Singer | Songwriter
Eight years after he began touring while at the University of Arkansas and two years after his first entry into the Top Twenty on the Billboard Album Chart, Ben Rector is back with a new album and is feeling Brand New (August 28th, Aptly Named Recordings). The singer-songwriter's newest album marks a return to the spirit of his youth, when he was a music-crazed teenager playing guitar in his Tulsa bedroom. At that time, every new song was a discovery, and turning those songs into a career was just a dream. Since then, the twenty-eight year old has made that dream a reality, independently selling over 250,000 albums and 2,000,000 downloads. His four studio albums and 2014’s Live In Denver, have repeatedly put him on top of the iTunes charts, leading to sold-out shows to fans who sing along with every word in theaters across the country. Rector has written hundreds of songs and played thousands of bills in his young career, but in the writing and recording of Brand New, he re-discovered the energy of his early days, with songs that have all the punch, power and promise of a debut record. Filled with rich string arrangements, percussion, pounding piano chords and effortless melodies, Brand New sounds anthemic. At the same time, its message is both sincere and humble, anchored by songs that are honest and meaningful. It's pop music with a purpose.
Singer | Songwriter
A self-made singer/songwriter, Matt Wertz spent years creating soulful, feel-good pop music on his own terms. Nashville — a city that doubled as his muse and adopted hometown — always played a big role in that creation process. It was the place where Wertz wrote his songs, the place he recorded his albums, the place he'd return after touring the country with songwriters like Jason Mraz, Maroon 5, Parachute and Gavin DeGraw.
Something changed after 2014's Heatwave, a record that shone a neon light on Wertz's appreciation for '80s pop music. Wertz realized he'd grown perhaps a bit too comfortable in Nashville, where he'd been making music for more than a decade. Looking to write an album that tackled contemporary pop music from a different angle — literally — he headed to Los Angeles, where he spent several months writing songs for his ninth album, Gun Shy. Fueled by infectious, 90’s-inspired beats, lush textures, and soaring air-tight pop melodies, Gun Shy fires twin barrels of modern pop and syn-thesized R&B, finding new life in old-school influences.
"I realized I'd been making records in a similar way in the same geographic area," Wertz admits, "and I wanted to get away from that comfort zone. I personally was need-ing a fresh approach — to pull the clip on the grenade and blow things up and start over. I'm a fan of current pop music, and L.A. is very much about what's happening now. I wanted to see how my music fit into that space."
Filled with left-field love songs about guarding yourself, opening your heart to new possibilities, and wrestling with the sacrifice and vulnerability that love requires of eve-ryone, Gun Shy finds Wertz urging his listeners — and, perhaps, himself — to continue taking leaps. It's an album about stepping into unfamiliar situations, armed with the courage to fail and the drive to succeed. On "Committed," the album's kickoff track, Wertz rededicates himself to the artistic struggle, and with "Slow Motion," he focuses his attention on a loved one by clearing away the clutter and distractions of everyday life. Later, during "Hold On To Me," he channels his inner Michael Jackson on a song that poses some of the biggest questions of his career: why we're here, who put us there, and what it all means. A longtime member of Nashville's songwriting community, Wertz teams up with some of L.A.'s A-list pop writers for Gun Shy, including Ian Keaggy (Hot Chelle Rae, Cody Simpson), Ben Romans (The Click Five, Carly Rae Jepsen), and Seth Jones (Greg Holden, Tyler Bryant).
More than a decade into a career filled with commercial success and touring mile-stones, Matt Wertz remains proud to be an independent singer/songwriter. But don't mistake Gun Shy for the sort of intimate album you'd hear at your local coffee shop. These are not acoustic guitar songs. They're songs built on laptops and driven forward by dance beats. Songs that move you physically and emotionally. Songs that splash Wertz's super-sized hooks across the backdrop of the Los Angeles skyline, creating their own brand of scenery along the way.
Penny & Sparrow
Singer | Songwriter Duo
Austin-made singer-songwriter duo Penny & Sparrow dwells in the spaces left between
contradictions and opposing forces. In fact, it’s where they’re most at home. As the title
of their latest album, Let A Lover Drown You, suggests, they know intimately the ideas
of using pain as a barometer of passion and giving as a means of gaining.
Opposites themselves, vocalist Andy Baxter (lover of books and climate-controlled coffee shops) and composer Kyle Jahnke (seeker of adventure, preferably outdoors), sacrificed most semblances of comfort and certainty in their lives to take their selfreleased recordings they made after meeting as University of Texas roommates to the next level: full-time, D.I.Y., coast-to-coast touring.
Their gorgeous, almost luminescent harmonies paired with cutting, contemplative songs, inspired by a musical grab bag of Simon and Garfunkel, Slim Whitman, The Swell Season, Bon Iver, even Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim, earned the duo a nationwide legion of fans; many bordering on, if not, obsessed. Just ask their wives who tour manage them.
But until recently, Kyle and Andy thought of their respective talents, words and melody, as elements on “separate continents” that they fit together—Andy’s voice and lyrics an audible sunbeam appearing in a dark and dusty room; Kyle’s lean, yet lush arrangements following unpredictable paths with acrobatic flourishes layered over grounded grooves. But it was in writing and recording Let A Lover Drown You they let those roles bleed into each other. With the help of producers John Paul White (The Civil Wars) and Ben Tanner (Alabama Shakes), they slashed unnecessary phrasing and stripped their songs down to their core.
“The process was terrifying and raw,” says Kyle. “This time, we weren’t afraid to voice our opinions. Lyrically, I got to hear things from Andy and tell him whether I believed him or not… I mean, I know him so well now that the other day he came in the room with a smile on his face, and I asked him ‘What’s wrong?’”
As they stepped into a room with just two chairs and a mic (a departure from the headphones and click tracks they used to record their two previous albums), there were few places to hide disagreement or flaws. But, they slowly fell in love with the peccadilloes they once hid; discord created harmony. Like the album’s title, Andy and Kyle were exploring the notion of struggle as something worth feeling on behalf of a greater object.
“This title to us is a reminder that loving and dying are tied up,” says Andy. “It's the cover page for an album that studies who we love, how they love us back, and how much we give up along the way.”
The thoughtful attention paid to each individual line and even the smallest instrumental placement makes the songs on Let a Lover Drown You so much more multi-dimensional and virile than the ubiquitous singer-songwriter folk. If foot-stomping, hand-clapping, raw-edged Americana feels like a well-worn, favorite flannel shirt, Penny & Sparrow are a made-to-measure Billy Reid suit.
“We thought of the live takes of these songs like skeletons,” says Kyle. “We would find the right one and then ask ourselves what skins—strings, filters, percussion—would fit best on top.”
That refined sound paired with finely honed lyrics is apparent from the thundering opening arc of “Finery”, showcasing the full range of their prismatic harmonies over a sweeping arrangement then leading into the enveloping “Catalogue,” one of many tracks that features a guest performance by bassist David Hood of the legendary Swampers from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a twin city of their new hometown of Florence, Alabama where they recorded the album. Appearances by Tanner on keyboards and White with vocals dot the rest of the album.
Throughout Let a Lover Down You, Andy and Kyle lyrically explore commitment, choice, and conflict. A favorite novel, Red Rising, where the protagonist loses his wife and turns toward darkness inspired the quietly arresting “Gold”. “It was a vehicle to discuss our willingness to change because of love,” says Andy. “Will we like what we're made into? Will the process be painful? Am I being made better? These questions are fascinating to us.”
In “Bourbon”, they capture what it’s like to stand at those familiar fork-in-the-road moments within an understated, elegant orchestration, while the haunting “Bon Temps” came from an oral history Andy gathered talking with a family friend who survived Hurricane Katrina. Maybe, the most charismatic track on the album, “Unfold,” equal parts staggering and seductive, offers the album’s most satisfying vocal sections. While the weight their music carries may imply that Andy and Kyle are weighed down with serious demeanors, it belies their most endearing quality.
“We try to be the same people regardless of whether we’re playing for 14 people or thousands,” says Andy. “We joke the same at home and on stage, and try to root out any degree of being disingenuous. Really, we just like to be the same humans no matter where we are.”
Whether through their jovial on-stage banter or the palpable humanity of their songs, that ability to make listeners feel as if they’re speaking to them, to relate to life’s contradictions and struggles with compassion and humor, is the true force behind Penny & Sparrow and why their music resonates so deeply.
Singer | Songwriter - Alamo Community Church
Ryan Proudfoot is a singer-songwriter based out of San Antonio, TX.
Prior to his musical endeavors, Ryan was a Division I baseball player at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Upon graduation he
decided to pursue music full-time and has been able to reach a wide audience of listeners having close to 400,000 streams between
Spotify and YouTube. Ryan is set to release his upcoming album titled “Letting Go” in October of 2016, making this his fifth project to
record, releasing an album in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and now 2016. He has performed with artists such as Casting Crowns, Phil Wickham,
Brandon Heath, Chris August, Jimmy Needham, The City Harmonic, and 7eventh Time Down.
Ryan is also the pastor of young adults and worship at Alamo Community Church in Northwest San Antonio, and travels the state and country speaking and leading worship.
Singer | Songwriter
Texas Native, Brad Blackburn, fosters a unique blend of pop, rock, and soul, driven by his warm vocals and bluesy guitar riffs. After years of developing his sound and performing most nights of the week in San Antonio, Brad relocated to Nashville, TN to take on Music City. In just four short years, he has asserted himself as a force to be reckoned with in this competitive industry. His second album, BLACK&WHITE, is set for release April 21, 2017.
With his strong pop sensibilities and seasoned lyrical ability, he has won a total of 8 songwriting contests since moving to Nashville. In fact, his songwriting ability earned him the 2015 ASCAP Bart Howard Songwriting Award, the 2016 ASCAP Leon Brettler Award, and $10,000 for winning the 2016 Live Wholly Tour.
That being said, he is just as much a performer, as he is a songwriter. At just twenty-one years old, Brad has played CMA Fest, Belmont University’s Best of the Best Showcase (3 years in a row), the 18th Annual Grammy Block Party, the 2016 ASCAP Foundation Awards at the Lincoln Center, and the Live Wholly Festival where he opened up for the Cold War Kids.
For Brad, music has never been just a hobby, but rather an obsession. He picked up the guitar when he was just twelve years old and started investing hours upon hours into writing. He found inspiration in his parent’s record collection with artists like The Eagles and James Taylor, and fused it with the inspiration he took from more contemporary artists like John Mayer and Jason Mraz.
He released his debut album, Color Coded, in 2014 which earned him many of the accolades mentioned above. However, Brad believes that Color Coded was just the beginning: “Having spent the last three years, writing and re-writing, recording and re-recording, I have much better grasp on who I am as an artist, and I truly feel that BLACK&WHITE captures my sound, and the story I want to tell with that sound.” Singles, “Good Go Bad” and “Spoke Too Soon,” are Brad’s strongest tracks to date and are available now on Spotify and iTunes.
Emma Faye Rudkin
Singer | Founder of Aid The Silent
Emma is an internationally-known role model for the deaf and hard-of-hearing (HOH) community and founder to nonprofit organization, Aid the Silent. Aid the Silent is a system of support for the different branches of: deaf ministry, deaf education, deaf research and deaf resources. The overall mission is to aid economically-disadvantaged deaf children and teens to reach their full, unlimited, God-given potential and to live life more richly by providing access to hearing and speech resources, ASL lessons, as well as ministry-related activities.
Emma was Miss San Antonio 2015 where she took individual awards for Overall Talent, Overall Interview and Miss Congeniality. She placed Top 10 in the Miss Texas Scholarship Pageant 2015 where she won the Inspiration Award, Quality of Life Award, Academic Interview Award and Spirit of Texas (Congeniality). Emma is legally deaf, sings and plays four instruments: piano, guitar, ukulele and the kick drum.
In the fall of 2016, Emma Faye was crowned Miss San Antonio 2017 being the first to hold this title twice since the first titleholder in 1923. She will compete in Miss Texas in July 2017.
Emma publically advocated for the largest theater in San Antonio to offer captioning for their HOH/deaf patrons and won with Star Wars being the first movie played there with open captions.
She has had more than 21 TV appearances, two of which were broadcast syndications that aired in 50 markets. She has been featured on dozens of local and national print and digital publications nationwide. She has given her testimony at 100+ speaking engagements in the last year. When Emma is not at events or running the nonprofit, she dedicates any of her spare time as a staff member for the Greater Area San Antonio Young Life, a group dedicated to showing teenagers the great love of Jesus through friendships. She started the pilot program for Deaf Young Life in fall of 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. Emma Faye has been a Young Life leader and Social Media Coordinator for three years with Boerne Area Young Life.
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