Welcome to this week’s fresh serving of new music cocktails, American style. Since 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of two classic American albums (Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde and The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, today we’re pleased to share covers of two artists paying tribute to them both. Also on tap is a trio of songs from artists whose modern folk and sunny indie rock were influenced by those two legends. And since thousands of diehard music revelers this week head to a farm in Tennessee for the annual Bonnaroo Music Festival, let’s get things started with one band from Nashville and another band who is playing the festival.
The Lees of Memory – “Unnecessary Evil” (Nashville, USA)
RIYL: The Replacements, Matthew Sweet, Dinosaur Jr.
You might not know The Lees of Memory by name, but their sound will take you back to the mid-‘90s. That’s when two-thirds of this group were all over the radio as indie band Superdrag. Fast-forward to the present where frontman John Davis and former Superdrag bandmate Brandon Fisher will soon release their second album as The Lees of Memory. Unnecessary Evil, the follow-up to their 2014 debut album, Sisyphus Says, is due out later this month. The title single packs quite a hook-laden, ‘90s-era throwback punch, with Davis putting his multi-instrumental skills on full display. (We lost count of how many instruments he plays, but it’s close to a dozen on this song alone.) This track has less of a shoegaze sound than Sisyphus Says and more of what they do best: pure, infectious indie pop/rock. And like all perfect summer songs, it’s light and refreshing, leaving you smiling when it ends.
The Lees of Memory are: John Davis (guitars, bass, keys, harmonica, vocals), Brandon Fisher (electric guitar), and Nick Slack (drums).
Band of Horses – “Whatever, Wherever” (Charleston, SC)
RIYL: My Morning Jacket, Kings of Leon, Fleet Foxes
“Make every moment matter,” croons Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell on this single from their upcoming fifth album, Why Are You OK. More than sage advice, those words summarize the theme of a song written by a family man who just happens to lead a respected indie rock group. Band of Horses have grown up and now have families, which explains the more “adult” sound here. There’s a peacefulness to “Whatever, Wherever” that eclipses their 2010 album, Infinite Arms. They’re older, wiser, and as the video shows, they’re embracing this chapter of their lives, which finds the Seattle group now based in Bridwell’s native South Carolina. This single exudes the sunny warmth of happy moments spent with friends and family not unlike The Beach Boys did 50 years ago. The album was partially recorded at Stinson Beach (the California studio where My Morning Jacket’s last album was created) with production from Jason Lytle (Grandaddy) and Rick Rubin. Their summer tour includes a stop this week at Bonnaroo before heading to Europe and Australia through next month.
Brandi Carlile – “God Only Knows” (Seattle, USA)
Speaking of The Beach Boys and perfect summer songs, our collective jaws dropped when we first heard this cover of the timeless Beach Boys classic. Cover songs can be tricky: some artists try to put their own spin on a beloved tune only to come up short. Others (like Jeff Buckley covering Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”) take an original and make it their own. Indie singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile is much closer to the latter here. Her take on “God Only Knows” does justice to what is perhaps one of the most perfect songs ever recorded. Her powerful vocals shine and the arrangement guarantees she will long be known for the loving care she put into its recording.
The song is part of Songs of Summer, a collection of covers from Amazon Music that features artists like Blitzen Trapper, The Strumbellas, The Mountain Goats, Aoife O’Donovan, Oh Pep! and more. You can buy or stream this song from Amazon Music.
Phosphorescent – “I Want You” (Brooklyn, USA)
Next month’s issue of MOJO magazine celebrates the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan’s masterpiece, Blonde on Blonde. While we don’t typically give shout-outs to other publications, we can’t help but share this splendid rendition that’s found exclusively on their specially commissioned tribute album. What better artist to cover “I Want You” than mellow folk-rock singer/songwriter Matthew Houck, aka Phosphorescent. He perfectly captures the heartfelt warmth of Dylan’s original. And as a special treat, upcoming Americana star Robert Ellis makes a guest appearance on lead guitar. Other artists on the tribute album include Ryley Walker, Kevin Morby, Steve Gunn, and more.
Ryley Walker – “The Halfwit in Me” (Chicago, USA)
RIYL: Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley, Van Morrison
It’s no secret that we are fans of Ryley Walker here at The Revue. We praised his last album, Primrose Green, several times in 2015. The freshness of his sound – a blissful channeling of ‘70s-era folk (Nick Drake, Fairport Convention) with jazz and hints of modern indie alt-rock (Wilco) – blew away many critics. Now with this first single from his upcoming album, we are again awestruck. The 26-year-old Chicago musician will release his fourth studio album, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, in a few months. The gently winding psychedelic rock undertones that flow through “The Halfwit in Me” are only part of the magic of the song. This is an instant classic song from an artist who is still years (or perhaps decades) away from his peak. The fact that he has produced this much brilliance at such a young age is a testament to his talent.
Golden Sings That Have Been Sung is due out August 19 from Dead Oceans. Pre-orders are available from his Bandcamp page as well as the label, Amazon, and iTunes. He is currently touring across Europe and North America through mid-December.
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