Sara Willis

Host, In Tune Radio Programs & the In Tune with Sara Willis Audio Stream

Sara is the long-time host and producer of In Tune, Maine Public Radio's music program featuring contemporary singer-songwriters, folk, blues, acoustic rock, jazz, alt country, and world music. In 2018, Maine Public launched the In Tune with Sara Willis audio stream allowing fans of the show 24/7 access to music curated by Sara.

Working from her studio in Blue Hill, Sara's love of the music she plays comes across to her listeners loud and clear. To quote DownEast Magazine, “In Tune… probably should have been rendered obsolete by Pandora, Spotify, and iTunes playlists. However, host Sara Willis outperforms any Pandora algorithm in the art of creating the perfect playlist. While online stations offer predictable suggestions, like R.E.M based on your interest in U2, Willis will teach you that, actually, Tom Jones and Vampire Weekend are a match made in heaven.”

Ways to Connect

M. Ward's Migration Stories album cover art

I can't think of any other artist with the dreamy, whispered, twangy sound that distinguishes M. Ward. And this new record, Migration Stories, continues with more lush, lovely harmonies floating through the songs, with mysterious sounds coupled with the words and his vocals, layered and drifting along like a long lost broadcast from a radio station in the desert. It's nice to be floating in beautiful sounds, wrapped up in cotton and silk. There is one up-tempo song, "Unreal City," that still stays in that sweet spot.

Put this record on when you want to be taken away...when you want to migrate to another place.

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Basia Bulat - Are You In Love? album cover

I was really excited to get this new album from Basia Bulat, Are You In Love? I’m a big fan and it has been nearly four years since her last one, Good Advice. She has great range in both her singing and her songwriting. She can be sweet and she can practically yell at you! And her songs range from gentle folk to tumultuous rock. Jim James produced this one and he understands her and gives her plenty of freedom. From "Already Forgiven" to "Love Is At The End of the World," there is so much that is startling and gorgeous.

If you like Jenny Lewis, Neko Case, and Kathleen Edwards, then you will be happy to hear Basia Bulat.

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The Fade Out by Duke Levine

In my radio work I use a lot of instrumentals. A lot. And happily years ago, I stumbled on a guitar player named Duke Levine. The thing I love about him is that he combines extraordinary guitar skills with a gift for melody, rhythm and, I have to say it, with heart. He's quite a well-known session player and the list is long and impressive. Here are just a few of the artists he has worked with: Aimee Mann, Solas, Peter Wolf, Bill Morrissey, Lee Ann Womack and Dick Curless! That's varied. When it's time for a great instrumental you can't do any better than Duke Levine. His most recent album is The Fade Out and that is where you will find the tune that precedes each edition of This Day In Maine, "Sam Brown Hill."

Thank you, Duke!

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All that is John Prine

Apr 10, 2020
John Prine performs during the 2008 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at the New Orleans Fairgrounds Racetrack in New Orleans, Friday, May 2, 2008.
Dave Martin / AP Photo

When I heard that John had contracted Covid-19, I was worried. But my mind and heart kept telling me he would make it. The days went by and there was no news until last night. I was looking at Instagram and saw a post from Jason Isbell, and I knew John was gone from us and on to the next. We have lost a literary and musical giant. I hardly know where to start, but I guess the beginning is best. I bought John's first album, simply called John Prine in 1972 and that was the beginning. That first album had "Illegal Smile," "Hello In There," "Sam Stone," "Paradise," "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore," "Far From Me," and "Angel From Montgomery" — all on that first album! It's beyond belief that there were 18 studio albums yet to come with that many great songs on each one. He was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2020 Grammy Awards. John's songs are little movies, they bring you right into the frame in a way that no other songwriter does, not even Dylan. There was only one Shakespeare and there will only be one John Prine. Here are the lyrics to one of my favorite songs, "Far From Me,"' so poignant, so sad and so real. "Well, a question ain't really a question / If you know the answer too."

Parsonsfield Happy Hour On The Floor

I thought this band was from Maine, but no, its name is from the town where Sam Kassirer first recorded them at his studio, Great Northern Sound Society. It's ok, I still love them. This record is a new direction, a sonic rebirth, and it's an exhilarating, adventurous record. Happy On the Floor is more indie pop than old-school string band and it pushes the group far beyond anything previously recorded. They are pared down to four musicians, and they are tight, but also elastic.

Play this record on a Friday night and the party begins.

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I've been listening to Mark Erelli for years, but I wasn't prepared for his new album, Blindsided. This ain't no folk record, it rocks! It brought Steve Earle's "I Feel Alright" to my mind. It is roots rock, with strings and a pile of melody. I was feeling a little down when I decided to go for a walk and listen to it, and by the time the first song was over, I felt better and I was walking briskly with my head up! This is a really wonderful record.

Go for a walk…listen, become happy.

Have you ever felt drunk from music? After my first listen to Jonathan Wilson’s new album, Dixie Blur, I felt intoxicated. He is 100% Laurel Canyon. It’s a warm, thoughtful, melody-rich collection of songs that will make you dizzy with pleasure. The band is so good, I mean, it doesn’t get better. Mark O’Connor (fiddle), Kenny Vaughn (guitar), Dennis Crouch (bass), Russ Pahl (pedal steel), Jim Hoke (harmonica, woodwinds), John Radford (drums), and Drew Erickson (keyboards). They recorded live in just six days and there is magic.

Listen to this record, no hangover!

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Many of you know Nathaniel Rateliff from his work with his band The Nightsweats. This solo album was born on the heels of the death of his friend and producer, Richard Swift, and a divorce. Yes, there is sadness and loss here, but there is also joy. Maybe his message is that we all go through hard times, and we all feel despair, but there is a kernel of light that keeps shining and keeps us going. His voice reminds me so much of Harry Nilsson at times. So much emotion there, but smooth and gliding through the verses. Also, a great band. The title track is so compelling,

I have to be careful not to play it too often. But you can.

The Haden Triplets — Petra, Rachel, and Tanya — have major credentials and ancestry to brag about. However, The Family Songbook transcends ancestry and nostalgia. Yes, there are traditional songs, sung with true depth and understanding, but there are also some that might seem out of left field; Kanye West's "Say You Will" for one. And their stark, flamenco-tinged treatment makes an impression on American standards like "Wayfaring Stranger," "I'll Fly Away," "Wildwood Flower," and "Pretty Baby." And not only do you get these hugely talented sisters, but a killer band including Bill Frisell, Greg Leisz, Don Was, Larry Taylor, Woody Jackson, and MY favorite drummer of all time, Jay Bellerose. This is a collection of songs that will take you somewhere good.

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The Wood Brothers didn't know they were making a record. Looking back, they're grateful for that. 'If we had known, we probably would have been too self-conscious to play what we played,' reflects bassist/vocalist Chris Wood. 'At the time, we just thought we were jamming to break in our new studio, so we felt free to explore all these different ways of performing together without worrying about the form or structure. It was liberating.' Recorded live to tape, those freewheeling, improvised sessions became the material from which the Wood Brothers would go on to draw Kingdom In My Mind, their eighth studio release and the most spontaneous and experimental collection yet. I'm quoting from their promo material here because it best describes why the record sounds so alive. It's still the fabulous Wood Brothers sound, a meld of gospel, blues, jazz and R&B, but with an added freedom and joy that I haven't heard on their other recordings, or at least, not so profoundly. These guys are so good, smart and funny.

Well worth your time.

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Jennah Barry's album cover art for Holiday

Sometimes I put a CD in the player, an artist I don't know, and I fall in love within a few moments. This happened with Jennah Barry. She's from Nova Scotia and her new CD "Holiday" is an escape to a beautiful and intimate place that is familiar, but also timeless and unique. Her voice is so lovely, it's a delight. And the songs, dreamy and lush, could have come from Joni Mitchell's Laurel Canyon as well as the one Jenny Lewis inhabits now.

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John Moreland's LP5 album cover

John Moreland is one of those songwriters like John Prine or Townes Van Zandt who can create an atmosphere with words, tell a story that sticks with you, and gets in under your skin. His previous albums have been more stripped down, but this one has a band and was produced by Matt Pence, and it is produced beautifully. Not too much, not too little. The songs, his voice and the music add up to an album that I know I will reach for over and over.

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The album cover art for Bonny Light Horseman's self-titled Bonny Light Horseman

Sometimes there is a perfect union of material and artists, the head and the heart, old and new. This is Bonny Light Horseman. A perfect union. Anaïs Mitchell (Hadestown), Eric D. Johnson (Fruit Bats), and Josh Kaufman (The National, Bob Weir) came together with their collective gifts and took traditional songs to a level that is, well, joyful. The beauty of this record makes me happy deep inside. It’s a magical mixture of old and new that feels electric, thrilling and haunting. Check it out. You won’t be sorry. Here’s what the record label says, "Bonny Light horseman is an elusive kind of sonic event: a bottled blend of lightning and synergy that will excite fans of multiple genres, eras, and ages."


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Joe Henry – The Gospel According to Water album cover

Joe Henry is one of those artists who other artists (Rosanne Cash, Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams, Elvis Costello, Ben Harper, John Prine...I could go on) admire and take inspiration from. I was honestly surprised when I saw one of the songs on this record was on Barack Obama's best of 2019 list. Mostly because I had the idea that Joe flew under the radar a little. But real music people, the sort that count music as a very important part of their lives, know Joe Henry. He's been making amazing records his whole life. And this new one is no exception. He had some health issues in the last year, and this music came from that time. It's music with depth and resonance. It's a full meal, and you won't be hungry later.

Unless it's for more Joe Henry.

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Tanya Tucker – While I'm Livin' album cover

Tanya Tucker's new album, While I'm Livin', came out in August, but I didn't listen to it until this week. Somehow it was in a pile in the studio that I hadn't looked at. Wow, I'm so glad I found it. If you don't know who Tanya is, watch Ken Burns' latest documentary Country Music. She was a very important and colorful artist and her story is most definitely not over! This music is so real, it's startling. She worked closely with Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings as producers. They collaborated and wrote songs together, recording live in the studio. Just real. This record should do for her what Rick Rubin's work with Johnny Cash did for him...bring these great artists back to us.

Check this record out, I'm not kidding.

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