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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Carmanah's debut and new music by Midnight Shine, High Up, Katy Guillen and Frank Turner

We start this week's journey of music discovery on the west coast of Canada with Carmanah, an indie band named after an ancient rain forest on Vancouver Island. Their music is an eclectic blend of folk-rock with what they call "gritty vintage flavors" of funk, reggae and more. Laura Mina's vocals are backed by a wide assortment of instruments. In our search for new and interesting sounds, Carmanah's debut album, Speak In Rhymes, is an exciting find. Our pick for the New Music bin this week is "Roots," and you'll be hearing more from the album in the coming weeks.

Moving across Canada to the James Bay area in northern Ontario, we find roots-rockers Midnight Shine. Lead singer Adrian Sutherland grew up in Attawapiskat and bassist Stan Louttit and lead guitarist Zach Tomatuk hail from Moose Factory. They just released their third album, High Road, and while it's filled with original music, we can't resist featuring the one cover: a fresh take on Neil Young's classic "Heart of Gold." The band brings its Indigenous cultural background to the song, with touches of powwow singing and a verse translated into Mushkegowuk Cree. "Growing up in a very isolated area, I listened to a lot of music," said Sutherland. "Neil Young was one of my biggest musical inspirations, and 'Heart of Gold' is still one of my favourite songs. I've performed it many times, so why not record it, and give it a little something of our own."

Next we dip south across the border and catch up with High Up, a retro-soul quintet that's just released its debut LP, You Are Here. The band came together after Christine Fink moved from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to Omaha, Nebraska, to be closer to her sister, singer-songwriter Orenda Fink. Orenda urged her sister to take the lead singing role, and Christine brings southern touches reminiscent of Texan Janis Joplin or even Alabama Shakes's Brittany Howard to her singing. Powerful horns, drums and guitar back her up on our featured track, "Domino."

From Omaha we head a few hours south to Kansas City, where Katy Guillen and the Girls strive to create a fresh mixture of blues, country and folk. Their new album, Remember What You Knew Before, due next week, revisits material from previous releases, but it's all new to us. The trio mixes acoustic and electric sounds. Lead singer Katy Guillen plays flamenco, resonator, acoustic and electric guitars. The rhythm section is Claire Adams on upright and electric bass and Stephanie Williams on drums and percussion, with both contributing vocals. We're spinning the lead single, "Can't Live Here Anymore."

Now we jump across the Atlantic to check in on Frank Turner, whose next album Be More Kind is due in May. It promises to be a mix of both harsh and gentle songs. We've been playing the single "There She Is," a love-smitten song that also appeared on last year's Songbook collection. The second single, "1933," angrily compares today's political world to that very dark year. Now comes the title track, a plea for a sane response to insane current events: "In a world that has decided that it's going to lose its mind / Be more kind my friend, try to be more kind."

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Acoustic, electronic and other flavors of new music added to our tasty mix

We'll venture to say there aren't many radio programs that would play both the stadium-ready alt/prog rock of Muse and the intimate acoustic/vocal-harmony sounds of I'm With Her. But as our listeners know, music variety is what we're about. What matters to us is that it's all good music.

The debut album by the trio of Aoife O'Donovan, Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz beautifully blends their voices and their virtuoso playing with smart, sharp lyrics. As NPR Music put it, the songs on I'm With Her's See You Around express "a spirit of searching restlessness, an impulse to keep moving rather than getting stuck on romantic disappointments, expectations or propriety." We've been playing the title track, which spun out a few months ago. Now that the full LP is out, we're featuring "I-89," a track that stands out from the album's overall folk-music sound by adding jazzy syncopation and building to a loud, defiant chorus: "Everybody wants a piece of me / Everybody wants to see what I see / But I can't just give it to you like that."

In a very different corner of the music galaxy, Muse is working on its eighth album by crafting and releasing one song at a time. Following up on last year's "Dig Down," the British rockers just rolled out "Thought Contagion," a heavy, foreboding track about toxic ideologies infecting society like diseases. "You've been bitten by a true believer / You're been bitten by someone who is hungrier than you / You've been bitten by someone's false beliefs." Singer Matt Bellamy told Rolling Stone that after putting out concept albums in recent years, the band decided to approach one song at a time, then compile them in an LP release late this year or early next.

Lo Moon has taken a similar approach to its debut album. The Los Angeles trio gradually put out four singles over a span of more than a year. Next week they'll finally unveil the LP. The newest single is now in our New Music bin: "Real Love" builds from a slow, hushed start to a synth-rock wall of sound behind Matt Lowell's regret-tinged vocal.

Baltimore duo Beach House has released its first new music since 2015's Thank Your Lucky Stars. On "Lemon Glow," Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally expand on their familiar reverie-inducing haze of layered synths and dreamy vocals, adding a bit more tension and discord to their sound.

Wisconsin folk-rockers Field Report are preparing their third album, Summertime Songs, for release next month. They've just dropped the single "Never Look Back," and we're picking it up for our New Music playlist. Frontman Chris Porterfield says the song is "about those people we find ourselves inexplicably drawn to and then entangled with" before realizing it's not going to end well. "If you can walk away from the car crash, you have to walk away. And never look back. It’s a celebration of self-preservation.​"

Sunday, February 11, 2018

New band Littless + more new music from Middle Kids, Curtis Harding, Danielle Nicole, Brian Fallon

From the vibrant Philadelphia indie-music scene comes a new band that includes members of another group we've featured before. Littless is the project of keyboardist Kyle Graham, who also performs with Hemming. The vocalist is Candice Martello, the singer/songwriter/bandleader of Hemming, and others from that band are also in the new outfit. The result shows off the versatility of these musicians, as Littless has a brighter, more expansive sound. As Philadelphia music site The Key wrote, the music "balances Martello’s sharp vocals with heavy, biting electronic bits that take traditional synth-pop to a new level." We're featuring the opening track, "Better Left Unsaid," and will dive deeper in weeks to come.

Sydney's Middle Kids will release their debut full-length in May. Lost Friends will include the single "Edge of Town" that brought worldwide attention to the trio of Hannah Joy, Harry Day and Tim Fitz a year ago. We're happy to report that the latest track to spin out demonstrates they're no one-hit wonder. Clashmusic describes "Mistake" as "Effortless-sounding indie rock with a cool-as-hell chorus" and - despite its theme of regret over a past error - "a gently uplifting, oddly inspiring song."

A lot of new music lately brings new energy to styles of the past, ranging from early rock to prog and grunge, as well as blues, R&B and soul. Here are two fresh examples:

Curtis Harding's "Need Your Love" hearkens back to '60s soul, right down to its brief spoken bridge. Harding, who got his start as a backup singer with CeeLo Green, broke out with his 2014 debut, Soul Power, and his most-recent collection, Face Your Fear, landed on several best-of-2017 lists. AllMusic wrote that the album "ups the ante for Harding, bumping him from promising newcomer to major artist."

Danielle Nicole, bassist and vocalist from Trampled Under Foot, brings a hard-as-nails attitude to classic-sounding blues-rock on her second solo album, Cry No More. We previously featured the single "Save Me," and with the album due in a couple of weeks, we now have the I'm-so-done-with-you title track. "I wanted to open up more about myself, and I think it shows in the songs,” Danielle told American Blues Scene. “I thought really hard about the stories I wanted to tell in these songs."

Former Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon clearly puts a lot of thought into his lyrics, and they can sometimes be a bit overbaked. But "If Your Prayers Don't Get To Heaven," the opening track on his latest album, is a relatively simple stick-with-me-and-let's-run-away-together song with a retro-rock sound. NJ.com calls the New Jersey native's Sleepwalkers LP "an exuberant and sonically expansive project comprising the most exciting music he's written in a long, long time."

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Latest from Wye Oak, Jeffrey Gaines, Jacobs Run and more in our New Music bin this week

We're glad to hear Wye Oak has a new album on its way, and we're jumping on the first single, which is also the title track: "The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs." Originally from Baltimore (where their namesake tree grew), Jenn Wasner has relocated to North Carolina and Andy Stack to Texas, and they put the album together in a series of visits to each other's home studios. In a statement, the duo says the album addresses "a litany of modern malaises" with songs "radiating self-reflection and resolve, wielding hooks and musical intricacy as a shield against the madness of the moment." If that sounds a bit grandiose, the track itself is filled with energy, combining synths and guitar with soaring, overdubbed vocals.

Pennsylvania-based singer-songwriter Jeffrey Gaines has just released his latest album - the first since 2003. What's he been doing in the meantime? "Playing live was what I was doing and just loving that," he told Medium.com. An appearance at SXSW helped renew industry connections and led to Gaines working with Omnivore Recordings and producer Chris Price on the new collection, Alright. The studio band consists of bassist Davey Faragher and drummer Pete Thomas, who have worked with Elvis Costello, and guitarist Val McCallum, who has played with Jackson Browne and Sheryl Crow among others. Costello is a major influence on Gaines - unmistakably so in our pick for the New Music bin, "Seems To Me."

It hasn't been widely released yet, but we're happy to have an early copy of another single from Melbourne's Jacobs Run. "So Beautiful" is a solid mid-tempo rocker with a lyric about a new love interest - a more-sophisticated take on the old since-I-saw-her-standing-there theme (pardon the Beatles reference).

For our other New Music picks of the week, we're dipping back into albums that we've featured recently. In both cases, we're actually catching up with the first singles that were released a few months back.

"Black Tree" from King of Spades, the latest album by Nashville/Atlanta duo Fox Grin. It's a shimmering number with a nouveau-prog sound.

And "We Can Pretend" from the Keepsake album by New York-based Elizabeth and the Catapult. It's a sweet-and-a-bit-sad song reflecting on childhood and how it shapes us: "All we are now is what we choose to remember."

As always we welcome your suggestions about music and musicians that you think would fit in well on Birch Street Radio. Contact us on this page, on Facebook or Twitter or at birchstreetradio@gmail.com. And thanks for listening!