Sunday, May 21, 2017

Many shades of music in our new-releases bin

Our New Music selections this week range from the delicacy of British singer-songwriter Laura Marling to the industrial-strength rock of Muse, with various shades in between.

We dip again into Laura Marling's latest release, Semper Femina, to highlight a track called "Nothing, Not Nearly." It's quite a beautiful number, with lyrics on the theme of treasuring love while it lasts. "We've not got long you know / To bask in the afterglow / Once it's gone, it's gone."

The lyrics are more obscure in "The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness," the latest song from The National. No surprise there, and these are hardly the strangest lines we've heard from Matt Berninger. But as he says in the refrain, "I can't explain it any other way." The track has an urgent propulsion suggesting there may be danger in that darkness.

Likewise there's a sense of darkness and danger in "Dig Down," a new single from Muse. But the meaning is clear when Matt Belamy sings, "When God decides to look the other way / And a clown takes the throne / We must find a way." He has described the song as an effort "to counteract the current negativity in the world and give inspiration, optimism and hope to people to fight for the causes they believe in." The official video evokes Blade Runner, 1984 - and Max Headroom!

A much brighter sound comes from Mondo Cozmo, whose new single "Automatic" brings us back to the theme of holding onto love. "If it's love / I won't let go / Till you say so," Joshua Ostrander sings in this very-high-energy track. We never got on board with the Cozmo's previous single, "Shine," but this one grabbed us and, it seems, won't let go.

Also this week we're catching up with Flagship, an indie band from North Carolina. The duo of Drake Margolnick and Michael Finster recently released its second album, The Electric Man, and we're adding the single "Mexican Jackpot" to our New Music bin. The song doesn't seem to have anything to do with either the country or the prize - but hey, the video does feature a piƱata. Flagship is embarking on a tour this summer that will hit more than two dozen cities in the USA and Canada.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Another wide-ranging mix in our New Releases bin

Our goal is to bring our listeners a wide range of musical styles, and this week's batch of New Releases is a good example: Country-tinged folk-rock, shoegaze-y rock, Latin-flavored rock, pop rock - and a Beatles homage.

As we've said before, one musical discovery often leads to another, and that's the case this week as we add Caroline Reese & The Drifting Fifth to our Marvelous Music Mix.

One of the featured new releases we introduced last week was from New York-based singer-songwriter Lizzie No. She and Pennsylvania native Caroline Reese are longtime friends who often share a bill and pitch in on each others' songs - as seen here at a recent show at a coffeehouse in New Jersey.
Lizzie No, Caroline Reese at The Dragonfly, Somerville, N.J.
With her band The Drifting Fifth, Reese has just released her third album, Tenderfoot. It blends strains of country-western and folk-rock - befitting of someone who splits her time these days between Pennsylvania and Montana. For this week's New Releases bin we've picked a song about gambling on love, called "Snake Eyes."

From right between New York and Pennsylvania - but from a very different musical genre - comes Overlake. Based in Jersey City, New Jersey, this three-piece cites influences including Yo La Tengo (from the next town over, Hoboken) and My Bloody Valentine. Tom Barrett (guitar, vocals) and Lysa Opfer (bass, vocals) met while playing in a hard-rock band and later formed Overlake with drummer Nick D’Amore. They've just released their second album, Fall, and we've added the atmospheric "Winter Is Why" to our New Music rotation.

Now we take another sharp turn musically to bring on Making Movies, a Kansas City-based quartet that blends African and Latino rhythms and instruments into their unique blend of rock. They're about to release their second album, I Am Another You, produced by Steven Berlin of Los Lobos. It includes a track called "Brave Enough" that features Hurray For The Riff Raff, with that band's Alynda Segarra sharing vocals with MM's Enrique Chi. We're making that our pick for the New Releases bin, but we'll surely be dipping more into this album, due in a couple of weeks

Due in July is a new album from Whitehorse, with the curious title Panther in the Dollhouse. By our count, it's the fourth release of new material from the Hamilton, Ontario couple, Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet (they've also released a couple of covers records and a French-language compilation of some of their songs). We're spinning the just-released single, "Nighthawks."

And as long-time Beatles fans (going back to when they were new!) we couldn't help but smile when we first heard Major and the Monbacks playing "We Are Doing Fine." This Norfolk, Virginia, band has its own sound and style, with Southern-rock roots (the "Monbacks" name derives from the Southern U.S. farewell phrase, "C'mon back"). But on this track from their forthcoming Moonlight Anthems LP, they fully immerse themselves in the Sgt. Pepper/Magical Mystery-era sound. We hope you'll smile along, too.

Besides featuring these tracks in our New Releases bin this week, we've added more tunes from the latest albums by Port Cities, Soulajar, The Wild Reeds, Cage the Elephant, Laura Marling, Lonely Avenue and more. And we're always adding to the collection of 60s-70s-80s-90s-2000s music in our ever-expanding Marvelous Mix. Tune in and enjoy!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Strains of folk, soul, jazz & more added to our mix

A recent spot on NPR brought our attention to Lizzie No, a singer-songwriter, guitarist and harpist based in New York, and we were intrigued. Then a couple of our correspondents caught her in a live show at a coffeehouse in New Jersey, and were thoroughly charmed. We're happy to introduce you to her well-crafted and highly personal songs. We'll start this week by featuring "Hard Won," the title track of her debut album, in our New Music bin. More selections will follow soon!

As we keep our ears out for new artists, sometimes one discovery leads to another. A few months back we caught on to Lonely Avenue, a California band with a country-rock flavor. Guitarist Ryon Fergon is a member both of that band and of Soulajar, a seven-piece soul/funk outfit that just released its second album, Between Here And There. We're picking up on the first track, "Dip," an R&B-flavored number featuring lead vocalist Jim Ranger. (Photo credit: Jean-Luc Slagle)

Swinging down to New Orleans, we dip into the new album by Trombone Shorty. Parking Lot Symphony marks a sort of graduation for trombonist and band leader Troy Andrews, as it's his first album for the venerated jazz label Blue Note. The album release coincided with the start of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (and he's performing there on the day we're writing this post). Our pick for the New Music bin is "It Ain't No Use," a great combination of brass, percussion, swinging rhythm and soulful singing.

Now as usual, we stir up the mix with a completely different sound: a new single from Portugal. The Man. The Alaska-native, Portland-dwelling band is about to bring out its eighth album, titled Woodstock. The backstory is that the group worked for a few years on an album to be called Gloomin' + Doomin' - but ended up trashing it and starting over with a less heavily-produced approach. The single, "Feel It Still," is being talked about as a "resistance" song, partly because of a music video that's peppered with hidden links to progressive organizations. But really the song itself is an infectious dance-pop tune, with the refrain "I'm a rebel just for kicks."

We top off this week's New Music bin with another track from Sheryl Crow's latest, Be Myself. It's a song that fits right into the album's figuring-out-who-you-really-are theme, called "Long Way Back."

We hope you enjoy the variety of music on Birch Street Radio - new, classic and in-between. And if you have comments or suggestions, please send them our way. Use the comment box on this page, connect on Facebook or Twitter, or send us an email. Thanks for listening!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A songwriter supergroup & more new music

Think of three singer-songwriters from Nova Scotia getting together and you might imagine an acoustic folk trio. But Port Cities is something different. When Carleton Stone, Dylan Guthro and Breagh MacKinnon turned a shared experience at a songwriting camp into a collaboration, they truly created a band. From their backgrounds writing and performing in various styles - jazz, folk, soul, R&B - they've developed a seamless blend of intelligent pop. They recently rolled out their debut album, just played a couple of shows at Canadian Music Week in Toronto and have several gigs in Great Britain during May before they head home to tour the Maritimes. It was hard to pick just one track to feature in our New Music bin this week. We're going with "Sound Of Your Voice," but you'll be hearing more of the album in our big mix.

Jumping down to the Southern U.S., we catch up with The Weeks, an indie outfit originally from Jackson, Mississippi. They're now part of the growing Nashville scene of Southern-flavored indie rock. Easy is the band's fifth release, counting albums and EPs, but the first to reach our ears. We're spinning the lead track, "Talk Like That."

Also hailing from Nashville, although traveling in different musical circles, is singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle. His music blends elements of folk, blues and country, with lyrics that take a very idiosyncratic, often sardonic view of life. His newest collection, Kids in the Street, is due later this month. We're featuring a fun number about a cool girl in a decidedly uncool car, a "Champagne Corolla."

It's about time we pulled out some more tracks from the excellent new album from Chicago's The Right Now. You've been hearing us play "Too Late" for the past several weeks, and now we're featuring our new favorite, "Love You Better." More tracks from Starlight will be popping up in our mix as well.

And we're picking up the first single from the upcoming 311 album, Mosaic. It's called "Too Much To Think," and we think the lyrics are about a relationship that's become strained by interpersonal issues. Sure, that's what it means. But concert audiences might have something else in mind as they sing along with the refrain "Cuz I wanna get high/But you're keeping me low."

Sunday, April 23, 2017

New this week: violence, fire, money and more

The latest additions to our New Music playlist range from the hard-driving sound of Rise Against to the airy soundscape of London Grammar. Because, variety!

There's a clear trend in music right now toward socially/politically conscious lyrics. For Rise Against, of course, that's nothing new - it's an essential part of the Chicago-based band's identity. The first single from the band's upcoming Wolves LP is "The Violence," which challenges society to break out of the cycle of violence ingrained in human nature.

We haven't gotten over our excitement about the terrific debut album by Nashville rock-and-soul band The New Respects. This week we're highlighting "Money," which reminds us that "life ain't about" that. Drummer Darius Fitzgerald told Interview Magazine, “When we started writing this song, we had zero dollars between the four of us." He and his sisters Alexis and Zandy plus cousin Jasmine Mullen make up this young quartet. You'll also hear more tracks from their Here Comes Trouble LP in our big mix.


We're dipping back into Future Island's The Far Field to feature "Day Glow Fire," which combines a bright, pleasing sound with a melancholy lyric about the end of an affair. Samuel T. Herring's vocal is more contemplative than distraught on this track, as he sings about good times in the past tense: "We used to talk until the sun come up/We used to walk, we used to run."

That same, common theme - the regrettable end of a love affair - is the subject of the latest release from London Grammar's upcoming album Truth is a Beautiful Thing. The British trio's music has been called operatic, cinematic, elegiac - and Hannah Reid's powerful voice brings all those qualities to "Oh Woman, Oh Man."

And from the operatic we turn to the chamber-pop of Gracie and Rachel. You've heard us play several songs by this Brooklyn-based duo over the past year, all ahead of their debut album, now due June 23. One more track was just released, and it might be the best yet: "Only A Child" joins our New Music playlist this week.

Our big mix of rock, indie, alternative, folk and more is constantly growing, as we not only add brand-new tunes but expand our collection of classic hits and deep cuts from the 1960s and beyond. Join our journey of musical discovery - and please give us your feedback! You can comment on this page, on Facebook or Twitter, or by email. Thanks for listening!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Can-Am collaboration in our new-music mix

During its 2016 tour, Toronto's Barenaked Ladies invited New York a capella group The Persuasions to join them for a few songs in a show at New York's Central Park. They enjoyed themselves so much that they decided to make a record together. Ladies and Gentlemen: Barenaked Ladies and The Persuasions was recorded in live takes in a Toronto studio and features reworkings of more than a dozen BNL songs plus The Persuasions' 1972 hit "Good Times." The album was just released, and our pick for our New Music bin is one of our favorite Ladies' songs, "The Old Apartment." It's one of several tracks where Persuasions lead vocalist Dave Revels takes the place of Steven Page, who left the Barenaked Laadies in 2009.

Speaking of Toronto, it's the scene of Canadian Music Week, happening at dozens of venues around the city April 18-23. The folks at The Revue put together a sort of tip sheet of bands to check out, and that turned us on to The Kents, an indie-pop group from Lindsay, Ontario. Their EP Waking came out about a year ago, but as we like to say, it's still "new" music if it's new to us - so we've added the track "I Know" to our list this week.

How many Dan Auerbachs are there? There's the guy from The Black Keys, the guy from The Arcs, the guy who produces records for everyone from Dr. John to Cage the Elephant to The Pretenders, and the guy who released a solo album in 2009. Well, the solo act is back with an album called Waiting On A Song that's coming out in June. Check out the first single, "Shine On Me," in our new music rotation this week.

The spirit of Fleetwood Mac lives on with Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie, an album due in June that presents the guitarist and keyboardist/vocalist as a duo - although drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie joined in on the project. They pick up right where they left off with the first track to be released, "In My World."

And we're picking up the latest from Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit. Their album The Nashville Sound is also due in June. The first taste is "Hope The High Road," which we hear as a call to rise above divisive politics. The relevant lyrics and the country-rock sound would fit in with the work of Isbell's former band, Drive-By Truckers.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

A wide range of styles in our New Music bin

Once again we strive for variety in our New Music choices for the week. How's this: A jam band from Vermont, a Southern-rock band from Nashville, an English synth-rock group and two singer-songwriters - one an up-and-comer and the other a master in top form.

Aimee Mann has described her new LP, Mental Illness, as a sort of embrace of her own stereotype - "the saddest, slowest, most-acoustic" album she could produce. But there's nothing cliche about it, and her songwriting, her distinctive voice and the spare arrangements make this a compelling record from start to finish. We picked up "Goose Snow Cone" back in January and now we're featuring "Stuck In The Past" in our New Music bin.

How many songs do you know that include the word parallelogram? We can't think of any others besides "Certainty," the opening track of the recently released Volcano by English psych-rock band Temples. This track, and the album generally, is more synth-heavy than the band's debut, Sun Structures. Since we're big fans of musical variety, we have no objection to bands experimenting with new sounds, as long as they can pull it off - and they do.

Vermont-based Twiddle has built a reputation as a high-energy jam band, better known for its live performances than its recordings. But they've just hooked up with indie record label Sono Recording Group and issued a fresh version of "When It Rains It Pours" as a single. At a little more than 3 1/2 minutes it's no epic jam, but it's a good introduction to the bands's bouncy sound. It has succeeded in introducing us, and we'll be looking to add more Twiddle to our mix.

Singer-songwriter Ben McKelvey has been building a following in the UK, where he just finished a tour opening for Mike & The Mechanics. He's a multi-instrumentalist and lyricist who cites Paul Weller and Bruce Springsteen among his influences. He released his first album last year and has already followed it up with an EP, One For The Road. It includes a reworked, more-acoustic version of his thoughtful song "Only Here Once," with which he makes his Birch Street Radio debut.

Stone Senate is a Southern rock band in the tradition of The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, but draws on a wide range of other musical influences, from hard rock and metal to traditional country and contemporary bands such as Drive By Truckers. The Nashville-based group released their second LP, Star City, last fall and have just spun out a single version of "Lazy River." As the title suggests, it's a relatively quiet, laid-back tune, with harmonizing layers of guitar and vocals that invite you to relax and float downstream.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Indie artists fill our New Releases bin this week

Our New Music choices this week are all "indie" releases, and mostly from artists we're already featuring in our big mix.

We started playing Edgar Road's exhilarating "Kollide" in February. Now we're adding the soaring "Looking Glass," the title track of the recently released EP by this band from Elgin, Scotland.

Wyland also made its debut on our "airwaves" in February, with "Lights Go Dark." This New Jersey band celebrated the debut of its Snake Hill EP a few days ago, and we're now putting "The Answer" into our New Music rotation.

We introduced you to The Georgia Flood back in January, and you've heard us play "Whistle King" and "Tell Me What You Want." Now we're adding "Better Not Together," another track from the Atlanta band's debut album, People Like Ourselves.

The Brooklyn-based piano-violin duo Gracie and Rachel has been part of our mix for about a year. Their debut album is coming soon, and meantime we have one new song for you: "Someday," a reflection on the transitory nature of life and relationships.

And we're happy to add Allie Moss to our roster of indie artists. Also from New Jersey, but now based in Nashville, this singer/songwriter/guitarist (and frequent touring partner of Ingrid Michaelson) released her latest EP, The Other Side, in the fall -- so we're a little late, but we're catching up by adding the very catchy "Bet My Life" to our New Music bin.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Our latest picks from new & classic artists

This week we introduce you to a new American band and an emerging English singer-songwriter - and to the latest releases from one of last year's breakout acts and two returning stars.
The New Respects are bringing a fresh style to rock'n'roll - and breaking down stereotypes while they're at it. Twins Alexandria (guitar) and Alexis (bass) Fitzgerald, their brother Darius (drums) and cousin Jasmine Mullen (lead singer) grew up in Tennessee surrounded by Gospel and contemporary Christian music. But when they formed a band in their teens, they started out playing folk-rock, taking cues from Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers. Along the way they started listening to a wide range of rockers, from The Beatles to Alabama Shakes, and their sound morphed into a high-energy mix of rock and pop with flavorings of funk and soul.

In an interview with NPR's World Cafe, Mullen talked about defying expectations. "A lot of people, I know when they see us they're like, 'Y'all are about to do some R&B or some gospel.' Then they see us come out on stage with guitars and they're like, 'What?'"

We listened to their new EP Here Comes Trouble and were like, "Wow!" We're adding "Frightening Lightning" to our New Music bin, and other tracks are sure to find their way into our mix.

From Essex, England, comes Tom Ryder, a singer-songwriter who's been playing the U.K. folk circuit for several years and issued his first EP last year. He has a new single coming out next week and we've got an advance copy. "Here We Go Again" is a wry look at a relationship that develops into more than expected. "He swears it's not official/But he's got a tattoo of her initials."
The Record Company, whose debut LP made a big splash last year with its blues-rock-revival sound, is back with a new single, "Baby I'm Broken." Full disclosure: This song isn't exactly new - it was previously released on an EP in 2013. But it's being re-released, and it's new to us and probably most of our listeners, so we're giving it a ride in our New Music rotation.
The opening riff of "Long Time," the new single from Blondie deliberately hearkens back to "Heart of Glass," and the song would not have been out of place at an 80s party. It also fits well into today's music scene, where updates of 60s, 70s and 80s sounds mix happily together. The upcoming album Pollinator features Debbie Harry with writing collaborator/guitarist Chris Stein and Blondie's founding drummer Clem Burke, with appearances by the Smith's Johnny Marr, Dev Hynes of Blood Orange plus Joan Jett and Laurie Anderson. It's due May 5.
We're happy to hear a new album is coming April 28 from The Cranberries. Something Else is billed as a celebration of the Irish band's 25th anniversary, and will include reworkings of several of the band's classic songs, some in stripped-down acoustic style and some with orchestral arrangements. It will also include new songs, and the first to be released is "Why," which Dolores O'Riordan wrote after the passing of her father but had not recorded until now.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

New music from bands of all ages

Our latest batch of new music includes tunes from bands you know well and others that perhaps you have not yet discovered. Come discover them with us!

Useless Cities is a quartet from London that formed just about a year ago and has been busily touring clubs and festivals around that city. Their sound has been called "somewhere between indie and post-rock." The mix of male and female vocals is perhaps a bit reminiscent of Arcade Fire, and they've also drawn comparisons to The National and Future Islands. They have just a handful of recorded tracks so far. From their second EP we're bringing you "New Feelings," with the refrain, "new feelings inside/new feelings, trapped inside."

San Fermin, the project of Brooklyn songwriter/musician Ellis Ludwig-Leone, is bringing out its third album, Belong, next month. We're featuring "No Promises," a song "about the fear of disappointing those who’ve placed their trust in you." Charlene Kaye's vocal is front and center on this track, with the lyric: "I won't promise/if you follow me around/I won't let you down."

Back in January we introduced you to Ha Ha Tonka, a band from Missouri that draws its influences from both modern-indie and Southern rock. We've been playing tracks from their 2013 album Lessons, and now we have their new release, Heart-Shaped Mountain. "This is our 'love album,' and love can be a scary thing," says writer/singer/guitarist Brian Roberts. There are thoughtful and poignant songs in this collection - but our initial pick for the New Music rotation is the energetic "Race To The Bottom."

Real Estate's fourth album, In Mind, has just been released, and after featuring the single "Darling" for several weeks, we're now adding "Stained Glass" to our New Music bin. Of the three New Jersey natives who formed the core of the band - singer/guitarist Martin Courtney, lead guitarist Matt Monandile and bassist Alex Bleeker - Monandile has now departed. His replacement is another old friend from New Jersey, Julian Lynch. "I’ve known Julian since I was 14 years old, so the whole process was extremely comfortable and really positive,” Courtney told Salon.

The fifth band dropping into our New Music bin this week needs no introduction at all. The single "Hypnotised" is a gentle, sad-but-hopeful tune that will appear on Kaleidoscope, an EP due in June from Coldplay. You've heard of them, we trust?