Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

After the unprecedented events we witnessed in this country earlier this week, it feels somewhat surreal to blog about something completely unrelated. At the same time, the fact new music keeps coming out is reassuring to me. In fact, music has always had a degree of healing power during challenging times and provided a welcome distraction. While ignoring reality can be dangerous, I believe occasionally escaping from it is a good thing to clear your mind and gather strength.

I’m very excited about this week’s Best of What’s New installment, which features indie and country singer-songwriters, a young incredibly talented vintage soul vocalist who knocked my socks off and…well, you’ll need to continue reading to find out yourself. All of this great music was just released yesterday (January 8).

Denison Witmer/River of Music

Dension Witmer is a singer-songwriter from Lancaster, Pa. According to his artist profile on Apple Music, Tagged by many music journalists as one of the most likely songwriters to fill the void left by Elliott Smith in the acoustic indie singer/songwriter movement, [he] catalogs the experiences of young adulthood in almost painfully honest detail. With a soft and sensitive voice that perfectly matches his laid-back 1970s California pop production and subtly expressive guitar work, he has gone from writing in his journal to becoming an intimate of like-minded artists like Damien Jurado and Pedro the Lion over the span of a few albums. Growing up in Lancaster, PA, Witmer picked up the guitar at the age of 16 and was soon showing enough promise to draw the interest of the Innocence Mission’s Don Peris. As Peris became Witmer’s musical mentor, he would oversee and play guitar and keyboard on his apprentice’s first recordings, 2000’s River Bends EP and the much-heralded Safe Away. Here’s the great River of Music, a track from Witmer’s new EP American Foursquare (Simplified). It surely feels good listening to his soothing voice and beautiful guitar-playing. And the lyrics about the power of music perfectly illustrate what I wrote in the intro of this post.

Morgan Wallen/Livin’ the Dream

Country music singer-songwriter Morgan Wallen, who hails from the tiny Tennessee town of Sneedville (about 250 miles east of Nashville), first gained some prominence as a contestant on season 6 of The Voice in 2014. While Wallen didn’t make it to the final, his stint eventually led to a deal with Panacea Records and his debut EP Stand Alone from August 2015. Wallen switched to Big Loud Records thereafter and released his first full-length studio album If I Know Me in April 2018. Livin’ the Dream is a track from his sophomore release Dangerous: The Double Album. This double album features a hefty 30 tunes, many prominent country songwriters and a guest appearance by Chris Stapleton. Livin’ the Dream, a tale about life as a “rock star,” was co-written by Wallen, Ben Burgess, Jacob Durrett and Michael Wilson Hardy, aka Hardy.

Barry Gibb/To Love Somebody

Yep, that’s Barry Gibb, formerly of the Bee Gees. I recently covered them in a four-part series here (part 1), here (part 2), here (part 3) and here (part 4). All I’d like to say in this post is if you think the Bee Gees were just a disco band, I’d encourage to take a closer look at their music or read my series. Was it necessary for Gibb, the group’s only surviving member, to come out with Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers’ Songbook, Vol 1., an album of newly recorded versions of mostly famous Bee Gees songs? Probably not – on the other hand, why not! The Bee Gees’ catalog is full with well crafted songs. Co-written by Barry Gibb and Robin Gibb, To Love Somebody is among my favorite early Bee Gees tunes. It initially appeared on Bee Gees’ 1st, the group’s first internationally released full-length studio album that was released in July 1967 in the UK and appeared the following month in the U.S. The newly recorded version features Jay Buchanan, lead vocalist of American rock band Rival Sons. The album also includes many other guests, mostly from country music, a favorite genre of Barry’s, such as Little Big Town, Dolly Parton and Sheryl Crow. Be cynical about it, if you like. I dig and stand behind these songs and the Bee Gees!

Aaron Frazer/ If I Got It (Your Love Brought It)

According to his website, Aaron Frazer is a Brooklyn-based, Baltimore-raised songwriter [who] first came into the international spotlight as multi-instrumentalist and co-lead singer for Durand Jones & The Indications. He penned some of the group’s most notable tracks, including ‘Morning In America,’ and sang lead on ‘Is It Any Wonder?’ – the latter an instant sweet soul classic anchored by Aaron’s falsetto, which caught the ear of producer and Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach…Soft-spoken with the look of a slightly disaffected 1950s matinee idol, Aaron Frazer possesses a unique voice that’s both contemporary and timeless. His higher register conveys a wide emotional palate and a progressive worldview in the tradition of musical masterminds like Curtis Mayfield. While Aaron’s stirring falsetto and thoughtful songwriting have made him established in the world of revival soul music, he refuses to be pigeonholed. That falsetto is in beautiful action on If I Got It (Your Love Brought It), a tune from Aaron’s debut album Introducing…, which was produced by Auerbach. The song was co-written by Frazer, Auerbach and David Ferguson. So good! check it out!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Aaron Frazer website; YouTube

Bee Gees – Part 2: Rise to International Fame

“You can’t deny talent. And the talent was so obvious.” (Robert Stigwood, The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart)

Prior to leaving Australia for England, Hugh Gibb, the father of Barry, Maurice and Robin and their manager at the time, had sent some demos to Beatles manager Brian Epstein. Epstein passed on the tapes to Australian born expatriate Robert Stigwood who had recently joined NEMS, a music store directed by Epstein. Stigwood liked what he heard, and after an audition in February 1967, the Bee Gees got a 5-year deal with Polydor Records to oversee their releases in the UK, while Atco Records would handle U.S. distribution.

Before going to the studio, Vince Melouney (lead guitar) and Colin Petersen (drums) joined the group. In July 1967, the Bee Gees released their first international album titled Bee Gees’ 1st. Stigwood launched an aggressive promotional campaign boldly declaring the Bee Gees were the “most significant new musical talent of 1967.” Lead single New York Mining Disaster 1941 became another hit, reaching no. 12 in the UK and peaking at no. 14 in the U.S. Co-written by Barry Gibb and Robin Gibb, the stunning tune became a top 10 in New Zealand, the Netherlands and Germany, where it reached no. 3, no. 4 and no. 10, respectively.

Bee Gees’ 1st also featured another classic: To Love Somebody, which was co-written by Barry and Robin as well. It also became the album’s second single in June 1967. While it almost matched the chart performance of the predecessor in the U.S. where it peaked at no. 17, it was less successful in the UK, reaching no. 41 there.

Only three months after To Love Somebody, the Bee Gees released another gem that became their first no. 1 single in the UK: (The Lights Went Out In) Massachusetts. The beautiful tune, co-written by the three Gibb brothers, also topped the charts in New Zealand, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Austria, and peaked at no. 2 in Switzerland, Ireland and Australia. The Bee Gees had fully arrived on the international scene.

1968 saw the first trips to the U.S., including an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in March, as well as tours to Scandinavia, Germany and Switzerland. The Bee Gees also scored their second no. 1 in the UK with I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You, released in September that year. Co-written by all three brothers, the tune climbed to no. 8 in the U.S. and also was a hit in many other countries.

While the Bee Gees had achieved significant international success, not all was well and things would soon unravel. By 1969, Robin began to sense that Robert Stigwood was favoring Barry as the group’s frontman. Following the release of the next studio album Odessa in March 1969, Robin left to launch a solo career. Barry, Maurice and Colin Petersen went on to record the Bee Gees’ next album Cucumber Castle. Vince Melouney had left the group in 1968.

In December 1969, Barry and Maurice parted ways as well. They each worked on solo albums that didn’t appear. Meanwhile, Robin released his solo debut Robin’s Reign in February 1970 and had a no. 2 single in the UK, Saved by the Bell. But the brothers realized they needed other and reunited later that year. In November 1970, the Bee Gees’ next studio album 2 Years On came out. Here’s the record’s single Lonely Days co-written by all three brothers.

The Bee Gees’ next studio album Trafalgar, which came out in the U.S. in September and in the UK in November 1971, brought mixed success. While lead single How Can You Mend a Broken Heart became the group’s first no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, the album only reached no. 34 on the Billboard 200 and did not chart in the UK at all. By 1973, chart success had largely become elusive. After touring the U.S. and Canada in 1974, the Bee Gees found themselves playing small clubs in England. Something needed to happen to reignite the group. A change in musical direction and singing style would open their next chapter.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube