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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."

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