Emerging victorious after one of the most spiritually and emotional challenging seasons of his life and career, six time Grammy Award winner Israel Houghton launches his third decade as a recording artist with an empowering single that speaks to his faith in the Lord’s relentless pursuit of those who have gone temporarily astray – and the divine love which will stop at nothing to bring His children back home. Bringing the depth of his own experience at the spiritual crossroads to every impassioned note, his fresh, soulfully transcendent re-imagining of Cory Asbury’s #1 Billboard hit “Reckless Love” takes it to a whole new heart-penetrating realm. Immediately upon its March 2018 release, Houghton’s version topped Billboard’s Gospel Digital Tracks chart.
As the leader and visionary force behind the globally acclaimed ensemble and ministry organization Israel & New Breed, the gospel legend has written or co-written some of the most widely sung praise and worship songs of the era, including the GMA Dove Award winning hits “Again I Say Rejoice,” “Not Forgotten,” “Turn It Around,” “Say So” and “The Power of One (Change the World).” While Houghton rarely records the compositions of other artists, Asbury’s song impacted and lifted him the same way Chris Tomlin’s “Our God” did when the singer chose to record it for his groundbreaking 2010 solo album Love God, Love People: The London Sessions, which won a Dove for Best Contemporary Gospel Album of the Year and a Grammy for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album.
“I felt the same way when I included ‘Here I Am To Worship’ as part of a medley on Live From Another Level, thinking all along how excited I am going to be singing it live,” says Houghton, who has performed extensively throughout North America, Africa, Europe and Asia over the years while releasing critically acclaimed, award-winning albums like the gold selling Alive in South Africa (2005) and Covered: Alive in Asia (2015). “If a song hits me in a way that speaks to me first, that’s a good indication that it will speak to others.
“With ‘Reckless Love,’ I wanted to create a version with a vibe that would distinguish it from Cory’s incredible recording but also support and add to its legacy,” he adds. “Its message speaks to me every day, having gone through these intense, perception shifting seasons in my life. Everybody needs to be reminded that with God, you can always come home – and if you choose not to turn and run in that direction, He can pursue you anyway like in the parable of the Prodigal Son. In trying to put my feeling about this love in contemporary terms, I made a social media post comparing this spiritual phenomenon to Liam Neeson’s character in the film ‘Taken.’ God will stop at nothing to reach us, find us, transform us. As Cory wrote so brilliantly, it’s all about the ‘overwhelming, never-ending reckless love of God.”
For Houghton, “Reckless Love” kicks off a rollout of several upcoming singles in anticipation of an upcoming studio collection, due later this year. He is working on tracks with a handful of renowned fellow genre artists, including urban contemporary gospel band The Walls Group, gospel reggae singer Chevelle Franklyn (who was featured on Houghton’s Grammy winning 2009 collection The Power of One) and seven time Stellar Gospel Music Award winner Travis Greene. Greene and The Walls Group appear on the recently released Houghton produced collection Evidence by Elevation Collective. In addition, Houghton and his wife Adrienne Bailon – a former member of multi-platinum Disney sensation The Cheetah Girls and current co-host of the syndicated talk show The Real – have recorded a song called “Secrets,” about God’s ability to take our masks off to lovingly reveal our deeper truths.
Combining music and ministry like no other ensemble in Christian music, Israel Houghton & New Breed is a movement for those who believe that worship and justice go hand in hand. Their mission has long been to reflect the heart of God and His love for the nations, the poor, the lost and the forgotten. As they have collectively stated, “We are not defined by the petty price tag mentalities of society. Our inheritance lies far beyond eternity. There are no limits when it comes to our destiny. As the deep goes deeper we find our name. We are New Breed.... Are you?”
Since the release of Whisper it Loud in 1997, Israel & New Breed have achieved a synthesis of music and message that has elevated and galvanized audiences both within and outside of traditional church walls. Recording most of their albums before live audiences to capture their infectious energy and powerful synergy with audiences, the group’s songs have become standards in houses of worship around the globe, tearing down the walls of racial divide in the church. In addition, Houghton’s music has long been an integral part of the worship experience for countless now generation churches. With joy, purpose and conviction-infused voices singing over global-minded arrangements with African, Middle Eastern and South American influences, Israel & New Breed have amassed a legion of enthusiasts that transcends generational and cultural lines. In addition to their numerous Grammys and 11 Dove Awards, they have earned two gold-selling albums, two Stellar Awards (from 19 nominations) and a Soul Train Award.
The challenging circumstances surrounding the first months of Houghton’s life make it clear that God had expansive plans for him from the beginning. By the time Houghton was born in Oceanside, CA, his 18 year old mother had split up with his birth father and many were trying to convince her to give him up for adoption. He lived with another family and had a different name the first month after his birth, but having never formally signed away rights, she reclaimed her son and raised him as a single mom for a year before marrying his stepfather, whose last name was Houghton. Raised in Globe, AZ (ages 5-13) and Santa Fe, NM (13-18), the singer grew up in the non-denominational church his parents established.
At home, he heard and was influenced by everyone from Christian and gospel legends Keith Green and Andre Crouch to secular greats like the Beatles, Eagles, Earth, Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder. He started playing drums around 5 or 6, then piano at 12-13 and picked up the guitar on a bet when he was 16. In his early teens, he felt his first true encounter with God and became a committed Christian, but he was more excited about baseball than thinking about pursuing a career in music or the ministry, despite his ever-expanding love of God and His people. Everything changed when he entered a school talent show in 7th grade and sang “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord.” The overwhelming reaction from the audience – especially the young girls – to his singing a gospel song laid the foundation for his later success as an artist in that genre.
Once music grabbed hold of him in his mid-teens, his passion became his “ministry expression” and it never let go. He began leading worship at his parents’ church, and joined the worship team at The Eagle’s Nest (now Church for All Nations) as a drummer while attending Arizona State University; by 19, he was their worship leader. “My goal was never to be a recording and touring artist,” he says. “I was open, however, to blooming where God had planted me. I enjoyed being worship leader at that church and was blessed to have so many new opportunities and platforms open up that ultimately allowed me to take my passion for ministry and music all around the world.
“The role of a gospel music artist,” Houghton adds, “is to create art that disseminates hope for people everywhere, and with that comes great responsibility. It’s a beautiful thing to be part of the soundtrack of people’s lives. I never get tired of hearing that a song I wrote has met someone in the darkest times of his or her life and helped bring them into a hopeful, more vibrant place of perseverance and faith. What I personally went through these past few years made me realize how easy it is to get caught up in the business and commerce of church, chasing the musical dream, doing the work of the Lord without being in touch with the Lord of the work. Through a forced sabbatical and other significant changes in my life, I was able to confront my weaknesses and learn to trust God like never before. All thanks to his ‘Reckless Love’ and grace that never gave up on me.”
THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER
Reaching the infectious chorus of the deep bass driven title track from The Junction, their first album in nearly a decade, The Manhattan Transfer brings their trademark seamless four part harmony to a lyric that doubles as an eloquent, wit-filled mission statement for this next phase of the 10 time Grammy winning vocal quartet’s storied career. Reaching a uniquely inspiring crossroads on their 45-plus year musical journey, they sing: “At the junction/it’s not a physical place you see/That’s not it’s function/Let’s work together, it’s stronger with you and me…it’s really more of a state of mind. . .so leave your old fashioned attitude and penguin suit behind.”
One of the co-writers on “The Junction” – which draws inspiration in part from The Transfer’s classic 1975 version of Glenn Miller’s “Tuxedo Junction” - is the group’s new member, bass vocalist Trist Curliss, who began subbing on the road for band founder Tim Hauser in 2013 when he was ill and officially joined after Hauser’s passing in late 2014.
Welcoming Curliss – a founding member of famed Los Angeles a capella group M-pact – to the fold, Janis Siegel (alto), Alan Paul (tenor) and Cheryl Bentyne (soprano) embrace a new dynamic and fresh possibilities for their legendary sound that artfully incorporates his low range into their established blend. The Junction was produced by another master vocalist, 5-time Grammy winner Mervyn Warren, a renowned film composer, arranger and producer and one of the founders of gospel/R&B a capella legends Take 6. In addition to his intricate vocal arrangements, Warren wrote the album’s first single, the soulful ballad “Sometimes I Do.”
“It’s a whole different ball game, but one we feel is still musically very viable and exciting,” Siegel says. Paul adds, “The concept of The Junction is that this is a special meeting place, a junction of merging our four and a half decade musical legacy with something new. It wasn’t exactly a seamless transition because Tim is irreplaceable, and he and Trist are very different singers. We weren’t looking to replace Tim’s unique personality, but found in Trist someone who could add a new element to the group and take care of the bottom of the quartet with his true bass.” Curliss reflects, “My personal desire was that the album would sound like The Manhattan Transfer, keeping what they’ve done but bringing a new energy that would come naturally with my strengths as an artist becoming a part of theirs.”
Coinciding with the release of The Junction is a highly anticipated PBS Special featuring The Transfer performing with Take 6 in a dual show the groups call “The Summit.” Part of the public television network’s legendary Soundstage concert series, “The Summit” was taped before a live studio audience at WTTW’s Grainger Studio in Chicago in January 2017. The two groups, which have been touring their richly produced, interactive vocal extravaganza for the past three years, create a unique brotherhood onstage, with songs incorporating their combined 10-part harmony, lively segments including “Battle of the Bands” and a repertoire that includes songs neither band has ever recorded.
While well-renowned for their spectacular re-imaginings of classics like “Java Jive,” “Birdland,” “The Boy From New York City,” “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” and “Route 66,” one of their most acclaimed albums was 1991’s The Offbeat of Avenues, which featured numerous group originals amidst the cover songs. In many ways, The Junction harkens back to that approach, with members of the group writing or co-writing five songs.
Paul’s co-write “Swing Balboa (Down on Riverside)” mixes the classic Balboa swing sound (which originated in Los Angeles in the 1920s) with edgy, modern electro-swing. Paul’s lyrics also re-fashion a 50’s Martin Denny recording called “Paradise Found” into the hopeful and calming, tropical flavored, “The Paradise Within.” Bentyne penned sly lyrics to saxophonist Grace Kelly’s moody, film noir-ish “Blues for Harry Bosch” which reference numerous classic detective movies. Siegel co-wrote and sings lead on the hip, uptempo “Shake Your Boogie (Galactic Vocal Version),” whose story cleverly incorporates a playful element of “Star Wars.”
The songs that The Transfer chose to re-imagine via cool new twists and Warren’s sparkling vocal arrangements perfectly reflect the band’s forward thinking aesthetic and the world they live in late in the 2010s. They launch the ten track set by finding new joy in harmonizing the classic rap of Us3’s early 90’s hip-hop/jazz hit “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” (based on Herbie Hancock’s soul-jazz treasure “Cantaloupe Island”), which the quartet fashions into “Cantaloupe (Flip Out!)” They also bring newfound pleasures and party energy to one of their biggest live crowd pleasers “Tequila,” with Paul adding a colorful lyric line he calls “The Way of the Booze”). Balancing these optimistic bursts are more pointed social commentaries like XTC’s “The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul” and Rickie Lee Jones’ alternately harmonic and dissonant “Ugly Man.”
Beginning with their first performances in the 1970s, The Manhattan Transfer – originally launched by Tim Hauser with a completely different lineup in 1969 - have become cornerstones of contemporary music, known for their amazing versatility, incorporating pop, jazz, R&B, rock and roll, swing, symphonic, and a cappella music. After being signed by the legendary Ahmet Ertegun to Atlantic Records, the group made their recording debut with their self-titled album in 1975. Then known primarily as an East Coast cult act, they expanded their following by starring in their own 1975 CBS-TV variety series as a summer replacement for the iconic Ed Sullivan Show. Beginning as an underground group in New York City, The Manhattan Transfer garnered international popularity when “Chanson D'Amour” from the 1976 Coming Out album became a number one hit in Europe. Paul and Siegel joined in 1972, and Cheryl Bentyne joined after original vocalist Laurel Masse left in 1979.
Defying easy genre categorizations, The Manhattan Transfer became the first act to win Grammy Awards in the pop and jazz categories in one year, 1981: Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for “Boy From New York City” and Best Jazz Performance Duo or Group for “Until I Met You (Corner Pocket).” In 1985, their album Vocalese made history as the single greatest Grammy nominated album in history in one year with 12 nominations. Vocalese earned two Grammys: Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Duo or Group; and Best Vocal Arrangement for Two or More Voices for “Another Night in Tunisia” (won by Bentyne and Bobby McFerrin). This album, which featured jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie, Ron Carter, and the Count Basie Orchestra, changed the perception of The Manhattan Transfer from superstar pop artists to formidable jazz singers.
For Siegel, performing “Birdland” in 1979 at The Grammy Awards was one of her personal highlights, along with singing twice at The White House, and performing at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993 with Little Jimmy Scott. She says the group was blessed to know giants of the music business. “Working with Ahmet Ertegun, Arif Mardin. Artists who are no longer here like Laura Nyro,” she reflects. “We caught the tail end of an era.” The Manhattan Transfer has also sung with musical greats Tony Bennett, Smokey Robinson, Bette Midler, Phil Collins, B.B. King, Chaka Khan, James Taylor, and Frankie Valli of The Four Seasons.
“As our work on The Junction, and the theme of the album, reflects, democracy is the fabric of the group, and has been from the beginning,” says Bentyne, who took leave of the group several times while undergoing treatment for Hodgkins’ lymphoma in the early 2010s, but has since made a complete recovery. “We all have a different take on music and appreciate different styles, so each member brings something to the table that is unique and something the others haven’t thought of. We have tremendous faith in that process. This album is completely us, a true snapshot of who we are right now, having survived so many hardships but looking forward to exciting new chapters in the band’s story. We all give great credit to Mervyn, without whom this project would not have come together as beautifully as it did. His participation, oversight, brilliant arrangements and production helped us make one of the strongest musical statements ever.”
Under Paris Skies
(Sous le Ciel de Paris)
Continuing on his freewheeling journey as a true musical citizen of the world, Nate Najar followed the release of his acclaimed 2016 album This is Nate Najar with performances everywhere from the Newport Jazz Festival on the Isle of Wight and Ronnie Scott’s in London to a week in Australia, including a stop at Bird’s Basement in Melbourne. Over the years, the Florida based jazz guitarist has enthralled audiences across the globe with his trademark acoustic classical guitar with right hand classical performance technique – but no city he has visited has captured his heart quite like Paris.
While Django Reinhardt’s classic “Nuages” has been part of his trio’s set list for years, Najar explores his passion for French pop and jazz like with deeper commitment and purpose than ever before on his new full length album Under Paris Skies, whose title is an English translation of the title track “Sous le Ciel de Paris,” theme to a 1951 French film of the same name. The 11-track collection extends Najar’s creative relationship with Woodward Avenue Records, which released his Christmas in December in 2017. Najar’s affiliation with the popular indie jazz label dates back to “Groove Me,” his 2010 collaboration with Melba Moore that reached the Top 10 of the Billboard Jazz chart.
A warm, soulful, multi-faceted expression of his enduring love for the City of Lights, Under Paris Skies reflects the deep and exciting “rabbit hole” of research Najar did to curate a unique eclectic variety of pop, jazz and classical songs that are played often in France but rarely re-imagined by American jazz artists. One of the inspirations for the project was the wonderful experience he and his trio had performing at Duc des Lombards, a Parisian jazz club; the show was broadcast live over national French radio.
While a deliberate departure from the jam session vibe and stylistically diverse nature of This is Nate Najar, the new album harkens back to his theme-driven earlier projects, Aquarela Do Brasil (2014) and Blues For Night People: The Nate Najar Trio Remembers Charlie Byrd (2012). Under Paris Skies is also a dynamic showcase of the trio’s latest lineup (featuring Washington, DC bassist Tommy Cecil and UK drummer Matt Home) and Najar’s work on his beloved (and trusty!) Ramirez guitar, which was previously Charlie Byrd’s Ramirez. Longtime collaborators of the guitarist, Cecil and Home toured with Najar throughout 2017. “We’re a solid unit, and it felt like the right one to record the new album with,” the guitarist says. Chuck Redd, who has played drums on many previous Najar projects (including Aquarela Do Brasil), adds his lush vibraphone harmonies and solos to two numbers.
“Who doesn’t love Paris, or the idea of Paris?” Najar asks whimsically. “I don’t know anyone who says they don’t want to go there, and if you’ve been, how could you not want to go back? Having played there now a few times, I have a love affair with France, which is a wonderful, romantic place on every level. Artistically, it has always struck me as a place whose culture I wanted to dig deeper into. There is such a rich cultural history, with so much global influence. Paris has traditionally been the center of many movements in classical music, but there’s also an incredible legacy of pop and jazz artists and composers many Americans are not familiar with.
“One great example,” the guitarist adds, “is singer France Gall, who passed away in January. Last October, my wife and I, celebrating our one year anniversary, were there walking along the Seine and one of the vendors was selling LPs. I had already committed to recording an album of French tunes, and I found one of her albums from the early 80s. I wondered what it sounded like. When I heard ‘La Mort Douce’ I knew I could turn her upbeat original version and turn it into something more gentle and intimate.”
That piece, featuring Najar’s thoughtful acoustic improvisations and the subtle harmonic shadings of Cecil’s bass, kicks off a deeply melodic, rhythmically diverse and improvisation-rich exploratory journey. Along the way, Najar pays homage to legendary composer Michel Legrand, via a brisk, lighthearted swing arrangement of “I Will Wait for You,” from the 1964 film Umbrellas of Cherbourg; Django Reinhardt, via a soulful, percussive romp through “Nuages,” featuring the guitartist’s plucky interactions with Chuck Redd’s vibes and Cecil’s bass; and legendary songwriter Serge Gainsbourg with “La Javanaise,” a waltz that Najar re-imagines with a spirited West Indian vibe.
Another key stop Najar makes on Under Paris Skies is the moody, reflective title track “Sous le Ciel de Paris,” from the 1951 film of the same name, penned by composer Hubert Giraud “Every French singer alive or dead has done this song,” he says. The snappy, spirited “Ce Petit Chemin” was originally recorded in the 30’s by a singer named Mireille. Najar and Cecil engage in a hauntingly hypnotic guitar-bass duet of “Apres Un Reve,” which classical composer Gabriel Faure originally wrote for piano and soprano vocal. Redds’ sensual vibes return on the gorgeous Charles Aznavour ballad “Sa Jeunesse” to join forces with Najar’s strings on an easy flowing romantic adventure.
Uptempo, grooving jazz and swing create the buoyant rhythmic foundation of the playful yet intricately rendered Charles Trenet tune “Que reste-til a tous amour?” which became an American standard as “I Wish You Love,” a huge hit for Keely Smith in 1958. Najar wraps the collection with “Chanson du Coeur Brise,” a slightly melancholy, richly improvisational ballad whose raw emotion is underscored by guitarist’s scrapes on the wood; and the breezy, balmy, Brazilian leaning “La Marseillaise,” which Najar says needs “no real explanation. I tried to imagine how Joao Gilberto would approach it and gave it my best shot.”
Though he waited until more than a decade into his prolific recording career to create an album solely dedicated to the musical spirit of Paris, Najar – a native of St. Petersburg, FL who first picked up the guitar at age eight – has long considered Belgian born French legend Django Reinhardt as one of the guitarists who had the greatest impact on his development. The other two are Wes Montgomery and, obvious to anyone who has followed Najar’s career, Charlie Byrd.
His three recordings on Candid Records – including Blues For Night People: The Nate Najar Trio Remembers Charlie Byrd and This Is Nate Najar – earned him accolades from critics and influential jazz voices alike. Rick Anderson of All Music Guide called Najar “one of the most consistently interesting and stylish young guitarists on the jazz scene.” Edward Blanco of All About Jazz wrote, “This is Nate Najar will provide one with an exciting introduction to one of the finest classical guitarists in the business today on a set of music that swings lightly with a touch of class.” Becky Byrd, wife of the late guitarist Charlie Byrd, said, “There is no doubt that there is a piece of Charlie’s soul in Nate’s mind, heart and fingers. Get ready, world, here comes Nate Najar!”
True to Mrs. Byrd’s exhortation, fans throughout the U.S. and Europe have embraced the guitarist’s unique style and stylistic range in a wide variety of settings where his trio has performed. In addition to his frequent shows in London, including performances at the London Jazz Festival, and other international dates, Najar is a mainstay in his home state of Florida, headlining many concerts at The Palladiium Theatre in St. Pete and many other venues. He has also performed at festivals in North Carolina and in the Beltway region around Washington, DC, including the historic Blues Alley.
“Whether I’m performing my own compositions, the music of Charlie Byrd, Jobim or these great songs that capture my joyful affinity for Paris, I am always trying to create an immersive experience that transports the listener to someplace beautiful,” he says. “When I play the guitar, I am presenting an aesthetic and creating a mood for audiences to engage in and embrace, like an ephemeral bubble in which we are all there sharing a transcendent moment in time. I always play as if I’m playing in my living room for good friends, and I want everyone to feel that sense of intimacy with these renditions of French songs I truly cherish. As you listen, I want you to imagine you’re in Paris and feel it all – the majesty of white boulevards, the incredible foliage, the Haussman designed buildings, how the Seine moves along. It’s really a magical place that everyone must experience in their lifetime.”
On “Shatterproof,” the hard driving pop/electronica title track that kicks off her hit 2016 album, Julianna Zobrist hits the listener with force and eloquence all at once, letting the world know, in no uncertain terms, that she was finished with the spiritual game we women play with one another. Her audaciously defiant lyrics find her calling out the way people attempt to use guilt, shame and fear to manipulate one another to adhere to their preferences - while forging a liberating path towards true emotional and spiritual freedom. She sings: “Dear doubt, dear fear . . . I’m done with your games. . .I know what I’ve done/But I won’t let my past define me. . .I’m shatterproof/I won’t let you break me . . .You’re not gonna shake me. . .Dear guilt, dear shame. . .loose your grip on me.” The song quickly became an anthem of female empowerment, a mantra of unshackling and uplift that women across the country needed and wanted to hear. The overwhelming response to the song and its conversation-sparking themes have now inspired Julianna’s breakthrough book Pull It Off: Removing Your Fears and Putting on Confidence.
Discovering a deeper courage behind her convictions than she ever imagined possible, “Jules,” in the volume’s 13 chapters, dynamically and pointedly fuses empowerment with vulnerability, mingling heartfelt and authentic personal stories with research and anecdotes from her life’s three main passions, psychology, science and art. The book is designed to inspire Christians and secular women alike who share a common humanity and a need to understand their true identity and release themselves from what she calls the “shoulding” and expectations of people, culture and society. Yet the rural Iowa City bred “preacher’s kid” also occasionally taps into the heart of stories and timeless lessons from her own faith tradition.
Shining through on every page is Julianna’s unique sense of individualism and desire for others to dare to express who they are, who God made them to be, no matter what their family, friends, place of worship, community, society or culture may say. This ethos extends to the book cover, which shows the singer and author draped head to toe in billows of pink, purple, green, yellow and blue tutus – yes, the kind ballerinas wear. This is truly a fearless dance for the wife of Chicago Cubs second baseman and outfielder (and 2016 World Series MVP) Ben Zobrist and mother of three kids – Zion (age 9), Kruse (age 7) and Blaise (age 2). Unlike most MLB moms that stay at home when their husbands are on the road, Julianna is determined to keep the family together as much as possible during the baseball season. Adhering to a “six day rule” – “so the kids never have to spend more than six days apart from their dad” – they pay their own way to one city per road trip.
Since the release of Shatterproof , Julianna has performed at numerous events and venues around the nation, including a special guest appearance at Wrigley Field during Game 4 of the World Series where she sang a stirring rendition of “God Bless America.” She has been featured by top media across the globe including Forbes, ABC News, Huffington Post, CBS, FOX News, and Sports Illustrated, among others. Her husband also featured Julianna’s single “Alive” as his main “walk up” song during the 2016 MLB season with the history making Chicago Cubs.
The title Pull It Off partly comes from people constantly asking her how she “pulls it off” being a working musician and recording artist married to a ballplayer and raising three kids. Her response is always: “Who’s telling me that I can’t?” She adds, “So much of the book is driven by my desire for both women and men to push themselves to be who it is they want to be. I want them to ask themselves, ‘What do you want to accomplish?’ You only have one life to live. What is it that you want to pull off?” Another reason behind the title is related to her wildly colorful sense of day-to-day fashion. After Ben and her son and daughters, she dedicates the book to “the “Color Kids” like her – and devotes a segment of the book humorously explaining her choice to be a “color kid” herself.
“Throughout my musical career, I have always been a communicator – not simply up there singing and entertaining, but speaking my truth from the stage, sharing my heart and getting people to think,” says Julianna, whose two singles from Shatterproof hit the Billboard charts, with “The Dawn” reaching #30 on the Christian AC Indicator chart and the second single “Alive” hitting the Top 50 on the Christian Digital Songs chart.
“When the album came out I was invited to speak to groups of women about the themes I bring up in the song. There was an overwhelming response from those who wanted me to talk about what I have lived and what so many others have gone through. These feelings of being not enough or too much, desperately needing the approval of people in our lives and wondering if God approves of us the way we are. Doubt and shame are weapons we use to control one another, and they keep us handicapped and bound to the perceptions other people have of us. Yet when you come right down to it, it is impossible to live our lives trying to tiptoe around the consciousness of other people. For me, authenticity is the birthplace of freedom. I became comfortable in my own skin once I realized that I am perfectly created to be the imperfect person I am and God made me to be!”
The opportunity to touch so many women via these live presentations inspired Julianna to embark on a seven month journey of planning and writing that challenged even someone who describes herself as annoyingly organized. She locked herself in a room for five hours a day for seven months – a laborious process made more difficult because of family responsibilities and the reality of having to write a lot in hotel rooms on the road when Ben was traveling with the Cubs.
Pull It Off is divided into three parts that address the key issues of authority, identity and security, in order to reveal the root issue of where our fears stem from. As Julianna writes, “We can then maximize our true identities and lean into our unique gifts due to a grounded belief in our acceptance of others, our acceptance by God, and ultimately the acceptance of ourselves.”
One of the freshest and most impactful concepts that Julianna introduces is her signature phrase “Don’t Should on Me.” Though Julianna explains that the word “shoulding” originated with a friend, she is in the process of trademarking it as a concept that helps people understand a better way to express their opinions – offering them lovingly (“What do you think?” as opposed to commanding, “guilting” and shaming. She writes, “Society loves to should. We like to should on other people. We allow other people to should on us. How you should look. What you should not have worn. What you should say. How you should parent. When you should speak up, when you shouldn’t. What your love relationship should look like. The feminine and masculine expectations attached to living are pregnant with shoulds.”
Julianna continues that it was when she was “neck-deep” in a pile of should that she started to see it all for what it is: “deeply personal preferences about living, based upon an individual opinion or life experience, being directed toward someone else.” She immediately offers a suggestion to help the reader combat the temptation to buy into these “shoulds”: “You are unique and individual, with a unique and individual life. Strangers have not earned the right to speak into how you should be living. Allowing someone to speak directly into your life is an intimate right reserved for very few. Because, of the estimated 108 billion people to have ever walked on planet Earth, who has lived your life?”
Another remarkable aspect of Pull It Off is Julianna’s raw, no holds barred honesty. She wants the reader to know they’re not alone in their times of confusion, doubt and insecurity. She’s been there, done that and dug out of it. She’s not afraid, for instance, to offer the secret to how she and Ben have maintained such a fun relationship: they flirt. “If Ben and I don’t want to grab each other’s butts, laugh while whispering something in the other ear, or kiss a little longer than necessary, I know something is off- with either me or him.” Yet on the flip side, she also remembers their days of struggling, years back when he was earning only $400 a month in the minors – and later, her frustration with seeming to get pregnant every time she was in the process of releasing a record. “Once baby number three entered the world,” she writes, “I traveled all over supporting my husband’s career with one kid on my hip, one holding my hand, and another in the stroller, while still trying to keep my dream alive, writing music until the wee hours. It was exhausting. Is this uncharted territory or is this illegal trespassing? Am I even cut out for this? The self-doubt and uncertainty left me yelling at the top of my lungs.”
Several of Julianna’s most intensely emotional pages follow this revelation in the “Identity” section of Pull It Off. She thought perhaps reading books by “experts” on womanhood and “a woman’s purpose” would help clarify things. She read works by both Christian and secular writers – and after examining her notes, came to a startling conclusion about what these writers were saying: “Our femininity and womanhood are apparently defined by being a mother, a wife, or a maid. Female existence can be boiled down to how we juggle domestic roles and duties.” She spends numerous paragraphs asking the “what ifs” about her own two little girls – and concludes that these books are “full of bull.” She doesn’t fit the stereotype one bit, they may not someday either, and that has to be okay. Years earlier, however, a week before she was to marry Ben, she felt that kind of doubt creep in and even called him to half-joke, “I hope you realize you’re marrying me and not someone else. You see, I hate cooking.” Julianna admits she was always battling against the unspoken expectations of femininity that she, and most likely culture, had placed upon herself.
Pull It Off is full of hard-won truths and revelations by a woman who is still largely a work in progress, but has learned enough about herself and the world to help others break through these stifling ways of thinking. As someone who spends her life in the public eye, Julianna is no stranger to public expectations of what she should do, how she should act, even how she should raise her kids (wait till you read the scene about the woman in the hotel elevator!). Yet in her signature sassy voice – and now in her compelling, equally audacious writing style – she has learned a retort that she hopes will become part of a national conversation about women’s issues: “Don’t Should on Me!” In writing the book, her hope is that others will find the same freedom she has to confront and dismiss the “shoulds,” lean into their unique God-given gifts and live a bold, fearless and confidently vulnerable life.
“I won’t sugarcoat it,” Julianna laughs. “Writing is not easy, and there were times when I would rather have been in labor and had ten more children without meds than get that next paragraph done! But I am proud of the way I persevered, sacrificed time with Ben and the kids and other friends, and fulfilled my commitment to myself to write five hours a day for those seven months. Now I’m excited to share it with the world with the hope of impacting many others – and to leave a legacy for Zion, Kruse and Blaise, and show them what they helped their mom accomplish.”
Safe In the Arms of Time
Often when legendary artists discuss their latest recordings, they’ll claim it’s their greatest work as part of well-orchestrated publicity campaigns seeking to drum up interest from longtime fans who cherish the classics. Yet when Rita Coolidge states that that Safe In The Arms of Time, her new album on Los Angeles based indie label Blue Elan Records, is “the best record I’ve ever done,” her assessment comes from a place of honest reflection in fulfilling her goal “to make a roots record about my own roots.” One listen through these 12 fresh tracks – including the lead single and video “Walking on Water,” featuring Keb’ Mo’ - reveals the kind of organic, bluesy earthiness the singer brought to her 1971 self-titled debut, very different from the polished pop vibe she became best known for for with her string of hits later in the decade.
“To me, ‘Walking on Water’ is about the impermanence of everything, trying to realize what is important in life, and loving each other,” says Coolidge, who co-wrote the song with Keb’ and Jill Colucci. “It was written before the 2016 election, and now of course, with there officially being no such thing as the truth, the lyrics resonate in a different way. My interest in doing this project began with Graham Nash and (famed drummer) Russ Kunkel sending me ‘Doing Fine Without You.’ I told them as soon as I had a record deal in place, I would cut it. That song reminded me so much of my early records, raw and honest, and that song put the wheels in motion for the kind of album I would make. I remember listening to albums in the 70s where every song mattered and there was no filler or fluff. I think that somehow because it became so easy to download individual tracks, we lost sight of making records that spoke as a full body of work. Safe in the Arms of Time is my way of bringing that back.”
Nicknamed “The Delta Lady” by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Leon Russell, Coolidge was an iconic figure throughout the 70s, whose professional and personal associations with rock’s most prominent artists became part of Los Angeles music lore. In the late 60s, the Lafayette, Tennessee native moved to Memphis and was soon singing jingles, demos and background vocals for a number of area bands—including the husband and wife duo, Delaney & Bonnie. When the pair signed their record deal, Coolidge’s rep as an A-list backup singer spread quickly. Cocker enlisted her in that role and as a featured soloist on his Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour; the live album features her singing the lead on “Superstar.” Sessions with other rock royalty followed, including tours and recordings with Eric Clapton (“After Midnight”), Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell and Stephen Stills (“Love The One You’re With”). Her association as an artist with A&M Records lasted nearly 15 years.
In an era when an album per year was the norm, Coolidge released more than a dozen in the years to follow, including 1977's multi-platinum Anytime... Anywhere, which spawned her Billboard Top 10 pop hits “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher” and “We’re All Alone” and the Top 10 Adult Contemporary hit “The Way You Do The Things You Do.” In addition to her catalog of hit singles and soundtrack songs (including “Love Came For Me” from Splash and the James Bond Octopussy theme “All Time High,” a #1 AC hit), Coolidge performed with George Harrison, Roger Waters, Robbie Robertson and Jimmy Buffett.
In 1973, Coolidge married singer, songwriter and actor Kris Kristofferson. During their eight-year union, the pair teamed up for a number of hits and classic albums. In addition to twice being named Country Duo of the Year, they won dual Grammys for “From the Bottle to the Bottom” and “Lover Please.” In the late 90s, Coolidge began exploring her Native American roots as a founding member of Walela, a trio that included Coolidge’s sister Priscilla and Priscilla’s daughter Laura Satterfield; the group, whose name means “hummingbird” in Cherokee, released two studio albums, Walela and Unbearable Love, and performed at the Opening Ceremonies for the 2002 Winter Olympics with Robbie Robertson of The Band.
For the recording of Safe in the Arms of Time, Coolidge and multiple Grammy winning producer Ross Hogarth (Ziggy Marley, Keb’ Mo, Taj Mahal, Van Halen) joined forces with an all-star lineup of musicians (guitarist Dave Grissom, bassist Bob Glaub, keyboardist John “J.T.” Thomas and drummer Brian MacLeod) at L.A.’s Sunset Sound, the famed recording facility where Coolidge recorded her first solo albums for A&M. “Going back to Sunset Sound was like taking a journey into the past - there was a memory down every hallway,” she says.
Although better known for recording the works of some of the world’s greatest songwriters (including Kristofferson, Boz Scaggs, Smokey Robinson and John Barry/Tim Rice), Coolidge is widely recognized for being the uncredited writer of the piano coda of Clapton’s “Layla” – and co-wrote many songs with Walela. True to the album’s very personal nature, Safe In the Arms of Time marks a welcome return to composing; in addition to writing “Walking on Water” and the edgy blues rocker about enduring love, “Naked All Night,” with Keb’ and Colucci, she penned “You Can Fall in Love with former Tom Petty drummer Stan Lynch and naturalist and Emmy Award winning writer Joe Hutto.
The track explores reconnecting with an old flame, as she did with Hutto after decades apart. It embodies one of the album’s most compelling through-lines: it’s never too late. “People need to have an awakening that you can fall in love at any age and it will feel right, like you’re 15,” Coolidge says. “I really wanted to have that message come across on this record. Joe has always been in my heart and mind, and our reunion really proved to me that sometimes love truly is, as we write in the song, ‘safe in the arms of time.’ To me, there’s a thread and connection with all these new songs, which come together to tell my story. I like to think the deeper story is if it happens to me, it will happen to whoever is listening to it. It transcends words and notes and touches the depths of our souls. A lot of people give up on love and their dreams and ultimately themselves, and artists sometimes despair when they’re no longer making hit records. I’m still grateful that I can be out there performing, my gift intact, and that the timbre of my voice can still resonate in people’s hearts.”
Safe in the Arms of Time marks the first new music that Coolidge has recorded since the tragic death in 2014 of her beloved sister Priscilla. The recording of the album also coincided with her relocation from Southern California to a new life in Tallahassee, where in the 60’s, as an art major at Florida State University, she discovered her true calling as a musician. In her 2016 critically acclaimed autobiography Delta Lady: A Memoir, she wrote eloquently about the unique journey of her life: “Sometimes the path is surrounded by rainbows, and sometimes it’s buried in the mud. I’m still here and I still have a lot of gratitude for the whole process of being able to make music. . .Life needs art to express emotions we find too painful or unknowable to express ourselves. To paraphrase Apple’s slogan, whatever you’re going through, there’s a song for that. As my Cherokee grandmother told me when I was a girl in Tennessee, ‘It’s all about listening.’”
With three new singles and her debut EP set for release over the coming months on RoadTown Records/The Orchard/Sony Red, Hunter is ready to begin sharing her timeless, soulful and sultry yet eminently grooving pop/R&B songs with the world.
As she gears up for the highly anticipated rollout of her original material, the multi-talented Los Angeles based singer/songwriter – whose voice Jennifer Lopez once called “smooth like butter” – traces her incredible journey back to a colorful childhood memory that set her musical heart dreaming in the right direction. It was first grade in her original hometown of Holland Michigan, just before the millennium. She came home from school one day with a friend who was sharing the latest rap tune of the moment on her Sony Walkman. Hunter’s dad said, “I’m going to save you from this.” After dropping off her friend, he took her to their local record store and bought her every Beach Boys CD in stock – sparking her lifelong love for vocal harmonies.
Though the family moved to, and Hunter grew up in country and rock friendly small town Montana, she developed her old school sensibilities via a steady flow (thanks to her parents) of jazz, blues and R&B from different eras by artists who only need a single name - Bonnie, Billie, Frank, Ella, Etta, Ray and on through Alicia. “I like to say I followed the Soul Train and it’s always taken me to places I am passionate about.”
As Hunter finds herself firmly in the embrace of imminent pop stardom, a dynamic array of renowned songwriters and producers are hopping on board – including three time Grammy winner Narada Michael Walden, legendary for his hits with Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin & George Michael, Mariah Carey, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, et al; Nash Overstreet from hit pop band Hot Chelle Rae, who has penned tracks for Meghan Trainor, Rachel Platten, Britney Spears; and songwriter and Panic at the Disco guitarist Kenneth Harris. While the tracks Hunter has created with these pop/soul masters comprise mark her official recording debut, she earned over 30,000 views for the lyric video of her 2017 re-imagining of The Beatles’ “Something,” which was included on Instant Love: Songs Between Women, a compilation of rising indie female artists. That track was produced by The Squillante Brothers.
Walden, who collaborates with Hunter on the stunning, heartrending ballad “If I Can’t Have You” and the playfully seductive pop/funk joint “Been So Long,” says, “Hunter is the New wave of soul! She’s got hot pipes, chops and a whole lot of feelin’! And…Beautiful to look at. Hunter will go all the way!!” The singer will also be dropping two tracks touching on different perspectives of longing that she wrote and recorded with Overstreet, the edgy contemporary pop/R&B romp “Patient” and the jangling, hypnotically infectious “Be Mine.” While the vibey heartfelt anthem “For You” was penned by Harris as an affectionate promise to his two year old son, Hunter connected with it immediately as she thought about her survival of and recovery from a harrowing, life threatening car accident she had a few years ago. “It was as if an angel was talking, telling me to be strong, stay here and don’t quit, that I’ll be fine,” she says.
“As a songwriter and artist,” Hunter adds, “I want to emote genuine lyrics that resonate with me on a personal level and want to invite people to feel these emotions with me and understand my true soul as an artist using my natural, unadorned voice - something that’s becoming rarer in this auto-tuned world. My goal is to be original and contemporary but with a timeless sound that transcends the trend of the day. I love variety and find the versatility of my collaborators exhilarating. I’m a curious cat, in that I love walking into a session with someone I’ve never met and asking, ‘How best do you write a song?’ and then tell them I want to do it that way. All this new information and inspiration has been an exciting foundation for my development as a songwriter.”
To continue the “Soul Train” analogy, Hunter laid the foundation for her emergence with some dynamic, high profile stops along the way, including making it to Hollywood Week on “American Idol” (Season 10) and singing “Mercy” on the premiere of Season 4 of “The Voice.” Studying voice and independent artist production and graduating from Hollywood’s famed Musicians Institute, she secured a residency at the West Hollywood hotspot The Nice Guy, performing jazz and R&B classics and the occasional original for club-goers, including Justin Timberlake, Justin Bieber, LA Reid, David Foster, The Kardashians, Drake, Selena Gomez, Nick Jonas, Ryan Seacrest and others.
In addition, Hunter sang demos for various songwriters and producers and performed with The Ryan Sy Band and Matt Cermanski, whom she met on “The Voice.” In October 2017, she joined her friend, Lukas Nelson and his band Promise of the Real, in a powerhouse performance of “Find Yourself” on TBS’ Conan. The original recording of the song featured Lady Gaga on harmony and backing vocals. Nelson, the son of the legendry Willie Nelson, says, “Hunter’s voice is comparable to and as strong as any of the most accomplished singers I’ve ever met. Her soul and passion is equally impressive. I’m happy to get to work with her any chance I get.”
While becoming a professional singer, performer and recording artist has been the center of her career pursuits, Hunter has enjoyed great success over the years as a model and actress, and has been an in-demand presence in music videos and countless national commercials. While still enrolled at MI, she was selected as one of six runway models for Goldwell Hair Color for a yearlong national tour. She later modeled at LA Fashion week for four years in a row for various designers, and recently did a shoot sponsored by Salvatore Ferragamo for her upcoming EP cover. In addition, her shoot for photographer Will Navarro was featured in the 2013 Paris Fashion Week. She describes her fashion sense as “cool and classy, with hints of vintage, Audrey Hepburn-esque Hollywood glam.”
Launching her TV career with a recurring background role as a cigarette girl on CBS’ Dennis Quaid-starrer “Vegas,” she has appeared on NBC’s “Undateable,” CBS’ “The Bold and the Beautiful,” TNT’s “Murder in the First,” Nickelodeon’s “Game Shakers” and the feature film “Me Him Her,” directed by Max Landis. In 2017, she shot her first starring TV role in a pilot for “Spare Me”; writer David O. Whatley heard Hunter’s music and turned her role into one who sings/performs in each episode. Hunter has also been a featured performer in hit music videos by Megadeth (“Super Collider”), Justin Timberlake (“Suit and Tie,” directed by David Fincher) and Brad Paisley’s “Beat This Summer.” Her commercials include spots for Ford, Walmart, Lay’s, Popeye’s, Magic Bullet, Aczone, Mitsubishi, Volvo, Porsche, Samsung, three campaigns for Bass Pro and a spot on a General Auto Insurance commercial which allowed her to do Kung Fu.
A performer from the get-go, Hunter grew up singing show tunes in her bedroom in Boulder, Montana (outside of Helena) for eight hours at a time and by 12 was off to NYC to train at the renowned Stage Door Manor performing arts camp. Bullied throughout her elementary, middle and high school for such things as being friends with everybody and her laser focused love for singing and acting, Hunter found solace in musical theatre and choir. She starred in numerous musicals in high school, including “Annie Get Your Gun,” “The Sound of Music” and “Cheaper by the Dozen.” During this time, she also was the lead singer in her own band All Purpose, performed in over seven choirs and was a member of Helena’s Chamber Singers. Using the money she earned from winning a local singing competition, she formed her own children’s choir for elementary school – which brought vocal performance opportunities to children who had limited or no access previously.
“During my teens, musical theatre and choir were the places where I could step out of my life and lose myself in other people’s stories and songs,
” says Hunter. “Music was always my escape and every time I write, record or perform a new song, I am thinking about bringing something to the world that allows people to escape the way I did, to make them feel good and relate to something I am communicating in a big way. With my background as a performer, I could have pursued many different avenues, but I feel that pop music offers me the best opportunity to touch the most people. The challenge as a new artist is always to balance being a contemporary pop singer with creating my own original sound that stands out and makes an impact. When I moved to L.A. for college, my goal was simply to become a working singer in a fancy lounge and enjoy a fab life – but meeting and working with some of the most amazing and creative people in the industry inspired me to shift gears and shoot for the stars.”
DAVE DAMIANI & THE NO VACANCY ORCHESTRA
Bending the Standard: The Anthology
With the release of their captivatingly titled debut album Bending the Standard: The Anthology, Dave Damiani & The No Vacancy Orchestra make once-old things fresh and new, turn tradition into timelessness and transform the musical masterpieces of eras gone by into suddenly hip, relevant and vibrant expressions of our current American moment.
Led by visionary Los Angeles based singer, songwriter, arranger, producer and bandleader Dave Damiani, the contemporary big band ensemble – known for years as “L.A.’s premiere event band” – offers an expansive, 18-track set of artfully re-imagined Songbook standards, little covered pop rarities, colorful lyrical re-workings of Sinatra-associated treasures and a handful of Damiani originals that vibe seamlessly with the more familiar tunes. The collection’s lead single is a brisk, Latin-flavored stroll through “Come Fly With Me” that showcases the band’s bright, brassy immediacy and the singer’s slyly snappy phrasing. The track also features the pulsing foundation of legendary jazz drummer Peter Erskine.
As one of the city’s premier jazz multi-talents, Damiani has worked with and produced a wide array of popular artists. One of the ways he enjoys Bending the Standard is inviting well known musical friends to the party. He creates transcendent duets with contemporary jazz singer Spencer Day (“Please Be Kind”), “The Voice” alum and Postmodern Jukebox member Maiya Sykes (“Wives & Lovers”) and America’s Got Talent Season 6 winner Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr. (“East of the Sun – And West of the Moon”). Damiani takes the Quincy Jones arranger/producer role on “Bye Bye Blackbird” (featuring Renee Olstead on vocals) and “Come Home To West Virginia,” a showcase for Murphy’s extraordinary vocal talents. The Dave Damiani & Alex Frank - penned tribute to Murphy’s home state was used to raise over $1.5 million to help regional flood victims in 2016.
In addition to putting his unique stamp on Sinatra affiliated songs like “Taking a Chance on Love,” “(How Little It Matters) How Little We Know,” “That’s All” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” Damiani & Frank cleverly and humorously refashions the lyrics to “The Tender Trap” (“The Tinder App”) and “Come Fly With Me (LA Version),” which pays homage to the city’s quirky personalities, sports teams, culinary delights and hangouts. This track is one of several on Bending the Standard to spotlight remarkable American locales. “Manhattan” begins with the orchestra swinging on “New York, New York” before the singer romps through Rodgers and Hart’s “We’ll Take Manhattan,” complete with a riff on the end that includes a “Hamilton” reference. “It’s Pure AC – Atlantic City” is an ode to the famed city and deep musical history, centered around the historic 500 club, where Martin & Lewis got their start and legends like Frank, Nat and Elvis once held court.
Of course, the first person we think of when we hear Damiani sing the soaring words of “Come Fly With Me” is Ol’ Blue Eyes, but he’s earned the praise and endorsement of the Sinatra family precisely because he doesn’t try to, as he says, “be Frank or imitate him in any way, but pay homage” by finding deeper historical and emotional reasons for recording songs indelibly connected to him. Damiani’s music, including tracks from his previous solo albums Watch What Happens (2013) and Midlife Crisis (2015), has been a staple these past years on Siriusly Sinatra, a pop standards-oriented channel (71) on Sirius XM Radio. He has both hosted the weekly segment “Playing Favorites” and been featured on the show with special guest, comedian Joe Piscopo.
Over the years, Damiani & The No Vacancy Orchestra have performed for Leonardo DiCaprio, Larry King (50th Anniversary in show business), Tommy Lasorda (90th Birthday party), Ryan Seacrest, Gene Simmons, David Spade, David Hasselhoff, Jack Klugman, CBS Television, Rupert Murdoch (engagement party at the Wynn Hotel), FOX Television, Wolfgang Puck, Oliver Stone, Ridley Scott, The Beverly Hills Hotel, The Four Seasons, The Ritz Carlton and many other celebrities and legendary entities.
Dave Diamani & the No Vacancy Orchestra will be touring in the Summer of 2018, kicking off July 7 at The Bourbon Room in Atlantic City. Their tour will include performances at Resorts Casino in Atlantic City, Birdland in NYC, Bethesda Blues & Jazz (Bethesda, MD), The Blue Room at the Waldorf Astoria in New Orleans and the Hard Rock in Biloxi, MS.