10 Bands/artists you should be listening to right now

A popular trend on Facebook this past month has been posting 10 bands that you’ve seen in concert – 9 of them must be true and one should be a lie. You then ask your friends to guess which one isn’t correct.

I thought it would be fun to share my love of music with my friends by helping them discover new (or “new to you”) bands/artists that I’ve enjoyed recently.  Maybe then we can actually go see them in concert and we can add them to our list.


I’m a sucker for tight harmonies and a folky/rootsy sound.


This group reminds me of everything I loved about The Civil Wars.


Lez be honest…I’m also a sucker for cute girls who sing fun, poppy music.  Reminds of me of when Tegan & Sara went pop.

Tank and the Bangas

Wildly fun and completely original New Orleans outfit.  A little spoken word, hip-hop, and R&B.


Tight harmonies mixed with electronic pop.  Can’t go wrong. Think Sylvan Esso, but more fun.


Super chill and fun.

Margaret Glaspy

She’s a bad ass guitarist with a super chill vibe and fantastic voice.

Miniature Tigers

Pretty new to me, but I love their poppy sound.


Not gonna lie…this song originally grabbed me b/c it reminds me of ELO.  This is a super-group made of folks from Band of Horses and Franz Ferdinand.


A punk/pop group that is unabashedly queer.  I love everything about them.


Top 10 Albums of 2015


  1. Bully – Feels Like

This grunge rock band out of Nashville brought me back to high school with their Hole-meets Pearl Jam sound.  It doesn’t hurt that they have a bad ass, female lead singer.  “Too Tough” was the track that sold me.


  1. Los Colognes – Dos

Yet another indie Nashville band.  I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of Dire Straits, but this band definitely has that vibe – with a bit of Grateful Dead added in there.  Love the laid back vibe.  This album is perfect for a crisp afternoon barbeque.


  1. Jason Isbell – Something More than Free

Having seen Patterson Hood (also a former member of the Drive By Truckers) live recently, I am reminded of how wonderfully crafted and heartfelt Isbell’s lyrics are.  Combine that with the soulful grittiness of his voice and you have a lovely gift on your hands.


  1. Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon

I just love the simplicity of fun of his music.  A modern day Henry Nilsson or even Randy Newman – his songs are effortlessly and expertly crafted pop goodness.


  1. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material

Some are dismissive of her music due to the Katy Perry-esque campiness.  But Kacey is probably one of the most talented songwriters in Nashville.  The themes in her music are relatable and compelling.  Kacey celebrates authenticity while most acts on current country radio are anything but.


  1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

I actually think this is a more powerful, relevant, and memorable album than Good Kid, m.A.A.d city. Proof that earwormy hooks can carry a stirring, therapeutic message.


  1. Brandi Carlile – The Firewatchers Daughter

I don’t know why I am trying to explain why I love this album.  I love anything this woman does.  For this album she rid herself of the boundaries of trying to fit into a label and just did her own thing.  It works.  “The Eye” is hauntingly gorgeous.


  1. Leon Bridges – Coming Home

Like many of the retro-soul outfits like St. Paul & the Broken Bones or Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – Bridges’ music treats 60’s soul with reverence but gives it some modern day playfulness.  2016 may be a big year for him.


2. Girlpool – Before the World Was Big

This folk-punk duo packs more into a 25 min. album than most of the albums released this year.  The bare-bones, simplicity of the music (it’s just a guitar and bass), the innocence and nostalgia in their songwriting, and the fact that you sometimes can’t tell either singer apart had me playing this on a loop for almost the entire summer.


1*. Chris Stapleton – Traveller

Such an amazing “diamond in the rough” story.  Chris has been writing songs and being a studio musician for years and he finally decided to show the world what we’ve been missing.  That soulful/bluesy voice brings me to my knees.  In the chorus to ‘Tennessee Whiskey” when he sings “you’re as warm as a glass of brandy” – that run he does on “warm”…dear heavens!!!


*A note on Adele.  Although “25” was released in November, I really think this will be on the list for the biggest/best album of 2016.  It still has a lot of life in it.  I’m going to let it seep in some more.

**Honorable mentions include Ritual in Repeat by Tennis, Currents by Tame Impala, The Waterfall from My Morning Jacket, and Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes and Just Sit by Courtney Barnett

Top Albums of 2015 (so far…)

Girlpool – Before the World Was Big

This “sparse, stoner punk duo reminds me of high school.  I love the lazy guitars, the slacker vocals, and tight harmonies between the two vocalists.  Rolling Stone describes them as “raw, minimal, yet emotionally fierce” and they couldn’t be more on point.  love adding a third harmony!

Leon Bridges – Coming Home
I love Leon Bridges for the same reason I love St. Paul & the Broken Bones.  Just as Paul Janeway gets compared to Wilson Pickett, you’re definitely going to get the Sam Cooke references when talking about Leon Bridges.  He’s the new kid on the block when it comes to the neo-soul movement.  Perfect melodies combined with elvety vocals, and a kick-ass horn section. What else is there?

Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material
A saving grace when it comes to the shit pile state of country music right now.  More Kacey & Sturgill, less bros.  I love everything about Kacey’s campy style, lyrical quips, and simple story-telling.   The fact that she’s a bombshell that doesn’t take her self seriously won me over forever.  This album is pure and simple fun.

Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon
A combination of Randy Newman, Henry Nillson, and Burt Bacharach on a cloudy & sad day. This guy knows how to tug on your heat strings with melodies that Paul McCartney would sit up and notice.

Muse – Psycho
Muse is probably one of the most polarizing bands out there.  People either really love them or really hate them.  I happen to be on the “love them” side and those on this side have been wishing for an album the reminded us why we fell in love in the first place.  Another “Origin of Symmetry” of sort.  Well, this is it.  Muse is for those of us that like a bit flare and drama with our rock & roll.  This doesn’t disappoint.  Also, someone I know said Muse was just like Radiohead and that I couldn’t not like Radiohead and like Muse at the same time.  False.

I haven’t listened to the new Florence & the Machine album enough, but it could be a contender for my final list.  Others on my list for the year are new albums from Dawes, Bully, and Miguel.

Tuesday Talk

The college where I work has this program called Tuesday Talks where faculty and staff members are invited to share with students about how they found their calling/vocation. I was asked to share about 6 years ago, but was recently asked to give another talk.  This is the text of the talk I gave.

I have a confession to make. I really struggled getting started on writing out what I wanted to tell you today. I wanted to do a little more than just give you an outline of my career progression or tell you about this magical moment when I discovered exactly what it is I wanted to do for the rest of my life. To be honest…I’m not sure I’ve ever really had that one singular moment. (I’ll talk more about that later.)

 So…in thinking about what I wanted you most to understand about my journey is what’s taken me so long to actually figure out for myself. And that discovery, for me, has been both very recent and extremely profound.

I grew up in an evangelical Christian church in Tennessee and for years I was taught about God’s will and purpose. I believed what my church taught and that was that God had this great, masterful plan for my life and if I were faithful enough, I would be shown that plan and ultimately live in the peace and comfort that can only come from knowing I’m doing God’s will. In my attempt to find that ultimate goal, I attended a Christian college and pursued a Psychology degree with a minor in theology. I had always been interested in psychology. I loved trying to figure out why people behaved the way they did. I was also someone that people trusted with their secrets and to whom people came for advice. My plan was to attend seminary and become a Christian counselor. I even went so far as to take Biblical Greek as my foreign language requirement. So, if there are any religion majors out there that plan to take Biblical Greek…all I can say is “bless your heart”. I truly believed this was the path I was supposed to take, but toward the end of my senior year, I was coming to terms with a bit of a shift in my faith. My grandmother was very sick and I knew at Christmas that year that it would probably her last. She was the most important person in my life and I had no idea what my life would be without her. I had also spent the past couple of years reconciling my faith with a childhood I spent a lifetime running away from. Because for a lot of people, college becomes a place where you are finally allowed to discover the kind of person you want to be – you begin to discover your values, your likes, and your joys. And even in a restrictive environment like a conservative Christian college, I found myself battling the person I was destined to become versus the person I thought I was based on a traumatic upbringing. I wasn’t quite sure my faith could withstand the healing and restoration that was desperately needed in my life. How in the world was I to find God’s will in all of this? Did God really have a purpose for me and if so…did I really want to find it?

 In just the right time, though, a couple of people made their way into my life and managed to help me make sense of the mess I found myself in.

Holly was a Student Affairs administrator at Union University, the college I attended. She was the Director of Student Programs and she was the advisor for the Student Activities Council – a large student group that was in charge of all the events and programming on campus. I was a leader of this group and Holly quickly became a mentor to me. I admired her tenacity and her charisma. She was insightful and hilariously funny. She exemplified servant leadership in everything she did. In one of our meetings she suggested that I check out the Student Affairs career path. I never thought about this option because I didn’t really know it existed. I loved being involved in campus life, I loved being a leader, I loved planning events and leading my peers to make it all happen. I loved providing occasions for memories to be made. Holly recognized this passion in me because it was also one of her own.

 Another person that played a part in changing my perspective was a professor of mine. Dr. Gushee was and is still a prominent voice in Christian thought and practice. I was lucky enough to have him for a few courses during his time at Union and I admired his wisdom and thoughtfulness. He was always so real – incredibly relatable and always willing to talk to his students outside of the classroom. Dr. Gushee and I also attended the same church and we talked occasionally about life and faith and dealing with all of these questions. Dr. Gushee was the first person from “the church” to tell me it was ok to be questioning. He even said, “Well, Tonya, you might not be a Baptist anymore and that is ok.” I felt complete horror at the thought, but…ultimately, it was the complete truth. I needed to hear this. And I needed to be ok with living in the questions.

 Fast forward to 2005, I landed here at Hendrix. Since I have been here, I have finished my master’s degree and been promoted from Assistant Director to Director of Student Activities. I have had the most incredible opportunities and experiences. I have met some truly amazing people. In fact, some of the most important people in my life are people I’ve connected to through Hendrix.

 It has not always been like that, though. It’s tough for me to say this out loud, I have struggled being at peace in Arkansas. I have had a hard time connecting to this state as someone who identifies as a lesbian and a very liberal Democrat. I have struggled to find a faith community and for a long time, to even find meaningful friendships. Conway is kind of a tough place to be for a single thirty-something. All of these struggles brought me to a place of real doubt as to whether or not I should continue living here. Yet again, in my mid-30’s, I found myself in the mess of trying to discern what it is I am supposed to be doing with my life.

 Like in college, though, I found myself reminded of the people that have come into my life through Hendrix. And more importantly, I began to realize the immeasurable joy I have experienced in making an impact in the life of someone else. For example:

The fearless and funny student that had a strong desire to change Hendrix for the better when it comes LGBT issues. We laughed together, we had passionate discussions together. We were the best of partners.


The incredibly kind and quiet Couch girl that found her voice…and the strong, sassy, wickedly smart sociologist that helped me rediscover mine.

 The silly, thoughtful, and uncommonly wise girl that humbly led her peers with poise and grace.

 And, finally, the most caring, dedicated, passionate, and fiercely strong group of faculty and staff friends that share my dedication to making an impact in the lives of others.

 In closing…a line in a poem I read recently says “let the beauty you love be what you do”. And when I look back at my life and look around myself today, it is glaringly obvious that the beauty in my life is people. And no, it’s not just those people that are a part of the good experiences in my life. Those people that bring such joy and love wherever they go. It’s also seeing the beauty in those people that were a part of the not so good experiences as well. This past August, I gave the eulogy at my uncle’s funeral. He wasn’t even 50 years old and he died of complications due to his addiction to various drugs. He was a man that lived a violent and painful life. In my eulogy, though, I found a way to speak of his courage, his admirable yet sometimes skewed sense of justice, and his deep, but somewhat misplaced love for his family. It is because of people like him that I think I am able to do what it is I try to do in my life and in my work. And that is to find that “beauty”. I want to tap in to that thing that allows someone to be a better a friend, a better leader, a better communicator, or just a better person in general.

So…that’s where I am, friends. My vocation or calling has never been about that one, singular, A-HA moment. It’s not about the actual “job” that I have. It’s about finding what it is that I love about the world around me and connecting it to what I do in my every day life – in whatever job that is. And I’ll tell you…this discovery took quite a long time. So, don’t make a fuss about needing to have it all figured out by the time you’re 25. It’s not going to happen…and you can’t force it. It’s a process that renews itself over and over again. I think that as long as you’re in a place and amongst people that love you and share with you in this journey and who allow you to just be clueless for a while, I think you’ll be ok.

Top 10 Albums of 2014

10. St. Vincent – (self-titled)
This woman is bad-ass. I love her guitar work and sassy lyrics. “Birth in Reverse” and “Digital Witness” are the standout tracks.  Can’t wait to see her live someday.

9. Lily and Madeleine – Acoustic Sessions
The harmonies from these sisters are gorgeous. I love this acoustic album more than their album releases. Simplicty works for them. Such gorgeous melodies, too. Check out “I’ve Got Freedom“.

8. Shovels & Rope – Swimmin’ Time
Although I think O’ Be Joyful is a much better album, I cannot dislike anything this gritty/rootsy/Americana/folky-rock band does. They are such a joy to see live – they’re coming to Little Rock in January.  Here’s the standout track, “The Devil is All Around“.

7. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
I love the “poppier” direction they took on this album. I can’t believe it hasn’t gotten more attention. “War on the East Coast” and “Brill Bruisers” are standouts.

6. Taylor Swift – 1989
Somebody get me some Swiftamine. I am hooked. I love this album. “Blank Space” (awesome video!) and “Bad Blood” are outstanding. Although, “Style” is one I would get rid of. The beginning guitar lick sounds like the soundtrack to a bad boy character from Beverly Hills 90210. Right as he’s about to either swallow a lot of pills or down a bottle of whiskey. Listen to it – you’ll see what I mean.

5. Spoon – They Want My Soul
Spoon always delivers. And this album does not disappoint. “Do You” is probably the track that stands out the most.

4. Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour
I am in love with this guy’s voice. So smooth and soulful. His falsetto is incomparable. The lyrics to the songs are that of a 21 yr. old…simple lyrics mostly about loving someone that doesn’t love you back. Classic. Try not to be emotionally moved when he sings “Lay Me Down” live on SNL.  All of the tears.

3. St. Paul & the Broken Bones​ – Half the City
I got to see this incredible band at South on Main in Little Rock. Paul Janeway’s Baptist preacher style delivery took my soul to another place. “Broken Bones and Pocket Change” and “Call Me” are standouts. Just watch this entire live performance (20 min.) on KEXP and you’ll get it.

2. Ages & Ages – Divisionary
This Portland based folk collective has brought the most happiness to me this year. A perfect blend of tight harmonies, compelling lyrics, and sing-along/stomp-along melodies. Key tracks are “Divisionary“, “Our Demons”, and “I See More“.

1. Hozier – (self-titled)
“Take Me to Church” is only the beginning of the brilliance of this album. So glad the world is finally catching up this Irishman’s greatness! His velvety voice and homage to American blues is enriching and inviting. Other stand out tracks are “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene” and “Cherry Wine“.