Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s Saturday, so here we go again taking a fresh look at new music. All picks appear on releases that came out yesterday (June 10). Here we go!

Calder Allen/Shine

My first pick this week is music from the debut album by Americana singer-songwriter Calder Allen. From his website: At only 19 years of age, Calder Allen is one of the newest rising acts to emerge out of Austin, Texas. Both audibly and lyrically beyond his years, Allen is a prolific singer-songwriter and self-taught guitarist who completed the recording of his first album in August 2021 at none other than the historic Arlyn Studios, shortly followed by his inaugural performance at Austin City Limits Music FestivalA fifth generation Austinite, Calder Allen’s natural ability and love for music is embedded into his DNA; among his music inspirations includes his grandfather Terry Allen, the legendary visual artist, and Buddy Holly Walk of Fame songwriter. His album producer Charlie Sexton, and other prolific artists like Gary Clark Jr., Caamp, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt are also impactful influences on Allen’s music. His debut album is titled The Game. Here’s the opener Shine. I really like what I’m hearing here!

Vance Joy/Solid Ground

Next, I’m turning to Australian singer-songwriter Vance Joy, born James Gabriel Keogh. From his AllMusic bio: Australian singer/songwriter Vance Joy was vaulted into the mainstream when his 2013 single “Riptide” became a massive international hit. His blend of thoughtful indie folk and breezy melodic pop helped both his EP and subsequent debut album, Dream Your Life Away, go multi-platinum. Joy maintained his success throughout the rest of the decade, topping the charts again with his 2018 follow-up Nation of Two. His third album, In Our Own Sweet Time, was released in 2022. Among the 12 tracks is Solid Ground, which Joy co-wrote with Dave Bassett. Pretty enjoyable tune!

Nick Mulvey/Another Way To Be

Nick Mulvey is an English singer-songwriter who has been active since 2007. From his Apple Music profile: After a successful stint with Portico Quartet — which included a Mercury Prize nomination in 2008, 150 shows worldwide, and signing to Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records — Nick Mulvey set about creating a sound that was both striking and individual, intertwining influences of great musicians such as Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, and Tom Waits with a variation of African styles, including guitarist Kawele. His solo debut, 2014’s First Mind, landed in the U.K. Top Ten and was also nominated for the Mercury Prize. This brings me to New Mythology, Mulvey’s third and latest album, and Another Way To Be, a song written by him. While it’s not in my core wheelhouse, I like it!

Rise Against/The Answer

Let’s wrap up this revue with new music by Chicago punk rock band Rise Against. Formed in 1999, the group’s current line-up includes original members Tim McIlrath (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) and Joe Principe (bass, backing vocals), along with Zach Blair (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Brandon Barnes (drums, percussion), who have been with Rise Against since 2007 and 2000, respectively. In April 2001, the group released their debut album The Unraveling. Their fourth album The Sufferer & the Witness brought them first significant chart success in the U.S., reaching no. 10 on the Billboard 200, as well as their first charting album abroad, most notably in Canada where it peaked at no. 5. To date, the group’s catalog includes nine studio albums, two compilations and 10 EPs, among others. Their latest release is an EP titled Nowhere Generation II. Here’s the opener The Answer, credited to the entire band. This nicely rocks!

Before wrapping up, following is a Spotify playlist with all of the above and a few additional tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Calder Allen website; AllMusic; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

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Elvis Costello Revisits His Roots on Vibrant New Album

Writing an informed review of a new album by a music artist like Elvis Costello who has had an impressive 45-year recording career is a bit tricky when you’ve only listened to a fraction of their previous catalog. But having been a music fan for essentially the same amount of years, I feel confident to proclaim I know great music when I hear it, and The Boy Named If definitely qualifies!

If you’re a long-time Costello listener, which I cannot claim, you may ask which Elvis Costello is showing up on the new album. After all, the British singer-songwriter hasn’t been called a chameleon for nothing, having worked with the likes of Richard Harvey, Burt Bacharach, Anne Sofie von Otter and The Roots. Based on my limited exposure, I can clearly hear early influences going back to his first few albums, especially This Year’s Model, his sophomore release from March 1978, and the first record with the then-newly formed The Attractions.

The Boy Named If, released Friday, January 14, is Costello’s 32nd studio album. He is backed by The Imposters, the official name of his touring band since 2002, which has had different members. According to this review in Showbiz 411, the current line-up includes Steve Nieve (keyboards), Davy Faragher (bass and vocals) and Pete Thomas (drums, percussion). Ultimate Classic Rock called this group “essentially the classic Attractions lineup minus bassist Bruce Thomas, replaced by Davey Faragher.

“The full title of this record is ‘The Boy Named If (And Other Children’s Stories),” Costello noted in a statement on his website. ‘IF,’ is a nickname for your imaginary friend; your secret self, the one who knows everything you deny, the one you blame for the shattered crockery and the hearts you break, even your own. You can hear more about this ‘Boy’ in a song of the same name.”

Elvis Costello

Well, I’d say ’nuff upfront info, let’s check out some music. For some odd reason, I couldn’t embed YouTube clips for some of the songs. In these cases, I resorted to embeds of Spotify sound files. I’m also including a Spotify link to the entire album toward the end of the post.

I’d like to kick it off with an early favorite, the opener Farewell, OK, which also had appeared separately as one of three singles leading up to the album’s release. “Like a lot of good rock and roll songs this began with a drummer down in a basement and a singer howling outside the backdoor,” Costello stated on his website. “It’s a blurred gaze, a drink too much, an accidental punch and a kiss goodnight all in the tumult of a dancehall.” Like all other tunes on the album, it was penned by Costello. I love Farewell, OK’s cool retro feel, including Nieve’s Vox Continental and the harmony vocal fill-ins.

Here’s the title track Costello mentioned in his above comment, together with the opening verse to give you a flavor of the lyrics.

I’m a lucky so and so
A fortunate stiff
You said you’d never knew me but I’m the one you want to be with
If I tumble from a tightrope or leap from a cliff
I won’t be dashed to pieces
I’m the boy named If

Penelope Halfpenny is another early favorite. Like in the opener, Steve Nieve is back with that seductive Vox Continental keyboard. I just can’t get enough of this cool sound – okay, perhaps once again my nerdy side is rearing its head. But even if you don’t care about the Vox Continental or any other instrument for that matter, you’ve got to admit this is a bloody catchy tune. Check it out!

Costello and the band are slowing things down on Paint The Red Rose Blue. But don’t get fooled by the ballad’s beautiful melody. This ain’t exactly a silly love song. Paint The Red Rose Blue, which first appeared as another upfront single, is “the account of someone who has long-courted theatrical darkness, only for its violence and cruelty to become all too real,” as Costello put it. “In its wake, a bereft couple learn to love again, painting a melancholy blue over the red of romance.”

My Most Beautiful Mistake (reading that title, I keep thinking of Sheryl Crow’s My Favorite Mistake) is another track I’d like to call out. The song features American singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins on backing harmony vocals. I like how her voice bends with Costello’s.

Since I already featured Magnificent Hurt, another highlight on the album, in my last Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping it here and go right to the final track I’d like to highlight: the beautiful closer Mr. Crescent.

“Whatever you take out of these tales, I wrote them for you and to make the life of these songs a little less lonely, if you should care to dive in a little deeper,” Costello said in the above statement. “I started ‘The Boy Named If’ with just an electric guitar, some sharps and flats, high heels and lowdowns, with five songs in bright major keys and carried on to write a whole new record for The Imposters to play.”

He added, “The initial rhythm section for this record was my guitar and Pete Thomas’ Gretsch drums, recorded down in Bonaparte Rooms West. Our Imposter pal of 20 years standing, Davey Faragher soon dialed in his Fender bass and vocals while we awaited dispatches from France. If the record sounded swell as a trio, Steve Nieve’s organ was the icing on the cake, the cherry and the little silver balls.”

The Boy Named If was co-produced by Costello and Sebastian Krys, who also had worked with Costello on his two previous studio albums Hey Clockface (October 2020), Look Now (October 2018). Appearing on EMI, with Capitol Records serving as U.S. release partner, the new album is available in vinyl, CD, cassette and downloadble/streaming formats. There is also a deluxe version that includes an 88-page hardback storybook.

Elvis Costello & The Imposters Announce  The Boy Named If & Other Favourites 2022 UK Tour

In early December, Costello announced plans for a 2022 UK tour featuring The Imposters, along with American guitarist and singer-songwriter Charlie Sexton. Among others, he is known for having been a member of Bob Dylan’s backing band starting in 1999. The tour is set to kick off on June 5 in Brighton – keeping my fingers crossed for British fans! For additional details, you can check here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Showbiz 411; Ultimate Classic Rock; Elvis Costello website; YouTube; Spotify

What I’ve Been Listening to: John Hiatt/Slow Turning

Sometimes one song is enough to draw me in, and I love when all of this happens coincidentally. Case in point: Is Anybody There? by John Hiatt. The tune, off his ninth studio album Slow Turning from August 1988, was included in yet another playlist my streaming music provider had served up to me the other day.

While I’ve started exploring Hiatt’s music, I still can’t claim anything resembling close familiarity with his catalog. But I’ve heard enough to know one thing: I love what this singer-songwriter does. Evidently, so do many other artists who have ranged from Aaron Neville, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Chaka Khan, Delbert McClinton, Emmylou Harris…and the list goes on and on.

John Hiatt - Slow Turning - Amazon.com Music

What’s Hiatt’s secret? Quite simply, the man writes great songs! At the same time, he’s a perfect example that great songs don’t necessarily translate into chart success, at least not for himself.

In fact, if I see this correctly, Hiatt’s best-performing record on the U.S. mainstream charts to date is Perfectly Good Guitar, his 11th studio album from September 1993, which reached no. 47 on the Billboard 200. I previously covered it here. His most successful U.S. single to date is the title track of the Slow Turning album, which climbed to no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, his only top 10 song.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the goodies on Slow Turning. All of the 12 tracks except one were solely written by Hiatt. Here’s the opener Drive South. Subsequently, it was covered by country vocal group The Forester Sisters who in 1990 took it to no. 63 in the U.S. on the Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. It also made the Canada Country Tracks chart, reaching no. 60 there.

Tennessee Plates is the only aforementioned co-write on the album. Hiatt penned it together with Mike Porter. The tune was featured in the 1991 motion picture Thelma & Louise, starring Susan Sarandon and Gina Davis. A rendition of the song by American guitarist and singer-songwriter Charlie Sexton was included in the soundtrack album.

Another great tune I’d like to highlight is Icy Blue Heart. How about these great opening lines? She came onto him like a slow movin’ cold front/An’ his beer was warmer than the look in her eye… Frankly, I could have picked any other track. There’s really no weak song on this album, but these opening lines are just great. Emmylou Harris ended up covering the track on her 1989 studio album Bluebird, featuring Bonnie Raitt on backing vocals and slide guitar – what a dream pairing! In case you’re curious, their beautiful rendition is here.

This post would be incomplete without the above noted Slow Turning, the album’s title track. Again I’d like to call out some memorable lyrics: …Now I’m in my car/Ooh, I got the radio down/Now I’m yellin’ at the kids in the back/’Cause they’re banging like Charlie Watts… Gotta love this!

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the song that prompted me to listen to this gem of an album: Is Anybody There? Once again, Hyatt delivers great lyrics and a beautiful and warm sound. Based on Wikipedia, it looks like the gospel-style backing vocals were provided by Ashley Cleveland and Dennis Locorriere. And check out Hiatt’s falsetto fill-ins!

Taking a closer look at the album’s credits reveals two guests I find particularly intriguing: Blues guitarist Sonny Landreth who provides electric guitar, acoustic slide guitar, twelve-string guitar and steel guitar; and singer-songwriter Bernie Leadon who contributes guitar, mandolin, banjo and mandocello. Leadon, of course, is best known as a co-founder of the Eagles.

Last but not least, Slow Turning was produced by Glyn Johns – yep, that Glyn Johns who recently could be prominently seen in Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back documentary. Johns has also done production and/or engineering work for the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton…you get the picture. I guess it’s safe to say working with The Beatles didn’t exactly harm Jones’ career.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Great Music Poet Releases Long-Awaited New Album

I deliberately let this one simmer for a while. As a more casual listener of Bob Dylan, I felt giving Rough and Rowdy Ways more time to sink in was the right thing to do. Dylan’s 39th studio album, his first with original songs since Tempest from September 2012, appeared yesterday on Columbia Records.

To be very clear upfront, I’m not trying to compete with clever music critics, so if you’re hoping for any sort of interpretation what the maestro’s lyrics mean and to what extent they are autobiographical, you can probably stop reading here. Frankly, I’m not sure anyone on the planet can fully figure out the man – I certainly can’t and won’t pretend I can!

When Dylan released the album’s first single Murder Most Foul in late March, I didn’t quite know how to feel about it. Clocking in at just under 17 minutes, my first thought was it’s massive. I also wondered whether we really needed yet another account about the murder of JFK, one of the most widely covered stories – not to mention all the crazy conspiracy theories around it!

Of course, I fully realize Dylan’s timing in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t look like coincidence and points to a broader meaning. But we’re getting into interpretation, which is exactly what I said at the outset I didn’t want to do!

Weirdly, the more often I listen to Murder Most Foul, the better I like it. To some extent perhaps it’s simply getting more used it. Another factor could be that Dylan without any doubt in my mind is one of the most significant contemporary music artists, so I kind of feel a bit reluctant to “dismiss” it outright. I mean who am I after all to judge him!

The next single was the record’s opener I Contain Multitudes, which came out in mid-April. While I didn’t exactly jump up and down, I felt that tune was easier to process. But it really did take the May 8 release of the third single, False Prophet, to get my full attention. I can’t deny the fact it probably helped that the track is a blues, one of my favorite music genres. Plus, at that time it also became clear we weren’t just looking at a series of one-off singles but a forthcoming new Dylan album.

Photo by Chris Pizzello/AP/REX/Shutterstock (6261732a) Bob Dylan Bob Dylan performs in Los Angeles. Fifty years into his career as a recording artist and a week away from release of an extraordinary new CD, Dylan spent his Tuesday evening where he seems to feel most comfortable – on a stage Music Bob Dylan, Los Angeles, USA

Generally speaking, when it comes to songs, I primarily pay attention to the music and the vocals, viewing great lyrics more like nice icing on the cake. Otherwise, how could I possibly explain that I love songs with lyrics like I want to hold your hand; she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah; or love, love me do, you know I love you! Nothing wrong with silly love songs, but that’s what they are: Silly, at least from a lyrical perspective!

So how about the remaining tracks on Rough and Rowdy Ways? Well, let’s get to some of them!

Here’s My Own Version of You. A lyrical excerpt: All through the summers, into January/I’ve been visiting morgues and monasteries/Looking for the necessary body parts/Limbs and livers and brains and hearts/I’ll bring someone to life, is what I wanna do/I wanna create my own version of you…cheerful stuff! Somehow as I’m reading this, I’m picturing the video of Tom Petty’s Mary Jane’s Last Dance.

Next up: Black Rider, a quiet ballad. Is it about death? No idea! But a cheerful tune it certainly is not. Black rider, black rider, all dressed in black/ I’m walking away, you try to make me look back/ My heart is at rest, I’d like to keep it that way/ I don’t wanna fight, at least not today/ Go home to your wife, stop visiting mine/ One of these days I’ll forget to be kind. As Max from PowerPop and I were joking earlier today, one would hope these lyrics aren’t autobiographical!

Crossing the Rubicon is another blues-oriented track. I kind of like the slow burning groove of that tune. And, yes, you guessed it, there are more cheerful lyrics here: …I feel the bones beneath my skin and they’re tremblin’ with rage/I’ll make your wife a widow – you’ll never see old age/Show me one good man in sight that the sun shines down upon/I pawned my watch and I paid my debts and I crossed the Rubicon…Jeez, don’t mess with Bob!

The last track I’d like to call out is Key West (Philosopher Pirate). I think this is actually becoming one of my favorite songs on the album. I find Dylan’s singing here strangely pretty in spite of his less than opera quality vocals and the lyrics:…‪I was born on the wrong side of the railroad track/Like Ginsberg, Corsi and Kerouac/Like Louis and Jimmy and Buddy and all the rest/Well, it might not be the thing to do/But I’m sticking with you through and through/Down in the flatlands, way down in Key West

In addition to Dylan (vocals, guitar), who is also listed as producer, Rough and Rowdy Ways features Bob Britt (guitar), Matt Chamberlain (drums), Tony Garnier (bass), Donnie Herron (steel guitar, violin, accordion) and Charlie Sexton (guitar). These musicians make up the band that has been backing Dylan on his Never Ending Tour, which is currently on hold due to the coronavirus. Additional musicians/guests, among others, include Fiona Apple (vocals) and Benmont Tench, founding member, keyboarder and vocalist of Tom Petty’s former band The Heartbreakers.

I thought I give the final word to Dylan, so naively went to his website to see whether there is any statement there. Since that would have been the obvious thing, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that my search came up empty. Instead, one of the first things you see is a news item titled Bob Dylan remains an immeasurable and inimitable force, a review by The Line of Best Fit, which by its own description is “the UK’s biggest independent website devoted to new music.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Bob Dylan website; The Line of Best Fit; YouTube