Nicole Maguire – WHAT YOU REALLY MEAN

Nicole MaguireNicole Maguire has been determined to sing since childhood, she’s been writing songs since she was 12 and at just 15 was gigging, playing opening slots for anyone who’d let her. In addition to her musical gifts Nicole Maguire has been blessed with dedication and determination. This means she now finds herself, still in her mid 20s, with admirers including Paul Brady, Nanci Griffiths & Damien Dempsey and a self-funded album produced by Mitchell Froom (Crowded House, Pearl Jam, Paul McCartney). The band on the album includes Elvis Costello & the Attractions’ drummer, Pete Thomas; Crosby Stills & Nash’s bass player Bob Glaub and Val McCallum, guitarist for Sheryl Crow and Lucinda Williams.  Vonda Shepard, the award-winning singer from Ally McBeal, handled backing vocals, with Grammy award-winning engineer David Boucher assisting Mitchell Froom.  Nicole recalls that there was an incredible energy and momentum to the sessions. “We did it all live. We just went in and played it till we loved it and then we stopped. I hoped to create something that in twenty years I could be completely proud of. I think I did that”.

The album is profoundly emotional with a homespun lyricism that recalls Lucinda Williams, Bonnie Raitt’s early 70s recordings and Christine McVie’s poignant songcraft in Fleetwood Mac. Standout cuts include the stunning title track, the ethereal With You, the heartfelt sentimentality of Fall Apart and the guitar led Out Of Our Hands.

Petite and elfin, Maguire grew up in the windswept village of Conna, 20 miles from the coast of Southern Ireland — little grey stone buildings embracing a single road and subjugated under the heavy rolling rain clouds of the Celtic sea. Despite none of her immediate family playing an instrument, Maguire was powerfully drawn to music. She scoured through her family and friends’ record collections listening to everything they’d collected from folk to hard rock but was most captivated by the beguiling romanticism of the California songwriters.

A lively and inquisitive child at school, Maguire entered all the faculty’s music contests and frequently won. “Yes I used to enter competitions in primary school” she recalls. “I played pennywhistle and sang. I won one singing a Mary Black song called “No Frontiers”. Other times I would do reels and jigs. I do have a lot of medals.”

Nicole MaguirePic: Miki BarlokMaguire set out to perform her songs live but as a teenager she wasn’t legally allowed to enter the Guinness-soaked clubs of Dublin and Cork. As her growing stagecraft began to attract attention, Maguire looked for a concert mentor to coach her live performances to an even higher level. She chose none other than Ireland’s preeminent live performer – Damien Dempsey“I got invited to a Damien Dempsey gig and I went up to him and said I was a songwriter. He must hear that twenty times a week, but he gave me a support slot at his next show. He did such a wonderful thing for me. He gave me the support at his Vicar Street show which is the ultimate concert in Ireland. I got to road test those songs with a full band in front of his intense audience. I think he’s one of the most important Irish songwriters and in a hundred years from now his songs will be in all the Irish folk song books”.

As her touring became more frequent, Maguire realised she needed something to sell on the road to pay for room and board. She decided to cut an EP, but with no label she was forced to make sacrifices having to sell her car to pay for the manufacturing. Soon her frequent performances across Ireland would introduce her to her next champion — Grammy award winning Texan singer Nanci Griffith. “The girl they had lined up to support Nanci on her Irish tour pulled out at the very last minute. Nanci took me under her wing and was so kind. I learned an awful lot from those gigs. It was just me and my guitar and a theatre full of people.”Griffith and her band encouraged Maguire to try out her material Stateside. “Some of Nanci’s band said “have you ever considered going to Nashville to write? So I just saved up some money and got on a plane and went. Every second person you meet in that city is a songwriter. Even the guy driving the bus is playing the passengers his songs! I was paying for it with my hard saved pennies so I chose very carefully who I wanted to work with. It was so productive that I saved more money to go back a second time. After going to school with Paul Brady, I guess this was like going to University for me.”

With a brace of songs that she’d road tested around America and Ireland, Maguire decided it was time to make an album and headed into the recording studio with Mitchell Froom at the helm. The resulting album is now available for your listening pleasure.

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ANI DIFRANCO RETURNS WITH HER FIRST NEW ALBUM IN MORE THAN THREE YEARS…

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Ani DiFranco has announced the upcoming release of her eagerly awaited new album. ¿Which Side Are You On? arrives via the Grammy-winning artist’s own Righteous Babe Records on January 17, 2012.

¿Which Side Are You On? marks DiFranco’s first studio album in more than three years. The collection features 11 new songs alongside a radically reworked rendition of the classic title song, famously popularized by the one and only Pete Seeger nearly five decades ago, but no less relevant today. Backing DiFranco is a remarkably diverse line-up of stellar musicians, including members of her own crack touring band as well as such guest players as Ivan and Cyril Neville (of New Orleans’ first family of funk and R&B, The Neville Brothers), avant-saxophonist Skerik (Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Bonnie Raitt, The Meters), acclaimed singer/songwriter (and Righteous Babe recording artist) Anaïs Mitchell, guitarist Adam Levy (Norah Jones, Tracy Chapman, Amos Lee), and a host of New Orleans-based horn players known for their work in such outfits as Galactic, Bonerama, and The Rebirth Brass Band.

What’s more, Ani is joined on her stunning new version of “¿Which Side Are You On?” by the aforementioned Pete Seeger, whom she praises as “my elder, my forefather in folk music and political song.” DiFranco was inspired to record the famed protest anthem after being invited to perform at Seeger’s 90th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden in May 2009. She contributed her own straight-from-the headlines verses to the song and has used it to close her own live shows ever since. The newly recorded version of “¿Which Side Are You On?” is a funk-fueled epic, incorporating not just Ani’s band, but Seeger himself on banjo and vocals alongside The Rivertown Kids, a Hudson Valley-based children’s chorus, and The Roots of Music Marching Crusaders, a brass band consisting of students from The Roots of Music, a music education program for at-risk middle-school students in New Orleans.

“All of my musical community, my comrades, are in there,” says Ani of the cross-generational recording. ¿Which Side Are You On? was co-produced by DiFranco and her longtime collaborator Mike Napolitano over a series of sessions in 2010 and 2011. The basic tracks feature two slightly different versions of Ani’s touring band, recorded at Bogalusa, Louisiana’s renowned Studio In The Country, Brooklyn, New York’s Brooklyn Bridge Studio, and her own New Orleans home studio, The Dugout.

The album represents an extraordinary snapshot of DiFranco’s own life as well as her sense of where the country stands at this particular moment in time. The long gap since 2008’s acclaimed Red Letter Year offered an array of new opportunities, including a backlog of songs and the ability to painstakingly fine-tune new recordings.

Many of the songs featured on ¿Which Side Are You On? are reflections on growing older and being totally okay with that process. As she sings on “If Yr Not,” “If yr not getting happier as you get older/then yr f**king up.” Elsewhere, Ani tackles some of the many crises that are currently confronting the nation and the world, spanning environmental disaster, government inaction, and a culture hooked on comfort and acquisition at any cost. Songs such as “Amendment” and “J” see DiFranco addressing these issues with a directness that is striking even for an artist long known for her activism and outspoken point of view. “I’m testing deeper waters with the political songs on this album,” she says. “I feel a little bit frustrated, politically desperate. After having written hundreds of songs over decades, I think, ‘Now what? How far can I go with this? Can you sing the word ‘abortion,’ can you sing the word ‘patriarchy’ – what can you sing and get away with? I guess I’ve been pushing my own boundaries of politics and art. Seeing what people have the ears to listen to. How big is my mouth? What can I get out of it successfully?

The last two decades have seen DiFranco staking a historic claim on popular music, spanning 16 studio albums and countless live recordings (including 1997’s RIAA gold-certified Living in Clip), EPs, and compilation contributions. Along the way she has amassed a devoted fan following, received numerous awards and nominations, earned rapturous reviews, and basically rewrote the rules of the recording industry. Now Ani’s recommendation about the album’s opening track “Life Boat” can be said to apply to ¿Which Side Are You On? as a whole: “Just listen, drop your idea of who is singing and what you already know they’re saying, and go somewhere else, open yourself up to a new story.”

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