Today’s Top 5: New Sounds, Vol. XXVIII

The calendar aside, spring hasn’t quite sprung in my neck of the woods. We had a morning of mad snow last Monday followed by a string of mostly dreary days and cold nights. But if the historical trends recorded by the Weather Underground are an accurate predictor of what’s to come, soon enough daytime temps will spiral consistently into the 60s and the chilly nighttime temps won’t cause heaters to kick into overdrive.

Anyway, although I’ve spent much of the past week immersed in Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John and Courtney Marie Andrews’ May Your Kindness Remain, a few new and recent sounds and artists have percolated through my psyche.

1) Savannah Jeffreys – “What It Feels Like.” My introduction to Savannah came last year, when she lent her wondrous voice to her dad Garland’s stirring “Time Goes Away” on his 14 Steps to Harlem album. The three-song Voice Memos EP, which is available on all the usual outlets, conjures a young Alicia Keys. (Diane dubs the sound “New Jack Old School,” for what that’s worth.)

2) Faustina Masigat – “Intervention.” The video dates from last summer, but the song is one of 11 gems on Faustina’s self-titled debut, which was released on April 5th. It’s a hypnotic set that I plan to revisit in the coming week.

3) Sarah Shook & the Disarmers – “New Ways to Fail.” I discovered this outlaw-country delight via the Highway Queens blog. 

4) H.C. McEntire – “Red Silo.” H.C.’s Lionheart album is an absolutely addictive album. Here she is singing one of its key tracks, “Red Silo,” at the album’s release party in February. (I plan to review the album in full at some point.)

5) The Yearning – “Do You Remember?” The Wales-based Yearning, who conjure the sweet pop confections of the 1960s, always capture my ear. They’re currently on tour in Japan. This song is one of the highlights on their recent EP, Take Me All Over the World.

Hopelessly Devoted to Liv: Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John – The Review

An epiphany came to me Wednesday night, right around 6:20pm, while stuck in traffic on the turnpike. By that point in the crawl home, Juliana Hatfield’s rendition of Olivia Newton-John’s “Magic” – which topped the charts in August 1980, not long after I turned 15 – popped from the car’s speakers at near-max volume. When Olivia sings it, she embodies the muse Terpsichore (aka Kira, the character she played in the movie Xanadu). Her vocal is seductive and coy, basically honey marmalade for the soul. When Juliana sings it, however, the alluring enticement turns into an earnest vow. It’s still sweet, but in a different way.

A similar tonal trade occurs on the album’s other 12 tracks, as well as on the two tunes found on a separate 45 (that, hopefully, will be made available to the masses via digital download). Aside from a sped-up “Dancin’ ‘Round and ‘Round,” the arrangements hew close to the originals, though the pop and pop-country overtones are replaced with the punky pop-rock embellishments that have long accented Juliana’s work. Electric guitars are often at the fore – even on the opener, “I Honestly Love You,” which is raw and real.

The epiphany: These songs are as much a reflection of Juliana’s soul as her own compositions. It’s “This Lonely Love” brought into the open for all to see and share.

“Suspended in Time,” also from Xanadu, is another highlight. Sonically speaking, it echoes Juliana’s polished in exile deo or How to Walk Away albums, and features equally lush vocals. “Have You Never Been Mellow” is even more evocative on album than it was when Diane and I saw her perform it last October; like the other songs here, it captures the spirit of the original while adding a touch of Juliana’s heart. It’s essentially about slowing down and finding peace from within – an essential message for this, or any, time.

The four Totally Hot covers are great. That was the album, of course, where Liv transitioned to a crunchier pop-rock sound, and scored top 10 hits with “A Little More Love” and “Deeper Than the Night.” A video for the former has been out for some time now…

…and hopefully a video for the latter, which is the A side of the bonus single, is on its way. The flip side, “Heart Attack,” is absolutely killer, I should mention. So, too, are the two Physical-era tracks, which date from Liv’s more “adult” era in the early ‘80s. Here, “Physical” lives up to its title – it’s a muscular workout.

Part of the set’s charm is that Juliana has an obvious affection for the material. In some respects, I think of the ONJ album as an extension of “Wonder Why” (from last year’s Pussycat), in which she sought refuge from the madness of the present via the memories of her childhood. These songs, for her and us, are a similar escape into the past. They conjure another time and place, and also pay homage to a singer (and sometime songwriter) who, in that long-ago era, created a safe room where many of us dwelled on occasion.

Anyway, Diane tells me that most things I review on this blog are, in my word, “wondrous.” She’s not being critical, just observant. It’s true: I tend to spotlight (old and new) artists, albums, songs and concerts that speak to and/or for me. And this set does just that.The album has a release date of April 13th, but those of us who pre-ordered received our copies early. If you haven’t already, head over to the American Laundromat site and order it and the 7-inch single, which features cool original artwork by Paul Westerberg. (And if you don’t have a turntable, don’t fret: It comes with a download card, so you still get the music.)

The track list:

Lucy Rose in Philadelphia, 3/31/18

British singer-songwriter Lucy Rose delivered a spellbinding set at the Boot & Saddle in South Philly on Saturday night, the last stop of her month-long North American tour. Her voice is ethereal and otherworldly, and her humor is wry and self-deprecating. (For proof of the latter, she apologized for bringing folks out on a Saturday night, when people should be out having fun, to hear her downcast songs.)

Perhaps because it was the tour’s last night, she veered from her planned setlist and took requests from what looked to be a packed house. That led her to perform “Scar” and two songs that, honestly, I would have been disappointed if she hadn’t sung: “Floral Dresses” and “No Good at All” from her 2017 Something’s Changing album.

“No Good at All” was requested by many folks in the audience, including Diane and myself. After singing “Morai,” a stirring song about fate, Lucy rushed to the edge of the stage and gave Diane a choice: “Second Chance” or “No Good at All.” The former is a great song, but the choice was a no-brainer – “No Good at All” is pure melodic bliss. As a result, we were treated to a wondrous, slightly slowed-down rendition of it that morphed into a sweet audience sing-along toward the end. (I’d upload my video to YouTube, but the autofocus went wonky and turned Lucy into a blotchy blur.)

The main set concluded with “Shiver,” the song that introduced Lucy to the anime crowd. That, too, turned into a sweet sing-along.

The non-encore encore was a hypnotic “Nightbus.” (I describe it that way due to the Boot & Saddle’s set-up, which requires performers to descend into the audience to leave the stage.) In all, it was a hypnotic set that conjured the early ’70s. Her vocals are reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s while her songs conjure Neil Young’s.  

The only negative: the set’s brevity. In all, she was on stage for about an hour. Given that she possesses a catalog of wondrous songs, such as “Soak It Up” from Something’s Changing, the recent “All That Fear” single, and past classics “Nebraska” and “Don’t You Worry,” she could have easily stayed on stage for another 15 or 20 minutes.

(Just as an aside, one day she should tour with the Staves – all four on stage together for 100 minutes or so, alternating songs and harmonies.)

The set (I may be missing a song):

  1. Is This Called Home
  2. Strangest of Ways
  3. Middle of the Bed
  4. Scar
  5. Floral Dresses
  6. Moirai
  7. No Good at All
  8. Love Song
  9. For You
  10. Shiver
  11. Nightbus