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Radio Bristol Book Club: Songteller – My Life in Lyrics

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club where readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library come together each month to celebrate and explore books inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage! We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at 12:00 noon when we dig deep into the themes and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

This month’s book is Songteller: My Life in Lyrics by Dolly Parton with Robert K. Oermann. This beautiful coffee table book is a joy and an inspiration to read – from cover to cover, or just dipping into the individual stories behind your favorite songs. Told in her own words, Dolly mines over 60 years of songwriting to share the personal stories, candid insights, and vivid memories behind 175 of her songs. She explores the earliest song she wrote (at age six!), familiar and well-loved hits like “Coat of Many Colors,” “9 to 5,” and “I Will Always Love You,” and songs she performed with other artists like “Tomorrow is Forever” (Porter Wagoner) and “Let Her Fly” (Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette) – amongst so many others. It’s not only the insights and the history behind Dolly’s huge songwriting catalog that make this book special; the reader also gets to enjoy wonderful images from throughout her career, photographs of important and personal ephemera and objects that have been saved over the years, and a hint of her “secret song,” locked in a display case at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and set to be open in 2045!

The book cover is a pale aqua with red writing; it also has some decorative floral elements in a darker aqua around the central oval. In the central oval there is a black-and-white photograph of a young Dolly Parton. She is a white woman with big loosely curled blond hair, large hoop earrings, and a denim shirt. She is looking over her shoulder.
The cover of Dolly Parton’s Songteller.

Dolly Parton needs no introduction, but just in case you don’t know her and her work well, here are the basics: Born in East Tennessee, Parton began singing and performing at an early age, taking her talent and determination all the way to Nashville – and beyond. She is the most honored and revered female country singer-songwriter of all time, with numerous awards, bestselling albums, and Top 10 hits. She has also acted to great acclaim, and she is well-known for her charity work, most especially her Imagination Library, which has gifted over 130 million books to children across the world. Journalist Robert K. Oermann has been called “the unofficial historian of Nashville’s musical heritage.” When he first came to Nashville, he worked as a reference librarian at the Country Music Hall of Fame; since then he has written nine books, worked on documentary films, and produced pieces for numerous media outlets including The Tennessean, Rolling Stone, and Esquire.

This photograph shows an older white man wearing a dark flue denim button-down shirt over a tee. He has black-rimmed glasses and white thinning hair. He is sitting in a burgandy/brown patterned chair with bookshelves/record shelves and other home decor behind him.
Author Robert K. Oermann. Taken by Larry McCormack for The Tennessean

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, December 23at 12:00pm for the discussion of Songteller: My Life in Lyrics by Dolly Parton with Robert K. Oermann. After our discussion, we’ll have the chance to chat to Oermann about his work with Dolly on this wonderful book. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library, so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time – even better, pick up a physical copy and look at it while listening to the audiobook version, thus getting the best of both worlds! We look forward to exploring this book on-air, and if you have thoughts or questions about the book that you would like to share with our readers, you can email info@birthplaceofcountrymusic.org (Subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – your book insights might appear on air with us! You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app.

Looking ahead: Our book pick for January is Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, January 27. Check out our full list of 2022 Radio Bristol Book Club picks here, where you can also listen to archived shows!

Rene Rodgers is Head Curator of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and a Dolly fan.

Radio Bristol Spotlight: Shay Martin Lovette

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 our latest series – Radio Bristol Spotlight – 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.

This past month we met up with Boone, North Carolina-based songwriter Shay Martin Lovette, whose sophomore album Scatter & Gather has been garnering a lot of regional attention. Shay, an Appalachian native, grew up in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, home to MerleFest, currently one of the country’s largest music festivals. The festival, coined by its founder Doc Watson as “traditional plus,” brings in bands from all aspects of roots music genres, and Watson’s catchphrase certainly encompasses Shay’s writing. Greatly influenced by the music of the region, both from proximity and from his songwriter father, Shay holds to his musical background in bluegrass while taking divergent turns into a new landscape of metaphysical songwriting and experimental indie folk. During his on-air performance at Radio Bristol, Shay shared a few songs from the new record and talked about his recording process with producer Joseph Terrell, who hails from the acclaimed stringband quartet Mipso.

Black-and-white image of a man walking towards the camerain front of what looks to be a closed-down strip mall or old motel. The man has shoulder-length dark hair and a scruffy beard. He is wearing jeans, black shoes, and a jean jacket with numerous patches and badges on it.
Songwriter Shay Martin Lovette of Boone, North Carolina, wrote most of the tunes from his newest release, Scatter & Gather, in a cabin on Goshen Creek. Photo by Chris Frisina

To kick off the in-studio, Shay delved into a misty-eyed waltz with the new album’s song “Parkway Bound.” Accompanied by dobro player Aaron Ballance, Shay lyrically painted an expansive picture of beauty encapsulated by the Appalachian Mountains. The first line – “A pocket of clouds catch the Blue Ridge, the summits are quilted in ice” – lays the groundwork for the mystifying tune. Amidst its dynamic musical swells, which feel like echoes of a rolling landscape, Shay also offers something below the surface of his refined artistry. Shay’s appearance was deceivingly unassuming at first; amidst a thatch of neatly parted hair and a nervous but rather welcoming smile, a listener might not expect to experience the depth relayed within his songwriting. Further investigation unveils much: a detailed account of self-contained philosophy and reverence for the present moment – where Daoist meets Hillbilly – thoughts possibly formed at the rustic cabin on remote Goshen Creek where much of Scatter & Gather was written.

The album cover looks like a letter press style print and shows mountains with a river running from them through a green meadow. Above the mountains in geometric design is a sunburst made up of different colors and patterns.
Shay Martin Lovette’s Scatter & Gather was released May 2021.

A slew of nationally acclaimed musicians brought in by producer Joseph Terrell are included on Scatter & Gather. With mandolin from Watchhouse (formerly Mandolin Orange) artist Andrew Marlin, and accompaniment from band members of Mipso along with Mount Moriah, it is no wonder some of North Carolina’s biggest talent lined up to record with Shay at the Rubber Room in Chapel Hill. Simply put, the writing is dang good. Combining elements of live tracking with polished production, the album feels at once refined and organic. This release is great for fans of the late 1960s Laurel Canyon sound and feels like a dream where Nick Drake and James Taylor shook metaphorical hands with Jason Isbell. Stand-out tracks from the album include “Never Felt So New,” a transient folksy romp tinged with synthesizer, and “Sourwood Honey Rag,” an instrumental tune that nods towards Shay’s influence from Doc Watson and love of traditional Appalachian music.

Shay closed out our session with an acoustic rendition of one last song, “Something Wild (All the Way Through),” also from his new record. Like the ripples of a mountain stream, Aaron’s dobro glided alongside the song’s melody as Shay joined in with an emotive performance on harmonica. This song signals a proclamation for the rising songwriter to embrace that they “sang it for the sweet unknown” and are joyful for the “something wild” that’s got a hold of them. You can watch Shay and Aaron’s performance filmed live at Radio Bristol below. To hear more from Scatter & Gather or to order from the limited run of vinyl, visit Shay’s Bandcamp site.

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.

Radio Bristol Spotlight: Adam Bolt

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 our latest series – Radio Bristol Spotlight – highlighting top emerging artists in our region. Through interview and performance 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.

For our first installment of Radio Bristol Spotlight we caught up with prolific singer-songwriter Adam Bolt. Based in Abingdon, a beautiful historic town nestled in Southwest Virginia, Bolt has been a fixture in this region’s music scene for well over a decade. We were lucky enough to have Adam live in studio a few weeks back when he shared songs from his recent release And the Vines Grow Still. We talked over many things, including creativity during lockdown, his thoughts on the songwriting process, 1990s hip hop, and his forthcoming EP Animals in the News, Part 2, which came out in mid-June.

A white man with a brownish beard stands in front of an old pull-behind trailer. The trailer is white with an aqua stripe and two windows. The man is wearing a cowboy hat, a beige jacket with leather patches on the shoulder area, a patterned shirt and bolo tie, and jeans.

Prolific songwriter Adam Bolt of Abingdon, Virginia. Photograph by Moshin Kazmi

Arriving in a glowing turquoise windbreaker, straight from a 1991 episode of Saved By the Bell, and a t-shirt dawning a cluster of sun-ripened grapes, Bolt struck a chord as a relaxed-analytical, a country-tinged beatnik with laidback and relatable poetics. He’s a cool dude. He opened up his studio performance with the song “Trying Times,” an emotionally raw reflection of the songwriter’s experience during quarantine. Amidst the song’s straightforward sentimental lyrics, Bolt grieved the loss of his biggest musical influence, the legendary songwriter John Prine, while offering asides about Netflix subscriptions, online memes, political parties, chardonnay, and unemployment. The song pulses with an affirming tagline, “I’m feeling fine, hope you’re feeling fine,” which lifts the otherwise heavy message of the verses and offers an uncomplicated note of empathic wisdom. After the emotional performance, Bolt talked about how he was beyond distraught to hear about the passing of John Prine during the pandemic. Earlier on the day of Prine’s death, he had collected a batch of wild morel mushrooms, an Appalachian delicacy, and later cooked them up for dinner. Recalling that night, Bolt said: “The phone started buzzing [friends who knew he was a fan called with the news]…and I immediately got sick. I didn’t know at that point if it was the mushrooms…if it was total grief or COVID…I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. I got really, really sick that night, and kind of panicked.”

“Trying Times” is featured on Bolt’s latest release, And the Vines Grow Still, put out this past year. The EP title speaks to insights taken from nature, a metaphor for how grapevines must be tended after an unexpected frost kills a crop. Bolt stated: “I thought that was similar to our nation and our world, the pandemic is something we’re going to have to grow through.” Bolt joined up with Zack Edwards of Annabelle’s Curse in the studio, and together the two made a sparse, poignant recording which was live-tracked to tape on analog equipment at Bigtone Records located locally in Bristol, Virginia. Bigtone Records specializes in using vintage analog equipment and is known for making period accurate live recordings as heard on many recordings of the late 1940s and 1950s.


Bolt’s latest release And the Vine Grows Still was recorded at BigTone Records in 2020.

When not writing folk songs, Bolt grows grapes, working as a viticulturist for Abingdon Vineyards. He explained that melodies often gather in his mind while working at the vineyard and later develop into full songs. Similarly, his songwriting process is deeply linked to observations taken from the outdoors. “You’re out in nature watching little insects flying around, watching their world…and relating it to what we know as life.” Bolt shared that he prefers releasing shorter groupings of 4 or 5 songs as opposed to full-scale albums, an approach influenced by his early musical days as part of a hip hop group and an appreciation for dropping singles. Hip hop also fed an early fascination for rhyme schemes and provided fertile ground for putting together compelling verses. With ample time this past year to cultivate new songs, whether at the vineyard tending to the vines or at home brainstorming with his fiancée while lounging on the couch, Bolt has been productive amidst the grueling past year with the new EP recently released, and another one on the way.

In true Prine-ian fashion, Bolt took a 360-degree turn towards humor with the next number he performed during our on-air interview, jumping into a satirical, jaunty little ditty called “Lily Pad.” The song playfully recalls the singer’s refusal of a potential mate, relating them to a frog who “knows every swinging rope in this old swimming hole” and himself to a lily pad, a proverbial comment on relationship roles – the frog viewing him as a convenient place to land: “I’m on a bar stool, just like it was a toadstool…I won’t be your lily pad.” The imaginative tune marks Bolt’s leap into a new grouping of songs from his recent EP, which continues a theme from an earlier release, Animals in the News, put out in 2019. Bolt enlisted help from another local songwriter Logan Fritz, who acted as producer and provided his project Fritz and Co. as a backing band for the recording sessions staged at another Bristol-based studio, Classic Recording Studio.

Winding up his performance, Bolt sang “Coke for the Road,” a thoughtful ode to his grandmother who gave her family members the fizzy beverage as a sign of affection. Effortlessly authentic, the song relates a simple but provocative message about love’s relationship to action, and how a small gesture of kindness can relate to a big feeling of love. 


Adam Bolt singing “Coke for the Road” live in studio on On the Sunny Side at Radio Bristol, May 2020.

Remember, if you are a consumer of music, you should help in supporting the artists you’re consuming. In today’s unbalanced industry, musicians (and to be frank artists of all types) need your support more than ever. Whether by simply sharing their posts, helping spread their music by word of mouth, and most importantly by purchasing music directly from the artist, anything helps.

Hope you enjoyed our first Radio Bristol Spotlight! Next month we will feature North Carolinian songwriter Shay Martin Lovette.

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.