Big Smo brings country-rap sound to Juanita’s

by Caleb Hennington

Big Smo

Big Smo

Born John Lee Smith, country-rap connoisseur Big Smo has had quite the successful year. After struggling to hit the big time with his previous releases, the longtime Tennessee resident finally produced a hit album on a major record label with 2014’s Kuntry Livin’. Prior to that release, Smo released five albums, beginning with 2002’s Kuntry Kitchen, that include two EPs, Grass Roots and Backwoods Whiskey EP.

Although born in San Diego, Calfornia, Smo was raised in Shelbyville, Tennessee, and currently lives on his family farm, the Kuntry Ranch, in Unionville, Tennessee. His other success arrived in the form of a reality television show about his life and family featured on major network A and E, which is also famous for creating hit reality show Duck Dynasty. Smo’s show debuted in June 2014 and has received generally favorable ratings. (It currently has a 7/10 rating on IMDb.)

Smo’s music has been dubbed “rural rap” and “hick-hop” and “blends rural, country themes and melodies with some rap elements,” according to RoughStock. Smo’s album Kuntry Livin’ reached a peak position of No. 6 on Billboard‘s Top Country Albums chart and No. 3 … Read more >

Take Note: The week ahead in live music

by Caleb Hennington

Alvin Youngblood Hart/ Arkansas Democrat-Gazette file photo

Alvin Youngblood Hart/ Arkansas Democrat-Gazette file photo

THURSDAY

Smile Empty Soul and World Fire Brigade vocalist Sean Danielsen will ditch the distorted guitars and heavy rhythms at Juanita’s to show the softer side of his musicality. The show, which begins at 8 p.m. with a cover charge of $8, will feature Danielsen playing songs from his first solo album, Enjoy the Process, along with new material from his recently released EP, Food Chain. Tickets can be purchased online through ticketweb.com prior to the performance or at the door the day of show. Doors open at 7 p.m.

Oxford American magazine, along with the University of Central Arkansas College of Fine Arts and Communication, will present the latest edition to its jazz series at 8 p.m. at South on Main, with performances by Peter Martin and Romero Lubambo. Doors for the show open at 6 p.m., and tickets can be purchased through metrotix.com and cost $30 for reserved seating and $20 for general admission. Martin studied music at The Juilliard School in New York on a scholarship, and Lubambo is a classical guitarist who has performed with artists such as Yo-Yo Ma and Dianne Reeves.

FRIDAY

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Concert review: Florida Georgia Line

There aren’t many country music concerts where you’ll hear covers of Eminem, Meghan Trainor and Wiz Khalifa songs. That’s why some purists won’t claim Florida Georgia Line as country. Some have labeled their music country-rap.

As my companion and I left the group’s Jan. 24 concert at Verizon Arena, we were entertained and appreciated the talents of the duo made up of Brian Kelley (Florida) and Tyler Hubbard (Georgia). However, we struggled as to what genre Florida Georgia Line fits. They aren’t really country, not really hip-hop, not really rock and not really pop. But maybe a combination of all? So, what is that called?

I’m not sure, but what I do know is that 12,846 fans — many were young girls clad in dresses and boots — were enjoying themselves. As was I. Florida Georgia Line’s sound is all party, and with beach balls flying through the crowd, the two played for more than an hour and included their chart toppers such as “Dirt,” “Get Your Shine On,” “Stay” and “This is How We Roll.”

The two kicked off the performance with an original song, “Sun Daze,” then dug in to the covers. Hubbard was spot on with his … Read more >

Take Note: Lance Carpenter visits home state for Juanita’s show + more live music

by Caleb Hennington

Lance Carpenter / Photo via Twitter.com

Lance Carpenter / Photo via Twitter.com

Arkansas born and bred musician Lance Carpenter had very humble beginnings. Carpenter spent most of his life growing up on his family’s farm in Ozark. He attended Arkansas Tech University in Russellville and was a member of the Wonder Boys’ 1999 conference championship football team, but he knew a career in football wasn’t the way his life was leading him. He began to teach himself how to play guitar while attending college, and in 2011, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue a career in music. It only took Carpenter 18 months to sign his first major publishing deal, and in 2013, he released his debut album, Lance Carpenter.

But he hasn’t let success and fame go to his head, and he still considers himself a “laid-back country boy” at heart. According to his bio on his website, Carpenter says he believes, “The more success I have in this business, the more significant I can be in the lives of others.” And he’s seen some major success in his short career, sharing the stage with big-name artists such as Toby Keith, Luke Bryan, Justin Moore and Randy Rogers Band.

Fellow … Read more >

Big Piph and band prepare for overseas trip with American Music Abroad

by Caleb Hennington

Photo via Facebook

Photo via Facebook

Socially conscious hip-hop artist and band Big Piph & Tomorrow Maybe performs a special release show for their newest project, Cell Therapy: The Unplugged, Unauthorized Session of Big Piph & Tomorrow Maybe, at South on Main at 10 p.m. Saturday. The show, sponsored by Oxford American, will be not only a celebration of Big Piph & Tomorrow Maybe’s latest album release but also a sendoff for the group as members prepare to travel overseas for American Music Abroad, a U.S. Department of State program that showcases American music globally. The group embarks on a monthlong trip to Africa as part of the AMA Overseas Tour, and this will be the group’s final show in Arkansas before leaving. Tickets are available for $10 each, cash only, at the door.

RSVP to the event on Facebook here.… Read more >

Country’s Aaron Watson set for Rev Room stage

by Caleb Hennington

Texas native Aaron Watson brings his brand of country music to Rev Room on Thursday.

Texas native Aaron Watson brings his brand of country music to Rev Room on Thursday.

It’s taken a while for country music artist Aaron Watson to make a name for himself in his genre, and Watson seems to have accepted that struggle, as evident in the title of his latest release, The Underdog.

Watson started his career in the Texas music scene of the late 1990s, releasing his first album, the self-titled Aaron Watson, in 1999. Born in Amarillo, Texas, Watson attended Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas, which is where he first learned how to play guitar. Watson started to gain steam in the industry after the release of his 2004 album, The Honky Tonk Kid, which featured a guest vocal appearance by country music legend Willie Nelson. His 2008 release, Angels and Outlaws, was his biggest success to date, with the album reaching a peak position of No. 4 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart, No. 28 on its Country Albums chart, and it also made it onto the Billboard Top 200 chart. A single from the album, “Hearts Are Breaking Across Texas,” was a No. 1 song on the Texas Music … Read more >

Take Note: A Rowdy Faith, Big Piph and more live in LR metro this week

by Caleb Hennington

Alisyn Reid and Cate Davison of A Rowdy Faith. Photo via the band's facebook page

Alisyn Reid and Cate Davison of A Rowdy Faith. Photo via the band’s facebook page

WEDNESDAY

Oxford American and South on Main host folk and Americana band A Rowdy Faith for this week’s Local Live concert. A Rowdy Faith is a two-piece group made up of Alisyn Reid and Cate Davison, two singer-songwriters who first played together 10 years ago but went their separate ways for a period of time. Both musicians are said to bring different musical elements to their songs: Reid with country and rock ‘n’ roll, and Davison with jazz and blues. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. and will be a free concert, but attendees are encouraged to call ahead to the venue in order to reserve and guarantee seats for the event.… Read more >

Take Note: Ex Hex, John Moreland, Matthew Huff and more play live in Little Rock

by Caleb Hennington

The DC-based power trio Ex Hex is Laura Harris, Betsy Wright and Mary Timony. Photo courtesy of Merge Records / ADG file photo

The DC-based power trio Ex Hex is Laura Harris, Betsy Wright and Mary Timony. Photo courtesy of Merge Records / ADG file photo

THURSDAY

All-female punk and indie-rock band Ex Hex formed in Washington, D.C., just a little more than a year ago, but that hasn’t kept them from quickly getting their name out to the world and releasing their first studio album, Rips. The trio is signed to Merge Records, which is famous for also producing albums for indie bands Arcade Fire, Neutral Milk Hotel and Dinosaur Jr. The group performs at Stickyz at 8:30 p.m. Cover for the show is $8 in advance and $10 day of show.

Tulsa, Oklahoma, singer-songwriter John Moreland’s music has been featured numerous times on the popular FX TV show Sons of Anarchy, but he got his start way before that show ever hit the telly. Beginning his career in 2000, Moreland has released five studio albums. His deep, smooth voice conjures images of the South and reminds you of the sound you’d hear while sitting on the back porch with friends listening to that one guy who always has a guitar ready and is able to pick … Read more >

Texas band Nothing More to rock Juanita’s

by Caleb Hennington

Nothing More

Submitted photo

Bringing a high-octane combination of alternative rock and progressive metal, San Antonio quartet Nothing More is planning to blow the roof off Juanita’s at 8 p.m. Thursday night.

Launching out of Texas in 2003, the band has released six studio albums, though they have only seen large commercial success through their latest self-titled release, Nothing More. The main single off the album, “This is the Time (Ballast),” reached the top position on the Mediabase Active Rock chart and reached a peak position at No. 2 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.

The band isn’t afraid to preach on many taboo subjects in our world today, tackling themes such as organized religion, corporate greed and infidelity. Band members Jonny Hawkins, Daniel Oliver, Mark Vollelunga and Paul O’Brien are guaranteed to bring the heavy rock that metal heads and devil-horn-wavers love.

The group will be joined by metal band Wovenwar, a collaboration of all the former members of As I Lay Dying, minus frontman Tim Lambesis (Lambesis was sentenced last year in the attempted murder of his wife through a hitman). Taking over vocal duties for the band is Shane Blay of faith-based metal band Oh, … Read more >

Boom Kinetic to bring energy to Rev Room

by Caleb Hennington

Boom Kinetic/ Submitted photo

Boom Kinetic/ Submitted photo

Rev Room‘s ninth annual Fireball New Year’s Eve concert features the spacey, melodic rock group Boom Kinetic. The band, which formed under the name Molten Lava in 2006, is an amalgamation of local musicians from Little Rock and Fayetteville. Originally brought together in order to showcase the talent and virtuosity of its members, the band began playing covers of 1980s New Wave hits. After growing a loyal fan base in both Fayetteville and Little Rock, the band made the decision to rebrand itself and release its first EP under the new name Boom Kinetic.

The band’s Facebook page includes a section on artists the band likes, and it covers an entire range of genres from influential synth-heavy bands such as MGMT and The Killers to pop kings such as Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake. When listening to the band’s original music, it’s easy to hear these influences resonate within songs.

Their first full-length album, Part Gray/Part Bright Light, was released in 2010 as a two-part, two-themed creation. Barrett Baber, an Arkansas country artist who’s the son of a Southern Baptist minister, will open for Boom Kinetic. The 18-and-up Wednesday … Read more >