New Music Friday: Devon Gilfillian and The Killers

So I have another twofer for you this week. I spent most of the week thinking I was going to write about Devon Gilfillian’s new song, but then this morning I kept hearing songs off of The Killers new album that came out today and I was more in the mood to write about that so I thought I would just switch out my song choice. But then I felt bad not writing about the Devon Gilfillian song so I’m doing both.

Cracks in the Ceiling by Devon Gilfillian feat. Joseph

“Cracks in the Ceiling” is a song that Devon Gilfillian wrote with the sisters from the band Joseph as part of NPR’s Morning Edition Song Project in which they are enlisting artists to write songs about this moment. Devon Gilfillian was thinking about a difficult conversation he had with a friend who grew up in the South and voted for Donald Trump about Black history and his own experiences as Black American and wrote this song about needing to seize this moment when the world has stopped to have difficult conversations about race and racism.

My Own Soul’s Warning by The Killers

The Killers are a band that I like okay and generally enjoy when I hear a song by them, but I also have never gotten super into them. I’ve never bought one of their albums nor felt compelled to go to one of their concerts, which should pretty much tell you what you need to know. But as a band that has now been around for 20 years and still very much has an identifiable sound, even their new music makes me feel a little nostalgic for what now seems like much simpler times. As I said above writing about The Killers today was not on my radar at all, but I heard two different songs off the album this morning and they just really felt like music I wanted to listen to right now. The sort of grandiose sweeping sound of their songs was just what I needed today. I probably never would have listened to this entire album except for the fact that I heard these songs in the exact moment that I did. I’m digging the whole thing especially the songs that feature k.d. lang and Weyes Blood even though I’m not sharing either one of those songs. I just went with this song because I felt like it exemplified The Killer’s signature style and the mood I’m going for.

Newport Revival Weekend

Thanks to COVID-19 the 2020 Newport Folk Festival was canceled. Anyone who knows me or who has been reading this blog for any length of time should know that Newport is my favorite weekend of every year. It is a completely soul restoring event that has been sorely needed in the last few years and ironically was unable to happen this year for some of the reasons that it was needed more than ever.

In lieu of an in-person festival, this year they put together a series of online events to celebrate the history of the festival and use it as a fundraiser for the Newport Festivals Foundation, which supports music education and this year has extended their work to support artists who are out of work due to COVID-19.

They dug into their 60 year archive and put together a radio festival that mimicked the actual festival as much as it could. It ran for the same hours that the festival happens every year. It included broadcasts of some complete sets from previous years as well as themed compilation sets full of songs from the full history of the festival. That mirrors what the actual festival does as there are always compilation sets full of a number of artists who will come out and sing together around a common theme whether it be a tribute set to an artist like the Grandma’s Hands Band set, which was a tribute to the music of Bill Withers that they replayed as part of this or something like civil rights songs. They even had a surprise set on the setlist for the weekend. Jay Sweet who organizes the festival has long said that he would love to not even let people know who is playing until they show up to the festival that day, so he always sprinkles in some sets over the weekend that are listed just as a surprise set. The surprise set for this was a Joni Mitchell set from the early years of the festival.

It was actually really great to listen to festival for the most part. I spent a lot of time texting back and forth with a friend who is also part of the Newport Folk Family. It was nice to relive some of the things from the festival that I really loved. I could picture being at the festival and seeing them. There were also a couple of sets that I was happy to get to hear because I missed parts of them the first time around because there are three stages and you can never be everywhere at once. It was cool to listen to some of the music from long before my time as well. There were a couple of things like the set from Jack White that I skipped the first time around and this made me know that I made the right decision about. I’m also not sorry that I skipped out on the Beck set because it was raining and I don’t care that much about Beck, though I will say that now having listened to it he definitely gets the festival and did not get up and do a “Beck set”. He really made it a set for Newport. I always love when artists realize the importance of where they are playing and don’t just get up and do what they do everywhere.

In addition to the radio festival they did special after hours events as well just as there are during the actual festival. I never go to those because I am done with crowds by the time the festival proper is over for the day. On Friday night you could pay for an airing of one of the three concerts they did for Mavis Staples’ 80th birthday last year. I had really wanted to go to one of them, but they were in New York, Nashville, and L.A. and based on timing I just couldn’t make it happen. So one of the few good things about this pandemic has been able to see some things like this that were just hidden away in a vault somewhere and which probably would never have seen the public light of day otherwise. It was wonderful and I’m really glad I got to experience it even in this limited way. As I’ve said many times before Mavis Staples is a national treasure and it was so delightful to see so many artists I love celebrate her.

Saturday night was another paid show. This one involved an actual concert at Fort Adams where the festival is held every year. Deer Tick who are a local Rhode Island band who have a huge connection to the festival did an in-person socially distanced (for the band, no audience) concert that they recorded with special guests who appeared from their respective homes. As many online concerts as I’ve watched since this all began it was really nice to see an actual band performing together rather than connected in their little boxes via Zoom or whatever even if I still had to watch it through a screen.

Sunday night there was a free film called Our Voices Together. Looking back now they never said it was going to be a documentary about the festival, but that is somehow what I got in my head it was going to be and is sort of what I wish it had been. I was looking forward to seeing footage of previous festivals and hearing people talk about the history of the festival. There was a little bit of that, but mostly it was favorite Newport artists playing songs either alone or in the little Zoom box style with their bands that I was just saying feels a little soulless compared to people actually playing together. I mean I love all the music and the artists that were in the film, but it wasn’t really what I was expecting or necessarily hoping for. I will say that the cover they did of “What the World Needs Now is Love” featuring a metric ton of artists from festivals past was amazing and I wish they would at least make that one song available to rewatch again since the entire film is only available for 24 hours from it’s premiere.

I’m really glad they pulled all this together. I definitely ran through the gamut of emotions listening and watching everything all weekend. Sunday I did hit an emotional low point of sadness thinking about there not being an actual festival this year. There were a lot of tears, but there were also lots of moments of joy. I sincerely hope we can get our act together so that there will actually be a Newport Folk Festival in 2021 because it cannot come soon enough.

New Music Friday: Sleep at Night by The Chicks

The Chicks, formerly known as the Dixie Chicks (ask me how many times I had to remove Dixie from this post due to habit) released Gaslighter, their first album since 2006 today. I hadn’t really cared that much for the first single they released off of it, the title track “Gaslighter”, but I really do like the full album. In fact I think “Gaslighter” is my least favorite song on the album.

It appeals to me musically. Lyrically I’m agnostic. It doesn’t really speak to me at all. It’s mostly from what I’ve read and can tell by listening to it a sort of catharsis for Natalie Maines writing about her very messy divorce from Adrian Pasdar. I don’t care that much about celebrity relationships, so I’m uninterested in whether all the things she sings about actually happened or not. I do really like the sound of most of the songs though, and since I’m rarely paying that much attention to lyrics these days I’m happy to just have some new songs that bring back the sound of The Chicks.

I’m sharing “Sleep at Night” because I think it’s one of my favorites from the album. The album was produced by Jack Antonoff, so it definitely has a little bit more of a pop vibe. There are still a lot of typical country elements here though. This song is perhaps one of the poppiest, but there is still the very recognizable banjo in the mix.

New Music Friday: Light by Michael Kiwanuka

“Light” the song is actually a song off of Michael Kiwanuka’s album Kiwanuksa, which camr out last fall. Last week he released a new animated video for it highlighting the Black Lives Matter movement. I’ll just let him share what he had to say about the song.

“The way so much of the world has been designed has often caused me and so many other Black people psychological damage,” Kiwanuka says. “We so often hear that we are lesser than because we are Black. We are a label, a token, a statistic, and we can be dehumanized. I’ve spoken about it in my music but I wanted to declare in words that I’m so proud to be Black. We are so beautiful and have such a wonderful history of strength, overcoming, talent, innovation, creativity, invention and love.”

Also go check out this NPR list of A Century of Black Music Against State Violence.

New Music Friday: Seeds by Rissi Palmer

Rissi Palmer is a Black female country artist. In 2007 she was the first Black woman to make it onto the country charts since 1987 with her song “Country Girl”. Here newest album Revival that came out last October extends beyond her country roots combining them with gospel, R&B, and jazz in a collection of songs mostly about race and racism, though the very personal song “You Were Here” talks about her miscarriage.

The whole album is great, but I’m going to share the song “Seeds” here. It’s a fantastic protest song and one of the songs that most has a country feel to it.

New Music Friday: Black Like Me by Mickey Guyton

At the beginning of this year I said I wanted to highlight country songs by female artists in my New Music Friday posts because the Nashville country machine does not support women even though there are many fantastic female country singers out there. With the advent of COVID-19 I drifted away from that a little bit to talk about some songs I was feeling in that moment, and then I just stopped writing these posts all together because I just didn’t have the mental energy to do it.

Well, I’m back at least for now and am getting back to my original mission while also trying to promote some black, female country artists which are rare in a music genre that like many others pretty much appropriated the roots of the music from black people and then locked them out of it. Take a look at all the work Rhiannon Giddens has done examining the history of country music and its roots in black music.

Because mainstream country music has the issues it does regarding both women and people of color, I had not heard of Mickey Guyton before last week. She had already written the song “Black Like Me” for a forthcoming project, but in the midst of everything that has been happening recently with the black lives matter movement she quietly dropped it on black out Tuesday.

It’s a very simple song about being proud to be black, but also point out that it makes her life difficult in ways that white people don’t experience. It’s a great song and perfect for this moment. Go take a listen.

New Music Friday: We’ll Make It Through by Ray LaMontagne

A few weeks ago Ray LaMontagne released a new song called “We’ll Make It Through”. He just posted it online with no other information so it’s unclear if it’s something he wrote specifically for this moment or something he wrote previously that seems to fit it perfectly and thus he decided to put out into the world.

It’s a beautiful little ballad with a message of hope. The plaintive harmonica evokes a nostalgic feel as does the accompanying video to remind us that we as a people have made it through tough times before and even though this time seems particularly challenging and is for sure the most challenging thing most people alive have experienced in their lifetimes, life will go on in some form and we will in fact make it through in some way. I like that it feels hopeful and sad at the same time because even though we as a species will make it through not every individual person will and our lives are all going to be forever changed no matter what. It’s not a rah rah we’re all in this together kind of song that often gets churned out during trying times that I often find cloying. It’s the kind of song that makes me feel like yeah this is hard, but in some way we will be all right on the other side of the darkness eventually.

New Music Friday: Dreamsicle by Jason Isbell

Jason Isbell’s newest album, Reunions, was released today. By now you should know what a huge fan of Jason Isbell I am. I’ve been looking forward to this album ever since he played “Overseas” from it during a couple of concerts I saw him at last summer. Given that was the song he was playing out on the road I was shocked that it was never one of the singles from album released before the album was out. I kept waiting for it because I loved it so much, and I had to wait all the way until today. I still adore that song and I think the opening line “Used to be a ghost town but even the ghosts got out” is such a brilliant lyric. Jason Isbell is hands down one of, if not the best lyricist currently working today.

As much as I love “Overseas”, after he released “Dreamsicle” as the final single before the album release I was pretty sure that was the song I was going to write about here today. I waited to listen to the whole album this morning to make sure there wasn’t anything that stood out to me more. The whole album is great, and I can’t wait to really dig into it and listen more closely to the lyrics instead of having it on while I’m working, but “Dreamsicle” is still the song I want highlight even though you should do yourself a favor and go listen to the whole album.

Again this is just such a brilliantly written song. Jason Isbell can evoke a mood and a scene in a song like no one else I can think of. This song is a perfect encapsulation of that. The chorus and the melody evoke this sweet nostalgia of summer nights sitting outside and eating Dreamsicles as a kid, but if you dig into the lyrics of the verses it paints an entirely different picture of a broken family. I just love it so much. It’s perfect. Who knows how much more new music we’ll even get in the latter half of this year, but even if its an avalanche I suspect this is going to be my favorite song of 2020 and everything else is going to have to work really hard to unseat it from that place in my heart.

New Music Friday: Country Lady Roundup

I really have no motivation to write these new music Friday posts at the moment. I’ve been mostly trying to keep my life on a similar schedule as before we all had to start isolating ourselves, but my mental energy to do anything that I don’t have to do is just not really there, especially since I know only a handful of people read my music posts. I haven’t even been listening to any new music lately. I still have a big backlog of female country artists to write about in these posts though, so it’s not like I don’t have plenty write about for awhile even if I don’t start listening to new music soon. I feel bad like I’m giving the ladies of country short shrift like everyone else does, but at the moment I kind of want to be able to write about whatever I want to write about in these posts and not stick to the vow I made to give the women of country the spotlight they deserve until I ran out of songs to highlight. I will hopefully feel inspired enough to get back to that one day. For now I’m going to do an entire round up of songs that I had in my docket. At this point a lot of them are starting to be not so new anyway. Then hopefully next week I’ll start fresh with whatever is inspiring me then.

Ten Year Town by Hailey Whitters

Red Flag by Chelsea Williams

Holdin’ On by Alexis Wilkins

“Live” Music Getting Me Through Isolation

I missed out on my normal New Music Friday post yesterday. I’ve been really busy with work this week, and it’s also just been an emotional and draining week so I honestly just didn’t feel like writing it. I still have plenty of new music to write about. I just didn’t feel like it. Since I didn’t write about anything yesterday I thought I would share some of the musical things that are bringing me a little bit of joy right now.

Obviously if you know me or have been reading this blog for any amount of time you know how much I love music and how much I love to go to concerts. Obviously that’s not possible right now. It’s been sad to continue to delete more and more shows off of my calendar. I’m also trying to come to terms with the fact that even after this initial self-isolation period is over and concerts resume I’m probably going to have to refrain for the next year or so until there’s a vaccine or we’ve reached a high enough transmission rate for there to be a decent amount of herd immunity due to my multiple underlying conditions and immunocompromised status. It breaks my heart because live music is one of the things that brings me the most joy in life. Even if the show goes on I’ve already committed to abandoning my trip to Washington State the first week of June to see Brandi Carlile in a fan club only show in Seattle followed by seeing her at The Gorge, one of the venues on my bucket list. I haven’t completely come to terms with it yet, but I’m starting to think through the fact that the Newport Folk Festival is also probably going to be out for me this year as well.

Meanwhile I’m consoling myself with some of the many musical things that artists are doing from their houses. There are way too many of them to even think about keeping up with, especially the ones that are being done only on Instragram and have to be viewed within 24 hours. I’ve watched a few of those things, but obviously I can’t share those with you now so I’m going to concentrate on the ones you can still watch. Also, I was feeling overwhelmed with feeling like I was missing out on something I would love so committing to some of these and just watching other stuff when and if I can has made me feel less bad about missing out on things.

I So Lounging with Amanda Shires (and Jason Isbell)

It is no secret around here how much I love Jason Isbell and his wife Amanda Shires who has her own band, plays in his band when she can, and is the founding member of The Highwomen. Every day at 5 pm Central Amanda performs for about a half an hour from a barn on their property outside Nashville. Sometimes it’s just her. Sometimes members of her band who are quarantining with them show up. Sometimes her mom shows up. And in most of the later episodes Jason Isbell shows up. The format they’ve seemed to settle into is one or two of Amanda’s songs, one of Jason’s songs, or sometimes some covers. Kelly Bueno, so is married to one of Amanda’s bandmates and who works for but does not play in the band, is producing the daily shows and keeps an eye on the chat and passes them questions that people are asking that they then answer. They obviously have a plan for the songs they’re going to play, but otherwise things are pretty loose and can get a little silly. It’s very much a bright spot in my day. You can catch them live on Youtube each or go back and watch the previously recorded episodes.

The Kat & Dave Show

The Kat & Dave show is Katharine McPhee Foster and David Foster doing performances and being silly together. It started out a little loose and they have since gotten much more planned with themed episodes. They even say that they’re rehearsing for these for a couple hours, so they’re obviously putting a decent amount of work into them even though they still seem a little off the cuff, which I find fun and really enjoy. They’ve done 10 episodes so far and are now on a little hiatus to supposedly plan more shows. Hopefully they do return and soon because I really love them. You can go back and watch the already recorded episodes on YouTube. They go live from both of their accounts so that both of their fans can follow along, so there are two versions of every episode listed. You can just pick whose phone you want to watch it from.

Choir! Choir! Choir! Distan-Sing-Alongs

If you are unfamiliar with Choir! Choir! Choir! is a weekly drop-in sing-a-long in Toronto hosted by Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman. They also tour now so you can potentially sing with them wherever you live. I saw them perform at the Newport Folk Festival a few years ago. What they’re doing online is different from the live shows where you only sing a couple of songs and they walk through teaching the songs to everyone with half the room doing the melody and half singing harmony. In these obviously you aren’t singing with a whole room of people. You can only hear them and yourself and whoever else might be in the room singing with you. They are still a lot of fun and just seeing the people participating in the chat from all over the world while you know we’re all singing together makes me feel way less alone through all of this. We’re literally all going through it together. They’ve done two so far the Choir!intine: Epic Social Distan-Sing-Along! and the Epic Love Song Social Distan-Sing-Along. They’re doing a third one tomorrow at 3 pm Eastern where we’ll be singing songs about spring. You can watch either on Facebook Live or Youtube Live. I highly recommend. It will definitely brighten up your day I promise.

Christopher Paul Stelling

Christopher Paul Stelling has played a couple of times in the past week just sitting down with his guitar and playing for a good long time. The first one was an hour and half and the second was two hours. He’s just an amazing guitar player and I find his music so calming. His song “Scarecrow” with its chorus of “So breathe, breathe it out, lay your burdens down, to rest. Breath, through the doubts, never let them get the best, the best of you.” has long been one of my go to songs when I’m having a bad day and is moreso now than ever. I was really happy that he played it during the second show and was highly amused that it has obviously been awhile since he had to stop, figure out what the lyrics were, and then start again. If you just want some music that give you a little peace in these troubled times I recommend some Christopher Paul Stelling.