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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."

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Indie and mainstream artists mix in our latest big batch of new music

After taking a late-summer break, we're back to updating the New Music bin -- and we're making up for lost time by adding a big batch of fresh tracks. Some are by big names (including a couple of Pauls), and we'll get to those, but first we want to introduce a newcomer to our playlist.

Monique Sherrell Brown started her musical career in New York City's cabarets, then took on a sideline as a backup singer in a Country/Blues band. She describes her new EP, Life After the Blues, as a fusion of jazz and country-rock. It's her jazz-singing side that dominates in our featured track, "Useless Nights." With Brown's soulful voice over a soft guitar-bass-drum background, it lands in a groove with the likes of Sade and Joan Armatrading.

The Marcus King Band could still be placed in the "emerging artist" category, but it's definitely gaining more and more attention. King's combination of mad guitar skills and songwriting ability, plus the top-notch band he's put together, have pushed him to the forefront of Southern-flavored roots rock. After opening for Tedeschi Trucks Band this summer (we got to see one of those great shows), TMKB is headlining a tour this fall. We're featuring "Where I'm Headed," a mid-tempo, bluesy single from the band's upcoming second album, Carolina Confessions.

Next up we have a couple of artists that we've featured before:

The oddly-named French quartet Kill the Moose with "From Here To Now," a captivating piece of shoegaze topped by Elisabeth Massena's vocals ...

... And U.K. singer-songwriter Ramona Rose, whose latest single, "High Water," starts as a slow burner and builds to a rocking crescendo.

Elle King's new single, "Shame," is high-energy from the jump. "I can make you shake, rattle your bones," King sings, and this track from the upcoming Shake The Spirit LP is designed to do just that.

Which brings us to a couple of other get-up-and-move numbers:

The latest single from In The Valley Below, in which the alt-rock duo takes a dance-pop turn with "Desperate Dance."

And "Back Down" by Vancouver-via-LA duo Bob Moses. It's the lead single from their second album, Battle Lines.

Amos Lee takes a contemplative turn on his seventh studio album, My New Moon. He cites the high school shootings in Parkland, Fla., as the inspiration for "No More Darkness, No More Light," saying he hopes to find "constructive feeling about this tragedy."

As mentioned, we round out our picks with a couple of famous Pauls:

Egypt Station, the new album by Paul McCartney, is "a deeply eccentric song cycle in the Ram mode," as Rolling Stone puts it. Like many of his albums, it's uneven. We previously featured the first single, "Come On To Me," but we've already grown tired of it. And after hearing the septuagenarian's juvenile "Fuh You" once, we hope never to hear it again. But we agree with RS that there are also excellent songs here, like our current pick, "Dominoes." "An eerie acoustic guitar hook, worthy of the White Album, builds for almost five minutes, complete with an old-school backwards guitar solo and the disarming farewell line, 'It’s been a blast.' ... [I]t has the unmistakable McCartney touch everybody else keeps failing to copy, yet it feels totally fresh and new.

Paul Simon copies himself on In The Blue Light, his new compilation of 10 reworkings of songs from his catalog. In some cases, the changes are subtle - a perfectionist painter trying to get the shading just right. But other tracks are given new vitality. We're featuring "Can't Run But," in which, working with chamber-music ensemble yMusic, Simon replaces the 1990 original's world-music vibe with a more stark, modern-classical sound.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Getting back in the groove after a summer break

We're pleased to report that our trusty, state-of-the-art automation system kept our Marvelous Mix of Music flowing 24/7 while the Birch Street Radio team enjoyed a late-summer vacation.

Now we're back to business: Our music staff is busy sorting through dozens of new releases, looking to pick the best tracks to feature in our New Music bin next week. 

We're also selecting tracks that don't quite fit into our regular mix but will make for a good trip on The Detour, our Sunday show that specializes in indie, edgy and unusual music. The Detour will return Sunday, Sept. 9.

Reminder: We want to hear from you! Send us your comments on our music mix, any questions about our broadcasts - and especially, your suggestions of artists and music that you'd like to hear us add to the mix! You can comment on this page, or on Facebook or Twitter, or by email at birchstreetradio@gmail.com

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Enjoy the Labo(u)r Day holiday! Take us along!

It's Labor Day Weekend in the USA and Labour Day Weekend in Canada. Whether you're sunning at the beach or hiking in the woods (or busy earning) you can listen to Birch Street Radio on any internet-connected device - many of which are more portable than the one shown above.

Our trusty automation system is keeping our Marvelous Music Mix flowing while we're away from the studio. Meanwhile lots of new releases are piling up on our desk, and we'll soon be busy choosing tracks to feature in our New Music bin. Expect to hear plenty of fresh tunes in the coming weeks!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Extra dose of new music - Edgar Road, Castlecomer, Vanishing Shores, Tyler Boone, Rubblebucket, Parquet Courts and more!

Our new-music-picking team is going on vacation for the next two weeks. So we've decided to double up on our selections - adding 10 new tracks to the New Music bin instead of our usual five per week. And once again, it's a mix of many different styles, mostly from indie and emerging artists, who keep making today's most-interesting music.

One of our favorite discoveries of last year was Edgar Road, a band from northeastern Scotland. We picked up several tracks from their first two EPs, and now they've released a new single, "Say It Another Way," a breezy tune with duet vocals by Mark Conti and Magdalena Wellenger.

We've more recently picked up music from Lewisburg, a "dark country" band from the little country town of... North London. After featuring "Clear The Air," we're now reaching back a few months to spin an earlier single, a brooding rumination on a "Slow Morning."

Brooks Williams
Based in Cambridge, England, but originally from Statesboro, Georgia in the U.S.A. is "Euro/Americana" guitarist-singer Brooks Williams. He's been playing for years on both sides of the Atlantic, and his latest album, Lucky Star, is his 28th solo recording. We've added "Going To New Orleans" to our New Music bin.

If John Hiatt fits in any musical category, "Americana" might be it. His long musical career has encompassed folk, rock and country genres, always stamped with his own idiosyncratic style. His latest album, Eclipse Sessions, is due in October. The first single to spin out, "Cry To Me," has a relaxed, rootsy, sittin'-and-pickin' sound and a gently sardonic lyric: "I'm probably gonna let you down but / I swear I won't keep you down."

Now we jump across the Pacific to Australia - and turn sharply from laid-back acoustic music to electric power- pop. Castlecomer is a band from Sydney that's preparing to release its debut album. We've got the title track, "All Of The Noise," and while it's certainly a loud, energetic number, it's more melodic than noisy. (Photo credit: Anna Webber)

Next we bop over to New Zealand to check out The Beths, an alternative rock/pop outfit whose debut album carries the self-deprecating title Future Me Hates Me. AllMusic.com tells us the band, founded by jazz majors at the University of Auckland, "built their reputation in the clubs of Australia and their native New Zealand for an impulsive, infectious indie rock." Our featured track is "Great No One."

Spinning the globe again, we land in Cleveland, Ohio, home of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and of a new indie band called Vanishing Shores. Lead singer and songwriter Kevin Bianchi cites Neil Finn, Elvis Costello and The Tragically Hip among his influences. He says his songs speak to "the need to reach out and connect with those around us." From the band's self-titled debut EP, we're featuring "Always" and we'll likely add more tracks to our big mix.

It's been about a year since we've had new music from Tyler Boone, but the singer/songwriter/guitarist from Charleston, South Carolina - now based in Nashville - has a new EP coming out this fall, called Jealousy. He's spun out two singles so far, and we're adding "Let It Go," a mid-tempo rocker about a relationship that's run its course.

The latest from Brooklyn-based Rubblebucket is also about the end of a relationship - in particular, the romantic partnership of the band's founding members, Alex Toth and Kalmia Traver. Despite their "uncoupling," they remain committed to making music together. Toth says "Annihilation Song" is an anthem for their "perseverance in following through with our creative and friendship partnership." Kalmia sings: "This is annihilation / it could be a liberation / I’m down for the count but I’ll be gettin' up soon enough.” The new LP, Sun Machine, comes out Aug. 24.

We're rounding out this Pick-10 of new music on a boisterous note with "Wide Awake," the title track from the latest release by another Brooklyn outfit, Parquet Courts. The album is full of punk anger and lyrics touching on serious current topics - but this track is just a fun, loud piece of party music, with a chanted refrain, whistles and shouts over a funky bass line and even some steel drums.

By the way, several of these tracks were previously played on The Detour, our weekly show where we try out new recordings and mix in tracks that don't quite fit our usual big mix. The Detour is also taking a late-summer break, but will return on Sunday, Sept. 9.

Join us at the beach - or wherever you go

We're going into vacation mode for the next two weeks. So a couple of our regular features - the Saturday block of New Music picks-of-the-week, and our Sunday show The Detour - will be on hiatus until the weekend of September 8-9.

But the marvelous mix of music on Birch Street Radio will keep playing! And here's a reminder that you can listen to our internet stream anywhere you go. Besides the players on this page, you can find us on TuneIn and many other streaming sites and apps.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Crack The Sky, Johnny Marr, The Jayhawks & introducing Caribou Run, Cosmic Strip

Another week, another very diverse selection of sounds in our New Music bin!

One of the greatest rock bands that too few people know is Crack The Sky, which won critical acclaim with its 1975 debut album - and then fell victim to a series of record company and marketing failures that limited its reach. Over the decades since, through ups and downs and personnel comings and goings, this thoughtful and inventive prog-rock band has released a couple dozen albums and maintained a devoted following, particularly in the Pittsburgh and Baltimore areas. Now, via a PledgeMusic campaign and indie label Loud & Proud Records, Crack the Sky is about to release an album of a new music called Living In Reverse, along with Crackology, a collection of re-recordings of songs from its back catalog. This week we're featuring one of the new tracks, "Talk Talk," which combines rock guitar and drums, frontman John Palumbo's distorted vocals - and Bobby Hird putting down his guitar to play a repeating figure on banjo.

Caribou Run is a six-piece band from Nova Scotia that's been described as "neo-folk" and "alt-country." But they stretch out in many directions on their sophomore album, Old Peninsula. After all, how many folk or country bands feature trombone? Canadian Beats calls the LP "a beautifully blended story of pain, celebration and reflections of past and present. ... Each of the 10 well-crafted songs offers listeners a chance to immerse themselves in these narratives." Drew Moores and Danielle Noble share vocal duties, and it's Noble taking the lead on our featured track, "Roll On."

Another alt-country band, perhaps more typical of that genre, is The Jayhawks. Their latest album, Back Roads and Abandoned Motels, includes tracks that frontman Gary Louris wrote with other artists. We've been spinning "Come Crying To Me," a co-write with Natalie Maines, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire of the Dixie Chicks. Now we're adding another, "Everybody Knows," a mellow cover of a song originally recorded by the Dixie Chicks in 2006.

Now we jump across genres, and across the Atlantic, and tune into the dream-pop/indie-rock of London's Cosmic Strip. Singer-songwriter Camella Agabaylan and company will soon release their debut EP, Heavenly, and we're adding the title single to our New Music bin. Agabaylan says the song is "dedicated to the addictive feeling of your first love." The Revue calls it "a perfectly constructed slice of dream pop," and we'll add that the propulsive beat, rocking guitars and gradually swelling sound keep it from being the least bit sleepy.

We round out this week's picks with another track from Call the Comet, the latest album from Johnny Marr. He describes "Day In Day Out" as "a celebratory song about an obsessive nature. You can either go under with that stuff or accept it as part of your personality, so this is about celebrating those qualities." As The Times of London wrote, on this track Marr "revives the shimmering guitar jangle he pioneered with the Smiths."

Saturday, August 4, 2018

This week's picks: Jeen, The Sea The Sea, Three Star Revival, Just A Jester, Snow Patrol

Toronto-based Jeen O'Brien has written songs for artists such as Serena Ryder and Great Big Sea, collaborated with Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning in his side project Cookie Duster, and released her own music simply as Jeen. Ahead of her latest album, Gift Shop, she's just released "Any Moment," an energetic alt-rock-pop number featuring the co-producer of her project, veteran Toronto musician Ian Blurton, on guitar. "Lyrically this song, simply put, is about perseverance," Jeen said. "You will never know what might be just around the corner if you give up before you get there.”

The Sea The Sea calls itself an "indie folk-pop duo-band" -- that is, a band formed around the duo of Chuck and Mira Costa. The new album from this upstate New York group, From The Light, expands on their original acoustic sound to include additional vocals, synthesizer and percussion. Drowned In Sound calls it "folk-tinged pop of the highest order." We're featuring "Ricochet," a dynamic track that, as the DiS reviewer says, "skitters around, giving each member of the band the opportunity to truly shine."

We previously featured the sinuous "Move A Little Bit" by Tennessee's Three Star Revival, and now we're dipping back into the recent Fade Away EP for a funky number called "Wait." By all accounts this band puts on a great live show, but so far it has toured mostly in the U.S. Southeast. We're rooting for them to get more widespread notice and hit some bigger stages.

Just A Jester is the project of London singer-songwriter Timothy Daniel Whitaker, who has been part of the UK music scene since the 1980s. Over the years he formed a number of bands with his brother Simon, ranging from prog rock to acoustic outfits. The latest single from his solo project is "Make It Easier." It has a relaxed vibe and vocal style that puts us in mind of late-70s Gerry Rafferty.

We've been playing "Don't Give In" from Snow Patrol's latest album, Wildness, and now we're featuring another track, "Empress." It's an uplifting anthem extolling human connection - "hands just reaching out for hands" - in a troubled world. "Friends and foes and princes / are all just human in the end," Gary Lightbody sings. "This is so damn simple, yeah / It's so damn simple."

Saturday, July 28, 2018

New from Shemekia Copeland, Amy Helm, Crooked Weather, Jacobs Run, West Coast Feed

We have to admit to being unfamiliar with blues/soul vocalist Shemekia Copeland, but we're glad to have found her newly released eighth album, American Child. AllMusic.com says the LP demonstrates that Copeland, who released her first record twenty years ago at age 19, has become "a mature artist of vision and depth who could inhabit virtually any genre of music without sacrificing the power and passion that initially established her reputation." The album is a blend of Americana, rock and blues, with a cast of contributors that includes Mary Gauthier, Emmylou Harris, Will Kibrough (who produced it) and John Prine. Those and others join in the background vocals on the powerful opening track, "Ain't Got Time for Hate," now featured in our New Music rotation.

We're also pleased to have more new music by another powerful female vocalist in the Americana/roots vein, Amy Helm. The latest song to emerge from her upcoming album This Too Shall Light is "Odetta," written by Joe Henry, who also produced the LP -- recorded over just four days in a Los Angeles studio. “We just kind of set up, threw our stuff down and started playing without much thought, without much arranging, without much rehearsal and with lots of extra voices. That’s what we wanted the record to sound like and feel like.” Helm is currently on tour in Canada and the U.S., and we highly recommend catching her high-energy live show.

As we've mentioned before, the Americana label is often applied these days to bands from other countries, particularly England - sort of a backward twist on the fact that the genre owes a lot to English folk music. One such band, which we've previously featured on Birch Street Radio, is Crooked Weather, which describes its music as "steeped in the folk revival of the late 60's (with) a raw, modern edge." Their latest single, "Stoney Bay Blues," was written "at the end of a long gravel road on Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand." It's a gentle, dreamy number, although Holly Blackshaw's vibrato-tinged vocal expresses the anxiety in the lyric about a person's struggle to fit in with society.

It's a mere 1,650 miles or so from Coromandel to Melbourne, Australia, the home of Jacobs Run. We've featured several of this indie rock trio's singles over the past year-plus, and now we have their latest, a sunny, upbeat and eminently catchy love song called "Better Days."

And just to shake things up, we're picking up "You Belong to Me" by The West Coast Feedwhich describes itself as "an eight-piece powerhouse band out of Seattle, Wash., who make their own style of swagger rock/soul music." Swagger rock? It's also been described as "high energy, blue eyed, boot stompin' soul." Sounds about right.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

New tracks from Muse, Richard Thompson; introducing Akiva, Lewisburg and La Force

"The song comes from when you do get a bit burnt out from being on the road for too long," Muse's Matt Bellamy said in an interview with Billboard about the band's new single, "Something Human." Muse began work on its eighth album as it wound down a long, grueling tour. The Drones album and road show "had a dark vibe, which is good, but when you’ve been doing that for a while the natural result was that as soon as I came off the road, [he wrote] “Something Human” ... a more tender, down-to-earth, simplistic song about ... wanting to get home to a more normal life after being on the road for a couple years."

Richard Thompson has been a major force in the folk-rock world since the 1960s. The guitar master and songwriter is about to bring out his 19th solo album, 13 Rivers. NPR writes that Thompson is "not stuck in any one era, and his solo records continue to influence younger musicians with [his] deft playing and the way he spins a tale." Two songs have been released so far, and our choice for the New Music bin is the tension-filled "The Storm Won't Come." The lyric speaks of a longing for dramatic change - a cleansing, transforming storm - that will only come in its own good time: "The storm must come to me / and the storm won't come."

English alternative-rock band Akiva draws on influences ranging from the Rolling Stones to The Charlatans, Primal Scream - and U.K. current-affairs programs like Newsnight and Question Time. "We were recently described as ‘George Orwell-meets-The Killers’ - which is not far off," frontman Dave MacKenzie said in an interview with Music Musings and Such. We're picking up Akiva's new single "Ammunition," a protest against "the decision makers in positions of power, who take lethal decisions with little care of the consequences."

For obvious reasons, commentary on current events is a frequent theme in music these days.
Lewisburg, a North London outfit led by singer-songwriter Ali Robertson, brings a gentle approach to a message of healing divisions, in "Clear The Air." Now that we've been introduced to this band, we'll be adding more tracks to our mix, including "Wasted," a reflective, acoustic number on which Robertson's vocal reminds us a bit of Jason Isbell.

La Force is the solo project of Montreal singer-songwriter Ariel Engle, who is also a member of the Broken Social Scene collective. From her forthcoming debut album comes "Ready to Run," a deceptively upbeat pop song which also has a serious message. "This is a song about the refugee crisis and the politicians who claim moral superiority while doing nothing to help their fellow humans," Engle says. "The crisis is biblical in scope, and yet even self-avowed Christian politicians are not moved by compassion. What does it take?”