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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Joan Jett keeps rocking, plus new music from Neko Case, Jessie Munro, Sam Gifford, Monica Moser

If Birch Street Radio had a "mission statement," it would say something about bringing together the classics of rock'n'roll, folk-rock and related genres with the newest sounds from artists that draw on those traditions. As part of that, we often feature new music by classic artists - such as the unstoppable Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. In conjunction with the release of the documentary "Bad Reputation" about her career, Jett has released a new single, "Fresh Start." "I need a fresh start, let's go back to the top / Rewind the tape, and reset the clock," she sings, but the track has the familiar Blackhearts guitar-rock sound. Having seen her live show not long ago, we can attest that after decades in the business, Jett can rock out as hard as ever.

Have you ever noticed that the U.K.'s coat of arms features several lions? Yet no actual lions roam the British Isles? Neko Case noticed, and in "Last Lion of Albion," she imagines there once were lions in Albion (an ancient name for England) that were driven to extinction. The British lion may be as mythical as the unicorn (also featured on the coat of arms), but Case uses it as a metaphor for the way civilization has doomed other species and even peoples. "Last lion of Albion / They'll use you for centuries to come / You'll feel extinction / When you see your face on their money." The song is on Case's new, seventh album, Hell-On. "No other album in her catalog is so musically rich and orchestrated," writes Pitchfork.

Back in June we featured "Under Fire," an early single from Toronto-born, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Jessie Munro. Now she's released her debut EP, On My Own, filled with a silky blend of electro-pop-R&B. Our pick for the New Music bin is "I'd Like To," which stands out with its jazzy treatment and mood shifts - think of Sade segued with Marian Hill.

Note to her hometown fans: Munro is returning to Toronto for an Oct. 4 EP-release show at the Revival Bar.

Sam Gifford and the Innocent is an emerging alternative-rock band that's been gigging in London clubs while working toward its first EP. It's off to a good start with the debut single, "What You Want," which has found its way into our New Music bin. Gifford, the singer-songwriter-frontman, hails from North Hertfordshire, about 40 miles north of the city, where he played in local bands as a teen. He cites among his influences Springsteen, Mumford and John Mayer, as well as Jon Foreman of Switchfoot. "His songwriting is what led me to be a songwriter and he is very passionate about his lyrics and performance, which is what I look for in an artist," Gifford told London's Zap Bang Magazine.

From the not-exactly-new-but-new-to-us category: Monica Moser's song "Paralyzed" came out as a single last year, but we're catching up now that it's being released as part of an eight-song album, Your Absence A Closeness. The Nashville-based singer-songwriter released her first album in 2013 while a college sophomore. In the five years since, she tells Noisetrade, "I was doing a lot of growing and experimenting and I wanted to wait until I felt like I had a cohesive group of songs before putting out another official release." Coincidentally, she also cites Jon Foreman as an influence, along with Sara Bareilles, Carole King and Lorde.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

New releases from Mark Knopfler, Mumford & Sons, Amy Helm, The Sea The Sea, Metric

Photo: Derek Hudson
It's good to hear that guitar great Mark Knopfler has a new album in the works. Down the Road Wherever, his ninth solo studio collection, is due out November 16. It was recorded in his London studio with a band that includes Dire Straits keyboardist Guy Fletcher and musicians Knopfler has worked with in recent years. The first single, "Good On You Son," has the familiar, mellow Knopfler sound and sly lyrics.

Photo: Alistair Taylor Young

Also slated for November 16 release is Delta, the fourth album from Mumford & Sons. Love song "Guiding Light" is the preview single. Consequence of Sound describes it well, saying it "bridge(s) the electrification of their last album with the acoustic folk of their breakthrough earlier releases. There’s certainly still a plugged-in pulse, but - do our ears deceive? - is that a banjo back in the mix or just a particularly plucked guitar?"

We've previously featured singles from Amy Helm's second studio album, This Too Shall Light, and now we have the full LP. Recorded in just four days to create a spontaneous feel, the record is classic Americana, with strands of folk-rock, country and gospel tied together with Helm's terrific, emotive voice. The gospel sound dominates here, and most of the songs (all covers) are down-tempo, with lyrics that range from mournful to inspirational. The most upbeat song is our new featured track: "The Stones I Throw," a Robbie Robertson song that Leon Helm, Amy's father, sang with The Hawks before The Band was formed.

We're also dipping back into the recent release by The Sea The Sea (who happen to hail from Troy, New York, about an hour north of Amy Helm's hometown of Woodstock). From the Light is their first album since the duo of Chuck and Mira Costa added Cara May Gorman and Stephen Struss to the band. Atwood Magazine calls it "an earthy and celestial folk- rock record rooted in lush melody and intimate emotion." We're now featuring the title track, with a lyric about human imperfection: "We go / from the light to the dark / to the light to the dark again / We are right we are wrong / we are right we are wrong again."

Now we veer off in another musical direction - because that's what we do. Toronto-based Metric has just released its seventh album, Art of Doubt. AllMusic writes: "Emily Haines' powerful voice and evocative lyrics, their rock-solid rhythm section, and their ability to craft immediately hooky modern rock - these things are out in full force" on this release. Our pick for the New Music bin is a good example of Metric's blend of guitar-rock and synth-pop, "Now Or Never Now."

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

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!