On The Radio

North Mississippi Allstars, Paul Thorn's Mission Temple Fireworks Revival, Bonnie Bishop, Declan O'Rourke and Bil Lepp on Mountain Stage

North Mississippi Allstars
Week after December 08, 2017

North Mississippi Allstars
Paul Thorn's Mission Temple Fireworks Revival
Bonnie Bishop
Declan O'Rourke
and special appearance by Bil Lepp

Press Release

​​North Mississippi Allstars - North Mississippi Allstars are back with PRAYER FOR PEACE and couldn’t we all use one of those right about now? Founded in 1996 by brothers Luther (guitar and vocals) and Cody Dickinson (drums, piano, synth bass, programming and vocals), the now venerable band are entering their third decade with perhaps the most vital album of their career. Recorded in studios across America during North Mississippi Allstars’ 2016 tour, PRAYER FOR PEACE sees the Dickinsons weaving their bred-to-the-bone musical sensibility with unstoppable energy, rhythmic reinvention, and a potent message of positivity, family, and hope. As ever, songs like R.L. Burnside’s “Long Haired Doney” and the impassioned title track pay homage to the country blues legacy while simultaneously pushing it into contemporary relevance with fatback funk, electronic innovation, slippery soul, and pure unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll. “This is a very exciting time for North Mississippi Allstars,” Cody says. “There’s been this explosion of creativity lately and it’s encouraging that for a band who has been around for twenty years now, our music is as vital and fresh as ever. It’s like the opposite of burnout – I can’t explain why but it feels totally brand new again.” “The blues is not children’s music,” Luther says. “We get better at it, the older we get. We’re so fortunate to be able to do it.” PRAYER FOR PEACE continues the burst of inspiration begun with 2013’s Earth-shaking WORLD BOOGIE IS COMING. That album, the band’s seventh studio recording, proved the planetary sensation its title promised, with The Guardian simply declaring it the North Mississippi Allstars’ “best yet.”

Paul Thorn’s Mission Temple Fireworks Revival - "In the past, I've told stories that were mostly inspired by my own life," the former prizefighter and literal son of a preacher man offers. "This time, I've written 10 songs that express more universal truths, and I've done it with a purpose: to make people feel good." Which explains numbers like the acoustic-electric charmer Don't Let Nobody Rob You Of Your Joy, where Thorn's warm peaches-and-molasses singing dispenses advice on avoiding the pitfalls of life. The title track borrows its tag from a familiar saying among the members of the African-American Baptist churches Thorn frequented in his childhood. "I'd ask, 'How you doin', sister?' And what I'd often hear back was, 'I'm too blessed to be stressed.'" In the hands of Thorn and his faithful band, who've been together 20 years, the tune applies its own funky balm, interlacing a percolating drum and keyboard rhythm with the slinky guitar lines beneath his playful banter. Thorn's trademark humor is abundant throughout the album. I Backslide On Friday is a warm-spirited poke at personal foibles. "I promised myself not to write about me, but I did on 'Backslide,' " Thorn relates. The chipper pop tune is a confession about procrastination, sweetened by Bill Hinds' slide guitar and Thorn's gently arching melody. "But," Thorn protests, "I know I'm not the only one who says he's gonna diet and just eat Blue Bell vanilla ice cream on Sundays, and then ends up eating it every day!" Mediocrity Is King takes a wider swipe, aiming at our culture's hyper-drive addiction to celebrity artifice and rampant consumerism. But like Everything Is Gonna Be All Right, a rocking celebration of the simple joys of life, it's done with Thorn's unflagging belief in the inherent goodness of the human heart. "I don't think I could have written anthemic songs like this if I hadn't made my last album," Thorn says of 2012's What the Hell is Goin' On?. Like 2010's autobiographical Pimps & Preachers, it was among its year's most played CDs on Americana radio and contributed to Thorn's rapidly growing fan base. And Thorn followed that airplay success with his current AAA-radio hit version of Doctor My Eyes from April 2014's Looking Into You: A Tribute To Jackson Browne. The latter also features Grammy winners Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, Lyle Lovett, the Indigo Girls, Lucinda Williams, Keb' Mo', Ben Harper and Don Henley. What the Hell is Goin' On? was also Thorn's first set of songs written by other artists, borrowed from the catalogs of Allen Toussaint, Buddy and Julie Miller, and Rick Danko, among others. "I lived with those songs and studied them before I recorded that album, and that changed me and made me grow as a songwriter," Thorn relates. "Lindsey Buckingham's Don't Let Me Down Again especially got me thinking. It was a rock anthem with a sing-along hook, and I fell in love with it and the idea of big vocal hooks. So every song on Too Blessed To Be Stressed has a big vocal hook in it. And it works! We've been playing these songs in concert, and by the time the chorus comes along for the second time people are singing along. I've never seen that happen with my unreleased songs before, and I love it." It helps that those big vocal hooks on Too Blessed To Be Stressed are being reinforced by the sound of Thorn's flexible and dynamic band, as they have been doing for years in concert. During their two decades in the club, theater and festival trenches, the four-piece and their frontman have garnered a reputation for shows that ricochet from humor to poignancy to knock-out rock 'n' roll. Guitarist Bill Hinds is the perfect, edgy foil for Thorn's warm, laconic salt o' the earth delivery – a veritable living library of glowing tones, sultry slide and sonic invention. Keyboardist Michael "Dr. Love" Graham displays a gift for melody that reinforces Thorn's hooks while creating his own impact, and helps expand the group's rhythmic force. Meanwhile drummer Jeffrey Perkins and bassist Ralph Friedrichsen are a force, propelling every tune with just the right amount of up-tempo power or deep-in-the-groove restraint. "These guys really bring my songs to life," says Thorn. "A lot of albums sound like they're made by a singer with bored studio musicians. My albums sound they're played by a real blood-and-guts band because that's what we are. And when we get up on stage, people hear and see that." Thorn's earlier catalog is cherished by his many fans thanks to his down-home perspective, vivid-yet-plainspoken language and colorful characters. It helps that Thorn is a colorful and distinctly Southern personality himself. He was raised in Tupelo, Mississippi, in the land of cotton and catfish. And churches. "My father was a preacher, so I went with him to churches that white people attended and churches that black people attended," Thorn says. "The white people sang gospel like it was country music, and the black people sang it like it was rhythm and blues. But both black and white people attended my father's church, and that's how I learned to sing mixing those styles." His performances were generally limited to the pews until sixth grade. "I'm dyslexic and got held back in sixth grade," Thorn relates. "I didn't have to face the embarrassment, because my family moved and I ended up in a new school. There was a talent show, and I sang Three Times a Lady by Lionel Ritchie with my acoustic guitar, and suddenly I went from being a social outcast to the most desired boy on the playground. The feeling I got from that adulation stuck with me and propelled me to where I am today." At age 17 Thorn met songwriter Billy Maddox, who became his friend and mentor. It would take several detours – working in a furniture factory, boxing, jumping out of airplanes – until Thorn committed to the singer-songwriter's life. But through it all he and Maddox remained friends, and Maddox became Thorn's songwriting partner and co-producer. Nonetheless, Thorn possessed the ability to charm audiences right from the start. Not only with his music, but also with the stories he tells from the stage. "Showmanship is a dying art that I learned from watching Dean Martin on TV when I was a kid," Thorn explains. "He could tell little jokes and then deliver a serious song, then make you laugh again. And he would look into the camera like he was looking right at you through the TV. That's what I want to do – make people feel like I'm talking directly to them." That's really Thorn's mission for Too Blessed To Be Stressed, which can be heard as a running conversation about life between Thorn and listeners – a conversation leavened with gentles insights, small inspirations, and plenty of cheer. "I wrote these songs hoping they might put people in a positive mindset and encourage them to count their own blessings, like I count mine," Thorn observes. "There's no higher goal I could set for myself than to help other people find some happiness and gratitude in their lives."

 

Bonnie Bishop - It’s only a matter of time until Hollywood snaps up the story of how singer-songwriter Bonnie Bishop connected with Dave Cobb, one of the hottest producers in the business, to unlock her inner soul singer and record the best album of her career: “Ain’t Who I Was” (May 27; Thirty Tigers/RED). Even though Bishop can barely believe it herself, it’s a story that will need no dramatic embellishment, because every twist of fate — and faith — is absolutely true. Before landing with Cobb, whose credits include Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson, Bishop had thrown in the towel on her country-leaning career, too frustrated, beat-up and broke to go on after 13 years, five albums and one failed marriage. It landed on the rag pile despite monogramming by her idol, Bonnie Raitt, who recorded a Bishop/Big Al Anderson co-write on her comeback album, “Slipstream.” The song, “Not Cause I Wanted To,” topped the New York Times’ year-end best-of list, then “Slipstream” won 2012’s Best Americana Album Grammy. Bishop also popped onto iTunes’ country chart in 2013 with a song delivered by Connie Britton, the star of ABC-TV’s hit series “Nashville.” But a girl can only live so long on accolades and exposure. After spending 200 nights a year on the road — loading her own gear, running her own sound and sleeping in her van — and still not earning enough to afford Christmas presents for her family, Bishop knew she’d hit a dead end. “I started to break down mentally and physically from the stress,” she confesses. When a panic attack sent her to a Nashville emergency room, she was told to take a rest. So Texas-raised Bishop, who’d moved to Nashville in the hopes of writing Raitt-worthy songs, retreated to her parents’ ranch in Wimberley, outside of Austin. Feelings of failure and despair gnawed at her psyche; she went into mourning for the death of her dream. “I spent three months crying and feeling sorry for myself, then decided I had to figure out what to do,” explains Bishop, her voice bright and cheerful. “I had all these amazing stories from the road, and I started writing them down as a way of healing. Then stories from childhood started coming out, and I started seeing these threads in my stories in a way that allowed me to celebrate what I had done, instead of beating myself up for having failed. I thought maybe I could make a career doing that. So I applied to graduate school.” But before leaving Nashville, she called Thirty Tigers co-founder David Macias, whose multi-faceted entertainment company handles Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin, Simpson and Isbell — whose Cobb-produced release won 2015’s Best Americana Album Grammy. “David always believed in me,” Bishop says. “I told him what was going on in my life, and he said, ‘I don’t think your music career is over. You just need to make a great record with a real producer.’” He sent Cobb some demos. Cobb invited her to lunch. At the time, he was working with Stapleton, recording what would become 2015’s Best Country Album Grammy winner and 2016’s ACM Album of the Year. Bishop flew to Nashville to meet him. Cobb told her she should be singing soul, not country, and that he’d been wanting to record a soul album. She was thrilled. As a child in Houston, she’d heard her surgeon father, a former musician, playing blues piano, and her cellist mother spinning Motown singles. After they split, her mother married football coach Jackie Sherrill, who took a coaching job at Mississippi State. “I am from Texas, but there’s a lot of Mississippi in me,” Bishop offers. “I definitely got my soul from hanging with all the black girls in choir there. That’s how I learned to sing.” She credits her late songwriter friend Tim Krekel with helping her rediscover her “bluesy voice.” Krekel had also written with Stapleton, and when Cobb mentioned to Stapleton and his wife, Morgane, that he was meeting Bishop, Morgane said, “I love Bonnie Bishop’s voice! You have to do this record!” Bishop didn’t even know Stapleton had co-authored her favorite Krekel song, “Be With You,” when she added it to her setlist after singing it at his funeral (he passed away from cancer in 2010). It’s one of several standout tracks on the album. But before she recorded it — or any others — she had to face another series of panic-inducing challenges. “It was very scary for me to make the mental space for hope to live again, because I was so afraid of getting my heart broken by music,” she admits. “I had doubts about whether or not I could still even sing. I was nervous as hell.” Plus, she had no idea what Cobb actually had in mind. “I just had to trust this person,” Bishop notes. “At the same time, I’m having this huge mental battle because I’d worked so hard to kill this dream, and then here I am … it required complete faith that there was a purpose to this.” She also had debt from the semester she’d just completed in the graduate creative writing program at Sewanee University of the South, outside of Nashville. (Bishop earned her undergraduate degree in sociology and musical theater from the University of Texas.) When her album investor bailed at the last minute, her friend and manager, Dave Claassen, had to talk her down from another freak-out, reassuring her that it would somehow work out. (His motto, she says, is “just show up.”) Cobb picked six songs from her list of 36, including six she co-wrote, and they found two more. One is “Done Died,” a spiritual he discovered on YouTube, sung by an old Mississippi bluesman named Boyd Rivers. Cobb had been saving it for someone special; when she heard it, she cried. “That’s totally how I feel, like I died and I’m coming back to life,” she explains. “I’d already had that spiritual transformation years before, but now I’m having it again musically.” In Bishop’s version, which slinks like a full-bellied crocodile from gutbucket blues to raw, unfettered soul, her sandstone voice captures the frenzy of a born-again believer as it rises to the heavens. “[Cobb] knew that I had a deep story that I wanted to tell and he really helped me do that,” Bishop says. It’s a story of transformation, expressed in lyrics of longing, loss, loneliness and finally, resurrection. “The record is called ‘Ain’t Who I Was’ because I’m not the same person I was, personally or musically,” says Bishop. “I was at a point where I just didn’t know anymore. I didn’t even have a vision, and this amazing producer came alongside me and believed in me and pulled my voice back out and made me get back up and sing.” She chokes up while describing the experience, but one thing is clear: Her vocal prowess was never an issue. She just hadn’t worked with someone who knew how to unleash its full power. On this release, she gets right to it with the funky opener, “Mercy” (recorded as “Have A Little Mercy” by Ann Sexton), answering wah-wah guitar licks with a gritty groove. Then she gets soft and whispery on “Be With You,” creating a sound so intimate, its almost as if the listener becomes the lover she’s singing to. On “Not Cause I Wanted To,” she confesses to her ex how much pain she carries after leaving him; if the ballad, which takes us to church with a Wurlitzer-filled bridge, somehow sounds even more soulful than Raitt’s version, it’s because this writer lived it. Bishop again laments that hurt, but with a completely different approach, on “Too Late,” a co-write with Ford Thurston. Here, she conjures Dusty and the Supremes while dancing through a storm of needle-sharp guitar notes. “It was simple arrangements and cool grooves, and I loved the sounds I was hearing as we recorded,” Bishop says. “It’s the record I always wanted to make and didn’t know how. And Dave did. Without having ever seen me live, just hearing three acoustic demos, he pulled it out of me when I thought was dead. It was such an incredible thing.” But she really gets to the heart of the matter with “Broken,” one of three she penned with keyboardist Jimmy Wallace. It’s a sweeping, emotion-filled ballad, tailor-made for playing over a movie’s closing credits. When Bishop lets loose on the chorus, singing, “I don’t wanna be /Broken anymore/Don’t wanna see pieces of me/Shattered on the floor,” you can hear every tear she spilled while writing those lines. It truly is a knockout performance. When Macias heard it, along with the other tracks they’d done, he announced Thirty Tigers would pay for the album and help get it heard. “All these Davids believed in me and brought me back to life,” says Bishop. “I feel like I’m truly living a fairy tale. All I do on a daily basis now is get up and say thank-you, Jesus, that this is all going on, and show me how to show up today. Show me how to show up and not think too hard about it and not beat myself up and not allow what happened in the past to affect what I do today. … That is the gift that Dave Cobb gave me. And I’m so grateful and so excited.” She’s also thankful she recorded with Cobb when she did; his work is winning so many awards, he’s more in demand than ever. If Bishop and Cobb should share an award someday, that’ll be icing for the movie. But with or without that scene, she knows the message she wants it to convey: That dreams do come true. As long as you keep believing. “Dreams are lifetime visions,” Bishop says wisely. “And life is valleys and mountains. And if you can accept that, you’ll be fine.”

Declan O’Rourke - Declan O’Rourke is a highly successful Irish artist, acclaimed by his peers, and having achieved many plaudits with his five albums released to date.  Declan’s soulful music, rooted in folk and trad, has attracted the praise of countless industry giants, including John Prine, and Paul Weller, among others. The Dubliner’s legend John Sheahan, declared recently that, “after 50 years I have decided it’s time to put a lid on the ‘The Dubliners,’ but I’m sure you’ll all agree that with Declan, and Damien (Dempsey), the future is in good hands.” O’Rourke’s songwriting style moves faultlessly between impressionism, and story telling, and can be at home in almost any form. A dynamic performer, he is at once as comfortable fronting a 50-piece orchestra, as playing solo with a guitar.  Songs of Declan’s have been covered by a growing list of established artists ranging from Christy Moore, to Eddi Reader, and Josh Groban.

Bil LeppGrowing up in a family where the truth was fluid, Bil Lepp became adept at spinning tales and exaggerating circumstances at an early age. A nationally renowned storyteller and five time champion of the West Virginia Liars’ Contest, Bil’s outrageous, humorous tall-tales and witty stories have earned the appreciation of listeners of all ages and from all walks of life. Though a champion liar, his stories often contain morsels of truth which shed light on universal themes. Be it a hunting trip, a funeral, or a visit to the dentist, Bil can find the humor in any situation. Lepp explains that while his stories may not be completely true, they are always honest. Bil is the author of six books and sixteen audio collections. His first children’s book, The King of Little Things, won the PEN Steven Kroll Award for Picture Book Writing, received a Kirkus Starred review, and favorable reviews from The Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, The School Library Journal and other publications. It also won the Zena Sutherland Award, the Parent’s Choice Gold Award, was a finalist for the Irma Black Award, and was chosen to be West Virginia's book at the National Book Festival. A storyteller, author, and recording artist, Lepp’s works have received awards and recognition from The Parents’ Choice Foundation, The National Parenting Publications Assoc., and the Public Library Assoc. In 2011, Bil was awarded the National Storytelling Network’s Circle of Excellence Award. Lepp has been featured 15 times at the National Storytelling Festival, and performed at major storytelling festivals, at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and at corporate events and functions across the country. He performed at Comedy Central’s Stage on Hudson in Los Angeles, CA. Bil lives in Charleston, WV, with his wife, two children and his dog, Apollo.​