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 October we’re highlighting new tunes from Iron & Wine, Caleb Caudle, and the Smithereens.
Soul singer Lee Fields recently inked a deal with Daptone Records, which will release his new album, “Sentimental Fool,” on October 28. The title track finds Fields flexing his pipes through a retro R&B ballad, admitting his judgment is clouded by emotions amid an airtight, slow-burning groove and gentle horn accents. – J.F.
Iron & Wine
“That’s How You Know”
Lori McKenna is a prolific song scribe who’s penned hits for Carrie Underwood and Tim McGraw, but her own catalog of recorded work has been underappreciated. During the early days of the pandemic, Sam Beam, who performs as Iron & Wine, found solace in McKenna’s songs, which is expressed on the new covers EP, “LORI.” McKenna released the original version of “That’s How You Know” in 2011 as a deeply effecting piano ballad about realizing that devastating heartbreak has finally subsided. In Beam’s hands, the song takes on a haunting, ethereal quality that is enhanced with backing vocals from Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart of the band Finom. – J.F.
Glancing to the heavens and ruminating on the infinite expanse of space is generally a surefire reminder of our insignificance in the grand scheme of the universe. John Fullbright, returning with his first album in eight years, flips that narrative on its head on “Stars,” where—alone with his piano and a voice bursting with ragged emotion—he gazes skyward and rediscovers love, significance, and conviction as he communes with the cosmos and the divine. – D.S.
“I Don’t Fit In”
Caleb Caudle’s new record, “Forsythia,” kicks off with this ode to the uncertain. Recorded under the guidance of John Carter Cash and featuring guest work by Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and Elizabeth Cook, among others, Caudle weaves the story of a man in flux, searching for his place in the world while that world swirls around him. Caudle entered the Cash Cabin to record this project fearful that this might be his last album, but songs like this prove it should be anything but. – D.S.
The songs of indie soul outfit Whitney often offer heavy reflections through easygoing jams. “Memory” fits the mold, as singer Julien Erhlich ruminates on mortality while a buoyant groove carries his gentle falsetto. “I can’t hide from bad dreams / Where I think I’m turning into a memory,” he sings, while vibrant keys carry his sentiment of accepting human fate. It’s a standout from the band’s new album, “SPARK,” which was released in September. – J.F.
The California Honeydrops
“In Your Arms”
After recording a collection of cover tunes from the confines of home during the pandemic, the members of The California Honeydrops finally reconvened, after a two year absence, in an Oakland studio to put together their newest release, “Soft Spot.” Their latest single, “In Your Arms,” is righteous vintage soul, with a groovy bass line, punchy horns, and Lech Wierzynkski’s silky smooth vocals. Fresh off a summer of festival gigs and a headlining spot at Red Rocks, the Honeydrops are in the midst of a tour sure to find them in front of packed houses from coast to coast. – D.S.
Khruangbin and Vieux Farka Touré “Tongo Barra”
Cool collab alert: Texas psych-rock trio Khruangbin have teamed up with Malian singer-guitarist Vieux Farka Touré on the new album, Ali, which came out in late September. The record was made to honor the legacy of Touré’s late father, Ali Farka Touré, a guitar ace and renowned pioneer of African desert blues music. “Tongo Barra” is an apt tribute, mixing swirling fret work, a deep-pocket funk groove, and powerful singing from Vieux Farka, who, in a statement about the album said: “It is about the love that Ali brought into the world.” – J.F.
“Outta This World”
Caught in record label limbo in 1993, The Smithereens dropped into a New York City studio and, over the course of a month, laid down the tracks for a record they wanted to release on their own label. They probably didn’t bank on that record, now appropriately entitled “The Lost Album,” finally being released nearly thirty years later. “Outta This World,” with its fuzzed-out guitars, driving rhythm, and Pat DiNizio’s distinctive vocals, serves as a reminder of the halcyon garage rock days of the 1990s and proves the record was worth the wait. – D.S.
Photo Cover: Sam Beam, who performs as Iron & Wine. Photo by Josh Wool