Telling Stories began as the intersection between a hunch and a tarot card reading, resulting in a memorable collaboration between songwriters Julie Nolen and Terry Dossey.
Nolen rode into Austin on a Greyhound bus from Abilene, Texas ten years ago, with only an electric guitar (sans amplifier) and a gift for songwriting. “I scraped by for a year just to buy a pawn shop acoustic so I could finally hear what I was playing,” says Nolen. Abandoning her parents’ vision of a career in journalism, she left a harsh adolescence behind to follow her musical dreams.
With the usual vague plans, and after two years of playing in small bars around Austin, a frustrated Nolen placed an ad in the Austin Chronicle’s musician referrals, encouraged by a tarot card reading in December 2001. “I take those things with a grain of salt,” Nolen says, “But basically it told me to take a chance on my career so I placed the ad.”
Meanwhile Dossey, a local producer and veteran of many female-fronted bands (Shelley King, Joanna DeJarnett, Natalie Zoe, Susan Colton, just to name a few) was looking for a singer to front his new project. He and DeJarnett had parted ways after forming the original Telling Stories but Dossey still felt the idea had promise. After fielding at least a dozen dead-end calls from his own Chronicle ad that morning, he called Nolen’s ad. For reasons he still can’t figure out, he waived the customary exchange of CDs and invited her over to a session in progress.
“Ordinarily, “ Dossey says, “I at least make them sing to me on the phone. If they won’t, I ask ‘em if it’s because they suck or because they’re shy, ‘cause neither one will do. Almost everybody sings after I tell ‘em that. But I had a hunch with her, which is strange, because I’m generally pretty cynical. I didn’t make her sing on the phone.”
Thirty minutes later, Nolen marched into the studio session with her trademark voice, confidence and charm. “I could see Terry was very concerned how the studio musicians would react if I sucked,” Nolen laughs, “but I knew there was no chance of that. In a few minutes they did too, smiles all around. I was in!”
Two of the veteran players at that session were Don Burns on bass and Daniel Jones on drums, who Dossey has worked with on several other projects. Burns moved on to other projects after the first CD, and Telling Stories was then fortunate to add the very versatile and experienced Joe Zito on bass, who brings a nice Latin flavor to much of the band's music . Together, Zito and Jones lay down the infectious funky groove that is the foundation for Telling Stories live and on the second CD.
They are by no means the most well known musicians in the band. Keyboardist David Webb (of Jimmy LaFave and Eliza Gilkyson fame) has added his signature style on most of the tracks, including stunning grand piano accompaniments on “Rome” and "Lost Faith." Each began as a simple melody over acoustic guitar, but David put his soul into it and took them to another level. In addition, Webb's mastery of the B3 organ style graces most of the other tunes. Legendary composer Glover Gill's lush string arrangements, masterfully performed by the Tosca String Quartet of Talking Heads fame, also grace both tracks.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from “Rome" and "Lost Faith," Austin’s most beloved horn section, The GrooveLine Horns (known from “The Scabs” and “La Tribu”) have performed their magic of brass and reed on “Stand There and Look Pretty,” in which Nolen wryly expresses her frustration with the limitations society attempts to place on young, attractive women. Their smooth, funky horn work also graces "Dirty Little Secrets," "Devil," and "With or Without You."
Telling Stories started with blank tape and a blank piece of paper. The first things to hit the paper were a clear goal and a simple motto. The goal: danceable grooves under memorable pop melodies; great songwriting that works both in the coffeehouse and on the dance floor. The motto: something Dossey swears by as a producer, shared with Nolen after her audition – “Attitude is audible.”
Telling Stories second album, Dirty Little Secrets, was released June 11th, 2010. It's the band's first album since Greyhound was released in 2004, and contains 14 original tracks the band has written and recorded while gigging the last six years.
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