Music Of The Month: May 2024

Arooj Aftab Night Reign

We got a lot of good new music in May. Pokey LaFarge’s Rhumba Country is a fun listen; Willie Nelson’s The Border is characteristically great; and Finom’s Not God is probably my favorite album from the duo (formerly known as Ohmme). All of these should get some of your attention, and they’ll be getting plenty of airtime in our house, too.

The real standout release for me this month, though, is Night Reign from Arooj Aftab. There’s a lot of exploration going on here, as well as some collaboration with guest artists. All of which enhances –never compromising– Aftab’s singular (signature?) musical vocabulary. Arooj Aftab’s music got into my bones from the moment I heard the first notes of her Vulture Prince album, and has stayed there ever since. This record is no exception.

Get some music in your ears, everybody!

(click image to go to artist’s website)

Music Of The Month: April 2024

Anoushka Shankar Chapter II: How Dark It Is Before Dawn

Several good records caught my attention in April. Khruangbin released A LA SALA (everything I’ve read has it in all caps, so I’m doing the same), and it’s exactly what I want in a new Khruangbin record. Ditto the new Phosphorescent album, Revelator

I’m also enjoying Name Your Sorrow, the latest from Irish indie rockers Pillow Queens. Before this release, their third, I had not heard of them, but this one makes me want to go back and check out the other two. Solid tunes with lots of fuzzy guitars, good hooks, and tight vocal harmonies. What else do you need?

The icing on the April cake for me, though, is Anoushka Shankar’s Chapter II: How Dark It Is Before Dawn. The second of a proposed three-EP series, Chapter II is much more atmospheric than the previous release (Chapter I: Forever, For Now). These six tracks often border on, and even cross, the line into ambient music. Lots of drones and sampling create various soundscapes which present the sitar from different perspectives in each piece; sometimes in the forefront, sometimes in a supporting role. All of it works beautifully. This record is simply gorgeous.

Get some music in your ears, everybody!

Music Of The Month: March 2024 (tie)

John Lurie Music From The Series Painting With John

Sarah Shook & The Disarmers Revelations

From the very first episode of the hypnotically transfixing HBO show Painting With John, Suzy and I started hoping for a soundtrack record. Now here we are, just a little over three years later, after the end of the third (and apparently final) season, and John Lurie has delivered. Music From The Series Painting With John, clocking in at no fewer than 56 tracks, is a mix of tunes from the show and a bit of previously-released material from other Lurie incarnations (Marvin Pontiac; The John Lurie National Orchestra). This set is an absolute treasure trove of little gems. Completely entrancing, just like the show.

And of course, any month with new music from Sarah Shook and the Disarmers is a good month in my book. I love all their records, but this latest, Revelations, is probably the most cohesive album of the bunch. Each release in their catalog feels to me a little poppier than the last, and this one is no exception. That’s an observation, not a complaint. The album is polished without being slick, and without sacrificing any of the elements that make them who they are. The standout favorite for me (at least at the moment) is the can’t-quite-bring-ourselves-to-break-up song Backsliders, but there’s not a single bad track to be found.

These are two very different records, but I’m at a loss to pick between them. Give ‘em both a spin and see what you think.

Get some music in your ears, everybody!

Music Of The Month: February 2024

Shaina Hayes Kindergarten Heart

Several new records caught my attention in the month of February. Madi Diaz brought us Weird Faith, an album-length rumination on the psychological aspects (both good and bad) of romantic relationships. Luke Sital-Singh puts his personal stamp on five interesting cover songs on his new EP, Across The Evening Sky. And the new record from Hurray For The Riff Raff, The Past Is Still Alive, is probably my favorite since Small Town Heroes in 2014. All of these are worth your attention.

My pick of the month, though, is Kindergarten Heart, from Montreal singer/songwriter Shaina Hayes. As is so often the case, I hadn’t heard of Hayes before this (her second) record. Nobody who has read my posts in the past will be surprised to learn that this is a collection of easy-going songs that fall somewhere between folk and indie rock. What captures my attention most is the variety Hayes presents without ever straying from within that framework. Since hearing this record, I’ve read that Hayes holds an agriculture degree, and made her living as a farmer in rural Quebec until just recently, when she decided to focus on her music instead. If this record is any indication of what’s to come, I’m glad she made that choice.

Get some music in your ears, everybody!

Music Of The Month: January 2024

Marika Hackman Big Sigh

Here we go starting off the new year with yet another artist I never heard of before, even though Big Sigh is Marika Hackman’s sixth album. Of course that just means I have five albums to go back and delve into, because this one certainly makes me curious to hear more.

I’m liking everything about this record more and more on repeated listenings. I’m especially taken with her lyrics, which exist mostly in varying shades of bleak. Even singing about a desirable, lusty, romantic encounter, her phrases and metaphors are almost uniformly ominous (and the name of that particular track is “Slime”). But it’s not all about compelling lyrics. Her melodies are catchy, and the arrangements for every song are spot-on.

I’m expecting this one to stay in heavy rotation for a long while.

Get some music in your ears, everybody!

(click image to visit artist’s website)

Music Of The Month: December 2023

Peter Gabriel I/O

More than 20 years after his last release, Peter Gabriel picks up right where he left off with his new album, I/O. Judging from much of what I’ve read, lots of people are apparently a little miffed about that, figuring there should have been more of a progression after such a long wait. I’m personally more aligned with the notion that he left off at a pretty damned good spot, and I’m plenty glad to get more of it

For anyone who may not be aware, the album is actually two different mixes of a dozen new tunes: a “bright-side” mix, each song of which was released on twelve consecutive full moons, and a “dark-side” mix, each song of which was released on the corresponding new moons. For whatever it’s worth, I’m mostly partial to the dark-side mixes, but both are pretty great. (There’s also a surround sound Dolby Atmos mix, which I like less, but as I don’t have a surround sound system to hear it on, I don’t really feel qualified to judge.)

To be completely honest, I feel like there are a few lyrical rough spots here and there throughout the record. On the other hand, I kind of can’t stop listening, and my nitpicks bother me less and less over time. On the whole this is very easily one of my favorite albums of the year.

Get some music in your ears, everybody!

(click image to go to artist website)

Music Of The Month: November 2023

Kurt Vile Back To Moon Beach

The only new record that got repeated listens from me in the month of November was Kurt Vile’s Back To Moon Beach. Vile apparently refers to this release as an EP. I’m not going to quibble with the artist, but there are 9 tracks here with a runtime of 52 minutes (on the physical album, 6 songs at around 40 minutes), so don’t pop this on thinking you’ll give it a quick spin while you’re waiting in line at a hot dog cart or something.

As has generally been the case with Vile’s music, especially in recent years, the songs here consist of relatively simple, mostly mellow grooves that sort of wash over you, in support of quasi-spoken-word lyrics that seem nearly stream-of-consciousness, yet simultaneously self-aware and keenly observant. And maybe just a shade darker this time than in the past. This collection even includes a cover of Must Be Santa that comes across, at least to me, as slightly on the melancholy side. But maybe I’m just reading that into it; I happen to be a guy who thinks the world needs a few more pensive Christmas tunes.

Get some music in your ears, everybody!

Music Of The Month: October 2023

The Feelies Some Kinda Love: Performing The Music Of The Velvet Underground

We had an unusually busy October, so I have to admit I missed listening to a number of the month’s new releases. But I think there was really only one contender this time around, anyway.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s nobody else out there who rocks the roll quite like The Feelies. Pretty much anything they’ve ever done is solid gold in my book. So it is that, although I generally don’t like live albums or tribute albums, I am nevertheless recommending Some Kinda Love: Performing The Music Of The Velvet Underground as this month’s pick. I can’t think of a better band for The Feelies to cover than the Velvets, and there’s probably nobody better to cover the Velvets than The Feelies. It’s a perfect matchup of musical sensibilities from both sides of the equation. Much to their credit, it’s pretty obvious The Feelies recognize this, as evidenced by the fact that they clearly aren’t attempting to clone the original versions of these songs. Rather, they strike the perfect balance of faithfulness to the material and the infusion of their own unique aesthetic. I don’t have a lot more to say about it, except that this one definitely deserves your attention.

Get some music in your ears, everybody!

Music Of The Month: September 2023

Jenny Owen Youngs Avalanche

September was a bit of a weird month. Toward the end of August I saw the list of upcoming releases, and it was chock full of new goodies from quite a few of my favorite artists. But alas, as they came rolling in over the course of the month I didn’t find most of them to be very interesting at all. The only one that really grabbed my attention is Willie Nelson’s latest, simply called Bluegrass. Way, way back in the day when I was playing bluegrass in Touch Of Grass and The Southland Ramblers, we covered Willie Nelson songs routinely. But somehow it never occurred to me that Willie himself might make a bluegrass album someday. But here it is, and it’s pretty great. Good song choices and an absolutely stellar lineup of bluegrass pickers.

Adding to the weirdness, I also really like More Than A Whisper: Celebrating The Music Of Nanci Griffith. Generally speaking I mostly find tribute albums to be kind of all-over-the-place and, perhaps understandably, more than a little uneven. But this one is good throughout, and also offers up what is very easily my favorite individual song this month: John Prine & Kelsey Waldon’s duet on Love At The Five And Dime. Every single thing about this track is perfect.

And so it is that, as so often happens, despite any expectations I may have had, my pick of the month for September comes from someone I never heard of before, Jenny Owen Youngs. Her new release, Avalanche, is apparently her third, and together with a few EPs along the way, it’s a catalog I definitely need to explore in more depth. Back during the thick of the pandemic I happened upon and fell in love with Becca Mancari’s first record (from 2017), Good Woman, and then as her subsequent records came out she ventured onto a musical path that led away from what I’d loved about that record. While I don’t want to take away from Youngs’s own originality, and she certainly doesn’t sound like a Mancari clone, one of the first things through my mind during my initial spin of Avalanche was that it starts to fill in the space where I had hoped future Mancari records would be. I also hear echoes of Edie Brickell, and maybe just the slightest hint of Regina Spektor in Youngs’s vocals. There’s not a bad song on Avalanche. The lyrics are solid and interesting, the melodies infectious, and the production is top-notch. And it turns out she’s originally from Newton, NJ, about 20-ish minutes from our house. We’re practically neighbors.

Get some music in your ears, everybody!

(click image to go to artist’s sale page)

Music Of The Month: August 2023

Tie:

Buck Meek Haunted Mountain and Gregory Alan Isakov Appaloosa Bones

Long time readers (haha! I say that to make myself feel like I have readers) may recall that Buck Meek’s last record, Two Saviors, was tied with Valerie June’s The Moon And Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers as my favorite recordings of 2021. Well, I still love Two Saviors, and now I also love Meek’s latest, Haunted Mountain. Lyrically this collection doesn’t grab me quite as much as Two Saviors did, but I’m very taken with Haunted Mountain’s more expansive musical production. These arrangements bring a fuller sound without sacrificing any of the delicacy and spontaneity I associate with Meek’s solo work.

And on the topic of arrangements, I have read that Gregory Alan Isakov had originally intended his new album to be a stripped-down, “lo-fi” rock-n-roll record, but the songs wouldn’t cooperate. While I do enjoy speculating on exactly what an Isakov rock-n-roll record might sound like, I couldn’t be happier to find that Appaloosa Bones hews more closely to the path forged by his previous effort, Evening Machines. I can’t get enough of the way Isakov marries his relatively straightforward, down-to-earth lyrics to treatments that range from the simplest, contemplative strummed guitar to broadly atmospheric, often nearly surreal, soundscapes.

Haunted Mountain is, overall, the more spritely of these two picks. Spin it up while you’re enjoying a sunny afternoon. Then ease into Appaloosa Bones when you’re sipping a cocktail on the porch, watching the sun set.

Get some music in your ears, everybody!