Posts Tagged ‘Church of Birch’

As I said over the weekend, there is so much good new music in the world that it can be hard to keep up – especially since finding said sounds means channeling one’s inner- Jim Rockford. Even so-called “good” radio stations (more on that in the coming weeks) do a lousy job of spotlighting new discoveries – unless it’s the latest generic alterna-rock band, that is.

To that end, here’s a collection of YouTube clips that shouldn’t be missed…

1) The Staves – “Blues Run the Game.” So the Staves played a forest the other day…

2) First Aid Kit – “Fireworks.” And FAK premiered a new song just in time for July 4th.

3) Courtney Marie Andrews – “Sea Town.” CMA, meanwhile, shared this clip that was filmed near the Boot & Saddle in South Philly last month. While I was searching for a parking spot before that show, I drove past her shooting this. I should’ve honked!

4) Natalie Duncan – “Get Right.” Here’s a relatively new song from one of my favorite voices of the past decade…

5) Karrie – “Performers.” And, finally, here’s a stunning track from Karrie that she didn’t include on her wonderful 2016 album Perpetual Motion. (More from Ms. O’Sullivan this weekend.)

And three bonuses…

6) Erin O’Dowd – “Jump the Gun Song.” Another of my favorite new voices.

7) Diane Birch – “Nothing Compares 2 U” & “When Doves Cry.” Here’s the Church of Birch pastor’s lovely tribute to Prince (from a February show in Berlin):

8) Paul Weller – “Soundtrack of My Life.” The Modfather reflects on songs that shaped his life in this NME video. Why do I feel old looking at him?

And so the year comes to a close not with a bang or whimper, but a melody that’s older than my time on Earth: “What the World Needs Now Is Love.”

Jackie DeShannon’s rendition of that Bacharach-David classic, Wikipedia tells us, was released as a single on April 15, 1965; and, according to Weekly Top 40, it entered the Top 10 on July 3rd and peaked at No. 7 three weeks later. It’s a song that’s been sung by hundreds of singers since, including Rumer on her new This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach & David Songbook album. Somewhere there’s war, somewhere there’s heartache and somewhere some people hate while others fear. It’s not fair. It’s never fair. But it’s why the song resonates when it’s sung. It’s always true. The world needs love. Sweet love. Not for some. For everyone.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Old Grey Cat’s “Album of the Year” award is not an honorific doled out lightly. The selection process – which I began in 1978 at age 13 – is quite simple: I deep-dive into the music that riveted me during the previous 12 months, whittle down the choices to a few candidates and pick my Album of the Year from them. But this year? There was no need. To quote myself from 2014:

“Sometimes you just know – call it love at first listen. The first notes of the first song seep from the speakers with the grace of an Audrey Hepburn or the grit of a Humphrey Bogart and, well, that’s that. Without listening to the rest, you know that this is it, the one, the set of music that will fill the soundtrack of your life not just for the foreseeable future, but for the rest of it.”

Except, in this instance, I knew long before the first notes sauntered from the speakers. But, again, I’m getting ahead of myself. (Let’s call it “building suspense.” Ha!)

ryliebourneFirst, a caveat: Rylie Bourne’s self-titled debut album was and remains among my favorite discoveries of 2016; it would easily make my Top 5 for the year save for the fact that it wasn’t released in 2016, but late 2015. As I explained in this post, “It’s country music the way country music should be, of the soul and heart. It conjures the Carter Family, Merle Haggard and the outlaw sound. At times, it’s light; more often, however, it’s dark and cathartic – think Hank Jr.’s Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound (minus the orneriness).” If you haven’t sought it out, you should. Here’s a taste:

And one more caveat: Neil Young’s Peace Trail is due out on Dec. 9th, five days from now. It could, conceivably, eke its way into a top spot, given that “Indian Givers” – released a few months back – is damn good.

There’s little chance that the album will eke its way into my Top 3, however; those have been set in stone since Thanksgiving night. Because of Peace Trail, however, I’m not going to breakdown what falls where within Numbers 10 to 4, as they’re all (fairly) equal to my ears and could get bumped down a notch (and/or out of the Top 10): Alicia Keys’ Here; Bat for Lashes’ The Bride; Blake Babies’ Earwig Demos; Emily Jane White’s They Moved in Shadow All Together; Neil Young’s Earth; Norah Jones’ Day Breaks; and, at my wife’s urging, Van Morrison’s Keep Me Singing.

And, with all that acknowledged, onward to the year’s Top 3:

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3) Sarah Jarosz – Undercurrent. What an amazing album. The singer-songwriter’s guitar playing reminds me of Stephen Stills – magic is made with every pluck and strum. Her vocals, though a different shade and texture, conjure Shawn Colvin’s; and the songs…as I’m apt to say, “Wow. Just wow.” Here’s a 10-minute Attics Sessions video of the Texas native:

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2) Diane Birch – Nous + “Nite Time Talking.” The Church of Birch pastor began the year with the intoxicating Nous. In my review, I wrote that the set is “atmospheric, restrained and moody, accented by muted vocals and figurative wisps of smoke swirling from speakers. The music smolders, in other words, and conjures an assortment of current and classic recordings – from Anna Calvi and Bat for Lashes to David Bowie and Pink Floyd – while retaining its own unique sound.”

“Nite Time Talking,” a one-off single released on Bandcamp at the end of November, is equally seductive and dreamlike.

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1) Rumer – This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach and David Songbook. Was there any doubt? As I said above, sometimes you just know; and I knew in August of 2015, when Rumer announced her plan to record an album of Bacharach-David songs. That voice with those songs?! It’s a match made in heaven. However, the end result is even better than anticipated. To tweak what I wrote a few weeks back, it’s a lilting and lush set that possesses the grace of Audrey Hepburn, soul of Dusty Springfield and finesse of the 5th Dimension.

In other words, it blows my mind every time I listen to it (and I’ve listened to little else since its release). Here’s another highlight – with a vocal cameo by none other than Burt Bacharach, who also plays piano on the track:

 

dianebirch_nousEschatology is a word I learned from a poem by Denise Levertov (1923-97); it is, she explains in “Seeing for a Moment,” “the study of Last Things.” The piece features neither florid imagery nor artful rhymes, just stark ideas, exploring in a mere 83 words the dichotomies of life – expectation vs. disappointment, fear vs. faith – and how, at a certain stage (and age), the Last Things evolve into the First Things. We no longer focus on the end and, instead, contemplate the beginning—our beginnings. Thus, when facing her older self in the mirror, “word after word/floats through the glass./Towards me.”

The First Things, in this context, include the poem’s opening lines:

“I thought I was growing wings—
it was a cocoon.”

We expect life, when young, to unfold much like school: first grade leads to second leads to third, and on down the line until, one late-spring day, we’re tossing our caps in the air at high-school graduation. But life – for most, at any rate – doesn’t unfurl like the step-by-step directions proffered by Google or Apple maps. Detours and wrong turns are inevitable. We stride forward, stumble, tumble backwards and regroup, and head out yet again.

It’s the grist of life, of art and song. Everything doesn’t snap into place like the DIY furniture purchased from Ikea, though the idea that it should, well, that lingers in the back of one’s mind, always.

Diane Birch’s new EP, Nous, documents dreams, disappointments, disillusionment, faith and acceptance, and an awareness not spoken that, indeed, the Last Things are the First Things. My brief review on Monday captures the set’s overall feel, I think. It’s atmospheric, restrained and moody, accented by muted vocals and figurative wisps of smoke swirling from speakers. The music smolders, in other words, and conjures an assortment of current and classic recordings – from Anna Calvi and Bat for Lashes to David Bowie and Pink Floyd – while retaining its own unique sound.

I mention those references for a reason: Sonically speaking, Nous is light years away from the retro-pop and R&B of Bible Belt, her delightful 2009 debut, and Speak a Little Louder, her adventurous 2013 followup, though it explores many of the same basic themes.

The opening “Hymn for Hypatia,” as I said Monday, conjures the pews and stained glass of church. It feeds into the evocative “How Long,” which is ostensibly about yearning for commitment from a would-be partner but, following the opening hymn, also doubles as a question to a Higher Power. “King of Queens,” the next song, is about the New York Mets, who last won the World Series in 1986, but is, I think, about something deeper, as well. It, too, yearns – but for the glory days of yore, not love.

“Interlude” – a short piano piece that revisits and foreshadows the album’s melodic themes – follows; and then the spellbinding “Stand Under My Love” kicks in: “Hand on my heart/when the future falls apart/and the fire won’t burn/and the wheels won’t turn/when there’s not another road/we will bear the heavy load together.” I posted this same video on Monday, but it’s well worth a second (and third) look:

“Walk on Water” muses on love and faith (“Take a step out/love’s an ocean/we can walk on water”), and is accented by the musings of Diane’s boyfriend’s father, whose insights sound like those of a (Brooklyn) preacher recorded from a staticky radio sometime during the Depression. It’s a surreal, swirling song that features a soulful saxophone blowing in from the distance like a long-suppressed memory bubbling up from the subconscious.

That soulful saxophone (played by Stuart Matthewman of Sade’s band) returns on the set’s closing song, “Woman,” which Diane said on Twitter is “an ode to the divine feminine.” It may be that, but it’s also the atmospheric summation of the EP as a whole. If Denise Levertov had made music, it would have sounded like this.

(The EP is available via Diane Birch’s Bandcamp page.)

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I don’t have time for a proper review – that will have to wait until Saturday, sad to say. But Nous, the new extended-play from the pastor of the Church of Birch is simply hypnotic. It opens with “Hymn for Hypatia,” a short piece that conjures stained glass, pews and confessionals, which segues into “How Long,” the first in a string of moody songs that smolder like a soul on fire. Uptempo is out, in other words, and intensity is in. “Stand Under My Love” is amazing. Here’s a version she posted to YouTube last month –

The set, which she produced herself, is available for purchase (for $5) directly from her Bandcamp page – as MP3s, AACs, FLAC, ALAC or WAV files.  The FLAC, ALAC and WAV files are 24-bit/48 kHZ, I should mention; I went with the ALAC – sounds amazing on my Pono Player. (You can also stream the music via the Bandcamp app.)