Ryan delivers one of his strongest singles yet with “Autumn Rain”

Summertime in 2021 has felt more than a bit abbreviated, especially with the weight of an unprecedented pandemic at our backs. Now we’re in September and it’s already become easier to see the day’s light ending earlier on as the season begins to mull its inevitable change.

With that gradual alteration of perspective moods begin to sway as well, and not always for the greener side of the fence. I’ve been in and out of that crevasse many times, but regardless of the moment music has always been a salve for those invisible wounds. Especially when I’ve felt the words and the emotions were speaking directly to my state of mind. 

I’ve felt that connection with Andrew Ryan’s new, very appropriately-titled single “Autumn Rain”, which comes out on all things digital today. The song vibes perfectly with a feeling of an upbeat smile hiding deeper, lightning-laced storm clouds of weary discontent beneath the airy surface. The track walks a similar path to “Somewhere Only We Know” from Scottish rockers Keane or prime Oasis, and the contrast pays off with great satisfaction.

Ryan’s impeccable knack for mixing and production also sticks out here as it did with his prior single “Never Let Me Know”. The musician is clearly a drummer at heart as every skillful note falls into place as evenly as Tetris tiles, and the layers bear repeat listening to avoid missing the small details (like the piano notes) brought out especially well through headphones. 

As I noted the last time I discussed Ryan’s music, “Autumn Rain” fits like instruments to the background of cinema when I imagine the old days of going to hole-in-the-wall rock show venues. We’ll be able to go back regularly (hopefully) someday, but in the meantime its fun to imagine what might be, soon.

In the meanwhile, check out “Autumn Rain” below, and for more on Andrew Ryan’s work be sure to follow his presence across social media!

Andrew Ryan- acoustic guitar, keys, bass guitar, synth, production, and mixing. 
Will Walden- electric guitar (StaG), 
Eric Slick- drums (Dr. Dog). 
Mastered by Jamie Sego at Portside Sound in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

.Paak brings the “Fire” on new “Shang Chi” soundtrack

It’s been an absolute joy to me watching the continued rise and success of musician Anderson .Paak. The Oxnard, California native hit the jackpot especially hard this year, largely due to his gold medal-level collaboration with Bruno Mars in their new band Silk Sonic. Debut single “Leave the Door Open” has been all the rage in 2021, possessing a popularity watermark that made the song almost Tik Tok-levels of unavoidable at its peak.  

The duo continues to take their time releasing a full LP (second teaser “Skate” dropped in July), but in the meantime .Paak has kept busy. The rapper, singer, music video director, drummer and jack of all trades makes his latest appearance on the big screen with a song that’s part of the soundtrack for Marvel’s recently released superhero film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Courtesy of Google

“Fire in the Sky” isn’t just some unused session track here to fill time either. 88rising, a record label largely devoted to Asian and Asian American musicians, was brought in to curate the LP; creating a melding flow of artists like Jhene Aiko and NIKI with Marvel’s first tentpole flick that’s primarily focused on Asian and Asian American actors. A similar method was employed for Marvel’s Black Panther; rapper Kendrick Lamar executive produced the effort with a specific vision meant to pay homage to the culture and tones of each moment. 

Shang Chi skillfully paints with a similar brush, using the soulful vibe of .Paak’s wide-grinned musical optimism just as Shang-Chi’s credits roll. And, like so many of his features or one-off appearances on various projects, he always knows just how to hit center stage’s sweet spot. Kicking in with a blissfully hazy piano in a gentle cloud of guitars, .Paak raps, drums and sings with all the rhythm of a buzzed romantic high on another human, sticking out his chest, shooting his shot, and making that lightning rod first connection. 

“Fire in the Sky” is aptly named as its all the sensation of looking at a post-storm horizon, bright swatches of color emerging in wild, intricate streaks of hope after a dark and lost night. Bruno Mars is credited as a contributor/lyricist for the song, which makes sense as its warm throwback vibe sounds right next-door to the Silk Sonic creatives. At the end of the day it all boils down to this one simple point (something I knew well already) .

PAAK DON’T MISS! 

Williams having a blast on solo single; no “Game for Guessing” on that

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Sometimes there’s a fine line between being “too fun” or “too serious” in an artist’s music. Don’t go over the Florida Georgia Line, and CERTAINLY don’t cross the Mark Kozelek Divider (these days anyway). 

Thankfully, the Lone Bellow’s Zachary Williams is well-trained in the balancing act. Williams has a solo album called Dirty Camaro due out October 22nd, with debut single “Game for Guessing” having just dropped (featuring the lovely Robert Ellis who helped produce the LP).

Like Williams, Ellis is an earnest goofball at heart, and that tandem strikes early here with “Game for Guessing”. The lyrics don’t always make sense and lean heavy on well-crafted humor; something Ellis relished in on his underrated 2019 solo release “Texas Piano Man”. But they’re a lot of fun, especially as the band rocks with wild abandon. 

Image courtesy of Google Images

The accompanying music video for “Game” adds perfect illustration to that mood, as Williams dances through an old house wearing a brightly colored robe with shiny slippers and later winds up running down the street in a hospital gown. It’s something to be witnessed (see below). 

Knowing Williams, there’s also going to be a hell of a lot of heart and emotions on Dirty Camaro. That’s just the wonderful way he rolls. The only thing left to do now is wait for release day in order to find out. 

“How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?” I think it could be one of 2021’s best

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To put it simply: I absolutely LOVE what the band Big Red Machine has done with the uplift of new album “How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?”. The side project is the brainchild of two men who recruited a host of gorgeous throated/fingered angels for friends to create a 15-track LP that slipped into the world recently.

Ordinarily I’d simply say those two gentleman were Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon, but their separate credits are worth a mountain of paragraphs. Forgive me if I admire too much, but it’s hard not to be impressed.

Courtesy NME/Graham Tolbert

Dessner is a vital multi-instrumental presence in indie rock group The National with twin brother Bryce (twinning with his own sideman and composer accomplishments). He’s also worked with the likes of Taylor Swift, Sharon Van Etten and The Lone Bellow, showing his all around limitless range.

Meanwhile, Vernon is the man behind the curtain of bands like Bon Iver, Volcano Choir and the now-defunct DeYarmond Edison. While miraculously perhaps, he’s managed to collaborate alongside both Kanye West and Taylor Swift and lived to tell the tale with great success.

So as you can guess, having Dessner and Vernon collaborate for a 2nd BRM album is exciting. This effort perhaps moreso because it is so beautifully collaborative without sounding crowded or overstepped.

While the 1st BRM LP was primarily bounced off Vernon and Dessner, this feels more out in the open. Like an album The Band might have made if they had a vibe for more futuristic tones (such as the Naeem-featured “Easy to Sabotage”). There’s also plenty here to be found that’s down to Earth, like Anais Mitchell’s gorgeous poignance on “New Auburn”, the swoony church of Sharon Van Etten of “Hutch”, and a gorgeously ghostly Robin Pecknold on “Phoenix”.

Taylor Swift doesn’t disappoint either, as she and Vernon pair like they’ve sung together for years on the yin and yang of “Birch” and “Renegade”. But her fame level doesn’t overshadow on this; her takes are simply just more goodness in the grain here.

Courtesy of Google Images

For something so divided amongst artists, one would almost expect some sound division across this album. But Dessner and Vernon keep a flow that never truly leaves these pieces no matter how casual or ornate.

They’re calling the shots with this orchestra, and it’s creation is a gorgeous comparison to sunrise. Get your sunglasses, it’s gonna be pretty.

Ryan’s “Never Let Me Know” makes for fitting fall palate appetizer

From Andrew Ryan’s FB page

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has truly deprived the world of the joy of personally seeing so much young and hungry music talent that’s out there. I know that in my case, I have a quantity of wonderful memories seeing several bands in an evening, maybe knowing one of them, and coming home a fan of others I hadn’t even heard of before that night. 

This is all while being packed into a sweaty sardine heap inside a charming blink-and-you’d-miss-it venue that might be violating fire codes by having so many people there. Nevertheless, there was always a certain kind of magical love affair I experienced getting into the club trenches and being on the lookout for the next best thing creatively. Even if by our current pandemic standards such a scenario now seems impossible.

I’ve long felt Andrew Ryan belonged directly in the ranks of these diamonds in the on-stage rough. I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing the St. Louis native live and in person, fortunately in the digital age I’ve been able to slowly witness his artistic progression at length from the studio side of the glass.

Image courtesy of AR Facebook

Ryan’s latest single “Never Let Me Know” is a deeply dreamy, psychedelic Midwestern rocker that feels as woozily disconnected as its lyricisms imply. Ryan lets his producer heart out within the tightly wound layers of tipsy guitar, drum and heartbeat-like bassline, the building of which only adds to the equal tapestry of fogging emotional murk. 

It’s been impressive to watch Ryan build his sound from basics such as acoustic guitar, percussion, and a sprinkle of bass into material with greater and greater nuance. “Never Let Me Know” has a rich, ragged flow akin to Lord Huron that only adds to the listener’s ear appeal, and that’s vital when constructing world building melodies. 

Courtesy of AR Facebook

From my perspective, I love great headphone albums or songs that reveal layers. They reward repeat listens by scrubbing off the surface to reveal intricate bass runs, guitar style techniques, and notes that might never be discovered with the naked ear. Fans don’t lie sometimes when they say all a good LP needs is more time to listen to it in order for it to truly flourish.

I believe the same is true with “Never Let Me Know”, especially as it enters into my now fall-themed playlists. Give a listen to the track below, peep the personnel who helped give this song life, and keep it tuned here September 22nd when we visit Ryan again to evaluate another new project! 

Andrew Ryan- acoustic guitar, keys, synth, production, and mixing. 
Will Walden- electric guitar
Alden Hedges- bass guitar
Eric Slick- drums
Mastered by Jamie Sego at Portside Sound in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

Oaks’ “Galacticana” is winning teaser slice of forthcoming “Heaven”

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Strand of Oaks is the moniker created by Timothy Showalter, a 38-year old Indiana-born musician (and former Hebrew school teacher) who broke onto the scene in 2009 with album Leave Ruin.

I crossed paths with Showalter’s Oaks project in 2014, a year in which Tim’s album HEAL was a constant topic of conversation around indie rock circles. This was for good reason, as HEAL remains a desperately beautiful, screamingly raw, deeply delving insight into the deathly horror of mental, personal breakdown and the resurrection of finding the healing hope and reasons to still go on.

Courtesy Google Images

HEAL also was speaking a lot to what I was feeling then. I had recently enjoyed being introduced to Dinosaur Jr’s brilliant J Mascis only to find his enigmatic guitar playing on “Goshen 97”, while the aching of loss I felt for Songs: Ohia musician Jason Molina after his tragic death at 39 was perfectly eulogized in the rattling “JM”. Even bonus track covers of Ryan Adams’ “My Wrecking Ball” and The National’s “Pink Rabbits” fit in line with other artists that obsessed me at the time.

HEAL is a true “complete” album without a misstep in an era that needs a lot more of them. That song on the radio may stay with you a day or a week; a true album is a staple of life.

I also empathized with Showalter nearly giving up the craft until fate intervened in the form of My Morning Jacket guitar-slinger Carl Broemel (leading to the recording of the gorgeous 2019 Oaks revival record Eraserland). I’ve long loved working in creative writing, but on more than one occasion I’ve felt the compulsion to quit based on anxiety, crippling self-criticism, and thinking I had nothing left to say anyone cared to hear. It’s connecting to hear someone singing and persevering through what I felt and what I still deal with mentally today.

Someone being real.

Courtesy Google Images

Tim Showalter is one of those musicians talented enough to consistently bring that baggage of emotion out for some recording booth catharsis, and that continues with the lead single from the upcoming Strand of Oaks album In Heaven, due out October 1st.”Galacticana” has an uplifting swing in mentions of joy and ecstacy, but like storm clouds amidst summer sun it also dwells on the human fear and insecurity that lies beneath those gold rays.

But instead of that worrying “I don’t wanna drag you down” suggestive earworm on this track, that reveal of vulnerability instead feels like a badge of kinship. It’s a powerful bonding connection between Showalter and his listeners, which is more than can be said for a lot of musical projects.

For example, take a band I’ve enjoyed a long time who recently dropped a record with a producer I greatly respect. Despite the anticipated team up, the majority of this band’s new tracks just felt lifeless and meandering. But sometimes that’s just it, you can book the best producer behind a great veteran band with a handful of songs, but when there’s no soul in it…. you’re just ironing an empty shirt.

Not so with Strand of Oaks. If “Galacticana” is any indication, In Heaven is already a dark horse contender for 2021’s Best Of list.

Watch below:

Power trio Th1rt3en fuels with kerosene on raw, poignant “Exorcism”

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The band Th1rt3en is veteran rapper Pharaohe Monche, soulful blues guitar slinger Marcus Machado, and the punchy syncopated thump of jack of all trades drummer Daru Jones. The trio unites to form a sound I can only begin to describe as a mash of blazing fiery hip hop, assertive funk, and creepy cutting samples and sound; all combine to formulate the universe of their debut record A Magnificent Day For an Exorcism

To paraphrase Monche, the album’s title refers to the world and it needing a “cleansing” due to moral decay. A student tortured into school shooting insanity by constant bullies and beatings, violent conflicts and death brought on by the brutal actions of police, dealing with the constant fallout of racism as a person of color… it is a list of heavy tolls. 

Courtesy of Google Images

Despite that, Monche takes hearty bites of these heady matters with gusto; his carnivorous rhymes stripping apart the haters and competition alike with piranha-toothed glee, backed by the dual ninja slice of Jones and Machado acting as a backcourt of merciless Avengers. The trio swoons, battles, and machine guns through tracks like “The Magician”, “Goats Head”, “666”, and “Triskaidekaphobia”, barely stopping to hold still for the sad breath of a wistfully slipped “Amnesia”. 

While it’s brief sidebar amidst the louder issues, “Amnesia” is one of the tracks that stuck with me longest from “Exorcism”. It’s a beautiful relationship between musicians playing in sync together to give life and form to the same sonic wavelength. Monche deconstructs a soldier damaged in the ICU who slowly has his mind ebb away through each razor-sharp tightened bar, Jones thrums on an ever-steady rich backbeat, and Machado lands a dancing solo into the track’s conclusion that scatters like constellations into the midnight. 

Courtesy of Google Images

“Amnesia” is a sobering drop before the marathon march of closer “Kill, Kill, Kill”, which brings Exorcism back onto its breathless path for a final conclusion; a fatigued yet triumphant boxer throwing out his last flurry of haymakers. This is an album that may be too thematically intense for some listeners, but it involves the type of conversations we need to be having more and more in this day and age. 

And that’s where it begins: by shutting up and listening. 

Courtesy of Google Images

Bridges mining early gems on “Gold Diggers Sound”

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Leon Bridges just keeps getting it done. Since bursting onto the scene in 2015 with his debut throwback-inspired LP Coming Home, Bridges has embraced his retro-fitting R&B croon while slowly pushing his palette of sound watercolors into more modern spaces. Followup Good Day (dropped in 2018) kept Bridges’ soul stylings front and center, but traded in a few vintage lines for added pop hooks and production touches.

Bridges’ latest work at initial glance seems to focus on maintaining that relationship between the classic and contemporary. Entitled Gold-Diggers Sound for the studio where many late nights were spent recording the album, early singles “Motorbike” and “Sweeter” act like yin and yang between the two elements, with Bridges right in the center of the emotional crosshairs.

Courtesy of Google Images

“Motorbike” has all the hushed passion of whirlwind summer romance, hung with the delicate strength of pitter-patter drums and the miles beneath the metaphorical tire tracks. While “Sweeter” finds itself in that same laid-back pocket as Bridges and musician/producer Terrace Martin collaborate on the track, dedicated to the memory of George Floyd.

The song’s lyrics, which focus on a Black man’s thoughts as he’s about to die, are heartrending and vulnerably visceral in a current landscape so defined by police brutality, violence and hatred. And few could sing it as well as Bridges, who endlessly draws the usual comparisons to the likes of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, but is only really fair to be weighed against Leon Bridges.

To get a sense of what I mean, watch Leon and Terrace Martin tackle a live acoustic version of “Sweeter” at the Gold Diggers Studio below:

Gold Diggers Sound drops July 23rd. If the video above wasn’t enough to satisfy your interest in the album, check out the official music video for “Motorbike”. It’s directed by the talented Anderson .Paak, and adds a deeper emotional connection to the track’s blissful romantic side.

Sky feels like the limit for Craft’s talents with EP “Space”

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New York City has had no shortage of legendary, bar-spitting hip-hop MCs spread out across its five boroughs over the years. The genre is as much a part of the Big Apple’s bones as the veins and capillaries of the subway lines at this point. Mixed right down into the soul’s soil.

And while there are the legacy names like Jay Z, Biggie Smalls, A Tribe Called Quest and Nas, today I’m focusing my lens on a guy still trying to make his path, Hell’s Kitchen’s own Marlon Craft.

Courtesy of Google Images

Crafty’s new EP (out now) is called Space, and at first listen the journey’s a long, sighing drag of a confessional cigarette for the young rapper on this collaborative project with producer Yusei. “Can’t Call It” reflects on the toxicity of mental wounds not covered by bandage, whiskey or HMO, while “Cheap Date” tries to stay on those vibes caught up in pleasurable urges; really just overtures to avoid the anxieties in the landmines of making deep connection.

Swiping left while just trying to hold still.

This isn’t exactly new territory for Craft; he’s always liked to keep his subjects real. For all the toughness and mean mugging required to be a city kid in a rap world, Craft’s often just braggodocio; a disguise while trying to learn how to belong and have it feel right on a human-to-human level. But that’s often where great hip-hop hits the hardest; when it hypes like fire AND explores the soul’s icy chill deep in the night.

Like all of us, he’s still learning. And when it comes to Craft’s music, he just gets better with each release. Between this EP and his prior release of brilliant LP How We Intended, 2021 is this kid’s year to change the game.

“Slappers” fits Raleigh’s Aquarium like familiar blue jeans on surprise covers album

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While it’s been awhile since I can say I’ve truly experienced a “hootenany”, American Aquarium’s new covers album “Slappers, Bangers & Certified Twangers, Volume 1” gets pretty close to the experience during these hootenany-less pandemic times.

The genesis behind the record was simple for the North Carolina-area group: record odes to what they felt was some of the best of 90’s country music and have a lot of fun in the studio doing it. The final product includes covers of artists like Sammy Kershaw, Joe Diffie, Trisha Yearwood and Sawyer Brown, re-imagined through the lens of AA lead man BJ Barham’s sharp edged, glassy growl.

This album was also a learning experience for me as these were never songs I heard growing up. As a child of the 90’s era, most new country music of that time wasn’t something my parents or contemporaries had on the radio. The few peeks I had over the years also just never appealed to me and seemed canned in that “Nashville Factory” sound.

But it’s kind of funny how a slightly different interpretation of a creation’s bones can quickly change your mind. American Aquarium slays these tracks (according to my ears) because: 1. This is a very talented band you should be listening to if you aren’t, and 2. Their genuine joy to perform these songs is next level.

It’s like the difference between working and having a job you love. Take “I Try to Think About Elvis” (a “Johnny B. Goode” raveup at its finest) or “John Deere Green”, which has as much redneck charm as the song’s lovestruck painting protagonist. There’s no phoning it in for the check here. This is for sheer enjoyment of the material.

“Slappers” also has a vibe similar to Todd Snider’s 2016 “Eastside Bulldog” LP. It’s a little ramshackle, bit twangy, but has so much love baked into its metaphorical crust that any misstep just makes for a perfect mistake.

And you can’t do much better than that.

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