There’s a new Adele song out today for the first time in five years. I’m not here to talk about the Adele song though. You don’t need me to tell you that there’s a new Adele song because everyone else already has. If you somehow are reading this while somehow having bypassed the entire rest of the internet since yesterday when the song dropped then bravo to you and I guess I’m really flattered that my blog is the one thing you look at on the internet.
Jason Isbell also released his cover album Georgia Blue today even though it wasn’t originally slated for release until November 25. He vowed that if Georgia went blue during this past presidential election that he would make a cover album of songs by artists from Georgia. He’s covering a lot of great artists along with the help of a bunch of other great artists. I haven’t had a chance to actually listen to it yet, so I’m also not talking about that today. But I’m super excited to listen to it when I get a chance later today.
I am however here to talk about the new song “Virginia Beach” by Hamilton Leithauser and Kevin Morby. Those are two artists that orbit around a bunch of other artists that I love, but for whatever reason I am not super into. I’m super digging this song though. I love the steel guitar. The line, “I have been to a Carolina” cracks me up. It’s like I don’t know I was in one of those Carolina states. I don’t know which one. Doesn’t matter. I don’t know why it tickles me so much, but it does. It may be the foremost reason that I like this song. And that’s what I have to say about that. Take a break from listening to Adele and give this a whirl.
I had a couple of other songs that I was thinking about writing about this morning and then I heard this new song by St. Paul and the Broken Bones and decided to go with it instead. I will keep the others in my back pocket as we’re starting to edge towards the part of the year where at least historically not as much new music is released. I will just let the opening lyrics tell you why I switched things up and wanted to share this song today.
“Lose yourself in a song that doesn’t make you want to cry God knows we need it right now”
I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about going into today. Adia Victoria’s new album Southern Gothic came out today. The War on Drugs also dropped the single “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” featuring Lucius, which is a song I really like. However, I wrote about songs by both of those artists in recent weeks and didn’t really want to repeat so soon if I could find something else to write about. I did not realize that José González’s new album, Local Valley, came out today until I was listening to NPR’s New Music Friday podcast.
I had been enjoying the song “El Invento”, which was the first single off of the album, since it came out way back in February. I kind of lost track that there was still an album it was attached to that hadn’t been released yet. A lot of this album still has González’s signature rhythmic almost meditative guitar picking sound, but it also expands in new ways. It’s the first time he’s sung in his native language of Spanish on any of his music. Most of it’s English, but there are a couple of songs in Spanish. He also has a few songs where he gets a bit more expansive in his sound. I’m sticking with talking about one that still sounds very much like a José González song to me.
“Visions” is the song they highlighted on the podcast episode I was listening to. It wasn’t the kind of song I wanted to hear this morning, but it turns out it was the song I needed to hear. It’s been a bit of a difficult week in my brain with lots of feelings of loss and depression as so many people seem to have restarted living their lives as if there wasn’t still a pandemic raging, but I still feel stuck in isolation. It was one thing when none of the things I love were happening, but it’s another to know that they’re happening and I’m now just missing out on them. This song with it’s meditative tone and with sounds of birds chirping it in it was the perfect calm as I was on my walk just before sunrise with the ground still wet from rain and crickets loudly chirping around me.
The lyrics that reminded me everything is cyclical and life will continue to move forward in some way and that we are all connected on this world for good or ill. In a time where I feel increasingly angry at the people who don’t want to understand or care that their actions have consequences for other people and thus that connection feels poisoned, this song offered what I felt was a more hopeful interpretation of that connection.
If there was actually something called musical addiction and a 12 step program to treat it, it’s days like today that I would need to consider going to one. I know I’m lucky if the people who read this blog listen to the one or two songs I post on a weekly basis, so I usually try and limit myself. But today I just can’t. There is too much good music out this week and I must write about it. It doesn’t help that I still have the song I was going to post about last Friday but didn’t because I had a rough start to the day and just never got the will to actually write anything after that. It’s been one of the worst weeks I’ve had in a very long time between work stress and life stuff, but at least there’s lots of good new music. As much as I’m going to write about here this isn’t even all of it. There is still a whole new Jade Bird album that released today that I haven’t had a chance to listen to and a fun new single from Elton John and Dua Lipa that I’m not going to write about but that you should listen to.
Magnolia Blues by Adia Victoria
I don’t actually have a lot to say about this song other than I like it. Adia Victoria is doing a lot of work in her music and excellent podcast, “Call and Response” digging into what it means to be a Black woman from the South. This song and video are a perfect example of that. I look forward to the full album whenever it comes out.
Little Things by Big Thief
Big Thief is a band I have tried to like without success for a long time now. All the people at NPR Music seem to love them and would put them at the top of their favorite artist lists, but I just haven’t ever been able to find a way into their music. I even saw Adrienne Lenker, the lead singer, at the Newport Folk Festival and that didn’t help. I’ve tried listening to the albums when they get featured on NPR, but I have never connected with the music and it’s not something I have ever listened to more than once. I really do like their new song “Little Things” though. There is a lot going on sonically, and it’s not always stuff that should make me like it but somehow it works. There is a nice repetitive guitar riff in the background that sort of propels you through the song but there are enough other changes in the music that there’s also interesting things to hear along the way. There’s a lot of distortion in the vocals and guitar work that is normally not my thing but it works for me here as do some of the vocal affectations like heavy breathing and a little roar at one point. IF you asked me about any of these things individually I’d say no thank you, but the sum of the parts combine into something that I dig.
Worry No More by Amos Lee
Amos Lee wrote a new album over a year ago that he intended to release last year at some point, but then of course we all know what happened and he put it off until he could really tour behind it. He finally announced that it’s going to be released in February 2022 and released the first single, “Worry No More” earlier this week. It’s actually a song I already feel intimately familiar with because for the first year of the pandemic he played a show on Instagram Live every Thursday night and this song made frequent appearances. I have to say that I prefer the solo acoustic guitar version I got during those shows to this actual recorded version from the album. I don’t love the sort of background chorus behind his main vocals for the most part. It kicks in at parts in ways that I really like, but the overall use of it isn’t something I’m loving. I’m sure I’ll get more used to hearing it in this form and then I won’t even think about it. It is a song that I still like and certainly the message is something I need right now. It’s a little funny to think that he wrote this song before we all even knew how much we were going to have to worry about.
Nothing Else Matters by Phoebe Bridgers
Metallica is going to be rereleasing The Black Album for it’s 30th anniversary (man that makes me feel old) in September. Along side it they’ve also created a project of covers called The Metallica Blacklist in which there are 53 different covers of various songs from the original album. They’ve been trickling out over the last month or so and I’ve thought about writing about a couple of them but haven’t. Phoebe Bridgers’ version of “Nothing Else Matters” finally got me because it’s a near perfect cover in my opinion. It does everything I want a cover song to do. It puts a whole new spin on it while also still being wholly recognizable as a cover of the original.
Runaway Horses by The Killers (featuring Phoebe Bridgers)
The Killers released a new album called Pressure Machine today. I wasn’t originally planning on writing about it today because I haven’t had a chance to really dig into it yet. From what I know about it, it’s more of a concept album in which Brandon Flowers digs into the experience of growing up and living in a small town as he did growing up in Nephi, Utah. It’s much quieter and not your typical sort of arena rock Killers music. The songs, as this one does are surrounded by audio excerpts of people from the town talking about their lives there. It felt like something I need to really sit down and listen to instead of just having on in the background while I’m working. I heard this song on WXPN this morning on my drive into work today though and decided to go ahead and include it because I really like it and also it features it features Phoebe Bridgers, and you can never have too much Phoebe Bridgers. Much to my own surprise I have really become a big Killers fan in the past year and I’m looking forward to getting to listen to this full album when I can devote my attention to it.
Last night I went to my first concert since the pandemic started. If you’ve been around here at all you know how desperately I love and missed live music. I’m trying to take as much as I can in now while there are a lot of shows outside because things do not seem to be going in the right direction COVID wise and I’m not sure how willing I’m going to be to go to inside concerts this winter when there will probably be a lot of young unvaccinated people crowded together.
This was a really nice reentry into the concert world. During June and July Wolf Trap was doing socially distanced shows. You had to buy pods, so we actually paid for a pod of four on the lawn even though there were only too of us. Sadly I don’t know any other Amos Lee fans to take the extra tickets. It’s a shame because he’s great. There was also no opening act so it started at 8 and ended at 9:30, which is just about perfect for me, especially at a Wolf Trap show. I was actually home before my bedtime instead of 12:30 am like usual. I wish all concerts were like that.
Amos is not doing a full tour yet. He just a few random dates here and there, so he was just playing acoustic solo rather than with his band which was a-ok with me. It just felt like a live version of the weekly Instagram Live concerts he did every Thursday night during the first year of the pandemic. It really did help keep me going, and I’m so thankful for him. It felt like the perfect thing that my first concert back was Amos Lee at my favorite Baltimore/DC area venue.
The concert was great. He is super funny joking a lot between songs. He also is one of the few artists I’ve seen that doesn’t come out with much of a set list. He just kind of decides what to play on the fly and also took a bunch of requests from the audience. He played a couple of new songs off his forthcoming album, which has been on hold since the pandemic started. One of the songs he played so much on the Instagram shows that I actually forgot that it’s not already been released.
Amos does a lot of work with Musicians On Call an organization that sends musical artists to hospitals to play for people, and he always seems to be attuned to his fans that are battling a significant illness. He befriended a kid named Jordy over the Instagram concerts and Jordy even came on and played with him one night. Apparently Jordy is from Virginia so he too was at the concert last night and Amos dedicated the song “Kid” to him because they used to play it together. It was a very sweet moment, and I love that song and it doesn’t seem to be one he plays a lot so I was very happy to hear it. He also ended the show with a song called “Charles St.”, which I’m not even sure I’ve ever heard before or at least paid attention to when I did hear it because the Charles Street in reference is actually the Charles Street in Baltimore. He said he had some friends from Baltimore who were also in the audience so he was singing it for them. Most of the song doesn’t have anything to do with Baltimore and you would never know he was referencing that until the very last night until it references Charles Street and I-83 when it definitely becomes obvious to anyone who knows. So that was kind of fun and just reinforced even more that this concert felt like a perfect live music come back.
It definitely reminded me of the joys of seeing live music. Even though it was a limited crowd due to the social distancing they had in place there was a lot of energy in the place. There was a lot of clapping and singing together. All the things that you just can’t experience watching concerts over a computer like I did so often for the past year. I’m so happy to have concerts back in my life. Please go get vaccinated if you haven’t yet, so that I can keep them.
There is plenty of new music from my indie rock/American wheelhouse that I could write about today including new albums by Clairo, Lawrence Rothman, and Willow. Instead I’m going to step outside my wheelhouse and write about the new yacht rock album by John Mayer and a new pop single by 98 Degrees.
I do not like John Mayer. I have never liked John Mayer. He was starting at a disadvantage with me in that his debut album was one of the in-store plays back when I worked at Barnes & Noble. Even if you like music hearing it over and over again while you’re working is bound to make you hate it eventually. I really only ever liked the song “Neon” off that album, so it wasn’t the repetitiveness that completely ruined it for me, but it certainly didn’t help. I just don’t like whatever genre of music John Mayer, Jack Johnson, and Jason Mraz fall into. I once took an Uber from San Francisco to the Oakland airport in which the driver had a playlist of those three artists on shuffle and I really wanted to give him a bad rating because of it. Don’t worry; I didn’t.
Anyway, John Mayer has a new album called Sob Rock out today that is homage yacht rock. They were talking about it on NPR’s All Songs Considered podcast this morning and someone said “I regret to inform you that John Mayer’s new yacht rock album is actually good.” I like yacht rock a lot and didn’t completely hate the snippet of the song they played, so it made me curious enough to listen to the whole thing. So here’s the thing. The album does indeed very much sound like yacht rock in its musical style. Most of it does feel like an homage to the genre, but sometimes it also feels like it’s making fun of it. I mean if you’re going to make a song that sounds like Air Supply’s “Even the Nights are Better” with the chorus,
Why you no love me? Why you no love me? Why you no even care? Why you no love me? Why you no love me? Why you no will be there?
it’s going to sound like a parody. My problem is that ultimately it still sounds like John Mayer. I had the same problem with Taylor Swift’s folklore. Yes, I like the music at the root of the songs better, but the voice is still the same and you can’t get away from that. There are a bunch of instrumental breaks in the songs that I would really be digging and then John Mayer would start singing again and ruin it all for me. Something about his voice is just not for me. If you are a John Mayer fan and you do like yacht rock, you should love this album. And I do have to give him credit for going all in on the aesthetic. I mean the music video for “Shot in the Dark” looks like it came straight out of the 80s.
I also wanted to talk about the new 98 Degrees song, “Where Do You Wanna Go” that I ran across last night. I was just slightly too old to be super into the 90s boy bands. I live in the world so of course I know plenty of songs by the Backstreet Boys and ‘NSync, but I was never a groupie and don’t even think I owned any of their albums. During my senior year of college my roommates and I were super into whatever Backstreet Boys album was popular at the time, but in a sort of ironic way, and I don’t think I’m the one who owned the CD (kids ask your parents). I also know that 98 Degrees was a band and I’m absolutely certain that I know one or two of whatever their hit songs were at the time, but I cannot tell you what they were without Googling, which I have not done.
This new song is a bop though. It’s got a great fun, summer pop song vibe that I’m digging. I do have to say that the video makes me kind of sad because it’s like these 40 year old guys still acting like they are 20. It’s a weird thing about being a boy band. People want you to look and sound like you did when they were all in love with you as teenagers, but now you’re old and it just seems like you’re sadly trying to recreate your youth even though what’s happening is that people want you help recreate theirs. So maybe just go listen to the song somewhere without the video and forget that these guys aren’t actually in their 20s anymore and just enjoy the music.
Earlier this week on Instagram I was sharing my favorite albums of 2021 so far in my stories. I realized that somehow I hadn’t actually written about anything off of Amythyst Kiah’s album Wary + Strange. It’s a roots and Americana album in which Amythyst Kiah opens up about being a black, queer woman from Tennessee who has faced some traumatic experiences in her life. The song I’ve chosen to highlight is “Wild Turkey”, which is about her mother committing suicide by drowning herself in a river. It’s an excellent album all around, and I highly recommend taking a listen.
Also in case you’re wondering the other albums that made my favorite albums of 2021 so far list are Amythyst Kiah’s fellow Our Native Daughters band member, Allison Russell’s Outside Child, Japanese Breakfast’s Jubilee, Hiss Golden Messenger’s Quietly Blowing It, and girl in red’s if i could make it go quiet.
I was listening to new music by Pom Pom Squad and Liz Phair and it was making me think about how iterative music is. You have Pom Pom Squad, which is an indie punk/grunge rock band founded and fronted by 23 year old Mia Berrin. Their sound on their first album, Death of a Cheerleader, definitely evokes a lot of 90s era female rock for me. Then you have Liz Phair who actually began her music career during that period of the 90s who just put out a new album as well. You have the song “Spanish Doors” off of the new album Soberish which does have more of that similar sound, but you also have the song “In There” that is more of an evolved sound that doesn’t feel like it came from the 90s. I’m just fascinated by the idea that young kids listen to older music and are influenced by that sound while some of those same older acts are taking cues from newer music being created by younger artists and incorporating it into their sound. Music is fun y’all.
I came here this morning to write about a song by Brittney Spencer, which I’m still going to do but along the way I also discovered a couple of other new songs out today and they were all interconnected so you’re getting all of them.
At the center of the connection is the cover of Lady Gaga’s “Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)” off of the tenth anniversary cover album of Born This Way. It’s sung by the core Highwomen, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Amanda Shires, and Natalie Hemby along with Brittney Spencer and Madeline Edwards. They have always said that the Highwomen is a movement and not strictly a band of the four main members and they continue to draw new talent into the fold. It seems they have particularly been supporting Brittney Spencer since she covered one of their songs. Anyway, I really like this cover and am happy to have some more music created by these women.
As I mentioned I had originally planned on writing about a song by Brittney Spencer. I have actually been meaning to write about her music for over a year. She’s actually a Baltimore native and I read an article about her last year in the Baltimore Sun, but she hadn’t actually released her EP yet at that point. By the time it came out I kept meaning to write about it, but it just never happened for whatever reason. Despite all the momentum she seems to be gaining recently with an invite to sing at the Grand Ole Opry, a profile on CBS This Morning, a spot on CMT’s artists to watch showing in TImes Square, and other things she amazingly still doesn’t have a record deal. As a black, plus sized woman she definitely doesn’t fit the Nashville mold, so perhaps it’s not that surprising. Hopefully all the attention she’s getting means that things are changing in some small way and she will soon have the record deal and radio play she deserves. Last week she put out the single “Sober & Skinny” so it’s finally time that I too pay her some attention in my New Music Friday posts.
And finally Highwoman, Natalie Hemby released the song “Heroes” today. It felt like a nice little Highwomen trifecta when I realized that. I definitely enjoyed seeing her open for Brandi Carlile at the Ryman, so I’m very much looking forward to her full solo album.
Today is my birthday and I’m in Boston visiting my family for the first time since the pandemic started (another post on that later). The only reason that I have a post today is because I pre-wrote and scheduled this. It turns out that the song I heard that I knew I wanted to write about is not new at all, but hey as the old NBC slogan used to say about re-runs, it’s new to me. Perhaps it will be new to you too. If not, why did no one tell me about it?
I first heard this song on the radio on my way home from a friend’s kid’s birthday party last weekend. I’m woefully out of touch with new country music at the moment because in the past there were two ways that I really kept up with country music neither of which have really been a thing since the pandemic started. I have my alarm clock (Yes, I still use a clock radio for my alarm. It’s the same one I got for Christmas when I was like 8.) set to the local country radio station. Thus I used to hear country music lying in bed until I dragged myself up and then also while I was getting ready for work. Now however the time I get out of bed has shifted and thus it’s now such that I almost always wake up before my alarm even goes off and then when I’m getting ready for work I’m in a space of time that’s almost always commercials and the DJs talking rather than playing music. I also listen to the radio while I’m driving, but I haven’t done a whole lot of that in the past year and half either so I’m not too up on the new pop music or country music that I would also hear in the car.
So you’ll forgive me for having not heard “Freedom Was a Highway” by Jimmie Allen and Brad Paisley until this past week even though it came out almost a year ago. It’s off of Allen’s EP Bettie James, which is a collaborative album with some of country’s biggest stars on each of the songs. To me it’s a perfect country song. Country music always feels ideal for the summer and this song has the quintessential summer beat. It also does what country songs do best in evoking a feeling of nostalgia for a simpler time in our lives, but without being schmaltzy about it like too many country songs are. Also it’s not about trucks or half naked women or drinking, which is too much of a rarity these days in mainstream country music. I just really, really love the guitar work in this song. It’s such a good country song and I literally have had it on repeat since I first heard it. I hope you love it as much as I do.