I still want to list a few. It may give some insight into where our new record is coming from…
Blue - Joni Mitchell
The Worse Things Get the Harder I Fight - Neko Case
Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd
Dixie Chicken - Little Feat
Like Clockwork - Queens of the Stone Age
Rumors - Fleetwood Mac
Southeastern - Jason Isbell
Only Everything - Juliana Hatfield
- Miss Shevaughn
Instead of our end-of-year ‘most listened to’ albums, I’m going to review “Southeastern” by Jason Isbell, because it is THAT important of an album
February of 2011 was when Miss Shevaughn & I moved out of our apartment in Chicago and into our Honda Element. We spent the whole year on the road - and played over 125 gigs. In November of that year, we stopped in Seattle for a few days off. Our friend, Cristina Calle, had gotten us tickets to see Jason & Isbell & The 400 Unit. They were opening for Justin Townes Earle. I had never heard Jason’s music, even though both Cristina and I were acquainted with Jason’s keyboard player, Derry - from when we all lived in the DC/Baltimore area years ago.
Truth be told - I was just really happy to be seeing someone else play their music on stage. Miss Shevaughn & I were REALLY weary from our time on the road. I remember being quite impressed with Jason’s ability as a guitarist, even if some of his songwriting wasn’t as quite as diverse and varied as I would have liked. His band rocked what looked to be a near sold-out show. After the gig, we hung around drinking with Derry, and wisely, didn’t accompany the bands to the bar/diner they were headed to. If we had, my hangover would have been twice as crippling the next day.
Jason was still drinking then, as we all did shots of tequila with him right before he and his band left the venue. He was quite friendly, but still had the look of someone who hit the road hard and didn’t really take good care of himself.
So when “Southeastern” was released earlier this year, it was accompanied with a “I fell in love, got sober and wrote these songs” press campaign. I thought “well, good for him - even if it does sound like a ‘VH1 - Behind The Music’ plot.” I remember reading some really stunning reviews of the album, too, but my arbitrarily rebellious nature filed the album under “I don’t remember him being THAT good, I’ll get around to it eventually”.
After all, he was a pretty decent songwriter/guitarist/front man - but would the stripped-down, bare-bones presentation of so many of the tunes on “Southeastern” harm, or help his, what I felt at the time to be, somewhat average alt-country song craft?
The humbling experience of eating my own words was only part of what I feel “Southeastern” represents to me. To be released so successfully in a year when honesty, emotion and creativity took a back seat to stylized, predictable, mass-marketed homogeny - Jason’s album gave me hope. Hope for my own music career and hope for the (most likely) millions of people who are appreciating the simple beauty of the songs on “Southeastern”.
This year, at The Future Of Music Coalition summit, I heard the head of Thirty Tigers (Jason’s management/PR firm) talk about how important the story behind the song was. The narrative of Jason’s path to sobriety and his marriage were key in making “Southeastern” a success. He was only half right - the path that Jason took allowed him to sit down and pen songs that are vulnerable and draw you in almost instantaneously. The story behind the song IS the song.
People will tell you about how vulnerability is necessary to write songs that feel sincere. Emotionally dropping your guard and looking inside for the sake of writing a 3-4 minute pop song is much easier said than done. I can speak from personal experience, and say that no matter how practiced you might think you are at handling being vulnerable on stage, holding a guitar, playing a song YOU wrote, with the WHOLE ROOM staring at you (or worse - NOT staring at you and playing with their damn phones while you are singing your heart out)… It can make the most confident of performers want to run, hide, and snort up a mountain of cocaine. So “Southeastern” personifies bravery. It is brave because Jason Isbell ALL READY had a career in music. Writing and singing his personal brand of sometimes sad, sometimes rocking alt-country. He could have kept on writing what people expected to hear from him and made a decent paycheck in the process. But instead, he cobbled together a collection heart-wrenching stories about drunken scumbaggery, cancer casualties, and honest-to-goodness love for another human being. Once again, speaking from experience, writing an honest love song that doesn’t automatically fall into the territory of trite, cliched, hackneyed pap is REALLY FUCKING HARD.
Going one step further - even his SINGING sounds more emotional, believable, and consequently, more vulnerable than his voice has on any of his previous recorded efforts.
I have listened to “Southeastern” a hundred times. and I will most likely listen to it a hundred more. And every time I hear it - I think “if I live in a world where people can be drawn in and won over by songs like “Elephant” & “Flying Over Water” - then there just might be hope for me, Miss Shevaughn, Chris Darby, Simon Flory, The Quiet Hollers, Leslie Sisson, and the hundreds of other musicians we have shared the stage with in the last three years.”
If all you can play are those three chords, and all you can sing is the truth - there might still be a place for you. THAT is what an album like “Southeastern” says to a musician like me.
Thank you for reading. Have a happy new year.
We’ll be seeing you all very soon.
Brushed the Dust off, a song that might be on the album.
"Oh Tornado" is a new demo that we played out a bit this spring. It’s most likely going to end up on the new album we’re recording this summer.
The song was inspired by Stefanie Kohn, a really kind, creative and inspiring person I had the pleasure to be friends with and to play music with. If she were still here, today she would be celebrating her birthday.
When we played together in the band, in miniature, we had a song that Stef wrote called “Tornado”. Here it is: http://www.myspace.com/inminiature
5/1 - Evening Muse, Charlotte, NC
5/12 The Yucca Tap Room in Tempe, AZ
In September of 2012, Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray released their first full-length offering, entitled We’re From Here.Immediately afterwards, the Americana duo (turned psych/blues/rock/folk trio) embarked on a two month tour to support that release. Their latest digital-only album Live @ DC9 was recorded during the final show of that 45-date venture at DC9 in Washington, DC last November, where they shared the stage with Laura Tsaggaris and The Weathervanes.
Featuring DC native Ben Tufts on drums, this live album is the conclusion to a year spent in the studio and on the stage, with thousands of miles logged on the road. Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray didn’t sleep much, but their songs have never sounded more focused or energetic.
“Think back on the material Daniel Lanois produced for Emmylou Harris - this music is by turns ethereal, haunting, lonely, ferocious and bluesy, painting American landscapes in pure black and white. The harmonies are smooth and go places you wouldn’t normally expect. Frisby’s alto has a world-weary and strongly emotional feel. She is, to be sure, a great singer.” -CONNECT SAVANNAH
“A fifteen song collection of Americana music, We’re From Here seamlessly jumps from sparse folk tunes to fuzzy guitar filled garage rock. Miss Shevaughn’s haunting vocals weave through the sonic landscape provided by Yuma Wray, and when it is his time to sing the contrast is powerful. Their music is more than just songs, each tune is a story and as story tellers it is up to Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray to bring these tales to life.” - Chris Martin / ATLANTA EXAMINER
“ Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray’s We’re From Here is a classic American road trip story, with the duo expanding its sound from sparse folk balladry to psychedelic swamp stomp.” - SUN JOURNAL
“We’re From Here, the new album from Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray, is a folk-drenched look into questions of contentment, laments over new beginnings, and self-acceptance, with Miss Shevaughn sounding an awful lot like Joni Mitchell as she tells her passionate tales.” - CHARLESTON CITY PAPER
“Their blend of country, folk, rock, and blues is a thing of beauty.” – MUSIC. DEFINED.
"Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray have put together a record that is simply stunning in its scope and in the sheer size of its sound…. this is a tremendous debut.” - WHEN YOU MOTOR AWAY
“Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray’s 2011 was spent on the road living out of their Honda Element, searching out their sound and cataloging their experiences and thoughts. Their time on the road was not wasted as the result is Americana personified – an amalgamation of elemental roots music into songs of real substance a soundtrack for a journey on the rural routes and black tops.” - BEAT SURRENDER
“Warm heart and fuzzed out soul come together on Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray’s new album We’re From Here.” - JESTER JAY MUSIC
“Nostalgic and reminiscent, We’re From Here is packed full of personality. Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray are both masters at merging musical genres and as a result, the album is original and full of songs that aren’t like anything else.” - SHOW ME SOMETHING DIFFERENT: UK
“Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray snake a highway around Americana, folk and good old rock & roll. It really is fabulous music making and bursting with talent, imagination and character. I could listen to it all day.” – UNDERCOVER
“Miss Shevaughn & Yuma have seen the U.S. and they sing about it with heartfelt soul and just the right amount of indie charisma. There’s nothing stuffy or snobby about their music. It clearly shines through as honest and poetic.” - John Powell / YOU HEAR THIS
“If I had a million dollars, I would pay Miss Shevaughn to sing me to sleep every night for a year. We’re From Here is one of the best albums that’s come my way this year.” - ADOBE & TEARDROPS
“Featuring an eclectic mix of instruments including – but not limited to – guitar, banjo, mandolin, percussion, glockenspiel and lap steel, this duo has a bigger sound than most listeners dare to imagine. Strength in voice and instrumental ability drives their songwriting excellence.” - THE VERMONT CYNIC
“Unique, honest and compelling storytelling.” - YOUNG MANHATTANITE
“The word “sprawling” certainly applies to We’re From Here, the new album by Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray. The duo spent the year on the road (29 states, 125 shows) and the new songs reflect their experiences and evolution.” - THE PROVIDENCE PHOENIX
“Ever since I have gotten my ears on this excellent work of Americana and folk, I haven’t been able to stop listening. A voice that captivates, Miss Shevaughn has to be one of the most passionate vocalists I’ve heard. Add in the mysterious Yuma Wray and his magical guitar skills, these two seem to be the perfect mix for creating music that has the power to make the burliest of men weep.” - THE RECORD STACHE
January 2013, the dawn of a new year full of promise and opportunity. Yuma Wray and I had recently come off a successful fall tour and were enjoying seeing our debut album “We’re From Here” pop up on best of the year lists and blogs. We had just packed up our meager belongings (mostly music equipment) and driven cross country to settle down in beautiful sunny San Luis Obispo, CA to write songs for our spring tour and upcoming album. I took a week off to fly to Chicago to do some work with the music education charity that I develop curricula for and write grants for. On my first night there I got a call that no one wants to receive.
"Your test results have come back and I’m sorry to tell you this but you have cancer."
It turns out that January is cervical cancer awareness month. Consider me very aware!
Now Yuma and I lead fairly humble lifestyles in order to pursue our music. We tour a lot and live in our car or camp. We don’t keep an apartment. Fortunately, one of our indulgences is health insurance. Unfortunately, my deductible was so high I didn’t know what to do. Because of my minimal income I qualified for state healthcare through Planned Parenthood in California. I started to do research on the disease and treatments and learned that it was very treatable in early stages but that 4,000 women a year die from the disease when it isn’t caught soon enough. Unfortunately, I hadn’t had regular checkups in several years starting at a time when I didn’t have insurance, and had no idea what my prognosis was. After speaking to friends and informing my family, I stayed up reading for pretty much the whole night. For the next several days I distracted myself with my work but every sentence ended in my head with a whispered “You Have Cancer”.
I am incredibly fortunate to have had family members of mine and Yuma’s step in and offer to help pay for medical bills and even more fortunate that they have the resources to do so. By the morning I had decided to go to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, both because they are one of the highest ranking cancer treatment hospitals in the country and because my family (and my cat) live nearby in Maryland.
Receiving top-notch treatment, or any treatment at all is not the case for many low-income women and those without insurance including artists, musicians, single mothers and those women holding down two or three jobs just to make ends meet for their families. Of the 4,000 women who die of cervical cancer in the U.S. each year, most deaths are due to not receiving regular checkups, PAPs that can detect the disease very early on and because those women don’t have the means or resources to access high-quality care.
I finished my job in Chicago and tried to sleep on the plane to no avail. There was that voice “You Have Cancer”. I tried to fill up my time researching antioxidant diets, yoga and massage treatments. Yuma met me at the airport and it was such a relief to be back with him. I had thought it was going to be weird, but other than him treating me like I was fragile for about a day it was fine. The next several days broke in to the wonderful writing schedule that we’d been on, and were filled with packing and travel plans. We took the train to L.A. and a plane to D.C. My parents picked us up at the Metro. My appointment was the next day.
On the train Yuma said after this is all over we should just get married. I was thinking the same thing. We’ve been engaged for three years, but we always tell ourselves we don’t have time to have a wedding. We’re always planning a tour or recording an album. Sometimes life reminds you that you’ve only got a limited amount of time to do ALL of the things that you want.
Hopkins is a lovely facility and the women’s cancer unit has beautiful views of the Baltimore skyline especially on a clear sunny winter day like the day of my appointment. Fortunately I didn’t have to wait in the waiting room long and soon talked to the doctor. She recommended a cone biopsy and let me know that this would be used both diagnostically as well as being a treatment, meaning, if they got it all I would just be monitored, but if they don’t then we’ll have to talk about next steps.
So here I am waiting again. They scheduled my surgery for Feb. 18th. That’s three weeks to wait!
With what we know we’ve decided not to cancel our spring tour and are even going to get in some rehearsals with our drummer Ben on some of the new material while we’re here. (He lives in D.C.) But the dreary weather and the continuous waiting are dragging me away from my creative urge. I know when my surgery is, I’ve had friends tell me it’s not that bad and there’s a good chance it will work. But it’s hard to focus on writing, and I think that I will feel like I’m in this state until they say “We got it all.”
Sometimes the big impact events in your life, the ones that you think should inspire art leave you numb and incapable until they have passed.
I keep coming back to the point that I am very lucky. I have a support system in place emotionally and monetarily that many people don’t. Planned Parenthood offers free and subsidized medical care to women who would not otherwise have access. You can donate to them here: https://secure.ppaction.org/site/SPageServer?pagename=pp_ppol_Nondirected_OneTimeGift&s_src=ppol_onetimegift_old
Additionally, many working musicians don’t have health insurance. Some states have Health Alliances for Musicians where you can donate.
As for me, I have every confidence that my surgery will go well and that we’ll be out on the road again this spring with a ton of new tunes.
See you on the road!