We’ll be up to our necks in country music in the weeks to come, what with CRS and all, so now seems like a good time to remind ourselves what a vibrant and thriving pop/rock scene we have as well.
So thriving, in fact, that I’m playing catch-up. Most of these records came out last year. But I’m just getting around to the riches of Mikky Ekko, Ingrid Michaelson, Brooke Waggoner and The Dead Weather. The Taylor Swift and Meghan Trainor singles are new, but their parent CDs are also last year’s.
Speaking of The Dead Weather, it strikes me that Music City just might be the new capital of mainstream, guitar-based rock. With most of the pop world fixated on hip-hop or EDM sounds, Nashville is home to The Black Keys/The Arcs, Jack White/The Dead Weather, Kings of Leon, Paramore, Clear Plastic Masks, Parachute, Cage the Elephant, The Features and The Wild Feathers. Rock bands all.
And speaking of Taylor Swift, she proves once again why she’s the princess of pop by earning a Disc of the Day prize with “Out of the Woods.”
As for Mikky Ekko (a.k.a. John Stephen Sudduth), he’d be the DisCovery Award winner if he hadn’t been Grammy-nominated before he had his own CD. So the honor goes instead to the also gifted Anderson East.
CAGE THE ELEPHANT/Mess Around
Writers: Cage The Elephant; Producer: Dan Auerbach; Publisher: Sony/ATV; BMI; RCA (track)
-Thumping and raucous. Kinda garage-y and lotsa fun. This captures how frothing and energetic these guys are on stage. After the band moved from Bowling Green to Nashville, it switched producers. Black Keys honcho Auerbach gave them a sound more raw and less polished, but the Elephants are still very, very tuneful.
THE DEAD WEATHER/I Feel Love
Writers: Fertita/Mosshart; Producer: Jack White III; Publisher: Sleeping Disorder/Kobalt/Domino, BMI; Third Man (track)
– Ferociously rocking. Frontwoman Alison Mosshart has a natural vocal wail that sounds born to be in this band. Lead guitarist Dean Fertita grinds away on a repeated riff that bores into the brain.
Writers: Mikky Ekko/Jim Eliot/Greg Kurstin/Dennis Herring; Producers: Elof Lolv & Mikky Ekko; Publishers: Good Kings/Sony-ATV/Jim Eliot/Kurstin/EMI April/Sakana, BMI/PRS/ASCAP; RCA (track)
– This native Nashvillian first attracted my attention when he sang “Stay,” a Grammy-nominated 2012 duet with Rihanna. His debut solo CD, Time, is highlighted by this airy, echoey, celestial-sounding ditty. His sky-high pop tenor delivery aches in a lyric that says things are lousy, so you might as well smile in your misery. Highly listenable. Heartily recommended.
TAYLOR SWIFT/Out of the Woods
Writers: Taylor Swift/Jack Antonoff; Producers: Jack Antonoff/Taylor Swift; Publishers: Sony/ATV Tree/Taylor Swift/Ducky Donath, BMI; Big Machine (track)
– Finally. My favorite melody on the 1989 album is now its sixth single. Swift closed concerts with this all last year, and I’ve always believed that it belongs on pop radio. The dark, rumbling rhythm contrasts with its bright, high vocals brilliantly. Get up and shake your money maker.
THE ARCS/Fools Gold
Writers: Dan Auerbach/Leon Michels/Richard Swift; Producers: Dan Auerbach/Leon Michels/Richard Swift; Publishers: Hour Box/Wixen/EMI Blackwood/DANCECONTESTWINNER/Secretly Canadian, BMI/ASCAP; Columbia (track)
-This is Dan Auerbach’s side project away from The Black Keys. Like his other group, this one has more than a little blues-rock in its DNA. There is lots of fizzy, fuzzy guitar scuzz here and a dark, haunted vibe that veers almost into psychedelia. The CD is aptly titled Yours Dreamily.
MEGHAN TRAINOR & JOHN LEGEND/Like I’m Gonna Lose You
Writers: Meghan Trainor/Justin Weaver/Caitlin Smith; Producers: Chris Gelbuda/Meghan Trainor; Publishers: Year of the Dog/WB/Music of the Corn/Cornman, ASCAP; Epic (track)
– Artists who launch their careers with a novelty song like “All About That Bass” often turn out to be one-hit wonders. Trainor scored a surprising second time with the just-as-catchy “Lips Are Movin.’” This time out, she slows it down and harmonizes in a soul groove with John Legend. Deliciously hooky.
INGRID MICHAELSON/Time Machine
Writers: Ingrid Michaelson/Busbee/Trent Dabbs/Barry Dean; Producer: Jacquire King; Publishers: Breakable Girls/BMG Platinum/Hello I Love You/Jam Writers Group/BMG Rights Management/Ready Set/Incognito Street, ASCAP/BMI; Cabin 224 (track)
– This indie pop favorite came to Music City to record her fifth album, Lights Out. The lady writes terrifically melodic songs and sings them with blue-eyed soul phrasing. This single/video is a stomper that wishes she could go back in time and warn herself about what a jerk he’ll turn out to be. Michaelson’s albums are always events worth buying, and this is her best one yet. She co-stars in a streamed concert with Cyndi Lauper and Kelsea Ballerini this evening (Thursday) on Skyville Live. It should be quite a show.
Writer: Steve Forbert; Producer: Steve Forbert; Publisher: Songs of Heathercom; SESAC; Rock Ridge (track)
-It has been awhile since we’ve heard from this esteemed singer-songwriter. The title tune of his current album has a chiming, delicate track backing his characteristic soulfully strangulated, slightly hoarse vocal. His harmonica solo is a dandy too. The band features such notables as Kami Lyle, Joey Spampinato and Anthony Crawford.
ANDERSON EAST/Devil In Me
Writers: Anderson East/Mark Stephen Jones/Aaron Raitiere; Producer: Dave Cobb; Publishers: Farmland/Mark Stephen Jones/One Tooth, BMI; Elektra (track)
– East is in the gossip columns as Miranda Lambert’s new squeeze. They ought to be writing about his smoldering, soul-drenched, gospel-inflected vocal talent. This track from his Delilah debut CD proceeds at a stately pace and is embellished by soul-sister harmonies and bright brass blasts. This man is the real deal.
Writer: Brooke Waggoner; Producer: Brooke Waggoner; Publisher: Brooke Waggoner, BMI; Swoon Moon
-I have long been in this Nashville charmer’s corner. Her current CD is called Sweven and features this wooshy, electronica soundscape wherein she warbles like a wraith wandering through soft mist. Dreamy. Hypnotic.
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