Best 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 April we’re highlighting new tunes from Wednesday, Lucero, and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.
“Chosen to Deserve”
Wednesday, the indie twang outfit from Asheville, N.C., is on the brink of big things, with the release of a new album, “Rat Saw God,” this month on the venerable Dead Oceans label. The group, known for blending shoegaze guitars with country storytelling, leans on the latter in “Chosen to Deserve,” a six-minute ramble down memory lane that finds lead singer Karly Hartzman recalling youthful mischief. – J.F.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Isbell and his top-notch band have new music on the horizon with the fresh studio set, “Weathervanes,” set for release on June 9. Lead single “Death Wish” was unveiled earlier this year and it’s a stunner about trying to help a partner dealing with mental struggles. Lyrics about erratic behavior and a roller coaster of emotional turmoil are made more urgent by the band’s moody rock arrangement that builds behind Isbell’s husky lead vocals. – J.F.
Now a professor of music at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, Ben Krakauer was part of the Charlottesville music scene in the early 2000s as a founding member/banjoist of the string-bending acoustic outfit Old School Freight Train. Twenty years later, Krakauer is still pushing musical boundaries on his latest release, “Hidden Animals.” The first single, “Brushy,” showcases spellbinding twin fiddle runs intertwined with Krakauer’s rolling banjo. Sure, it’s bluegrassy, but with Krakauer pulling the strings it’s a little bit more, too. – D.S.
The Infamous Stringdusters
“I’d Rather Be Alone”
The Infamous Stringdusters have long been recognized as one of the finest progressive string bands in the land. Their willingness to evolve acoustic music, however, doesn’t preclude them from looking backwards and celebrating their roots. The quintet is releasing their second tribute record this month, this time honoring the songs of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. On “I’d Rather Be Alone,” each ‘Duster tastefully pays homage to the earliest bluegrass licks behind the harmonies of Travis Book and Jeremy Garrett. – D.S.
William Tyler & The Impossible Truth
“Area Code 601”
“We’re gonna end with a kind of a Hawkwind meets Charlie Daniels band number,” says inventive guitarist William Tyler before launching into this Southern fried space odyssey from his new live album “Secret Stratosphere.” Recorded at an Alabama show back in 2021, the nine-minute instrumental track blends choogle grooves, distorted riffs, and prog freakouts—a wild ride from a perpetually underrated cosmic fret wizard. – J.F.
Haters beware: Lauren Morrow is coming for you. On her latest single, the title track from her upcoming album, Morrow takes head on wasteful words and those who spread them. For those who know Morrow from her days with the Whiskey Gentry or her honky tonk solo work, this is a sonic departure; her always stunning vocals weave through an irresistible dance groove, sax solos, twinkling keys, and synthy strings. Regardless of the new sound and new direction, however, one thing is absolutely certain: this is Lauren Morrow. – D.S.
“Born Under a Bad Sign”
In 1967, the blues world was turned upside down with the release of “Born Under a Bad Sign,” Albert King’s debut release on the iconic Stax Records label. King, who was born on a cotton plantation and taught himself to play guitar on an improvised instrument fashioned from a cigar box, would become blues royalty, influencing later giants like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Eric Clapton. King’s seminal release has recently been remastered on vinyl, from the original stereo recordings, and in high resolution digital format, breathing new, crisp life into a blues classic over five decades old. – D.S.
“Macon If We Make It”
Twenty-plus years deep, Memphis alt-country heroes Lucero continue to thrive, releasing the new album “Should’ve Learned By Now” back in February. “Macon If We Make It” is a fuzzy banger in the vein of Husker Du and the Replacements that recalls a time the band had to ride out a hurricane, putting an upcoming gig in jeopardy. But frontman Ben Nichols metaphorically equates the experience to navigating the storm of a troubled relationship. – J.F.
To hear these songs and more, follow the Blue Ridge Outdoors’ Trail Mix playlist on Spotify.
Cover Photo: Wednesday’s new album, “Rat Saw God,” comes out on April 7. Photo by Zachary Chick