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Saturday, July 14, 2018

Freshly picked: Cowboy Junkies, The Jayhawks, Blues Traveler, Johnny Marr and The Magic Es

Still riding high after more than 30 years, the Cowboy Junkies are out with a new album, All That Reckoning. The languid melodies and contemplative lyrics that the Toronto-based band is known for are here in beautiful abundance - but one track stands out with sharper edges. On "Sing Me A Song," over distorted guitar and insistent percussion, vocalist Margo Timmins alternates between calls for love and forgiveness - and disturbing images of anger and grief. More than a typical CJ song, it reminds us of The Dream Syndicate's recent track "How Did I Find Myself Here."

In another case of a veteran band departing from its signature sound, we're featuring "Come Cryin' To Me" by The Jayhawks. The Minneapolis band's new album, Back Roads and Abandoned Motels, consists largely of songs that frontman Gary Louris co-wrote with members of other bands - in this case, the Dixie Chicks. And Louris turns over lead-vocal duties to other band members on some of the album's tracks - in this case, keyboardist Karen Grotberg. AllMusic.com says of the album, "despite the shifting outlook of the songwriting, the performances are sturdy and evocative throughout, revealing how well these musicians work with one another as they make the most of the dynamics of this subtle but resonant music."     

More in keeping with its typical style is Blues Traveler's new single, "Accelerated Nation." It's the first track to spin out from an album called Hurry Up & Hang Around, due in October. Frontman John Popper told Billboard the band considers it a 30th anniversary album -- although the group is now in its 31st year. "It kind of snuck up on us. At some point we realized, 'It's our 30th year and we have no plans to make an album.' We really should have done this ahead of time, but it was in our 30th year that we decided to make the album, at least."

The latest from Johnny Marr also fits well within the body of work of the former Smiths guitarist. His new album, Call the Comet, has an overall theme: In reaction to current political and social trends, he imagines an alternate reality where kindness, intelligence and art are what matters. In our New Music Bin is "Hi Hello," which The Guardian calls "shimmeringly brilliant." According to NME, Marr credits Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot" and The Smiths' "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" as influences in creating the song.

Along with those four releases from veteran artists, we mix things up with a new single by a band that formed in 2014. The Magic Es are billed as an "old-school, anthemic rock band from the UK." Their latest single, "Wishing Well," evokes a longing for the simplicity of childhood. Frontman Pete Thompson says "it’s about the realisation that as you get older, what you want and the way the world operates can't be changed by a simple wish.”

By the way, listeners to our new Sunday program "The Detour" already heard "Wishing Well" on last week's edition. Take a ride with us each week as we turn off Birch Street and explore the back roads to hear new indie music, obscure older tracks and ... who knows what else! This one-hour excursion happens Sundays at 5pm Eastern Time (2pm Pacific Time, 9pm UTC) and repeats at 11pm Eastern (8pm Pacific, 3am UTC).

Saturday, July 7, 2018

In our new music bin: Joan Armatrading, Sheryl Crow, Joy Formidable, Conor Gains, Summerteeth

We're very pleased to have new music from Joan Armatrading. Her new album, Not Too Far Away, is filled with well-crafted songs and heartfelt lyrics. The multi-talented Armatrading wrote, produced, played every instrument and programmed the percussion tracks on this, the 21st LP of her long career. The 10 songs touch on various aspects of love and relationships, mostly with a positive outlook. We're featuring the opening track, "I Like It When We're Together," a simple love song with a broader message: "It's a song that I hope will bring people together," Armatrading says. "This is why we are on this planet after all. It's to like being with one another."

At a much earlier stage of a very promising career is Conor Gains, from Cambridge, Ontario. He's been known as a blues guitarist and vocalist, releasing a couple of albums with the Conor Gains Band, but his latest project is as a solo artist exploring a variety of styles including soul, R&B and jazz singing. The result is Compass, released a couple of months ago and brought to our attention by Canadian Beats, which called it "a sultry 10-track rollercoaster ... impeccably put together, varied and wholly unique." Our pick for the New Music bin is a slice of funky fun called "Dance Like It's Your Birthday."

Exploring a variety of styles is what we do all the time at Birch Street Radio. So now we jump to the heavy alternative rock of The Joy Formidable. Since releasing Hitch in 2016, the Welsh trio has been spending a lot of time in Utah and Arizona. The landscapes of the U.S. Southwest led to what lead vocalist Ritzy Bryan describes as "a colourful, mystical collage" of songs for their upcoming album, Aaarth. She describes our featured song, "Dance of the Lotus," as a “nighttime walk in the desert when you’re trying to escape from yourself and the chaos you’ve created.” As for the album title? "It falls somewhere between a scream, an exaltation, a play on words, and then this motif of the bear (“arth” in Welsh) that spiritually represents strength, wisdom and healing.”

Veering in another direction, we pick up a track from the latest release by Toronto trio Summerteeth. Their second EP, Sweet Nothings, unabashedly evokes turn-of-the-century pop-punk in the vein of Blink-182, Jimmy Eat World, Weezer and the like. According to review site Ouch That Hertz, the band's debut EP had a darker, emo tone, while this release has "an air of positivity abounding in resonant, cheery power chords and airy melodic riffs." Our featured track is the breezy "Talk About Anything."

We're a bit late catching up with this one: Sheryl Crow and Annie Clark (a.k.a. St. Vincent) collaborating on a single called "Wouldn't Want To Be Like You." The lyric is addressed to someone with ill-gotten riches who ends up in an orange jumpsuit. Crow says the song is more broadly "about the climate of truth not being important anymore" - as heard in the refrain: "You tell a lie, you tell a lie, you tell a lie / but that don't make it true."

Friday, July 6, 2018

Take a ride with us on The Detour - Every Sunday

Ride along with us for an hour each Sunday as we depart from our usual big mix of new and classic rock, pop, folk and more - and play an even bigger variety of music!

We call it "The Detour."

As we turn off Birch Street and try out some back roads, we hear more indie and unsigned artists, more deep tracks, more hard-edged and experimental sounds. We might hear some classic jazz or some new alternative music that hasn't found its way into our general playlist.
See what we played on recent shows.
The Detour happens every Sunday at 5pm Eastern time (Montreal, New York, Miami) - and repeats with some slight variations at 11pm Eastern time.

Those times are 2pm & 8pm Pacific Time (Vancouver, Los Angeles) and 2100 Sunday & 0300 Monday UTC.

Ride along with us -- and then give us your feedback! We welcome suggestions for music to add in future shows.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

New sounds from St. Paul, Sir Paul, Young The Giant, Interpol, Hannah Brown

We have no idea why the upcoming album from St. Paul and the Broken Bones is called Young Sick Camellia, and we're not sure we want to know. We're also not sure why the first single is called "Apollo," since it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the Greek god, the Harlem theater or the space capsule. But we're popping it into our playlist anyway. The eight-piece band from Alabama, led by singer Paul Janeway, turns out what Rolling Stone calls "a dance-leaning disco-horn strut that blends the band's classic Southern soul with thoroughly modern R&B production."

Joining St. Paul in our New Music bin this week is Sir Paul - Paul McCartney, of course. His next release is called Egypt Station, which is named after one of his original paintings (embellished for the album cover art). He describes the album as something like a train trip in which "each song is like a different station." Of the two singles released so far, we're picking the upbeat "Come On To Me," wherein the ageless ex-Beatle sings about youthful flirtation.

It requires a couple of connections, but we can travel by train from Liverpool to Birmingham, the home town of singer-songwriter Hannah Brown. We previously featured the intimate song "Stay" from her 2017 EP Better For This. She's working on her second collection and has just released a single, "So Should You." This song features more elaborate production but, again, very personal and direct lyrics about a relationship. The refrain: "I can handle the truth / and so should you."

As usual, our New Music picks for the week encompass a wide range of styles. We turn now to New York post-punk revivalists Interpol, whose latest album Marauder is due in August. It's produced by David Fridmann, best known for working with Flaming Lips. We're spinning the first single, "The Rover." SPIN critiques the track, saying it "sounds like past Interpol with Fridmann's trademark fuzziness on top" but that underneath is "a great song, one that easily rivals the previous era's 'All The Rage Back Home.'"

We finish this week's tour in Southern California with Young the Giant. After a two-year break, the alternative-rock band has released a single, perhaps signalling that an album is in the works. The song is called "Simplify." Frontman Sameer Gadhia says, “Everything in modern life is complicated ... and often times it is easy to lose your true self.  But love is simple." And so, it's a song to a lover: "Staring in your eyes, everything simplifies."

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Our latest picks: Amy Helm, The Record Company, Parker Milsap, Dawes & introducing Jessie Munro

We're very happy to hear that the wonderful Amy Helm has a new album on the way. The title track has just been released and jumped right into a featured slot in our New Music bin. "This Too Shall Light" is co-written by Mike Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger and songwriter-musician-producer Josh Kaufman. Rolling Stone says, "As is typical for the songs that Taylor writes [it] is steeped in the epic struggles of everyday people." Taylor says "It's a really sad song that swings, which is my favorite kind of music." Helm brings her powerful, passionate voice, which draws on the blues, gospel and country traditions that also informed her father Levon's music. Blends well with: Bonnie Raitt, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Delaney & Bonnie.

On their new album All Of This Life, L.A.s' The Record Company continue to bring fresh energy to good ol' rock-and-roll and blues-rock. As AllMusic.com puts it, these guys "know their stuff and work together well: Chris Vos' guitar work is both inspired and concise, bassist Alex Stiff and Drummer Marc Cazorla give the music a strong and soulful foundation, and the vocals are full-bodied but generally stop a few notches short of histrionic." We previously featured the lead single, "Life To Fix," and our new fave is the harmonica-fueled stomp "I'm Getting Better (And I'm Feeling It Right Now)."

Parker Millsap is another young artist drawing on old-school rock-and-roll traditions, in his case mixed with country influences. His previous album was in more of a folk vein, but his new release, Other Arrangements, "mixes Millsap's voice - an otherworldly howl, shot through with equal parts Pentecostal punch and Southern swagger - with faster tempos and bursts of electric guitar," says Rolling Stone. That perfectly describes the single "Fine Line," now in our New Music bin.


We've been playing a couple of singles from Passwords, the latest from Dawes, and now that the full album has been released we're adding "Feed the Fire." The band expands a bit here on its California-70s-folk-rock sound, with a poppy groove and a touch of electric sitar. Taylor Goldsmith's lyric is a self-critical reflection on the show-biz life: "Working for attention that I'll eventually resent ... Trying to feed the fire / while hoping that it dies."

Moving a little more in the electro-pop direction, we find the debut single from Jessie Munro. (Thanks to The Revue for the introduction.) This Toronto native attended Berklee College of Music in Boston before moving to Los Angeles to pursue a recording career. From her forthcoming EP, On My Own, we have "Under Fire," a song about coping with social expectations and scrutiny. "It's taken it's toll and I'm stretched to the limit," Munro sings. "I'm thinking I shouldn't care as much as I do."