Our Favorite New Music from the Blue Ridge and Beyond
EVERY MONTH OUR EDITORS CURATE a playlist of new music, mainly focusing on independent artists from the South. In June we’re highlighting new tunes from Bruce Hornsby, Angel Olsen, and Widespread Panic.
Drive-By Truckers “Welcome to Club X III”
Drive-By Truckers keep on rolling. The longstanding Southern rocker crew released two albums in 2020, and now the group is dropping another this month. The title track is a swinging country-rock ode to an old honky tonk that band founders Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley played during their early days in Muscle Shoals. For an influential band that’s been together for nearly three decades, it’s a humorous look back at dive bars full of “penny beer and cheap cocaine.” The new album, out June 3, was produced by the band’s frequent collaborator David Barbe and features an appearance from Margo Price. – J.F.
Banditos recorded the tracks that would become “Right On” two years ago, before the pandemic but record label upheaval put the brakes on the project. Finally released last month, the record showcases the powerhouse vocals of Mary Beth Richardson, to whom the band has recently given sole lead singer duties. Richardson proves the decision a good one on “Waves.” Muted banjo, piano, and acoustic guitar wind beneath Richardson’s sultry vocals in the verses before she and the band erupt with soulful combustibility in the choruses. “Waves” simply explodes, soaring out with the pent-up energy of two years lost in limbo. – D.S.
Bruce Hornsby “Sidelines”
Piano man Bruce Hornsby is continuing the experimental arc of his late-career creative surge. After recent collaborations with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and yMusic, here he teams up with Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig on this oddly meditative track from the new album “’Flicted.” Among angular sonic textures that build into an enlightening melody, Hornsby and Koenig trade lyrics about processing the hysteria of the last few years. – J.F.
Widespread Panic “Barstools and Dreamers”
In 1990, Widespread Panic dropped into John Keane’s studio in Athens, Ga., to record songs they had crafted on the road. The session demos, which show the quintet stretching the boundaries of its sound, were recently remastered and released. Panic is locked in on “Barstools and Dreamers,” which meanders from funky bass lines to jangly Southern rock to pockets of sonic space fit to be occupied only by Michael Houser’s guitar solos. This nearly nine-minute journey shows that, after barely five years as a band, Panic was destined for the long haul. – D.S.
Wilco “Falling Apart (Right Now)”
When Jeff Tweedy formed Wilco in the mid-90s, the group was quickly lumped into the alt-country movement. But in the ensuing decades the band proved to be a much broader experimental rock outfit. Now, though, the members are embracing their earlier musical roots with the new album “Cruel Country.” Lead single “Falling Apart (Right Now)” is a boot-kicking shuffle with lyrics that feature traditional tropes about tears and heartbreak. But Wilco is trying to mold country in its own image; as Tweedy stated, “we’re finding it exhilarating to free ourselves within the form.” – J.F.
Angel Olsen “Big Time”
Angel Olsen, the inventive indie singer-songwriter who has moved between confessional folk and dramatic synth-rock, is also in a country state of mind. “Big Time,” the title track from the new album Olsen releases on June 3, is a twangy ballad laced with dusty piano and plaintive pedal steel about taking the long route to find true love. Olsen will soon start the collaborative Wild Heart summer tour with Sharon Van Etten and Julien Baker that includes regional stops in Virginia and North Carolina. – J.F.
Hackensaw Boys “Mary Shelley”
“Mary Shelley” is a song over 10 years in the making, written by longtime frontman David Sickmen while he lived in Berlin a decade ago. More fiddle-driven folk rock than bluegrass mayhem, Sickmen sings of big lies becoming truths over spunky mandolin and percussion provided by his son, Jonah, who has taken over charismo (an ever-evolving recycling center washboard) duties for the band. This song reminds listeners that songwriting, and not just frenzied live performances, have driven Hackensaw Boys forward for some 20 years. – D.S.
Bear’s Den “Frightened Whispers”
Bear’s Den continues to explore a palette of sound well removed from the folky, acoustic melodies that rushed them into the indie music consciousness nearly 10 years ago. “Frightened Whispers” kicks off with lush electronic melodies and drumbeats before a rousing chorus grows and the jubilant harmonies of Andrew Davie and Kevin Jones bring a joyous, celebratory tone that deftly obscures the doubt, loss, and pain delivered in the lyrics. It takes a bit of artistry to balance the light with the dark in song, and Bear’s Den does it masterfully here. – D.S.
To hear these songs and more, follow the Blue Ridge Outdoors’ Trail Mix playlist on Spotify.
Cover photo: Drive-By truckers release the new album, “welcome to club x iii,” on june 3. photo by Brantley Guitierrez