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Saturday, March 27, 2021

New from Dumpstaphunk, Soda Blonde, June Star, Pete Yorn, Shayla McDaniel

Dumpstaphunk: United Nations Stomp

Take a fiery Buddy Miles classic from 1973, give it to a hot New Orleans funk jam band led by members of the Neville family, bring in Marcus King and Waddy Wachtel for extra guitar power, and you get a powerful anthem of peace and brotherhood that will raise the roof and shake the floor. The band, formed in the early 2000s by cousins Ivan and Ian Neville, will release it's third album, Where Do We Go From Here, next month. It's billed as Dumstaphunk's "most powerful and politically pointed album." Says Ivan Neville: “We hope people can hear the new songs and are inclined to dance, and inspired to think at the same time.”

Soda Blonde: Small Talk

We've featured this Dublin band a couple of times before, and now as it prepares to release its debut album, Small Talk, we bring you the title track. Lead singer Faye O'Rourke says the LP is a collection of songs "about life in our 20’s. ... Every part of us is in here, both subliminally and literally. Lyrically, this record is like a collection of my flaws and insecurities. They’re lingering awkwardly by the bar at a crowded social gathering, waiting to integrate with the wider world.” Far from the only ones making music on those themes (cf. Middle Kids), they bring a seasoned sound to this self-produced album.

Pete Yorn: Rooftop

Photo by Jim Wright
Marking the 20th anniversary of his debut album, musicforthemorningafter, Yorn is about to release an EP consisting of three live versions of mftma songs -- and this "lost song," an outtake from those 1991 sessions. The New Jersey native was living in Los Angeles and writing music for movies and TV when he recorded the album. "We made it in garages in California, in Van Nuys and Culver City… I just made music that I liked and I knew that there were no guarantees of where it would get me…but twenty years later I am really proud of the impact the record has had and it still carries a deep emotional resonance for me.”.

June Star: How We See It Now

Photo by Shane Gardner
This is the title track from the latest release by Andrew Grimm's roots-rock project. Glide Magazine writes: "Pedal-steel-laden laments sway drunkenly next to folk-rock foot-stompers and [Grimm's] vocal performances ache with the same existential doubt we all feel at the moment." His voice reminds our ear of The Airborne Toxic Event's Mikel Jollett while the lyrics and modern-country arrangement bear similarity to James McMurtry. This song "is a reflection on the inevitable change we agree to when your status shifts from single to in a relationship to it’s complicated,"  says Grimm. "There’s a fine line between compromise and sacrifice.”

Shayla McDaniel: Let Me Breathe (How to Break Our Hearts)

This is the latest in a string of singles this Knoxville, Tenn., singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has released over the past five years. Each is a gem, featuring thoughtful lyrics and McDaniel's warm, expressive voice. This song, she says, "is about figuring out if a relationship is challenging but healthy, or tough and unnecessary." It was composed over a drumbeat laid down by Peter Mansen of Deep Sea Diver.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

New releases from Amy Helm, The Lone Bellow, Said the Whale, Mansionair, Stevie Redstone

Amy Helm: Breathing

This single is the first taste from What the Flood Leaves Behind, due in June. The album was recorded at Levon Helm Studios, the Woodstock, N.Y., venue built by Amy Helm's late father. “Going back to the place where I learned so much about how to express music, how to hold myself in music, how to listen to music -- it was humbling in a funny way," Helm says. "I could see clearly where I came from and where I am now in my life." Producer Josh Kaufman, whose credits include Taylor Swift’s folklore, says he wanted Helm "to feel like she had that freedom to be herself on the recordings and she just filled up the whole room." Those of us who have seen her perform live know well that her voice can fill any room. Collaborators on the record include Phil Cook (keys, harmonica), Michael Libramento (bass, organ, percussion), Tony Mason (drums), Daniel Littleton (guitar), Stuart Bogie (saxophone), Jordan McLean (trumpet), Helm’s son Lee Collins (congas) and Kaufman (piano, guitar and mandolin).

The Lone Bellow: Dried Up River 

"What if life is all about / Giving back the love we found?" (The Beatles would respond that of course it is, in The End.) Just over a year after the release of the Nashville-based trio's fourth album, Half Moon Light, the Bellow is back with this single, bringing its signature roots-meets-arena sound to a song about focusing on the important things in life. “I want to be grateful for the food on my table / Instead of eating each other alive.” Band member Brian Elmquist says that lyric is "a line that I’ve come back to countless times over the past year. There’s so much that I worry about that doesn’t matter, and I want to put more effort into the things that do."

Said the Whale: Honey Lungs

Finding meaning, love, happiness in today's weird world is a common theme in lyrics these days. This Vancouver band's new single opens with the line, "I don't believe in a god of hate," speaks of "leaning into love" and builds to the proclamation: "You can find the joy in every agonizing moment of existence on this planet." Singer-songwriters Tyler Bancroft and Ben Worcester, keyboardist Jaycelyn Brown and bassist Lincoln Hotchen have spent their lockdown days working on new material and promise more releases throughout the year.
In preparation for its upcoming second album, the Sydney, Australia-based band headed down the coast for a songwriting retreat. Lead singer Jack Froggatt says this first single "began as a concept about a character completely delusional with their desire for more. We started playing around in new time signatures trying to figure out where it fit best, eventually landing on 5/4 which has this feeling of never really resolving and always feeling tense." With its theme of desperate consumerism, the lyric reminds us of Arcade Fire's Everything Now.

Stevie Redstone: Now

This single's entry into our New Music bin is a case of a song getting a second life. It's a track from the Los Angeles singer-songwriter-pianist's debut LP, Shot in the Dark, which he self-released in 2019. A new publicity push sent it our way, and we're including it under our "it's still new if it's new to us" rule. Redstone rocks out on this number, joined by guitars, drums, horns and backing vocalists. A line in the song says "the sound keeps drowning out," and that's pretty much what the arrangement does to his piano.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

New sounds from Veronica Lewis, Crown Lands, Middle Kids, Wild Tibetan Monks, Lake Street Dive

Veronica Lewis: You Ain't Unlucky

Somehow at age 17, this New Hampshire native sounds like she came up in New Orleans or maybe Chicago in the 1950s. The Boston Music Awards' Blues Artist of the Year 2020, she recently released her debut album, with six original songs and two covers. On this title track, her honky-tonk piano and crystal-clear voice are accented by saxophonist Don Davis. "One of the lyrics in the song says ‘Some people think it’s bad every cherry has a pit, but honey, inside every pit is a whole ‘nother tree,’" Lewis said in an interview with Americana Highways. "This is definitely an overarching theme of the song which is, in life something may seem bad, or like an obstacle in your way, but if you look at it from a different point of view, you can at least try to find something to appreciate and be grateful for."

Crown Lands: Right Way Back

After releasing their blues-rock-oriented debut album, this duo from Oshawa, Ontario, began reworking a prog-style song they'd written previously. They demoed "Context: Fearless Pt. 1" with the help of former Rush producer Terry Brown. Then they traveled to Nashville to work with former Rush producer Nick Raskulinecz. See a pattern here? Drummer-vocalist Cody Bowles and guitarist Kevin Comeau acknowledge Rush as their prime inspiration. Raskulinecz pulled out drums that Neal Peart had used on the 2007 Snakes & Arrows album for the session. Along with the nearly-eight-minute "Context...," they created our featured track as a tribute to Peart.

Wild Tibetan Monks: Lying Next To You

This trio from Dublin moved to Western Australia for a couple of years of touring and developing their music, then returned to Ireland as the pandemic took hold. Last fall we featured their single "Cartoons," recorded in Perth; this single is their first release since their return. They describe it as a "nostalgic indie-rock song [with] semi-sweet vocals and a spacey instrumental arrangement. ... The song is about not just physically lying next to someone, but lying in not telling them the truth.”

Middle Kids: Stacking Chairs

Just ahead of the release of their second album, Today We're the Greatest, this Sydney-based band has spun out a fourth single - a chiming love song that reflects on singer-songwriter Hannah Joy’s marriage with bandmate Tim Fitz. Joy's lyrics are typically self-critical - "I'm wrapped up in all these weird theories / Running in circles, chased by bees" - but there is real tenderness and appreciation here. "When the wheels come off, I'll be your spare / When the party's over, I'll be stacking the chairs / When the world turns on you, I will be there."

Lake Street Dive: Hush Money

This is perhaps the most-rollicking track on the band's new album, Obviously. It mocks crooked politicians from the cynical point of view of someone looking to make a buck off scandal. "I got a whistle, and I think I'll blow it / And now you want me to be quiet, you won't get it for free / 
So let me get some of that hush money."

Saturday, March 6, 2021

New from Kings of Leon, Teenage Fanclub, Kiwi Jr., Joanna Connor + introducing Crimson Peak

Kings of Leon: Stormy Weather

On their eighth album, the Followill brothers and cousin embrace "the mature, laid-back versions of themselves," as NME puts it. "There are meditations on growing older and statements on climate change, interspersed with love letters to quiet, domestic romance." But there are also "plenty of high-energy bursts of light you can already see bringing a crowd to life." We previously featured the lead single, "The Bandit," and our pick this week is another of the more arena-friendly rockers, with a prominent, funky bass line.

Teenage Fanclub: I'm More Inclined

The deceptively named veteran indie rockers are preparing to release their 10th album (or 11th or 12th, depending on who's counting), Endless Arcade. AllMusic calls them "an eternally underrated Scottish indie band with wonderful melodies and Byrds-influenced harmonies." The press release says of the album: "Melodies are equal parts heartwarming and heart-aching; guitars chime and distort; keyboard lines mesh and spiral; harmony-coated choruses burst out like sun on a stormy day." Our featured track certainly has that warm-and-sunny, California-70s sound.

Kiwi Jr.: Cooler Returns

Photo by Padrian McLeod
Does the press release for these Toronto indie-rockers' second album really mean to call it their "sophomoric" release? Whether a typo or a joke, it hints at the collegiate-level ironic humor that the band brings to its takes on life in the unsettled times. The Revue writes that this title track "is situated in the dumpster fire that was 2020. A massively upbeat sonic experiment of hip-shaking, head-spinning, neck-jerking, quirky guitar pop-rock [wherein] the gents discuss how the past year truly screwed up people’s equilibrium and sense of self."

Joanna Connor: Destination

We bring a strong dose of Chicago-style blues rock to our playlist with this track from the new album 4801 South Indiana Avenue. The title refers to the former location of a renowned South Side blues club. "For a studio album this technically stellar and concisely written, it is soaked in a rawness and energy that exceeds many live performances," writes Blues Rock Review. Guitarist-singer-songwriter Connor "wastes no time opening 'Destination' with fiery-rapid fire slide-licks that display an impressive combination of speed and precision. Reese Wynans provides a full-bodied piano underpinning that allows the vocal call-and-response duo of Connor and Jimmy Hall to flex their singing muscles."

Crimson Peak: Lies

Photo by Frida Lönnroos
Our friends at Saint in the City Records introduced us to this pop-rock band from Helsinki, Finland. The group has put out several singles since 2018 and is preparing to release its debut EP. As the indie label describes it: "Big pop choruses nestle amongst driving rock guitars and widescreen, atmospheric indie-folk soundscapes, all driven by alternating vocals from Lina Sandvik and Elias Losinskij-Kovanko." This latest single "is a song about letting a fake person know that you can see through them,” says one of the band's two lead vocalists, Lina Sandvik. “The truth will always eventually come out.”