New Singles from Charley Crockett, Joshua Ray Walker, a new album from Joe Ely, a new visual companion for Ondara and the Fisk Jubilee Singers celebrate 150 years of changing America.
Charley Crockett, the genre-bending Texan has returned with two lively cuts. Over the last six years, Crockett has melded blues, honky-tonk, R&B, gospel, and Tex-Mex creating an invigorating blend of genres. In his new song "Welcome to Hard Times" Crockett writes about the open heart surgery that saved his life. "Welcome to Hard Times" is the title track to his album, due out July 31, 2020.
That album is Welcome to Hard Times, an aptly-named collection that perfectly fits these troubled days even though it was made just before the pandemic hit. The music was shaped by his heart issues and producer Mark Neill’s desire to make “a dark gothic country record.” Charley certainly knew how to deliver that. “I think you can hear that deep, dark sadness in this record,” he says, “but I think it’s the kind of darkness that will uplift others.”
Explosive voices like Joshua Ray Walker’s are rare. His thrilling vocal gymnastics combine subtle bends and flex of a Yoakam yodel with a ferocious passion. Walker’s new single “True Love” is filled with Telecaster twang, lightning peddle steel, lush fiddle work, and a propulsive rhythm section. Amidst the dizzying production, Walker’s voice causes the song to burst at the seams with a forlorn joy. His second album Glad You Made It will be released July 10.
Since the age of 13 Joshua Ray Walker has been playing 250 shows a year. After ten years of facing crowds taught Walker to focus on music that can get people dancing. Filled with toe-tapping numbers Glad You Made It was recorded in Nashville at an Airbnb where Walker and producer John Pedigo turned it into a makeshift studio. “We told people to just come over and hang out,” Walker recollects. “There was beer and food in the fridge. I wanted it to feel like a party and this loose, fun energy.”
Out of immense frustration and anger, Joe Ely birthed an album filled with hope, appropriately titled Love in the Midst of Mayhem. “When South by Southwest shut down, that was a kick in the groin for all musicians. That’s when I realized I had to use this time, or else I was going to think myself into a hole. That’s when I started calling it the pan-damn-it.” A once full calendar filled with gigs and projects quickly became void of anything. After the initial shock, Ely asked a simple question many of us have asked, “What can I do to help?”
While confined to home Joe Ely and his wife Sharon started digging into old files, notes, and songs he had never completed. “I went digging in places I hadn’t visited in a long time,” Ely says. Sifting through his creative river, Ely discovered the golden theme of love. Each of the ten-song shimmer with an abundance of love. Stand out song “You Can Rely on Me” intertwines the gentle breathing of an accordion and the resonate plunks of a metallophone.
A week was all it took for Ondara to compose and produce Folk n’ Roll Vol 1: Tales of Isolation. An album so of the moment one reviewer said, “This record, it is the pandemic.” Lyrically filled with painful reminders of our current predicament, “if I must, If I have to, I will love you from six feet away.” Never bleak, the album pushes the listener into a state of catharsis. One song was recorded in a shower, we can hear running water as Ondara sings “I’m sick n tired of being inside,” drenched in longing.
On several songs, Ondara’s guitar strumming turns to percussive banging and his beautiful voice morphs into a yelp. Folk n’ Roll Vol 1: Tales of Isolation is a much needed emotional experience. In conjunction with the release of the album Ondara is working on a visual companion for the album named “The deuxième Project.” The second video in the series is for the song “Lockdown on Date Night Tuesday.” The video confronts the difficult task of maintaining our most important relationships and ends with an emotional release.
Fisk Jubilee Singers celebrate their inception with Celebrating Fisk! (The 150th Anniversary Album). The album was recorded live at the Ryman Auditorium. Sharing the stage with the Fisk Jubilee Singers® includes Ruby Amanfu, Keb’ Mo’, and CeCe Winans, among others.
“This product is the result of work done by wonderful people who love Fisk University and Fisk Jubilee Singers®,” shares the album’s Musical Director, and Musical Director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers®, Dr. Paul Kwami. “It was a great honor for me to collaborate with all of them, especially with Shannon Sanders. The beauty of the compilation lies in the variety and high quality of music, which will forever celebrate Fisk University!”
“Having grown up in Nashville, I know how important the Fisk Jubilee Singers® are to the fabric of Nashville Culture, especially Nashville’s Black Community,” shares Producer Shannon Sanders. “I consider it an honor to be able to work alongside Musical Director Dr. Kwami on this monumental project, especially as he carries forth the torch of the Fisk Jubilee Singers® so well. I’m also excited to work with the Curb Records Team in the creation of this project, and for making it available for the world to hear.”
Just last year Henry Louis Gates Jr. produced a segment for his short documentary series Black History in Two Minutes on the Fisk Jubilee Singers. The episode briefly discusses the founding and impact the world-famous choir has had on Nashville and the country.
Cory Martin is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tenn., writing about movies, music and pop culture.