Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Are we really already in October? Hard to believe that’s the case! September, one of my favorite months here in New Jersey, flew by way too fast. ‘Nuff with the whining and on to the business at hand, which is newly released music. My latest picks include some Americana, indie rock, roots rock and acoustic blues. Unless noted otherwise, the tracks are on studio releases that came out yesterday (October 1).

Strand of Oaks/Easter

I’d like to kick off this revue with music by Strand of Oaks, a project by Austin, Texas-based songwriter and producer Timothy Showalter I first introduced in a Best of What’s New post a few weeks ago. You’d think that after 79 installments of the weekly series, including previously featured artists would happen fairly frequently, but at least so far, that’s not been the case. According to Showalter’s Apple Music profilehe specializes in bold and anthemic indie Americana that draws from classic rock and folk. Skillfully blending traditional singer/songwriter introspection with stadium-ready melodies in the vein of artists like War on Drugs and My Morning Jacket, Showalter emerged in 2009 with Leave Ruin. Six additional studio albums, one EP and various singles have since appeared under the Strand of Oaks moniker. Here’s Easter, another tune I like from his new album In Haven.

Arms Akimbo/Now I Know

Atwood Magazine has called Arms Akimbo “one of the West Coast’s hidden treasures.” They also could have characterized them as “mystery”, since neither their website, Facebook page or Soundcloud includes any information on the Los Angeles-based trio. It surprises me time and again when artists don’t post bios or some other background on their website and social media properties, especially when they’re less known! Based on Atwood Magazine, the alternative and indie rock band has been around for five years. Their members are Peter Schrupp (guitar, lead vocals), Colin Boppell (bass), and Matt Sutton (drums). Apparently, they used to be a four piece until the recent departure of their founding member Christopher Kalil (guitar, vocals). Now I Know (that’s the song title, not exactly my state of knowledge about the group) is a track from Arms Akimbo’s new EP Just Basics.

John Mellencamp/Wasted Days (featuring Bruce Springsteen)

I was quite excited to learn that two of my favorite artists, John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen, came together to cut a single – the first time they have done this, according to an announcement on Mellencamp’s website. Wasted Days was released on September 29, along with the below official video filmed in New Jersey last month. The video was directed and produced by Thom Zimny, a filmmaker who frequently collaborates with Springsteen. The tune is the lead single of a new album by Mellencamp that’s slated for 2022. I also came across this intriguing quote by Springsteen on AZLyrics.com from an interview on Sirius XM’s E Street Radio in June: “I worked on three songs on John’s album and I spent some time in Indiana with him. I love John a lot. He’s a great songwriter and I have become very close and had a lot of fun with him. I sang a little bit on his record.” While the lyrics aren’t exactly on the cheerful side, I love Wasted Days, which sounds like classic Mellencamp – a tune you could imagine on 1987’s The Lonesome Jubilee, one of my favorite Mellencamp albums. The Boss adds a nice vocal flavor to it – and based on the above, we can look forward to more of the two together!

Buffalo Nichols/How to Love

Let’s wrap up this week’s installment with some great acoustic blues by guitarist Buffalo Nichols. From his website: Since his earliest infatuations with guitar, Buffalo Nichols has asked himself the same question: How can I bring the blues of the past into the future? After cutting his teeth between a Baptist church and bars in Milwaukee, it was a globetrotting trip through West Africa and Europe during a creative down period that began to reveal the answer...Born in Houston and raised in Milwaukee’s predominantly Black North end, the guitar was Nichols’ saving grace as a young man. The instrument captured his fascination, and provided him with an outlet for self-expression and discovery in isolation. While other children chased stardom on the field, court, or classroom, Nichols took to his mother and siblings’ music collections, searching feverishly for riffs to pick out on his instrument. On October 15, Nichols will release his eponymous debut album featuring demos and studio recordings. Here’s How to Love, the third upfront track that became available on September 21 – love that Dobro and Nichols’ singing, and look forward to the album!

Sources: Apple Music; Atwood Magazine; John Mellencamp website; AZLyrics.com; Buffalo Nichols website; YouTube

Springsteen On Broadway Becomes Accessible To Broader Audience

Broadway solo performance now released as an album and on Netflix

Unfortunately, I’m among the folks who didn’t have a chance to see Bruce Springsteen’s solo performance on Broadway, which closed yesterday. While I’ve no  doubt anything can replace the actual experience at New York City’s Walter Kerr Theatre, the good news is Springsteen’s show has now become available to a broader audience. It was released as an album on Friday, and as of today it’s also on Netflix for streaming.

I had known for many years Springsteen is a terrific live music act. In fact, I feel fortunate to have witnessed this myself twice – once in Germany in the ’80s and in 2016 in New Jersey. Both are unforgettable concerts. But what truly blew me away is the power of Springsteen’s verbal story-telling he uses throughout the show to introduce his songs. The album does a beautiful job at capturing both the performances, including two songs for which he is joined by his wife and longtime E Street Band member Patti Scialfa, and the story-telling. But it’s really the visual of the film that brings both aspects to life, particularly the latter. If you dig Springsteen and have access to Netflix, it’s a must-watch!

Springsteen on Broadway 2

Directed by Thom Zimny and shot by Joe DeSalvo, the film was captured before a private audience on July 17 and 18 this year. I assume the two performances also served as the basis for the album, since its audio sounds identical to the film. Springsteen’s Broadway show closely mirrors his 2016 autobiography Born To Run. It covers different stages of his life in chronological order, for example his upbringing in Freehold, N.J.; watching Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show as a 7-year-old and how that planted the seeds of his music career; or listening to the bleak stories of forgotten Vietnam veterans as a 30-year-old, which two years later would inspire the writing of one of his biggest hits and perhaps his most misunderstood song: Born In The U.S.A.

Apart from sharing fascinating anecdotes, Springsteen displays a great sense of humor throughout the show. Take this example during the performance of the show’s first song Growin’ Up, where he launches into the following monologue: “I’ve never held an honest job in my life. I’ve never done any hard labor. I’ve never worked 9 to 5. I’ve never worked 5 days a week until right now. I don’t like it. I’ve never seen the inside of a factory and yet that’s all I’ve ever written about. Standing before you is a man who has become wildly and absurdly successful, writing about something, which he has had (pause) absolutely no personal experience. I, I made it all up. That’s how good I am.”

To give you a bit of a flavor, following are a few audio clips as well as the trailer for the Netflix film. First up: Part 1 of Springsteen’s intro to My Hometown:

Here’s Springsteen’s blistering acoustic slide guitar version of Born In The U.S.A.

To me one of the show’s highlights is Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. Not only do I love this tune, but Springsteen’s comments during the song about former E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons are truly moving.

Of course, no Springsteen gig would be complete without the epic Born To Run. So here it is!

The last clip I’d like to highlight is the trailer for the Netflix film.

While I have no doubt that Springsteen didn’t leave his monologues to chance, they come across as genuine, not memorized. If he embellished his stories here and there for bigger impact, it’s certainly not recognizable, at least not to me. I suspect this film will go down in music history as one of the best concert movies.

Sources: Wikipedia, New York Times, Rolling Stone, YouTube