As I begin writing this, my wife is watching the new season of Veronica Mars on Hulu. Kristen Bell just stomped on the floor of her apartment and yelled at some party goers in the space below her. “No more shit music!” she shouted.
That is my promise to you on this site with these weekly playlists. No more shit music.
Also, as my wife and I get set to welcome our second child into the world any day now, I will be taking a bit of a sabbatical from my radio show on WDVX for a few weeks. I’m going to try to keep this up and running during that time, but I hope you’ll forgive me if get off track once or twice in the weeks ahead.
OK. Let’s get to it, then.
1. Rhiannon Giddens & Francesco Turrisi – “there is no Other”
We start this week with the title track to the recent collaborative album from Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrissi. Giddens is from North Carolina and first gained acclaim by exploring the influence of African instruments and traditions on American folk music. Turrissi is a Jazz musician from Italy who studied Mediterranean styles in the Netherlands. Given recent public events, I wanted to kick off this week’s playlist with a pair of musicians who go out of their way to blend cultures and influences with their playing. This song has no words, but the intentional capitalization in the title coupled with the melding of sounds says more than any lyrics could about what we should be trying to achieve as a society.
2. The Tillers – “All You Fascists Bound to Lose”
The Tillers are playing the WDVX Big Plate this Friday (7/26) at Barley’s in Knoxville’s Old City. These Cincinnati boys have been playing shows around the station for about a decade or so now, and are always fun to have on the airwaves. This Woody Guthrie cover form their 2018 self-titled album is a good fit here.
3. Small Glories – “Don’t Back Down”
The Small Glories are a Canadian duo comprised of songwriters Cara Luft & JD Edwards who just released their sophomore album in June. Luft’s chiming banjo carries this “truth-to-power” anthem while her shared lead vocal with Edwards gives it its power.
4. Highwomen – “Redesigning Women”
Now it’s time for what was probably the most anticipated song that debuted last week. I woke up in the wee hours of Friday morning to give this song an early listen when it hit Spotify, and I was there at 10:00 AM when the video premiered too. Hell, I’ve been waiting to hear anything from this super group of Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maris Morris, and Amanda Shires ever since Shires prematurely announced the formation of The Highwomen on WFPK back in January. Somehow… yet somehow not surprisingly… I think this lives up to the hype, and I already want more. The Highwomen’s self-titled debut is scheduled for a September 6 release.
5. Kacey Musgraves – “Good Ol’ Boys Club”
Of course, the antecedent action to the formation of The Highwomen was the continued lack of exposure for female artists at mainstream country radio. It’s been a glaring issue with the format for some time now, and Musgraves addresses it here on this song from her 2015 release Pageant Material. By the way… this track was was co-written with Luke Laird and Highwoman Natalie Hemby.
6. Tami Neilson – “Big Boss Mama”
Tami Neilson has one of the biggest voices in all of music, and this track she released earlier this year for International Women’s Day puts that on full display. Neilson says she was inspired by a friend from the hip-hop world to write her own version of a boast track that would allow her to, “Tell people how badass you are.” I haven’t found much info about it online yet, but I’m told Neilson will release a follow up to 2018’s Sassafrass sometime in the near future. I hope this song is on it.
7. Rodney Crowell with Lyle Lovett – “What You Gonna Do Now”
Rodney Crowell’s new album, I know a little bit more about. It’s called Texas, and it’s scheduled to arrive on August 15. This newest track to surface from the project features Lyle Lovett. A previously released song introduced us to contributions from Randy Rogers and Lee Ann Womack. I guess we’ll have to wait a few more weeks to see where other announced guests such as Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, Billy Gibbons, Steve Earle, and Ringo Starr (!?!) fit into things.
8. Andrew Combs – “Stars of Longing”
A woman I work with at my day job is friends with Andrew Combs’ family. I’ve known for a while now that his new record (Ideal Man out September 20) was on the way partly because of how excited she is to update me on what he’s working on and find out what I think of his latest song or album. Please allow me to use this space to transfer her enthusiasm onto you. This is some more good stuff from a friend of a friend.
9. Purple Mountains – “Darkness and Cold”
Purple Mountains is the new project from former Silver Jews frontman David Berman. This is a very welcome release for Berman’s fans, especially when you consider these are the first new songs he has released since publicly announcing his retirement from music roughly a decade ago. He turned back to the guitar following the recent death of his mother, and the result is this darkly beautiful new album. Special thanks to my Program Director Katie Cauthen for pointing me in the direction of this record last week.
10. Chely Wright – “Say the Word”
Chely Wright’s newest offering is a five-song EP that released in May. On Revival, the former country radio star further cements her willingness to follow her muse wherever it may lead her. Many outlets have referred to this track as owing heavily to a 70’s AM radio sound. I’d be hard pressed to argue that point.
11. Linda Ronstadt – “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”
12. Elizabeth Cook – “Evacuation”
Birthday time! Linda Ronstadt celebrated last Monday on the 15th while Elizabeth Cook blew out candles on Thursday.
Here’s hoping Ronstadt and Cook both had happy birthdays. Looking forward to possibly hearing new music from Cook later this year as well.
13. Corb Lund & Hayes Carll – “The Cover of the Rolling Stone”
Sometime around the middle of last week, Corb Lund told all of his social media followers to stay tuned for an announcement on Friday. When Friday came around, Lund dropped his cover of this Dr. Hook classic that he recorded with his buddy Hayes Carll. The song will appear on a new EP called Cover Your Tracks that will also feature Lund’s takes on tunes from Nancy Sinatra, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, & others.
14. Handsome & The Humbles – “The Sun’s Gonna Rise (Don’t Be Sad)”
Handsome & The Humbles are a local Knoxville collective who have been making music around town for a few years now. Their latest effort, We’re All the Same, is their most accomplished work yet, and they will be sharing songs from the album this Thursday (7/25) on the WDVX 6 O’Clock Swerve. This track in particular gives me a real 400 Unit kind of vibe, and we played it quite a bit at the station last year.
15. Brittany Howard – “Stay High”
It was only a few weeks ago that I was wish-tweeting about how ready I was to hear new music from The Alabama Shakes. That wish didn’t come true, but we have been blessed since then with two new tracks from the first solo effort from Shakes’ leader Brittany Howard. Jaime is named for Howard’s older sister who died at the age of 13. It was Jaime, Howard says, who taught her about art as a child… and how to write songs. Howard says this album was one that she had to do by herself so she could tell stories about her life in her own way. Jaime is set to release on September 20.
16. Black Pumas – “Colors”
Let’s keep some positive vibes flowing after that Brittany Howard track with a little more old school soul from Black Pumas. The Black Pumas are a new duo out of Austin consisting of guitarist and producer Adrian Quesada and vocalist Eric Burton. Quesada, who is already a Grammy winner for his work with the Latin funk orchestra Grupo Fantasma, builds a full sonic palate for Burton to explore on each of the ten tracks on this debut album. I got sucked into the bass line on this one, and I just keep coming back.
17. Joe Pug – “The Flood in Color”
Joe Pug immediately became one of my favorite songwriters the moment I first heard his 2010 debut Messenger. Since then, Pug has only strengthened his songwriting muscles, with each of his releases demanding multiple listens to devour the words and melodies he presents. He’s even hosted The Working Songwriter, his own podcast where he interviews other artists about the craft, since 2015. Pug’s latest, The Flood in Color, was released on Friday. Produced by Kenneth Pattengale of The Milk Carton Kids, Pug says Colors was a fully organic process designed to strip away the pressures of making a record and get back to the joy of simply making music.
18. Nora Jane Struthers – “Just a House”
Nora Jane Struthers returns to WDVX’s Tennessee Shines radio show this week for a live performance at Boyd’s Jig & Reel in Knoxville’s Old City on Wednesday (7/24) night. Struthers has been working on songs for a new album that could see release as early as this fall, and she is sharing the process (as well as new songs) with fans via her Patreon page. For my purposes here, I’m sharing my favorite song from Struthers’ 2017 album Champion.
19. Michael Nesmith – “The Crippled Lion”
Michael Nesmith was in Knoxville last week for a comic book convention. Yes. Michael Nesmith and Mickey Dolenz… the only living Monkees… were in my town last week at the Fanboy Expo. I was majorly into the Monkees renaissance of the 1980’s, and I cannot overstate what an important figure Nesmith became in the early days of the country rock movement of the 1970’s that was a precursor to Americana as we know it. Alas, I couldn’t justify spending the over $100 it would have taken to gain admission to the festival and get an autograph on my copy of Magnetic South. I just spent a lot of time listening to it instead.
20. Bombadil – “Goodwill Socks”
Bombadi’s new album Beautiful Country won’t officially be released until September 20, but I luckily got to hear the full recording all the way back in May when I filled in as host for their appearance on Tennesse Shines. This job can have its perks sometimes. Bombadil has had a few shakeups to their lineup over the last several years, but stands now as a sleek three-piece folk flavored outfit that remains every bit as quirky and unique as when I was first pulled into their orbit ten years ago on the strength of their sophomore album Tarpits and Canyonlands.
21. Billy Strings – “Taking Water”
Billy Strings, as he is now known, is actually William Apostol, a 26-year-old guitar prodigy from Michigan. The Billy Strings moniker was bestowed upon him by an aunt who was impressed by young William’s aptitude at several stringed acoustic instruments. Strings’ proper debut album Turmoil and Tinfoil captured everyone’s attention in 2017, and this track is the first to surface from his upcoming album Home, due on September 27.
22. Spirit Family Reunion – “Ease My Mind”
Spirit Family Reunion’s van broke down in Knoxville once. It was probably the second or third time I remember them coming through town. They ended up playing shows around Knoxville and at the station for the better part of a week while waiting on repairs. Another time, several years ago, the band came by the studio with their friend Alynda Segarra and her new band Hurray for the Riff Raff. The point here is that something exciting and amazing happens every time the Spirit Family Reunion gets together (in my experience, at least), and I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of their new album Ride Free on August 9.
23. Steve Gulley & New Pinnacle – “Real Shine”
A few weeks ago, this was the #1 song on the weekly Bluegrass Today singles chart. The artist behind it also just happens to be the host of Rize & Shine, WDVX’s morning bluegrass show, every weekday from 6-9 AM. Gulley is a multiple IBMA Award winner as well as a founding member of Grasstowne and Mountain Heart. These days, he fronts his own powerhouse group New Pinnacle.
24. R.E.M. – “I Believe”
This week’s foray into the catalog of R.E.M. begins with a bluegrass fake out courtesy of Peter Buck and transitions us into a little bit of a rock and roll stretch in this week’s mix. This is maybe my favorite song from what is definitely my favorite R.E.M. album, Life’s Rich Pageant.
25. Bark – “Walk Small”
Tim Lee and Susan Bauer Lee have been beloved members of the Knoxville music community since they relocated here from Mississippi several years ago. Tim’s roots stretch back to his days with the power pop band The Windbreakers in the 1980’s, and a line can be drawn directly from there to this track featuring Susan on lead vocals. Tim and Susan have been touring and performing as the duo Bark for about five years now following a decade long stint as the primary members of the Tim Lee 3. Their new album Terminal Everything is out now.
26. Snail Mail – “The 2nd Most Beautiful Girl in the World”
Snail Mail is the stage name of 19-year-old Lindsey Jordan, and her 2018 album Lush was one of my favorite discoveries of last year. It turns out Snail Mail has been performing this Courtney Love cover in her live sets for a while now and released this studio version last month. By the way, the Courtney Love in question here is not the one from the band Hole (or the former University of Kentucky linebacker). It comes from an early 90’s duo from Olympia, Washington that just happened to share the name.
27. Rilo Kiley – “The Frug”
At no point in this song does Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis explicitly state whether or not she can do The Shag. If you want someone to do The Freddy, The Robo-Cop, or The Frug… she’s probably your girl, though. This track was originally released on an early Rilo Kiley EP called Initial Friend in 1999. It was collected and reissued on the 2013 rarities compilation Rkives.
28. Spoon – “No Bullets Spent”
Look. Spoon is great. They’ve always been great. If there was an album collecting all of Spoons best songs, it would be great.
What? Spoon is releasing a best-of album with 12 of their greatest songs on Friday?
Yeah. That’s a great idea.
Everything Hits at Once: The Best of Spoon will be released this Friday with this new song showing up as the 13th track on the collection.
29. Josh Ritter – “Old Old Fashioned”
I, sadly, was not aware of Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchinson until his death last year. Josh Ritter was, however, and he and several others had already contributed to a project paying tribute to Frightened Rabbit’s 2008 album The Midnight Organ Flight at the time of his death. That album, Tiny Changes is out now and features contributions from Ritter, Craig Finn, Ben Gibbard, Sara Silverman, Julien Baker, and many others.
30. Wilco – “Love is Everywhere (Beware)”
Wilco became Knoxville’s favorite band for a while earlier this year when they spent a full week in town prepping for a European tour and playing back-to-back shows at the historic Bijou Theatre downtown. They reminded me why they’re one of my favorite bands last Tuesday when they announced the release of their new album, Ode to Joy, on October 4 and simultaneously debuted this track from the record. Jeff Tweedy has described the new album as both “defiantly joyful” and full of “really big, big folk songs.” I’m ready.