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.

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!

#SaturdaySongs No.9 – Boy With A Moon And Star On His Head

For today’s #SaturdaySong I’ve chosen a track from one of those milestone moments we all have in our lives. The album which included this song was released in late September 1972, a week before I made the huge step of going to university. Apart from holidays and school trips this was to be the first time I had ever lived away from home, and the magnitude of that moment is still etched in my memory. The album in question is Catch Bull At Four, which was the fourth album by Cat Stevens in his singer/songwriter career (he had to take a year out after his earlier pop career, having been very ill with tuberculosis). As I already owned the previous three it was a nailed on certainty that I would buy this one too, and I was in the record shop the day it was released.

Cast your mind back to those days. We consumed our music mostly by the medium of vinyl. Cassettes were becoming more popular, but still had some way to go before they were a main medium – many albums were still released on vinyl only. Vinyl albums were heavy and bulky, and I was travelling to uni by train, so it was impossible to take my record player and albums with me. It was a further five weeks before I could get a lift home for a weekend and pick up my music, and knowing that this separation was about to take place I played the album almost every waking moment before I left for my step into the wild world. Today’s song is this:

That has always been my favourite song on that album and for me is inextricably linked with going to university and taking a big stride into my future life. I never saw Cat Stevens play live at that time, although I would have loved to, but I did finally see him much later. His records were released on the Island label, and to celebrate 50 years of the label they ran a series of concerts for a week in May 2009. I was lucky enough to win a ticket in a newspaper competition and spent one of the most magical evenings of my life reliving all of those years. By then he had converted to Islam and was known as Yusuf Islam, but he had retained the connection with his previous musical life – it still made him money for his foundation – and when he sang the first of his early songs, Where Do The Children Play from the Tea For The Tillerman album, it felt like the whole audience was singing along with him. I found a cosy place to watch the concert, and was joined by a group of people who worked for Island Records. They were as surprised as the rest of us at an unannounced appearance of U2, who performed a four song acoustic set, and I came within 10 minutes of being asked to the backstage party: unfortunately, the spare pass they had was claimed late in the evening by the record company owner’s son for his girlfriend, who had lost hers. It was still a wonderful evening though.

If you’ve been following my #SaturdaySongs you’ll know that I said I would be devoting this month to seasonal songs, and may be wondering why I’ve chosen this one. Listen to the story told in the song and you’ll understand why: if this isn’t a modern-day retelling of the nativity then I don’t know what is! Granted, it isn’t a virgin birth, but the gift of a son blessed with wisdom and magical powers is unmistakeably linked, and I make no apologies for including it in my December selections.

Videos of the song are very hard to come by, and the one above is the best sound quality that I could find. As a bonus, here is a much more recent version, taken from a concert less than three months ago. It is wonderful that Cat/Yusuf is still performing this song 44 years on, and the respectful, rapt silence of the audience adds to the gravitas, I think:

“I’ll tell you everything I’ve learned, and Love is All, he said.”