Declaration of Independents: November/December 2022 Issue Indie Spotlight

Another gathering of releases by independent artists that deserve wider recognition.

Videos by American Songwriter

Bastards of Fine Arts
A Good Sign
(Janglewood Records)

With a sound that’s both emotive and effusive, the oddly-named Bastards of Fine Arts make their bow with an album that lives up to its title. A supergroup of sorts consisting of veteran singer-songwriter Matt Keating; singer, guitarist, bassist, and banjo player Steve Mayone; bassist and vocalist Jason Mercer; and drummer and singer Greg Wieczorek, they make a solid initial impression courtesy of the rousing revelry shared in such songs as “A Walk in the Park,” “Any Old Town,” “Good Sign,” and “Take the Fall,” drawing occasional comparisons to Nashville Skyline-era Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Wilco, The Jayhawks and other upbeat auteurs of varying descriptions and designs. In short, it’s a melodic potpourri that allows for a sumptuous set of songs, most of which bear Keating’s credits in tandem with Mayone or on his own. A most impressive debut, A Good Sign is indeed a promising omen for whatever these bastards might beget in the future.

Sara Niemietz


Recorded in tandem with co-writer, co-producer, and guitarist Linda Taylor, singer and actress Sara Neimietz’s fourth album offers a dynamic blend of pop, jazz, blues, and soul, given songs that reflect the tangled emotions and unexpected encounters within the wake of the pandemic. Like most folks who underwent forced isolation and an unnerving feeling of uncertainty and vulnerability, Neimietz arrived at a point of reckoning, determined to face the future with both confidence and clarity. The songs which resulted suggest that she’s succeeded, especially as indicated with “I Want You,” “Lovely Lies,” “Fill Me Up,” and “Come To Me” in particular. It’s hardly surprising; Niemietz’s resume includes such credits as performing at the Grand Ole Opry, a run on Broadway, eight appearances on the hit TV show Glee, millions of views on YouTube, several million streams on Spotify, and tours that have taken her to 30 countries around the world.  Consider Superman the culmination of those accomplishments.

Will Hoge
Wings on My Shoes

(Edlo Records)

Will Hoge has always been something of a contrarian, an unrepentant insurgent who’s never afraid to put across his perspective, regardless of whether it bows to popular feeling. Wings on My Shoes is yet another stunning example of that tangled tapestry, an uncompromising set of songs that’s unabashedly unapologetic and starkly revealing all at the same time. Both rugged and resilient, it finds Hoge letting loose with verbosity and vitriol on several songs while countering that sentiment with remorse and reflection. I’d rather be the one that’s crying, he confesses on “The Last One To Go,” before venting his frustration in the persona of some random losers via “All I Can Take” and “Ain’t How It Used To Be.” Emotions get tangled in the quest for some sort of recompense that remains as elusive as always. Yet while Hoge often seems to be running against the wind, his determination and defiance are as constant as ever. As a result, Wings On My Shoes elevates his efforts to a higher plateau.

The Williams Brothers
Memories To Burn

(Regional Records)

The Williams Brothers have clearly aged well since kicking off their combined career as teen heartthrobs and—not so coincidentally—well-connected nephews of popular TV crooner Andy Williams. Although they subsequently transitioned into credible major label Americana contenders, it’s been at least a couple of decades since we’ve heard from the pair. Happily, Memories To Burn stays true to its title, courtesy of a decidedly retro sound—much like the Everly Brothers incarnate—that’s all about their synchronous sibling harmonies. The songs, which mostly came courtesy of outside writers, serve the same purpose—a well-chosen spin on The Kinks’ classic “Death of a Clown” is particularly telling—ensuring a consistent tone throughout. Likewise, a compact backing band (Greg Leisz on pedal steel; bassist, producer, and prime songwriting contributor Marvin Etzioni; and drummer Don Heffington) also deserves credit for consistency. All in all, it’s certainly fair to say these particular Memories are well worth relishing.

Dave Vargo
Crooked Miles


Dave Vargo’s bio lists some impressive credits. The New Jersey native graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston and subsequently became a touring musician and in-demand session player. In that regard, he had the opportunity to work with a number of distinguished artists, among them, Whitney Houston, Phoebe Snow, and Vonda Shepard. Nevertheless, it’s the music that matters, and given his current activities as part of an acoustic duo called Kim and Dave, his Dave Vargo Trio, and in particular, the music he makes on his own, he proves that point. Cargo’s third solo album, Crooked Miles, is a solid, driving, and determined set of songs, each of which resonates with power and purpose. Songs such as “Half Bad,” “Best Version,” “Nobody’s Fault,” “Should Have Known By Now,” and “You’ll Know” offer an emphatic sense of resolve and resilience that makes his melodies soar. Vargo excels at capturing his listeners’ attention and mining the gravitas inherent in each offering. And that allows Crooked Miles to fully go the distance.

Photo by R. Diamond/Getty Images

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