Wine bars weren't the only way I discovered new music in 2019 (although they might be my favorite method). Other paths to great music include friends, reading, and friends who read. Mark Saleski turned me on to several other new artists this year, two of whom he discovered via the good people who write for venerable roots music magazine No Depression.
Mark and I crossed figurative paths and swords at Blogcritics a decade ago. It's an open debate as to which of us is the grumpier man on any given day but he is clearly the older. Our friendship has consisted almost exclusively of lively musical conversations with a great deal of agreement and some spirited disagreements. Here are three artists he suggested whose records are now part of my Tower of Song.
Great music turns me into an evangelist and I have been preaching the streets of Facebook and Twitter, imploring friends and strangers alike to listen to its many charms and wonders. I ordered my copy from her web store before I'd heard all 10 songs and recommended her record to several friends, several who have subsequently bought/streamed/downloaded her album and one who bought a ticket to come with me to see her perform in Nashville next year.
There is a beguiling sophistication in the music and lyrics. There are unusual tunings and unexpected turns. Some songs reveal a tenderness and sensitivity authentic to a youthful artist while others are filled with wizened observations that seem improbably from someone so young, all of which is reflected in the title of the record. These songs are explorations, they're about discovery and self-discovery. It is entirely possible "Common Language" is the song I listened to more times than any other this past year. It builds and shifts, soaring with a beautiful vocal performance and stirring strings, beautifully serving lyrics that suggest a quest for connection that feels at once within reach and elusive. "Something To Believe In" aches with vulnerability and soars with promise while "Trouble Found Me" is filled with cunning word play and angular guitar jangle.
Leonard Cohen wrote, "Don't be a magician- be magic!" Madison Cunningham becomes magic over the course of this stunning record.
Mark and No Depression teamed up once again, this time to put Michaela Anne's Desert Dove (Spotify|Apple Music) on my radar. I was spellbound after just a few notes from her sparkling voice and the enchantment kept me riveted throughout these 11 songs. "I'm Not The Fire" is as surefire a Top 10 hit as I've heard all year. Country radio needs to get its act together because this is a voice deserving of being heard. I am more than happy to carry the banner for a voice and talent like this while they continue to insult their listeners with insipid and insufferable twaddle.
"One Heart" will tug at your heart and might even break it. "Somebody New" will finish what is left of your heart as the protagonist struggles to find a way to let someone down gently, having been surprised by a new love. This would be a great record with just those three songs but this is an album with so many great moments and a voice that will not let you go. "By Our Design" and the title track are also not to be missed.
Mark gets another credit here but he discovered the magic sounds of Grammy-nominated Black Pumas (Spotify|Apple Music) by listening to Clay Pigeon on WFMU. The Texas duo of Eric Burton and guitarist Adrian Quesada have created the kind of R&B/soul hybrid you'd expect to come from Philly or Detroit. There have been scores of pretenders who managed to do a respectable job of recreating those classic sounds and giving them a little fresh sonic paint. What separates Black Pumas from the masses is the songs! These guys have the tunes, the hooks, the melodies, and a pinch of that Austin weirdness. "Black Moon Rising" drew me in and midway through "Colors" I was reaching for my credit card to order my copy of this self-titled debut. Start with those two songs but make sure you stick around for the closer "Sweet Conversations," the aching "OCT 33," and the fiery soul of "Stay Gold."
I give Consequence of Sound credit for this discovery. I am a regular reader to the music news portion of their site (they cover more than just music). They were streaming a single from a then to-be-released sophomore effort Anthropocosmic Nest (Spotify|Apple Music). All I needed to know was this was a trio with Fugazi's rhythm section and an experimental guitarist and I was at least going to have to try them out! I listened to the atmospheric "Touch Earth Touch Sky" and immediately went looking for their self-titled debut. Three or four good listens to that and I made sure I made time to stop by Grimey's to buy a copy before taking in the Mark Knopfler's show at Ryman Auditorium later that evening. The debut and Anthropocosmic Nest are fantastic records filled with thrilling sonic adventures from guitarist Anthony Pirog and the tight, dynamic rhythm section of Joe Lally and Brendan Canty.
So how do I find new music? It's all around me. It's all around all of us. You just have to listen and be open so it can find you. It has never been a better time to be a music fan. Great music is still being made. Don't let anyone tell you any different. It's never been easier to access the great music of the now and the classics of the past. I also want to note that while it's a great time for music fans, it's not an easy time to be a musician or artist. Streaming is great for sampling and discovering. Buy the work when you find something you love!
Pay attention to what's playing at the bars and restaurants and stores you visit and don't be afraid to leave a cart full of goods if you discover to your horror it's Creed. Paying attention to background music may also help you find better restaurants and places to shop. Make friends with music lovers and obsessives. They will always have a suggestion and in some cases it's best not to think of it as a suggestion. Go to the good music web sites (I highly recommend the one you're reading right now as a place to learn about music you should hear).