The future’s bright for the young Angeleno And an old song plays in his head Far as he knows. . .
These lines from the title track of Sam Outlaw's debut album Angeleno could almost serve as a haiku-like artist bio. Outlaw is a southern Californian singer-songwriter steeped in the music and mythos of west coast country, absorbing the classic vibes of everything from '60s Bakersfield honky-tonk to '70s Laurel Canyon troubadour pop and refashioning them into a sound that's pleasurably past, present and future tense.
“The music I play, I call 'SoCal country,'” says Outlaw. “It's country music but with a Southern California spirit to it. What is it about Southern California that gives it that spirit, I don't exactly know. But there's an idea that I like that says - every song, even happy songs, are written from a place of sadness. If there's a special sadness to Southern California it's that there's an abiding shadow of loss of what used to be. But then, like with any place, you have a resilient optimism as well.”
While he explores those shadows on the title track and the elegiac “Ghost Town,” Outlaw mostly comes down on the side of the optimists through Angeleno's dozen tracks. Opener “Who Do You Think You Are?” breezes in with south of the border charm, all sunny melody wrapped in mariachi horns, while “I'm Not Jealous” is a honky-tonker with a smart twist on the you-done-me-wrong plot. “Love Her For A While” has the amiable lope of early '70s Poco, “Old Fashioned” the immediacy of a touch on the cheek, and the future Saturday night anthem “Jesus Take The Wheel (And Drive Me To A Bar)” shows Outlaw has a sense of humor to match his cowboy poet nature. Throughout, producers Ry and Joachim Cooder frame the material with spare, tasteful arrangements, keeping the focus on Outlaw's voice. And it's a voice that indeed seems to conjure up California in the same way as Jackson Browne's or Glenn Frey's. Easy on the ears, open-hearted, always with an undertow of melancholy.
Born in Jonesboro GA to a family of 9 children that had little exposure to music apart from a church hymnal, Molly Parden’s career in music is something of a mystery—something that happened to her more than it was ever anything she set out for. When none of her siblings took a particular interest in music at a young age, Molly inherited a violin built by her great uncle when she was 8 years old— discovering her lifelong love for music through the haunting simplicity of melodies long before she ever heard pop music, picked up a guitar, or started singing songs of her own.
Molly moved to Nashville in the spring of 2013 and soon discovered she could pay her bills as a singer, providing her memorable and uniquely captivating harmony vocals on over 50 records in just a few years. Though she rarely performed her own songs live, her increasing number of fans and champions—everyone from her mom to Ryan Adams to her fellow songwriters in Nashville’s vibrant underground— encouraged her to finally make a record of her own.
What resulted is a voice that is as haunting as it is comforting, beautifully raw and yet effortlessly just out of reach— a disarming union of aloofness and intimacy that runs throughout her songs, lulling the listener with its cadence of melancholic melodies and searching phrases that whirr in your head long after her songs have gone silent.
But for all its unapproachable beauty, the heart of Molly’s music is humble and profoundly human. They are songs that remind us that heartbreak isn’t simply another marketable human emotion, but is more like a familiar place—a sacred space within all of us. We are all born with a deep sense of loss, and great art has a way of articulating the personal tragedy inside of us. It makes listening to Molly’s songs feel like falling into a dream or a distant memory— a beautiful reminder of something we’ve known all along.
-James McFetridge Wilson