The end of the year is near and, with it, The Old Grey Cat’s traditional Remember December bacchanal is almost here. The merriment is spiced by such revelations as my top new posts of the year, favorite posts of the year, and my much-ballyhooed Album of the Year honors. The last is the biggest of big deals, I should mention. In the past, invited artists have gathered in my living room, a banquet hall and even a heated tent at a nearby park, where they chowed down on a delicious spread while being entertained by that noted master of the meow, Tyler the Cat. (He’s quite the comedian, that cat.) Some went home happy. Most went home sad.
I jest, of course. In truth, all went home happy—it’s an honor just to be nominated, after all!
This year, however, I plan to keep things BAU (business as usual for those not in the acronym know) until Saturday the 17th, when I will unveil my Album of the Year, while the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day will be reserved for retrospection, rumination and, maybe, a few resolutions. Of the last: At the end of 2021, I vowed to find a better balance between my First Impression and Essential selections. I then went on to spotlight less “essential” albums in 2022 than in 2021! The main reason: The many quality new albums and EPs released by young(er) and independent artists.
Like many blogs of a certain stripe, I routinely field review requests from publicists and artists themselves. I also seek out new sounds on my own, and balance all those releases with new albums from my favorite artists. That juggling act, along with this passion project being a weekend endeavor, guarantees that some quality releases never make it into these pages. Add to that this: Many of those requests are for singles.
Classic and not-so-classic 45s of yore are something that I celebrated ad nauseam through the first few years of this blog via my Top 5s, with rare forays about new singles coming every few months under such imaginative titles as “New Music.” This year, I spotlighted two singles (one from Burwell, another from Calista Garcia) in posts and grouped five more into a “New/Recent Singles” post last month. Part of that is simply due to obstinance; I think in terms of albums, not one-offs, and would rather riff on 40 minutes’ worth of fun than four. Yet Philly folksinger Maggie Pope’s gorgeous “Northern Girl” absolutely floored me; that dose of sonic sweetness may well be my favorite three minutes of music this year. Thus, the “New/Recent Singles” post…and why I’m sharing it again here:
It also got me to thinking that, as Neil Young once sang, “old ways can be your ball and chain.” For good and ill, today’s music scene is driven by playlists (aka algorithm-driven radio) and, scary/sad as it is to me, that’s how many fans now experience music. As a result, I’ve decided to bring back my new-old Top 5s to better spotlight recent singles that have caught my ear via a monthly feature I’m dubbing “Songs du Jour.”
[Side note for those artists and bands that would like their songs considered for inclusion on future posts: My contact info is in the About section found at the top of this page.]
If you clicked on Calista Garcia’s name above, you already know that I discovered her last year. I also assumed last month’s single, “The Coals,” was a one-off but was soon proved wrong—it, like the digital 45 released this past Friday, “Kalamazoo,” are part of an album slated for release in February 2023. “Kalamazoo” is a wild rollercoaster of a tune, one that’s sure to put a smile on the face of everyone who listens.
It was because of Calista, in fact, that I discovered these next two artists. As I noted in my “Delayed Plays” review of Jackie Minton’s 2021 Earnest Voice album, last Monday I logged into Instagram to watch Calista on the Songwriters Showcase. Minton blew my mind with her Joni-like vocals, but more than that—she had brilliant songs, too. “For Giving,” which she performed solo at the piano, staggered me. It’s not on YouTube as of yet, unfortunately, but can be streamed from the usual sites.
[If/when it appears on YouTube, I’ll update this page.]
Also on the same Songwriters Showcase bill: Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Belle Shea. She released her latest single, “Cheyenne,” in early November. It’s an insightful ode to personal growth and how, sometimes, those close to us need to be left behind: “Maybe you can’t change/but I can.” The gradients of her vocals are phenomenal and the song itself possesses what I can only describe as an instant familiarity; it sounds like it’s been with me for as long as I can remember.
If it’s Christmastime, well, that can mean only one thing: Christmas songs. Chris Canterbury, whose Quaalude Lullabies is in the running for my aforementioned, much-ballyhooed Album of the Year honors, released a great one a few weeks back: a cover of John Prine’s “Christmas in Prison.”
Last, Darren Jessee—who’s likely best known for playing drums for such artists as Sharon Van Etten, Hiss Golden Messenger, The War on Drugs and Ben Folds Five—dropped a new single and video last week, “Mirage.” In a press release, he explained the song’s origin: “I was at the grocery store thinking about a friend who is a moving target emotionally. ‘Mirage’ is beyond reach and disappearing, a dream within a dream. A fleeting moment lost in the patchwork of friendships and a yearning for love that’s not really there.” Similar to “Cheyenne,” it sounds like it’s been a part of the patchwork of American music for ages.