideas. There’s no ego. Never feeling like I can’t come to him with an idea and be my most vulnerable self.   

S&B- Let’s discuss a couple of more songs on the album. Starting with “Beacon.” To me that has a distinct Marco Benevento sound. If Marco was on vocals it could be one of his songs.  

Karina- You think so. Which Marco song? 

S&B- It’s not a specific song as much as it is the flavor of the song. The vocals and drumbeat. Obviously, this is the first time you’ve heard that comparison.  

Karina- I’m attached to that song. I have a great love for it. It literally feels like you’re floating in water when the chorus hits with the big bass chords. It’s such a vibe. I’ve been in love with that song for so long.

Photo- Brantley Gutierre

S&B- What was the process for releasing Joyride and Beacon as the first two singles from the album? Was anything else in the running? 

Karina- Joyride, with it being the title track, has a lot of Trey on it. We thought it was a good way to announce everything. Announce the album. Everyone who worked on the album. It’s up tempo, dancy, and likeable. We wanted to put our best foot forward with that. It was the first music I’ve released since Arbitrary in 2021. The song All That You Wanted could have been the second single. That’s the focus track when the record comes out. Basically, the third single without having a third single. I thought Beacon was a darker, moody, vibey that had zero Trey involvement. I didn’t want the second single being another song Trey had a big hand in. Only because I want to show different sides of myself. This is a cool juxtaposition into a different part of my brain. That’s why I used it.  

S&B- There’s definitely no confusing a Trey-less Beacon with All That You Wanted

Karina I’m a huge fan of All That You Wanted. It’s one of the favorite songs I’ve written. The end was all Trey. He was like, Karina this hook is so good, you can’t just sing it twice. Let’s bring it back but in a different way. He has all these concepts. It was the same with the outro for Joyride. That was conceived by Trey. All That You Wanted is a special tune. It has a soaring guitar outro while feeling super bouncing and floating. 

S&B- My favorite song on the album is Run of the Mill. It’s a straightforward mainstream rocker to me and a different sound than anything you’ve released. Especially vocally.

Karina- Everyone loves that one. It’s one I’ve been sheepish about performing live because it has some of the most exposed vocals. It’s scary when you’re exposed like that as a bass player trying to sing (not a singer trying to play bass) if you know what I mean. I’m getting more comfortable vocally in a big way. We played it every night on the spring Guster tour. It has a stone cold vibe and an ethereal and driving quality to it. That’s why it made the record. The whole record has this gooey, jubilant, yet surreal quality to it. The Trey solo at the end is one of my favorites. 

S&B- Thanks Karina. I wanted to take a second to thank you for all the time you’ve given the website over the years. I know I’m speaking for a lot of people who are super excited about this milestone and wish you nothing but the best.  

Karina-Thanks. Always my pleasure.

Karina Rykman Joyride AWAL records 2023

Mikaela Davis AND Southern Star- Perseverance Pays Off 

August 5, 2023
Slide & Banjo

When you hear the name Mikaela Davis, the first image that will most likely pop into your mind is a harp. It makes sense. There aren’t a lot of harpists fronting rock bands. For Davis, her ability to play the harp, which she has done since age eight, is the tip of the iceberg of her musical abilities.  

Davis’s latest album “And Southern Star,” a nod to her backing band is a shining example of the growth she’s made over the five years since her debut “Delivery.” The album is bursting with flavor. It bounces from country to rock to pop with Davis’s outstanding vocals leading the way. Pristinely produced, the album is also filled with instrumental voyages inspired by Davis’s collaborations in the jam band scene the last five years.  

Technically, this is Davis’s sophomore release. But she’s been grinding it out in the music world for over a decade. Out of print and practically impossible to find, there are Davis self-releases as far back as 2012. Older than that is the musical relationship and friendship she’s had with drummer Alex Cote. That goes back to their school days. In the middle of high school is when Shane McCarthy (bass/vocals), younger brother of Cian McCarthy (guitar/vocals) joined the band. He graduated early to make sure he was available to tour. Steel guitarist Kurt Johnson rounds out Southern Star.  

Davis gained an instant, loyal following after performing with Grateful Dead legend Bob Weir just after “Delivery” was released. Since then, her visibility has grown exponentially. She’s performed with Phil Lesh, Grateful Shred, Circles Around the Sun, and numerous others. “And Southern Star” is loaded with instrumental sections Davis says are a direct result of playing alongside some of the world’s best improvisers.  

Despite numerous sets of extra eyes and ears on her music thanks to Weir and Lesh, Davis had a difficult time getting this album released. She parted ways with Rounder records who released her debut “Delivery” in 2018. Davis decided to self-fund the album, betting on herself and her loyal backing band.  

Davis begins by discussing the momentum created from that magical meeting with Bob Weir. “Right after Delivery came out is when I got the call to sit in with Bob Weir. That whole world evolved pretty quickly. I was focusing on touring to support Delivery in 2018 and ‘19. My band had the songs on this album ready to go when Delivery came out. In 2020, I reached out to my label and asked if we could put out the next album. Then the whole world fell apart for a couple of years. We put everything on hold.” 

Davis states, “When Covid ended, Rounder said it would be some time until they could put out a new album. I didn’t want to wait around. People don’t realize I’ve been doing this for over 10 years. I had to wait to put out Delivery and didn’t want to do that again. So, we amicably parted ways. It was nice of them to let me go.” 

Label-less with an album’s worth of material, Davis searched for the best avenue to bring her music to life.  She was not going to be denied. “I decided this album is getting made one way or the other. We made it ourselves. I’ve done session work with my friend Kenny Siegel at his Old Soul Studios in the Catskills over the last 10 years. He really wanted us to make the record at his studio. We talked about it, and I told him we don’t have a label behind us. We worked it out where we were able to record a lot of the album there. Cian, my guitar player, tracked my vocals, keys, guitars and all the extras in my apartment. He essentially produced the album with me and the band. The whole process took about a year.” 

After taking the album to Mike Fridmann and Tarbox Road Studios to polish everything up, Davis and Southern Star were ready to find an outlet to get this music to the public. Enter Kill Rock Stars music label. Davis had recorded a song with Mary Lou Lord for an Elliot Smith tribute album the label released. She also worked with Chris Funk to record another song featured in a Dungeons and Dragons release on the Kill Rock Stars label. 

From there, Davis muses, things lined up perfectly, “After that, I thought it only seemed natural they might want to put out an album with me. I asked Chris and Mary Lou to put in a good word. After reaching out and having a great conversation with Slim Moon, they agreed put out my record. It’s been such a cool experience working with Kill Rock Stars. They care about the artist and trust your vision. When we were picking out what singles to add, they had their thoughts and I had mine. They trusted me enough to let me pick. I’m so excited about that. I’m so grateful that I aligned myself with a label so willing to work with the artist.” 

The country soaked openers “Cinderella” and “Home in the Country” are perfect examples of Davis and Southern Star working as a team to maximize the creative output of each song on the album. “Cinderella is one Alex wrote. It was different before I took it.” Davis remembers.  “I heard him playing it at a campfire at his family’s cottage. I thought it was so gorgeous. I asked him if I could please have the song. He said, ‘Sure, I don’t know about the chorus. Do what you want.’ I wrote a new chorus and rearranged the song to make it what you hear today.” 

For Davis, transitioning from sole song writer to co-writing with others took some time, but has paid off significantly. “I was so against co-writing when I was younger. I thought I should be writing all the songs myself because that’s what a true songwriter would do. Finally, I realized how wrong I was and how I love co-writing. When you get stuck, bringing the song to someone you trust makes all the difference.” 

She continues, “This band, we’re all songwriters and we all contributed songs to this album. There’s tremendous diversity in the makeup of the band. I’m classically trained on the harp. Cian and Alex are multi instrumentalists who studied jazz.  Kurt studied Indian classic music in college. Shane is a multi instrumentalist with a deep knowledge of music. When you look at all our diversity, it only makes sense that the music we make will be equally diverse. We all have different inspirations and put that in the album.”   

As Davis explains, “The rest of the album is full of contributions from everyone involved. Cian is a prolific songwriter. He has hundreds of songs. Not many have been released. I heard him play “Saturday Morning” and “Home in the Country” before and loved them so much. I asked if I could record them for the album. Cian and Shane wrote “Far From You” a long time ago. I added the melody and outro at the end. “Don’t Stop Now,” Cian wrote the words, and I wrote the music. Our manager asked us to write this song for a documentary. It wasn’t picked. I don’t care because we got to record it for the album. It has a great feel and certain tone the rest of the album doesn’t touch on” 

Where “And Southern Star” stands out the most is the familiarity and tightness each of these “new” songs have. Davis and crew have been playing them on the road for a while. She notes how that familiarity entering the recording studio made the final output so much sweeter. “The main difference is we’ve been playing these songs for years. We knew how we wanted them to sound before we went in the studio. With Delivery, we had about half the songs arranged and ready to go. The other half we hadn’t played live yet and didn’t know how we want them to sound. I did this on purpose because I was curious to see where John Congleton would help us take the songs. Alex, Shane and I went in blind with Delivery, which was cool, I’m not against that method. I like how the album turned out and it’s now this moment forever captured in time. We play these songs completely different these days, the live versions have grown with us.” 

The improvisation on the road and instrumental sections on the album are a direct result of Davis wandering into the Grateful Dead and jam band world. “I’ve always been a fan of the Grateful Dead’s music. I hadn’t learned it before I started playing with Bob. Learning that music opened a whole new door for me. As a classical harpist, that’s something I didn’t learn in school. Playing with Bob in 2018 was the first time I’ve ever improvised a solo. I was so nervous. Bob, Don Was and Jay Lane were so positive and encouraging. It made me realize the endless opportunities for the harp.”

w. Phil Lesh and Friends Stern Grove 2022

Davis adds, “That community has been amazing. They took in my band immediately. It’s great to have an outlet for fans to find my original music. People will say I saw you playing with Bob, or the Relix session. From that, I discovered your original music and was blown away. The other great thing about that community is they are fans for life. They are super dedicated and will come out to every show. We’ve been improvising and stretching out songs. Trying to make each show as different as possible so people will get a unique show each night. Because of my band’s background and love of jazz and the Grateful Dead, it was an easy transition to more improvisation. I have Bob and so many others to thank for that.”

Davis wraps up by weighing in on the unplanned trail she and her band took to make this album and her one simple goal for everyone’s efforts. “I wanted this album to have the spirit of a live record. I wanted it to feel like a band. Not a studio record full of different session musicians. I wanted it to be cohesive even though the songs are different. Producing on our own was a decision we made. We wanted to make it sound how we wanted it to sound. It was also out of necessity. I’m so happy with the outcome and so proud of us for doing it ourselves. I’d love to get us out of my mini van, we’ve been touring in that van for 10 years. We don’t have a crew, a sound engineer, or any of those things. My goal is to get our music out to as many people as possible and hopefully those people will connect with it.”

Mikaela Davis “And Southern Star” Kill Rock Stars Records 2023 

Feature Photo: Wyndham Garnett

Circles Around the Sun Finally Speaking the Same “Language” Since Neal Casal’s Passing: Part 2 

June 2, 2023
Marty Halpern

Circles Around the Sun’s (CATS) fourth album “Language” officially completes the changing of the guard on guitar for the band. John Lee Shannon has cemented himself as the replacement for CATS founder Neal Casal giving the band a consistent sound and direction after eight years of chaos and uncertainty that would have sunk any project, musical or otherwise. 

Shannon sparkles as he continues the cosmic disco groove the band created in their 2020 self-titled release. CATS initially turned to jam band heavyweights Eric Krasno and then Scott Metzger to fill in for Casal after his passing in 2019. Both musicians left their unique stamp on the band’s sound in their brief time and kept CATS moving forward. With two seemingly ideal replacements for Casal, scheduling and an unprecedented global pandemic created two immovable roadblocks that would end both musicians’ journey before they had a chance to get started. 

Those are just two roadblocks that have caused CATS to stop and start multiple times since their formation in 2015. Ironically, after all the roadblocks, wrong turns, or dead ends, Shannon was Casal’s choice to replace him from the start. According to keyboardist Adam MacDougall, Casal let it be known he wanted Shannon as his replacement in a note he left for the band before his passing.  

In Part 2 of Slide&Banjo’s in depth interview with MacDougall, he reflects on the early days of CATS with Casal and how they were able to trampoline into the middle of the jam band universe. “It’s amazing considering we didn’t tour much for most of our career. Neal and I were in Chris Robinson Brotherhood and that band stayed on the road a lot. We didn’t have time to tour with CATS. We were super lucky that hundreds of thousands of people were listening to the Fare Thee Well shows. We had a huge leg up and the band couldn’t have existed without that. We could tour nationally without having to make a name for ourselves. We could get a couple of hundred people into a club in the middle of the country without any real legwork. We had been a band for two years before we played ten shows. It wasn’t until right before Neal passed, we started taking it seriously.” 

MacDougall continues, “The beginning was literally a bunch of guys who had never played together in a room trying to find a couple of chord changes we can bop around on for the next 15 minutes. We never did that again. The second record was more composed. We had a lot of ideas from touring after the first record. We were coming up with lots of stuff from soundchecks. A lot of the jams from the first record were turning into things. We were like this jam section is totally new. It’s not on the first record. We can make a new song out of this. That’s how the second record happened.” 

As the band buckled down and hit the road, their future was literally traveling in the same van. “That’s how we met John.” MacDougall remembers. “That’s why it took me a while to see how he can do what he’s doing in CATS. John and (current Grateful Shred guitarist) Zeph Ohora came on tour with us. I had only known John playing acoustic. They opened for CATS. After every show he would sit there and play this nylon string guitar for hours. Neal would sit there and drool on that shit he couldn’t do.” 

With two albums and several tours of their trippy take on the Grateful Dead, CATS met up with drummer Joe Russo in the studio. The resulting 2019 EP “Circles Around the Sun Meets Joe Russo” (Royal Potato Family) was a dramatic departure from the extended spacy jams the band had been creating. Instead, the improvised studio session created a tight, super fast paced sound the band had never approached before. It was an eye opener. CATS was way more than a one trick pony only capable of trippy “Interludes for the Dead.”  

MacDougall points directly at Russo for getting the most out of everyone during those sessions. “That was all Russo. We were trying to get it going in the studio. Nothing was happening and it was lame. We were listening to stuff in the control room. Russo gets up and goes “C’mon guys, fuck this shit.” He riled us up. “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.” And that’s when it happened. He got frustrated with us being, is this cool or is that cool. He was like, “Fuck you guys, let’s go play.” He was so aggressive about playing, we all fell right in. He literally yelled at us and all the stuff we used on the record happened after that.”

Casal passed in August 2019 at the same time this EP was released. Unfortunately causing one of CATS best musical efforts to go unnoticed as the music world mourned the loss of one of its most well respected ambassadors.  

If not for a note Casal left for the band expressing his desire for CATS to continue, things would have shut down right here. The band that was never meant to be a band had a good run. They created their own genre of music. Rode its wave for a bit.  Now they could go back to their pre-CATS musical ventures.  But Neal’s instructions were clear, and MacDougall, Dan Horne, and Mark Levy were set on finding a replacement and fulfilling one of Casal’s last wishes. 

The trio first turned to Eric Krasno to cover the tour dates they had on the books. As the calendar moved into 2020, Scott Metzger took over on guitar. CATS third life set out on a winter tour filled with great music and a great atmosphere each night. With Metzger on board, the founding members were sure they had found Casal’s replacement. They could fulfill his wish and keep CATS rolling. 

Just when life looked like easy street for the revamped band, Covid stepped in, and the world along with CATS latest version shut down. It wasn’t lost on MacDougall at that time how the band’s sound was constantly changing as frequently as the lineup. “The band is completely different depending on who the guitar player is. As tragic as the Neal departure is, it’s an interesting experiment to see what happens to three players of a four-piece band when you keep interchanging the fourth member. We were a completely different band when we played with Eric Krasno. We did a couple of tours with him. Then we got Metzger, and it was a completely different band with Metzger than we were with Neal or Kras. The Metzger thing was cool. It was New Yorkey and hip and out there. It was way more intelligent. It felt like we were in a snazzy sports car with Metzger. It was super fun to play with him.” 

While the world lived in social distance mode, the Scott Metzger version of the band hit the studio in New York. The first time without their founder and leader Casal.  MacDougall recalls these sessions that created enough material for an album but has never seen the light of day. “We had Metzger in for a New York session. He’s hot at New York sessions. It was great stuff. We had a day in the studio. Scott was like, “Cool. I’ll do all my overdubs.” He’d do one and was like “Next song, let’s go. Next song.” I was like, I just want to roll a joint and take a break. He was “No, next. Let’s go.” It was really cool. We had started a record with him. A bunch of ideas we came up with him.  We got together for a couple of days and just played. We came up with riffs and motifs. Then we got together again later in the same place and recorded some basics. It was way looser obviously than what we just released. The band at that point was looking to do something more like the first record which was literally jamming in the room. Then going back and doing some overdubs. Sadly, the scheduling thing didn’t work out. JRAD took up too much of Scott’s time. When Scott left, we had to ditch things. We were trying to do something more open and rawer with Scott. So somewhere out there are some cool recordings.” 

With Metzger no longer available, CATS turned to Shannon, the same guy who amazed Casal in the tour van years earlier to take the helm at guitar. The results instantly justified Casal’s faith in his protégé. The band’s cosmic disco sound is Shannon’s sweet spot. This was obvious when CATS fourth life toured to support 2020’s “Circles Around the Sun.” Shannon cannonballed into the CATS pool meshing perfectly with the band and the disco sound they were focused on.  

MacDougall says Shannon’s passion has opened his own ears and created several musical roads he wants to explore. “John has a huge fascination with disco. I only scratch the surface on it. He gets deep in that shit. I’ve been getting more obsessed with percussion. We played all our own percussion on the record. I’d love to add a percussionist to the band.” He adds, “With Metzger, that version of CATS may appeal to people who like Bill Frissell. That’s gone. We’re embracing that disco sound and I’m really into that. I’m coming back to the stuff I did when I was a kid in high school. I wanted to be in a band like Funkadelic. I wanted to make people dance all night and have fun doing it. So, I’m back to it after a 30-year run of trying all kinds of other things. Just trying to get people in a club to dance.”    

As the latest version of CATS ventures into a world without Casal’s musical contributions, his presence in the band is everlasting. “Neal is always on my mind.” MacDougall reflects. “We’re still using his gear. We have his pedals and amps. It’s there. John and Neal were real buddies. He really looked up to John immensely. He was producing records John was playing on and his greatness was tripping him out.”  

MacDougall has a clear vision for the future. “My dream with CATS, is the same I had with Neal. I really thought it would happen and hope it still does. We opened for Greensky Bluegrass in 2017 or ‘18. We got to play the Beacon in New York. I’m from New York and went to high school there. The Beacon is one of my spots. It’s beautiful and sounds good. This was a time when CATS had a bunch of wind under our sails. It was about a year before Neal passed. I was sitting there thinking we should be headlining this place, not opening. I think we were in a place where that could happen in a couple of years. Then everything crumbled. It would be a dream to headline that place.” 

He concludes, “The rhythm stuff John brings in is a big move for me. I like the same stuff. Focusing on the rhythm not the leads. It’s hard to do that with a band with no vocals. We’d love to see more people come out. In a perfect world, it would be like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” A place where people feel comfortable wearing weird shit. Doing whatever the fuck they want. It’s a dance. Take whatever you want to take. Wear whatever you want to wear. Hang out with who you want to hang out with and boogie. There are no heavy themes. Nothing political. Get sparkly. Have a good time. No shame. No guilt. That’s us.” 

Circles Around the Sun Finally Speaking the Same “Language” Since Neal Casal’s Passing: Part 1 

May 18, 2023
Marty Halpern

It’s hard to imagine there’s a band that’s had the odds of success stacked against them more than Circles Around the Sun (CATS). They’ve just released their fourth studio album “Language,” the first with John Lee Shannon on guitar. He’s the fourth guitarist in eight years for CATS (Neal Casal, Eric Krasno, Scott Metzger). A band that was never supposed to be a band. A band that’s fought through death, disease, and much more to keep late founder Neal Casal’s project alive.   

With a multitude of train wrecks behind them, “Language” sets the path the band wants to take CATS’s unique sound. A different direction than their 2015 debut “Interludes for the Dead.” A direction keyboardist Adam MacDougall says would have been completely different if not for the covid pandemic.  

MacDougall told Slide&Banjo before the band went into the studio to expect CATS’s take on the Pink Floyd sound in this release. He was obsessed with Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright at the time. He and the band came through on that promise just as CATS fans would expect. They didn’t re-create the Pink Floyd sound. They created CATS unique take on the Pink Floyd sound. Just as they did with the Grateful Dead sound which catapulted them into the jam band stratosphere. 

The original CATS synth driven sound is still there. Along with their homage to Pink Floyd, “Language” continues the cosmic disco dialogue the band started in their 2020 self-titled LP. 

MacDougall visited with Slide&Banjo to break down how the band created “Language.” He also took time to reflect on the many years he spent with Casal. Sharing both of their still unfulfilled dreams for the band. He begins with his take on finally getting the Pink Floyd sound that’s been ingrained in his deepest musical soul onto a record. “Floyd has been a huge influence. I love Richard Wright’s keyboard, his piano and organ playing. Between him and Bernie Worrell from Funkadelic, that’s why I wanted to get a Hammond organ. Floyd has a certain sonic presence. There are certain sounds where people instantly go “That’s Pink Floyd.” They’re a band that created its own vocabulary. It’s not hard to copy Floyd. It is hard to do it and not get busted.” 

CATS certainly doesn’t get busted copying Floyd with the first two tracks on “Language,” “Third Sunrise Over Gliese” and “The Singularity.” Both songs are dripping with the “Pink Floyd vibe” MacDougall mentioned. Yet, they stay completely within that unique musical space the band owns.   

“Gliese” was one of MacDougall’s songs. He credits Shannon for finding the “mad seagull on acid” sound that sets its mood, adding, “I’ve always wanted to do that rolling field. The triplet thing Floyd used to do using delay pedals. That gave it the rolling effect. You must play in time for every delay, which is fun and sounds very progressive. People sometimes don’t like it when you bring in a song that’s all done in your head. It’s no fun for anyone else. It’s like, play this. I was nervous because it was in my head and there’s a specific way to technically get it out. Everyone was into it, which made me happy, and we built it from the ground up. All my friends who I grew up with taking acid and listening to Pink Floyd. This one’s for them. I know when my friends hear that, they’ll know exactly where it came from.” 

“The Singularity” continues CATS journey into deep space. With a repeated trippy “poof” beat throughout, the song would be the perfect background music for a Super Mario Brothers video game. Something MacDougall says isn’t too far off from its original intention. “I really love the idea of having crazy psychedelic music in the background while you’re gaming. This song is about computer time, so it makes sense to have the video game feel.” 

“Outer Boroughs” takes the groove back to the early “Let It Wander” days. There are no Pink Floyd musings. Just the laid back, patented CATS synth and Mark Levy drum sound with a Shannon guitar solo that cracks open another road for exploration. For MacDougall, there’s a simple reason behind his easily identifiable synthesized musical presence, “I’m really stubborn. I’ve been playing the same rig since, oh wow I was 14 or 15. I’m 49 soon so you do the math. I fell in love with the Moog, clavinet, and the Hammond (which we only used on the first CATS album). My sound won’t work with a lot of music. If people want what I do that’s great. I can do a bunch of other stuff, but if you see me doing Circles stuff, you’re probably not going to call me for a singer/songwriter record.”  

Shannon’s contribution “Away Team,” is a complete theme shift from the previous three songs. Bassist Dan Horne lays down a funky 70’s groove while the rest of the band dances all around it. The band has been adding extra percussion into the mix to complement Horne’s bass adventures. Add in Shannon’s technical and percussive Niles Rodgers like disco grooves and the die has been cast for the CATS cosmic disco sound.  

Shannon’s immediate impact on the band is not lost on MacDougall, “He has a percussive way to play the rhythm guitar. It’s a color this band has never had. There’s a lot of really great rhythm guitar that lends itself to that disco sound. He’s great at it. “Away Team” came out of John’s head. It’s a great example of someone coming in and immediately bringing something special.” 

He continues, “It was surprisingly easy with John. He’s by far the best player in the band. As far as traditional knowledge. I’m ham fisted and can fake a bunch of stuff. John takes the time to learn how to ‘really’ play the stuff. In CATS he’s not even scratching the surface. That stuff takes real dedication and practice with a metronome. It’s no joke. He has a bunch of that we’re not even using in CATS.” 

The album wraps up with two more fully disco flavored jams “Wobble” and “Language.” Levy’s drumming will illicit clear visions of disco balls and platform shoes. MacDougall ventures into all sorts of funky synth avenues that mix perfectly with Shannon’s guitar to create a hypnotic beat that keeps you fully immersed in the music. The band is joined by Mikela Davis who offers some great harp additions into the album closer “Language.” Davis has been in the recording studio with CATS and MacDougall says an EP of those sessions is very possible. 

With no Casal for the first time on a CATS release, “Language” is a giant leap for the band. A testament to the resilience of MacDougall, Horne, and Levy to keep things going despite every effort from the world to knock them off course.  Shannon has found his sound and space in the mix. It’s easy to see why Casal was completely floored by his musical abilities.  

The last two albums have put MacDougall to the test in the recording studio. The previous album was 70% complete when Casal passed leaving a big hole for him to fill in. He reflects, “The last time I had to come up with a bunch of melodies. It ended up being really cool. This release is an extension of that, except we have John. We have more guitar. Neal suggested we use John to finish the last record. I thought I don’t want anyone listening to this record and wondering who’s who. I want everyone to know this is Neal’s last record. It was the last thing he recorded. I didn’t want to put anyone else on it. I got a cool vocabulary doing the last record. That’s part of the sound that made it on the new record. It was the same approach.”  

In Part 2, despite “Language” being the first Casal-less CATS release, this isn’t the first time they’ve recorded in the studio without him. There are sessions (and enough music for an album) with another guitarist and a completely different sound than the cosmic-disco they’ve moved to recently. MacDougall reveals the musical direction CATS was headed before another unforeseen calamity permanently shifted that path. He also looks back at the band’s supremely overlooked EP “Circles Around the Sun Meets Joe Russo,” and shares tales of his years on the road with Casal including both of their goals for CATS. A finish line that is continually getting closer and closer. Stay tuned. 

Circles Around the Sun “Language” Calabro Music Media MRI Associated

Jason Crosby Works His Way from Sideman to Main Man 

March 10, 2023
Marty Halpern


The list of musicians Jason Crosby has worked with is a who’s who of multiple genres of music. He tackled pop music with Jenny Lewis. Rocked with Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and Pete Seeger. He’s a mainstay in the Jam band world performing/recording countless times with Jimmy Herring, Oteil Burbridge and the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir and Phil Lesh.  

With a perpetually packed schedule, Crosby rarely gets the time to release a solo record. His latest release “Gilder” is an homage to the same musicians he’s stood side by side with for years.  

“Gilder” is simple. It’s Crosby on piano for eleven songs. There’s one original, one from his late brother Chris who the album is dedicated to. The rest are covers of the wide variety of musicians he’s been performing with his entire career. spoke with Crosby about his latest release and the incredible road he’s traveled as a sideman for music’s elite. He begins with a unique source of inspiration for “Gilder.” 

“One place to point is Neal Casal. When he passed, Gary Waldman, his manager and my good friend, told me they were thinking about making a tribute album. Gary asked if I’d cover one of Neal’s songs. We decided I would play a solo piano version of “Pray Me Home.” I recorded it on my voice memo and sent it to Gary. He texted me back saying this is exactly what I want you to do.” 

Crosby, who tours with Jackson Browne continues, “I played it for some of Jackson’s band mates. They said they’d listen to a whole record of music like this. Separate from that, Dave Schools (Widespread Panic) and Blue Rose’s Joe Poletto made the same comment. It was like if all these people from different places were saying the same thing. It’s probably a good idea to explore.  

I decided, why don’t I pay tribute to all the artists I’ve worked with. I played one of Jenny Lewis’s songs “Taffy.” I was just sitting at my house at the grand piano, and I played it into my voice memos and texted it to her. Her response was so heartwarming. She was touched and loved it. Her reply inspired me to continue doing it.” 

From there, Crosby says the momentum kept growing, “Based on the positive feedback, I kept going. That was how I did it. I’d record one, send it to the artist and if I got their approval I’d move on. Honestly, the process of creating it was almost as rewarding as the album coming out. Those artists were the reason I did it and it was a very cool process.”   

What stands out most in “Gilder” is Crosby’s ability to pinpoint the heart of each song and translate it perfectly through his grand piano. He says finding the proper interpretation took some wrangling. “I didn’t write anything out. I chose tunes I thought I had inside me and I knew pretty well. I’d sit down and start playing it from my knowledge of the song. Then I would start to mess with it. How can I reharmonize it. How can I alter the melody or the arrangements. What will make it interesting and exciting for the format of solo piano. When you’re playing the solo piano version of a song where the lyrics are the key element and you don’t have that, you have to take it to different places to keep it musically interesting.” 

The album was recorded in two sessions and features Crosby’s take on Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Lotus on Irish Streams,” Browne’s “Color of the Sun,” “Unbroken Chain” from the Grateful Dead along with “Taffy” and his brother Chris’s “Headed Down to the Library.” That’s just the first session.  

The second includes James Taylor’s “Wandering,” Oteil Burbridge’s “Water in the Desert,” Father John Misty’s “Ballad of a Dying Man,” Pete Seeger’s “Take it from Dr. King,” Mother Hips “Seward Son” and Crosby’s “Almost Thursday.” A voyage all over the musical map.  

Covering so many genres with so many different musicians gives Crosby pause to avoid a Spinal Tap moment, He begins, “I love every genre I’ve been employed to play. They are very different and sometimes I have to remember what scene I’m departing and which one I’m entering. When I play with Jenny Lewis, I love her. That music requires a different head space than playing with Jimmy Herring.” 

“The same going back and forth with Phil and Jackson.” Crosby posits, “Phil loves a dixie land style of improv with multiple solos going on at the same time. With Jackson it’s very much the opposite. Every part has its place. Every note has its own formula. I’ll know that and still slip up at times. Phil will give me that look like play more. Or I’ll think I’m playing sparse enough and Jackson will look and be like can you play a few less licks on that one. I love all of it and I’ve learned so much.” 

Crosby adds, “The lucky part of my journey is I learned how to play the blues on the B.B. King tour with Susan Tedeschi in 2000. I’d play with the Blind Boys of Alabama and Robert Randolph and learned how to be in the gospel style. Playing with Jenny Lewis and Jackson was how I learned the Los Angeles pop singer sound. For me it’s a music education.”   

Like numerous East coast musicians, Crosby headed west for the exploding San Francisco music scene in 2013. Thanks to a serendipitous moment with God Street Wine, he hasn’t left. “A lot of people were taking notice and migrating there. TRI (Bob Weir’s studio) was in full force. Terrapin Crossroads (Phil Lesh’s club) was opening. Sweetwater had just been renovated.  On God Street Wine’s 20th anniversary, they did a broadcast from TRI. Matt Busch their manager and manager of Bob Weir, wanted to turn them on to Bob and Phil. The band brought their original lineup. I joined as a special sixth man.” 

He muses, “The moment that made the shift to California happen was a gig in Terrapin. There was only one keyboard at the bar that was in use. I couldn’t play keys but had my violin. Phil was sitting next to Matt and was like who the hell is that guy playing the violin. Phil asked me for my info, hit me up and invited me to play with him at the Wellmont.” 

After a couple of sit ins with Weir, Crosby says his California fate was sealed. “Matt kept pushing me up. He said Bobby had a cancellation for his Weir Here broadcast. I was staying with Shanna Morrison (Van’s daughter) and brought her. Bob loved it and asked if I’d come back and play again next week. When he didn’t call the next week, I was like oh shit.” 

“The next week, a couple of hours before the show he called and said what do think of coming by today. I was like hell yeah. At that one, I said I was thinking about moving here. Bob said if you do you can keep playing. It was crazy to have two principals of the Grateful Dead asking me to play with them. I knew I’d have to be in San Francisco to make it work so I packed up and moved. Everything that’s happened in the last 10 plus years is due to that.” 

Crosby tells he’s already completed a second volume of tributes which includes covers of Weir, Herring, Tim Bluhm and will have a few unique elements “Gilder” did not.  

After a career of musical highlights only a select few achieve, Crosby admits sometimes he has to step back and take it all in, “It’s priceless. I still get the fanboy when my phone buzzes and it says James Taylor text message or Jackson Browne text message. Or if it’s a call from Phil Lesh. I still get the shiver like oh my god this is my life. These are my peers and friends. It’s humbling.   

If I’m playing with Oteil, someone I have a history with back to the 90’s. To see where we’re at now. He’s been in the Allman Brothers and Dead and Company since then. To see his progression and see his journey along side him, it brings a sense of accomplishment and fulfilling emotions. Then there’s the surreal side. My favorite Dead stuff was the 70’s Blues for Allah era. When I’m playing that with Phil and Bob and we hit a certain chord or passage that brings me back to my childhood, it’s literally hair raising.” 

Crosby concludes, “The same thing goes when James Taylor was on the Jackson tour. James played with us every night. I was playing Jackson’s piano with James in between Jackson and myself. I was like how did this happen? In the moment I try not to think about it because I don’t want to lose focus and get emotionally overwhelmed. 

A lot of times it’s post show reflection or even years later reflection on some things. When I would play with John McLaughlin, I’d walk to Jimmy Herring during the bows. I’d give him a hug and say can you believe we get to do this? And get paid to do so. Musicians want to play. When you play in those prime situations, that’s why you do it. That’s why you spend 50 nights straight in a hotel. Or 13 hour flights. I earn my money the other 22 hours a day I’m not playing.” 

Jason Crosby “Gilder” 2022 Blue Rose Records 

Photos William Coupon and Jason Crosby

Mike Dillon Can’t Slow Down

February 17, 2023
Marty Halpern

Percussionist Mike Dillon is blessed with an insatiable amount of energy and creativity – his musical wheels stay in overdrive and his output as of late is in a league of its own. One of his latest projects, Mike Dillon and Punkadelick, with pianist/keyboardist Brian Haas (Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey) and drummer Nikki Glaspie, has released its debut album “Inflorescence.”   

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Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams Forever Synonymous

February 2, 2023
Marty Halpern

Larry Campbell is music royalty. He’s the musician’s musician. The guy those in the know want at their side in the recording studio or on stage. Campbell’s guitar, mandolin, pedal steel, violin, and more have left a permanent dent in multiple genres of music. Campbell’s list of credits include recording, producing or touring with the best of the best… Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Jack Casady, Jorma Kaukonen, Emmylou Harris, Phil Lesh, Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne and on and on.  

If that list isn’t exclusive enough, Campbell’s resume includes touring and recording with Bob Dylan from 1997-2004. Amazingly, that was immediately followed as Levon Helm’s (The Band) right-hand man until Helm’s death in 2012. Campbell was the musical director of the legendary Levon Helm Woodstock rambles.  

It’s not cliché to say Campbell has seen it all and done it all musically. It’s a fact. His phone constantly rings with requests from musician after musician to record and tour. These days, there’s one, and only one musician Campbell has at the top of his list to make music with, his wife Teresa Williams.  

Williams, who has been married to Campbell for over 30 years is one of the finest vocalists around. Her voice is the perfect blend of the musicians born near where she was raised in West Tennessee… Loretta Lynn, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, and June Carter Cash. Like her husband, Williams has a long and impressive list of credits as well. She was an integral part of Levon’s rambles. Her vocals along with Helm’s daughter Amy continually provided plenty of energy to power the 200 seat barn. 

With a musical lifetime of countless miles and memories behind them, Campbell and Williams have set their focus on releasing their own music. 2015’s self titled debut “Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams” and 2017’s “Contraband Love” are shining examples of the music they’ve been creating their entire careers. Polished, precise, silky smooth with an effortless flow and ease.  

The latest release and first headlining live album for Campbell and Williams is “Live at Levon’s!” The album was recorded at Levon’s barn, home of the rambles and infinite music lore. It’s a collection of their original songs mixed with several brilliant covers.  The duo travel the southern country roads with stops at Loretta Lynn’s “Success,” Johnny Cash’s “Big River,” and Bill Monroe’s “Old Dangerfield.” Williams’s vocals throughout, whether solo or with Campbell are as heartfelt as the love you can hear in their voices when they discuss traveling one road together personally and professionally. 

SlideandBanjo sat down with Williams and Campbell for an extensive interview. The duo discussed a wide variety of topics from their latest release, focus moving forward, Larry’s near fatal bout with Covid, and inside stories about rock and roll’s biggest legends. The pair begin by discussing how this live album found its way to see the light of day.  

Larry- It was originally suggested by our manager. We were looking towards our next studio album. We weren’t quite prepared to get a full album done. We needed to get in and do something, so he mentioned let’s do a live album as a placeholder until we get the studio album done. We thought that was a great idea because it would allow us to do some songs we don’t have on our other records. Stuff we would do only for this particular project. 

Teresa- Its stuff people ask for that we put in our sets that doesn’t make it on our studio records. People always would ask, and we’d be like no, we don’t have that recorded. It was a no brainer really.  

Larry- The other no brainer part is where should we do this.  

Slideandbanjo- That was my next question. Yes. That might be the biggest no brainer in the history of music.  

Larry- (laughs) And we all instantly agreed it had to be at Levon’s because of our history there and the beauty of the room.  

Slideandbanjo- Did everyone know going into these shows it was being specifically done to be released as a live record? 

Teresa- Oh yeah. We knew going in and the audience was warned we may have to stop and start. I don’t think we had to do hardly any of that. They were in on it. I hate it some of the applause stuff got sanitized. 

Larry- It was a microphone problem.  

Slideandbanjo- That’s interesting. There really isn’t a lot of the audience in the mix except at the end of the songs. I was going to ask if that was intentional.  

Larry- You’re right. There were some technical issues with the microphones for the audience. 

Teresa- That part was disappointing because our audience was there, loud and proud. 

Slideandbanjo- The benefit you get is one of the cleanest sounding live albums out there. It’s a beautiful, pristine recording. It’s as clear as a studio release.  

Larry- We are all in with how it sounds. Justin Gulp is a whiz with mixing. The mics that were pointed at the audience failed. Justin took all the tracks from those two nights in the studio and did his magic. He’s a total whiz. 

Slideandbanjo- The setlist is a mix of covers, songs you have released, and songs you haven’t released. How did you determine which songs you wanted to include? 

Larry- We talked about it. Teresa and I suggested tunes back and forth. We needed to know what we were doing when we went in there. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity for off the cuff stuff. 

Teresa- There were more songs in the show that we used, and they were selected for sheer fun like “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.” Like me doing more eclectic stuff such as “Success.” Which I confess I don’t think is my best performance. But I’m still glad it’s on there. I’ve always loved that song. We did it many years ago and it was magical. With Loretta Lynn’s passing, it’s another reason that one is included.  

Slideandbanjo- This album was recorded in 2019 and because of the delay from Covid is finally being released. Quite a bit has happened since this was recorded, including Larry having a nearly fatal fight with Covid right at the beginning. 

Teresa- It feels like five lifetimes ago when this whole project began to where we stand now. Larry had gotten so sick from Covid at the beginning of the pandemic. When I got the news his fever had broken, I can’t express the elation of him getting through that and me being able to let everyone know. The next day, it was a Sunday and I just crashed. The phrase that kept going through my mind was we have truly walked through the valley of the shadow of death here. This whole project feels special. It feels like a lifetime ago. I’m glad we have it.  

Larry- The album was supposed to be released in the spring of 2020. We couldn’t tour and it seemed frivolous to put it out there without being able to back it up. Then Teresa had to spend most of the covid part with her dad in Tennessee. He was on his off ramp with Alzheimer’s. 

Teresa- I had the car ready to go the next morning to Tennessee because of my father. We were at the point where my mother had to have help. It was great we were off the road so I could be here for family, which is a priority for me. When I got the word Larry tested positive. I said instead of going to Tennessee, I’d go to see him in person. The doctor said no way you’re getting near Larry because you’ll get it. Because you’ve been near him, you have to quarantine. Larry had to sign papers he wouldn’t let anyone in the house. They didn’t bring him any medical equipment, nothing but paperwork. We were on a 3-way call, and I was like he’s so sick he’s not capable of listening to you right now. It was so absurd. I stayed away and let the nurses call me every day. I decided one of us needs to be left standing. I was worried he was going to die in the house with nobody there.  

Slideandbanjo- If you look at the totality of the music you’ve been a part of for decades, most of it falls under another musician’s umbrella. Larry, you played with Bob Dylan and Levon Helm for years. It seems like the past few years you have both made a conscious decision to have more Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams specific releases. Is this your current focus musically? 

Larry- Yes. In a word, that’s it.  

Teresa- Let me jump in here. I’ve said to Larry you could be doing luxury tours 24/7. Larry’s dream list of musicians constantly calls him up to tour or play on their record. I’m like your bags could be sitting in your hotel room. You wouldn’t have to touch a piece of gear except to play. He could be living the good life. Why are you doing this with me? He stresses he needs this level of creativity. So, Yee ha, I get to be a part of that.  

Larry- I have to say I’ve played with some wonderful people in my life. I’ve had some of the greatest gigs I could have imagined. The thing Teresa and I do. When we started playing together with Levon, that was the apex for both of us as far as satisfaction from a musical experience. Regardless of all the greats I worked with before. The thing we had with Levon was making music for the right reasons.  Just for the joy of doing it. We were all throwing in and participating. It was a communal thing. Out of that grew this thing Teresa and I do together. We were able to hohn it in that environment. After we lost Levon, the only thing I can think of that brought me that level of satisfaction and complete musical experience is this thing Teresa and I do together. We own it. It’s our thing. I want to be with her. I want to sing with her. I want to hear her voice. It’s a completely personal and musical experience. At this point in our lives, I could be out there touring with somebody. Then I’d be away from her and be playing someone else’s music. We’ve done that. If I could do nothing else but Larry and Teresa that’s what I’d do. I’m hoping we can get to a point where everything else I do is only because it would be fun to do it.  

Slideandbanjo- These days, you don’t hear the name Larry Campbell without it being followed with and Teresa Williams. You two are synonymous.  

Teresa- (laughs) I’m sorry Larry. 

Larry- That’s music to my ears. 

Slideandbanjo- Nobody said which half is better. 

Larry- Seriously. That’s just the way I want it to be. The work we did with Phil Lesh, Little Feat, Jorma Kaukonen and others grew out of their awareness of us and what we did with Levon.  

Teresa- The way I got involved in the Levon thing is his daughter Amy saw Larry and myself sit in with a couple of her bandmates. There was a little gig in a hole in the wall bar in the east village. This was just after Larry stopped playing with Dylan and I had finished my contract with the Carter family play I was doing. Those things ended at the same time, and we went down for giggles and did a few songs with them. Amy saw us there. Levon and Larry had done that Dixie Hummingbirds record in 2003 and they had reconnected from the Lonestar days. Amy said she and Levon drove from Arkansas to Woodstock, all the way there and all the way back listening to that Diamond Jubilation album. Next thing you know they’re calling Larry to produce his record or whatever they were working on at the barn. Then she called me to come up and help.  

Larry- Things really started to grow from there. With all the projects, Phil Lesh, Little Feat, or whoever. They all began thinking of us as a unit. They knew if they were getting Larry, they were also getting Teresa. We had such a great chemistry with all of them. How cool is that for us to be playing with these guys we love and respect. And we get to do it together. What more can you ask for?  

Slideandbanjo- If you look at Phil and Friends, who you’ve both played countless times with, that is a direct continuation of Levon’s rambles. An always rotating group of musicians gathering to play the music they love. If you look at the numerous one-off groups ending with “and friends” playing at festivals throughout the year, that all traces back to Levon’s rambles that you were the musical director for. Can you appreciate the amount of music that exists in the world because of you, Levon and the rambles? 

Teresa- When we played with Jackson Browne, he did the show like it was a ramble. A lot of the young folks who have moved to Woodstock from wherever was because they went to a ramble. Levon totally revived it, not that it ever died. Music that put fresh blood and a lot of serious people in the Woodstock area. I think Levon is somewhere happy at the ripples his music created.  

Slideandbanjo- But you had the golden ticket. An invite to sit in on a ramble was a clear sign for a musician they were doing something very right. You were creating music the musicians respected.  

Larry- It was so much about everybody in it together. It was such a generous atmosphere. Whoever was guesting that week insisted we all played together. Oh god, those experiences were legendary. 

Slideandbanjo- We discussed the obvious choice of recording this album at Levon’s barn. How much of a home field advantage is it for the two of you to play there? It must feel like playing in a room at your home? 

Teresa- It’s really, really, warm.  

Larry- Even if it was the first time we played in that room. There’s an overwhelming vibe there. There’s something indescribable in the air when you walk in there that says this is where we’re supposed to be. Having had all those years of wonderful times in there musically and personally. Teresa and I and Levon and his wife Sandy would sit by the fire on Sunday nights. It’s like a church. That’s what it is. For the audience and the performers, it’s a monumental place. 

Teresa- It really reminded me of the old church revivals when I was little. I remember the revivals where there was no air conditioning, and the windows and doors were open. That’s how it was at the barn with the lights spilling out. There were so many people there you were glad to be on the outside if you couldn’t get in. I’ve written and said this many times. It really reminded me of those old church revivals.  

Slideandbanjo- Before we get back to the live album, what are you guys currently working on? I’d assume a studio album is at the top of your list.  

Larry- We just got a couple of basic tracks done. Our plan is to have a studio record in the can, and we will release it next.  

Slideandbanjo- You mentioned you chose several of the songs on the album based on fan requests you’ve gotten over the years. Some of these songs haven’t been released before. What led you to add these to the album?  

Larry- We’ve been asked for a recording of “Caravan” forever. The same for “Big River.” “Darling Be Home Soon,” we had done that at a tribute to the Woodstock festival. We both re-fell in love with that one from that. I’ve said this over and over. When Teresa gets hold of a song. First, she sings it and it sounds like a woman singing a song. Then before you know it, it sounds like she owns the song. It’s almost like that song was meant to be sung by her.  

Teresa- Well thank you Larry. Or as Mavis Staples would say… Laaarrrrryyyy! 

Larry- That one really was special to me.  

Slideandbanjo- You have original tracks on the album like “Let’s Get Together” and “Angel of Darkness” that haven’t been released. Have you been playing those live so the crowd is familiar with them, or will this be the first opportunity to be heard? 

Larry- Those two we have done live. The ones we haven’t performed live is “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” and “Success.” 

Teresa- Because I can’t get Larry to lug that massive pedal steel around (laughs). How much fun would it be. I keep suggesting a straight up hardcore honkytonk tour with that pedal steel. He was playing pedal steel the first time I ever heard him. I hadn’t even laid eyes on him yet. That was how I fell in love because he was so inside that country pedal steel stuff. Yeah! 

Slideandbanjo- If you look at the covers you chose to include, they’re all old school tunes you completely refreshen. “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” has a 50’s jitterbug feel. You take on Harry James, Johnny Cash, the Carters and Loretta Lynn. Heavyweights in the music world. These choices seem predestined to make an appearance. 

Larry- It’s stuff that turns us both on. We try to make that stuff our own. It speaks to us. Hopefully, it speaks to everyone else. That’s the goal. 

Slideandbanjo- Well they certainly paint a picture as they’re being played. It’s literally that country drive from Memphis straight up Highway 51 to where you currently are an hour away Teresa. Those backwoods country roads filled with farms and all sorts of natural beauty.  

Teresa- I love it. I love it. You know I’m on a campaign for Larry to permanently move me home to Tennessee. All my neighbors are helping me with that effort. I’m down here a lot. I’ve spent the last 2 and half years with my dad and now my mom. I’m grateful to be able to do that. Larry drags me away every now and then to do some road dates and record. I keep trying to get him to go to Muscle Shoals. We went down there and did a record for the Tony Rice tribute record. 

Slideandbanjo- That’s a cool place with so much history.  It’s in the middle of nowhere. You recorded there? 

Teresa- I walked into that studio and they didn’t have to tweak nothing. I opened my mouth, and it was the best vocal sound immediately. I was like oh my goodness I’m in heaven. That’s not far down the road from us. I could still hang with my mother. Larry is joined at the hip with Justin in the studio and rightfully so. Justin is amazing. We could drag Justin down here with him.   

Slideandbanjo- The music world has evolved so much it’s almost expected for an artist to be involved in multiple projects. The idea that you’re selling your fans short if you are involved in anything other than a Larry and Teresa project doesn’t exist in today’s music world. 

Larry- Playing with Teresa and throwing in work with people I respect is a very satisfactory picture. 

Teresa- It is exactly. I’d say with the Phil and Friends thing for me; I didn’t know much of the Dead growing up except “Truckin’” on the radio. Then when I was inducted in that world, I discovered it was a marriage of what I grew up on. People were like do you know this or that song. I was like yeah, I used to sing that in church. A lot of their songs I had grown up on. It’s hysterical. Just exploring the Dead material was like taking a trip to Mars. It was fabulous to explore their world. Phil is the reason we added “River Deep – Mountain High” to our sets. When he says I want you to do this song, you go along and say ok. I would never have approached that song and several others he called. Those are too iconic, and I would never have tried them by myself. Those side gigs are so much fun and incredible. I’m grateful. 

Slideandbanjo- It really is amazing when you track these songs down to their origins. So many of them were written within 50-75 miles where you grew up in Tennessee Teresa. A perfect example is “Samson and Delilah” which was written by Reverend Gary Davis in Memphis about 100 years ago. That’s another one that’s a staple in your live shows. 

Teresa- Yeah and there’s a whole Reverend Gary connection with Jorma. When Larry did the Reverend Gary tribute record with Marie Knight. That was a song Jorma had me pinch hit when Marie got sick one night. That also forced me to learn “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” which is another staple of our shows. I hate to sound corny, but what a long, strange trip it’s been.  

Slideandbanjo- If we look at your musical road going forward, you’ve found the specific direction you want to take. Teresa mentioned earlier Larry that you can sit back and do whatever you want musically. There’s a determination in your voice that your road begins and ends with Teresa by your side. It doesn’t mean you can’t do other side projects, but your main focus seems to be on Larry and Teresa music first. 

Larry- As I said, if all I did for the rest of my life was Larry and Teresa, I would be the happiest guy. That’s my focus now.  

Teresa- Let me jump in here. Hold it, Larry. (laughs). It’s really fun when we collaborate with people like Jorma, Jackson Browne or Phil Lesh. Those are a total treat.  

Larry- We get paid for those gigs buts that’s not why we do it. It’s for the collaboration with friends and people we admire and respect. As far as I’m concerned, the focus for the rest of my career has to be this thing with Teresa. I will still produce records for artists that move me.  

Teresa- What Larry described is our version of planning. People need to plan their lives, which we never did, around each phase of things. Family is always high on my list. It tops everything. This is our version of planning for the phase where you have aging parents. Larry can produce other people’s records so I can be in Tennessee with my family. That’s the extent of our planning. 

Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams “Live at Levon’s!” Royal Potato Family

All Photographs – Ruben Garcia Carballo

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