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Saturday, September 14, 2019

'New' from R.E.M., plus Robert Randolph, Sheryl Crow, Frankie Cosmos, and introducing MBG

One of our featured new releases this week was recorded 15 years ago. R.E.M. has issued the previously unreleased song "Fascinating" to benefit hurricane-relief efforts in the Bahamas. The recording was made at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas, in 2004, intended for the Around the Sun album. "But the lush ballad ultimately didn’t jibe with that spare, atmospheric album," according the a statement from the band. It's now available on R.E.M.'s Bandcamp page, and "proceeds will be donated to Mercy Corps to support their humanitarian response in the Bahamas."

Our other picks of the week:

Robert Randolph & The Family Band: "Strange Train"
We previously featured "Baptise Me" from Brighter Days, the latest release by the slide-guitar virtuoso and his gospel-rhythm-and-blues band. Now we're riding and rocking on the "Strange Train." Says Blues Rock Review: "Randolph’s Z.Z. Top-esque guitar groans along with his vocals. The drums control the pace of the song as it builds with the bumping bass and a final epic solo from Randolph."

Sheryl Crow: "Beware of Darkness"
Featuring Eric Clapton, Sting, Brandi Carlile
Crow's new album Threads is an all-star revue. Each of its 17 tracks is a collaboration with one or more artists from a pantheon of Americana, pop, rock and country stars, on original songs and covers. We've been playing the Crow/Bonnie Raitt/Mavis Staples track "Live Wire," and now we're putting this excellent treatment of the George Harrison classic into the New Music bin. More from the album will surely pop up in our mix.

Frankie Cosmos: Windows
The new album Close It Quietly has brought fresh attention to the New York band fronted by singer-songwriter Greta Kline. Rolling Stone calls it a "tour de force songwriting binge." Indeed, there are 21 songs on the LP, ranging in length from just over a minute to just over three. Listening straight-through is like hearing a friend pour out everything on her mind, jumping from thought to thought, each crystallized in words that range from conversational clarity to poetic obscurity. Our featured track's lyrics suggest difficulty in understanding one another: "Spit out diamonds, cough up rubies / Call me when you can see through me." 

MBG: "Make My Day"
This catchy pop-rock track comes from Have a Alright Day, the first release by MBG - a solo project of singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Leena Rodriguez. This "one-woman rock band" recorded and produced the EP in her home studio in suburban Toronto. Writing her own songs is a new experience, she says: "I've explored in between the genres of classic/punk rock and blues to folk and jazz." Influences of each style can be found in the four tracks on this impressive debut.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Latest from Mondo Cozmo, Super Doppler, Seratones, Grace Potter, The Rails

After a holiday break, our Music Committee has picked another fine batch of new releases to add to our marvelous mix.

Mondo Cozmo: "Black Cadillac"
Two years after his debut solo album, Plastic Soul, Joshua Ostrander is back with a raucous single from his upcoming LP New Medicine. Built on the kind of repetitive guitar riff Lou Reed might have used, it builds to what BuzzbandsLA calls a "rock-gospel rave-up." Ostrander's talk/singing reminds us a bit of Jakob Dylan as he goes on a stream-of-consciousness rant that obliquely references politics, pop culture - and that time he was tempted to steal a sugar spoon from the Kennedy Room on Capitol Hill after testifying to Congress about the Music Modernization Act.

Seratones: "Gotta Get To Know Ya"
A different kind of raucous rave comes from Power, the new album by this Louisiana soul-rock band fronted by A.J. Haynes. While the album's title track had a message of empowerment, this one comes across as a sexy dance-party song: "No more conversation, give me just what I need / Temperature's a'rising, baby gonna feel the heat."

Super Doppler: "Since You've Been Gone"
We picked up on this band before it was this band - that is, before it adopted its current name about two years ago. The Norfolk, Virginia group's music has sometimes been called country rock, but we think their own description - "Retro Psych Rock n Roll" - is closer to the mark. From their new, self-titled album, our pick is the late-Beatles-ish "Someone Is Watching You."

Grace Potter: "Love Is Love"
Four years after Potter's solo debut Midnight (following her time with The Nocturnals), she returns with Daylight, due for release in October. In the interim, Potter divorced, remarried and had a child. "When I finally started writing songs again - it had to be for myself and myself alone." Paste calls this song "tried-and-true Grace Potter. Featuring a gospel choir and Potter’s dynamite vocals, the song is confessional yet comprehensive."

The Rails: "Call Me When It All Goes Wrong"
If Grace Potter wants to bring Daylight, Kami Thompson and James Walbourne seem to want to shoot it out. Cancel the Sun is the title of the latest release from Thompson, daughter of Richard and Linda, and husband Walbourne, lead guitarist for the Pretenders. We're featuring the opening track, a harsh goodbye song that describes a failing relationship as "just another ride that I've been on / one that didn't last too long."

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Enjoy your holiday weekend! (We are!)

We wish all our listeners in Canada and the USA a great Labour Day/Labor Day weekend!

We're in holiday-weekend mode ourselves. So our next batch of New Music Picks will debut next Saturday, Sept. 7. And the next episodes of our Sunday specialty shows, The Birch Street Bistro and The Detour, will stream on Sept. 8.

Meanwhile, our regular Marvelous Mix of Music keeps streaming 24/7 - and makes a great soundtrack for whatever you're doing, whether on holiday or at work!

Use the listening links on this page, or find our free, noncommercial stream on TuneIn, SimpleRadio and many other internet-radio apps. ("Alexa, play Birch Street Radio on TuneIn!")

And find past episodes of The Bistro and The Detour at

Saturday, August 24, 2019

New releases by Wilderado, Field Mouse, Fastball, The Head and the Heart - and introducing Eilís

Just before our music-picking ears went on vacation, they chose these five tracks to add to our New Music Bin. The next batch of new tunes will be introduced Sept 7.

Wilderado: "Surefire"
This Americana quartet was based in Latigo Canyon, Calif., until a 2018 wildfire destroyed their home base there. They moved back to their original home town of Tulsa, Okla., while spending much of their time touring. According to Consequence of Sound: "In the wake of that loss and change of scene, a poem by Tabitha King called 'A Gradual Canticle for Augustine' struck frontman-songwriter Max Rainer. It reminded him that only by taking one day at a time can you truly appreciate where you’re going." That's the inspiration for "Surefire."

Field Mouse: "Heart of Gold"
"A lot has happened in the three years since our last record came out," writes Rachel Browne, this Brooklyn band's singer-songwriter. That last record, Episodic, was released in 2016, just before the U.S. presidential election. The new album, Meaning, is "more or less about the end of the world and all of the ways that it seems to be happening, but also about making peace with former selves and growing as a person despite the feeling of global entropy."

The Head and the Heart: "See You Through My Eyes"
A decade out from its origins in Seattle, this band has gone through changes in personnel and musical direction. The result is a fresh sound on their latest album. WFUV music critic Darren DeVivo writes that after struggle and rebirth, "it's no surprise that much of Living Mirage is introspective. But the arrangements are also richer and more pop-savvy than anything the band has done in the past. ... the sound of a band juggling tradition with fresh techniques and finding an exciting angle."

Fastball: "The Help Machine"
It's been more than two decades since this band from Austin broke through with the 1998 platinum LP All The Pain Money Can Buy, but Fastball seems to have found new energy. “In the past, we’d make a record and then everybody would go their separate ways for awhile,” says Miles Zuniga. "But now, we're feeling so excited about the music that it’s ‘How soon can we make another record?’" So, following up 2017's Step Into The Light, Zuniga and longtime bandmates Tony Scalzo and Joey Shuffield are about to release their seventh album, The Help Machine. We're picking up the title track.

Eilís: "Breathe"
We have featured a number of artists from the prolific music scene in Northern Ireland, and the latest to come to our attention is this young singer-songwriter from County Derry. She's been playing at festivals and winning songwriting awards in her home area and has just released her first single, "Breathe." To our ears, this piano ballad and Eilís' dramatic vocal blends well with the likes of Sara Bareilles and Adele. We featured the track recently on The Birch Street Bistro, and now we're adding it to the New Music bin.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Robbie Robertson channels John Lennon - plus The Magpie Salute, Madison Cunningham, Shovels & Rope, Lizzie No

Mixing new music and classics is what we're all about, so when classic-rock artists release new music, we always want to check it out. Robbie Robertson is preparing to release his first studio album in seven years, Sinematic, and we have the first single, "Let Love Reign." The former The Band member says it's inspired by a former Beatle: "Some people think John Lennon’s dream about love and togetherness went up in flames. I think that’s wrong. It’s everlasting." Musically, he notes that the song's groove and guitar riff hearken back to Dale Hawkins' "Susie Q."

Here are this week's other picks for the New Music Bin:
The Magpie Salute: "In Here"
A just-released single from a soon-to-be-released EP of tracks from a pretty-soon-to-be-released album, High Water II (got that?) ... from the project started a few years ago by Rich Robinson and former Black Crowes bandmates Marc Ford and Sven Pipien. To be honest, the band's first release, 2017's The Magpie Salute, recorded live before a small studio audience, remains our favorite. But this is a solid piece of mid-tempo, guitar-based rock, fleshed out nicely with keyboard and horns and John Hogg's powerful, bluesy vocals.

Madison Cunningham: "Pin It Down"
This Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter makes her Birch Street Radio debut with this sinuous song from her just-released album, "Who Are You Now." The chorus speaks of deja vu, but in the sense of repeating past mistakes. Atwood Magazine aptly describes Cunningham’s style as "somewhere between Joni Mitchell and Margaret Glaspy, bearing both a sweetness and flippancy in her airy voice."

Shovels & Rope: "I'm Comin' Out"
The fourth album by the married duo of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, By Blood, came out several months ago, but this single just landed in our inbox and we promptly moved it to the New Music bin. The couple tells Consequence of Sound that the inspiration was their second pregnancy: "We were... imagining what it is like to be born, naked and vulnerable. ...We pictured the infant working up the courage to emerge." The lyric could easily apply to other forms of coming out. "We often dedicate this song, in honor of their journey, to our LGBTQ friends, fans and family, but this song is about finding your inner magic and motivation - wherever that leads."

Lizzie No: "Channels" 
We've been playing the early singles from Vanity, this New York singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist's latest album. Now that the full collection has been released, you'll be hearing more. The LP is full of strong tracks, featuring a wide range of musical styles. They're tied together by No's smartly observant and very personal lyrics, matched by her voice, which projects both vulnerability and clear-eyed determination. This track closes the album with an upbeat country-rock-band sound.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Now in our New Music bin: Haim, The Get Ahead, SOAK, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Pete Yorn

The sister trio Haim brings a jazzy feel and a cool saxophone to its new single, "Summer Girl." Danielle Haim says she wrote the lyrics to express her support for her partner when he was diagnosed with cancer ("He's in the clear now"). She then worked with Rostam Batmanglij, formerly of Vampire Weekend, to expand on what began as a "garage band demo ...with just a bass line, drums, some gibberish and a doot doot doot little melody." They ended up with a sound that reminded them of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" - and gave him a co-writing credit. (The doot-doots also remind us of Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner.") Batmanglij wrote the sax part, played by Henry Solomon. The result: a shiny summer pop song on the surface, with surprising depth beneath.

By way of Nashville public radio station WMOT we came upon Portland, Ore.-based The Get Ahead. This five-piece band (including two married couples) draws on eclectic influences to create what it calls "Americana soul." Roots-music site No Depression says The Get Ahead "blurs the lines between folk, old-time, gospel, old-school R&B, and soul." We're all about eclectic blends, and we're glad to catch up with "Deepest Light," the title track from the band's recent LP.

From Derry in Northern Ireland comes indie-folk singer-songwriter Bridie Monds-Watson, who performs and records as SOAK. At just 22, she released her second album, Grim Town, this year. It's sort of a concept album, describing a town that represents "a dystopia that I’ve created in my brain," Monds-Watson says. We're picking up the single, "Knock Me Off My Feet," which has an upbeat, far-from-grim sound. The artist describes it as "a love letter to the lawlessness and freedoms of small-town culture, as well as its more claustrophobic, cut-you-down-to-size qualities."

As British indie-rockers Catfish and the Bottlemen prepare to launch a U.S. tour, another track from their recent album The Balance has found its way into our New Music bin. Called "2All," it's described by frontman Van McCann as a song about lies, loyalty and love.

New Jersey's Pete Yorn is back with a new album, Caretakers, that brings together Yorn's guitar-based music and the gauzy production of Day Wave's Jackson Phillips. AllMusic says the album at times "feels like a throwback to an early '90s unspoiled by grunge ... a time suspended between the underground and the mainstream." We're picking up on "Calm Down," which evokes revisiting a home town and bittersweet memories: "All the tears I cried / all the times we tried / but I wouldn't change a thing."

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Latest from New Pornographers, Bryan Hansen, Sleater-Kinney, Robert Randolph, Jason Spooner

The New Pornographers are back with a single ahead of a just-announced eighth album, to be released this fall. Band founder A.C. Newman produced the LP, titled In The Morse Code of Brake Lights, and says it's not a theme album but happens to contain a lot of car-related songs. The single, however, uses a different metaphor to describe the vertigo of new love: "Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile." Stereogum says it exemplifies the band's "articulate candy-coated power-pop" with "a subtly infectious groove and hooks to spare."

The New Jersey-based Bryan Hansen Band creates its own unique style, mixing funk, rock, soul and R&B. Drummer Cwan Merritt provides the groove, bassist Will Blakey brings the funk and Hansen is the soulful singer and songwriter. From their upcoming album Gas Money we're featuring "Smiling Dashboard Jesus," a song with the laid-back vibe of a summer barbecue - as demonstrated in the song's music video.

Speaking of videos, the lyric video for Sleater-Kinney's "Hurry On Home" is quite amusing. The song is from The Center Won't Hold, the band's ninth album, and apparently its last with drummer Janet Weiss, who announced her departure this summer, unhappy with the band's latest direction. The groundbreaking punk trio definitely tries out some new sounds on this LP, produced by St. Vincent. The title track is a cacophonous experimental number, while "Hurry" veers toward alt-pop with its synths and its clean production, even as it shakes the walls with what Pitchfork calls "Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker’s gigantic, thick guitar riffs and Janet Weiss’ bull’s-eye drumming."

R&B, Gospel and blues come together in the music of Robert Randolph and the Family Band. And the connection between religious and musical ecstasy is clearly drawn in “Baptise Me,” a single from the upcoming album Brighter Days. “When you think about Stax music and a lot of music from the 70s, especially like the Staples Singers, it was inspirational and you danced you had a good time,” says Randolph. “That’s what we really wanted to hone in on here: let’s sound good and have a natural good time that will bring listeners along ... All of these songs kind of harken back to how we started, to being known as this musical family band that comes from the church and appeals to rock, blues, gospel and soul music audiences."

From its base in Portland, Maine, The Jason Spooner Band has been recording and touring since the early 2000s, and is preparing to roll out its fifth album, Wide Eyed. We're jumping on the first single, "All Things Equal," a rootsy, grooving number with great interplay between guitars and horns.“Our influences are all over the map as individuals… rock, blues, folk, jazz, Americana, R&B, reggae, etcetera,” says Spooner. "I feel like this record allowed us to tap into some of those influences without worrying if it fit our 'official genre.' "

Saturday, July 27, 2019

New sounds from Ennieloud, Shayla McDaniel, Annie Keating, Kaiser Chiefs, Of Monsters & Men

North London's EnnieLoud is described as "A trio of musical innovators from various compass points [who] coalesced and crafted their alt-soul sonics in the hugely diverse neighbourhood of Wood Green, a cultural melting pot if ever there was." The band is fronted by singer-songwriter (and street-dancer) Cassandra, influenced by singers ranging from Aretha Franklin to Erykah Badu. We're happy to introduce our listeners to this emerging band and its new single, an ode to its neighborhood called "In My Room."

We previously featured the single "Tension" from another emerging artist, Tennessee singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Shayla McDaniel. She's just released her latest EP, Both of My Hands, a six-track collection of soulful jazz-pop. We're now featuring the opening track, "Untied," a song of commitment to a lover or friend: "I’d hold you together / When your pieces don’t fit right / When you come untied."

Also just added to our New Music Bin:

Some Brooklyn Americana by Annie Keating, who mixes country, blues and rock influences on her new album, Can't Stand Still. We're featuring the opening track, a fierce declaration of independence called "Beholden."

We hop back to the UK for a taste of Kaiser Chief's new album Duck. It's the seventh from the Leeds-based alt-rock band. Where their last outing, 2017's Stay Together, took an electro-pop direction and 2014's Education, Education, Education and War was decidedly political, this collection sounds, as The NME puts it, "casually confident." Our pick for the New Music Bin is "Wait."
The just-released album by Of Monsters and Men, Fever Dream, expands their sound beyond its folk roots. We previously featured the guitar-driven "Alligator" and now we're picking up "Wild Roses," which builds from quiet tension to rocking release. “The song shows an introverted side to the album and is influenced by a bit of dance music and Joseph Campbell’s The Power Of Myth and what it is like to lean into your sadness,’” co-vocalist Nanna Hilmarsdóttir said in a statement.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Our latest picks: Wilco, Lizzie No, Dhani Harrison, In The Valley Below and JoJo Worthington

Wilco waltzes into our New Music bin this week with "Love Is Everywhere (Beware)," the lead single from the band's 11th album, Ode to Joy, due in October. It's a song of hope with an undercurrent of worry, insisting that love exists in a time of increasing social tension. The band says the album's theme is "the act of finding joy in a dark political climate."

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Lizzie No adds a rock-band backing to her latest piece of observation and introspection, "Born and Bred." Starting with an image of confusing signage on a New Jersey highway, the song "is also about how none of the big milestones in this life come with an easy-to-read sign letting you know what to do," says No. Her new album, Vanity, comes out in a couple of weeks.

A highway also figures into "Motorways (Erase It)," a new song from Dhani Harrison. “I’ve spent a lot of time stuck in traffic on the M4 motorway going into London recently, it always makes me think of the Banksy [graffiti] that used to say ‘it’s not a race.’" This song, too, speaks of trying to figure out life: "All those dreams they take from you when you're young / In all those dreams you can feel yourself waking up ... The motorways are never gonna take you to where you want." The track is Harrison's first release since his 2017 LP In///Parallel.

Los Angeles electro-pop duo In The Valley Below recently released its second album, Pink Chateau, which includes the previously released title track and other recent singles along with new songs. We're now featuring "Blue Sky Drugs." The title seems to be a metaphor for illusions or deceptions in a relationship gone sour: "All this big love / Was just fairy dust / Now I'm running out / Of all your blue sky drugs."

JoJo Worthington blends strains of folk, electronic pop and experimental music on her new album, TCYK (The Company You Keep). We've played a couple of tracks on our Sunday show The Bistro, and now we're featuring "Stabilize" in our New Music bin. The Ontario artist describes it as "a song that asks for community and support in order to help those around us who are affected by mental illness. ... It also pleads for mutual support among the sexes, to come together and 'stabilize' the world around us."

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Just added: Jackson Browne/Leslie Mendelson, City & Colour, Dizzy, Thom Artway, Cold War Kids

Jackson Browne teams up with New York singer-songwriter Leslie Mendelson on "Human Touch." The beautiful duet was recorded for the closing credits of a documentary, "5B," about San Francisco hospital workers coping with the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Billboard has a good article explaining how Browne, Mendelson and her regular collaborator, Steve McEwan, worked together on the song. Browne told the magazine he hopes to write more with Mendelson and McEwan in the future.

City and Colour is prepping an album for release this fall and recently released a single called "Strangers." Frontman Dallas Green says the song "is about how you will never truly know another human being. ... You'll never really understand what it's like to be inside someone else's brain or heart. So, we need to appreciate the differences. If we do, maybe we can live better with one another." Green expands C&C's sound on this track, with "fuzzy, reverberating electric guitars and weighty percussion" that "fit a more stadium-rock-ready mold," as Paste Magazine puts it.

Green's Ontario neighbors Dizzy have just released an EP, Heavy/Twist, consisting of two new songs and some alternate mixes. It's a follow-up to last year's debut LP, Baby Teeth. Our pick for the New Music bin is "Twist." Lead vocalist Katie Munshaw says the track "marks the first time we’ve had the confidence to fully self-produce our music. We decided to give the song more of an analog sound than Baby Teeth by including live drums and piano." The lyric, she says, is "about the hold someone can have over you even after they’ve left your life."

We jump to Europe - specifically, the Czech Republic - to bring you a new single from singer-songwriter Thom Artway. "Chasing the Wires" is a duet with Czech singer Lenny. It's from Artway's new album, All I Know, the follow-up to a 2016 debut LP that won awards in his home country. The lyric tells of a couple wanting, but struggling, to connect: "We share the same desire / but feel so far apart."

California's Cold War Kids bring a blue-eyed-funk sound to "Complainer," a new single ahead of a forthcoming album called New Age Norms. It's a critique of someone who's all talk and little action. "You got big plans but you never take a chance," Nathan Willett sings, and later: "You say you want to change this world / Well, do you really believe in magic? / But you can only change yourself / Don't sit around and complain about it."

Saturday, July 6, 2019

New tunes from Jacobs Run, Tyler Boone, Low Life Lolas, Lenny Bull and *repeat repeat

This week in our New Music bin: repeat appearances by four bands, and the first by a band with a name that repeats. (Our notes are brief this time because we're kinda in vacation mode.)

We were introduced to Melbourne trio Jacobs Run about two years ago, but it's been a while since we've had a new track to add. Now comes the single "Superman," a solid alt-rock song on the familiar theme of an "ordinary man" striving to be super for the one he loves.

Charlston-via-Nashville singer-songwriter-guitarist Tyler Boone has been in our big mix for a few years, and we've noted the wide variety of styles - rock, blues, country-tinged ballads - in his repertoire. On "Jealousy," from his latest EP, his subdued, reverb'ed vocal contrasts with angry-sounding guitar and drums.

Toronto indie band Low Life Lolas made their debut on our playlist a couple of months ago with "Darling I Won't Ask." Now we're featuring another track from their debut EP, Wolves, called "Under My Skin."

We're also pulling out another cut from Sharp Teeth, the solo debut of Toronto-based Lenny Bull. She and her band continue to remind us of early Pretenders on "Turn Me On."

And it's back to Nashville for *repeat repeat and "Hi, I'm Waiting." This bouncy, summery tune is from the third album, Glazed, by the project of husband and wife Jared Corder (vocals, guitar) and Kristyn Corder (keyboards, vocals). AllMusic describes their sound as "surfy garage pop ... equal parts ebullience and grit."