You Should Know: Blues-Folk Singer Valerie June

Valerie June_LITK

Listening to a recent episode of NPR’s All Songs Considered, music critic Ann Powers raved about singer-songwriter Valerie June. The Tennessee born artist calls her sound “Organic Moonshine Roots Music” — an “emotive amalgamation of folk, blues, gospel, soul, Appalachian and bluegrass (including [an] irresistible banjo”.

June is a self-taught musician and has self-released three albums, her debut as a signed artist, Pushin’ Against a Stone, released in the UK and Europe in May via Sunday Best Recordings; and hits U.S. soil through Concord Music Group on August 13. It includes several songs co-written with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, who co-produced it with Kevin Augunas (Florence & The Machine). It seems that the album was titled to commemorate her life story.

June says: “I feel I’ve spent my life pushing against a stone. And the jobs I’ve had have been fitting for getting a true feel for how the traditional artists I loved came home after a hard day to sit on the porch and play tunes until bedtime.”

Born in Jackson, Tennessee (childhood home of poet Gil Scott-Heron), but raised in Humboldt, Tennessee, June is also featured in two songs on Meshell Ndegeocello’s Nina Simone tribute album, Pour Une Ame Souveraine (2012, Naive) — “Be My Husband” and “Black Is The Color of My True Love’s Hair”…

Below watch a video interview by Crane.tv with Valerie speaking about her music, expectations people have of her as an artist (with locs) and much more. Also, peep the video for her newest single “You Can’t Be Told”.

Pushin’ Against a Stone releases August 13.



Valerie June’s discography:

Valerie June and The Tennessee Express [2010]

Mountain of Rose Quartz [2008]

The Way of the Weeping Willow [2006]


Upcoming U.S. tour dates:

August 10 – Cedar Cultural Center – Minneapolis, MN
August 14 – City Winery – New York, NY
August 15 – Tin Angel – Philadelphia, PA
August 17 – Chenango Blues Festival – Norwich, NY
August 18 – IOTA Club & Café – Arlington, VA


LIVE REVIEW: Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, House of Blues (Houston, TX) – 11/11/12

Grace Potter on stage at HOB’s in Houston, TX, on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012. (photo/ND McCray)

Opening with the title track from her latest album, The Lion The Beast The Beat, Vermont singer-songwriter Grace Potter showcased her rock-star style along with band mates the Nocturnals at House of Blues on Sunday night.

Undeniably a rock and roll outfit, GPN is also steeped in soul, blues, gospel and country music. Touring heavily in support of their newest project, released in June, the crew opened for country music superstars Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney in August at Reliant Stadium for their Brothers of the Sun Tour.

Potter told CultureMap Houston last week: “That whole tour was a highlight for me this summer — especially when I got to sit in with Kenny during his show and watch how he controls the energy of 50-some-odd-thousand people. It’s a pretty inspiring thing to see.”

Grace duets with the star on his track “You and Tequila,” a 2011 crossover hit that exposed the group to a much wider audience.

Grace Potter at House of Blues. (photo/ND McCray)

With a light show that rivaled many big-name major-label artists, Potter showcased that she learned from (and can hang with) the best of them. Divvying up sentimental songs like “Stars” and the theatrical “Turntable” (from The Lion The Beast The Beat) with their catchiest tracks from previous albums like “Money,” “Low Road,” “Stop The Bus,” Medicine,“ and of course, “Paris (Oh La La),” the band also included cover versions of Otis Redding and Elton John tunes.

Their set list was compiled via fan-requests on Twitter, thus, making every show a new and different experience. But I, as well as the people around me, could feel the passion in Potter’s voice during Redding’s “Pain In My Heart,” where her powerhouse vocals and organ skills shined through.

For Elton John’s sing-a-long classic “Rocket Man,” country-blues singer RayLand Baxter, who opened for the group, joined in for a rousing rendition. As for other tracks performed (think: “Nothing But The Water II,” “Sweet Hands,” “Apologies,” “2:22,” “That Phone,” as well as an amazing cover by Heart (“Crazy On You”).

Potter says this about a live show: “People come to a rock concert to get lost in the moment and to lose themselves. [And] the best way to do it is to dance, shake off your inhibitions, just really let go and sing at the top of your lungs, whether you know the words or not. That to me is a true visceral rock-and-roll experience.”

And what an experience it was.

The Lion The Beast The Beat is available everywhere now.


My Top Music Releases for April, May & June; shortlist of good stuff

Parisian beatmaker Onra’s latest EP “Deep In The Night”


With tons of new projects forthcoming and lots of dope music in my ear right now, I just realized I haven’t posted my favorite “new music” list since the beginning of April. For those who might of missed ‘em, here’s JanuaryFebruary and March –but the list is a short roundup highlighting my top LPs, EPs, singles, and mixtapes released throughout the month. Whether for deep lyrical content or strong production aspects, there were plenty who got play on my iPod.

Nonetheless, here’s a shortlist of my favorite releases that dropped from April 1 to June 30 of this year. In order of the most recent.



▪    Atlantic Connection, LOVE ARCHITECT (electro/soul/downtempo)

*   Emeli Sandé, OUR VERSION OF EVENTS (pop/soul) #BritishSoul

▪    Esthero, “Never Gonna Let You Go” (electro/pop) [single]

▪    HouseShoes, LET IT GO (underground hip-hop)

▪    Jarrard Anthony, READY TO LIVE (R&B/soul) #uplifting

▪    Lakecia Benjamin, RETOX (soulful/funky/jazzy)

▪    Liquideep, Alone [EP] (soulful house)

▪    Lissat & Voltaxx vs. Marc Fisher feat. Vanessa Ekpenyong, “Heat of the Night (Deep Disco remix)” (house) [single]

*   Onra, Deep in the Night [EP] (electro/hip-hop) #dopeness

▪    Rocco Careri & Arturo Macchiavelli feat. Vanee, “Rock With You” [Michael Jackson cover] (soulful house) [single]

▪    Tamia, “Beautiful Surprise” (R&B/soul) [single] | video provided by Singersroom



*   B.o.B, STRANGE CLOUDS (pop/hip-hop) | 15 tracks/10 features #StillLikey

*   Columbia Nights, Dawn | Dusk EP (neo soul) #sosmooth

*   Karmin, HELLO (pop) #ultrapop #guiltypopleasure

▪    Mary Mary, GO GET IT (Music from the TV series) (contemporary gospel)

*   Miguel Migs feat. Meshell Ndegeocello “Tonight” (R&B/deep house) [single]

▪    Monophonics, IN YOUR BRAIN (soulful/heavyfunk/60’s rock)

*   Rebecca Ferguson, HEAVEN [U.S. RELEASE] (pop) #BritishSoul

*   Scissor Sisters, MAGIC HOUR (electro-pop-dance)

*   Tank, THIS IS HOW I FEEL (R&B) #warning #pantieswilldrop

*   The Hood Internet, MIXTAPE V.6 (hip-hop/electro) #crazymashups #FREEdownload



*   Alabama Shakes, BOYS & GIRLS (rock/blues/soul) #lovelovelove

▪    Bassnectar, VAVA BOOM (dubstep)

▪    Blockhead, INTERLUDES AFTER MIDNIGHT (trip-hop) #instrumentals

▪    Bonnie Raitt, SLIPSTREAM (blues/country/rock)

*   Jamiroquai, ROCK DUST LIGHT STAR [U.S. Release] (pop/rock/dance) #nearly two years after its European release. Can we at least get a U.S. tour? #justsayin

▪    Photek, DJ-KICKS (drum n bass/downtempo/deep house)

▪    SWV, I MISSED US (Soul/R&B) | Sisters With Voices are back!

▪    The Black Seeds, DUST AND DIRT (pop/rock/reggae)

▪    Yuna, YUNA (indie pop/rock/folk)


Bonus track: Matisyahu “Sunshine” [re-worked, pop version of 2010 single]


Houston-area blues-rock band Runaway Sun releases new album

Photos/ND McCray

Indie blues-rock band Runaway Sun is currently promoting their latest LP Let’s Run. The Houston-area quartet brought their blend of whiskey blues, rock and country to Cactus Music on Saturday (Jun. 9), a record store that’s huge on supporting local, regional and national acts.

With two previous projects – 2008’s self-titled EP and 2009’s The Bridge, the group which includes front man Andrew Karnavas, lead guitarist Daniel de Luna, drummer Marshall West, and bass player Matthew Buehrer a.k.a Zero have been touring across the south in support of their music.

Karnavas along with de Luna took a moment on Saturday afternoon to chat with me about the group’s progression and touring. Karnavas said, “For touring, we’ve been focusing on the South. Houston’s a great home base; we go along the Gulf Coast and then we go all the way up to Birmingham; that’s where we did our last tour. And we just kinda make these loops around the South; it works out great.”

Setlist at Cactus included “Bad Bad Man“, “Bright Idea” and “Sweetheart”. Runaway Sun will once again play the arts and culture event White Linen Night in the Heights on August 4.


THEATRE review: the new musical "Langston in Harlem" | shortandsweetNYC.com

The new musical Langston in Harlem, which opened on April 15th at Urban Stages, is a rousing hip shaking, foot-stomping production for one of America’s most respected poets.
Langston Hughes was not only a poet but he was a dramatist, a novelist, a columnist, a soci-political mad man as well as an esteemed writer. He was also a young, Black, closeted man living in Harlem during the 1920s. As one of the founding members of the Harlem Renaissance, a period of prolific artistic expression, Langston in Harlem is set from the Renaissance through the Civil Rights movement. It showcases a young man who was often misunderstood in his early writings, but who later turned the critics into passionate followers of his work. The show was essentially a near-two hour production based upon one of Hughes’ most popular poems, “Harlem: A Dream Deferred”.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up 

like a raisin in the sun? 

Or fester like a sore— 
And then run? 
Does it stink like rotten meat? 
Or crust and sugar over— 
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags 

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?
The production is an explosive mash-up of not only spoken word and jazz, but gospel, rhythm and blues, and swing dancing. It shows rather transports the audience back to a time where many writers actually wrote and lived for the people of their community. It expertly tells of love and lost, blues and sexuality, race and politics, a life Hughes so passionately lived. There’s never a dull moment, even when poverty and addiction enters several scenes, you never feel as if the scene doesn’t fit. The musical score and costume designs are spot-on for the life of a black intellectual during that time: middle-class bohemian at its finest. The casting is perfect. In essence, Langston in Harlem is like going to church; it’s exciting, educational and sometimes emotional…but mostly, it just makes you feel good.
Langston in Harlem runs through May 2nd at 30th Street Theatre-Urban Stages (between 7th and 8th Aves). For ticket info: visit www.urbanstages.org  


Interview: Singer/Songwriter Lyle Divinsky | shortandsweetNYC.com

Quick story: About two weeks ago I’m at the 14th Street L station in Manhattan waiting for the Q train but I’m also trying to ignore this guy, who’s singing and playing his acoustic guitar a few feet away from me. I was feeling good that day, so I gave the guy a break and turned off my iPod to get a better listen. In general, I never do that. Even in a good mood I ignore most everybody in the tunnels. But then he starts whaling with all this emotion like he was pulling it from his soul, and I started thinking Wow that sounds nice. Long story short, I bought his CD that he was selling; a week later, caught his performance at Rockwood Music Hall. And a week after that, this interview transpired. The musician: Lyle Divinsky.
Mr. Divinsky is a Portland, Maine-native but Bushwick-based singer-songwriter who’s been making his rounds in the New York music scene for over a year now. His debut release, Traveling Man is a mix of blues, folk and soul. Think “Sam Cooke meets Crosby, Stills & Nash” or as I like to call him “a soulful Jack Johnson”. We had the chance to chat right before his performance last week at Arlene’s Grocery on the Lower East Side.
Obvious question: Where the hell did all this soul come from? I gotta tell you, I get it from my dad. My dad is the most soulful Jew you’ve ever met in your life. He’s what 55 now, but he’s from Little Neck, Queens and sounds like a 300-pound black soul singer…I hope that’s doesn’t offend you…
No, of course not…I get what you’re saying. But yeah, he’s definitely where I get it from. He’s the smoothest motherfucker I’ve ever met in my life.
Earlier you said the Portland music scene is pretty insane, what makes it so different. And why did you leave it? To be honest I haven’t really been living it for the last five years. I mean I went to Skidmore College, so I’ve been away. But every summer I come back home and it’s an amazing place [for music], especially in the summertime.
Really? Unbelievable, it’s a utopia. It’s always low to mid 70s, nice sea breeze, you got beaches. I mean Portland’s a peninsula too, so you got beaches every which way. Drive five minutes in any direction and you’re in the woods. But when you’re in Portland, it’s like everything you could want from a big city [music, culture, art] but in a small town atmosphere.
You said you attended Skidmore. Yeah, which is up in Saratoga Springs, NY.
Did you graduate? What was your major? Yeah, Music and English. Two rules to break but I’m happy.
When I met you at the 14th street station that was so random because I rarely pay attention to the musicians playing down there, was that the first time you’d done that? No, that’s what I do for a living. I don’t work. That’s usually the station I try for…but I’m not as diligent as I should be because I’ve done like a couple of little tours, so I’ve been off for awhile. But I try to do it usually from the 1 to 4 timeframe, so that’s a good time.
Right. Kinda during rush hour. Slightly before rush hour. Rush hour gets stupid. It’s crazy. The trains come too often, and there’s too many people.
But you know what got me to listen to you, the acoustics. I mean it blew me away. When it’s silent and when there’s no trains coming…
That’s what it was… Oh my [groans] it’s beautiful! I just close my eyes as if I’m just sitting at home alone. And just vibe out.
I’m sure you get comparisons or labeled as a “white boy with soul”, how do you feel about that? I mean how will you make yourself standout? Honestly, as cliché as it might sound, I don’t really give a shit how people label me. What comes out comes out.
How do you label yourself? How do you see yourself as a musician? I’m just a guy trying to do what he loves. People compare people as much as they want. I mean grew up listening to what my dad listened to like Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Donny Hathaway, all that kind of stuff. My mom liked Crosby, Stills & Nash and James Taylor. And my dad still plays acoustic primarily, and so I just kind of grew up around it. I didn’t start playing music until I was like 17.
Word. How old are you now? 24
Get out…dude, I thought you were my age, I’m 34!  Hell, I thought you were my age. [laughter]
So how did Traveling Man come about. When did you start recording it? Actually the recording process was super quick. We laid it down…probably with a total studio time of like four days. The first two was just getting all the instruments together; making sure everything was in order. I had my dad’s blues band from back home. It was primarily mid-50-year old blues guys. And then my band from back home [The Model Airplane] I had the drummer and bass player, and the keys player is a 22-year old dude that we call “The Golden Child” [he plays the keys on that track]…it’s the intro to track 13, “Last Goodbye”. I told him to lay down like a minute-long intro and he put that down like in the first try. It was pretty much a collection of the songs I’ve written over the last year, year-and-a half.
That was my next question, are all the songs recent? There are a couple that are older than that like “I Care”, which is the first real song after the intro. That and “Warmth of Her Arms” I wrote my freshman year in college. And “Where Do We Go”, the last song on the album, is one of the only songs I’ve ever written with another person. The drummer that plays on “I Care” and “Last Goodbye”…I’ve known him since I was 5-years old. It was the only one I’d ever written with anyone else and it’s one of my favorite songs. I guess all the other ones were in the year.
Well, my personal favorite is “Take This Chance”, is that a true story? Okay, so that was basically the words that I *wanted* to say to the girl that I was chasing.
Alright, I’m gonna be real [laughter]. I do a lot of my writing when it’s like two o’clock in the morning like high off my ass, you know what I mean. That’s kinda like when inhibitions go out the door. It was actually about the girl from the track “Billyanne”. Which is another crazy story; actually, a lot of the songs on the album are written about her. But um, this was basically what I wanted to say to her…but never quite had the balls to.
Yeah, you got sexy on that one… I mean I listen to a lot of D’Angelo. So that was basically me trying to be him.
So which do prefer: performing or recording? There’s beauty in both. When you’re performing live, it’s all in the moment; there are no inhibitions, you’re out there. You’re there with the audience, there’s no going back so you might as well put it all out there. But then with recording its great because you can really hammer out everything, you get down to the nitty gritty. You may have a little bit of vocals, one note, and one guitar. It’s like I like what I’m hearing, but where can we take this and make it into something beautiful. A lot of the stuff on the album was recorded live. We spent like three days beforehand, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse; so we’d be super comfortable with it. And then once we got in the studio, we just went for it.  
Is that kind of how your writing goes, you hear the music first and then write; or do you write and then hear the music? A lot of the time it starts with the guitar, just coming up with a chord change. And then from there…or a lot of the time, I’ll sit with GarageBand and just press record and see what comes out. And then other songs like “Warmth of Her Arms”, “Billyanne”, “Take This Chance” as well … actually a good amount of the songs took me about 10 to 15 minutes to write.
Wow, that’s awesome. So what’s next for Lyle Divinsky? I know you’re out doing the tour and you have the album out. Right now I’m trying to book up the summer. I just made the audition for the MUNY; it’s the Music Under New York for subway artists, so that’s cool for me.
You actually have to audition to do that? I mean you can play on the platforms and stuff but with the MUNY stuff, you can basically book times at Times Square, Penn Station, Union Square, all the hot spots. You book three-hour increments every two weeks. You’re playing in front of a lot more people; so you’re getting a helluva lot more traffic; and you’ll probably make more money. But its not necessarily about the money, but I’m not working a job, so it’s kinda nice to have.
But I’ll probably be putting out an EP of about six or seven songs midsummer. I also have some side projects going on, too. A good friend of mine Alex Bilowitz and my boy Nat Osborne [who played right before me at Rockwood, who I sang backup for]; we’re doing a little like…I don’t want to say it’s Gnarls Barkely-esque. But Alex is an incredible producer; he’s working with another great producer, Scott Jacoby, but he’s an incredible beatmaker as well. A lot of the time it’s like commercial hip hop but we want to do more out-there kind of stuff. I mean it’s for fun but we’ll still release it. I don’t know how far we’ll push it, though. Then I also have another side project that’s called the Sunshine Express, which is a funk group…
Are you serious?? Yeah, we’re playing April 24th at Cameo Gallery over in Williamsburg. We’re opening for this group called Turkuaz; they’re like this 11-piece funk band. But they’re like my favorite band in Brooklyn or New York, I’ll just say that. They’re just non-stop energy. You should come and check them out.
I’m so there.
In the meantime, for more on Lyle Divinsky, check him out at the following sites: www.lyledivinsky.com | www.myspace.com/lyledivinsky | www.facebook.com/lyledivinskymusic
Traveling Man is available on iTunes now!