Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another Best of What’s New installment. My latest look at new music releases is coming together at the last minute, so without further ado, let’s get to it. All picks except for the last tune appear on albums that were released yesterday (May 6).

Halestorm/Brightside

I’m kicking things off with high-energy hard rock by Halestorm. Here’s a bit of background from their Apple Music profile: Emerging in the late 2000s, Halestorm immediately distinguished themselves in hard-rock circles thanks to powerhouse vocalist/guitarist Lzzy Hale. The Pennsylvania native showed off both a silver-plated yowl and a dynamic lower range on the band’s 2009 breakthrough hit, “I Get Off,” while later singles unleashed a belting siren call (“I Miss the Misery”) and snarling metal ferocity (the Grammy-winning “Love Bites (So Do I)”). Halestorm’s roots date back to the late ’90s, when Hale and her younger brother Arejay, a drummer, started making music together. Following the release of several EPs as a duo, the group expanded into a quartet and made their major-label debut in 2006 with the One and Done live EP. A 2009 self-titled album established Halestorm as a band eager to slip between hard rock, post-grunge, and metal. In addition to Lzzy Hale (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboards, piano) and Arejay Hale (drums, backing vocals), Halestorm’s current line-up also features Joe Hottinger (lead guitar, acoustic guitar, backing vocals) and Josh Smith (bass, keyboards, piano, backing vocals). Here’s Brightside, a track co-written by Lzzy Hale and Scott Stevens, off the band’s fifth and latest album Back From the Dead. I like it but can’t listen to this level of intensity for too long!

Belle and Sebastian/Prophets On Hold

For this next pick by Scottish indie-pop group Belle and Sebastian, we’re taking it down a few notches. The band started out as a project in Glasgow in 1994 by Stuart Murdoch (vocals, guitar, keyboards) and Stuart David (bass). They had both enrolled in a program for unemployed musicians at Stow College where together with their music professor they recorded some demos. This resulted in the release of their first full-length album Tigermilk on the college’s label Electric Honey. The album’s positive reception led Murdoch and David to recruit additional musicians and turn Belle and Sebastian into a full-time band. In August 1996, they signed with Jeepster Records and released their sophomore album If You’re Feeling Sinister in November of the same year. Today, the group consists of Murdoch, Stevie Jackson (guitar, vocals, piano), Sarah Martin (vocals, violin, guitar, flute, keyboards, recorder, percussion), Chris Geddes (keyboards, piano, percussion), Bobby Kildea (guitar, bass), Dave McGowan (bass, keyboards, guitar) and Richard Colburn (drums, percussion). Here’s Prophets On Hold from Belle and Sebastian’s new album A Bit of Previous. The catchy tune is credited to all members of the band.

Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever/The Way It Shatters

Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever are an Australian indie rock band founded in Melbourne in 2013. According to the Apple Music profile, Playing bright, energetic indie rock with lively guitar lines, sharp hooks, and dry wit, the Australian group Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever turn the clock back to the glory days of 1980s jangle pop while giving it a tough, no-nonsense three-guitar update in the process. After two EPs, the band’s first two albums — 2018’s Hope Downs and 2020’s Sideways to New Italy — showed they were in firm control of their songcraft and sound. The band maintains their original line-up to this day: Fran Keaney (vocals, acoustic guitar), Tom Russo (vocals, guitar), Joe White (vocals, lead guitar, keyboards, harmonica), Joe Russo (bass) and Marcel Tussie (drums, percussion). The Way It Shatters, co-written by Keaney, White, Tussie and Tom Russo, appears on the band’s latest album Endless Rooms, their third full-length release. I love their sound!

Simple Plan/Wake Me Up (When This Nightmare’s Over)

Simple Plan are a Canadian pop-rock band formed in Montreal in 1999. Their members include Pierre Bouvier (lead vocals, guitar, percussion, bass), Jeff Stinco (lead guitar), Sébastien Lefebvre (rhythm guitar, backing vocals) and Chuck Comeau (drums, percussion), who have been with the group since its inception. Their debut album No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls appeared in March 2002. While the pop-punk record received mixed reviews, it enjoyed significant chart success in Canada and various other countries and reached double-platinum certification in Canada and the U.S. Simple Plan have since issued five additional albums including their latest Harder Than It Looks. Here’s the opener Wake Me Up (When This Nightmare’s Over), co-written by Comeau, Bouvier and Nate Campany. Quite catchy!

Sheryl Crow/Live With Me

I just couldn’t resist and throw in two bonus tracks by two of my long-time favorite artists who need no introductions. Technically, these aren’t new songs, but both appear on newly released albums. First up is a great cover of Rolling Stones tune Live With Me from the soundtrack of Sheryl, a documentary directed by Amy Scott about Sheryl Crow, which debuted yesterday evening on Showtime. From a previous statement on Crow’s website: An intimate story of song and sacrifice, “Sheryl” navigates an iconic yet arduous musical career while the artist battles sexism, ageism, depression, cancer, and the price of fame, before harnessing the power of her gift. A career spanning album package including her classic hits and several new tracks will accompany the film, released via Big Machine Label Group, in cooperation with Universal Music Group. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Live With Me first appeared on the Stones album Let It Bleed from November 1969. Crow’s rendition features Jagger on harmonica.

Neil Young & The Restless/Heavy Love

Wrapping up this new music revue is Heavy Love, a great rocker by Neil Young & The Restless. It appears on the EP Eldorado, which originally was released in April 1989 in Japan and Australia only. As of April 29 this year, it’s available worldwide. Heavy Love and Cocaine Eyes, which I featured in a previous Best of What’s New installment, are not available on any other recording, while the three remaining tracks Don’t Cry, On Broadway and Eldorado subsequently appeared on Young’s 17th studio album Freedom from October 1989, though in different mixes. The EP is also included in Young’s latest archives vinyl box set titled Neil Young Official Release Series Discs 13, 14, 20 & 21. Like Cocaine Eyes, Heavy Love would have been a great addition to Freedom.

Here’s a Spotify playlist with the above tunes except for Neil Young, as well as a few additional tracks. Young earlier this year asked that his music be pulled from there in protest to Spotify providing a platform to prominent podcaster Joe Rogan who has been criticized for promoting misinformation about the coronavirus and vaccines.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Sheryl Crow website; YouTube; Spotify

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The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six, my weekly celebration of music in different flavors from the past seven decades, six tunes at a time. Get ready for another eclectic zigzag journey. It starts with some contemporary ambient electronic music. The trip then takes us to an acoustic folk gem from 1972, soft grunge from 1993, new wave from 1984 and a beautiful pop ballad from 2004, before we wrap up with a ’60s rock gem. Hop on board and let’s go!

Leif/Seven Hour Flight to Nowhere

I’d like to start this post with a music genre I rarely pick: Ambient electronic music. Recently, I stumbled upon British electronic music producer Leif Knowles. According to his Apple Music profile, Knowles who is known as Leif creates lush, emotive music ranging from the deep, smooth house of his 2013 debut Dinas Oleu to the warm, soothing ambient of 2019’s Loom Dream. Born in Barmouth, Wales and brought up by a musician father who played the Celtic harp and the guitar — which he taught his son — Leif grew up with a love of music, playing in guitar bands in high school. Through the radio, he was introduced to electronic acts such as Tricky and the Orb, before discovering house and techno through free outdoor raves in the forest…Owing to his formative experiences, his music was inspired by a fusion of the natural world and the dancefloor, and he incorporated organic elements such as guitar, bass, and percussion into a sound produced using a fairly simple setup of computer and synth. I’m completely new to Leif and can’t quite explain what drew me into Seven Hour Flight to Nowhere, a track from his new album 9 Airs released on October 29. I find it very soothing.

Jim Croce/Time in a Bottle

Next, I’d like to go back to April 1972 and a song I’ve always loved because of its beautiful lyrics, melody and neat acoustic guitar-playing: Time in a Bottle by Jim Croce. At the time I first heard this gem, I was taking (acoustic) guitar lessons. Croce’s great finger-picking was an immediate attraction and a motivation to work hard on my finger technique. Time in a Bottle is from Croce’s third studio album You Don’t Mess Around with Jim that appeared in April 1972. He wrote it like all other songs on the record. Sadly, in September of the following year, Croce became yet another music artist who perished in a plane crash. Time in a Bottle was also released separately as a single in the wake of Croce’s death in November 1973. It became his signature song and biggest hit, topping the mainstream charts in the U.S. and Canada. Reminds me of John Lennon and the post-mortem success of (Just Like) Starting Over – the bitter cruelty of an artist’s success when they have passed and can no longer enjoy it!

Collective Soul/Shine

This next song takes me back to my grad school days at SUNY Stony Brook on Long Island, N.Y. I can easily say these two years (1993 and 1994) were the most intense period of my student life where I felt I studied as much as during the prior six years of university in Germany! At the time, there was lots of academic freedom in Germany, and you pretty much could study at your own pace – let’s just say I allowed myself to be distracted and wasn’t exactly in a hurry to finish my graduate degree. Anyway, I well remember Shine by Collective Soul. The lead single, off their debut album Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid, received frequent play on the Connecticut FM mainstream radio station I usually had on in the car (blanking on the name now). Originally, the song was released in 1993 on the independent label Rising Storm Records. Subsequently, Collective Soul got a deal with Atlantic Records, which reissued the single and the album in October 1993 and March 1994, respectively. I find it a quite catchy tune and also like the soft grunge sound. Collective Soul, which were founded in 1992, are still together, with three original members remaining in the current lineup.

The Stranglers/No Mercy

Continuing a bit of nostalgia, let’s go back another 10 years to 1984 and The Stranglers. I hadn’t heard that name in ages until I saw their tune The Raven was picked by A Sound Day as part of a song draft by fellow blogger Hans from Slice the Life – thanks, guys! In my case, The Stranglers are similar to The Cars – I know a number of their songs based on radio play but haven’t further explored the group. The first Stranglers tune I recalled after the song draft prompt was Golden Brown, their first hit from 1992. When I checked Wikipedia, some of their other ’80s songs popped up like Always the Sun (1986), Skin Deep and my favorite No Mercy. The last two tracks were on the group’s eighth studio album Aural Sculpture from November 1984. Credited to all four members of the band at the time – Hugh Cornwell (vocals, guitar), Jean-Jacques Burnel (bass, vocals), Dave Greenfield (keyboards) and Jet Black (percussion) – No Mercy didn’t match Golden Brown’s chart success but still gave them a decent hit. Call me crazy: If The Rolling Stones would have gone new wave, this is how I imagine they could have sounded! BTW, like Collective Soul, The Stranglers exist to this day and released their 18th studio album Dark Matters on September 10. Based on sampling a few tunes, it doesn’t sound bad.

Anna Nalick/Breathe (2 AM)

Time to leave the ’80s and ’90s behind and travel to the current century, specifically the year 2004. In October that year, American singer-songwriter Anna Nalick released Breathe (2 AM), the lead single from her debut album Wreck of the Day that appeared in April of the following year. Let’s just say, both the beautiful ballad and the record weren’t exactly a wreck. They became Nalick’s most successful song and album, respectively. Breathe (2 AM) is the only tune by Nalick I can name. She’s still around (in fact she’s only 37) and has released three additional albums to date, most recently The Blackest Crow from December 2019. I find Breathe (2 AM) a pretty compelling and catchy pop ballad. Yes, it’s a bit on the lush side, but the intensity and Nalick’s vocals are just stunning!

The Moody Blues/Go Now

Sadly, on Thursday (November 11), Graeme Edge, co-founder and drummer of The Moody Blues, passed away from cancer at the age of 80. As such, I’d like to wrap up this post with some music by the Moodies whose 1967 sophomore album Days of Future Passed has become one of my favorite ’60s records. Pre-dating this gem is Go Now, the band’s second single from November 1964. Co-written by Larry Banks and Milton Bennett, the song originally was released by Larry’s wife, American soul singer Bessie Banks, in January 1964. But it was the version by The Moody Blues that gained international popularity, topping the charts in the UK, reaching no. 10 in the U.S. and The Netherlands, no. 2 in Canada and no. 12 in Australia. The tune was also included on the band’s debut album The Magnificent Moodies from July 1965, which in the U.S. and Canada was titled Go Now – The Moody Blues #1 and had a different song lineup. It was the only Moodies album to feature guitarist and vocalist Denny Laine who in 1971 joined Paul McCartney’s Wings.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

I can’t believe it’s already been another week since the last Best of What’s New and that we’re at the end of July. This installment of my recurring new music feature includes an English goth punk-influenced rock group, a South African-turned-U.S. post grunge band, as well as an Americana singer-songwriter and a British retro soul artist who are both based in Nashville. All songs appeared on releases that came out yesterday (July 30).

Creeper/Midnight

Creeper are an English rock band from Southampton. Apple Music describes them as a versatile English goth-punk unit that draws inspiration from a deep well of post-punk, emo, and glam rock…Creeper was founded in 2014 by vocalist Will Gould, guitarists Ian Miles and Oliver Burdett, bassist Sean Scott, drummer Dan Bratton, and keyboardist Hannah Greenwood. They issued their eponymous debut EP shortly after formation, and in 2015 they inked a deal with Roadrunner Records and put out a second EP, The Callous Heart…A third EP, The Stranger, dropped the following year, and in 2017, Creeper unleashed their full-length debut, the well-received Eternity, In Your Arms. After seemingly announcing their breakup in 2018, the band unexpectedly returned a year later. In 2020 they unleashed their second album, the grandiosely titled Sex, Death & The Infinite Void. Yesterday, Creeper’s fourth EP American Noir appeared. Here’s Midnight, a melodic rocker co-written by Greenwood, Miles and Gould.

Parker McCollum/Wait Outside

Next up is Parker McCollum, a Nashville-based Americana singer-songwriter. While growing up in the Houston area, McCollum listened to artists like Willie Nelson, Buck Owens, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle. At age 13, he started playing the guitar and began writing his own songs. When he was 16, McCollum was performing at local venues. After his high school graduation, he moved to Austin. While starting to attend college there, he continued to perform. In June 2013, McCollum released his debut single Highway. His debut album Limestone Kid followed in February 2015. In June 2019, he signed with MCA Nashville. That label just issued his third and new album Gold Chain Cowboy. Here’s the opener Wait Outside co-written by him, Randy Rogers and producer Jon Randall – great sound and check out that slide guitar!

Yola/Barely Alive

British singer-songwriter Yola, born Yolanda Quartey, first entered my radar screen last October when I included her then-latest single Hold On in a previous Best of What’s New installment. Her powerful voice immediately grabbed my attention and subsequently led to the review of her compelling first full-length solo album Walk Through Fire from February 2019. Following a tough childhood characterized by poverty, and a period during which she was homeless, Yola managed to establish herself as a session singer in England. In 2005, she co-founded country-soul band Phantom Limb and recorded two studio albums and a live record with them. After the group dissolved and a hiatus, Yola launched her solo career and released a well received debut solo EP, Orphan Offering. Eventually, she came to the U.S. and met Dan Auerbach who produced her above noted first full length album. Barely Alive is the opener of Yola’s new sophomore release Stand For Myself that was produced by Auerbach as well. Together with Joy Oladokun, he also co-wrote the tune with her. If you’re new to Yola and like retro ’70s style soul, check her out. I can hear a bit of Roberta Flack in her voice.

Seether/Wasteland

Seether are a post-grunge rock band founded as Saron Gas in Pretoria, South Africa in 1999. Their debut album Fragile came out in October 2000 on Johannesburg-based independent label Musketeer Records. After it came to the attention of American label Wind-up Records, they signed them, and the band relocated to the U.S. Due to the similarity to sarin gas, they were told to change their name, so they decided to call themselves Seether, after the song by American alternative rock band Veruca Salt, one of their influences. Another one is Nirvana. Their first U.S. album Disclaimer was released in August 2002. Seven additional albums and six EPs have since appeared, including their new EP Wasteland-The Purgatory. Seether’s current line-up includes original member Shaun Morgan (lead vocals, guitar, piano), together with Corey Lowery (lead guitar, backing vocals), Dale Stewart (bass, guitar, backing vocals) and John Humphrey (drums, percussion). Here’s Wasteland written by Morgan.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube