Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to another installment of Best of What’s New, a look at new or recently released music that sufficiently speaks to me to write about it. If you’re a first-time visitor of the blog, I should point out that oftentimes my picks in these posts represent the first exposure to the featured artists. That’s certainly the case this week, which includes different flavors of rock from the U.S. and Australia, as well as beautiful pop-oriented folk from England. Let’s get to it!

Wavves/Hideaway

Wavves is an alternative rock music project started in San Diego, Calif. in 2008 by singer-songwriter Nathan Williams. Apple Music characterizes his music as a blend of distorted no-fi and refined sunshiny melodies. Charmingly messy, most of his lyrics, while difficult to decipher, generally revolve around the subjects of weed, boredom, and the beach — when he isn’t poking jabs at the gloomy subculture of goth rock (a common theme, found in “Goth Girls,” “California Goths,” “Summer Goths,” “Surf Goths,” and “Beach Goths”). Current members of Wavves also include Alex Gates (guitar, backing vocals) and Stephen Pope (bass guitar, backing vocals). Wavves’ eponymous debut album appeared in September 2008. Their third album King of the Beach received generally positive reviews and was the first to enter the U.S. charts, climbing to no. 28 and no. 168 on the Billboard Independent Albums and 200 charts, respectively. Hideaway, co-written by Williams and producer Dave Sitek, is the title track of Wavves‘ upcoming seventh studio album slated for July 16. The tune was released as the third upfront single on June 8.

The Murlocs/Bittersweet Demons

The Murlocs are a rock band from Melbourne, Australia, which was founded in 2011. Their current line-up features Ambrose Kenny-Smith (vocals, harmonica), Cal Shortal (guitar), Tim Karmouche (keyboards), Cook Craig (bass) and Matt Blach (drums).┬áKenny-Smith and Craig are also members of fellow Aussie act King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. Both bands also share the same label, Flightless Records. On their Bandcamp profile, The Murlocs describe their music as “firmly placed in their own blown-out, distorted brand of soulful RnB.” After two EPs in 2012, the band released their first full-length studio album Loopholes in April 2014. Rolling On, the second single from September 2015 off their sophomore album Young Blindness, marked a breakthrough for The Murlocs and remains one of their most popular songs. Their third and fourth albums from July 2017 and March 2019, respectively, reached the top 20 on the main Australian music charts. Bittersweet Demons, credited to The Murlocs, is the title track of the band’s upcoming fifth studio album set for release on June 25. According to this review by Melodic Magazine, the piano-driven tune was inspired by the death of a close friend of Kenny-Smith. I dig the catchy melody and the cool retro sound.

Benjamin Francis Leftwich/Full Full Colour

Benjamin Francis Leftwich is a singer-songwriter from York, England. According to his Apple Music profile, he is known for his introspective, acoustic folk sound. Leftwich emerged in 2011 with Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm, which peaked at number 35 on the U.K. Albums Chart. He continued to hone his melancholic brand of acoustic folk-pop on subsequent efforts like After the Rain (2016) and To Carry a Whale (2021), which drew similar acclaim and elicited comparisons to the likes of Jose Gonzalez and Iron & Wine. Born in York in 1989 to South African and Australian parents, Leftwich lived a nomadic childhood, spending as much time in Sydney as in his native U.K. Inspired by Elliott Smith and Bruce Springsteen, he taught himself to play the guitar at age ten, and fronted indie pop outfit the Nicoles in his teens before embarking on a solo career. The above mentioned To Carry a Whale is Leftwich’s fourth full-length studio album released yesterday (June 18). Here’s the closer Full Full Colour co-written by him and fellow English musician Samuel Duckworth. The track was also previously released as a single on May 14. It’s a lovely mellow tune!

Reigning Sound/Let’s Do It Again

Reigning Sound are a rock and soul band founded in Memphis, Tenn. in 2001 by garage punk musician Greg Cartwright (vocals/ guitar). Apple Music describes them as blending “the hot wired energy of garage rock with the deep emotional resonance of classic soul music in a manner that suggests a cross between the early Rolling Stones and the Sonics.” Cartwright is also known for his involvement in Compulsive Gamblers and Oblivians, two other Memphis garage rock bands. Reigning Sound’s lineup has changed over the years. After their first single Two Sides to Every Man from early 2001, the band released Break Up, Break Down, their country folk-oriented debut album in May of the same year. Let’s Do It Again is the seductive opener of Reigning Sound’s eight and new studio album A Little More Time with Reigning Sound that came out on May 21. According to this Pitchfork review, it reunites Cartwright with Alex Greene (organ, guitar, backing vocals), Jeremy Scott (bass, backing vocals) and Greg Roberson (drums), the band’s lineup before Cartwright relocated to Ashville, N.C. in 2004 where he has since been based.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Murlocs Bandcamp profile; Melodic Magazine; Pitchfork; YouTube

Of Slides and Bottlenecks

The sound of a well played slide guitar is one of the coolest in music in my opinion. I’ve always loved it. It’s also one of the most challenging techniques that requires great precision and lots of feeling. You can easily be off, which to me is the equivalent of a violin player who hasn’t mastered yet how to properly use the bow or a trumpet player who is still working on their blowing technique – in other words real torture, if you miss!

I thought it would be fun putting together a post that features great slide guitarists from different eras. Before getting to some music, I’d like to give a bit of background on the technique and a very brief history. More specifically, I’m focusing on slide guitar played in the traditional position, i.e., flat against the body, as opposed to lap steel guitar where the instrument is placed in a player’s lap and played with a hand-held bar.

How to Play Slide Guitar - Quickstart Guide | Zing Instruments

Slide guitar is a technique where the fret hand uses a hard object called a slide instead of the fingers to change the pitch of the strings. The slide, which oftentimes is a metal of a glass tube aka “bottle neck,” is fitted on one of the guitarist’s fingers. Holding it against the strings while moving it up and down the fretboard creates glissando or gliding effects and also offers the opportunity to play pronounced vibratos. The strings are typically plucked, not strummed with the other hand.

The technique of holding a hard object against a plucked string goes back to simple one-string African instruments. In turn, these instruments inspired the single-stringed diddley bow, which was developed as a children’s toy by Black slaves in the U.S. It was considered an entry-level instrument played by adolescent boys who once they mastered it would move on to a regular guitar.

Clockwise starting from left in upper row: Sylvester Weaver, Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Brian Jones, Mike Boomfield, Muddy Waters, Duane Allman, Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder and Derek Trucks

The bottleneck slide guitar technique was popularized by blues musicians in the Mississippi Delta near the beginning of the twentieth century. Country blues pioneer Sylvester Weaver made the first known slide guitar recording in 1923. Robert Nighthawk, Earl Hooker, Elmore James, Muddy Waters and other blues artists popularized the use of slide guitar in the electric blues genre. In turn, they influenced the next generation of blues and rock guitarists like Mike Bloomfield (The Paul Butterfield Blues Band), Brian Jones (The Rolling Stones), Duane Allman (The Allman Brothers Band) and Ry Cooder.

Time for some music. Here’s Sylvester Weaver with the instrumental Guitar Blues, one of the earliest slide guitar recordings.

One of the masters of Delta blues who prominently used slide guitar was Robert Johnson. Here’s the amazing Cross Road Blues from 1936 from one of only two recording sessions in which Johnson participated. If you haven’t heard this version but it somehow sounds familiar, chances are you’ve listened to Cream’s cover titled Crossroads.

Are you ready to shake it? Here’s smoking hot Shake Your Money Maker written by Elmore James. James released this classic blues standard in December 1961.

The Rolling Stones were fans of the Chicago blues. One of their blues gems featuring Brian Jones on slide guitar was Little Red Rooster, which they released as a single in the UK in November 1964. It was also included on their third American studio album The Rolling Stones, Now! from February 1965. Written by Willie Dixon, the tune was first recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in October 1961.

Next is Walkin’ Blues, which The Paul Butterfield Blues Band covered on their second studio album East-West from August 1966, featuring Mike Bloomfield on slide guitar. The tune was written by Delta blues artist Son House in 1930.

In May 1969, Muddy Waters released his sixth studio album After the Rain. Here’s slide guitar gem Rollin’ and Tumblin’, which was first recorded by Hambone Willie Newbern (gotta love this name!) in 1929. It’s unclear who wrote the tune.

Here’s one of the greatest slide guitarists of all time: Duane Allman with The Allman Brothers Band and One Way Out. This amazing rendition appeared on an expanded version of At Fillmore East released in October 1992. The original edition appeared in July 1971, three months prior to Duane’ deadly motorcycle accident. Co-written by Marshall Sehorn and Elmore James, the tune was first recorded and released in the early to mid-’60s by Sonny Boy Williamson II and James.

A post about slide guitar wouldn’t be complete without the amazing Bonnie Raitt, an artist I’ve dug for many years. Here’s Sugar Mama, a song co-written by Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark, which she recorded for her fifth studio album Home Plate from 1975.

Let’s do two more tracks performed by two additional must-include slide guitar masters. First up is Ry Cooder with Feelin’ Bad Blues, a tune Cooder wrote for the soundtrack of the 1986 picture Crossroads, which was inspired by the life of Robert Johnson. This is a true slide beauty!

Last but not least, here’s Derek Trucks who is considered to be one of the best contemporary slide guitarists. Trucks is best known as an official member of the Allmans from 1999-2014 and as co-founder of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, which he formed together with his wife Susan Tedeschi in 2010. Here’s a great live performance of Desdemona by The Allman Brothers, featuring some amazing slide guitar playing by Trucks. Co-written by Gregg Allman and Warren Haynes, the tune was included on the band’s final studio album Hittin’ the Note that came out in March 2003.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube