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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Another great crop of new music added to our mix

After a six-year break, Toronto's Sarah Slean has released a gorgeous new collection, Metaphysics. Our pick for the New Music bin this week is the opening track, "Perfect Sky." The song's message is that if you wait for the perfect time to do something, you'll never get it done. In her case, she said in an interview with CBC Music, the "something" was songwriting.

"It's like you're in the middle of chaos, and you always think to yourself, 'Oh, if I get to a better place, if I just find that house or if I work the right person, or if I have the right circumstances this will happen.' And, I think the realization for me was that there's never going to be a perfect set of circumstances. And, if you want it to get written, you just have to sit down and write it."

Birch Street Radio listeners are familiar with Willamena, an indie band from Michigan with a polished rock sound. In fact, they were one of the first indie bands that we began playing a couple of years ago as our format was evolving. Their latest EP, Strong Enough To Last, is coming out in a couple of weeks, and we're happy to add the single "When You Close Your Eyes" to our New Music rotation.

From the city of Hull in England -- designated as the U.K.'s City of Culture for 2017 -- comes a five-piece acoustic band called Pavey ArkFormed just last year, the group has just released its debut EP Leaf By Leaf" featuring the single "Hidden Hills." Its tightly woven strands of folk guitar, violin, percussion and lilting vocals take you for a ride through the countryside and might evoke memories of past masters like Fairport Convention. The band's leader, singer-songwriter Neil Thomas, says the song is "about meeting the person you love, a chance encounter within [the] huge expanse of time - and how special that is.”

The Brooklyn indie-rock veterans known as Grizzly Bear have started to roll out their seventh release, Painted Ruins, due in August. Two tracks have spun out so far, and we're picking up "Mourning Sound" -- which, despite its title and sorrowful lyric ("Let love age / And watch it burn out and die"), does not sound morose, with a brisk rhythm and sprightly keyboard breaks between Ed Droste's verses and Dan Rossen's choruses.

Topping off the New Music bin this week is "Soulfire," the title track from a new release by Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. It's the first solo project in 18 years from Bruce Springsteen's longtime comrade-in-guitars. Steven Van Zandt says simply, “This record is me doing me.” And indeed it fits comfortably into the sound that he helped create in Asbury Park, N.J., some four decades ago. In fact, the album includes versions of songs Van Zandt wrote for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. The opener, "Soulfire," is a new song (sort of; Van Zandt says actually he wrote it several years ago). With an opening disco riff, Motown-style background singers, an arena-worthy solo and wall-of-sound crescendos, this track has everything you'd expect from Steven doing Steven.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Farewell, Gregg

Gregg Allman, Southern Rock Pioneer, Dead at 69 

Allman Brothers Band leader "passed away peacefully at his home in Savannah, Georgia"

Read full story from Rolling Stone

RS's 20 Essential Gregg Allman songs

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!