Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another Friday brings another Best of What’s New – I can’t believe this also means another week has flown by! This installment includes a nice mix of music: some folk, some indie, some rock, some pop and a dose of hot boogie-woogie to finish things off. One of the artists is an actor-turned musician. Two of the five featured songs are from upcoming albums. Let’s get to it!

Ray LaMontagne/We’ll Make It Through

With the country going through so much pain and despair, I felt we all could need a picker-upper. While I’m familiar with his name, I hardly know anything about singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne. I do remember what appears to be his biggest hit to date, You Are the Best Thing from 2008, which charted in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. According to Wikipedia, LaMontagne’s music has been compared to Otis Redding, The Band, Van Morrison, Nick Drake and Tim Buckley. Since September 2004, he has released seven study albums. We’ll Make It Through is from his upcoming new album Monovision slated for June 26. Here’s the tune’s official video.

Ivan & Alyosha/Hangin On

Indie pop rock band Ivan & Alyosha were formed by Tim Wilson (vocals, guitar) and Ryan Carbary (guitar, vocals) in Seattle in 2007. Tim’s brother Pete Wilson (bass, vocals) joined later with Tim Kim (guitar, vocals) joined later. They added drummer Cole Mauro to complete their lineup. Apparently, the band’s name is based on the two lead characters in Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky’s work The Brothers Karamozov. Their debut The Verse, the Chorus, an EP, appeared in March 2009. The band has since released an additional EP, three albums and a few singles. Hangin’ On, which I realize is kind of a Debbie Downer following the Ray LaMontagne tune, is from their most recent EP, Labor On that appeared on May 8. But I really dig the sound of that tune, which is credited to all members of the band.

Country Westerns/I’m Not Ready

According to their website, Country Westerns started as an outlet for singer and guitarist Joey Plunkett and Nashville drummer and songwriter Brian Kotzur, after Plunkett had left New York City for the country town 10 years ago. In Spring 2019, Sabrina Rush joined them on bass. Interestingly, she’d been a violinist and had never played bass before. David Berman who like Kotzur used to be a member of indie rock band Silver Jews, encouraged Country Westerns to record some tunes with producer Matt Sweeney in New York. Record company Fat Possum heard the results and signed the band. “I don’t know how to tell you about what it sounds or feels like, cuz that’s why it’s music,” Sweeney noted. “I’d say people who like raw and well written rock and roll songs along the lines of stuff by Dwight Twilley, Dead Moon, Wipers, The Saints, Replacements, Green On Red and that whole vibe should love this band.” I’m Not Ready is from the band’s upcoming eponymous debut album scheduled for June 26. I can tell you one thing: I dig their sound, so I was ready to include them in this post.

Noah Reid/Got You

While Noah Reid, who hails from Toronto, Canada, has been an actor since 1996, the 33-year-old has always been into music, using it as an escape – yep, music can be a wonderful diversion. “Music kept my mind active and engaged and helped to keep the more unpleasant things out of my mind when things weren’t going the way I had hoped,” Reid told the Los Angeles Times in mid-April, when he released Got You, a ballad from his then-upcoming album Gemini, which was released on May 29. My first thought when I heard the tune this morning was it’s got a bit of a John Mayer vibe. In any case, I like this song, and that’s good enough for me to write about it.

Victor Wainwright/Mississippi

Let’s end things with a party tune. If the name Victor Wainwright sounds familiar, in part that could be because fellow music blogger Music Enthusiast included a tune by the blues and boogie-woogie singer-songwriter and pianist in this new music revue post from April 2018. Mississippi is a cool track from Wainwright’s new album Memphis Loud, which came out on May 22. The 39-year-old from Savannah, Ga. has been around since the early 2000s. He released his debut cleverly titled Piana from Savannah in 2005. Memphis Loud is his seventh album. Don’t be fooled by the slow start of the tune. After about 15 seconds, that honky tonk piano is kicking in. Fun stuff!

Sources: Wikipedia; Country Westerns website; Los Angeles Times; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Larkin Poe/Venom & Faith

A few weeks ago, Facebook served me up a video of two young women rocking out: One with an electric guitar, the other one with a pedal steel. Apart from compelling musicianship, the clip featured great harmony vocals, but what really stood out to me was their infectious raw energy. More recently, I watched another clip of 28-year-old Rebecca Lovell and her two-year older sister Megan Lovell, who since January 2010 have performed as Larkin Poe. This prompted me to listen to Venom & Faith, an intriguing album with a stripped back sound blending a strong dose of traditional blues and roots with more modern elements, such as electronic drum loops and handclaps.

Rebecca and Megan, who originally hail from Georgia and now live in Nashville, Tenn. started out as teenagers in 2005 with their eldest sister Jessica Lovell in a bluegrass/Americana formation called The Lovell Sisters. They released two studio records and one live album before disbanding in January 2010. Rebecca and Megan regrouped as Larkin Poe immediately thereafter. They got the name from their great-great-great-grandfather who according to this review in Glide Magazine was a distant cousin to Edgar Allan Poe.

Released in November 2018, Venom & Faith is Larkin Poe’s fourth and most recent studio album. Wikipedia also lists Tarka Layman (bass) and Kevin McGowan (drums) as band members, though I assume the two session musicians are part of the touring lineup. All Venom & Faith reviews I’ve seen only mention Rebecca and Megan, along with slide guitarist Tyler Bryant and recording engineer Roger Alan Nichols with whom the sisters co-produced the album.

Larkin Poe
Rebecca (l) and Megan Lovell

The stripped-back approach Larkin Poe used on this album largely mirrors their YouTube “Tip o’ The Hat” video series, where they take mostly well-known tunes, such as Aerosmith’s Pink, Steelers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle With You and Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back in Town, and create their own bare-bones versions. Check it out, these clips are fun to watch!

Let’s get to some music from Venom & Faith. The opener Sometimes is one of only two covers on the record. Co-written by Alan Lomax and folk and gospel singer Bessie Jones, the tune was first released by Jones in 1960.

Beach Blonde Bottle Blues is one of the album’s eight original tunes.

Next up: Mississippi. It features the above mentioned Tylor Bryant on resonator slide guitar.

Here’s Blue Ridge Mountains, another nice bluesy track.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Hard Times Killing Floor Blues, the only other cover on the record. The song was written by delta blues artist Skip James in 1932.

I think Venom & Faith is a pretty cool album overall by two highly talented musicians. Perhaps my only point of criticism is the lack of real drums. The reliance on handclaps and drum loops does get a bit monotonous after a while. “For our previous records, we wanted to put our best foot forward, so there was a lot more production,” Megan told Guitar Player. You want to take out your mistakes, layer the guitars and double the vocals, and before you know it, you’ve covered up all the humanity in your performances…[For Venom & Faith] we didn’t want to smooth over the imperfections or the raw emotion, because often those are the very things listeners wind up loving.” Fair point!

Added Rebecca, “The production process was about how modern sounds could work with roots music to create a hybrid. We very much wanted to show that we are a female-fronted blues band in the 21st century.”

Venom & Faith has been nominated for the 2020 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. I see great potential in Larkin Poe and look forward to more great music from these highly skilled and dynamic ladies.

Sources: Wikipedia; Glide Magazine; Guitar Player; YouTube