Tuesday Tunes 25: New Music – Part 1

A few weeks back in this series I ran a couple of posts featuring music videos that had been created during lockdown (or quarantine, if you prefer). These were a mixture of new songs, back catalogue and cover versions, and often involved the use of video link apps to bring the participants ‘together.’ These posts, in case you missed them, were numbers 19 and 20 in this series. They were well-received, and it struck me that despite all the problems there has still been a lot of new music released recently, so I’m doing a couple more. This time I’m concentrating on music videos which are more of the ‘usual’ kind you would expect for single or album releases: the only criterion I’m using is that they have been released within the past six months. There is a lot of good new stuff out there! Four of today’s five selections are tracks from new or forthcoming albums, the other is as yet solely a single, but I would expect it to be on an album before long.

Cat Stevens released his fourth album, Tea For The Tillerman, in November 1970, and it reached #8 in the US, #11 in Canada and #20 in the UK – for some reason, most of his records have fared better in North America than in his home country. To mark the 50th anniversary Yusuf, as he is now, has re-recorded the album in its entirety, and it is due for release on Friday week, 18th September. This is the first of the two tracks which have been previewed, with a specially made video:

Just as meaningful and lovely as it was fifty years ago. I think that bodes well for the album – I’m looking forward to it. I saw him play live in 2009, in a concert as part of Island Records’ 50th anniversary celebrations. He played this as his second song, after opening with one of his new ones – not a dry eye in the house.

I included Kate Rusby in both previous lockdown music posts: she is one of my favourites, after all! As well as one of her lockdown specials, there were two of the tracks from what is now her recently released album, Hand Me Down. This is a selection Kate made of songs by other artists, covered in her unique style. Since those posts, several more videos have emerged, including her cover of what I think is the best song by The Cure. Based on the simple theme of the people and things that we love, this is beautiful. It’s ‘something in the eye’ time again:

Kate’s album was released on 14 August, and made its debut at #12 in the UK album chart. This is a stunning achievement for a folk musician – it isn’t the coolest of genres – and was, unsurprisingly, Kate’s best ever chart position (unless you count the single she made with Groaning Ronan). The album was also top of the UK iTunes singer-songwriter chart in its release week. It stayed there for the next week too, and is currently still at #2.

The three remaining artists haven’t been featured here before, and I’d hazard a guess that some of them may be new to you. The first is a duo I found by accident on YouTube. I’d clicked a link to another song and this one came up as an advert – unusually for an ad they gave us the whole song. It was so good that, by the time it was over, I’d forgotten what I’d been planning to listen to. See what I mean:

Carolina Story comprises a married couple, Ben and Emily Roberts. He’s playing acoustic and harmonica in the video, the other guys are their seemingly anonymous band. I can find very little information about them: they don’t seem to have a Wikipedia entry and their own website and Facebook page give little away. Their record company is a bit more forthcoming, but not much: there’s an opportunity there for a PR/promo company, I think! That song was the lead (but not title) track on what I believe is their third album, Dandelion, which was released last Friday – I’m hot off the press with this one, folks! They have been together since meeting at college in 2007, and have been touring, writing songs and releasing albums since 2009. The band name derives from their being on tour in Carolina at the time they realised theirs was more than a professional relationship – isn’t that sweet? I’ve found a reference to a 2013 album called Carolina Story: Parts 1 and 2, which appears to be their first album, but have yet to track it down – it’s not on iTunes, or Bandcamp, my two usual sources, nor is it on Spotify or Amazon. Their second (I think) album, Lay Your Head Down, was released in 2018. With songs like that, a voice like Emily’s, and some decent promotion I think they could be a big success. Remember, you heard it here first…

Another singer-songwriter that I found from YouTube is Caroline Jones. Again, she isn’t a household name and may well be new to you, too. But she has garnered some notable supporters – the likes of Jimmy Buffett and the Zac Brown Band, for example – and may well become huge after the current craziness is over and acts can get out on the road again. She has been playing a lot of solo shows on Facebook and Instagram during lockdown, and has recently released two new songs. Of the two, this is the one I prefer:

What a view, indeed! I guess social distancing isn’t an issue when you live near scenery like that. To date, that has only been released as a single but as Caroline’s sole main label album to date  – Bare Feet – was released two years ago I’m wondering (and hoping) that there might be a new album in the offing. Bare Feet reached #13 on the US Country Chart, and there were also four earlier self-released albums – which I can’t find! As well as the album, Caroline has also released a couple of EPs since signing to Jimmy Buffett’s record label – Chasing Me, in 2019, and All Of The Boys, earlier this year. The latter is remarkable for comprising four tracks, all of the same song, but in markedly different versions – this lady has talent!

So far there has been a strong female bias in this week’s tunes, so maybe I should redress the balance… ah, sod it, let’s go for broke! Last one for today is from Molly Tuttle, one of those artists who gets labelled as bluegrass or country, but is developing a much wider range than those labels might suggest to you. She is 27, has been playing guitar since she was 8, and first appeared onstage with her father and the family band – The Tuttles – when she was 11. After playing in other bands, her solo career to date comprises a 2017 EP, Rise, a 2019 album When You’re Ready, and her new album But I’d Rather Be With You, which was released on 28 August. Like the Kate Rusby album, this is a set of cover versions of some of Molly’s favourite songs, all given her unique treatment. She is an amazingly talented guitarist and banjo player, and her reinventions of these songs are the best kind of cover versions: those that take the original and add a new dimension to it. The one I’m sharing will be familiar to you as a Rolling Stones track: it was one of their gentler songs, a love song. This is how Molly has done it:

Molly has suffered from Alopecia Areata since childhood, and wears a wig most of the time. She has said in interviews about how being stared at in public from an early age has enabled her to develop an inner strength, and to become aware of what feminism means for her. Some may not like the stance she is taking in that video: I applaud her for standing up and supporting others, and for her caring nature. And her version of the song is absolutely gorgeous.

That’s it for another week. I hope you’ve enjoyed this selection of new music from – mostly – under the radar and emerging artists. I think they’ve proved that you don’t have to be a household name to make good music – a lot of those ‘household names’ could learn a bit from these, in my view. They can all sing and play and don’t need autotune, for starters!

Stay safe, keep well, and I’ll see you again next week.

Tuesday Tunes 14: Fathers

This week, for a change, I thought I’d step away from themes related to lockdown and news items deriving from it. Here in the UK, as in 90 other countries, this Sunday was Fathers’ Day. According to Wikipedia this is marked in over 160 countries around the world on a variety of dates, though the most popular choice is the third Sunday in June. As this is used in China, India, the US and many of the other most populated countries I think it a safe bet that the majority of the world was celebrating its Dads this Sunday, hence this week’s theme for my tunes: fathers.

Unsurprisingly, you will find many songs which include father, dad, pop, papa or other derivatives in their title, though two of the best songs I know about father/child relationships don’t feature any of them. My first selection this week does, however. This is still, to my mind, one of the most profound songs ever written about the different ways parents and children see their world. It has been covered many times, including the abomination by Groaning Ronan and his band, but none, for me, has got even remotely close to the sensitivity of the original. This live performance from 1971 is heartbreakingly beautiful, especially when you know that Cat has said that the song is autobiographical:

The song was written when he was just 21 and displays a remarkable maturity for one so young, in much the same way that Richard Thompson’s song Meet On The Ledge did. No doubt you can think of many other songs which show a wisdom beyond their years, but as a description of a parting of minds between parent and child I think Cat’s song is hard to beat. It featured on his Tea For The Tillerman album, released in 1970, and was a large part of him becoming viewed as a serious singer-songwriter, compared with the pop-based earlier version of himself, before he contracted TB – from which he nearly died. He wrote a great many fantastic songs while he was recovering, and that album was the second of three that began his reinvention (the others are Mona Bone Jakon and Teaser And The Firecat). They are, to me, masterpieces and I don’t think he has bettered them since, though he has made many fine albums.

This week’s second tune is rather different, coming from a feminine perspective. It uses the ‘father’s eyes‘ metaphor that others have addressed, such as Eric Clapton. You may not know of the Webb Sisters but, on the strength of this, I think you should:

That is such a lovely song, beautifully textured and with gorgeous harmonies – the sort that siblings often excel at. It comes from their album Savages, which was released in 2011, and which I highly recommend. They have made little music together since then, but have been far from idle: they have toured extensively with Leonard Cohen, who called them ‘sublime,’ and featured in his shows with an incredible version of his song If It Be Your Will. Again, highly recommended. They were also an important part of what turned out to be Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ final tour. They therefore have quite a pedigree: Cohen and Petty are no bad judges!

In recent weeks I have extended my tune choices from the original two to three, and I’m doing it again this week. My third selection is one of those that doesn’t have ‘father’ in the title, but that doesn’t matter in the slightest. This song is all about how busy dads can be, to the detriment of their relationships with their children. I can empathise with this, as I often went several days at a time leaving for work before my girls were awake, and getting home after at least one of them was in bed. Thankfully we managed to work things out better than the character Harry Chapin describes here:

That was on Chapin’s fourth solo album, Verities & Balderdash, and was a #1 single in the US. Sadly, it didn’t chart here but the album came out just before my final year at university and I recall the song getting a lot of radio airplay. It feels such a sad song to me: I’m so grateful that things didn’t turn out like that for me and my two girls, who are both lovely, well rounded women balancing great home and family lives with successful careers. My now ex-wife is probably due most of the credit for that but I like to think I helped a bit. And it was good to see both of them for socially distanced visits this past weekend.

And as a little bonus piece of history, this is me and my Dad – still with us at 92 – from the days well before social distancing had been invented:

I mentioned earlier that there are two songs which, for me, are great examples of different parent/child relationships. If you want to know what the other one is you’re going to have to click on the link (to the right) to my blog’s Facebook page, as I made it my #SongOfTheDay on Sunday – the accompanying video for it is one of the best I’ve ever seen, and is a perfect fit for a lovely song.

I seem to have been in a more reflective mood with this week’s songs, but why not, for a change? That’s a wrap for this week. Maybe I’ll return to a lockdown theme next Tuesday, or maybe I won’t. But I hope you come back to find out! Until then, stay safe and well, and enjoy your gradually increasing freedom.

A #ChristmasSongOfTheDay Part Four

So here it is, Merry Christmas….no, wait, not that one please! Don’t worry, in keeping with the rest of Advent only two of my final set of eight choices for the remaining seven days have been chart hits. That makes a total of five out of twenty six, but I make no apologies – if you really want them the usual suspects can be found on every Christmas playlist on every streaming service! Having said that, this final set contains several of my own usual suspects, but they are so good that they deserve to be heard.

For the 19th I gave you one which I’ve featured for all five years that I have done this. It is clearly a favourite of mine, and displays my folkie roots. Kate Rusby is a folk singer-songwriter from Yorkshire, in the north of England. Her shows are full of lovely music and warm, friendly repartee, as I’ve been fortunate enough to witness. She comes from an area with a strong tradition of sharing Christmas songs and has to date released four albums of them. This is the title track from the first of those, and is accompanied by a lovely animated video – the singer in it is a very good likeness of Kate:

I went across the pond for the 20th. Continuing my choices of female singer-songwriters, I selected one from Shawn Colvin’s album Holiday Songs And Lullabies – sorry, my American friends, but I really don’t get your reluctance to call this by its proper name of ‘Christmas,’ as I said here. Again, this one is accompanied by an unofficial video, which complements the song well:

On the 21st – the Winter Solstice – I took a slightly different approach. This isn’t an obvious Christmas song, but a modern variation on the theme of a special baby with mystical powers. It seemed an appropriate choice to mark Yule:

Returning to Christian traditions on the 22nd I chose this one. I’ve seen the band perform this live and it is a magical moment. There is a video on YouTube of them from a 2004 concert DVD but I chose this version: it is the one they originally released in 1972 on their Below The Salt album, and the voice of Tim Hart can be clearly heard. Tim, sadly, died of cancer on Christmas Eve 2009, at the age of 61, and I selected this to pay my respects to him:

It being Sunday on the 23rd I kept to my habit of sharing a carol. This one is very well known and there are many versions to choose from. This, by the amazing Sinead O’Connor, is my favourite by miles, and the video is superb too:

My choice for Christmas Eve has been the same for all five years. For me, this is an absolute no-brainer and the fact that it is a lovely song helps no end! Mindy Smith deserves to be more widely known: she released five albums between 2004 and 2012, one of which – My Holiday – was a seasonal (ie. Christmas) album, and this song is from her most recent release, an EP entitled Snowed In, from 2013. Her website gives no details of any upcoming performances so it appears that she may have ‘retired’ from music – I hope not, and live in hope as she has recently been active on Twitter and Facebook. This is beautiful:

And finally to today. If you’re actually reading this on Christmas Day I thank you for being here and sharing this with me. If not, there is nothing wrong with catching up! There does seem to be a subtext of my liking for female singer-songwriters showing through my choices: this is another whom I’ve been lucky enough to see perform live, and I recommend her highly if you get the chance. She has a beautifully warm voice which is so well suited to her songs. This one is from her album Come Darkness, Come Light: Twelve Songs Of Christmas. For me this is the absolutely perfect choice for Christmas Day. Merry Christmas!

Ah, hold on. I promised you eight songs for this final compilation and if you care to count back you’ll see there have only been seven so far. I know it’s cheating, but I think I can be forgiven for adding in a bonus song for Christmas Day. This one has been a chart hit many times, including this year, but has never been the Christmas Number One – a criminal oversight by the British record-buying public, to my eyes. Even in the first year of release it only made number two, kept off the top spot by the Pet Shop Boys’ wilful destruction of a Willie Nelson song. I really think we should have tried harder! You *may* have heard this one before:

So that’s it for another year. I hope you have enjoyed my choices, especially those which may have been new to you. I do try and steer as far clear of the charts as I can, and my disappointment is that I have to leave out so many other good songs. If you are interested, my YouTube playlist is ever growing, currently standing at around 120 songs (including some alternative versions) and can be found here.

Thank you for following, reading, liking and commenting on my posts. As another year draws to a close, I marvel yet again at the wonders of modern technology that allow us to communicate like this, and to share our thoughts, hopes, dreams and, in my case, our love of music. On which point, something new for me: I will be sharing on Twitter and my Facebook page a ‘new year’ song each day from tomorrow up until New Year’s Day, when I will return here with a compilation post of these, for those who won’t have seen each daily offering as they happen. I hope you’ll join me again then.

Merry Christmas, and a very Happy New Year!