The Martha Bassett Show

Postponed: Wild Ponies

Although they're based in Nashville, Wild Ponies have always looked to Southwest Virginia — where bandmates Doug and Telisha Williams were both born and raised — for inspiration. There, in mountain towns like Galax, old-time American music continues to thrive, supported by a community of fiddlers, flat-pickers, and fans.

Wild Ponies pay tribute to that powerful music and rugged landscape with 2017's Galax, a stripped-back album that nods to the band's history while still pushing forward. Doug and Telisha took some of their favorite musicians from Nashville (Fats Kaplin, Will Kimbrough, Neilson Hubbard and Audrey Spillman) and met up with revered Old-Time players from Galax, Virginia (Snake Smith, Kyle Dean Smith, and Kilby Spencer). Recorded in the shed behind Doug’s old family farm in the Appalachians (steps away from the site where Doug and Telisha were married), it returns Wild Ponies to their musical and geographic roots. 

Growing up, a young Doug Williams spent many an hour watching and learning as his grandfather played banjo alongside local musical legends like Snake and Kyle Dean. Although both of his grandparents have now passed away, they would surely be proud to see Doug and Telisha gathered in the shed with Snake, Kyle Dean, Kilby, and a diverse handful of the best musicians from Nashville. The result is a broad, bold approach to Appalachian music, created by a multi-cultural band whose members span several generations.  

Wild Ponies proudly dive into their old-school influences with songs like "Pretty Bird" — a rendition of the Hazel Dickens original — and the traditional mountain song "Sally Anne." "My grandfather used to say, 'It oughta been the goddamn National Anthem!'" Doug says of the latter song, which kicks off the album with gang vocals and fiddle. Even so, don't mistake Galax for a traditionally-minded folk album. Wild Ponies offer up plenty of contemporary material, too, building a bridge between past and present. The lyrics reflect a similar mix of old and new, with Doug and Telisha Williams writing songs inspired by family heirlooms (including a wooden-bound, 70 year-old book of poems written by Doug's grandfather, whose lines form the basis of "Here With Me"), the Catawba tree on the farm, the nostalgic pull of one's birthplace, a mother's tough lough, leaving and believing, and the cyclical natures of death and love. Although named after the town in which it was recorded, Galax looks far beyond the southwestern tip of Virginia for its source material. 

"We didn't want to go home to Virginia and just make an Old-Time record," explains Doug. "We wanted to make something that still sounded like Wild Ponies. We asked everybody to stretch and reach towards something new, something different. We wanted to not only reconnect with our roots, but learn how those roots can also weave into our current world."

Once everyone had arrived at the farm, Neilson Hubbard set up a makeshift studio in the shed.  Just a few nice microphones in a circle. There’s no cell phone signal on the mountain. No WiFi. No distractions. Instead, everyone focused on making raw, genuine music, filling Galax's track list with upright bass, acoustic guitar, twin fiddles, Telecaster, banjo, pedal steel, mandolin, harmonies, gang vocals, and even some stripped-down percussion. They recorded the songs live, never once pausing the process to listen to the performance they'd just captured. It wasn't until Wild Ponies returned home to Nashville that they finally heard the wild magic documented during those mountaintop sessions. 

Released on August 25th on Gearbox Records, Galax salutes Wild Ponies' traditional roots while exploring new, progressive territory. It's an album about the pieces of our past that stick with us, informing our present while pushing us toward a future. An album about a town, a country, and a world that's forever spinning toward something new. An album that redefines Wild Ponies' sound, while highlighting influences that have always rested just beneath the surface.

"We'll always be the pinball that bounces between folk, rock & roll and country," says Telisha, "and this Old-Time style will always weave its way through everything we do. It's been there from the start, even on the loudest songs we've made. It only took us a couple of days to record it, but this is the album we've been making our whole lives. We just needed the right people and the right songs to finish it."

Learn more at https://www.wildponies.net

Jon Shain

Jon Shain is a veteran singer-songwriter who’s been turning heads for years with his words, his fiery acoustic guitar work, and his evolved musical style – combining improvised piedmont blues with bluegrass, swing, and ragtime. Shain’s most recent solo disc, Gettin’ Handy with the Blues: A Tribute to the Legacy of WC Handy, was released in January, 2018. Shain’s newest release is the gorgeous roots album, Tomorrow Will Be Yesterday Soon,  recorded along with long-time collaborator FJ Ventre.

Jon grew up in Haverhill, Massachusetts, a Merrimack River mill-town that had already seen its better days by the time he was a child in the 1970s. His family’s business was a small textile dyeing company, and he worked in the factory during the summers throughout his teens. At the same time, Shain began to discover his love of American roots music and songwriting, specifically drawn to the narratives about regular people and themes of social justice.

Shain headed south to North Carolina in 1986, to study American History at Duke University and to continue his musical journey, as well. In addition to studying with jazz professor Paul Jeffrey, he also had the good fortune to learn the piedmont blues tradition firsthand by playing in Big Boy Henry’s backing band. It was at this time that Shain also got to meet and play with John Dee Holeman and a number of the great older NC blues players. Shain’s classes in school were heavily concentrated in southern history, English, and world religions. That mixture of the academic environment and the real-world blues music is what has most informed his musical direction.

In addition to an album with Joe Newberry and a live album with Jon Shain Trio, Jon has released eight studio albums, working with studio luminaries such as Dave Mattacks, Tom Dube, and Chris Stamey, along the way. As a guest artist, Jon has recorded with Jim Avett, Greg Humphreys, Dana Kletter, and many others and his instrumental music has been placed in several documentary films and commercials, as well as on shows on the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet.

The last few years have seen Shain headlining listening rooms on the East Coast, in the Midwest, and in Europe, as well as opening shows for John Hiatt, Keb’ Mo’, Little Feat, and others. When Shain is not recording, producing other artists, or performing, he stays busy giving private instruction in Piedmont blues fingerstyle guitar, and teaching group workshops in songwriting and blues guitar.

Learn more at https://www.jonshain.com

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