Sunday, June 25, 2017

Magpie Salute and more new music joins our mix

We've been looking forward to The Magpie Salute's debut album -- yet somehow missed its release a couple of weeks ago. Now that we've got our hands on it, we'll be playing it plenty.

This 10-piece outfit was assembled by Rich Robinson, co-founder of the Black Crowes, primarily as a live act that's currently on tour. The self-titled album was recorded live (except for one track) before a small audience in the Applehead Recording studio in Woodstock, N.Y. Several of the tracks are long, intricate jams, and while the live setting gives them a spontaneous feel, these are virtuoso performances. The players include Black Crowes alumni Marc Ford (guitar) and Steve Pipien (bass), along with Joe Magistro (drums) and Nico Bereciartua (guitar). The live tracks also mark the last recordings by the late Black Crowes keyboardist Eddie Harsch. Lead vocalist John Hogg is backed by former Crowes singer Charity White, Katrine Ottosen and Adrien Reju (whose fine solo records we've been playing for some time).

Except for the hard-rocking opening track, "Omission," the album is made up of covers, with a wide range: two Black Crowes numbers, a Joe Sample jazz composition, songs by War, Pink Floyd, The Faces and Bob Marley. And one of our all-time favorites, Delaney & Bonnie's "Comin' Home." We couldn't resist picking that track to feature in our New Music rotation, but we'll be stirring the rest of the album into our big mix, too.

Also in our New Music bin this week is a track from Cage the Elephant's next album, "Unpeeled," due in about a month. This is also a live album - recorded during a tour of small venues earlier this year, in which the band performed stripped-down versions of some of their own songs plus covers. The first to be released is "Whole Wide World," a cover of the 1977 song by British new wave singer-songwriter Wreckless Eric.

We weren't previously familiar with singer Beth Ditto or her former band, the punk-pop outfit Gossip. But she's just released her second solo collection, "Fake Sugar," and the lead single, "Fire," is (ahem) very hot. It owes something to the Springsteen song of the same title, with a bit of an echo of the Pointer Sisters' version. But Ditto attacks her song (co-written with collaborator Jennifer Decilveo) with a much harder, brasher, in-your-face style.

You've been hearing us play several tracks by Brooklyn-based duo Gracie and Rachel for more than a year. Last week they released their self-titled, debut album, collecting those singles and adding several more songs. Their violin-piano-vocal music has a delicate sound with lyrics that often deal with insecurity, anxiety -- and self-empowerment. This week we're adding "It's Time," an I'll-do-it-my-way statement.

Also added this week: Another track from the new Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit album, "The Nashville Sound." With Springsteen-style working-class angst and anger, "Cumberland Gap" is a song of a coal miner's son feeling trapped in a dying town, with the refrain, "Maybe the Cumberland Gap just swallows you whole."

Sunday, June 18, 2017

New sounds from Australia, Canada, USA added to our mix this week

This week in our New Music playlist we're highlighting tracks from the return of Matthew Sweet, the upcoming sophomore album from Toronto's Alvvays, the forthcoming debut of Melbourne's Jacobs Run and additional tracks from this month's releases by Dan Auerbach and Buckingham/McVie.

Let's start in Australia: Jacobs Run is a brand-new band formed by veteran musicians who've been playing in the Melbourne area for years. They've been members of various bands, sometimes together, so when they set out as a trio their sound came together quickly. Rehearsals turned into recording sessions and "Once we started recording it sort of grew," says guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Michael Jacobs, whose bandmates are Fabian Bucci on drums and Peter Curigliano on bass. "In fact, many of the songs were written during the recording period - so it did happen very much organically rather than as a predetermined project.” Their publicity cites influences including Oasis, Snow Patrol, Stereophonics and The Church, but we also hear hints of R.E.M. and Tom Petty. So far they've released three singles, and we've popped "Use" into our New Music bin.

Alvvays will release its second album in September, and they've teased it with a single, "In Undertow." It's already getting a lot of airplay, and we're joining that bandwagon. AllMusic said of the band's 2014 debut: "While Alvvays relies on the same reverb-heavy production that an entire generation of beach-obsessed indie pop bands has tended toward, they surpass many of their peers by delivering more inspired songs, often with unexpected shifts or breakthrough moments." They're launching an extensive tour in August, starting in Chicago at Lollapalooza and roaming Europe and the U.S. before coming home to Toronto in (brr) December.

Matthew Sweet returns with his first album of new tunes in six years, Tomorrow Forever, and the sound is instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with his 90s classics. Lyrically, it's more introspective, influenced by his move to his home town of Omaha and the passing of his mother. The opening song, "Trick," sets a theme that recurs through the album, of probing for the reality behind appearances: "Sometimes, it's just a trick of the light we see / Always hard to tell what could be real." We've picked that track to feature in our New Music rotation.

We picked up the single "Shine On Me" back in April, and now that Dan Auerbach's full solo album is out, we're featuring the title track, "Waiting On A Song." With a relaxed, strumming-on-the-front-porch vibe, it's a songwriter's song about the need for inspiration to turn sounds and words into music.

And we're adding another cut from the self-titled Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie album (isn't it really a Fleetwood-Mac-Except-Without-Stevie-Nicks album?). "Too Far Gone" is a catchy pop song dressed up with pounding percussion breaks.

As always, we'd like to get your feedback about our New Music picks, our overall playlist, and your suggestions about music we should check out. Contact us on this page, on Facebook or Twitter, or by email. And thanks for listening!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

New Iron & Wine, Oh Wonder, Ruen Bros & more

The sixth Iron & Wine album, Beast Epic, is set for release in August. So far we have one track, and it's a beauty. "Call It Dreaming" is a gentle rumination on the passing of time and the importance of loving each other while we're here. Sam Beam says the album was recorded and mixed in about two weeks, and the result is a loose, natural sound. "By employing the old discipline of recording everything live and doing minimal overdubbing, I feel like it wears both its achievements and its imperfections on its sleeve."

We dip again into Justin Townes Earle's latest collection, Kids In The Street, to feature "There Go A Fool." The first-verse story of romantic frustration reminds us a bit of Joe Jackson's "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" but with a heavier dose of melancholy. AllMusic.com writes of this album that Earle "sounds as good as ever ... carefully shaping these tales with smart, subtle phrasing. ... This is among his very best work to date." (The reviewer also shares our love for "Champagne Corolla," which we've been playing for weeks.)


Earle's roots are in Nashville, and from that city's busy music scene comes The Daybreaks. Singer/songwriters Kaleb Jones and Heather Bond and producer and multi-instrumentalist Bobby Holland had separate projects before coming together in 2015 and deciding they should be a band. Their debut album, Find Me At The End Of The World, is due later this month. The opening track, "The Machine," was actually released as a single about a year ago, but it qualifies for our New Music bin under the "hey, it's new to us" rule. Hat tip to NoiseTrade.com for bringing it to our attention.

The London alt-pop duo of Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West are about to release their second album as Oh Wonder. The title track, "Ultralife," has an upbeat sound and unabashedly happy lyric in the now-that-I've-found-you vein: "Ever since you came, I'm living ultralife."

Rounding out our New Music picks this week is a new single from the Ruen Brothers. Siblings Henry and Rupert Stansall, who hail from Scunthorpe, England, caught our attention last year with their retro-60s sound on "Aces." They're back with a jumping little number called "Genevieve, Come Out Tonight" that we just couldn't resist - only partly because we love that name!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

'Everything' and more added to our big mix

Photo credit: Guy Aroch
"Everything Now" is the title track from Arcade Fire's upcoming fifth album. The lyric addresses how our minds and our lives are stuffed with an overabundance of stimulation and ... stuff. "Every single room of my house / is filled with s--- I can't live without," Win Butler sings (causing us to cringe in self-recognition). Pitchfork notes that "the irony of a song lamenting our need for overstimulation and immediate gratification coming from one of the generation’s most grandiose rock bands is not lost on the musicians." But this track is actually more light and breezy than some of the Montreal band's previous work, with echos of 80s-pop and a break for a crowd-chant of nah-nah-nahs.

The War On Drugs also has a new album on the way, called A Deeper Understanding. The Philadelphia band just released a second single, "Holding On," with its signature dreaming-in-double-time sound. NPR's All Songs Considered calls it "a pulsing jam that sounds deeply inspired by '80s-era Bruce Springsteen, with glockenspiel chimes set against gritty guitars and synths."

Los Angeles trio Lo Moon released its first song (a 7-minute opus) last September, then retreated from sight for a while. They emerged earlier this year with an extensive tour and a Columbia Records deal. Their debut album is still under wraps, but they've just released a second track. "This Is It," starts out with an intimate vocal and expands to a festival-friendly swirl of sound. And indeed they just played the Governors Ball in New York and will be at Lollapalooza in August (presumably playing more than two songs).

From the small town of Nykoping on the Baltic coast of Sweden comes Pwned By Gravity, a young quartet influenced by the likes of Radiohead and Muse. They're making the rounds of clubs in Sweden and Denmark before venturing to the UK for a tour later this year. They've just released their first single in the UK, "All My Might," and it found its way to our ears and into our New Music bin. “All My Might is about desert sand, brackish water and lots and lots of guitar” says vocalist/guitarist and lyricist Alvin Blomberg. “But it's also about being manipulated and deceived by someone you adore and how that affects your relationship.” OK then.

Photo credit: Jennilee Marigomen
We turn back to Canada for a new release by Vancouver-based Louise Burns. A former member of early-2000s teen-pop band Lillix, Burns has established herself as a solo artist and is out with her second full album, Young Mopes. Far from moping, the single "Storms" has a jangly, upbeat sound behind enigmatic lyrics like "[If] all that you live for / Is a thunder in your heartstorm / Don't be what they ask for in the end." Hat tip to Seattle's KEXP for drawing our attention to this track by picking it as Song of the Day recently.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Another great crop of new music added to our mix

After a six-year break, Toronto's Sarah Slean has released a gorgeous new collection, Metaphysics. Our pick for the New Music bin this week is the opening track, "Perfect Sky." The song's message is that if you wait for the perfect time to do something, you'll never get it done. In her case, she said in an interview with CBC Music, the "something" was songwriting.

"It's like you're in the middle of chaos, and you always think to yourself, 'Oh, if I get to a better place, if I just find that house or if I work the right person, or if I have the right circumstances this will happen.' And, I think the realization for me was that there's never going to be a perfect set of circumstances. And, if you want it to get written, you just have to sit down and write it."

Birch Street Radio listeners are familiar with Willamena, an indie band from Michigan with a polished rock sound. In fact, they were one of the first indie bands that we began playing a couple of years ago as our format was evolving. Their latest EP, Strong Enough To Last, is coming out in a couple of weeks, and we're happy to add the single "When You Close Your Eyes" to our New Music rotation.

From the city of Hull in England -- designated as the U.K.'s City of Culture for 2017 -- comes a five-piece acoustic band called Pavey ArkFormed just last year, the group has just released its debut EP Leaf By Leaf" featuring the single "Hidden Hills." Its tightly woven strands of folk guitar, violin, percussion and lilting vocals take you for a ride through the countryside and might evoke memories of past masters like Fairport Convention. The band's leader, singer-songwriter Neil Thomas, says the song is "about meeting the person you love, a chance encounter within [the] huge expanse of time - and how special that is.”

The Brooklyn indie-rock veterans known as Grizzly Bear have started to roll out their seventh release, Painted Ruins, due in August. Two tracks have spun out so far, and we're picking up "Mourning Sound" -- which, despite its title and sorrowful lyric ("Let love age / And watch it burn out and die"), does not sound morose, with a brisk rhythm and sprightly keyboard breaks between Ed Droste's verses and Dan Rossen's choruses.


Topping off the New Music bin this week is "Soulfire," the title track from a new release by Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. It's the first solo project in 18 years from Bruce Springsteen's longtime comrade-in-guitars. Steven Van Zandt says simply, “This record is me doing me.” And indeed it fits comfortably into the sound that he helped create in Asbury Park, N.J., some four decades ago. In fact, the album includes versions of songs Van Zandt wrote for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. The opener, "Soulfire," is a new song (sort of; Van Zandt says actually he wrote it several years ago). With an opening disco riff, Motown-style background singers, an arena-worthy solo and wall-of-sound crescendos, this track has everything you'd expect from Steven doing Steven.