Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to another installment of my new music revue. Unless noted otherwise, the picks are from albums that appeared yesterday (March 24). As oftentimes is the case in this series, I’m completely new to all featured artists.

The Reds, Pinks and Purples/Life in the Void

The Reds, Pinks and Purples are an indie pop project launched in 2015 by San Francisco-based musician, singer-songwriter and producer Glenn Donaldson. According to an AllMusic bio, he is dedicated to the pristine melodies and unvarnished emotions of mid-period Sarah Records [a British independent record label that existed from 1987 to 1995 – CMM] and indie pop outsiders like East River Pipe. Working mostly alone, he released a string of singles and albums, like 2021’s exquisite Uncommon Weather, that showcase his laser-focused vision, intimate vocals, and unerring way with a hook. 2022’s Summer at Land’s End showed him expanding his musical reach to include the influence of the ethereal sounds of late-’80s 4AD bands like This Mortal Coil, while the next year’s The Town That Cursed Your Name [his fifth and latest album – CMM] drew from fuzzier, more earthbound college rock influences while the lyrics examined the turbulent lifestyle of trying to survive as a working musician. Before launching this project, Donaldson notably played in lo-fi psychedelic pop duo the Skygreen Leopards, the Television Personalities-loving Art Museums, and a host of other projects, like the heavy shoegaze duo Vacant Gardens and his lo-fi psych-folk project the Ivytree. Here’s Life in the Void, a melodic tune written by Donaldson, which instantly spoke to me!

Lankum/Newcastle

Lankum are an Irish contemporary folk group from Dublin. Founded in 2000 by brothers Ian Lynch (vocals, uilleann pipes, concertina, tin whistle, percussion) and Daragh Lynch (vocals, guitar, percussion, piano), along with Cormac Mac Diarmada (vocals, fiddle, viola, banjo, double bass, vibraphone, piano, percussion) and Radie Peat (vocals, bayan, concertina, harmonium, organ, piano, electric organ, harp, mellotron), the band was initially known as Lynched. After changing their name in October 2016 to avoid associations with the practice of lynching, the group signed with Rough Trade Records in 2017 and released Between the Earth and Sky the same year, their first album as Lankum. That name comes from the folk ballad False Lankum by Irish traveler and folk singer John Reilly. False Lankum is also the title of the band’s new album, their third as Lankum. Here’s the beautiful Newcastle.

The New Death Cult/High + Low

Unlike their cheerful name may suggest, The New Death Cult aren’t some death metal outfit. Instead, the Norwegian group, according to their website, has been referred to as a brilliant mix between Queens of the Stone Age, Biffy Clyro and Muse, with their critically acclaimed self-titled debut album earning praise in The Guardian’s “50 New Artists for 2020” and single airplay on BBC1 Rock Show. The band has been touring with the likes of Wheel and Djerv while making several festival appearances, before heading to the studio to record their second album in Ocean Sound Recordings in May 2020. That new album, Super Natural, was released on March 17. High + Low is a nice melodic hard rock tune penned by vocalist and guitarist Jon Vegard Naess. Eirik Naess (lead guitar), Vegard Liverod (bass) and Anders Langset (drums) complete the band’s line-up. High + Low is a fantastic illustration that heavy-charging rock and great melodies can go in perfect harmony.

Highway 61/Stranger

Sometimes good things take time. In the case of Los Angeles-based blues-rock & roll band Highway 61, it was 30 years between the group’s breakup in 1993 and the release of their debut album Driving South. From their bio, which was kindly provided by manager Gregg Bell of Wanted Management: Highway 61 began in the early ‘90s and tore it up on the Southern California club circuit alongside bands like B.B. Chung King & the Screaming Buddaheads, Marc Ford’s Burning Tree, and The Havalinas, yet they never managed to get that elusive major label record deal...After the band’s breakup, singer/guitarist Frank Meyer went on to form award-winning punk outfit The Streetwalkin’ CheetahsDespite Highway 61 calling it quits in 1993, the guys stayed friends and occasionally collaborated, but it took an unfortunate event to reunite the band. In 2020, as the pandemic hit, guitar player [Andy] Medway was diagnosed with Leukemia. After a year of chemotherapy, Medway had a bone marrow transplant, which required more than a year of recovery and isolation that was followed by a series of complications and setbacks... Inspired by the challenge, Medway started firing off ideas. Soon he and Meyer had written several songs, including the Driving South track “Black Magic,” which led to the reunion with [drummer and percussionist Mike] Knutson and [bassist and vocalist Russell] Loeffler. In summer 2022, the foursome reconvened for the first time in decades at Kitten Robot Studios in Los Angeles with producer Paul Roessler (The Screamers, 45 Grave, Nina Hagen) to make Driving South, which mixes doses of The Rolling Stones and Tom Petty with dashes of The Black Crowes and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Here’s the great-sounding lead single Stranger, which appeared on March 14. The album’s official release date is April 7, but it’s already available on streaming platforms as of yesterday.

Last but not least, following is a Spotify playlist of the above and some additional tunes by the featured artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; The New Death Cult website; YouTube; Spotify

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Jane Lee Hooker Deliver Strong New Album Rollin’

Today, Jane Lee Hooker released their third studio album Rollin’ and it’s a fun listening experience! The New York rock band has been on my radar screen since I caught them live at a summer-in-the-park concert on the Jersey shore in August 2017. Two things struck me right away: Their raw power and that they were an all-female band, something that remains relatively rare to this day. Four and a half years later, the group delivers an album that offers their familiar hard-charging guitar-driven rock, as well as some new elements, including acoustic blues and vibes of soul.

While Jane Lee Hooker’s music is generally categorized as blues-rock, I feel their own characterization as being a blend of rock & roll, blues, punk, R&B and soul is more accurate. That’s especially the case on the new album. Jane Lee Hooker were founded in 2013 by Dana “Danger” Athens (vocals), Tina “T-Bone” Gorin (guitar), Tracy Hightop (guitar), Hail Mary Zadroga (bass), Tracy Hightop (guitar) and Melissa “Cool Whip” Houston  (drums) – in addition to the cool band name, you just gotta love these stage names! The group’s original line-up remains in place to this day, except for Houston who left in 2020 and has been replaced by ‘Lightnin’ Ron Salvo

Jane Lee Hooker (from left): Tina Gorin, Dana Athens, Ron Salvo, Mary Zadroga, Tracy Hightop. Photo by Rob Carter.

In 2015, Jane Lee Hooker signed with Ruf Records, a prominent independent German blues and blues-rock label, and released their debut No B! in April 2016, a collection of high-energy blues covers. This was followed by sophomore release Spiritus in November 2017, which featured originals. According to the band’s Facebook page, Rollin’ was written and recorded during the pandemic, which resulted in Jane Lee Hooker trying out new methods of songwriting and recording.

With COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing requirements in effect in NYC, the band found themselves locked out of their Brooklyn rehearsal room – the creative space where they write and rehearse with amps cranked up at maximum volume. Says singer Dana Athens, “Aside from Jericho and Lucky, which were written before 2020, the rest of the songs on Rollin’ were primarily written on acoustic instruments in my backyard while social distancing underneath the grapevines my Greek grandparents planted in 1968. We had this oasis to gather and make music and pass the time the pandemic had afforded us.”

She continues, “…we recorded this record very differently than we have done with our other albums. Beginning with focusing on drums at one studio, then tracking vocals, guitars, and other things at two other locations. This process was very different from our “plug-and-play’ attitude of yore.” Let’s check out some music!

Here’s the opener Lucky, a smoking mid-tempo blues rocker. Like all of the other six original tunes on the album, the song is credited to the entire band. “I love how “Lucky” came together because it was written in Fred’s studio on Stanton St. during practice out of the blue,” Zadroga recalled. “We took a smoke break and were saying we needed to write something new. All of it. Together!”

Drive is one of three tracks that were released as upfront singles. The soul-oriented rock ballad is my personal favorite on the album. “I was not intending to write about travel, the song is really about long-standing plans to see a friend and how you can still feel connected to someone no matter the distance between you,” Athens told Blues Matters! “Lockdown made these friends seem even further away, so I guess the song also contains a bit of escapism and fantasy – wishing that you could be together.” I love Athens’ vocals and keyboards and the beautiful guitar work.

Next up is Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, one of two covers on Rollin’. The original is a jazz tune written by Austrian jazz keyboarder and composer Joe Zawinul in 1966 for Cannonball Adderley. Athens, who had not known the instrumental until she coincidentally came across it on Spotify, added lyrics. “Dana picked this cover months before recording, but we hadn’t arranged much less played it, until the end of our session,” explained Salvo. “It came together perfectly and Dana’s lyrical stamp made it our own.” Jane Lee Hooker did a great job with their rendition. If you’re curious, you can check out the original here.

White Gold, a neat acoustic blues tune, provides a nice contrast to the otherwise electric sound of the album. “I can’t remember the name of the studio in Woodstock [Dreamland Recording StudiosCMM], but it was an old church,” Hightop said. “Matt [producer Matt ChiaravalleCMM] and Ron [drummer Ron SalvoCMM] had already gone to sleep and Dana, T-Bone and I snuck back into the old dark church to practice the song. Just two guitars and Dana’s massive voice filling the church.” Added Gorin: “I always knew we had a song like this in us. It doesn’t even feel like a departure for us to me. We always had roots in our music and this shows our purer side of that.”

The last track I’d like to call is Runaway Train, another blues rocker. “I guess I started writing this one in late 2019,” Athens pointed out. “I didn’t want to
use the potentially over-used train theme, but the song just came out. At this time Mary and I were getting together at my house to write and jam. The very first recording of this song is a voice memo from December 2019 of just Mary and I fleshing it out.” Salvo added, “Sounds exactly as the name implies! High speed and off the rails.” Gorin concluded, “Very JLH tune. We love dealing out energy and this one is the perfect vehicle for that.”

“Somehow, amidst the chaos of a global pandemic, we were able to write and record what I feel is our best work as a band yet,” Athens summed up the album. “Astounding that some things, like writing music with each other, will always be a beautiful and safe world, even during a worldwide health disaster like COVID19,” added Gorin. Hightop concurred, stating, “We were really able to take our time and do these amazing songs justice. This album is just next level in so many respects.” I have to agree. With a more diversified sound, Rollin’ feels like a step up from the band’s two previous albums.

Rollin’, a self-released album, was produced and mixed by Matt Chiaravalle who has worked with the likes of Joe Bonamassa, Warren Zevon and Courtney Love. It was recorded at three studios: Virtue and Vice Studios in Brooklyn, NY; Dreamland Recording Studios in Woodstock, NY; and Mercy Sound Recording Studios in New York, NY).

Here’s a Spotify link to the album:

As a bonus, here’s a live version of Drive I captured at a recent album release party in New York City. Thanks again to the band’s manager Gregg Bell who kindly invited me to the fun event and took the time to chat for a few minutes. He’s actually based in Australia, and this gig was the first time for him to see the band live – well, they certainly rocked the place!

On May 13, Jane Lee Hooker are scheduled to kick off a European tour to support the new album, including The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Austria. Their current schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia; JLH Facebook page & website; JHL press kit; Blues Matters; YouTube, Spotify