Radio Bristol is proud to offer a platform to local and regional artists who are often underrepresented on a national level yet deserving of that audience. In expanding upon Radio Bristol’s core mission, we are pleased to bring you Radio Bristol Spotlight, a blog series highlighting top emerging artists in our region. Through interviews and performances, we will learn more about the musicians who help to make Southern Appalachia one of the richest and most unique musical landscapes in the world.
At the Radio Bristol studio this past month, we hosted an awe-inspiring vocalist whose earthy country-jazz dusted vocals have danced up and down Bourbon Street for years as a member of the New Orleans-based Tuba Skinny, a street band whose specialty lies in early jazz, ragtime, and blues. Recently relocated to the Asheville area, Erika Lewis paid us a visit to share a handful of original tunes, many of which will be featured on a new release due out this coming April.
Urged to put together a new collection of songs after facing a health scare that could have impaired her ability to sing, Lewis gathered a supportive group of old friends and astounding musicians – including Tuba Skinny’s instrumental maestro Shaye Cohn – to record a new album around the end of 2020. Sessions took place at The Bomb Shelter in Nashville, Tennessee, an acclaimed vintage-gear-clad studio. Guided by celebrated audio engineer Andrija Tokic (Hurray for The Riff Raff, Alabama Shakes, The Deslondes) and produced by multi-instrumentalist John James Tourville, the new album features a retrospective of Lewis’s songwriting and leans into a more heavily reverb coated 1960s sound. Lewis said that creating the new album became a practice of learning to actively “embrace herself” as she chose to start putting out music with her own name and departed from an earlier moniker, Lonesome Doves, under which Lewis released Waiting for Stars in 2016. To check out tracks on her earlier material, subscribe to Erika Lewis on Bandcamp.
Asheville songwriter Erika Lewis is set to release A Walk Around the Sun in late April.
During the interview and on-air performance, Lewis shared the track “Bluebirds” from Waiting for Stars, a lilting minor key stomp with world-worn lyrics and weighty western vibes. Accompanied by John James on pedal steel and harmony vocals/acoustic guitar from Lillyanna Huggins, the song’s swaying beat was accented by Lewis’s distinct voice, which rang out across notes like a beautifully toned, tarnished brass bell.
Afterward, Lewis interpreted a few stories from her past and offered thoughts about musical influences that have inspired her to write songs. In New Orleans, a scene of young musicians cropped up after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, many of which had an interest in America’s musical past. Lewis made her way to town and began performing traditional Jazz tunes on the street with a collective of traveling musicians who later became known as Tuba Skinny, with whom she currently tours internationally. The group has also exploded virtually and currently has several videos online with millions of views. Growing up, Lewis said she always made up songs to pass the time and enjoyed listening to music from an early age. Her parents were both interested in music; her mother was a singer, and her father had a large collection of rhythm-and-blues records that Lewis remembers parsing through as a kid. In her early 20s, Lewis found herself working on a farm in upstate New York and became enamored by her roommate’s girlfriend, who happened to be acclaimed folk, country, and jazz-inspired songwriter Jolie Holland. Shortly after watching Holland perform, Lewis bought a guitar and began strumming along to her own songs.
While in our studio Lewis, James, and Huggins also performed a classic country-tinged waltz called “1,000 miles.” The swelling melody meandered around Lewis’s graceful singing, which bestowed starry-eyed lyrics about walking hand-in-hand with the one you love. Lewis said afterward that while she doesn’t know what the future holds because of the pandemic, she hopes to play out as much as possible in 2022 and is looking forward to getting her songwriting out into the world. While in the studio, Radio Bristol was bombarded by a slew of Canadian fans commenting online, all excited about Lewis’s appearance on the air.
We hope you will equally enjoy hearing her live performance of the single “Loser,” which will appear on her new album. The song displays descending scales of David Lynch-ian, reverb-laden guitar riffs in the space between wistful lyrics that plead “If I could only stop the pain of loving you.” The stand-out track swirls with bewitching 1960s pop-fused vocal harmonies and an atmospheric aura that draws the listener’s mind inside the tune.
Lewis’s album A Walk Around the Sun will be released on April 29 and can be purchased at https://erikalewismusic.bandcamp.com/.
Erika Lewis performing “Loser” in studio for On the Sunny Side in February 2022.
Ella Patrick is a Production Assistant at Radio Bristol. She also hosts Folk Yeah! on Radio Bristol and is a performing musician as Momma Molasses.