Monica Taylor & Her Red Dirt Ramblers

…the voice of an angel with a soul to match…

Monica Taylor earned the nickname, “The Cimarron Songbird,” by Jimmy LaFave and Bob Childers thanks to her distinctive singing style and her home near the Cimarron River. Her songs, written from the heart, are rooted in her Cherokee/Scottish/Irish heritage and explore home, the red dirt landscape and lifestyle, love and yearning. With a sound like Emmylou Harris and a slight yodel in her voice, Monica captivates you her vocals.

When Monica enrolled at Oklahoma State University in 1989, she found her way into the budding Red Dirt music scene. As a young bluegrass and country singer/songwriter, she began playing and collaborating with the godfather of Red Dirt music, Bob Childers, and befriended musicians Jimmy LaFave, Red Dirt Rangers, The Medicine Show, Tom Skinner, Greg Jacobs and other now-legendary musical folk. Her musical story, like so many, started in central Oklahoma, and it would prove to be a wellspring for her career.

After a stint of rugged living and music-making in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado in the early nineties, Monica returned to Stillwater in 1996 and landed at The Farm—the legendary place where so many songwriters in the Red Dirt music scene dwelled, literally and figuratively. True to her gypsy spirit, Monica made a happy home under a tarp stretched between a tree and an old barn, with her trusted German Shepard/Lab mix, Rosebud, as her constant companion. For the next few years, Monica made music with a litany of musicians who passed through The Farm including members of The Great Divide, Jason Boland and the Stragglers, Cody Canada and the Departed, Stoney LaRue, Brandon Jenkins and scores of other songwriters, young and young-at-heart.

In 2010, Monica began The Cherokee Maidens & Sycamore Swing, a Western swing trio with former Dixie Chick, Robyn Macy, and Kentucky-rooted, Lauren White. Their style has been described as ‘Bob Wills meets up with The Andrews Sisters,’ all bound by the roots of bluegrass and a knack for heavenly harmonies. The group released Cherokee Maiden in 2011 and performed at music festivals around the region from 2010-2020. “Ride Again” and “My Dixie Darlin” brought them acclaim from the western music societies and were nominated for Album of the Year at the Academy of Western Artists Awards. Two original songs co-written by Monica and Robyn were nominated for Song of the Year at the same time.

Monica has also released a series of albums featuring collaborations with her many music friends including Cimmaron Valley Girl in 2006 and Cotton Shirt in 2009. Before her solo career, she was part of a popular Folk duo called The Farm Couple that toured across the southern states and the southwest region, and recorded three albums of original songs that were a mix of The Louvin Brothers, Hank Williams, and mountain-styled songs.

In 2012, Monica started the annual Cimarron Concert Series where she hosts acclaimed songwriters from around the country in the sanctuary of the Old Church in Perkins, Okla.

When the pandemic began in 2020, Monica saw the opportunity to fulfill a longtime dream of documenting and recording an anthology of Red Dirt songs featuring the many musicians she wrote and played with over the years. Over two years she worked with engineer/producer and now-husband, Travis Fite, to record  A Red Dirt Ramble: A Tribute to the Pioneers of Red Dirt Music Dirt at The Ripley Farm recording studio in Lone Chimney, Okla.—the home of the late producer and lead man of The Tractors, Steve Ripley.

With over 55 guest vocalists and musicians from the Oklahoma and Texas Red Dirt scene, A Red Dirt Ramble pays tribute to the older songwriters who created the Red Dirt genre—a melting pot of styles including bluegrass, Tulsa Sound, Cajun, Western swing, country, and of course, gospel.  These Red Dirt innovators started swapping songs with one another outside of Stillwater, Okla. at a hallowed old farm where many of the musicians lived from 1979 until the farmhouse burned down in the early 2000s. Many have since passed away, which is what spurred Monica to capture their legacy through the voices of her many music friends made over the years.  Volume 1 of this anthology will be released in November 2022, with the Volume 2 release coming in Spring 2023. 

She has simultaneously recorded her own new album, Trains, Rivers, & Trails which has a few of the same key instrumentalists that play on the Red Dirt Ramble recording: John Fullbright, Roger Ray, Casey van Beek, Jake Lynn, Jared Tyler, and Travis Fite.  This will be released July 2022 in the US and in Europe.  She is booking a northwest tour for late summer 2022 and a tour in Europe later this year and spring 2023.

Brennen Leigh

“Leigh’s ‘You’ve Never Been to North Dakota’ soothes like Cole Porter, timelessly lyrical both literally and vocally.” –Raoul Hernandez, Austin Chronicle

“I’ve been obsessed with western swing music since I was a kid and it’s always been an influence. My records in the past have ranged from bluegrass to country music to folk, but I’d never fully explored swing until now.” So says genre-busting Fargo-born, Austinincubated, Nashville resident Brennen Leigh, whose new collaboration with the kings of modern-day western swing, Asleep at the Wheel, Obsessed with the West (Signature Sounds) is a showcase not just for The Wheel or Bob Wills fans, but for anyone who’s ever curled up with Lefty Frizzell, Billie Holiday, Willie Nelson or even Louis Armstrong.

“Brennen will carry the torch for REAL roots American music for her generation, and she’s the best one to do it in my opinion” – Ray Benson

Leigh’s graceful, refined voice and instrumental fluency, her interplay with Ray Benson, and the perennial brilliance of The Wheel serve up a treat on this, Leigh’s seventh album, showcasing twelve self penned songs. With cameos from Emily Gimble and Katie Shore (all the players get their moments in the sun), Leigh demonstrates her wit and vitality on the terrific jump 40’s rhythm and blues, “Comin’ in Hot,” and the lonesome cowboy ballad “Riding Off Onto Sunset Boulevard.” It’s no question why Rodney Crowell, Charley Crockett and Lee Ann Womack have recorded her songs. Obsessed with the West is a celebration of music for music’s sake in 2022, not just an exercise in anthropology.

“When I moved to Nashville from Texas,” she explains, “for some reason it triggered another western swing phase in my life. I was out of Texas, but something about the swing was still grabbing me; I was listening to a lot of Bob Wills, and of course The Wheel. I had first been exposed to Western swing through my parents’ Asleep At The Wheel records while I was growing up.”

Born in North Dakota and raised in Minnesota, Leigh began touring at 14, while cultivating her classic country informed songwriting. At 19, she moved to live music mecca Austin, Texas where she rubbed shoulders with and eventually inspired the esteem of Ray Benson. “I knew the band peripherally, and we’d talked about making a record years before, but I had just signed a publishing deal in Nashville and was about to move away from Texas. So for that reason our stars didn’t align until more recently.”

“I wrote thirty western swing songs in the beginning of 2021, alone and with different writer friends,” she continues, “and we culled it down to twelve. Many of the songs have a 1940s Cindy Walker type vibe — she was at the forefront of my mind for this entire process, something of a spirit guide for me — but there’s definitely a jazz influence, country, and a couple of songs that I would call cowboy or folk tunes.”

“This is my love note to western swing; to the rich culture it comes from, as I see it,” she adds, “I listen to and have been influenced by a lot of dead people, but our genre is important, and I think it deserves new life and new songs. The old stuff is where I come from, my songs turn out to be a melding of the old styles, whether I like it or not. You put cinnamon in something it’s going to taste like a snickerdoodle. I don’t know how not to put it in there.”

No need to worry about that either. Western swing is a fine genre year after year, you can’t beat Asleep at the Wheel, and Brennen Leigh is every bit their peer. Obsessed with the West is a treat for the ears and the heart, a damn fine snickerdoodle of great songs, topflight instrumentalists, and the vibrant, still evolving artistry of Brennen Leigh.

“Brennen Leigh plays guitar like a motherfucker.” — Guy Clark

Jaimee Harris

“The Next Queen of Americana-Folk” (NPR)

“In 2018, everything in my life changed. In May, I left my job to pursue music full time. By August, I was on a musical rocket ship, opening shows all over the world for Mary Gauthier, who received a GRAMMY nomination in December of 2018. On paper—and on social media—it looked like a dream come true. In a lot of ways, it was. But in reality, I felt like I was drowning.” — Jaimee Harris

On the heels of her debut album Red Rescue, hailed by many as one of the top Americana albums of 2018, Jaimee Harris does not disappoint with the release of The Congress House Sessions, a thoughtful, intimate EP with stripped down recordings of some of her most requested songs. These new recordings, recorded at the storied Congress House Studio by Mark Hallman (Carole King, Ani DiFranco, Eliza Gilkyson) and Andre Moran (Sarah Borges, Rickie Lee Jones), feature some of Austin’s favorite players, including Jane Ellen Bryant and Kris Nelson on backing vocals, Ray Bonneville on harmonica, Brian Patterson on electric guitar, and Sammy Powell on piano.

Don’t let the healthy list of players mislead you; this is no large, speaker-rattling production. Longtime friends add color and texture, but what you’ll hear is Harris and her guitar, delivering her songs in a setting closer both to what they were at their inception, alone in her room with a guitar, and how they have developed after a few years acclimating to performing without a band.

Jaimee Harris loves fronting a band, and it shows. During the years she built a devoted critical and popular following in Austin, Texas, she fronted a slate of seasoned musicians with admirable swagger. When she alighted upon the scene, this jaded music city, replete with (and weary of) singer-songwriters, woke up and took notice. Here, finally, was a new voice—yes, her singing voice is noteworthy: rich, sonorous, full, delivering a uniquely stylized, throaty tone—but equally important, here was the new voice of a noteworthy writer and performer. If you meet Harris today, you’ll want to be her friend. And no matter what part of the country you’re in, if you spend a day with her, she will convince you to meet up at a nearby roller coaster park/pinball arcade/skee-ball hall she happens to know is awesome. She will share embarrassing stories and laugh at your worst jokes (either because she finds them funny or because she finds hilarious how bad your jokes are). Later, when you watch her sing, she’ll break your heart, cradle your heart, win your heart, then break it all over again.

The next day, you wouldn’t be the first to feel jealous. This friendly, breezy, beautiful swirl of platinum hair, impossibly high cheekbones, and a winning smile has it too easy, you think. Talent and looks? Gag me. While a cliché in this age of ubiquitous self-improvement empathy memes, it holds true that you never know what someone is going through or has been through. Jaimee Harris has been through plenty.

Well, I never thought I could be free
After all those nights in the D.O.C.
I’m thankful God’s forgiven me
‘Cause I never thought I could be free
But I gave up the cocaine, gave up the gin
Freed myself of the hell I was in
Asked the Lord to keep me clean again
— From “Snow White Knuckles”

In case you wonder about a young person penning “Snow White Knuckles,” there is no minimum age requirement for confronting addiction, depression, self-doubt, and good old-fashioned dysfunctional relationships, and Harris writes what she knows. Delivering lines that testify to her keen insight while keeping things conversational and cool, Harris accomplishes what songwriters most long to do: carve out words and a melody to give voice to that feeling you couldn’t quite put your finger on.

In a depressive state—how long will I feel this way?
Is it forever? In my mind prisoner
Will I be okay? Will I ever be okay?
And not someone that everyone hates
Will I ever be okay?
— From “Depressive State”

It’s not unique to have a crisis of confidence. We carry around knowledge (or nagging suspicions) of what is beyond our capability and dread being called upon to do what we cannot do well. Jaimee Harris faced an eighteen-monthlong pop quiz when she joined partner Mary Gauthier on her relentless tour schedule, facing stages for the first time on a regular basis as a solo performer. This was not what Harris signed up for when she left her desk job earlier that year. This was not the performance scenario she had been building to for a half dozen years, having spent countless hours rehearsing and honing her sound with a set group of players. She called friends from the road, unsure of herself, apologizing for her insecurities, afraid of sounding ungrateful for the opportunity laid before her.

I’m impatient. You’re starting to see.
Give up easy. You’re starting to hate me.
I know, I know.
— From “Fake”

Eventually, Harris had a full-on breakdown while on tour overseas. She credits Gauthier for giving her the support she needed, and night after night, as she felt herself improving as a solo performer, her confidence returned. What she could not have known was that the very leg of the tour that felt like her breaking point would lead to the next turning point in her career. Red Rescue landed in the hands of Marcel Albers and Rose Spearman of M.A.R.S. Worldwide and resulted in Jaimee’s first record deal.

Harris demonstrates that despite being a capable bandleader, her talent and command of her craft is undeniable, accompanied or not. Just as the cast of players on The Congress House Sessions might lead a casual observer to assume this is a full-band record, the thoroughly convincing delivery on the EP’s tracks might cause you to believe Harris is done playing with others. You would be wrong. Harris is much in demand as a collaborator, both as a songwriter and a background vocalist (Ray Wylie Hubbard, Malcolm Holcombe), and you’ll find her playing lead guitar with Mary Gauthier. And when circumstances thrust her onto a stage fronting a band, she has no problem summoning her natural confidence as a bandleader, wearing the role comfortably like her red leather jacket. Whether there’s a rhythm section thumping behind her, or whether she’s alone with her Gibson “Gillie” on an empty stage, all eyes and ears are locked on Jaimee Harris.

Joe Purdy

Joe Purdy is an internationally acclaimed folk artist who has released 14 albums and a soundtrack to a movie in the last 15 years. Along the way, his songs have turned up on numerous TV shows, film soundtracks and he has co-starred in an acclaimed film.

“American Folk” marked Joe’s first foray into acting. He also contributed to much of the soundtrack. It earned several awards including Best New Film at the Cleveland International Film Festival.

Joe’s last album, “Who Will Be Next?”, is deeply rooted in the tradition of artists such as Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan. It is a searing commentary of our turbulent times. Joe’s determination to honor the giants of American folk music while applying his formidable skills as a writer and vocalist reveal him as a compassionate observer and participant in our times.

Joe has just finished a new album which will be released soon and supported by a Worldwide Tour in 2022.

Aaron Lee Tasjan

“Popster Aaron Lee Tasjan delivers his best album yet” Associated Press

“Tasjan is here to represent, in both lyricism and musical vision, delivered with the whimsy of a sweet and salty spun confection.”NPR

“Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! is a triumphant progression, merging all Tasjan’s varied strands of his musical DNA into a genuine tour-de-force”Rolling Stone

Photo by Michael Weintrob

Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!, the new album from Aaron Lee Tasjan, a genre-bending rising star who’s bold reimagination of classic sounds and songwriting has established him as one of the most idiosyncratic artists of his generation.

His self-titled fourth album is a masterclass in interstellar pop, vintage glam, 90s Anglophilia and experimental and psychedelic rock & roll. Irreverent lyrics may show Tasjan with his tongue in his cheek, but Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! is an album with something to say. His autobiographical lyrics reflect on self-acceptance, expose his own contradictions and offer a unique self-deprecating critique on the millennial generation’s simultaneous capacity for great empathy and narcissism. The album also explores notions of mental health, identity and sexuality and is dedicated to the alternative kids who also felt “other” growing up.

Tasjan has been on a shapeshifting musical journey his whole life. From his glam rock roots, when Jimmy Iovine told him “guys in make-up don’t sell records” and Lady Gaga would open for his band in NYC, to his legend-hopping guitar sideman days, where he played with everyone from The New York Dolls to Sean Lennon and traveled the globe, collecting road war tales from doing mushrooms with Bono to twitter spats with Peter Frampton.

His search for a musical locus and geographic wanderings began in his early teens. They took him from Delaware, to California, to New York, to his current home in Nashville. He moved there in 2015 to play guitar in a band that imploded on his arrival. Through dumb luck, he quickly landed a deal with New West Records and became an established musical entity, releasing a diverse succession of critically acclaimed albums that drew the attention of everyone from NPR Music to Rolling Stone.

Despite this success, seeds of doubt started to bloom. After multiple musical incarnations, his label questioned Tasjan’s direction and where he should go next. So did Tasjan, as he internalized their recommendations, musical paralysis ensued. He toured through 2019 and then came to a realization that he needed to give himself permission to go rogue. Sparked by the fond memory of an LSD-laced songwriting session that occured years ago, when he felt at his most accomplished and free. With equal parts uncertainty and recklessness — he hid from his label and covertly crafted Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! co-producer Gregory Lattimer and mixed with John Congleton (Angel Olson, Bill Callahan, Sharon Van Etten, Lana Del Ray)….

There was no need for doubt. With humor, wit and irony, Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!’s personal and hopeful vision was a coded message to himself and showed him, self-belief was all he needed to get out of his own way. He feels grateful to his label for “motivating him to prove them and himself wrong.” Tasjan’s determined pursuit of his singular sound, led him to a sense of musical realization and his most compelling album to date.

Whilst his tour plans were pushed during the pandemic he’s been working with Noon Chorus and been delivering some great live streams and historically he has opened for Marcus King, Greta Van Fleet and opening festival stages for Willie Nelson, Jeff Tweedy and Social Distortion with his band at festivals from Stagecoach to Summer Fest to Bonnaroo.

Eli Fox

Artists have various ways of sourcing their sound. It can be intuitive, inspired, or a combination of both. In Eli Fox’s case, his creative instincts spring from a myriad of sources, making for an imaginative approach that reflects foresight, astute observation and a determination to make music that can consistently create an emphatic impression. With two albums and his upbeat and expressive new single, “A Pretty Woman’s Like a Rainbow Trout,” Eli’s demonstrated his ability to nod to past precepts while sharing a sound that’s vital, compelling and flush with melodies that resonate in ways that are both striking and stirring. Songs such as “Cry For Freedom and “Thinkin’ Too Much,” both culled from his 2019 offering Or Something Like That, or “How Ya Doin’ Little Sadie, found on his debut, Tall Tales LP, provide striking examples of the wit and whimsy that’s a consistent mark of his music.

A young man with an ageless soul, Eli embarked on his career while still in his teens. Citing such influences as Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Old Crow Medicine Show and John Hartford, he’s a gifted multi-instrumentalist, adept at guitar, pedal steel, banjo and of course, an expressive singing voice that conveys both passion and purpose. Humble to a fault, he draws on a decided reverence for tradition while still tapping into a sound that’s timeless and, in fact, relevant to today’s circumstances and environs.

In the process of conveying his craft, Eli’s become one of East Tennessee’s favorite musical sons, having shared stages with the likes of Darrell Scott, John McCutcheon, Boy Named Banjo, Will Carter, Emily Ann Roberts, and Trisha Jean Brady. His down-home delivery, good-natured attitude and effortlessly engaging approach have garnered him legions of fans who easily relate to both his music and his mantra.

Ellis Paul

“Despite his success and sense of history, Mr. Paul remains an artist with his eye on the future and an interest in discovering the transformative potential in his music.” The New York Times

Some artists document their lives through their music. Others chronicle their times. It’s a rare artist who can do both, telling their own story through songs that also encapsulate the essence of people and places who have helped define their era overall. Woody Guthrie comes to mind, and so does Bob Dylan. Bruce Springsteen certainly as well. Yet few others, for whatever genius they may possess, can relate their own history to the history experienced by those who find that common bond, be it in a coming of age, living through the same realities or sharing similar experiences.

Ellis Paul is one of those gifted singer/songwriters. Though some may refer to him as a folk singer, he is more, for lack of a better word, a singular storyteller, a musician whose words reach out from inside and yet also express the feelings, thoughts and sensibilities that most people can relate to in one way or another, regardless of age or upbringing. The exhilaration of the open road. A celebration of heroes. The hope for redemption. Descriptions of those things that are both near and dear. The sharing of love… intimate, passionate and enduring.

David Amram

David Amram is a Jazz and Folk Pioneer, who sings and scats, plays 35 instruments, and is an acclaimed classical composer whose compositions incorporate his lifetime participation in the worlds of Jazz, Global Folk, Latin, Classical, Middle Eastern, and Native American music. Over a seven-decade career in the Jazz world, he collaborated with Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Parker, Oscar Pettiford, Mary Lou Williams, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Paquito d’Rivera, Tito Puente, Earl `Fatha’ Hines, Betty Carter, Ray Barretto and Wynton Marsalis. His recent Lifetime Achievement Awards were from New York’s Highlights in Jazz, and from the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame’s Jay McShann Lifetime Achievement Award.

Since the 1950s, David has also collaborated with many folk luminaries, such as Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Pete Seeger, Odetta, Oscar Brand, Theodore Bikel, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Judy Collins, Patti Smith, Peter Yarrow, Noel Paul Stookey, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, Josh White, Jr., Steve Earle , Eric Andersen, Jerry Jeff Walker and Langhorne Slim. Amram knew Woody Guthrie since 1956 and in 2005 was commissioned by Woody’s children Nora and Arlo, to compose a new symphonyTHIS LAND: Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie, which was premiered in 2007 and recorded with Amram conducting the Colorado Symphony in 2012 released in 2014 by Newport Classic Records and now also available on Vimeo On Demand In 2012, he was awarded the Pete Seeger Power of Song Award, in 2016 the first Spirit of Farm Aid Award for his 30 years of performing with Willie Nelson’s annual concert for family farmers and in 2017 the Folk Alliance International’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Amram was the first composer- in-Residence for the New York Philharmonic, Joe Papp’s NY Shakespeare Festival, and the Lincoln Center Repertory Theatre Company. He has composed more than 110 symphonic and chamber music pieces. the scores for Broadway plays, and major films. His classical collaborations have included work with Leonard Bernstein, Dimitri Metropoulos, Sir James Galway, Pinchas Zuckerman, William Steinberg, Rudolph Serkin and Eugene Ormandy. In February of 2019, England’s Moochin’ About Records completed the international release of the 5 CD Box Set of DAVID AMRAM’s Classic American Film Scores (1956-2016) i The box set includes seven of his major film scores , including John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate and The Young Savages; Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass and The Arrangement; and Jack Kerouac’s Pull My Daisy, plus two of the scores he composed for the theatrical Broadway productions of Arthur Miller’s After the Fall, and Budd Schulberg’s On the Waterfront. In 1957, Amram and Jack Kerouac presented New York’s first-ever public Jazz/Poetry perfromance , which led to further collaborations with Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Felinghetti and Gregory Corso. The documentary film DAVID AMRAM The First 80 Years was released in 2011 and is now available on Vimeo On Demand. His fourth book, DAVID AMRAM: The Next 80 Years will be published in 2020 by Routledge/Taylor & Francis, who have also published his other three books as well as his forwards to books by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.

David Amram has been described as “a living legend, one of the great raconteurs of our time, and the real ZELIG! “. At 88, In addition to writing new music, he continues to perform around the world as a guest conductor, soloist, multi-instrumentalist, band leader and narrator in five languages.

Jacob Tovar

Jacob Tovar is an Oklahoma musician bringing country music back to its classic roots. He sings impactful country standards, and writes and performs original tunes that carry stories with which everyone can relate. His timeless crooning honkytonk vocals can haunt and enchant all in the same phrase, while his riveting guitar playing frames each melody with a spark of distinction. Since his debut album in August of 2015 (“Jacob Tovar and the Saddle Tramps”), he’s been spreading the Roots Country genre around the Midwest, Europe, and beyond sharing bills with the likes of: John Fullbright, Chris Stapleton, Hanson, Junior Brown, Wayne the Train Hancock, Paul Benjaman, and many more Tulsa Sound Natives. His new album Another Time, Another Place was released in May of 2021 and is available on the website and all streaming platforms.

 

Red Dirt Rangers

Photo by Kelly Kerr

For more than three decades, the Red Dirt Rangers have criss-crossed the nation (and Europe) bringing their unique sound to the people. The band helped create what is now called “Red Dirt Music,” that elusive blend of country, rock and roll, blues, and bluegrass along with a big helping of Oklahoma soul.

The Rangers wear their Okie pride on their sleeves and the music shows it. Drawing inspiration from the likes of Woody Guthrie, Bob Wills and Will Rogers, the Red Dirt Rangers are among Oklahoma’s greatest musical ambassadors.

Along with sharing their musical message of love, hope, & justice around the glove, the Rangers were inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 2017. They were also instrumental in starting the Red Dirt Relief Fund — an organization that has given away nearly half a million dollars in grants to Oklahoma music people in times of crisis. When asked when they will retire from performing, the answer is always short & to the point – “Never.”

Keep on spreadin’ the dirt!