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Saturday, October 13, 2018

New sounds from Mirah, Elephant Trees, The Good Water, SYML, Ryan & The Lightning Stones

We're going all-indie with this week's new music picks. A few of them were featured recently on The Detour, our Sunday show where we stretch the format to try out new and unusual sounds. (More info here.)

The Detour has already spun a few tracks from the new album by Mirah, Understanding, and now we're adding one to the New Music bin. By the title, you might expect "Hot Hot" to be a dance-pop number, but it's actually an organ-backed meditation on what really matters in life. "You know beauty comes with age / You can't help but keep on / Getting more hot hot / With every brave thought." This is the sixth full-length solo release from Mirah, who has been blending pop, jazz and other styles in bands and on her own since the late 1990s. AllMusic says that with songs on political as well as personal topics, "Understanding is music for not just surviving, but thriving, when things get difficult."

Almost a year ago we introduced Elephant Trees with a bouncy pop-rock tune called "Open Up." On their latest single, the Birmingham, England, group sound less bouncy than jittery, and suitably so for a track called "Uncomfortable." “It’s confused and messy in parts, and that’s intentional, it represents my brain,” says frontwoman Martha Philips. "People our age have our phones stuck in our hands and are lost in these worlds of false stories and opinions, screaming at us about who we are meant to be ... ‘Uncomfortable’ is all about expressing that feeling and rising up to not feel so powerless anymore.”

Another emerging UK band that just came to our attention is a throwback to the early psychedelic rock bands of the 1960s. The Good Water evokes the sound of bands like the Zombies, Animals and Strawberry Alarm Clock on their new single, "Tell Me What To Do." The trio's frontman, Rob Clements, says “the upbeat bounce of the track is synonymous with a Northern Soul style groove -- a genre that is steeped in teenage angst, with talcum powder and tears on the dance floor.”

Seattle musician and producer Brian Fennell, who records as SYML, is out with an energetic new single, "Clean Eyes." He describes it as "the first song that was written with more of a 'band' approach," as opposed to solo-singer-songwriter style. He says he wrote the lyric "as an outlet to express my least favorite thing about myself, that I’m a cynic," and in appreciation of his wife, "who sees the world beautifully through clean eyes." (By the way, "syml" apparently is a Welsh word meaning "simple."

A Place to Start is the appropriately titled debut EP from Ryan & The Lightning Stones. It's the project of Montreal singer-songwriter Ryan Biron, who grew up listening to the likes of Green Day, Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots. Later, he says, he became interested in "the artists that my own idols loved and named as inspiration," including Johnny Cash, Leadbelly, Tom Waits and Woody Guthrie. With this stripped-down release he places himself in the realm of modern folk/Americana with the likes of The Lumineers. Our pick for the New Music bin is "Distance."

Saturday, October 6, 2018

New Bohemians are back, plus James Maddock, West Coast Feed, Grip Weeds, Blue Stones

Welcome back Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, who are about to release Rocket, their first album in a dozen years. Billboard magazine says it's "the unintended product of a 2017 New Bohemians reunion for a benefit concert" for a Dallas arts school. During rehearsals, new songs began to take shape, and the quintet decided to make a record. "Both Brickell and  (Bohemians guitarist Kenny) Withrow view the album as the start of a new period of activity for their band." Our pick for the New Music bin is "Tell Me."

James Maddock has just released his sixth solo album, with the oddball title If It Ain't Fixed, Don't Break It. UK-born Maddock fronted the band Wood before moving to New York and reestablishing himself as an indie singer-songwriter. The self-described "rock and roll lifer" evokes that old time R&R of the 60s on this collection, notably on our featured track, "Discover Me."
Another single has spun out from the upcoming debut album by Seattle's The West Coast Feed. We previously featured "You Belong To Me," and now we're adding "Set Me On Fire" to our big playlist. The eight-piece band draws on "the collective legacies of Memphis, Muscle Shoals and New Orleans" and, says guitarist Matt Woll, "we’re having a blast making music we love."

The love of making music has kept The Grip Weeds going for more than two decades. The New Jersey quartet makes jangly rock and power pop influenced by The Beatles, Buffalo Springfield and fellow Jerseyans The Smithereens. While we're just catching up with them, they've been frequently featured on Little Steven Van Zandt's Underground Garage radio show. From their forthcoming album, Trip Around the Sun, we're spinning the single "After the Sunrise."

For a dose of heavier rock, we turn to Ontario's Blue Stones, whose debut full-length album Black Holes is coming out later this month. Guitarist Tarek Jafar and percussionist Justin Tessier have known each other since growing up in Windsor, and started their music project while at university together. We're picking up the title track. As they described it to Canadian Beats: "It’s got a little bit of everything we’re about — melodic soft spots, heavyweight distortion, a little bit of trippiness and a lot of groove."

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Joan Jett keeps rocking, plus new music from Neko Case, Jessie Munro, Sam Gifford, Monica Moser

If Birch Street Radio had a "mission statement," it would say something about bringing together the classics of rock'n'roll, folk-rock and related genres with the newest sounds from artists that draw on those traditions. As part of that, we often feature new music by classic artists - such as the unstoppable Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. In conjunction with the release of the documentary "Bad Reputation" about her career, Jett has released a new single, "Fresh Start." "I need a fresh start, let's go back to the top / Rewind the tape, and reset the clock," she sings, but the track has the familiar Blackhearts guitar-rock sound. Having seen her live show not long ago, we can attest that after decades in the business, Jett can rock out as hard as ever.

Have you ever noticed that the U.K.'s coat of arms features several lions? Yet no actual lions roam the British Isles? Neko Case noticed, and in "Last Lion of Albion," she imagines there once were lions in Albion (an ancient name for England) that were driven to extinction. The British lion may be as mythical as the unicorn (also featured on the coat of arms), but Case uses it as a metaphor for the way civilization has doomed other species and even peoples. "Last lion of Albion / They'll use you for centuries to come / You'll feel extinction / When you see your face on their money." The song is on Case's new, seventh album, Hell-On. "No other album in her catalog is so musically rich and orchestrated," writes Pitchfork.

Back in June we featured "Under Fire," an early single from Toronto-born, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Jessie Munro. Now she's released her debut EP, On My Own, filled with a silky blend of electro-pop-R&B. Our pick for the New Music bin is "I'd Like To," which stands out with its jazzy treatment and mood shifts - think of Sade segued with Marian Hill.

Note to her hometown fans: Munro is returning to Toronto for an Oct. 4 EP-release show at the Revival Bar.

Sam Gifford and the Innocent is an emerging alternative-rock band that's been gigging in London clubs while working toward its first EP. It's off to a good start with the debut single, "What You Want," which has found its way into our New Music bin. Gifford, the singer-songwriter-frontman, hails from North Hertfordshire, about 40 miles north of the city, where he played in local bands as a teen. He cites among his influences Springsteen, Mumford and John Mayer, as well as Jon Foreman of Switchfoot. "His songwriting is what led me to be a songwriter and he is very passionate about his lyrics and performance, which is what I look for in an artist," Gifford told London's Zap Bang Magazine.

From the not-exactly-new-but-new-to-us category: Monica Moser's song "Paralyzed" came out as a single last year, but we're catching up now that it's being released as part of an eight-song album, Your Absence A Closeness. The Nashville-based singer-songwriter released her first album in 2013 while a college sophomore. In the five years since, she tells Noisetrade, "I was doing a lot of growing and experimenting and I wanted to wait until I felt like I had a cohesive group of songs before putting out another official release." Coincidentally, she also cites Jon Foreman as an influence, along with Sara Bareilles, Carole King and Lorde.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

New releases from Mark Knopfler, Mumford & Sons, Amy Helm, The Sea The Sea, Metric

Photo: Derek Hudson
It's good to hear that guitar great Mark Knopfler has a new album in the works. Down the Road Wherever, his ninth solo studio collection, is due out November 16. It was recorded in his London studio with a band that includes Dire Straits keyboardist Guy Fletcher and musicians Knopfler has worked with in recent years. The first single, "Good On You Son," has the familiar, mellow Knopfler sound and sly lyrics.

Photo: Alistair Taylor Young

Also slated for November 16 release is Delta, the fourth album from Mumford & Sons. Love song "Guiding Light" is the preview single. Consequence of Sound describes it well, saying it "bridge(s) the electrification of their last album with the acoustic folk of their breakthrough earlier releases. There’s certainly still a plugged-in pulse, but - do our ears deceive? - is that a banjo back in the mix or just a particularly plucked guitar?"

We've previously featured singles from Amy Helm's second studio album, This Too Shall Light, and now we have the full LP. Recorded in just four days to create a spontaneous feel, the record is classic Americana, with strands of folk-rock, country and gospel tied together with Helm's terrific, emotive voice. The gospel sound dominates here, and most of the songs (all covers) are down-tempo, with lyrics that range from mournful to inspirational. The most upbeat song is our new featured track: "The Stones I Throw," a Robbie Robertson song that Leon Helm, Amy's father, sang with The Hawks before The Band was formed.

We're also dipping back into the recent release by The Sea The Sea (who happen to hail from Troy, New York, about an hour north of Amy Helm's hometown of Woodstock). From the Light is their first album since the duo of Chuck and Mira Costa added Cara May Gorman and Stephen Struss to the band. Atwood Magazine calls it "an earthy and celestial folk- rock record rooted in lush melody and intimate emotion." We're now featuring the title track, with a lyric about human imperfection: "We go / from the light to the dark / to the light to the dark again / We are right we are wrong / we are right we are wrong again."

Now we veer off in another musical direction - because that's what we do. Toronto-based Metric has just released its seventh album, Art of Doubt. AllMusic writes: "Emily Haines' powerful voice and evocative lyrics, their rock-solid rhythm section, and their ability to craft immediately hooky modern rock - these things are out in full force" on this release. Our pick for the New Music bin is a good example of Metric's blend of guitar-rock and synth-pop, "Now Or Never Now."

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Whispering Tree, Smashing Pumpkins and other new sounds added to our big mix

We were recently introduced to The Whispering Tree, a duo based in New York's Hudson Valley that creates artful pop with folk, jazz, rock and other influences. Pianist/vocalist Eleanor Kleiner, who grew up in the New York area, and French multi-instrumentalist Elie Brangbour began their collaboration in 2007 after meeting at music school in London. They've just released their fourth collection, Invisible Forces, which they self-produced at their home and a nearby studio. The LP title comes from the song we're featuring in the New Music bin - "Heavy," a reflection on the passage from carefree childhood to the burdens of adulthood.

Trees may whisper, but pumpkins smash. Billy Corgan got most of the Smashing Pumpkins back together for a tour this summer and produced an album due out later this fall, with an unweildy title that we'll shorten to Shiny and Oh So Bright. We're picking up on the second single to spin out, "Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)." Rolling Stone says its "guitar-driven, bright melodies and Corgan’s inflection recall early era Pumpkins with a 1979 vibe that should please longtime fans."

The story goes that Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall moved to Los Angeles a couple of years ago with the intention of writing music for movies and abandoning her solo career. As Billboard writes, her new surroundings "proved to be a well of inspiration -- just two years later, she’s already back with a roaring single and a new LP." The single, “The River,” is now in our New Music bin and the album, Wax, is due Oct. 5.

This week we're also dipping back into two albums released this summer.

We've previously featured the brooding "The Storm Won't Come" from Richard Thompson's latest collection, 13 Rivers. Now we're spinning "Bones Of Gilead," which is a faster-paced rocker but with a somewhat similar theme: "This is about an impending crisis, but it’s a good crisis," Thompson says of the track. "It’s an uncomfortable process to go through, one you may barely survive, but it brings knowledge and growth and love.”

And from American Child, the great new album by blues/soul artist Shemekia Copeland, we're adding "Great Rain," a duet with John Prine covering a song by ... John Prine, which appeared on his 1991 album The Missing Years. Copeland's LP is currently riding high on blues and Americana record charts. We've been playing the powerful "Ain't Got Time for Hate" and you'll occasionally hear us spin the joyful ode to diversity, "Americans."