Merry Clayton was a famous back-up singer in the 60s and 70s, but never managed to break into a solo career of her own. She is probably best known for her back-up vocals on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”. After she was prominently featured in the documentary about back-up singers, Twenty Feet From Stardom, in 2013 she was planning to leverage that attention into a solo album. Then tragedy struck and she was in a terrible car accident that resulted in both her legs being amputated.
She says that when she woke up after the accident and they told her that her legs were gone the first thing she asked as if she still had her voice and then started singing. She didn’t actually think she would ever record an album after that, but with some encouragement she finally did and her album of gospel songs Beautiful Scars was released today. The title track was written by Diane Warren and seems to really fit Merry Clayton’s story.
Go take a listen and while you’re at it watch Twenty Feet From Stardom, which is wonderful. It doesn’t appear to be streaming anywhere for free, but it’s totally worth the rental price. If your public library subscribes to Kanopy it also appears to be available there, so you can watch it for free through your library.
The song “BANG!” is actually not new by any stretch of the imagination. The single came out over a year ago, but the album that it’s featured on was only released last week so I’m counting it. Plus it’s new to me. I heard the song for the first time this week on an episode of the Switched on Pop podcast. It’s a fun song and I’ve been enjoying listening to it all week, so I’m going to go with it. I don’t really have much to say about the song itself. Though fun trivia fact that I learned from the podcast the voice that’s saying “Here we go” during the song is actually done by the guy that does the “Beware the closing doors” recording for the NYC Subway. As soon as they said that I was like oh my gosh it is!
Ben Howard is a British indie folk, experimental rock artist. He’s also a lefty guitarist, which I only mention because you don’t see too many left handed guitar players. Because left handed guitars are harder to come by and generally more expensive a lot of left handed people just teach themselves to play right handed. So the first time I actually saw video of him playing it struck me.
Anyway, he released a new album, Collections from the Whiteout, today. It was produced by Aaron Dessner of the National. It leans more into the experimental rock than the indie folk rock he was made famous for with some of his earlier albums. As such I don’t love the album as a whole, but I do like the song “Far Out” which does remind me of some of his previous songs that I really like.
I’ve written about Delta Rae’s music in this blog before including their previous album, The Light. Today they released the follow-up to that album, The Dark. The two albums were part of a Kickstarter campaign they ran a few years ago after leaving the The Big Machine record label and deciding to head out on their own after feeling like the label never knew how to promote their music that doesn’t slot neatly into a category and definitely doesn’t fit into any current commercial genres that are going to get them radio play. They blew their goal so far out of the water that they kept adding on bonus things. I’m still very much looking forward to the eventual Christmas album.
The band is composed of six people including the Hölljes siblings Ian, Eric, and Brittany along with Elizabeth Hopkins, Mike McKee, and Grant Emerson. They have a sort of gospel, country, Americana sound that is very heavy in wonderful harmonies that I love. Although they switch up who is singing lead I have gravitated more towards the songs fronted by the women in the past, so I tend to think of them as a female fronted band, but today I’m pulling out one of the songs with a male lead. I like the whole album, but “Out of the Badlands” is the song that really stuck out to me the first listen through so that’s what I’m sharing.
I’ve got another twofer for you this week. The new Lake Street Dive album is out today too, so had I not already used a single from it in New Music Friday previously you’d probably be getting three songs.
Fallin’ by Valerie June
I honestly don’t know how to describe Valerie June’s music to people. Wikipedia lists it as a mix of folk, blues, gospel, soul, country, Appalachian, bluegrass, and dream pop which seems about right. I feel like her new album that came out today, The Moon and the Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers, despite the name, is actually a little more accessible to the average listener than some of her previous work. It definitely took me awhile to get into her because it is some complicated listening and she doesn’t have a straightforward voice. Having seen her in concert and heard her talk about her life and her work I definitely feel like she is living on a different astral plane than me and that certainly comes across in parts of this album as well, but I think there’s some songs here that might be enjoyable for the more casual listener along with some of the sounds that I more associate with her.
Be Sweet by Japanese Breakfast
I also could not resist sharing the new song “Be Sweet” by Japanese Breakfast from her forthcoming new album Jubilee. I don’t have much to say about it. I’m just really digging the 80s synth vibes of it and wanted to share it. So here you go.
“Cub Pilot” is a song off the new album Fruit Bats’ album The Pet Parade, which came out today. Fruit Bats is the long-time indie folk band fronted by Eric D. Johnson with a rotating cast of members filling out the rest of the band. While most of this album was apparently written before the pandemic, it was recorded by each individual band member alone in their respective space. It’s a gorgeous album that somehow seems to speak to these times even though it wasn’t specifically written for them. “Cub Pilot” is musically my favorite song off the album, so it’s the one I’m sharing here. I do encourage you to listen to the whole thing though.
One of the things I realize that I have really missed due to this pandemic are the people like acquaintances and more peripheral friends. I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping up with most of my really close friends through texts, online game nights, online book clubs, and online Bible study. There are a few good friends who are technologically adverse or just uninterested in spending even more time on technology after a long Zoom filled work week, which I haven’t stayed as much in touch with as I would have liked but overall I feel like I’ve done pretty good in that regard.
It’s all the other people that I realize I miss. You know the people that range from people you just see and say hi to because you know who each other are but you’re not really friends to the people you would consider friends but rarely see out of more sort of group events like parties or such. I miss the people that I talked to at church every week even though we don’t really have a relationship outside of that building. I miss chatting with my co-workers about non-work stuff like you would do in passing or while waiting for meetings to start. While we’re all sitting in Zoom waiting for a meeting to start we just sit there and stare at each other because there’s no way to have the sort of little side chats with the people sitting next to you. You have to start a conversation in front of a whole bunch of people. I miss those friends who I like to hang out with but who are not in my inner circle of friends and who outside of social media haven’t really kept up because there’s only so much time in the day and we’re all mentally drained anyway.
This is all kind of odd for me because I do have some low level of social anxiety and I detest small talk. I literally never know what to say to people I don’t know super well, so unless they are really good about guiding the conversation it’s going to be a whole lot of awkward. I even miss the people who are familiar to me because I see them all the time but that I don’t even know like the people I would see at the gym every day even though we never spoke to each other.
I can guarantee at some point I have probably turned and walked the other way or pretended I didn’t see you so that I didn’t have to stop and talk to you unless we are at a certain threshold of friendship. So to actively miss the people in my life that I would do that to is a little surprising. But I guess the good thing about all this is that it is teaching me that these people do serve an important role in my life and I should try and be more open and overcome that fear I have about engaging with them.
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything here about simple little pleasures, but I should really try and do more of that. It’s one of the reasons I started this blog in the first place to have something that forced me to find and focus on the good things in life. Obviously that’s been a bit of a struggle the past 12 months, but given the funk I’ve been in lately perhaps something I need to get back into the habit of.
I have some friends that I have been doing an online game night with pretty much every Saturday since the pandemic started. It was very cute of me back in the beginning to think that this was only going to last for a few weeks so I sent out a new calendar invite every week where I tried to name it with a pop culture reference based on what number week it was we had been doing it. For a very long time it’s been a recurring calendar invite named Virtual Game Night: To Infinity and Beyond.
Now you are probably wondering what in the heck virtual game night has to do with oyster crackers. A few weeks ago for Galentine’s Day I bought chocolate tasting kits from River Sea Chocolates for us ladies to do instead of our regularly scheduled game night. We didn’t actually wind up doing it on Galentine’s Day because one of the neverending ice storms we had for awhile delayed my ability to drive around and deliver them.
At any rate the tasting kits included two little packages of oyster crackers to cleanse our palates between the different types of chocolate. While the chocolate was good we all got a little obsessed with oyster crackers and for the next couple weeks kept talking about oyster crackers in our group chat, buying oyster crackers, and musing about whether for our next tasting we should try a variety of flavored oyster crackers. Who knew that oyster crackers would be more popular than chocolate?
I really do love oyster crackers, but they are not something I ever really buy for myself. I pretty much usually only eat them at restaurants when they’re served with soup. They are key with clam chowder, but it’s really hard to find clam chowder in dumb Maryland. We’re all about crab here so everyone has cream of crab soup instead, which is fine but not the same.
I too should probably cave and buy myself some oyster crackers to snack on as a treat.
I sometimes feel this made up pressure to pick only one song to write about in my New Music Friday posts as if I’m breaking some rule by talking about more than one song. I often share more than one song as I did last week, but in my head I’m always feeling like it’s wrong to write about more than one thing for some reason. This is all leading up to me sharing more than one song today in case you didn’t figure out where this was going.
I’ve been kicking the song “Good Woman” by The Staves down the road for awhile now. The single came out last October. I don’t think I heard it all the way back then but definitely several months ago now. I didn’t write about it then and eventually thought I would write about it when the full album, of which this is the title track, came out on February 5. Due to some life stuff I didn’t feel like writing that day and thus it got skipped. I decided I wanted to circle back around to it though because I do love this song so much and decided it was dumb to not write about it just because there was newer music to share.
The Staves are an English indie band composed of sisters Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor. They have beautiful harmonies and live in the same space as other harmonically wonderful sister bands like Joseph, HAIM, and First Aid Kit. I especially love the way the harmonies just build and build in this song. I love it more every time I hear it. Go take a listen and actually listen to the whole album while you’re at it.
I also wanted to write about Julien Baker’s new album Little Oblivions, which came out today. It’s mostly about her relapse from sobriety and her attempt to come back from that. It’s a great album and brings in a full band, which is not something she’s done on her previous albums. I’ve always found Julien Baker’s music to be pleasant, but it’s not something I ever really sought out. I think her earlier work was so spare that there was nothing really hooking me and compelling me to go listen to it. That is not the case with the new album which is much more full and lush with sound while still retaining a complete sense of being a Julien Baker album. It reminds me a lot more of the music of her fellow boygenius bandmate Phoebe Bridgers and the music they did with Lucy Dacus as the aforementioned boygenius. The song “Favor” on this album actual reunites the three of them. It is great and really makes me hope that we eventually get another boygenius album. I decided though I should choose a different song to highlight here though that is just Julien Baker. There’s a lot of good songs on this album, so it was hard to choose. I eventually decided to go with “Highlight Reel” purely because it has the word highlight in the title and that seems fitting,
Let’s take a trip back to the mid- to late 90s where if you like me were a college student trying to present an air of pretentious coolness like some sort of proto-hipster, which I totally was, it was required that you listen to Ani DiFranco. Did I succeed in my attempts to be the kind of college student so often featured in books and movies who is cool because they’re into all the indie bands and movies? Decidedly not. At any rate I can’t say I was an Ani DiFranco superfan, but I can tell you that I once went to a club meeting on campus where we must have been asked to share our favorite band or something during introductions because I distinctly remember like half the people naming Ani DiFranco and deciding I better get into some Ani DiFranco.
I have not in the years since I left college paid much attention to what Ani DiFranco has been doing. I have sometimes heard whatever favorite songs I had on various mixes or playlists, but I definitely haven’t kept up with any of her new stuff. I have been hearing her new song “Simultaneously” playing on WXPN the last few weeks and I am very much digging it. I love it’s jazzy coffee house vibe and what more do you want from Ani DiFranco?