Some new artists I’m digging right now
It’s an occupational hazard that, when people find out you’re a critic, they expect you to have at the tip of your tongue a list of great artists they’ve never heard of that they absolutely must check out immediately. For some reason, whenever conversation goes there, I find myself unable to think of any names. So I’m doing this as much to exercise my own memory as I am to share with you folks and get you to tell me about some artists I need to check out. More often than not, people who aren’t in my line of work know better than I do what local artist that’s never left their home town would blow my mind if they could just make it out to Seattle.
So, please reciprocate in the comments and tell me about some new artists. Here are my top five at the moment:
Justin Townes Earle – Okay, he’s not really new anymore, but I find a lot of people to whom I mention Justin don’t know who he is, so I’m starting the list with him. I learned about him the old fashioned way, when a friend told me I’d be an idiot to not check him out. Not only is he a good-looking man, but he’s got that songwriting gene his dad Steve handed down, and he’s got it nailed hard. His new record is great, he’s an excellent live performer (I’ve only seen him with his touring partner Corey Younts once, mostly I’ve just seen him solo at festivals and whatnot) with some great stories to tell.
Sometymes Why – I learned about this troupe via a PR email and was somehow shocked last week when I went to see these gals at the Tractor here in Seattle and it wasn’t a more packed show. Aoife O’Donovan (pronounced EE’fay) from Crooked Still, Kristen Andreassen from Uncle Earle, and Ruth Ungar Merenda from the Mammals make up this trio. Their songs can be kind of trippy, but are always honest and punctuated in often surprising ways by tight and inventive harmonies. Their second CD Your Heart is a Glorious Machine drops tomorrow. Pick it up.
Gregory Alan Isakov – This guy was in Seattle back in November, playing at a little bar downtown. I was doing a story on Brandi Carlile and some other local artists at the time, and Brandi insisted we all trek down to the show to check him out. He was great and I was surprised to learn nobody really knows who he is. I think he’s opened a few shows for her since then, so maybe word will spread. I got his CD after the show and have fallen in love with it. It’s great music for dark, dreary, rainy days. He’s good with the sad songs, his melodies are languid and sometimes spooky, and his lyrics are all kinds of full of heartbreak. Sometimes his work reminds me of Ray Lamontagne, other times Jeffrey Foucault. In all, remarkable stuff.
Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers – I saw these guys at Pickathon last year. They played several sets there, but the first one I saw was very late at night on the cabaret stage. (I might be misnaming that – someone from Pickathon correct me?) Crain is incredible, one of those performers you just can’t take your eyes off of. She seems to go to a whole different place when she sings and I couldn’t get over how that voice came out of that woman. She’s got a new disc coming out April 28 on Ramseur (the folks who brought us Avett Brothers and Carolina Chocolate Drops, among others). I have it in my stack but haven’t listened to it yet. I’m pretty sure it’ll rock my world as much as the last one did, but I’ll have to get back to you on that.
Kaiser Cartel – This duo from Brooklyn opened for Catie Curtis at the Tractor here in Seattle a few months ago, and I was instantly sold. Their songs were just sweet and familiar, but with some interesting twists that let you know they’re not just biting off tradition so much as making it their own. They did this thing at the end of the show where they walked around the room and sang totally unplugged to everyone in the crowd. It was a little awkward at first but then just felt nice and like they’re really there to bring the music to you. Perhaps that’s a little gimmicky, but it’s a good gimmick and I think more artists should do it.