Rodrigo y Gabriela — Witness Tree

Hands down, one of my favorite groups (and live performers), guitar gods Rodrigo y Gabriela released a new album, Mettavolution a few weeks ago — their first studio album in five years. I’m swooning…and not just because my awesome better half bought me the record on vinyl for my birthday.

No, I’m swooning because it’s another stellar, compelling release from these two artists who continue to defy logic (Mexican classical guitar duo, steeped equally in flamenco and Metallica, get their big break busking in Dublin, Ireland); industry norms (a genre-defying acoustic guitar duo successfully selling records and selling out concert venues); and, frankly, physiology (I’m not sure how their hands and fingers move fast enough to play how they play).

This new album has gotten lots of press for the audacious and excellent 19-minute cover of Pink Floyd’s famous song Echoes, which anchors the project. But, I’m particularly fond of Witness Tree, a bright, crisply wrought track that pulses with energy from the jump and lively moves through at least five different movements.

According to the record’s liner notes, this song was named to honor the moment in 2016 when Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero first conceived of the album that became Mettavolution. While on tour in Japan, they sat beneath a newly planted tree on the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and committed to “reconnecting with the physical rush and emotional core of the music they first made together.”

Hell yes.

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Some Things I Missed in 2018 (Part 2)

Last week, I wrote a preamble for this little series. If you missed it and simply cannot move forward without context (I feel you), check out the post and the artists featured in Part 1 — Abhi the Nomad; Benny the Butcher; Elisapie; Flohio; Ivy Sole.

If you’re ready to get after it, here is Part 2: another handful of artists who released new music in 2018 and didn’t make it onto my radar screen until this year:

Leikeli47

So I knew about Leikeli47’s 2018 release Acrylic when it came out and I listened to it then. But, I set it aside too quickly and I’m making up for lost time now. Leikeli47 is one of those artists (and Acrylic is one of those albums) that took me a while to process and feel. I chalk that up mostly to the influence and use of trap beats and sounds throughout the record. I’m not a big trap fan. Setting that aside, though, Leikeli47 is pure, uncut, straight fire…and once you’re in with her, you’re in. Her talent is off the charts. She has endless swagger. Her raps are tight, smart, and sassy. And, there is a lot to draw out of this latest record (her second full-length) because it is at once enormously fun and incredibly serious (centering as it does the lived experiences of black women and black womanhood).

MorMor

I heard MorMor’s single Pass The Hours many weeks after it’s December 2018 release, but I haven’t really stopped listening to it since. A couple of days will go by without a spin, sure, but like an addict, I’m back for more soon enough. I didn’t know about MorMor before hearing this track, but it hooked me onto him immediately. The song is a total mash-up of styles, but manages to sound timeless to me. It blends bedroom pop cool with easy-going, soulful 70s vintage folk guitar melodies and glittering 80s synths near the song’s tail end. Meanwhile, Mor Mor’s voice has shades of Art Garfunkel in the verses and a Marvin Gaye-inspired falsetto in the chorus. It feels like a nearly perfect song.

Rayana Jay

Rayana Jay’s Do That is another late 2018 release single that didn’t land for me until the first part of 2019, but has been in steady rotation since. A new discovery for me, everything about Rayana Jay‘s performance on this track is just so incredibly smooth and warm. Her buttery voice sounds effortless and takes center stage, riding over a thick downbeat, great keyboards, and a slightly choppy electric guitar. It’s all the smooth, soulful goodness of 90s/00s R&B and she is completely in the cut with that vibe on this song. Rayana Jay just dropped a new EP last week, Love Me Like, so there’s new stuff to listen to that I won’t miss this time around.

Ryley Walker

I honestly don’t know who comes out better when I listen to this track: Ryley Walker for adapting and covering it or Dave Matthews Band for writing it in the first place. I know a lot about the latter artist; not much at all about the former. This track allow me to revisit a band and rediscover a song that I haven’t listened to in years, while discovering an artist whose normal work — a highly experimental fusion of psychedelic prog-rock, folk, jazz rock — likely wouldn’t have grabbed me. Walker’s family straight-ahead version of Grace is Gone (released in November 2018 as part of a full-album cover of The Lillywhite Sessions, DMB’s infamous “lost” record) hit me like a depth charge. Walker brings the original, haunting, wounded lyrics to the forefront with a gentle voice, quiet melody and bass guitar accompaniments, and the soft backing rhythm of a simple shaker. The song takes on added weight in light of Walker’s own struggles with addiction and depression, which recently caused him to cancel a spring European tour.

Sonámbulo Psicotropical

Another credit to NPR here — this time to Alt-Latino host Felix Contreras for featuring this killer band, which fuses African rhythms with traditional and modern Latin American melodies and beats into a self-defined (?) new genre “psycho tropical.” Sonámbulo Psicotropical includes band members from Costa Rica, Cuba, Colombia and El Salvador and so they pack in a ton of culture and influences into their sound. What drew them to me is that their music is just so damn funky and so much fun and so full of life. Afrujo — one of the lead tracks off their 2018 EP Domitila y Su Jardin — is my young daughter’s new favorite song, so, thankfully, I get to listen to it all. of. the. time.

Your Smith

I don’t always go for 80s-style pop tracks, complete with Casio-keyboard-produced handclaps, but I went for this one. Hard. Your Smith (who formerly performed as Caroline Smith) included this track and three others on her debut EP Bad Habit, released August 2018. Debbie is an incredibly infectious, endearing, breezy, and confidently cool track; a song whose lyrics talk about love/hate relationships and whose music calls to mind a hand-shot, quirky, music video of high-school misfits rocking out, not giving any shits, and taunting the jocks.



Gary Clark, Jr. — Things Are Changin’ (Live) [Solo Acoustic]

In the spirit of this blog’s name, today’s post is not a new discovery or a recent release. It’s a song that has been on my mind and in my ear for much of this week, stirring up a bunch of emotions and thoughts, and I just feel like sharing it. Plus, it’s a grey, Friday morning here in Maine at the end of a long-feeling week; a ripe moment for some blues.

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I woke up to this song today. It’s my alarm ringtone now, so I’m being reminded daily how much I love it. How much I respond to Gary Clark, Jr.’s simple electrified picking and his plaintive voice. How much I like stripped-down Gary Clark, Jr. and the sparse version of this track versus the polished, produced version on his full-length debut record Blak and Blu (a common refrain among blues ‘purists’ and Gary Clark, Jr. fans and critics alike, but I’m not getting into that now).

Most of all, I respond to the varying moods the melody evokes. It’s just such a soulful, beautiful track. The song pulls me along through the 4+ minute run time; never bored, because Clark is always playing with the syncopation or throwing in a quick, improvised riff, and never once feeling like he’s finished exploring the depths of emotion he can create with his guitar and voice.

Enjoy the weekend, y’all.

Featured Image by Jonathan Mannion

 

 

Damien Jurado — Allocate

Yikes, July up and ran away from me. After a brief, unannounced hiatus (oops, sorry y’all. #nonmonetizedsidehustle), In My Ear is back! And, we’re going to crush it this week with three new posts to make up for the three weeks of lost time.

First, The Internet. Next up this week, a change of pace with Damien Jurado’s excellent new album The Horizon Just Laughed and the standout single Allocate.

I’m new to Damien Jurado…and clearly very late to the game as Horizon is his 13th (!) full-length album. But, I’m all in to explore his catalogue because I have had this record on loop since it dropped in May. It is one of my favorite albums of the year to-date and it just keeps getting better.

This is singer-songwriter art for sure. With a muted, warm musical backdrop, Jurado conjures melancholy, wistfulness, loneliness, peace, and contentment all in equal measure–strung together with a consistent thread of hesitant hope.

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The lyrics are poetic and continually up for reinterpretation and new contemplation, with a range of personal references to names of artistic influences, small towns, and out-of-the-way places. The songs are lush and textured; spare, whispered acoustic arrangements co-mingled with uptempo orchestral tracks and hushed backing strings, all set within a chilled out 1970s vibe.

Most strikingly to me, the album’s production and Jurado’s voice make this an incredibly intimate-sounding and intimate-feeling record. Whenever I listen, there’s a sense of the world around me fading — shimmering in the background — as the songs swell to fill whatever space I’m in.

Allocate is a sublime example of all of these qualities. It’s a song to get lost in; as perfect while driving past rows of corn and fields of wildflowers on a warm summer day as it is while watching a cold rain drip down a gray windowpane.

Concert Special! – Frank Turner

I am admittedly late to the Frank Turner party, as I found out when I posted about his new album in May and had a bunch of people tell me with great passion, “I loooooove Frank Turner!” He was a new discovery for me this year and so I was pretty psyched when I found out he was playing in Portland.

Serendipity + strong local music scene + geographically location close to Boston = Groups that I like play here!

Unbeknownst to me when I bought the tix, this was an acoustic show. Just Frank and his longtime collaborator and mandolin player Matt Nasir. As a naturally gifted storyteller and experienced performer, Frank created a great atmosphere and connection with the audience. I appreciated the intimacy of the duo’s dynamic and that, because Frank has historically written all of his songs first for solo guitar, we were hearing his music as he  originally conceived it. Also, he played a number of old tunes and deep cuts, which drove the many Frank Turner-heads in the audience bonkers.

It was also the first show Frank played after an epic-sounding stint in Boston the week before. 7 shows in 8 nights! He admitted to being a bit “haggard.” Matt more accurately termed it “hungover,” before handing him a shot of tequila. Well played.

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It was a good show. But, I gotta say for me as a newcomer to Frank Turner, I wanted — and, so, missed — the full band experience. Having listened to a lot of his back-catalogue, I realize how different Be More Kind is than his other records — musically, in the album’s production, and, as Frank shared onstage, how it was written and conceived (the first time he’s written songs for a full band and not just solo guitar). I like the difference and so I left the show wishing for even more of the new stuff.

But, hey, that’s me and I am in no way dismissing the energy, passion, and talent that Frank brought to the stage last night. I appreciate having had the chance to see him tear into his songs. And, he did played all of my favorite cuts from the new record, so what the fuck am I complaining about?!

I was especially glad he played Blackout — the third single from the album, a track with all the feels for me and that gives me goosebumps each listen, and my daughter’s favorite cut. Great tune to dance to and, in Frank Turner anthem-style, to belt out at the top of your lungs.