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Geographically, Nashville is a long way from Australia, but for the Adelaide-born singer-songwriter and guitarist Orianthi Panagaris, the swampy vibe of Music City’s Blackbird Studios felt like a home away from home when she cut her new album, Heaven In This Hell, there with producer Dave Stewart and a host of the town’s ace players.
“I just fell in love with the whole vibe," says Orianthi. "Dave, the musicians, everybody at Blackbird – the people were so welcoming and encouraging. I was really intrigued by the idea of recording in this big room with everybody.”
The collaboration between Orianthi and Stewart started a few years ago – Stewart had acted as musical director for a Stand Up To Cancer benefit concert, during which Orianthi guested. "We became friends after that," says Stewart. "It didn’t have anything to do with making an album. We started to jam together on acoustic guitars mainly, but we did plug in electrics. I played her all of these blues records, and things just happened very naturally."
Main tracking sessions for Heaven In This Hell were held last year at Blackbird, with Orianthi recording live with many of the same musicians (namely guitarists Tom Bukovac and Dan Dugmore, bassist Michael Rhodes and drummer Chad Cromwell) that Stewart had worked with on his albums The Blackbird Diaries and The Ringmaster General.
“Everybody was just at the top of their game," Orianthi raves. "The energy that came out of them was incredible. The atmosphere was very free. Some people try to push you one way or the other, but Dave wants you to go with your gut. He makes trusting yourself easy. Anything that comes to mind, if it’s good, Dave wants to try it – he’s not boxed in."
Orianthi's 2009 debut album, Believe, leaned heavily on pop-rock with heaping dozes of dazzling metal shred guitar. On Heaven In This Hell, Stewart encouraged Orianthi to explore her love of blues and country, even melding the two genres together within the same song.
“She’s one of those blues-rock guitar players who is housed inside a young girl’s body and mind," says Stewart. "The funny thing is, when you hear her, you can tell that she has the soul of an old blues guitarist. I thought that was really cool and exciting. I like people who have an old soul in them. You don’t have to explain things to them. They’re trying to do something that isn’t trivial; they want to do something great. It’s a burning ambition inside of them. Orianthi has that."
For Orianthi, dovetailing blues and country with pop and rock came easily, and she sees the songs on Heaven In This Hell as "me going back to my roots with blues and rock. This is the kind of material I hope to be playing for the next 30 or 40 years. I'm so glad I got a chance to make this record and that it came out so well."
Heaven In This Hell will be released on 12 March. (You can pre-order the album at this link.) On the following pages, Orianthi runs down the record track-by-track.