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Month: October 2021

October 2021 Singles 1

1. “Jimmy’s Groove” – Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio. Everything the Trio does is good. This is a funky, groovy slice of major-key funk that just goes and goes. If you want some high-quality sunshine poured into your life, hit this one up. Highly recommended.

2. “Aros I Fi Yna” – N’famady Kouyaté. Another groove-heavy afro-pop cut from Kouyaté that draws in a huge variety of sounds into an eclectic, invigorating mix. Just an incredibly exciting artist here. Highly recommended.

3. “Happy Village” – Bakithi Kumalo. Spans the gap between afro-pop, jazz, and traditional forms of African music easily, creating a unique, brilliant piece.

4. “Autumn In New York (AKA Spring in Chicago)” – Makaya McCraven. Smooth, earthy jazz to ease the troubled mind. It’s hard to make peaceful music, but McCraven makes it sound easy.

5. “Quiescence” – Mas Aya. Starts off plucky and quirky (flutes galore!) before settling into a detailed yet meditative groove that questions the usefulness of terms like analog and electronic music.

6. “The See” – Joshua Crumbly. I have been on the Joshua Crumbly train for a while now, and this pensive, evocative track keeps me firmly on it. Ambient, jazz, lo-fi, and slow-core all merge in a tune that exudes more sadness than a lot of breakup songs without being as on-the-nose about it.

7. “Linden” – Zen Dub. A quiet yet inspired bit of electronica that evokes moods similar to those of Teen Daze. Good for working to or vibing to.

8. “The Last Ones Shall Be First” – Wilder Adkins. Adkins usually offers brilliant acoustic folk, but this time he’s got a slim, svelte, down-tempo electro-indie-pop tune that lands excellently. Fans of Zach Winter and Kye Alfred Hillig will be thrilled.

9. “Give It Hell” – Yumi Zouma. Sometimes refining what you do best into a perfect point is the exact right thing to do: YZ offers more soft-rock-meets-synth-pop bliss here. The melody, arrangement, and vibes are all on-point. (This is a hilariously aggressive title for such a soft song.)

10. “Koko” – E.VAX. Evan Mast knows how to meld disparate pieces of sound into smooth, fully-realized wholes. This song takes unusual samples, morphed vocals, thick bass, and simple percussion into a beautiful, easy-going mix.

Clara Engel’s Dressed in Borrowed Light

Artistry like Clara Engel’s Dressed in Borrowed Light demands little of us, really. That said, Engel’s six-song journey gently challenges listeners to emerge from our self-imposed darkness in stunning beauty.

This record is an experience; that experience is not for everyone. This journey of introspection is dark at times. Most of us went through emotions similar to these during the past year, yet not everyone is willing to bare their soul so artfully. This trip begins in a lavender garden reminiscent of Lewis Carroll. Whimsical yet haunted, opener “Yesterday We Lived Forever” sets the tone. We hear Engel’s voice, cigar box guitar, electric guitar, shruti box, found percussion (wooden trunk played with soft mallets), tongue drum, chromonica, and gusli, but really what we’re hearing is an artist’s soul laid out for display. Engel (engineering and mixing) and Ian Hawgood (mastering) create a cohesive sonic palette from this variety of instruments.

“In a Bed of Snow” serves as the perfect poetic descent into the light. Haunting harmonies with Brad Deschamps’ atmospheric guitar turn this into one of my favorite tracks of the record. The poetry of these lyrics often defies reasoning, and the metaphor-lush “Pomegranate Seeds” certainly is one of these tracks. Sweetly simple, each lyric has space to wrap around the rich vocal chorus with Paul Kolinski joining on backing vocals and percussion.

The joy of these songs is in their rich textures achieved with such simplicity. Marley M. Rosen adds backing vocals to “Flame Tree Sings” in contrast to Engel: a remarkable stylistic choice, the merging of the two vocal tones is purely devilish magic. Heart of Rags” feels like the death blow that we have all felt–a rhythmic heartbeat moving the performance art to its conclusion. 

We have all survived the same nightmare, but “Silver Scythe” celebrates the survival of these horrors. The stark imagery of this song’s lyricism portrays a reemergence that has purified us all. We have been equalized, despite our best efforts. The addition of Lys Guillorn’s lap steel and George Crotty’s cello seems like sheer perfection. Clara Engel’s Dressed in Borrowed Light is an invitation to join their reimaginings of the present.–Lisa Whealy

Frozen Farmer’s Things to Share proves true to its title

The Italian folk scene continues to blossom out of the horror of 2020. Frozen Farmer’s third release Things to Share via Piesse Groove Records paints sonic soundscapes with these twelve songs.

Tracking at New Art Studio in Saronno, Lombardia, Italy, and mixing in Verbania by Pierpaolo D’Emilio at GrooveIt Studio creates an incredible aura to the music. Frozen Farmer’s style, a classic folk vibe infused with Italian flair, shines. “The Lights” feels like the perfect opener, starkly revealing the band’s eclectic instrumentation in haunting beauty.

Francesco Scalise’s banjo refines the gypsy-like sensory experience that the five-piece group creates. Sweet and lonely, “For Someone” rests in the ambiance of Sabino Rizzuto’s guitar. Creating an almost Beatles-like connection with Mattia Rizzato’s wurlitzer, the contributions from bassist Valter Violini are magic. Giordano Rizzato on drums immerses audiences in an otherworldly experience. 

The heart of the record rests in the songs “Crossing” and “Young Man,” which integrate banjo into soaring bass lines. Yet “Run” is the standout track of the record: frantic, hopeful, and haunting, this song glitters with rich instrumentation. “John Lee” is reminiscent of the greats in banjo-driven folk music, fitting in nicely with Bela Fleck and Tony Trischka.

Frozen Farmer closes out their record with a brilliant trio of tracks. “Another Dream” shifts the album’s narrative. Beautifully authentic, the nuanced vocals soar. The masterfully restrained instrumentation captures isolation and longing. “Morning” sets the stage for “A New Love,” with its complete transition to what seems like a funeral march. Letting the banjo reveal the melody allows each banjo note to lighten the song’s somber mood. Frozen Farmer’s Things to Share soars as one of this summer’s new folk discoveries.–Lisa Whealy

Quick Hit: Howlin Rain

Howlin Rain’s The Dharma Wheel on their own Silver Current Records is the perfect way to welcome a new beginning for members of the global live music tribe. Music creates a spiritual connection between the performers and the listener. Here, transcendence occurred, blurring the lines between recorded and live music in this holy climax. 

Tim Green (Six Organs Of Admittance, Earthless) returned to co-produce with vocalist/guitarist Ethan Miller the six movements that make up the album. For psychedelic rock audiophiles, it’s no surprise that the vinyl of this album sold out almost immediately once pre-orders were announced. 

Miller provides a steadfast presence on vocals and guitar, while Bernie Worrell throws down synths like a man possessed. Rich, masterful soundscapes rise from each note, with an array of artists contributing to the collaboration. From the iconic Scarlet Rivera (Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue) on the violin to the surreal creativity of Adam MacDougall (Circles Around the Sun, Chris Robinson Brotherhood) on keys, the musical high is palpable. 

Howlin Rain’s The Dharma Wheel unleashed some serious positivity into the universe. Now it’s our gift to share with the global music family.–Lisa Whealy