Posts Tagged ‘2010s’

The end of the decade is nigh. I’m not sure why I didn’t realize it until this week, but the clock’s hands are tick-tick-ticking closer to midnight. Before this annus horribilis gives way to the Year of Visual Acuity, however, listen to this:

That’s the opener to Leslie Stevens’ new album, Sinner, which as a whole conjures a century’s worth of country music in its 10 tracks, echoing everyone from Glen Campbell to Dolly Parton to Gram Parsons to Emmylou Harris and her Spyboy band. It’s the kind of album you play once, and wind up playing again and again, each time hearing something new. Her vocals are a thing of ever-shifting beauty, soulful and sweet and pure, and the songs are strong and sure.

It’s traditional. Alternative. Unique. Her voice trembles, rises and falls, dynamic and dramatic, in sync not just with the lyrics but the soul. Some are story-songs. Others are from the heart.

Here’s a live rendition of another of the album’s highlights:

Leslie Stevens is currently on tour in the States, and thankfully isn’t bypassing my neck of the woods. You can see where she’s playing, and buy Sinner, at her website. (It’s also available via the normal streaming sites.)

At some point over the summer, as evidenced by recent posts, I shifted into a somewhat nostalgic state of mind, with the songs and albums of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger receiving the most play – though I’ve also leaned on a few artists of more recent vintage, such as Lucy Rose. Their oeuvres delve deeper into the human experience than most, articulating dreams both dashed and achieved – and, at least in the case of Bruce and Bob, transporting me across the spacetime continuum to my late teens and early twenties. (To borrow a line from Lucy Rose’s “Floral Dresses,” “I’m growing older each passing day, but my heart remains the same.”)

That’s not to say I’ve totally eschewed the new, mind you. In between my time-travel excursions, I’ve explored and enjoyed a range of new releases. Some have gotten more play than others, but all are items that have stuck with me long after the music faded to silence.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: New Music, Vol. DCCCXVIII: 

1) LoneHollow – “Shoot to Kill.” Rylie Bourne’s vocals, both tone and phrasing, are magnetic, and this track – like their EP as a whole – is guaranteed to pull you back for repeated plays. It’s not a new song or performance, as she previously released it as a single under her own name a few years back, but it remains as stirring now as it did then. If I owned a club, I’d book the band for a month-long residency. And then book ’em again.

2) Tyler Childers – “All Your’n.” Childers recently topped the country charts with his Country Squire album, which conjures yesteryear in form though not subject matter. It’s not a five-star release by any means, at least not to my ears, but is a damn good outing – and a welcome alternative to modern-day country music. This tune, which mixes in some heady Stax rhythm & blues, is my favorite.

3) Dracula’s Miniskirt – “Unbecoming.” This Philly-area glam-and-goth band cites David Bowie, T-Rex, Patti Smith, the Velvet Underground and The Rocky Horror Picture Show as influences. Lead singer Spook Marlow’s vocals remind me of Zombie Birdhouse-era Iggy Pop, which is somewhat apropos since one of the songs on their EP is titled “Zombie Love.” You can check them out, and purchase their EP, via BandCamp. (Disclaimer: In years past, I worked with two of the band members.)

4) Penelope Isles – “Leipzig.” I don’t know much about this band beyond what I read in Mojo or Uncut last week (or was it the week before that?) during a visit to Barnes & Noble. They’re an Isle of Man-based band fronted by sister and brother Lily and Jack Wolter, and the music they make is hypnotic.

5) P.P. Arnold – “Baby Blue.” P.P. Arnold started her career with Ike and Tina Turner, but parted ways with them while in the U.K. in 1966. She quickly carved out a niche for herself with such classic sides as “The First Cut is the Deepest” (1967) and “Angel of the Morning” (1968). I highly recommend the two-CD best of Angel of the Morning, which blew my mind when I first heard it in 2012, as well The New Adventures of P.P. Arnold, which was released earlier this month.

The whys and wherefores of music fandom are such that it’s near impossible to convey them on screen. They’re simultaneously elusive and illusive, mythical Bigfoots found only in the deepest reaches of the synaptic thicket called the brain. A series of interlinked sounds kicks off a chain reaction within our neurotransmitters – that is, physically speaking, what happens. But why one melody, guitar riff and soaring chorus instead of another? 

Among music-centric films, it’s rare that a fan is front and center – and rarer still that we see how the fan is born. I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Diner, The In Crowd, High Fidelity and Almost Famous are all good to great films, for example, but only Almost Famous shows what fueled the fandom. And the scene when 11-year-old William Miller flips through the LPs his sister left for him, lights a candle and places the Who’s Tommy on his turntable is wondrous – but then we jump a few years into the future to find William’s fandom in full swing.

“Blinded by the Light” – which the Washington Post posits “may be the feel-good movie of the summer” – fills in the gap. Set in 1987 Luton, England, the movie follows Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra), a British teen of Pakistani descent who dreams of being a writer. But life, he fears, is passing him by due to his overly strict father. At the same time, he deals with the realities of racism and the era’s economic tumult (1987 was the seventh year in a row of 10+% unemployment in the U.K.). His only escape comes from the Walkman hitched to his belt, and the feather-light headphones he slips over his ears whenever he can.

At the movie’s start, he listens to such Britpop acts as Madness and Pet Shop Boys, but the music’s a deflection from his life, not a reflection of it. Until, that is, when during a moment of personal crisis he inserts Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA into the Walkman and hears “Dancing in the Dark” for the first time. Roops (Aaron Phagura), a new friend at school, had lent him the cassettes for it and Darkness on the Edge of Town, and the music is a revelation, articulating everything he’s been unable to put into words about his life. As seen in the trailer below, the lyrics swirl around his head…

…and, before you know it, the music and lyrics inspire him for the better.

Directed by Gurinder Chadha, Blinded by the Light was inspired by Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir Greetings from Bury Park, and written by Manzoor, Chadha, and Chadha’s husband Paul Mayeda Berges. In some respects, it follows the formula laid down by Chadha’s Bend It Like a Beckham, but substitutes Springsteen fandom for soccer. There are several scenes of racism-related ugliness; moments of utter sweetness, such as when Javed serenades a girl he fancies; and moments of pure giddiness, such as when Javed and Roops take control of the school’s music station and blast the Boss for all to hear.

I found it a fun, feel-good film that explains how the best music can and does transcend its origins, and reflects the listener’s reality as much as the artist’s. As I’ve noted before, the mark of much (though not all) great art is that it’s both personal and universal, restrictive yet expansive. That, in the late ‘80s, a British kid of Pakistani descent can fall under the sway of a New Jersey born-and-bred, working-class rock star shouldn’t come as a surprise. Life is life, after all, no matter where one lives or what one’s background is.

Swampy Southern Rock meets Outlaw Country on LoneHollow’s potent self-titled EP. The Nashville duo consists of Damon Atkins, who was born at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and one of my favorite up-and-coming singers, Rylie Bourne, who hails from Illinois. It’s quite the combination: His is a voice brimming with soul; and hers is a voice that pierces the soul. Together, they’re akin – somewhat – to Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams circa the late ‘90s: rough, gruff and stirring. They’re quite the combination.

Of the music itself: Lost spirits accent the melodies and rhythms, which fire with the wearied precision of a weather-beaten still. I’ve had the five-song EP – which is available on both Apple Music and Spotify – on repeat for most of the morning, and highly recommend it.

For more on them, check out this interview from late 2018.