New Music: Joshua Radin, Lillie Mae, San Fermin and More

January Music Short Cuts

One of my favorite listening experiences of the month was catching up with a few Joshua Radin songs from his new release Here, Right Now. Radin is one of those singer songwriters you think you don’t know until you hear someone on American Idol performing one of his compositions, or some gorgeous tune catches your attention on a TV show or movie and you see his name in the credits. He even performed at the wedding of Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi. Radin will knock you down with a feather. His songs are deeply moving and his voice what you’d imagine a warm breeze to sound like. The title track is a sweet tune about grace–the kind you give to yourself when you realize that everything I’ve done/Has broughten me to you. Note how high and effortlessly he reaches and how much honest emotion comes with it. I also really liked “Only a Wave (Better Days)” with its bittersweet take on coming to peace with a relationship that just isn’t working: I saw you as the sun/But you’re only a day/I saw you as the ocean/But you’re only a wave…. Radin’s voice alone is a cleansing experience.

Dalton Domino recently released Songs from the Exile. He’s a songwriter based in Lubbock, Texas, with a good sense of red dirt country, though he actually hails from Memphis. I recommend “All I Need,” a duet with Kalsey Kulyk; it’s love with wine-soaked kisses and cigarette smoke amped by lots of electric guitar. Then tamp it down with “Corners,” an acoustic confessional of bad boy whose change of heart is incomplete: I’m not prayin’ for acceptance/But if forgiveness never comes, I’ll understand.

The Blind Boys of Alabama are serious about the subject of prayer. They might also be the longest-lived gospel group in the country. This multi Grammy Award winning band has been performing since 1939, when they crystallized at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Deaf and Blind. As you might expect, none of the current seven members were around back then, but there’s scarcely a black artist or civil rights leader who hasn’t called upon the BBoA to join them and vocalists Jimmy Carter Ricky McKinnie have been associated with group since the 1970s. Listen to the Blind Boys make their way through old chestnuts such as “Go Tell It on the Mountain” or something less familiar such as “I Can See.” I suppose we can call the latter an inner sight song, given that most of the band is actually blind or visually impaired.

The singing and guitar picking of Billy Strings sounds as if he’s as old as the hills, but he’s actually just 27 and hails from Lansing, Michigan, not Appalachia. But when he joins forces with a few friends also weaned on bluegrass giants such as David Grisman, Bill Monroe, and Del McCoury, you’ll swear the Soggy Bottom Boys jumped off the movie screen and into the studio. Paste Studios offers a tasty sampler of “Everything’s theSame,” “Taking Water,” and “Freedom.

Lillie Mae (Rische) used to play guitar and fiddle in Jack White’s band. Now she’s on her own and she’s quite a treat. She can take us to melancholy places, as she does on “You’ve Got Other Girls For That” with its realization that what she wants isn’t going to happen. Then she gets old-time country on “Whole Blue Heart,” which she croons with a catch in her voice that’s almost a yodel. Lillie Mae teases a lot of power from what is essentially a small, bird-like voice. Listen also to “A Golden Year,” which sounds like a country madrigal blend. 

Little Lamb is the stage name of Maine-born-Brooklyn-based indie rocker/indie folk artist Amy Spaltro. Ba Da Bing Records has released her latest, Even in the Tremor. The title track uses bass and looped thumps as the scaffolding for a song that’s emblematic of her repertoire. She starts in a low register and stays in a tranquil space before upping both pace and voice. Hers is a young voice and, frankly, she’s on the edge of bottoming up on the low end of the scale. She has an infectious charm, however, that’s a combo of fragility and perseverance. Try also “Deep Love,” her reminder that rooted connections (sister, mother, lover) is an antidote to existential despair.

Staying in Brooklyn, San Fermin is an unusual indie rock band in that it’s a collective of shifting personnel headed by Ellis Ludwig-Leone, a Yale composition grad who serves more as a composer, director, and keyboardist than as a conventional frontman. San Fermin released The Cormorant I in 2019 and II is due this year. It will be interesting to see what’s up Ludwig-Leone’s sleeve as former lead vocalist Charlene Kaye has gone solo (as KAYE). She fit perfectly into San Fermin trippy groove songs, though a singer named Samia shines of “The Hunger, “Run Away With Me,” and “The Cormorant.”  Allen Tate and Karlie Bruce have also taken on lead vox. You can hear Tate on “Summer by theVoid.” The best way to describe the music is to say that it’s more emotive and impressionistic than catchy or propulsive. Better still, just listen.  

Why not another nom de disque to take us out? The Fisherman & the Sea sounds like a lost Hemingway novel. It’s actually the handle of Finnish/German singer songwriter Jon Eden who sings in unaccented English. If that doesn’t intrigue, how about the fact that though he now leads a quartet, his principal instrument in the cajón, a Peruvian box drum? (He mostly plays guitar on his newest release.) His 4th LP is titled The Hurt & The Humour, an 11-track release that evokes his various influences, including Elliott Smith, the Foo Fighters, and Mumford and Sons. Watch his cheeky “Beggar Princess.” Pay attention to the images on the video. Eden is a burly guy and he has a big voice to go with it. You can watch a big piece of the album on YouTube, including “A Song for the Hills” and “The Bear.” You’ll hear a bit of Foo Fighters in the latter, but what you’ll surmise from all three is that Eden has also been deeply influenced by Nordic folk tales and lullabies.

Rob Weir

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