Everybody knows the heartbreak of loss, the dizzy thrill of new romance, the tingle of seduction and the anger of betrayal. But precious few can channel those feelings into a lyric that speaks straight to us all — and sing it with the passion that comes from taking the hard knocks and savoring the sweet reward that comes from living to the fullest.
Season Ammons has that gift. Rarer still, she can move listeners to cry, to laugh, to smile when that moment of connection comes, in multiple genres. She’s proven that again and again, always stretching her range, never compromising or backing down from who she really is.
Where some of Ammons’ previous releases reflect strong roots in Texas country, her new full-length album ‘Steel Hearts’ centers on soul, Americana and R&B. These genres demand chops, honesty and a willingness to bare every scar suffered in life’s storms. Ammons neither blinks nor backs down. Whether warmed by the sizzling groove laid down by her band at yellow DOG Studios in Wimberley, Texas or buoyed by the lush orchestral strings that backed her on the tracks cut at London’s fabled Abbey Road Studios, every note she produces demands attention.
Her early years in Texas were challenging. When she was 5 years old, her parents divorced and her dad disappeared into prison; years later, after an attempt at reconciliation with her, he took his own life. Before graduating from high school, at 17, she left home with not much more than a guitar, a few dollars and no particular destination in sight.
Her story might have spiraled ever downward from that point if not for music. Music became Season’s salvation.
At age 19 she moved to Nashville, where she juggled waitressing and odd jobs with songwriting workshops and looking for places to perform. She also married a young Navy diver, which meant moving to his new post in Connecticut. There, she auditioned successfully for Nashville Star in 2004 and made it into the final regional round. Even so, she set music aside to concentrate on family matters.
Fatefully, in 2009, her husband was transferred to Houston. For two years Season worked her way into the Houston circuit as a performer and writer.
In 2011 she released her first album (‘I’m Alive’), which earned a Texas Country Music Association Award of Distinction. Two years later, she released her sophomore album (‘Wildfire’) leading to another Texas Country Music Association nomination for Female Vocalist of the Year. When her husband was posted to Florida, her momentum continued to pick up in spite of managing divorce shortly after the move. She put a band together and began doing shows from Destin down the Gulf Coast and into the Keys. More awards streamed in, including Best Country Artist, Best Female Vocalist and Best Singer/Songwriter at the 2016 Emerald Coast BMA Awards.
Now, living back home in New Braunfels, Texas, Ammons kicked her career into gear by cutting two releases in quick succession with producer David Percefull (Green Day, Gary Clark Jr., Meat Puppets) at the console. In January, Ammons released ‘Neon Side Of Town,’ which highlighted her mastery of neo-traditional, throwback Texas country and features stellar musicianship from key Texas players including Adam Odor on bass; Geoff Queen on pedal steel, resonator and slide guitars; Josh Center on drums and Percefull on guitars and keys. The first three releases from this album to Texas Regional Radio have reached top 40, with the best yet to come.
Next, for the ‘Steel Hearts’ album she recruited three pillars of her longtime Florida band, guitarist Scott Rockwood, drummer Roberto Padron and keyboardist Shawn Hartung; added base ace Glenn Fukunaga (Dixie Chicks, Bob Dylan, Shawn Colvin) and gathered them to record the rhythm section and backing vocals at Percefull’s yellow DOG Studios. Season's primary vocals and the orchestral arrangements were then recorded in the legendary Studio 2 at Abbey Road Studios in London. Percefull mixed ‘Steel Hearts’ at Abbey Road in Studio 3, and the album was mastered there by Sean Magee.
The deep blue, Muscle Shoals/Stax and churchy intensity of Steel Hearts confirms that this singular artist has a lot more to say and infinite ways to say it. Every track echoes a more soulful era in music, when singing from the heart was more than a carefully cultivated illusion. Who can listen to the last minute of “Desperately In Love” without being reminded of Season’s roots in Otis Redding’s inspired riffing at the end of his “Respect?” Or tapping into the same Muscle Shoals/Al Green current that informs Ammons on “Love’s A Losing Game”? Sometimes Ammons’ electrifying performance doesn’t conjure anyone at all but her own unique, searing intensity on the reprise of the title track — a moment that will probably remain vivid to her for the rest of her career.
“We recorded that at Studio Two in Abbey Road,” she remembers, still somewhat in disbelief. “It was huge. I was thinking about all the legends that had been there before me, with this orchestra ready to lay down its parts with me. I was thinking, ‘I’ve just got this one shot. I might die tomorrow, so I’ve got to put everything I’ve got into this. This is it.’ I had so much adrenaline! So I pushed myself vocally into places I’d never been before. I grew as a singer in that room. And I felt it as it was happening.”
Her writing on ‘Steel Hearts’ also took her somewhere she’d never been before. You can sense it on every one of these songs, even the one least like those that fill the rest of the album. Referring to the languorous, dreamy “Rainy Day Serenade,” Ammons notes, “I wrote it when I was living near the beach in Florida. I had the windows open, with a light rain falling on the palm trees and the roof. It was a perfect day to turn on Turner Classic Movies with the sound off. I had records going and tea brewing. I was reading a book. I didn’t want that day to go away, so I stayed in my pajamas and didn’t do anything that day — except to write this song.”
“This whole album is about all the facets of love: falling in love, falling out of love, being desperate, being seductive and finding love again,” Season says. “We constantly evolve in and out of love, with others and with ourselves. We grow as people. We don’t always love what we’ve done in the past. But we learn — and we begin by learning to love who we are wherever we have been and where we are in our lives.”
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