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Michael Kiwanuka

21 Apr

The  (Man in the) Band:  Michael Kiwanuka

What’s the story? Back in 2012, I went to go see Alabama Shakes at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. They were the hyped band of the moment: retro-roots soul-rockers set apart from rest of the crowd, largely due to their lead singer – Brittany Howard, a powerful charisma of Joplin inspired wailing and magnetism. She also was (and is) a black woman fronting a band of white dudes playing guitars, something not often seen and heard. Less heralded, but also on the bill that night, was a young black man named Michael Kiwanuka. I was startled to see him outside the front door of the Ballroom grabbing a smoke while I waited in line to get inside.  No one recognized him; he stood alone and looked very much out of place, and indeed a million miles from his home in the UK. But I remember that he looked so vulnerable and….lonely. So unlike the feeling he exuded in his music – that of a comfortable weekend midday in the sun. Songs like Bones and Home Again are as omnipresent in your local hipster-fied coffee shop as they are in your mother’s gentrified interior design store; most would recognize them or hum along, but I’m guessing doilies to donuts, they couldn’t pick Kiwanuka out of line up. So why do i mention the colour of his skin? The singer himself has struggled with his identity and his audience, and it wasn’t until the 2016 follow up to his brilliant debut album that we got a real sense of the slow burning dissatisfaction inside. Just listen to Black Man In A White World:

Goddamn. When was the last time you heard something with such a relentless groove that actually said something so relevant and resounding? For crying out loud, I’m a white man in a white world and i will never begin to understand, feel, appreciate, sympathize, emphasize the context, but it makes me wish i could. A song like this is triple threat: a declaration, a protest, and a statement of fact. It is brave and vulnerable all at once.

Perhaps out of ignorance or discomfiture, I initially overlooked the album Love & Hate, expecting and perhaps hoping for more of the same softness and soul as his previous work. It wasn’t until I started watching the twisted Big Little Lies (HBO couple drama at its most blatant) that its opening track, Cold Little Heart, another Kiwanuka composition, wove its way into me. Produced by Danger Mouse, the songs on Love & Hate expand the singer’s range and style to become cinematic. Now we get to experience the dark and light, and now i know we’re all be the better for it.

Sounds Like:  Shaft got his heart broken by Society and its Girl

The gateway songs: 

“I’ll Get Along”

“Waiting Around to Die”

“Cold Little Heart”

If You Like These Songs, Check Out:

Goldford “Ray of Sunshine”

Bill Withers “Use Me”

Leon Bridges ‘Coming Home’ album

Isaac Hayes “Walk On By”

 

 

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Holy Holy

20 Nov

The  Band:  Holy Holy

What’s the story? This certainly is the year of Australasia. The current music coming out of there continues to sound fresh, urgent and immediate – it seems as if our island friends have taken all the genres that grew stale and old on the West Coast of the US and replanted them in a harmonious garden of 70s folk melodies and melancholy, intricate guitar codas, and epic lyrics that span the sky but still beat the heart. The band with the name that is Holy Holy has risen from the tide, led by songwriting team of Timothy Carroll and Oscar Dawson. The debut album ‘When Storms Would Come’ will be out this December. Catch the wave and you will be sitting on top of the world. 

Sounds Like:  A death cab for Aussies. Whatever that means. 

The gateway songs: 

“Sentimental and Monday”

“History”

 

Other songs:   

“You Cannot Call For Love Like A Dog”

“House of Cards”

“Impossible Like You” 

If you liked this, check out these bands/songs:

Boy & Bear “Southern Sun”

Crowded House “Weather With You”

The Phoenix Foundation “Buffalo”

U2 “Love Comes Tumbling”

Glen Hansard

14 Sep

The (Man) in the Band:  Glen Hansard

What’s the story? When I go mining into Van Morrison’s expansive catalog, I almost always unearth some new gem. That will happen when you are listening to a mystic Irish shaman with more than 30 albums to his credit – its easy to get overwhelmed by the depth of the canon. And so I have a fellow Irishman to thank for my latest Van discovery of “Hungry For Your Love” – one Glen Hansard, he of Swell Season and Oscar winning fame. Certainly not Unsung by the Irish, but still relatively unknown on these shores. He is a disciple of Morrison, and he has followed the teachings of the master well (check out this awesome story of the time they once met), but on his new album (potential awesomeness alert) “Didn’t He Ramble”, Hansard expands the ritual to channel celtic, folk and creole with a voice that sounds like a less wounded and yet more piercing sibling of Caleb Followill. The lead single ‘Winning Streak’ could have be written in 1972 by Dylan, Morrison and The Band – it is that good. 

Sounds Like:  Sipping a warm cup of Earl Grey while looking through the window at the rain hitting the water. 

The gateway songs: 

“Winning Streak”

“Low Rising”

Other songs:   

“Her Mercy”

 

The rest of “Didn’t He Ramble” – comes out on September 18th. Listen here now. 

 If you liked this, check out these bands/songs:

Van Morrison  (obviously) “Old Woodstock”


Kings of Leon “Beautiful War”

 

 

Paolo Nutini “Tricks of the Trade” 

 

 

 

Happy Fridays

22 May

The sun was shining and the (musically astute) love of my life started singing the chorus to this old nugget. It took us a few minutes to find out the song and the band and it made our morning. But wait there’s more – the original is a great old rambling classic by the Stones:

 

Some covers take things to a happier place. Straight from the dayz of Madchester come the Soupdragons!!! A brilliant band name and an even better video. Happy Fridays everyone!  

 

 

And if you want to keep your dance party going 90’s English style, check out these tracks:

 

 

Here come the Ladies of Oz!

25 Mar

March Madness! I recently stumbled across these two gals from Australia, oh so different but connected all the same.

Sarah Humphreys

This is Sheryl Crow channeling ‘You’re So Vain’ Carly Simon. The stanza starting at 1:26 is one of the most jarring and brutally honest set of lyrics I’ve heard in a long while. Brave, defiant, raw, and brilliant.

 

Courtney Barnett

Slacker grunge meets modern street poet. This is the saddest/wittiest song about houseshopping in existence (shall we say it has cornered that small market?) If you are a thirty something who has ever had the (dis)pleasure of looking for a home, you will relate.

 

And here she is channeling a little Nirvana by way of fellow countrymen the Vines:

 

Both of these musicians are independant, and making a go of things without major label support. Too talented to be Unsung!

January Jonesing

23 Jan

With spring seemingly an eternity away, and the last playlist a lifetime behind, its time for another Unsung batch of songs. These are the tracks that have been looping in my mind’s jukebox as of late. Eclectic, rare, popular, populist, and full of linky links. Enjoy!

  1. Rodriguez “I Wonder” – Searching for Sugar Man is a must see documentary for anyone who appreciates the Unsung. It might be one of the greatest Unsung stories of all time actually. And this song should have been a massive hit for the humble and austere Rodriguez. I’m thankful it has seen the light of day.
  2. Hozier “Someone New” – this Irish folk rocker is having quite a year isn’t he? Going from strength to strength with each new release, and each song a natural extension of Take Me To Church (check out this fine tribute by his fans). I can’t get the hook of this one out of my head.
  3. Basia Bulat “Tall Tall Shadow” – for a song to be an absolute classic, it has to sound fresh and new, but also be timeless, and not get stale dated like funky cheese (see: everything by every pop artist since 2009). This could have been released anytime in the last 50 years and still make sense and sound good. Another bright shining Canadian star, channelling Joni Mitchell and Natalie Merchant, reminding us all that you can’t run from your actions. Time to face that shadow, you January groundhogs!
  4. The Killers “Shot At The Night” – unlike our friend Basia, our buddy Brandon Flowers is unabashedly of a time when synthesizers ruled the land. My friend Tim thinks this is the best song of 2014 (even if it was released for Christmas 2013) and he’s not afraid to tell you all about it, along with all his other great picks for the year that was. Check it out, exclusively here.
  5. Al Green “I’m A Ram” – I’ve already ranted and raved about the genius of Al Green. This is the point in the album “Al Green Gets Next To You” where you are baptized by the holy spirit of funka soul and your life as a heathen is behind you. Here comes 2015. Ram on.
  6. The Zutons “Valerie” –  Warning: you are soon to be inundated with all things Mark Ronson. This guy is a bit of a super producer who has ecelectic tastes and a famous bunch of friends. His Bruno Mars track is already dominating the charts, and there will be others that follow. But ‘Valerie’ is where he got his start. The excellent Amy Winehouse version made her famous, but I’m digging the earlier Zutons version, and particularly this live one from Glastonbury. Don’t they look like they are having fun, those Brits? Bucket list: Go to Glastonbury before I am too old to wave a flag.
  7. Mickey Newbury “Why You Been Gone So Long” – this song was a direct influence on Kris Kristofferson and led him to write Me And Bobby McGee. And thus concludes the geeky music trivia portion of this playlist.
  8. Sunday Valley – Never Go To Town Again” – as I celebrate Sturgill Simpson’s victorious signing with Altlantic Records (he’s in some good company), let’s take a visit to his first band, Sunday Valley. I think he may have just invented heavy metal country. Brilliant.
  9. JJ Shiplett “Darling Let’s Go Out Tonight” – If Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen grew up in Calgary…..this is what they would sound like.
  10. The Velvet Undergound “Foggy Notion” – Speaking of Atlantic Records, the Velvets were there once. This is a demo off of their debut record. Gawd could these guys swagger. A million light years ahead of their time. The Velvet were underrated, then overrated, and now forgotten or taken for granted. If you are into the Strokes or anything to do with being NYKool, for the love of Lou Reed, please go check out their discography!!!
  11. Robert Plant “Rainbow” – I like living in a world with the possibility of epic battles between dwarves, elves and orcs. And l like living in a world where Robert Plant still croons like a Tolkien mystic about things that we only dream to see. I think he is probably walking along a misty mountain countryside right now, singing to himself, and that gives me comfort.
  12. The Tallest Man on Earth “Graceland”- the spiritual inspiration for Unsung is my favourite album of all time. The reimagining of its title track is different/good….on occasion it gives rise to goosebumps. Enjoy this January journey, and here’s hoping that you find the reason that you can’t explain.

Back by Popular Demand: Timmy T’s Top Ten of Twenty Fourteen

22 Jan
Music super fan Timmy T is back again with his take on the year that was. Without further adieu, and presented without comment by Unsung  (ok, 2 comments:  Where is Hozier??? How about Sturgill?? 🙂  here’s your chance to catch up on all the great music you may have missed!
AppleMark
1.)  alt-J  –  This Is All Yours
Best Song:  “Every Other Freckle”
Why It’s On The List: Very different yet easy listening stuff; kind of like if someone took the Drive soundtrack and put it in a blender with some heavy riffs and lyrics for extra flavour.

2.)  Bruce Springsteen  –  High Hopes  &  American Beauty (EP)

Best Songs:  “American Skin (41 Shots)” from High Hopes  &  “Mary Mary” from American Beauty (EP)

Why They’re On The List: Look, he’s called the Boss for a reason; it’s not like the name was awarded for half-assed music. This time out, he’s done another collection of cover songs, outtakes and re-imagined tracks. It’s done with contributions from both the E Street Band and Tom Morello and nearly every song sounds amazing! If you like Bruuuuuuuccceee, do yourself a favour and give both of these a listen.

3.)  Paolo Nutini – Caustic Love

Best Song:  “Scream (Funk My Life Up)”
Why It’s On The List: Just a great contemporary take on soul and R&B and a tiny little bit of funky funk. The first track is really a great leading track (for almost any playlist) and everything that follows is mellow and soothing while thought-provoking. A great album for a quiet night in, along with some great drinks.

4.)  Sam Roberts Band  –  Lo-Fantasy

Best Song:  “We’re All In This Together”
Why It’s On The List: I was a little worried he might never have another great album, that he “might never be the same again”. Well, I was wrong on both counts. Not only is this album fantastic, it’s also a re-invention of Sam Roberts. Take what you think you know about him and his band, stomp on it with your foot, and kick it across the room. Then pull it apart and crumple it back together. Then paint it with a combination of groovy colours. That’s what this album is!

5.)  Ryan Adams  –  Ryan Adams

Best Song:  “I Just Might”
Why It’s On The List: Personally, I think if you have to ask, then you haven’t obviously ever been listening to any of his work to begin with. And shame on you then. Setting aside a dismal concert performance in E-dot (in my humble opinion), this album is quite possibly his best work yet, and that’s saying something. The guy has already done a ton of amazing work. If you have listened to him, then you know what I’m talking about. And, you’ll agree with me if you know what’s good for you.

6.)  SomeKindaWonderful  –  SomeKindaWonderful

Best Song:  “Devilish Man”
Why It’s On The List: A combination of nearly all genres, somehow it works. Initially, I didn’t think it did. But, on the second listen, there’s quite a bit of complexity to this album. One of the main cases in point is “Devilish Man”; it’s got a catchy but also throwback attitude. The whole thing is quite enjoyable.

7.)  Spoon  –  They Want My Soul

Best Song:  “Inside Out”
Why It’s On The List: Just when you think this album might be trying to be Brit-pop, it veers off into some pretty interesting melodic territory. If you’re familiar with Spoon already, this is their best work so far, in my opinion. And, I think the future is even more promising for this band than ever before, based on this album.

8.)  John Hiatt  –  Terms of My Surrender

Best Song:  “Nobody Knew His Name”
Why It’s On The List: If you like slow Blues, without it sauntering up to you and being all up in your face, then this is a great album for you. It’s not fancy, but that’s a good thing. This is the kind of album I see myself listening to by the fire pit with a beer, and howling at the moon in angelic harmony with the album. I have an angelic voice, you know.

9.)  Vance Joy  –  Dream Your Life Away

Best Song:  “Mess Is Mine”
Why It’s On The List: I like fast-paced Folk riffs. So does everyone else apparently! This album is kind of like if only one guy from Mumford & Sons decided to go solo.

10.)  Royal Blood  –  Royal Blood

Best Song:  “Figure It Out”
Why It’s On The List: Well, NME‘s readers voted it number ‘1’, and that’s worth something, right Unsung? 😉 It’s also a total rebel assault on rock n’ roll itself. Don’t listen to this if you don’t like meat & potatoes rock n’ roll. By the way, based on this, the genre (i.e. ‘rock n’ roll’) is alive and well.

Honourable Mentions

  • U2’s Songs of Innocence had its detractors for obvious reasons, but all in all, it’s a pretty good U2 album. Just not good enough for the main list. Sorry, Bono. But, also congrats for being on my Honourable Mentions list.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack has awesome songs from the seventies. A great playlist unto its own and just awesome homage. FYI reminder, not to be a downer, but “Spirit in the Sky” gets played at my funeral and/or at O’Byrne’s for my wake.
  • Walking Dead soundtrack EP has some phenomenal tracks I’ve never heard of before, especially Sharon Van Etten’s “Serpents (Basement)”; if you like music, you should listen to that track. The track is not from 2014, but the soundtrack is. So, that’s why it’s in Honourable Mentions.
  • Death from Above 1979’s “Trainwreck 1979” is a rip-roaring track!
  • Robert Plant’s lullaby and . . . The Ceaseless Roar has some great tunes on it, if you’ve enjoyed his latter year mellowing melancholy tunes. A little Celtic flavour underlying this one too, which is an interesting juxtaposition to what is an otherwise ordinarily rock-blues-country vocal.
  • Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ Hypnotic Eye; after years of not being on charts, that this one made it, and is worth the nod, is worth the nod. Honourable Mention, but not a top 10. Good going, Tom. Maybe a TT Top 10 is in your sights yet. 😉 Keep at it. You’ll make it someday.
  • I only happened to discover The Killers’ “Shot At the Night” during 2014. Yes, it’s a 2013 track from a Greatest Hits compilation. But holy cow! Magnificent track!! I remember being absolutely paralyzed when I first heard it (and that was a good reaction; it’s the reaction to have to music – when it’s soooo good, you can’t move; literally). I have to mention it because I don’t have an Unsung website so, this is my only opportunity for this plug. Yes, I’m a year late. But, if you have only one song you can download this month, this is my absolute 100% foolproof recommendation.
    • Your life will thank you.

Houndmouth

21 Nov

The Band:  Houndmouth

What’s the story? There’s a nice little sub-movement happening in rock and roll right now – mining the rich folk and roots sound of the late 60’s. Breakout stars like the Lumineers, Alabama Shakes and the inescapable Mumford and Sons have already captured hearts and minds – and now comes this foursome from the Mighty Midwest with punchy guitar licks, pulsing organs, a rolllicking backbeat and lyrics that would make ol’ Bob smile. Debut ‘From The Hills Below The City’ is  a cracker and upcoming new album is expected to make the retreaded rock n’folk road worth travelling down again. 

Sounds Like:  A Last Waltz with your favorite old pair of boots and the girl you just can’t keep

The gateway songs: 

 

“On The Road”

“For No One”

Other songs:   

“Comin Around Again”

“Krampus”

“Come On Illinois”

 

 

 If you liked this, check out these bands/songs:

Deep Dark Woods “Charlie’s Coming Down”

Justin Townes Earle “Harlem River Blues”

Alabama Shakes ‘Girls and Boys’ album

The New Basement Tapes “Down on the Bottom”

The Band “The Weight” (but you knew that already didn’t ya?)

Alberta Cross ‘The Thief and the Heartbreaker’ EP

Bob Dylan “Only A Hobo”

 

Sturgill Simpson

7 May

The (Man in the) Band:  Sturgill Simpson

What’s the story? It’s simple, or it at least it should be. A guitar that is good for pickin’, steel or string. A voice that sounds like it has lived some life –  some whisky, some road, some love, some hangovers. A sound that’s good for foot stompin’ or some whisky drinkin’ of your own. And lyrics that goddammit mean SOMETHING, other than thinking your tractor is sexy or wondering whether your chicken is fried. Country music once had an element of earnest, and Sturgill Simpson seems to have travelled through time to remind us of that fact. You wish he was the face of country music. Here’s hopin’ it won’t take a couple more years before he becomes an overnight success. 

Sounds Like: Waylon’s bastard son makin’ you wish Shooter woulda’ done it this way

The gateway song: 

“Life of Sin”

(listen to whole new album ‘Meta-Modern Sounds in Country Music’ for a limited time here!

“Medicine Springs”

Other songs:   

“Turtles All the Way Down”

 

 If you liked this, check out these bands/songs:

Blitzen Trapper “Taking It Easy Too Long”

Justin Townes Earle “Look The Other Way”

Waylon Jennings Live album (the best thing around, trust me)

Future Islands

3 Apr

The Band:  Future Islands

What’s the story? The following video is mortifying/hilarious/cringe worthy/electrifying, depending on your mood and sympathies for mankind’s stranger creatures. What is certain is that it is entirely mesmerizing. I dare you to look away:

 

It’s not often we are confronted with a unique frontman who channels Jack Black and Marlon Brando while wearing simple black pants. He  (Samuel Herring) inspires equal parts derision and devotion. Such singers are few and far between in our convoluted and super saturated world. And I still don’t know if this will be a flash in the pan or the beginning of something special, but i just had to share it with you. And no matter how you feel about the visual aspects of this Baltimore 4 piece, the music is a finely crafted, divine blend of uplifting dance beats and melancholic soul. New album ‘Singles’ is out now.

Sounds Like: Morrissey simultaneously discovering synthesizers, premature balding, Shakespearian soliloquies, and Joy Division.

The gateway song: 

Seasons (here is the official, slightly less amusing video)

Other songs:   

“A Dream of You and Me”

“Balance”

 If you liked this, check out these bands/songs:

Go West “King of Wishful Thinking” (wow were the early 90s something else, weren’t they?)

Strokes “Chances”

Orange Juice

Morrissey ‘Viva Hate’ album