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Thursday, June 21, 2018
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"I'm definitely taking more chances
now," Danielle Nicole says of Cry
No More, her second solo album and the follow-up to her widely
acclaimed 2015 solo debut Wolf Den. "I grew up playing the blues, and the
blues is still a big part of what I do.
But now I'm reaching out more and trying different things. It still sounds like me, but I'm stretching
out a lot more than I have previously."
Indeed, while Wolf Den served as a powerful intro to
the young singer-bassist-songwriter's funky, blues-steeped songcraft, Cry
set for release on February 23rd, 2018 via Concord Records, takes the artist into fresh new creative territory,
delivering 14 emotion-charged new songs whose rootsy musical edge is matched by
their air of hard-won personal experience.
Danielle Nicole's expansive approach yields
deeply compelling musical results throughout Cry No More. With seasoned
veteran Tony Braunagel (Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Burdon) producing, such
heartfelt, groove-intensive new tunes as "Crawl," "How Come You
Don't Call Me Anymore," the Bill Withers-penned "Hot Spell" and
the heart-tugging title track find Danielle cutting loose and focusing on the
storytelling and character-development aspects of her songwriting.
"I wanted to open up more about myself, and
I think it shows in the songs," Danielle asserts. "I thought really hard about the stories
I wanted to tell in these songs. I
really dug into my personal experience, and worked to be more open and expose
more of myself than I have in the past.
"There's a song there about my father,
'Bobby,' who passed away a long time ago," she continues. "That was a big one for me, because I'd
never gone there before. And I've had
lots of changes going on in my life, so the title track, 'Cry No More,' is
about moving on and letting go, and about getting over things and moving past
them. There are a lot of songs on this
album about moving on, although that wasn't a conscious direction. Every song is a different story, and every
song has a purpose and a perspective."
While Danielle wrote or co-wrote nine of Cry No More's 14 songs, the seductive
"Hot Spell" was given to Danielle by its author, long-retired R&B
legend Bill Withers. Withers was a
surprise visitor to the album's recording sessions at L.A.'s Ultratone Studios,
and was so impressed with Danielle's singing that he dug into his archives and
offered her the song, which he wrote back in the '70s, but which had gone
unrecorded since then.
"Bill is one of my all-time musical
heroes," Danielle notes. "We
played him a couple of the songs we'd been working on, and he said 'Come on,
let's go out to my car for a minute.' So
we were hanging out in his SUV, and he's shuffling through his glovebox and he
pulls out this disc and says 'I've got this song; it's a bit risqué, but if you
don't mind, I'll play it for you.' It
was this demo that he'd done, with his daughter doing the vocals. It was real moody and had a great groove, and
it was Bill all the way. He told me that
if I liked it, I was welcome to record it."
She didn't have to be told twice. "There was a section on the demo where
Bill's scatting where the guitar solo would be.
We asked him to do that on my version, but he's retired, so he
respectfully declined to sing on it. So
I sang the scat line and harmonized to it, in his honor. He dug it!"
Danielle enlisted an old friend, Braunagel, who
also produced the last two albums by her old family band, Trampled Under Foot,
to record the album. The pair's
longstanding creative rapport is apparent throughout Cry No More, on which Braunagel co-wrote five songs with Danielle.
"I really wanted to work with Tony on this
record, because I knew that he would get the best out of me," Danielle explains. "We've really developed a great working
relationship and we write together really well, and I knew that Tony could help
me develop these stories into songs.
"This whole record was like a dream come
true," she adds. "I got to do
the songs I wanted to do, work with the producer I wanted to work with, and
record in the studio I wanted to record in.
It was really cool how everything fell into place. All of the songs were what I wanted them to
be, and all of the players were perfect for the songs. Every aspect of this album, from the birth of
the songs to the mastering, was really free and organic."
In addition to Danielle on bass, producer
Braunagel on drums and longtime Bonnie Raitt guitarist Johnnie Lee Schell (who
also engineered the sessions), Cry No More features appearances by
such notable guitarists as Kenny Wayne Shepherd (on "Save Me"),
Luther Dickinson (on "Just Can't Keep From Crying"), Walter Trout (on
"Burnin' for You"), Sonny Landreth (on "I'm Going Home"), Danielle's touring
guitarist Brandon Miller (on "Baby Eyes"), and her brother and former
bandmate Nick Schnebelen (on
The musical expertise and emotional depth of Cry No More reflect of a lifetime's
worth of music-making. Born Danielle
Nicole Schnebelen, Danielle comes from a long line of singers and musicians,
and showed an affinity for singing almost from birth. Growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, she
performed in public for the first time at the age of 12, singing Koko Taylor's
"Never Trust a Man" as part of a Blues for Schools program at her
elementary school. In her early teens,
she began singing in local coffeehouses and at open mic events, often jamming
with her parents at clubs that would allow minors. At 16, she became lead singer in her father's
band, Little Eva and the Works. In 1999,
she started her own band, Fresh Brew, with some older local musicians. Fresh Brew performed for four years and
represented Kansas City in the prestigious International Blues Challenge.
It was during this time
that Danielle and her brothers Nick and Kris launched a family band,
Trampled Under Foot, relocating to Philadelphia in the process. To maintain the family concept, Danielle
learned to play bass, eventually mastering the instrument. Trampled Under Foot traveled the world and
recorded several self-released albums, building a sizable national fan base
through years of nonstop roadwork. For
their 2013 album Badlands, produced
by Braunagel, Trampled Under Foot moved to the Telarc label, a division of
Concord Music Group. Badlands debuted at #1 on Billboard's Blues Chart.
As Trampled Under Foot wound down after an
eventful 13-year run, Danielle formed her own band and signed with Concord
Records, releasing a self-titled EP and the Anders Osborne-produced album Wolf Den in 2015. Those releases established Danielle as a
formidable solo artist and bandleader.
"I learned a lot from the last album,"
Danielle states. "It was the first
time I was writing and recording and choosing all of the material on my own,
which was a big thing for me. I had been
in a band with my brothers for 13 years, but it's a whole different thing when
it's your name that's on the line. That
aspect feels a lot more comfortable now, and I can make decisions without
worrying about what everybody else will think."
Nicole's distinctive, inventive bass work-which resulted
in her becoming the first woman to win the Blues Foundation's 2014 Blues Music
Award for Best Instrumentalist, Bass-is the product of years of intensive
roadwork. Although she had no experience
with the instrument when she became Trampled Under Foot's bassist, now she
can't imagine life without it.
"Playing the bass definitely influences the
way I sing, the way I write and the way I approach music," she says. "As I've progressed more, the bass lines
have been getting a lot more intricate.
It's still a challenge to sing while playing bass, because it's very
rare that the bass line and the vocal go together. I still get tripped up sometimes, but at this
point I'd never give up the bass.
"When I started doing my solo thing,"
she continues, "someone asked me if I was gonna hire a bass player. No, of course not! I originally picked up the bass to keep
Trampled Under Foot a family band, but I really fell in love with it. It was a huge challenge, and it still
is. But I really love being part of the
groove and getting to sing on top of that.
I had learned some stuff on acoustic guitar before I started playing
bass, but I never really felt connected to it the way I do with the bass. It's empowering, walking onto a stage full of
grown men who can play their asses off, and it's 'OK, I'm gonna play this bass,
we're gonna do this, and it's gonna rock.'"
With Cry No More marking a substantial
creative step forward, Danielle Nicole is ready to reap her musical destiny.
"I think that it's a good time for the kind
of thing I'm doing," she states.
"From my years of playing blues festivals, I've seen that younger
and younger audiences are getting into the blues. I think that people want to hear authentic
Fueled by whiskey, asphalt, AM gold, and several lifetimes of heartache, the Stubborn Lovers play country and rock ‘n' roll songs that sound like forgotten classics. Imagine the Dixie Chicks jamming with Bruce Springsteen at a lonesome roadhouse: gorgeous three-part harmonies with weeping pedal steel over big beats and ringing guitars.
Their EP Feathers and Bones was released in late 2015, and showcases the band's evocative, rootsy sound across four songs, from the shimmering pop hooks of "So Jealous So Stupid" to the driving country thump of "Evermore", from the soulful, soaring "Flaming June" to the moody and sinuous "Devil Take My Heart". The warmth and exuberance of the music contrast with the record's lyrical exploration of darker emotions: bitterness and anger over lost or unrequited love, gnawing jealousy, unnamed fear.
Though based in the indie rock mecca of Portland, Oregon, the sextet's country pedigree is genuine: singer Mandy Allan hails from Hendersonville, Tennessee, where her grandfather delivered mail to the home of Johnny and June Carter Cash. Wife-and-husband duo Toni and Todd Melton (acoustic guitar/vocals and electric guitar, respectively) are transplants from the heart of Kentucky's hill country.
Multi-instrumentalist Steve Lipsey, who plays dobro and banjo in addition to pedal steel, is originally from New York, where his musical career began alongside classmate Donald Roeser, a.k.a. Buck Dharma, who went on to found Blue Oyster Cult. Bassist and vocalist Jenny Taylor grew up along the storied highways of New Jersey, and thus wears a particular fondness for anthemic blue-collar rock on her sleeve, while drummer and Idahoan Michael "Pearl" Nelson grounds the band both musically and geographically as the sole Northwest native.
The Stubborn Lovers have been privileged to share the stage with a number of country and Americana luminaries, including Lydia Loveless, Lindi Ortega, American Aquarium, and legendary Texas singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen. In 2015 they were twice nominated for awards by Portland alt newsweekly Willamette Week: first as the year's Best New Band, and again in the annual readers' poll as Best Alt Country Band. They will record their first full-length album in 2016.
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