Heavy Rotation: 10 Songs Public Radio Can't Stop Playing
Tom Brosseau, 'Fit To Be Tied'
In his warm, quiet tone, Tom Brosseau begins "Fit To Be Tied" like a choir leader rehearsing his role. The gentle flourish of his guitar morphs into a rolling ramble that's familiar to fans of his previous two records. We're also used to hearing Brosseau fly solo vocally; here, though, we're treated to prominent backing vocals from Nickel Creek's Sean Watkins, who also produced Brosseau's forthcoming album North Dakota Impressions. Lyrically, Brosseau is ever earnest. He originally wrote "Fit To Be Tied" in the '90s about things in life that aren't meant to last. Lines like, "My home is the abyss and I know I won't be missed at all" seem to ponder a bleak hereafter — one the singer has accepted, even if after some struggle. If North Dakota hasn't already adopted a signature sound, Brosseau is quietly and diligently making an airtight case for his gorgeous tenor.
—Nick Brunner, Capital Public Radio
Noname, 'Reality Check' (feat. Eryn Allen Kane & Akenya)
With an impressive resume that includes well-received singles and collaborations with the likes of Chance The Rapper and Mick Jenkins, Chicago's Noname is primed to capitalize on the anticipation around her debut, Telefone. It's an immensely vulnerable album that navigates the nuances of Noname's own insecurities and hopefulness. In "Reality Check," she enlists the aid of former Prince protégé Eryn Allen Kane and multidisciplinary artist Akenya. Their powerful vocal contributions and an airy xylophone set the tone for this breezy track, which finds Noname contemplating unrealized potential, complacency and identity politics. Ultimately, she finds courage in the strength and struggle of her late grandmother, who endured hardship so that her granddaughter could have a voice. By the end of the song, Noname's doubts appear in her rear-view mirror as she confidently answers opportunity's knock.
—Jesse Menendez, Vocalo Radio
The Paranoid Style, 'Common Emergencies'
"Start with the bad news, I can take it / Nothin' fragile here, nothing not worth breaking." Seconds into The Paranoid Style's new single and you already feel a year's worth of tension spilling forward from the garage-rock band, as swift lyrics attempt to outpace rollicking instrumentation. "We seem to be living through this utterly bizarre moment in history where white-knuckle anxiety and light comedy seem to be almost handmaidens," lead singer Elizabeth Nelson tells me. "Catastrophe and unspeakable human tragedy lay juxtaposed alongside zany GIFs and memes on our social-media feeds. We are possibly entertaining ourselves to death — and to be clear, I don't excuse myself from any of this. It's all catnip." Like the other songs on Rolling Disclosure, "Common Emergencies" showcases the simultaneously fraught and giddy frequency of our weird, wired world. The Paranoid Style may be the bearer of bad news, but at least the band bears it smashingly.
Júníus Meyvant, 'Neon Experience'
Júníus Meyvant's "Color Decay" — mysterious, melancholy, soulful — was my favorite song of 2014 and, amazingly, Meyvant's very first track. (How could a debut song be so damned good?) Naturally, expectations were high for more music and, as months passed, the anticipation only grew. After almost two years, Meyvant's debut album, Floating Harmonies, is finally out. It's a stunner, packed front to back with great songs. "Neon Experience" has a flow so seemingly effortless, it obscures the sophisticated arrangement and instrumentation. The song conjures up the soulful sounds of Van Morrison, Style Council and even Curtis Mayfield, while projecting an optimistic vibe of which the righteous Mayfield would no doubt approve: "Don't let the whole world drag you down / New day will come, come around."
—Kevin Cole, KEXP
Adam Torres, 'High Lonesome'
Adam Torres spent most of last year in his old shoes, so to speak. The Austin folksinger's 2006 debut, Nostra Nova, got a second chance thanks to a reissue, and Torres toured the country, breathing new life into the songs. Still, you can't linger in your past for very long, and Torres confidently steps forward in "High Lonesome." Other talented Austin musicians — Swans drummer Thor Harris, Balmorhea's Aisha Burns on violin, bassist Dailey Toliver, producer Erik Wofford — all lend careful hands. The song sounds like a drinking buddy to Townes Van Zandt's stunner "(Quicksilver Daydreams Of) Maria" and, like Van Zandt, Torres has a way of saying more with less. It feels particularly Texan: There's so much space, and Torres fills it with just a few brushstrokes.
—Art Levy, KUTX
Courtney Marie Andrews, 'Rookie Dreaming'
Somehow, between being born in Arizona in 1990 and moving to Washington in 2011, singer, songwriter and guitarist Courtney Marie Andrews seems to have spent time in early-'70s Laurel Canyon. Her new, self-produced album Honest Life is evidence; while she keeps company with some wonderful contemporary artists, Andrews channels classic icons beautifully. The throwback-folk perfection of the opening track, "Rookie Dreaming," is typical of the entire collection. With an unhurried lyrical cadence set against a sparse sonic backdrop, Andrews sets the scene of what has been: "I was a 1960s movie / I was a one-night love story / I was a 'You will never see me again.'" Here, the singer gazes into a pool of self-reflection, looking earnestly for reckoning and redemption. Three minutes later, shuffling drums and stacked vocals have come and gone as she flips the script to what she's become: "I am a 1960s movie / I am an unwritten story / I am a 'When will I see you again?'" Musing her way through the evolution, she emerges with new-found maturity as she confesses the transgressions behind her: "I was too broke, too shallow to dive deep / Too busy carrying the weight of everything."
—Kelly McCartney, Folk Alley
Ethan Burns, 'Homeward'
At the moment, there's not much information out there about Ethan Burns. His bio says he's 25 and from the Central Coast region of California; his background is solidly in gospel, with a side serving of the blues; he learned guitar on his own while barely a teenager. Beyond that, it's all a bit mysterious — but with one listen to "Homeward," from Burns' forthcoming EP 22 Knots, it's hard not to be captivated. His soulful singing carries shades of Van Morrison, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and even the relative newcomer Leon Bridges. "Homeward" is more than upbeat; it's downright hopeful, musically speaking, right from the start. The song tells the story of a tough relationship, but it finishes the way a good love story should — with a homecoming. There's a roughness about "Homeward" that belies Burns' age; he's clearly an old soul with stories to tell. It'll be a pleasure to hear them all.
—Anne Litt, KCRW
Jabee, 'Monument' (feat. Chuck D)
With its abundance of country and folk music, Oklahoma isn't typically celebrated for its hip-hop musicians. But when Chuck D compared Jabee to fellow Okie Woody Guthrie in a recent interview, it may have changed how some listeners view the Oklahoma City rapper. The common thread of illuminating social injustice through song is present on Black Future, with Jabee referencing the stories of Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray and Trayvon Martin. The Hannibal King-produced "Monument" has Chuck D acting as a mentor, dispensing encouraging words to Jabee. "You know what to do, you know what to say," the Public Enemy founder raps. "I know you can spit and I know you can bring everybody together." Throughout the album, Jabee — who has toured with Run The Jewels and Murs — drops powerful lyrics that touch on police brutality, complacency among his peers, and his own regrets and struggles. With strong words, top-notch production and a little push from Chuck D, Jabee's Black Future looks bright.
—Ryan LaCroix, KOSU's The Spy
Chris Staples, 'Golden Age'
Chris Staples is such a comfortable performer, you could almost take him for granted. But in that comfort lies some hard truth — truth that might have been difficult for the singer-songwriter himself to find. In the title track of Golden Age, Staples cautions against a desire to turn back time. For the singer, that desire is personal; he knows it's impossible for him to revisit a place before his medical problems (diabetes and hip surgery) and the end of a romantic relationship, so instead he moves forward. The arrangement in "Golden Age" places Staples' story against a timeless guitar riff and an easy groove that, for all the nostalgia, keeps listeners in the moment.
—David Dye, World Cafe
Warpaint, 'New Song'
The funky, sexy, powerful "New Song" showcases the range of the art-rock band Warpaint. As it often does, rhythm takes center stage: Jenny Lee Lindberg's deep bass grooves and Stella Mozgawa's slinky percussion go straight for the hips, urging listeners onto the dance floor. The lyrics take on that task, too: "You got the moves, you got the moves / Bang bang, baby." For only a moment, just a few words — "I have never felt this strong / Dancing to you all night long" — draw "New Song" into Warpaint's signature dark dream-pop territory. But then it's back into club-banger territory, made for pure pleasure. An instant earworm, "New Song" makes it hard not to move and sing along with the repeated line, "You're a new song, baby, you're a new song to me." Remember to dance like no one's watching, then go for it.
—Carmel Holt, WFUV