Wednesday, November 27, 2013

CD Review: Chris Beall's 'The Gin Mill Hymns' a Roots-Rock Treasure

By Scott Johnson
MCAU Assistant Editor

The Gin Mill Hymns” is the sound of an artist who’s gathered a vast amount of life experiences and woven it into a tapestry of songs that reflect his artistic influences. Chris Beall’s second album is roots-rock oriented with influential nods to Tom Petty, Paul McCartney, and the storytelling style of Bruce Springsteen.
It’s the kind of album that begs to be played on a road trip down life’s highways. I’ve lived with it a few months now, and can honestly say it hasn’t left my car. “The Gin Mill Hymns” creates a folksy, introspective mood during the first few notes of “Half a World Away.” It’s a song that has a way of taking you back in time to bittersweet experiences that have long since passed. It sounds like someone saying, “I wish you well, but I’m moving on, and I’m doing it the best way I know how.” It brings on a melancholy feeling that is both reflective of the past but looks forward in hope.   

Next, Beall gets autobiographical in “Dug Down Deep,” hands down the standout track in this collection. Years from now, Beall might even look back to the recording as the seminal moment when his true artistic statement began. He would do well to continue exploring the art of telling stories for the next album. Beall’s artistry comes out in the way he writes songs. He writes from a “me” perspective and then widens out to reflect a larger experience.

Chris says the story of his father’s motorcycle accident was always in the back of his mind, begging to be told in the form of a song. “Dug Down Deep” tells the tale of the artist chasing his own dreams, stepping out on faith after his musical partner and best friend moved away. By the second verse, he’s singing about “the motorcycle man” who married a flower child. His big dreamer of a father miraculously recovered from the accident, and Chris is saying that because of this thread of overcoming, he can get through his difficulties by digging down deep and pressing on.

By now, we can sense a theme of letting go of the past and overcoming the things that once stood in the way. “Make a Livin’” is another highlight that takes inspiration from the working man who leaves his family to go to work. The narrator of the song says “I have tried to see the good in it but I guess I just don’t understand.” The theme of trying to make sense of the past creeps up again. The music sets a fine groove throughout the album, but don’t let that fool you -- there’s a lot going on in the lyrics found in “The Gin Mill Hymns.”

Later in the album, Beall reflects on “Summer Days” and a girl named “Laura Lynn”, but his cover of an old blues tune called “Spike Driver Blues” proves to be most interesting. The Mississippi John Hurt folk song was rediscovered in the ‘60s and finds an appropriate home on the album. It fits in perfectly with the working class themes. It’s easy to imagine the character in “Make a Livin” sweating in the sun, and he may have hummed the “Spike Driver Blues” to get through the ordeal. The song references John Henry, a classic folk hero that hammered himself to death on the job. Beall sings “John Henry left his hammer all over these rails…” but asserts, “It was the hammer that killed John Henry but it won’t kill me.”

“The Gin Mill Hymns” is a treat to listen to and belongs in your car stereo on a road trip or as the soundtrack on the way to work. The album, every so subtly, makes a Zen-like statement that we must acknowledge the past but not live in it. One thing is for sure, there’s only a bright future in store with Chris Beall at the musical wheel!
Learn more about (or listen to songs from) Chris Beall's "The Gin Mill Hymns" at .


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Chris Beall to Perform at Historic Chisholm Trail Ballroom on Dec. 5

By Scott Johnson
MCAU Assistant Editor

AUSTIN, Texas (December 2013) –Chris Beall, an Austin-based Americana/Roots singer-songwriter whose songs are receiving radio airplay across the nation, will perform on Dec. 5 (Thursday) at the historic Chisholm Trail Ballroom at 118 S. Commerce St. in Lockhart, Texas.

The artist will perform songs from the newly released CD “The Gin Mill Hymns” from 7-10 p.m. There will be a $5 cover charge, and the opening act will be Denny Herrin. The Chisholm Trail Ballroom is located approximately 20 miles south of Austin on the Caldwell County Courthouse Square.

Beall’s music is receiving national attention. His album recently hit number 46 on the Texas Roots Radio Airplay chart. The online publication No Depression has added the track “Make a Livin’” to its “Freight Train Boogie” podcast

Beall self-produced the roots rock-oriented “The Gin Mill Hymns” and wrote five of the nine tracks. His musical style is often compared to artists such as Tom Petty, while his lyrics brim with Springsteen-like storytelling sensibility.

“This album is me being comfortable with all these different facets of the Americana genre -- even the songwriting.” said Beall. “With any human being, there are certain things we give up and certain ones we hold onto. There are times in our lives where maybe we traded something in that we should have held onto. Later we realize what the cost really was.”

The artist's imagery-filled musical stories "fit back together" music and family, creativity and making a living, life and religion, and whiskey and church. Beall says that he enjoys the juxtaposition of putting two unlike things together and creating beauty out of it. For example, gin mills are a slang term for bars while hymns are sacred songs.

“I go after authenticity,” he said. “In my stuff, most of the time you hear ideas that are accessible, approachable and authentic. I think part of what makes anything beautiful is the combination of the limitation and the accomplishment. The juxtaposition, side by side, makes it work. Part of the reality and the real beauty is lost in the quest to be perfect.”

 “The Gin Mill Hymns” is a deeply personal album, with songs such as “Half a World Away” illustrating defining moments in the artist’s life. Beall says he started out writing the song thinking about people that were far away from him. By the time he sat down to write the second verse, the song broadened into a way to express feelings about his brother’s death from cancer.

I think in analogies and am always processing something. I can’t remember a time when I don’t do that,” he said. “If I’m not wandering or processing or asking some type of question, I’m not healthy.”

Beall is the son of a retired motorcycle racer from a small town in West Texas. He writes about his father’s career-ending crash and miraculous recovery in “Dug Down Deep.” The story resonated with him throughout life, but he finally decided to put it all on paper after his fellow songwriter friend Rodney Black moved away. He admits that the first section of the song was actually written about his friend and feeling stuck. As he wrote, there was a nagging feeling that a bigger story needed to be told and that led to writing about the motorcycle accident.

Jimi Jean of “Jimi Jean’s Sounding Off on Sounds” says artists like Beall love making music.

Chris is the quintessential independent artist. I would probably go as far as to say that he is the poster child for the new ‘alternative music industry’ that has developed,” he said.

“The Gin Mill Hymns” was engineered, mixed and produced by Beall. The multi-talented artist is featured on lead vocals; acoustic, electric and baritone guitars; and mandolin, banjo and resonator. Rodney Black co-wrote several songs and is featured on electric and acoustic guitars, as well as lap steel. Scott Roberts plays electrine and stand-up bass, while Gray LeGere can be heard on drums, percussion and background vocals.

Beall’s artistic journey began as a child growing up in Abilene, and he says music has always been a part of his life. At six years old, he was picking out four part choral pieces to sing in church and recalls singing Air Supply with his mom as they drove around in their ‘70s station wagon. He began playing the guitar after he broke his ankle in a 1986 national championship BMX race. His two half brothers played the guitar and helped teach him chords.

He began playing professionally for regional acts in the ‘90s. In 1996, he moved to Nashville, Tenn., where he produced independent artists and signed a development deal with Millennium Records. By 2000, he was back in Austin working as a sound system designer and recording engineer, collaborating with artists such as Citizen Cope, Augustana, and Aqualung.

Beall made the decision to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter in 2008. He released his first folk-oriented solo CD, “Brand New World”, two years later and toured China as part of the Austin Sound Exchange.

Beall’s second release, “The Gin Mill Hymns” is available at online music retailers, including Amazon and iTunes. Upcoming promotional activities include a television appearance on KNVA’s “Songwriters Across Texas” Christmas show in December. The project is being promoted to radio nationally by Nashville-based Bill Wence Promotions. The artist is represented by LeGere Productions and Whiting Publicity & Promotions.
To learn more about Chris Beall or his new album, “The Gin Mill Hymns,” call (512) 293-6705, send an email message to, or visit or

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Amy Allen Documentary Named Semi-Finalist in 'Artlightenment' Film Competition

            NASHVILLE, Tenn. (November 2013) – Country-pop-Americana artist Amy Allen's new documentary video, "Amy Allen's Someday Is Today", has been selected for judging and screening at the "Artlightenment" art and film festival on Nov. 15 (Friday) at Celebrity Centre Nashville (Old Fall School Building), 1130 Eighth Ave. S.

            The video, which is listed as a semi-finalist in the "Film About An Artist" category, tells how a life-changing experience prompted the singer-songwriter and mother to write and sing again. The title track of Allen's new album, "Someday Is Today," has risen to the Top 15 of the STS Main Country Chart and the Top 10 of the STS Indie Country Chart. This is a "dream come true" for Allen, who left the music industry in the 1990s after suffering a mild heart attack. Festival attendees can view Allen's film sometime between 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. on Friday. The video can be viewed online at

            "I'm delighted to see my documentary chosen for the prestigious 'Artlightenment' festival," said Allen, who will perform at "Tunesmithing" near Music Row on Dec. 17. "My goal was to help others believe that no matter the circumstances, anything is possible."

            Allen tells her story with heartfelt interviews; scenes from Nashville and her hometown of El Dorado, Ark.; and performances of her songs, "Putting The Music Back In Me" and "Someday Is Today". The video was directed by Frank Green, shot in Nashville by videographer Sean Green, and co-produced by Tracy Fort and Chuck Whiting. The project includes footage from W.O. Smith Community Music School, the Center for Spiritual Living Nashville, Music Row, and the Pedestrian Bridge crossing the Cumberland River. The artist's supporting cast includes Grammy-nominated The WannaBeatles, Nashville producer Denny Martin, and Nashville stylist Joel Green.

             The singer-songwriter was only 20 years old when she was first "discovered" in an Arkansas honky-tonk by a music industry executive. Her rendition of Tina Turner's "Proud Mary" led her to the footsteps of Shoney's on Music Row and eventually a contract with an independent record label. With stars in her eyes, she recorded her first album with some of Nashville's top musicians.

            Then came heartbreak. At age 22, Allen experienced a mild heart attack after going on a strict diet and losing more than 100 pounds. Although the artist was her ideal weight, she was told she must have plastic surgery to keep her contract. She faced a hard decision. She could continue to pursue her dreams under very difficult circumstances or return home to marry and raise a family. As her car climbed the ramp onto Interstate 40, she thought her days as a songwriter and singer in Nashville were over.

            Some years later, while going through a very difficult divorce, Allen heard a 12-year-old girl singing songs from her first album, "Night Vision".

            "It was as simple as that," the singer-songwriter added. "Somehow, every emotion flooded through my body at that very moment, as well as the first realization that my musical story was not over. I wrote 'Putting The Music Back In Me' for that teenager. That experience is what led me back to Nashville."

            Allen has performed at venues ranging from the White House to the Ryman Auditorium. Her new album, "Someday Is Today", features 11 original songs inspired by real-life experiences. The artist describes her sound as a versatile mix of blues-accented country, pop and Americana with hints of Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Elton John, and Patsy Cline. She has opened for country acts such as John Conlee, Patty Loveless, and Brooks & Dunn. The album was named "New and Noteworthy" on the iTunes country music page when it was released in late September.

            Recorded in Nashville, "Someday Is Today" offers heartfelt ballads, mid-tempo crowd pleasers, and rock-accented dance numbers. Allen is joined by an all-star cast of Nashville session musicians, including guitarist Scott Neubert, background vocalists Jaimee Paul and Vickie Carrico, electric guitarist Jason Roller, and keyboardist Steve Peffer. The album, which retails for $15, is distributed by Wormwood Records. Selections from the album are available at iTunes and other online retailers. To learn more Allen and her music, visit

            "Artlightenment" will run from Nov. 14-16 with movie showings, a visual art exhibition, seminars and live music. Attendees will enjoy presentations by landmark photographer Raeanne Rubenstein, award-winning film composer Greg Simms, documentary filmmaker Tom Neff, and the band Sherry Carlisle and the Impalers. To learn more, visit


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Artist Spotlight: Matt Strasner Stands Out as One of the Only 'True' Country Artists in Slovenia

By Chuck Whiting
MCAU Editor

            Matt Strasner is a country pop singer-songwriter from Slovenia known for his one-of-kind performances in the tradition of popular American country acts such as Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean.

            Considered one of the only "true" country artists in his home country (who writes and performs his own songs in English), he has performed at major clubs and appeared on the Slovenija National Television Network. He brings a one-of-a-kind mix of country pop and country rock in a region better known for Slovenian pop music. This makes the artist stand out -- drawing national exposure and introducing American-style country music to thousands of appreciative fans.

            "Songwriting and singing to me is a chance to help other people go through life easier," says Matt, who recently recorded his first country album, "Fly", in Nashville, Tenn. "It's a chance to tell people that how they feel is okay, and that they're not the only ones. We are together in this, and we have to do the best we can with what we've got. For me, it's a way out of the ordinary routine... a chance to relax and just enjoy the moment."

            Although he's only in his early 20s, Matt's view of life (reflected in his songs) has been impacted by personal relationships and unforgettable experiences. He wrote the title track of his new album while walking to the final test before graduating high school. He had meticulously studied five major subjects for two weeks, knowing that missing the smallest details might derail his future.

            "I just felt like I wanted to fly away and not think about it any longer," notes the artist, whose album was produced by music industry veteran Kim Copeland. "Most of my songs come from just seeing people rush and worry, cry and smile." 

            For Matt, writing country-pop songs represented a major transition. He began his musical journey in his teens as a punk rock artist, performing at a host of major clubs in front of hundreds of concertgoers. The change in his artistry is a reflection of his life-changing experiences and a growing appreciation of the U.S. country acts who deeply inspire him. He now dreams of performing across Europe and eventually in front of American audiences.

            The singer-songwriter is beginning to land significant exposure in his home country. He has appeared twice on the Slovenija National Television Network's morning show and at popular Slovenian venues such as Orto Bar, the Pekarna nightclub, and the Taverna concert hall. He has received standing ovations (and new fans) in major cities such as Koper, Ljubljana and Maribor.

            While visiting Nashville to record "Fly", he had the opportunity to perform at a popular songwriting venue called the Commodore Grille. He says he loved sharing the stage with professional and emerging tunesmiths. He also was thrilled to work in the studio with some of Music Row's most accomplished session players.

            The artist's onstage experience as a former punk rock artist gives him a confident and passionate persona that appeals to fans of all ages. He brings crowds to their feet with rousing renditions of hits by Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan, then captures their hearts with expertly sung original ballads about love and loss. His shows, which range from one to four hours, offer depth with a wide range of originals and classics made famous by America's country stars. Matt's vocals and guitar licks are accented with piano, bass guitar and drums.

            Matt's playlist includes original songs from his new album ("Fly", "Afraid", Stay A Little Longer" and "Still Around"), as well as popular country covers ("Drunk On You"/Luke Bryan, "Tattoos On This Town"/Jason Aldean, "Let Me Down Easy"/Billy Currington, "Wagon Wheel"/Darius Rucker, "Stupid Boy"/Keith Urban, "Folsom Prison Blues"/Johnny Cash, and "Desperado"/The Eagles).

            The artist is receiving praise from music professionals and the news media.

            "What can you say about a boy born and raised in Slovenia who grows up to be a writer of country songs and a Nashville recording artist?" asks Nashville producer Kim Copeland. "A lot of good things if you are talking about Matt Strasner. His talent transcends language and borders. Matt writes about love and loss, and his smooth vocal texture makes you a believer. His humble attitude and warm smile are infectious, and both come through in his music. He is a new voice in country music, but one that is destined to be around a long time."

            "Every week there's two or three songs that stick with me," writes Bill Hughes, host of the "Rising Stars" show for radio stations Y 99.5-FM, 101.7 WJSQ-FM and WYGO-AM in Tennessee. "[The tune 'Still Around"] is one of them."

            "[Matt's] four-song EPK is amazing," raves Digital Rodeo reviewer Pam Stadel. "His style is pop-country, his vocals are smooth and strong, and the lyrics are clear and well written. As he sings, he draws you in with the emotion and has you hanging on every note. It is amazing that from halfway around the world, a great artist can emerge onto the country music scene."

            Matt is available to perform at concert venues, fairs, nightclubs, hotels, casinos and festivals. He plans to launch a European tour in 2014 with stops in Germany, Austria, Italy and the United Kingdom. He also plans to visit Nashville to write and record new songs, attend music industry events, and perform at legendary songwriting venues.           

            For more information or to book Matt Strasner for your next event, send an e-mail inquiry to or visit


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

'Tunesmithing' to Feature Internationally Known Singer/Actress J.Karen Thomas on Nov. 19

     NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The monthly "Tunesmithing" songwriters showcase will spotlight 11 professional and emerging songwriters from 8-10:30 p.m. Nov. 19 (Tuesday) at The Row Kitchen & Pub, 110 Lyle Ave. in Nashville (near Music Row).

     Taking the stage for the "Professional Songwriters Segment" at 8 p.m. will be the country/pop/R&B trio The House, the pop/country/inspirational duo Sean & Laurie O'Shea (music director at the Center for Spiritual Living Nashville), and the internationally known singer and actress J.Karen Thomas (portrays Audrey in ABC-TV's "Nashville"). 

     The "Emerging Songwriters Segment" at 9:30 p.m. will feature Summer Collins, Brooke McBride, Benjamin Bogue Pranger, Machaela Sullivan, and Baylor Wilson. Admission is free. Food and beverages will be available for purchase. Publicist Chuck Whiting and comedian Paulina Combow will emcee the show. Songwriter/audio engineer AJ Bigler will handle sound. "Tunesmithing" is sponsored by Whiting Publicity & Promotions, Music City Arts Update, and Shine Time Records and Books. Other upcoming shows include Dec. 17 (Amy Allen, Lisa Aschmann, and M Callahan). 

     "Tunesmithing" was founded in 2003 to spotlight emerging, professional and hit songwriters. The event offers mentoring, career growth and networking opportunities for tunesmiths at all levels. For more information about "Tunesmithing", call (615) 423-9857, write, or visit

Monday, November 4, 2013

Amy Allen to Perform Song at 'Singing Their Stories Concert' for Soldiers on Nov. 8

By Chuck Whiting
MCAU Editor

            NASHVILLE, Tenn. (November 2013) – Country-pop-Americana artist Amy Allen will help honor U.S. Army soldiers when she performs an original song at the "Singing Their Stories Concert" at Austin Peay State University on Nov. 8 (Friday).

            Allen co-wrote the touching tribute, "I'll Win Mine", with former soldier Alicia Khim in September during the "Songwriters for Soldiers Retreat" hosted by Soldiers and Families Embraced and The Beat of Life. The song shares some of the challenging experiences Alicia and her two kids have faced in Fort Campbell, Ky., while waiting for husband/father Sak Khim to return from overseas deployments.

            "Alicia is a remarkable wife, mother and veteran who has chosen to serve her fellow soldiers with a degree in counseling," said Allen, whose latest single, "Someday Is Today", is currently in the top 30 of the STS Main Country Chart. "I was honored to have the opportunity to write with her and to hear her story. I admire both non-profit organizations for bringing us all together."

            Allen praised Alicia and Sak Khim as dedicated parents who are proud to serve their country. Sak has been deployed to Iraq seven times. The couple's children, Campbelle and Rileigh, are named after bases where the soldiers were stationed. Alicia was forced to leave the military prematurely because of early onset Rheumatoid Arthritis. Now a student at APSU, she is helping soldiers recover from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury as an intern for SAFE.

            "Writing the song with Alicia was a wonderful experience," Allen added. "After lunch, we began narrowing down and focusing on the outcome. It was a very emotional process that continued to build throughout the day as Alicia's words became a musical tribute to her life. The tune has gone through many re-writes because we realized we had a great hook and wanted to make it accessible for radio. Everyone needs to hear it."

            Allen will share the stage with more than a dozen hit songwriters who participated in the "Songwriters for Solders" project. The concert, which will be emceed by singer-songwriter David Bradley, will occur from 7-9 p.m. at APSU's Sharon Mabry Concert Hall (Mass Communication Building), 266 Marion St. in Clarksville. Tickets are $15 for the public and $5 for students, military personnel and veterans. Proceeds from the concert will help SAFE provide free counseling and support for the active duty, veterans and their families. To order tickets, visit .

            "The song 'I'll Win Mine' is special because the retreat was so special," noted Allen, who has performed at venues ranging from the White House to the Ryman Auditorium. "I have always known that music is one of the greatest healers for so many issues we face. Many soldiers shared experiences and horrific instances for the first time. Their songs began their healing process. Many could not share their story with their spouses and loved ones, so they kept them bottled up. That was what was torturing them and causing the PTSD symptoms. I think the songwriters walked away with so much knowledge and gratitude we would have never known or experienced on such a personal level."

            Allen's new album, "Someday Is Today", features 11 original songs inspired by real-life experiences. To learn more about the artist and hear music from the CD, visit