Jonny Two Bags
Salvation Town, the surprising and powerful solo debut by Jonny Two Bags, guitarist for the Southern California punk rock institution Social Distortion, defies expectations at every turn.
Produced by David Kalish, noted for his long association with Rickie Lee Jones, at his Redstar Studio in Los Angeles, the album, released by Isotone Records via Nashville’s Thirty Tigers on April 1, 2014, features 10 striking original songs written by Jonny Two Bags, a.k.a. Jonny Wickersham.
A diverse array of talent that spans the musical spectrum was enlisted for the recording. Revered singer-songwriter Jackson Browne shares vocals with Wickersham on “Then You Stand Alone,” while David Lindley, whose guitar work graced several of Browne’s classic ’70s albums, contributes to four tracks. Los Lobos’ multi-instrumentalist David Hidalgo and his sons David Jr. and Vincent join in on “Wayward Cain” and super-sideman Greg Leisz (Lucinda Williams, Eric Clapton, k.d. lang, Dave Alvin) also appears on guitar. The drum chair is filled by Pete Thomas, a mainstay of Elvis Costello’s bands The Attractions and The Imposters. Guest vocalist Gaby Moreno (recent Latin Grammy Award winner as Best New Artist) sings on “Avenues.” Other vocal guests include Julie Miller (wife and collaborator of Buddy Miller) and backup singers Terry Evans and Arnold McCuller, best known for their work with Ry Cooder and James Taylor. Wickersham’s colleagues in Social Distortion, keyboardist Danny McGough and bassist Brent Harding, join on a few tracks while Austin accordion luminary Joel Guzman and bassist/punk kingpin Zander Schloss (Weirdos, Circle Jerks, Thelonious Monster) round out the lineup.
The roots-based sound of Salvation Town carves out new stylistic terrain for Wickersham, who joined Social Distortion in 2000 after the untimely death of his friend Dennis Danell.
A product of Southern California, Jonny Two Bags had already put together a formidable punk rock résumé before joining Social Distortion. He co-founded the Orange County band Cadillac Tramps, cutting three albums with the group, and subsequently recorded and toured with L.A. punk unit Youth Brigade as well as pro skateboarder Duane Peters’ hard-edged U.S. Bombs.
Wickersham, who co-wrote several songs with Ness for Social Distortion’s albums Sex, Love and Rock ’n’ Roll (2004) and Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes (2011), was also penning songs of his own during that time. He says, “I’ve always been a sideman, so I usually write songs with the hope that the singer will like what I’ve written, take it, tweak it and maybe add some verses of his own.”
Producer Kalish had been urging Wickersham to make his own record for years. Finally, after tempting him with the opportunity to record with Pete Thomas, one of his favorite drummers, Wickersham could no longer resist and work on Salvation Town began. Over the next two years Kalish helped iron out some new tunes and put the finishing touches on pre-existing tunes like “Then You Stand Alone” and “Forlorn Walls” in between Wickersham’s stints recording and touring with Social Distortion.
The material reflects a multiplicity of musical styles and influences. Wickersham’s father, a professional musician who played folk, rock ’n’ roll, and country-rock, instilled in him a love of Southern California musicians like Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon and Linda Ronstadt. Wickersham’s own taste in contemporary performers runs the gamut from Lucinda Williams and Ryan Adams to Calexico.
Wickersham adds, “As a second- or third-generation punk guy from Orange County, the kings of the music world for me were The Blasters, Los Lobos and X. That school of musicians was as real as it could ever get. I connected with that really early on. That’s how I discovered music — basically, through those artists, the L.A. rockabilly scene, the L.A. roots-punk scene. They schooled me when I was still a little punk rocker on a skateboard.”
Wickersham says he was set on making an honest-sounding album without resorting to an overly manicured studio sound: “I was used to making raggedy-sounding music and I wanted to stay true to that without making a punk rock record. It was important to me to record something that doesn’t sound over-produced and still has some spirit.”
The combination of Wickersham’s roots-music orientation and his dark, hyper-realistic compositions made for a stylistic shift that even the musician himself didn’t anticipate. “The finished product is not necessarily what I set out to do,” he says. ”It’s not a guitar record, and that’s something that I wouldn’t have expected.”
For many, the greatest revelation of Salvation Town will be Wickersham’s accomplished, fully-realized songwriting, which grew out of his tumultuous youth in the L.A. and Orange County music scenes. Writing and recording this album of streetwise and sometimes painfully frank songs about a life lived with “one foot in the gutter and one foot kicking in the door to Heaven” proved to be somewhat of a cathartic experience.
He notes, “As I was making this record, I realized that in some of these songs I’m singing about things that happened a lifetime ago for me and that was challenging. I just accepted the fact that I needed to purge myself on this record. I wrote about things that happened when I was growing up, feelings and experiences that I have had … stuff that I have never been that open about. Even though my life is different now all of those experiences are still hanging there, just below the surface. I guess it never really goes away … those that have lived it know.”
American rock band formed in 1985 in Los Angeles, California.
With his powerful, gut wrenching, baritone sound, Gethen Jenkins is on a fast train to stardom. Gethen is an award winning singer and songwriter from Huntington, West Virginia. His songs are of considerable depth and meaning, driven by passion, and full of heart and spirit which are sure to run the gamut of human emotions.
“The relationship between the listeners and music is what I feed on”
Gethen’s journey began surrounded by American music, from the purest of Bluegrass to whiskey soaked Honkytonk. Music took hold at the age of eight, beating on his dad’s Gibson guitar. His teenage years were spent in Galena, a rural indian village on the Yukon River, deep in the Alaskan tundra. After 8 years in the U.S. Marines, Gethen landed in Southern California. Returning from Iraq, determined to sing his own song, he found a home in Country Music with his five piece band The Freightshakers (since revamped as Gethen Jenkins). Over the next several years Gethen immersed himself in his music, working hard to create a unique sound keeping true to his roots.
“This hard-driving, honky-tonk group lead by Gethen Jenkins is a perfect way to spend any night, wherever it may take you.” – National Country Review
Recognizing Gethen Jenkins as a promising talent in Country Music, Five Music and Sony RED approached him in 2016 to join the label. The 805 Beer Brand has also taken notice of Gethen and offered him endorsement with their lifestyle brand kicking off with a billboard campaign Spring 2017 spanning from California to Texas. In conjunction, Sony will release a six song digital EP titled “Where the Honkytonk Belongs” in July 2017. Gethen is currently in studio working on his latest album slated to be released Spring 2018.
With a restless creative spirit and natural born drive to connect with people, it looks like the best is yet to come!
Don't bother asking The Mastersons where they're from. Brooklyn, Austin, Los Angeles, Terlingua; they've called each home in just the last few years alone. If you really want to get to know this husband-and-wife duo, the better question to ask is where they're going. Perhaps more than any other band playing today, The Mastersons live on the road, perpetually in motion and always creating. Movement is their muse. On tour, in the unpredictable adventures and characters they cross, in the endless blur of skylines and rest stops and dressing rooms and hotels, that's where they find their greatest inspiration, where they hone their art, and where they crafted their brilliant new album, Transient Lullaby.
"When you travel like we do, if your antenna is up, there's always something going on around you," reflects guitarist/singer Chris Masterson. "Ideas can be found everywhere. The hardest thing to find is time."
For the last seven years, The Mastersons have kept up a supremely inexorable touring schedule, performing as both the openers for Steve Earle and as members of his band, The Dukes, in addition to playing their own relentless slate of headline shows and festivals. It was Earle, in fact, who pushed the duo to record their acclaimed debut, Birds Fly South, in the first place.
"Before we hit the road with him in 2010, Steve said, 'You'd better have a record ready because I'm going to feature you guys during the show,'" remembers fiddler/tenor guitarist/singer Eleanor Whitmore. "We didn't even have a band name at the time. We were going through all these ideas and Steve suggested, 'Why don’t you just be The Mastersons, and that was that."
Upon its release in 2012, Birds Fly South was a breakout critical hit on both sides of the pond, with Uncut awarding the album 9/10 stars and Esquire dubbing The Mastersons one of the “Bands You Need To Know Right Now”. Two years later, they followed it up with Good Luck Charm, premiered by the NY Times and praised by Mother Jones for its "big-hearted lyrics, tight song structures, and sweetly intertwined harmonies." Pop Matters ranked it "among the top Americana releases of 2014," while American Songwriter called it "a perfect soundtrack for a summer of warm nights and hot, lazy days," and the Austin Chronicle praised the band's "spunky wit and rare measure of emotional maturity." The album earned The Mastersons slots on NPR's Mountain Stage and at festivals around the world, from San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass to Australia's Byron Bay Bluesfest.
With endless touring came new levels of comfort and confidence, and when it was time to record Transient Lullaby, The Mastersons knew they wanted to take a different approach than their first two releases. The band set up shop at Arlyn Studios in Austin, TX, where Chris shared production duties with longtime friend and collaborator George Reiff (Ray Wylie Hubbard, Band of Heathens). Together, they chased a sound that was subtler and more evocative, deeper and more contemplative.
"A lot of what we listen to when we have some rare time off is what we consider late night music," explains Chris, who previously played guitar with Son Volt and Jack Ingram among others. "The last record was bright and jangly and we wanted this one to be vibey and dark. A lot of the stuff is very performance-based and not at all fussed with. We've grown so much more comfortable in our skin that we really weren't trying to sound like anyone other than ourselves this time around."
"We've had a lot of time and a lot of miles to refine our sound and our style of singing," adds Eleanor, whose resume includes work with Regina Spektor and Angus & Julia Stone. "I think the depth of our songwriting has really grown, too. Part of the time we're writing on a tour bus with Steve Earle, and the bar for poetry is pretty high when you're within earshot of one of the greatest songwriters alive."
Rich with Eleanor's stirring string arrangements and Chris's masterful guitar work, the songs on Transient Lullaby more than live up to the challenge. The album opens with "Perfect," a loping duet written partially in Washington, DC, and partially in Newcastle, England, that paints a portrait of two broken lovers who still manage to find a strange optimism in this challenging world. Spare and affecting, the song puts the spotlight on the duo's intoxicating vocal harmonies and makes for an ideal entry point into an album full of characters facing down difficulty and darkness with all the grit and humility they can muster. "Fight," written in a downtown Cleveland hotel, is a wry wink at the battlefield of marriage ("I don't wanna fight with anyone else but you"), while the fingerpicked "Highway 1" twists and turns on a California road trip through an emotional breakup.
"Life's not easy," reflects Chris. "It's hard for everybody, and I don’t see it getting any easier. All you can hope for yourself is grace when walking through it, and someone to prop you up when you need a little help."
Though it's a deeply personal album, Transient Lullaby is not without its political moments. The Mastersons found themselves on tour in Lexington, KY, during the height of Kim Davis' obstinate stand against the Supreme Court's same sex marriage decision, and so they penned the infectious "You Could Be Wrong" in a dressing room before taking the stage with "Love Wins" draped across their guitars. "This Isn't How It Was Supposed To Go"—a cosmic country duet written in Cologne, Germany—has taken on new layers of political meaning in 2017, while "Don't Tell Me To Smile" is a tongue-in-cheek feminist anthem, and the gorgeous, slow-burning "Fire Escape"—which came to life in a hockey rink locker room in Alberta, Canada—suggests that the only solution to a polarized world of fear and distrust is to find strength and guidance in our loved ones.
"As we look at the world political landscape, global warming, a refugee crisis and the uncertain times we’re all living in, rather than lose hope, we look to each other," Chris says. "It’s a little brighter than Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but not much."
Ultimately, the road is at the core of everything The Mastersons do. "Happy When I'm Movin'" reflects their constant need for forward momentum, both physically and emotionally, and the title track paints the pair as "pilgrims of the interstate" on an endless voyage. "No I don’t unpack my bag / Traveling from town to town," they sing in beautiful harmony. "Set ’em up and knock ’em down / Where there’s work and songs to sing / You’ll know the place where I’ll be found / If you don’t want to be alone / Then come along."
For The Mastersons, all that matters is where they're headed, and the songs they'll write when they get there.
It’s twenty-seventeen in the southwestern corner of America. There’s snow in the distant mountains and the slow desert sunset creeps through the windshield of the Mercury on 40 West. The young man is driving home, wherever that is.
He was born in a small woodland house in the Hudson Valley, raised in rural Maine, and enlightened by time spent in New York City. He’s landed in Los Angeles for now, where the Sunset Strip is a wasteland, Silverlake has peaked, and the spirit of Laurel Canyon echos through the hills of Highland Park. The end of the world is a damn inspirational place to be.
He writes and records. The hard work shines through in his craft without a scrap of it being over-thought. It’s American music. It’s conceived on highways between cities past their prime. It’s born from memories and dreams of fresh starts. There’s rich history to draw from in Nashville, Memphis, Muscle Shoals, Bakersfield and Austin, but he doesn’t desire a repeat. He celebrates the richness of a multi-generational record collection while adding a fresh voice to the conversation, and the music is new.
Every year Elijah Ocean crisscrosses the country singing his songs and making memories. With three full-length LPs under his belt and a fourth in the chamber, Ocean is just hitting his stride.
For now there’s a much-needed diner booth in Needles on 66. Welcome to California. Set your clocks.
Charlie Overbey And The Broken Arrows
Charlie Overbey came from LA. The Broken Arrows are Jimmy James, Dave James, Jordan Shapiro, Joe Ginsberg and Charlie Nicienski. Their debut album, The California Kid, produced by Charlie Overbey, has been released in Jan 2015.
Allison Pierce was born in Birmingham, Alabama to a family of creative individuals. In their teens, Allison and sister Catherine formed the acclaimed duo The Pierces who released five full-length albums, most recently on Polydor/Universal. In 2007 Rolling Stone magazine named the sisters as a Breaking Artist to watch. The duo’s songs have been placed in various network TV shows including the song “Secret” which has been the theme song for the ABC Family show Pretty Little Liars for the run of the show. In live performance the sisters have toured as the supporting act for Coldplay and Lissie among others. Allison Pierce now steps into the spotlight as a solo artist with her solo debut Year of the Rabbit.
“This album feels like the most important creative outpouring of my life so far,” says songwriter Allison Pierce, who is launching the second half of her distinguished career by teaming with producer Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams, Ray LaMontagne, Paul McCartney). “It feels like the most genuine expression of who I am, musically and personally.” Allison’s new video for “Evidence” can be seen here at No Depression.
Year of the Rabbit (May 5, Sony Music Masterworks) marks Allison Pierce’s first album as a solo artist, following two decades with her sister in the acclaimed duo, The Pierces. Recorded in analog straight to magnetic tape, the album was mostly performed by Allison and Ethan at Hollywood recording mecca Sunset Sound (much in the same spirit as Johns produced Ray LaMontagne’s debut LP, Trouble). The only outside contributors were GabeWitcher, who supplied fiddle on two tracks, and Greg Leisz, who played pedal steel on another.
“Over the years, I’d write these songs knowing they weren’t Pierces songs, and I collected them in anticipation of the day when I could record them myself,” says Pierce. “I’d envisioned the whole thing, so I was ready, and waiting patiently for the opportunity to make it.”
I play mandolin, guitar, pedal steel (E9 and C6), lap steel, dobro, bass and harmonica and keys.
I have performed with
Will Dailey and the Rivals
Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons
Kay Hanley (Letters to Cleo)
and many others.....
For the last 5 years I have been part of the Cabin Down Below Band for the Dylan, Petty, Harrison, and Stones Fests. I have backed up the following artists
Doyle Bramhall II
Nick Valensi (the Strokes)
Albert Hammond Jr. (the Strokes)
Pat Carney (Black Keys)
Fran Healy (Travis)
The Flaming Lips
Jody Porter (Fountains of Wayne)
Chris Kelley (Lady Antibellum)
Tom Johnston (Doobie Brothers)
and many others.....
I love great songs. My favorite players, and musician mentors, have always been the ones that play the right part for that great song. The understated genius of the likes of Mike Campbell, or Sneaky Pete is the proverbial well I try to draw from as a player. Whether I'm playing bluegrass mandolin or dobro, country pedal steel or rock guitar the mentality is the same; play to the song.
You may recall Ben Reddell from his place on the bass behind L.A.’s Leslie Stevens & The Badgers cq — he’s the tall, mustachioed longhair who seems like he’d have been equally at home playing with Willie Nelson as with Roky Erickson. But Reddell has a guitar and a band of his own, too, and a voice that comes out as weatherbeaten and world-weary as any classic Texan troubadour. (Hey, Guy Clark? Townes Van Zandt? Is there room for one more to share that bottle of the strong stuff?) If you saw the film Heartworn Highways, and if you laughed and then tried not to cry at all the appropriately hilarious and heartbreaking moments, you’re primed for Ben Reddell’s band. They’ll ready the beer if you’ve got the tears. –Chris Ziegler
S.O.S. (Sons of the Southwest)
With instrumental abilities that made him a can someone do my paper for me key member of Dwight Yoakam’s band, a voice reminiscent of Jackson Browne and a Top 10 lyrical streak that makes him seem like he’s been writing hook-laden hits for years – Brian Whelan is poised to buy customized essays attract a much wider audience with the release of his second solo album Sugarland.
Whelan, who majored in music at USC, plays almost anything with keys or strings — steel guitar, accordion, piano. On Sugarland, he truly puts his skills to the test, playing just about every musical instrument possible on these crisp, clean, streamlined, mostly mid-tempo pop rock tunes that go straight to the heart with a sonic sense that recalls the heyday of great radio.
Co-Produced by fellow Yoakamite, drummer Mitch Marine, alongside bassist Lee Pardini, Sugarland boldly throws Whelan’s hat into a ring crowded with the likes of John Fullbright, Sturgill Simpson, Mike Stinson, and Jason Isbell. His jangling, straight-ahead tunes like “Sugarland”, “Talk To Me” and “We Got It All,” serve notice, right out of the box, that Whelan’s grown as a songwriter, arranger, and vocalist.
After the summery, top-down lilt of the pop tunes, Whelan takes it to another level with a wry, you-lookin’-at-me, back-hand slap at a genre that he believes is mostly bloated milquetoast these days. “Americana” is his jet-blast of defiance, a withering critique of a genre overrun with Civil War outfits, mountain man beards, Deliverance-style overalls, vintage dresses, cowgirl boots, and de rigeur phoney hillbilly nasal intonation. Whelan lays bare all the calculated looks and half-hearted music with a blistering guitar behind his hell-fire-and-brimstone sarcasm: “C’mon, man, you gotta make the scene / with your big bass drum and your tambourine / You can sell it for a million dollars.” Whelan’s lyrics take a sharper turn when he tells the ultimate truth: “You’re a pretty nice guy but you sound like shit.”
Whelan adds to the sarcasm with a blistering Scruggs-inspired banjo solo by veteran LA picker Herb Pedersen over the punkish rock that makes the song and the sentiment come full circle. Even so, Americana radio is going to have a hard time ignoring this unstoppable and instantly likeable blazer.
But for all the fun of his rockers, Whelan frequently displays a rare gift for capturing the serious, the lyrical epitaph of the flailing relationship. On the brooding track, “Sucker Punch”, he warns, “I’ve got a sick sense of humor and I’m sure you know / I’m a sucker puncher when I get this low.” The fatalistic “bombs away, bombs away” chorus is pure California country rock of the highest order.
On “The Only Thing,” Whelan locates a cool, Buddy Holly-fronting-The-Clash urgency in this radio-friendly rocker. The track’s narrator laments how he “tried to run with a different crowd but I just kept falling down / A change of clothes and a new routine / Wound up right right back here at the beginning” It’s a perfect example of a rocker love song. Jackson Browne should be charting with this tune.
Another Sugarland highlight is the lazy country rocker, “Number One Fan”. Whelan sketches the borderline-rabid superfans that guys like Yoakam contend with everywhere they go – One must balance an artists desire to please his fans with maintaining some degree of privacy. Judging from the lyrics, Whelan has heard just about every variation on this theme in his own tenure with Yoakam and others.
The album is a natural extension of Whelan’s way under-appreciated debut, Decider, and with its radio-friendliness, Sugarland should go far in spreading the word about Whelan and his ever growing importance on the Los Angeles scene and across the country as well. The world will soon know that Whelan and Sugarland are the real deal.
William Michael Smith, Houston, TX
Jaime Wyatt’s newest release Felony Blues, whose title is a nod to records like David Allan Coe’s Penitentiary Blue, is largely an autobiographical collection of convict love stories, prison songs, and honky-tonk laments.
Wyatt is a striking figure with an old soul and a voice like a force of nature. Regardless of genre, the Los Angeles-based Wyatt is a dynamic performer, who sails naturally between vintage ‘60s and ‘70s country/rock ’n’ soul anthems and heartfelt country ballads of love and corruption. Country radio station 95.3 The Bear recently named her, alongside Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price, as “one of the country artists you may not have heard of, but need to hear.”