Building off the success of their first major label debut I and Love and You, the Avett Brothers are back with their special mix of gut-wrenching vocals and banjo-filled “grasspunk” in a new album entitled The Carpenter. Yes, the banjo is back! The longevity and consistency should not be overlooked, as it doesn’t matter how many albums they’ve released, this band from North Carolina manages to exude the same level of free-spiritedness, forceful balladry, and a sense of optimism that infuses their rich and varied sound.
With banjos blazing and foot-stomping galore, the English quartet Mumford & Sons are back with their highly anticipated second album Babel. Their gritty and triumphant take on folk rock has seen unparalleled success around the world in the past few years, which has consequently built high expectations for their follow up to the commercial success of Sigh No More. After all, it’s pretty hard to top a musical journey that has included playing at the Grammys with Bob Dylan and performing for President Barack Obama at the White House.
While January may be the technical start of each new year, those of us who can’t shake thinking of life in terms of school reserve September as the real start of the year, even if we’ve left behind textbooks and classes years ago. As the hot summer months turn colder with the arrival of autumn, September is when the expectation of change hangs in the air (or here in Southern California, we have to be satisfied with blistering heat turning to a medium heat as we enter fall). So if we think of September as a fresh start, music lovers have a lot to look forward to because autumn is set to bring an array of exciting new releases. Here is a rundown of albums, in no particular order, that you can look forward to:
When artists Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor harmonize their sounds under the moniker Azure Ray, listeners have come to expect a dreamy essence to the pop duo’s sound but on their forthcoming six-song EP, As Above So Below, Fink and Taylor take Azure Ray into an alternate universe. The dream-like quality remains, but these songs are almost eerie-sounding, far more electronic, minimalist and sonically rich. The album is inspired by parallel realities that seem cruelly just out of reach when lulled into a state of calm by their honeyed and wispy vocals, as though the words float above you like clouds your hands will never grasp.
If the name Josh Tillman sounds familiar to you, it might be because you recognize him as a former member of Fleet Foxes. Or maybe you know him as J. Tillman. Since 2005 he has released seven beautiful solo albums that were somber, acoustic, quiet, and moody in nature. The same cannot be said for his eighth album Fear Fun. And yet it’s Tillman’s best work yet, as he takes listeners on an adventurous spin under his new moniker, Father John Misty.
Life’s winding roads can take us down many paths, but when you’re committed to navigating the world on your own terms, it follows that you’ll cover enough ground for a wealth of experiences that are ripe for musical picking. This is particularly true for the long and varied career of Paleface, who has released a dozen records, toured all over the country, and inspired and collaborated with a boatload of talented artists. Recorded at Thunderdome Studios, One Big Party, produced by Paul ‘Ena’ Kostabi and Paleface, is his second full-length release under Ramseur Records, which houses notable acts like the Avett Brothers (bonus note: Paleface has collaborated and performed on three albums by the Avett Bros).
It’s not every artist that can hit all the right notes when covering an eclectic mix of musical genres, but singer/songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra from Hurray for the Riff Raff is far from ordinary, and that’s especially evident when you hear her amazing voice. Segarra is the principal writer behind this band and their latest album, Look Out Mama, still stays true to their southern-folk origins. Yet it also manages to touch on a wide range of musical styles like soul, psychedelic, Americana, country, rockabily swing, blues, and 60’s surf.
The current state of a majority of mainstream R&B/Soul music in the States is rather discouraging when compared to its heyday, as it’s now comprised of little in the way of refreshing or original-sounding talent, so who knew that a young London artist raised by Ugandan parents could inspire a little hope for this genre by building off the styles of venerable singers like Otis Redding, Bill Withers, and Marvin Gaye. The artist is Michael Kiwanuka, and there is a lovely hazy quality to his debut album Home Again as if it’s straight out of the 1960s or 1970s, thereby evoking a timeless quality. Kiwanuka’s music can be described as rootsy, folk-inflected modern soul with hints of jazz and contemporary R&B.
When one of your favorite artists performs in front of a local crowd full of friends and family of the band, then you know you’re in for a good night. That was the case when The White Buffalo (AKA Jake Smith) recently performed in Solana Beach at the Belly Up Tavern. The performance lasted well into the wee hours of the morning, and it was as if The White Buffalo and his band didn’t want the night to end. The crowd loved every minute of it, and in turn, that night’s performers clearly fed off the energy of an adoring audience.
Sometimes the best concert experiences are instances in which a band takes you by surprise because you hadn’t planned on seeing them, and it must be said that accidentally stumbling upon musical awesomeness is one of those few unrivaled feelings that put a smile on my face. The band Big Harp in particular fits this description. I had never heard of this husband-and-wife duo but they were one of many performers at the Hotel Café in Los Angeles recently and their set was outstanding.
By J. Brown
Here is a rundown on a few new artists/bands that are worth your attention:
Alabama Shakes: If you haven’t already heard of the Alabama Shakes, then it won’t be long before you do, as this band is bound to blow up in a very big way. With so much new music out there, it can be hard to get excited about one particular band, but that’s not the case with Alabama Shakes.
In 2011 Paste Magazine named The Lumineers one of the best new bands of the year and at the time the band listed as its goals the following: “Make music that makes you smile, cry and stomp your foot simultaneously. Make music for years with these dear friends of mine. Be proud of our music. Play Letterman and Europe.” Based on listening to this band’s self-titled debut album, which is out April 3rd from Dualtone Records, the Lumineers are well on their way to fulfilling these goals, as this band’s first full-length album is a fantastic continuation of the roots revival that has taken a hold of music fans thanks to heartfelt melodies and soul-stirring songs.
Music is often at its best when it feels as though you’ve stumbled across hidden treasure, which is how Robby Baier must have felt when he discovered his mother, Sibylle, had recorded an album in Germany during the early 1970s. Thirty-five years later, Sibylle’s son sent the recordings to Orange Twin Records and they eventually published her first album, Colour Green. As the saying goes, better late than never. Baier began to receive recognition for her work so many years after the fact, much to her surprise, as the talented singer put motherhood and family above a music career and never opted to share her talent with the world.
Brooklyn-based artist Gabriel & The Hounds has joined the blossoming record label Communion, which is releasing this artist’s debut record in the UK at the end of February (released by Ernest Jennings Record Co. in US). Entitled Kiss Full of Teeth, musician and songwriter Gabriel Levine is the man behind the moniker “Gabriel & The Hounds,” and while Levine wrote all the songs on the album, it isn’t quite a solo effort, as he is joined by a variety of artists in an effort that is a perfect mix of solitary and communal. Among those who came together to record this album include performers who are in or have recorded with The National, Beirut, St Vincent, Sufjan Stevens, tUnE-yArDs, Bjork, and Jonsi (proving it pays to have friends in high places).
Amy Winehouse’s life was tragically cut short when she was found dead in July of 2011. The talented singer had one of those distinct and evocative voices that conveys the pain, vulnerability, and sorrow that seems inherent to the best blues/jazz singers. In the capable and loving hands of producers Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson, a posthumous album of Winehouse’s work has now been released entitled Lioness: Hidden Treasures. But it should be noted that there are only two original tracks and the other songs include alternate versions of singles and plenty of notable covers.
The setting that comes to mind upon listening to Ben Howard’s debut full-length album is a bonfire on the beach, as one can easily imagine this talented musician strumming his guitar atop a log while the shadows of the flames dance upon the faces of a spellbound audience beneath a starry night with the sound of waves crashing in the background. Howard is both raw and intimate, and the beach vibe stems from a complete lack of pretense to his music, and if I hadn’t already known his nationality, I might guess he was from California (He’s not; Howard is English and from the West Country).
By J. Brown
Australia’s answer to the Fleet Foxes, Boy & Bear recently released their highly anticipated debut album Moonfire. This five-member band from Sydney burst onto the indie-rock scene with the release of their 2010 EP With Emperor Antarctica, and the song “Mexican Mavis” in particular grabbed enough attention to land the quintet a spot as opener for Laura Marling during a recent UK tour.
By J. Brown
As impressive as ever, British folk singer-songwriter Laura Marling is currently touring the United States to promote her new album A Creature I Don’t Know. Simply put, she was mesmerizing and held the captive audience spellbound at the Masonic Lodge in the Hollywood Forever cemetery. In a chapel-like setting dimly lit by maroon-colored walls and gothic candles, the intimate gathering left us all ready to sit at the feet of this amazingly talented and poetic 21-year-old. The audience barely made a peep throughout the show, as if to ensure that no word, no lyric, no beat was left unheard.