Amos Lee at Wolf Trap

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.

New Music Friday: John Mayer and 98 Degrees

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.

New Music Friday: Wild Turkey by Amythyst Kiah

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.

New Music Friday: Pom Pom Squad and Liz Phair

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.

New Music Friday: Highwomen Edition

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.

Old Music Friday: Freedom Was a Highway by Jimmie Allen and Brad Paisley

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.

New Music Friday: Allison Russell and Lowland Hum

I have two full albums for you today. Usually even if I’m talking about a full album I try to pull out a single song to emphasize, but I’m not going to do that today because you should really listen to the entirety of both of these albums.

First up is Outside Child by Allison Russell. I first became familiar with Allison Russell as part of the folk super group Our Native Daughters. She has apparently also been a member of some other bands as well that I am not familiar with. This is her first solo album and it is a very personal album about surviving the sexual abuse she suffered from her step-father as a child. Despite some of the heavy subject matter it does not feel depressing or sad. A native of Montreal, but now living in Nashville, Russell sings in both English and French on the album. She also collaborates with fellow folk musicians Yola, Erin Rae, and the McCrary Sisters. The sounds ranges from very traditional folk almost spirituals, to more pop folk, to R&B tinged folk. It’s a glorious album and I highly recommend listening to it.

I also wanted to talk about the album So Low by Lowland Hum, which is a cover album of Peter Gabriel’s album So. They released it earlier this week on the 35th anniversary fo the original album. Let me tell you how old that made feel. The answer is very. I love the original Peter Gabriel album. It is full of some of my favorite songs. Ask me about calling a radio station over and over again trying to convince them to play “In Your Eyes” so that I could record it back when I was in middle school and I couldn’t easily get access to the music I wanted to listen to. The original album is so lush and full of instrumentation and Lowland Hum strips much of that out to create a much sparer but still rich sound full of harmonies. It’s exactly what I love in a cover song. It pays homage to original but still makes it something completely new. I also appreciate that they gender flipped the duet on “Don’t Give Up”. If you like the original album I definitely recommend listening to this cover tribute.

New Music Friday: transparentsoul by Willow and ft. Travis Barker

This week I learned that I actually really like Willow Smith’s music. I don’t think I had heard anything by her since the song “Whip My Hair” that she put out when she was 9 years old. I sort of just discounted her thinking she only had any kind of career because she’s Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith’s kid. To some extent that may be true, but turns out she also makes good music. Whatever it was I just assumed that either it wasn’t very good or that it would be something that I wouldn’t like. Shame on me for writing her off because it turns out neither of those things are true, which I learned by listening to this week’s episode of the Switched on Pop podcast. They started out about in the same place I was but like me realized that Willow Smith rocks. The song “transparentsoul” is and excellent sort of emo rock song. I’m totally digging it and now I need to go back and check out some of her other stuff.

New Music Friday: Serotonin by girl in red

I meant to write about “Serotonin” by girl in red last Friday when the album it’s on, if I could make it go quiet, came out. I didn’t have time to write a post before work like I normally do, so I was going to do it at lunch and didn’t feel like it. Then I was going to do it after work, but I didn’t feel like it. So I never did. There isn’t anything else out today that I want to write about more than this so I’m carrying it forward.

girl in red is Norwegian singer-songwriter Marie Ulven. Her debut album addresses a lot about her mental health issues. Obviously the single “Serotonin” is a hallmark of that. It’s something she started to put together over TikTok and is the first song she’s ever taken from messing around on TikTok and turned into an actual song. She’s grown a following over the past several years with a couple of EPs and apparently it’s a signal among Gen Z to ask people if they’re fans of girl in red to find out if they are lesbians. I’m old and don’t use TikTok, so I know nothing about that but I do love the music. “Serotonin” is the first girl in red song I’m aware of hearing and it’s what got me to look into the full album, which I also really like. Go have a listen.

New Music Friday: Chvrches, Yola, and Christopher Paul Stelling

This week was a banner week for artists I love dropping new singles. I expect this year is going to have a glut of new music between people releasing albums they sat on last year until they could tour behind them and all the quarantine albums that were recorded while bands couldn’t tour.

He Said, She Said by Chvrches

It’s been three long years since Chvrches last put out a new album. I hadn’t really seen much out of them in recent years. They weren’t touring and I hadn’t heard anything about new music being worked on, so I was a little worried that we wouldn’t hear from them again. But now they’re back with the single “He Said, She Said” about a manipulative relationship. It was apparently recorded on opposite sides of the Atlantic during lockdown. It’s kind of crazy how music can be produced these days with everyone in different locations. Anyway, it sounds exactly like a Chvrches song, which is all I really wanted from it because I love me some Chvrches. I’m hoping this means a new album and a new tour are imminent, though not until after I feel comfortable going to concerts again. Please go get vaccinated.

Diamond Studded Shoes by Yola

UK country soul singer Yola is back with the first single off her forthcoming new album, Stand For Myself, due out July 30. “Diamond Studded Shoes” co-written with Aaron Lee Tasjan, Natalie Hemby, and Dan Auerbach is one of those great tunes that makes you just want to jump up out of your chair and start boogeying until you actually listen to the terribly depressing lyrics. The song was written in response to former UK Prime Minister talking about how they needed to cut all these social safety net programs while literally wearing shoes with diamonds in them. Again I say I can’t wait for the new album and I really hope I get to see Yola tour with it. Go get your vaccine.

Die to Know by Christopher Paul Stelling

Christopher Paul Stelling released the first single, “Die to Know”, from his new album Forgiving It All due out on September 24. He funded and I backed the album on Kickstarter. After losing out on most of his tour backing his previous album due to COVID, which was released on a label, he talked about the importance of actually owning your own music. So he decided to try and fund the new album himself. This song, and I believe the whole album, is going back to his roots as just a guy and a guitar. I absolutely know I’ve said it on this blog before, but I’ve never seen one person with a guitar capture an audience the way I saw him at the Newport Folk Festival. It’s my example of why I always tell people at Newport to go see the people you don’t know because you may be missing something amazing. Watching an audience full of people, most of whom like me didn’t know who he was prior to that set, just become absolutely rapt was one of those moments I will never forget. I’d love to be able to see him live again too. Go get your vaccine.