Mama Said String Band Finds "Peace of Mind" in "Taylor-ing" a New EP Release Titled "Mariah"
Written by Renee Collins Cobb, M.Ed. and Warren Cobb, B.A., Listen Locally, LLC
Louisville, KY-based Mama Said String Band Released Their 3rd Album "Mariah" in Jan 2021
Where there is a will, there is a way. A battle cry we have observed emerging from almost every musician, singer, songwriter and recording engineer that we have been fortunate enough to cross such powerful and meaning paths with in 2020. Out of all of the darkness of 2020 -we can most confidently say - there has emerged such wonderful light in the Kentucky arts community. The world has not only experienced a pandemic but as a result of the conditions placed upon us to isolate, quarantine, cover our face, socially distance and perform and learn virtually - the world is also experiencing a loss of connection and a sense of belonging- even "a place". Yet emerging from the ruins, we have simultaneously witnessed a inspiring level of creativity, productivity, work-arounds, flexibility and agility from the arts community - all utilizing and engaging a common denominator that makes us feel whole and "normal" - this great thing called "music".
During this time of pandemic, Mama Said String Band, a band that is made up of Katie Didit, Kaitlen Farmer, David O'Neal and Taylor Shuck, has emerged victorious after making space to what band member Katie Didit describes as a season of time to "reflect, recreate, rebrand, and rediscover" themselves. Soon after being awarded 2020 Album of the Year by the Lexington Music Awards, the band experienced a happy and healthy parting of ways with Adlai Filiatreau and Stephanie Kidd and in what seems like destiny - experienced a happy and healthy joining of forces with former Hillhouse band member Taylor Shuck, who Katie has described as the next Bella Fleck. Taylor, whose former band members were also experiencing a similar level of mindfulness in exploring a desire to do their own things, also pleasantly found this to be a time to identify what he wanted to do artistically in the future as well.
Along with rebranding efforts, they have been recreating their sound to find a new place for their music, identifying where they fit and...they have been practicing....a lot.
The outcome has been a wonderful recording of the results of the combined skills, talents, passions and energies of Katie Didit, Kaitlen Farmer, David O'Neal and Taylor Shuck to release their third album "Mariah" - an EP produced at Lexington, KY's Nitrosonic Studios and named after and in tribute to the amazing artist who is the designer for the cover of the album jacket- Mariah Oberhausen.
After the prohibitive dust somewhat settled around the beginning of June, and small businesses could open and small gatherings and festivals could actually get scheduled and happen- a new version of Mama Said String Band appeared on the Rockcastle Riverside stage in Livingston, KY marking a new milestone and the start of a new journey for this amazing collection of artists who call Kentucky their "Sweet" home.
Since our own radio show, Overtones, was also grounded from studio use during this time, we took our cameras and ourselves to Henryville, IN's Wave Garden Studio to record and film a version of "Overtones: On The Road" with Mama Said String Band in July 2020. We had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with the band following the recording, six feet away, and explore their story and their journey to become Mama Said String Band 2.0. A band that has left all four members and our own selves in some really "Good Company".
David adds that "obviously, the pandemic has shut down a lot of our work ranging from playing out to working side jobs at bars and restaurants, which many of the band members have done for a long time. What this specific time in history has done is give us an opportunity to learn new skills and to really work on our writing, along with self care - because mental health is so important."
"We check in with each other pretty often. Because of the pandemic, we have been each other's tribe throughout this entire experience and that stability has kept us sane". -- Katie Didit"
Also critical to mental health is the ability to take that unlimited potential that lies within all of us, to identify it and locate ways to unleash it - ultimately for the benefit of others to enjoy for generations to come. The band made a decision to leave four of their original songs in the sound engineered care of April Edwards and Danielle Barkman, who along with Leah Arrington, are the co-owners of Nitrosonic Studios in Lexington, KY which the band described as a being a great experience.
Nitrosonic Studios is the only all female owned and operated recording studio in Kentucky and one of a small handful in the nation. Women make up only 3-5% of the audio engineering workforce and the owners and associates are big supporters in a movement to raise that percentage. The studio is owned by April Edwards, Danielle Barkman and Leah Arrington and is managed by Abigail Buettner. Their Creative Director is Amanda Aday.
Nitrosonic Studio is located at 804 North Limestone above Broomwagon Bikes and Cafe in Lexington, KY.
This EP differs significantly from their freshman and sophomore albums in that it is shorter at four tracks and truly represents and presents the case study for the positive change that can surface from challenging circumstances. "Mariah" magnificently showcases all four members individual writing style but also what shows up in the form of the cohesive vehicle of this band and its own evolving sound.
"Mama Said String Band was an absolute pleasure to work with, and we had a blast from start to finish on the "Mariah" EP, which we at Nitrosonic, recorded, mixed and mastered. They have so much fun when they play and it comes across in their music, which is unique and special - yet familiar and catchy - all at the same time" ---April Edwards
Describing the EP as "one of the best they have produced thus far", April Edwards stated "the goal of the project was to capture clean, yet vintage sounds, keeping it "Old Timey" but with a modern edge". With their Universal Audio system, they are able to model any studio on Earth, so for this project, they chose to use the legendary Neve 80 Series console from the 1970's because of the warm, rich sound it produces. To get such a clean and accurate sound from Mama Said String Band, they recorded their vocals and instruments with the Earthworks Audio microphones, which April states "are extremely versatile and produce the cleanest, most precise, most transparent and best sounding microphones on the market, and this is why we became a partner studio with the company."
As a result of the equipment and their partners- this wonderful gem in a recording studio we have here in Lexington, KY - was able to record the band playing together in the same room - thus helping the band to vibe with each other. This is a trademark of the studio in creating a certain cohesiveness in the records Nitrosonic Studios produces and it is that "certain cohesiveness" in music, lyrics and presentation that makes "Mariah" a must-have to the collection of any fan of Kentucky music.
About that "certain cohesiveness" - the band members have their thoughts well formulated in regards to what they think each other brings to the overall complexion, landscape and trajectory of the course their songwriting and stage presence has taken as a result of performing in this band. Taylor attributes this cohesiveness to that attribute of "respect" and has found this experience to be incredibly refreshing after having months of seeing how incredibly driven each band member is in EVERY aspect of their own lives, stating they are friends first and foremost and bandmates and business partners next. Taylor said that Katelyn not only writes amazing songs but she is a "super solid rhythm guitar player" and because of her singing and vocal style, he- himself has been able to explore his own singing style and projection.
Kaitlen appropriately characterizes David's violin as "The 5th Voice" in the band and is the one who places the ribbon on top of the Mama Said String Band box and ties everything together while complimenting and making the best use of everyone else's skills as well. He has even started to bring a more Western sound and flavor to the band and that in itself, has been a LOT of fun. "Without David, we simply would not be Mama Said String Band".
David describes Katie as having and owning "the razzle dazzle on lock"- further articulating that she is a great speaker, keeping the audience always on their toes, and her stage energy continually keeps the audience amused. In addition, she is the issuer of challenges to inspire the band members to always stay busy writing, most likely as a result of her own incredibly prolific writing style and her desire for everyone to be the best version of their song-writing selves they can possibly be.
Katie is quick to note that Taylor not only brings new songs to the band's performance repertoire, but he also brings older songs as well. By doing so, they were able to incorporate both new and different sounds at the same time. "Taylor is overall everything you could want a band member to be. We all know he is extremely talented on all instruments, but he and I also 'nerd-out' on songwriting. Before he joined this band, he and I would talk John Prine, all things lyrics and co-write funny tunes. He knows a beauty in lyrics and that is something not commonly known or understood by others. He is also emotionally available to everyone in this band. He is sweet, kind and motivating. He is our teacher, especially in all things music theory."
If we were to wish three things for all musicians who may be studying the long term success of a band like Mama Said String Band while on a quest for their own professional and personal development - it is this- business acumen, relationship building and stage presence MATTER. Even after the paradigm shift of band member change, this band immediately went into rebranding and rediscovery gear, and while that always requires some form of a gap analysis- a step back to take that which made you successful in that past and incorporate it into the new mix- but it also requires vision and a keen and intuitive ability to see the future state. All of these competencies, qualities and characteristics contributed to the successful delivery of a product we now get to enjoy in the form of their new EP "Mariah".
They have also taken extraordinary and Herculean efforts in checking in on each other and ensuring each member of the band has felt support from each other in the way they have needed that support. Finally, because of their ability, both innate and prepared, to compel an audience to enjoy their presentation on a variety of platforms - they have also not only met but exceeded all expectations of remaining relevant, vibrant and busy- but they have possibly paved the way for others to come out of 2020 victorious as well. And what many would describe as icing on the cake - most all of their songs seem to lead us on a search of our own hearts, motives and quests to become a better people and compel us to do the inner work that is required for that level of presence and mindfulness going forward.
Kentucky Heartbreak (Words and Music by Kaitlen Farmer)
Kaitlen reminds us this song is simply about getting your heart broke in Kentucky - a song that she wrote a few years ago but has just now found a resting place in the skills of Mama Said String Band. She described this song as one that has been under her own assessment and critique and has now served its time marinating and percolating in her thoughts to get it to this most incredible place now. Kaitlen has said as a result of these band members being her absolute best friends, they have all provided her safe emotional space and have inspired her to get our of her comfort zone at times and the results of those efforts lend to the production of a song as great as Kentucky Heartbreak. It's country swing, filled with great harmonies, solo breaks and we give it a perfect 10.
Good Company (Words and Music by David O'Neal)
David wrote "Good Company" shortly after he moved to Lexington and he made a friend - a friend who had been coming to their shows. There was a social drama surrounding her at the time and some stories flying. "It was really difficult for me to process the idea of this person I perceived through my own lens as being so innocent and just struggling to find her place in our community and it was hard for me to see her get ousted in this way"
"It really struck a chord with me and I wrote this song as a reproach to people who so easily what to throw people out. It is so easy to come up with the idea of 'the other' in a social situation and I saw that happen, it really profoundly upset me and I wrote this song out of witnessing this social dynamic through my own lens" ---David O'Neal
David continues "of course, the meaning of songs change over time and I have sort of learned that I have in the past pulled a veil over my own eyes at times when viewing the person in this song and I now feel that both myself and this song have grown up a little bit. Now it is a good song that I ask people to take with a grain of salt".
We, as well as many other of our musical friends - give it a perfect 10.
Peace of Mind (Words and Music by Taylor Shuck)
"Peace of Mind" is the first "Taylor-Made" song performed by Mama Said String Band and it is easy to note that we feel Taylor has most likely been living the words of this song through his own early experiences as being a part of this band.
"No matter what you say or do - I found myself stuck on you - it's different - all the time. Its peace of mind I only find...with you and I."
Taylor's easy and reflective vocals along with the hallmark harmonies and instrumental solo breaks by David and Taylor make this an all round great listening experience for everyone and we give it a perfect 10....do you see a trend here?
While we are on the topic of "Taylor-ing" the band's approach during 2020- many MMSB fans have humorously commented on our performance posts - describing Taylor's banjo playing as catching such musical ablaze during his solo passages, a warning may be needed to contact your local fire department when his banjo catches on fire.
Boxwine Swing (Words and Music by Katie Didit)
Katie draws much inspiration from here fellow band members and appreciates their different, yet unique approach to songwriting and performances- "In regards to working towards achievement of ones' dreams, I honestly don't know if I know any harder working musicians than the ones I work with in this band" says Katie.
"Boxwine Swing" is a song that clearly demonstrates and communicates the skills of agility and efficiency as this band so effectively transitions from genre to genre constantly dipping their musical toes into new and different sounds on a turn on a dime- but always with the constancy of acoustic instruments. This song is also performed by Katie as a solo act and in her other creative start-up Quite Literally - a band that also features the talent of Taylor - along with Derek LaFountain and Emily Miller - creating one song "quite literally" to be performed in three different and unique versions. This wonderful song is not only eclectic, fun and nostalgic but it is an rollercoaster of a ride in a musical amusement park filled with the prizes that all of these band members give us in the form of instrumental skills, vocal finesse, sheer drive and determination in making their practice together perfect and their perfection together practiced. Practice in itself, does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
And this song is just that - we give it a perfect 10!
As a matter of fact - this entire amazing work of art is a perfect 10 - representing the pure drive and energy envisioned by a group of four artists, captured and preserved by three sound engineers and business partners, and now to be enjoyed by an infinite number of beneficiaries of that talent, hard work and perseverance of Mama Said String Band during 2020 that plays and feels like the reflective, renewed, recreated, rediscovered and rebranded contribution to Kentucky Music it was intended to be from the start. "Mariah" can now be enjoyed and purchased on all platforms in 2021.
Renee Cobb and Warren Cobb are the Co-Presidents/Owners of Collins Consulting Group, Listen Locally, LLC and Co-Executive Director of Room 17 Productions, a nonprofit organization that promotes music education. Renee is the former host of Red Barn Radio and radio shows titled "Overtones" and “Gray Matters” - a show about unconscious bias” which airs weekly on WLXU, Lexington Community Radio. Warren is the former Assistant Producer and Talent Manager for Red Barn Radio and now serves as the Executive Producer for "Overtones LIVE from Austin City". They are also the project managers for The Sara Holroyd Oral History Project, The History of the UK Cheerleaders Project, The Greg Austin Story and I Am Diversity at the University of Kentucky Louie B Nunn Center for Oral History. Renee has also served many years in the organizational effectiveness, diversity/inclusion and human resource development fields. She serves as an executive coach, keynote speaker, organizational consultant, facilitator of change and team development coach