Welcome to Day 16 of the Indiegogo Campaign for The Shopkeeper: A Documentary about Mark Hallman and the Congress House. Every day during the campaign I am featuring a few artists who have recorded at the Congress House.
Straddling the fine line between folk and country music, Nanci Griffith has become as well-known for her brilliant, confessional songwriting as her beautiful voice. A self-styled “folkabilly” singer, Griffith began as a kindergarten teacher and occasional folksinger. The country scene took her to heart in the mid-’80s, giving her a reputation as a quality songwriter through hit covers of Griffith‘s songs by Kathy Mattea and Suzy Bogguss. Finding no luck with commercial country radio however, Griffith recorded several pop-oriented albums and then returned to her folk roots by the mid-’90s.
Griffith is beloved as a songwriter but also as someone who unearths others’ songs and brings them to light. In the past, those songs have come from the pens of then-little-known writers including Julie Gold, Kate Wolf, Lyle Lovett, Eric Taylor, and Robert Earl Keen. Her new album Intersection is an examination of a particularly difficult time for Griffith, fraught with personal bust-ups, with family turmoil, with hard miles and tears and habits to break. “Sometimes making the best is doing the worst to yourself,” she sings here.
(I must add that she sang harmony on Tom Russell’s version of my song “Yosemite,” and it was lovely.)
Here she is with Tom Russell on a killer version of “Outbound Plane.” And check out Andy Hardin behind her with super short hair!
b. 1950, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA. David Halley is one of the new generation of Texas singer-songwriters and Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Joe Ely have recorded his songs (‘Rain Just Falls’ on Gilmore’s Fair & Square album and ‘Hard Livin’’ on Ely’s Musta Notta). Growing up in Texas, Halley met artists such as Gilmore, Ely and Butch Hancock, and was soon performing in bands in Denver and Austin. His breakthrough came in 1987 when Keith Whitley enjoyed a Top 10 hit with Halley’s song ‘Hard Livin’’. After that he teamed up with Gilmore as his band leader. Other commissions followed, including spells with Nanci Griffith, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Darden Smith (playing guitar on his ‘Two Dollar Novels’). He also played with Syd Straw, who played on Halley’s Stray Dog Talk. Mainly rooted in the country tradition, this was a strong album of simple, direct compositions. Less linear and more abstract was the belated follow-up, Broken Spell, with influences drawn from rock and jazz.
Well, this is perfect timing, because Noelle generously donated – today – a track from her album Thin Line to this fundraising campaign! Besides being one of the sweetest people I know, Noelle is a great songwriter with an achingly beautiful voice. Here’s the lowdown:
Kicking off their career in San Francisco, they didn’t start out playing together. Noëlle and André were both in other bands and once they met and fell in love, everyone warned them not to play together as it would most definitely be “the end” of their relationship. However, right after Noëlle dissolved the first band, she entered a contest to play Sarah McLachlan’s Lilith Fair. She needed a guitar player for the contest and André agreed to play just that one show. They won. It immediately sparked a media blitz and they were asked to open for Train and Paula Cole among others leading up to the Lilith Fair. Once they played a few shows together, they realized it was the musical chemistry they had both been searching for, and they never turned back.
After touring with their band throughout the US, Noëlle and André fell in love with Austin, TX. Eventually they packed up everything and left San Francisco to pursue a whole new life in Austin. The move took its toll on both of them, but particularly Noëlle. Exhausted from years of performing and then starting over, she ended up in a deep depression and stopped playing music and writing for a few years. “I was so tired and felt like I had nothing to give creatively. I thought I might never play music again. I was feeling forgotten.” It wasn’t until Mark Hallman lured them back into the studio that her love for everything musical came rushing back. Now they are entrenched in the fabulous community of songwriters and musicians that make up Austin, TX.
Noëlle and André just got back from East Nashville where they recorded a full length record with producer Neilson Hubbard that they released in early 2013 under the band name, THE BELLE SOUNDS.
As a member of the groundbreaking Flatlanders, singer/songwriter Butch Hancock helped kick-start the progressive country movement of the ’70s. As a solo artist, Hancock recorded a series of country-folk albums for his own independent Rainlight label, which showcased his literate wordplay, quirky humor, and dry, Dylan-esque vocal delivery. Going the independent route certainly cost Hancock some name recognition and wider exposure, but he did earn a devoted cult following, especially in his native Texas.