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. This winter we’re highlighting new tunes from King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Pony Bradshaw, and a collaboration between Andrew Bird and Phoebe Bridgers.
Andrew Bird (featuring Phoebe Bridgers)
Andrew Bird’s latest album, “Inside Problems,” was largely inspired by an Emily Dickinson poem, “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,” and here he puts that 19th century work to music with permission from the late poet’s publisher. As he sets Dickinson’s somber words of inner tumult among sound, Bird enlists help from indie folk hero Phoebe Bridgers, who sings patiently in step with the song’s haunting, cinematic arrangement. Bird, as usual, blends classical and folk influences, as sweeping strings guide his stately voice. – J.F.
The Bad Ends
The Bad Ends is a new supergroup featuring old-school music lifers from the thriving scene in Athens, Ga., including Bill Berry of R.E.M. and Mike Mantione of Five Eight. “All Your Friends Are Dying,” a fast-paced jangly rock tune from the band’s debut album “The Power and the Glory,” is a life-is-short anthem about seizing opportunities before time runs out. Specifically, Mantione references a buddy skipping a memorable concert, but the sentiment about thinking twice before missing “just another Friday night” carries universal weight. – J.F.
Margo Price featuring Joshua Hedley
Billy Joe Shaver lived every country song ever written. He married and divorced the same woman twice, lost a son to a heroin overdose, and had two fingers amputated in a sawmill accident. As heard on the recently released “Live Forever: A Tribute To Billy Joe Shaver,” those stories barely scratch the surface of a life hard lived. Margo Price, with the help of Joshua Hedley, admirably takes on the weight of a marriage on the rocks in her rendition of “Ragged Old Truck.” Heavy on twang and harmony, Price nails what she once admitted to Shaver was a song that saved her life. – D.S.
Isabel and Evan Humphreys honed their musical chops at their mother’s knee. When mom is longtime Charlottesville singer/songwriter Kathryn Caine, it makes sense to get the family band together and put out a record. As one hears on “Backwoods Sound,” Isabel and Evan, now students at North Carolina State University, aren’t just coasting on mom’s coattails. Isabel’s voice is mature beyond her years and Evan anchors the low end with his bass play. Reminiscent of classic Alison Krauss, this song is the perfect introduction to Ogden Heart, built on a driving bluegrass rhythm coupled with stellar harmonies that only a familial bond can create. – D.S.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard
For the uninitiated, it’s hard to know where to jump into the weird, wide world of Australian rock experimentalists King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, especially considering the group has released six albums this year alone. Perhaps it’s best to ease towards the band’s 15-minute prog journeys with the more easygoing “Hate Dancin,’” a breezy, three-minute pop tune from the October-released album “Changes” that will actually inspire wallflowers to get moving. – J.F.
Goodbye Road is a collaborative side project that brings together Tennessee singer-songwriter Drew Holcomb with JOHNNYSWIM—the roots duo featuring married couple Amanda Sudano Ramirez and Abner Ramirez. This standout from the group’s second EP, “Goodbye Road: Volume 2,” was written in early 2020, just as it became apparent the world was going to drastically change. But in the face of despair, the musicians decided to craft an uplifting folk-pop song, reveling in one last harmony-fueled celebration before it was time to hunker down. Standout line: “Screw Armageddon/ the dance floor stays open for me.” – J.F.
Anyone described as a rounder has an itinerant soul. It’s that spirit that defines the folk musician, and Pony Bradshaw captures it perfectly in the title track from his newest record, which drops in late January. Awash with wanderlust and a kaleidoscope of images from the road, Bradshaw sings soulfully about living a life with no master, letting the music lead him, gathering experiences as they come. Over a country rock groove and honky tonk guitar, Bradshaw’s tale of romance with the road reminds us to live spontaneously and without constraint. – D.S.
Justin Hiltner surely understands how the drone of the banjo adds a rawness to the story unfolding in a song. On “1992,” there is something distinctly powerful about the chorus between his banjo and voice as he recounts the juxtaposition of the joy and pain at the moments of birth and death. As a young gay man, he realized that he was born as the AIDS epidemic was ravaging the gay community. His first cries of infancy were offered as others were despairing over the loss of loved ones just doors away from his bassinet. Hiltner beautifully captures this dichotomy over sparse, rolling banjo in this eulogy to those who suffered so greatly. – D.S.