Brandi Carlile’s new album “In These Silent Days” is exquisite, intense and entirely gorgeous

Today feels like a holiday. A BIG HOLIDAY. I mean I took the goddamn off from work such is the significance of today.

Today, October 1, 2021 is ALBUM RELEASE DAY for BRANDI CARLILE!!!

Her seventh studio album “In These Silent Days” (Low Country Sound/Elektra Records) is out in the world and as I sit here and try to get a grip on myself, I’m on my 5th listening.

I awoke at about 6:15 this morning and ran downstairs like a seven year old version of myself on Christmas morning. I poured myself a cup of coffee, grabbed my Airpods, plunked myself down on the couch and took a few deep breaths.

Then I fired up Spotify (lest anyone feel the need to give me any grief about streaming, know that I have THREE signed copies of the album on vinyl that should be arriving, hopefully today but I didn’t want to wait until then to listen because I’m human) and dove into “In These Silent Days” like Dorothy taking the few steps on the yellow brick road towards salvation.

First off, here are a few key notes from the press release I received:

Inspired by the mining of her own history while writing this year’s #1 New York Times Best Selling memoir Broken Horses (Crown), In These Silent Days was conceived of while Carlile was quarantined at home with Phil and Tim Hanseroth. The ten songs chronicle acceptance, faith, loss and love and channel icons like David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Elton John and Joni Mitchell—the latter two who, by some sort of cosmic alignment of the stars, have turned out to be close friends in addition to being her biggest heroes and inspirations. 

Now here are my own thoughts on this motherfucking (I only use profanity when it is ABSOLUTELY REQUIRED) brilliant album.

“In These Silent Days” opens with the piano-based single “Right on Time” which dropped a few months ago and has more than two million streams on Spotify alone. The ballad is HUGE and emotional and heart-stabby and there’s already a harmony version and symphony version of it out there and they too are all the things.

When Carlile belts out the words “IT WASN’T RIGHT” toward the end of the song it’s a note for the ages. It’s a part the Red Sea kind of note. Such was the case when I heard it live in August. Jesus H. Christ.

Next up is the Joni Mitchell inspired “You and Me on The Rock” (featuring Holly and Jess from Lucius. OMG!). Before she and the band played it, Carlile told us at her Aug. 27 show at Thompson’s Point show in Portland, Maine that she could have made an entire Joni inspired album but decided to stick with the one song. When she played it for her friend Joni, Mitchell told her that it “sounds like a hit!”. And yeah. What Joni said. BTW, I have an entire Brandi related story about my JONI trucker cap but that’s a story for another day. “You and Me On The Rock” has early 70s vibes for days and I can’t imagine it won’t be released as a single. The song makes me and my inner flower child smile.

“This Time Tomorrow” is the third track and the only other one I’ve heard live from the album. It’s an acoustic ballad with just-kill-me-now-they’re-so-good harmony vocals from Tim and Phil Hanseroth. “The edges of the night might cause you sorrow/ You know I might not be around this time tomorrow/But I’ll always be with you…” I don’t care what is going on in your life, if you don’t get teary listening to this one I am going to check you for wires and batteries because you’re surely a robot.

Broken Horses.” This one shares the title with Carlile’s memoir, published in March. Buckle up, y’all. This one slays. “I have worshipped at the alter of the puppet master’s rule,” wails Carlile as a gasoline soaked piano blazes behind for along with an electric guitar. “Only broken horses know to run,” proclaims Carlile and she’s not fucking around. This song ROCKS hard and I can’t wait to hear it live.

Letter To The Past” has Carlile stepping off the gas pedal of “Broken Horses” and back into the ballad lane. “Folks are gonna lean on you and leave when the cracks appear/But darling I’ll be here/You’re my letter to the past.” Piano, acoustic guitar, just enough percussion and Carlile’s pristine voice. The song’s a thing of beauty. 100% lovely.

“Mama Werewolf.” The devil went down to Georgia decades ago but he’s still stomping his feet and he’s knocking at Carlile’s door with this song. “This curse again from my father’s kin/They fought the beast, I feel within/We don’t talk about it, And we don’t call its name/We just carry on, hoping it’ll change.” There’s a silver bullet in the song and Carlile looks for kindness. I’m here for it. All of it.

When You’re Wrong.” Moody AF. “You lay down every night next to a goddamn liar/You may be here today, but tomorrow you’re a ghost.” It can’t be stated enough how phenomenal Carlile’s vocals are on this entire album. Even when she’s not belting a line out at the top of her lungs and, like on this track, is keeping things on the chiller side, those pipes are tremendous.

I found myself picking wildflowers in my mind listening to “Stay Gentle.” “Don’t let the world make you callous/Be ready to laugh/No one’s forgetten about us/There is light on your path.” I wonder if this is Elijah version of “The Mother” from “By The Way I Forgive You.” Either way, we should all heed this sweet advice because the world is so often a horrible place.

Sinner Saints and Fools.” This might be, for the moment at least, my favorite track on the album. There’s a restrained fire and brimstone vibe to it as guitar licks rise like flames. The strings are like wolves showing their fangs. The drums fire warning shots. There’s a whole bunch going on over the course of four and a half minutes. It’s like an exorcism, prayer circle and whirling dervish sat down over a big old bottle of whiskey to settle a few scores. Hell to the yes.

“In These Silent Days” closes with the ballad “Throwing Good After Bad.” I wasn’t ready for it. If you see my heart anywhere, stick it in the closest mailbox, it’ll find its way back to me. Eventually. “People get addicted to the rush, the chase, the new/Just hoping that all that chaos will lead to something like this/I’ll get over you, but you won’t be whole until you do/You won’t find what you had, throwing good after bad.” Piano and voice. PIANO AND VOICE. Again, it doesn’t matter where you are in life. This song will slay you. I’m in pain listening to it. The hallmark of a truly excellent song as far as I’m concerned.

Brandi Carlile is one my absolute favorite artists. Half of this freakin’ site is posts about her. I’ll never run out of things to say about her. She keeps getting better. She keeps digging deeper. She keeps shining brighter. She keeps cutting out parts of her heart and serving them to us.

“In These Silent Days” is going to make her even bigger and more loved than she already is. This is it. She’s a superstar now. Be ready, world. Be ready.

Ponti out.

Brandi Carlie at Thompson’s Point in Portland, Maine on 8/27/21. iPhone photo by Aimsel Ponti

Maia Sharp turns in her finest album with ‘Mercy Rising’

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Maia Sharp has just released the best damn album of her career with “Mercy Rising.”

I told her during an interview a couple of weeks ago that I felt weird paying her that compliment because her body of work prior to “Mercy Rising” is tremendous and I’ve been a fan of her music for what feels like forever. Maia, however, appreciated where I was coming from. “It’s the most true to life. It is the most drawn from actual experience and emotion and strife than any of the other ones. Of course everybody says that their latest is their favorite but what makes it a favorite to me is it’s truly confessional. The other ones would have little glimmers of that but this one is all the way.”


The first Sharp song I ever knew is “Willing to Burn,” from her self-titled album released in 2002. I just gave it a fresh listen and it holds up nearly two decades later.

Ditto for “Long Way Home,” from that same album. We’ve all been there; on the shit end of a relationship when you realize that it ain’t you babe they’re looking for and you’re reduced to drive-bys as you look for the pieces of your heart along the side of the road.

Fast-forward eight years when Sharp released “Fine Upstanding Citizen” and I finally got to see her live in Portland, Maine. The single “Something Wild,” like “Willing to Burn” is as fresh to me as the day I first heard it as Sharp sings about how the hunt is often better than actually landing your prey and it’s usually better to leave well enough alone, despite how difficult it can be. “You were so beautiful from where I stood/So I chased you down and held you as close as I could/That’s when the fire turned cold/Maybe you’re not supposed to hold something wild.” Vocally, the standout track on the “Fine” album to me is “Kinder Blues,” which I still beg Sharp to play live. She usually does. Because she rules.

In 2015 Sharp released the album “The Dash Between The Dates,” homes to songs like the golden nugget that is “Nothing But the Radio.” Not only that, the album closes with the just-kill-me-now ballad “I Don’t Want Anything to Change” which Sharp penned years ago and was first recorded by none other than Bonnie Raitt on her 2005 album “Souls Alike.” Around that time, Raitt played in Portland (Maine) and Boston with Sharp as the opener and they sang the song together. In fact, another track on that Raitt album called “I Will Not Be Broken” features Sharp’s vocals and it’s one of my personal anthems. Sharp also co-wrote the song “Crooked Crown” on Raitt’s “Souls” album.

It’s my blog so I’ll veer off if I want to. You GOTTA take a minute and watch this clip from 2013 of Bonnie joining Maia and guitarist Linda Taylor on stage for “I Don’t Want Anything to Change.”

There have been other albums and singles so do yourself a favor and go down the Maia Sharp rabbit hole and listen to it all. If nothing else, listen to “Sober” from the 2012 album “Change The Ending.” Trust me. Oh and “Me After You” as well. Yeah. You GOTTA hear that one.

Now onto “Mercy Rising.” It is after all May 7, 2021. AKA ALBUM RELEASE DAY!

Here’s what Bonnie Raitt had to say in a press release about “Mercy Rising”

“I think I have my favorites then another slays me. Maia is a master in her absolute prime – out of the ballpark once again, but this one really ignites everything that is different and brilliant about her writing, singing, songwriting and production. I’m running out of superlatives!”.

Bonnie, I feel seen…

Sharp has ventured into a whole new galaxy of mood and emotion with “Mercy Rising” and boy oh boy am I here for it.

Sharp moved from her California home of many, many years to Nashville in 2019. I’m not going to unpack her personal life but yeah, some relationship stuff shifted. The good news is she’s settled comfortably into the Music City.

Sharp also had to deal with Covid-19 that hit her soon after a natural disaster hit the state of Tennessee. A tornado touched down and did substantial damage in her Nashville neighborhood in March of 2020, a very short time before the abrupt pandemic lock down.

“One street over houses were complete annihilated. Then for the next six blocks to the north of me it was just random annihilation. So that was very scary but I was very fortunate,” recalled Sharp. In the immediate aftermath lots of benefit shows and hugs happened and although the storm spared her, the virus didn’t and Sharp was knocked sideways by it with the added bonus of pneumonia. Thankfully a handful of local friends she referred to as “porch angels” kept her medicine cabinet and pantry well-stocked as she recovered.

Now where were we?

Maia Sharp. Photo by John Partipilo


The title track, “Mercy Rising” opens the album and sets the tone for the rest of it. With stunning strings by Chris Carmichael the song is its own planet of mood.

“I’ve lived a revolution, every season come and gone/I’m looking to the sky/What’s taking so long/I’ve been counting constellations and I’m still waiting on mercy rising.”

Co-written with Sharp’s longtime friend and fellow musician Mindy Smith, it’s as if Sharp has crossed over into a whole other plain of existence as an artist. The song really is that good.

I asked Maia to break it down for me, how she came to the words “mercy rising.”

“I remember stewing for a really long time on that one and just playing through the chord progression with a feeling and a frustration that I wanted to get out about just  feeling stuck and having changed so much about my life but still feeling like this one nagging element and it wasn’t changing. “

She continued.

“It was like OK I don’t know what to do, something has to change. I’ve changed everything I know how to change. Show me a shift. It  wasn’t a religious thing. It was just like can something it nature just be different? Can that star be over there now? Just show me something changing. ” Sharp said she rambled like a crazy person for a long time before landing on “mercy rising”. “I felt like I needed some mercy from somewhere because I don’t feel like I’m creating it myself.”

I scribbled thoughts down about every track on the album and will share a few of them.

“Missions” is one that Maia wrote herself without any collaborators. It’s “ouch” factor is high in terms of opening a vein of emotion with lines like “I feel more alone than if you hadn’t come/You whisper to thank me for powering through and I hate that I love you this much.” My tones include the words EPIC and WOW and I’m sticking with them.

I noted the slow, moody groove of “Junkyard Dog” and its fantastic refrain. “Junkyard dog at the end of that chain/Junkyard dog howling out in vaine/Fighting for a love you don’t care about/Protecting something you can live without/I thought I was the queen of your castle/Turns out I’m just your junkyard dog.” Speaking of dogs, the track bares its razor sharp teeth and the musicians on it like Will Honaker and Joshua Grange absolutely slay. You even hear Sharp playing her sax on it. Pure fire.

“Not Your Friend” is another exposed heart confessional. “You might say that you never wanna see me again/But I’m not OK hearing about some girl that you might think be the one.” Despite the bitter pills being swallowed, the song is righteous and another feather in the cap of an absolutely spectacular album.

“Whatever We Are,” written by Sharp, Thomas Finchum and Sharp’s Roscoe & Etta musical partner Annu Schulze features Joshua Grange’s stellar guitar and Chris Carmichael’s strings and in the song, Sharp makes her way across the hot coals and into a place of peaceful resignation. Finchum and Schulze’s backing vocals make it all the more poignant.

Could I go on and on and on about the other songs on “Mercy Rising?” OF COURSE I COULD. But I ‘d rather send you off into the world to discover them for yourself and figure out what your favorites are. I really love the hell out of this album and think you will too.

ALSO: Here’s a little Maia Sharp 101 because her career is really quite something and if she’s a new artist to you, you’ll love these fun facts courtesy of a detailed press releases:

“Maia has always managed to play both sides of the songwriting field, writing for notable artists including Bonnie Raitt, The Chicks, Lisa Loeb, Trisha Yearwood, Art Garfunel, Cher, Edwin McCain, Terry Clark and many more while still recording her own albums. Through the years, “I Need this to be Love,” (Hardly Glamour 1997), “Willing to Burn” (Maia Sharp 2002), “Red Dress” (Fine, Upstanding Citizen 2005), “Death By Perfection” (Echo, 2010), “Me After You” (Change the Ending 2012) and “Nothing but the Radio” (The Dash Between the Dates, 2015) have all enjoyed Triple A (AAA) radio success. Her last two releases were with her due Roscoe & Etta (with writing/production partner Anna Schulze) yielding another Triple A favorite “Broken Headlights.”


NOTE: Today, May 7, Maia will be performing LIVE on her FACEBOOK page at 7 p.m. (EDT). COOL!

Ponti out.

Kathleen Edwards is back with ‘Total Freedom’

Let me start by saying I have my therapist to thank for this review. I was complaining, literally the day before the album was dropping about my writing procrastination . I told her that  one my favorite artists has an album coming out and I’d like to write something about it.

Then I told her I had already read a handful of reviews by other writers and mine would surely suck by comparison. From there I trotted down my usual path of imposter  syndrome and self-doubt. Ya know, the usual spiel.

She told me to write it anyway. She told me, in kind therapist speech, to get the hell out of my own way.

And so,  here I am. And with goddamn good reason.

Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards is on my top ten list of all-time favorite artists. She’s been on this list for several years and will never be knocked off it.

Even when she put a pin in her music career to open Quitter’s Coffee in Ottawa  back in 2014 and I wasn’t sure if she’d ever add to her four album catalog, it didn’t matter. That’s how much love I have for her music. That’s how much the four albums “Failer” (2003), “Back to Me” (2005), “Asking for Flowers (2008) and “Voyageur” (2012) mean to me.

Like many others, my first exposure to Edwards was by way of the “Failer” radio single “Six O”clock News” and I’ve never looked back. The voice, the songwriting, all of it. Fucking spectacular.

Through the years I’ve been fortunate to have seen Edwards a total of six times at shows here in Portland, Maine. At various size venues she captivated those in attendance and was always keen to chat with fans afterwards. The last time I saw Edwards live was in May of 2012. I also interviewed Edwards in 2005 and reviewed one of her shows in 2005 for the Portland Press Herald newspaper and you’ll find those at the end of this review.

From those four previous albums  are so many favorite songs. These songs are part of my DNA at this point. These songs get me. I need these songs in my life.

Some of them are “Hockey Skates, “Mercury,” “Sweet Lil’ Duck,” “In State,” “Pink Emerson Radio,” “Old Time Sake,” “Away” “Alicia Ross, ” “Sure As Shit” “Goodnight, California,” “Empty Threat, “A Soft Place To Land,” “House Full Of Empty Rooms,” and “For the Record.”

And I might add , Edwards released a holiday song for the ages last December called “It’s Christmastime “Let’s Just Survive.” 

And while I’m at it, I’ll also mention that in 2015 she covered Roxette’s “It’s Must Have Been Love” and it takes an already sad song and adds a Edwardsian layer of quiet, lovely angst to it. I mean Jesus. H. Christ take two seconds and take a quick listen.

If you’re not familiar with Kathleen Edwards, I encourage you with every cell in my body to do some exploration and join in the celebration that is her new album “Total Freedom,” releasing on August 14, 2020. Or as I like to call it: Kathleen Edwards day.

I started getting inklings that Edwards was back in music-making mode several months ago when quick clips of her clearly in a recording studio started showing up in her Instagram stories. She also hopped onto Instagram for a few live performances and I was beside myself watching them.

Then I heard that Edwards had been in Nashville having been invited to co-write a tune with Maren Morris.  The song “Good Woman,”penned by Morris, Edwards and Ian Fitchuk landed on Morris’ “Girl”album, released last year. Edwards also sings backing vocals on it. Turns out, that invitation by Morris was how Edwards found her way back into wanting to make another record. Hey Maren, THANK YOU.

Edwards has gracefully shared via several interviews some of what’s gone down since she was last in the public eye and I don’t feel the need to rehash that all here. But I’ll say this: There was huge relationship and mental health issues that needed dealing with and healing from and I’m beyond thankful that Edwards was able to navigate through them.

Now I’ll go back to nerding out about “Total Freedom.”

On May 19th a press release arrived and I’m pretty sure I frightened my dog Odie (he’s often down by my feet when I’m working) with my excited shriek.  The release shared the TRIUMPHANT news that, holy god, Kathleen Edwards was BACK and that “Total Freedom” was due out on August 14 and holy shit, the new single “Options Open” was out!

Here’s an excerpt from the release:

Edwards is back with a refreshed creative outlook and a new sense of freedom. Across the album’s eleven songs, Edwards revisits past relationships with a new perspective, explores her own resilience and optimism and for the first time pursues what she feels is right rather than what is expected. 

I clumsily threw my headphones on and the earth stood still for those few minutes while I gave “Options Open” a first listen. Make fun of me if you want, but I was ALL ABOUT this song from the first second, the first guitar lick.  About 15 seconds later, Edwards, voice was in my ears singing these lines:

I love you so much
everything you do you say you speak it just works for me
I blame it on the weekly flyer
that took me down to Crappy Tire
you were smiling when I looked up
I guess we’ll always have a parking lot
for 39 years I’ve been keeping my options open

By the end of that day, I had listened to “Options Open” about nine times and it was like getting caught up with an old friend over coffee on the deck that eventually segues into whiskey in the living room because so much has happened to get filled in on.

In the coming weeks, three more songs were set free. “Hard on Everyone,” “Birds On A Feeder” and “Fools Ride.” They’re all quintessential Edwards. Smart. Sound. Lyrically brilliant, per usual. Here’s a few lines from the moody af “Fools Ride.”

here comes the red flag flying in the shit parade a warning sign that I ignored
signed my good name to a house
you can’t afford
there’s a run in the rug
a pull in my sweater
something true was in that letter
loose ends you never tied
now I know it was all a lie


Somewhere in there I started getting emails from her new label, Dualtone Records telling me all about super groovy pre-order options. Wearing my HARDCORE fan hat, I immediately ordered the limited edition gold vinyl edition of the album. As I write this, tracking info is telling me it’s arriving on Aug. 17. Can I blame Trump for messing with the postal system for the delay? I’d sure like to. Anyway, that’s not the only thing I ordered. My birthday was on July 2 so I decided to splurge. After all, artists aren’t able to tour right now and I sure try to do my part to support them financially so I pulled the trigger and bought myself a 10-minute “coffee'” Zoom chat with Edwards. This was a 100% fan  geek moment which I have zero regrets about.

So about that Zoom chat! It happened on the afternoon of July 3, the day after my birthday and was supposed to be a ten minute convo. I simply can’t ever fully get out of journalist mode so I had a few key questions prepared and with permission, I was hopefully going to record audio of the chat to reference for whatever I knew I’d eventually end up writing. But, I’m a total loser when it comes to technology so the recording didn’t happen and to make matters worse, Kathleen had to see a giant, silly pic of my pooch in the background because, under pressure, I didn’t know how to switch off  the goddamn virtual background during the Zoom session. But, she was cool about it and remembered me from all those years ago. We ended up Zooming for more than a half hour and it was a knife in my heart that I don’t have a recording of it because it quite honestly ended up being one of the best interviews I’ve ever done. We chatted up a storm about everything from the album to her depression. All of it. But yeah, I know, I gotta let go of the technology glitch. Plus, I’m hoping I’ll get another chance for a chat soon and you’ll all be the first to know if that happens as it’ll wind up here most certainly.

A few weeks later I reached out to her publicist and asked (read begged) them to send, for the love of all that’s holy on this planet, an advance  copy of “Total Freedom.”  A response, with a link, arrived soon after. I’ve been savoring the tracks, listening at different times of the day and night. Favorite songs rise to the top  (I’m looking at you “Glenfern”) and then another one hip checks me (hi there, “Feelings Fade”) and I’m absolutely leveled by what Edwards does best: Deconstruct conflicts, relationship bullshit and any number of shitty things that comes with being an occupant of this planet. But she doesn’t do it in a way that’s depressing. Edwards’ brand of realness is its own category of documenting what it means to be a flawed human who hopscotches around the path of personal growth. Said another way, it is some of the finest songwriting you can ever hope to hear. And her singing voice has a quality to it that I’ve long struggled to find just the right words to describe and I’ll likely fail here as well. There’s a warmth to her voice yet it’s infused with  a put ’em up ember. Can something be soft and yet ready to stab you at a moment’s notice? Can a voice hold your heart in its hand but also sink it’s teeth in and vampire out some blood from your veins? Can a voice wash over you like a summer sunset and then have you fighting back tears? Hers can.

Welcome back, Kathleen Edwards. I’ve missed you terribly but “Total Freedom” has been worth the wait. I love the hell out if. “Ashes to Ashes,” “Who Rescued Who” and “Take It With You When You Go.” ALL OF THEM. On a scale of one to five, I’m giving this album a 42.

Go here and order a copy along with a bunch of other swag.

P.S. My therapist will be proud. I’m publishing this thing the day BEFORE the album drops. I just banged this whole thing one in one fell swoop and I can’t wait until midnight when the world can experience “Total Freedom.”

album cover


As a music journalist, I interviewed Edwards way back when for the paper I write for, the Portland Press Herald. The conversation dates back to 2008 and sadly it’s not online anymore but I was able to at least access the text in the paper’s archives and so, what the heck, here it is:

Portland Press Herald 3/27/08

Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards is back with the new record ”Asking for Flowers” (Zoe), and she’s kicking off her American tour in Portland at the Big Easy. I caught up with Edwards a few days ago, and we talked about the new record and how she really digs Portland.

”I love coming to Portland and stuffing my face with every part of shellfish I can get my hands on. It’s a lot better than getting it in Saskatchewan,”Edwards   said.

She’s pleased with the new album. ”I’m feeling really good about it,” she said, ”and I feel like I took a lot of risks in making this record. Until the first couple of reviews came out, I really didn’t know if I’d even made a good record.

”It’s not like your opinion of yourself is so securely based in what other people say, but good reviews and bad reviews sometimes determine whether you’re going to have 100 people at your show or 500 people at your show, and you always hope that you can move forward in what you do.”

Of the album’s title track, Edwards said, ”I think ‘Asking for Flowers’ is the best song I’ve ever written, but that’s because I feel I invested a lot and I was telling a story of a friend who is really close to me, and I wanted to do it justice and worked really hard to do that.”

Another song she likes, and it’s one of my favorites too, is ”Goodnight California.” ”I always wanted to record a song like that,” she said. ”It just took me three records to find the courage to do it. I remember being in the studio trying to describe what I wanted to do, and everybody kind of looks at you like, ‘What? A seven-minute song?”’

As it turns out, Edwards has struck gold, and it closes out the record divinely. It includes a string quartet in which Edwards plays the violin, but you’ll also hear her on vibraphone. A Hammond organ, electric guitar and harmonica bleed throughout the song; the percussion and bass are its heartbeat.

The first-person song ”Alicia Ross” is arresting in its intensity: ”Mamma, can you hear me?/ As I dragged on the day’s last cigarette/ He pulled me so hard off my very own back steps/ And he laid me in his garden/ All the years I’ve watched him tend.”

Alicia Ross was a real person. She was 25 years old when she was killed by a neighbor in Ontario. Her body went undiscovered for five weeks. It reminded me of the story of Amy St. Laurent, the young Biddeford woman who was murdered in 2001. What happened to St. Laurent hit me in the gut with the same force that the Alicia Ross slaying must have hit Edwards.

”I still don’t know why that story in particular – because there are so many stories all over the world of families losing daughters or mothers or children. It’s tragic every time, and I think this one was a very public display of agony,” aid.

The thought-provoking power of music is something that Edwards zeros in on, and ”Asking for Flowers” documents this repeatedly.

Wait. What? There’s more! I found another gem in the Press Herald archives. I reviewed Edwards show at the long defunct Big Easy in Portland (Maine!) in May of 2005 and get this, Mary Gauthier opened the show.

Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram 5/8/05

Kathleen Edwards began her North American tour in support of the record “Back to Me” on Friday night. The pressure was on when she released the record in March because 2003’s “Failer” was such a critical success.

However, she packed the house and is riding the wave of the title track, which is in heavy rotation on stations nationwide, including Portland’s WCLZ.

Indeed “Back to Me,” gets high marks as both a single and a record as a whole. With poignant songs like “Pink Emerson Radio,” “Away” and “Independent Thief,” Edwards continues to effectively express human conflict.

She was in fine form accompanied by a four-piece band. Blending a mix of songs from both records, Edwards owned the room.

“Don’t say you’ll change after the next time, you wouldn’t even be yourself if you were telling a lie. Maybe 20 years in state will change your mind,” sang Edwards in “In State.” Another standout was “Lone Wolf,” with Jim Bryson on xylophone.

Edwards graced us with two encores: the devastatingly beautiful “Away” and “Hockey Skates,” one of the finest examples of songwriting in the last few years. “I am so sick of consequence and the look on your face. I am tired of playing defense; I don’t even own hockey skates.”

Edwards truly loves Portland so don’t be surprised if she returns this year.

Opening acts don’t usually get much ink, but I’ve never seen The Big Easy more quiet and attentive than when Mary Gauthier played her 45-minute set. She was utterly captivating from the moment she and guitarist Thom Jutz took the stage.

People paid attention and hung on every word and with good reason. Her 2002 release “Filth & Fire” was named best independent record by The New York Times. “Mercy Now,” her debut with Lost Highway Records, was just released and has received almost unanimous rave reviews. It’s a sparse record with songs that rise from their own ashes and put an arresting chokehold on you despite its slow pace.

While she certainly has a Southern twang, there’s a whole other layer to her voice as she often is speaking, as much as singing, into the microphone ala Robbie Robertson. Her songs take aim at her struggles, her pain and her take on life’s journey and they hit the mark every time. The live performance took this to the next level and the audience didn’t know what hit them.

Gauthier was intense but accessible. Between her and Edwards it was a distinguished night of singing and songwriting artistry.

Fiona Apple Album review: “Fetch the Bolt Cutters”

Today, April 17, 2020 is the day that Fiona Apple released her first album in eight years. It’s called “Fetch the Bolt Cutters.” Already, much has been said about it. Happy Googling.

I’ve listened to it five times so far.

Then I spent six minutes banging out this poem.


I fetched my headphones for fetch the bolt cutters
Then I ran into each song like they were houses on fire
Lyrics are salty, fire-breathing IEDs
The piano a  whirling dervish
A barking dog makes perfect sense
Name-dropping Hurricane Gloria
Kitchen utensils, maybe, clanging
Jackhammer drums
That voice, lying in wait, stalking its prey
Lunges with precision, tearing flesh from bone
Up from the well, shot from a crossbow
A spilled gallon of angsty warm blue
Words float in a state of zero gravity
Words stab in a crime of passion
Words claw their way out
Words bleed
Words cry
Words punch
Words heal
She’s back
Hey, Fiona.

Ponti Out


Sarah Harmer is back with “Are You Gone” and shines brightly at Boston show

Two decades ago one of my all-time favorite albums was released: “You Were Here” by Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer.  It’s home to the single “Basement Apt.” which I still hear on the radio. There are 11 other tracks on the record, all of them damn near perfect, especially “The Hideout,” “Don’t Get Your Back Up” and “Lodestar.”

Four years later came “All of Our Names” with the tracks “Almost,” “Greeting Card Aisle,” and “Silver Road.” Another stellar release if ever there was one.  “I’m a Mountain” was released in 2005 and then “Oh Little Fire” in 2010. It’s also worth noting her debut album “Songs for Clem” from 1999.  Harmer also started the band Weeping Tile in the early 90s and that’s a rabbit hole well worth your time.

After “Oh Little Fire,” all was quiet on the Harmer front, at least in terms of putting out new music other than a few rogue singles. That ended on February 21 with the release of her first album in a decade “Are You Gone.” The album is stupendous but hold that thought for a second as I fill in a few blanks.

A press release revealed that Harmer has been quite busy over the past decade as a grassroots organizer. She co-founded the citizen’s organization PERL (Protecting Escarpment Rural Land) and led the coalition’s successful efforts to prevent a quarry from being built on the Niagara escarpment while also becoming a fixture in local politics and advocacy. In other words, she became a different kind of rock star and is a huge environmentalist. Like I needed another reason to love her!

Sarah Harmer's new album
Sarah Harmer’s new album “Are You Gone”
Image courtesy of Arts & Crafts

I also learned that Harmer considers “Are You Gone” to be a “spiritual successor of sorts” to “You Were Here” and that the album’s title is a “meditation on the idea idea of presence, and a bookend to the questions posed on ‘You Were Here.” Harmer wrote the tracks for “Are You Gone” over the past ten years.

But I will say I’ve missed Harmer, despite the deep appreciation for her previous albums. I’ve wondered on and off for the past decade if she’d head back into the studio but knew that even if she never recorded another thing she’d always be a favorite artist and that I’d always be thankful that I got to see her play live a few times, with the last time being  in the fall of 2010 when she played a show at Port City Music Hall in Portland, Maine. Heck I even interviewed her back then for the Portland Press Herald. And I reviewed her show at The Big Easy, also in Portland, way back in April of 2004 when she was touring for “All of our Names”. That review is longer online but I found an old copy and it included these lines:

“Her voice is as crisp as line-dried sheets and clear as a dinner bell calling people into the interior of her thoughts: “Intensity of stars reflected in the water silently ignite, the oar dips in to oil like water and we are away,” from “Lodestar,” is but one example from “You were Here.”

This all brings me to Sunday night, March 1, 2020. Sarah Harmer played what appeared to be a sold-out (or very close to one) show at City Winery in Boston. After an opening set from Chris Pureka (she’s fantastic, check her out and thank me later), Harmer and her band played an 18-song set which included eight  songs from “You Are Gone” along with the Weeping Tile one “In the Road,” “Greeting Card Aisle” from “All Of Our Names,” “Late Bloomer” from “Oh Little Fire” and four from “You Were Here” including “Basement Apt.” and another favorite of mine called “Don’t Get Your Back Up.”

Sarah Harmer at City Winery in Boston, MA. March 1, 2020Photo by Aimsel Ponti
Sarah Harmer at City Winery in Boston, MA on 3.1.20
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Harmer was backed by a guitarist, keys player, drummer and bassist and my attempt at scribbling down their names when she introduced them was unsuccessful. But wow, they were fantastic and it didn’t hurt one bit that there were woman on keys and drums.

Harmer’s voice is as mesmerizing as ever and the decade that has passed since I last saw her live evaporated from the second the took the stage.  Hers is a voice that exudes warmth but is also rife with feeling . You just want to keep listening to whatever she’s singing. But the vocals are only part of the story because lyrically, Harmer’s quite frankly the bomb.

Take the album’s first single “St. Peter’s Bay,” (which was the 7th song of the Boston show). Another press release offered the backstory and described the song as a “cinematic love-letter to wilderness and the depth of human feeling with a surprising backstory. “I wrote St. Peter’s Bay on the plane to Prince Edward Island for a Hockey Day in Canada theatre show, but the hockey part is only a prompt. The song is about the end of a relationship, set against the frozen shoreline of Lake Ontario. I thought what better way to start the record that with black and white pioneer era sound, and a tale of love burning down to its final ember” is what Harmer said about it.

Here’s a few lines from “St. Peter’s Bay:”

“Every little crack in the ice seemed to be enough to make you think you might go under/So stay to the shore and wander some more and reconsider every direction/The ice out is black/Only thing looking back…is my own reflection.”

Another tremendous -perhaps my favorite- track from “Are You Gone” is “The Lookout,”which was part of the Boston performance.  A piano is the first sound you hear and then Harmer starts with  “Wake up every day I wonder what you’re thinkin’ about the weather/Later in the night I wonder if it’s ever gonna clear/If it’s raining here I hope that you’re not doing any better/I heard it on the wind from place that I’ve been and won’t go back to/It rattled the lock on an old thought that I was attached to.” From that moment on, the tempo picks up, dips back down again and flourishes along a path lined with Harmer’s bittersweet words. Goddamn great song right there.

Then there’s the fire-breathing track “New Low,” which, IMHO, should for sure be the next single. Horns and drum beats land like punches and the fast-paced tune clocks in at two minutes and thirty nine seconds which were all the more ferocious and effective live.

The second to last song of the night is another “Are You Gone” track called “Little Frogs,” a free-spirited, lively tune that packs Harmer packs so much into in under three minutes of glory.

The Boston show ended on a full-circle note was Harmer reminded so many of us why we were such huge fans in the first place: “Basement Apt.”

I gotta wash the sheets on my bed
Gotta watch the things that go unsaid
God I wish we’d leave it at this
Everytime I breathe
Everytime I time I try to leave
Everytime I breathe

Pure gold my friends, pure gold.

So hey, go get yourself a copy of “Are You Gone.” I bought it on vinyl at the Boston show and when Harmer eventually makes her way back to Maine, I’ll be the nerd with the sharpie awkwardly hanging around all starry-eyed.

I’m gonna stick the landing on this thing with ALL CAPS because my excitement is real and  “Are You Gone” is certainly worthy.


sh boston
Sarah Harmer in Boston. 3.1.20 Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Album review: Amanda Palmer “There Will Be No Intermission”

“The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.”
+ Anaïs Nin

Amanda Palmer’s latest album “There Will Be No Intermission” comes out on March 8 which coincides, by design, with International Women’s Day.

I’ve had it since February 9 and as I figure out what I want to say about it I can tell you -and I’m not making this up – that I’ve easily listened to the entire album (all 74 minutes) at least 50 times.  Paraphrasing my own comment that I made on Palmer’s Patreon page (I’ve been proud Patron of hers since  2017), I feel spellbound, hypnotized and pretty obsessed with “There Will Be No Intermission.”

I hear the songs in my head even when I’m not listening to it.  That’s the thing about art, sometimes it’s like being struck by lightning and it changes you. Sometimes you’re ready for this and sometimes you’re not and you have to kind of take shelter and hide from its impact. Art can hurt. Art can be traumatic to experience. It can stir shit up for you in a way that you never knew was possible. Art can do a real knife-twisting number on you if you let it.

Such is the case with “There Will Be No Intermission.” It has turned me inside-out. It’s like Amanda Palmer performed open-heart surgery on every emotion I’ve got. “There Will Be No Intermission” has challenged me to contemplate some pretty heavy things in my life. It has made me uncomfortable and caught me off guard. It has made me feel deep sorrow. But, and this is the biggest but I’ve uttered in a long time, “There Will Be No Intermission” has also made my heart grow about 17 sizes bigger. It has filled with me immeasurable joy. It has loosened some things up for me, kind of like a deep tissue massage for the soul. God forgive me for the “Jerry Maguire” reference but TWBNI had me at hello, from the first few strains of the Jherok Bischoff-helmed instrumental track “All The Things” that opens the album. And it kept me enthralled until the final nano-second of the closing track “Death Thing.”

My initial thoughts after the first listening of the record was a combination of “what the fuck did I listen listen to?” and “this is my favorite album of the year without question.”

When the album ended after that first time hearing it, I needed to hang back  for a bit and collect myself, like, say, after a particularly intense therapy session.  When that feeling dissipated enough my next move revealed itself: I needed to listen to the album again (and again, and again and again). And that’s exactly what I’ve done over these past few weeks at home, at work and in the car. Sure I’ve listened to other things as well of course but if too much time passed between listenings I’d feel myself get a little twitchy and would dive back in. I’m still doing that.

As a longtime fan of Palmer’s, I’m well aware that no topic is off limits and there’s rarely a filter. But nothing could have prepared me for “There Will Be No Intermission.” It was, in a sense, like agreeing to a trust fall. Would I be caught by loving hands or dropped on the ground like a bag of old bones, wounded and alone? The answer is of course both. But, like my friend Nina said to me many years ago, if passion brings pain, that is the price of living well.  And for every emotional cut and bruise I endured with these songs, the salve was always Palmer’s sincerity with her lyrics, vocals and playing. Said another way, I was made to feel safe and bathed in light as she led me over and through some dark and formidable terrain. Amanda Palmer has laid herself completely bare (both literally and figuratively as she’s nude on the album cover) with this album. “There Will Be No Intermission” is a no holds-barred manifesto that has eaten me alive and spit me out feeling better – and stronger – than I was before I heard it.

“There Will Be No Intermission” has twenty tracks. Ten of them are gorgeous inter-song instrumentals with the brilliant Jherek Bischoff on double-bass, sub bass synth, cymbals and bass drums. And there’s also, cellos, violins, violas, vibraphone and glockenspiel from a wondrous cast of players. The album opening “All The Things” is delicate and haunting with an air of suspense. It has a calming effect like a cup of chamomile tea. But it’s like you’re feeling your way around the back of the wardrobe and light starts to pour through the cracks and you’re not really sure if you’ll end up in Narnia or the ninth ring of hell.  All of the inter-songs reference other songs on the album. They’re the intricate embroidery that not so much hold the album together but add another layer of grace and beauty to it.

Amanda Palmer
“There Will Be No Intermission” album cover.
Image courtesy of the artist

And then there are the ten songs…

It took me several days to figure out how to talk about them. Then I gave myself a frustration headache because still, after all these years on this planet, I still get “objective” and “subjective” confused no matter how many times I try to get it through my  apparently quite thick skull. Writing 101. And yet here I am.

So I’m going to do the only thing that makes sense:  I’ll tell you how the songs made me feel and will throw in some other relevant info as needed. But before I do that, I’ll also toss it out there that Palmer’s vocals and playing (both ukelele and especially piano) are the best they’ve ever been.

So here’s this:

Aimsel’s Unofficial Field Guide to “There Will Be No Intermission”

“The Ride.” Palmer. Wait. Hold up. Screw the conventional journalistic style of using last name after the first reference. That rings hollow in this context. We cool? OK. Amanda wrote this one in 36 hours after spending several hours reading comments on a Patreon post what were in response to her asking her patrons to tell her what they were afraid of. And, long (and super incredible) story short, a couple of days later she recorded the song in one take and sent a private link to the video that was filmed of her playing it to her Patrons.  I remember being absolutely leveled by it. In fact, I just watched that ten-minute clip again. Yep. Still leveled. And I was leveled again when I saw that the she decided to tackle it again when recording TWBNI.

“The climb to the crest is less frightening with someone to clutch you
But isn’t it nice when we’re all afraid at the same time?”

Amanda uses a roller-coaster metaphor to talk about fear and life and connection and “The Ride” infuses me with hope, especially in this time of an insane White House occupant among other more-than-I-can-bear things going on right now. We’re all alone in this world. Except when we’re not. “The Ride” reminds me of the latter.

“Drowning In the Sound.” Amanda wrote it during a two-day songwriting exercise and she drew some of its inspiration from solicited comments on Patreon. “It wound up being a response to the insanity of internet politics melded with the recent total eclipse and the devastation of Hurricane Harvey and, you know, other stuff,” wrote Amanda on her site about the track. I’ve had my fingers crossed from the moment I heard it that it would end up on the album.  “If you can hear/If you’re around/I’m over here/I’m over here/I’m watching everyone I love/drowning in the sound.” The version on TWBNI is bigger and better which I feel  weird even saying because that original take is so, so good.

“The Thing About Things.” This one first surfaced, at least in a recorded version, in 2015 yet somehow managed to slip through my cracks (and I call myself a fan!).  So it was new to me and although I’ve now gone back and listened to that first version, I fell in love with the TWBNI one. Amanda, playing her ukelele, sings about the complexities of certain possessions, in particular a stolen, lost and then found ring that belonged to her grandfather. “The thing about things is that they can start meaning things nobody actually said/and if you’re not allowed to love people alive then you learn how to love people dead.” This one hit me hard because I cling to certain objects with an irrational sense of nostalgia and have slowly started to loosen my death grip on them. (But don’t anyone mess with the monkey doll named Bosco that my grandfather gave me when I was five). The song is heart-rending and yet  cathartic, a hallmark of my favorite Amanda songs.

 “Judy Blume.” Amanda wrote this one about one her writer heroes, Judy Blume! This one first saw the light of the day last year and the video to it, is well, shit you GOTTA see it so here click here. Judy Blume’s books were most certainly in my childhood wheelhouse but even if you’re not familiar with Blume’s work, the song is a lovely and certainly painfully accurate portrait of being a pre-teen (I can’t bring myself to officially say the word “tween”) and teenage girl.  Amanda’s vocals capture that anguish and her words make several Blume book references. “I don’t remember my friends from gymnastics class/but i remember when Deenie was at the school dance/Buddy feeling her up in the locker room/Margaret bored counting hats in the synagogue.”

“Bigger On The Inside.” I think this one kills me the most of all the songs on this album. This is the cry ugly, uncontrollable tears song. It’s also the first song Amanda ever released on her Patreon, back in 2015 and it featured cellist Zoë Keating.  The song is about a TON of stuff that had been going on in and around Amanda’s life, most of which was extremely difficult. There’s also a live version from 2013. The TWBNI version clocks in at 8 minutes and 29 seconds and it’s exactly as long as it needs to be. “You took my hand when you woke up/I had been crying in the darkness/We all die alone but I am so, so glad/That you are here.”

“Machete.” Amanda originally released “Machete” as a demo in 2016. There’s a compelling backstory on this one that’s worth diving into (as is the case with many of Amanda’s songs) so dive in when you can.  “Machete” is frantic and huge  and Amanda’s vocals  damn near reach caterwaul level as she sings the line toward the end of it “So I took your machete and I sliced off your hand!” Strings come crashing in all around like they’re on acid and it’s goddamn glorious. I can’t wait to hear this one live in Boston next month.

“Voicemail For Jill.” Amanda has written a song about abortion that offers understanding, empathy, compassion, support and solace to any woman who was gone through the experience of having one while also giving the rest of us  women, or for that matter humans, some insight into that private world. The song has a quiet urgency to it. It puts words to the fact that support can be hard (if not impossible) to come by for women who have had abortions . Several women have already shared online how much this song means to them.

“You don’t need to offer the right explanation
You don’t need to beg for redemption or ask for forgiveness
And you don’t need a courtroom inside of your head
Where you’re acting as judge and accused and defendant and witness

There’s a video dropping for “Voicemail For Jill” on album release day (March 8) and I’m going to have a lot to say about that in a separate post so stay tuned for that.

Update: In an unexpected twist of fate, I ended up IN THE VIDEO for “Voicemail for Jill.”
Read all about that experience here.

“A Mother’s Confession.” This is one of the most intimate songs I’ve ever heard from Amanda. Amanda and her husband, writer Neil Gaiman, have a three year old son named Anthony (Ash for short). “A Mother’s Confession” at nearly 11 minutes long is a fiercely honest portrait of parenting fuck-ups including unintentional shoplifting, speeding tickets and accidentally leaving the baby in the car. But it’s not just that. “A Mother’s Confession” also bursts with little moments of human connection and there’s a multi-voiced chorus at the end of the track singing a line that’s repeated throughout the song: “At least the baby didn’t die.” It gives the song just a pinch of levity, enough to make it all the more accessible and real.

“Look Mummy, No Hands” is the only song on the album that Amanda didn’t write. It was written by British actress, singer and comedian Dillie Keane.  Keane is part of the comedy cabaret trio Fascinating Aida and “Look Mummy, No Hands” is on their 1997 album “It, Wit, Don’t Give a Shit Girls.” The song is a melancholy tinged and is about, I suppose, the shifting dynamics between mother and daughter. Palmer has been playing it live for several years and there’s also a version on the 2013 album “An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer.” I’m pleased as punch that “Look Mummy, No Hands” was recorded for TWBNI because there’s an ache in Amanda’s voice as she’s singing it that gives me chills and has me picturing the song being sung by a woman at a piano in a dingy bar that she thinks is empty. But unknown to the woman, there’s someone in the corner sobbing into their long empty whiskey glass. Is that someone me? Is it you? Is it all of us?

 “Death Thing.” I said that “Bigger on the Inside” kills me more than any other song on “There Will Be No Intermission” but now I’m not so sure because I’m sitting here crying (again) while listening to “Death Thing.”  If  death is a hard topic for you to think about (it’s brutal for me) this song might take your breath away, as it does mine. The song builds and builds upon itself.  I am not going to quote any of the lyrics, my instinct is telling me not to. “Death Thing” closes out “There Will Be No Intermission” because it had to. It was the only one that could. Sometimes we, as humans, are able to hold it all in and keep our emotions at arms length where they can’t do any real damage. There have been several times over the past three weeks that I’ve been able to maintain that distance when listening to “Death Thing.”  But there have been a few times, like tonight, when the song rips my heart wide open, not to destroy it, but rather to hold it close.

Final thoughts…

I don’t know if you’re an Amanda Palmer fan or if you’ve never heard of her. I also don’t know if “There Will Be No Intermission” is going to resonate with you like it has with me. Some of these songs might take you to places you don’t want to go with their unflinching lyrics. But they’re also some of the most provocative, beautiful, honest and empowering songs I’ve ever heard. Do me one favor and promise me this: If this album isn’t your bag, go out there and find one that is. That is my wish for you: To find some music that touches you in the way that this album touches me.

“I want you to think of me sitting and singing beside you,” sings Amanda in “The Ride.”

I love that line. I love this album. Go get it.

Ponti out.

“There Will Be No Intermission” album notes:
Produced, mixed and engineered by John Congleton.
Recorded at 54 Sound in Los Angeles
Mixed at Elmwood West
Mastered by Greg Calibi at Sterling Sound in New York
All songs written by Amanda Palmer, published by Eight Foot Music with the exception of “Look Mummy, No Hands,” written by Dillie Keane

The English Beat is back with ‘Here We Go Love’

That’s right people, THE ENGLISH BEAT IS BACK!

They’ve just released their first new album since 1982. It’s called “Here We Go Love” and you are going to LOVE IT!

Before I dive into it, here’s a quick discography reminder:

The debut album was 1980’s “I Just Can’t Stop It,” then came “Wha’ppen?” in 1981 and “Special Beat Service.” in 1982.

A snapshot of  some of the songs we know and love from these records includes “Mirror in the Bathroom,” “Best Friend,” “Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” “Doors of Your Heart,” “I Confess” and the mother of all English Beat songs…. “Save It for Later.”

First just a a quick note to avoid any confusion:
“Here We Go Love” is The English Beat starring Dave Wakeling.  Dave, originally from Birmingham, England has been living in California for several years. Dave’s former Beat band mate,  Ranking Roger, is based in England and is  doing his own thing under the name The New English Beat featuring Ranking Roger and they put out an album called “Bounce” in 2016.

One more thing, lest ANYONE forget, when the original Beat broke up in 1983, Dave and Roger formed General Public and as much I’m trying to stay focused here, let’s take a minute to listen to “Tenderness” because I love that song immensely and so do you:


Ah yes, it’s  2018 and BAM! “Here We Love Love” is out in the world and it’s a FANTASTIC record. As  I write this, I’ve probably listened to it start to finish no less than 25 times.

From the bouncy rallying cry of “How Can You Stand There” to the edgy “Here We Go Love” to the politically charged “If Killing Worked,” the poignant “Never Die,”  the uplifting “The Love You Give” and the supremely catchy “The One and the Only,” I dare say they haven’t missed a beat. I’m 100 % standing by that pun so don’t give me any side-eye.   And once you listen to “Here We Go Love” you’ll be right there with me.


Let’s listen to “How Can You Stand There?”

“How Can You Stand There?” pulls you off the couch to not only dance but to pay better attention to the world around you with lines like “Warning signs all around this town/Something’s up, something’s coming down. Made aware by the plagues and quakes/We’re wound up tight like it’s gonna break now.”  With signature Beat horns,  fabulous ska rhythm and Wakeling’s vocals sounding sensational, this song is fresh and lively but also maintains that Beat sound we fell in love with in the first place.

Dave Wakeling
The English Beat’s Dave Wakeling
Photo by Eugenio Iglesias

A couple of months back, I sat with Dave in his tour bus in a motel parking lot on the outskirts of Boston and hit record on our conversation. Here’s how it went:

When was the last time The English Beat has released something new?
That’s a question for the ages. There’s a best of record every 18 months. The last one came out just a few months ago in England called “You Just Can’t Beat It.”

What’s different when those come out?
This wasn’t anything new, this was more like a condensed Reader’s Digest medium level. It’s a cheaper release. You’re trying to sell it to people who didn’t buy the records in the first place. It’s one of those. Now next year it’s going to be a bit more of a deal I think. There’s going to be some television advertised stuff.

Here and in England?
I think so. It’s heading toward the 40th anniversary .

Of the band forming?
Of first playing and all of that yes. It’s going to be a big deal.

Who plays on the new album? People you have hired? People you’ve been working on off and on for years?
It’s a great combination of both. So there were a few people that had been in and out of the group over the last 20 years while I’ve been in California. Particularly some backing vocalists that I’ve enjoyed the most singing with; Kevin Williams and Jillarney Jones. I only sang with them a couple of times. They were in the group overlapping but at different times and just two of my favorite voices so I got to do the harmony vocals with them which was really nice. I’ve got some people from the (current) band on the record and then I’ve got some people from previous lineups on the record.

Tell me, because you haven’t recorded new material in quite a while, are these songs that date back from many years? When were they written?
It’s a combination.  We started with 40 songs, a mixture of ones that were burning hot at the moment, new ones that had made the live set at the moment, oldies that had somehow slipped the net and that could be because perhaps a punky song wasn’t fashionable if things were terribly ska at the time or a ska song wasn’t so fashionable if ska wasn’t fashionable now or it was more 80s pop now. So there were a couple of songs that had slipped through the net a long time ago and then there were some that were probably as good if not better but they’d only just started recently and they’d still got quite a ways to travel before they were finished composing. So there are two or three now that are already starting that process for the next one. I let a small circle of people listen to the demos and I polled them; different congregations of votes from men or women around different songs, certain songs, a mixture of both and we whittled it down to a really well-balanced collection. There was one of everything at least. I didn’t rig the votes or anything but it turned out a decent spread and balance and now we’ve got 13 and they fit together really well. They tell a good story thematically and now they want to know if you want 10 or 12 on the record.

 What does it mean to you, after all this time, to have a brand new English Beat record out in the world?
There was some trepidation and that’s turned into resolution. The record sounds as good as we can get it.

What can you tell me about your songwriting process?
I have to go through some deep manic depressive state and then I start walking in circles, talking and rhyming couplets which turns into a poem which then ends up being good enough to turn into a song which then gets worked on for about nine months.

While I have you, let’s talk about the ultimate, iconic English Beat song “Save it for Later.” I want to know, when did you say to yourself, ‘OK, I’ve got something really special here with this song?’
It’s special for me. I would play in on the guitar. I was about 19 or 20 when I wrote it and I would just play it round and round and then on my 21st birthday I got a National steel dobro and I couldn’t stop playing it, I just played it over and over.

On a dobro?
Yeah. It rang like a bell. Then when we started the group I ‘d say  ‘Ooh, I’ve got one’ and then it didn’t make the cut. It didn’t make it until the third album. For the first album “I Just Can’t Stop It” 1980) it was deemed too old wave. Then the second record, I knew it was bound to get on it. Nope. We’d gone kind of world beat by then and that was too rock. So we didn’t do it then. At the time we sort of had a veto, there was five of us. If one of us went “that’s vile,” then we couldn’t do it which is why we never had any songs on TV commercials because one person thought it was vile.

You’ve been playing the hits like “Mirror in the Bathroom” and “Twist & Crawl” for a very long time.  Speaking as a fan, I still very much love those songs and I love hearing them live. Do you feed off of that when you see how the crowd reacts?

To play the “Save it for Laters” or the bigger hit songs, it fills the room with a nice ambience and time sort of stands still for a second and everybody’s very jolly and the opportunity comes up that you can play a new song and you sort of paid for the entrance fee.

And the new songs are great!
That’s the luckiest part of it. People can be funny about wanting to hear new material. You’ve got to be careful, especially because there’s a list of 40 songs they want to hear of which you’re going to do 20 so they’re already 50% pissed off. There’s something about concerts that are meaning more to people. There are few places left where you can go somewhere and have an experience, you can judge it yourself, you can trust your own ears and eyes and intuition and share a space with common songs. You can’t really do what watching TV. I like it that concerts mean more and it’s what I do anyway and so it means that if you get it right and you’re willing to be a bit open and connect and have some general mirth and fun with it you can generate a terrific atmosphere in a room; warm and more reaching out from the audience to the crowd and the audience between themselves as well.

Want in on some of that mirth Dave speaks of? Click here for the current tour schedule! And needless to say, pick up a copy of “Here We Go Love” because it’s a brilliant record whether you’re an old-school Beat fan or they’re brand new to you.

Here’s where you’ll find complete album credits for “Here We Go Love”. Take a minute to check it out because it these musicians put their hearts and souls into the album and there are a lot of them.

Dave Wakeling
Dave Wakeling and yours truly in Boston.

Ponti out

Aimsel on the Record is sponsored in part by LB Kitchen in Portland, Maine.

LB kitchen logo

Please contact me if you’re interested in sponsorship opportunities.

Indigo Girls redefine perfection with live symphony album

Indigo_Girls_351-Retouched_HIGHRES_2 by Jeremy Cowart
Emily Saliers and Amy Ray
Photo by Jeremy Cowart

Indigo Girls have a live album coming out at the end of the month! Hold that thought for a quick second.

Truth be told, I’m experiencing a significant Indigo Girls high at the moment having recently seem them at the incredible Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield, ME and the lovely Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH. The first show was Amy Ray and Emily Saliers as a duo and the second one featured the phenomenal violinist Lyris Hung (who also produced Salier’s debut solo album “Murmuration Nation”) and had the sensational opening act of Michelle Malone.

If I stopped and thought about it, or better yet dumped out my giant ticket stub jar, I’m certain I could report that I’ve seen Indigo Girls live likely more than most other acts I’m a fan of. Since seeing them open for R.E.M. on the “Green” tour I’ve been all about them. Oh and hell yes, Michael Stipe came out onto the stage and sang “Kid Fears” with them. Indigo Girls were one of the first acts I ever interviewed. I was a nervous wreck  as they were both on the phone and I’m pretty sure I have the cassette of that phoner recorded when the “Nomads” album came out in a box somewhere.

Lyrics. Harmonies. Vocals. Musicality. Passion. Indigo Girls have so much of this going on and with each new album favorite songs are established. And as for the live experiences-from huge venues to tiny ones- I have never walked out of a show feeling anything less than joyful.

And hey, super quick, lest there be any doubt, Indigo Girls are STILL MAKING GREAT STUDIO ALBUMS. If you don’t have a copy of 2015’s “One Lost Day” march yourself to your favorite independent record store or hop online and get it. Two reasons are this and this.

Now let’s get to the heart of the matter. The new album is coming out on June 29. And not just any album. It’s a LIVE album recorded with the University Of Colorado Symphony Orchestra and I’ve had at least 22 (one for each track) heart attacks while listening to the entire thing through at least a dozen times over the past two weeks.

Here’s what I can tell you about it: 

The album was recorded in front of a sold-out audience last year in Boulder, Colorado and was mixed by Grammy winner Trina Shoemaker (Sheryl Crow, Emmylou Harris, Nancy Griffith.) I was surprised to learn that Indigo Girls, have played more than 50 shows with symphonies across the US and am thrilled that a recording of one of these shows is being shared with the world.

Album cover art courtesy of Rounder Records
Album cover art courtesy of Rounder Records

And here are five specific reasons why I’m losing my mind over this album and why , if you’re even a casual Indigo Girls fan, you should hop online and pre-order it. They’ve got some REALLY cool bundles available including signed vinyl, Kleen Kanteens and the winter cap  and socks you didn’t know you needed until right this moment among other cool stuff.

ONE:  “Fugitive.” I started crying for real when I heard this version version of the Amy-penned tune on this record. It’s one of my absolute favorite Indigo Girls songs and when the horns started followed by a crash of symbols and a whole bunch of strings it was almost too much for my fragile heart to handle. I’m listening to it now as I write this and it’s huge. It’s tremendous.  It’s overwhelming. If music was a shaft of light racing down from heaven in the form of a lightning bolt it would sound like  this symphony of version of “Fugitive.”  “I’m harboring a fugitive, a defector of a kind/She lives in my soul drinks of my wine/And I’d give my last breath to keep us alive.”

I’ve never heard anything quite like it. Hey University of Colorado Symphony Orchestra, BRAVO!!!

TWO: “Mystery,” written by Emily,  is another favorite IG song. The studio version, which like “Fugitive” is on the 1994 album “Swamp Ophelia” features backing vocals from Jane Siberry  and it STILL kills me all these years later. I mean my god, these words: “Oh you set up your place in my thoughts/Moved in and made my thinking crowded/Now we’re out in the back with the barking dogs/My heart the red sun your heart the moon clouded.” I’m hearing a flute and the horns sound like a sunrise. Cellos and violins and whatever other strings I’m hearing are rising and falling like waves. It’s striking hearing Emily and Amy’s vocals and guitars against a backdrop of what has to be a 50 member symphony.

Photo by Evan Carter
Photo by Evan Carter

THREE: “Sugar Tongue,” written by Amy is from the 2009 album “Poseidon and the Bitter Bug.” Amy’s vocals are at their zenith of range, power and emotion. The energy builds upon itself with the symphony making its presence known in a gentle way for about the first 45 seconds and then, boom, it’s like the song was struck by a bolt of lightning. With each listen I pick up on more subtleties and try in vain to identify the instruments.

FOUR: “Ghost,” written by Emily is from 1992’s “Rites of Passage” and the song has been splitting hearts wide open -including mine – since the day it was released.  “And you kiss me like a lover/Then you sting me like a viper/I go follow to the river/Play your memory like a piper.” Now imagine this song tricked out with a symphony behind it and it becomes a cinematic ride propelled by Emily and Amy’s soaring voices with a wall of sound behind it that only a symphony orchestra could provide.

FIVE: “Go” written by Amy is from the 1999 album “Come On Now Social” and holy hell when the refrain of “Raise your hands/raise your hands high” comes around I want to not only raise them but somehow hurl myself into outer space. There’s what I’m calling a “horn break” in this symphony version and I hear a tuba (or maybe a few of them) and a bunch of other brass throwing notes like punches and the song reaches a fever pitch that is goddamn larger than life. Are you feeling me right now because I can’t handle how good this song is and when you hear it I hope you’re as blown away as I am by it because for the love of all that is holy in this world, it’s tremendous. Seriously, I’m hanging on for dear life with “Go” in my ears right now. I’m smitten with this version. Oh and hey there, Emily, FANTASTIC electric guitar.

So those are my five current favorites. The other thing about this symphony album is the set list. The deep album cuts like “Damo,” “Yoke,” “Compromise,” “War Rugs” and “Come on Home” all get a new lease on life in this format and I imagine some fans will be nudged to revisit some of the IG more recent albums that are home to these tunes.

Also, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard the symphony version of “Closer to Fine” that closes out the album. Complete with xylophone and the strings singing right along with the “I went to the doctor/I went to mountains/I looked to the children/I drank from the fountains.”

Oh and by the way…here’s “Galileo” from the symphony album.

I can’t wait for this album to drop because I hope you all experience some semblance of the musical and emotional fulfillment that I’ve been feeling these past couple of weeks.

Are you on fire from the years? (yep, “Kid Fears” is on it too). I can tell you that my heart and soul are on fire because of this album.

Indigo Girls Live with the University of Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Out 6/29/18 on Rounder Records.

Ponti out.

Amanda Palmer & Jasmine Power release scorching, triumphant “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now”

Let me get right to it: Amanda Palmer and Welsh musician Jasmine Power have just released a song called “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now.”

I don’t think I’ve listened to a song more times in a 72 hour period than I have this one. With each listen, it seeps in all the more. While listening to it I’ve wiped tears from my eyes. While listening to it I  felt anger in my belly churn and burn. While listening to it I have wanted to run screaming to the top of the nearest mountain and with skinned knees and a thundering heart plead with the universe for those who have been hurt by Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby  and other monsters posing as men  to know some semblance of peace, healing and in some cases…goddamn revenge.

Can a song offer that? I’m not sure if it’s my place to say. But I paused for a moment to consider other songs that have documented abuse that I feel have been important. Ones by Tracy Chapman, Tori Amos, 10,000 Maniacs , Suzanne Vega and Sinead O’Connor came to mind.

Before we get to the actual song, here’s a little backstory  that I think is key for you to know about.

This is from what was sent out to inquiring journalists. Jasmine Power, by way of a mutual friend, was at Amanda Palmer’s house for dinner a few months back. The two clicked and three days later  wound up in a studio together to record a song. Palmer explained that the news about Stormy Daniels was at fever pitch. “I found myself thinking about closed doors to hotel rooms across the world over time and how they’ve been the backdrops of so many of these painful encounters. That was the starting point, and we wrote with the idea of a split self: two voices inside one woman’s head.”

British film-music arranger Matt Nicholson added strings (and oh my god, did he ever!) and orchestration with the goal of making the song more cinematic so as to “kick Hollywood in the face.” Mission accomplished. And then some… “It doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever made before; it’s almost a mini piece of theater,” Palmer added.

Palmer went on to say that she’d been thinking about how to address the #Metoo movement in a song. “It’s so personal to these women, these stories, and it felt wrong to write something funny and cabaret; the topic is too harrowing. It’s not surprising, that, just like the movement itself, it took two women getting into a room together, comparing notes and joining forces to create something almost like an anthem for taking back our narrative.”

Initially, the song was called “The Hotel Room” but Palmer thought a bolder statement would be to call it “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now.” She heard from a feminist friend that using that title could stir controversy because Palmer couldn’t tell a story that wasn’t hers; at least not about this topic. Palmer’s response was that if that’s the case, it’s the “end of all art as we know it.” But she also reached out to Rose McGowan on Twitter with the lyrics and McGowan offered her approval of the title.

amanda and jasmine photo by Matt Nicholson
Amanda Palmer and Jasmine Power Photo by Matt Nicholson

Lastly, before you listen to the song (and it is strongly suggested you do so with headphones for maximum impact), I’m going to share with you Amanda’s response to questions I sent directly to her about how she was feeling as she stood on the precipice of the song’s release.

“Every time I release a song, I’m faced with a mystery. I’ve learned by now not to have any expectations whatsoever; it never works. Things that I think will be understood are often misunderstood, and things that I think will be misunderstood are sometimes embraced with zero drama. But that’s the way I like it, and it prods me on to simply make what I make and let the public deal with it in their own way, it’s not like I have any control over it anyway. I’ve played this song in private for a quite a few people now, and I can tell you this: men seem to appreciate it intellectually and say ‘this song is good’ and women look me in the eye and say “Holy fuck.” But all that being said, I’m always in a kind of brace position when a song comes out, because I’m so used to being misinterpreted. At the very least, a conversation starts. I don’t care if people like the song, the lyrics, the orchestral production, but if it gets people thinking about or arguing about the issues, well…hopefully there’s some progress in there.”

So there you have it. Grab your headphones and listen to this when you can really hear it without distraction or interruption.

I think this is the most important song of 2018. I think music like this is vital.  And musically speaking, I think the song is a masterpiece. From the vocals from both women  to the heart-piercing piano to the holy-god-almighty string crescendos and most importantly the lyrics, “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now” is brilliant.   So yeah, I’ll add my voice to the chorus of other women when I say with 100% sincerity: HOLY FUCK.

Also, through June 30, 100% of digital proceeds will go to the TIMESUPNOW legal defense fund. Here’s where you can buy it:

Ponti out.

Katie Herzig on her latest album ‘Moment of Bliss’

I’ve been waiting for a while to say these seven perfect words and since it’s been about four years since any of us got to say them, permit me to bust out in all caps:


And trust me when I say it’s been worth the wait.

Say hello to “Moment Bliss!”


So how good is this record?


Oh and then there’s “Feel Alive.” The single was released toward the end of 2017 and I love it so much it made it onto my Best of 2017 list.

Oh and let’s not forget “Beat of Your Own.”

Point being, Herzig’s made an extraordinarily album with “Moment of Bliss” and along with its release came the glorious news of a tour which includes a date in Boston in July.

I’ve only seen Herzig twice before, both at venues here in Portland, Maine. The first time was at Empire in 2012. In fact, I interviewed Herzig for the Portland Press Herald in advance of that show.

The second time was when she came to Port City Music Hall  during the tour for her 2014 album “Walk Through Walls.”  {Sidebar, go buy this album if you don’t already have it.} On the day of that show Herzig was kind enough to swing by my office at the Portland Press Herald for a Newsroom Session and as long as you promise to picture me with better hair, fashion  and about 30 pounds trimmer you can see that session HERE. and I strongly encourage you to do so because during the session Herzig performs two acoustic songs which thankfully is the focus of it rather than the dopey interviewer. (yours truly.)

Want to know if Herzig is coming to your city? OF COURSE YOU DO! Find that HERE.

katie herzig 2
Katie Herzig
Photo courtesy of the artist

Herzig is originally from Fort Collins, Colorado and has been in Nashville for the past several years. Her  solo discography dates back to 2004’s “Watch Them Fall” and several have followed. Make it a point to go deep down the rabbit hole of her music because her stuff is really different.

I reached out to Herzig and asked if she’d be up for a conversation about “Moment of Bliss” and other stuff she’s been working on these past couple of years.  With fingers crossed I waited and indeed she responded and a week later we were on the phone chatting up  a storm. Here’s that conversation in which we covered not only “The Moment of Bliss” but also delved into the inner-workings of how Herzig makes a living with music.

AP: Congrats. Your record’s been out a little over a month. How are you feeling about it?

 KH: It has been such a long time coming that mostly there’s only relief. This record took a long time to get out; my records take a long time to get out anyway so for some reason this felt longer. Just a lot of life happened in there so it just kind of drew out the process. And now in this day and age with releasing singles upon singles leading up to the album it just really stretches it out so by the time the album was here I was just like ‘thank god, let’s just do this.’ So yeah, I felt much relief.

AP: Can you walk me through the chronology of singles? What was the first one?

KH: “Strangers” then it was “Feel Alive” then I think we did “Me Without You,” that was around the holidays and then we started off January with “Beat of Your Own” and then we totally threw in “Weightlifting” on a whim two weeks before the record came out.

 AP: You must be getting some decent radio play? Is that a safe assumption?

KH:  I had a lot of support at AAA and different singles along the way at different stations There was no AAA-sounding obvious radio song so I didn’t put money into it. A lot of that turns out to be trying to get on playlists.  There are stores playing it.

 AP: I would imagine every little bit helps like if you’re added to one of those Spotify fresh tracks playlists.

KH: To be honest there’s always this huge decision and it happens with all my friends who are independent, who are putting out music and trying to make smart moves about how to spend money and how to promote it. Do you put money into the playlist thing? Into the radio thing? In the last album I did, we put a lot of money into a lot of things and this time I’m gonna try to not do that again. It’s all kind of random.

 AP: How much difference does radio airplay make with getting people in the door on a tour?

KH: I think if a radio station is playing you a significant amount and at good times it does make a difference. I think the difference is, and I feel like I got a taste of this, in certain towns where -and this was back when “Free My Mind” was happening because that got to Top 20 or something like that so there were certain markets that were getting a lot of spins and I would show up and more people would come. But it was a much more fickle crowd, it was a ‘people there to hear one song’ kind of feeling. So you feel the difference between what radio does. There’s always gonna be people who dig in further and listen to your whole catalog but it feels a little more seasonal, the radio thing.

 AP: Have you worked with Cason Cooley before as a producer and what did he bring to the table? How would you described his contribution to “Moment of Bliss?

KH: This will be the third full length record we’ve done together and then he did half of “Apple Tree” with me. We’ve also been co-producing some other stuff together.  I’m a  very hands-on in production artist so a lot of times, an example would be, I would pretty much have a pretty fully-formed song and I just need help getting across the finish line. So a lot of times that’s where he steps in. And then at other times he’ll have a musical idea and I’ll take it and run with it, write lyrics and then we’ll come back to it and he’ll help me finish it. So it can be from the beginning we’re writing and recording together and then other times it’s kind of more fully-formed and I bring it to him.

 AP: Did I see that you posted that “Feel Alive” was on “American Idol” or something like that?

KH: I think so. I work with a licensing company, Secret Road, and those things, a lot of times they tell you the day of. Then I turned it on but I never heard it so I don’t know for sure.

 AP: You’ve had a robust history of TV placements. It’s a bit of a mystery how that all works behind the scenes. You hire somebody who specifically does that right? Licensing to TV and film?

KH: Yeah. That’s been a huge part of my career; working with a licensing company that is essentially representing me and pitching me to TV, film and commercials and some of that stuff means me writing for those things.  Some of it is just them using music that I’ve already created. Some of my music has started as writing something for them and then it became my own thing.

 AP: As a fan my process is -when I’m watching a show -like the recent reboot of “Twin Peaks,” I hear a song I like, rewind it, open the SoundHound app and then I immediately follow the artist on every platform so that I don’t forget. My point is, it’s awesome and I’ve become fans of artists because of one little TV placement so I think it’s a very powerful tool.

KH: It is. That’s kind of what my career has been built on. That and me opening for other artists mixed with a little bit of radio. It’s kind of a hodgepodge and I think the licensing stuff can be a really powerful thing because especially if these are TV shows that people care about and songs become the backdrop in these emotional moments. It can form this instant connection.

AP: I can’t imagine “Me Without You” isn’t  going to get a placement. You’ll get off this call from me and will get another one telling you that- I’m manifesting it for you.

AP: So today, my favorite song  from the album is “All This Time.” What’s your favorite right now?

 KH:  Right now I would say. Wait did you say “All This Time?”

AP: Yeah.

KH: That’s the one I would say because it took on a whole new meaning for me recently.

AP: How long have you lived in Nashville for?

KH: I moved here in 2006 so 12 years.

AP: What do you like about Nashville and what’s hard?

KH: The music community here is super supportive and collaborative. It’s such an easy and inviting town to make music in from writing to recording to putting music out. And because the talent and quality level is so high, it just ups your game at every level. I find it to be an energy like nowhere else, where music is a part of the fabric of this town. It’s so normal to be a musician here and to have  a career in it. If I moved from here I would greatly miss that. What’s challenging for me is that I miss the West and I miss being  closer to my family and I miss bike lanes.

AP: I know this record was a long time coming but you’re also someone who gets involved with a lot of other projects so what else has been going on?

KH: I have been collaborating with Ingrid Michaelson on her new project. Cason and I are co-producing that project with her. Now that the record’s out I’m starting to prepare for a tour. There’s so much work in getting this thing out now I’m getting back to music. It becomes so much about content and deadlines and artwork and all that stuff. I’m just kind of in the process of figuring it all out.

 AP: It seems like a new album has about a two-year trajectory as you release singles and videos and such so “Moment of Bliss” is still kind of a newborn.

KH: It’s just a weird thing too because to me these songs and this thing, it doesn’t feel that way and so I have to keep reminding myself of that. Especially with the little I put out, this doesn’t happen very often for me.

 AP: Speaking of things you put out, I’ve never really been much of a Cold Play fan but I sure love your take on “Viva La Vida.” I had forgotten you had done it and it’s gorgeous.

KH: Have you ever heard their song “Midnight?”

AP: I only know the radio hits so if you tell me listen to “Midnight” I totally will. I liked them when they first came out, I don’t know what happened. I’m just a terrible person. {note, 3 days after this interview with Katie I did indeed listen to “Midnight” with an open heard and mind. What can I say? It’s a goddamn beautiful song. Like REALLY beautiful.)

AP: As I think about “Moment of Bliss” as a whole, there’s just so much going on and I extract a lot of hope and positivity and also acknowledging  things that are kind of a struggle. But say you’ve just gotten on  an elevator with some random person and are asked to describe your record to someone who hasn’t heard it. What would you say?

KH:  As I was making this album it felt like a completion of an idea. It felt like the completion of this season of making the last three albums and somebody even pointed it out to me saying this feels like the third in a trilogy.  This is the third I’ve done with Cason and just kind of the evolution of where this vision and these influences and these seasons of life back to back kind of have gone where they’ve ended up. I do feel like this is a reflection of…there was kind of like this acknowledgment of a beginning and this world of possibility and it started with “The Waking Sleep” and these new sounds also this way of me taking in life and then this second “Walk Through Walls”  was  very much me working through this very difficult reason and then this one kind of feels a little bit like the aftermath of that and the arrival of some reflective maturity and some experiences and the resignation. It feels like resignation to these things I do as an artist. This is a very natural progression of what I’ve done and I am kind of indulging in these things that I have done in music in these landscapes and these tendencies and layers of sound, themes. And that doesn’t mean I’m gonna necessarily never do any of that again but it did feel like getting it out of my system in  a way. Whatever comes next is gonna feel really different but who knows?

 AP: I’m looking out this super cool cover. Buttefly (Boucher) did all the art and layout right?

KH: Yes she did.

AP: The yellow squares over your eyes. Are those symbolic of something? The whole thing looks amazing I’m just wondering if there’s any symbolism in there? What went into the decision with that?

KH: There’s a really interesting story behind this album of that almost like art and life getting so tied up, talk about manifesting stuff. You write these songs and you explore these ideas and then the album is done and you’re doing the artwork and you’re realizing some of these themes are coming to life in your own life. For me, “Moment of Bliss,” what was like, that, you know, and even coming up with an album title, that whole journey can be very difficult and once “Moment of “Bliss” revealed itself it like really revealed itself. If I talk too much you’re gonna have to ask me more questions.

 AP: Dream collaboration. With anyone? Dead or alive. Who comes to mind?

KH: One that comes to mind is the composer Gustavo Santaolalla.

AP: (after lightning fast Googling) Wow, he did “Brokeback Mountain” and “Babel.”

KH:  I first heard him on “Friday Night Lights” and there’s one song in “Babel” what was in “Friday Night Lights” and it was like ‘oh my god what is this?” so I tracked him down. Artists like him or like Bon Iver, there’s something I identify with in how I make music that is almost like it doesn’t have to be the most put together, clean thing. There’s just those layers of things happening that move in a certain way that just gets you. So I want to do something where we put this guy, Justin Vernon and me in a room and see what happens.

AP: I don’t think that that’s that unrealistic of a request.

KH: Dreamboard?

AP: That’s amazing.

katie herzig 4
Katie Herzig
Photo courtesy of the artist



REVIEW: Brandi Carlile’s “By The Way, I Forgive You”

I’ve been trying to write this Brandi Carlile album review for a few weeks now and I’m still struggling with what exactly I want to say. The album  (produced by Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings) has such an emotional hold on me that I’m a bit of a mess.  I wasn’t sure if I could string my thoughts together enough to even attempt a review. Then it came to me; Conventional album review wisdom (if it even exists) be damned! This is what I’m going to do instead:


Brandi Carlile
Brandi Carlile performing at Ryman Auditorium. 4.25.17
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Dear Brandi Carlile and your album “By The Way, I Forgive You,”

Holy hell, what have you done?

You’ve made an album that has called open season on my heart.  You’ve torn it out and put it back together nine ways to Sunday. You’ve made an album that has made me take a LONG look at the notion of forgiveness. You’ve made an album that, with each listening, permeates my bone marrow, my soul and everything I thought I knew about music.

You and the Twins and everyone else involved have made an album that is nothing less than brilliant.

So to simply say THANK YOU doesn’t seem enough. It doesn’t seem nearly enough.

Permit me to unpack “By The Way, I Forgive You” song by song,  so as to tell you the impact each song continues to have on me. Know that I’ve sung these songs at the top of my lungs on the highway. I’ve listened to them while walking my dog. I’ve listened to them at work. I’ve listened to them at home on my turntable (hell yeah, I have it on vinyl too.” I discover something new each time.

I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like hearing these songs live in the coming months.


ONE: “Every Time I Hear That Song.” I don’t keep a journal. I wish I could. But I don’t because I’m too afraid of it being read by anyone. And I’m too afraid, I’ve realized, of documenting my deepest secrets.  This is one of the reasons why music is so important to me. Certain songs I adopt as journal entries and no matter how much time has passed, every time I hear that  a certain song, there’s an emotional charge. This makes “Every Time I Hear That Song” something of a song within a song. This song gives me permission to revisit past experiences, past relationships, past moments of connection, past pain, sorrow and all the rest of it. And you’ve packaged this all in a gorgeous song. And when you and Tim and Phil sing the lines “By The Way, I Forgive You/I never will forget you for giving me what I found/Without you around I’ve been doing just fine/’Cept for anytime I hear that song,” it’s profound. And speaking of forgiveness, you’ve asked us to look at forgiveness under a microscope. Goddamn it. I have found myself budging on things I never thought I’d budge on. I have found myself slowly starting to forgive myself for past mistakes. You have made a song into something of a movement. And you’ve asked your fans to document moments of forgiveness with a contest you ran and I saw some of the entries and people are baring their souls and it’s beautiful. Dear Brandi and ‘By the Way, I Forgive You,” this song is everything. It really is.

TWO: “The Joke”

When this single was dropped last fall I, like many other people, fell outta my chair. The song is HUGE and lush with strings and crescendos and Mount Everest vocals. I’ve been swooning over this song for a while now. But I’m going to share with you part of a Facebook post (with permission) by a friend of my named Ryan. He’s a new fan and this is what he posted the other day: “Sorry everybody, it’s another Brandi Carlile post. I can’t tell you how rapt I am with her. As I previously offered, I am glad I don’t have a song on the radio right now because it would sound foolish if it came on after “The Joke”. We’re all playing checkers. She’s playing chess. I haven’t liked music this much in years.” Then a few days later Ryan shared this: “As we’ve covered here previously, I recently was floored by hearing the new Brandi Carlile single on WCLZ. I finally found some solely listen- to-music time tonight, and am just now listening the whole record. This is a jaw dropping startlingly gorgeous and extremely visceral piece of art. It is astonishingly beautiful. Anyone who is not listening to her has got to stop and take a look at least. I am so mad at myself for having never given her time these past few years. This is my favorite record of the year so far, by miles.” Ryan’s discovery of Carlile reminded me of the scene at the end of “Field of Dreams” when Kevin Costner’s brother-in-law could finally see the ballplayers and was floored by it. Welcome, Ryan, to the party. Here, have a Jameson’s.

THREE: “Hold Out Your Hand”

This is is a barn burnin’ foot stompin’ feel good tune, complete with a sonic boom of a chorus. It’s an outlaw’s anthem and a redemptive, devil defying proclamation of faith all wrapped up into one gigantic song that makes me want to both dance around in a cowboy hat and go running up the stairs of the nearest church. And yet Carlile also slips in some not foolin’ around lyrics in the form of “Here is a license for killing your own native son/For a careless mistake and a fake plastic gun?”

FOUR: “The Mother”

I’ve been hearing  this one live for at least a year (maybe two) and am so glad it landed on the album. “Evangeline” is the name of Carlile and her wife Catherine’s three-year-old daughter. The song is one that mothers – and parents- will surely identify with. And for non-moms like me , it let me into a world I know I’ll never fully understand. And Carlile does  so in such a sweet, playful,  gentle and wise way.  “She’s fair and she is quiet, Lord, she doesn’t look like me/She made me love the morning, she’s a holiday at sea/The New York streets are busy as they always used to be/But I am the mother of Evangeline.”  I haven’t heard such a wonderful snapshot of parenthood since Bowie’s “Kooks.”

FIVE: “Whatever You Do”

This song’s first line is everything. “If I don’t owe you a favor, you don’t know me.” God I love that.  That said, this is among the most heavyhearted songs on the album. “There’s a road left behind me that I’d rather not speak of/And a hard one ahead of me, too/I love you, whatever you do/But I’ve got a life to live too.”  The only things that allows me to hold it together listening to it is how resplendent the song is. The strings come in slowly then build and then Carlile’s voice floats up to the sky like a soul escaping a body it no longer needs.

SIX: “Fulton County Jane Doe”

If I’m Dolly Parton , I’m putting a version of this on my next album. Call me crazy but I can hear her singing this one  in my head. And that, my friends, is very much meant as a compliment.  The song seems to be about second chances. And maybe third of fourth ones too.

SEVEN: “Sugartooth”

Not since K’s Choice  released the song “Not An Addict” more than 20 years ago has a song about addiction hit me so hard.  The addiction struggle is sadly very real everywhere, even here in  Maine. Carlile has painted a portrait of it that explains the disease in an understandable way and with empathy rather than judgment. “He wanted to be a better man/But life kicked him down like an old tin can/He would give you the shirt on his back/If not for a sugartooth.”

EIGHT: “Most Of All”

If you’ve ever lost anyone important to you, this song is going to make you cry.  “Most Of All” is heart-rending but it’s also bursting with love and hope and gratitude. It’s also full of kind-hearted inspiration.  “But most of all/She taught me how to fight/How to move across the line between the wrong and the right.”  Prepare to feel all the proverbial things with this one. But don’t you love songs that do that? I sure do.

NINE: “Harder to Forgive”

This is a  knee slapping gem of a song that had me at the first line because it’s so true! “I love the songs I hated when I was young/Because they take me back where I come .” Word, Brandi, word. The song is upbeat and snappy but with brooding lyrics; a perfect combination in my book. Plus the electric guitar and wailing vocals toward the end are motherfuckin’ spectacular.

TEN: “Party Of One”

This was the only song the album could have ended with and it is a reminder that the best way to listen to an album is all the way through, in the order in which they were intended to be heard. In other words, this is not an album to be listened to on shuffle play. Trust me on this. “Party Of One” is one of the saddest Carlile songs I’ve ever heard but it’s also stop-you-in-your-tracks stunning. At just under six minutes, it opens with a piano that sounds like its weeping. “Waiter send this to the table, the party of one/The only other lonely soul in this place” are the opening lines. From there the song speaks of love at first sight and a love that is without end. But also of a defeated love. It doesn’t matter what is happening in your life, this song’s gonna kill you. And just when you think you’re going to survive the song, in come the strings and then the drums and you’re swept up in a whole other layer of emotion. This song is a self-contained symphony of feelings, a relief map of longing and a timeline of a love that despite all the bullshit, won’t ever really be extinguished. Amen.

The holy trinity of Brandi Carlile, Tim Hanseroth and Phil Hanseroth have collectively written ten songs that are going to touch a TON of people both as they listen to them and see and hear them performed live.  “By The Way, I Forgive You” has touched me in a way I didn’t know an album could. I didn’t know  I could love a Carlile album as much as “The Story” but upon hearing this one, the code was cracked and another compartment of my heart was accessed.

Ponti out.

P.S. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Carlile on three occasions for the Portland Press Herald/MaineTodaycom. 2012  , 2015 and 2018.

Amanda Palmer’s heart-stopping, Trump-eviscerating take on Pink Floyd’s ‘Mother’

When I woke up this morning before my alarm the first thing I did was check my phone to see if the MUCH anticipated Amanda Palmer video had dropped yet. It hadn’t.  Two nights earlier I had a dream about the video. One day earlier I had been pretty much beside myself with anticipation. Palmer had been dropping hints about the new video for the past few weeks and some of her posts inferred that the video might be considered controversial by some.

I’ll admit, I was nervous. Was Amanda about to unleash something that would bring her a world of backlash? But then I remembered, this is Amanda Fucking Palmer we’re talking about. If she has something to say she’s going to say it and she’s going to say it intelligently and then she’ll willingly engage in public debate about it. She will not back down but she’ll also hear all sides of something and will participate in a back and forth. And in the end, not everyone loves everything she does and says.  I am not one of those people. I think she’s brilliant and has a heart as big, bold,  messy,  complicated, compassionate, artistic, bloody and authentic as anyone I’ve ever been a fan of. This is in fact one of the things that I’ve long admired about her. Amanda Palmer, like her or not, is as real as they come.

Which brings us to today.

A few hours ago I got the notification that the video was now out in the world. So I put my headphones on and took the deepest breath quite possibly of 2017 and hit play.

Within ONE NOTE I was spellbound. Because Amanda Palmer and Jherek Bischoff, with a cast of several musicians including cellist Zoe Keating had just released their take on Pink Floyd’s “Mother,” identifiable from the very first note. The first thing on the screen is a close-up of Palmer looking on the verge of tears as she sings the lines “Mother do you think they’ll drop the bomb?/Mother do you think they’ll like this song?/Mother do you think they’ll try to break my balls?/Mother, should I build the wall?”

amanda solo

Holy shit. I sat there stunned and felt a hurricane of emotions whirling inside my ribcage.  The hints Palmer dropped in the days leading up to the sharing of “Mother” told us that it had something to do with her disdain for the current administration. But I could have never predicted that she would have chosen such a PERFECT song with which to express it. And let me be perfectly clear, Amanda Palmer is a spectacular songwriter and she could have written an original and it would have likely been epic. But she didn’t need to. The perfect song was already out in the world. She and musician/composer Jherek Bischoff did something incredible with it.

The imagery in the video is startling and tear-inducing and evoked so many things at once.  In it you’ll see children building a wall. You’ll see Melissa auf der Maur. You’ll see Zoe Keating playing her cello. You’ll see Jherek Bischoff conducting a string quartet. You’ll see dancers and actors , including one portraying our current President, creating a piece of work that is difficult to take in with one viewing. I’ve now watched it four times and I’m still discovering new things.

mother collage
Screen shots from “Mother.”

I am not going to tell you how the video ends. You’ll see that in a moment. Some people’s feathers might get ruffled. Not mine. I think it was one of the boldest, bravest things Palmer could have done. My interpretation is that it’s meant as a moment of honest-to-God compassion. A moment of “I know everything is really fucked up right now but I am determined to not let my heart turn black.” It’s edgy. It’s going to make some people uncomfortable. I get that. But I hope people also appreciate the artistic message of it.

I am not going to say this is Amanda Palmer’s finest hour because I know with every drop of blood in my veins there are many more to come. But this is the most extraordinary videos she and her team have ever done. And believe me, between her solo and Dresden Dolls material there is some insanely great videos out there.

By the time I got to the end of my first viewing of “Mother,” I was trembling. TREMBLING. I felt like crying and yet I also felt hopeful. Isn’t that what art is all about?

ALP eye
Yours truly. One take. No “let me get the best angle.” This was the one and only selfie I took, just before sitting down to write.

OK then. Here’s “Mother.”  With endless depths of appreciation to Amanda and Jherek.

SHEL absolutely dazzles on UNDERCOVER.

Being a fan of the band SHEL is like being Alice in Wonderland. I just hope the rabbit hole is without end because it keeps getting better and better. I should probably just rename this entire blog The SHEL report because just when I think my fandom has gotten as big as it can get, they do something spectacular and I’m at a loss for words with my jaw on the floor as my ears fill with wonder.

Left to right: Liza, Hannah, Eva and Sara Holbrook of SHELPhoto by Joe Dudeck
Left to right: Liza (drums, beatbox) Hannah (keys, accordion) Eva (vocals, mandolin) and Sarah (violin, guitar) Holbrook of SHEL Photo by Joe Dudeck

Lest there be any doubt about how much I love this band, you can see my declarations here, here, here and here. Now where was I? Ah yes, Friday the 13th! As in 10.13.17. This is the day the new EP from SHEL called ‘Undercover’ was released and on it are seven covers. But not just ANY covers. These are seven covers that clearly were chosen when the clouds parted and the angels appeared and spoke to these four women and said “these are the songs you should do.” Actually, what really happened was that they have incredible taste in music and chose incredibly well what songs they wanted to re-imagine.  In fact,  Eva Holbrook wrote in an email that went out to fans the other day. (And you can and should sign up for said mailing list by clicking here.) that during a visit with her mentor Paul Kennerley, an important conversation took place during which he asked if she knew any covers which at the time, she didn’t. He advised her to “study the masters. The artist spends half their time in the library.” He sent her home with some of his favorite obscure and essential country and blues artists of early American music and encouraged her to learn great songs when she heard them. And guess what? She and her sisters did just that. The songs on ‘Undercover’ are Willie Nelson’s “Crazy,” “Blue on Black” by Kenny Wayne Shepherd, “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, the traditional spiritual “Wayfaring Stranger,” “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane and Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies.” If that’s not an eclectic collection of songs than I don’t know what is.

But before I get into the actual review part of this let me just say for the record, SHEL doesn’t need to do covers. Their originals kill me. Gorgeous, flowing, mesmerizing, impassioned, inspiring, haunting, emotional, catchy,  musically arresting, breathtakingly arrangedhopeful, playful, vocally rich and have an overall sound that has had me spellbound since I first heard them in July  of 2016.

They do however have two covers in their previous discography. The first is Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore” on their self-titled 2012 album and the second is Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” from last year’s “Just Crazy Enough.” I especially love this live version of “The Battle of Evermore.” As for “Enter Sandman,” check out this video they made last year in Alaska. It has racked up more than a million plays because it’s that good. And now hold that thought on the song because there’s a second chapter to that story.

And with no further ado, here are my thoughts on the UNDERCOVER EP which, as of a few moments ago, is out in the world. Do right by them and do what I did; buy it from iTunes. It’s a digital only release for the moment. Supporting independent artists is SO IMPORTANT.

UNDERCOVER image courtesy of the band

OK. Ready?

  1. “Crazy.” This is the song penned by Willie Nelson in 1961. Patsy Cline took the song to no. 2 on the country music charts in 1962. Her version is a classic. You already know this. I knew before I even heard it that SHEL was going to do two things: keep the song recognizable because the melody is so perfect but also cast their spell over it. And indeed this is what they’ve done. Hannah’s stark piano pulls you into a kind of trance and Eva’s vocals have never sounded so lovely. If it had stayed along this path I would not have minded, for this path was indeed lovely and the sentiment of the song remains timeless. But then at about 52 seconds in, Eva’s mandolin is heard, softly and surely, giving the song texture. Further in, Sarah’s violin comes into the song and then some percussion from Liza and a whole bunch of hushed vocals and the song takes an exquisite, sinister turn. It slips into madness. And then it lands softly like a daisy petal on the grass. It’s nothing like the original. This is an entirely new thing. I listened to it five times in a row and each time it grew a bit darker and all the more gratifying.

2. “Blue on Black”  by Kenny Wayne Shepherd. This song is 20 years old and is from Shepherd’s “Trouble Is.” I remember hearing it on the radio a whole bunch back then and still hear it from time to time. Vocals are by Noah Hunt. Entirely solid bluesy rock song. I just gave it a fresh listen and was reminded of what a good song this it and realized, perhaps for the first time, how good the lyrics are. SHEL put the song in their cauldron and stirred it slowly. They added a heartbeat of backing vocals and when Eva sings the lines “whisper on a scream doesn’t change a thing/It won’t bring you back/blue on black,” they take on a mood of their own. The song is a smoldering slow burn with Sarah’s violin stabbing into it. Liza’s drums are like another set of fists swinging at the song. Read= they’re perfect. And don’t quote me on this, but I *think* I’m hearing Hannah’s accordion in there; another accuser, another match on the fire.

3. “Enter Sandman.” SHEL decided to re-visit this one for UNDERCOVER. Their first cover was already from another planet and I wondered why they chose to mess with it. And then I heard it and understood. The first version walked to the edge of the cliff. This version jumps off into the abyss. It’s bigger, bolder, darker. By the time it’s over you’ll be looking over your shoulder to make sure that shadow in the corner didn’t just move.  I hear bass. I hear echoes. I hear three minutes and twenty seven seconds of insanity that’s chained to a bed but has just found the key and is coming for you. Holy hell this is brilliant.

4. Wayfaring Stranger. Only SHEL could go from a Metallica song to a traditional folk song that dates back to somewhere around the beginning of the 19th century. Actually, it makes perfect sense because both songs have haunting themes. “I know dark clouds will gather round me/I know my way is rough and steep.”  At times there’s a bit of a quiver in Eva’s voice adding to the depth of the song’s spirituality. There’s an authenticity to a song this old. You have to wonder that was happening in the life of the person who wrote it so, so long ago. SHEL’s take on it sure has me wondering. With acoustic guitar and violin, they’ve served this song up in enthralling fashion. Update, SHEL released this AMAZING video in March. Behold:

5. Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane. This song is from Keane’s 2004 album “Hopes and Fears.” I went through a pretty big Keane phase back then and even saw them perform this live several years ago here in Maine. I love this song. I was so excited when I saw it on the list of songs on UNDERCOVER. I’m glad SHEL loves this song too.  It deserved the SHEL treatment and they did right by it. There’s a lot going on; a sea of sounds and vocals;  it’s a lush interpretation. Hannah’s keys, Eva’s mandolin, Sarah’s violin and Liza’s percussion (I think she’s playing a few different things on this one) come in and out the song seamlessly and it rises and falls like a summer storm deciding how strong it’s going to become. But it’s also a sunrise that gets brighter and more beautiful by the second.

6. “Blue Skies” by Irving Berlin. UNDERCOVER ends with this optimistic gem. I just learned it’s from a 1926 musical called “Betsy” which was something of a flop but the song b more than survived, it became a classic in a hurry. At a few seconds over two minutes, SHEL’s take on the song is  playful, cheery, bursting with their signature harmonies and is THE EXACT SONG THE WORLD NEEDS RIGHT NOW.  It’s a sweet-as-pie love song and if you ever see me skipping down the street whistling it’s because I’m listening to it. The song also shows off SHEL’s versatility. They can pretty much take any song and make it into something unique and dazzling.

SHEL has made an exceptional record with UNDERCOVER. With a collection of songs hitting so many eras and genres, they’ve proven that they’re an unstoppable force. They’ve made a real thing of beauty.  It will take you on a journey with many stops along away and many emotional crossroads. Their musicianship is first-rate. The music business is a strange one these days and the competition is brutal. So many acts vying for our time; our ears. SHEL is worth it, I promise you. UNDERCOVER is yet another example.

UNDERCOVER was recorded at The Blue Room in Nashville. It was produced by Brent Maher, Charles Yingling and SHEL.

Ponti out.

The Wailin’ Jennys strike gold with “Fifteen”

Remember that scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when George Bailey had to pretend to paste the petals back on his daughter Zuzu’s flower? Well I sure could use Jimmy Stewart right now to paste the pieces of my heart back together because it’s on the floor in pieces having listened to the new Wailin’ Jennys’ covers album about 20 times over the past week.  But don’t get me wrong. My heart is happy. It’s overwhelmed and glowing and doing cartwheels clear across the floor.  The album is called “Fifteen” and on it are nine extraordinarily well-chosen covers. In fact, here’s the list:

  1. “Old Churchyard” (traditional)
  2. “Wildflowers” (Tom Petty)
  3.  “The Valley” (Jane Siberry)
  4. “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” (Dolly Parton)
  5. “Loves Me Like a Rock” (Paul Simon)
  6. “Boulder to Birmingham” (Emmylou Harris)
  7. “Not Alone” (Patty Griffin)
  8. “Keep Me in Your Heart” (Warren Zevon)
  9. “Weary Blues From Waitin'” (Hank Williams)

The Wailin’ Jennys are Ruth Moody, Heather Masse and Nicky Mehta. Photo by Morten Fog

“Fifteen” is their first new album in six years and it’s named after the fact that they’re celebrating the 15th anniversary of their musical partnership. All three of the Jennys have young kids and they live in different cities so making this album presented special challenges. But they did it in five days and produced it themselves. It was engineered by Joby Baker and guest musicians on some of the tracks are Richard Moody (viola, violin and mandolin,) Sam Howard (upright bass,) Adrian Dolan (violin) and Adam Dobres (acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin).

I wish you could have seen the look on my face when I realized the Jennys had covered a beloved Jane Siberry song called “The Valley.”   Siberry is one of my lifelong favorite artists and should be more well known. Hats off to the Jennys for choosing this song. They’ve made it their own and when they sing the lines “You will walk, you will walk, you will walk in good company” I can a barely hold it together the harmonies are so beautiful and pure. “Sometimes you feel all that you wanted has been taken away/You will walk,you will walk, you will walk in good company.”

I wish you were there to hand me the tissues I so desperately needed when I heard The Wailin’ Jennys sing Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me in Your Heart.”

You know that torturous feeling of really wanting to hear from someone and it just doesn’t happen? If that feeling had a song to go with it,  this would be it.  “Sometimes when you’re doing simple things around the house, maybe you think of me and smile. You know I’m tied to you like the buttons on your blouse/Keep me in your heart for a while.” Fuck. But I love it. So much.

The Wailin’ Jennys have been playing Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” live for a number of years now and I hope they keep on doing so. Needless to say, I still can’t believe that Tom Petty’s gone. Can you? But listen to the Jennys’ take on the song and let its warmth and love and everything else rush over you.



“Boulder to Birmingham” is a song I didn’t know until August and I discovered it when I put together a special Spotify playlist to get ready for my first ever trip to Colorado. A trip specifically to cover the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival. One of the bands I saw was The Wailin’ Jennys. True story. But I digress. The song is from the mid ’70s and was written by Emmylou Harris. It’s sad and sweet and spiritual. Ruth, Heather and Nicky do right by it with sweeping harmonies and exquisite instrumentation. “I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham/If I thought I could see your face.” Goddamn.

Then there’s the cover of Patty Griffin’s “Not Alone.” It’s the last song on her 1996 debut album “Living With Ghosts.”  The song aches with need and sorrow and if you let it in, it’ll hold your heart close and tell you that everything is, somehow, going to be OK.  The Wailin’ Jennys shoulder the pain and the hope of “Not Alone” and carry it forward. “You are not alone laying in the light/Put out the fire in your head/And lay with me tonight.”  The song floats through the air, carries over the ocean and lands softly at your feet. Perfection.

Oh and hey, want to stop the world and melt with a song? Here’s the Jennys’ take on Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.” I can’t even…

I can’t wait for you to hear “Fifteen.” Every song is exceptional  and meaningful and you’ll experience a thousand different emotions as you listen to them. The Wailin’ Jennys are playing some shows in November and December and again in February.  Keep tabs on them here and here.

Here’s their entire discography because I’m darn handy and thorough:
The Wailin’ Jennys (EP) 2003
40 Days – 2004
Firecracker – 2006
Live at Mauch Chunk Opera House – 2009
Bright Morning Stars -2011
Fifteenout on October 27, 2017 on Red House Records


I’m With Her takes on Adele & Mammut does Cher

Within days of each other, two super cool bands released SUPER COOL covers and you need to hear them both IMMEDIATELY and then join me in freaking out over both of them.


First up is I’m With Her covering Adele’s “Send My Love” (To Your New Lover”). And yeah, obviously, Adele’s version doesn’t exactly suck. It’s from a tiny little album called “25.” HELLO! Perhaps you’re heard of it.  Anyway…who dares to tackle Adele right? WRONG!

I'm With Her 4 - Lindsey Byrnes LR
I’m with Her Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

Their interpretation of the song is glorious. The harmonies will knock you right over and accompanied only by a stand-up bass, the song couldn’t be any better if it tried.  But don’t take my hyperactive word for it, listen for yourself:

I’m With Her, BTW, is Aoife O’Donovan, Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz. They’re all spectacular on their own and together…I can’t even.

Next let’s head to Iceland. But first let’s rewind to last February on what can only be described as the coldest night of the year in Portland, Maine. That was when the first annual SUNAANA Festival happened in  a giant warehouse type of space at Thompson’s Point.  The Icelandic-themed festival was a many hours affair with 12 local, national and international acts along with 24 different kinds of beers and an aerial performance by Circus Maine. It was so cold though I only lasted about two hours. But I was there long enough to see what was a brand new band to me called Mammút, fronted by singer Katrína Mogensen. They’re out of Reykjavik and formed back in 2003 when the members were all about thirteen years old. In Iceland, they’re huge. Here in the USA, they’re continuing to win us over with songs like “Breathe Into Me.”

Mammut photo courtesy of the artist

And then, seemingly out of nowhere a cover of Cher’s “Believe” lands in my in box and I grabbed my headphones so quickly I almost pulled a muscle. There’s no way I can be true to myself and not use profanity when talking about this. I FUCKING LOVE IT. Whew that felt good. The song (and god love the original) has become something completely different than the  1998 mega-hit that first introduced us (more or less) to that electronic vocal effect that I still secretly get a kick out of.  Holy bananas, this is awesome. Ready?

I truly love a good cover song. Here are seven others near and dear to me.

Ponti out.

7 New Songs I’m super excited about

seven  with photos AND TEXT.jpgIt’s the middle of September and I’m sitting here freakin’ the eff out with excitement over seven spectacular new songs that have come to my attention over the past couple of weeks.

I love you, Katie Herzig, Tori Amos, St. Vincent, The Wailin’ Jennys, Willie Watson, Jolie Holland & Samantha Parton and Amanda Palmer. SO VERY MUCH.

Let’s get right to it. Here are seven songs that I’m super excited about and  that I strongly suggest you listen to. Then, as always, follow these acts on social media,  get on their mailings list, buy their stuff, go see them live, and fall madly in love with them. Ponti out.

Katie Herzig Strangers
Photo courtesy of Katie Herzig via Bullhorn Publicity

  1. “Strangers” by Katie Herzig.

Hoorah!! Katie’s got a new album coming out in early 2018 called “Moment of Bliss.” Here’s what she said about “Strangers” in a press release:

‘Strangers’ is one of the first songs I wrote for the new album. Over time I fell in love with the simplicity and chillness of this song and wanted it to be the first on my record. Lyrically it digs into that vague feeling of discontentment that can chase us around in life, even when we have every reason to be content. I think when I wrote this song I was finding my way through that heaviness, but what I loved most about the song is that it felt like it knew how to get to me the other side of it. It gave me comfort over and over again as I worked on it and listen to it now.”

This new song is fantastic!!!

Here’s “Strangers”

Tori Amos Paulina Otylie Surys jpg
Tori Amos photo by Paulina Otylie Surys

2. “Cloud Rider” by Tori Amos.

Tori’s latest album “Native Invader” was released on Sept. 8 and I’m working my way through it like a child trying to open Christmas presents with some semblance of self-control. Countdown to her Nov. 2 show in Boston is on. Yes Tori, we will be riding out this storm.

Here’s “Cloud Rider”

Photo by Meredith Munn
Willie Watson photo by Meredith Munn

3. “Samson and Delilah” by Willie Watson.

Willie Watson released “Folksinger Vol. 2” on Sept. 15. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform in August at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival as part of Dave Rawlings Machine and saw him for the first time last year in North Carolina. ”

Here’s “Samson and Delilah”

Amanda Palmer by Kyle Cassidy
Amanda Palmer by Kyle Cassidy

4. “Drowning in the Sound” by Amanda Palmer

I don’t even know what to say about Amanda Palmer. Since first seeing Dresden Dolls at Space Gallery in Portland, Maine in 2005 I’ve been obsessed.

Here’s the deal with this INCREDIBLE song:

“this song was written as a two-day songwriting exercise on august 29th and 30th, 2017, using input/inspiration/comments from over 600 patrons . it wound up being a response to the insanity of internet politics melded with the recent total eclipse and the devastation of hurricane harvey….and, y’know…other stuff.

10% of the patreon profit, and 100% of the public profits (from iTunes, bandcamp, etc, for the month after release) will go to charity to aid the folks down in texas hit by the hurricane and if you’re feeling moved, please make a donation out of your own pocket.”

Here’s “Drowning in the Sound”


St. Vincent by Nedda Afsari
St. Vincent photo by Nedda Asfari

5. “Los Ageless by St. Vincent.

Annie Clark is back! The new album “MASSEDUCTION” is out on Oct. 13. She’s released a ton of HILARIOUS faux interview clips that are giving me anxiety if I, god for bid, ever get to actually interview her.  Take the time to watch them. The first single off of “MASSEDUCTION” is “New York” which is fucking brilliant (disclaimer: I only drop f bombs when absolutely necessary.)  Countdown to her Dec. 1 show in Portland, ME is SO ON.

Now there’s this one, “Los Ageless” HOLY SHIT. I want to do many things at once while listening to this song: Run, clean, dance and basically lose my mind.

Here’s “Los Ageless”

WailinJennys Photo MortenFog
The Wailin’ Jennys Photo by Morten Fog

6. “Wildflowers” by The Wailin’ Jennys.

They’ve done something sooooo great with an already excellent Tom Petty song. I adore this band so much and was so thrilled that they were part of the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in August.  Ruth, Heather and Nicky, it’s been a minute since your last album but it’s been SO WORTH THE WAIT. I can’t wait to hear the rest of it, especially Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me In Your Heart for a While.” In fact I might just go ahead and schedule a good cry for the moment I first hear it. The covers album called “Fifteen” is out on Oct. 27.

Here’s “Wildflowers”

Jolie Holland Samantha Parton
Image courtesy of Cinquefoil Records

7. “You Are Not Needed Now” by Jolie Holland and Samatha Parton.

I’ve known about Jolie for years and now am all about Samatha. I can’t wait to listen to the rest of “Wildflower Blues” and instant gratification can be yours, the album’s out now.

Here’s “You Are Not Needed Now”

Ryan Montbleau drops stirring, stunning ‘I Was Just Leaving’ album on March 3. Catch special FACEBOOK LIVE performance of every song on Feb. 16

I’m late to yet another party but now that I’m here I’m going to stay until it gets awkward.

This time it’s the Ryan Montbleau party. I’ve known his name for a couple of years for sure but I’m just now getting hip to how great he is.


I was sent an advance stream of his upcoming album “I Was Just Leaving,” but before I dove into it, I was told about the  the cover he did with Tall Heights of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” and how  it has gotten more than 12 million plays on Spotify. Yeah so there’s yet another party I’m late to and one I was a little shy walking into because I’m a big fan of Chapman and that song is pretty sacred. However any concerns I had were quickly erased when I gave it a listen which I suggest you do now and then we’ll get into the beauty of his new album.

Be someone…be someone…be someone…

Right? I almost started crying. For real. Not only is this version glorious and emotional it let me know right away what a terrific voice Montbleau has. It’s a voice that’s full of emotion without being over the top. It’s honest.

I listened to “Fast Car” (also, hello, the Tall Heights harmonies situation…so much yes) three times and then moved into the new record. BTW, Montbleau’s discography dates back to 2002 and includes several studio and live albums.

“I Was Just Leaving’s” title track opens the album in heart-rending fashion. “The sun came up and the sun went down/ Looking for reasons in my head again/ Where are you now, where you’ve  always been, far from where I am?/ Did I keep you there or did you run? Was it what I didn’t do or was it what I done?” It continues on that trajectory of marrow-deep heartache. Yet it’s also a gorgeous tune with a sturdy acoustic guitar and a poetic admission of someone trying to hang onto something that’s unravelling like the weather-worn frayed end of a clothesline.

The journey of self-discovery continues with “Bright Side.” “I was looking for a bright side mama ever since about the day I was born/Always headed for a bright light wondering what it might have in store.”

Take a listen to “Bright Side”

I have no idea what “Warning Bell” is about but it makes me want to drive all night on backroads. “But tell me, of the people you’ve known how many passed on were ready? How many heard the shot? How many got a warning bell?” Hmmm. Maybe it’s about regrets.

Tucked at the end of “I Was Just Leaving” is the last song I’ll talk about. It’s called “Cue the Majesty.” “Why pour myself out if it’s all down the drain? Why cry in the mornings? Why laugh in the rain? Why did I let her go? Why can’t I let her go? I need something that won’t go away? Cue the majesty, cue the majesty/Open up the skyline and show me the sea.” You’ll be singing along before you get to the end of the first listen. Also, cue the harmonica. Just the right amount.

ALL of this is to say, “I Was Just Leaving” is a fantastic record that I’m pretty addicted to at the moment and I’m placing my order with the universe now that Montbleau swings through Maine when he hits the road in support of it.

So…do you wanna hear EVERY SINGLE song from it performed live by Ryan via Facebook live? I know I do. Suffice to say, hop on Facebook post haste and *like* his page.

The Facebook LIVE performance is happening on Thursday, Feb. 16. at 9 p.m. (e.s.t.) If you’ve never seen a Facebook live performance, trust me, they’re super cool and a unique way to engage with the artist via real-time commenting. AND…you get to hear all of the new record’s twelve songs two weeks before the record’s released. Cool! So like his page and set a reminder on your phone because although typically a notification will pop up telling you that an arist has started a FB live thing, it’s good to also set an extra reminder because you want to be sure not to miss this.

Ryan, I’m sorry it took me this long to find you. But I’m here now and am an official fan. “I Was Just Leaving” is a hell of a record. And fun fact, we’re both from Massachusetts. #bonus

Ponti out.

Anna Lombard’s mesmerizing collision with OHX

Woah nelly! Ok so let me get right to it. One of Maine’s most incredible singers is the one and only Anna Lombard. You may know her from her Gypsy Tailwind days or more recently from her current project with Dave Gutter called Armies.

In 2013, Lombard released her debut full-length solo album “Head full of Bells,” a fantastic record that is home to the tremendous tune “All For You.”
Here’s the live version from her CD release show at Port City Music in August of 2013. I’ll never forget that night, including when we had to clear the building for half an hour because the restaurant next door had a small kitchen fire. When we all came back in they played this one and brought the house down in dazzling fashion. So take a few minutes and watch this and then we’ll get to the new version.

How great was that?

So fast forward to a couple of days ago when the  OHX remix of “All For You” arrived and knocked my hardcore winter wool socks off. I reached out to OHXer Andy Mead to explain the deal with OHX.

“OHX is my studio project – Ultimately, it’s a “production collective” where I work with a rotating team of key collaborators to produce tracks for other artists.”

Mead, Ryan Curless and Anna Lombard took “All For You” back into the studio to give it what Mead described as a “rework.”

And now there’s a gorgeous lyric video and, well, you’ve GOT to hear this.

“Your heart’s a machine” is my favorite refrain of the last couple of years.

Are you ready? ARE YOU REALLY READY?

OK then, I believe you.

With massive amounts of joy and appreciation, I give you the “All For You” OHX Remix. Ponti out.