Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

When I started Best of What’s New in March 2020, I really didn’t know whether there would be enough newly released music I sufficiently like to make this a frequently recurring feature. After all, while one occasionally encounters new artists who embrace aspects of the ’60s and ’70s, I’m under no illusion that the kind of music from my two favorite decades won’t come back. And yet, except for one occasion due to a family matter, I’ve been posting new installments weekly.

After more than a year it’s very clear to me some decent new music continues to come out. Since it’s not as easy as simply checking the charts, this can take some time. And, yes, it also requires me to be open-minded and occasionally push beyond my comfort zone. I think my selections for this week, which all appeared yesterday (May 28), illustrate the point, especially when it comes to a young artist from Canada who is of Sudanese heritage.

Jane Lee Hooker/Drive

If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, you may recall some of my previous posts about this blues rock-oriented band from New York. Jane Lee Hooker have been around since 2015. Their current line-up features founding members Dana “Danger” Athens (vocals), Tracy Hightop  (guitar), Tina “T-Bone” Gorin (guitar) and Hail Mary Z (bass), along with ‘Lightnin’ Ron Salvo who joined as the band’s new drummer last year. To date, Jane Lee Hooker have released two full-length albums, No B! (April 2016) and Spiritus (November 2017), which I covered here and here. Drive is their latest single, following Jericho from February. Both tunes will be on the band’s next album that’s slated for later this year. The new track is a departure from their hard-charging blues rock sound. A statement explained due to COVID-19 restrictions Jane Lee Hooker “found themselves locked out of their Brooklyn rehearsal room – the creative space where they write and rehearse with amps cranked up at maximum volume. Out of necessity, band catch-ups were moved to the grapevine-filled backyard of singer Dana Athens’ family home in Brooklyn – with tiny practice amps, acoustic guitars and drummer Ron Salvo keeping the beat on upturned plastic garbage cans and recycling bins.” Well, whatever impact the new setting may have had, I dig the outcome, which is more like a rock ballad with a nice soul vibe.

Lou Barlow/In My Arms

Lou Barlow is an alternative rock singer-songwriter who has been active since the early 1980s. Viewed as a pioneer of low-fi rock, Barlow has been a founding member of various bands, including Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh and The Folk Implosion. Just five weeks ago, Dinosaur Jr. released their latest album Sweep It Into Space, from which I featured a track in a previous Best of What’s New installment. After 25 years, Barlow remains involved with indie rock band Sebadoh as well. In addition to his group engagements, he has also released various solo albums including his latest, Reason to Live. Here’s the opener In My Arms. I like the laid back vibe and also find this tune quite catchy.

Mustafa/Stay Alive

Mustafa Ahmed, aka Mustafa the Poet and Mustafa, is a Canadian poet, singer-songwriter and filmmaker from Toronto, who is of Sudanese heritage. According to his Apple Music profile, Mustava became known for socially conscious poetry during his youth. When he was 18, in 2014, he made his first recorded appearance as Mustafa the Poet on Lorraine Segato’s “Rize Time.” Shortly thereafter, he gained more notice when a poem he wrote was shared by Drake on social media. In 2016, Mustafa was named to the Prime Minister’s Youth Council by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and, in addition to contributing to “Feel” by Halal Gang partner SAFE, he also gained his first major songwriting credit on the Weeknd’s “Attention,” contained on the chart-topping Starboy. Over the next few years, he continued to write poetry and collaborate with other artists, and, following the murder of friend and Halal member Smoke Dawg, he made Remember Me, Toronto, a short documentary addressing gun violence and its root causes (with Drake among those whom he filmed for it). Fast-forward to the present and When Smoke Rises, Mustava’s solo debut. Here’s the album’s opener Stay Alive, co-written by him, Frank Dukes, Mohammed Omar and Simon Hessmann. Don’t let the tune’s soft acoustic sound and lovely melody distract you from the serious lyrics. Here’s an excerpt: A bottle of lean, a gun in your jeans/And a little faith in me/A plane in the sky, the only starlight/On this never-ending street/The cameras and cops, we could’ve been stars/On our mothers news screens…It’s almost a Marvin Gaye/What’s Going On approach.

Blackberry Smoke/Ain’t the Same

The last track I’d like to highlight in this Best of What’s New is a great song by Blackberry Smoke, a southern rock band formed in Atlanta, Ga. in 2000. Their line-up includes Charlie Starr (vocals, guitar), Paul Jackson (guitar, vocals), Brandon Still (keyboards), Richard Turner (bass, vocals) and Brit Turner (drums). Blackberry Smoke released their debut album Bad Luck Ain’t No Crime in 2003. The third album The Whippoorwill from August 2012 brought the band their first chart success in the U.S. and the UK. They have performed throughout the U.S. as headliner and supporting acts for the likes of Zac Brown Band, Eric Church, ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Ain’t the Same, co-written by Starr and Keith Nelson, is a track from Blackberry Smoke’s new album You Hear Georgia, their seventh studio release. I’ll be sure to check it out more closely!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

Advertisement

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

A busy week that hardly left any opportunity to read and comment on posts from fellow bloggers, not to mention post anything myself, is coming to an end. At least, I managed to carve out some time to write my weekly feature about newly released music. All of the picks in this installment fall into the rock realm. Each tune appeared on albums that were released yesterday (April 23), in some cases delayed due to COVID-19. What else is new?

Dirty Honey/California Dreamin’

Kicking off this Best of What’s New are Dirty Honey, a great rock band from Los Angeles that was founded in 2017. Apple Music characterizes them as a hard rock combo in the grand, riffy tradition of stadium titans like Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin, [which] rose out of Los Angeles’ club scene in 2019 with their self-titled debut EP. Singer Marc Labelle, guitarist John Notto, bassist Justin Smolian, and drummer Corey Coverstone cut their teeth developing a classic hard rock sound deeply indebted to the aforementioned rock giants as well as second wave purveyors like the Black Crowes. Their 2018 debut single “Fire Away” earned some national exposure and was followed in 2019 by their eponymous EP, which was produced by rock veteran Nick Didia (Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine). Here’s a nice tune from the band’s first full-length album titled Dirty Honey just like their previous 2019 EP: California Dreamin’, which is pretty representative of the other tracks on the album. All songs are credited to the entire group. As somebody who enjoys classic rock, it’s easy for me to dig this music.

Art d’Ecco/Desire

Art d’Ecco is a Canadian singer-songwriter from Victoria, B.C., who thanks to his fondness for makeup and platform shoes looks like a throwback to the ’70s glam rock era. But as Apple Music notes, while it has a retro vibe, his music blurs the boundaries of genres rather than capturing one specific style. D’Ecco’s web bio is primarily focused on his new album In Standard Definition and doesn’t provide much background on him. It notes a predecessor from 2018 titled Trespasser. Discogs also lists 2016 album Day Fevers. Here’s an excerpt from D’Ecco’s bio about his newest release, a concept album revolving around the role of entertainment in (some) people’s lives: Joining forces with producer/ engineer Colin Stewart (Black Mountain, New Pornographers, Destroyer) in ocean-side studio The Hive, In Standard Definition  sees d’Ecco packing his heftiest punch yet. Through Stewart’s vintage set up, a decoupage of authentic sounds was recorded to 2-inch tape on a 50-year-old console. Embellished with slick ‘70s drums production, it echoes with the textural ambition of Brian Eno’s Here Come The Warm Jets or Toni Visconti on Bowie’s Scary Monsters. Here’s the opener Desires, which like all other tunes of the album was written by d’Ecco. It’s not exactly in my core wheelhouse- still, it has something!

KALEO/Alter Ego

How many rock bands from Iceland you know? I had not been aware of any until I came across KALEO and their new album Surface Sounds. The band was formed in 2012 in Mosfellsbær, a small town in south-west Iceland, seven miles east of the country’s capital Reykjavík. JJ Julius Son (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, piano), Daniel Kristjansson (bass) and David Antonsson (drums), who had been close friends since elementary school, began playing music together when they were 17. Lead guitarist Rubin Pollock joined soon thereafter. Þorleifur Gaukur Davíðsson (harmonica, bongos, keyboards) rounds out the current line-up. In late 2012, KALEO signed with Iceland’s main record label Sena and recorded their eponymous studio album, which came out the following year. In early 2015, the band got a deal with Atlantic Records and relocated to Austin, Texas. Their sophomore album A/B, which appeared in June 2016, marked KALEO’s international breakthrough. It climbed to no. 16 on the Billboard 200, peaked at no. 2 in Canada, reached no. 29 in Australia, and charted within the top 30 in various European countries. Alter Ego, written by JJ Julius Son, is a tune from the aforementioned Surface Sounds, the band’s third album. Initially, it had been scheduled for June 2020, but the release was pushed back because of you know what. Alter Ego was first released as a single on March 20, 2020.

Dinosaur Jr./I Ain’t

Let’s wrap up things with some more rock. Dinosaur Jr. were founded in Amherst, Mass. in 1984. Initially a four-piece called Mogo, the band dissolved after their first gig and reformed as a trio shortly thereafter, consisting of J Mascis (guitar, vocals), Lou Barlow (bass) and Patrick Murphy (“Murph“) (drums) and calling themselves Dinosaur. They released their eponymous debut album in July 1985 on Homestead Records, the label by Mascis’ college friend Gerard Cosloy. Due to legal reasons, the band tweaked their name to Dinosaur Jr. in late 1987 shortly after their sophomore album You’re Living All Over Me had come out. By the time the band’s sixth studio album Without a Sound was released in August 1994, Mascis was the only remaining original member. The band, which essentially had become his project, released one additional album, Hand it Over (March 1997), before Mascis dissolved it and launched a solo career. In 2005, Mascis reunited with Barlow and Murphy to revive Dinosaur Jr. They have since released five additional albums including their latest Sweep It Into Space, another record that initially had been scheduled to appear last year. Here’s the opener I Ain’t, a melodic rocker written by Mascis.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Art d’Ecco website; Discogs; YouTube