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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Today: Playing all our favorite 2017 music


For New Year's Eve and the first part of New Year's Day we're pausing our usual mix of new & classic sounds to concentrate on the great music that was released in 2017, by indie artists and major-label stars alike.

Later on Jan. 1 we'll pick our first batch of featured New Music and resume our Marvelous Mix of Music from the '60s to the 'teens!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

This week we feature our favorites sounds of 2017


The end of the year is a slow time for record releases, so we're taking a week off from picking new tracks to feature on Birch Street Radio. Instead we're highlighting our favorite music from the past 12 months.

While 2017 was a troubled year for the world, it was a fine year for creativity. And while we're not going to try to rank the year's "best" albums or songs or artists, we're pretty happy with all the music we've added to our playlist in the course of the year.

Along with "stars" like U2, Beck, Arcade Fire, Van Morrison and Coldplay, we've been pleased to bring you emerging and indie artists like Avenhart, Banditos, Caroline Reese, Cayetana, Edgar Road, Gracie and Rachel, Great American Canyon Band, Lizzie No, Making Movies, Margaret Glaspy Michaela McClain, Paper City Exile, Pavey Ark, Shawna Caspi, Sorcha Richardson, The Defending Champions, The New Respects, The Right Now, Wyland and many, many more.

Birch Street Radio got its start almost five years ago, but 2017 was its biggest and best year so far. Thanks to our listeners around the world for tuning in to our unique blend of new and classic music from bands and singer-songwriters, rockers and folkies, major-label stars and indie artists. And thanks to all the musicians who give us such great sounds to share!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Seasons greetings from Birch Street Radio

City hall in Old Montreal. J.A. Kraulis/Getty Images
As many of our listeners celebrate Christmas - and everyone prepares to celebrate the end of 2017 - we wish you all the best of the season.

Of course we hope you'll continue enjoying our Marvelous Mix of Music. We'll drop in an occasional holiday tune on Dec. 24-25. We'll feature plenty of 2017 music during the last days of the year. And we'll get back to picking new releases as 2018 makes its debut.

Keep listening - and remember, your feedback is always welcome. Comment on this page, find us on Facebook or Twitter, or email us at birchstreetradio@gmail.com

Monday, December 18, 2017

This week's picks: Frank Turner, Michael Jablonka, Danielle Nicole, Amanda Duncan, Kan Wakan

Frank Turner is planning to release a new album in the new year, but in the meantime he's issued a retrospective collection timed to the 10th anniversary of his first solo effort. Songbook is presented as a double album, packed with 29 tracks. Turner describes it "a collection of my favourite recorded songs, 10 new alternative versions of older songs and 'There She Is,' a new song that gives you a taste of what to expect from my next album, sonically." Naturally, it's that new track that we're featuring in our New Music bin.

Also from the UK comes Michael Jablonka, a guitarist who has backed up a variety of artists, most recently fellow Londoner Michael Kiwanuka, with his blend of bluesy/funky/soulful indie-rock. Striking out on his own, he's put out a few singles so far, and we're catching up with his latest release, a solid rocker called "I Found You."

You've heard Danielle Nicole in our big mix both as a solo artist and as the bassist for Trampled Under Foot. Her second solo album, Cry No More, is due in February, and we have the first single. "Save Me" features Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Rather than a plea to be saved, the lyric is a don't-tell-me-how-to-live rebuke. "This song is about knowing what you’re worth and not letting others define you," Nicole said. "It was great to finally work with Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Recording with him is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time - and he killed, of course.”

New Jersey singer-songwriter Amanda Duncan is preparing an album that would be her first release in four years, but she hasn't been idle. She's been playing shows, helping write music for a theatrical production, and producing music videos. She just released one track, called "I'm On Fire," from the forthcoming album, and it's an energetic rocker showcasing her powerful voice.

We round out this week's picks with a much softer sound - the latest single from Kan Wakan, the project of Los Angeles-based Bulgaria native Gueorgui Linev. Our playlist includes several tracks from the 2014 LP Moving On, which featured vocalist Kristianne Bautista. On the new track, "Tuesday," the vocalist is Rachel Fannan of the California band Only You. Consequence of Sound calls the song "one of Linev’s most expansive and gorgeous compositions to date," with a poignant lyric of unrequited love.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

This week's picks: Brand-new music plus more of 2017's best

Our regular listeners have heard The Defending Champions, a band that expands on the punk-ska genre, adding bits of Latin flavor and pure bar-band fun. They've just released Don't Stop, their third full-length collection, filled with jumping arrangements of horns, guitar and percussion. Our correspondent in their home state of New Jersey caught their CD-release show (pictured) and reports super-tight playing and a joyous vibe. We've been spinning the pre-released single, "Listen In," and now we're putting the title track in our featured New Music bin.

From London's alternative-rock scene comes Talma, a five-piece outfit that's also known for putting on energetic live shows. Their sound has been called a blend of The Smiths and The National. Frontman Henry Adams says their new single, "Lifeline," is about life in the big city: "There are moments where it seems no one can see you, yet everyone is watching you. This paranoia can drive people away from the city, and so we look for lifelines to tether us to the places we try to call home."

The end of the year is a big time for releasing holiday music and re-issues - none of which fits into our New Music bin. So it's a good time to reach back for good music that was released earlier in the year but for one reason or another hasn't found its way to our playlist until now.

So we're catching up with Land of Talk, the Montreal-based project of singer-composer Elizabeth Powell. Following the success of the band's 2010 album Cloak and Cipher, Powell felt "the need to retreat a bit," and that break turned into an extended hiatus. This year she and her band re-emerged with Life After Youth. Pitchfork called it "a solid, consistent return that sounds like the band never left," and CBC music placed it among the top 10 albums of the year. Better late than never, we're featuring the reflective song "This Time."
And we're dipping back into two albums released earlier this year that previously featured in our New Music playlist:

The Dream Syndicate: How Did I Find Myself Here? Speaking of returns from hiatus, these veterans of the "paisley underground" scene returned from a nearly 30-year coffee break with a worthy entry into today's alt-rock realm. We've been playing "Glide" (and occasionally the 11-minute title opus) and we're now putting "Filter Me Through You" into our New Music rotation.
  
The Right Now: Starlight. This Chicago band was one of our favorite discoveries this year. We've been playing several tracks from this rollicking collection of 60s-R&B-influenced numbers and we can't resist featuring one more - which would make a good New Year's Eve party song. It's called "Up All Night." (No, it's not the Beck song.)

Guess what we're NOT doing in the next couple of weeks. 
  • Playing Christmas/Holiday music (except maybe some occasional tunes on Dec. 25).
  • Ranking the year's music in some kind of Top 10/40/100 list (though we'll put an extra emphasis on 2017 music on Dec. 31).
We're betting you can find all the holiday tunes and end-of-year lists you desire elsewhere. We'll stick to bringing you the best mix we can of music from this year and the previous fifty or so!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

New Music from Common Deer, Sjowgren, Danielia Cotton, Ramona Rose and, oh yeah, U2!

Photo by Wally Jay Parker
Toronto-based Common Deer only started releasing music this year - putting out an EP in January and another in September (I & II) - but has already made a big impression with their expansive orchestral-pop sound.

The quintet consists of Graham McLaughlin (guitar, violin), siblings Sheila Hart-Owens (keyboards) and Adam Hart-Owens (cello, guitar, synth) and siblings Liam Farrell (percussion, synth, samples) and Connor Farrell (bass). McLaughlin and Hart-Owens trade vocals. We were a little slow to catch up with this band, but once we got a chance to listen to "Wait," a single from the second EP, we were instant fans. This exuberant track is just one highlight from a great batch of freshman-year work. It's one of our featured New Music tracks this week, and you'll be hearing plenty more from I & II in our big mix.

In the past couple of weeks, California indie outfit Sjowgren has released three new singles. That brings their total output to five singles and three demos since they started releasing tracks last year. We don't know much about this band, and apparently that's the way they like it. They're believed to be from the San Francisco Bay area but haven't provided any other information. Yet their debut single "Seventeen" drew plenty of notice (including ours) and the latest tracks are bound to bring them more. Our pick for the New Music bin is "Stubborn Forces."

We're happy to hear new music from Danielia Cotton, whose powerful voice caught our attention last year with "A Prayer." We were latecomers: the New Jersey-born, New York-based singer-songwriter has been performing and releasing music for over a decade. As Philadelphia's WXPN has written, Cotton "draws on a wide range of influences, from Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones to Mavis Staples and Etta James." The new album, The Mystery of Me, ranges from soulful ballads to upbeat rockers like our featured pick, the Motown-flavored "4 Ur Life."

We've written before about artists outside America who are making "Americana" music. Add to that list England's Ramona Rose. The singer-songwriter told Vents Magazine she moved to Leeds "as a shy 18-year-old with a battered acoustic guitar and no clue what I was doing." (She's now all of 22). "I’ve always loved country and folk music – the way they tell stories has been a source of inspiration to me for as long as I can remember, and I was listening to a lot of it at the time of writing this track." Her new single, "Grand Canyon," uses that American landmark as a symbol for a lover's promises that go unfulfilled.

The other act joining our New Music rotation this week needs no introduction. With the release of U2's Songs of Experience, we're adding "Get Out Of Your Own Way," with its hopeful message of self-actualization. On first listen, the album strikes us as uneven, mixing optimism with awkward attempts at political commentary and a few lyrical clunkers ("Democracy is flat on its back, jack"). And, sorry, but we've trimmed off the Kendrick Lamar sermon at the end of "Get Out..." because we find it more jarring than inspirational. Still, there are few bands in the world whose body of work can match U2's, and we remain committed fans.
Please let us know what you think of the music mix on Birch Street Radio, and send us your suggestions for more artists to discover! Comment here, on Twitter or Facebook, or by email: birchstreetradio@gmail.com

Sunday, November 26, 2017

'80s echoes and more indie sounds added to our New Music bin

On first listen to The Heroic Enthusiasts, one might wonder if they're an overlooked New Wave band. This Rochester, N.Y.-based quartet embraces "the ethos of '80s new romanticism." Although the band is relatively new - formed in 2014 by singer/guitarist James Tabbi and guitarist Thomas Ferrara and now rounded out by Mike James and Anthony Molina - its members aren't youngsters trying to be retro. In an early interview with Rochester's City Newspaper, Tabbi said of the band's sound: "If I had to make some parallels through history it would be like Echo and the Bunnymen, Radiohead, Coldplay. ... We know and lived those decades musically and physically, so we draw on all that history." They've just released their first LP, self-titled. Our featured pick is "New York Made Me," a paean to that big city at the other end of the New York Thruway.

We previously featured the single "Lights Out" from the latest release by Montreal's Chair Warriors. This trio draws influences from the likes of Muse, Coldplay and Smashing Pumpkins. The seven-track EP has been out for a few months now, and we're dipping back into it to pull out an uplifting, anthemic track, "So Alive."

Speaking of dipping back into a recent release by a Montreal band, we're adding "Real Thing" by Stars to our New Music bin this week. We've been playing "Fluorescent Light" since the October release of There Is No Love In Fluorescent Light. As it happens, "Real Thing" was actually the first single, and came out back in August. But we follow our own timetable here at BSR, not bound to trivial things like release dates or chart positions. (Or maybe we just missed it, but, better late than never.)

Continuing our usual genre-jumping, we turn to New York singer-songwriter Holly Miranda, whose next album, Mutual Horse, is due next year. The first track to drop, "Exquisite," features Miranda's frequent collaborator, Kyp Malone of TV On The Radio. Miranda told Consequence of Sound that the co-written song is her “favorite thing we have ever done together,” and is “partly about our longtime friendship and conversations about taking inventory and responsibility for your mistakes and shortcomings.”

Another male-female duet we're featuring this week has a more country/folk sound. Swearingen & Kelli are a musical couple: Pennsylvania native AJ Swearingen met Michigan-born Jayne Kelli at a writers' showcase in Florida and ended up "partners in life and music." Of their new album, The Marrying Kind, Swearingen says, "We really dialed in our Americana country sound on this album. I used lap-steel on many of the songs." Our featured pick, "You Run Away," has its share of steel and country flavor, but with a late-70s pop sensibility that would blend nicely with Eagles or even some Fleetwood Mac.

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. Noisetrade.com 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 caj√≥n, 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.