Ross Newell, Jeff Plankenhorn, Brontë Fall, Leah Woods
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“Ross Newell can usually be seen and heard as the lead singer and songwriter in The Mulligan Brother from Mobile AL – his song writing weaves heartfelt tales of love and loss into complex yet comforting storytelling, the combination of which will leave you nostalgic for something (or someone) that you can’t quite put your finger on. With a remarkable universality, you could as easily imagine the tales spilling from the mouth of a storied, laugh-lined old man as his teenage grandson grieves his first heartbreak. He sings and plays about where they’ve been in a way that makes us all realize we’ve been there, too.”
“Last night he wowed the audience with his solo performance. The house was packed and the crowd didn’t want Ross to stop playing his old tunes and some new ones that aren’t recorded yet. He is a class act, great performer and a nice guy! We love him and want him back soon! ”
— John Burns - Dyson House Listening Room
AUSTIN GUITARIST JEFF PLANKENHORN SHIFTS FROM SIDE (AND SLIDE) WORK INTO THE SOLO SPOTLIGHT WITH ASSERTIVE SINGER-SONGWRITER SHOWCASE, SLEEPING DOGS, AVAILABLE NOW
Roots-rocking follow-up to 2016’s acclaimed SoulSlide finds the Ohio-born, Texas-based artist expanding his musical playing field with help from friends Ray Wylie Hubbard, Patty Griffin, and co-producer “Scrappy” Jud Newcomb.
AUSTIN, Texas — When Jeff Plankenhorn, arguably one of the busiest and most highly regarded guitar players on the Austin music scene, tells you that he “hardly ever takes sideman gigs anymore," take it with a grain of salt.
Yes, it’s true he’s made a concerted effort to carve out more time for his own solo career ever since issuing his breakout second studio set, 2016's SoulSlide — and he aims to find even more of that “me time” come the May 4, 2018 release of his new album, Sleeping Dogs on Spike Steel Records.But as far as scaling back on the whole sideman thing goes ... bear in mind that there’s a big difference between “hardly ever” and never. Namely, the former still leaves the guy just enough wiggle room to happily say “yes” when legends (and friends) on the level of Ray Wylie Hubbard or the Flatlanders need a can-do guitar man for a sold-out theater engagement. Or, say, when fellow A-list Austin sideman “Scrappy” Jud Newcomb — the MVP co-producer of Sleeping Dogs — finds out he can’t make it to a very special Johnny Nicholas gig in Hawaii, and asks “Plank” if he’d be up for subbing for him. Who in their right mind is going to say no to that?
Plankenhorn still selectively takes those kinds of calls not because he gets them, but because he’s earned them. For the better part of the last 17 years, ever since he first moved to Texas with nothing to his name but a Geo Prism, $100, seven guitars and the generous hospitality of Ray and Judy Hubbard, the gifted multi-instrumentalist from Columbus, Ohio has busted ass to prove himself not just able and willing, but above all worthy of playing with the best of the best. And the reason so many song poets like Hubbard and Joe Ely like having Plank at their side is not just because of his prodigious chops on all things stringed (especially those played with a slide), but because of his intuitive knack for knowing when to hold back, always allowing the singer room to land a lyric and go for the proverbial kill. “That’s just part of the skill set I learned very early on: ‘When in doubt, layout,’” Plankenhorn explains with a chuckle. “That joke about knowing when not to play? It's true.”
Not surprisingly, that particular skill — along with myriad other lessons in the finer points of songcraft that he’s picked up from sharing stages with the masters — has come to greatly inform Plankenhorn’s own music over the years. But it’s never been more apparent than it is on Sleeping Dogs. Make no mistake: Plank plays a lot of guitar on the album, along with pedal steel, piano, upright bass and seemingly anything else he could lay his hands on during the sessions at the Zone recording studio just outside of Austin. But in stark contrast to SoulSlide, which by his own admission was by design a showcase for his custom-designed lap slide guitar, a patented “Frankenstein” beauty he calls “the Plank,” Sleeping Dogs is first and foremost all about the songs.
“The Plank guitar came from me wanting to mix together the two worlds of bluegrass dobro and the sacred steel tradition, and my whole last album was dedicated to that one instrument — to get it out there,” he says. “SoulSlide also really helped put me on the map as a solo artist, which is why I’ve moved on to focusing more on doing my own thing and only doing a side gig once in a while when I really want to, with people that I really respect. But now, with Sleeping Dogs, I wanted to take a bigger look at how the whole world of music is available to me; it’s not about just one guitar or sound, but rather about using all of the instruments I play and bringing all of my influences together — and about really wanting to bring my songwriting to the forefront.”
To that end, there are no covers on the new album, but half of the songs were born out of co-writing sessions with a handful of his longtime friends including his co-producer (and bandmate in Austin’s the Resentments) Newcomb, Gabriel Rhodes, Miles Zuniga, Jon Dee Graham, and of course Hubbard — the “Wylie Llama” of Americana/Texas music, who Plankenhorn still credits as his personal gateway to the whole scene. “Pretty much everyone I’ve ever played with is like, one degree of separation away from Ray,” he marvels with a laugh. It was also Hubbard who set Plankenhorn straight years ago when he doubted his own merits as a songwriter.
“I had just started out playing some of my own songs at these little acoustic gigs, but I remember telling him, ‘Ray, I don't think I should be doing this — I’m just a side guy.’ And he said, ‘Where’s your proof? Are people coming to your shows? Are people listening to your songs? Yes? Well, there’s your proof.’”
Naturally, the song Plankenhorn and Hubbard cooked up together, a satisfyingly greasy howler called “Tooth and Nail,” just happens to be all about the not-for-the-timid troubadour path and the discipline of songwriting, without so much as a grain of sugar to sweeten the pot. “We had already written a good portion of the song when he came back to me and said, ‘It’s like an old cat having kittens / You just crawl under the porch and do it,’ which is a very Ray line,” Plankenhorn says. “But what’s cool is there were other lines where his wife, Judy, was like, ‘Ray must have written that,’ and I was like, ‘Ha, no, that was me!’”
And the Hubbard-certified gnarled blues of “Tooth and Nail” is just one of a handful of different styles Plankenhorn makes his own on Sleeping Dogs. Both the hurricane Harvey-inspired “Further to Fall” (co-written with Rhodes) and the closing “Heaven on Earth,” Plankenhorn’s awestruck tribute to his wife’s transcendent love of nature, hit the same deep, soulful notes that defined his last album (with that trusty Plank guitar put to especially righteous use on the latter song). But there’s also “This Guitar,” a disarmingly folky, listening-room-ready paean to the workhorse acoustic Martin that’s been his go-to writing guitar ever since it was anonymously gifted to him not long after he first moved to Texas. And perhaps most surprising of all (even to Plankenhorn himself), there’s even a few free-spirited ventures into buoyantly catchy, unabashedly poppy rock ’n’ roll.
“I had already recorded a few rhythm tracks before this, but the day that Scrappy first came to the studio was also the day that Tom Petty died — and somehow, everything just kind of shifted that day,” he says. “Not on the entire album, but for a good portion of it, there were discussions of like, ‘What would Mike Campbell do on this guitar part?’ And out of that, some of the songs like ‘Sleeping Dogs’ and ‘I Don't Know Anything’ really changed and moved into more of a roots-rock thing. Which wasn’t something I was expecting — I mean, it came out of nowhere — but I loved it.”
That wouldn’t be the last happy surprise, either. The stately, hymn-like “Holy Lightning,” an arresting co-write with Newcomb and Zuniga (of Fastball fame), actually almost didn’t make the final cut. “I had started that one myself but just really wasn’t digging it, so I took it to Miles and Scrappy in the studio, and between the three of us we completely reworked it from scratch over a couple of hours,” he recalls. “But even then I still wasn’t entirely about it. But then Scrappy sent the demo to Patty Griffin, and she goes, ‘I want to sing on this!’ As soon as she said that, I was like, ‘Well, I’m definitely putting it on the album now!’”
Needless to say, “Holy Lightning” is now one of his favorite songs on the record. Not that there’s a single track that he’s not proud of on Sleeping Dogs, which is a testament both to the positive experience he had recording it and the confidence he feels going forward into the next stage of his career. And should he even find himself second-guessing his conviction on that solo sojourn, well, he’s already written his own anthem to sing his way through the doubt.
“When I wrote ‘Sleeping Dogs,’ I got this image of sleeping dogs lying, and how I need to let shit go,” he explains. “I literally took a lot of things that I’m really bad at or think I’m really bad at, and told myself, ‘If I sing this for a year or two on tour, it may make me better at these things; maybe I won’t take stuff personally, won’t let things get me down.’ And I thought, ‘Maybe somebody else will hear this song and maybe it will help them, too.’ And I really like that idea: I like the idea of writing songs that have a little moral imperative to them.”
Some would call that a sense of purpose. Or, as Hubbard put it best to Plankenhorn way back at the start of his journey, “There’s your proof.”
In her poem, “Fall, Leaves, Fall”, nineteenth century gothic author Ms. Emily Bronte warmly welcomes Autumn and the looming winter ahead. She saw poetry in the changing seasons and beauty in the shortening days. It is this irony that inspired lead singer/songwriter Teri Bracken in the creation of Bronte Fall. Bracken, too, aims to embrace the changing seasons of her life, and express as much through her art.
For Bracken, Bronte Fall alludes to her personal journey all the way back to when it first began. A Chicago native, Bracken moved to Boston as the leaves were falling down on the city. She was taking classical violin lessons in Harvard Square and would spend evenings wandering its crooked cobblestone streets. There, she would visit the folk clubs and cafes, absorbing all the music and conversation around her. Bracken’s love for travel and adventure brought her journey to Nashville, New York, and other American cities where she explored various relationships and musical genres. It was through these experiences- both personal and musical- that she found her own voice. In her youth, Bracken’s musical euphoria combined both an edgy rock singer and orchestral violin player. Then, for a long while, Bracken craved the rawness of Americana roots music and aching beauty of a traditional fiddle tune. When she fell in love with the craft of songwriting, Pop music took hold of her heart. Thus, she found the avenue through which to tell her story.
Bronte Fall got its start in the winter of 2015. Beginning as a mere writing project with a friend from Berklee School of Music, Bronte Fall quickly bloomed into a fully equipped band, performing their first show in Bracken’s home city of Chicago in the spring of 2015. At the core of this project is collaboration, as Bracken has always been drawn to the team aesthetic in any musical setting.
Outspokenly feminine and reminiscent of three of the first bold women who dared to have a voice, Bronte Fall aims to do what all art strives for- tell the truth. Like Ms. Emily Bronte, Bronte Fall is unedited and honest, modern and, at times, impolite. The songs are a testament to resiliency and survival, which make us most human after all. Bronte Fall’s debut album, Silhouette Dances, allows all of the influences of Bracken’s personal journey to seep through as she continues to pursue this adventure of music & life.
With a smokey tone and soulful voice Leah's indie/folk & soul compositions are rawly inspired by ambient sounds, constant search for adventure and strive to create positive change. Leah's Debut EP "b r i g h t e r t i d e s " can be found on all streaming platforms. In which she toured the country on a solo tour.
Leah appeared with pop star Charlie Puth in a commercial for Samsung and the Smule app. In 2017, co-wrote and featured on up and coming D.C. artist Ace Cosgrove's single "My Fault" and NY artist Cole King's single "Dead End".
Leah's band has Collectively played at venues and festivals such as the New York Coffee Festival, Sofar Sounds, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Birdland, Rockwood, Mercury Lounge, The Bitter End, New York Couture Fashion Week and more.
Leah also sang backup vocal for artist and singer/songwriter Victoria Canal on her midwest tour with Lawrence and opened for Daphne Willisin 2018 at Purchase College. In 2017 she toured with Jerk in the Northeast. In 2016 with her late soul and R&B cover band Mama and The Stops where all proceeds from each show went to local non-profit organizations in the cities in which they played.
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