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Saturday, April 27, 2019

New releases from Bruce Springsteen, Josh Ritter, Andrea Nardello, Collective Soul and 311

The new single from Bruce Springsteen is in our New Music bin this week, because of course it is. Mixing new music and classics is what we do, and when one of the top artists of classic rock brings out solid new material, it fits right into our big playlist. Springsteen describes his forthcoming album, Western Stars, as a set of "solo recordings featuring character-driven songs and sweeping, cinematic orchestral arrangements." The lead character in the first single, "Hello Sunshine," is trying to shake off his gloom: "You can get a little too fond of the blues." NPR describes it as occupying "the same melancholy space" as some of the songs of Jimmy Webb, John Hartford, Kris Kristofferson and the like.

In a somewhat similar vein of American folk-rock comes the new collection from Josh Ritter, Fever Breaks. On his 10th album, Ritter teams with Jason Isbell as producer and Isbell's The 400 Unit as backing band. We previously featured the rollicking "Old Black Magic," and now we're picking up the wistful "I Still Love You (Now and Then)." It joins a large catalog of songs about old flames that still smolder - an ever-growing playlist that includes Ritter's own "A Certain Light."

We recently had the chance to catch a live show by Andrea Nardello, whose singing, songwriting and energy put us in mind of Shawn Colvin and Melissa Etheridge. (We later learned that others have made those same comparisons.) From her latest EP, Human, we're featuring the title track - a song about reaching out for the help that everyone needs at times: "Hold me now / I'm human, I'm broken / Come now / Be my warrior." Starting with a simple guitar accompaniment, the track gradually adds cello, violin, piano accents and layered vocals, creating a sound that NPR has called "both intimate and expansive."

Along with those three songs on the mellow side, we're adding a couple of upbeat tracks from veteran bands:

Collective Soul is marking its 25th anniversary as a band with a new album due in June. The title, Blood, is a reference to family ties. Singer-guitarist E Roland says the LP "is an accumulation of all the different styles we’ve used over the years." The lead single is "Right as Rain" - a phrase Roland remembers his grandmother using and that the song uses to express hope for better days ahead.

Also coming in June is Voyager, the 13th album in the nearly three-decade career of 311. Vocalist-guitarist Nick Hexum says the lead single, "Good Feeling," is influenced by the pounding rhythms of Jamaican dancehalls along with Paul Simon's world-beat records. He calls the song "a three-minute party jam meant to feel like a vacation."

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Our latest picks: Scott Krokoff, Melissa Etheridge, Jenn Grant, Secret Treehouse, The Strumbellas

New York indie singer-songwriter Scott Krokoff has been a fixture in our mix since his second album came out a few years back. Krokoff is a practicing attorney who, as his bio says, "is adamant that one should never put a shelf life on his or her dreams." His new single, "Cubicle," carries a similar message: Don't become so locked-in to your work that you can't break out and follow your passion. We're glad to hear Krokoff is continuing to follow his.

Although her biggest hits came early in her now-three-decades-plus career, Melissa Etheridge keeps on making powerful, guitar-driven rock. She continues to follow her passion on her new release, The Medicine Show. On several tracks, Etheridge confronts current topics including the political climate, the opioid crisis and gun violence. For repeated listening in our New Music bin, however, we're featuring the simpler looking-to-cut-loose rocker, "Wild And Lonely."

Jenn Grant will release Love, Inevitable in about a month, and we're picking right up on the first single, "Raven." The Halifax singer-songwriter has a voice that's gentle on the surface but infused with forceful energy. Grant has said the song "came from a place of trying to find my own power when I was crowded with self-doubt. For me, it’s about taking a step into the unknown and learning to trust yourself."

We're returning to The Big Rewind, the recent debut album by Norway's Secret Treehouse, to add the title track to our New Music bin. The band says this alt-rock-pop anthem is "about looking (rewinding) back, telling a person (and others) that didn't believe in you that they were wrong and that things has been rough but worked out in the end."
And speaking of anthemic alt-rock-pop, we round out this week's New Music picks with "I'll Wait," the lead single from The Strumbella's newly released fourth album, Rattlesnake. For this album, Simon Ward and the crew teamed up with producer Tim Pagnotta, whose credits include Walk the Moon, Neon Trees and Elle King, while staying close to home by recording it in Toronto and Kingston, Ontario.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

New in our mix: Silversun Pickups, Hailey Knox, Justin Townes Earle, Stunflower, Day & Dream

Photo: Claire Vogel
Silversun Pickups are back, preparing to release their first album since 2015. The band worked with producer Butch Vig on Widow's Weeds, due in June. Bassist Nikki Monninger says working with Vig was "very collaborative," drawing out what each band member could add the the music. The lead single, "It Doesn't Matter Why," has an urgent, relentless pace reminiscent of "Panic Switch," but here the Pickups have a fuller, multi-layered sound. Brian Aubert's singing is sharp with a cynical edge as the lyric seems to mock the cult of celebrity: "You think about us all the time / Don't / Because it doesn't matter why we're known / We're just known."

One young singer-songwriter who's quickly becoming "known" is Hailey Knox. The 20-year-old has graduated in the past few years from posting solo videos on YouTube to signing with a label, putting out an EP and now an 11-song collection, Hardwired Mixtape. It's called a mixtape, Knox says, “because it’s slightly all over the place.” Indeed, she tries on various styles ranging from highly produced pop songs to the quiet, introspective title track, "Hardwired," now in our New Music bin.

The refrain of Justin Townes Earle's "Frightened By The Sound" is "don't be frightened by the sound," but the lyric suggests there's good reason to fear. Over acoustic guitar and pedal steel, Earle sings of a building thunderstorm and, while urging calm, doesn't downplay the danger: "Last time rain / Come down like this / So much was lost / We'll never know the true cost." If the storm is a metaphor for these troubled times, the message seems to be not to cower and hide but to help one another through it: "There's no way of knowing / What the damage will be / We can't just live on hope / We'll never get out alone."

Also joining our big mix this week are a couple of songs by indie artists that we debuted recently on The Detour, our Sunday free-form show (check out past episodes on our Mixcloud page).

London-based Stunflower is a new project by veteran musicians Thomas Thomas (guitars, vocals, loops) and Devaki Thomas (vocals, drums, percussion). They formed the "psychedelic rock, funk and reggae band" with bassist Alex Barrett and recently released an album called Turnaround. We're featuring "A Million Years," a song Thomas wrote years ago for Devaki and which they say the have "long wanted to perform as a tribute to all the women in their lives, and others who have not walked an easy path."

Day & Dream is a self-described "indie rock/shoegaze/dream pop band" based in Asheville, North Carolina. They combine dreamy, breathy vocals with solid rock backing on "Night Light," from their debut LP with the cheery title With Every Breath You Die. As they tell it, longtime musicians Abby Amaya and Peter Frizzante met in New York, fell in love and began their collaboration, drawing on "admiration for Britpop, 90s grunge, fuzzy guitars and melodic pop structures." They're joined by drummer Mike Fasano and bassist Lowell Hobbs.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

New music by Wyland, Only Yours, The Lumineers, Son Volt and introducing Ace of Wands

Photo: Kelsey Ayres
The next album from New Jersey indie band Wyland is still several months away, but a second single just emerged. "Dark Days" applies the band's driving alt-rock sound to a lyric that suggests a struggle between hope and despair: "What if there's still time to get it right," Ryan Sloan sings hopefully, but then: "What if the stars hold no answers, only light for lost souls of the night?" The band, with Pat Viso on guitar, Zach Calidonna on bass, Ariella Mastroianni on keyboard and backing vocals and Chris Luna providing the powerful drumming, builds to cathartic swells on the choruses.

Photo: Andrew Wyatt
Somewhat similar strains of anxiety are heard in "Overrun," the title track from the new album by Toronto's Only Yours. "I try, try to keep my fear inside / I can get by," Lowell Sostomi sings in a voice that sounds like a livelier version of The National's Matt Berninger. Overrun is an impressive debut for the Toronto-based quartet led by Sostomi, the singer-songwriter formerly of The Great Bloomers.

The latest release from The Lumineers continues its run of women's names as song titles (Cleopatra, Ophelia, Angela). The upbeat, almost rollicking sound of "Gloria" belies its subject: singer Wesley Schultz says it's “about love between an addict and her family.” It's the first single ahead of the band's third album, III, expected in September. (The track list also includes a song named Donna.)

Son Volt's "Devil May Care" joins the catalog of songs by musicians about being musicians. The lyric strings together phrases about the experience of setting up and playing shows: "Hit the high hat like a low hat / Open up a wall of sound." It's the breeziest track on Son Volt's latest album, Union, which also includes several explicitly political songs in which Jay Farrar takes on topics such as income inequality, unequal justice and mistreatment of immigrants.

As usual, we include a wide range of styles in our New Music bin and throughout our big mix. We turn now to another Toronto band, Ace of Wands, featuring singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Lee Rose along with Anna Mernieks and drummer Jody Brummel. Their style has been called gothic folk-rock, blending soaring vocals, violin, synth-bass and guitar into music the band says is "inspired by the supernatural, elemental forces and physical sensation." From their debut album Lioness, we're picking up the title track, which Rose described in an interview with Music Musings and Such as "probably our loudest and most aggressive song; heavily inspired by Sleater-Kinney - one of my favourite bands of all time."