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Songs That Aren’t What They Seem

Songs That Aren’t What They Seem

Music is really a curious thing. It can pump you up for your night on the town, it can be your soundtrack for your long Summer road trip, it can give you and your friends that undying anthem that every time you hear it transports you back in time.

And a really good song, is living and breathing.

Hear me out…have you ever heard a new song come on the radio and immediately fell in love with it and before you know it you find yourself blasting it every time it comes on – but it isn’t until someone points it out or maybe you revisit the song years later do you realize what the song is really about. And it hits you differently.

What you thought was a fun and carefree song actually carries a deep, dark burdensome secret buried in each catchy lyric. The once mind-numbing bop of a song suddenly transforms and somehow becomes personal and leaves you feeling vulnerable.

That’s the beauty of music.

The two picks this week deal with some important messy real-life issues that if you don’t listen closely enough – can be hidden behind rhythmic beats and melodious harmonies.

1. The throwback

“Jackson” by: Southern Call
(released 6/20/2020)

I met Southern Call back in September at a small show at City Winery in Nashville. While they were performing my friends and I shared looks – they were good… like REALLY good. After the show we made our way over to them to introduce ourselves.

The second time I met them was at a friend’s backyard birthday party (fun fact: the friend is the photographer of Huckleberry Creative Co who took the single artwork for this track). Our friends started to talk up Southern Call’s upcoming single release as they shot their music video for it and they played it for us to hear. At the first note I was blown away.

Americana duo Southern Call, comprised of engaged couple Cierra Louise and Sean Trainor, breathe new life into the Cash & Carter classic, “Jackson”.

We all know the iconic country duo of Johnny Cash and June Carter. The 2005 biopic, Walk the Line brought to the forefront what the stage light didn’t reveal, a tumultuous marriage that hung on by a thread most of their union. I would believe completely unintentional, but a song that possibly epitomizes how broken they really were is forever immortalized in their duet “Jackson” (watch their version here).

Although often credited for the track, Cash and Carter were not its original singers or songwriters. Originally written by Billy Edd Wheeler and Jerome Leiber in 1963 and was later made popular through two different releases in 1967; Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood over in the pop world and then as an undeniable country hit by the infamous Johnny Cash and June Carter, reaching number two on the Billboard Country Singles chart.

The original Johnny and June cut was upbeat, and however popular it was, completely overshadowed the desperate nature of the song. This is why I absolutely fell in love with Southern Call’s version – it’s true to its intended meaning and is spellbinding all while doing so.

“Sean and I normally record all original music but one night we were watching the movie Walk the Line and they started playing “Jackson”. We’ve both always been huge fans of Johnny Cash and June Carter, but when we were watching that movie, “Jackson” just seemed to hit a little different. On first listen, this song could be taken as a happy love song, but when you really listen to the lyrics, this song is about betrayal, heartache and trying to make a relationship work. After listening on repeat for days after watching the movie, we were inspired to create our own spin on such a classic song.”

Cierra is right, the song is heartbreaking just take the second verse for example:

“Well, go on down to Jackson; go ahead and wreck your health.
Go play your hand you big-talkin’ man, make a big fool of yourself,
Yeah, go to Jackson; go comb your hair!
Honey, I’m gonna snowball Jackson
See if I care”

It’s almost like we are flies on the wall listening to a couple’s fight that is filled with daggered threats – “the fire went out” and he’s fed up. He hits her with the news that he’s leaving and going to go find someone new, he’s going to “mess around”. She hits back with the classic – ‘you’re not gonna hurt me, you’re only hurting yourself’. These are all fighting words, meant to hurt the other person. She feels betrayed and he is done.

Southern Call’s individual voices perfectly compliment the other in the duo. Cierra’s voice is soft, desperate and strong all at the same time, truly capturing the complex hurt of the woman in the duet. This is perfectly exemplified in the way she sings the line “make a big fool of yourself” and “see if I care”. Sean’s voice is equally fierce and defiant, you’ll hear this especially in the line “I’m goin’ to Jackson, you turn-a loose-a my coat”.

What brings these hardened feelings to life are the incredible haunting strings and acoustic guitar. The intro opens with a slow fade in of a wailing steel guitar invoking the feeling of being on an open road. The rhythm is consistent, slowly adding in layers of percussion, shaker, and subtle electric keys winding down with strings and piano, and finally picking back up with all layers. In between the 4th and final verses are background vocals of ‘oohs’ and ‘mmms’ adding texture and building to the climax of the song.

The production is beautifully cinematic and is undoubtedly made for syncing; great for a drama TV series or scoring the credits roll in a film. (Someone get these people a publishing deal!)

This is one of those songs that when you listen to it on repeat, you’ll notice something you hadn’t noticed before and ultimately making you fall deeper in love with it. Their compilation of this iconic single is beyond beautiful and genius.

Sean and Cierra wrote the arrangement in their home studio. Sean not only sang, but played acoustic guitar, electric guitar, drums, strings, piano, keyboard, AND produced and mixed. Cierra sang and added percussion. Mark Deschner was on steel guitar.

Make sure to follow the duo on Spotify and Instagram to stay up to date with their releases. I encourage you to check out their previous releases all make for a great soundtrack as your working, I’m a fan of “House on a Rock”.

2. The relatable one

“Trust Issues” by: Jackie Castro
(released 6/19/2020)

As I write this, I realized both songs are from people I personally know, but *disclaimer*, I promise I wouldn’t review them unless I truly believed in them.

Jackie Castro is a friend, but I first met her when I worked at the Jonas Group.

I actually was Day-to-Day Manager for Jackie and her brothers when she was in their family band, Castro. The band did quite well; making a television appearance on The Wendy Williams Show, toured with amazing acts such as Andy Grammer and Gavin DeGraw and debuted at #1 on the Singer/Songwriter charts on iTunes and accumulated over 9 million streams on Spotify.

However, in 2018 Jackie made the decision to go solo to find her own artistry. It’s been a year of releasing music and she is killing the game with her new representation at Modern Management. Even as a stand-alone artist she’s got quite the resume.

She’s seen her fair share of radio play and has been consistently added to numerous streaming platforms’ editorial playlists. Garnering over 500k streams with her previous singles, all well deserved.

The Columbian-American alt-pop artist has an amazingly unique voice and songwriting style. Citing Taylor Swift as a major songwriting influence. Her newest single is a look into this raw talent’s personal struggles.

With a title like “Trust Issues” a listener would be geared up to hear a song about an ex, but not everything is as it seems. Castro is actually giving us an incredible close-up and personal insight into her mind detailing the struggle with self-image and fighting the voice in her head that puts her down. Painting a picture of a real-life relatable issue that many fall prey to.

“It took me a long time to realize how important it is to be kind to yourself. I’ve always been confident with the person I present to the world, but the person I was alone with at night when all I had were my thoughts was a different story. All I could see were my flaws. I’ve always been a perfectionist and an over-achiever, and I realized I constantly worked so hard because I was always trying to prove to myself that I was enough (If you’re familiar with the Enneagram, this song was written by three 3’s!).

Feelings aren’t always truth. You can FEEL like you’re not enough, like you’re undeserving of love, but it’s not true. I’ve learned to not always trust the voice in my head. And I’ve realized that the more I show love to myself, the more I become the person I’ve always wanted to be.

Thankful for the people in my life who remind me of the truth when I need to hear it. So I’m here to say it to you – you are enough. <3”

“I got trust issues with the voice in my head
Cause it’s telling me lies I can’t seem to forget
Like you’re not enough and you don’t deserve love
And I wish I could make it shut up
I got trust issues but they’re all in my mind
Me to myself is someone I don’t like
With this damage I do and what I put me through
I’m believing in things that aren’t true
I got trust issues
I got trust issues”

This track has plenty of simple but effective nuances to bring about a solid and memorable song. I really love the juxtaposition she uses in lines such as “pretty face, ugly thoughts” or the way the arrangement feels like a ‘broken record’ with the consistent dinging of keys and ticking of acoustic guitar strings – relaying the feeling of the continuous and never-ending internal fight with her inner voice.

Sounding similar to pop artist, Lauv, the mix is catchy and full of reverb and bass.

I’m also obsessed with the texture added in her voice when she says “issues” at the end of each chorus, check it out… you’ll know what I mean. The echoes of background vocals and harmonies give off a dreamy feel, also inciting a feeling of being stuck in a thought. Even the subtle layered percussion that sounds like a solid rock breaking before the line “And I’ve broke my own heart enough” is brilliant – hats off to the amazing production by Chase Martinez.

I can’t stress enough how much it would be worth your time to take a listen to this song. Make sure to check out Jackie’s previous released singles, she is one you shouldn’t miss out on.

The single was written by Jackie Castro, Chase Martinez, and Emily Falvey.

Watch the official music video here.

To learn more about our Music Editor, Shaina Russo, Click Here

Songs for the Times

Songs for the Times

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few weeks, you know that the world has been in complete unrest.

Like many of us, after being stuck inside for several weeks and being persistently reminded of the imperfections and shortcomings of our home that usually, during pre-COVID days, we have good intent (but poor effort) as we made yet another mental note to fix it… someday, (like that closet door that’s off its tracks or to update the living room space to make it look more modern and trendy or painting that accent wall we’ve been talking about for years), have finally decided to undertake the time consuming (yet important) home improvement projects – and it seems, our society got the same memo.

All the issues that have been swept under the governmental rug for so many years have finally been uncovered by residents who are tired of tripping over it time and time again. After seeing how deep rooted the problem really is and how it’s affecting the structure of the whole home – are drawing up plans to strip the house down to its studs and rebuild.

The two songs this week, both Nashville underground, have different perspectives on how to deal with the emotions that are rising from current events. Two raw stories that channel two relevant, and valid, ways of processing what we’re all going through.

1. The soothing one

“Someday When This is Over” by Hailey Verhaalen

After being born and raised in Oregon City, the independent country artist made her way to Nashville. Working hard, she has been known play at the infamous Bluebird Café and most recently she competed and made it to the Top 60 of Season 3 of American Idol. With an authentic country voice similar to the grit of Ashley McBryde and Gretchen Wilson, Hailey rounds it out with powerful songwriting.

The song is much different than what you’ll find previously from Hailey, most were party anthems and filled with GNO vibes. But this track… this track is vulnerable, with strong emotion poured throughout.

I must note that this track was written before the murder of George Floyd and the recent Black Lives Matter protests and probably was meant for the uncertainty that COVID-19 presented.

However, it feels completely relevant to the situation.

This beautiful country ballad is soft, sweet, and sad. Hailey sets the scene as if she’s singing to a little child as they get ready to sleep. Wanting to stay and look strong in front of this depiction innocence, she gives gentle promises for a better tomorrow while shielding them from the pain of today. A dreamy steel guitar echoes and an acoustic guitar strums lightly.

“Close your eyes little darlin’ You don’t need to see the world right now Stay lost in imagination Keep living safe in your dream cloud And I will not fret in front of you Yea I’ll wait ‘til you’re asleep I will not let fear touch you I can pretend we’re not in this deep”

As the chorus rounds, the steel guitar wails softly and she builds confidence thinking on a time where things won’t weigh so heavy.

“Ohhhhh someday when this is over
Ohh I won’t have to keep my composure
One day we’ll look back, this will all be the past
Everyday we’re getting closer
To someday when this is over”

Hailey wrote this with great intention, “The scary times we’re living in have been weighing on us all, and I had finally gotten to my breaking point! In moments like that, I turn to music and lyrics to heal. I wanted to remind everyone, including myself, that we WILL get through this together, and that we have to stay strong for those around us, especially the younger generations.”

When the news become harder to stomach and the next day feels more difficult to get through than the last, a part of ourselves tries to soothe the side that fears for the future. As she sings of holding herself together, it begs the question – maybe she’s the one needing to be held; little child needing of protection and maybe the promises are meant for her.

“Oh to be so little darlin’ It makes me wish that I was too
But I can’t do no time traveling
So I’ll just see what it’s like through you, yeah”

Written by Hailey Verhaalen, drums by Lester Estelle, Steel guitar by Smith Curry, guitars, bass, keys, produced and mixed by Colt Capperrune.

Keep Hailey on your radar, I have a feeling this strong singer/songwriter will be a household name one day.

2. The uncomfortable one

“You Wouldn’t Know” by John Tucker

John came to Nashville from Columbus, Ohio to pursue a career as a songwriter and eventually becoming an artist himself. He cites influences such as Tracey Chapman, Joni Mitchell, Solange, and Anderson Paak. I especially can hear Joni Mitchell in this song – his background vocals, the keys, and percussion.

I’ll say it – as a white woman it’s hard to understand everything that is going on. It’s hard to see the videos of police brutality and listen to the accounts of injustice that happens to our black community. I have the privilege to have never been discriminated against based on my skin color. I don’t know what it’s like to be black.

John Tucker wrote and produced this track after attending his first protest in Nashville in reaction to the deaths of George Floyd and so many other black lives.

After being inspired to see his community coming together and needed a place to put down his thoughts and feelings, John created the powerful and honest R&B/Pop track. John provides his perspective as being a young black man in America.

“Being black in America seems like such a mystery, because it is to many. I’m glad the scope is on us finally, because people need to see how we’ve been affected by America. Privilege creates ignorance, so yes, they wouldn’t know our pain, but empathy is a choice that many have rejected up until now, and silence is violence. I believe we are in an awakening and I’m excited to be alive, and I couldn’t be more black “ says John.

The song starts with slow keys accompanied by sounds of a protest; chants and call and responses: “Say his name!” “George Floyd!” They soon fade away and we are left to hear John’s thoughts echoing the way George Floyd was murdered – not being able to breathe. I love how also this is depicted in the way he sings, almost breathlessly.

“Under my breath
Tell me how i’m supposed to keep this
Under my breath
When there’s a foot on my neck,”

As for any white American, I wouldn’t know what it’s like being black and vice versa for any black American to know what it is to be white – John relays this by relating white privilege to a luxury and his blackness to a tragedy. I will admit, when I first heard the chorus, it made me uncomfortable. For one because of the language – but then I realized… that’s the whole point. He’s not just tired of the injustice… he’s mourning, he’s angry, he feels helpless.

Yeah it’s a luxury
Yeah it’s a luxury
Being so fucking free
I wouldn’t know,
I wouldn’t know
Yeah it’s a tragedy
Yeah it’s a tragedy
Looking like fucking me,
You wouldn’t know,
You wouldn’t know,”

John carries into the second verse continuing to speak to us who don’t understand with his honest and poetic lyrics. Ending with a haunting question.

“So yes I’m depressed, stressed
And I do things that might
Make you confused
But are you running from death?”

And that’s not the most eye-opening lyric. I strongly suggest listening and really taking in each lyric John sings, and to set it on repeat. Let it be a song to meditate on, to find empathy and help fuel you as we all impact the future inciting change.

John Tucker’s smooth vocals and invigorating take on what it means to be a R&B and Pop artist in today’s climate is extremely promising. I look forward to seeing what else John has up his sleeve in his upcoming EP set to release in August.

Watch John Tucker’s artistic photo visualizer of the song with his personal photos from the Nashville protest.

To learn more about our Music Editor, Shaina Russo, Click Here

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