The Year That Was – Part 2 of 2

Best new songs of 2021

This is the second installment of my 2-part review of 2021. Here I’m going to focus on songs released over the past 12 months, which I like in particular. The picks are based on my Best of What’s New weekly recurring feature. Part 1, which you can read here, highlighted my six favorite albums that came out over the past year.

Altogether, Best of What’s New featured more than 200 songs that were released in 2021. From there I narrowed things down to 4o tunes, which are included in the playlist at the end of this post. Following I’d like to highlight 10 out of these 40 songs. It wasn’t easy to pick those 10 tunes. In my view, that’s a good sign since it means there were many great choices.

Aaron Frazer/If I Got It (Your Love Brought It)

Kicking things off is If I Got It (Your Love Brought It), a terrific soul tune by Aaron Frazer, a Brooklyn, New York-based singer-songwriter. The song, co-written by Frazer, Dan Auerbach and David Ferguson, is off Frazer’s debut album Introducing…, which appeared on January 8 and was produced by Auerbach. Check out that neat falsetto, which is reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield – so good!

Gretchen Parlato/É Preciso Perdoar

Next, let’s turn to contemporary jazz by California native Gretchen Parlato. É Preciso Perdoar is the beautiful opener of her fifth studio album Flor (Portuguese for flower) that appeared on March 5. The tune is credited to Brazilian composers Alcyvando Luz and Carlos Coqueijo, as well as Parlato – just beautiful and so relaxing!

Dirty Honey/California Dreamin’

Dirty Honey are a great rock band from Los Angeles that was founded in 2017. I love their classic rock sound that has traces of Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and The Black Crowes. California Dreamin’, credited to the entire band, is from Dirty Honey’s eponymous first full-length album released April 23.

Lord Huron/Mine Forever

Indie folk-rock band Lord Huron are one of the most seductive contemporary groups I can think of. Their moody sound of layered voices, jangly guitars and expanded reverb is pretty cool – very cinematic! Frankly, their latest record Long Lost, which came out on May 21, easily could have been in part 1 of this year-in-review feature. Here’s my favorite tune off that record, Mine Forever, penned by guitarist and vocalist Ben Schneider who founded Lord Huron in 2010.

Jane Lee Hooker/Drive

While I’ve started to pay much closer attention to new music, I only follow very few contemporary acts. One is Jane Lee Hooker, formed in 2013 in New York as an all-female blues rock band. Drive is more of a rock ballad with a nice soulful vibe. Released as a single on May 28, the tune will be on the band’s next album Rollin’ that is scheduled for January 2022. Definitely looking forward to that one!

The Wallflowers/Roots and Wings

On July 9, The Wallflowers released Exit Wounds, their first new album in nine years. With its warm melodic roots rock, the record sounds like it could be a follow-on to Bringing Down the Horse from May 1996, the sophomore album by Jacob Dylan’s band that brought them commercial success and two Grammy awards. Here’s one of my favorite tracks off the new album: Roots and Wings.

Son Volt/The Globe

While alternative country and Americana rock band Son Volt have been around since 1994, I had not heard of them until August of this year after the release of their ninth and latest album Electro Melodier on July 30. Check out The Globe written by the band’s founder, singer-songwriter and guitarist Jay Farrar. It’s got a bit of a Springsteen vibe, and there’s also a brief homage to The Who. Check out the Moog line at around 2:15 minutes… Love that tune!

Maggie Rose/What Are We Fighting For

Maggie Rose, born Margaret Rose Durante, is a Nashville-based country and rock singer-songwriter, who released her debut single under her maiden name in 2009, a cover of Kings of Leon’s Use Somebody. In the spring of 2013, when her first full-length album appeared, she already had adopted the Maggie Rose moniker. What Are We Fighting For is the opener of her latest album Have a Seat that came out on August 20. The great soulful tune was written by Rose, together with her longtime collaborators, guitarist Alex Haddad and Larry Florman  (background vocals, percussion).

Joey Landreth/Two Trains

While he shares a famous last name and also is a slide guitarist, Canadian artist Joey Landreth isn’t related to Sonny Landreth. But he sure as heck is talented and has a great sound! Check out Two Trains, the catchy funky closer from his third and most recent album All That You Dream, which appeared on November 26.

Blue Rodeo/When You Were Wild

When You Were Wild is a great tune by Blue Rodeo, a Canadian country rock band founded in 1984 in Toronto. I first came across the group in February of this year. This tune, co-written by founders Jim Cuddy (vocals, guitar) and Greg Keelor (vocals, guitar), is from their 15th studio album Many a Mile released on December 3. I love that beautiful warm sound!

That’s it for the 10 tracks I wanted to call out. There are many more great tunes in the below playlist. Hope you will check them out!

Finally, to those celebrating, I wish you a merry Christmas and please be safe!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

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Masters of the High Register

A selection of great falsetto vocalists

In late December, I did a four-part series on the Bee Gees here (part 1), here (part 2), here (part 3) and here (part 4). One of the group’s distinct features was the frequent use of falsetto singing, starting with their 1975 studio album Main Course. My most recent Best of What’s New installment included Aaron Frazer, a young vocalist from Brooklyn, N.Y., who also happens to be a falsetto singer. In fact, while I’m not a voice expert, I think he’s incredible! These posts triggered the idea to write about music artists I like, who are masters of the falsetto.

Before getting to some great music and singing, I’d like to provide a little bit of background. I’ll keep it light! According to Wikipedia, falsetto “is the vocal register occupying the frequency range just above the modal voice register and overlapping with it by approximately one octave.” Essentially, modal voice generates the richest tone that unlike falsetto isn’t breathy. It’s the most frequently used vocal register in speech and singing in most languages.

I always thought falsetto and head voice are the same – not so! As this post on Ramsey Voice explains, “While falsetto and head voice have been used interchangeably in the past, falsetto is understood to be a breathy version of high notes and head voice produces a richer and more balanced tone on the high pitches in a singer’s voice. Falsetto and head voice are two different modes for singing the same notes in the upper registers of the voice.” Didn’t you always want to know that? 🙂

If you’re curious to learn more about different voice registers and singing modes, the above Ramsey Voice post goes into all the gory details, illustrated with video clips. The only thing I’d like to add is that females have falsetto as well, though I think it’s fair to say this singing mode is primarily associated with male singers, and the examples in this post are all male artists. But as Ramsey Voice notes, “plenty of studies have…shown that everyone’s vocal cords work in basically the same way, and everyone is capable of falsetto singing.” Time for some falsetto action!

Philip Bailey, of Earth, Wind & Fire/September

September, one of my favorite Earth, Wind & Fire songs, initially appeared as a single in November 1978. Co-written by Maurice White, Al McKay and Allee Willis, it became one of the group’s biggest hits. The song was also included on the compilation The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1, which came out a few days after the single. The tune, on which Bailey shared lead vocals with White, is a great example of Bailey’s amazing falsetto.

Smokey Robinson, of The Miracles/OOO Baby Baby

OOO Baby Baby is one of the most beautiful examples of falsetto I can think of. Smokey Robinson’s voice sounds so sweet and gentle that it almost makes me want to cry! Robinson was also a co-writer of the ballad, together with Miracles bass vocalist Pete Moore. OOO Baby Baby became the lead singles of The Miracles’ studio album Going to a Go-Go in March 1965. The album came out in November that year.

Curtis Mayfield/Move On Up

When thinking of great falsetto vocalists, one of the first artists who came to my mind was Curtis Mayfield. While there are other tunes where his falsetto is more dominant, Move On Up is one of my absolute favorites, so I simply couldn’t skip it. Written by Mayfield, the song was first recorded for his debut solo album Curtis from September 1970. It also appeared separately as the record’s second single in June 1971. I just love that tune – the infectious groove, Mayfield’s singing and his effortless switching between modal voice and falsetto – it’s just perfect!

Marvin Gaye/Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)

Marvin Gaye is another exceptional vocalist, no matter what singing mode you’re talking about. On Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler), co-written by Gaye and James Nyx, Jr., the boundaries between Gaye’s head voice and falsetto are so fluid that to me it’s hard to tell, which is which. The tune was first recorded for his 11th studio album What’s Going On, a true gem released in May 1971. In September of the same year, it became the album’s third single.

Prince/Kiss

No post about falsetto vocalists would be complete without Prince. The funky Kiss was one of his biggest hits. Written by Prince, it became the lead single to his eighth studio album Parade, released in February 1986, just ahead of the album that followed in March. Frankly, the tune wasn’t love at first sight for me, but I’ve come to dig it.

The last two tracks shall belong to the artists who inspired the post. Here’s Nights on Broadway, the tune that started the frequent use of falsetto for the Bee Gees.

Co-written by Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb and Maurice Gibb, Nights on Broadway was recorded for the Bee Gees’ 13th studio album Main Course released in June 1975 in the U.S. and the following month in the U.K. The groovy track also became the album’s second single in September of the same year.

Aaron Frazer/Bad News

Bad News is another great tune from Aaron Frazer’s impressive debut album  Introducing…. The song was co-written by Frazer and producer Dan Auerbach. It actually reminds me a bit of Gaye’s Inner City Blues.

Sources: Wikipedia; Ramsey Voice; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

After the unprecedented events we witnessed in this country earlier this week, it feels somewhat surreal to blog about something completely unrelated. At the same time, the fact new music keeps coming out is reassuring to me. In fact, music has always had a degree of healing power during challenging times and provided a welcome distraction. While ignoring reality can be dangerous, I believe occasionally escaping from it is a good thing to clear your mind and gather strength.

I’m very excited about this week’s Best of What’s New installment, which features indie and country singer-songwriters, a young incredibly talented vintage soul vocalist who knocked my socks off and…well, you’ll need to continue reading to find out yourself. All of this great music was just released yesterday (January 8).

Denison Witmer/River of Music

Dension Witmer is a singer-songwriter from Lancaster, Pa. According to his artist profile on Apple Music, Tagged by many music journalists as one of the most likely songwriters to fill the void left by Elliott Smith in the acoustic indie singer/songwriter movement, [he] catalogs the experiences of young adulthood in almost painfully honest detail. With a soft and sensitive voice that perfectly matches his laid-back 1970s California pop production and subtly expressive guitar work, he has gone from writing in his journal to becoming an intimate of like-minded artists like Damien Jurado and Pedro the Lion over the span of a few albums. Growing up in Lancaster, PA, Witmer picked up the guitar at the age of 16 and was soon showing enough promise to draw the interest of the Innocence Mission’s Don Peris. As Peris became Witmer’s musical mentor, he would oversee and play guitar and keyboard on his apprentice’s first recordings, 2000’s River Bends EP and the much-heralded Safe Away. Here’s the great River of Music, a track from Witmer’s new EP American Foursquare (Simplified). It surely feels good listening to his soothing voice and beautiful guitar-playing. And the lyrics about the power of music perfectly illustrate what I wrote in the intro of this post.

Morgan Wallen/Livin’ the Dream

Country music singer-songwriter Morgan Wallen, who hails from the tiny Tennessee town of Sneedville (about 250 miles east of Nashville), first gained some prominence as a contestant on season 6 of The Voice in 2014. While Wallen didn’t make it to the final, his stint eventually led to a deal with Panacea Records and his debut EP Stand Alone from August 2015. Wallen switched to Big Loud Records thereafter and released his first full-length studio album If I Know Me in April 2018. Livin’ the Dream is a track from his sophomore release Dangerous: The Double Album. This double album features a hefty 30 tunes, many prominent country songwriters and a guest appearance by Chris Stapleton. Livin’ the Dream, a tale about life as a “rock star,” was co-written by Wallen, Ben Burgess, Jacob Durrett and Michael Wilson Hardy, aka Hardy.

Barry Gibb/To Love Somebody

Yep, that’s Barry Gibb, formerly of the Bee Gees. I recently covered them in a four-part series here (part 1), here (part 2), here (part 3) and here (part 4). All I’d like to say in this post is if you think the Bee Gees were just a disco band, I’d encourage to take a closer look at their music or read my series. Was it necessary for Gibb, the group’s only surviving member, to come out with Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers’ Songbook, Vol 1., an album of newly recorded versions of mostly famous Bee Gees songs? Probably not – on the other hand, why not! The Bee Gees’ catalog is full with well crafted songs. Co-written by Barry Gibb and Robin Gibb, To Love Somebody is among my favorite early Bee Gees tunes. It initially appeared on Bee Gees’ 1st, the group’s first internationally released full-length studio album that was released in July 1967 in the UK and appeared the following month in the U.S. The newly recorded version features Jay Buchanan, lead vocalist of American rock band Rival Sons. The album also includes many other guests, mostly from country music, a favorite genre of Barry’s, such as Little Big Town, Dolly Parton and Sheryl Crow. Be cynical about it, if you like. I dig and stand behind these songs and the Bee Gees!

Aaron Frazer/ If I Got It (Your Love Brought It)

According to his website, Aaron Frazer is a Brooklyn-based, Baltimore-raised songwriter [who] first came into the international spotlight as multi-instrumentalist and co-lead singer for Durand Jones & The Indications. He penned some of the group’s most notable tracks, including ‘Morning In America,’ and sang lead on ‘Is It Any Wonder?’ – the latter an instant sweet soul classic anchored by Aaron’s falsetto, which caught the ear of producer and Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach…Soft-spoken with the look of a slightly disaffected 1950s matinee idol, Aaron Frazer possesses a unique voice that’s both contemporary and timeless. His higher register conveys a wide emotional palate and a progressive worldview in the tradition of musical masterminds like Curtis Mayfield. While Aaron’s stirring falsetto and thoughtful songwriting have made him established in the world of revival soul music, he refuses to be pigeonholed. That falsetto is in beautiful action on If I Got It (Your Love Brought It), a tune from Aaron’s debut album Introducing…, which was produced by Auerbach. The song was co-written by Frazer, Auerbach and David Ferguson. So good! check it out!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Aaron Frazer website; YouTube