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The WDVX Blue Plate Special – 8/24 – Chris McGinnis & Mamaw’s Angels / Mandi Strachota

August 24, 2023 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

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Chris McGinnis writes songs that exist somewhere in between a hiccup and a heartache. His last EP, 2019’s Songs For You, touches on the absurdity of your hometown morphing beyond recognition. It tells a story of two Baby Boomers drifting together from across the US into the Golden Gate City, then drifting apart, and then together again. It is about connection and disconnection alike. With his debut full-length album, Mamaw’s Angel, Chris veers deeper into these familiar themes.

“I think this album is largely about manic loneliness. These songs are ultimately about people who are afraid of losing their relationships. They refuse to accept that they may have already lost these relationships, and they refuse to accept that they are to blame.”

The manic aspect of the “manic loneliness” manifests itself in the album’s refusal to rest in one genre. “What If We Went to the Moon?” is what Chris describes as “a cosmic country song with a countrypolitan foundation.” Heartland rocker “Home Away From Home” has all the stomp and 12-string firepower to park a Wilbury. Other tracks like “Mailman’s Son” and “Old Chestnut” teeter between lo-fi indie folk and roots freak out. Tying all of these styles together are the lyrics and the characters at the center of them.

Overbearing grandparents and stubborn grandchildren, washed-up fraternity brothers yearning for the New Year’s Eve parties of yesteryear, a missing Winnebago, a tree that just won’t quit, and other wild personalities run throughout the ten tracks found on Mamaw’s Angel. More than just a few are inspired by people and stories Chris had met and heard back towards his home in Western NC’s Linville Gorge Wilderness area. Mamaw’s Angel is a collection of sensationally-delivered tales about characters struggling on the sidelines of their own realities.

“The characters in these songs are all incredibly flawed. I wanted to write songs that expressed truly ugly emotions. Loneliness, anger, denial, regret. The characters are all being eaten away by these feelings, and it motivates their words and actions. But I also think that that is how some of the absurdity is palatable.”

Mamaw’s Angel was recorded at Clubmen Studio in Blairesville, GA, and produced by Atlanta-based artist Jacob Davis Martin. Among the musicians heard throughout the album are Asheville, NC’s Carly Taich, members of Asheville’s Jack Marion & the Pearl Snap Prophets, Atlanta-based strings trio Me Me Me, and Will Easter of Boone, NC.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia and raised in the wilds of Wisconsin, Mandi Strachota is the product of southern roots and Midwest know-how, a potent mix of practicality and soulful dreaming. She’s been singing all her life, belting out Willie Nelson, Whitney Houston and Sheena Easton tunes in the family living room, strong-arming her pre-school pals into elaborate musical productions of “Annie” at the local YMCA lobby, and joining in family sing-a-longs on the long rides to visit her granny in Tennessee.

Music, dance and performance have always been woven intimately into the fabric of her childhood, from her first piano class at the age of 4, to intensive violin lessons and gospel choir sessions while a mathematics major at Notre Dame. Soon after college graduation, the music still calling her, Mandi decided it was time to head south with the intent of finding a job and starting her creative life.

“My perception was that Atlanta was the R&B hub of the US,” she remembers, “so I went there. Unfortunately, my timing was terrible. A friend and I moved to Atlanta October 1st after 9-11. That meant jobs were extremely scarce.”

She eventually found lucrative work in restaurant management. “But after a few years I realized I was never going to be able to realistically pursue a career in music while working 70 plus hours a week. So I left for another position where I could restrict my hours to keep my nights open for music. That is the moment I really committed, when I decided to take less pay! I started attending jams and would sing three to four songs, usually with the house band, every night I could get out .”

Mandi became a fixture on the Atlanta scene, playing at local spots like the Northside Tavern, as well as booking a slew of wedding dates. She met singer/songwriter Larry Griffith after seeing his set at a club called Crystal’s on Marietta Square. “I ended up coming back every week until Larry offered to throw me some tips if I would be a permanent fixture. I played with Larry for six years after that.”

The two made an album together, Fly, and Mandi got into the groove of playing, not only with Larry, but also going out on solo gigs, jamming at local watering holes for tips and picking up the guitar along the way. Finally, the time came to break away and explore her own voice… and her own creativity.

Mandi started in on a new album, a work that would ultimately take her on an unexpected journey of self-discovery – a lifetime of music culminating into an array of tracks that were distinctly her own. “The main difference coming into this album is that it is all me,” she explains, “I wrote all the songs and truly put my own heart and experiences into the whole thing.”

A recurring theme in this new work? The break from a dependent relationship and a move into a true independence. “Before, I was playing other people’s songs, showing up when and where other people told me to show up,” Mandi remembers, “leaving me confused and discouraged, not only not knowing how to attain my goals, but not really understanding what my goals even were, as everything I said and did was dependent on what someone else was doing.”

A break-up, medical issues, the loss of both her grandfather and grandmother in close succession, a dark clash of bad luck and bad timing – all resulted in a period of depression, sadness, anger, but also – in a glimmer of redemption. “It enabled me to see things more clearly,” Mandi says of that time in her life, “and to want to stick up for the real me and to share that person with the world. From the moment I knew this album would exist, I knew it would be titled ‘Unleashed.’”

Recorded at The Greenhouse in Atlanta, Unleashed is Mandi Strachota finding herself – rediscovering that childhood love of music, while finding both her voice and her joy again. “This was the first time I felt I could do what I wanted to do creatively,” she says of the album, “The majority of the songs are about that transformation. You can hear the desire to get out in ‘Ready To Run,’ the state of realization of how I led myself into this corner of dependence and lack of confidence in ‘These Days,’ the ultimate rock bottom of it all when I quit believing in love in ‘Just Rain,’ and the triumphant resurrection in ‘Growing Pains,’ ‘My Time To Shine,’ and ‘These Shoes.’”

Embracing R&B, gospel and soul, with a touch of grit and country sway, Unleashed is timeless in its sound, but thoroughly modern in its message. “It is only after exploring and succeeding at risk-taking, that the confidence turns into freedom and limitlessness,” says Mandi, speaking about both herself and her music, “In other words – being set free, is only the beginning.”


August 24, 2023
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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301 S. Gay Street
Knoxville, TN 37902 United States
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