Biography Andy Frasco & the U.N.

This isn’t a show. It’s a street party. You join us on Day 142 of Andy Frasco & The U.N.’s 2016 world tour, and in the sleepy German town of Bamberg, all hell is breaking loose. Fans invade the stage. Tubas are set on fire. And at the eye of the storm, there’s the frontman himself: a wild-haired whirling dervish who spends opening song C Boogie bucking his hips, hammering on his piano keys and dancing in the front row. “We’re recording a live album in your town,” Frasco announces to the crowd. “It’s gonna be awesome…”

That album is Songs From The Road: a new CD/DVD set from Ruf Records that captures all the full-throttle mayhem. There is, quite simply, nothing like an Andy Frasco & The U.N. show. While other bands trudge through the setlist, these renegades rocket-fuel the songs from their four studio albums – including 2016’s breakthrough Happy Bastards – and leave fans with mile-wide grins. “Basically, we’re trying to freak people out,” explains Frasco. “I want people to be spiritually uplifted and happy – and also make them think a little bit.”

Live bands don’t get this good overnight. Frasco’s own story goes back to the suburbs of post-millennial Los Angeles, where at the tender age of 13, he used his industrial-strength charm to blag a job as a record label executive, fitting maths classes around business calls. Aged just 16, he was touring the States with one of his signings. “I grew up too quick,” he reflects. “I fell in love with the road and I just kept going. Failure was not an option for me.”

In his early years as a hype man, Frasco always had charisma in spades, but he’ll admit that he “bullshitted my way til I finally learned how to sing and play piano”. In 2007, he pulled together The U.N. from the cream of the international scene and set out on a world tour that has never really ended. “This band is a group of gypsies,” he says. “We’ve been living in a van for ten years straight, doing 250 shows a year. That’s really not the norm. We’re basically blue-collar musicians, on the road every day, making a living. We might be sleeping on guitar cases, guitar amps, someone’s floor – but we’re happy. We’re fulfilling our dream.

“The Van Morrisons and The Bands of this world,” he continues, “in the early years, they’d play in every coffee shop and grungy bar, y’know, getting pink eye from a dirty couch. But you’re gonna have to deal with all that for the bigger purpose. And the bigger purpose is about trying to make people happy, as much as you can.”

Since the release of 2016’s Happy Bastards, everyone wants a piece of them. With material that took in funk, soul, rock, roots and the band’s self-styled “party blues”, this was an album that you knew would sound amazing live. Sure enough, as The U.N. take the stage in Bamberg, songs like the funky Tie You Up and the stomp singalong of Mature As Fuck have never sounded better. “That song is basically about doing stuff for yourself and not worrying what other people think of you,” explains Frasco, “because you’re a grown-ass man.”

You’ll also find highlights from The U.N.’s back catalogue, with Frasco revisiting his acclaimed 2014 album Half A Man for songs like Sunny Day Soldier and Stop Fucking Around. “I don’t have a setlist,” he says. “I like to see who the audience is. Big influences of mine as a frontman are the Frank Sinatras and the James Browns, and how they controlled the show.”

And Frasco certainly does that. As night falls in Bamberg, his megawatt energy only seems to crank up, whether he’s leaping onto the monitors, bringing local kids onstage to dance or directing the crowd to either side of the town square (“Left! Right!”). At last, just when it seems the performance can’t get any more anarchic, the band pulls out a bristling cover of Rage Against The Machine’s classic Killing In The Name, with Frasco encouraging the crowd to raise their middle fingers in defiance. “Be whoever you want to be,” he tells them as a parting shot. “Now let’s get the fuck out of here…”

If you haven’t seen Andy Frasco & The U.N. on the stage yet, you’re missing one of the great live bands of our times. But with Songs From The Road, you get a front-row seat. “I try to make our live shows a celebration,” says Frasco. “We’re just trying to get people out of their heads for a couple hours and live in the moment. I feel like Songs From The Road emulates what our band really is, better than any recording we've done to date.”

Biography Tasha Taylor

Tasha Taylor has always carried the torch for Soul and Blues. Now, with her dazzling third album, Honey For The Biscuit, the US singer/songwriter/musician unveils thirteen new songs that push her beloved genre into the spotlight. “I’m carrying on the next generation of rhythm, blues and soul,” says Tasha. “Bridging the gap between one generation and another. It’s my family business – as well as my passion.”
As the daughter of R&B trailblazer and Stax giant Johnnie Taylor, Tasha’s genealogy is auspicious. And yet, while lesser talents might trade on that hallowed surname, Honey For The Biscuit is a personal statement bearing her own unique thumbprint. “I started writing this record three years ago,” recalls the singer/producer, “and I wrote most of the songs on my guitar. This record has a lot about relationship heartache, missteps and some confusion. I think it’s about searching for something via someone.”
Recorded in LA, Tasha was joined in the studio with the core band. Tasha Taylor (Vocals, guitar, percussion), Nathan Watts (bass), John Notto (guitar), Jon Taylor (guitar), Don Wyatt (piano/organ) and Munjungo Jackson (percussion), Gerry Brown, Ronald Bruner, and Stanley Randolph (drums), and Jamelle Williams, Matthew DeMeritt, and Lemar Buillary (horns), Honey For The Biscuit is a thrilling reboot of the great American genres, taking in soul, funk and every shade of blue. “I always bring a soul element,” notes Tasha, “and this record also has a touch of Nashville, which was a new thing for me to explore. Three songs were written with Tom Hambridge and Richard Flemming, (Leave That Dog Alone, How Long and Weatherman) and overall this record has more of my blues side exposed, from subject matter, to musicianship. It also inspires some dancing, so be ready for that!” Special songs dovetail with special guests. There’s the light-footed guitar lick and gang chants of "Family Tree" (featuring Keb’ Mo’). The handclaps and doo-wop refrain of "Little Miss Suzie" (Robert Randolph guesting on lap steel). The full-throttle, funky ode to a cheating man on "Leave That Dog Alone" (Samantha Fish supplying fiery guitar/vocals). The brassy belt of "Same Old Thing" (Tommy Castro at the microphone). “I got very lucky and got some great friends to play,” smiles Tasha. “Nice honey for my record…”      
Even amongst that blues royalty, it’s Tasha’s neck-tingling vocal that demands top billing, her raw delivery digging to the emotional depths. The lyric sheet, meanwhile, opens up her diary from a period of upheaval. “It’s been nice looking back on what is essentially a snapshot of my life,” she admits, “and realizing what you can learn from your experiences. There’s a lot of testimonials about dealing with and searching for stuff, about love, lust and life. I think I’ve come through a lot of stuff when I hear this record, and I’m glad to have those lessons in my pocket.”     
It’d take more than a broken heart to break her stride. Flick through her backstory and it’s clear that Tasha hasn’t just inherited her father’s talent, but also his tireless work ethic. Though raised in Dallas, Texas, her de facto childhood home was the tourbus. “I didn’t have a lot in common with other kids’ family lives,” she reflects. “On the road, that’s where I grew up. It was a very different job for one’s dad to have, but I learned the most from watching him on stage from the wings.” For a period, Tasha seemed bound to a different road, as she moved north to study drama at Boston University, before taking featured roles in hit TV shows including Ugly Betty and House. It’s a parallel career that continues to thrive, but the music in her DNA could not be denied, and Tasha went on to compose original soundtracks for shows like Men In Trees and Lipstick Jungle, before making ripples with her own solo debut, 2008’s Revival.
Three years later, that album was followed up by Taylormade: a whip-smart set of Tasha’s self-penned material that tipped its hat to her late father with a spring-heeled cover of Who’s Makin’ Love. “He was an inspiration and a special talent,” she reflects. “I remember being on the road with my dad and if I was worn-out or sick, he’d say, ‘You don’t have to sing if you don’t feel good – or you can be a trouper’. I guess I always choose to be a trouper.” True to Taylor Snr’s advice and example, Tasha has earned an international reputation for high-velocity shows that leave it all on the stage and lift her audiences above their troubles. “It’s very high-energy and deep emotion,” she explains. “Onstage, I feel the soul of the music, and I put my everything into my performances because of that. I love to see the audience connecting to the emotion of the music.”  
In 2016, Tasha hits stages across Europe and America armed with Honey For The Biscuit: the breakout third record that realizes her potential, spreads the word about the genre she has always championed, and carries that magical surname into a bold new age. “If one person leaves with a new favorite song,” she considers, “then I’m happy…”

Biography Layla Zoe

Give Layla Zoe a stage and she’ll show you magic. In a world of choreography and Autotune, this is one performer who does it the old-fashioned way, digging deep, summoning a smoke-and-whisky vocal, leaving it all on the stage and sending breathless fans out into the night to spread the word. “For me,” says Layla, “there is nothing as satisfying as being on stage with my band, giving my heart to the fans, through music. I like to write songs, I enjoy being in the studio, but the live shows are the reason I love my job so much. I am so excited to finally be able to offer a live DVD to my fans because they have been asking for one for so long.” It’s true: after twelve years and ten internationally acclaimed albums, a live DVD was the only thing that Layla had still to achieve in her triumphant early career. There was the post-millennial breakout on the local circuit in Canada (“She’s created probably the biggest buzz vocally of any singer I’ve heard about in years in Toronto,” noted late blues great and friend Jeff Healey). There was the debut album of 2005. The hook-ups with luminaries from Henrik Freischlader to Sonny Landreth. The global breakthrough of 2013’s The Lily (dubbed “thrilling” by The Blues) and last year’s Breaking Free (hailed for its “passion and integrity”). As Layla conquered the planet – both on her own headline tours and Ruf’s Blues Caravan – her growing fanbase demanded a full-length audio-visual release to relive those wild nights. And in 2017, with the Songs From The Road CD/DVD set, the wait is finally over. From her opening battlecry on Backstage Queen – “Oh little girl, where are you going to?” – the Canadian has the listener in the palm of her hand, whether you were lucky enough to be on the front row at the Hirsch club in Nuernberg, Germany, on March 21st, 2017, or are catching up now from the comfort of your home. “The audience was filled with familiar faces when we recorded that night,” remembers Layla, “and the energy was perfect.” Layla’s once-a-generation voice and livewire stagecraft might be the chief focal point, but she’s quick to acknowledge the stellar engine room provided by the flamboyant Jan Laacks (guitar, talkbox and backing vocals), the rock-steady Christoph Hübner (bass and backing vocals) and the seismic driving force of Claus Schulte (drums and backing vocals). “It was a special show,” she says, “because I am really happy with my band right now, they are all fantastic musicians and lovely people to work with on and off stage.” Of course, the other vital ingredient is the setlist. Ever since Layla fell for the treasures of her father’s vinyl collection as a teenager, she’s shot for the same heights, and the Songs From The Road tracklist takes in everything from blues and gospel to spring-heeled soul. Long-time fans will be delighted to hear her rewind the reels with Pull Yourself Together – taken from 2011’s Sleep Little Girl – and revisit The Lily with the rolling Why You So Afraid and the blues bounce of Never Met A Man Like You. As Layla reminds the crowd at one point: “Anything is possible tonight.” And yet, for this questing performer, it’s more about the here-and-now than past glories. As such, you’ll find plenty of songs from Layla’s most recent Breaking Free release, including the wistful A Good Man, the country-tinged Sweet Angel, the glistening Hendrixian balladry of Why Do We Hurt The Ones We Love, Run Away’s powerhouse groove – and the fearless socio-political commentary that drives Highway Of Tears. “This is a song I wrote for the native Aboriginal women of Canada that have gone missing and been murdered,” she explains. “It’s a difficult thing to talk about. So instead I’m going to sing about it.” More than just a live album, Songs From The Road is a visceral snapshot, catching a world-class talent at the height of her powers, as she runs the emotional gamut in song and takes you along for the ride. “My show is raw, honest, emotional and intense,” says Layla. “People often say they’re moved to tears at my shows, and I feel it’s important that I give everything I have to my audience. I rip people’s hearts out – and then I put them back in…”

Biography Ina Forsman

Ina Forsman is the one you’ve been waiting for. Maybe you’ve caught a glimpse of her on the blues stages of Europe, blowing out the speakers with that burnt-honey voice. Perhaps you marked her for future greatness when she represented Finland at the 2014 European Blues Challenge, or during her early guest spots with Guy Verlinde and Helge Tallqvist. Now, as this next-big-thing releases her self-titled debut album – and rocks the house on the famous Ruf Records Blues Caravan 2016 – it’s time for a proper introduction.
Released on Ruf Records, Ina Forsman is everything that great music used to be: real, raw, written from the heart and shot from the hip. Likewise, Ina herself is everything that great frontwomen are meant to be: enigmatic, honest, passionate and dangerous. By the time you’ve heard these ten self-penned songs – plus a stellar cover of Nina Simone’s “I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl “– you’ll know her inside-out, and want to know more. Read on.
Play Ina Forsman and the first thing that hits you is the voice. That astonishing delivery is a major weapon in Ina’s arsenal, and the icing on the big-band brass and soul-blues piano of these breakup and redemption songs. Growing up in Helsinki, Finland, she always hoped it would take her places. “I was six years old when I first said out loud that I wanted to be a singer. My influences go back to the time my aunt gave me my first Christina Aguilera album when I was seven. For me, a great singer is someone who has power in their voice and isn’t afraid to use it, in all of its colours and shades.”
Yet Ina’s debut album goes far deeper than a God-given voicebox. These eleven songs speak of an artist who lives and breathes the blues, having gigged from the age of seventeen and received guidance in the genre from Finnish harmonica legend Helge Tallqvist. “Helge was the first person who introduced blues to me,” she remembers. “He took me to the studio and put our band together a couple of years ago. There aren’t enough words to describe how much I learnt from him. So much about music, but also about organising gigs, doing the boring paperwork, and life in general.”
Perhaps the most crucial lesson that Ina took from her mentor was that music has to be a personal expression. As such, while her early setlists relied on covers, for her debut album, she penned all the lyrics, while co-writing the music with principal collaborator Tomi Leino. “For me,” stresses Ina, “it’s very important to sound original. There is no other way for me than to write the songs on my own. I have a story and no one else can tell it quite like I do.
“All the songs are about love and its ups and downs,” she adds. “They have a story behind them and are very personal to me, though some are more serious and deeper than others. For example, the song “Pretty Messed Up” is a last love-letter to my ex-boyfriend, and “Bubbly Kisses” is about drunk sex.”
As for the musical direction, there were no limits. “When I started to look for inspiration for this album, I searched for new music everywhere. I went to record stores, on YouTube, Spotify, just every possible place where I could find something I haven’t heard before. Mostly, I listened old soul and blues records – artists like Donny Hathaway, Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke – so this idea of a blues album turned into a soul/blues album. Mostly, it just came out that way, without much planning or trying to get a specific vibe.”
When it came to the album sessions, Ina also looked towards America, tracking at Wire Recording in Austin, Texas, where her band included Laura Chavez and Derek O’Brien (guitars), Nick Connolly (keys/organ), Russell Jackson (bass) and Tommy Taylor (drums) – plus guest harp from Helge Tallqvist and brass from The Texas Horns, led by producer/saxophonist Mark ‘Kaz’ Kazanoff. “I was so happy the whole time,” she remembers. “The week that I spent in Austin is gonna be my favourite memory for a long time. I got to work with amazing, talented people in a beautiful city on the other side of the planet from where I live. A while back, I didn’t dare to even dream about something like that. We worked so hard, and after every day I was more tired – but also more excited to go back to the studio.”
You can hear the joy in the results. At a time when most blues albums are dominated by chugging guitar, Ina’s debut truly swings, evoking a brassy soul-blues session from a bygone era, but imbued with the singer’s modern attitude. “All my favourite songs always had piano or brass on them,” she says of the varied instrumentation. “Piano and saxophone are my favourite instruments, so it was obvious from the start.”
With a classic debut album in her back pocket and major international touring plans afoot, many are tipping Ina Forsman as the breakthrough artist of 2016. As for the singer herself, she prefers to ignore the predictions, live in the moment and let her creativity take the lead. “Sometimes,” she considers, “it’s good to just let the music take you there. My next album might be totally different – and it probably will be. That’s what makes songwriting so exciting, because you never know where your next inspiration will come from…”

Biography Heather Crosse

A lot of today's emerging blues artists serve up the music with a healthy side order of rock. Heather Crosse is different. As a singer, songwriter and bass player, she still believes in the power of old-school blues and R&B.
"Blues and soul just speak to me the loudest," says Crosse, who's spent the past two decades paying her dues at festivals, clubs and honky tonks across the American South. Originally from Louisiana, she's now an in-demand player in her chosen hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi, where she and her band have backed blues heavyweights including Bob Margolin, Guitar Shorty, Jody Williams and James "Super Chikan" Johnson. For years, Crosse has appeared regularly at the world-famous Ground Zero Blues Club. Early in 2015, she toured Europe and the UK as a member of the Blues Caravan 2015 "Girls With Guitars" tour and was also part of the Jim Gaines-produced album of the same name. But the rock-oriented slant of that project wasn't really her thing.  
Her solo debut Groovin’ At The Crosse Roads shows what she's really about. It's all blues – with a soul twist. "I grew up singing Motown and a couple of my blues mentors did a lot of 70s soul. So that tends to come out in the songs that I'm writing," explains Crosse, who co-wrote five of the album's eleven tracks while also paying tribute to heroes such as Etta James and Big Mama Thornton. It's the kind of mix she relies on to get Mississippi crowds dancing on a Saturday night.
Though it's her name on the cover, Crosse chose to record Groovin’ At The Crosse Roads with the same band she's been fronting for the past eight years: Heavy Suga' & the SweeTones. The current line-up includes Crosse's songwriting partner and significant other, drummer Lee Williams (B.B. King, Big Jack Johnson), keyboard wizard Mark Yacovone (Kenny Brown, Maria Muldaur) and guitarist Dan Smith (Anson Funderburgh, Smokin' Joe Kubek). The songs convey the comfortable feeling you'd expect from four friends making music together. "Our band is a unique thing. We're very tight and close, like a family band," says Crosse about choosing her own musicians over session players.
With the help of Grammy-winning producer Jim Gaines – who's worked with everyone from Carlos Santana to Stevie Ray Vaughan during his illustrious career – Crosse and her comrades turn in a collection of first-rate performances. At the soul end of the spectrum, there's the laid-back musician's anthem "Hurryin' Up To Relax" and a cover of the 1975 top ten hit "Rockin' Chair," originally recorded by Gwen McCrae. Crosse felt a little intimidated doing this well-known tune, but likes what Gaines and her "guys" were able to conjure up. "Besides, I think it's kind of interesting to have a white girl bass player resurrect a 70s soul classic," she grins.
At the blues end, she offers "Walkin' In Their Shoes" as a loving remembrance of the elders who schooled her in the ways of the blues, as well as "Clarksdale Shuffle," dedicated to the city that has become her own ground zero. "It's been a big part of my life," she says of her adopted home in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. "I was there as an 18-year-old, just out of high school, and that's when I fell in love with the blues. I went back every year for the Sunflower Blues Festival, no matter where I lived, and that's how I ended up moving there."
Crosse is thrilled about the sounds veteran producer Gaines coaxed out of her band. "Jim got so many different guitar textures and layers from just one guy. And it was the same with my keyboard player. He got so many layers and textures. We've got B3 organ, that old Pinetop piano sound, a cool ray Charles electric piano sound…"
Gaines also helped her raise her game vocally. "He brought singing out of me that I didn't know was in me," Crosse reflects, her feral growling on Etta James' classic "Damn Your Eyes" a good example. It's one of the grittier moments on an album that – unlike so many others that come down the pike – doesn't take a sledgehammer to the blues, but instead uses a set of fine-tipped brushes to create a down-to-earth landscape of blues and soul. Crosse is confident that with Groovin’ At The Crosse Roads, she has created a recording representative of her own unique and personal blues journey. "It's everything I thought it would be and much, much more."
  

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