This Just In: Congratulations to Kara and Amos Heller on the birth of their son Jack

(Photo: Amos Heller via Twitter)
(Photo: Amos Heller via Twitter)

Hello Taylor Nation,

Just a quick note to let you know you should congratulate The Agency’s bass player extraordinaire, Amos Heller and his wife Kara on the birth of their first child, Jack.

Kara and Amos are two of the most friendly and awesome people you could meet. They’ve been kind enough to share their good news with us the fans through Twitter. Here at the Swift Agency, just another guy thankful for the luck and the opportunity, we’d like to send our heartfelt congratulations and best wishes.

Coming up on the Calendar!

  • May 18: The 2014 Billboard Music Awards air live  on May 18 on ABC at 8pm ET.
  • May 30: The RED Tour in Shanghai, China at Mercedes-Benz Arena. More information.
  • June 1: The RED Tour in Tokyo, Japan at Saitama Super Arena. Tickets on sale March 29. More Information.
  • June 4: The 2014 CMT Music Awards.
  • June 4: The RED Tour in Jakarta, Indonesia at MEIS (Mata Elang International Stadium). Tickets on sale February 24. More Information.

(Sources: Amos Heller via Twitter)

Happy Birfday to the Agency’s guitar player Grant Mickelson!

(Photo: Grant Mickelson via Twitter)
(Photo: Grant Mickelson via Twitter)

It’s misspelled on purpose, Taylor Nation. If you know Grant, you know why.

Happy Birthday, Grant Mickelson! You’re going to in Asia in month, better start practicing your Mandarin. He’s going to be sorely missed by former dance team member Claire Callaway and little Lulu.

Grant was born in Sioux City, Iowa. He was very active in the local music scene. His passion for the guitar took him to Texas where he majored in Jazz Studies at the University of North Texas. In 2004, he moved to Nashville, where he studied music at Belmont University and began making contacts in the music industry.

You can read more about him on his very own Agency Profile: Grant Mickelson.

Coming up on the Calendar!

  • May 18: The 2014 Billboard Music Awards air live  on May 18 on ABC at 8pm ET.
  • May 30: The RED Tour in Shanghai, China at Mercedes-Benz Arena. More information.
  • June 1: The RED Tour in Tokyo, Japan at Saitama Super Arena. Tickets on sale March 29. More Information.
  • June 4: The 2014 CMT Music Awards.
  • June 4: The RED Tour in Jakarta, Indonesia at MEIS (Mata Elang International Stadium). Tickets on sale February 24. More Information.

(Sources: Agency Profile: Grant Mickelson)

The Weekly Rant: The fifth album and the quote that wasn’t

(Photo: TAS/Getty Images for TAS)
(Photo: TAS/Getty Images for TAS)

I hope it’s nice where you are, Taylor Nation.

I haven’t done a rant in a while, so let me inform you what this is about. There’s a lot of things that sometimes happen during the week… or the last month. I don’t post it about because they’re not news, they’re not enough of an item to fill a post. My intention is to just group them up and then write a lengthy post fill with just my random thoughts. So this will be a very, very long post.

Lately most of the news are pictures of the Sparkly Dressed by the paparazzi when she’s just going about her day. I don’t condemn or judge the sites who posts those pictures, I’m glad to see her too. I’ve posted those in the past. Nowadays, I prefer to have a news item associated to the picture I’m posting. The paps’ pictures feel a bit too intrusive sometimes. Taylor will Instagram often anyways.

Instagram has become a beehive of activity lately (cool segue, eh). The Queen of Sparks has been liking and commenting on fans’ pictures which has prompted a lot of denizens of the Taylor Nation to post and tag her incessantly. I can’t blame them for trying to get her attention. I also understand if you’d rather put a filter on your Twitter client (Twitterbot for Mac has a good filter feature) to prevent getting spammed by the Instagram postings on your feed. No offense 🙂

T-Swizzle has been seen with a bunch of friends lately, models, actresses, singers and other close friends. She has been wary of been seen with any boys whatsoever. You’d think that would stop the tabloids from coming up with incredibly ludicrous rumors. Nope. She has a new ally though. After years of working with Paula Erickson as her public relations representative or publicist, she is now working with Tree Paine. Tree has been swift to tweet and discard false rumors when they appear. This is hopefully the beginning of a beautiful PR career. We wish the best to Paula and her future projects.

And speaking of future projects… The biggest one coming up is the fifth album of the Princess in Red. So far in albums we’ve had her debut album Taylor Swift with her name, a state of mind with Fearless, a personal advice with Speak Now, and a color wrapped up in emotion with Red. So obviously the next one is… no idea. If we go back to December (which we do all the time – ok ok I will stop) last year, people started seeing a lot of flowers in her pictures from Australia and I saw more than a few tweets saying that it would have something to do with roses. Just remember anything you hear has no basis and it’s wild speculation.

However one tweet a few weeks ago send everyone in a fit of emotion. Mainly because it came from Brian Mansfield, Nashville correspondent for USA Today:

There are two things about the quote in this tweet that I want to highlight: 1. It’s a brilliant quote and compliment on Taylor’s fifth album. 2. He didn’t say it. Yes, it’s an amazing quote but it was said by someone else who had listened to the songs, not Brian. It’s a great quote that I wish I’d written (yes, I just called myself a writer – deal with it) and props to whoever said it.

It would have a great impact if it had come from Brian because he’s written a lot of music reviews professionally. It doesn’t, which minimizes the effect. This quote does not constitute his opinion on the new album because:

He has not listened to any of it. This is not a rant against the album or Brian. He was clear enough in his statement. I just want to point out we just have the opinion of an unknown third party.

For the record, I do want to hear Brian Mansfield’s opinion and read his review after he hears the album. Because obviously I can’t do it before he does. That should be obvious to everyone, but sometimes it isn’t.

Now that we’ve cleared the air, the quote itself is great. It implies a progression in the Enchantress’ craft, so if we take the word of this person we can only guess this is a new evolution in Taylor Swift’s music. I don’t expect a departure at all. For me the strongest experimental album from Taylor was Speak Now. She took many chances with that one. From Speak Now to Red the progression is a bit more linear, with more emphasis on the sound production. Red also solidified her pop sound with Max Martin and Shellback collaborating as producers.

If this is a progression rather than a departure, I’m a bit wary on the sound production having too many thick layers. I’m talking about sound effects – bells and whistles. In pop songs, some are so saturated with them that the artist needs a background track during a live performance. I’m not talking about auto-tuning, I’m talking about the band.

The Agency is not the band that plays on Taylor’s albums although a lot of times they’re invited to participate for certain songs. Red has Amos Heller’s bass and Elizabeth Huett background vocals for a couple of songs.

I really don’t want the sound behind Taylor to be so manufactured that recorded effects become necessary. Live performances are basically one-takes and their imperfections add the spice that makes a live performance memorable. I’ve always enjoyed the little moments in the live concerts when The Agency gets their time to shine. You will never get to hear David Cook’s piano intros for Treacherous in the album.

That’s why sometimes I love live albums a lot more… but I wouldn’t if I had not heard the studio album. I’ve praised every studio album, with the genius of Nathan Chapman to back them up. I’m a bit more reluctant to accept Max Martin and Shellback, but I trust the Blonde With The Sparkly Guitar. After all, she knows a lot more than any of us do about how to be her very best.

I’ve been writing this blog for a while. One of my New Year’s resolutions as a blogger is to be more selective about what I write. Believe it or not, this also means award shows.

Taylor’s tally for the iHeartRadio Awards (you could vote for her nomination in several categories) resulted in two indirect nominations. She is a featured artist with Tim McGraw on the  Best Country Song nomination for “Highway Don’t Care” and her fandom, us, the Swifties (I still prefer to call us the Taylor Nation since I feel it covers all fans both old school and recent). I’ll report any wins, but all the same I’m not going to be able to watch the show and she’s not scheduled to perform or appear.

The Enchantress has an large number of nominations for the World Music Awards. Sounds impressive but… this award basically nominates everyone in the world for everything. Their whole schtick is basically nominating every single possible artist. Don’t believe me? Go vote for Best Female Artist. There are more than 200 nominations. You will have to scroll several pages to find Tay even if you use the continent filter (no, I’m not kidding). It kinda dilutes the value of the award. There was no ceremony held the last three years. I will give them this: they do nominate artists from all over the world.

Since at this point we’re doing a bit of a news update, Taylor has won two Radio Disney Music Awards. Well, one really. She won for Best Musical Mashup for “Everything Has Changed” featuring Ed Sheeran and the Swifties (Taylor Nation!) won for Fiercest Fans. Good for her (and us) but again, not an award show I keep bookmarked. No offense.

Ok, I’m out of breath now. Congratulations on getting this far. I’d send you a T-shirt but I don’t have any. I can only hope the sun shines and it’s a beautiful day.

Coming up on the Calendar!

  • May 18: The 2014 Billboard Music Awards air live  on May 18 on ABC at 8pm ET.
  • May 30: The RED Tour in Shanghai, China at Mercedes-Benz Arena. More information.
  • June 1: The RED Tour in Tokyo, Japan at Saitama Super Arena. Tickets on sale March 29. More Information.
  • June 4: The 2014 CMT Music Awards.
  • June 4: The RED Tour in Jakarta, Indonesia at MEIS (Mata Elang International Stadium). Tickets on sale February 24. More Information.

(Sources: The Swift Agency, Brian Mansfield via Twitter)

 

Review Corner: Needtobreathe’s Rivers In The Wasteland

(Source: Atlantic Records, Curb Records and Word Records)
(Source: Atlantic Records, Curb Records and Word Records)

It’s been a while since we reported on Needtobreathe. You probably remember the alternative rock band was the opening act of Taylor Swift’s Speak Now Tour during the North American leg back in 2011. The band started back in South Carolina with main members Bear Rinehart, Bob Rinehart and Seth Bolt.

Their latest offering is Rivers In The Wasteland, 11 tracks written and composed by Bear and Bo Rinehart. The result is a powerful mix of southern rock, acoustic folk ballad, gospel rock and Americana music. The first track “Wasteland” walks the line between a prayer, a pep talk and a bit of a call to arms. It’s an introduction to the album with a bit of a speech before going into battle.

It’s “State I’m In” where I feel like the opening salvo is really fired. It’s here where the beat and the drum take center stage. The guitar strumming really shines strong with “Feet, Don’t Fail Me Now” continuing the musical and instrumental assault, a welcoming one. It’s this combination of homecoming warmth and rousing battle hymns that permeates the album becoming the band’s signature sound. “Oh, Carolina” is precisely a little nod and a big hug to their South Carolina roots.

It’s very hard to categorize the tracks in Rivers In The Wasteland as fast or slow. You can probably call them loud or louder, but they’re all powerful enough that you expect them to shine played to a crowd large or small. “Difference Maker” is a bit of a prayer huddle, a gospel regroup urging to go on. It’s spiritual more than it is religious and it’s intention is not to judge you but to urge you to see yourself as someone who can still make a difference.

Here’s the official video for “Difference Maker”:

Watch on YouTube

That theme continues with “Rise Again”, a rousing song that begs to be sung by a chorus of everyone who listens. This is something I’d like to hear when I’m down on my luck or something that makes me want to keep trying harder when I feel content. I expect a giant sing-along when it’s played live. We keep going with “The Heart” which just feels like that a crowd favorite being sung at someone’s porch with friends, family and a guitar joining in.

Here’s the official video for “The Heart”:

Watch on YouTube

“Where the Money Is” breaks away from the theme. It’s a rock song that barely misses being a pop song as it starts. The bridge redeems it back to Southern Rock momentarily. I’m kind of in the fence whether I like it or not. Luckily, “Multiplied” brings us back to acoustic raw hymn territory. “Brother” continues the trend, with a curious piano interlude on the bridge that departs almost into a different song, but eventually comes back to conclude in a rousing chorus.

“More Heart, Less Attack” is the closing song in the album with a bit of a inspirational motif: “the more you take the less you have”. It’s kind of a farewell message, the ending chapter of a storybook of someone’s rise, fall and redemption. It’s less rousing and more of a send off after the amazing work you’ve just listened to. It was never a sermon for you to change your life, but the soundtrack to the journey you are already in. As the last words say, “I’m down the river to where I’m going”. It’s not a judgement but an encouragement.

Here’s a clip on the making of the album:

Watch on YouTube

Recommended. In an age where uplifting songs use many metaphors to urge us to feel better about ourselves, the album might easily be called religious or christian just because of the word God or a couple of hallelujahs. It never pretends to speak for you, give you a sermon or brag about the superiority of a religious upbringing. It just lets the music draw you in with a message of hope, which is universal. You could actually take out the words and still enjoy the music instrumentality but speaking that would take away from the experience. You can’t listen to this without wanting to join in.

Rivers In The Wasteland is out on iTunes now. Needtobreathe perform on the Grand Ole Opry this Saturday, April 19th and on April 23th they will be the musical guests on Late Night with David Letterman.

Coming up on the Calendar!

  • May 18: The 2014 Billboard Music Awards air live  on May 18 on ABC at 8pm ET.
  • May 30: The RED Tour in Shanghai, China at Mercedes-Benz Arena. More information.
  • June 1: The RED Tour in Tokyo, Japan at Saitama Super Arena. Tickets on sale March 29. More Information.
  • June 4: The 2014 CMT Music Awards.
  • June 4: The RED Tour in Jakarta, Indonesia at MEIS (Mata Elang International Stadium). Tickets on sale February 24. More Information.

(Sources: Needtobreathe.comiTunes)

 

Congratulations to Mallary Hope and Ryan Dokke on their marriage!

(Source: Mallary Hope via Instagram)
(Source: Mallary Hope via Instagram)

Just so we’re clear, we have not turned into Weddings Quarterly.

Here at the Swift Agency, just a guy who gets more IP addresses than phone numbers, we’d like to congratulate the talented and beautiful singer/songwriter from Cohutta, Mallary Hope, and her groom, Ryan Dokke, on the occasion of their wedding this past Sunday, April 13.

Mallary was generous enough to share several pictures on her Facebook and Instagram. This one was cute since they chose to have Mal’s dogs on the picture. From left to right that’s Penny, Nala and Java.

Have a great life, Mallary and Ryan 🙂

Coming up on the Calendar!

  • May 18: The 2014 Billboard Music Awards air live  on May 18 on ABC at 8pm ET.
  • May 30: The RED Tour in Shanghai, China at Mercedes-Benz Arena. More information.
  • June 1: The RED Tour in Tokyo, Japan at Saitama Super Arena. Tickets on sale March 29. More Information.
  • June 4: The 2014 CMT Music Awards.
  • June 4: The RED Tour in Jakarta, Indonesia at MEIS (Mata Elang International Stadium). Tickets on sale February 24. More Information.

(Sources: Mallary Hope via Facebook, Mallary Hope via Instagram)