Sunday, November 19, 2017

This week's picks: Band of Rascals, The Elephant Trees, Sunflower Bean, I'm With Her, LOZT

Music variety is our brand, and this week our New Music picks range from hard rock through pop to acoustic folk.

Vancouver Island-based rockers Band of Rascals have just released their second EP, Tempest. calls it "an in your face rock album, which pairs guitars with thundering drums that underline the soaring rock vocals of lead singer Sam Trainor." There's a lot of energy packed into our featured track, "Seas Coming Down." But it's not all loud-hard-fast on this record. They also try out a folksier, Mumford/Lumineers-ish sound on "Fell Into The Love Of You," and we'll be giving that some spins, too.

Veering into a poppier style of rock, we bring you the debut single by an outfit from Manchester, England, called The Elephant Trees. As far as we know they just have a few singles to their name so far but they're picking up airplay and fans in the UK. We're picking up the single "Open Up." Songwriter and vocalist Martha Philips says it's "a story of falling in love with someone when you're not ready to fall," and the bouncy two-and-a-half-minute track captures that head-spinning feeling.

It's not such a big jump from that to the smooth new single from Sunflower Bean, "I Was A Fool." It's the Brooklyn trio's first release since it made a splash last year with its debut album, Human Ceremony. Consequence of Sound says "the jaunty number recalls Fleetwood Mac, and features more of the buoyant guitars and call-and-response vocals of Nick Kivlen and Julia Cumming that helped make the band’s debut so charming."

Now we shift to a couple of new numbers featuring acoustic instruments and harmonies.

I'm With Her, the folk super-trio of Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan, will release its debut full-length album, See You Around, in February. The recent single "Little Lies," which we featured this summer, apparently won't be on the LP, but we now have the lovely title track. The album was recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Bath, England - much of it in live takes. This is flawless music produced by masters of their craft.

Back in March we were introduced to Tom Ryder, a singer-songwriter from Essex, England, and we picked up his amusing song "Here We Go Again." Now Ryder and California singer-songwriter Lauren Scudder have formed a "trans-Atlantic folk-pop duo," called LOZT. They plan to release their debut single early next year - but in the meantime, we have a song they recorded live for Cambridge-based Bridge Sessions, called "Turmoil." Their interwoven voices, with the simple accompaniment of acoustic guitar and cajón, produce a beautiful sound on this ballad about the confusion that comes with new love.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Our latest picks: Mavis Staples, Robert Plant, Bryde, Chelsea Reed and Oh Pep!

The wonderful Mavis Staples is about to release If All I Was Was Black, a collaboration with Jeff Tweedy. Continuing in the socially conscious vein that goes back to her early work with the Staple Singers, she addresses the current divisions that leave people feeling "lonely in the land of the free." The songs are written by Tweedy, who told the Los Angeles Times that he recognizes "it's a very presumptuous thing" for a white man to write songs about race relations for the perspective of a black woman. “But I don’t think I put anything in Mavis’ mouth that she didn’t want to sing," he said. And Staples told the newspaper that she and Tweedy "come from the same church, which is that we want to save the world. These songs are what I’ve been doing my whole life.” Our featured pick is the let's-come-together song, "Build A Bridge."

Robert Plant's Carry Fire has been out for about a month now, and we've previously featured "Bones of Saints." As that song settles back into our big playlist, we're adding another to our New Music bin: "The May Queen." Consequence of Sound said of this track: "Eastern rhythms are given a warm vibe with the psychedelic leanings of guitar. Using American folk instrumentation to play altered versions of foreign melodies creates an intoxicating mood." The title, of course, winks at "Stairway to Heaven" - as Plant says of this album, "I must mix old with new."

These next three artists are all making their debuts on Birch Street Radio. Big shout-out to the excellent new-music resource The Revue for turning us on to Oh Pep! and Bryde, and to Canada Beats for introducing us to Chelsea Reed.

Oh Pep! is the Melbourne-based duo of Olivia Hally (guitar, vocals) and Pepita Emmerichs (fiddle, mandolin). The Revue says their new single, "Half Life," marks a shift from indie-folk to a more upbeat pop sound. "Hally and Emmerichs use the unique sounds of their classical instruments to create this shimmering number. The plucks of the fiddle, for instance, act like electronic beats; the steely fiddle echos the synth; and the drums sound like drums (such a unique thought these days!)."

From Australia we jump to Canada, following the path of Chelsea Reed. An Australian native now based in Toronto, she's released her debut full-length album, self-titled. Her music is largely piano-based, and she cites Elton John and Carole King among her influences. But the track we're featuring, "Empty Hearts," stands out for its rich instrumentation, including horns and strings. Her vocals remind us a bit of Aimee Mann. Expect to hear more of Reed in our mix.

Next we globe-hop to Wales, whence hails singer-songwriter Sarah Howell, who has put together an indie-rock-ish band for her new project, Bryde. On the new single "Desire," over punchy percussion and bass, she sings about "our need for instant gratification, about desire’s addictive qualities and how they can make us behave."

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Big Head Todd & the Four More Artists added to our mix this week

We've been playing the early singles from Big Head Todd and the Monsters' New World Arisin' and now that the full album is out we're picking up the title track. Frontman Todd Park Mohr says it's inspired by the Delta blues of Charley Patton. "Melodically, that song derives from an old gospel song that I heard Patton do. I turned it into a rock song ... it sort of has a heavy metal/gospel feel." The album features a good variety of sounds - and you know we like that - so you'll hear other tracks popping up in our mix as well.

Sam Valdez is a Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter who's only released a few singles so far but has been been getting a lot of critical attention. Her latest, "It's Alright," has been called a blend of Americana and shoegaze. As usual, words (and labels) don't work well in describing music. But give a listen and see if you agree that this emerging artist shows tremendous promise.

From farther up the West Coast comes Lovecoast, a "soul pop" band that hails from Victoria, B.C. CBC Music said "Danielle Sweeney's sweet but slightly gritty vocals accompanied by some '80s-influenced pop makes for a super catchy" sound, and their latest single certainly lives up to that description. It's called "Lonely" but it's not about feeling that way; it's about wishing that the object of your crush was is in need of a new friend.

We spin the globe to Northern Ireland and catch up with an indie-folk band called Runabay. Formed in late 2013, they have a sound that might remind you of Fleet Foxes or Real Estate, but with some extra richness in the harmonies and instrumentation (including cello). Their latest single "Too Soon (Reverie)" is "an introspective song about the implications of indecision," says frontman John McManus.

And we make another big genre-shift by turning to the cool dance-pop of Rhye. This duo consists of Toronto-born Michael Milosh and Denmark native Robin Hannibal. The two began their collaboration in Europe and resumed it after separately moving to Los Angeles. They released one album in 2013, and have resurfaced this year with a few singles, apparently previewing an upcoming album. With Milosh's androgynous vocals and slinky sound, Rhye mixes well with Marian Hill and Sylvan Esso. We're adding "Taste" to the New Music bin.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Latest adds: Blitzen Trapper, Matt Mays, Michaela McClain & more

As usual, the only theme connecting our New Music picks this week is - variety!

The upcoming album from Blitzen Trapper, Wild and Reckless, is an outgrowth of a rock opera the band produced on stage this year in their hometown of Portland, Ore. NPR Music calls it "a sprawling, sumptuous testament to Weird America." Frontman Eric Early says the theme "is about looking back on the crazy days of youth and wondering how you survived those sketchy times." Some of the songs are dark and contemplative, but our pick this week is the upbeat single "Dance With Me."

It's been five years since rocker Matt Mays released the Juno-award-winning album Coyote. Over that time - in recording sessions in Los Angeles, Vancouver, Halifax, New York and Montreal - he gradually assembled his new collection, Once Upon A Hell Of A Time. “This is a snapshot of four or five years of my life that were pretty wild, and pretty lost, and pretty free ... a wild ride of emotions and late nights and all the feels. Kind of the record I’ve always wanted to make.” Our pick of the moment for the New Music bin is an energetic piece of retro-rock called "Faint Of Heart."
Michaela McClain is a singer-songwriter from New Jersey who has been one of our indie-artist faves for some time. She has a powerful and emotive voice that reminds us of singers like Laura Nyro and, combined with her often personal lyrics, Carly Simon. Her latest release, Take A Chance, contains heart-felt ballads mixed with some slyly fun songs, and we're picking one of the latter to feature in the New Releases bin. "The Fringe" is a get-out-of-my-life song given a joyous full-band treatment. Pairs well with: Lake Street Dive.

We cross the Hudson River and turn to another singer-songwriter, Annie Keating. She's one of the many Brooklyn artists making folk/Americana music these days - but she's been doing so for about a decade, drawing comparisons to the likes of Lucinda Williams along the way. On her new single, "Trouble," she takes on the traditional blues template and infuses it with a bit of twang and slide guitar.

And speaking of the blues, we've come across a dynamite blues-rock track that combines the talents of two guitar veterans. Alastair Greene recently struck out solo after seven years in Alan Parsons' band, and over the years has guested with Eric Burdon, Savoy Brown and many more. Numerous guest musicians appear on his new album, Dream Train. They include Debbie Davies, whose career includes work with Albert Collins, J.Giles and many more, and who has won awards for both traditional and contemporary blues. Greene and Davies trade licks on our featured track, the instrumental "Grateful Swagger."

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Many moods in our latest New Music picks

We've previously featured music by New York-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Lizzie No, and we're now adding her new single, "Sundown." It's a heartfelt description of the insecurity felt by African-Americans in the U.S. The title is a historical reference to "sundown towns" where blacks were unwelcome and had "best be gone by sundown." Underscoring No's calm, matter-of-fact vocal are the contrasting sounds of her plucked harp and a biting electric guitar. "We may not live in literal sundown towns, but this country continues to find ways to tell us to move along, that we are not welcome," No told American Songwriter. "The song is also about having to stubbornly and creatively invent our own definitions of home.” Purchases of the track benefit Black Lives Matter.

There's a sense of anxiety, too, in the new single from Arizona-based Calexico. At least, that's what we hear as Joey Burns sings of "love in the age of the extremes" and being "stuck at the end of the world with you." (We'll have to pair this up occasionally with Bruce Cockburn's 1999 song, "Last Night of the World.") "End Of The World With You" is the first taste of Calexico's album The Thread that Keeps Us, due in January.

A more upbeat sentiment comes from another New York singer/songwriter, Elizabeth Ziman, who performs as Elizabeth and the Catapult. She's been releasing music since 2006, in between touring with Sara Bareillis, scoring documentary films and other adventures. We're just catching up with her as she brings out her latest LP, Keepsake. “There’s a theme on this record of reclaiming yourself," Ziman says. "I can be easier on myself, no need to be afraid of falling. I still fall – I’m just better at it now.” That theme is expressed in our pick for the New Music bin, "Underwater."

Ziman has said that many of her songs were inspired by dreams - but presumably not the nightmarish type that Australian rockers Awaken I Am sing about in "Black Dreams," a track from their recently released Blind Love. In fact, the song is almost an antithesis to the self-empowerment of Ziman's lyrics. "'Black Dreams' is written about a person trying to climb their way out of a place of depression and anxiety,” says vocalist Adam Douglas. But it reflects the hope that someone who cares can pull you out. "I see you looking, looking back at me/I feel like you know me better than I know myself."

Several weeks ago we picked up a track from Liam Gallagher's most recent album, and this week we're adding one from the upcoming release by Noel Gallagher's High-Flying BirdsWho Built the Moon? It's an explosive, joyful track called "Holy Mountain." We have no idea what lyrics like "She fell, she fell/Right under my spell ... She danced, she danced/Right into my hands" have to do with a mountain, holy or not, but it's a rollicking good-time record. Now we just have to make sure to keep the notoriously feuding brothers and ex-Oasis bandmates apart.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

This week's New Music picks: Chris Hillman, Robert Plant, Wolf Alice, Jade Bird, The Kents

Once again our new music picks this week include veteran artists and up-and-comers alike.

We were pleasantly surprised to find that Chris Hillman - a founding member of The Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers and Manassas - has a new album out. Bidin' My Time is a mix of new and old material ranging from rock to bluegrass. Our pick for the New Music bin is "Here She Comes again" a song Hillman penned with Roger McGuinn that never made it onto a Byrds studio album, but sure brings back that classic band's sound.

We're also dipping into Robert Plant's latest album, Carry Fire. The Led Zeppelin pioneer continues to work with the Sensational Space Shifters, the band that backed him on his previous release, lullaby... and the Ceaseless Roar. We're featuring the epic-sounding "Bones of Saints," but we'll also be adding the folkier "The May Queen" and likely other cuts to our big mix.

Now let's turn to a relatively new band from London, Wolf Alice. Two years after their debut LP, they traveled to Los Angeles to put together their follow-up, Visions of a Life. It's a fairly eclectic album, ranging from what calls "their bratty, fizzy guitar-pop" through trippy dream-pop and forays into prog-rock. We're taking off with with one of the dreamier tunes, "Planet Hunter."

We've commented before about how many artists from outside the USA are making "Americana" music - a buzzword applied to various modern styles of folk/rock/country music. Now comes Jade Bird, a young singer/songwriter from London, who has jumped right on that train by titling her debut EP Something American. What stands out about this record, and this artist, quite simply is the powerful voice, which at moments reminds us just a bit of another young singer who emerged from England a few years back, by the name of Adele.

Rounding out this week's picks is the latest from an indie outfit that we've featured before, The Kents. This Ontario band just released its second EP, Within Waves, which includes the single "Is There Anyone?" that we've been playing for a couple of months. Our pick for the New Music bin this time is the opening track, "From The Start."

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Our latest picks: Stars, Arc Waves, St. Vincent, JD McPherson, Marie Danielle

The Montreal indie-pop combo known as Stars is bringing out a new album called There Is No Love In Fluorescent Light and we're jumping on the sort-of title track, "Fluorescent Light." The song's message seems to be, Come out from that boring place and enjoy life. (A bit like, "What good is sitting alone in your room...") Stars will launch a tour next month, starting with three shows in Brooklyn.

From Brooklyn, meanwhile, comes Arc Waves, which describes itself as a band that "crosses sonic boundaries to create songs that blur the lines between indie, classical, punk and electronic music." The group released an EP back in 2014, but we're only discovering them now as they prepare to release their first full-length, the sound the circle. We're adding the first single, "Walking In Space," showcasing the vocals of Elaine Lachica. Bandmate Brandon Jaffe tells how the song came together in an interview at Artist Direct.

From Brooklyn we hop to Manhattan, home base of St. Vincent. But her latest release looks to the West Coast. "Los Ageless," is a critique of Hollywood and its culture of ageism. The video puts Annie Clark in a plastic surgeon's chair, a yoga studio, a nail salon and the like. There seems to be a second theme in the song, though - perhaps of a troubled relationship. "How can anybody have you and lose you / And not lose their minds, too?"

Now, because we love to mix up styles and genres, let's jump down to Nashville and reconnect with Oklahoma native JD McPherson, whose "Lucky Penny" single has been in our mix for several weeks. His Undivided Heart and Soul LP just came out and it's filled with a variety of retro-rock sounds. Our pick for the New Music bin this time is "Crying's Just A Thing That You Do," whose sardonic lyrics remind us of some of Joe Jackson's or Elvis Costello's songs.

Marie Danielle is a singer-songwriter from Pennsylvania who worked with Simon Felice (of the Felice Brothers and producer for The Lumineers) and Christian Wargo (of Fleet Foxes) on her debut album, Hustler. It actually came out last year, but we're catching up to it now as the title cut is being circulated as a single. It's a regretful tale of getting involved with a charming cad. "He was a hustler / but he could sing a tune / to you alone in a crowded room."

Sunday, October 1, 2017

From Crosby to Cayetana, more new music from classic and emerging artists

As our listeners know, we're always blending classic and modern sounds. And when "classic" rock and folk artists release new music - and show that they've still got it - we're happy to add it to our big mix.

David Crosby is back with a strong new album, Sky Trails, produced by his son, James Raymond. We're featuring the opening track, "She's Got To Be Somewhere," written by Raymond and featuring a jazz/rock groove reminiscent of Steely Dan. AllMusic writes that the album "splits the difference between its predecessor's [2016's Lighthouse] spare acoustic ruminations and the singer/songwriter's fascination with jazz." Other tracks that will pop up in our mix include the title song, a duet with singer-songwriter Becca Stevens. Co-written by Crosby and Stevens, the dreamy song has echos of CS&N's "Lady Of The Island."

Speaking of duets, we have a new single from First Aid Kit, the Swedish duo of sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg. It's been three years since their breakthrough album, Stay Gold, and "It's A Shame" is the first sign that they have a new collection in the works. NPR calls it "a slick and billowy confection which ... applies layers of winsome charm to potent, melancholy insights about searching for an identity amid fleeting romance."

Let's jump to another female band - with a very, very different sound. Coming from the same Philadelphia indie-rock scene as Waxahatchee and Hemming, Cayetana combines a low-fi, punkish sound with highly personal lyrics of young-American angst and struggles with inner demons. Augusta Koch supplies the lead vocal and guitar power, with Allegra Anka's bass and Kelly Olsen's drums adding much more than rhythm support. From their new release New Kind Of Normal, we're featuring "Too Old For This."

After counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike between Philadelphia and northern New Jersey, we catch up with The Defending Champions, a rock/ska/soul/etc outfit that our regular listeners are familiar with - and that deserves a much wider audience. We're glad to hear that they have a new album coming out in December, and we're jumping on the first single to spin out, "Listen In." It's a good showcase of the band's tight arrangements of guitars, horns and percussion.

Josh Ritter's latest, Gathering, features a number of quietly poetic songs as well as upbeat folk-rockers. We previously featured one of those, "Showboat," and this week we're picking the even more rapid-fire "Friendamine."

We welcome your feedback and suggestions for new music to add -- as well as older tracks to fill in gaps in our mix. Comment here or hit us up on Twitter or Facebook.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

New week, new music by Bob Seger, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr & more

Three rock veterans are among our New Music picks this week:

Bob Seger, currently in the middle of a tour, just released a taste of his upcoming album I Knew You When, and it's a hard-driving cover of Lou Reed's "Busload of Faith." The lyrics of late-80s disillusionment unfortunately still feel relevant, and Seger gives them just a slight update, replacing "churches" with "the president" in one line: "You can’t depend on the president, unless there’s real estate that you want to buy." But Seger and his band give the song an upbeat delivery that gives it a hopeful vibe.

Ringo Starr, who's also in mid-tour with his All Star Band, also dips into social commentary with one track on his new Give More Love album. Co-written with Peter Frampton, it's called "Laugable," as in "it would be laughable if it wasn't sad." The always-affable Ringo provides an optimistic message (and a Beatles reference): "Let's all be honest, it's going to hell / But not for ever / Don't be afraid, don't lose your faith / We need to come together."

And what do you know, Van Morrison is also in the middle of a tour, bouncing back and forth across the Atlantic. His zillionth album, Roll With The Punches, is a bluesy collection of originals and covers. We've been playing one of the originals, the single "Transformation," and now we're featuring the title track - another new song, this one with a classic blues structure.

We go off in completely different directions (as we like to do) for our other picks this week:

In The Valley Below is a married-couple duo perhaps best known for the song "Peaches," which reached the charts in 2015. Jeffrey Jacob and Angela Gail started their project in Los Angeles but moved to Gail's native Michigan, built a studio in their house and recorded their new EP, Elephant. We're spinning "Pink Chateau," a slow-down-and-relax tune in which they name-check themselves: "Down in the valley below / We can drink champagne in the Pink Chateau."

And we transport to Switzerland to bring you a sample of a band called Braggarts. This indie-rock trio been touring in its native country and in Germany for a few years and is starting to get noticed in the UK and beyond. Their new album Exploring New Stars just arrived and we're exploring their sound by adding a track they've released as a single, "Speed of Sound."

Sunday, September 17, 2017

New this week: U2, Dhani Harrison, Lone Bellow, Crooked Weather & .imp

Once again our New Music picks for the week range from big stars to lesser-known indies. We'll start this post with the biggest of the big: U2. It's fashionable in some circles to dismiss this band as so-last-century, but there's no denying it has an excellent body of work behind it - and that it's still capable of making top-notch rock/pop. "You're The Best Thing About Me," the new single from its upcoming LP Songs of Experience, may not be cutting-edge but it's a fine, solid track. And while it gives the initial impression of being a happy love song, the lyric is actually about self-defeating behavior: "The best things are easy to destroy ... Why am I walking away?"

Dhani Harrison is ready to stand on his own. After performing in various bands and writing music and TV scores, he's releasing his debut solo album, In///Parallel, next month. So far, two tracks have emerged -- "All About Waiting" and "Admiral Of Upside Down." The former blends psych rock and indie elements and, yes, reminds us Beatles fans of his dad's work. Camila Grey, formerly of the LA band Uh Huh Her, is featured on backing vocals. ("Admiral" is a dreamy number that murmurs along for about four minutes and then gets dramatically louder - but, sorry, it just doesn't work for us.)

London-based producer James Hargreaves released an EP under the name .imp ("dot-imp") earlier this year, and is now getting some traction with a single from it called "Pull Me Over." Hargreaves describes it as a song about "the grind of repetition in everyday life and using music as an escape," built around a looped bass line that he says is "a musical representation of exactly that." We find it catchy, and a pleasant few minutes of escapism. It's hard to put .imp in a musical category; each track on the EP, Headscrambler, has a different style, mostly much edgier and noisier than this one.

"Americana" is one of those musical categories that can't be clearly defined beyond "I know it when I hear it, sorta." And its blurry boundaries are pointed up by the fact that musicians from the UK, Canada and other countries are grouped in with its U.S. practitioners. After all, the Americana Music Awards named Mumford & Sons as Emerging Arist of the Year in 2011 and this month gave Van Morrison a Lifetime Achievement-Songwriting award. So maybe the English quartet Crooked Weather belongs in that club - or maybe not. Their acoustic music has been described as "haunting," "ethereal" and a cross between indie-folk and World Music. We're pleased to feature their new single, "Rabbit Holes." (P.S.: Crooked Weather hail from Hull, the U.K.'s 2017's City of Culture, as does another indie band we've featured, Pavey Ark.)

Another phenomenon in the Americana movement is the frequent appearance of bands that formed in U.S. cities, as opposed to the countryside - a throwback, perhaps, to the Greenwich Village folk revival of the 1960s. The Lone Bellow, for example, emerged from the Brooklyn music scene. But for its third album, Walk Into A Storm, the band moved to Nashville and recorded in the historic RCA Studio A with producer Dave Cobb, who has worked with Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell. We've been playing the single "Time's Always Leaving," and now that the full album is out you'll be hearing several tracks in our mix. Our feature pick for the week is "Feather," a rollicking track with Kanene Donehey Pipkin taking the lead vocal.