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Saturday, May 16, 2020

Jason Isbell, Billy Porter, Badly Drawn Boy, Phantom Planet, Waxahatchee in New Music bin

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: What've I Done to Help

The opening track on the new album Reunions is bound to resonate with people trying to find ways to be helpful in a world gone mad. Written, of course, before the pandemic, it nonetheless captures the sense of survivor's guilt: "The world's on fire and we just climb higher / 'til we're no longer bothered by the smoke and sound." AllMusic writes that the album "is steeped in tales of folks whose lives feel unrooted, not knowing just where fate is taking them and wondering which turn they should take." David Crosby chimes in with Isbell and his wife and bandmate Amanda Shires on the choruses.

Billy Porter: For What It's Worth

The song isn't new - it's instantly recognizable from the very first note - but Billy Porter demonstrates that Stephen Stills' lyrics about social unrest are just as relevant now as when the Buffalo Springfield recorded it in 1966. "There was a time where the artists of the day were really responding to what was going on in their world, and I wanted to, as a very engaged political person, speak to what's going on in the world today," Porter told USA Today. At the end of the track, he adds a call for "change." He told Rolling Stone that was improvised: “I knew I wanted to say something and it needed to be positive and hopeful ...Yes, things are happening, but how do you change it for the good?”

Badly Drawn Boy: Is This a Dream

So many songs emerging these days reflect the sense that the world is off kilter. Here's another, from the new album by British singer/songwriter Damon Gough, Banana Skin Shoes, the first Badly Drawn Boy release in seven years. The lyrics are at least as hallucinatory as "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream." Gough calls the track "a sound collage of chaos and confusion to reflect the ridiculous times we live in. A deliberately cartoonesque sonic poke in the eye, to those in whom we place trust, yet instead supply constant barrage of misinformation followed by bad decisions.” Come to think of it, the world seemed quite crazy at the time of Dylan's 1965 song, too. Not sure if that's good (we've been through this before) or bad (we're no better off).

Phantom Planet: Only One

This Los Angeles indie-rock outfit returned from a roughly decade-long hiatus with a single last year, and has now put together its fifth studio album, Devastator, due for release next month. After working on various other projects, the band members "feel like we’re returning home,” says singer and chief songwriter Alex Greenwald. “The boys in Phantom Planet are my brothers, and we figured it was time for a full-fledged family reunion.” This single is a easy-rolling, you're-the-one-for-me song with a summery, tropical lilt.

Waxahatchee: Lilacs

We previously featured "Can't Do Much" in the New Music bin, and we've been spinning this track from Saint Cloud on the Birch Street Bistro. Katie Crutchfield’s lyrics fit the theme of the album - a struggle to set aside self-doubt and worry and find contentment. She describes a day in the life as like a movie she's playing in her head: "I run it like I'm happy, baby / Like I got everything I want."

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