Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to another Best of What’s New, my weekly revue of newly released music. This time, my picks include some alternative, rock, country and prog rock from a stalwart of the genre. All featured tunes except for the last one are on albums that came out yesterday (October 8).

Scott Hirsch/Big Passenger

Kicking off this week’s post is new music by Scott Hirsch, a producer and singer-songwriter I first featured in a Sunday Six installment last month with a tune of his then-upcoming new album Windless Day. Borrowing again from his Facebook pageYou’ve heard the sound of Scott Hirsch. You might not know it, but his audio production has lurked deep in the cut of many admired recordings from the late 1990s to the present. A founding member of Hiss Golden Messenger, he was integral to the band’s formative years in the studio and on the road. His sonic imprint remains on their productions; most recently mixing the forthcoming album Quietly Blowing It. He recorded and mixed a Grammy nominated record by the legendary folk-singer Alice Gerrard and has produced and played on records by William Tyler, Mikael Jorgensen, Orpheo McCord and Daniel Rossen. Here’s Big Passenger, another track from Hirsch’s above noted new album. To me it’s got a J.J. Cale vibe with an updated contemporary sound. Check it out!

The Wild Feathers/Side Street Shakedown

Here’s another group I first encountered in the context of Best of What’s New: The Wild Feathers, which I first featured in this installment from last December. According to a bio on AllMusic, they prefer the term “American” over Americana when describing their sound, which falls somewhere between the earnest, neo-Southern rock of the Black Crowes, the bluesy swagger of the Black Keys, and the wide-open-road country-rock of the Eagles. Founded in 2010 in Nashville, Tenn., the band’s current lineup features founding members Ricky Young (guitar, vocals), Taylor Burns (guitar, vocals) and Joel King (bass, vocals), as well as Ben Dumas (drums). The Wild Feathers began touring frequently in 2013, playing with artists like Bob DylanWillie Nelson and ZZ Ward. Their eponymous debut album appeared in August 2013. Side Street Shakedown is a track from the band’s fifth and new album Alvarado. This nice rocker was co-written by King, Young and Burns.

Natalie Hemby/It Takes One To Know One

Natalie Hemby is a country singer-songwriter who is also based in Nashville. According to her Apple Music profile, she first gained notice as a hit songwriter for Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, and Toby Keith, penning the hits “White Liar,” “Only Prettier,” and “Automatic” (all recorded by Lambert), “Pontoon” and “Tornado” (two hits by Little Big Town), and “Drinks After Work” (Keith). After establishing this résumé, Hemby struck out as a recording artist, releasing her debut, Puxico, early in 2017. She became a Billboard 200 Top Ten-charting artist as a member of the Highwomen (Hemby, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires), who topped the country chart with their self-titled debut in 2019. Here’s It Takes One To Know One, a tune from Hemby’s new sophomore album Pins and Needles.

Yes/Minus the Man

I’d like to conclude this post with new music by progressive rock stalwarts Yes, who I trust don’t need an introduction. They are among a handful of bands I warmed to in prog rock, a genre I haven’t fully embraced. Since they were formed in 1968 by Jon Anderson (vocals), Peter Banks (guitar), Tony Kaye (keyboards), Chris Squire (bass) and Bill Bruford (drums), Yes have seen numerous line-up changes. The group’s last original member Squire passed away in 2015. The current line-up includes Jon Davison (vocals), Steve Howe (guitar), Geoff Downes (keyboards), Billy Sherwood (bass) and Alan White (drums). Howe, White and Downes are longtime members who first joined in 1970, 1972 and 1980, respectively. Last Friday (October 1), Yes released their 22nd studio album The Quest, their first with new music in seven years. “Much of the music was written in late 2019 with the rest in 2020,” Howe who produced the album said in a statement. “We commissioned several orchestrations to augment and enhance the overall sound of these fresh new recordings, hoping that our emphasis on melody, coupled with some expansive instrumental solo breaks, keeps up the momentum for our listeners.” Let’s check out Minus the Man, which was co-written by Davison and Sherwood. Davison’s vocals sound remarkably similar to Jon Anderson, even more so on some of the other tunes I’ve sampled thus far.

Sources: Wikipedia; Scott Hirsch Facebook page; Apple Music; Yes website; YouTube

Another Posthumous Album Highlights Some of Tom Petty’s Most Productive Years

“Angel Dream” is reconfigured and remastered 25th anniversary version of 1996 “She’s the One” soundtrack album

While I would call myself a Tom Petty fan and dearly miss him, I’m mostly familiar with his catalog until 1994. Except for his final album with the Heartbreakers, Hypnotic Eye, my knowledge gets spotty when it comes to anything Petty released after his second solo album Wildflowers, alone or together with his longtime band. Among the latter was the August 1996 soundtrack Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”. That changed over the past few days with Angel Dream, a reconfigured and remastered 25th anniversary edition released on July 2. Listening to the anniversary issue not only led me to check out the original, but also to discover Tom Petty music I really like.

Officially titled Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”), the latest Tom Petty posthumous release is being characterized as a “reimagined reissue.” This 25th anniversary edition keeps eight tunes of the original album, eliminates seven and adds four previously unreleased songs. As such, I’m okay with the characterization. But I can also see how some music fans like hotfox63 view the “reimagined reissue” label as a cynical marketing gimmick. Whatever the main motives behind a reissue may be, I think there can be no doubt that money is always part of the equation. Notably, Petty was involved in working on the mixes for Angel Dream with his longtime engineer and co-producer Ryan Ulate prior to his untimely death in October 2017.

I’d like to start this review with Angel Dream (No. 2), the album’s beautiful opener, a tune that also appeared on the original edition. During a recent interview on SiriusXM’s Tom Petty Radio (channel 31), Heartbreakers co-founder and keyboarder Benmont Tench called it “one of the loveliest songs Tom ever wrote,” as transcribed in this Rock Cellar Magazine review. Essentially, Angel Dream (No. 2) bookends the album, with the second bookend being an instrumental reprise titled French Disconnection, one of the previously unreleased tracks.

Among the highlights of the original album and this reissue is Change the Locks, a tune written by Lucinda Williams, which she recorded for her 1988 eponymous third studio album under the slightly different title Changed the Locks. Petty’s cover is more straight rock than the more bluesy original. Nice!

One of Life’s Little Mysteries is among the previously unreleased tracks. The song’s jazzy groove reminds me a bit of Full Grown Body, a tune from the aforementioned Hypnotic Eye. The music certainly fits the lyrics. An excerpt: Go to work in the morning/Try to make a buck/Do everything you’re told/And you’re still outta luck/It’s one of life’s little mysteries…

Here’s another cool cover and previously unreleased track: Thirteen Days, a J.J. Cale tune included on his fifth studio album 5 that came out in August 1979. “We had a lot of fun playing that song live and it’s great to have a recording of it from the studio,” said Mike Campbell, ex-Heartbreakers guitarist, during the above SiriusXM interview. I can definitely see why!

The last song I’d like to call out is yet another previously unreleased tune: 105 Degrees, which also is the album’s lead single. I realize I already covered this song in my last Best of What’s New installment, but since it’s an early favorite, I simply couldn’t skip it. I just love how this tune is shuffling along!

“‘She’s The One’ was originally a great way to include some of the songs that didn’t make it on to Wildflowers, but it has its own thing to it, its own charm, and putting it out now in a restructured form makes for a sweet little treat,” Benmont further noted. “At the time in the studio, it was fun working as a band to improvise the scoring cues for the movie rather than playing to preset click tracks and a written score. And it was interesting to try to cut covers of others’ songs for a record, instead of learning covers just for live shows.”

Here’s another tidbit I learned about “She’s the One” when doing some research for this post. It’s only album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers that was recorded without an official drummer. The studio sessions happened following the departure of the band’s original drummer Stan Lynch. The album featured contributions from three other drummers: Curt Bisquera, Ringo Starr and Steve Ferrone. Ferrone, who had also played on Wildflowers, became the official drummer of the Heartbreakers shortly after “She’s the One” had been recorded.

Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture She's the One) CD – Tom  Petty
CD softpak with 12-page booklet.

“These songs are extremely special,” added Petty’s widow Dana Petty, who together with their two daughters Adria and Annakim manages the Tom Petty estate. “I am grateful this record is getting the recognition it deserves. The remix Ryan Ulyate did sounds amazing, and the unreleased gems are a lovely bonus. Annakim, Adria, and I took a lot of time finding artwork that reflects the mood of the album. I think we finally achieved that with Alia Penner’s work. It is surreal and beautiful, just like life during that time.”

Angel Dream, which appears on Warner Records and is available in CD and vinyl formats, as well as in digital music platforms, is the fifth posthumous Tom Petty album. It is also the third album with a connection to Wildflowers, widely considered to be one of Petty’s best records. October 2020 saw the release of Wildflowers & All the Rest. The super deluxe edition of that reissue, titled Finding Wildflowers, included a disc featuring alternate versions of Wildflowers’ 15 tracks, plus You Saw Me Comin’, a previously unreleased original song. That CD was released as a standalone under the title Finding Wildflowers (Alternate Versions) in April this year.

I will admit the standalone release does smack a bit like a money grab, since they could have offered it as a separate option when Wildflowers & All the Rest came out. Instead, they waited for six months. In the meantime, if fans wanted to own the alternate versions and that new song, they needed to buy the whole enchilada. I wonder how Tom Petty would have felt about that. After all, he once successfully battled his label MCA when they wanted to sell his then-latest record Damn the Torpedoes at a premium price of $9.98 instead of the usual list price of $8.98.

Sources: Wikipedia; Tom Petty website; Rock Cellar Magazine; YouTube