Last Saturday, after much hemming and hawing, and having read more about cars in the past two months than during the past two decades, I traded in my 2010 Honda Civic – which had near 112,000 miles on it – and bought a 2018 Mazda3 hatchback. It was one of the last “new” ’18 3s still on the dealer’s lot. (Word to the wise: Last year’s model is always marked down.) It’s a good ride with an excellent Bose sound system that almost makes me yearn for my old commute just so I can listen longer. 

(Note that I wrote “almost.”) 

The tech upgrade has been a bit of a culture shock, however. The Honda included a CD player, AM-FM stereo with buttons, and an aux jack. The Mazda, on the other hand, features a 7-inch LCD screen with AM, FM, SiriusXM, Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay, plus an aux jack but no CD player; and, when you’re driving, everything is controlled by nobs located between the front seats.

I’ve primarily listened to Jade Bird’s and Molly Tuttle’s full-length debuts this week, but carved out time during my shorter commute to explore a bit of SiriusXM, as the car comes with a three-month trial. E Street Radio is, as expected, a joy, but the Outlaw Country and Bluegrass Junction channels sound good, too. (More to come on that, for sure.) 

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: New Tracks & Videos

1) Bruce Springsteen – “Hello Sunshine.” I switched on E Street Radio, which is dedicated to all things Springsteen and band, on the ride home Thursday night and was surprised to hear that  Bruce has a new album coming out. And then “Hello Sunshine” played. Wow. Just wow.

2) Neil Young – “Don’t Be Denied.” Neil says he’s saddled up the Horse and that (as of April 22nd) they’ve recorded eight songs for a new album. While we wait for that, there’s this, the first taste of the coming archival release Tuscaloosa, which features 11 tracks from a 1973 concert in Alabama.

3) Courtney Marie Andrews – Tiny Desk Concert. Courtney and band perform a stellar three-song set: “May Your Kindness Remain,” “Rough Around the Edges” and “This House.”

4) Jade Bird – “Side Effects.” Jade and band deliver a driving rendition of this “Springsteen-y” track, one of the highlights from her recent full-length debut.

5) Lucy Rose – “The Confines of This World.” A live rendition of one of the (11) standout tracks from Lucy’s recent No Words Left album. From the Union Chapel in London on April 9th of this year, it’s a mesmerizing performance.

And one bonus…

6) Molly Tuttle – “Helpless.” Molly Tuttle’s full-length debut is a velvety smooth (and addictive) blend of bluegrass, folk and pop, and conjures – for me, at least – Alison Krauss, Shawn Colvin and Kasey Chambers, among others. Here, she ends a show with a rendition of Neil Young’s classic ode to his Canadian home. (For those unfamiliar with Molly, she – like Kasey – began her career in a family band before branching off on her own. Since, she’s twice been named the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitarist of the Year.)

I am not a theoretical physicist, nor do I play one on TV, but specific topics within that scientific field intrigue me. Among them: Hermann Minkowski’s introduction in 1908 of spacetime, which posits that time is the fourth dimension. It was an extension of Albert Einstein’s 1905 theory of special relativity, and a building block for Einstein’s 1915 theory of general relativity, which dove into the distortions that gravity has on time.

In the years before and since those scientific (and, at heart, philosophical) ideas, there have been a number of theories related to time. MIT-based philosopher Brad Skow, for instance, subscribes to the “block universe” approach, which – to layman me, anyway – seems little more than an extension of the age-old concept of eternalism, which I learned about decades ago in college. Skow says that we do not flow on a river of time nor does time pass us by, but instead postulates that the past, present and future exist simultaneously in different locations within spacetime. In essence, time is the constant; we are not.

The “growing block universe theory of time,” on the other hand, excludes the future from the equation, but that seems designed to deny a potential, troubling extension of the non-growing block universe approach: That our futures may be predestined. If the future co-exists alongside the present and past, after all, it stands to reason that our future has already been written. (Of course, that’s a hypothesis that can’t be proven – or disproven – unless or until our neighboring multiverses are uncovered.)

There’s also this: The universe is expanding faster than scientists long assumed. The reasons have yet to be determined, and likely never will be, but to me it indicates that an unknown gravitational force is causing a curvature or dimple in the fabric of spacetime. I.e., what we perceive to be an expanding universe is likely the result of a figurative bowling ball – a new black star, perhaps – being dropped in the middle of spacetime. While the fabric stretches at the edges, the distance between points near the ball, where the fabric sags beneath the added weight, actually shrinks. 

In other words, the force of gravity is causing portions of the past, present and future to jostle closer together. And, theoretically speaking, such moments are when time travel is most feasible. 

My tongue’s somewhat in cheek, of course, but it leads to this: Jade Bird’s eponymous debut. The 21-year-old wunderkind singer-songwriter, a former military brat from North East England, possesses a voice that soars like a soul to heaven and a knack for writing songs that are beyond her age. One explanation: An older Jade Elizabeth Bird leapt through a wormhole and imparted her hard-won wisdom to her younger self. The more likely explanation: She’s just damn good.

Check out “Does Anybody Think So,” one of the album’s highlights.

Musically speaking, the opening is reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper.” Lyrically, however, it veers toward matters of the heart, loneliness and yearning. It’s a stunning song. The same can be said of “Side Effects,” which Jade described to Apple Music as having a “driving, almost Springsteen-y riff.”

The cover photo may be (purposely) out of focus, but the songs themselves are crystal clear. While the bulk of the set focuses on the perennial subjects d’jour of popular song – love, betrayal, life, death, etc., etc. – unlike with many of her peers (or forebears, for that matter), the tunes never overstay their welcome. When we saw her last year, I equated her and her band to a twang-infused Ramones, and that approach stays true here. The longest song is a few ticks short of four minutes; most of the others hover near three.

In some ways, she’s akin to a ferocious (but charismatic) boxer: In Round 1, the listener’s knocked down by her deft hooks, and then knocked down again in each of the following 11 rounds. “I Get No Joy” is a good case in point; here she is on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon performing it:

A few of the songs have been known quantities for quite a while – “Lottery” topped Billboard’s Adult Alternative Songs chart in April 2018; “Uh Huh” dates to August ’18; and “Love Has All Been Done Before” has been ricocheting around my head since its release in November ’18. 

They and “I Get No Joy” share a high-octane familiarity – they’re perfect tracks to stand out in the playlist-centric world we find ourselves in. On album, however, without given space to breathe, they’re as likely to leave the listener suffering from whiplash. What turns the eponymous set from a collection of singles into a cohesive set, at least for me, are “Side Effects” and the introspective “Does Anybody Think So,” “My Motto” and especially “If I Die.”

In some ways, “If I Die” conjures another song written by another wise-beyond-her-years upstart: “Where Does the Time Go” by Sandy Denny. It’s as if, at age 21 (probably 20 when she wrote it), she channeled the wisdom of the ages. It’s a timeless track, and the perfect end to a good-great full-length debut.

Courtney Marie Andrews’ recent May Your Kindness Remain (Acoustic) EP features acoustic renditions of four songs from last year’s May Your Kindness Remain album. That LP showcased an expansive sound that conjured the Band and Little Feat, among others, and was a dramatic – though not unwelcome – departure from the country-folk flavorings that accented her 2016 set, Honest Life.

Stripped to their essence, the songs – the title track, “Took You Up,” “Rough Around the Edges” and “Border” – lose none of their power. They aren’t revelatory performances, per se, but are revelations all the same. Minus the wheezing organ and gospel flourishes, for example, “May Your Kindness Remain” crests and recedes on Courtney’s crystalline vocal alone.

It’s a close approximation to how she sounded when I first saw her live, in May 2017, backed only by guitarist/consigliere Dillon Warnek. Her voice was clear and strong that night, a thing of true aural beauty – and yet her vocals were no match for the songs themselves. To my ears, they were imbued with the past, present and future of American music.

That’s still the case. “Is it the journey or the destination?” opens “Took You Up,” conjuring a line from a long-ago Stephen Stills song, “Thoroughfare Gap”: “It’s no matter. No distance. It’s the ride.” On album, Dillon’s electric guitar amplifies the emotional underpinning of the lyrics to perfection. Sans those accents and umlauts, however, Courtney’s acoustic delivery is no less wondrous. Likewise “Rough Around the Edges.” On album, piano buttresses the self-aware confessional; on EP, it’s not missed (though, in a sense, it is). “Border,” about measuring those who’ve been down the deepest well, swaps its sinewy rhythm for a “Hollis Brown”-like guitar motif.

Up top, I said these aren’t revelatory performances, per se, but are revelations all the same. That’s because, to slightly tweak that Stephen Stills line, “It’s no matter. No distance. It’s the song.” With songs this strong, delivery matters not; they simply resonate.

So I watched the Oasis: Supersonic documentary on Netflix last night. The 2016 film, which I recommend, makes ample use of home movies, archival footage and fresh interviews to chronicle the band’s ascent to U.K. superstardom, which culminated in 1996 with back-to-back headlining gigs at Knebworth for 250,000 fans. (Some 2.5 million applied for tickets.)

A similar level of success in the States was not theirs to be had, though they did do well – especially with their sophomore set, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, in 1995.

I enjoyed their guitar-driven music at the time, especially on that album, but found brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher blowhards and, language-wise, unnecessarily crude. So it came as a surprise to me when, during the doc, a self-aware Noel explains what made that second set resonate. “The songs on that record, they’re extraordinary songs. And they’re not extraordinary songs because of anything that I did. I only wrote them, and we only played them. It’s the millions of people who f***ing sing them back to you, to this day, that have made them extraordinary.”

It’s a remarkable observation – putting the onus on the listener/fan – because it’s a truth often missed by artists, fans and critics alike, and yet is applicable to every song ever written and every song yet written. While the inspiration, intent and development of a song are (usually) interesting, they can and will never explain why it does or doesn’t connect with the listener(s). That’s the great intangible. Or as Noel puts it, “We made people feel something that was indefinable.”

It once was customary for songs to come our way without their backstories shared in interviews for months or even years after their release. The tunes simply floated in from the ether (aka the radio or our turntables), and we made of the lyrics what we would. We interpreted them, debated them, and saw ourselves in them. In today’s age, when over-sharing has become the norm, my fear is that artists confide too much of the whys and wherefores of their art. (To borrow a phrase from Iris DeMent, let the mystery be.)