Now Playing: India Ramey

A crusading attorney by day and an aspiring country chanteuse by night, India Ramey found her self at a crossroads in 2009 when funding for her deputy D.A.’s position in Montgomery, Ala. abruptly went away.

“I got laid off right around the time I had started work on my first album,” Ramey remembers. “So my producer calls me up right after it happens and says, ‘Hey kiddo, are you looking for another attorney job? Maybe don’t do that so quick. You’ve got a good thing going on with your music. You can be a lawyer any time you want.’

“I took his advice and went with music full-time. It was the best decision I ever made.”

Though it seems strange on first blush, Ramey’s erstwhile dual career makes sense in light of her painful personal history. She grew up in backwater Georgia in a sorely dysfunctional family home, her father a chronic alcoholic-addict, prone to eruptive, violent episodes fueled by booze and rage.

Both music and law would eventually prove to be part of her coping mechanism; as a legal professional, she worked with battered women, with victims of violent homes much like her own. As a musician, she exorcised her demons through the medium of songwriting, through deeply personal numbers like “The Baby,” recalling her fraught childhood,  and “Devil’s Blood,” a cathartic musical tirade about her father and his abusive ways.

“Music has been very therapeutic,” she says. “And there’s something about country music in particular. There’s an old saying that country music is ‘Three chords and the Truth.’ So when I started writing, I thought about what it is I wanted to say. Well, all my favorite country artists have good stories to tell.

“I felt like my life and the things I’ve seen have been pretty interesting, to say the least. So I wanted to tell stories about that life. Because the world is not always a happy place. A lot of times, it’s messy and dark.”

That dark worldview invested in Ramey’s lyrical themes inheres in her vocal expression as well. Her singing voice is high and lovely, capable of convincingly pulling off lilting ballads or even laying on little a love-song sap, though she’s rarely wont to do so. But the sweetness is balanced by a bitter edge, an aural hint of repressed anger and desolation birthed somewhere in the brutal recesses of Ramey’s past.

Earlier in 2017, Ramey released “Snake Handler,” her third and best-realized album to date. Like her previous records — 2010’s “Junkyard Angel” and 2013’s “Blood Crescent Moon” — it’s full of the powerful, confessional sketches that have become her songwriting trademark, including a lush and uncannily moving number called “Saying Goodbye,” about visiting her father on his deathbed.

“My marching orders now are to tour like crazy, get out and meet the people who are buying the music and share the stories with as many people as I possibly can,” she says. “In the end, it’s about getting the songs out there and heard by other people. That’s the most important thing to me.”

India Ramey will play Preservation Pub Tuesday, Nov. 28 at 10 p.m.

Now Playing: the Heavy Halves

Singer-guitarist Matthew Edwards is loath to label his two-year-old trio the Heavy Halves as “Southern rock”, but the tag certainly makes for an easy fit. From the swampy Skynyrd-by-way-of-C.O.C. riffage to the backwater drawl evident in Edwards’ vocal attack — a besotted twang that wouldn’t be out of place on the mic at a roadside honky tonk — the Halves’ music is very much of a piece with that of nouveau and classic Southern rock outfits alike.

“I’m always hesitant to say we’re Southern rock, because that genre isn’t necessarily looked upon as being very edgy or dangerous,” Edwards says. “At the same  time, even though I’m not from the South, I grew up in a rural area, on a farm. Growing up I was surrounded by a lot of classic rock and country music, and I still have some of that mentality. I feel like I always have one foot planted in my upbringing; it’s part of who I am, and it keeps me humble.”

Born and raised in rural Indiana, Edwards migrated to Knoxville around three years ago, looking for a leg up in his musical endeavors, a foothold in a larger market. “It was hard to find opportunities to play in that part of Indiana,” he says. “And I’ve always loved Tennessee, especially East Tennessee. The scenes in Chattanooga and Nashville didn’t appeal to me as much, so I chose Knoxville. And I fell in love with the scene here.”

Upon his relocation, Edwards began haunting local open mic nights, and became a regular presence at singer-songwriter night at Preservation Pub. It was there that he found a kindred spirit in drummer Gurnee Barrett, and the two musicians embarked on a loose collaboration, working out occasionally on some of Edwards’ original tunes.

Before too long, their jam sessions had taken on a more serious cast. The duo brought in bassist Will Harliss, and began playing out under the name Heavy Halves, an oblique reference to a prized pickup truck owned by one of Edwards’ hometown chums.

Edwards is at some pains to describe what he does as the Halves’ principle songwriter; he’s much better with intuition than with explication. When pressed on the matter, he acknowledges he has a penchant for producing earthy, primal rock ‘n’ roll that’s grounded in bedrock blues, and adorned with the aforementioned rural and retro-rock trappings.

“There’s this sound that I have, and I guess you’d say it’s just stripped-down, raw, gritty rock music,” he says. “It’s the kind of music that makes for a good live show.

“I play a lot of blues techniques — I play around with lap steel, slide, even a little banjo and baritone guitar. But I’m not a blues musician, I just like the music to have that kind of edge, a little dark and weird. None of it really happens on purpose; it’s just what I go by.”

Right now, the Edwards and company don’t have much to show for their efforts other than a handful of four-track demos they hand out free at Heavy Halves gigs, and a YouTube channel with a small collection of live songs, mostly from a recent Open Chord performance in West Knoxville.

Edwards says that should change soon. “I feel the need to get into the studio now,” he says. “My hope is to get in the studio early this next year and do something full-length. We’re ready. We have a pretty good list of songs; it’s just a matter of getting down to business.”

The Heavy Halves will play Preservation Pub Wednesday, Nov. 22 at 10 p.m.

 

Now Playing: Good Morning Bedlam

The music of Minnesota’s aptly-named Good Morning Bedlam bears both the ring of familiarity and the promise of delightful chaos; the four-piece “furious folk” outfit freely fuse various rural and traditional styles, and perform in such a way as to channel both the raucous energies of rock and the off-the-wall theatricality of vaudeville or cabaret.

“We like to blend pop melodies with old-school genres, forms that we then change and build upon and experiment with,” says GMB co-founder Isaak Elker. “And in the canons of folk and traditional music, there’s just so much available  that we can play around with.”

Though the band itself is only about four years old, the members’ roots go deep. Elker says he, fiddle player Sophia Mae, and banjo player Noah Pearson were childhood pals. Bassist Tori Elker — Isaak’s wife — is the late-comer, though even she had chipped in as a part-time tour manager, merch seller, and sometime-backup singer well before she became a proper member of Bedlam some nine months back.

Isaak tells that he and Mae and Pearson went through a litany of musical coming-of-age rituals and rites of passage together, from their collective teenage heavy metal fixations to their discovery some years later of folk and Americana.

One way or another, all of those experiences are manifest in Good Morning Bedlam. “Performance wise, we’re influenced more by big rock bands,” Isaak says. “We like having a crowd that wants to jump around and dance. So we try to bring the same energy that a hard rock band would bring. We want to be entertaining.

“We do a lot of rocking out, head-banging. One of us might start doing the Charleston if we’re in the mood. When we get to the end of a set, we want it to be like, ‘Wow. I don’t think we could have done one more song.'”

Perhaps the band’s best asset, though, is its versatile vocal attack. Every member of the band sings, trading off on lead, backing and harmony parts in such a way as to lend texture and diversity to the melodies as well as another layer of theatricality to the presentation.

“Sophia grew up listening to lots of classic jazz, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday,” Isaak says. “Tori liked those artists, too, and she was also big Amy Winehouse fan. So listening to people like that, really great singers in other genres, that’s how most of us got our vocal training. We’re all self-taught, and those old records were our lesson books.”

More recently, GBR entered the studio in preparation for a full-length release in 2018, the follow-up to last year’s “Prodigal” album, and Isaak says he and his mates are looking to push the boundaries of their mix-and-match vocal strategem, exploring new ways of creating their trademark vari-colored tapestries of character and sound. “We’ve worked on making it more intricate,” he says. “We’re learning more about what voices should come in where, and when.

“The new material is definitely crazier and wilder, but at the same time, it’s more polished. We’re taking our time and being picky about what we do, and we’re just having a blast in the studio.”

Good Morning Bedlam will play Preservation Pub Tuesday, Dec. 5 at 10 p.m.

Now Playing: The Dream Eaters

Performing solo, Dream Eaters singer Elizabeth LeBaron stands out as a memorable chanteuse, her pliant instrument possessed of a dulcet mid-range that gracefully modulates to ethereal highs without so much as a waver. But when fellow Dream Eater Jake Zavracky begins weaving weird harmonies alongside her, the net effect is positively chill-bump-inducing, making for a mesmerizing sonic signature that sets the Brooklyn-based duo wholly apart from any of their navel-gazing peers.

“At first, Elizabeth was the only singer,” Zavracky says. “I was doing some background vocals, but that’s it. But gradually I started singing more, because we discovered pretty quick that our voices mesh really well. So our sound is kind of based around those dreamy harmonies that we do together. We could do any style of music, and if those harmonies were still there, it would still sound like us.”

Zavracky and LeBaron met only a couple of years ago, as fellow bartenders at a Brooklyn watering hole. Zavracky was a recovering heavy metal guitar player who had evolved into what he calls “singer-songwriter producer guy,” and LeBaron was an aspiring singer with a handful of demos on Soundcloud.

They decided to record a song together, on a lark. Zavracky characterizes the results of that first session as being “just okay… but enough for us to keep going.”

Strangely enough, the two never colluded on the direction of their incipient musical endeavor. Without any malice aforethought, they began producing a literate dream pop/shoegaze hybrid that’s anchored by a strong sense of craft — Zavacky is an able guitarist and songwriter, and a canny studio wizard — yet borne aloft by those weirdly majestic harmonies.

“It was strange, in that I didn’t even know what her musical tastes were until later on, when we went out on the road,” Zavracky says. “And I guess she was kind of a muse for me, when I first heard her sing. But I’m sure how it really affected how anything came out. I don’t try to write anything in a particular way. I just write the best songs that I can, and then bring the production up to where I want it to be.”

If their collaboration has been an intuitive one, it’s been remarkably fruitful, as well, with the duo having produced four EPs and one full-length album — 2017’s “We Are A Curse” — all within the space of two years. Zavracky says another album is already in the works, adding that his songwriting for next platter has taken on a more accessible cast.

“What we’re working on now seems to be going in an even more poppy direction,” he says. “It’s still weird; I don’t think I’m capable of writing a Katy Perry song. I’m too weird to write the songs that those people write, and the production certainly won’t be as slick. But it’s going more in the direction of what you hear from pop music nowadays.”

The Dream Eaters will play Preservation Pub Tuesday, Nov. 7 at 10 p.m.

Now Playing: The Delta Troubadours

Though it has yet to be released on a proper album, “Jimi Please Don’t Go” serves as a creative calling card for four-piece Nashville outfit the Delta Troubadours, who laid the track down in Muscle Shoals, Ala.’s famed FAME Studios in early 2017. A self-styled mash-up of Ten Years After’s “I’m Going Home” and the Jimi Hendrix classic “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” the song puts in summary everything the Troubadours are about — heavy-retro blues filtered through the lens of swampy Southern rock — while giving full vent to the band’s ferocious charms — frontman Gytis Garsys growling grim and feral through successive verses before giving way to guitarist Ian Heausler’s slashing lead.

Founded scarcely four years ago in Gainesville, Fla., the Troubadours began life with another name — “Gritt” — and another bent — Garsys tells that the band’s bread-and-butter was playing contemporary country favorites at football gameday parties for drunken UF-G college kids. “When we realized that we could write songs, it was like, ‘Let’s start playing the music we really want to play,'” Garsys says. “We started playing Southern rock, and we let go of some members. And as we changed members, we brought in more of our own rock ‘n’ roll influences.”

“We’re at a point where none of the members we have now joined the band wanting to play pop country,” says bassist John Franklin. “Don’t get me wrong; I lot of us love alt-country, or old-school country. But that stuff we were playing at first was utterly soulless.”

The band also picked up and moved cross-country, to Nashville, where the members made a comfortable home on the city’s east side. “There’s a grunginess to East Nashville that suits us,” says Heausler. “It’s got an interesting mesh of artistic people. That, and living here, we’re closer to a lot of markets we might not have played had we stayed back in Gainesville.”

In the meantime, the Troubadours evolved the splenetic rumble that has become their stock in trade. It’s a sound that owes not a little to the heavier blues-based rock of the ’60s and ’70s, while nodding at contemporary practitioners of the art like the Rival Sons, or even fellow Nashvillians Kings of Leon. Garsys is the fulcrum of it all, blessed as he is with an ineffable sort of frontman charisma, and an evocative, gale-force baritone. The timbre of his voice is not unlike that of Kings of Leon leader Caleb Followill, although he sings with a bilious energy that Followill left behind some  five albums ago.

“I get the Kings of Leon comparison a lot, and that’s okay with me, because he has a very distinctive voice,” Garsys says. “I think the most important thing as a vocalist is having a distinct voice, something people will remember. Guys like Van Morrison, John Fogerty, they were really important to how I approached singing.”

Right now, Garsys and his ‘mates are loading up, writing and prepping for a second studio platter, an effort that will further define the still-young Troubadours as they scramble for a foothold in the fraught landscape of post-millennial hard rock. “It hasn’t been that long since we started playing our music, since we started being ‘us’,” Garsys says.

“I don’t know what you call it, maybe ‘blues-based, classic-rock-based southern rock?’ Some people call us ‘Southern grunge.’ But what we ultimately want is not for people to say, ‘That’s great; who is it?’ What we want is for people to hear us and say, ‘Oh, that’s the Delta Troubadours.'”

The Delta Troubadours will play Preservation Pub Wednesday, Nov. 8 at 10 p.m.