Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to the first 2023 installment of Best of What’s New, a weekly feature looking at newly released music. For first-time visitors, my picks typically fall outside the current mainstream pop charts, where I tend to find much more music that speaks to me. All featured tunes in this post are on albums that appeared yesterday (January 6), except for the last track.

Brandon Ratcliff/Tale of Two Towns

Kicking off things is Brandon Ratcliff, a young singer-songwriter who combines country, pop and R&B. From his website: From the day he was born, and even before, he was on stages, on tour buses, and in writing rooms across America, watching his family sing the music they love as the celebrated Bluegrass band, The Cox Family. Born in Cotton Valley, LA (population 962), Brandon saw first-hand how universal the stories born in small towns are. The son of Suzanne Cox, one third of the family band, Brandon watched as his mother and her siblings won Grammy Awards telling those stories to the world…After deciding to leave Cotton Valley for Nashville, Brandon’s talents quickly attracted the music business machine in town. He was offered a publishing deal at the age of 20 but decided to turn it down to develop his sound...In 2018 Brandon was signed to Monument Records, and in 2019 burst onto the scene with his debut single, “Rules Of Breaking Up,” accumulating more than 50 million streams. This brings me to Tales of Two Towns, the title track of Ratcliff’s ambitious debut double album. He wrote the tune together with Josh Jenkins and Peter Good. I like it!

Allen Epley/Thousand Yard Stare

Allen Epley was born in Louisville, Ky. and grew up in a musical family. After playing in a college band, he co-founded Orchid in 1992, which soon became Shiner, a post-hardcore/alternative rock band. After four studio albums and their split, Epley formed indie rock band The Life and Times in 2002, who remain active to this day. Since 2012, Shiner have played reunion shows and in 2020 released another album. Apart from Epley’s continued engagements with both groups, he frequently collaborates with other bands. And he also managed to record his solo debut album Everything. Let’s check out the great-sounding Thousand Yard Stare.

Anti-Flag/Nvrevr

Anti-Flag are a punk rock band from Pittsburgh, Pa., who have been around since 1988. Their current line-up includes co-founding members Justin Sane (vocals, guitar) and Pat Thetic (drums), along with Chris Head (guitar) and Chris No. 2 (vocals, bass). Anti-Flag who are known for their extensive political activism, released their debut album Die For the Government in August 1996. Since then, 12 additional albums have come out including their latest Lies They Tell Our Children. According to AllMusic, Anti-Flag have gained a “reputation for recapturing the old-school ethics of punk: fast, loud, obnoxious, and anti-everything that ends with an “ism.”” Frankly, “fast” and “loud” don’t sound like particularly attractive musical attributes to me, but when combined with a good melody can still work. Here’s Nvrever featuring Stacey Dee, guitarist and vocalist of pop punk group Bad Cop/Bad Cop. Credited to all members of Anti-Flag, the rocker first appeared as a single last November.

Iggy Pop/Strung Out Johnny

Frankly, Iggy Pop wasn’t exactly on my radar screen, so I was surprised to see a new album by the now 75-year-old “Godfather of Punk.” That said, I know his name much better than his music. Pop, born James Newell Osterberg Jr., started his music career as a drummer in various high school bands in Ann Arbor, Mich. in the mid-’60s. In 1967, he formed the Psychedelic Stooges who became The Stooges the following year. After three albums and a short break-up in between, they split a second time in 1974. Three years later, Pop began a volatile yet ultimately successful solo career, which has yielded 19 studio albums to date. Between 2003 and 2019, Pop played with different versions of The Stooges who released two additional albums during that period. Pop’s new solo album, titled Every Loser, features guest appearances from Duff McKagan (ex Guns N’ Roses bassist), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer), Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction guitarist) and the late Taylor Hawkins (former Foo Fighters drummer), among others. Here’s Strung Out Johnny, co-written by Andrew Watt, Chad Smith, Pop and Josh Klinghoffer – cool rocker!

The Hold Steady/Sideways Skull

My final pick for this week is Sideways Skull, the great new single by New York indie rock band The Hold Steady. Formed in 2003, their current lineup includes co-founders Craig Finn (lead vocals, guitar), Tad Kubler (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Galen Polivka (bass), along with Steve Selvidge (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Franz Nicolay (piano, keyboards, accordion, harmonica, backing vocals) and Bobby Drake (drums, percussion). Wikipedia notes the band is known for their “lyrically dense storytelling”, “classic rock influences” and “narrative-based songs [that] frequently address themes, such as drug addiction, religion and redemption, and often feature recurring characters within the city of Minneapolis.” Since their 2004 debut Almost Killed Me, The Hold Steady have released seven additional studio albums. Their new single, co-written by Finn, Nicolay and Kubler, is from their upcoming ninth studio album The Price of Progress, scheduled for March 31.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify list of the above and a few additional tunes by the featured artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; Brandon Ratcliff website; Allen Epley website; AllMusic; YouTube; Spotify

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Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

This doesn’t happen very often. As I was browsing and sampling newly released songs, I quickly realized there were a good amount of new tunes I could have featured in this Best of What’s New installment. During most weeks, it’s relatively easy to select four tracks that rise to the top based on my taste. This time, I could have included nine or 10, so I decided to broaden the set from the usual four to six tunes.

The result is an eclectic selection, including indie rock, post-hardcore rock, alternative rock, pop-oriented country, searing rock and even some bossa nova. All tracks appear on albums that were released yesterday (May 21). Hope you find some music in here you like!

Storefront Church/Smile-Shaped Scar

According to an artist page on the website of their record label Sargent House, Storefront Church is a Los Angeles-based project around singer-songwriter Lukas Frank. Smile-Shaped Scar, co-written by Frank and guitarist Waylon Dean Reactor, is a tune from the outfit’s debut album As We Pass. The project included more than 20 collaborators. Sargent House describes the outcome as “a sweeping artistic statement that paints dark, weathered landscapes paired with Frank’s mournful croon and howls summoned via poignant songwriting that recalls the likes of Roy Orbison, Scott Walker, and Jeff Buckley.” While the lyrics aren’t exactly cheerful, I really dig the sound of this tune, which is quite catchy as well. Check it out!

Fiddlehead/Million Times

Fiddlehead, which has been active since 2014, are a rock band from Boston, featuring Patrick Flynn (vocals), Alex Henery (guitar), Alex Dow (guitar), Casey Nealon (bass) and Shawn Costa (drums). Wikipedia characterizes them as a post-hardcore supergroup bringing together former members from various other bands, including Have Heart, Basement, Big Contest, Intent, Youth Funeral, Death Injection and Glory – frankly, all groups I don’t know! Fiddlehead released their debut EP Out of the Bloom in 2014. Their first full-length album Springtime and Blind followed in 2018. Million Times, credited to the entire band, is a fairly melodic rocker from Fiddlehead’s new sophomore album Between the Richness. Here’s the official video that was released in March.

Counting Crows/Elevator Boots

There’s a name I hadn’t heard for quite some time. Alternative rock band Counting Crows entered my radar screen in late 1993 with Mr. Jones, the catchy lead single from their excellent debut album August and Everything After. The band was formed by lead vocalist Adam Duritz and producer and guitarist David Bryson in San Francisco in 1991. Together with Charlie Gillingham (keyboards, accordion, clarinet, backing vocals), Duritz and Bryson remain as original members in the group’s current line-up, which also features David Immerglück (guitars, bass, pedal steel guitar, banjo, mandolin, backing vocals), Millard Powers (bass, rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Dan Vickrey (lead guitar, banjo, backing vocals) and Jim Bogios (drums). To date, Counting Crows have released seven studio and various compilation and live albums. Elevator Roots, written by Duritz, is a song from the band’s new EP Butter Miracle Suite One, their first studio release since 2014. I like it!

Jordan Davis/I Still Smoked

Jordan Davis is a Nashville-based pop-oriented country singer-songwriter who originally hails from Shreveport, La. According to his artist profile on Apple Music, Davis had music in his bloodline. His uncle Stan Paul Davis wrote country hits for Tracy Lawrence and others in the ’90s, and in 2012, Jordan made his way to Music City to give his own songs a push. Five years later, his debut single, “Singles You Up,” stampeded up the country charts and went double platinum. His next couple of singles, “Take It From Me” and “Slow Dance in a Parking Lot,” became country smashes too, as did the album they appeared on, 2018’s Home State (his studio debut album). I Still Smoked, co-written by Davis, Jonathan Singleton and Randy Montana, is a melodic tune from Davis’ new sophomore album Buy Dirt.

Ayron Jones/Mercy

Ayron Jones is a guitarist and singer-songwriter from Seattle. Jones has been active since the age of 19 when he started performing at local bars. In 2010, he formed Ayron Jones and the Way, a trio influenced by the likes of Cream, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, and Prince and the Revolution. A gig at a Seattle bar in 2012 led to their discovery by local rapper, songwriter and record producer Anthony Ray, aka Sir Mix-a-Lot. The band’s debut album Dream appeared in October 2013. Jones has since released two additional albums including his new one Child of the State. Here’s Mercy co-written by Jones, Marti Fredericksen and Scott Stevens. Jones’ guitar-playing style has been compared to Gary Clark Jr. and Vaughan. This rocks quite furiously. Check out the official video.

Marinero/Through the Fog

Let’s wrap up this post on a softer note: Through the Fog, a track from Hella Love, the debut album by Marinero. According to his Bandcamp profile, Marinero is the moniker for Jess Sylvester. Sylvester who grew up in San Francisco and is now based in Los Angeles, is of Mexican heritage. It’s difficult to classify or generalize about Marinero’s music or identity, notes his profile. To him, it’s important to let his music do the talking. “I’m Chicanx, a bay native, biracial, and I’ve luckily gotten to travel and spend time in Mexico and I feel like my personality and specific musical tastes come through on this album… Pulling sonic influences from classic Latin American groups and international composers from the 60’s & 70’s: Los Terricolas, Ennio Morricone, Esquivel, Carole King and, Serge Gainsbourg Hella Love finds Sylvester fusing classical arrangements with a variety of different genres, evoking a sonic nostalgia blended with other contemporary artists like Chicano Batman, Connan Mockasin, and Chris Cohen. I dig this tune’s jazzy bossa nova groove.

Sources: Wikipedia; Storefront Church Sargent House artist page; Apple Music; Marinero Bandcamp profile; YouTube