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Saturday, May 2, 2020

Our latest picks: New music by the Rolling Stones, Shawna Caspi, High Grass, Forest Sun, Nada Surf

Rolling Stones: Living in a Ghost Town

Besides making old songs about solitude seem newly relevant, the coronavirus pandemic will inevitably inspire new songs. Surprisingly, one of the first is a solid rocker by this veteran band that hadn't released an original song in eight years. According to Mick Jagger, it was written before the outbreak, with lyrics “about being in a place which was full of life, and then now bereft of life." He updated it a bit, with lines like "life was so beautiful / then we all got locked down." But the song avoids the common mistake of being too tied to the moment. Like, say, Prince's "1999," it will hold up when this, too, has passed. The music, writes The Guardian, "feels appealingly sleazy," and Jagger's voice, "with Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood’s guitars weaving around him – seems immune to the kind of ravages you might expect to have been visited on a 76-year-old singer." The accompanying video is made up of scenes of empty streets in cities around the world, intercut with glimpses of the band in pre-lockdown recording sessions.

Shawna Caspi: One More Chance

Many artists have had recording projects interrupted by the health crisis. Toronto singer-songwriter Shawna Caspi and producer-musician Joel Schwartz had started work on Caspi's next album when the world shut down. "Much like the pantry meals many of us are piecing together with whatever we've got on hand," Caspi says, they cooked up this single, starting with vocal and acoustic-guitar tracks they had already recorded. Schwartz added his own parts and they video-conferenced for the mixing. The result is charming, as Caspi's clear voice and finger-style guitar plus Schwartz's mandolin sharply contrast with sustained notes from his electric guitar.

High Grass: Tonight

Music brings people together - not just audiences, but the musicians themselves, sometimes from far-flung places, as is the case with Kristina and Mariel Miranda. Mariel grew up in Cuba and was making, teaching and producing music when singer Kristina moved there from Russia. They began working together in 2012, forming High Grass as an underground alt-rock band. By 2016, they had moved to their current base in Los Angeles. "We wrote the song 'Tonight' back in Cuba in 2012," Kristina says. "This song is about finding your path and being true to yourself. It was inspired by my decision to move from Moscow to Havana."

Forest Sun: Something You Got

We've played several tracks by this California-based singer-songwriter on The Birch Street Bistro, taken from his most recent album, Brighter Day. In the six months since that release, he's been bringing out a new song each month. While most are originals, this latest is a cover. "So much of the music I love comes from New Orleans," he writes. "This song was originally written and recorded by Chris Kenner in 1961." He's also heard renditions by New Orleans singer Alvin Robinson, Ramsey Lewis, Wilson Pickett and Harry Connick Jr. "I love how a deceptively simple song like this can live on on in new incarnations with a life force of its own." It's brought to life in this laid-back, soulful treatment featuring Alex Budman on saxophones, Rob Hooper on drums and co-producer Gawain Mathews on electric guitar, bass and organ.

Nada Surf: Live Learn & Forget

We dip again into the band's recent LP, Never Not Together, and pull out one if its more philosophical songs. While we are formed by our pasts - "Every age you've ever been / We carry on our backs," Matthew Caws sings - "It's always what you do next / That's where the ship is steered." PopMatters writes that the track "begins with a chiming minor-key guitar riff, which quickly opens up into a driving full band song where the most distinctive part is (Louie) Lino's prominent, simple piano accompaniment on the chorus."

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