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Jesse Terry’s Planes, Trains, And Automobiles

Reading Jesse Terry’s list of tour dates from the past few years is a lot like looking at an actual calendar. Almost every single day corresponds with yet another gig, often in an area hundreds of miles away from the previous night’s show. A self-described “road warrior,” Terry has played his way across the contiguous United States multiple times by now, and the wanderlust evident in his musical travels plays a major role on his new LP Empty Seat on a Plane. Whether he’s describing Montana’s Bitterroot Valley or the dusty back roads of Tennessee, it’s clear that Terry isn’t merely going through the lyrical motions. He’s been to each place, soaked up its essence, and reproduced it in the form of gorgeously sung folk songs. Even if he isn’t doing the traveling himself, Terry is busy imagining the voyages of others to far-away locales like Portugal, Spain, or France. He envisions cars, trains, and planes carrying people off to the bright new lives they want, or at least think they want.

That is not to say that Terry doesn’t maintain a strong sense of groundedness amidst his travels. Woven throughout the various narratives on Empty Seat on a Plane is an enduring sense of Americana. In Terry’s lyrics, home is less a single place than a group of ideas and images (ballparks, carnival rides, and wide-open roads) that conjure the unified feeling of America as one expansive home. Specific nods to gospel, funk, and blues instrumentally achieve a similar effect, compressing America’s vast musical history into portable tuneful mementos that give listeners a coherent sense of place no matter where they might be. Never crowded or ostentatious, Terry’s arrangements give each instrument just enough space to make these musical influences clear, and his soothing vocal delivery is calming without being sleep–inducing, which is a rare feat.  While Terry has been accurately compared to the likes of Ryan Adams and James Taylor, Empty Seat on a Plane shows that now he may be well on the way to becoming a reference point for other up-and-coming singer-songwriters himself.

Your Country’s Right Here: Don DiLego ‘Walks the Line’ with New Alt Country Release

A funny thing happened when Don DiLego sat down to record a new album—he found he had written two.

The singer/songwriter who you likely know from his songs that have been featured on such television shows as Dawson’s Creek and Roswell and various films has just released  the Western & Atlantic EP. Working with Colin Killilea (Pocketknife), Marwan Kanafani (City Breathing), Erik Olsen (DiLego’s longtime writing partner), and Gregg Williams (Dandy Warhols, Sheryl Crow), the result is a stroll back to the Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell sound that intrigued DiLego as a child. Perhaps that’s not surprising when you consider Rolling Stone dubbed him “alt-country’s next poster boy.”

“Just this morning I was watching ‘Walk the Line’ [the 2005 biographical drama about] Johnny Cash,” he said when asked about his decision to gather all the players in a studio and record Western & Atlantic live except for minimal overdubs. “It is only in today’s era that having recorded everyone live [while the players are] together means anything. In the history of music, that was just the way you recorded things.”

Not that DiLego is that far away from the roots of country. After all, he and musical partner Bree Sharp have a loyal following for their folk, alt-country duo Beautiful Small Machines. In fact, the duo’s recent cover of a banjo version of MIA’s “Paper Planes” was just selected as a Top 5 Pick of the Week by The Guardian of London. But in order to juggle his hectic musical schedule, DiLego will often use modern recording tools, like most other musicians, to finish a project. Perhaps the back-to-basics recording process for Western & Atlantic is what makes the early buzz around the EP so heartening.

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Exclusive Q and A: Sarah Lee Guthrie Talks Woody, Rock and the Guthrie Family Legacy

OurStage Exclusive InterviewsTalking to Sarah Lee Guthrie, daughter of Arlo and granddaughter of Woody, you’d never know she is folk music royalty. Even though her relatives have created some of the most enduring songs in the American music catalog—everything from “This Land is Your Land” (written by Woody in 1940) to “Alice’s Restaurant” (released by Arlo in 1967)—Guthrie seems perfectly comfortable embracing her own rock style of music while honoring her folk legacy.

Although Guthrie and her musical partner and husband, Johnny Irion, are in the midst of creating their next album, the two have halted work to join Arlo and the rest of the Guthrie family on the “Guthrie Family Reunion” tour that will wind its way to a dozen venues and music festivals. To honor what would have been Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday on July 14, the family will perform sets that include Woody’s songs, Arlo’s songs, and new material written by the Guthrie family. Sarah Lee and Johnny will sing their original songs as well as “Airliner” by Wilco, whose members Jeff Tweedy and Pat Sansone are producing the duo’s latest album due in 2013.

Sarah Lee Guthrie took some time out to talk about her family, her music and why she thinks her 9-year old daughter Olivia Nora Irion—known to the family as ONI—may well contribute to the family’s music catalog.

OS: Your own personal music—which you make with Johnny—is more rock than folk. Yet you also embrace your folk heritage. How do you balance the two formats?

SLG: It just comes naturally, really. Johnny and I love all kinds of music and we always put them all into the show. Johnny loves to rock but we also love to tip our hat to history. That is so important. But really, we just love experimenting and finding new voices. That is what [our career together] has uncovered. We really have a good time doing that and can’t wait to create more. It is very exciting for us.

OS: A lot of second- or third-generation artists talk a lot about the fans that come to their shows. Some find it frustrating that the fans are there more to embrace the past than to listen to the newer music. You’ve never really voiced displeasure about any of that.

SLG: I have to say that for the most part, actually the whole part, the fan interactions I’ve had have been very positive. They always talk about how much Woody’s music meant to them growing up and how much Arlo’s songs have changed their lives. There are moments where it worries me and I wonder what they expect of me. But they’ve been very positive and very gracious. It’s really been a great thing to have fans embrace the legacy.

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Craig Zobel’s ‘Compliance’ To Feature Soundtrack Of OurStage Artists

The debut feature film from director Craig Zobel, the thriller Compliance, is coming out later this summer. And while we’re big fans of independent cinema, we’ve got a special reason why we’re excited about this movie. Compliance marks a major success for OurStage’s Licensing Program, featuring a soundtrack comprised of OurStage artists.

Don’t go see Compliance if you’re looking for another popcorn movie. Feel good hit of the summer, this is not. The cerebral, challenging movie earned rave reviews when it premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. From the movie’s synopsis:

Becky and Sandra aren’t the best of friends. Sandra is a middle-aged manager at a fast-food restaurant; Becky is a teenaged counter girl who really needs the job. One stressful day (too many customers and too little bacon), a police officer calls, accusing Becky of stealing money from a customer’s purse, which she vehemently denies. Sandra, overwhelmed by her managerial responsibilities, complies with the officer’s orders to detain Becky. This choice begins a nightmare that tragically blurs the lines between expedience and prudence, legality and reason.

Heavy stuff indeed.

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Megaupload Warrants, Seizure Ruled Illegal In NZ

The past week has seen a lot of good news for file sharing service Megaupload and founder Kim Dotcom as he fights his extradition to the US. Judge Helen Winkelmann of the New Zeland High Court ruled today that the warrants used to arrest Dotcom and search and seize his property were “invalid.” In Winkelmann’s brief on her ruling, she stated that the warrants used in the case were too vague and general. As such, their use in the arrest of Dotcom, the seizure of his assets, and the removal of Megaupload’s servers from New Zeland by the FBI, was illegal.

The ruling marks a major victory for Dotcom and his defense team. At FBI, at the behest of the RIAA, MPAA, and various trade organizations in the US, has been investigating Megaupload and Dotcom for the past two years. It is alleged that Megaupload was actively encouraging users to host copyright infringing content through the service, profiting from increased traffic and ad revenues from such content.

It seems that Dotcom also has some friends in high places. Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, voiced his opinion that the case against Dotcom is “hokey.”

“Copyright violation is wrong,” Wozniak said in an email to CNET. ”So is driving over the speed limit. But don’t let that halt the progress of the digital age.” Dotcom also received some Twitter love from famous hacker Kevin Mitnick.

Police in New Zeland and the FBI have not offered comment on the ruling.

Your Country’s Right Here: Madison Violet Begin to Blossom in U.S.

For all the heavy-duty bluegrass star power at the most recent DelFest in Cumberland, Md., it was the Canadian folk duo Madison Violet that arguably was the most exciting “find” of the event.

Known individually as Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac, the duo has won an array of awards and has ardent fans throughout their native Canada, in Europe, and beyond. Yet the two are just now making a name for themselves in the U.S. An unexpected illness forced the duo to cancel the last two dates of the U.S. tour behind their latest album The Good in Goodbye, but the pair hope to be back in American clubs soon.

“We haven’t toured in the U.S. very often in the 13 years we have been playing together,” said MacEachern citing work permits and other red tape that has kept them away. “Now we have more of a focus on the States and that’s great. Our music shouldn’t be a struggle in the States; it’s kind of got an Americana feel.”

Although that’s true, the music clearly also has international appeal as underscored by the many fans— especially from Germany—that fly to Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere, to catch Madison Violet shows. Perhaps that’s not surprising when you consider the judges, including Elton John, Wyclef Jean and Mary J. Blige, that chose Madison Violet as the 2009 Grand Prize Winners of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. The duo are the first Canadians to win the award.

While the prize certainly bolstered the group’s confidence in their own abilities, they still see a long road ahead as they work to establish their names in the States. The joy for them is that fans are fans and seem to have similar responses to their music, wherever they play. If they can just get before a crowd, as they did on Memorial Day weekend at DelFest, chances are they’ll win converts.

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Exclusive Q and A: Jo Dee Messina Talks New Music, Concerts and Kids

OurStage Exclusive InterviewsJo Dee Messina may be a major country music star with a host of awards and No. 1 Billboard country singles, but her focus most days is her two young sons, Noah, 3, and Jonah, who was born in January.

Just like any parent with a full-time career, Messina knows her way around a diaper bag, can easily recite all the ways to entice your child to nap, and will has a list of reasons to avoid air travel with a travel companion whose age is a single digit. Plenty of fans have enjoyed hearing about Messina’s life via her single “A Woman’s Rant” and even more so through her Blog Fumbling Mom, published in the Tennessean Newspaper.

Messina took time out recently to chat with OurStage about kids, exercise and, oh yes, her award-winning music.

OS: Wow, you really juggle a lot between your career and family. What are your secrets?

JDM: You just do it. You go out on stage and pray to God you don’t have spit up on you! My blog lets people know me in my “other” life. It’s a hard balance but a good balance.

OS: I bet it’s tough having a child to worry about as well as a music career!

JDM: What is harder than having a kid is having two! My head is spinning.

OS: You mentioned somewhere that you’ve been intent on getting back in shape since your son was born. What are you doing?

JDM: I’m working out two to three hours a day. In this business, you can’t be overweight.  [Fitness is] just part of the job, one of the job requirements. If I choose to do this, then I need to run five miles a day.

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Your Country’s Right Here: Jimbo Mathus Shines a “Blue Light” on the Delta

It would be impressive enough to note that the original string songs Jimbo Mathus wrote so closely mirror classic tunes of that format, notably those on the just-released Old Times There album by the South Memphis String Band, that one must look at the linear notes to differentiate them. But when much-praised singer-songwriter wrote the string tunes, he was also writing an array of songs in the garage band, blues, and rock formats.

“It’s not that hard for me,” Mathus, a self proclaimed rock music “nut,” said modestly when the quality of the songs he penned was praised. “I write a lot, so it’s not that difficult. It’s just different patterns of speech, different chord structure, rhythms, syntax. I don’t know; I get weird little inspirations.”

Lucky for fans of alt-country, delta blues, and rock that Mathus has chosen to release some of those musical inspirations on a six-song EP Blue Light, set for a July release. The prolific Mississippi-born songwriter who founded the much-acclaimed Squirrel Nut Zippers, uses this record to share his Mississippi born-and-bred insights.

“I’m singing from absolute experience on this recording,” Mathus said in promoting the album. “Raw stories of real events.”

Perhaps it’s not surprising that many of the dates on his upcoming tour are in the deep south, so closely tied are the songs to the delta. Sure, they’re easily labelled as rock, but let’s remember that Elvis Presley, the King of Rock, was the consummate country musician, born in Tupelo, Miss., and raised in Memphis.

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Exclusive Q and A: Chris Young Talks Hit Songs, Radio Requests and Female Fans

OurStage Exclusive InterviewsChris Young is on fire and that’s not just because he’s on the Miranda Lambert tour of the same name. Young’s 2011 release Neon debuted at No. 4 and his last five singles have gone to No. 1 at country radio while “Tomorrow,” “Voices,” and “You” were certified Gold.

Just before hosting a recent online chat with hundreds of his fans, during which he debuted his video for “Neon,” the multi-award winner took time to talk a bit about his music, radio requests, and just how fans show their enthusiasm for his music.

OS: This has been quite a year or so for you. Looking at everything, all the songs, all the awards, what has been the best thing so far?

CS: Well, when you are booking [concerts] a year out, that’s really nice! I remember a time when we weren’t even booking weeks out.

OS: How have things been going on Miranda’s “On Fire” tour?

CY: We have been out with her since January and it has been unreal! She is a sweetheart and one of the best people to tour with. Everything is “what is mine is yours.”

OS: So what does that allow you to do on stage?

CY: I love to mess with our intros and [the ends of songs] and do covers, and sometimes do a song in a show that is really broken down, have the drummer kick down the brushes and pull the acoustics out and kind of mess with some of our songs.

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Your Country’s Right Here: Del McCoury Puts the Spirit Back in Country

Bluegrass legend Del McCoury gives me hope that I can be redeemed musically, even if I still have a lot of work to do to reach that state.

Let me note that it’s probably not cool to use myself as an example, but I’m guessing that a lot of folks wonder if the musical joy they experienced as kids can be recaptured. After attending this year’s DelFest during Memorial Day in Cumberland, Md., I have to believe it can.

I had originally intended to let Del McCoury tell you about DelFest, that just wrapped up its fifth season and is busting at the seams with attendees (the area’s local newspaper reports expansion plans are underway). We’ll let you hear from Del, of course, but after reading the non-stop CMA Fest coverage, the Bonnaroo dispatches, and the excellent Kindle single “The Same Coachella Twice” by Sean Howell, I thought some personal perspective might be useful, too.

Let’s start with some background about McCoury, who was a legend before the title was handed out like flyers advertising a tent sale. McCoury was first the banjo player, then lead singer and rhythm guitarist for Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys. We could go on and on about his career, which he put on hold for more than a decade so he could be close to home and help raise his family. Highlights include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Endowment of the Arts, membership in both the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ol’ Opry, and that’s just for starters. You likely get the point.

Or part of it.

The real point is that although he’s a hero to many musicians—Bruce Springsteen, Jon Fishman of Phish, Paul Stanley of KISS—he has never chased musical trends. And from what musicians tell me, McCoury never held those who did in contempt. Instead, he takes enjoyment and inspiration from all music, including that which he wouldn’t play.

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