“On the cusp of music stardom.” - Los Angeles Times
"Tenderheart is an assured step forward for this rising country star. Four stars.” - Rolling Stone
“One of the most impressive releases of the year so far.” - Wide Open Country
Sam Outlaw – Turning Heads of Americana Fans Throughout the U.S. and Europe
Review by July Hight, NPR
Every artist working in the shadow of country music lineage since Willie and Waylon were first branded as "outlaws" has had that designation at their disposal. The same goes for marketing execs and music critics. "Outlaw" is useful shorthand, an expedient way of advertising a performer's resistance to mainstream norms and general aversion to docility. Often, it's paired with a brawny aesthetic.
The Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Sam Outlaw strikes a much more artful, low-key oppositional posture. At a moment when blustery machismo rules the White House, he's crafting a consciously softened identity. "I always found more honesty in the tenderness than the toughness," he recently told an interviewer. "I very much intentionally wanted to combat any expectation that I'm trying to be a tough guy country singer." And when he's asked why he chooses to stay in Southern California rather than relocate to Nashville, a scene populated with artful, independent folk-country troubadours like Andrew Combs, Caitlin Rose, Cale Tyson and Kelsey Waldon, he explains that he'd rather stay where he's the odd man out.
A couple of years back, Outlaw's debut, Angeleno, turned heads of Americana fans throughout the U.S. and Europe, and enabled him to walk away from a career in ad sales. His second album, Tenderheart, is an elegant expansion of that original template, one in which he makes considered use of lessons learned from Jackson Browne's genteel West Coast idealism, George Jones's grounded melancholy and the lusty flourishes of Dwight Yoakam, for whom he's opened shows.
Much of the time, Outlaw situates pensive romanticism within country-tinged arrangements that open onto scenic vistas, framed by delicate guitar and piano figures, sometimes even mariachi horns, the latter a holdover from Ry Cooder's involvement with his previous album. (Outlaw co-produced this one with Martin Pradler, who's engineered many of Cooder's projects.) Exceptionally serene and pleasing, Tenderheart is easy to get lost in. It's Outlaw's singing — all even-keeled sensitivity and reedy grace — that brings quiet clarity to the tracks.
Just two albums in, Outlaw's already become a refined songwriter, able to capture contradictions with simple gestures. In the steel-laced, soft-rock number "Bottomless Mimosas," he teases out the hollowness of a weekly routine that culminates in conspicuous indulgence. With its stately, hymn-like melody and sway, "Everyone's Looking for Home" serves as a reminder that finding a sense of calling won't banish all uncertainty from your life. You get the sense that he's just as likely aiming the message at himself as any other listener.
Outlaw ennobles a wounded heart's ability to love in the throwback country-rocker "Two Broken Hearts" and the tuneful Tom Petty-esque title track, but his gentlemanly demeanor doesn't preclude him from injecting acidic wit into the classic country sarcasm of "She's Playing Hard To Get (Rid Of)" and the deceptively mild and breezy-sounding narration of an ex's depravity that is "Now She Tells Me." "I'm not too likely to make you happy / I'll never really try," he intones over a twangy bossanova groove. "I'm much too busy / You'll always miss me / But I'll never leave your sight."
It's worth noting that the roles he takes on doesn't always come with a spotless conscience. In "Say It To Me," he's a guy who likes to play along with seductive delusions. In "Diamond Ring," the epitome of a windswept SoCal country ballad, his protagonist's brutal honesty deflates the romantic hopes of the woman he's slept with. And "Bougainvillea, I Think" is a fetching and otherwise chivalrous vignette of a young man's kindness toward an elderly neighbor, except for a telling detail: he can't recall her name.
To hear Outlaw glorify sincerity in such a clear-eyed way, awake to a larger world of needs, feelings and perspectives, is a marvelously welcome thing right about now.
John Surge has put together a crack band – The Haymakers – of LA roots rock veterans that includes Randy Volin on lead guitar, Ted Russell Kamp on bass/backing vocals and Simon Runge on drums. Surge has traded in his electric Telecaster for an acoustic guitar and there’s more of an emphasis on country, blues and folk elements added to Surge’s power pop early career as a songwriter with bands The Trouble Dolls and Pinwheel. The result – a highly infectious feel-good country-rock/Americana blend.
“I’ve rediscovered my love for the seminal bands I spent many nights seeing in small LA clubs and I’m taking renewed inspiration from how great they were,” says Surge. As if you can see him reliving those smoky booze filled nights, he mentions early Los Lobos, the Blasters, Rank ‘N’ File, the Long Ryders, Peter Case, the Beat Farmers, Lone Justice, and The Rave-Ups. “In my own small way, I want to carry on and honor that LA roots tradition. I have started to mix in some covers from these songwriters that I love.” John Surge and The Haymakers have recorded a single, “Heather Lee,” with producer Ed Tree and will be releasing a debut album in 2018 recorded with Kevin Jarvis.
Molly moved to Nashville in the spring of 2013 and soon discovered she could pay her bills as a singer, providing her memorable and uniquely captivating harmony vocals on over 50 records in just a few years. Though she rarely performed her own songs live, her increasing number of fans and champions—everyone from her mom to Ryan Adams to her fellow songwriters in Nashville’s vibrant underground— encouraged her to finally make a record of her own.
What resulted is a voice that is as haunting as it is comforting, beautifully raw and yet effortlessly just out of reach— a disarming union of aloofness and intimacy that runs throughout her songs, lulling the listener with its cadence of melancholic melodies and searching phrases that whirr in your head long after her songs have gone silent.