Last week saw an awesome musical conjunction go down at Asheville’s Echo Mountain Studio, the recording studio on North French Broad Avenue. Here’s what happened: Charlie Sexton, an amazing music producer best known as Bob Dylan’s guitarist, spent the week working with John, Joe and Dave Shirley, who hail from New Orleans and play together as the Cardinal Sons.
What brought them together? It was an annual songwriting contest sponsored by the NewSong Music record label led by Gar Ragland, who recently relocated to Asheville. The group spent the week working on a record to be released by NewSong.
When I visited on Thursday, it was clear that Sexton and the Sons had established a rapport and were busily polishing off a tune. Sexton told me he was having a great time working with the band.
Ragland, who sat in for a bit to watch, has been holding the songwriting contest for 12 years. (Moog is a sponsor, btw.) He said 12 artists are chosen as finalists, and all perform at the Lincoln Center before a winner is chosen.
Fun fact: On March 2, a lucky group of music fans who had gathered at Jack of the Wood to hear the Motel Mirrors perform got a surprise – Charlie Sexton sat in with the band, which includes Sexton’s brother, Will, as well as Amy LeVere and John Paul Keith.
Here’s more background from NewSong:
As winners, they’ll soon head into the studio at Asheville, NC’s Echo Mountain Recording with producer, musician and songwriter Charlie Sexton to make a new record, which will be released by NewSong Recordings.
They’ll also return to New York City’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts to play their own show, as well as perform at the Sundance Film Festival’s ASCAP Music Café and appear on NPR’s Mountain Stage show.
Other prizes include a Little Phatty analog synthesizer from Moog Music, and a handcrafted, made-to-fit Sonus Musician’s Chair from Brian Boggs Chairmakers in Asheville, NC.
“It was a complete shock when our name was called. There were so many talented artists in this competition and it’s quite surreal that we were chosen,” said Shirley. “We’re really excited about working at Echo Mountain with Charlie Sexton and making some killer music. We’re just really lucky to be a part of this and to win is unbelievable.”
Charlie Sexton was unable to judge the finals due to a touring conflict in Europe with Bob Dylan. Here’s the video message he sent to the audience and finalists at this past Saturday’s NewSong Contest finals at Lincoln Center.
Originally from Jackson, Mississippi, the Cardinal Sons are brothers John (guitar, vocals), Joe (piano, vocals) and Dave Shirley (drums, vocals). As contest rules allow no more than two performers per act in the finals, the youngest brother Dave had to watch his brothers from the crowd. When the announcement of the winner was made, he was then invited by NewSong Director Gar Ragland to join his brothers on stage for a two-song, full band encore.
The Cardinal Sons were one of five finalists selected by the judges in the afternoon semifinal round to advance to the evening award round set, where they were joined by artists Eliot Bronson (Atlanta, GA), Breagh Mackinnon (Sydney, Nova Scotia), Clarence Bucaro (Brooklyn, NY) and Boris McCutcheon (Albuquerque, NM).
This year’s judges were NewSong Director Gar Ragland, ASCAP’s Marc Emert-Hutner, Lincoln Center’s Jill Sternheimer and Jerimaya Grabher and JW Johnson, the managers of Charlie Sexton, who is currently in Europe on tour with Bob Dylan and was unable to attend.