Happy Saturday and welcome to the first 2023 installment of Best of What’s New, a weekly feature looking at newly released music. For first-time visitors, my picks typically fall outside the current mainstream pop charts, where I tend to find much more music that speaks to me. All featured tunes in this post are on albums that appeared yesterday (January 6), except for the last track.
Brandon Ratcliff/Tale of Two Towns
Kicking off things is Brandon Ratcliff, a young singer-songwriter who combines country, pop and R&B. From his website: From the day he was born, and even before, he was on stages, on tour buses, and in writing rooms across America, watching his family sing the music they love as the celebrated Bluegrass band, The Cox Family. Born in Cotton Valley, LA (population 962), Brandon saw first-hand how universal the stories born in small towns are. The son of Suzanne Cox, one third of the family band, Brandon watched as his mother and her siblings won Grammy Awards telling those stories to the world…After deciding to leave Cotton Valley for Nashville, Brandon’s talents quickly attracted the music business machine in town. He was offered a publishing deal at the age of 20 but decided to turn it down to develop his sound...In 2018 Brandon was signed to Monument Records, and in 2019 burst onto the scene with his debut single, “Rules Of Breaking Up,” accumulating more than 50 million streams. This brings me to Tales of Two Towns, the title track of Ratcliff’s ambitious debut double album. He wrote the tune together with Josh Jenkins and Peter Good. I like it!
Allen Epley/Thousand Yard Stare
Allen Epley was born in Louisville, Ky. and grew up in a musical family. After playing in a college band, he co-founded Orchid in 1992, which soon became Shiner, a post-hardcore/alternative rock band. After four studio albums and their split, Epley formed indie rock band The Life and Times in 2002, who remain active to this day. Since 2012, Shiner have played reunion shows and in 2020 released another album. Apart from Epley’s continued engagements with both groups, he frequently collaborates with other bands. And he also managed to record his solo debut album Everything. Let’s check out the great-sounding Thousand Yard Stare.
Anti-Flag are a punk rock band from Pittsburgh, Pa., who have been around since 1988. Their current line-up includes co-founding members Justin Sane (vocals, guitar) and Pat Thetic (drums), along with Chris Head (guitar) and Chris No. 2 (vocals, bass). Anti-Flag who are known for their extensive political activism, released their debut album Die For the Government in August 1996. Since then, 12 additional albums have come out including their latest Lies They Tell Our Children. According to AllMusic, Anti-Flag have gained a “reputation for recapturing the old-school ethics of punk: fast, loud, obnoxious, and anti-everything that ends with an “ism.”” Frankly, “fast” and “loud” don’t sound like particularly attractive musical attributes to me, but when combined with a good melody can still work. Here’s Nvrever featuring Stacey Dee, guitarist and vocalist of pop punk group Bad Cop/Bad Cop. Credited to all members of Anti-Flag, the rocker first appeared as a single last November.
Iggy Pop/Strung Out Johnny
Frankly, Iggy Pop wasn’t exactly on my radar screen, so I was surprised to see a new album by the now 75-year-old “Godfather of Punk.” That said, I know his name much better than his music. Pop, born James Newell Osterberg Jr., started his music career as a drummer in various high school bands in Ann Arbor, Mich. in the mid-’60s. In 1967, he formed the Psychedelic Stooges who became The Stooges the following year. After three albums and a short break-up in between, they split a second time in 1974. Three years later, Pop began a volatile yet ultimately successful solo career, which has yielded 19 studio albums to date. Between 2003 and 2019, Pop played with different versions of The Stooges who released two additional albums during that period. Pop’s new solo album, titled Every Loser, features guest appearances from Duff McKagan (ex Guns N’ Roses bassist), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer), Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction guitarist) and the late Taylor Hawkins (former Foo Fighters drummer), among others. Here’s Strung Out Johnny, co-written by Andrew Watt, Chad Smith, Pop and Josh Klinghoffer – cool rocker!
The Hold Steady/Sideways Skull
My final pick for this week is Sideways Skull, the great new single by New York indie rock band The Hold Steady. Formed in 2003, their current lineup includes co-founders Craig Finn (lead vocals, guitar), Tad Kubler (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Galen Polivka (bass), along with Steve Selvidge (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Franz Nicolay (piano, keyboards, accordion, harmonica, backing vocals) and Bobby Drake (drums, percussion). Wikipedia notes the band is known for their “lyrically dense storytelling”, “classic rock influences” and “narrative-based songs [that] frequently address themes, such as drug addiction, religion and redemption, and often feature recurring characters within the city of Minneapolis.” Since their 2004 debut Almost Killed Me, The Hold Steady have released seven additional studio albums. Their new single, co-written by Finn, Nicolay and Kubler, is from their upcoming ninth studio album The Price of Progress, scheduled for March 31.
Last but not least, here’s a Spotify list of the above and a few additional tunes by the featured artists.
Sources: Wikipedia; Brandon Ratcliff website; Allen Epley website; AllMusic; YouTube; Spotify