Artist Profiles, Music

Sara Niemietz: Born for the Stage

Bruce Springsteen claims he was “Born to Run” while John Kay of Steppenwolf singings he was “Born to be Wild.” Musician and singer-songwriter Sara Niemietz, meanwhile, was born for the stage.

Niemietz started her career as a child actress, performing in theatre productions, television shows, film roles and multiple musical performances. Now as an adult, Niemietz is focused on being a musician, singing and writing music. Her new album, “Get Right” was just released on March 22nd.

Most children absolutely have no idea what they want to be when they grow up. Not so for Niemietz. She found out early in her life that she wanted to be on a stage: Singing, playing and performing for an audience. “Music is my first language. I grew up in the arms of melody and harmony,” Niemietz explains. “My mom and dad are tremendous musicians in their own right. Dad sang in rock bands in Chicago and Mom sang in church and played accordion.”

She was just a young child when an event happened that changed her life: “When I was four, my parents took me to my first concert: BJ Thomas,” Niemietz said. “I’d learned his oeuvre, thanks to many car rides singing along with my family. I’m a big fan. He saw me sitting in the front row at his concert singing along, and pulled me up on stage to sing ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ with him. It was even captured on film. That’s when I knew – this (whatever this is!) – this live performance thing – is what I needed to spend my time doing.”

By age 11, Niemietz was singing regularly on stage. If you go to the Sara Niemietz Youtube page, you can she a video of Sara at age 11, singing the Carole King/Gerry Goffin song, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” at the Cat Club on Sunset Strip. Even at this young age, Sara’s vocal range was strong and she was confident with her delivery on the song made famous by Aretha Franklin.

Sara was involved with music, theatre, TV and film productions during her childhood and as a young adult. (To read more about Sara’s many non-musical accomplishments, please go to her official website.

In 2012, Niemietz reunited with B. J. Thomas on the Grand Ole Opry stage and once again sang, “Hooked on a Feeling” with the pop and country singer. She has also worked with Richard Marx and Melissa Manchester with various projects.

Sara Niemietz: Photo by Joerg Preger

During the past few years, Niemietz has collaborated with W.G. Snuffy Walden, who is a musician and a composer. Walden has written hundreds of film and television soundtracks over the years. He has accompanied Niemietz on various music projects. Some are cover versions of songs, while other tunes are original compositions.

Social media is also a huge focus for Niemietz. According to her website, “Sara’s heartfelt songs and highly interactive approach to social media have garnered over nineteen million views and over a hundred fourteen thousand followers and subscribers across various new media platforms.”

The other big activity for Niemietz is being involved with Scott Bradlee’s, Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ) group. PMJ is known for taking popular 21st century contemporary songs and rearranging those songs into a different genre of musical style. Many of the PMJ songs are performed in 1920’s jazz or swing format.

Niemietz’s musical taste is diverse. She enjoys, jazz, blues, swing, pop and rock. When I first communicated with Sara about the possibility of writing her musical story, I shared with Niemietz my blog message, “This is It: Yacht Rock” from last summer. After reading the post, she responded, “I myself am a massive Yacht Rock fan and Steely Dan is my favorite band.”

Obviously, Niemietz is an excellent singer. However, she is much more than just an exceptional voice talent. The 26-year old singer is also an outstanding musician. A quote from her website states: “Sara enjoys playing guitar, bass, and piano, and is often engaged in both singing and writing sessions. She can be frequently found in her natural habitat: live shows.”

W.G. Snuffy Walden and Sara Niemietz performing music. Photo by Danuta Lehmann

As I reflect on Sara’s passion for performing as a musician and singer, I am reminded of 1975 Seals the Crofts song, “I’ll Play For You”:

 

Tonight while the lights are shinin’ and the microphone is on, I’ll play for you.

So many will be the blessings and so short will the time, I’ll stay with you.

 

I’ve practiced many years and I have come a long, long way just to play for you.

My life is but a song that I have written in many ways, just to say to you.

 

And these few moments we’ll share together, and I’ll play for you.

 

The album cover for “Get Right” Sara Niemietz

Last month, Niemietz released a new album, “Get Right,” which she and W.G. Snuffy Walden produced together. Ten songs are on the new album. Nine-songs were written by Niemietz, along with various co-writers. The tenth tune is a cover of “Crying,” a song first made popular by Roy Orbison during 1961.

Here are some of Niemietz’s thoughts from the “Get Right” liner notes: “This album is musical journey that traces the arc of the last year. From magical highs to heartbreaking lows, last year brought love, loss, adventure, confusion, and wonder. Through it all, music helped me to make sense of life. It was a lens through which the picture became a bit more clear. When I’m at a loss trying to wrap my head around my day, myself, the world around, on even simple liner notes (Wink, Wink), music captures what I can’t say. It translates my deepest feelings into something definable and hopefully hummable. In fact, there is a friendly fragment of a melody swirling around my head while I type this. What a good feeling.”

The music on “Get Right” is pop-focused according to Niemietz, but it does incorporate other musical genres. As I listen to the album, I hear some jazz, blues, country and even a little gospel influence as part of the music mix.

The album opens up with, “Waiting on the Day,” which is a perfect tune that sets the tone for Niemietz’s top-notch vocal delivery. Up-tempo songs like, “Feet Don’t Touch the Floor,” “Don’t Leave Me Hanging,” and the title track, “Get Right” are all catchy and pleasing to the ears.

Niemietz showcases her exceptional vocal range on some of the ballads with the new album. “Made to Last,” “Shine,” “Hear Me Now,” and “Crying” all bring out superb and outstanding emotional outpouring when she is singing. To purchase the “Get Right” album, please to go the official Sara Niemietz website.

Currently, Niemietz is in the midst of her “Spring 2019 Tour,” playing in the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Touring with Niemietz is W.G. Snuffy Walden and Jonathan Richards. They will play in Europe through the end of April. Sara also plans to tour in the United States during the summer of 2019.

Being an independent artist without a recording contact, Niemietz has to wear many hats. For her latest, “Get Right” album, she was a producer, musician, singer and the chief promoter for this new project. Niemietz even personally mailed pre-ordered copies of the new album to fans that purchased “Get Right” prior to the March 22nd released date.

Sara Niemietz: Photo by Julien Garros

For Niemietz, one of the positive things about being an independent artist is the freedom to set her own schedule for musical activities. She enjoys interacting with her fans on social media sites as well as performing her songs in concert settings. To view any of her videos online, please go to the Sara Niemietz youtube channel.

Ever since she was four years old, Niemietz knew that she wanted to be on a stage in some type of capacity. The small seed planted at that time has now blossomed into a radiant flower for the world to enjoy. Without a doubt, Sara Niemietz was born for the stage.

 

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Artist Profiles, Music

Annie Lawrence: I Will Survive

Singer-songwriter Annie Lawrence is a survivor. A quote from her website says it all: “Roanoke raised, Nashville girl, has lived through ovarian cancer, a broken back, broken romance and being a preacher’s kid.”

With the life experiences described above, one would think that Lawrence would be an excellent writer of country music songs. However, Annie doesn’t limit herself with a single genre of music as she flows through multiple musical categories with her compositions.

Annie’s own description of her music is “Kitchen sink pop.” She blends an indie-singer vibe with rock, country, contemporary folk, alternative pop and a little bluegrass, for a refreshing musical style. Lawrence has been told by Nashville music producers that her vocal and musical style is somewhere in between Kacey Mugraves and Taylor Swift.

Annie Lawrence promotional photo for “If I’m Being Honest” album.

After I spoke with Annie via phone earlier this month, I couldn’t help but think of Gloria Gaynor’s classic disco hit from the 70’s, “I Will Survive” when thinking about her life story.

 

At first I was afraid, I was petrified,

And I spent, oh, so many nights just feeling sorry for myself

I used to cry but now I hold my head up high

Did you think I’d crumble?

Did you think I’d lay down and die?

 

Oh, no, not I

I will survive

Oh, as long as I know how to love I know I’ll stay alive

I’ve got all my life to live

I’ve got all my love to give

And I’ll survive

I will survive

 

Although “I Will Survive” is not a perfect song to describe Lawrence’s current status, it does reflect the mindset and lifestyle that Annie is now utilizing in her life. You can also understand Annie’s life by listening to her new album, “If I’m Being Honest,” that was just released on March 15.

Born in Roanoke, Virginia, Annie attended Hidden Valley High School and graduated in 2008. Lawrence was a good athlete in high school as she played both volleyball and softball at Hidden Valley.

During Annie’s teen years, she picked up a love for bluegrass from her father Quigg Lawrence, and her biggest influences musically came from Allison Krauss and the Dixie Chicks. She also played piano and sang during worship services at Church of the Holy Spirit, an Anglican parish in Roanoke. The first seeds of a music career were developed at that time.

Annie Lawrence promotional photo

Annie’s love for music grew during her days attending James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where she graduated in 2012. She first started playing guitar during her sophomore year at JMU and performed at various music events on campus.

Lawrence credits many college courses at JMU with helping her to decide on a music career. One JMU class in particular, a song-writing course, gave Annie the desire and courage to pursue music as a lifetime goal.

Another positive influence for Annie during her JMU days was being part of Alethia Church in Harrisonburg. Lawrence played guitar and sang with the worship team. This experience was another reason she went on to pursue a music profession.

Ellie Holcomb with Annie Lawrence

The summer between her junior and senior years at JMU, Annie traveled to Nashville, Tennessee and recorded an EP called, “Light is Stronger.” Lawrence had the opportunity to work with the husband/wife team of Drew & Ellie Holcomb on the album. With this experience, Annie’s goal of a music career was already in gear.

Graduating from JMU with a “Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication” major and a “Music Industry” minor, Annie then set her sights on Nashville and moved there after graduation.

Annie Lawrence performing in Roanoke concert, 3/24/19. Photo by Quigg Lawrence.

Breaking into the music industry is never easy. The Lovin’ Spoonful’s 1967 hit, “Nashville Cats” accurately describes the country music capitol of America:

 

Well, there’s thirteen hundred and fifty two

Guitar pickers in Nashville

And they can pick more notes than the number of ants

On a Tennessee ant hill

 

Yeah, there’s thirteen hundred and fifty two

Guitar cases in Nashville

And any one unpacks his guitar

Can play twice better than I will

 

Annie Lawrence

With thousands of wannabe artists moving to Nashville on a yearly basis, making a living as a music artist is hard. Annie’s story is no different. And to make things even worst, she was diagnosed with cancer in November 2013. “I look back, and it’s all kind of a blur,” Lawrence said. Obviously, this totally rearranged priorities in Annie’s life.

Thankfully, doctors successfully removed the cancer from Annie’s body with surgery and she has been in remission for the past five years. It hasn’t been easy being a cancer survivor as Annie has struggled with various other health issues. Through these struggles, Annie has learned to be strong in spite of her difficulties.

During 2015, Annie recorded and released her first album, “Everything Changes.” Lawrence played mandolin for the first time on the album and singer-songwriter Natalie Grant is featured on the title track. Lawrence’s song writing showed maturity during this time period.

Annie Lawrence with Lauren Daigle

Over the past few years, Annie has toured or collaborated with Jenny & Tyler, Ellie Holcomb, Lauren Daigle, Kayla Woodson and Leslie Jordan of All Sons & Daughters. She also performed on the Grand Ole Opry stage with Natalie Grant five years ago.

Forward to 2019: Annie is extremely happy that her new album, “If I’m Being Honest” is now available for the world to hear. Lawrence’s new full-length album has 11-tracks, with Thomas Doeve and Adam Agin as the producers of this new music.

The album liner describes Lawrence’s new music as: “Inspired by a number of meaningful experiences, Annie draws inspiration from these memories as well as from songwriters including Nicole Galyon, Luke Laird, Shane McAnally.”

“If I’m Being Honest” Annie Lawrence album cover.

Two main themes of Annie’s new album are: understanding that she has been given a second chance in life as a cancer survivor and the overcoming of three broken relationships.

Annie explains, “This project is so much more than a bunch of breakup songs: it’s anxiety, it’s illness, it’s questioning faith, it’s losing people you love, it’s losing yourself, and slowly but surely finding it again, it’s overcoming, it’s triumph, it’s the heart of me, If I’m Being Honest.”

“These are the 11 songs that make up my last 3+ years and there are 5 million things I could say about each one of them. So many feelings, so many memories, so many emotions wrapped into each song.”

“I think you will find that Annie Lawrence is not who you thought she was. That in every situation there’s a lot more then meets the eye. That maybe I’ve never gotten the chance to truly be honest, until now.”

Annie Lawrence

Here are the 11 songs on the “If I Am Being Honest” album.

  1.  Fallin’
  2.  Over Thinkin’
  3.  Ashes & Smoke
  4.  Good Luck
  5.  New York or Me
  6.  Dead To Me
  7.  Losing You
  8.  3 Years
  9.  Out of My Head
  10.  Follow Through
  11.  Last Goodbye

Annie Lawrence and band practicing for “If I’m Being Honest” tour. Photo by Quigg Lawrence.

My favorite song from Annie’s new album is “Good Luck.”

The lyrics begin by mentioning Lafayette, Indiana and it reminds me of a song by the 1970 “one hit wonder” R. Dean Taylor and his number 1 tune, “Indiana Wants Me.”

 

“Indiana wants me

Lord, I can’t go back there

Indiana wants me

Lord, I can’t go back there

I wish I had you to talk to”

 

Annie now has an answer follow up song to “Indiana Wants Me” with her “Good Luck” tune, as she sings during the chorus: “Nothing you can do can bring me back to Indiana, good luck to YOU.” A clever song, indeed!

Annie Lawrence with her guitar

You can purchase Annie’s new album, “If I’m Being Honest” at Annie Lawrence Music.

Lawrence is now touring with a band in support of her new album. Stops include New York City, and four Virginia cities: Vienna, Harrisonburg, Richmond and Roanoke.

Annie’s story is unique to her.   Her life experiences continue to mold and shape who she is and where she is headed in the future. “If I’m Being Honest” is a direct outcome of Annie’s struggles, understanding and acceptance of daily life realities.

When I interviewed Annie, I came away with the following: No matter what trial or tribulation Lawrence faces in life, she is determined to make lemonade out of lemons. “If I’m Being Honest” is a reflection of that mentality. Her honesty in exploring hard topics is refreshing. Without a doubt, Annie Lawrence is a survivor!

 

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Artist Profiles, Concert Reviews, Music

Oshima Brothers: A Maine Treasure

The state of Maine is known for its rocky coastline, lighthouses, lobster, moose, blueberries, Acadia National Park and LL Bean.

Rarely does anyone outside of the Pine Tree State ever think about Maine’s music scene. I predict that will be changing when those outside of New England learn about the Oshima Brothers.

The Oshima Brothers are a musical duo composed of two siblings, older brother Sean, 24, and Jaime, 21. The brothers were born and raised in a rural area near the Maine state capital of Augusta, and now call the mid-coast town of Belfast, Maine their home.

Sean and Jamie have been playing music together as siblings since they were young boys. Their parents are also musicians.

Mom Toki and Dad John regularly played music during contra dances across the state of Maine and gave their sons an appreciation for music by playing multiple instruments. Music has always been the focus for the entire Oshima family.

So you may be wondering: What type of music do the brothers Oshima play? Here is a quote from the Oshima Brothers official website:

“…[T]he brothers have honed a harmony-rich blend of contemporary folk and acoustic pop. On stage, Sean and Jamie create a surprisingly full sound with dynamic vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, octave bass, loops, and percussion.”

Brothers Jamie and Sean both have distinct roles within their band and harmoniously blend individual strengths together to create the unique sound of their musical partnership.

Sean Oshima

Sean is the chief songwriter, business manager, and public relations director and handles all communications for the duo. He plays rhythm guitar, harmonica, and cajón at shows, along with vocal duties. Sean has an exceptional falsetto vocal range.

Jamie Oshima

Jamie is the music maestro, producer, recording/audio engineer and filmmaker for the band. He plays multiple instruments including the electric guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, mandolin, banjo, and fiddle while also recording songs and videos at the Oshima Brothers home studio. Jamie also shares vocal responsibilities with his brother.

I first came to be familiar with the Oshima Brothers band the day before they came to Roanoke, Virginia for a concert. My sister, Kathryn Larson, who lives in New Gloucester, Maine, has actually known Jamie and Sean since they were young boys.

Kathryn is a contra dance caller throughout the state of Maine and the Oshima Brothers, along with their parents John and Toki, have played at many contra dances over the years where Kathryn is the caller.

With Kathryn’s connection, I met Sean and Jamie three hours before their concert at The Spot on Kirk in downtown Roanoke on Monday January 14th. The Oshima Brothers were the opening band for singer-songwriter Caitlin Canty, as both were part of a 13-stop tour that was sponsored by the Americana Music Association.

During my interview with Jamie and Sean, I found out that they formed their band in 2015 and released the self-titled, “Oshima Brothers” album during 2016. They also have a 5-song EP called, “Under the Same Stars” that is currently not released to buy online but was available for purchase for those who attended their concert in Roanoke that evening.

Sean and Jamie Oshima

To get to know the Oshima Brothers better, here are some of the questions I asked Sean and Jaime about their band:

What artists influenced you when you were growing up?

Sean: We have been obsessed with The Beatles forever. We also listened to Jackson 5, Gillian Welch, Jack Johnson. Funk, reggae, traditional fiddle tunes, old country duets.

What type of artists do you listen to in 2019?

Sean: We love all types of music from groovy pop to smooth jazz. We listen to Ray Charles, John Mayer, Tom Misch, The Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver and on and on and on forever.

What is the one thing you most admire about your brother?

Sean: His clear focus. He’s obsessed with all things music. I admire the eagerness with which he dives into musical projects, new recordings, new videos. Jamie’s patience and relentlessness is amazing.

Jamie: I admire Sean’s ability to match his sock color to the occasion, mood, and atmosphere of an event, and his outfit. I don’t know, but he might have 100 pairs of socks. I also like his poetry. It’s pretty good.

Describe the type of music you play?

Sean: It’s sort of like indie-folk-pop. A little mix of everything. It can be groovy and dreamy and smooth and chill and acoustic and electric all at the same time. Rich with harmonies and bass and big drums then stark and sweet with acoustic guitar.

Oshima Brothers equipment

For their Roanoke concert, the Oshima Brothers performed 8 songs. Here is the setlist:

Nine Mile Kite

Ellie

Letter

Hearts As Full As The Moon

Broken

How Deep Is Your Love

These Cold Nights

Calling Your Name

Before Sean and Jamie opened their show, I gave each brother a bottle of Poland Spring water as a welcome to Roanoke and to help them have a pleasant reminder of their beloved home state of Maine.

The opening selection of “Nine Mile Kite” started out with Jaime and Sean wonderfully singing a capella before finishing their song with playing of instruments. An excellent tune to begin their show.

Wonderful harmonies were part of every Oshima Brothers song that was played at the Roanoke show. The concert was a good mix of up-tempo tunes and pleasing slow ballad grooves.

One of the highlights of the evening was the performance of a brand new single, “Ellie” which Sean said that Portland Maine Triple A radio station, WCLZ 98.9 FM is now playing and how it was thrilling hearing their song receiving air play in their home state. With the right radio exposure, I believe “Ellie” could become a hit with a wider audience.

Halfway through the set, Jamie broke out his fiddle for the toe-tapping song, “Broken” which was a crowd favorite. Two other songs that were highlights for the band were “These Cold Nights” and “Hearts as Full as the Moon.” There is a freshness with the Oshima Brothers’ music, with no two songs sounding alike.

Seven of the eight songs performed that evening were original tunes by the brothers. The one cover song they played, “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bees Gees was superb. The falsetto vocal range and harmony of Sean and Jamie equally matched the singing by the Brothers Gibbs on their number 1 song from 1977.

Jamie and Sean’s songs are well crafted. Their harmonies are smooth and flow together beautifully, no matter which song they are performing. I especially enjoy the chord progressions on many of the tunes played by the brothers.

After the Oshima Brothers performed, Caitlin Canty took the stage with her acoustic guitar, laying down excellent tunes with folk, country and introspective storytelling. Accompanying Canty at this concert was Miss Tess, who did an outstanding job playing her upright bass.

Caitlin Canty and Miss Tess. Photo by Jamie Oshima

Since Caitlin toured with the Oshima Brothers on this 13-day January journey, I asked her if she could share some comments about the brothers and their music. Here are Caitlin’s thoughts to me via email at Caitlin Canty’s official website:

“The post-show chatter from the audience was always positive about OB [Oshima Brothers] – my favorite eavesdropped comment was, ‘they are a breath of fresh air.’ They are sweet and hardworking people and I’m sure we’ll hear a lot more good music from them in the years to come.”

Sean and Jamie Oshima

I absolutely agree with Caitlin’s assessment on the Oshima Brothers: I am confident that Sean and Jamie’s music will become popular to a wider audience and we will be blessed to hear much more new music from the brothers in the future. The Oshima Brothers are a Maine Treasure!

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Artist Profiles, Music

Jen Lilley: Music with a Cause

Recently I read on social media “that nothing good ever comes out of Roanoke.” Obviously the folks that propagate such myths have never educated themselves about Jen Lilley. The Roanoke, Virginia native is already a successful actress and is now embarking on a new music career in addition to her work on TV and film projects.

I had the opportunity to chat with Jen in a phone interview last week as she discussed growing up in Roanoke and influences on her music career during childhood and teen years. We also talked about her new brand single, “King of Hearts” and Lilley’s upcoming ten-song album that will be released in February 2019.

Before I share Jen’s story, here is the bio taken from her official website: “A star on both the silver and small screens, including the Academy Award-winning film THE ARTIST, NBC’s iconic daytime series “Days of Our Lives,” ABC’s “General Hospital,” and a regular leading lady on the Hallmark Channel, actress/singer/philanthropist Jen Lilley has tackled countless roles throughout her illustrious career.”

Lilley was born and raised in my hometown of Roanoke, Virginia. Jen is one of four siblings raised by her parents Vincent and Ellen. I first came to know the Lilley family through Jen’s sister Katherine. My daughter Stephanie and Katherine are friends, with both graduating together at two schools: Hidden Valley High School in 2010 and James Madison University in 2014.

Although much can be written on Jen’s career as an actress, I will be focusing mostly on her music career for the remaining part of this message.

During the beginning of our phone conversation, I asked Jen to describe her early musical memories and influences while she was growing up in Roanoke. Lilley’s first memory is priceless.

When Lilley was 4 years old, her parents said she could be anything she wanted to be when she grew up. Jen answered, “Anything?” Her parents then confirmed their statement was true. Jen responded to her mom and dad with, “Then I am going to be a bird so I can sing all day!”

Other fond memories for Jen were weekly shopping trips to Kroger with her father. During these trips, Jen’s dad would turn on the car radio to an oldies radio station and they would sing together Motown classics such as “My Girl” by the Temptations, British Invasion songs from the 60’s and classic rock tunes from the 70’s. These father-daughter moments are still cherished memories for Jen.

The other significant event in Jen’s childhood was her parents’ decision to attend Church of the Holy Spirit, an Anglican parish. Jen began attending a Sunday school class on a regular basis and started understanding the teachings of the Bible. It was at that time that she became a Christian. Her decision has continued to guide her path even to this day.

Music played a large part in Jen’s teen years, as she was a member of the worship team at the church her family attended during her high school career. Lilley also performed multiple concerts down in Guatemala when she was 16 and the group that she toured with received the National Educators Award of Guatemala during that trip.

Jen graduated from Cave Spring High School and then attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville for undergraduate studies.

By the time that Jen started her freshman year at University of Virginia, she gave up her dream of singing and started thinking about alternative career options. Lilley wanted to select a career that she could use as a platform to do good. She considered becoming a lawyer, doctor, geologist or teacher but eventually Lilley “got bit by the acting bug.”

It was at the University of Virginia that Jen started her acting career in a film called, “The Loss of Life.” Because of her new love for acting, Lilley completed her education early with a bachelor’s degree and graduated with magna cum laude honors.

Just out of college, Jen taught kindergarten during the daytime and waited on tables at a restaurant during nights. Then in 2007, two important events happened: She moved to Los Angeles, California and married her husband Jason Wayne. During the wedding reception, Jen danced with her father to the sounds of “My Girl” by the Temptations.

The first time that Lilley pursued any type of music as an adult was in 2014 when she recorded a Christmas single, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” with her “TV husband” Eric Martsolf, from the soap opera “Days of Our Lives.” The single became a top downloaded Christmas song on Apple iTunes during the 2014 holiday season.

With the success of “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” Lilley recorded an entire album of Christmas music entitled “Tinsel Time” the following year. According to Lilley, “Tinsel Time” was the number 1 Christmas album on the Amazon Swing Chart during December 2015 and out-sold albums by Frank Sinatra (Jen’s favorite artist of all time), Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald and Harry Connick, Jr.

Although both the “Baby It’s Cold Outside” single and the “Tinsel Time” Christmas album were both successful, Lilley had no intention of pursuing any more recording opportunities as a singer. In fact, Jen totally rejected the idea that she would ever record another album.

However, Jen’s plans changed. Through a series of events, Lilley’s childhood dream of being a singer with a music career started becoming reality. When Jen was describing to me the timeline of how the recording of her new album came about, I was totally amazed at how the pieces of the puzzle came together for the Roanoke native. “It was like various scenes from one of my Hallmark movies,” Jen stated to me on how she came to meet producer Adrian Gurvitz.

Born in Britain, Adrian Gurvitz is a singer, songwriter, musician and record producer. At age 20, his band Gun had a Top 10 hit in the U.K. with “Race With the Devil.” In 1982, Gurvitz had a solo top ten British hit with the song “Classic” and he wrote “The Love in Your Eyes” which was a number 1 rock song for Eddie Money in 1988. Gurvitz also co-wrote “Even If My Heart Would Break,” performed by Kenny G and Aaron Neville, which was on the legendary 1992, “The Bodyguard” soundtrack.

Under the guidance of producer Gurvitz, Lilley has recorded 10 tracks for an album that is due to be released in February 2019. All songs on the upcoming album deal with love, loss and relationships. One of the songs that will be on the album is “King of Hearts.”

Released less than two weeks ago, “King of Hearts” is the first single from Lilley’s new album. The music on Jen’s song features Rosie Danvers and her 50-piece orchestra. Lilley’s strong vocals have a 60’s Motown vibe, similar to the legendary girl groups from that era of pop music.

The best description that I can write about “King of Hearts” is to quote a portion of an email that I sent to Jen after I heard her song for the very first time:

“So this morning I am listening to the “King of Hearts” track and this is a perfect song for a single to kick off your new album.

Things I love about the song: It is catchy and has a 60’s Motown kind of groove. I love your voice on this tune and it reminds me of an old school R&B singer. I am calling it blue-eyed soul (even though your eyes may be brown or green).

The best comparison of your voice to me is with 60’s and 70’s British singer Dusty Springfield.   Another aspect I like about the song is the use of strings. So much of the music released here in 2018 is Electronic Dance Music (EDM) that uses auto-tune for voices and fake instruments. You song is refreshingly different than all of those types of songs.”

 

 

 

As you just read from my message to Jen, the “King of Hearts” single is excellent. Lilley’s upcoming album also promises to have more superb songs just like her current single. “King of Hearts” is now available for purchase and you can also pre order Lilley’s new album at www.jenlilleymusic.com 

The most refreshing thing I see about Lilley and her new music endeavor is simple: Instead of trying to achieve fame, fortune and a chance to enrich her own pockets with wealth, she is following Biblical principles and giving her money away! I am encouraged that Jen is following the teachings of Jesus in the area of money stewardship.

100% of the money that Jen will be receiving from the purchase of the “King of Hearts” single, the pre order sales of her new album and any Jen Lilley gear (t-shirts, hoodies) bought, will be going to help children. Here is where money will be going:

  1. The first 6,500 dollars will be given to help save the life of an 11 year-old boy from Uganda that needs heart surgery.
  2. The next money raised will be going to Project Orphans, an organization in Uganda that helps foster children and empowers women with relief work and spiritual mentorship. Money sent will be used for monthly operating expenses for that organization.
  3. The final area where money would go is for the creation of an orphan village in California. It has been Jen’s dream to create a safe environment for foster children that fall through the cracks in her home state of California.

Here is a quote from Jen on Project Orphans and her dream to create an orphan village in California:

“The whole point of the album for me, and I don’t know that I would ever be able to do it, but my God-sized dream is that I want to build a village for children who have been orphaned by the foster system; where they can come and be adopted. Or young teen moms can get support. Or if they age out of the system, give them a place to come so they have somewhere to stay – especially during the holidays because they don’t have any family. That’s my long-term goal.”

For now, though, her focus remains on Project Orphans, and all of the good that she and her fans can achieve with “King of Hearts” and upcoming album sales.

As I spoke with Jen during our phone chat, I realized the passion she has for foster children and the plight that many of these boys and girls face with uncertain futures. I applaud Lilley for her compassion and advocacy for boys and girls that struggle to find a safe environment once leaving foster care. Thanks to Jen for her role communicating this issue: This is excellent!

Jen Lilley’s story as a singer is not yet complete. Who knows where the “King of Hearts” single and her new album will lead? While no one knows the future, I am confident that she will continue to use her platform as an actress and singer for the advancement of positive change.

Links to Jen’s various online sites:

www.jenlilley.com 

www.jenlilleymusic.com

Instagram

Twitter

Facebook.com/JenLilleyOfficial

 

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Artist Profiles

Kayla Woodson: Up & Coming Country Rock Singer

The definition of “up-and-coming” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary says: Gaining prominence and likely to advance or succeed.   That is exactly how I would describe country rock singer Kayla Woodson. Originally from Waggaman, Louisiana, she now calls Nashville, Tennessee her home and is a rising star in the music industry.

So those of you who are astute may be thinking: DJ Dave Woodson must be promoting his daughter, niece, cousin or some other close relative with this latest blog? Obviously, I share the same last name as Kayla but we are not close relatives. Most likely we are 10th cousins, just about like all other people with the Woodson surname in America.

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Kayla via phone for the first time and got to learn of her music career. Among the things I learned: Kayla was a child music prodigy at a young age and started singing publicly at age 4 as a hobby. When Kayla was 7 years old, she performed regularly with Opry shows in Texas and Louisiana.

By age 10, Kayla fronted her own band for the first time and played at various locations throughout the South. Her musical performances continued during her early teen years and at age 15, Kayla wrote her own music and recorded an album called “I’m Moving On.”

After graduation from high school, Kayla moved to Nashville to attend Belmont University in 2012. Kayla received her BS degree from Belmont in 2016, with a major in Entertainment Industry Studies and a minor in Music Business. She continues to make Nashville her home since graduation from college.

In 2014, Kayla was at a Hard Rock Café in the Dominican Republic when she unexpectedly got called up on stage while country music trio Lady Antebellum was performing the song “American Honey.” Kayla then sang the song with the country group through the ending of the former number one country tune. After the song ended, Lady Antebellum lead singer Hillary Scott briefly interviewed Kayla before she left the stage.

While Kayla was getting her college degree during 2015, she performed on the Hard Rock stage at the CMA Music fest and released her first single, “Fan for the Flame ” to country music radio stations in America. The song is about a woman who has been scorned once but is refusing to play the fool multiple times. Kayla’s vocals are sassy on this catchy tune.

At the end of Kayla’s senior year at Belmont, she released her self-titled 5-song EP “Kayla Woodson” during April 2016. Every song was either written or co-written by Kayla and the EP shows a wide range of music styles along with powerful vocals by the Louisiana native.

During the past year Kayla has been busy writing new songs, playing with her own band and performing with other artists like Emma Place and Annie Lawrence around the Nashville area and around the South.

One of the current 24-year old singer’s latest projects is the recording of a new song, “Unfixable” which was written by Kayla along with co-writer Andrew Peebles. It is a powerful song but don’t just take my word about Kayla’s newest song and video for “Unfixable.” Here is what Kayla says about her new tune:

“I wrote ‘Unfixable’ with my co-writer Andrew Peebles, and by the time we were done writing the song I knew that I had to release it as my next single. It’s more of an emotional song that shows way more vulnerability than I have ever shown through my music. It’s about that moment when you love someone so much that you can’t walk away from them even though you know the relationship is not good for you. You’re essentially begging this person to cause you pain and in turn make your connection unfixable, so that it gives you enough reason to walk away from them. I’m so excited for the world to hear this song and I hope you all love it as much as I do!”

Up to this point you may think Kayla is just a country singer. However, she doesn’t limit herself to that genre of music: Kayla also rocks! Her dynamic voice is also well suited to sing rock music. From power ballads and straight up classic rock tunes, Kayla delivers the goods when singing rock songs during her concerts.

When I spoke with Kayla, I was curious what kind of set list that she and her band perform when out on the concert trail. While she sings much of her own material, Kayla also performs selected cover version of popular songs in rock and country plus occasionally singing Motown classic songs.

Two rock song covers that Kayla keeps in her set list are The Outlaw’s “Your Love” and “Guns N Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine.”   With the country covers, she regularly sings Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine.” When Kayla goes Motown, she performs either Stevie Wonder’s “Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours” or Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.”

So what kind of music does Kayla listen to on a regular basis? She described her music favorites as a “Louisiana Gumbo Pot” meaning lots of variety all mixed together into one bowl. I asked Kayla some questions about her favorite music and here are the answers:

  • Favorite Rock Groups: Journey and Gun N Roses
  • Favorite Motown Artists: Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin
  • Favorite Country Artists: Dolly Parton and Carrie Underwood
  • Favorite Journey Song: “Wheel in the Sky”
  • Last Album Played: “Golden Hour” Kasey Musgraves

For the rest of the summer and into the fall, Kayla is taking time to write new songs and will be touring with her band in Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana and Alabama. You can always get Kayla’s up to date concert information here.

You can listen or purchase Kayla’s music at either iTunes or Spotify.

You can also access Kayla’s Facebook here and her official website here

“Ooh, the wheel in the sky keeps on turning

I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow

Wheel in the sky keeps on turning.”

The chorus to Journey’s song “Wheel in the Sky” that I quoted above accurately describes Kayla upcoming musical journey. Her path is yet to be written. As I see things, Kayla Woodson has a bright future as a country/rock singer. I am confident that bigger and better things will be happening in the future during Kayla’s career. Rock on!

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