A swell excuse for a roadtrip or two, the ExploreGeorgia.org Songwriter Series, now in its second year, offers six Southern snapshots of the diverse talent Georgia has to offer. Staged at a variety of venues and events across the state, these three-act packages offer real insight into the musical soul of a state. The series kicked off on August 19 in Valdosta with Randall Bramblett, Eliot Bronson and Joe Smothers and continues with the following shows:
Augusta – Lola Gulley, Greg Hester & Keith Jenkins, Otis Redding III
Considered by many to be the current Belle of the Blues and heir apparent to the likes of Mavis Staples, dynamic singer Lola Gulley leads the popular Monday Night Jam at Atlanta’s Northside Tavern. Her albums Give Her What She Wants and Cleanin’ House were produced by iconic soul singer William Bell and released on his boutique Wilbe imprint.
Bonded by their mutual love of James Brown, singer Greg Hester and guitarist Keith Jenkins (who spent 12 years touring with the Godfather) bring their distinctive takes on soul music not only to songs from the catalogs of Brown, Van Morrison and the like, but also a steady stream of originals. In 2015 the pair collaborated on Soul Brother Where Art Though: A Tribute to James Brown.
Rather than cash in on his famous name, singer/songwriter/guitarist/produce Otis Redding III has built a career around developing a distinctive take on soul, R&B and dance music that his famous father would undoubtedly be proud of. For years, he toured with the popular act the Reddings, which included his brother Dexter and singer Mark Lockett. In recent years he has made a name for himself as a riveting solo performer. His most recent release – the slow burn blues tune “This Ol’ Town” – was released in February.
Athens – Mike Dekle, Levi Lowrey, Abby Owens
Known primarily as a songwriter, Mike Dekle has penned tunes for the likes of Kenny Rogers, Tracy Byrd and Joe Nichols. Still, when he applies his distinctive Georgia twang to his Nashville-ready tunes, there’s real performance magic that happens. Fun fact – when not making the songwriter rounds in the Music City, Dekle runs a successful insurance business in his hometown of Athens.
Singer-Songwriter Levi Lowrey comes from musical stock – his great-great grandfather was Georgia fiddling legend Gil Tanner. It’s a legacy he embraces. His most recent release – the sprawling Roots and Branches – features 11 Tanner compositions and ten of Lowrey’s own. Lowrey’s songwriting and performance prowess is also well-documented. He is a former member of the Zac Brown Band and co-wrote the hits “Colder Weather” and “The Wind”.
A fellow proponent of what fellow Waycrosser Gram Parsons called Cosmis American Music, Abby Owens’ songs obliterate the lines between country, folk and rock lending a sense of urgent authenticity to her musical tales of loss and redemption. It’s a formula that works so well that Jason Isbell produced her 2010 album Indiantown.
LaGrange – Pat Alger, Tony Arata, EG Kight
A prolific, popular and enormously successful songwriter, Pat Alger’s hits include Livingston Taylor’s First Time Love and Garth Brooks’s “Unanswered Prayers” and “The Thunder Rolls”. Additionally, he has written for artists such as Trisha Yearwood, Don Williams, Dolly Parton and Lyle Lovett. As a performer he has built a reputation as a musical storyteller capable of drawing back the curtain on the country music industry.
A member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Tony Arata got his start when an as-of-yet unsigned Oklahoma singer named Garth Brooks heard him perform his composition “The Dance”. The rest is history. The song made Brooks a star and Arata one of the most in-demand writers in Nashville. His tunes have been performed by the likes of Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, Bonnie Raitt and Randy Travis.
A Georgia native, EG Kight was born in Dublin and brings real southern authenticity to her distinctive brand of blues. Buoyed by her powerful voice and dynamic phrasing, she has become a favorite amongst aficionados not only for her memorable performances but also her heartfelt songwriting. It’s made her a fan favorite at festivals not only in the United States by internationally as well.
Savannah – Anthony David, Lulu the Giant, Kristina Train
Born in Savannah and based out of Atlanta, R&B singer Anthony David first attracted attention while working with recording artist India.Arie, with his song “Part of My Life” appearing on her acclaimed debut Acoustic Soul. The pair were nominated for a Grammy in 2008 for the duet “Words”. As a solo artist David has released six albums – including 2016’s The Powerful Now and built an impressive fan base that includes former President Barack Obama.
Rachel Shaner, who has been performing under the moniker Lulu the Giant for less than a year, will present her songs – which range in tone from jazzy bop to heavy rock – in a rare solo setting. That means just the woman and her upright bass. Expect her set to draw heavily from her album Kingdoms Fall, released a few short months ago.
New York-born and Savannah-bred singer-songwriter Kristina Train is an artist hard to pin down and difficult to ignore. Drawing liberally from diverse influences such as jazz, soul, blues and folk, her affecting style – for lack of easy reference – has often been compared to Norah Jones. In truth, she is something of a musical chameleon, allowing herself to incorporate the colors that best serve her highly personal songs.
Rome – Trea Landon, Eric Dodd, Jordan Rager
At an age when many musicians are still striving to find an entry into the industry, 24-year-old country singer-songwriter Trea Landon has released his eponymous debut and signed a publishing deal with successful songwriter Dallas Davidson. A consummate storyteller, Landon uses his catchy radio-ready songs to deliver messages of appropriately youthful longing.
A true child of the 1990s, Eric Dodd draws in equal parts from his love of hip hop, rock and country. The result is a big barroom sound that includes righteous rave-ups and big ballads. A product of the University of Georgia’s acclaimed Music Business program, Dodd initially went into the financial services industry only to find the draw of music too strong. Today he makes his home in Nashville and recently released his debut EP – Fun/Fire/Rain.
Surrounding himself with successful peers has clearly had an effect on rising country singer Jordan Rager. The Loganville son of a preacher released his debut EP in 2016 and the lead single – a song about what it means to be a man in the modern south appropriately entitled “Southern Boy” – featured recording star Jason Aldean. Rager has also had the good fortune to tour with Nashville elite such as Randy Houser and Justin Moore.