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Complete Singer-Songwriter

Inside the song: “The Story” by Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile's breakthrough song "The Story," the title track of her 2007 album, sounds intensely personal, even cathartic. Carlile must be singing from raw experience, right? Actually, no. Her bandmate Phil Hanseroth wrote "The Story" before they even started playing together. Since her debut, all of the music appearing under the name Brandi Carlile has...

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Jason Mraz Acoustic Guitar magazine

Inside the song: “Lucky” by Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat

"Lucky," the sweet, swaying duet written by Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat with Tim Fagan, was originally released on Jason Mraz's 2008 album We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.  During an interview for Acoustic Guitar magazine (published in the October 2010 issue), Mraz told me that "Lucky"—like six of the tracks on the We Sing album—originated...

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Inside the song: “When the Master Calls the Roll” by Rosanne Cash

"When the Master Calls the Roll," a brilliant story song from Rosanne Cash's triple-Grammy-winning album The River and the Thread, has a back story that must be a rarity in the annals of songwriting: an artist co-wrote it with her husband and ex-husband. In the case of this song, Cash's collaborators were producer/guitarist John Leventhal...

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Behind the song: “The Strength to Not Fight Back” by Aaron Nathans and Michael G. Ronstadt

Guitarist Aaron Nathans and cellist Michael G. Ronstadt play musically adventurous folk with vivid storytelling. They just released their second album, Hang On for the Ride, and below Nathans shares the story behind his timely song "The Strength to Not Fight Back," about effecting social change through nonviolence. https://youtu.be/fKZcto7EaGM The story What is strength? Is it...

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Songwriting lesson: how to write a bridge

Think of the timeless ballad “Something,” from the Beatles’ Abbey Road, in which George Harrison muses on his lover’s allure over a wistful chord progression in the key of C. He sings a verse and loops back for another by way of the song’s signature guitar line, but the second time he lands not on a...

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Behind the song: Joni Mitchell on writing Blue

One of the most memorable experiences of my life as a music journalist was an epic interview with Joni Mitchell back in 1996. For three hours in a restaurant in Los Angeles, she held forth about guitar and songwriting and much more—her dizzying tangents touched on everything from physics to Picasso to her love for the...

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Behind the song: “White Oak Wood” by Jonathan Byrd

North Carolina songwriter Jonathan Byrd writes songs that manage to sound both old and new—rooted in traditional folk and country yet all his own. He's also a masterful storyteller in song and in prose, as is evident in his description of writing "White Oak Wood," originally released on his 2011 album Cackalack.  Cackalack by Jonathan Byrd...

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