Big Sky Documentary Film Festival another success

The 13th annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival (“BSDFF”) concluded on February 28 after a successful 10-day run at multiple venues in Missoula, including their flagship at the newly remodeled Wilma, the Crystal, the Roxy, the Top Hat and Shakespeare & Company.

Besides screening more than 100 films, this year’s BSDFF included two different five day series of lectures and workshops, including Schoolhouse Docs for kids, held at first-time venue the Roxy, and DocShop, which featured lectures and a pitch session for filmmakers to present their ideas for future projects.

The Festival included a live concert by Lydia Loveless, an up and coming alt-country performer and the subject of the documentary Who is Lydia Loveless?, also shown during the Festival, as well as numerous Q&A sessions with filmmakers, cast and crew following screenings of their respective films.

BSDFF relies heavily on the use of volunteers, who staff many of the events and provide numerous services during the Festival.  This writer was once again fortunate enough to be one of those volunteers, staffing the Wilma for three shifts as well as a shift at the DocShop session on Tuesday.

The Festival opened on February 19 with a screening of Mavis!, sponsored by HBO Now.  In addition, Sundance Now debuted their new Doc Club, a Netflix-like service for documentary film lovers.

One of the highlights of the Festival was the screening of the top 12 finalists in the Fusion Doc Challenge, which give filmmakers a subject, a genre, and five days to completely write, film and edit a short (4-7 minute) documentary.  One of the films, Don’t Call me Cute, caught the attention of this reviewer, as it was about sexism in the music business.  Watch for a follow-up article on this one.

Another featured film was the world premier of Tear the Roof Off:  The Untold Story of Parliament Funkadelic.  This provocative film by Bobby J. Brown featured the back story of the creation of P-Funk, as well as allegations of former members regarding their treatment by George Clinton.  The Q&A afterwards featured Brown as well as original bassist Billy “Bass” Nelson, “Tear the Roof Off” co-songwriter Jerome “Bigfoot” Brailey, and former Bride of Funkenstein member Satori Shakoor.  The Q&A was so successful that it delayed the next screening by 30 minutes.

courtesy of Bobby J. Brown
courtesy of Bobby J. Brown

If Only I was That Warrior was a documentary regarding the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, and the controversy over a monument to Fascist General Rodolfo Graziani, a war criminal during the reign of Mussolini.  The documentary was well done and the follow-up Q&A with director Valerio Ciriaci was very informative.

Hats off to Festival director Gita Saedi Kiely and her amazing staff who once again pulled off a phenomenal festival.  For more info, check out their website and Facebook pages.

Morgan Washam’s ‘Blood Moon’ is pure classic rock

“Classic rock” is more than just a musical genre.  It encapsulates a sound and a generation where social ills were addressed in powerful lyrics over a screaming guitar riff.  It is not ashamed of its country roots, and incorporates elements of bluegrass, country and folk into its mix. 

Morgan Washam has captured that sound with his debut solo record, Blood Moon, which was released in September 2015.  Like true classic rock, his music combines the essence of folk, country, blues, rock and jazz under the Americana umbrella, while his lyrical content is inspired by his life experiences as well as his views on spiritual and political events.

Washam is a singer/songwriter and guitarist hailing from the Appalachian hills of Ohio who has been performing music since the age of 11 when he first picked up his mom’s guitar.   During his early career he played in many groups, with the most notable being the jam band Peach Melba with whom he toured throughout the Midwestern United States from 1996 until 2004, when the group disbanded.  During that time, the group recorded three albums.

Washam is a big advocate of music education, and has spent much of his free time working with youth in public schools, teaching and inspiring them to immerse themselves creatively in the arts through music.  He also worked with his home town arts advocacy organization, helping them to renovate a performance theater.

In 2007, Morgan launched his own production house called Wildwood Media.  The company continues to produce creative projects for regional artists as well as for educators and organizations throughout southern Ohio.

From the first notes of “On Down the Road,” the listener will think he has stumbled onto a classic track by The Marshall Tucker Band, The Allman Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd.  This sense of familiarity permeates the album and makes it seem like you are listening to an old friend instead of a new artist.

 This album is worthy of repeated listens.  The lyrical content is full of meat and words to ponder, unlike so much fluff in today’s music scene.  We highly recommend our viewers check out this artist and enjoy Blood Moon for what it is:  a true classic.  The music is available for streaming on Spotify and for download through Google Music, iTunes and Amazon Music.

For more info, you can check out his website and Facebook pages, follow him on Twitter and Instagram, and subscribe to his YouTube channel.

Ryal’s new EP brings back the beat

New York City has always been on the cutting edge of musical direction, but the release today of Ryal‘s self-titled EP raises that bar to a new level.  Although critics of her earlier releases have likened Ryal to the style of Bjork and Portishead, her latest contribution is more akin to an electronica version of ABBA, combined with a little Lady Gaga.  Like “Dancing Queen” and “Bad Romance,” the songs on this EP will keep your toes tapping and compel you to the dance floor.

Along with the release of the EP, Ryal has also released a music video for “Lonely Love,” which is one of the best this reviewer has seen in a while.

“My wish is that people will listen to this and want to dance as much as I have while I have made this record,” says Ryal.

All six songs on the EP are amazing, but two songs especially stand out.  The first is the opening track, “City Lives,”  which opens with a steady beat and the words “Who you gonna be?  Who you gonna love?”  This song truly rocks and makes it is difficult to sit still while listening.

The other outstanding song is “Lonely Love.”  I dare you to try to sit still for this one as well.  Check out the video above.

Ryal added these words:  “It’s easier to write a depressing song, but more of a challenge to be optimistic, and attempt writing timeless numbers that also give the listener positive feelings. I don’t want to make pop songs full of fluff, but  rather make songs full of content that resonates with my age group.”

Ryal has also received a lot of attention from two other songs on the EP, “Wish” and “Jill.”  Speaking of “Jill,” you can hear the song when you visit your local Starbucks nationally.

You can check out the entire EP, which is currently streaming on Sundcloud.  If ever there was a “must-have” album for 2016, Ryal’s new EP is the one.

For more info on Ryal, check out her website and Facebook pages, follow her on Twitter, and subscribe to her YouTube and Soundcloud channels.



Alice Wallace’s first video release is smoking hot

Back on October 5, we published an article about this dynamic up and coming Americana musician and the release of her first album on California Country Records.  Since that time, Alice Wallace has won an LA Music Critic Award for Best Country/Americana and has released her first video, which debuted on The Boot.

According to Alice, “I Just Don’t Care Anymore” is a rocking, sassy anthem about taking charge of your life in spite of your circumstances.  “This is a song that came after the worst breakup I’ve ever had.  I wrote a lot of songs about that breakup, but I wrote this one knowing it would be the very last song I would write about it – because I just didn’t care anymore.  It’s probably my favorite track on the new record because it has punch, it has energy, and it conveys exactly what I wanted it to.”

This video is just further proof that Wallace has only scratched the surface of the amazing talent she possesses.  Already a die-hard road dog, Wallace played well over 200 live shows last year, travelling from one end of the country to the other.  It appears that she will be doing more of the same in 2016, including a trip to the UK in March, where she will be performing at the Country to Country Festival in London on March 13.  The Festival features such headliners as Dwight Yoakam, Chris Stapleton and Kacey Musgraves.

We have a feeling that Wallace will be a major star.  Check out the video and let us know what you think.

Future women in entertainment: Hannah Madison Taylor

Hope you all survived Super Bowl Sunday.  Now that the big game is history, let’s turn our attention back to music.  Today’s spotlight falls on a young lady who is already attracting major attention.  Singer/songwriter and musician, Hannah Madison Taylor, grew up in a family with a rich musical heritage with ties back to Sergei Ivanovich  Taneyev and Tchaikovsky.
HMT, as she is known to her fans, began her musical training at the tender age of 5, and has now become an accomplished vocalist, guitarist, and violinist in multiple genres.
She began by writing songs for commercials, in addition to working in sessions with Trina Harmon, Marlow Rosado, and Tim Lauer.  She currently writes independently for several labels and publishers, including BMG Chrysalis, Universal Music Gr oup,and Atlantic Records, as well as writing music and singing for multiple film and television projects, including the theme song for VH-1’s Candidly Nicole.
She has also performed in film and television, beginning with a small featured role in Pitch Perfect.  Since then, she has worked on projects with Cedric the Entertainer, appeared in Kelly Clarkson’s “People Like Us” music video, as well as on Cowgirl Up Season 2, Common Law, a Nokia Lumia commercial, and the Gap 1969 Denim Campaign.
Hannah just finished her first EP 5 with Grammy-award winning producer, Mikal Blue, and can be seen performing at select venues in Los Angeles, Denver, Nashville, Dallas-Forth Worth, and Orlando.
The EP shows tremendous promise, with all three tracks written by HMT, including a co-write on the title track with LA superstar songwriter Athena Marie.

What inspires HMT?  “I think the one thing I musically draw inspiration from the most is people and their stories. When someone opens up and starts telling you about a crumbling relationship or an insanely crazy and all night party – that’s what it’s all about. When I write a song, I don’t want to just tell my own stories, I want to tell someone else’s, too.  In that way, we’re all connected.”

What are HMT’s future plans?  “When I look at my future overall, I would love a 60 year career that patterns itself after one of my biggest icons – Carole King.  She’s done it all – artist, songwriter, actress and author, and she’s still relevant today.  In the near future,  I am looking forward to signing with a label or publisher and going on tour.”

To find out more about this future superstar, check out her website and Facebook page, follow her on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram and subscribe to her YouTube channel.


shirlette ammons shatters barriers with latest release

shirlette ammons is set to release Language Barrier, her sophomore CD on Friday, February 5 on SugarQube Records, in conjunction with Durham, North Carolina based Churchkey Records.  SugarQube is the brainchild of ammons and her twin sister Shorlette.

“shirlette is such a fantastic artist, and we’ve wanted to work on a record with her for years—we’re thrilled and flattered to be working together with the Ammons twins as they launch SugarQube Records,” explains Kyle Miller and Steve Jones of Churchkey Records.

What barriers does the release shatter?  Well, for starters, the barrier between indie and mainstream artists.  This release features ammons with several top tier mainstream artists, including Grammy winning duo The Indiego Girls, Amelia Meath, German rapper sokkee and Meshell Ndegeocello.

“To have an opportunity to work with Meshell, The Indigo Girls, Amelia, Hiss Golden Messenger—and all on one record—is a dream come true,” ammons says.

The release also shatters the genre barrier, as it seamlessly flows from one style to another, including indie and classic rock, hip hop and ambient.

“As a part of the whole Language Barrier concept, I wanted to write an album that explores the ways we love across imposed and implied barriers.  In this sense, Language Barrier is an album about love as an act of resistance.  I also wanted to approach genre as a ‘barrier’ then break it down.”

All of the music was composed by Daniel Hart, who has worked with such diverse artists as St. Vincent and Broken Social Scene.

Leave your biases about indie music behind and give a listen to this great new release.  Find out more by checking out her website and Facebook pages, following her on Twitter and Soundcloud, and subscribing to her YouTube channel.


My Brothers and I to tour in support of debut album Don’t Dream Alone

My Brothers and I, an alt-pop band from Portland, Oregon, are going on tour to support their debut album on Expunged Records, Don’t Dream Alone.  The band recently debuted their new video “Scars” on entertainment website PopWrapped.
“We’re excited to keep sharing our music with new people and reconnect with the fans we already have,” says My Brother And I’s front man, David Wurgler, regarding the band’s upcoming tour.
Amazon’s “The Next Program” recently selected the band as “The Next Big Thing,” and the release of Don’t Dream Alone has helped to establish the band as one of the Northwest’s premiere alt-pop bands.  The band is composed of the three Wurgler brothers, David on lead vocals, Erik on bass and vocals, and Scott on drums, who are joined by childhood friends Jordan Roach on guitar and Johnny Iliyn on keys and vocals.  This diversity brings a wide range of influences to their music and creates a melodic, soulful, and danceable sound throughout the 11-track debut release, including warm vocal harmonies, luscious grooves, and undeniable hooks.

The tour kicked off on January 27 with a performance at Menlo College in San Francisco, California, followed by a performance the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California the next night.  The tour continues through the month of March with the following  schedule:
2/5/16 – Sunset Tavern (w/Kris Orlowski), Ballard, WA
2/12/16 – KLCC Microbrew Fest – Eugene, OR
3/3/16 – Mississippi Studios – Portland, OR
3/4/16 – Hotel Utah – San Francisco, CA
3/5/16 – Hotel Cafe – Los Angeles, CA
3/6/16 – Cal State Fullerton – Fullerton, CA
3/8/16 – Lion’s Lair – Denver, CO
3/9/16 – The Demo – St. Louis, MO
3/12/16 – Val’s List (Private show) – Chicago, IL
3/24/16 – Sam Bond’s Garage – Eugene, OR
3/25/16 – Hard Rock Cafe – Seattle, WA
3/26/16 – The Big Dipper – Spokane, WA
“You can always expect our songs to sound like they do on the album,” adds Erik when describing the band’s live show.  “We take pride in our live performance.  If you’ve fallen in love with our album, you won’t be disappointed when you hear the songs live.  You’ll just get to experience them in a new way.  We’ll spice something up here or there but David’s voice really is that good, no studio tricks made that voice!”
Included in the tour set list will be cuts from Don’t Dream Alone, a few choice covers, as well as a new song entitled “Tell Me.” “It’s got an interesting story behind it,” comments Erik.  “It’s one of the first songs we ever wrote, but it’s gone through three total face lifts with the style in which we play it.  So, even if you think you’ve heard it before, you haven’t heard it like this.”
For more info on this funky new band, check out their website and Facebook pages and follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

Women in entertainment: Rachel Alena, raising a ruckus

Now that the excitement of the LA Music Awards is over, it’s time to turn our attention back to the women that make indie music and art great.  This week’s Women in Entertainment spotlight shines on one of those winners, Rachel Alena, lead singer of Rachel and the Ruckus, and winner of Best Blues Band.

Alena grew up in the Los Angeles music scene and, according to her official bio, “started making music before she learned to talk.”  Her mother and father played in a band together and taught Alena about music.  Those lessons took root and created Alena’s deep love for music.  Her father played guitar in such bands as The Ronettes and the Crystals, both of which were produced the great Phil Spector.  Among her father’s credits were “Da Do Run Run” and “Be my Baby,” which received much radio airplay.   Alena became a session vocalist who also toured and performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic before moving to Colorado in 2000.

Alena met guitarist Alec Sims in 2010 when they began playing together in a popular Colorado R&B band.  Their songwriting chemistry quickly became obvious, and Rachel and the Ruckus was formed shortly thereafter.  Sims was a published author from Massachusetts who got his musical start playing in blues and funk bands in the 1980’s.  They were joined by Kyle Comerford in 2012.  Comerford’s musical journey took him from the club scene in Los Angeles to touring with Carly Simon before joining Rachel and the Ruckus.  Last but not least is bassist Vince Carmellini, who joined the band in 2013.  Besides bass, Carmellini plays multiple instruments and his work is featured on several chart-topping albums.

What inspires Alena?  “That’s a big question.  There’s so much that inspires me.  As a young kid, all I ever wanted to do was to use my voice.  So, when I left home at 17, I went out into the world and became a session singer, a voice talent and went on the road and started living my passion.  When I was in my early 20’s, though, I began to develop a pretty strong anxiety disorder.  I’m not sure how it happened, but it got to the point where I was afraid to fly or go too far from home.  I stopped singing.  I even refused to sing at my own wedding.  About 12 years later, after having kids and feeling like I had completely lost myself, I started looking for help.  I needed to find my voice again.  One day, I came across a poem by Dawna Markova.  I keep it with me all the time now and it serves as a daily reminder for me.  The poem starts off by saying “I will not die an unlived life.  I will not live in fear . . .”  That’s what inspires me.  For my children and for anyone else who isn’t living their best life.  Live your best life without fear.  Do what you came here to do.”

Where does Alena see herself in the future?  “The band and I have some great shows on the books.  We’re writing new material and we plan to do a lot of recording this year.  We’ll have some new good nuggets to release in the near future.  R&R is also pursuing some licensing, so that may be coming down the pike. Personally, as a solo artist, I keep writing.  I plan to release some solo tunes this year and will be in the studio starting in two weeks.  I’m also continuing my voice acting work, which keeps me very busy.”

So how come Rachel and the Ruckus haven’t become a household word?  “That’s very kind of you to say!  I wish I knew how to answer that question.  All I know is that the guys in the band and I keep putting one foot in front of the other.  We do what we love and we shoot from the heart. That’s all any of us can do.  The rest is up to fate.”

To find out more about this amazing artist, check out her website and Facebook pages, follow her on Twitter and subscribe to her YouTube channel.