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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. 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?”

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Freshly picked: Cowboy Junkies, The Jayhawks, Blues Traveler, Johnny Marr and The Magic Es

Still riding high after more than 30 years, the Cowboy Junkies are out with a new album, All That Reckoning. The languid melodies and contemplative lyrics that the Toronto-based band is known for are here in beautiful abundance - but one track stands out with sharper edges. On "Sing Me A Song," over distorted guitar and insistent percussion, vocalist Margo Timmins alternates between calls for love and forgiveness - and disturbing images of anger and grief. More than a typical CJ song, it reminds us of The Dream Syndicate's recent track "How Did I Find Myself Here."

In another case of a veteran band departing from its signature sound, we're featuring "Come Cryin' To Me" by The Jayhawks. The Minneapolis band's new album, Back Roads and Abandoned Motels, consists largely of songs that frontman Gary Louris co-wrote with members of other bands - in this case, the Dixie Chicks. And Louris turns over lead-vocal duties to other band members on some of the album's tracks - in this case, keyboardist Karen Grotberg. says of the album, "despite the shifting outlook of the songwriting, the performances are sturdy and evocative throughout, revealing how well these musicians work with one another as they make the most of the dynamics of this subtle but resonant music."     

More in keeping with its typical style is Blues Traveler's new single, "Accelerated Nation." It's the first track to spin out from an album called Hurry Up & Hang Around, due in October. Frontman John Popper told Billboard the band considers it a 30th anniversary album -- although the group is now in its 31st year. "It kind of snuck up on us. At some point we realized, 'It's our 30th year and we have no plans to make an album.' We really should have done this ahead of time, but it was in our 30th year that we decided to make the album, at least."

The latest from Johnny Marr also fits well within the body of work of the former Smiths guitarist. His new album, Call the Comet, has an overall theme: In reaction to current political and social trends, he imagines an alternate reality where kindness, intelligence and art are what matters. In our New Music Bin is "Hi Hello," which The Guardian calls "shimmeringly brilliant." According to NME, Marr credits Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot" and The Smiths' "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" as influences in creating the song.

Along with those four releases from veteran artists, we mix things up with a new single by a band that formed in 2014. The Magic Es are billed as an "old-school, anthemic rock band from the UK." Their latest single, "Wishing Well," evokes a longing for the simplicity of childhood. Frontman Pete Thompson says "it’s about the realisation that as you get older, what you want and the way the world operates can't be changed by a simple wish.”

By the way, listeners to our new Sunday program "The Detour" already heard "Wishing Well" on last week's edition. Take a ride with us each week as we turn off Birch Street and explore the back roads to hear new indie music, obscure older tracks and ... who knows what else! This one-hour excursion happens Sundays at 5pm Eastern Time (2pm Pacific Time, 9pm UTC) and repeats at 11pm Eastern (8pm Pacific, 3am UTC).

Saturday, July 7, 2018

In our new music bin: Joan Armatrading, Sheryl Crow, Joy Formidable, Conor Gains, Summerteeth

We're very pleased to have new music from Joan Armatrading. Her new album, Not Too Far Away, is filled with well-crafted songs and heartfelt lyrics. The multi-talented Armatrading wrote, produced, played every instrument and programmed the percussion tracks on this, the 21st LP of her long career. The 10 songs touch on various aspects of love and relationships, mostly with a positive outlook. We're featuring the opening track, "I Like It When We're Together," a simple love song with a broader message: "It's a song that I hope will bring people together," Armatrading says. "This is why we are on this planet after all. It's to like being with one another."

At a much earlier stage of a very promising career is Conor Gains, from Cambridge, Ontario. He's been known as a blues guitarist and vocalist, releasing a couple of albums with the Conor Gains Band, but his latest project is as a solo artist exploring a variety of styles including soul, R&B and jazz singing. The result is Compass, released a couple of months ago and brought to our attention by Canadian Beats, which called it "a sultry 10-track rollercoaster ... impeccably put together, varied and wholly unique." Our pick for the New Music bin is a slice of funky fun called "Dance Like It's Your Birthday."

Exploring a variety of styles is what we do all the time at Birch Street Radio. So now we jump to the heavy alternative rock of The Joy Formidable. Since releasing Hitch in 2016, the Welsh trio has been spending a lot of time in Utah and Arizona. The landscapes of the U.S. Southwest led to what lead vocalist Ritzy Bryan describes as "a colourful, mystical collage" of songs for their upcoming album, Aaarth. She describes our featured song, "Dance of the Lotus," as a “nighttime walk in the desert when you’re trying to escape from yourself and the chaos you’ve created.” As for the album title? "It falls somewhere between a scream, an exaltation, a play on words, and then this motif of the bear (“arth” in Welsh) that spiritually represents strength, wisdom and healing.”

Veering in another direction, we pick up a track from the latest release by Toronto trio Summerteeth. Their second EP, Sweet Nothings, unabashedly evokes turn-of-the-century pop-punk in the vein of Blink-182, Jimmy Eat World, Weezer and the like. According to review site Ouch That Hertz, the band's debut EP had a darker, emo tone, while this release has "an air of positivity abounding in resonant, cheery power chords and airy melodic riffs." Our featured track is the breezy "Talk About Anything."

We're a bit late catching up with this one: Sheryl Crow and Annie Clark (a.k.a. St. Vincent) collaborating on a single called "Wouldn't Want To Be Like You." The lyric is addressed to someone with ill-gotten riches who ends up in an orange jumpsuit. Crow says the song is more broadly "about the climate of truth not being important anymore" - as heard in the refrain: "You tell a lie, you tell a lie, you tell a lie / but that don't make it true."

Friday, July 6, 2018

Take a ride with us on The Detour - Every Sunday

Ride along with us for an hour each Sunday as we depart from our usual big mix of new and classic rock, pop, folk and more - and play an even bigger variety of music!

We call it "The Detour."

As we turn off Birch Street and try out some back roads, we hear more indie and unsigned artists, more deep tracks, more hard-edged and experimental sounds. We might hear some classic jazz or some new alternative music that hasn't found its way into our general playlist.
See what we played on recent shows.
The Detour happens every Sunday at 5pm Eastern time (Montreal, New York, Miami) - and repeats with some slight variations at 11pm Eastern time.

Those times are 2pm & 8pm Pacific Time (Vancouver, Los Angeles) and 2100 Sunday & 0300 Monday UTC.

Ride along with us -- and then give us your feedback! We welcome suggestions for music to add in future shows.