If you were ever trying to find Ashley Wallbridge, there would be a couple of places that you could look, although it would depend a lot on exactly when it was that you were trying to find him.
Fifteen years ago, you could have looked in Stoke-on-Trent, a city of about half a million people in the north of England. If you'd been looking for him then, and not a lot of people were, you probably would have found him buried in a laptop screen, working on beats and bridges and builds, starting to make the music that would soon make a lot of people want to find him.
It didn't really take that long. By the time he was eighteen — about ten years ago — people were already starting to find him, especially people who were looking for a brand new energy in electronic dance music. By then, Ashley Wallbridge had already won a bunch of DJ competitions (with a fake ID no less) and had been featured on Radio 1, the BBC's music powerhouse. It was just a couple of years after that, in 2008, that his tracks began hitting playlists and dance floors, and if you're trying to find Ashley Wallbridge now, you can find several hundred of his originals and remixes at sites like Beatport and Juno.
That's a lot of records, and they not only cover a lot of years, they cover a lot of different ideas and textures and musical insight. Wallbridge comes out of the scene that for years was just called Trance, but has evolved into what now is more often called Trance and Progressive, but his range is wide. So is his impact — he's remixed Avicii for PRMD (Avicii's own label), and you could fill a record box with his collaborations with great producers like Gareth Emery and Andy Moor.
You may already know a lot about Jim Ed Norman, and just not realize it. In any case, you almost certainly know a lot of his music, although you probably don't think of it as exactly 'his' music. He doesn't either, but the impact that his music has had on the way that a lot of great artists have made their own music has been immense. Even though it probably includes some of your all-time favorite recordings, it's just not that easy to say exactly what Jim Ed Norman's music actually is. But one thing it's always been is a reflection of who he is, so if you know a lot of his music, you actually know a lot about him.
Jim Ed Norman's music has crowded the tops of many charts for many years, but since his name is never in the column labeled "recording artist", people don't usually think of him as one. That's ironic, since he's such a master of the art of recording. He's been a musician, an arranger, a producer, and a very successful label head (twice so far), but the art that he's a master of is just a little too complex, or maybe just too unique, to have its own name. It's a lot of different things, each musical moment custom-made for the moment that needed it, but it's a creativity that's always very deeply interwoven with the fabric of other artists' creativity. When the records come out, the artist you hear about is always somebody else.
Artist he is though, and that's what makes Jim Ed Norman's music so important and yet so elusive — it's what changes other people's music from what their music would have been to what it could really be. That's why he can be an arranger, a producer, a label executive — sometimes even a piano player or guitarist — and still do exactly what he does. The real question is, how does he do it? Actually that's probably three real questions — what does he do, how does he do it, and especially, how has he been able to keep doing it for almost five decades?
He began his career very much as a recording artist, playing keyboards and guitar in a band called Shiloh, which is what originally brought Norman and fellow band member Don Henley to Los Angeles from Texas. Even though Shiloh broke up after the release of their first album, Norman's career in recording music began to expand, and it's never really stopped.
He continued to play keyboards and guitar on a number of tracks, including several legendary ones, but his first real jump to a different orbital plane was when he taught himself orchestral arrangement. He did it almost entirely just by listening carefully to the arrangements he admired. "Arranging is my first love," Norman says, "but by that I mean 'orchestral arranging'. The early credits I received — like The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, and Bob Seger — were usually for this kind of work."
Although Norman is known most for his influential work in Rock and Country, those are by no means his only influences. Early in his career, for example, he saved all his money to make a trip from L.A. to visit Sigma Sound studios in Philadelphia, home of the soaring string and horn arrangements that made the Philadelphia Sound such a hallmark of seventies R&B. That's always been an important part of his music, the way he appreciates other people's music, and the soulful vibrance in many of Norman's own arrangements may be part of why so many of them are classics in their own right.
Rui da Silva has a brand new record out — it's a collaboration with New York producer Duane Harden called "It's Your Love", and there are quite a few things about it that could end up getting it heard a lot. The classic arc of the songwriting, Joe Killington's full-gear vocal, and the carefully colored production from da Silva and Harden are just some of the things that could make it a stand-out moment in a career that's had quite a few of those already.
Rui da Silva is a House producer from London who has been releasing quality track after quality track for a while now. One of the scene's most respected voices, he's been finding new sounds, new ideas, and new ways to discover what House music can be ever since he traded in his bass guitar for an early generation of analog drum machines and samplers.
He discovered House music in the early nineties, when he was playing bass in a garage band in his native Lisbon. "It was pretty hard to keep everybody interested in the band," he remembers, "and I realized that with House music you could just do it all on your own. So I just jumped into that, and got a bit of equipment. I got a couple of magazines to figure out what people were using and just took it from there."
The rest of the world first heard what he was doing when he and DJ Vibe, calling themselves Underground Sound of Lisbon, recorded a track called "So Get Up". They sent a promo copy to New York — just one — with no contact info on the label except a phone number and part of a map of Lisbon. Night after night for six months, Junior Vasquez banged it in his legendary Sound Factory sets, until finally TRIBAL America's Rob di Stefano got the phone number off the record and tracked da Silva and DJ Vibe down in Lisbon.
With the TRIBAL America release, "So Get Up" became a world-wide House phenomenon. "It created a new sound that didn't exist," da Silva says, "because our influences were quite unique. We were consuming techno from Detroit, house records from New York, and some sounds from the UK, and we were just trying to figure out our own dance music." That's something da Silva has never stopped doing — figuring out his own dance music. As a musician, he's exceptional in more than a few ways, but one of the most striking is the way that he always seems to be just beginning his journey. What makes that even more unusual is that it's already been quite a ride.
After a few more years in the Lisbon scene that he had helped to create, da Silva decided to move to London. "It was a risk, but I felt that I was at a place that I could not move further," he recalls, "so it was either just settle for where I was, or take a chance and move further. I decided to move further." Much further, as it turned out, topping the UK charts with a record he did with Cassandra Fox called "Touch Me", co-founding Kismet Records, and releasing a mesmerizing sequence of widely admired tracks. In 2015 alone, he has more than a dozen new releases as an artist (and several more as a remixer) that cover a multi-chromatic spectrum of style, texture and sound. "I'll always expect to find new sounds," he says.
When you can do something as well as Kaki King can play a guitar, it can take you almost anywhere. King has been playing guitar, and has been widely admired for the way she does, for quite a while, and since her first release in 2002, Everybody Loves You, she's never really stopped discovering new ways to discover the instrument she calls "a shapeshifter". With her latest album, The Neck is a Bridge to the Body, she's dreamed up a completely new set of ways to do what she always does, to find great music in a guitar and then play it like nobody else can.
Dylan Scott says he's fired up, but even if he didn't say so, that's the impression you would have gotten anyway. He's so enthusiastic about so many different things that you could get the exact same impression, whether he was talking about songwriting, touring, recording, or even just being back home in Louisiana.
In this case, he was talking about his new single "Lay It On Me", but it didn't have anything to do with the fact that it sold so well the very first day it was out, because that part hadn't even happened yet. What he was talking about was the song itself, writing it, recording it, working on it, the whole personal, musical, shared adventure. "I'm fired up," he says, "and what I like about it is, it's just making good music and having a good time. Not worrying about the money, just worrying about the fun we're going to have."
Even if you happen to talk to him on the day that his third single is being released by Sidewalk Records, the forward-leaning imprint of Nashville's legendary Curb labels, he's not likely to bring up anything about the business, about his success, or even about his very promising future. It probably doesn't matter though; even if none of that comes up, you're still going to get a good idea of why so many people are excited about his music. That's because in everything Dylan Scott talks about, you'll hear the same effortless good will, and the same absolutely irresistible enthusiasm, that always seems to come through in the music that he makes.
If you'd like to hear some good new music, here's some news. There was a really good album made this year that you might not have heard, by a talented band that you may not know, that was released by an imaginative label you're probably not familiar with, from a vibrant music scene you're almost certainly unaware of.
If any of that sounds unusual, here's another surprise. The music scene where the label is that signed the band that made the album is Birmingham, Alabama, but (just one more surprise) that tells you absolutely nothing about what the record is like.
Wray is a three-piece band out of Birmingham whose album is a driving but dreamlike adventure through the collective musical imagination of David Brown, David Swatzell, and Blake Wimberly. Their music is sometimes referred to as 'power gaze', because it shares a mesmerizing and atmospheric richness with much of the music that is called 'shoegaze', but they drive it hard and never let it lose its power. In reality, what they're doing is much more complex than anything you can describe with a name, partly because of where their music comes from, and partly because of where they can take it.
Unless you already know who MC Frontalot is, it would be all to easy to miss out on his new album Question Bedtime. As a matter of fact, it would be all to easy to miss out on the entire MC Frontalot adventure, and that would be a shame, because his music is written so imaginatively and produced so effectively. It's a very unpredictable collection of creativity that MC Frontalot puts together, but he puts it all together so well that it would really be too bad to miss it al all.
A lot of people already know who he is; MC Frontalot's been making records and doing shows for a lot of people for quite a few years, and none of those people are likely to miss out on anything new he comes up with. If you've heard one of his other studio albums (Question Bedtime is his sixth), or if you're one of the tens of thousands of people who have seen his completely unique take on what a rapper can be on stage, you would already have a pretty good idea that there's way more here than what it looks like at first. If you had barely heard of him though, or maybe never heard of him, it would be all too easy to get the idea that this was just something that you already have a perfectly good category for. You might think that it's just comedy, or maybe that Question Bedtime is just a young person's record, or that the whole MC Frontalot story is just a novelty, and you could easily miss something that you might really enjoy.
There's a band out of Detroit called Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas, and just about everybody who sees them thinks they're seeing a promising new group with a cool new singer, but that's not quite all of it. When you take a good look at Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas you can see a lot more than just that, because what you're really seeing is an exorbitant take on where music can come from, an all-embracing vision of what music can be. You're looking at a stage full of gifted young jazz players tearing it up in a rock band behind a creative and talented singer, a singer who cares a lot about everything she does, and not so much about what anybody said she was supposed to do. It's quite a sight, and quite a sound, and even if it's already quite a story, there's bound to be a lot more where that came from. That's because Jessica Hernandez has a vision that's such a wild and complex collage of creativity that nobody can really guess what she might do next.
They covered a lot of the country last year, and since people who see them often tell somebody, you may have heard of them already. It's just as likely that you've heard some of their music; after signing with Instant Records, the label founded by songwriting, producing, and label icon Richard Gottehrer, they released a five song EP called Demons (after the Hernandez original that opens the record), and it gets played a lot. Since they're heading out on tour again right now (Atlanta, San Diego, Austin for South By Southwest and a lot of other places), they'll probably be wherever you are before too long. Until then you could listen to the EP, or maybe check out some of the unreleased tracks in their live videos (many of which will be on the full length album they'll release this summer). Either way, you'll probably start to see how much there is behind the little that anybody has seen yet.
It seems like Morgan Frazier must have a secret, not just because she does so many different things so well, but because she makes it all look so easy, as if it's just a matter of being who she is. Whatever her secret is, it probably isn't one of those secrets that you're not supposed to tell, because she speaks so readily about what she's doing and why. "I'm a songwriter," she says, "and I feel like my music is a kind of open book to who I am." Still, it could be one of those secrets that you can't just tell people because you have to show them, something that most people just don't want to believe until they see it for themselves.
If you haven't heard of her yet, Morgan Frazier is one of those talented veterans of Country Music that most people don't know about, even though she's been performing for more than fifteen years. She made her first album eleven years ago, and she has a catalog of carefully crafted original songs that are still largely unknown. None of that is really much of a secret, though, and there's a good reason why so many people don't know about her. She's still only twenty years old, and although she's been performing since she was five and recording since she was nine, her first national release, a beautiful self-titled EP on Curb Records, just came out this year.
There's a lot of different kinds of music in this big wide world, so many different kinds of music that nobody could even name them all. Everybody could name a few though, and two kinds of music that almost everybody can name are Rock and Country. Each of them is its own wide world, and although they do share some history, they don't share a lot of artists, or a lot of audiences.
There's plenty of music in America, and a lot of it's out on the road, rolling down interstates, sea to shining sea. The tour buses carrying Rock acts look a lot like the ones carrying Country acts, but even if they do pass each other on the interstate, they'll always be in two very different worlds. It's true that Rock and Country have a few things in common, and the more acoustic, lyrical kinds of Rock aren't all that different from some Country music. Still, the louder and heavier Rock gets, the less it sounds anything like the handcrafted story songs from a Nashville session, where most of the guitars are played undistorted, and the pedal steel might answer every careful line of a clear, melodic vocal.
That makes Aaron Lewis a very unusual story, because after sixteen years in a band called Staind (who've sold fifteen million very heavy rock albums), he recorded five country songs and put them together on an independent country EP. It had a picture on the cover of a sign by the side of the road that said "Entering Nashville", and he called it Town Line. If that doesn't sound all that astonishing, it's because that's not the really unusual part. When Town Line was released in March, 2011 it became the No. 1 Country album, and that's not only way past unusual, it may be unprecedented.