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Saturday, March 28, 2020

Wide-ranging new sounds: Major Lazer feat. Marcus Mumford, plus The Airborne Toxic Event, Sarah Jarosz, R.O. Shapiro, Waxahatchee

Major Lazer: Lay Your Head On Me (feat. Marcus Mumford)

At the same time that people worldwide are being forced to stay apart because of a pandemic, people worldwide are also able to connect through modern technology.

One result: musical collaborations that cross boundaries of nations and genres - such as this improbable combination of American dance trio Major Lazer (Diplo, Walshy Fire, Ape Drums) and English folk-pop bandleader Marcus Mumford, with a songwriting assist by Danish pop star M0.

Described by Billboard as a "tropical-folk lullaby," it's a well-timed song of hope and reassurance: "This too shall pass / It won't always be the same," Mumford soothes. "It's okay it's alright / Someday we will be fine."

The Airborne Toxic Event: Come On Out

The California band formed by author/musician Mikel Jollett is preparing to release Hollywood Park, it's first LP in five years - and a companion to Jollett's book of the same name.

The book is "a memoir of a tumultuous life," beginning in a commune that morphed into an infamous and violent cult, the Church of Synanon. Jollett, his mother and brother eventually fled the cult, but he describes a childhood of poverty and trauma and how he found his way out.

This first single from the album recounts an early, fraught attempt to escape into the world on his own: "I’ll run away, run away / This is my town, this is my night / Heading off to the city tonight." Atwood Magazine calls it "a song as vulnerable and affecting as [the band's] very first releases eleven years ago."

Sarah Jarosz: Johnny

After winning a Grammy along with Sara Watkins and Aoife O’Donovan in the trio I’m With Her, Jarosz will release her fifth solo studio album, World On The Ground, in June. She describes the LP as an exploration of “the tension and inertia of small-town living, the push/pull between the desire for escape and the ease of staying put.” That's encapsulated in this first single, in which the title character has traveled the world (in the military, perhaps?) but now finds himself back home - and restless. He's sitting on his back porch pondering, "How could a boy from a little bay town / Grow up to be a man, fly the whole world round / And end back up on the same damn ground he started?"

R.O. Shapiro: St. Joan

Photo by Shelby Bohannon
A native of the East End of New York's Long Island, Raph Odell Shapiro calls himself "a lifelong performer with Shakespeare and rhythm tap dancing in his past and Americana music in his present." He lived for years in Austin, where he was a member of indie-folk trio Odell Fox, and recently relocated to Southern California. Like many musicians unable to tour in this time of pandemic, he has lately been streaming and posting videos from the home he shares with violinist/vocalist Lauren Tronick. This new single was produced at Austin's King Electric Recording and features soaring background vocals by Tronick, harmonizing with Shapiro's rough-edged voice. It's a song about interpersonal connections through music. (The opening verse about a flight attendant brings to mind Dawes' "From a Window Seat.")

Waxahatchee: Can't Do Much

The critical reaction to the latest release from Katie Crutchfield and her band is remarkable: "A vivid modern classic of folk and Americana" (Pitchfork); "The best album of the year so far" (The Guardian). The Alabama native and long-time member of Philadelphia's music scene, now making her home in Kansas City, shifts from alt-rock to a country/Americana sound on her new album, Saint Cloud. It suits the record's themes of recovering from substance abuse, rediscovering oneself and taking life as it comes. On this track, she sings of feeling uneasy and helpless about being in love - but accepting that it's real: "I love you that much anyhow / Can't do much about it now."

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