From backwoods barbecues and community gatherings; Allen Stone emerges to share personal melodies, telling his tales of life after just 23 years. Getting his start singing at his father's church in small-town America; it wasn't until later when introduced to the greats of soul music (Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin) and then to the confessional lyrical fashion of the 60's -70's singer/ songwriters, did music begin to ignite intense passion, eventually carrying this boy to a musical home.
His debut album "Last To Speak" touches upon a range of styles and themes. Integrating classic soul, catchy pop hooks, r&b beats and folk roots with lyrical matters of testimonial broken relationships, poisonous politics and an intimate challenge to religion. Stone's music is notable for his finely crafted evocative songs and a fresh, smooth, soul-filled voice-one that certainly belies his age.
Sugar & the Hi Lows
Sugar & The Hi Lows know that popular music isn’t a mirror, that melodies and lyrics aren’t tethered to the cultural landscapes of their day. Breathing a new sound into music with an old soul, this rootsy, vintage duo reminds us why people dance, especially in the midst of hard times.
Music has always had the power to buoy spirits and wash communal hardships into the background. When Judy Garland clicked her sparkling heels and sang of a place “Over the Rainbow,” the rest of the nation was still reeling from the Great Depression and entering World War II. From the ashes of the same economic tragedy sprang Duke Ellington’s flitty jazz number “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).” And though decades have come and gone, music still possesses that power.
Ringing in their new sound, Sugar & The Hi Lows are bringing back the era of feel good music, the days when one take as enough and an auto-tune was a thing you did to your ’55 Chevy. Brought to life by experienced songwriter/performers Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup, Sugar & The Hi Lows is a bit of a nostalgic love offering.
Growing up in Mississippi under the sway of Memphis blues, Dabbs was raised to the soundtrack of Motown, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and The Temptations. “My father used to make blanket statements like, ‘It’s not good if you can’t dance to it,’” he remembers. And though he wasn’t into his father’s sonic selection at the time, he says that style of music has come to evoke a feeling he just can’t get anywhere else.
“The older that I got, I realized how that was kind of seeping into what I loved musically, and it just brings this joy, it brings this happiness,” Dabbs says. “With the climate of everything right now – with the economy – you could write the most depressing songs ever, but I really feel like the world needs light; the world needs lighthearted.”
The happy-go-lucky numbers that evolved into Sugar & The Hi Lows began to take shape when Dabbs purchased a vintage box amp and sat down in his basement for a regular co-write with Stroup.
“We got talking about his dad and throwback music from the ‘50s and ‘60s and just like, ‘Why isn’t there that type of music now?’” Stroup recalls. That day, their song “This Can’t Be the Last Time” came in less than two hours. But somehow everything had changed. A newfound creative freedom had been tapped, and the next seven tracks for the project fell quickly into place after that.
“We weren’t really trying to treat it like a band,” explains Stroup. “We just wrote this series of songs, but they didn’t feel like an Amy Stroup song or an Amy and Trent duet. It really felt like its own thing.”
With more than 100 TV placements between the two of them, Dabbs and Stroup are certainly no strangers to pop culture, but they’ve chosen to step away from their traditional singer-songwriter sound to pursue something with more of a swing.
By all accounts, 2012 was a banner year for up-and-coming blues-hop/soul singer ZZ Ward. Releasing the mixtape Eleven Roses in February, the Criminal EP in May and her full-length debut Til the Casket Drops in October proved she was nothing if not prolific. Since then, she has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, had her music featured on ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars, MTV’s Awkward and in promos for ABC’s hit series Nashville, and completed a 50-date headlining American tour with sold-out dates in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Denver and Nashville. Ward is still in awe of the buzz that has continued to build around her and her music this past year.
“That was the first year I played in cities I’d never been to, and yet I had fans there,” says Ward. “They came to the shows, knew the lyrics, and had already connected with the songs. It was fun, but surreal.”
Ward, whom NPR recently declared “is going to be a star,” and whose vocal prowess Rolling Stone has praised as being “chill-inducing,” has been gradually working her way into the music scene since she began performing for her father’s blues band at age 13. Growing up in rural Oregon, her love of hip-hop and rap eventually took her to the nearby college town of Eugene, where she sang choruses at underground hip-hop clubs for local rappers. Despite these experiences though, she struggled to reconcile her love of blues, hip-hop, soul and rock on a professional level.
“It took me a while to embrace the sort of music I wanted to make and accept that making it for myself was enough,” Ward says. “I just wanted to write songs that I loved, so that’s what I did on this record.”
Ward’s honey-smoked vocals and soulful lyrics ensnare you from the opening moments of the stomping title track and hold you in their hypnotic sway clear through the final notes of the cool, R&B-flavored “365 Days.” The album features thirteen tracks ranging from heartfelt ballads (“Last Love Song”) to groovy up-tempo numbers (“Move Like U Stole It”), and includes guest appearances by rising hip-hop star Kendrick Lamar and rapper Freddie Gibbs. Bluesy ditties like “Lil Darlin” sound like something you might hear in a dive bar, and the funky hip-hop track “Charlie Ain’t Home,” acts as an imaginative reply to Etta James’s “Waiting on Charlie.” The maverick sensibilities which appear throughout this show-stopping record have also earned Ward’s music a nickname—Dirty Shine—which she happily embraces.
“What dirty shine means to me, personally, was the moment I stopped thinking about what people were gonna think about my music, and I just accepted who I was and what my sound was,” Ward says. “It’s about embracing your authentic self, doing what makes you happy and committing to it. That’s the message people have been getting from that phrase, so it’s inspiring.”
2013 is promising to be even busier for Ward. She recently appeared on Conan, is co-headlining The Fire and Shine Tour with Delta Rae, and will be performing at SXSW, where she first introduced herself as an artist to watch out for last year. If you thought 2012 was a great year for Ward, 2013 is going to prove the best is yet to come.