About Vincent Neil Emerson Vincent Neil Emerson is a torchbearer of the Texas songwriter tradition. He channels the straightforward truth-telling and resonance of his songwriting heroes in Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Steve Earle into something fresh and distinctly his own. Where his 2019 debut Fried Chicken and Evil Women proved himself as one of the most reverent students of country and western musical traditions, his follow-up LP, the masterful Rodney Crowell-produced Vincent Neil Emerson, which is out June 25 via La Honda Records/Thirty Tigers, is a brave step forward that solidifies his place as one of music’s most compelling and emotionally clarifying storytellers. His songs are cathartic and bluntly honest, never mincing words or dancing around uncomfortable truths.
Raised in Van Zandt County in East Texas by a single mother of Choctaw-Apache descent, Emerson’s world changed when he first heard Townes Van Zandt’s music. “To hear a guy from Fort Worth say those kinds of things and make those songs was pretty eye opening,” the now 29-year-old songwriter says. “I had never heard songwriting like that before.” He’s spent the better part of the past decade honing his songwriting and performance chops playing bars, honky-tonks, and BBQs joint across the Fort Worth area. His first album Fried Chicken and Evil Women, which he wrote in his mid-twenties and came out on La Honda Records, the label he cofounded that now includes a roster of Colter Wall, Local Honeys, and Riddy Arman, is a snapshot of his growth as a songwriter and stage-tested charm with songs like “Willie Nelson’s Wall” and “25 and Wastin’ Time” expertly combining humor and tragedy.
These marathon gigs and the undeniable songs on his debut introduced Emerson to Canadian songwriter Colter Wall, who quickly became a close friend and took him on tour. With Wall’s audience and sold-out theater shows on runs with Charley Crockett, Turnpike Troubadours, and many others, Emerson found his niche. “It took a guy from Canada bringing me on tour for people to actually start paying attention,” says Emerson. “Before that it was a grind like anything else just trying to make a living.” Crockett is another staunch early supporter of Emerson’s and covered Fried Chicken highlight “7 Come 11” on his 2019 LP The Valley.
Like every working musician, 2020 pulled the rug out from under Emerson. With the pandemic shuttering live music and cancelling promising tours, he processed the upheaval the only way he knew how: by writing his ass off. “At the beginning of quarantine, I was really frustrated with everything else going on,” says Emerson. “Everything was falling apart around me, and I didn’t know what to do.” He took to his writing shed and came up with the single “High On Getting By,” a gorgeous song full of self-reflection and resilience: the most autobiographical thing he’s ever written. He sings, “I got my first child on the way / And the bills are all unpaid / I should have finished high school / Got a job and learned to save / But the words keep on fallin’ / And the highway keeps on callin’ / To my pen.”
That song proved to be a turning point for Emerson. “After I wrote it, the floodgates opened up for me in my songwriting and emotionally,” he says. “Songwriting has always been a therapeutic thing for me. So, I just started writing more from the heart.” Allowing himself to be open and reveal some of the most intimate details of his life was a scary yet freeing prospect for Emerson, especially on the raw and devastating “Learnin’ To Drown,” which addresses his father’s suicide. “I’ve been trying to write a song about my father’s passing for a while,” he says. “I was just having a hard time processing that emotionally. Before I was always trying to find a way to kind of dance around it and not really give too much away. But there’s no beating around the bush here.” He sings, “Well there ain’t much that lasts too long / All the rights that I took wrong / All the lefts that still ain’t gone / They will be here / Here in my sad bastard song.”
Elsewhere, on “The Ballad of the Choctaw-Apache,” he sings of how in the 1960s the Choctaw-Apache tribe of Sabine Parish was forced to sell “180,000 acres of ancestral land” to the government, uprooting them from their home. Emerson pulls no punches in his narration of the historic injustice, channeling the essence of traditional folk songs. He sings, “Well you take away their home / And you claim what you don’t own/ Well I guess it’s just the American way.” Emerson explains the track: “This happened not too long ago and it affected my grandparents and my family directly. I’ve always strayed away from trying to write political songs, but this is more about human rights. For those people who were stripped of their land like that, it’s still tough.”
His intense and productive writing sessions produced 10 finished songs over the course of just a couple of months, a body of work so personal that he knew he would have to name the final product Vincent Neil Emerson. These demos caught the attention of Texas country icon Rodney Crowell, who signed on to produce and record the LP. “Rodney is a hero of mine,” says Emerson. “He wanted to make something that serves the songs, as opposed to making a record trying to put focus on production or the playing. It was an honor to work with him.” Crowell had similar high praise for Emerson: “If he grows on the public the way he’s grown on me, it’s possible young Vincent will plant the flag of his [songwriting] forebears firmly in the consciousness of a whole new generation.” At the studio, Emerson tracked the songs with a crack team of session players. “Because of them, we were able to get those songs in one take,” he says.
You can hear that no-frills approach on the barnstorming “High on the Mountain,” a bluegrass tune that highlights Emerson’s versatility as a performer and depth as a lyricist. On first listen, the track opens with upbeat fiddles and blistering guitar feels, but Emerson’s voice achingly sings of heartbreak, loss, and irrevocable change: “I pulled into Austin / ‘Cause Fort Worth ain’t the same.” Opener “Texas Moon” grapples with home after so many days away on tour: “I been missin’ home / But I just can’t ever stay / Well it don’t feel like ramblin’ / ‘Til ya take it day by day.” Emerson is never overly sentimental and across this album, he makes a point to just say how he feels in the most straightforward and real way he can.
“I think I’ve always gravitated towards artists that are honest about what they’re doing.” says Emerson. “It’s the most important thing because people have a chance to connect to a little more if you’re telling the truth.”
About Logan Ledger Bay Area-bred singer/songwriter Logan Ledger sets most of his songs in lightless or shadowy spaces: the bottom of the ocean, the abandoned cells of Alcatraz, dreamless bedrooms, desolate streets in the dead of night. Produced by 13-time Grammy Award-winner T Bone Burnett, the Nashville-based artist’s self-titled debut matches his moody noir lyricism with a darkly toned take on country music, a sound that’s stylistically wayward yet deeply grounded in classic songmanship.
With Burnett playing guitar on more than half the tracks, the album finds Ledger backed by guitarist Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello), drummer Jay Bellerose (Willie Nelson, Jackson Browne), and bassist Dennis Crouch (Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton)—the same band that played on Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, a Burnett-produced release that won Album of the Year at the 2009 Grammy Awards. Joined by guitarist/pedal steel player Russell Pahl (Kacey Musgraves, Tyler Childers), the band artfully threads in elements of acid rock and surf music and baroque ’60s pop to forge a decidedly Californian sound. But as the sonic antithesis of the sunshiney folk that Jimi Hendrix called “Western sky music,” the album is nearly subterranean in its mystique, indelibly informed by what Ledger refers to as “that gloomy, nocturnal, San Francisco/Ocean Beach vibe.”
Recorded at House of Blues Studios in Nashville, Logan Ledger emerges as a distinctly electric offering, yet continually reveals the rootsy sensibilities at the heart of his kinship with Burnett. “I think we’re each attracted to the more sinister aspects of folk and roots music, and we each have a desire to keep that music alive while finding a way to make something new out of it,” Ledger says. In turn, the album bears an era-defying quality made all the more powerful by Ledger’s voice, a timeless instrument that channels utter lonesomeness even in the album’s most joyous moments.
Right from its first seconds, Logan Ledger proves to be blessedly removed from all musical convention. To that end, opening track “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me” arrives as a gorgeously languid lullaby, its narrator longingly daydreaming his own death. A downhearted mood imbues much of the album, including “Invisible Blue” (a woozy meditation on inescapable sadness) and “Tell Me A Lie” (a sublimely tragic ballad written with John Paul White, formerly of The Civil Wars). And on “Nobody Knows,” Ledger achieves a cinematic grandeur, the drama intensified by his haunting lyrics (“Nobody knows where the lonely go/Nobody really seems to mind”).
Though Ledger sustains a certain heavy-heartedness even on the album’s uptempo tracks, that element is beautifully offset by the palpable joy behind each performance. On “Starlight”—a lovesick paean to self-delusion, its lyrics suffused in the minimalism of hillbilly haiku—the band slips into a prolonged instrumental section almost trance-like in effect. “We were jamming and once the song was finished, we just played the whole thing again,” Ledger recalls. “It was totally spontaneous and felt really good, so we kept it.” Two songs later, Ledger takes a cue from all those swoony Roy Orbison songs about dreaming, then flips the script with the oddly glorious “I Don’t Dream Anymore.” “It could be taken quite literally—the way I’m living, I don’t remember my dreams at all these days—or it could reflect a cynical attitude toward modern times,” Ledger notes.
Written by Burnett, “(I’m Gonna Get Over This) Some Day” brings a more cheerfully gritty pragmatism to the current moment. “It reminds me of something Johnny Cash would’ve recorded, where he’s addressing a serious matter in a very lighthearted way,” says Ledger. “In this case it’s forgiveness, and T Bone put a political lens on it: it’s about forgiving people who think differently from you, and trying to find some common ground.” The only other track on the album not authored by Ledger, “Skip a Rope” offers a playful yet potent update of Henson Cargill’s 1967 single—a No. 1 hit on the country charts, spiked with still-pertinent social commentary (“Never mind the rules, just play to win/And hate your neighbor for the shade of his skin”). “It’s sad that a song recorded so long ago is just as relevant now, but I think it’s important to show that there’s a progressive side to traditional music, and that we shouldn’t ever lose that,” says Ledger.
Elsewhere on the album, Ledger embeds his songs with strangely mesmeric storytelling. Co-written with Steve Earle, “The Lights of San Francisco” is a softly swaying lament narrated by a ghost wandering Alcatraz Island, eternally taken with the city lights. On the wildly hypnotic “Electric Fantasy,” he delivers a truly singular marvel of imagination: a psychedelic surf song built on endlessly shifting time signatures, its lyrics mining inspiration from Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie and relaying the story of a romantically frustrated computer program (“I want to hold you tight/My cathode ray/Will keep us warm at night”). And on the exquisitely melancholy “Imagining Raindrops,” Ledger takes a wholly mundane experience (“There was a day when I thought it was raining outside, but it wasn’t,” he explains) and twists it into a lyrical metaphor that feels both forlorn and defiant: “The world I see I don’t believe.”
All throughout his debut, Ledger makes abundant use of his self-described “archaeological impulse with regards to music-making.” “I’ve always believed that in order to create something new with purpose, one must be steeped in the past and work from within the tradition,” he says. “It has more gravity that way.” Ledger’s self-guided musical education began back in the Bay Area, where he first felt drawn to sing after his grandmother introduced him to the music of Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, and R&B vocal groups like The Platters. Taking up guitar at age 12, he soon began writing songs of his own, along with amassing a huge collection of Smithsonian Folkways CDs and immersing himself in the music of country/blues artists like Doc Watson and Mississippi John Hurt. While attending Columbia University, he hosted a bluegrass show on the campus radio station and played in a number of bluegrass bands, then headed to San Francisco after graduation.
In 2013, after a year and a half back in the Bay Area, Ledger moved to Nashville on a whim. Although his early days in the city were mostly spent working in bars and playing in cover bands, he later crossed paths with guitarist Mark Thornton and ended up recording a demo of “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me” in Thornton’s home studio. Soon enough, that demo landed in the hands of Dennis Crouch, who then passed it on to Burnett. After he’d shared a few more demos with the legendary producer, Burnett invited Ledger to his home in Los Angeles.
Since teaming up with Burnett, Ledger has joined him onstage in the only two full-band performances Burnett’s done in recent years. And on Ledger’s album, the duo’s immediate chemistry extends to a charmed communion between all of the featured musicians. “So much of this record is people not playing clearly defined rhythmic or lead roles—we’re all sort of twirling around each other and creating this great big texture of sound together,” says Ledger. “A typical country record would have very clearly defined solos, but I’m not interested in that. I love how everyone’s constantly improvising, but without ever getting in anybody else’s way.”
For Ledger, that uninterrupted and possibly transcendent flow is also the desired takeaway for listeners of his debut album. “I’d love for people to get into a meditative space when they hear the record, to sit with the songs and really take their time with them,” he says. “I think there’s a value in letting things happen at a much slower pace, especially in our current culture of instant gratification. It’s really not even a conscious decision for me—it’s just how I feel and how I like to do things, so I’m just going to keep going with it.”
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