Wednesday, March 01, 2017

What Caught My Ear in February (17.6, 17.7 and 17.8)

Hi readers... getting harder and harder to keep up with this weekly, even bi-weekly, so catching up here for the last 3 weeks. I've selected one release each week that introduced me either for the first time or just a bit deeper into who these artists are. So enjoy...

What Caught My Ear for 17.6 (Feb 10 releases)
Its the throwback 70's vibe that catches my ear hear on Mr. Elevator and The Brain Hotel's second album, 'When the Morning Greets You'. Amazon's editorial review says "the bands' love for vintage keyboard sounds, concept albums, and 70s pop remains intact, furnishing an album that entrances listeners and evolves over the course of its run-time into an array of bright, complex patterns and shapes." See, makes you want to listen to, doesn't it?

What Caught My Ear for 17.7 (Feb 17 releases)
Biggest standout for the week comes from Strand of Oaks and their project "Hard Love". Had a chance to hear this band live last year in Charlottesville when they opened for Alabama Shakes. A reviewer of the record on Exclaim! writes "Written by a person whose conscience seems to keep him from having too much fun, Hard Love is a conflicted yet summarily good record that breathes new life into good ol' rock'n'roll." The reviewer says the record is "rough around the edges but still soft, sensitive and introspective where it matters."

What Caught My Ear for 17.8 (Feb 24 releases)
This week I was drawn to "Freedom Highway", Rhiannon Giddens' second solo album. Paste Magazine has already named this one their top album so far of 2017 and had this to say in their review: "Always ambitious, Americana/traditional folk artist Rhiannon Giddens uses Freedom Highway, her second solo album, for a contemporary end: tracing the roots of the #BlackLivesMatter movement from plantation property to today." Gidden, a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, provides a great cover of the Pops Staples' tune as the title track.

As Victor Hugo is quoted to have said “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent”
― Victor Hugo

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Tonight's Grammy Awards

It is like my Super Bowl of music ... as sometimes my team is playing and often-times not.

So just for fun, before the players hit the field, here are my picks and predictions for a few of the biggest categories.

Picks are those that I think should win the coveted Grammy. Predictions are who I think will win.

Album Of The Year:
Pick -- 25 — Adele
Prediction -- Lemonade — BeyoncĂ©

Record Of The Year:
Pick -- "Hello" — Adele
Prediction -- "7 Years" — Lukas Graham

Song Of The Year:
Pick -- "Hello" — Adele Adkins & Greg Kurstin, songwriters (Adele)
Prediction -- "Love Yourself" — Justin Bieber, Benjamin Levin & Ed Sheeran, songwriters (Justin Bieber)

Best New Artist:
Pick -- The Chainsmokers
Prediction -- The Chainsmokers

Best Pop Vocal Album:
Pick -- This Is Acting — Sia
Prediction -- 25 — Adele

Best Pop Solo Performance:
Pick -- "Piece By Piece (Idol Version)" — Kelly Clarkson
Prediction -- "Hold Up" — Beyonce

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance:
Pick -- "Stressed Out" — Twenty One Pilots
Prediction -- "Closer" — The Chainsmokers Featuring Halsey

Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album:

Pick -- Fallen Angels — Bob Dylan
Prediction -- Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway — Barbra Streisand

Best Rock Performance:
Pick -- "Joe (Live From Austin City Limits)" — Alabama Shakes
Prediction -- "Blackstar" — David Bowie

Best Rock Song:
Pick -- "Burn the Witch" —Radiohead, songwriters (Radiohead)
Prediction -- "Blackstar" — David Bowie, songwriter (David Bowie)

Best Alternative Music Album:
Pick -- A Moon Shaped Pool — Radiohead
Prediction -- Blackstar — David Bowie

Staying away from the country because I'd just be guessing. Have thoughts on the Christian categories but doubt they'll be on the recorded broadcast. So, get some popcorn popping later and settle in to see if we can outsmart the music industry. Love to know your thoughts on these categories as well. Who are your favs and where do you see it differently than I do?

Thursday, February 09, 2017

What Caught My Ear - 17.4 and 17.5

On the eve of another new music release day, I find myself catching up for the last two weeks.

“Music is the mediator between the life of the senses and the life of the spirit.” Beethoven (1770-1827) The search for new music is never-ending because of this connection to the senses, to the spirit, to the soul.

What really caught my ear for 17.4 (Jan 27 releases):

I find no better expression of that this year so far than Ellie Holcomb's "Red Sea Road". Not only is Ellie's voice beautiful, but the vulnerability from which this sophomore release was written finds a place to connect with each of us on this journey of life. Ellie has a great blog with recent posts that explain how her songs came into being. A big influence behind this project was the pain of learning that her father, CCM-famed Brown Bannister, was diagnosed with cancer. Just this week she wrote "the past two years for our community have been heartbreaking. Red Sea Road is one of those songs that I had to write because I needed to sing what was true. I remember sitting down with my dear friends and co-writers, Christa Wells and Nicole Witt. I cried my way through catching them up on the year, and the tears were for the pain and the struggle and the loss we were walking through with several dear friends, but they were also for the way I kept being surprised by God’s faithfulness to draw near to our breaking hearts and make a way for us to carry on, even when the grief and the pain felt unbearable."

This one deserves listening and re-listening. There is beauty in her voice and so much comfort, inspiration and encouragement in the songs and lyrics.

Moving on, you'll recall I was looking forward to the Japandroids release "Near to the Wild Heart of Life". It did catch my ears, but wasn't as much as I was expecting. I'd agree more with the review from Uncut than some of the others I've read. "An expansive record which fizzes with a desire to play around with the possibilities of the studio rather than the stage, shifting the parameters of their music beyond the fast and frantic." The title track may be my favorite as I still love the opening lyrics:

"The future's under fire
The past is gaining ground
A continuous cold war between
My home and my hometown"

Fun release but don't think I'll find myself listening to it as much as some other of this year's releases so far.

What really caught my ear for 17.5 (Feb 3 releases):

This week was all about inspiration and the spiritual connection. Kari Jobe's "The Garden" is bound to be around for years to come with new songs that will touch the soul and spirit and you will probably hear a few of on Sunday mornings. The duets with her husband Cody Carnes are beautiful and no doubt will get Christian radio airplay. CCM's website predicts it will garner some Dove Awards.

Listen to Kari, and then the simple and stirring interpretations that Reba brings to some classic hymns on the 2-disc release ‘Sing It Now: Songs of Faith and Hope’ and you've got a heart-stirring pair.

A reviewer on Sounds of Nashville writes -- "Whether it be the “Faith” or the “Hope” disc, each of these cuts resonate with hope and peace. Life has a way of knocking us down the ladder a few times, and I don’t know whether she could have approached the lyrical content the same way, say twenty years ago. The fact that the legendary songstress has lived through life, and survived some of the hardest knocks one can go through shows the timeless power of these songs."

So pick an inspirational release from the last two weeks - there's several to choose from - and soothe your soul.

In the meantime, any picks for the Grammy's?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

What Caught My Ear - 17.2 and 17.3

So sorry to have left you hanging for a week - but no worries, we'll catch up and look at both weeks, though I think I'm already excited about 17.4 which comes our way tomorrow.

So what new music have you found so far in 2017? I think that music can help bring us together, whatever our politics, religion, worldview, or life experiences - and we really need that now! As Levon Helm once said "If you pour some music on whatever's wrong, it'll sure help out."

What really caught my ear for 17.2 (Jan 13 releases) will surprise some of you. I listened several times to Oczy Mlody by The Flaming Lips. Wait - I can explain. Yes there are some really silly lyrics like:

At first there should be unicorns.
The ones with the purple eyes,
not the ones with green eyes.

And yes, there are enough (4-letter and other) words dropped which I don't use in the course of normal conversation, garnering the 'explicit' warning label on the cover - and some drug references (there you were warned). Yet those moments sneak in as they are sung so softly and are nearly-ethereal sounding that you barely notice. Maybe it is the unexpected of this album and that irony that catches the ear.

Don't be mistaken, there are still moments like this in "Sunrise (Eyes of the Young)":

Tell me love is neither living or dying
It's a power in your mind
I think it's with you all the time
It only hurts when it leaves you

Paste Magazine says The Flaming Lips here "manage to build a bridge to the rest of us norms, making some of their must listenable and straight-up lovely music along the way."

Moving on to less-sombre sounding music that caught my ear... this one comes from the garage rock sound of The Molochs on America's Velvet Glory. A reviewer on describes 'The One I Love' as a tune that's "sweet without ever being too sugary with lyrics such as “I will pour the water on your heart to grow”.

Another project just as happier-sounding and fun comes from Colony House, a group making the late-night circuits to promote their sophomore release "Only The Lonely". Part of their fame comes from the fact that two of the band members' father is Steven Curtis Chapman, known for his success in contemporary Christian. The web site credits their U2 and The Killers influences as the reason their sound is "a nostalgic trip to when music was not about perfection but about energy and making people dance."

What really caught my ear for 17.3 (Jan 20 releases) was first and foremost, Foxygen's Hang, on which the band enlisted the help of a 40-plus-piece symphony orchestra. I've loved Foxygen ever since 2013's "We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic". That's still a classic in my book and if you've never heard it, you should. I love how Foxygen takes elements from so many places, that, as you listen will sound familiar, yet fresh. Your mind will be so active, causing you to ask yourself repeatedly 'what does that remind me of?" - yet its like nothing you've heard before.

From the song "Rise Up":

Quite a few shall wonder
Very few shall know
Everybody wants to change the world
Everybody wonders where the red fern grows
Everybody wants to save their souls
And everybody wonders
The very few shall know

Here, Foxygen is performing the opening track on Conan, Follow The Leader.

Want something really different? Try Throwing Snow's Embers. The album ends as it begins, with the smoldering remains of a dying fire, driving home the album's theme of interconnectedness ( This is the second full-length release for the British electronic producer Ross Tones and includes natural field recordings from around the small English village he held the recording sessions at ( It will draw you in, not with lyrics, but with feelings, and with the imagery in your mind.

Now about tomorrow - 17.4! Japandroids release their new project Near To THe Wild Heart Of Life. The title track is already out and if it is anything like the rest of the album, I'll have good things to say. Title track kicks off with these lyrics:

The future's under fire
The past is gaining ground
A continuous cold war between
My home and my hometown

Also looking forward to Ellie Holcomb's new release. Her beautiful, rich and emotive tones have captured my ears for the last couple years. If you need to catch up, her last release "As Sure as the Sun" is available now via Get it now and prepare yourself for tomorrow and 17.4

Thursday, January 12, 2017

What Caught My Ear - 17.1

New music every Friday ... its like perpetual Christmas, even a dream come true. I'd like to think that the search for new favorites yields satisfaction through the process of discovery alone, but also connects with something deep in our soul that music speaks to as well as making us culturally more relevant. Dietrich Bonhoeffer claimed that music "will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.” Henry David Thoreau knew that when he heard music, it made him stronger - “I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.”

For years I have welcomed new music release day - always a Tuesday in the USA until July 2015 when it was moved to Fridays to get the entire world synced on the same day to standardize chart performance and reduce the potential for illegal downloads. So, I thought this year I'd let everyone in on what catches my ear as I look through the releases. I know my favorites will still be influenced by first what catches my eye - either by cover art, title, or the artist and will most likely be genres that I have an affinity towards - but I'll try to be more inclusive and wider in my considerations in selections.

So for the first release day of the year - 17.1 - I have two titles that I've been listening to.

Gone is Gone is a metal "super-group" composed of Troy Sanders (Mastodon), Tony Hajjar (At the Drive-In), Troy Van Leeuwen (Queens of the Stone Age), and film composer Mike Zarin. Not a head-banger? I wouldn't say I am either, but don't let that stop you from giving "Echolocation" a spin. At times bleak and heavy, the disc has a solid rock groove. As the reviewer on writes, this collaboration is "a steely and glum collection, with crunchy guitar riffs giving way to brief expanses of ethereal textures".

One that I've listened to on repeat in the car even more this week is "11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory" - a product of the always-fun and raw Dropkick Murphys. Addictive in energy, Paste Magazine's description sums it up best... "Loss and the possibility of redemption represent the twin themes of pain and glory fueling the Celtic-punk band’s ninth album". And you really haven't heard "You'll Never Walk Alone" until you hear this brilliant cover version!

Let me know what you think about either of these ear-catching selections of the week.