Lari White
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Lari White


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The best kept secret in music


"The Hartford Courant - Rock Critic"

Goodbye, Country; Hello, Soul
April 3, 2002
By ROGER CATLIN, Courant Rock Critic

AUSTIN, Texas -- The confession comes two songs into the soulful set, backed
by spirited singers with a band that emphasizes groove.

"OK, so I used to be a country artist, OK?" lanky, red-haired Lari White says
to the audience, as if she were at an Academy of Country Music Anonymous

It's her apology for turning her back on a Nashville career that produced two
gold albums and made her one of country's most promising vocalists in the '90s.

Her surprising and bold change of direction, inspired by Al Green, comes
virtually unnoticed amid the hundreds of showcase performances at South by
Southwest last month. She chose the nation's biggest annual music conference
to unveil several sizzling tracks from her "Green Eyed Soul" album, which she
believes in so much, she'll be releasing it this summer on her own label.

"This is the first show I've played in two years," she declares to the room,
which slowly fills with old fans and the curious at the Clay Pit, a club where Norah Jones created a buzz the night before.

White is not the first artist to drop Nashville for more of Memphis soul; indeed, Shelby Lynne's transformation was so complete after six albums, she was mistaken for Grammy's best new artist last year.

But while White's turn doubtless will be compared with Lynne's, the redhead
goes one further by refusing to play old songs in concert and declaring her country days a mistake.

"I felt like I had hit the wall in country music, personally and professionally," White, 36, says the night before her show. "I wasn't feeling
great about making another country record."

Her problem came in thinking of herself as a country artist in the first place, simply because she lived and worked in Nashville. "I got confused," White says.

True, the Florida-born singer and songwriter had won the TNN "You Can Be a Star" contest in 1988, shortly after she moved to Nashville. Before long, she was writing for other artists and singing backup for Rodney Crowell.

On her debut album in 1993, she showed some of her more soulful roots on songs like "Lead Me Not," one of its three minor hits.

But it was her 1994 album that provided her most Top 10 singles, with "That's My Baby," "Now I Know" and "That's How You Know When You're in Love," and put her on a career track to try to keep up the hits.

When her third album, "Don't Let Me In," didn't do as well, she was dropped by RCA. The Disney imprint Lyric Street put out her fourth album, "Stepping Stone" in 1998, but allowed her to get out of her contract rather than try to release the new "Green Eyed Soul."

"I love country music and appreciate the fans and radio airplay. I loved being part of that world," she says. "But at the end of the day, it was a stretch to fit into that format."

"One thing country doesn't do is soul," White says. "They just don't go there. They don't do R&B things. And that's just so much a part of what I am, I can't help it."

Raising two children with her husband, songwriter Chuck Cannon, gave her a good reason to step away from the Nashville-go-round a few years back.

She wasn't completely invisible; in fact, her first major film role was a
fairly visible one - as the sculptor in "Cast Away" who mails a Federal Express package and has it returned four years later by Tom Hanks' character,
who survived a plane crash.

But she also found time to start writing new songs and messing around in a new home studio equipped with fancy digital software.

"The picture I had was an album that was retro, in the Ashford & Simpson classic soul but with modern sounds."

It started coming together really well, especially when she started adding
musicians - studio veterans she knew who were so happy to stretch out on her
grooves, they made "Groove With Me Baby" go on more than eight minutes with a
long, smoky spoken part.

Some of the tracks, like "Let's Keep It Together," have a Barry White/Love
Unlimited Orchestra feel.

But she gets tough, too, on the feminist "Because I'm a Woman," which begins:
"Twice the work for half the pay/Twice as smart, but afraid to say/ I'm just
here to provide the t & a, because I'm a woman."

It all adds up to what she calls "music I was proud of. It's the first album I've had since '90 that I had in my car and really like it."

Producing, performing and putting out the album on her own Skinny White Girl
Records is a luxury allowed by the fact that her husband is one of Nashville's most consistent songwriters, who was behind the hits on Toby
Keith's recent albums. "In many ways, Toby funded this album," - Roger Catlin


Lari White Reaches Deep Into Her Green-Eyed Soul

An interview with the Country-turned-Blues star

Story and photos by Don 'T-Bone' Erickson

Lari White grew up in Central Florida in a musical family that sang and performed together as the White Family Singers. They sang a variety of musical styles - anything with close harmonies. She knew music was her life's calling and after earning a degree in Music Engineering at the University of Miami she made the move to Nashville, Tennessee, where her first big break was hooking up with the great songwriter, Rodney Crowell. Lari went on tour with Crowell and he would go on to co-produce her first album, Lead Me Not, released on RCA in 1993. Her eclectic tastes were evident and the critics praised the album, but the record-buying public mostly ignored it.

She met Chuck Cannon at a songwriter's night and they not only inspired each other musically, they fell in love and got married. White was determined to make some "hits" and the resulting album, Wishes, would end up going gold with three Top Ten Country singles. Chuck even won an Academy of Country Music Award for Song of the Year for "I Love The Way You Love Me," a tune that he wrote for Lari.

After another album for RCA, Don't Fence Me In, Lari had her first child and recorded Stepping Stone for the new Lyric Street label in 1998. Becoming a mother and writing songs for her new album was a positive experience, but commercial success still eluded her.

She decided to take two years off from the road, built her own recording studio, started an independent record label called Nashville Underground and had her second child. When she finally began to write and record again, in her own words, "What tumbled out was an amalgam of Soul, Pop, Jazz, Rhythm & Blues and dance music."

I had a nice talk with Lari on the eve of her showcase gig during the South By Southwest Music Conference and Festival in Austin, Texas last month. She told me all about this new and courageous career move, where she leaves her Country voice behind. She is singing with renewed purpose and sounding nothing like her previous recordings. She is now creating music that is closer to her heart and soul...and the world should take notice.

T-Bone of BluesWax: I know that this has got to be a leap...a risk. What made you decide to go this route and how do you feel like you're going to market yourself to get it across to who you want to hear it?

Lari White: As far as how to market it and how to reach whoever might like this music, I am really making it up as I go along. I'm really relying on the music to kind of make a place for itself in the world. I'm doing it on Skinny White Girl Records - my own record label.

BW: Is it a little scary?

LW: Oh my God, it's terrifying! [Laughs] If I think about it too much, I kind of get stuttering and speechless. It's like, "Are you crazy?"

BW: I admire you for your courage to go with what's in your heart.

LW: You know, some of it, though, was not a choice. You know, if doing something that's not you - that's not really true for you - it gets into everything, including your body and your life. It kills you; it's like having a illness, you know? You're not healthy spiritually and emotionally - not just physically - you're not healthy and right.

BW: It comes out in other ways...

LW: It does and it's almost like I knew I had to get well. I was not in the right place. Thank God I was in a situation where I could stop. I just had our son - our second child. I was nursing him and I was home and I was writing, and in a lot of ways it was just kind of a natural point to look back and I was kind of taking some time off. I'd stopped touring; I knew I wasn't going to record for a while and it really just became obvious with the things that I was writing. I'd sit down - I got this great's a catalog of loops and samples and sounds - everything from horn samples to drum loops - all kinds of styles of music all over the world. There's a Bill Laswell collection...I mean just an incredible library of sounds and grooves.

BW: Yeah, what a nice toy...

LW: I'd go down to the studio and sit there and muck with it. I would write this totally classic kind of R&B 6/8 kind of groove [or] song. Then I'd sit down and create a track - a work tape - with completely wacked-out sounds and grooves. You know, all this stuff and it was right! It was like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah - now we're talking!" And it just kind of evolved really naturally - this vision of a record that was very retro and evocative of '70s Soul and that classic kind of songwriting, but with these new sounds and new grooves. A little bit of Hip-Hop thrown in...a little bit of Jazz...

BW: Interesting...

LW: Yeah, and it was everything I love about music, every single thing. You know, I've been accused of being eclectic so many times - it's like I finally - by Don 'T-Bone' Erickson


Solo Albums:
“Stepping Stone” (Lyric Street) July 1998
“Best Of Lari White” (RCA) January 1997
“Don’t Fence Me In” (RCA) January 1996
“Wishes” (RCA) January 1994 RIAA Certified Gold
“Lead Me Not” (RCA) January 1993

Compilation Albums:
“Country Goes Raffi”
“The Apostle” Soundtrack (Rising Tide) Grammy Award Best Southern Gospel Recording
“Amazing Grace I” (Sparrow) Grammy Award Best Southern Gospel Recording
“Amazing Grace II” (Sparrow) Grammy Award Best Southern Gospel Recording


Feeling a bit camera shy


On her sixth album, Green Eyed Soul, million-selling artist Lari White makes a radical left turn, away from the successful safety of her country-pop past, with a fresh sound that digs deep into the soul and R&B influences her albums have only hinted at before. This collection of songs, the most personal of her career, ranges from post-feminist ranting to the gospel message of love, with themes of intimacy, commitment and lost innocence.

“I wanted to create an environment, an experience that was deeply evocative of groovier times past – Al Green, Marvin Gaye – but tripped up, slightly disturbed. I wanted to lay a groove that would make people want to make love, not just f**k, and I wanted to get a couple of things said without preaching.”

To make the record she wanted to make, Lari knew she needed time and freedom, two commodities often in short supply as a major label recording artist, so she built her own creative home, Skinny WhiteGirl Records, and took the helm as sole producer for this project. Building on loops she programmed in Acid (Sonic Foundry’s stellar looping software), Lari enlisted a band of top-shelf musicians to create a unique mix of retro and cutting-edge sounds, and the result is all vibe and groove.

It’s been a long, interesting trip since Lari’s first release, “Lead Me Not,” which she produced with Rodney Crowell in 1993. A few of her musical accomplishments include being nominated as ACM Top New Female Vocalist, touring with George Strait and Alan Jackson, writing songs for Tammy Wynette and Lonestar, and going gold with her second album, Wishes. Lari also has three Grammy Awards for her contributions to Sparrow’s Amazing Grace series and “The Apostle” movie soundtrack.

Her acting talents are now beginning to turn heads as well. She recently made her film debut in the Robert Zemeckis blockbuster Cast Away, capturing the imaginations of moviegoers everywhere as “The Girl At The Crossroads” in the famous final scene with Tom Hanks. She also played the lead role of Lisa Love on CMT’s original pilot “On Music Row.”

Lari performed to a standing-room only crowd at the 2002 South By Southwest Music Conference as the “world premiere” live introduction to Green Eyed Soul, and will be performing in Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and Nashville over the next few months to promote the release of the album in August.