Spring will soon be sprung in these parts. We raise our hands to the morning sun, cottony clouds and Carolina blue sky, and most of all to temperatures that won’t cause us to shiver when we roll out of bed each new day. Hand in hand with that: A wealth of new singles, EPs and albums are seeping from the collective unconscious and into the world. It’s an exciting time.
I won’t be able to spotlight all of them, unfortunately. Over the next month I plan to post just once a week, if that, instead of the usual two as Diane and I will be preparing for our third move in the past 10 years and, then, will be settling into our new home. Add to that this: At least one of those posts won’t be an album review but a concert-inspired “think piece”—i.e. me musing on life via the songs of Bruce Springsteen.
And with that, here are a handful and a half of new sounds that have, of late, been making the rounds in my trusty Sennheiser HD 599s…
1) Natalie Merchant – “Come on, Aphrodite.” The initial teaser track to Natalie Merchant’s forthcoming album, Keep Your Courage, channels “I Need Love” by LL Cool J and/or (for all the aging hipsters reading this) Luka Bloom, while imploring the goddess of love to borrow Cupid’s bow and shoot an arrow her way. The arrangement reminds me somewhat of “Go Down, Moses” from Natalie’s self-titled 2014 album, but with Abena Koomson-Davis of the Resistance Revival Chorus in lieu of gospel singer Corliss Stafford. It’s a remarkably addictive number that bodes well for Keep Your Courage, which is due out April 14th.
2) Molina, Talbot, Lofgren & Young – “Rain.” At first glance, one might think that the forthcoming MTL&Y album was a more egalitarian Neil Young & Crazy Horse release—but it’s not. In fact, it’s a compilation of new tracks that the four recorded apart during the pandemic, with Ralph Molina, Billy Talbot and Nils Lofgren each contributing three tracks and Neil Young sharing one. The first single was Nils’ “You Will Never Know.” This one, “Rain,” was written by Talbot and performed by him and his band, which—on this song—includes Rain Parade’s Matt Piucci. What’s cool is that, at least with the first two singles from the set, the shared musical DNA results in songs that sound like they’re from the same recording session.
3) Stone Foundation Featuring Shirley Jones – “B What U R.” The Midlands-based Northern Soul band Stone Foundation serves up its taut grooves with the new single, “B What U R.” Last year, on Outside Looking In, they shared the spotlight with the legendary Melba Moore on “Now That You Want Me Back.” This time, it’s Shirley Jones of the Jones Girls, whose “If You Don’t Love Me No More” crowded the dance floors back in the day. The song is a blast from the past but firmly of the present.
4) Nana Rashid – “They Call It Love.” Rashid is a remarkable jazz-R&B singer from Denmark whose phenomenal album, Music for Betty, is due out next month. Give a listen to “They Call It Love” and, I swear, you’ll hear shades of Nina Simone and Roberta Flack (circa First Take). It’s a hypnotic song that delves into the expectations, demands and obstacles placed on and faced by women.
5) Jackson Reed and The Silverbirds – “In My Head.” There’s a new wave coming, I tell ya. Reed and band, who hail from the Great White North, echo the power pop of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s in the best possible ways. “In My Head,” which adds a dash of “Boys of Summer” for good measure, is an addictive ode to the stupefying power of love. That it sheds the de rigueur cynicism that accents much modern-day pop in favor of the sweeping romanticism of yore is a big plus in its favor.
6) Benjamin Yellowitz – “Addicted.” The London-based Yellowitz, who’s been featured on BBC Music’s Introducing series several times, delivers a stirring song that delves into the dangers inherent in certain things that we enjoy. It’s one part ambient, one part folk and all parts good. “It’s about the fine line between something you enjoy and something that you might be doing you more harm than good,” he explains in the press release sent to me. Hopefully an EP or LP is in the works, as a song this good deserves an album home.
7) Darren Jessee – “Wild Ascending Blue.” The atmospheric final single before Jessee’s Central Bridge album, which is slated for release on March 24, is a wondrous slice of folk-rock; it reminds me to an extent of the Untitled-era Byrds.