The Blue Stones
Oct
20
7:00pm 7:00pm

The Blue Stones

Canadian indie-blues duo THE BLUE STONES released their long-awaited second full-length album “Black Holes”.

The Blue Stones 2012 release “How’s That Sound?” was featured on Bandcamp’s best-selling list in 2013. Their smash single “Rolling with the Punches” propelled the band forward as it featured on hit television shows including Suits, Parks & Recreation, Necessary Roughness and Battle Creek. To date, “Rolling with the Punches” has garnered more than 1,000,000 views and spins between YouTube and Spotify.

“Black Holes” is a darker departure from the band’s previous blues-rock issue. Nevertheless, fans and critics very much recognize their sound. Canadian rock legend Ian Blurton took the lead on production. Guitarist/vocalist Tarek Jafar mentioned “He lent deep insight to the songwriting process; the songs were a lot better after our writing sessions together,” The album was mastered by Jim Diamond of Ghetto Recorders, who has also produced and recorded albums for The White Stripes.

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Emily Barker
Oct
15
7:00pm 7:00pm

Emily Barker

Emily Barker’s new album Sweet Kind of Blue is love story, between Barker and Memphis.

To understand how this love affair began, you have to go right back to the start… Barker grew up in remote, rural Western Australia; a childhood that was blessed with an almost idyllic, roaming freedom instilled not only an itinerant spirit, but also a mighty work ethic that has seen her playing over two hundred shows a year and on the cusp of releasing what will be her tenth studio album (including her albums with The Red Clay HaloVena Portae and last year’s acclaimed debut as part of country trio Applewood Road).

It is largely thanks to John Peel that Emily Barker first settled in the UK. After leaving home to see the world, she ended up on the Cambridge folk scene, and formed the band, the-low-country. Just as she was considering resuming her studies back home, Peel started playing them on Radio 1, so she stayed. Her music has since been described as “heartfelt songwriting… bridging the gap between folk, country and Fleetwood Mac” (The Times), “ambitious and beautifully wrought” (Q), while the Guardian applauds her “gift for great melodies.”

This gift has not gone unnoticed by film makers, resulting in Barker penning and performing theme songs for award-winning television dramas Wallander and The Shadow Line as well as an entire musical score for Jake Gavin’s poignant and well-received 2015 road movie, Hector, starring Peter Mullan.

Since taking a hiatus from multi-instrumental all-female group The Red Clay Halo, with whom she made four albums, Barker has been edging closer to the sources of her musical inspiration. At a tender age, her mother taught her to sing harmonies while her father introduced her to his record collection (they didn’t own a television). And then as she entered her teens, she discovered the blues and soul of Aretha FranklinKoko Taylor and Bettye LaVette, and that’s where this story really begins.

In recent years Barker has made herself at home in Nashville and Memphis, performing, collaborating and basking in musical history. In Nashville in 2014 she formed the trio Applewood Road with Tennessee-based songwriters Amber Rubarth and Amy Speace. Their eponymous LP was recorded at Welcome to 1979 studio in Nashville. Applewood Road was a regular on best-of-2016 album lists, they toured extensively, played Glastonbury and Cambridge Folk Festivals and made numerous television appearances.

On a visit to Muscle Shoals, Barker was shown around Fame Studios, where she fell in love with the old equipment used to record Aretha FranklinOtis Redding and Etta James. Soon after arriving back in the UK, she cropped her hair, got a slick black suit and a beautiful 1937 Gibson, and recorded a stripped-down solo album at analogue Toe Rag studios in East London (where The White Stripes recorded Elephant). The seeds of Sweet Kind of Blue were well and truly sown.

Meanwhile, plans for her new record started taking shape soon after. She was introduced to Grammy-winning producer Matt Ross-Spang, and the two hit it off straight away. Ross-Spang was the catalyst that brought Barker and Memphis together – born and bred in “Bluff City”, he honed in on where Barker’s roots lay as soon as she played him the songs she had been writing for the album.

Sweet Kind of Blue was recorded in June 2016, at the legendary Sam Phillips Recording Service in Memphis, where the tapes have been rolling since 1960. Phillips opened his dream studio (he called it “the Cape Canaveral of studios”) after he and his artists Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and B B King outgrew Sun Studio, a few blocks away.

The stars were perfectly aligned for the Memphis sessions. Barker brought her songs, her guitar, that cathedral of a voice and her irrepressible freewheeling spirit. Ross-Spang was riding high following his Grammy for Jason Isbell’s Something More than Free, and the runaway success of Margo Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. Sam Phillips’ son Jerry, and granddaughter Halley, welcomed Barker into the fold and couldn’t tear themselves away from the studio throughout recording. And as each track was laid down, Barker, her band (you will have heard these musicians on Cat Power’s The Greatest as well as records by Neil YoungBooker T and the MGsAl Green and many more) and everyone in the control room fell a little bit more in love with each other. Spines tingled and eyes did not remain dry.

The result is an intoxicating blend of Barker penned songs about loves lost, heartrending humanity, the rush of the road trip and the sheer glory of a new love. The first single, ‘Sister Goodbye’, is a soulful tribute to one of Barker’s guitar-slinging heroes, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, while the title track, ‘Sweet Kind of Blue’ captures the beautiful urgency of missing a new lover. Its name, says Barker, “also nods to the record’s blues elements, with blue-eyed soul being the ’60s term for white artists performing rhythm and blues”. But the making of Sweet Kind of Blue is a love story in itself, between Barker and Memphis.

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Royal Studios 60th Anniversary
Oct
14
7:00pm 7:00pm

Royal Studios 60th Anniversary

An anniversary celebration of Royal Studios' 60th Anniversary will be taking the stage as part of the 2017 Orion FCU Free Music Concert Series at Levitt Shell

FREE music, great times, family friendly, food trucks, concessions, outdoors, and more! Levitt Shell strives to strengthen and build community by providing FREE music in a great environment.

Entertainment starts promptly at 7:00PM.

Line up: 

  1. Deering and Down 
  2. Devil Train 
  3. Joe Schicke 
  4. Mike Doughty 
  5. J Howell 
  6. Lil Al and G Rube 
  7. Uriah  
  8. Gangsta Blac 
  9. Mojo Medicine Machine 
  10. Rusty Pieces 
  11. Orlando 
  12. Kia Johnson 
  13. Barbra Blue 
  14. Preston Shannon 

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FreeWorld
Oct
13
7:00pm 7:00pm

FreeWorld

FreeWorld has been an independent, regionally touring, ever-evolving Memphis-based musical ensemble since 1987, and are currently celebrating their 30th Anniversary in 2017. Drawing from influences as broad-based as Booker T. & the MGs, John Coltrane, Frank Zappa, The Grateful Dead, Steely Dan and The Meters, these brothers under one multicultural groove have remained a consistently entertaining and informed voice on the Memphis music scene since the groups inception.

Featuring current band members that range in age from 18 to 87-year- old jazz saxophone legend Dr. Herman Green (who has performed &/or recorded with the likes of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, B.B. King, Lionel Hampton, Clark Terry, Phineas & Calvin Newborn, Bob Weir, Stephen Perkins and a host of others during his 72 year professional music career), FreeWorld is literally; new school meets old school, and has been variously described as ;The best of Memphis, New Orleans, San Francisco - all rolled into one fresh & excitingly unique musical experience!

They've also had the privilege of sharing the stage with a wide variety of musical legends over the years, such as Levon Helm, The Memphis Horns, Billy Preston, Bootsy Collins, Richie Havens, Blues Traveler, Derek Trucks, Hot Tuna, Los Lobos, Merl Saunders, Dr. John, Timothy Leary, John Sinclair, The Bar-Kays, Ann Peebles, Steve Cropper, James Cotton, Mojo Buford, Jimmie Vaughan & Double Trouble, Susan Tedeschi, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang, and Widespread Panic just to name a few.

FreeWorld was honored to receive a coveted Brass Note on the Beale Street Walk of Fame in 2012, and have a brand new studio CD entitled “What It Is” set for release in the Fall of 2017, recorded at Ardent Studios here in Memphis (featuring a special guest appearance on drums & vocals by Jody Stephens of Big Star fame), and mixed by the incomparable Dave Aron at Hollywood Way Studios in Los Angeles, CA.

Keep your eyes & ears tuned in to FreeWorld throughout 2017, as this celebratory year stands as a proud milestone in the band’s musical odyssey that now spans almost a third of a century.

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Love Light Orchestra
Oct
12
7:00pm 7:00pm

Love Light Orchestra

Love Light Orchestra is the real-deal Memphis Blues. The kind of sophisticated blues and jazz sounds you would have heard floating from the windows of The Palace on Beale Street in the 40’s and 50’s.

LLO features Blues Music Award-winner John Nemeth on vocals, Joe Restivo on guitar, Tim Goodwin on bass, Earl Lowe on drums, Gerald Stephens on keys, and a five piece horn section that includes Marc Franklin, Scott Thompson, Art Edmaiston, Jason Yasinksy, and Kirk Smothers. The band has recently signed to Blue Barrel Records and the group is working on a full-length release with producer Matt Ross-Spang.

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Lady Rizo
Oct
8
7:00pm 7:00pm

Lady Rizo

Updated: 10/8/2017

Due to local, forecasted conditions in the area caused by Hurricane Nate, we made the very tough decision to cancel tonight's show with Lady Rizo in hope that an alternate location could be found. Her fantastic management team was able to do so and will be putting on the show themselves at Clayborn Temple. For more information regarding the show, check out Lady Rizo

Thank you for your patience and understanding. These are very tough calls, especially when they have to be made in advance, and we do our best to meet the needs of our artists and audience. We hope to see you all back out with us later this week with great free music by Lovelight OrchestraFreeWorld's 30th AnniversaryRoyal Studios, and Emily Barker. Full lineup www.levittshell.org or download the Levitt Shell app.

The NY Times described the Lady Rizo stage show as a “…fierce but kindhearted fusion of comedy, burlesque, performance art and rock ’n’ roll.” What’s not to love? She will be bringing a family friendly and fun for all ages version to Memphis.

Having veritably invented “caburlesque” with her 2005 show Lady Rizo & the Assettes, she went on to earn a 2010 Grammy for a collab with, of all people, Yo Yo Ma. Now, in advance of the release of her second album, she’s got a quite fabulous new single, “Hit of You,” which BlackBook premieres here.

Never one to record the obvious, the song comes off like Queen’s “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon,” as produced by Sgt. Pepper era George Martin, and performed in 1930s Weimar. Got that?

She elaborates, “It’s about the feeling of euphoria that you associate with the best lover or a really great audience. [It features a] Lewis Carroll pitter-patter rap, and feels like falling down a rabbit hole.”

Totally.

The follow up to her 2013 debut album Violet will be released this August 18. And it’s fittingly titled Indigo – which is known to be the color of perception and intuition.

“It’s like a tour of a grand old house,” she says of the album, “Every song is a different room.”

We can’t wait to get lost in it.

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Paul Thorn
Oct
7
7:00pm 7:00pm

Paul Thorn

Paul Thorn’s new album Too Blessed To Be Stressed stakes out new territory for the popular roots-rock songwriter and performer. “In the past, I’ve told stories that were mostly inspired by my own life,” the former prizefighter and literal son of a preacher man offers. “This time, I’ve written 10 songs that express more universal truths, and I’ve done it with a purpose: to make people feel good.”

Which explains numbers like the acoustic-electric charmer “Rob You of Your Joy,” where Thorn’s warm peaches-and-molasses singing dispenses advice on avoiding the pitfalls of life. The title track borrows its tag from a familiar saying among the members of the African-American Baptist churches Thorn frequented in his childhood. “I’d ask, ‘How you doin’, sister?’ And what I’d often hear back was, ‘I’m too blessed to be stressed.’” In the hands of Thorn and his faithful band, who’ve been together 20 years, the tune applies its own funky balm, interlacing a percolating drum and keyboard rhythm with the slinky guitar lines beneath his playful banter.

Thorn’s trademark humor is abundant throughout the album which was released August 19, 2014 on Perpetual Obscurity/Thirty Tigers. “Backslide on Friday” is a warm-spirited poke at personal foibles. “I promised myself not to write about me, but I did on ‘Backslide,’” Thorn relates. The chipper pop tune is a confession about procrastination, sweetened by Bill Hinds’ slide guitar and Thorn’s gently arching melody. “But,” Thorn protests, “I know I’m not the only one who says he’s gonna diet and just eat Blue Bell vanilla ice cream on Sundays, and then ends up eating it every day!”

“Mediocrity Is King” takes a wider swipe, at our culture’s hyper-drive addiction to celebrity artifice and rampant consumerism. But like “Everything Is Gonna Be All Right,” a rocking celebration of the simple joys of life, it’s done with Thorn’s unflagging belief in the inherent goodness of the human heart.

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Dylan Leblanc
Oct
6
7:00pm 7:00pm

Dylan Leblanc

Dylan LeBlanc knows second chances don’t come around often. But, neither do voices like his.

Overwhelmed by the speed his gift would take him, from Applebee’s server to “the new Neil Young” in a matter of months, he walked away from an unlikely major label deal after releasing two critically acclaimed albums. He slipped into a blur of booze and self-doubt. Exhausted and damaged at just 23-years-old, Dylan came home to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to write a new life for himself.

In between the moments of clarity and a few familiar falls, he also wrote a new album, Cautionary Tale: a collection of shimmering, arresting songs with the same haunting vocals that caught the attention of Lucinda Williams and Bruce Springsteen, now with a sharpened edge honed by hastened maturity.

“This record is about me getting honest with myself,” says Dylan. “I had to let the guilt about the past go and find a new truth within myself. This time, I felt like I really had something to say.”

To help him say it, he sought out long-time friend Ben Tanner, the same guy who had secretly helped Dylan record his first songs after hours while working at fabled FAME Studios. (He also introduced a 16-year-old Dylan to Wilco, George Harrison, and Ryan Adams by way of an external hard drive). In between touring with Alabama Shakes, Ben was beginning to engineer records again at the label he started with another friend of Dylan’s, Grammy Award-winning musician John Paul White, formerly of the Civil Wars. The two both produced and played on Cautionary Tale.

“They prevented me from burying my words,” says Dylan. “Doubt can often be my first instinct, and I’ll try to cover things up with more elements to hide my voice, but I made up my mind to trust them. I heard Merle Haggard say once that the singer is secondary to the song, and they both helped me build a strong foundation for the emotions I was feeling.”

The stripped down aesthetic that John Paul and Ben have made their label’s calling card sets Dylan’s voice in a light bright enough to see the patina the last few years has left behind.

“I spent a lot of time writing about programming and conditioning and the idea of ego,” says Dylan. “I don’t want to rely on my circumstances or the past to say why I am the way I am anymore. A lot of my songs like ‘Cautionary Tale’ and ‘Look How Far We’ve Come’ are about trying to break out of a vicious cycle. I was wondering if I could find my solutions from within—if I could believe in something beyond the present.”

If Dylan was wandering through a cemetery with his first album Paupers Field (“Songs are like headstones to me,” he told The Guardian), Cautionary Tale is an abandoned desert town. He reflects on what once was, and if anything could be again. At times, he wonders if the signs of life he sees on the horizon are real or just a mirage. Phantasmic, warbling voices in the background rise to meet his own and fade into the ether; ghostly guitar riffs echo in the emptiness around him.

Finding the right arrangement and words was a more deliberate effort for Dylan this time. After feeling lost in the “mania” of recording his first two albums, he relied on Ben and John Paul to help him collect the pieces of his vision.

“I’ve definitely become more disciplined. I don’t count on things like inspiration anymore,” says Dylan. “I learned so much from putting songs together with John Paul. Anything he does, it’s always going to be well-thought-out and well-placed. I’m naturally an improv guy, but now I see how that can be more limiting than planning your next move.”

That new-found discipline shows. Never one to write out parts, Dylan methodically scored the stunning string sections with violinist Kimi Samson and cellist Caleb Elliot. To form the polished rhythm section he wanted to drive songs like “The Easy Way Out” and “Beyond the Veil,” he paired drummer Jeremy Gibson with Alabama Shakes bassist Zac Cockrell (“I wanted it to feel like a Bill Withers record or Al Green—soulful, but tight.”)

While Dylan will be the first to admit he wasn’t ready to stand on the stages he played early in his career, there’s no doubting he is now. With a recalibrated compass, he’s back on the road opening sold-out shows for British singer-songwriter George Ezra, another artist praised for a wizened voice beyond his years.

Dylan will continue to support George through September 2015, including a show at Nashville’s legendary Ryman Auditorium. Next, he’ll embark on his solo tour with dates throughout the South, Midwest, and New England.

“After everything I’ve gone through, I still love putting records out and singing for people, no matter how big or small the crowd,” says Dylan. “It’s the only thing I want to do, and now I get to keep doing it as a more well-rounded person. I guess I’m blessed or whatever the hell you want to call it.”

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Shaun Johnson Big Band Experience
Oct
5
7:00pm 7:00pm

Shaun Johnson Big Band Experience

Well hello there.

Ever heard of a big band covering Rihanna? Get ready, my friend.

We’re happy to introduce you to what we call the new evolution of big band music – born of rebellion – and we owe it to Sinatra to keep that evolution alive and kicking.

How good are we? Glad you asked.

We have musicians who have toured with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Robert Randolph and the Family Band and New Kids on the Block. This group is nothing if not upfront: it’s one of those rare cases where everything you know is right in the name:

You’ve got Shaun Johnson, an Emmy-winning singer/songwriter who’s sold nearly two million albums as part of the nationally known vocal group, Tonic Sol-fa.

Then there’s the big band sound. Few acts can channel Sinatra as he softly croons about lost love, inhabit Citizen Cope as he belts one out, and then segue into the theme from Spiderman without any indication that these musicians, these eras, and these styles were ever anything but destined to go together.

Finally there’s the experience. Our sound is centered on innovation to ensure that while each performance is an experience, no two experiences are exactly the same. And, let’s face it: being relatively new to the game not only means BBE has a fresh sound, but that your audiences can hear that sound.

Looking for a group heavily influenced by the big band era, but which never – not for one moment – feels as if it lives anywhere but the present? Live with us.

The Shaun Johnson Big Band Experience

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Sam Outlaw
Oct
1
7:00pm 7:00pm

Sam Outlaw

"There's a tender heart beating for you..."

Cynicism comes easy, but having a soft heart takes real guts. Sam Outlaw's new album Tenderheart dares to tread gently and look inward, with unapologetic sentiment and un-ironic nods to country music's greatest neon rainbow chasers.

Since the release of his 2015 debut Angeleno, Outlaw remains one of LA's only modern country singers to earn international acclaim. And with his follow-up Tenderheart he shows an impressive refinement of his artistic identity. Sonically, the album further elaborates Outlaw's "SoCal Country" sound: a sun-bleached, Baja-influenced twang that deftly points to country's neo-traditionalists and LA's legendary singer-songwriters. Thematically Tenderheart is a thesis on self-discovery and the power of love - a course set with the opening chords of "Everyone's Looking For Home." The opening track is a cinematic, mariachi-laced meditation on Outlaw's own conflicted quest for peace amongst the chaos of his chosen path.

Along the way he also takes a look around, and Tenderheart's revelations are most potent when filtered through Outlaw's distinctive Los Angeles vantage point. "Bottomless Mimosas" is emotionally hollowing in its portrayal of west coast existentialism while "Bougainvillea, I Think" and "Dry In The Sun" round out this trio of ‘Los Angeles songs' that explore the city's faded beauty and define "SoCal Country" beyond instrumentation.

"Trouble," one of the album's standouts, makes being bad sound pretty damn good with determined ‘Side A' swagger and kicks off a song cycle that chronicles a heart's bend, break and mend. "She's Playing Hard To Get (Rid Of)" showcases acerbic wit in teary three-four time, setting the scene for "Two Broken Hearts" - a wounded lovers' getaway story with an open ending. Over the course of these thirteen songs it becomes increasingly apparent why his clever intertwining of country tropes and crisp modernism has so impressed country music fans, critics and songwriters alike. (Alt-country pioneer Ryan Adams just recently praised Outlaw, calling his work "beyond great songwriting".)

Angeleno's critical acclaim also led to 18 months of international touring. He entertained thousands of festival-goers with a prime slot at Stagecoach, made four trips to Europe, toured Australia twice and played several hundred gigs in the USA. After all those miles it's fitting that Tenderheart bottles the energy of the songs that have become mainstays of his live show. Fan-favorites like "Diamond Ring" and honky-tonk sing-along "All My Life" finally get proper studio treatment, along with "Look At You Now," a regular highlight of his acoustic tours overseas - where Outlaw is nominated for AmericanaUK's International Album of the Year alongside Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price.

Not one to mess with a winning combination, Sam called on many of the same musicians that made Angeleno such a success: harmony singer Molly Jenson, pedal steel pro Jeremy Long and guitarist Danny Garcia, along with Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes) and Bo Koster (My Morning Jacket). Produced by Martin Pradler and Outlaw and recorded in the San Fernando Valley, Tenderheart also features Erwin Vasquez and Mariachi Teocuitatlan, a local mariachi group who appeared in the video for Angeleno's title track.

Now two years into his new life, Outlaw has learned that great dreams can only be achieved at great cost. And at its core, Tenderheart is the outcome of another lesson learned: if your heart stays true, the sacrifice is worth it.

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Bruce Sudano
Sep
29
7:00pm 7:00pm

Bruce Sudano

Bruce Sudano has had his hand in some of the 20th century’s biggest hits, sung by megatalents from Michael and Jermaine Jackson to Dolly Parton and Donna Summer, his late wife. At this point, he could easily rest on his musical laurels. Instead, he recorded an album about life right here, right now, in this 21st Century World. And he filled it with hard questions, some well-aimed finger pointing and poignant observations about the human experience — for better and worse.

“I’ve always been somebody who writes about what I’m going through,” Sudano says, “because I believe that if this is something I’m feeling, other people are going to be able to relate to it as well. With this record, I’m trying to provoke people to think. I want to start a dialogue about what’s going on in our culture and our society.”

In the very first song, “Your World Now,” he wonders whether younger generations will step up to cure the world’s ills, while encouraging them to try. With “It Ain’t Cool,” he chastises “a selfish society,” and in “Common Sense,” he pleads for understanding, sacrifice and compromise. In a voice that conjures comparisons to a less-psychedelic, less British Donovan, he also implores, Come on people use your heads/We need common, common sense.

“People seem to have forgotten middle ground,” says Sudano, who also trains his pen on issues such as our self(ie)-obsessed social media culture, religion and hypocrisy, homelessness and other subjects that need addressing.

In one particularly powerful song, “When Cinderella Dies,” he examines single motherhood and the challenges women who find themselves in that situation face. When Summer passed away in 2012, they’d been together 35 years — 32 as husband and wife. Eventually, he started dating again — and found himself listening to too many stories that sounded distressingly similar.

“I started running into all these middle-aged women with kids, abandoned by their husbands, feeling discarded, left carrying the load and just struggling, trying to figure out who they were now that the fairytale had died, asking ‘How do I carry on with my life and who am I now? What is my dream? Do I even have one?’ That got me thinking about the state of marriage and what a mess it is; about the breakdown of marriage in our culture and the lack of commitment.”

But even though he dissects society’s ills, Sudano still delivers notes of hope, one of which comes in the form of the first cover song he’s ever recorded: Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution.”

“I’ve always had this philosophy that I’m a songwriter, not a singer. A singer can cover somebody else’s songs. But a songwriter should sing their own songs,” he explains. But his producer, Mike Montali of the rock band Hollis Brown, talked him into it. Montali was asked to produce after he and Sudano “developed a musical simpatico” during a European tour.

“I wanted somebody with a different perspective than me to produce this record, because I’ve been doing it for a long time, and you develop habits,” Sudano says. “I also wanted it to be more under-produced than produced. As I have evolved as this solo guy, it’s more and more coming down to me and my guitar and my point of view. I want the message to be clearer, with fewer frills. I just really want to communicate.”

When he speaks, the longtime Los Angeles resident’s accent still conveys his strong New York roots; in fact, his first child is named Brooklyn. (He and Summer had two daughters; Brooklyn stars in the new NBC series Taken, and Amanda co-founded the band Johnnyswim. Sudano also raised stepdaughter Mimi.)

Sudano was 4 when he began making music, first on accordion, then on guitar and piano. He started getting paid for it at 12. By the time he was 20, he had a hit, “Ball of Fire,” co-written with his mentor, Tommy James (“Hanky Panky,” “Mony, Mony,” “I Think We’re Alone Now”), who recorded it with his band, the Shondells.

“He was the first person to take me under his wing, to take me into a recording studio, write with me and basically show me how it was done, in the real world,” Sudano recalls. “He took me out of the neighborhood and put me in the music business. We’re friends to this day.”

Sudano had co-founded the band Alive N Kickin’ in 1968; in 1970, James wrote and produced their top-10 hit, “Tighter, Tighter.” Five years after leaving that band, Sudano co-founded Brooklyn Dreams. That same year, 1977, he met Summer, who began writing with the band. They penned “Take It to the Zoo” for the Thank God It’s Friday film soundtrack, then the band appeared as the Planotones in the film, American Hot Wax. They hit No. 4 with Summer duetting on “Heaven Knows,” and in 1979, Summer and the band wrote the No. 1 pop and R&B hit “Bad Girls.” It became the title song to the most popular album of her career.

In 1980, Sudano released his first solo album, which contained “Starting Over Again,” written with Summer about his parents’ divorce. Dolly Parton turned it into a No. 1 country hit. Fifteen years later, Reba McEntire took it to No. 19. In 1985, Sudano co-wrote the Grammy-nominated Michael and Jermaine Jackson duet, “Tell Me I'm Not Dreaming (Too Good to Be True).” After years spent managing Summer’s career, as well as playing and singing in her band, Sudano released another solo album, Rainy Day Soul. That 2004 release gave him three top 10 adult contemporary hits, and New Music Weekly’s Adult Contemporary Artist of the Year award. “It's Her Wedding Day,” a track from his third solo album, earned him the 2009 New Music Weekly Adult Contemporary Song of the Year award.

Bruce has returned to touring as well.  These days you can find him performing alongside an eclectic group of musicians.  From the wildly successful band Johnnyswim to the iconic British band The Zombies, or jamming with young rockers Hollis Brown, Sudano is back on the road re-engaging with audiences.  In addition to recording and touring, he is also working alongside the team behind the monster theatrical hit, Jersey Boys to produce a Broadway musical about Summer set for 2018.

Sudano says he’s glad to have new chapters in life. “There’s a song on my last album called ‘Never Too Late to Dream.’ That is exactly my philosophy,” he notes. “I feel very vibrant at this point. Going through losing my wife [to lung cancer] was the one bad thing that ever happened in my life. But I was like, ‘OK, Bruce, you have this other chapter to write, so get on it.’”

And he has. Though the album’s final track, “Coney Island Days,” is a wistful song about missed opportunities and unfulfilled potential, it also references dreams that never die. And Sudano’s dreams are still very much alive.

“I’m engaged in life, I’m inspired and I’m on fire,” he says. In a 21st Century World, that’s a good place to be.

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Opera Memphis
Sep
28
7:00pm 7:00pm

Opera Memphis

Opera Memphis is back at the Levitt Shell during this year's 30 Days of Opera! 30 Days of Opera is exactly what it sounds like: 30 days of totally awesome - totally FREE - performances by Opera Memphis all over Memphis and the MidSouth. A fan favorite, our yearly Levitt Shell performance is full of fun for operaphiles and newbies alike. Think of it as Opera's Greatest Hits with pop music favorites and exciting surprises thrown in for good measure. Bring the whole family and join us for this event - one of the highlights of our year!  For more information, visit operamemphis.org.

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Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Sep
24
7:00pm 7:00pm

Dirty Dozen Brass Band

Celebrating 40 years since their founding in 1977, New Orleans-based Dirty Dozen Brass Band has taken the traditional foundation of brass band music and incorporated it into a blend of genres including Bebop Jazz, Funk and R&B/Soul. This unique sound, described by the band as a musical gumbo, has allowed the Dirty Dozen to tour across 5 continents and 30 countries, record 12 studio albums and collaborate with a range of artists from Modest Mouse to Widespread Panic to Norah Jones. Forty years later, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band is a world famous music machine whose name is synonymous with genre-bending romps and high-octane performances.

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Deedee Bridgewater
Sep
23
7:00pm 7:00pm

Deedee Bridgewater

Rhodes College and Levitt Shell Partnership

For the past six years, the Mike Curb Institute for Music at Rhodes College and The Levitt Shell have worked as community partners to provide access and educational opportunities for the Memphis community through music. Building on the strengths of each organization, the partnership has resulted in a variety of concerts and community events that have explored the breadth of Memphis music both past and present. Artists who have visited Memphis as a result of this partnership include Grammy award winners and NEA recognized artists such as Rosanne Cash, George Coleman, and Charles Lloyd, as well as important local musicians. The partnership has also given students from Rhodes College, the STAX Academy, and Shelby County Schools performing opportunities and access to professional artists. In addition, important community events and archival opportunities have been created through this partnership supporting the Benjamin Hooks Public Library, the Manassas High School alumni association, and area musicians whose stories have been underrepresented in the narrative of Memphis music.

This year, the partnership continues with an appearance by Dee Dee Bridgewater and her return home to Memphis. Bridgewater, a three-time Grammy Winner, TONY Award Winner, and 2017 NEA Jazz Master, is among the most accomplished jazz performers in the world. Bridgewater was born in Memphis, where her father, Matthew Garrett, was the band director at Manassas High School in the 1950s during the time when George Coleman, Charles Lloyd, Hank Crawford, Harold Mabern, Frank Strozier were students. Her recent album Memphis (recorded at the legendary Royal Studio) signals a return by Bridgewater to her roots and her hometown, and explores the influence the city had on her during her early years.

The Mike Curb Institute at Rhodes and the Levitt Shell are thrilled to present this concert for the Memphis community, and to host a series of community discussions and interactions with students in conjunction with her appearance in Memphis.

Past Series Highlights:

  1. Six concerts at the Levitt Shell, including Rosanne Cash, Charles Lloyd, George Coleman

  2. Over 20,000 attendees at these concerts

  3. Numerous clinics, discussions, and oral history projects connected to these concerts for area students, as well as performing opportunities for over 30 local professional musicians

  4. Rhodes Office of Alumni Relations has hosted receptions in conjunction with Family Weekend

  5. Community partners engaged through this partnership have included:

    1. Levitt Shell

    2. STAX Music Academy

    3. Shelby County Schools

    4. Benjamin Hooks Public Library

    5. Manassas High School Alumni Association

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Memphis Renaissance: Going On From Here
Sep
22
7:00pm 7:00pm

Memphis Renaissance: Going On From Here

New Ballet Ensemble dances a narrative of the human experience – its highs, lows, and hopes for the future – accompanied by spoken word passages and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra playing music from legendary black artists, including rarely-performed works by pioneering classical composer William Grant Still and Duke Ellington, with a finale from Marvin Gaye. It answers Dr. King’s question – “Where do we go from here” – with an optimistic community pledge: “We’re going on together.”

This unique presentation continues the creative alliance between New Ballet Ensemble & School, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, and Levitt Shell that began in 2015 with Memphis Renaissance + Harlem, performed to a packed audience of 4,500.

Memphis Renaissance: Going on from Here is a Collaborating Partner of the National Civil Rights Museum’s MLK50 commemoration. 

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Southern Avenue
Sep
21
7:00pm 7:00pm

Southern Avenue

Southern Avenue is a Memphis street that runs from the easternmost part of the city limits all the way to Soulsville, the original home of Stax Records. Southern Avenue is also the name of a fiery young Memphis quintet that embodies its home city’s soul, blues and gospel traditions, while adding a youthful spirit and dynamic energy all their own. “If Memphis music is a genre, this is it!” proclaims American Blues Scene, and Rock 103FM calls Southern Avenue, “The most-talked-about band in Memphis.”

Their self-titled debut album is a breath of fresh air with its own unique blend of gospel- tinged R&B vocals, roots/blues-based guitar work and soul-inspired songwriting. And Southern Avenue’s upcoming release on the fabled Stax label is a testament to the young combo’s talent and vision.

Southern Avenue features five young but seasoned musicians who came from diverse musical and personal backgrounds to create music that spans their wide-ranging musical interests, while showcasing the powerful chemistry that the group has honed through stage and studio experience.

Southern Avenue encompasses Memphis-born, church-bred sisters Tierinii and Tikyra Jackson, respectively a soulful, charismatic singer and a subtle, powerful drummer; guitarist Ori Naftaly, an Israeli-born blues disciple who first came to America as an acclaimed solo artist; versatile jazz-inspired bassist Daniel McKee; and the band’s newest addition, keyboardist Jeremy Powell, an early alumnus of Stax’s legendary music academy.

The band members’ diverse skills come together organically on Southern Avenue, scheduled for release on February 24, 2017 via Stax Records, a division of Concord Music Group. Produced by Kevin Houston (North Mississippi Allstars, Lucero, Patty Griffin), the 10-song album features guest appearances from Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars and trumpeter Marc Franklin of the Bo-Keys. But it’s Southern Avenue’s own potent musical chemistry that drives such sublimely soulful originals as “Don’t Give Up,” “What Did I Do,” “It’s Gonna Be Alright,” “Love Me Right” and “Wildflower.”  The band also pays tribute to its roots with an incandescent reading of Ann Peebles’ Memphis soul classic “Slipped, Tripped and Fell in Love.”

The seeds for Southern Avenue’s birth were planted when Ori Naftaly, who’d grown up in Israel with a deeply rooted passion for American blues and funk, came to Memphis in 2013 to compete in the prestigious International Blues Challenge. That experience led to Naftaly moving permanently to Memphis and successfully touring the United States with his own band. 

Although his talents were embraced by American audiences, Naftaly felt constrained in his own band, feeling the need to include a more expansive, collaborative musical vision.  That opportunity arrived when he met Memphis native Tierinii Jackson, who’d gotten her start singing in church, before performing in a series of cover bands and theatrical projects. 

According to Ori, “When I saw Tierinii perform, I thought, ‘This is why I came to America.’ I met her and we clicked. At our first rehearsal, she told me that her sister was a drummer, and she thought it would be great to have her in the band. We had such a good vibe, and suddenly I didn’t care so much about my solo thing.”

“I initially clicked with Ori really well, but it was his project,” Tierinii remembers. “Then he came to me and said ‘I want this band to be a collaboration, I want this to be our vision and our music.’  So we started writing together, and that’s when I realized that we were really the same, musically.”

“We started over,” Naftaly continues. “We threw out most of the songs I’d been playing in my solo band, and Tierinii and I wrote a whole new set, and we became Southern Avenue. The more we played together, the closer we got, and the more we became a family. We started getting a different kind of crowd, and from there things escalated quickly.”

“Ori said, ‘My band is done, this is y’all’s band,'” Tierinii recalls. “We all quit our other gigs and started focusing on this, working and writing and living together in a way that you don’t experience when you’re playing somebody else’s music. Now we’re playing songs that we wrote ourselves and we’re playing them from our hearts. That is when I realized that we had something special.”

Despite not having a record deal, Southern Avenue quickly found success touring in America and Europe. They won additional attention playing some prestigious festivals and competing in the International Blues Challenge, in which they represented Memphis. Less than a year after the band’s formation, they were signed to the resurgent Stax label. 

“I feel like being on Stax is a responsibility,” says Tierinii. “I grew up in Memphis, seeing the name Stax everywhere. It was a constant presence, and now it’s up to us to live up to that. I feel like this band can be a platform to do a lot of positive things for the city of Memphis. I want to change the world, but Memphis is home.”

Tierinii views Southern Avenue as “a perfect soundtrack to our first year together. We wrote these songs in our first nine months of being a band. We’d all done so many things and come from so many different places, but the music represents all of us.

“It’s been a real crash course,” she continues. “We haven’t been a band for very long, but what we have feels very special, and it’s made us a strong unit. I think that we represent something that people need to see right now.”

“This band has already made our dreams come true,” Ori concludes. “I’ve waited all my life to be in a band like this, and it’s amazing to me that I get to play with these people every night. Our goal is to keep doing this for a long time and leave our mark. We’re trying to build a legacy.”

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Trout Fishing In America
Sep
17
7:00pm 7:00pm

Trout Fishing In America

Trout Fishing in America is the long-standing musical partnership of Keith Grimwood and Ezra Idlet. The name, taken from a Richard Brautigan novel, seems almost as incongruous as a picture of this musical duo: Ezra Idlet (guitar) stands six feet eight inches and Keith Grimwood (bass), five feet five and one half inches. Ezra is more playful and extroverted while Keith is more serious and reserved. Each of them bring out the best in the other and the joy that comes from this musical interaction is contagious and impossible to deny.

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Country Blues Festival
Sep
16
7:00pm 7:00pm

Country Blues Festival

Join us for the Country Blues Festival!

Line Up: 

Blue Mother Tupelo

Rising up from the dusty Delta lowlands and muddy bayou banks of Indianola, Mississippi through the bluffs of Memphis to the mountains of east Tennessee, comes the unique Southern Soul sound of Blue Mother Tupelo. Paste Magazine wrote, "Blue Mother Tupelo is quite possibly the best husband and wife duo you've never heard of. Micol and Ricky Davis play swampy, gospel-tinged southern soul-blues. Micol displays the full-bodied vocal fire of Janis Joplin, while she rattles and slaps her tambourine with the ecstasy and know-how of a black gospel choir member. Ricky plays muscular, stabbing figures on acoustic guitar and dobro, and the two join in close, soul-searing harmonies like only intimate kin can; a heady blend of otherworldly longing and thisworldly passion, bodies swaying and tambourines shaken emphatically." BMT's dreamy rendition of the Paul Anka classic, "Put Your Head On My Shoulder" was included on the big screen in the closing scene of the movie, "Daltry Calhoun" (Miramax Films). Their critically and fan acclaimed album of original songs, "Heaven & Earth" made waves across Americana radio worldwide, debuting at #2 behind Kris Kristofferson on the EuroAmericana Chart and hitting the Top 40 on Americana radio in the USA, and remained in the Top 40 of Roots Music Report's "Roots Rock" Chart for a year. Ricky, Micol & Katie Armiger co-wrote the song, "Playin' With Fire" recorded by Katie Armiger, that reached the Top 50 on the U.S. Country Airplay Chart and remained there for weeks. Blue Mother Tupelo's newest album "Only Sunshine" released in 2014, featuring 10 original songs including co-writes with the award-winning and highly-regarded Kim Richey, Will Kimbrough & Ryan Tyndell; was announced by Something Else Reviews "Best of 2014 (Non-Jazz)" (alongside new albums by Lucinda Williams, Jack White, Seth Walker, Mingo Fishtrap, Me-Shell Ndegeocello and the Drive-By Truckers). BMT has shared the studio, shows and the stage with many well-known, well-respected, wonderfully-gifted recording and touring artists. BMT's new-upcoming album will be released Spring 2017. Ricky & Micol have an insatiable ingrained heartfelt passion for traversing the purest depths and heights of music and BMT is just getting started! Blue Mother Tupelo is American music that will pull you in, to stomp and sway all night long.

Reverend John Wilkins

Though born in Memphis, Tennessee, Reverend John Wilkins is a child of the North Mississippi Hill Country. His mother was born in Holly Springs and his father was from Hernando. While Wilkins grew up in the city, family parties and neighborhood picnics featuring country blues, and fife & drum bands were never farther than a short drive over the Mississippi state line.

John Wilkins' father, the venerated blues and gospel singer Robert Wilkins, was the principal influence on his young son's development as a musician. Wilkins' father had made a series of recordings in the 1930s that included the original "Prodigal Son" (initially recorded as a secular song called "That's No Way To Get Along"), which was later recorded by the Rolling Stones. The elder Wilkins developed a gospel style that was based on his earlier country blues style - a style that developed into the rock 'n' roll sound that Memphis, and then the world, would later claim as it's own.When the young John Wilkins was learning to play guitar, he picked up his father's gospel and country blues styles.

He also absorbed the citified soulful sounds that were being pioneered by local musicians and recorded by legendary Memphis labels like Sun, Stax and Hi. As he approached adulthood in the 1960s, John Wilkins could be found playing in church, at parties, and at clubs. Like his father before him, Wilkins walked a similar musical line between the sacred and secular. He played guitar on O.V. Wright's famous 1965 single "You're Gonna Make Me Cry" and later in the early 1970s recorded as a member of the M & N Gospel Singers for Style Wooten's Designer Records.

In the early 1980's, Wilkins life came full circle when he followed his father's call to ministry. He became pastor of Hunter's Chapel Church and ever since, Wilkins has led a congregation that includes generations of Tate county locals, as well as the late fife players Othar Turner and Napolian Strickland and their families, and numerous other regional parishioners and North Mississippi musicians.

In earlier times, legendary Hill Country bluesman Fred McDowell and his wife Annie Mae were members of Hunter's Chapel congregation. It was they who, in the mid 1960s first introduced the Hunter's Chapel Singers to the world on the outstanding album called Amazing Grace for Testament Records. "You Can't Hurry God" is Reverend John Wilkins' debut full-length album. In it he showcases an individual sound that is regional and universal. This recording is a culmination of a lifetime spent learning from, and ministering to some of the luminaries of North Mississippi and Memphis. And, this sound can have only been made by a child of the North Mississippi Hill Country.

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Jonathan Blanchard
Sep
15
7:00pm 7:00pm

Jonathan Blanchard

Soul Singer, songwriter actor and preserver of the Negro Spiritual, Jonathan Blanchard has successfully released his first studio album entitled “Freedom’s Soul…..the REVOLUTION”.  Freedom’s Soul was recorded with live musicians in Memphis, TN and Atlanta, GA.

Brought forth from the historical roots of Memphis, Freedom’s Soul, is easily one of today’s most dynamic and powerful musical works.  A culmination of musical genres, steeped in soul music and lessons learned.  With an inspiring message and originality,  Freedom’s Soul “takes you there”, with every song.  There is truth, pureness and clarity in the message, and simple genius within the compositions.  This album is a fusion of Soul, Funk, Jazz, Spirituals, and R&B.  “As a creative spirit, your creations will either manifest freedom or bondage in the souls of those who bare witness”.  Blanchard would describe his lyrical content as simply being “Honest”.  The genius is in the commonality and practicality of how he expresses his views on an array of subject matter.  Blanchard is heavily influenced by Memphis Artist who preceded him such as EWF, The Bar-Kays, Isaac Hayes, and WC Handy…who also maintained a since of being current and relevant.

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Alex Cuba
Sep
14
7:00pm 7:00pm

Alex Cuba

Following the release of “Healer”, Alex Cuba's forth studio album, it has been an eventful year. He opened for Sheryl Crow two nights in Hollywood Bowl, won the singer songwriter category at the Latin Grammys 2015 and was nominated for the Latin Pop category at the 2016 Grammys. All this from the small town in northern Canada where Alex Cuba has lived and independently produced music for 12 years. After completing tours in Canada and making best of lists for NPR and CBC for Healer for 2015 Alex celebrated Canada Day in Ottawa playing for Prime Minister Trudeau and made 1M streams on Spotify for the single Sarah. Alex is now preparing a new soulful, melody rich production that has him in Montreal, Spain, Los Angeles and Victoria for an April 2017 release.

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John Kilzer
Sep
10
7:00pm 7:00pm

John Kilzer

Hide Away finds John Kilzer turning in a new set of songs in that rich, cross-genre tradition, with the help of Memphis’s established musical community and members of the up-and-coming generation as well. Alvin Youngblood Hart, Luther Dickinson, Steve Selvidge, Bobby Manuel, Greg Morrow and Kirk Whalum, among others, all show up to help Kilzer bring it home. It’s a testimony to John Kilzer’s respected standing in the Memphis music community, and it’s the reason Hide Away marks a return to top form for a songwriter who knows, personally and professionally, how music can move, can shake, can heal us.

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Brian Owens & the Deacons of Soul
Sep
9
7:00pm 7:00pm

Brian Owens & the Deacons of Soul

When you hear Brian Owens sing, it’s hard to believe that anyone could find as much joy in music as he does. You would have to believe that his greatest goal is to thrill audiences and reinforce his reputation as one of America’s true soul music virtuosos.

On his new album, SOUL OF CASH, Owens offers up his own soulful take on timeless classics recorded by legendary Johnny Cash, including "Ring of Fire," "Folsom Prison Blues," "Walk The Line," Man In Black," and "Sunday Morning Coming Down." Each song is configured respectfully by Owens and his band, The Deacons of Soul (Alvin Quinn, Shaun Robinson, Rob Woodie), to preserve the genius of the original versions while demonstrating their universal meaning and adaptability. 

 

"The way I look at this project is not so much as a tribute, but more of an Americana soul project that features the music of Johnny Cash," says Owens, who has been lauded by Rolling Stone as a “vibrant soul singer who bridges a racial and generational divide." "One of the things I've come to know is that the soul of Johnny Cash is very similar to the soul of me."

 

"I get the sense from people that they think my connection to Johnny Cash is a strange one," Owens continues. "I don't know if it's because he's white or because I'm black. When people hear my original material, it leans more toward Marvin Gaye and that kind of vibe. But I really discovered my voice singing Johnny Cash music. When I sing music of some of my other influences, it's pulling from Marvin, Sam Cooke, and Curtis Mayfield. But when I sing Johnny Cash, you're hearing me because there's no reference point for me other than the song."  

 

Owens was 11 years old when first saw Johnny Cash on the popular TV series Columbo where Cash portrayed playing a televangelist and sang "I Saw the Light." Later in his mid-20s, Owens discovered him once again through the movie Walk The Line. "There was something about his life that resonated with me," Owens says. "From then on, I really got into Cash -- not only the music, but also the person."

In a country where everything feels so divided now and people are seemingly forced by the media to look at our differences more than what makes us the same, Owens says he thinks of Soul Of Cash a middle-of-the-road narrative.  "To me it says here's this guy, a white man born in the South, who's now passed on, and I, a young African-American guy born in the Midwest, raised on soul music, finding much common ground through music," explains Owens.  "What we have in common far outweighs the difference that I'm black and he's white, and that's 

what I want people to get from this project." 

Owens has accomplished a lot in his musical career. He was the lead singer for the U.S. military band Sidewinder that became an internet sensation. He says performing for the troops was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that helped shape and mold him as an artist and a person. Owens has since released three nationally distributed solo albums, opened for such notable artists as Ramsey Lewis and Michael McDonald, and has headlined his own tours from coast to coast. Owens has also performed at the World Series and for First Lady Michelle Obama and made numerous national TV appearances including Entertainment Tonight, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Fox & Friends, The Wayne Brady Show and more. 

A longtime resident of Ferguson, Missouri, Owens has led by example in launching numerous charitable initiatives. Through his LIFE (Leadership, Innovation, Faith and Excellence) Cultural and Performing Arts, he offers education in music, art and technology with the aim of empowering youth in his community.

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Lady Wray
Sep
8
7:00pm 7:00pm

Lady Wray

Virginia-born singer/songwriter Nicole Wray has everything you’d want in a singer: an infectious Jackson-5-family-member flare, a range like Aretha’s, and a church upbringing that’s brought a pure, healing texture to her voice. But the struggle she’s been through has made her more than a singer. Nicole Wray is an artist.

When talking about Queen Alone, her first solo album in some time, Nicole explains, “It’s a reflection of my soul. It’s who I am today.” And aptly so. Released on Brooklyn’s Big Crown Records, Nicole is writing and singing songs about her life. And yet to even start to know her soul, you have to go back to the beginning.

Growing up in Portsmouth was tough at times for Nicole. Of course, there were aspects of teenage normalcy: the Sundays in church, hanging out with friends, her first real job as a temporary telemarketer. At the age of fifteen, life opened up quickly when Missy Elliot paid a visit to Nicole’s family home to audition her on the spot. Missy was there on the rumored strength and quality of her voice. Instantly blowing her away, she signed and left with Missy that night. Two years later, in 1998, she had a hit gold single off a solid debut album (Make It Hot). Suddenly she was part of a team that included late ‘90s R&B and rap royalty: Missy, Aaliyah, Ginuwine, Playa, Timbaland and Magoo. She made it. And fast.

However, the only hint of a second album was a single (“I’m Lookin’”). As rapidly as she achieved success, Nicole then found herself needing to re-make it. By late 2001, her time with Missy and company had run its course. They amicably parted ways and Nicole, once on top of the R&B world, was unsure of what was next.

It was a very low, but important, point in her life. While her passion and talent propelled her forward–friends disappeared and her purpose seemed unclear. While neck-deep in this struggle, Damon Dash and Roc-A-Fella Records called. They signed an album deal and by 2004 she had a new single that was getting healthy play (“If I Was Your Girlfriend”). In what was starting to be a pattern, just as things were looking up, Roc-A-Fella then (famously) split and despite the strong single, there wasn’t enough push to get her sophomore album out. Once again, industry factors beyond her control took charge. Like a recurring dream, Nicole found herself in a familiar situation. Having just been in the spotlight, and then again back living the “real life.”

Besides the fickleness of the industry, life was also testing her. Nicole’s father and his drug addiction strained her parents’ marriage, family members had run-ins with the law, and friends passed away too early. Motivated by the pain, she pushed on, and through this duality of regular life and fame, Nicole came into her own. No longer that shy girl from Virginia, letting people write her lyrics and dictate how she sang songs–Nicole was more in control of what she wanted and was a smarter and sharper vocalist for it.

Maintaining her connection with Damon Dash, she did a few guest spots. Nicole’s powerful voice had a huge presence on The Black Keys’ Blackroc project in 2009 which led her to recording background vocals on The Black Keys’ Grammy-winning LP, Brothers.

In 2013, Nicole paired up with London vocalist Terri Walker and released the album Lady. On Truth & Soul Records, Nicole and Terri had a backdrop supplied by the same musicians that helped make Aloe Blacc a global smash and Lee Fields a household name. Pitchfork said of the LP: “The singers clearly relish the opportunity to indulge in a little comfort food soul, resulting in an infectiously fun set with broad, cross-generational appeal.”

Once again, Nicole was tested. Terri parted ways with the group to pursue her own projects shortly after the album’s release–despite rave reviews and upcoming travel dates. Nicole could’ve stopped as well. Instead, she carried the Lady project herself, show to show, town to town. In the face of frustration and decisions beyond her control, Nicole stepped up and took charge. She knew that she could make this happen. The Lady project allowed Nicole to showcase her impeccably strong and unique voice as well as her succinct poetic prowess for song writing. She found herself renewed and in a realer place, a place where success and frustration honed her talent and drive. She wasn’t just a singer anymore—she was tapping into something altogether different.

Fast forward to now–the transformation from singer-for-hire to pure artist is evident in this new full-length solo release, Queen Alone. Reunited with the top-class musicianship from the Lady project and with Big Crown’s own Leon Michels and Daptone / Dunham’s Tom Brenneck handling production, Nicole says she is “Singing out loud now–singing from the stomach.” Back in 1998 she was coached how to sing. Today, after stutter-stepping in and out of the industry, there is a new soul and substance to her songs–all of it from her life.

Almost echoing her new record, Nicole says, “You have to go through something for it to be real.” She has been living with one foot in fame and the other in real life. The result is clear: she’s feeling something real in her music again. And it’s hard for us as listeners not to follow suit.

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North Mississippi Allstars
Sep
7
7:00pm 7:00pm

North Mississippi Allstars

North Mississippi Allstars are back with PRAYER FOR PEACE and couldn’t we all use one of those right about now? Founded in 1996 by brothers Luther (guitar and vocals) and Cody Dickinson (drums, piano, synth bass, programming and vocals), the now venerable band are entering their second decade with what is unquestionably the most vital album of their brilliant career. Released by Sony Legacy, PRAYER FOR PEACE sees North Mississippi Allstars continuing to think globally following 2013’s Earth-shaking WORLD BOOGIE IS COMING. That album, the band’s seventh studio recording, proved the planetary sensation its title promised, with The Guardian simply declaring it the North Mississippi Allstars’ “best yet.” Now North Mississippi Allstars weave their bred-to-the-bone musical sensibility with a potent message of positivity, inclusion, family, and hope. As ever, songs like the powerhouse title track and “You Got To Move” – the latter featuring accompaniment from Hill Country Blues guitar hero Kenny Brown and award-winning singer/bassist Danielle Nicole – pay homage to the band’s long lineage of musical heroes, celebrating the blues’ extraordinary legacy while reshaping and pushing it into contemporary relevance with fatback funk, slippery soul, and pure unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll.

The majority of PRAYER FOR PEACE was recorded at Memphis’ famed Royal Studios with the great Boo Mitchell behind the board. The hard-touring band also recorded as they traveled the country, lighting up studios in St. Louis, Kansas City, New Orleans, Brooklyn, Austin, and of course, their legendary father Jim Dickinson’s Zebra Ranch in the Allstars’ own Hernando, MS. A number of old friends join the congregation, among them bassist Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers Band, Dead & Company), Graeme Lesh (Midnight North, The Terrapin Family Band), vocalist Sharisse Norman, bassist Dominic Davis (Jack White), and singer/fife player Shardé Thomas, daughter of Mississippi blues giant Otha Turner. Simultaneously master curators, expert revivalists and forward-thinking visionaries, the Dickinson brothers have crafted their most daringly creative and provocatively topical collection to date. PRAYER FOR PEACE stands tall as yet another milestone marking North Mississippi Allstars own unique place in the American musical tradition. 

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Making Movies
Jul
16
7:30pm 7:30pm

Making Movies

Making Movies is an American rock and roll band that entrances audiences with their interweaving of Afro-Latino rhythms and psychedelic rock'n'roll riffs. Armed with their ambitious and politically charged new album, I Am Another You, the band punches out one high-energy song after another with theatrics and improvisation littered throughout. Their culture gives way to dynamics too: at times front-man Enrique Chi trades his electric guitar for a folkloric Panamanian mejorana, and the Chaurand brothers hop off drums and percussion to instead supply the rhythmic pulse with dueling zapateados, a traditional dance from Guadalajara, Mexico. 

The band's political idea is straightforward enough that they can express it in four words: “We are all immigrants.” In supporting that cause, a portion of all proceeds from the upcoming album will go to the National Immigration Law Center. I Am Another You comes out May 26th.

 “... tough to classify into one genre, which ... makes them that much more appealing.” — CNN

“the band synthesizes what’s happening in ... Latin music better than anyone else out there today.” — MTV

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Foxygen
Jul
15
7:30pm 7:30pm

Foxygen

Foxygen and Star Power is the Los Angeles songwriting duo of 24-year-olds Sam France and Jonathan Rado. In May 2011, France and Rado nervously handed off a CD-R of this homemade mini-opus Take the Kids Off Broadway (Jagjaguwar, 2012) to producer and visionary Richard Swift after his performance in a Lower East Side club. The duo, who had just mixed and burned the disc that very night, had been devotees of Swift’s outsider-pop oeuvre since high school, when they first began recording their own pubescent forays into oddball rock n’ roll (At least a dozen records were finished before they graduated high school).

Foxygen left the venue that night unsure whether Swift would truly listen or sling the disc into a dumpster on his way out. You’re reading this right now because Swift did listen. In fact, he flipped for Foxygen’s bugged out, esoteric majesty and called upon them immediately to say as much. Eight months later, Foxygen was holed up for a week-long recording session at Swift’s neo-legendary National Freedom studio, creating what became their breakthrough, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic (Jagjaguwar, 2013), a precocious and cocksure joyride across California psychedelia.

2013 saw the mercurial success of 21st Century, and with it, heightened demands for tour planning, added press days, demands on resources, the sacrifice of personal relationships, and the indefinite delay of recording plans. The quick-fire success made for an altogether turbulent 2013 for the band. Foxygen’s always captivating live performances shifted from eruptive to sometimes frightening — and then, just put on ice altogether. But at the close of 2013, France and Rado found secret sanctuary in their new studio, Dream Star, and holing up in some of LA’s most famous hotels for more recording. Writing music together is what their friendship has always thrived upon. At Dream Star in the northernmost passage of LA’s valley, they reformed as a punk band called Star Power. And the result, the svelte, 82-minute …And Star Power, is a morphing, splice-and-paste journey through soft rock indulgences, psych-ward folk, cartoon fantasia, D&D doomrock, and paranoid bathroom rompers. Foxygen, now expanded into a 9-piece touring machine as Star Power, calls the album “a cinematic, auditory adventure for the speedy freaks, skull krunchers, abductees, and misfits…the radio station you can only hear if you believe.” 

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Phoebe Hunt & The Gatherers
Jul
14
7:30pm 7:30pm

Phoebe Hunt & The Gatherers

An accomplished Americana instrumentalist with foundations in jazz and swing music, Phoebe makes an impressive creative leap with this record. It’s the culmination of a five year journey that has taken her from her Austin roots through Music Row, Brooklyn, and even to India to study with seventh-generation master violinist Kala Ramnath.  Along the way, Phoebe found her voice and delivered her most inspired set of songs to date — the soundtrack to her self-discovery.

Shanti’s Shadow marks an arrival for Phoebe Hunt, whose artistic and personal journey has deep storylines. These masterfully crafted songs are brought to life by the musicians Phoebe has gathered – each a virtuoso in their own right. Phoebe is skilled at taking seemingly disparate elements and pulling them together into a dazzling kaleidoscope of lush, coherent sound and rhythm patterns. The result is music that swells, crashes and breathes organically under Phoebe’s soulful, plaintive voice. Sounds of Americana and Texas Tinged Swing are woven with exotic rhythmic concepts culled from Phoebe’s time in India.

Shanti’s Shadow is always surprising yet comfortingly familiar.  Prior to recording this album, the entire band traveled to India to study at an ashram outside of Pune with master violinist Kala Ramnath. In India, they practiced music, meditation and philosophy – sometimes spending as many as 10 hours a day working and re-working Tats and Ragas. This intense, experiential study is apparent in the seamless musical play and improvisation of Shanti’s Shadow.

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The Suffers
Jul
13
7:30pm 7:30pm

The Suffers

The 2017 Levitt National Tour will feature the critically acclaimed rising stars, The Suffers. 

This 10-piece powerhouse of Gulf Coast Soul celebrates the rich diversity of the bands hometown of Houston masterfully melding classic American soul with genres as wide-ranging as rock, Latin ska, Cajun, hip hop, country and R&B. When asked about the origin of the self-coined term Gulf Coast Soul, lead vocalist Kam Franklin explained, When I think of the Gulf, I think of good food, humidity, diverse cultures, and this is all reflected in The Suffers. We come from different backgrounds, but it all comes together in our band and we create a gumbo of music. It might not make sense on paper to put a Latin percussionist with a gospel singer with a classically trained saxophonist with a jazz drummer, but for us, it works.This approach has already earned The Suffers a place on numerous artists to watch lists, rave reviews from Billboard, NPR and TheNew York Times and a growing international fan base and they’re just getting started!  The Suffers are frequently praised for their heartfelt, high-energy live shows. 

The combined force of the rhythm and horn sections contagious grooves and Kam Franklins soaring vocals has wowed audiences and critics alike in venues across the globe from small, intimate settings like NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, to large-scale festivals like the Newport Folk Fest and Austin City Limits Music Festival and South by Southwest, to popular late night television shows like The Late Show with David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel Live! andThe Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Along with pushing musical boundaries, The Suffers are dedicated to 5 inspiring fans to live boldly and tap into their own potential. This dynamic band will move people of all ages and backgrounds, with their raw, fiery Gulf Coast Soul!  

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Susto
Jul
9
7:30pm 7:30pm

Susto

Justin Osborne needed a break. He'd been writing music and making albums since he was 15, and by the age of 26, he felt like he was spinning his wheels. He knew he needed a change, so he ended his old band Sequoyah Prep School and moved to Cuba. He thought he might be done with music for a while, but the songs just kept coming.

"I had this idea in my mind that I was going to try and join some kind of Latin American Leftist movement. I wanted to jump off a cliff," Osborne says. "Once I got there I immediately started hanging out with musicians and going to shows. I started showing them the songs from this project that was kind of just an idea in my head.

"They were like, 'man, don't throw away your passport, go home and continue to make music,'" he says. "I was encouraged by them to try again."

Osborne was already writing the songs for what would be SUSTO's 2014 self-titled debut when his producer Wolfgang Zimmerman introduced him to Johnny Delaware, a guitarist and songwriter who had moved to Charleston, South Carolina to make an album with the producer.

SUSTO is a Spanish word referring to a folk illness in Latin America that Osborne learned as anthropology student, meaning “when your soul is separated from your body,” and also roughly translates to a panic attack. For Osborne, the music of SUSTO was something he had to get out into the world.

SUSTO released their debut album independently and toured relentlessly to get the word out. They were an immediate hit in their hometown, packing venues, getting airplay at all the bars and even making a fan of Band of Horses' Ben Bridwell. "I got an e-mail from him, telling me he loved the record and wanted to meet with me and Johnny," he says. "That was actually the day I wrote my professor, and I said, ‘I'm not coming in.’"

The members of the live band that Osborne and Delaware recruited — Corey Campbell (guitar, keys, backing vocals), Jenna Desmond (bass), and Marshall Hudson (drums, percussion) contributed to SUSTO’s new album & I'm Fine Today, which will be released via Caroline. "We just wanted to go further. We started something with the first record, and we want to keep going in that direction," Osborne says of the album, which finds them taking the spacey country rock of their debut into the stratosphere, piling on layers of sighing keyboards, galloping rhythms and frayed, noisy guitar solos atop wistful melodies and lyrics that examine growing up and growing into yourself. “We put the first record out, and we worked hard, and it just feels like a good place to be,” he says, noting that while the first record focused on his own struggles, & I'm Fine Today is more concerned with looking at the world beyond the struggles in your head. 

“I’ve learned to appreciate the fact that I just get to be here. It’s all perspective,” he says. “This album is about coming to terms with yourself and feeling okay with your place in the universe."

 

 

 

 

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Squirrel Nut Zippers
Jul
8
7:30pm 7:30pm

Squirrel Nut Zippers

It was about 20 years ago when NPR’s Morning Edition said: “It’s not easy to categorize the music of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, except that it’s hot.”

2016 marked the 20th anniversary of the Squirrel Nut Zippers most celebrated and commercially successful album Hot.  Originally released in the summer of 1996, Hot was the follow up to the band’s critically acclaimed debut The Inevitable. By this time the group had already established a substantial live following across the country thanks to early support from NPR, college radio and non-commercial stations. Hot wound up selling over 1.3 million copies.

A newly re-mastered version of the album along with a bonus track: “The Puffer” returned to stores in July on Hollywood Records. Long out of print on vinyl, Hot has now made its glorious return to wax on 180-gram vinyl.

In honor of the 20th Anniversary of Hot, the bands visionary creator Jimbo Mathus, along with founding member and partner Chris Phillips (Drums), have crafted a brand new stage show including several leading musicians from New Orleans to serve up the bands unique musical flavor which owes its roots to that city.

Since July, the Squirrel Nut Zippers have been on tour for the first time in almost seven years. The band has performed at many major festivals this year including: Montreal International Jazz Festival, Strawberry Music Festival, LEAF Festival and the Exit Zero Jazz Fest. On top of that, they have had sold out shows in Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Little Rock, Minneapolis and more. Fans are clearly excited the band are touring again.

“We are humbled and incredibly excited by the initial Zippers shows since the re-launch,” band leader Jimbo Mathus commented.  “It’s not a reunion, it’s a revival! The band includes cutting edge talent from New Orleans and the songs have been brought to life in an exciting new way. But most things remain unchanged… An amazing experience for young and old.”

Plans are underway for the band to record a brand new album, which would be their first new studio album in seventeen years.

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