Some weeks are better than others. This week was one of the others.
This was the kind of week that had my daughter asking us to turn off the news because, “it only shows people getting killed.”
This was the kind of week that saw a generational songwriting voice return from a long absence… only to be tragically taken away one final time.
Of course, through it all, there is music. Music left behind by those who have gone. Music to help us process the hard times we experience. Music to help us forget the bad and shine a little bit of light on the good for a time. And… for this week in Knoxville, at least… live music to bring us together and tap into all of those elements en masse. This week’s playlist will try to tap into all all of those things as well.
We’ll start with a few songs of sadness up front before moving on to a few songs of joy and new music to help us look ahead. Also, the entire back third of the list this week is composed solely of artists who will be playing shows in Knoxville this week. That’s something to look forward to, for sure.
Let’s get to it.
1. Silver Jews – “Horseleg Swastikas”
This is not where we were originally going to start things this week. That all changed on Wednesday, however, with the news of the passing of David Berman. Berman had re-entered the music world just a few weeks prior with the release of his new project Purple Mountains, but it was with his original band Silver Jews where he made his biggest mark.
I can’t claim to have been a big Silver Jews fan myself. I had some of their songs on my old iPod, but I didn’t really discover them until they were already gone from the scene. I guess I just never took the time to go deep on a band that was over before I found them. That was my mistake. I probably would have come across this song, that seems to be the one most often mentioned in Berman tributes this week, a lot sooner.
2. Mark Erelli, Anais Mitchell, Josh Ritter, Lori McKenna, Rosanne Cash, Sheryl Crow – “By Degrees”
This is where we were originally going to start this week, with this Mark Erelli song that sadly never stops being relevant. Erelli has been singing this anti gun violence song in his live sets for a few years now and recorded this version with several friends last year as a fund raiser for Gabby Giffords’ gun violence prevention organization, Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence. You can purchase the song and donate to the organization through the song’s website.
3. Mary Gauthier – “Mercy Now”
Sometimes we all just need to hear this one.
4. Shinyribs – “Got Sum”
How about some fun tunes to switch up the mood after those first few tracks? That’s where Kevin Russell comes in with this song from his latest release with his band Shinyribs. Y’all need to git you sum o’ dis.
5. Lake Street Dive – “You Go Down Smooth”
A couple of weeks ago, my Facebook memories flooded me with a batch of pictures I took at a Lake Street Dive concert my wife and I attended while on vacation in Virginia in 2014. It was probably one of the most fun shows I’ve ever been to, and since fun is what we’re going for here in this stretch of the playlist…
6. Kelsey Waldon – “Sunday’s Children”
7. Jason Hawk Harris – “I’m Afraid”
Two new tracks here from a couple of upcoming releases that both kind of touch on the same lyrical theme of questioning organized religion. Both approach the topic from different angles, but arrive at similar conclusions. Both also contain a word that I can’t play on the radio, so I’m sharing them with you here.
Waldon’s White Noise/White Lines releases October 4. Harris’ Love & the Dark comes our way August 23.
8. Robert Randolph & The Family Band – “Simple Man”
As a bit of a rebuttal to the previous two songs, please allow Robert Randolph & The Family Band to nourish your soul here with their version of a Pops Staples gospel tune. Randolph plays the sacred steel guitar throughout the new album Brighter Days as he returns to the sounds of the church of his youth. Brighter Days comes out on August 23.
9. Bobby Rush – “Good Stuff”
Legendary blues man Bobby Rush’s new album, Sitting On Top of the Blues, comes out on Friday and features Bobby Rush simply being Bobby Rush. Here he is singing about a topic that he sings about more than just about anything else in his catalog.
10. Samantha Fish – “Kill or Be Kind”
11. The Devil Makes Three – “Wheels”
12. Bruce Cockburn – “Blind Willie”
13. Songs from the Road Band – “Waiting On Ride”
Let’s move things along here with a four pack of new songs from upcoming releases.
First up is Samantha Fish with the title track from her September 20 release. It’s a Rounder label debut for the blues influenced songwriter.
I honestly don’t know much about this new Devil Makes Three release. The only article I could find on it is from a Dutch website. Google Translate leads me to believe this is possibly half of a seven-inch single available at DM3 live shows.
Canadian songwriting legend Bruce Cockburn will release his 34th(!) album on September 20. Crowing Ignites is a fully instrumental affair.
The new release from North Carolina based roots super group Songs from the Road Band is already available. This is the title track.
14. R.B. Morris – “Red Sky”
R.B. Morris is one of Knoxville’s greatest artists. Full stop.
Morris is an accomplished songwriter and poet and also has credits as a playwright and actor on his resume. He was named Knoxville’s first ever Poet Laureate in 2016 and was inducted to the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame in 2009. This is the title track from a new album coming this fall.
15. Sunny War – “If it Wasn’t Broken”
Sunny War first came to my attention in 2018 with the release of her album With the Sun. My fandom was sealed when I witnessed an utterly charming set turned in by War at The City Winery in Nashville at Americanafest last year. This is the song that first pulled me in.
16. J.S. Ondara – “American Dream”
When he was a teenager growing up in Nairobi, J.S. Ondara lost a bet with a friend because he thought Axl Rose actually wrote “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” He discovered Bob Dylan after paying up on the bet, and from there, Ondara’s American Dream led him to Dylan’s home state of Minnesota where he released this debut album. Ondara is an Emerging Act of the Year nominee at next month’s Americana Music Awards.
17. Valerie June – “Cosmic Dancer”
This is the second cover song from the classic age of rock & roll that Valerie June has released this year, with this version of T. Rex’s 1971 offering following her cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” in April. There currently don’t seem to be any plans for another full album release from June, but this string of well chosen covers are doing a nice job of filling in the gap.
18. Michaela Anne – “Somebody New”
We’re still well over a month away from the release of Michaela Anne’s new album (Desert Dove 9/27), and this is already the third song we’ve heard from the project. Each one has only heightened my anticipation for the full record.
19. R.E.M. – “Bittersweet Me”
This week’s R.E.M. track comes from what I feel is the most underrated record of their career. New Adventures in Hi-Fi was largely built around demos written and recorded during the tour to support their previous album Monster. It is one of my favorite albums from my favorite band.
20. Pixies – “Catfish Kate”
We mentioned The Pixies a few times last week. I would not be doing my job, then, if I failed to bring you this brand new Pixies track that was actually released on Tuesday. Their new album Beneath the Eyrie comes out on September 13.
21. Lilly Hiatt – “Off Track”
From this point forward, every artist featured is an act that will be playing a show in Knoxville this week. Some are playing WDVX events, some are local acts who I’m excited to share with you all here, some are just shows I feel are worth highlighting. Lilly Hiatt can be found kicking off a tour Friday night (8/16) at The Open Chord in an event presented by WDVX.
22. John Paul White – “The Good Old Days”
This show Sunday (8/18) at the Open Chord is a make up gig for a show John Paul White had to cancel due to illness about a month ago. I’m glad White is getting to come back to town behind his new album The Hurting Kind. It’s a good one.
23. The Lonetones – “Here in the South”
Also Sunday night… Local favorites The Lonetones are playing in The Old City at Barley’s. Sean McCollough and Steph Gunnoe keep Appalachian folk at the center of their sound
24. Barstool Romeos – “Last Call for Heroes”
Mike McGill is one half of the Barstool Romeos along with Andy Pirkle. McGill also has a new self titled solo record out that he will be featuring when he appears on WDVX’s Tennessee Shines Wednesday night (8/14) with his backing band The Refills. I couldn’t find McGill’s solo work on Spotify, so here’s one from the Romeos to get you ready.
25. Blue Moon Rising – “It Doesn’t Matter Any More”
26. Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder – “How Mountain Girls Can Love”
WDVX’s latest installment of The Summer Sessions from Bissell Park in Oak Ridge takes place this Saturday (8/17). It’s gonna be one big ol’ night of bluegrass in the Secret City.
27. Chely Wright – “As Long as I’m Your Lover”
This is another track from Chely Wright’s new EP Revival. We shared the title track here a few weeks ago. Wright will be in town at The Open Chord Thursday night (8/15).
28. Scott McMahan – “Had to Let Her Go”
Make sure you get to the Lilly Hiatt show early on Friday to hear local songwriter Scott McMahan. McMahan is another veteran of the Knoxville scene with an easy soulful sound that should set you up well for a night with Hiatt afterwards.
29. Parker Millsap – “Other Arrangements”
Parker Millsap makes his first ever appearance at The Shed in Maryville on Saturday (8/17). The Shed is a cool outdoor venue just outside of Knoxville that is attached to a Harley-Davidson dealership. Often, their stage will host southern rock flavored acts or tribute acts dedicated to rock icons of the past. It’s also the best place around to catch folks like Ray Wylie Hubbard or James McMurtry when they come through town.
30. Travis Bigwood & The Lonesome Doves – “Paw’s Place”
Travis Bigwood has been pretty visible in Knoxville over the past few years. He’s played around town with everyone from Guy Marshall and Erick Baker to Roger Alan Wade. He’s also recently started stepping out with his own project, Travis Bigwood & The Lonesome Doves. The band’s debut EP is out now, and they play the WDVX Blue Plate Special on Wednesday (8/14).
31. Purple Mountains – “I Loved Being My Mother’s Son”
This one is tough.
I mentioned at the start of the playlist that I had added the Silver Jews as a bonus track this week after news of David Berman’s passing came out on Wednesday. This song from Berman’s new project Purple Mountains was already in the mix this week, however, because Berman was scheduled to play in front of a sold-out crowd at The Pilot Light this Friday night.
This song is a tough one for me too. After sticking with his retirement from music for nearly a decade, Berman said recently that he was inspired to once again pick up a guitar due in part to the passing of his mother. She is a presence throughout the Purple Mountains record, but is especially present in this song. I lost my own mother unexpectedly this March, and while this isn’t the most engaging song on the new album, it’s the one I can’t seem to remove from my head.