Judgement Train - Rustin Man

from the album Drift Code (2019)

When you die, which is it: heaven or hell?

Chances are that, if you play along, you will chose heaven.  It is a lot like picking Palm Springs over East Saint Louis; and, after all, although there were times that you were bad, were you really eternal damnation bad?

Judgement Train is a song about a man boarding the final train ride, his fate awaiting at the other end.  The ride is pretty groovy, with psychedelic stylings over a hippie beat.  The protagonist is fairly certain that heaven awaits, singing:

I'm on the next judgement train
Let me raise the pearly gates

But, ultimately, it is not meant to be:

The tunnel has turned the air so black
Can't believe what I have done
Never lie to the darker side
When the girl takes my hand
I feel her skin is a lot like mine

I dig this song for its story-telling and for its rich visual imagery.  I also dig the groove.  How fun would it be to play with this band?

I also dig the backstory on the artist.  Rustin Man is…

Cedars - Desperate Journalist

from the album In Search Of The Miraculous (2019)

Of all the bands out there in the musicverse, very few produce records that soars.  Desperate Journalist is one of those bands.

On the song Cedars, the London post-punkers Desperate Journalist deliver a song that physically and emotionally lift the listener into a magical place where you dance on a melody and sway to a propulsive groove.

The band is sensational, evoking the spirit of Blondie and The Pretenders while remaining modern and relevant.  The bass playing is particularly notable for its texture, tone, and joy.  The sound of the snare is Goldilocks good (not too dead, not too in-your-face, but rather it is just right).  The rhythm guitar has masterful jangle, and the guitar leads cuts through the mix to create a song within a song.

But the true star of the show are the vocals of Jo Bevan.  In the verses, she sings almost conversationally with tones of vigor and longing.  In the chorus, her voice raises to the stratosphere, leav…

Mississippi Magic - Eric Brace, Thomas Cooper, & Thomm Jutz

from the album Riverland (2019)

Storytelling is perhaps the most natural form of human communications.  It's power lies in it's memorability, reliability, and it's ability to build trust between the storyteller and their audience.

In the American South, storytelling is uniquely and forever woven into the culture.  It binds those who consider themselves "southerners," and is celebrated in the works of William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Harper Lee, and Zora Neale Hurston.

On their incredible new folk album - Riverland - Eric Brace, Thomas Cooper, and Thomm Jutz tell stories of Mississippi and the Delta.  The record is steep in southern culture and tradition.  My favorite song on the album is Mississippi Magic, a reflection on the social tension encountered by Mississippians during the efforts to integrate the state's education system at the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

The song based on the writings and reflections of Will D. Campbell…

Running - Helado Negro

from the album This Is How You Smile (2019)

There is a reason why your yoga instructor never plays Rage Against The Machine during her classes.  It is the same reason why her candles don't smell like diesel fuel.  She is creating a sensory experience designed to enhance your lesson.

I dig it when songwriters craft their compositions to transport the listener into a desired state.  In the case of the song Running, by Helado Negro, we are treated to a lush dreamscape that allows the listener to escape the tension and trappings of their world to relax and feel a floating freedom.

It is fascinating how this atmosphere is constructed.  The tempo is slow, creating space.  The chord progressions are circular, creating an infinite loop with no beginning and no end.  The beat is simple and steady, allowing the hi-hat and snare to give the effect of a ticking clock.  The vocals are delivered softly, with light echo and reverb adding to the song's sedative vibe.

My favorite part of the c…

Got A Lotta Love - The Cactus Blossoms

from the album Easy Way (2019)

I dig songs that are simple and honest, particularly when they speak to universal desires of ordinary people.

Got A Lotta Love by The Cactus Blossoms is such a song.  It is straightforward and earnest, in an Everly Brothers kind of way, pleading for love to be reciprocated.

If you don't want me
You can't have me
I'm not the kind of guy who likes to hang around

If you can't trust me
Walk right past me
That doesn't mean that I wouldn't settle down

Cause I've got a lotta love
Got a lotta love
Got a lotta love to give

What makes this song stand apart from its contemporaries is it's craftsmanship.  The two-part harmonies blend together effortlessly.  The light twang of the guitar is lead guitar and the laid back strum of the acoustic are perfectly balanced.  The drum beat it is sparse, but tasty, and the bass subliminally buoys the entire composition.

This song is pretty, sweet, and pure.

Click Here to listen to Got A Lotta Love by The Ca…

Slowly Speeding - Kim Lenz

from the album Slowly Speeding (2019)

There is something in tones of rockabilly-noir that resonates in a dark corner of the spirit that other sounds never quite seem to reach.

On the title track from her latest album, Slowly Speeding, Kim Lenz turn the tempo down and the reverb up to create a slow-burning, Texas waltz that is timeless.

On first listen, this song is stunning in its soundscape of vintage tones slowly ringing over a warm analog hum.  The sounds are incredible.

However, on further listens, the senses overload on how perfectly executed the subtleties of the recording are delivered.  The strum of the acoustic guitar.  The way the two-part harmonies melt into each other.  The magnificently captured drum track.

I find that this song is best listened to late in the evening with a cocktail by my side.  When I close my eyes, I see cigarette smoke rising through the purple, neon-lit light.  It is a night ripe with temptation. Slow dancing with a sultry seductress.  The touch of h…

Faraway Look - Yola

from the album Walk Through Fire (2019)

Yola is an exquisitely gifted singer from the United Kingdom.  Her genre-bending voice defies boundaries as it soars above any form of musical accompaniment.  She is soul.  She is country.  She is rock.  She is Yola!

On her song Faraway Look, the listener is treated to a big, 1960s production made possible through the handiwork of Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.  The record combines modern fidelity with vintage tones, while never impeding on the singer, or her authenticity.

As I listen to this song, I am reminded of the grandeur of great artists, like Roberta Flack.  It is amazing how big Yola's voice is.  Equally amazing is her intonation and the subtle textures in her vocal delivery.  She simply blows me away.

This is one hell of a record.

Click Here to watch the official music video for Faraway Look by Yola.

Red Bull & Hennessy - Jenny Lewis

from the album On The Line (2019)

Although winter is not yet through, and a bit of ice and snow may still await those in the southern states, early signs of spring - like daffodil and forcenthia blooms - are accompanying warm days and rainy nights.

These are times for rolling down the windows, cranking up the stereo, and singing along like as though nobody else can hear you (except at red lights, ugh).

Jenny Lewis' first new single in years - Red Bull & Hennessy - is perfect for times like this.  The tempo is driving, though not too much so, encouraging you to put a little more weight on the gas pedal.  The way the bass and kick drum fuel the groove with a boom, boom-boom, boom, boom-boom, adds to the song's feeling the of freedom.  And, most importantly, Jenny Lewis' full-throated singing about drinking booze and hooking up forces the listener to sing along:

I'm wired on Red Bull and Hennessy
Higher than you
I'm on fire, c'mon and get next to me
I wanna ride w…

The Way It All Began - The Lonely Heartstring Band

from the album Smoke & Ashes (2019)

The Way It All Began is a beautiful bluegrass song by The Lonely Heartstring Band.

The recording has a lovely 1970s analog warmth, that meshes well with the lead vocals, giving a similar feel to what you might have found in a Kenny Loggins record of that era.

I am a big fan of how the traditional instruments - mandolin, fiddle, and banjo - combine with sweet, three-part harmonies to produce a timeless soundscape.

If you are in the mood for a mellow and melodic bluegrass tune to kick you shoes off to, this should do the trick.

Click Here to listen to The Way It All Began by The Lonely Heartstring Band.

Can't Help The Way I Feel - Lily & Madeleine

from the album Canterbury Girls (2019)

Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz are sisters who began their recording career in 2012, while still in high school.  Four albums later, they are purveyors of a dreamy brand of music that sits at the intersection of folk and retro pop.

Can't Help The Way That I Feel is a highly-glossed song that sits on the retro pop end of their musical spectrum.  Buoyed by a magnificently recorded and played drum track, this song takes the listener back fifty-plus years, to a time when girl groups in sequined dresses performed in broadcast studios that delivered signals in living black and white.

I really dig the bass line and the percussive impact of the subtle piano track.  The synthesizer track is also notable in how it envelopes the soundscape.

But the real stars of this show are Lily & Madeleine.  Their voices ring pitch-perfect and true.  They also a sultry and dreamy, detached sheen that I often associate with certain Bananarama songs.

It is hard not t…

Don't Know How To Keep Loving You - Julia Jacklin

from the album Crushing (2019)

On her new album, Crushing, Australian singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin offers tender and thoughtful reflection on getting by in the weeks, and months, following a breakup.  The music is downtempo, honest, and magnificently arranged.  In unveiling her self, she allows the listeners to hold a mirror to themselves, revealing truths they may not have previously explored.

My favorite tune on record is Don't Know How To Keep Loving You, a break-up song about a relationship that ends in ice, rather than fire.  Unlike most songs about this topic, nobody does the other one wrong in some grand and dramatic fashion.  Instead, the singer's feelings for her partner simply wither and fade away.

And every gift you buy me, I know what's inside
What do I do now?
There's nothing left to find

This song is sad and desolate.  And, if you have ever been there, you know just what she is talking about.

Not many artists can write a song that captures the numbing ach…

Different Kind Of Love - Adia Victoria

from the album Silences (2019)

I really dig the way that Nashville artists and producers continue to expand their horizons beyond country music.  I am not sure when it all started, certainly The Black Keys fit into the equation, but, today, when I approach a "Nashville" album, I am not entirely surprised when it something other than country, americana, or bluegrass.

Adia Victoria is a thirty-two year old woman from Nashville.  Her style of music is often described as "gothic blues" or "afro-punk."  Rolling Stone referred to her as "PJ Harvey covering Loretta Lynn at a debutante ball."  I do not really know what any of that means, except that she has an original and intriguing vibe.

Different Kind Of Love is a song with a great retro beat and groove.  It is timeless, with the drums and bass driving the tune.  The guitar tone is perfectly suited for the vibe and the crunchy, distorted saxophone track really stand out.

And the there are the vocals. …

Old Engine Oil - The Budos Band

from the album V (2019)

My buddy Joe lives in Brooklyn.  A few years ago, we were sharing cocktails and talking music, when he said, "Well, this is all great, but the best band in the world are The Budos Band.  You probably never heard of them."

Quite the contrary, buddy Joe!  I am the biggest Daptone Records fan this side of the Outer Bridge Crossing.  I was Up From The South before The Budos Band were a twinkle in your mama's eye.  Never, ever, hit this gigolo with any of that "you probably never heard of them" crap!

But, before you get too down on buddy Joe, please know that he is right.  The Budos Band are the best band in the world.  The reason that they are not more popular is that their brand of funky, soulful Afrobeat ain't nowhere near the stuff your Shazam algorithm is programmed to find.

Old Engine Oil is a pre-release from The Budos Band's fifth studio album.  It is mind-bogglingly great.  Listen to the crunchy, distortion in the guitar tone.…

Motor City Steel - The Dandy Warhols

from the album Why You So Crazy (2019)

Oh my Lord, you could drive a Ford
Or you could drive a Chevy
Or a Jimmie if you really like
A mountain of fun, the USA 1
A Motor City Steel
You gotta give the power to the people

In the nineteen fifties, the American automobile experienced it's golden age, as a nation celebrated it's first economic boom in nearly three decades.  President Eisenhower built the Interstate Freeway system, young families left their dense urban confines for homes in the suburbs, and the lure of the open road represented endless possibility.

The automobiles of that era were colorful and boldly designed.  They were sculpture on wheels.  Still the car represented something far more inviting.  It represented freedom and fun.

And, of course, the same could be said for the latest musical style, rock and roll.

The infectious song Motor City Steel by The Dandy Warhols encapsulates that sense of freedom, fun, and rock and roll perhaps better than any song I've heard in …

Sit Here And Love Me - Caroline Spence

from the album Mint Condition (2019)

Shrewd artists have learned that it is best not to tackle the enormity of love, but rather to focus on the depths of one, or two, of its many aspects.  In doing so, they need not rhyme "love" with "above" or subject their audience to hackneyed metaphors.  Instead, they can explore nuance and depth, unearthing truths about the human condition along the way.

Such is the case with Sit Here And Love Me, a beautiful acoustic song from Nashville-based tunesmith, Caroline Spence.

The song is reportedly (per a press release from her record label) written for a new boyfriend - one with a very sunny and positive disposition - letting him know of her struggles with depression and anxiety.  In the song, she urges him not to try and help her, but rather to simply be there and be himself; to just sit here and love me.

Ultimately, the song is about a very quiet aspect of love, of just being there for someone else.

If you are unfamiliar with Ca…