The Black Lillies
The Black Lillies are a band for the ages: rich, rootsy tunes performed with as much heart as technical virtuosity. If you ask them, they’ll tell you they play “Tennessee music” – combining strains of swampy Memphis soul and blues with Nashville’s classic country and East Tennessee’s traditional Appalachian style – while Rolling Stone describes it as “country music with a soul-rock infusion, supported by bandleader Cruz Contreras’ smart songwriting and tight musicianship.” Either way, it’s music that stirs your soul, touches your heart and makes you want to dance.
In October, the band released their fourth album Hard to Please (Attack Monkey/Thirty Tigers), which American Songwriter sums up as “a soulful mix of upbeat Americana and tender ballads,” while Vanity Fair notes that “their sound continues to cross generations and musical genres – country, folk, blues and add in a touch of the Dead, for good measure.” It’s no surprise that Hard to Please was an immediate critical and radio success – the bar had already been set high by their previous releases. 2013’s Runaway Freeway Blues conquered the Billboard Top 200 country charts and was selected for dozens of “Best of“ lists, catching the attention of NPR, CMT, Wall Street Journal, Guitar World, Garden & Gun and more for what Entertainment Weekly calls “strong roots-folk songwriting, sweet harmonies, and charismatic indie spirit.”
Their raucous live show has earned them festival slots and enthralled audiences at venues ranging from Bonnaroo and Stagecoach to the legendary Grand Ole Opry, where they hold the distinction of having performed more often than any other independent band. The music is breakneck, brazen and beautiful; sultry soul, honky-tonk heartache, winding jams and flat-out rock’n’roll, tied together with soaring harmonies that “bring back echoes of practically every great male/female duo of the past several decades … [the sound is] one for the ages, and, one suspects, ages yet to come,” according to Glide Magazine.
Make no mistake: when you see The Black Lillies live, you definitely won’t be hard to please.
For years, "home" was a place The Ragbirds rarely visited. The band's music — a genre-bending hybrid of indie-pop melodies, global rhythms and songwriting styles influenced from all over the world — was as broad as their audience, which stretched from the group's hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan, to the shores of Osaka, Japan (where they scored a Number One pop hot with the song "Book of Matches"). Show by show, in venues ranging from rock clubs and performing arts centers to festivals encompassing everything from bluegrass to electronica, the Ragbirds de-veloped a well-deserved reputation as one of the most dynamic, high-spirited live bands in roots music.
Written and recorded in the wake of the birth of co-founders Erin Zindle and Randall Moore’s first child, The Threshold & The Hearth — the band's fifth studio album, out March 25 on Rock Ridge Music — adds another dimension to the band's catalog. It's an album that explores the ways in which love and family relationships can weather the storms of life, year after year. An album that asks questions. An album that offers an answer, too: hope.
"I've been traveling with bands since I was a teenager," says Zindle, a multi-instrumentalist who doubles as the band's chief songwriter and frontwoman. "I've written a lot of songs about my experiences on the road. For a while, The Ragbirds played a lot of different styles of world mu-sic: Celtic, tango, African numbers, gypsy-sounding pieces… You could pinpoint those songs to a specific region, so the music itself felt like a tour around the world. But we're coming home with this album. There's still a worldly feel, but there's also the sense that The Threshold & The Hearth is the sound we've been searching for. I feel like we're the alchemist who traveled so far, only to discover that what he was seeking was always at home."
With influences ranging from Paul Simon to Peter Gabriel, the band turned to Grammy-nominated producer Jamie Candiloro for his help on the album. Candiloro's influences were simi-larly wide-ranging, with a resume that included credits on albums by R.E.M., Willie Nelson, the Eagles and Ryan Adams. Together, the group captured the spunk and spirit of a Ragbirds show, with Zindle's new daughter serving as an inspiration.
Released three years after 2013's We Belong to the Love, a live album that shone a light on the band's punchy, positive-minded stage show, The Threshold & The Hearth is louder and livelier than anything they've done before. The guitar solos, played by Erin’s brother T.J. Zindle, point to a longtime appreciation for rock and roll. The deep-seated grooves, performed by the three-piece rhythm section of drummer Jon Brown, percussionist Moore and bassist Dan Jones, mix punch with precision. And Zindle's conceptual storyline for the album — a make-believe tale of two lovers who meet, fall in love and spend the next 20 years dealing with the joys and struggles that come with any long-term relationship — turn The Threshold & The Hearth into a universal album that appeals to anyone looking to forge a home out of the chaos of everyday life.