The Melodic Tonic ’17, November 16th edition features powerful American voices with equally powerful messages. But sprinkled between the well-known names are two new bands with unforgettable sounds. Today’s playlist begins with one of music’s finest (and fiercest) voices.

Brandi Carlile – “The Joke” (Seattle, USA)

RIYL: Indigo Girls, Patty Griffin, Ingrid Michaelson

American singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile is one of the surest bets in music: every song she writes will impact you in some way. Whether it’s the tender, tear-jerking single “The Story” that made her a star in 2007 or the fierce “Tie Your Mother Down” from this year’s When We Rise TV series, Carlile is simply a force of nature. Armed with a guitar and a microphone, she is a tireless advocate for LGBT rights. Her latest single is another powerful show of support for those who have been bullied or let down by the toxic negativity of this world.

The lyrics from “The Joke” pack just as much of an emotional punch as her vocals. How can anyone suppress chills when she wails these lines on the chorus?

“Let ’em laugh while they can
Let ’em spin, let ’em scatter in the wind
I have been to the movies, I’ve seen how it ends
And the joke’s on them.”

This anthem is one of the most stirring songs of 2017. Her upcoming sixth studio LP, By the Way, I Forgive You, is already on our list of Most Anticipated Albums of next year. It arrives in February from the Low Country Sound imprint of Elektra Records with pre-orders here.

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Mavis Staples – “Ain’t No Doubt About It” (feat. Jeff Tweedy) (Chicago, USA)

RIYL: Mavis Staples, Wilco

There ain’t no doubt about it: Mavis Staples is a legendary singer and a national treasure. She is also a frequent collaborator with fellow Chicagoan (and indie star in his own right), Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. After working with Tweedy on her two previous albums, she has again teamed up with him, this time letting him produce her fifteenth solo album, If All I Was Was Black. The album features the feel-good, Wilco-esque ballad, “Ain’t No Doubt About It.”

Plenty of musicians sing about friendship; some songs become instant classics the moment they’re released. Much like the 1971 Carole King/James Taylor duet on “You’ve Got a Friend,” the bonds of friendship Staples and Tweedy share make this song an immediate hit. The lyrics offer no direct clue about the background history of either singer. But those who know the injustices Staples endured early in her career (as well as Tweedy’s struggles with anxiety and depression) will appreciate the reassurance each offer here:

“Every time I get crowded
Sometimes I just can’t breathe
I try not to think about it
When I feel it coming over me
I know exactly what that means

Ain’t no doubt about it
I’ll always be your friend
Ain’t no doubt about it
I can count on you till the end.”

If All I Was Was Black arrives this Friday via ANTI Records with pre-orders here.

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David Ramirez – “Stone Age” (Austin, USA)

RIYL: Ryan Adams, Jason Isbell, Drive-By Truckers

You can call David Ramirez a singer/songwriter. You can call him a rebel poet who just happens to sing. Both are accurate. And like so many of his indie Americana/alt-country peers, Ramirez is expressing his frustrations in his music. He knows music is a powerful form of protest, but it is also a weapon that facilitates change and healing.

On his latest album, We’re Not Going Anywhere, the Texas native raises his voice against fear and prejudice. Back in July we praised the LP’s lead single (“Twins”) calling it “brooding but stunning” – but that was before we heard “Stone Age,” one of its boldest highlights. Here he joins the likes of Jason Isbell and Drive-By Truckers in addressing the current political atmosphere:

“Give a man freedom and he’ll sit in his cage
Give him oppression and he’ll write about it on an Internet page
Our fathers were drinkers ‘cause we shipped them off to war
And I’m drunk on a Tuesday ‘cause I’m just so fucking bored.”

We’re Not Going Anywhere is a strong contender for Album of the Year. It’s out now via Thirty Tigers on his website, Amazon, and iTunes. Ramirez is currently on a U.S. tour through mid-December with details here.

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Loma – “Black Willow” (Dripping Springs, TX USA)

RIYL: Shearwater, Cross Record, Sharon Van Etten

Ethereal. Evocative. Mysterious. Those three descriptors only scratch the surface of the haunting debut single from Loma, the new collaboration between Shearwater frontman Jonathan Meiburg and fellow Austin indie duo Cross Record. “Black Willow” is four minutes of lush, captivating tones that evoke imagery of fog-draped woods . A hushed reverie lingers throughout, enhanced by the vocal interplay of Meiburg and Emily Cross. It’s simply stunning.

Fans of Shearwater who are expecting to hear the dynamic, synth-driven sound of the band’s last album may be surprised at how serene “Black Willow” is, though fans of Cross Record likely won’t be. The intimacy that Cross and Dan Duszynski created on their 2015 album, Wabi-Sabi, remains here, making Loma an effortless fusion of all three artists.

Loma began when Cross Record toured with Shearwater on their Jet Plane and Oxbow tour last year, so hopefully we can expect an announcement of tour dates to support the band’s self-titled debut album. It arrives February 16 via Sub Pop with pre-orders here.

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townsppl – “Twigs” (Pittsburgh, USA)

RIYL: Paul Simon, Vampire Weekend, Radical Face

And now for something completely different, as Monty Python fans are wont to say. The same unpretentious playfulness of that show is heard in the music of Pennsylvania indie folk-pop project townsppl. The title track from the band’s new album, twigs, showcases the talents of frontman and founder Alex Stanton.

“twigs” is your escape to sunnier, happier days now that winter fast approaches. The tropical tones echo the global rhythms of Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel imbued with Vampire Weekend’s joviality. These days we all need an antidote to the soul-crushing weariness caused by the news. The music of townsppl is exactly what you didn’t realize you’ve been needing.

There are DIY indie artists who make bedroom pop; then there are artists like Alex Stanton whose projects are 100% organic. He made this album using only physical instruments instead of software and special effects that some artists employ to disguise a lack of talent. Spend some time with this song (and the entire album) for an instant mood boost. Your elevated spirits will be grateful you did. You’ll be happy to have this chorus stuck in your head until you ring in the new year:

“Oh oh oh I know you’d follow me anywhere
I-I-I seem to have lost my way
Way-ay-ay back when the water was potable
We-e-e knew how to be lost.” 

The album is out now on Bandcamp.

Members of townsppl include Alex Stanton (vocals, multi-instrumentation), Kiki Brown and Richard Hutchins (vocals), Beni Rossman (bass), and Jonathan Gulden (drums).

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