Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez
It Goes To 11: Steve Earle Marvels Over His 1935 Martin D-28, A Guitar That Chris Stapleton Inadvertently Pushed Him To Buy
Three-time GRAMMY winner Steve Earle sings the praises of his 1935 Martin D-28 and explains the taxing journey it took to own the esteemed guitar
If your house was suddenly on fire, what items would you risk your safety to grab? For three-time GRAMMY winner Steve Earle, the decision is a no-brainer.
"If everything was blowing up, and I took one instrument, it'd be this 1935 [Martin] D-28," he says, proudly holding the acoustic guitar.
In this episode of It Goes To 11, watch the multi-hyphenate folk star break down the importance of what he calls the "holy grail" of acoustic guitars.
Though Earle's prized instrument hasn't always been this particular Martin model — he owned the 1939 D-18 before Chris Stapleton unknowingly swiped it — the "Copperhead Road" singer ended up with a rare treasure. Today, resellers list the 1935 Martin D-28 for as much $150,000.
"They're not making them anymore exactly like this. Some of it has to do with the wood that this guitar is made from is largely extinct," Earle explains. "You can't build this guitar today, no matter how much money you put into it."
Hear Earle tell the fateful story of how he ended up with his classic Martin D-28 above, and make sure to check GRAMMY.com every Wednesday for new episodes of It Goes To 11.
Photo: Neil Krug
Positive Vibes Only: Chad Lawson Leads A Trio Of Classical Instruments In His Tranquil Performance Of "Fields Of Forever"
Lawson extends an invitation to listeners to discover the healing power of classical music in his idyllic new song, the piano-led "Fields of Forever."
Composer and pianist Chad Lawson shares his luminous, tranquil take on classical music in "Fields of Forever." The new single, which Lawson released this summer, comes from his new double album breathe, released Sept. 23.
In this episode of Positive Vibes Only, Lawson invites listeners into the idyllic world of the song, cast as a live performance version and taped in a recital hall. Lawson helms the performance, sitting at his piano and smiling as he begins to play.
Soon, a cellist and violinist join in, augmenting the peaceful vibes of the song. For part of the performance, the violin line takes center stage, with Lawson's piano temporarily fading into the background as a higher register takes the spotlight.
The recital hall is mostly bare in this close-up performance, but spherical lamps decorate the foreground, adding a bit of extra visual magic.
In "Fields of Forever," Lawson hopes to provide a calming and warm musical backdrop for all listeners, no matter who they might be or where they might be in their lives.
The music video for the song, which was shot in Los Angeles, emphasizes the universality behind "Fields of Forever." Set in a roadside diner, the clip follows a variety of young people, each in the middle of their own unique journey, but who are bonded despite their dissimilarities by the music playing at the cafe.
Press play on the video above to immerse yourself in the world Lawson creates in "Fields of Forever," and keep checking GRAMMY.com every Sunday for more episodes of Positive Vibes Only.
Photo: Stephanie Berger
Here's What Went Down At The World Premiere Of Jon Batiste's 'American Symphony' At Carnegie Hall
At Carnegie Hall, Jon Batiste finally unveiled his long-awaited 'American Symphony.' And from its realism to its range to its limitless imagination, it didn't disappoint.
An industry darling paying tribute to the land of the free in what's arguably the most prestigious room in said country. The title: American Symphony. Does this sound dry, erudite, staid? Nothing could be further from the truth.
This is Jon Batiste we're talking about, he who exudes creativity, thoughtfulness and charm with every piano trill, with every shout-out to Duke, Nina, Billie and Louis, with every impish, camera-ready grin. Even sans piano, his hands tend to dance, fingers extended southward, his locks projecting in all directions.
And on Sept. 22, when Batiste strode, clad in royal blue, down the aisles of Carnegie Hall's Stern Auditorium to its Perelman stage — which those four progenitors graced — his mind was visibly whirring. (Even in his ride to the gig, he was noodling on a synth, mulling over ideas.)
After the standing ovation ceased, it was time to behold a new kind of American symphony — not a bland, flag-waving one, or one that papers over the strife and ugliness and outright horror of the nation's founding.
No, this one has banjoists and steel drummers and Afro-Latin percussionists and Indigenous vocalists and drummers. It has a hefty-looking modular synth. It has screams and police sirens and disembodied conversations. It has ominous, decaying runs at the bottom of the piano's register.
This glorious cacophony acts as the answer to Batiste's questions in the show program: "What if the symphony was invented today in America? Who would participate in the modern American orchestra? What would it sound like?" And as the five-time GRAMMY winner and 14-time nominee explains, those prompts sent him on this composerly journey more than three years ago.
Batiste was supposed to debut American Symphony back in May, a month after he swept the 2022 GRAMMYs, including a golden gramophone for Album Of The Year. After the maestro contracted COVID, the show got kicked forward to the beginning of fall; perhaps that extra time enabled him to further tighten the screws.
Jon Batiste performing at Carnegie Hall in 2022. Photo: Stephanie Berger
Because even during the parts where American Symphony seems to float like mist, it's tightly written and conceived. And due to its force of imagination, musical economy, and sheer diversity of sounds and ideas, there wasn't a dull moment in the performance's intermission-free two hours.
Subdivided into an overture and four conceptual movements — titled "Capitalism," "Integrity," "Globalism," and "Majesty — American Symphony takes the masked, black-tie-clad audience on a journey through the United States' manifold, oft-contradictory nature through music that majestically heaves, tormentedly deliberates, and joyously soars.
Using the monumental collaboration between Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn as a lodestar ("They consistently synthesized cultural lineages through the lens of a pluralistic and noble worldview," Batiste writes), he captures America's cultural multitudes through an intertwining of a vast range of African diasporic traditions — Caribbean, Brazilian, Yoruba, Haitian, Creole.
And given that New Orleans represented a nexus of these influences, the performance felt like a jubilant tribute to the Big Easy — Batiste grew up in Kenner, a suburb of New Orleans — while framing it as a wellspring and living source of American excellence.
By putting the Black experience front and center, Batiste rendered American Symphony realistic, not jingoistic. The symphony balances interpolations of patriotic mainstays like "Battle Hymn of the Republic" with songs invaluable to the civil-rights movement, like "We Shall Overcome" — all with musical suggestions of disharmony and struggle shadowing the margins.
The overture suggested a form taking shape from welter and waste, Book of Genesis style. As its vast diversity of instruments and traditions commingled, the composition swirled semi-shapelessly, until it coalesced into melodies and motifs. This isn't meant to evoke pre-colonialization American continent being, absurdly, some kind of blank slate; the conspicuous Indigenous elements drove that crucial point home. Rather, it suggests a budding republic.
In the program, Batiste cites "essential elements of the American democratic system" and "the U.S. Constitution as a reference point," stressing that "this score is a living document that will evolve over time." Likewise, the audience felt the American experiment evolving, experiencing growing pains, and reckoning with the stains of its past. And great blasts of percussion punctuated it like cannonfire.
"Capitalism" focused on "the building of cities and structures that have long since shaped the way we relate to one another and to the land." Incorporating a din of clashing electronic tones — and giving way to shimmering, Phillip Glass-like clusters of notes from the composer's Steinway — this movement shattered any preconceived notions that this would be some kind of American Revolution exhibit.
This blurred into another counterweight — an educated guess would place this in "Integrity." (The movements weren’t announced, and didn't always begin and end in straightforward fashion; often they blurred into each other.) Fiddlers suggested nascent country music, the everyday citizen, the Great Plains.
"Don't give up/ Don't give in," a gospel section sang, waried yet calming and resolute. Soon after came the clap-alongs, the exhortations, the benedictions, which kept American Symphony from ever tripping into anything lecturing or tiresome or polemical. Most everyone was on their feet.
Jon Batiste performing at Carnegie Hall in 2022. Photo: Stephanie Berger
After a tranquil and diffuse middle section where the intermission might have been slotted, American Symphony went lighter on signifiers and heavier on simple, strong flavors, threading wheedly synth lines into splendorous strings. Batiste kept the proceedings in something of a Goldilocks zone — charmingly ramshackle and kitchen-sink, but never sloppily so.
Following the piped-in sounds of children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance — ending with "Amen" — American Symphony concluded with an orchestral tantrum that could make one's heart leap in their throat. For an encore, Batiste took to the piano, concluding with a "Star-Spangled Banner" full of jazzy, winking syncopation and substitute chords.
If the performance seemed to weave around genre distinctions, or traditional ideas of what a symphony is, that's no accident at all. After all, this is Batiste we're dealing with; at this juncture, he's possibly mainstream music's most public and voracious omnivore.
"I don't even think genre exists," Batiste told GRAMMY.com back in 2021, upon the release of his last album, WE ARE. "Self-curation and the free exchange of information and content creates a lack of genre adherence. That kind of diversity and access changes listening habits and changes the way people perceive music."
Perhaps that's the most lasting effect of American Symphony at this stage, before it evolves and mutates and sharpens itself — like the highly variable nation of its namesake.
Without hectoring or over-explaining or shoving a reading list at you, Batiste's ambitious suite can rewire your thinking and sharpen your gaze as a citizen. All while capturing the essence of this incalculably messy yet stubbornly optimistic home of the brave.
Photo: Denise Truscello/WireImage
For The Record: How India.Arie Found True Artistic Expression & GRAMMYs Gold With 'Voyage To India'
With her 2002 album, the neo soul sensation became a GRAMMY winner after a disappointing defeat in 2001. But the most rewarding part wasn't the accolades — it was the fact that she stayed true to herself on the journey.
India.Arie faced a particularly unique pressure going into her second album, 2002's Voyage to India. Signed by Motown after performing at Lilith Fair in the late '90s, Arie was a new kind of talent within the burgeoning soul revival movement of the time. And just the year prior, Arie's acclaimed debut, Acoustic Soul, had established her as one of the brightest stars to emerge from the neo soul explosion of the early 2000s — so all eyes were on her when it came time to follow it up.
Unlike some of her contemporaries, such as Jill Scott, Macy Gray or Erykah Badu, the Atlanta-raised Arie (who was born India Arie Simpson) wielded her faithful acoustic guitar to craft a sound inspired in equal parts by the soul of Roberta Flack and the folk of Bonnie Raitt, all tied together with the songwriting prowess of her idol, Stevie Wonder.
The album turned Arie into an overnight success, thanks in large part to its anthemic lead single "Video," which preached radical self-love and the rejection of impossible beauty standards as the singer's defining manifesto. Acoustic Soul also earned her a whopping seven nominations at the 2002 GRAMMY Awards — including nods for Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist — though she ended up leaving empty-handed by the end of the night.
There was no denying Arie had been dealt a very public blow to her confidence. "All I felt was, 'Maybe I'm not meant to have all of that…Maybe I wasn't built for that,' you know?" Arie recalled to Oprah Winfrey in 2013. "In hindsight I realize now that I was scared of failing and I was scared of succeeding."
However, instead of letting the defeat derail her artistic vision or frighten her further from succeeding, Arie turned inward to find inspiration and allowed the experience to fuel what eventually became 2002's Voyage to India. On lead single "Little Things," the singer grappled openly with her newfound stardom while reorienting her priorities.
"Runnin' round in circles, lost my focus, lost sight of my goals/ I do this for the love of music, not for the glitter and gold/ Got everything that I prayed for, even a little more/ When I asked to learn humility, this is what I was told/ It's the little things/ And the joy they bring, it's the little things," she sang, channeling the GRAMMYs strife and hard-earned wisdom over a lilting acoustic beat and clattering percussion.
Yes, in some ways it was a sentiment similar to the message she had first shared in "Video" when she sang, "I'm not the average girl from your video/ My worth is not determined by the price of my clothes/ No matter what I'm wearing I will always be/ India Arie." But this time, she had real-world experience of being battered by the fickle winds of fame — and emerged on the other side with her proverbial ship intact.
With Voyage, Arie doubled down on themes that had connected fans to her music in the first place, whether she was exhorting men to respect their female counterparts ("Talk To Her"), preaching a gospel of gratitude ("Slow Down"), basking in guidance from a divine hand (Headed In the Right Direction"), or espousing a wide-eyed appreciation for the beauty of creation ("God Is Real"). In between those reflections, interludes titled "Growth," "Healing" and "Gratitude" — as well as soothing love songs like "The Truth," "Beautiful Surprise" and "Can I Walk With You" — further displayed her knack for combining inspirational messages and warmhearted melodies.
The singer/songwriter also proved on her second outing that she had the musical smarts to deftly avoid any kind of sophomore slump. While she'd clearly had creative control on Acoustic Soul, it had been the learning process of an industry newcomer — with every song featuring one of several different co-producers listed next to her name in the credits.
This time around, Arie pared down the cooks in the musical kitchen by enlisting Nashville-based duo Drew and Shannon to help produce and write the bulk of the album. (She ultimately worked with the then-newcomers on eight of its 15 tracks, including "Little Things" and "Good Man.")
The partnership served Arie's music well, giving Voyage to India consistency as a more cohesive body of work that was filled with smarter production choices and stronger vocal performances than its predecessor. Arie even threw off the training wheels and produced five tracks on the album solely by herself.
Voyage to India came together quickly, with Motown aiming for a release date just seven months after the 2002 GRAMMYs. And by all means, the strategy was entirely intentional: The label's then-president and chief executive Kedar Massenburg admitted that he pushed Arie to release the album ahead of the Recording Academy's Oct. 1st submission deadline.
"Now she'll get her just due," he told The New York Times at the time. "As far as R&B and soul is concerned, she has no competition."
Clearly the plan worked: Arie added four more nods to her already-impressive string — to date, she has received 23 nominations, along with two more wins — and Voyage to India was awarded Best R&B Album Of The Year. "Little Things" also won a golden gramophone, beating out tracks by Erykah Badu and Common, Floetry, CeeLo Green, and Raphael Saadiq and D'Angelo in the then-inaugural Best Urban/Alternative Performance category.
But as the saying goes, the journey — or shall we say, voyage — is never really about the destination. And while Arie's sophomore album resulted in GRAMMY gold, the singer's titular voyage was ultimately one back to the essence of herself, even if its title happened to be lifted from an instrumental off her personal idol's 1979 soundtrack Stevie Wonder's Journey Through "The Secret Life of Plants."
"When I first got those GRAMMY nominations, I had chest pains…when I really should've been celebrating and enjoying," she reflected in her 2013 sit-down with Oprah. "But one of the things that I've worked my way out of doing…[is] comparing myself to other people. That just poisons everything. 'Cause your real job in the world is to be you."
Photo: Blair Getz Mezibov
Behind Little Big Town's Biggest Hits: Funny & Heartfelt Stories From The Country Group's Career-Defining Singles
Little Big Town's Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook commemorate the band's 20 years together by taking a look back at hits like "Pontoon" and "Girl Crush," as well as songs from their 10th studio album, 'Mr. Sun.'
This year marks 20 years since country foursome Little Big Town released their debut album. And almost more impressively, the band is still composed of original members: Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Phillip Sweet, and Jimi Westbrook.
The quartet has created a legacy in their two decades together, releasing soulful ballads and jovial party starters that have helped the three-time GRAMMY winners become one of the most critically acclaimed country groups of their generation. Along the way, they've forged a familial bond that Westbrook and Sweet insist hasn't wavered. Their secret? "Lots of whiskey," Westbrook jokes.
The more serious answer, though, is that they have created an environment of love and respect among the band. "The number one thing is us just trying to respect everyone's lives, we love each other and respect each other," Westbrook adds. "And we try to take care of each other the best we can. It's not perfect, but we try really hard."
Little Big Town's 20-year anniversary was marked by the release of their 10th studio album, Mr. Sun. The album is a representation of both how they've evolved as a group, and the extensive time they've spent developing their sound. "We keep growing and evolving. We know who we are. We get inspired and excited about learning, about creating new things that we haven't done before," Westbrook says. "I feel like we're just scratching the surface of what we can do."
Just after Mr. Sun's arrival, GRAMMY.com sat down with Westbrook and Sweet over Zoom to look back at some of their biggest hits and get better acquainted with some tunes from their latest set.
"Little White Church," The Reason Why (2010)
Westbrook: We knew that we loved it. It felt fun. And it just had a great attitude and spirit to it. So I think we had high hopes for it, but you never know. I just remember the whole writing process of that back in the day, when we were working with Wayne Kirkpatrick, who was such a godsend in our career and early on. I remember writing it that day, [and] it being a lot of fun. We wrote it pretty quickly and then headed to a barbecue joint to celebrate. We always celebrate with food. [Laughs]
[For the video] I just remember that we were out in the woods. A ways out there by that weird spooky ghost story. That was the weirdest weekend. I lost my treasured 1932 Gibson guitar.
Sweet: Also, I remember us walking forever. It was a lot of walking and there was a camera guy that was following us and had to run backwards as he was filming the whole thing. And I think he had had too much to drink the night before. That didn't end well.
"Boondocks," The Road to Here (2005)
Westbrook: We were working with Wayne Kirkpatrick, like Jimi had mentioned earlier, who is just a beautiful human. He was a godsend to our life. We actually were working on another song called "Bones" that is on the same record. Those two songs kind of burst together. "Bones" and "Boondocks'' became something that were the cornerstones for that particular record.
We were talking about how they told us we were a put-together band and we were like, "No, we're, we're not. We're who we are." We had to speak from where we came from, and that's where "Boondocks" came from.
Sweet: There's nothing like playing that song. It's still my favorite thing. No matter where we are. It's definitely fun going home and I mean, I can't help but think of that. Especially when we have friends in the audience, like people I grew up with. You can't help but feel that connection, and it gives you a sense of pride. You feel like they know your story. And it's just so much fun every night. The reaction is so heartfelt from the crowd with that one as well — man, it'll lift you.
Westbrook: We performed with Lindsey Buckingham in 2006, on CMT crossroads. And he had something really unique to say about it. He was like, "it doesn't matter where you're from. This song just resonates with where you came from." And that's what we intended when we were writing it.
"Pontoon," Tornado (2012)
Westbrook: I got an email from a friend saying "hey, listen to this song," and it kind of passed by for a little while. Then we went back later and listened to it again. And it really struck a chord. It's just such a quirky cool song. The groove to it is so good. That's what we loved, that swagger that it had in the groove. People really grabbed a hold of it when it came out.
Sweet: There's so much joy in that song. When we heard it, that's what we felt from it. It was instant. It had a vibe, it had a quirkiness to it that we loved.
Westbrook: It definitely goes over well in festivals — summertime, everybody hanging out with drinks in their hand. A lot of times we will start the shows off with that, because [with] that lick, immediately everybody knows what it is.
"Day Drinking," Pain Killer (2014)
Sweet: That was me and Philip and Karen writing with Troy Verges and Barry Dean. That was just one of those great days hanging out with your friends. Troy brought his mando in that day and started the vibe off with that lick. We began day drinking, because we felt it was only appropriate.
"Girl Crush," Pain Killer (2014)
Westbrook: We knew from the beginning that there were interpretations, you know, at country radio, that kind of caused a little stir. And I love it. That's the beauty of music — it's people's stories. And those stories are interpreted differently in all kinds of ways.
I'm just proud of that song. That was such a catapulting moment for our band. That song is so special, and it does resonate deeply with people, and we're grateful for that, for sure.
Sweet: It was just nice to — I mean, in a weird way — to stir it up. It got people thinking, it got people moving, and differently than any other song we'd ever put out before. So, for that reason, I really am grateful as well.
We were lucky — the girls in our band went to write with <a href="https://www.grammy.com/artists/lori-mckenna/19192">[Lori McKenna, Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose, aka the Love Junkies] literally the day after they wrote that song. And they were saying in their session, "play something you just wrote" and that's what they played.
Westbrook: Karen and Kimberly put that one on lockdown instantly. Like, "you can't play that for anybody else."
It was very intentional to make the track feel skeletal and haunting and, like, empty, because that's what your emotion would feel. And that was definitely the goal.
"Better Man," The Breaker (2016)
Sweet: We've known Taylor Swift for a long time, since she was just in the beginning in the business. And we would do label showcases together when she was really young, and we recognized the poise she had. So we always stayed connected and have always been friends. She had our emails and such.
She sent me an email and said, "Hey, I have the song. I have the demo. I just thought about your harmonies when I was writing it. And so check it out. No pressure."
That was 2016. We were touring with Luke Bryan and we were making a record with Pharrell Williams [2016's Wanderlust]. I played it for the guys on tour and we were all like, "Holy smokes, man, this is a really good song," and I [knew I] needed to record it. I am just thankful she sent it to us.
"Mr. Sun," Mr. Sun (2022)
Westbrook: Sarah Buxton sent us that song, and from the first time we heard it, it has such a vibe to it. Another really classic melody. I love a good melancholy song. And that's what "Mr. Sun" feels like. Because you think with it being "Mr. Sun," it's going to be some bright shiny song, but it's a little blue.
"Rich Man," Mr. Sun (2022)
Sweet: Jimi wrote this song. I've been hearing this song in the dressing rooms and backstage for about 10 years. He said it wasn't really quite finished. We actually attempted to record this several years back, but it was one of those that was in the ether. Then Jimi said he finished it. And I said, "Man, that's just beautiful."
We were playing new music for some friends and they were like "play something we haven't heard." We played them "Rich Man," and their reaction was so authentic and visceral.
We were done with the record. And then the fact that we went in there and finished the album with "Rich Man" was just perfect. It was like the perfect little piece to the puzzle that we didn't even know [we needed]. It just made it feel so beautiful. It was perfect for this record.
Westbrook: It's one that it just kept hanging around. I would always come back to it, and then, maybe a year or so ago, finally felt like I wrapped it up like I wanted to. I wasn't even sure that anybody would even hear it. It was kind of my own. It's my own story in my heart for my family. But it's really cool that it found its way on the record.
"Three Whiskeys and the Truth," Mr. Sun (2022)
Sweet: Karen, Kimberly and Lori McKenna, Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose, they get together and they didn't invite the boys. But they wrote this together and it's just so beautiful. I think it's just one of the most beautiful melodies.
Westbrook: Haunting as well. You feel that loneliness.
Sweet: Kimberly always says this in interviews — when they get together, like the girls and the Love Junkies, it's a safe place. It's a place where you can just speak your heart, your emotions. And they do that. And man, what beautiful things come out of that room.