Every month our editors curate a playlist of new music, mainly focusing on independent artists from the South. In February we’re highlighting new tunes from Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, Greensky Bluegrass, and Big Thief, plus Bob Weir’s latest Grateful Dead offshoot.
Bobby Weir and Wolf Bros
“New Speedway Boogie”
Bob Weir continues his long, strange trip of Grateful Dead offshoots with a new live release from his band Wolf Bros. The group’s interpretation of “New Speedway Boogie,” originally found on the Dead’s 1970 album “Workingman’s Dead,” is relaxed and funky, meandering for over 10 minutes with woozy horns, chunky guitar fills, and Weir’s aging howl. The new version is found on the upcoming “Live in Colorado,” which was recorded during a performance last summer and will be released February 18 on Jack White’s Third Man Records. – J.F.
Indie folk heroes Big Thief bring an old-time aesthetic to “Spud Infinity,” a quirky, rambling tune from the band’s new album “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You,” which comes out on February 11. Accompanied by front-porch fiddle and rustic jaw harp, lead singer Adrianne Lenker offers existential musings with wry humor reminiscent of the late John Prine. The group’s new LP is a sprawling 20-track effort made in four different locations with multiple engineers. “Spud Infinity” came from sessions in Tucson, Arizona, with help from Dr. Dog’s Scott McMicken. – J.F.
Though Minnesota rockers Urge Overkill have been releasing music since 1984, “Oui,” which dropped in late January, marks their first set of fresh tunes in a decade. The new record features 11 originals and a catchy spin of Wham’s “Freedom.” Melodic and spunky, the track blends echoes of nineties grunge with soaring choruses. Urge Overkill have paid homage to a classic pop song and its iconic writers while making the song distinctly their own. – D.S.
The Whitmore Sisters
“Learn To Fly”
The Whitmore Sisters offer sage guidance on “Learn To Fly.” Through sensational harmonies, the kind that only seem to emanate from singers who grew up singing together, Bonnie and Eleanor Whitmore sing of lessons learned from their Navy aviator father as they too took to the skies. Their keen words about embracing nerves and danger while overcoming struggle resonate deeply as the world enters its third year of a global pandemic. – D.S.
Sarah Shook and the Disarmers
North Carolina alt-country ace Sarah Shook is back with a rocking honky-tonk tune about lessons learned from mistreating a lover. Shook, a leader in the thriving queer country scene, faces the music, admitting, “My baby she sure showed me.” But as she begs for one more try, the song stays upbeat, with crisp drumming and pedal steel winding around gritty electric guitar solos. The track is found on Shook’s new album, “Nightroamer,” which will be released on February 18. – J.F.
Greensky Bluegrass deliver a heartfelt string-band tune inspired by the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, when life suddenly stood still. But even though it’s a piece of quarantine creativity, the track doesn’t linger in despair. Instead, lyrics about appreciating what’s truly important are delivered with an uplifting chorus and the soaring fret workouts characteristic of the band’s marathon live shows. The song is found on the band’s latest album, “Stress Dreams,” which was released in January. – J.F.
Chris Castino & Chicken Wire Empire
Throughout the late nineties and early aughts, Chris Castino and his mates in the Big Wu grooved across the festival circuit with their jam-centric rock and roll. Castino, now joined by Chicken Wire Empire and a host of special guests, has just released “Fresh Pickles,” a collection of bluegrass interpretations of tunes from the Big Wu catalog. “Red Sky,” inspired by Castino’s travels following the Grateful Dead and featuring Sam Bush on fiddle, proves just how well the grassy take on these tunes works. – D.S.
Maya de Vitry
“How Bad I Wanna Live”
While on a backpacking trip, Maya de Vitry and her boyfriend were caught in a surprise storm and, after a section of the trail washed out, were faced with limited options, all of them harrowing. Walking that knife’s edge between life and serious injury or, even worse, death, led de Vitry to write “How Bad I Wanna Live.” Evident in both her words and voice are the power and joy that come from knowing that life still has so much to offer. – D.S
Cover photo: Bob Weir is back with a new live album with his band Wolf Bros. Photo by Todd Michalek