What is the titular castle the characters in Lowell Thompson’s Americana gem “Castle” plan to meet at? A music video – which might be fan-made, his website doesn’t include it – takes the word literally, using old footage of a knight and princess dancing in front of a castle (albeit one only two feet taller than they are). I doubt that’s what Thompson had in mind.
The only live recording on this list, Brett Hughes’ “Sweet Little Bird” has yet to be released on a studio album. The version I’ve been playing for the latter half of the decade I ripped from a Vermont Public Radio session video. I hope to replace it with a higher-fi studio take one of these days.
This is a pick where the songwriter herself might not agree with me. Caroline Rose doesn’t play “America Religious” any more, nor any of the other songs from her first two albums. The singer-songwriter drastically changed her sound on most recent album Loner, from Americana to a spunky indiepop. On the whole, her music might be better for it; Loner is the best record of her career. But even if she might just as soon forget about a roots-rock gem like “America Religious,” we shouldn’t.
In my years as a music publicist, I learned how difficult it was to get one of your artists interviewed on NPR (one of the few press hits that actually might sell some records). At a bare minimum it typically requires new music. Pitching a seven-year old song would get you laughed out of the producer’s inbox.
But listeners to Weekend Edition this summer heard a new segment about a song that came out in 2012. Vermont band Swale joined host Scott Simon to discuss “If You Get Lost.” The “news peg,” such as it was: They’d submitted it to the annual NPR Music Tiny Desk contest. Though they didn’t win, they got one hell of a consolation prize.
Two years before releasing “Don’t Let the Darkness In,” Anders Parker worked with Jim James, Jay Farrar, and Will Johnson to record an album of unheard Woody Guthrie lyrics (still enough left over after two Mermaid Avenues, apparently). One wonders if diving deep into Woody’s work affected the veteran artist’s own songwriting.
“Day of the Dead” is as much a short story as a song. And like many good short story writers, Hana Zara offers enough evocative details to sketch a few narrative outlines while leaving much of the specifics to the imagination.
Ali T – Electric Haze
Alison Turner is an artist out of time. She’s a singer-songwriter, but not with the folky connotations the phrase often takes on. Rather, something like “Electric Haze” sounds made for radio. Late-’90s radio, that is, when artist like Jewel and Meredith Brooks were racking up top-ten hits. It wouldn’t have a chance today, but “Electric Haze” ably walks to tricky line of engaging with nostalgia while creating something new.
Adam Rabin – The Other Room
You’re going to want to sing along to “The Other Room” after a listen or two – but I wouldn’t. The sketches of plot offered sound like a sci-fi family dystopia, a Black Mirror episode for children.
The Cheyenne Brando – Samsonite
So thoroughly does Endtime Hymns evoke certain bands that one begins looking for echoes everywhere. Is the title “My Jean Sebring” a nod to David Bowie’s “Jean Genie”? Does “Poisonhead” reference ABC’s “Poison Arrow”? Was “Privacy of Lucy” inspired by The Cure’s “Pictures of You”? Each connection a greater stretch than the last, and likely none intentional. Christian Hahn does explicitly cite the heyday of post-punk and new-wave in his bio though, and, sonically, the comparisons are everywhere. His next song might as well be titled “Bizarre Love Triangle Will Tear Us Apart.”
Abby Sherman – Dreamcatcher
Abby Sherman released one of 2018’s best folk songs with “Wanting to Run,” and she’s returned with a catchy new single. Mandolin features prominently, joining her vocals to front a tight roots band on a song about looking back and accepting one’s own history.
Romeo and Juliet has inspired many songs over the years, the Dire Straits hit first among them. The latest addition to the canon, simply titled “Romeo,” comes from Vermont singer-songwriter Sabrina Comellas on her debut EP. Despite Comellas’ serious background in Shakespeare (she graduated from Emerson in 2017 with a theater degree), her Romeo and Juliet song doesn’t actually center on either character. She narrates from the point of view of an invented third party looking to the doomed duo for answers. The unnamed protagonist, a hopeless romantic removed from the Elizabethan trappings, offers a relatable way into the narrative and avoids the song becoming a sonic CliffsNotes.