August 31st, 2023 8:30pm Stage 2
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Like the title suggests, Rambling Stranger finds Isabel on the move, taking stock of her world as it unfolds outside of the car windshield at highway speed. She's been a traveling musician for years, ever since she shelved an acting career in New York City and moved to Tennessee. Living in Nashville motivated her, but it was the road — where she built her audience one show at a time — that sharpened her songwriting. She wrote folk songs, heartland roots-rockers, and acoustic ballads. She wrote about her husband; about the changing landscape of her hometown back east; about the wanderlust that kept her moving night after night, traveling from the listening rooms of America to the pubs of Australia and back again.
Meanwhile, she also made time to visit the recording studio, releasing her first EP, 2016's Along the Way, within two years of graduating from Yale. Another EP, KANE, followed in 2017, stocked with stories about her maternal grandmother's family. With 2019's Rambling Stranger, though, Lucy Isabel shows the full scope of her songwriting. These 10 songs are filled with images from an adulthood lived on the run: a shuttered army fort along the Jersey Shore; a mountain range outside of Seattle; a road leading to an unknown destination, promising nothing but the unexpected for anyone willing to take it. And Isabel, of course, can't resist taking those paths.
"When I was nine months old, my parents had to get me a regular bed instead of a crib, because I'd climb to the top of my crib and jump off," says the young frontwoman, whose voice — a classic-sounding folk croon that evokes everyone from Brandi Carlile to Judy Collins — shares the spotlight with accordion, keyboards, and numerous stringed instruments throughout Rambling Stranger. "I was always looking for somewhere else to be. A rambling stranger is who I am to this day, even though I've now found a home for myself. My bed is in Nashville. My husband is there. But there's always a part of me that's looking to chase down something new, and it keeps me moving."
Produced by Jared Anderson and recorded in a series of live, inspired takes, Rambling Stranger moves at its own speed, setting the pace for a career whose momentum is just beginning. Ramble on.
An idiosyncratic artist with a background in classical piano, Stacy Antonel makes jazzy, country-leaning, clever Americana that feels both vintage and hyper-modern at the same time. Rooted in classic country but influenced by jazz, pop, and R&B, her throwback “country jazz” style conjures the 20s-30s musical era when jazz and country weren't such disparate genres. There’s a complex, conversational quality to her lyrics, reminiscent of alt-rocker Courtney Barnett, paired with the effortless, emotive vocal power of country icon Patsy Cline. “I like passionate, full-throated singing,” says Antonel. “I want the notes to burst out of me.” Now based in Nashville, Antonel is poised to release her Americana debut Always the Outsider, featuring compelling, narrative storylines (taking a page from Willie Nelson’s songbook), agile vocal melodies, and unexpected thematic twists.
Antonel grew up in a seaside San Diego town called Ocean Beach, listening to pop and R&B hits and studying classical piano until she was eighteen. She cites an eclectic range of artists as her earliest musical inspirations: Tori Amos for her peculiar phrasing and distinct songwriting, Otis Redding for his rich, emotive vocal delivery. After graduating from UC Berkeley, she moved to Buenos Aires, where she answered a Craigslist ad for a singer who sounds like June Carter Cash, and contributed vocals to several jingles for MTV and Jeep that aired throughout Latin America. She sang in a friend’s electro-cumbia band for a while before returning to California, where she started singing professionally at weddings, bars, and local venues. But it wasn’t until discovering country music that she felt at home. “I often felt like a fish out of water in San Diego. One day I randomly bought a bunch of 99 cent country records and fell in love with the genre; the concision of the writing, the wit, how it doesn’t take itself too seriously even while dealing with deep subject matter.” In 2014, Antonel won $10,000 in a televised local singing contest, “3 Minutes to Stardom”, and quit her job to focus on music. She formed a country band later that year, performing covers of classic country hits as Ginger Cowgirl, and in 2017 moved to Nashville to record her debut EP at the city’s Historic RCA Studio C. Ginger Cowgirl released their debut self-titled EP in 2019, featuring five original songs and one cover (a blend of Patsy Cline’s and Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”). The EP was praised as an “Americana tour de force” with “razor sharp lyrical wit” and a “refreshing mix of old school and modern spin”. In late 2019 Antonel toured California and the Southeast, and in early 2020 toured the UK and Germany before the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2021, Antonel teamed up with guitarist Paul Sgroi (who won 2nd place in the 2021 National Flat Pick Guitar Championship) to work on her debut full-length album, Always the Outsider, set for release in June 2022 under her own name. “My musical impulses are extremely diverse, and I want to feel free to follow them without being pigeonholed by the country implications of a name like Ginger Cowgirl,” she explains. Recorded at Singing Serpent Studios in San Diego with producer Ben Moore (Hot Snakes, Diamanda Galas, Burt Bacharach), Always the Outsider blends elements of mid-century country music with unconventional subject matter and virtuosic instrumentation– including tracks with Doug Pettibone (Lucinda Williams) on pedal steel and acoustic guitar, and Joe Reed (Merle Haggard) on bass. The thematically unique collection explores metaphysical and supernatural concepts (alien-earthling romance, past-life trauma) as well as grounded narratives of everyday experience (isolation, disconnectedness, sexual desire, feeling like an alien in your own body) in Antonel’s distinctively jazzy style. There’s an intelligent, otherworldly beauty to the album, with many anthems of outsider-ness made more striking by their classic-country sound and structure. At times, Always the Outsider feels like an elegant relic from a bygone era, other times it’s a glimpse into the distant, mystical future of country music.