Steve Earle’s New Album J.T. is Warm Tribute to His Late Son Justin Townes Earle

…I wish I could have held you when/You left this world like I did then/Last time we spoke was on the phone/Then we hung up and now you’re gone/Last thing I said, “I love you”/Your last words to me were, “I love you too”…

On January 4, Steve Earle released his new album J.T., backed by his longtime band The Dukes. The background story behind this tribute to his late son, the singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle, is quite sad. On August 20 last year, Justin passed away at the age of 38 from an accidental overdose of fentanyl-laced cocaine. January 4 would have been his 39th birthday.

The thought of losing a child at such a young age is horrible enough. But there’s more to the story. The two men had a complicated relationship. Steve left Justin and his mother Carol Ann Hunter Earle when the boy was just three years old. Between music, touring, drug addiction and serving prison time for drug possession, Steve Earle was out of his son’s life for the next 12 years.

Steve Earle and Justin Townes Earle in 1999.
Steve Earle and Justin Townes Earle in 1999. Credit: Sara Sharpe

By the time Justin, whose middle name was in honor of Steve’s musical mentor Townes van Zandt, reunited and lived with his then-sober father in 1994, he had developed a drug addiction as well. The two men developed a close musical relationship, and for some time, Justin played in his father’s band. But according to a review in American Songwriter, he was kicked out after his drug addiction had deteriorated and essentially prevented him from functioning.

American Songwriter notes Justin’s forced exit caused the distance to Steve to grow again, though apparently, they made up in recent years. Unlike his dad, Justin wasn’t able to become sober despite multiple rehab attempts. Yet he still managed to have a music career that included stints in Nashville bands the Swindlers and the Distributors, and a solo recording career that encompassed an EP and eight studio albums between February 2007 and May 2020.

Time for some music. Ten of the 11 tracks on J.T., titled after Justin’s nickname as a child, are songs by Justin Townes Earle, of which he co-wrote two with Scotty Melton. The closer Last Words was penned by Steve Earle. Let’s kick it off with the opener I Don’t Care, a tune from Justin’s debut EP Yuma released in February 2007.

Far Away in Another Town is the closer from Justin’s first full-length solo album The Good Life that appeared in March 2008. It’s one of the two songs he co-wrote with Melton.

Another tune from The Good Life that certainly took on a new meaning is Turn Out My Lights. This also happens to be the second of the aforementioned co-writes with Melton.

Harlem River Blues is the title track of Justin’s third studio album. Released in September 2010, it became his first to enter the Billboard 200, reaching no. 47. It also climbed to no. 3 on Billboard’s Americana/Folk Albums chart.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the above noted closer Last Words, the most personal track on the album. The lyrical excerpt in the beginning of the post is from that song.

Recording the album “wasn’t cathartic as much as it was therapeutic,” Earle told The New York Times. “I made the record because I needed to.” The Times also noted Earle went through Justin’s catalog together with his other son Ian to select the 10 tracks.

I wasn’t familiar at all with Justin’s music. Based on listening to the original tunes, Justin’s versions for the most part were more stripped back than the covers on this album. Much of my initial attraction to J.T. came from the warm sound. Which brings me to the fine musicians of The Dukes: Chris Masterson (guitar), Eleanor Whitmore (fiddle), Ricky Ray Jackson (pedal steel guitar), Jeff Hill (bass) and Brad Pemberton (drums).

“It felt positive,” Earle’s longtime recording engineer Ray Kennedy told The New York Times, referring to the recording sessions. “It felt like we were taking an expression of somebody’s art and creativity and giving it back to the world in a different package.”

The last word shall belong to Steve Earle: “I’ve never loved anything in this world more than him,” he said. “I was connected to him in ways that, you know — he’s my first born, he did the same thing I did and we both had this disease.”

Sources: Wikipedia; American Songwriter; The New York Times; 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

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another week flew by that was pretty busy, which hardly left any opportunity to focus on music. And even as I’m writing this on a Saturday, I feel pressed for time. While this sucks it’s a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, so I don’t want to wine too much about it.

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence the music in this latest Best of What’s New installment is on the quiet side – no crunchy rockers or the kind of smoking hot blues I dig this week. I still like what I found and hope so will folks who read this. All of these tracks are on releases that appeared yesterday (December 11).

David Nail/Roach Motel

Let’s kick it off with David Nail, a Nashville-based country singer-songwriter who was born and grew up in Kennett, Mo. In 2002, he recorded an eponymous album that generated a charting country single, Memphis, but due to staff changes at his then-label Universal Music Group Nashville, the record never appeared. His first released album became the appropriately titled I’m About to Come Alive in August 2009. After putting out three more solo albums, Nail formed David Nail & The Well Ravens in July 2018, an independent project with longtime colleagues Jason Hall and Andrew Petroff. They independently released the album Only This And Nothing More in September 2018. Roach Motel is from Nail’s new solo EP Bootheel. To me, this tune has a Bruce Springsteen feel, which is what drew me in right away.

Helios/Never Will You Be Without

It’s safe to assume ambient music isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. I like it on occasion, especially when I’m in the mood to relax. Behind Helios is composer and multi-instrumentalist Keith Kenniff, who according to his Apple Music profile is also known for his neo-classical work as Goldmund. His recordings as Helios typically mix moody synthesizer textures and slow, glitchy beats with fragile melodies played on pianos, guitars, and other acoustic instruments. After establishing the Helios sound and gaining a cult following for his early releases, particularly 2006’s Eingya, Kenniff became an in-demand composer for film, television, and advertising. He remained prolific, regularly issuing albums as both Helios and Goldmund, in addition to making shoegaze/indie pop along with his wife, Hollie Kenniff, as Mint Julep…Keith Kenniff was raised in rural Pennsylvania, where he learned to play drums, guitar, and bass. He began playing piano while studying percussion at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and began recording music as Helios in 2001. Never Will You Be Without is a track from the new album Domicile, Kenniff’s 12th released as Healios.

Taylor Swift/champagne problems

Taylor Swift needs no further introduction. While I’ve always respected Swift for being an artist who writes her own songs and also is a musician and liked some of her early tunes, I haven’t closely followed her. In part that’s because some of her more recent releases I’ve heard sound too much like contemporary mainstream. Regardless how you feel about her, there’s no question Swift who only turns 31 tomorrow is a very talented and accomplished artist. I mean, who am I to judge her in the first place? Plus, champagne problems, a tune from Swift’s new album evermore, sounds very different from the aforementioned mainstream pop. Apple Music characterizes it as “cozy home-studio vibes for more bare soles arrangements and bare-soul lyrics, casually intimate and narratively rich.” Wow, that’s many words I couldn’t have come up with myself, which is why I also could never make it as a music critic! However you want to describe it, I just like champagne problems, which was co-written by Swift and William Bowery, and that’s good enough for me to feature the tune here. Admittedly, it does make me curious to take a closer look at the rest of the album.

Randall King/Around Forever

Randall King is a country singer-songwriter from Lubbock, Texas, and an artist I probably would have ignored as recently as 5-10 years ago when I pretty much didn’t listen to country music. Well, I guess things have changed since then. Blame it in part on John Mellencamp, an artist I’ve loved for many years, and his transition from straight heartland rock to roots/Americana/country-oriented music. Another factor is the evolution of the country genre itself where you have massive crossover action. According to his Apple Music artist profile, King has an ear for steel guitar and the genre’s classic Americana roots. Inspired by country legend George Strait, King released his debut EP, Another Bullet, in 2016. He collaborated with Americana group Flatland Cavalry in 2016, singing a duet with frontman Cleto Cordero on the honky-tonk rocker “Hard Livin’ Illene.”His first album, 2018’s self-produced Randall King, was a major breakthrough, debuting in the Top 10 on iTunes’ Top Country Albums chart. Around Forever, written by King together with singer-songwriters Josh Miller and Will Bundy, is a tune from King’s new EP Leanna.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s hard to believe another week has flown by. I’m happy to present my latest picks of newly released music. This time, the collection features red dirt country (yes, apparently that’s a music genre), a beautiful melodic acoustic tune by a New York rock band, an indie rock artist from New Zealand, a longtime singer-songwriter taking on an iconic Steely Dan tune, as well as an artist who has been associated with various genres like new wave, post-punk, R&B, rap and indie rock – or is it perhaps music folks trying to slap a label on him? Let’s get to it!

Zach Bryan/Quiet, Heavy Dreams

Zach Bryan is a young singer-songwriter hailing from Oklahoma. An artist profile on Apple Music calls him a plaintive, quivering country troubadour indebted to the literary side of Red Dirt Country. According to Wikipedia, red dirt is a music genre named after the color of soil found in Oklahoma, which includes elements of Americana, folk, alt-country and a few other genres. Soon after receiving his first guitar as a 14-year-old, Bryan learned how to play and started writing songs. Later he followed in the footsteps of his family and enlisted in the Navy. But he didn’t give up music, and during a break in Jacksonville, Fla., Bryan and his friends spontaneously decided to record some tunes that would become his 2019 debut album DeAnn. Encouraged by a favorable reception among red dirt fans, he recorded his follow-on Elisabeth that appeared in May this year. Quiet, Heavy Dreams is the title track of Bryan’s new EP released today (November 27). His voice and the bare bones approach drew me in.

Bayside/Light Me Up

Bayside are a rock band named after the neighborhood in Queens, New York, where they were founded in October 2000 by lead vocalist Anthony Raneri and his childhood friend Mike Kozak (drums). Kozak left the following year to form his own group. Bayside released their debut album Sirens and Condolences in January 2004. The eponymous sophomore album from August 2005 was the band’s first to chart in the U.S., peaking at no. 153 on the Billboard 200. They have since released six additional full-length albums. Their catalog also features a live album and 10 EPs. The band’s line-up has changed various times over the years and currently includes Jack O’Shea (lead guitar, backing vocals), Nick Ghanbarian (bass, backing vocals) and Chris Guglielmo (drums, percussion), along with Raneri, the only remaining original member. Light Me Up is a single credited to all members of the band, released on November 20. It’s from Bayside’s upcoming 11th EP Acoustic Volume Three, which is scheduled for December 11. Check out the melodic sound of this tune and the harmony singing – love it!

KennyHoopla/Estella (feat. Travis Barker)

KennyHoopla is a 23-year-old Milwaukee-based singer-songwriter who was born as Kenneth La’ron in Cleveland. According to his Apple Music artist profile, he emerged out of the midwestern underground in the latter years of the 2010s with a series of buzz-worthy singles that merged aspects of new wave, post-punk, and R&B...Hoopla began making music at a young age, influenced by acts like Funeral Suits, Passion Pit, and the Drums…His early tracks were loosely labeled rap, though his dark-toned, guitar-based songs and aching contemplative vocals had more in common with indie rock and alt-R&B. He gained traction both regionally and online with 2017’s “Waves//” single and its 2018 follow-up, “Sickness.” Admittedly, I had never of heard of these tunes or KennyHoopla before. With so many genres flying around in the above profile, it also appears to be tricky to characterize his music. I’ve said it before and say it again: It all comes down to whether music speaks to you, not the genre. And there’s something about Hoopla’s new single Estella, which came out on November 20, featuring Travis Barker, drummer of American pop rock band Blink-182. At just under two minutes, it could almost be a contemporary version of a Ramones tune.

Emily Edrosa/Drinking During the Day

Emily Edrosa is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Auckland, New Zealand. According to a bio on the website of her record label Park The Van, Edrosa had fronted New Zealand indie rock band Street Chant for 10 years before she decided to relocate to Los Angeles in 2016 and start over. While living there, she continued to work on songs that ended up on her new solo record Another Wave Is Coming released November 20. Edrosa wrote the parts for all instruments. Except for the drums, which were provided by Bosh Rothman (U.S.) and New Zealand peers Alex Freer and Liz Stokes, she also played all instruments by herself. A review of the album in No Depression notes Edrosa recently returned to New Zealand. Here’s Drinking During the Day. Check out the neat transition from mid tempo to a slower pace starting at around 2:24 minutes with a somewhat Beatle-esque guitar part – pretty cool!

Bill Callahan/Deacon Blues (feat. Bill Mackay)

Let me preface this last clip by saying that Steely Dan are one of my all-time favorite bands and their album Aja from September 1977 is music perfection to my ears. As such, I think covering Deacon Blues, one of the album’s tracks that also happens to be my favorite Dan tune, does take a good deal of self-confidence. American singer-songwriter and guitarist Bill Callahan, who has been around for three decades, not only decided to take on the challenge but turn the jazz pop-oriented original co-written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker into a stripped back acoustic version. In addition to Callahan, this cover only features composer and guitarist Bill MacKay and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, the adopted artist name of American singer-songwriter Joseph Will Oldham. With no horns and most other instruments that are on Steely Dan’s original and Callahan’s voice sounding much closer to Yusuf/Cat Stevens than Donald Fagen, this is quite different. I imagine not all Dan fans may be with me here, but I think Callahan did an amazing job, making an iconic tune truly his own.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Park The Van website; No Depression; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

My weekly quest to uncover new music continues. This latest Best of What’s New installment features another diverse collection of music genres/styles, all of which was released yesterday (November 20). It includes country rock, grungy pop punk, alternative and, yes, more African-rooted music. Let’s kick it off with the latter.

Ausecuma Beats/Yelena

Ausecuma Beats is named after the countries/ geographic regions of their members: Australia, Senegambia, Cuba and Mali. According to their profile on Bandcamp, they are more than just a band, they are a philosophy. Led by master djembe player [an African drum], Boubacar Gaye [from Senegal], the nine-strong ensemble, demonstrate artists coming together based on an idea – the idea of place, of transplanting cultural heritage into a contemporary city. Ausecuma Beats is people from all corners of the world finding themselves together in new environments, as a community. Their website also calls out the following additional members: Yusupha Ngum (lead vocals; from Gambia); Rodolfo Hechavarria, known as “Panga” (congas; Cuba); Ed Crocker (drums; Australia); Bassidi Koné (balafon, an African wooden xylophone-like instrument; Mali); and Adam Halliwell (electric guitar; Australia). While I haven’t been able to find when the band was formed, the tune Yelena appears on their eponymous debut album. This is music radiating joy with an infectious groove. I take this any day, especially during these unreal times we are currently witnessing!

Ward Davis/Ain’t Gonna be Today

Ward Davis, originally hailing from Monticello, Ark., is a country singer-songwriter who has been based in Nashville since 2000. According to his artist profile on Apple Music, Davis first gained attention in Nashville as a songwriter, placing songs on albums by Trace Adkins, Wade Hayes, Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson, and Cody Jinks. The latter was a pivotal connection for Davis. After he co-wrote three songs for Jinks’ 2018 album Lifers, Jinks chose to go out on tour with the like-minded Davis, thereby raising the profile of this practitioner of lean, literary neo-outlaw country...Davis spent his first decade attempting to fit into the commercial confines of Nashville, but success took a while to materialize. His first break arrived in 2011, when he placed “My Kind of Crowd” on Premium Country from David Adam Byrnes. In 2014, he released an EP, No Bridges. His debut album 15 Years in a 10 Year Town followed in 2015. Ain’t Gonna be Today is the opener of Davis’ sophomore album Black Cats and Crows. Co-written by Davis and Kendell Marvel, the country rocker features nice harmony guitar and pedal steel action.

I Am the Avalanche/Better Days

I Am the Avalanche are a punk rock band from Brooklyn, N.Y., founded in 2004. ‘Fugetaboutit’, used to be my kneejerk reaction when it comes to punk. But over the years, I’ve come to realize not all punk is created equal, and there’s actually some I like to listen to, at least occasionally. Since I rarely can lose my pop instinct entirely, a tune generally needs to have some melody to appeal, not just be noise. Based on their new studio album Dive, I Am the Avalanche seems to fit the bill. The band features Vinnie Caruana (lead vocals, guitar), Brandon Swanson (guitar), Michael Ireland (guitar), Kellen Robson (bass) and Brett “The Ratt” Romnes (drums). Their eponymous studio debut came out in September 2005. Better Days, co-written by Ireland and Caruana, is the opener of the new album, the band’s fourth studio album. The grungy pop rocker reminds me a bit of Green Day.

Anna McClellan/Feel You

According to her Facebook page, Anna McClellan began performing original songs in her hometown of Omaha, NE at the age of seventeen and has been actively recording and touring ever since. Her debut, Fire Flames [2015], earned her an opening slot on a Frankie Cosmos tour. Through the doors that tour opened, McClellan eventually met Father/Daughter Records which led to the release of her second full-length record, Yes and No, in 2018. After a stint in NYC, several subsequent tours and meandering, Anna returned to Omaha and recorded I saw first light, her latest effort for Father/Daughter. The album was recorded over two weeks with a multitude of local cohorts, and it documents Anna’s journey from the Midwest to the east coast and back again, probing both the roots of her creative impetus and her ongoing commitment to social issues. Here’s Feel You from McClellan’s new album I Saw First Light.

Sources: Wikipedia; Bandcamp; Ausecuma Beats website; Apple Music; Facebook; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Neil Young/Deep Forbidden Lake

My streaming music provider served up this beautiful tune by Neil Young. Even though I dig the Decade compilation, on which Deep Forbidden Lake first appeared in October 1977, I had to look up the song. I guess it’s fair to call it a deep cut.

Originally, Young had recorded the track for Homegrown, an album he had intended to release in 1975. But in good ole’ Neil fashion he dropped it at the last minute and instead put out Tonight’s the Night in June that year, another previously completed but unreleased album.

Homegrown finally appeared in June this year sans Deep Forbidden Lake. It’s a nice mellow tune that’s perfect for a Sunday morning.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s that time of the week again where I’d like to take a peek at newly released music. All of the selections in this Best of What’s New installment are truly new. They were all released yesterday. I’m also pleased the collection features a good deal of variety, including indie pop grunge, alternative pop, country rock, heavy rock and even some African music. Most importantly, no matter what you call it, it’s all great music, so let’s get to it!

Viji/Are You in My Head

Are You in My Head is the title track of what appears to be the debut EP by Viji. Unfortunately, there is very little publicly available information on this young artist. According to her Spotify profile, Viji is the moniker of Austrian-Brazilian, London-based singer-songwriter Vanilla Jenner. She creates imaginative and original music that crosses the worlds of alternative pop and lo-fi indie weirdness. A review by Dork Magazine includes some commentary from the artist on the song and the EP. “The song ‘Are You In My Head’ is about the internal struggle of relationships. Especially how little things can blow up in your head if you’re in a bad mood…The EP is the first body of work that I’ve ever brought out. I finished writing all the songs for it around this time last year, and then took a few months to record it…The sound is very raw, and we kept a lot of my tracks from the demos. It’s pop melodies over lofi indie chords.” While the music falls outside my core wheelhouse, I can’t deny there’s something charming about it.

Shenandoah/High Class Hillbillies (featuring Cody Johnson)

How about a nice country rocker with the lovely title High Class Hillbillies? This is from the new album Every Road by Shenandoah, a country music band founded in Muscle Shoals, Ala. in 1984. Their eponymous debut album appeared in September 1987. According to Billboard, Every Road is a collaboration album “featuring some of today’s top hitmakers” and the band’s first album in 26 years with all new music. One of the collaborators is country singer-songwriter Cody Johnson, who contributes vocals on High Class Hillbillies. The tune was co-written by Marty Raybon (lead vocals, guitar) and Mike McGuire (drums, backing vocals), the band’s two remaining original members, together with songwriters Jim Collins and Wade Kirby.

Benee/Happen to Me

Benee (born Stella Rose Bennett) is a 20-year-old singer-songwriter from Auckland, New Zealand. According to Apple Music’s artist profile, With her introspective lyrics and smoky, stylized vocals, BENEE combines the sophisticated R&B of artists like Sade and Corinne Bailey Rae with the atmospheric, head-voice electronics of Billie Eilish. In 2017, during her final year in high school, Benee began posting music covers to Soundcloud. Her debut single Tough Guy appeared later that year. This was followed by her debut EP Fire on Marzz from June 2019, which included the lead single Soaked that climbed to no. 14 on the Official New Zealand Music Chart. Supalonely featuring American singer Gus Dapperton, a single from Benee’s second EP Stella & Steve, gained her international popularity. Happen to Me is the opener of Hey u, x, Benee’s first full-length album. Again, it’s not the kind of music I typically listen to, but there’s just something to it.

Chris Stapleton/Arkansas

Arkansas is another great country rocker. It appears on the fourth studio album Starting Over by Chris Stapleton. The singer-songwriter, who has been active since the early 2000s, released his debut studio in May 2015. It was well received, earned Stapleton several awards and remains his most successful record to date. Billboard is pretty upbeat about his latest release: You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better country album this year than Starting Over…From Stapleton’s ragged, soulful vocals to Dave Cobb’s feral production, Starting Over is all untamed emotion. What triggered my attention in part is the involvement of two former members of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers I dig: Guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboarder Benmont Tench. Arkansas is one of two tunes on the album Stapleton co-wrote with Campbell who has an album with his own band The Dirty Knobs set for release on November 20.

Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons/We’re the Bastards

Let’s crank it up a notch with a crunchy rocker by Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons: We’re the Bastards. This Welsh band was formed in 2016 by Campbell, longtime guitarist of Motörhead, following the death of frontman Ian Fraser Kilmister, better known as Lemmy. We’re the Bastards is the title track of the band’s new album, the second full-length record after 2018’s The Age of Absurdity. The band’s remaining members include Phil’s three sons Todd Campbell (guitar, harmonica), Tyla Campbell (bass) and Dane Campbell (drums), along with lead vocalist Neil Starr. Take it away, boys!

Star Feminine Band/Femme Africaine

I almost would have skipped over this last group, but how many all-girl female bands from Africa you know? According to The Vinyl Factory, the members of Star Feminine Band from the West African country Benin range from 10 to 17 years. The line-up inclides Angélique Balaguemon (drums, vocals), Julienne Sayi (bass guitar), Marguerite Kpetekout (drums), Grâce Marina Balaguemon (keyboard, vocals), Anne Sayi (electric guitar), Urrice Borikapei (percussion, vocals) and Sandrine Ouei (keyboard). The group came together after they responded to a local radio station’s advert inviting girls to participate in a series of free music training sessions. Femme Africaine is from their eponymous debut album, which The Vinyl Factory notes incorporates elements of highlife, garage rock, Congolese rumba, Beninese sato, and psychedelia as they address themes of equality, empowerment and female genital mutilation. Check out this video, which is such a joy to watch!

Sources: Wikipedia; Spotify; Dork Magazine; Billboard; Apple Music; The Vinyl Factory; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

With this country going through unprecedented times, it’s reassuring to see some things that don’t change, such as new music releases. This week’s Best of What’s New installment features four artists I had not heard of before. Between them, there’s a nice variety in music styles, including pop rock, southern rock-oriented country, blues rock and progressive metal. Frankly, I had not been aware of the last genre, but I suppose when it comes to blending music styles, there really aren’t any boundaries except imagination. Let’s get to it!

Babe Club/Future Talks

There’s limited information on Babe Club. This review in the Charleston City Paper, identifies the act as a songwriting duo and couple consisting of Jenna Desmond and Corey Campbell. Both are former members of SUSTO and started working together in 2018 after leaving the alternative rock band around singer-songwriter Justin Osborne, which I previously covered here. Babe Club’s profile on Bandcamp describes their music as follows: Capturing Blondie’s mid 70’s new wave era, and the 90’s alt-pop group The Cardigans- Babe Club’s sound is marked by raw guitars, textural synths, & lustrous drum beats. A clever songwriting style reminiscent of Aimee Mann, their alluring melodies are fused with powerfully evocative and existential lyrics, yielding songs that explore self-realization, honest emotions, friendship and themes of loveFuture Talks is the opener of what appears to be Babe Club’s debut EP Remember This Feeling, which came out today. More than Blondie, I can hear some Cheryl Crow in here.

Fates Warning/The Destination Onward

Fates Warning formed in Hartford, Conn. in 1982. According to Wikipedia, they are considered pioneers of progressive metal, together with Queensrÿche and Dream Theatre. The band’s founding members included John Arch (vocals), Jim Matheos (guitar), Victor Arduini (guitar), Joe DiBiase (bass) and Steve Zimmerman (drums). Fates Warning have since seen many changes, with Matheos remaining as the only original member. The current line-up also features Ray Alder (lead vocals), Joey Vera (bass) and Bobby Jarzombek (drums). Fates Warning released their debut album Night on Bröcken in September 1984. The Destination Onward is the opener to the band’s 13th studio album Long Day Good Night, released today (November 6). According to the band’s website, the album was written by Matheos in close collaboration with Alder who has been the band’s lead vocalist since 1987. While in general, it’s fair to say metal isn’t my preferred type of music, the tune’s relatively melodic vocals and sound sufficiently drew me in, so I decided to feature it here.

Brad Cox/Drinking Season

Brad Cox is a country artist from Australia. Drinking Season is a tune from his new album My Mind’s Projection, which according to Apple Music is his sophomore release. It came out today as well. Apple Music also notes Cox writes relatable, melodic tracks that balance the good and the bad, the social and the internal, the partying and the heartbreak. My Mind’s Projection has plenty of fun, boozy sing-alongs, but there are just as many tender reflections on a relationship that didn’t work out. I guess Drinking Season, a nice country rocker with a southern flair, would be an example of a boozy sing-along. “For me, the first day [of drinking season] is Christmas Eve,” Cox told Apple Music. “I used to work the harvest down in the Riverina before Christmas, and with Australia Day being 26th of January, I used to just find myself drunk for that entire time and set myself up for a hangover February.” Well, remember boys and girls, everything in moderation! 🙂

Jeremiah Johnson/Daddy’s Going Out Tonight

Let’s wrap things up with some blues rock by Jeremiah Johnson. According to his website, Born and raised in St. Louis, Jeremiah Johnson is the voice of Mississippi River blues blending with the struggles of everyday life.  He began learning guitar at age 6, drawing inspiration from his rich St. Louis blues heritage and legendary guitarists, like Alvin Lee, Eric Clapton and Hank Williams Sr. and Jr.  With these influences, Johnson began building his musical foundation. After relocating to Houston, TX, in 1999, Johnson finished in first place for three consecutive years at the Houston Regional Blues Challenges, sponsored by the Houston Blues Society.  Johnson returned to St. Louis in 2009, and merged Texas style with STL blues to create the unique sound you hear today. His debut album 9th & Russell was released in 2010 under The Jeremiah Johnson Band with the Sliders. Written by Johnson, Daddy’s Going Out Tonight is from his new album Unemployed Highly Annoyed. Released October 30, Johnson’s seventh album comes on the heels of Heavens to Betsy, which appeared in February this year.

Sources: Wikipedia; Charleston City Paper; Bandcamp; Fates Warning website; Apple Music; Jeremiah Johnson website; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another end of the week calls for another Best of What’s New. This latest installment is probably my most eclectic and diverse set to date, featuring a “Norwegian country sensation,” an indigenous Canadian folk and country singer-songwriter, electronic music by a U.S. multi-instrumentalist, and a German singer-songwriter blending soul, R&B and African folk music. Let’s get to it!

Malin Pettersen/Weightless

According to her website, Norwegian country artist Malin Pettersen released her first solo album [in 2018], which won her a Spellemannpris (Norwegian Grammy), placed her on the bill of some of Norway’s largest festivals and brought her to Nashville for more recording. She’s been coined «Norwegian Country sensation» by Paste Magazine and her music has been featured in Rolling Stone and Billboard. Her new Nashville recorded album “Wildhorse” is released October 16th on Die With Your Boots On Records and has already gotten fantastic reviews! Malin Pettersen is definitely one to watch – and most of all – one to hear! I agree! Written by Pettersen, Weightless is a tune from Wildhorse released October 16. It was mostly her voice that drew me in, which reminds me a bit of Stevie Nicks at times. I also dig the atmosphere of the music. Check it out!

William Prince/The One I Know

When I spotted this tune, the artist’s name William Prince sounded familiar. And no wonder, searching my own blog revealed I had seen him live in July 2018 in Boston as opening act for Neil Young and written about the show here. As I said at the time, Prince’s solo performance with just an acoustic guitar was captivating. The Canadian folk and country singer-songwriter, who is a member of Pegius First Nation from Manitoba, released his award-winning debut album Earthly Days in December 2015. The One I Know is a track from Prince’s new album Gospel First Nation, a collection of gospel tunes, which appeared on October 23. As noted on his website, Prince learned and sang these songs with his father in a chapel named for his great grandfathers, who were were all preachers. While I generally like gospel, it’s not the type of music I typically listen to. But I have to say I find Prince’s warm voice very comforting, and it’s just a pretty tune!

Daniel Tashian/Channels

According to his artist profile on Apple Music, Daniel Tashian, the son of Barry Tashian, leader of the legendary New England garage rockers Barry & the Remains, [is a] multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter [and] a decidedly different type of musician than his cult hero father. His folk-rock-based music recalls that of Michael Penn, Lisa Germano, and Sam Phillips, whose husband T-Bone Burnett produced Tashian’s debut album, 1996’s Sweetie. Along with his solo career, Nashville resident Tashian produces and plays with various other artists, most notably alt country singer/songwriter Julian Dawson, and hosts a weekly songwriter’s night at the famed Nashville music club 12th and Porter. Based on this profile, the above electronic instrumental tune Channels seems to be an outlier. It’s a track from his new all-instrumental EP Landscapes, Vol. 3 that appeared on October 23 – yet another unusual choice for me. But again, I just find this track appealing.

Joy Denalane/Be Here in the Morning (feat. C.S. Armstrong)

Joy Denalane is a German singer-songwriter blending soul, R&B and African folk music with lyrics in English and German. She was born in July 1973 to a black father from South Africa and a German mother and grew up in Berlin. Denalane left home at the age of 16 and started to focus on music, joining the reggae and soul bands Culture Roots and Family Affair, respectively. Her breakthrough came in 1999 when she hooked up with electronica and hip hop producers DJ Thomilla and Tiefschwarz for what became an international club hit, Music. Her debut solo album Mamani came out in June 2002. Denalane has since released four additional albums, including her most recent one Let Yourself Be Loved on September 4. Be Here in the Morning is from that album and features Los Angeles-based R&D artist Chauncy S. Armstrong who also co-wrote the tune with Denalane, along with Chris Soper, Jesse Singer, Nick Banns and Sway Clarke. Love that beautiful retro soul sound and what a great voice!

Sources: Wikipedia; Malin Pettersen website; William Prince website; Apple Music; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another weekend brings another slate of new music. This installment of Best of What’s New features a nice mix of big name and lesser known artists. Genres include country-oriented rock, folk, indie rock and folk rock. Let’s get to it!

Bon Jovi & Jennifer Nettles/Do What You Can

Jon Bon Jovi and country band Sugarland frontwoman Jennifer Nettles joined forces for an updated version of Do What You Can, a tune from Bon Jovi’s 15th studio album 2020 scheduled for October 2. Written during the early days of COVID-19, initially, the song only included the first verse and the chorus. Jon Bon Jovi invited fans via social media to contribute lyrics, essentially asking them to tell their own pandemic stories. He first revealed an acoustic version of the complete song during the Jersey4Jersey benefit online concert. The tune was subsequently released as a single on July 23. “As I finished the mix and did the video, I said, ‘Boy, this song would have such crossover potential’, Bon Jovi told Rolling Stone. “It makes you feel good and the message is just right on at this time that when you can’t do what you do, do what you can,” added Nettles during a recent Facebook chat. Do What You Can very much has the same feel of the artists’ previous collaboration Who Says You Can’t Go Home from 2006. Both tunes remind me of The Lonesome Jubilee, one of my favorite John Mellencamp albums from 1987.

Jeff Tweedy/Love Is the King

American songwriter, musician and record producer Jeff Tweedy is best known as vocalist and guitarist of alternative rock band Wilco, founded in 1994 by former members of Uncle Tupelo, an alternative country group, which Tweedy co-founded as well. Between these two bands and his solo efforts, Tweedy has released close to 20 albums over the past 30 years. Love Is King is the title track of his fourth solo album that is set to come out on October 23. As reported by Pitchfork, Tweedy announced the tune on September 15, together with a second track of the forthcoming album, Guess Again. “At the beginning of the lockdown I started writing country songs to console myself,” he pointed out in an accompanying statement. “Folk and country type forms being the shapes that come most easily to me in a comforting way. “Guess Again” is a good example of the success I was having at pushing the world away, counting my blessings—taking stock in my good fortune to have love in my life. A few weeks later things began to sound like “Love Is the King”—a little more frayed around the edges with a lot more fear creeping in. Still hopeful but definitely discovering the limits of my own ability to self soothe.”

Elizabeth Cook/Perfect Girls of Pop

Elizabeth Cook is an American country singer-songwriter who has been an active recording artist since 2000. Originally, she hails from Wildwood, Fla. where she was born as the youngest of 12 children. Cook already joined her parents on stage at the age of 4. Her mother Joyce was a mandolin and guitar played and her dad Thomas played upright bass, which he had learned while serving time in an Atlanta prison for illicit production of high-proof distilled spirits. Cook holds the distinction of having performed more than 400 times on the Grand Ole Opry since her March 2000 debut, the most appearances to date by a non-member. Her studio debut The Blue Album came out in November 2000. Perfect Girls of Pop is a track from her seventh and most recent album Aftermath released on September 11. It’s catchy tune that sounds much more like indie pop rock than country.

Native Harrow/Carry On

Native Harrow are a folk rock duo from Eastern Pennsylvania, comprised of Devin Tuel (lead vocals, guitar) and her partner Stephen Harms (bass, drums, keyboards, guitar). Unfortunately, publicly available information on them is limited and the following is based on this Facebook piece and a review by Staccatofy. Carry On is a beautiful tune from Native Harrow’s fourth studio album Closeness, which came out on August 21. Two things about this song grabbed me right away: The warm sound, especially the keyboard, and the vocals by Tuel, who apparently is a classically trained singer. I also think the gospel style choir in the last third of the track is a perfect fit to what essentially is a gospel song. Tuel and Harms recorded the album’s 10 tunes at a Chicago studio together with drummer and engineer Alex Hall over the course of only two 3-day sessions in late December 2019 and early January 2020. The basic tracks were captured live in studio with Tuel, Harms and Hall on vocals/guitar, bass and drums, respectively. The album follows their 2019 release Happier Now.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Pitchfork; Facebook; Staccatofy; YouTube