Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another installment of my weekly new music revue. All picks appear on releases that came out yesterday. Let’s get to them without further ado.

Larkin Poe/Southern Comfort

Great to see a new album by Larkin Poe, the roots and blues rock-focused singer-songwriter sister act of Rebecca Lovell (vocals, guitars, keyboards, drums) and her slightly older sister Megan Lovell (vocals, lap steel, slide guitar, keyboards). Their website describes their music as “gritty, soulful, and flavored by their southern heritage.” I first came across these two young dynamic ladies, who not only are excellent musicians but also great vocalists, in late 2019. They started out as teenagers with their eldest sister Jessica Lovell in a bluegrass/ Americana formation called The Lovell Sisters. After the trio disbanded in January 2010, Rebecca and Megan decided to forge ahead without Jessica and have since been making music as Larkin Poe. Apart from self-producing their own music, the two sisters have a very active YouTube channel that among others includes a cover channel featuring stripped-back renditions of many well-known rock and blues tunes. If you don’t know Larkin Poe, check them out! Their energy and enthusiasm are infectious! Meanwhile, here’s Southern Comfort, penned by Rebecca Lovell, a nice southern blues rock-flavored tune from their sixth full-length album Blood Harmony.

Jack Kays/Finally Fine

Let’s turn to Jack Kays whose music is “hard to pigeonhole,” according to AllMusic, blending “punk and emo with rugged acoustic folk and occasional detours into cloud rap.” Here’s more from their bio of the young artist: After a handful of independent releases, the Ohio native found viral success with his sparse but aggressive acoustic songs, especially “Morbid Mind.” Signing with Columbia Records, Kays released his debut album, Mixed Emotions, in early 2021. My Favorite Nightmares, a collaborative EP with Travis Barker followed later that year. I featured a tune of that EP in a Best of What’s New installment at the time. Kays who struggled with addiction during his teenage years is now out with his latest EP titled Cessation. One of the songs, Finally Fine, begins…from the perspective of an addict and then transitions midway through to the perspective of someone in recovery, a press release explains. There’s something captivating about Kays’ lyrics and stripped-back approach on this and the EP’s other tracks, which drew me in.

Action/Adventure/Levity

Action/Adventure are a pop punk band from Chicago. From their Apple Music profile: Combining the aggressive melodic approach of pop-punk with the punishing guitar attack of metalcore, Action/Adventure are a band from Chicago who’ve earned a powerful reputation on the city’s underground rock scene. They also upend expectations of what a hardcore band should look like: Action/Adventure is composed of five BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) men, and their songs sometimes examine the challenges and contradictions of being part of a dominantly white musical community. They just as often deal with the anger, imaginings, and uncertainty that often fuel hardcore, and they perform with a strong balance of fire and precision. They made an emphatic debut with 2015’s Rumble Pak EP, revealed a greater maturity and ambition on 2018’s Going Heel, and began breaking through to a larger audience with 2021’s Pulling Focus. Action/Adventure include Blake Evaristo (lead vocals), Brompton Jackson (vocals/guitar), Oren Trace (guitar), Manny Avila (bass) and Adrian Brown (drums). Levity, credited to all members, is a tune from their latest album Imposter Syndrome. Metalcore generally isn’t my cup of tea, but Action/Adventure’s pop-flavored type isn’t your usual metalcore.

Franz Nicolay/Wandering Star

Wrapping up this week’s Best of What’s New is a prolific multi-instrumentalist and writer, Franz Nicolay. From his website: In addition to records under his own name, he was a member of cabaret-punk orchestra World/Inferno Friendship Society, “world’s best bar band” the Hold Steady, Balkan-jazz quartet Guignol, co-founded the composer-performer collective Anti-Social Music, was a touring member of agit-punks Against Me!; and recorded (complete discography here) or performed (complete list here) with dozens of other acts. He studied music at New York University and writing at Columbia University (where he was awarded a Felipe P. de Alba Fellowship). He received fellowship residencies in composition at the Rensing Art Center and writing at the Ucross Foundation and the Edward F. Albee Foundation. He has taught at Columbia University and UC-Berkeley, and is currently a faculty member in music and written arts at Bard College. This brings me to New River, Nicolay’s latest solo album, and the opening track Wandering Star. Great tune – check it out! In fact, the entire album looks promising, based on sampling a few of the other tunes.

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

Sources: Wikipedia; Larkin Poe website; AllMusic; Sony Music Canada website; Apple Music; Franz Nicolay website; YouTube; Spotify

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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