Soulful, Cosmic, and Lovely, Valerie June’s ‘Astral Plane’ strikes the heart as otherworldly.

Blending folk, soul, blues, and Appalachian traditional elements into a refreshingly timeless sound that sits outside any particular musical era, @TheValerieJune stands in a long and storied line of unique performers in Memphis, a city with a still vibrant music scene even during the 21st century. The daughter of a brick cleaner from Humboldt in the flatlands of West Tennessee, June took quickly to the various local roots music styles in the area, teaching herself guitar and developing her own stylistic mix, interpreting traditional material like it was still alive and breathing, and writing her own material with an eye to the influences of passionate and socially minded songwriters like Bob Marley.


“From other worlds, but you can’t say what keeps you here” – Valerie June



.@ClareMeans is known in the LA music scene for her smoky voice, memorable melodies and thought provoking lyrics. She’s about to release her fourth studio album, Sidewalk Astronomy, a cohesive patchwork of musings on life in Los Angeles, love, forgiveness, and the recent loss of her estranged father.  As Clare says, “Most of the songs were written over the course of a couple years and were sparked by a variety of moments in my life… the day I found out my father was sick, when I fell in love, when I knew my relationship was doomed, when I got my heart broken, the day my father died, and when I woke up from a strange dream about sheep.”  Clare’s quirky take on life is fresh and comforting at the same time.

Part of what makes Clare stand out as a performer is the unconventional path she has taken. Always a go-getter, Clare has made a name for herself as one of LA’s most popular, hardest working street performers. She’s built a dedicated following by being one of the very few performers to perform almost exclusively original music. While most depend on covers to stop foot traffic, Clare learned to work on her songwriting craft and challenged herself to capture audiences using her own songs.  Clare’s street performances are musical experiments in which she interacts with the colorful and chaotic scene of the environment. In September of 2015 Clare began live streaming her daily performances on Periscope. She is now one of Periscope’s most watched musicians and has made it onto the Periscope trending list multiple times. Clare has independently sold thousands of copies of her albums through her live streaming, street performances and while playing shows at various venues across Los Angeles and touring the US, Canada and Europe.

Music News 360° – April 2018 Playlist
Men I Trust – Show Me How
Pressed And – Pat Pat
Yaeji – raingurl
Entek – Robbery
Daphni – Cos-Ber-Zam Ne Noya
Blaze Foley – If I Could Fly
It is rain in my face. – Restless Diesel
John Craigie – Presidential Silver Lining (Live)
Lonesome Shack – Wrecks
Thompson Springs – Maybe We Be Dreamin’

Listen on Spotify

Singer-songwriter’s first new material since 2015 arrives on streaming platforms today
Indie-Folk artist Daniel Pearson returns with Pieces Of A Puzzle, his first new release since 2015’s Alone, Together album. The new single combines Springsteen-esque melodies with reverb-laden keyboards and dustbowl guitars in three minutes of emotive country-folk.
“I guess this song, like a lot of my new material, is trying to make sense of the world in 2018” explains the singer-songwriter & multi-instrumentalist. “Like everyone else I’m asking questions, looking for answers, hoping for optimism in pretty dark times – and there’s no fast track or easy way to doing or finding those things. Pieces Of A Puzzle feels like a part of that search, and the music has this new-frontier, big-canyon vibe to it that fits the idea of a journey.”
With two more new singles set to drop in February and March and a highly engaged fanbase on streaming and social media, Pearson is a 21st-century digital artist steeped in analogue musical heritage. In coverage of his three studio albums so far, writers for Uncut Magazine, Drowned In Sound, The Daily Mirror, No Depression, PopMatters, Baeble Music & more have been quick to praise timeless songwriting and poetic lyrics that draw on classic country and indie rock influences. His songs have also been aired by influential DJs on BBC Radio 2, BBC 6Music, KROQ, Lightning 100, Triple J Radio & more, and he’s toured the UK and USA in recent years.
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Review from MyKindCountry.
Even if the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had never made another album after this one, they would have still deserved a place in country music history. This groundbreaking album teamed up the young folk-rockers with country hearts with a selection of veterans including some from the early days of recorded country music, performing music mostly from the same era. It was a triple LP, but was remastered and released as a double CD in 2002, and is also available digitally. There is a friendly living room atmosphere, with snippets of the chat in the studio between tracks.
The various instrumental tracks and backings are brilliantly played by the Nitty Gritties and their guests, often anchored by Earl Scruggs and fiddler Vassar Clements.

The album opens with bluegrass singer Jimmy Martin (1927-2005) singing Hylo Brown’s ‘Grand Ole Opry Song’, which pays affectionate tributes to the stars of the Opry past and present. The song’s subject sets the mood for the whole project. This was one of the singles released to promote the album. It is very charming, but wasn’t very commercial even in the 1970s. Martin’s former boss Bill Monroe had declined to take part in the sessions, distrusting the young men from California, and reportedly regretted that decision once he heard the end result; but Martin’s piercing tenor is a strong presence on a number of tracks. ‘Sunny Side Of The Mountain’ and ‘My Walkin’ Shoes’ are a bit more standard pacy bluegrass – brilliantly performed, but they don’t really hit the heartstrings. The plaintive ‘Losin’ You (Might Be The Best thing Yet)’ is more affecting, and ‘You Don’t Know My Mind’ is also good.

Roy Acuff (1903-1992) was also dubious about the project, but having agreed to take part was quickly won over by the long haired youngsters’ genuine love of country music and their musicianly skills. Known as the King of Country Music, Acuff was the biggest star in country in the 1940s, and one of the influences on artists like George Jones. Even after his commercial star had faded, he remained a very visible presence in the genre, as a stalwart of the Opry and as co-owner of the music publishing company Acuff Rose. He sings some of his signature gospel-infused tunes ‘The Precious Jewel’, the gloomy ‘Wreck On The Highway’, plus the lonesome love song ‘Pins And Needles In My Heart’. He also takes the lead on Hank William’s joyful country gospel classic ‘I Saw The Light’, enthusiastically backed by the NGDB and Jimmy Martin on the chorus.

Mother Maybelle Carter (1909-1978) represents the earliest country recordings and the crystallization of country as a genre from Appalachian folk and the popular music of the day. She sings the lead on the optimistic ‘Keep On The Sunny Side’, a turn of the century religious tune which was one of the Carter Family’s first recordings in the 1920s. Her vocals are thickened with age (and she was never the lead voice in the original Carter Family, taking second place vocally to sister in law Sara), but backed by a chorus of other participants there is a warm familial atmosphere which is quite endearing, and the playing is impeccable. ‘I’m Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes’, another Carter Family classic, and ‘Wildwood Flower’ are also charming.

Flatpicking guitarist Merle Travis sings ‘I Am A Pilgrim’, the coalmining ‘Dark As A Dungeon’ and ‘Nine Pound Hammer’; these are delightful and among my favorite tracks, particularly ‘Dark As A Dungeon’. Another guitar legend, Doc Watson, who surprisingly only met Travis for the first time at these sessions, takes on vocal duties for Jimmie Driftwood’s always enjoyable story song ‘Tennessee Stud’ as well as the traditional ‘Way Downtown’.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band harmonise nicely on a tasteful version of A P Carter’s delicately pretty ‘You Are My Flower’. Their vocal style betrays their folk-rock roots, but the instrumentation is perfectly authentic. They also picked out some Hank Williams classics to spotlight their own vocals. Jimmie Fadden leads on ‘Honky Tonking’, and Jeff Hanna gives ‘Honky Tonk Blues’ a Jimmie Rodgers style edge with his voice sounding as though at any moment he’s going to break into a fully fledged yodel. Jimmy Ibbotson takes on ‘Lost Highway’ (penned by Leon Payne but most associated with Hank)..Their vocals sound a little tentative compared with their more confident later work, but the songs are beautifully played. That is actually a reasonable assessment of the whole album – there is nothing to criticise musically, but the vocals, while honest and authentic, are not up to the standard of, say, today’s best bluegrass.

Pretty much the entire lineup participates in the title song, an inspired choice. The song’s own message is a spiritual one but in the context of this project it has a metaphorical second meaning. The messages of unity and tradition are underpinned by the cover art with its use of US and Confederate flags, and the legend “Music forms a new circle”.

This album is a towering achievement and one of the most significant in country music history. It united two generations, linking the up and coming country rockers with the men and women who had in effect created country music as a unique and definable genre. If you have any interest in music history, it’s a must-have.


Review form Pitchfork.
Blitzen Trapper’s breakthrough album, Wild Mountain Nation (which they self-released last year), caught fire thanks, in part, to its eclecticism and try-anything-once spirit. The Portland, Oregon-based sextet poured twangy Deadhead jams, loose, do-it-yourself Pavement sprawl, muscular Lynyrd Skynyrd riffs, anachronistic synthesizer bursts, and scruffy Band melodies into a rangy collection that was as thrilling for its stylistic alchemy as it was for its infectious good vibes. Precisely what made it so beguiling, however, also made it slightly infuriating: there was no cohesion between all of the diverse yet charmingly shaggy tracks, each one representing a specific sliver of Blitzen Trapper’s multiple personalities. It was a gripping mishmash, and it proved that its creators had an obsession with the sounds of the 1970s and a gift for ramshackle melodies. But it left curious listeners wondering who Blitzen Trapper really were. For their follow-up (and Sub Pop debut), the band has narrowed its scope, sharpening their focus, and the result proves they don’t need to try so many different approaches when they’ve found one that works so well.
Furr, the band’s fourth full-length, finds the six-piece giving in to their Basement Tapes urges. On acoustic tracks “Lady on the Water” and “Black River Killer”, singer Eric Earley offers the most convincing Dylan vocals of this young century. And though the latter– a gothic fugitive tale of sin, sheriffs, and stolen horses– is bolstered by an unexpectedly spacey synth line, the former is the sort of sensual, stripped down song that Bob could have performed before he went electric at Newport. The band further pays homage to Mr. Zimmerman with the harmonicas they’ve spackled onto the title track’s folky strummed tale of a wolfman’s transformation and the spare, bittersweet piano hymn “Not Your Lover” (incidentally, the album’s standout track).

Blitzen Trapper’s more cohesive approach has yielded something that is becoming increasingly rare these days: An essential 13-song LP with no filler. There isn’t an extraneous verse, much less a superfluous track here. Though they have more clearly defined their shambolic Americana this time around, they still show great range and unpredictability with their songwriting. The harmony-laden, 40-second pastoral coda to “Love U” and the entirety of the drawling, honeyed pedal-steel showcase “Stolen Shoes & a Rifle” make a convincing argument that the dominant sound of Sub Pop in 2008 owes more to the country-rock poignancy of CSNY than the label’s punk past (see also: Fleet Foxes, Hardly Art’s Moondoggies). The first two and a half minutes of “Love U”, however, are a fuzzy, howling soup of reverberating guitars and jittery drum fills set amidst a molasses-slow dirge. And “Echo/Always On/EZ Con” pulls their organic, earnest sound into strange territory, bleeding a “See The Sky About to Rain”-like piano weeper into a brief, burbling mess of tech sounds that evolve into a funky disco strut. It is those sorts of unexpected flourishes that keep the album crackling with excitement and separate Blitzen Trapper from the rest of the bands that are trying their hands at a similar throwback sound.

It would have been hard to follow Wild Mountain Nation with anything as sprawling, expansive, or diverse, so Blitzen Trapper didn’t try. Instead, they settled down, focused, and managed to create something even better. This imaginative, heartfelt collection is more intimate than its predecessor, reveling less in boundless stylistic freedom and more in the creativity afforded by structure. Blitzen Trapper are no longer talented jacks-of-all-trades, but a master of one, and Furr is proof that this already-great band gets even better as they define themselves more specifically.


Review form Pitchfork.
If you still think of the Cave Singers as a side project, a spinoff, a lark dreamed up by a few ex-punks with big back porches, I say go with it; two albums in, you’ve almost got to wonder if that’s not how the Cave Singers still see themselves. Derek Fudesco, late of much missed incandescent emoters Pretty Girls Make Graves, and a crew of fellow Pac Northwest facial hair enthusiasts got together a couple years back to make an EP and then later an LP, 2007’s Invitation Songs, of ultracasual folk, floaty and freewheeling but tossed off and only fleetingly memorable. Given Fudesco’s hyperkinetic pop pedigree, this new thing seemed an oddly easygoing showcase for his formidable chops, like one of those dreadful early-90s Jerry Garcia/David Grisman albums that announced on the cover they were recorded over a weekend. The Cave Singers just seemed like a band who’d have to get real good real fast or probably wouldn’t feel the need to do what they’d done already; that lark thing again.

Yet here we have Welcome Joy, their second long-player in just shy of two years, so if this is all a goof, this bunch has an enviable amount of time to screw around. It’s yet another fine and mellow set of twangy, slightly tart folk rockers, warm but patchy like a farmer’s tan. Lead singer Pete Quirk’s amber voice is wavering and grainy as ever, and the tunes roll by nice and easy like a pickup rattling down a country road. But from the wide open arrangements to the tug’n’tumble of Fudesco’s picking to Quirk’s reedy bleats never quite congealing into memorable ditties, Welcome Joy does precious little to distinguish itself from its predecessor.

These tunes seem like they’d fall over in a strong enough breeze, and with songs rarely composed of more than the wispy lilt of the guitar and Quirk’s slightly droll drawlery, there’s not always enough to catch your ear over the whirr of the boxfan. Quirk’s behind-the-beat delivery is certainly the band’s strongest suit, but combined with those rusty pipes, he tends to swallow syllables whole, rendering lyrics more than occasionally indecipherable. That might be for the best, actually, given the hippy-dippy pastoralism of the odd word or two that does slip out. Fudesco’s fingerwork, a product of his Pac NW upbringing, is impressively unfettered, but he adds the same little bump in the road to nearly every tune, which wears with time; at least Modest Mouse had the good sense to make only “Wild Packs of Family Dogs” weird, and make it only once.

Review from NoCountryforNewNashville.
It was Liz Cooper & The Stampede’s turn to put it down. This version of their lineup was a three piece, and I was immediately struck by how full and tight their sound was; chilled out psychedelic work, with tasty elements of jam mixed in for good measure. Liz is a super talented player, and was orchestrating the arrangements in this wonderful laissez faire yet intentional manner that was cool to watch; in complete control, while still keeping the jam fluid. By the last song of their set, they were completely in the zone, until their time came to an end. It was obvious they could have gone for at least another thirty minutes… or more! I look forward to seeing them again in the future, when they can keep the vibes going even longer.


Review from .

Guster is a band in a great place. They’re popular, but not overly so. They have legions of fans, but can still walk out on the street and pass off as regular people. They don’t get Grammys, but get acclaim enough. They’re a cult band with a passive cult. When Guster released Ganging Up On the Sun at the start of the summer, it debuted at #25 on the album charts—a great feat for any band, but deliciously typical for Guster.

What’s the appeal? They’re hardly pop apologists—they make no bones about writing blatantly catchy pop songs. Sometimes they rock out, other times they just snag a melody that will remain in your head for weeks (like their immortal classic “Fa Fa”). Hardcore fans claim that they change from album-to-album, much in the same way that Collective Soul fans claim their favorite band does the same. The truth is, neither band does—they just deviate slightly from the same formula. In 2006, Guster have chosen to go just a wee-bit melancholy, crafting an above-average pop album and a typically average Guster album—and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Sun opens with “Lightning Rod”—a meditative guitar opener that’s downbeat but not sad. Ryan Miller’s soft background vocal coos perfectly contrast his stark lyrics:

Stead on this high rise like every lightning rod,
And all these clouds are boiling over,
Swimming in adrenaline, the sky is caving in,
But I will remain an honest soldier.

This fine opener sets the stage for an LP of simple—but not explosive—moments. The problem? After awhile, it blends together. “The Captain” is a perfectly fine pop ditty with a bit of an Old 97’s vibe thrown in, but following the generic “One Man Wrecking Machine”, the differentiation is negligible. Same goes for the nice mid-tempo rocker “C’mon”, which happens to follow the 7-minute epic “Ruby Falls”—a song that, in all of its musical ambition (horn sections at the end and all), doesn’t seem to go anywhere. (Even more of a downer is how “Ruby” is drummer Brian Rosenworcel’s solo lyrical turn, and though this isn’t exactly a huge lyrical homerun, his time to shine feels diminished by the unimaginative production that surrounds Miller’s everyman singing style.)

With these qualms aside, however, there are some truly fantastic moments for the band, some of which rank with their best. Most notable—and the undeniable album highlight—is the bouncy piano rocker “Manifest Destiny”.  Finding beauty in simplicity, the band doesn’t overwhelm itself musically like “Ruby Falls”, instead relying on only a couple of chords, and simple-but-fun lyrics like “You and I could quit the scene, / Built a town and then secede, / Like an Adam and an Eve”. Also worth noting is the excellent “Satellite”, an acoustic-driven love ballad that kicks with enough energy and propulsion that it could easily make a dent on the rock charts if so released as a single. Pop music ain’t easy, but damn can Guster make it look effortless.

Is Ganging Up On the Sun going to turn out to be the band’s masterpiece (or at least as lasting as Lost and Gone Forever)? Doubtful—but Guster were never an album band. One has to look at their discography as a whole to get perspective on why they’re as revered as they are. No single song defines them, nor one single album, video, or moment. They’re just a good band. This is just a good album—and at the end of the day, sometimes that’s all you need.

Review from .

I saw My Boy Rascal perform at a coffee house recently, an overnight stop on a cross-Canada tour with road buddy, Folk Thief. The acoustics of the room, combined with the escalating background chatter of a bustling coffee house, did not really allow for ideal listening conditions. My impressions of a laid-back groove from an affable young guitarist were cemented, however, when Colby Ramsay (aka My Boy Rascal) made the rounds of the tables after his performance, stopping to shake hands and thank everyone personally for listening. That’s the way to engage an audience, I thought. We talked at length, about family, growing up in BC, the challenges of the road.

But I really needed to listen to his debut album, The Study of Animal Magicality, to get a better feel for the musical range of this singer-songwriter. My initial impressions of a smooth and laid-back performer were confirmed by the first track, OK, a breezy number that conjures up images of life by the water. Turns out those initial impressions were merely surface reflections.

The Study of Animal Magicality quickly reveals more interesting depths of music with subsequent tracks, the sound fleshed out with backing orchestration, all the while showcasing the impressive finger-picking style of guitar playing that defines My Boy Rascal. The darkness of Coming Clean, the raw emotions of The Plea with its powerful guitar breaks, the surprising turn from piano-driven ballad to operatic overture showcasing an impressive vocal power on Lost, are all points of real musical suprise that keep surfacing. Family is particularly lovely, the power of backing drums and vocals adding real strength to the poignant lyrics.

The Study of Animal Magicality is an impressive debut album from an affable musician who is worth the listen.

Formed in September 2008, Lafcadio is a foursome out of Carrboro, North Carolina. Members Liz Ross (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Ryan Dowdy (lead guitar, backup vocals), Stevie Howell (percussion) and Eric Notarnicola (bass guitar) mold their myriad influences into a folk-rock-blues fusion that appeals to listeners of all kinds. Dowdy and Ross combine their respective influences of Nick Drake’s folk and Janis Joplin’ s blues-rock style, while Howell and Notarnicola add the punch that captures live audiences.

Their music fits the local indie-rock scene, but strains of country and sharp songwriting pervade Lafcadio’s songs to create a more distinct sound. Songs like “Seven Leagues” and “No Man” tell stories of individuals’ journeys, while “Maria” and “Lord Knows” cast powerful moods. The band’s energy and musical effusion has helped them to quickly build a reputation for lively shows that belie tremendous talent and potential.

Lafcadio has played numerous venues in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Live performances have been featured on UNC-Chapel Hill’s Student Television, as well as the university-run radio station WXYC and several events on campus. Lafcadio released their first recorded effort, the self-titled EP, with Vinyl Records on January 30th. This strong first release filled the Local 506 to more than capacity, and should only continue the trend of their exponential growth in popularity over a few short months.