Artist: Saint Johns, St. Augustine, FL
Album: Open Water [EP], 2013
Notes: Blissful, like watching the sun go down on the last day of summer, with sweet, easy harmonies, a lovely string arrangement and deft execution from the debut release by the Americana duo of Jordan Meredith and Louis Johnson. Originally out of Florida, indeed naming themselves after the river which wends its way through their home state, they're now based in Nashville. This gorgeous number is one of five currently streaming on their website: www.thesaintjohns.com.
Song: Brighter Than Sunshine
Artist: Aqualung, England
Album: Still Life, 2003
Notes: A track that got a bit of US airplay back in 2005 from the ridiculously talented singer-songwriter/keyboardist/producer Matt Hales whose 42 years belie his ever-youthful looks. A classically trained English pianist, in addition to his own six-album catalog, he's produced and composed for the likes of Birdy, Jason Mraz, The Fray, Lianne La Havas, Disclosure and Sara Bareilles among many others. This track was also featured in the Ashton Kutcher-starring movie 'A Lot Like Love'. More at facebook.com/AqualungOfficial?rf=106234639413041.
Song: Blame It On Me
Artist: George Ezra, England
Album: Wanted On Voyage, 2014
Notes: The lead-off cut from his recently issued blues/folk-dipped freshman set, hard to believe with his mature blue-eyed vocal style that this British newcomer was born in 1993. He arrived on the scene at last year's Glastonbury Festival and has a sellout UK tour coming up in October. Musically influenced most by Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. More at www.georgeezra.com.
Song: Nine Million Bicycles
Artist: Katie Melua, Georgia
Album: Piece By Piece, 2005
Notes: Such an understated vocal delivery, wispy, fragile but terribly engaging. Written and produced by veteran writer/producer Mike Batt who discovered and signed Katie to his boutique, Dramatico label in 2003. The album from which this track came helped her become the best-selling female artiste in the UK in 2006, the same year she performed at Norway's Statoil Troll A Platform in the North Sea, which was ratified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the deepest underwater concert ever performed - some 303 metres below sea level. More at facebook.com/katiemeluamusic.
Song: How About I Be Me
Artist: Sinead O'Connor, Ireland
Notes: A brand new version of a track she originally recorded in a completely different reggae style as a 2011 single, but now the lead-off track on her new album. She claims that the cut is the only autobiograpical tune on the new collection, which is her tenth studio release. Yet another tour de force, multi-genre winner by the now 47-year old songstress who gets satirically all dolled up in a wig, full make-up and a tight black latex dress on the cover. She has some North American dates coming up at the end of October. More at www.sineadoconnor.com.
Artist: Brian Protheroe, England
Album: Pinball, 1974
Notes: Vintage folk-pop from four decades ago. The English-born Protheroe has run a parallel career as a musician and actor through six decades and doesn't seem to be slowing down at all, even though he's just turned 70. One of those cool guys who has pursued an excellent career out of the spotlight, you can fInd out all about him at brianprotheroe.co.uk.
Song: If You Love Me Let Me Go
Artist: Colbie Caillat, Malibu, CA
Notes: The daughter of noted producer Ken Caillat (he co-helmed both 'Rumours' and 'Tusk' for Fleetwood Mac) always produces tuneful, clever pop that is reliably melodic. Her new EP, the first of two which will collectively make up her fifth album - the second installment presumably titled 'Side B' should emerge by year's end - was produced by Babyface who is broadening her usual folk-pop sound. This number was co-written by long-standing 'L&F' favorite Jamie Scott. Currently on the road, check out dates at colbiecaillat.com.
Song: Uptown Top Ranking
Artist: Althea & Donna, Jamaica
Notes: Championed by much-missed legendary BBC Radio DJ John Peel and becoming a surprise UK #1 back in 1977, this is a delicious slice of old-school reggae pop by a Jamaican female duo, who were respectively just 17 and 18 when they recorded this nugget under the direction of legendary reggae hit-meister, Joe Gibbs, who used the rhythm track from an earlier rocksteady number 'I'm Still In Love' by Alto Ellis as the rhythm base.
Song: Long Nights
Artist: Eddie Vedder, Evanston, IL
Album: Into The Wild, 2007
Notes: A stripped-back haunting rumble from the soundtrack to the Sean Penn-directed movie 'Into The Wild'. Although it was Vedder's debut solo long-player, he actually contributed individual solo cuts to a couple of other Penn's film projects: 'Dead Man Walking' in 1995 and 'I Am Sam' in 2001. Vedder's work on the soundtrack, which he recorded in less than two weeks, prompted him to undertake his first ever solo tour in 2008, while another cut from the album called 'Guaranteed' won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song.
Song: Emotion in Motion
Artist: Ric Ocasek, Baltimore, MD
Album: This Side Of Paradise, 1986
Notes: Simple, uncomplicated first-class melodic pop-rock from the former leader of The Cars. The band reformed in 2011 to much fanfare, but flat sales for their seventh studio album resulted it in being a one-off. Perhaps part of it was that the group's co-founder Benjamin Orr had died in 2000. No new solo long-players from Ocasek in nearly 10 years though he did publish a book of Cars and solo lyrics and poetry in 2012 called simply 'Lyrics & Prose'.
Song: New York in the Spring
Artist: Catherine Feeny, Philadelphia, PA
Album: People In The Hole, 2010
Notes: A sweet, lovely little horn-kissed chamber orchestral waltz by a singer now based in Portland. She's opened for dozens of top artists over the years including Dr. John, Suzanne Vega and John Prine. A concerned citizen, she was arrested during the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York in October 2011 - which inspired her to write and record her fourth album simply called 'America' which emerged the following year. More at catherinefeeny.com.
Song: The Sheffield Song
Artist: Soul Family Sensation, England
Album: New Wave, 1991
Notes: So many marvellous, clever moving parts to this lost corker from an immensely creative, but short-lived British alternative rock quartet, comprising Johnny Male and Guy Batson, Jhelisa and Pete Z. They cut just one album and that was it. Male and Batson have since had successful songwriting careers, penning hits for Rozalla, Melanie C and Saint Etienne, while Jhelisa was a member of Shamen for a couple of years before cutting a handful of albums through 2006.
Song: When It Comes
Artist: Tyler Hilton, Palm Springs, CA
Notes: A note perfect pop-rocker from one of the most talented male tunesmiths around, though a big hit still somehow eludes him. Now 30 years old, he's also a sometime actor - he played a young Elvis Presley in the 2005 Johnny Cash bio-pic 'Walk The Line' becoming a popular regular on the CW series 'One Tree Hill' in the part of Chris Keller. He's recently become engaged to Canadian actress Megan Park and is on the road at the moment. More at tylerhilton.com.
Artist: Marc Scibilia, Buffalo, NY
Album: The Shape I'm In [EP], 2013
Notes: A New York-born tunesmith who began learning classical piano at the age of six and released his first collection of songs at 12, before moving from the Big Apple to Nashville to pursue his music dreams one month after graduating from high school. Just one long-player called 'Fixity' and three EPs to date, this track was recorded in his own studio apartment where he lives with his dog, Lander. More at marcscibilia.com.
Song: I'm Not OK
Artist: Trent Dabbs, Jackson, MS
Album: Future Like Snow, 2012
Notes: Yet another gem from his superb 2012 CD. Mercifully Nashville's finest ekes out a good living licensing his ace repertoire to lots of TV shows including of course 'Grey's Anatomy', 'One Tree Hill', 'Private Practice' among others. Fast becoming the collaborative godfather of non-country music in Music City and the founder of the superb Ten Out Of Tenn touring collective, he's out on the road next month with Amy Stroup on a short Sugar and the Hi-Lows trek. Find out more at www.trentdabbs.com.
Song: Now You See Me
Artist: Skogsra, Sweden
Notes: The debut single from an up-and-coming Swedish DJ and remixer who claims to be influenced by Parliament, Bill Withers, Earth Wind & Fire, Frank Oceans (and Bon Iver would you believe). Describing himself as an 'aspiring one-hit wonder' - be careful what you wish for - he's got a few cool remixes for other acts on his soundcloud page - soundcloud.com/skogsraa - and there's a groovy, very Swedish video clip for this number now streaming on YouTube. Incidentally in Swedish folklore Skogsra is a 'stunningly beautiful, naked woman with long hair; though from behind she is hollow like an old tree trunk, with an animal's tail.' Must be those freezing grey winters...
Artist: UB40, England
Album: Signing Off, 1980
Notes: Veteran British reggae combo with their dub-heavy first single from 1980 which flew completely under the radar over here. A tribute to Martin Luther King it introduced the world to the distinctive lead vocal style of Ali Campbell who's always sounded like he was born in a ghetto in Jamaica, but is actually just a white guy from England's second biggest city, Birmingham. He quit the band for a solo career in 2008 and has recorded four rather underloved solo albums, with a fifth due this October called 'Silhouette'. More on the band at ub40.co.uk.
Artist: Wreckers, Phoenix, AZ/Kansas City, MO
Notes: Country rock at its finest by the first-rate duo of long-time friends Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp combining as the Wreckers with a sturdy southern ode. Branch, well known of course as a successful singer-songwriter in her own right, got together with Harp for one very popular CD in 2006 after the latter had previously contributed backing vocals to a solo effort by her pal the previous year. Harp now focuses solely on songwriting. More at michellebranch.com.
Song: Me & Tennessee
Artist: Gwyneth Paltrow & Tim McGraw, Los Angeles, CA/Delhi, LA
Notes: Just outstanding and somehow not even a hit on the country chart, let alone the main Hot 100 survey. A first-class Nashville nugget from Tim McGraw and Gwyneth Paltrow from the movie 'Country Strong', in which they also took the lead roles. The song was written especially for the film by Paltrow's husband Chris Martin, before they consciously uncoupled. Paltrow had an earlier hit from another movie, 'Duets' in 2000, on which she paired with Huey Lewis on a lovely perky pop cover of Smokey Robinson's 'Cruisin''.
Artist: Vertical Horizon, Washington, DC
Album: Everything You Want, 1999
Notes: Still going strong 23 years on from forming while students at Georgetown University, although Matt Scannell remains their only original member, Vertical Horizon have never matched their early commercial success when they had hits like 'You're A God' and 'Everything You Want'. They released a rather good album last year called 'Echoes From The Underground' but have wisely never strayed too far from their reliable brand of no-nonsense melodic rock and still hit the road regularly. More at verticalhorizon.com.
Artist: Kate Earl, Chugiak, AK
Album: Kate Earl, 2009
Notes: Originally from Alaska but with a fascinating family lineage - she's part Welsh, part Filipino, part Dutch - she took up the piano at the age of four but only got to the guitar at seventeen. She's released three albums to date, which are all worth a listen. Her new EP 'Ransom', funded through PledgeMusic and partly recorded in Jamaica in February, is due any minute. More at kateearlsongs.com. (Happy 21st to AR.)
Song: North Country
Artist: Gustavo Santaolalla, Argentina
Album: North Country, 2005
Notes: Two minutes of instrumental bliss from an Argentinian composer who also goes by the name Moviola. Clearly not a household name but one of the very best film score writers out there, with 'Brokeback Mountain', 'Babel', the upcoming animated smash 'The Book Of Life' and 'North Country', a terrific movie starring the lovely Charlize Theron from 2005 for which this cut was the main theme, among his many credits.
Song: About Farewell
Artist: Alela Diane, Nevada City, CA
Album: About Farewell, 2013
Notes: At once sparkling but maudlin - not easy to pull that off from an Americana singer-songwriter who grew up in California but is now based in Portland. A self-taught musician, she's built a strong niche following around Europe and was once signed to England's legendary Rough Trade indie stable and has opened for the likes of Iron & Wine and The Decemberists. This ethereal number was the title cut from her fourth long-player, issued on her own Rusted Blue Records label last year. More on her at aleladiane.com.
Song: Breathe You In My Dreams
Artist: Trixie Whitley, Ghent, Belgium
Album: Fourth Corner [EP], 2013
Notes: The big blue-eyed vocal sound of the 26-year old daughter of late Texas blues musician Chris Whitley who died way too soon at the age of 45 in 2005. Belgium-born and alternately brought up in Ghent and New York, she grew up surrounded by music, taking up the drums at 10, joining a dance company at 14 and becoming a young DJ performing around Europe as a teenager. She returned to live more permanently in Brooklyn at 17 where she's still based and has been recording since 2005. More at trixiewhitley.com.
Artist: Curiosity Killed The Cat, England
Album: Keep Your Distance, 1987
Notes: Bright shimmering vintage pop-rock from a UK band who came up through the Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran synth-pop era in the 1980s in Britain, though with a slightly jazzier, more soulful edge. Led by a young turk by the name of Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot - who used to be jokingly called Ben Vol-au-vent in the music press - this engaging bubbler got a bit of airplay back in 1987. Interestingly their 15 minutes of fame was helped by Andy Warhol who directed the video for the song, one of the last pieces of work undertaken before he died. More on Volpeliere-Pierrot at benvp.com.
Song: Never Forget You
Artist: Noisettes, England
Album: Wild Young Hearts, 2009
Notes: A reverential drop-dead homage to the best pop/soul of the 1960s, and sounding a bit like L&F permanent resident MoZella. Despite their retro flavor, they are actually an indie rock combo, comprising guitarist Dan Smith and singer/bassist Shingai Shoniwa who got together while both were studying music at the BRIT School of Performing Arts in 2003. Used in a TV commercial in Italy for Vodafone, the song was a mini-hit around Europe and was used as the theme tune to Ronnie Wood's excellent if rambling radio and TV show.
Song: On The Sly
Artist: Metric, Canada
Album: Grow Up And Blow Away, 2007
Notes: A sensational rhythm track and terrific lyrics on this ace number, including the line 'My old flame broke the 12 bar blues, just to prove he could' from a sorely underrated Canadian indie-rock outfit, who've released five albums over the past decade. Fronted by telegenic keyboardist and singer Emily Haines, who was actually born in India but raised in Toronto, and has pursued a parallel career fronting Emily Haines and The Soft Skeleton, there's been no new music since 2012's 'Synthetica', but they are currently on the road. More at ilovemetric.com.
Artist: Ella Henderson, England
Album: Chapter One, 2014
Notes: A top-drawer production beginning to make big waves across Europe, and now available in the US, from a finalist on the ninth series of 'X Factor' in the UK, and immediately snapped up by Simon Cowell's Syco label - despite finishing sixth. The 18-year-old's video of 'Ghost' passed the 10 million views mark on YouTube a couple of weeks ago and much of its success can be attributed the name of Ryan Tedder amongst its writers and producers. More at ellahenderson.co.uk.
Song: I Get Up
Artist: Quiet Hounds, Athens, GA
Album: Megaphona [EP], 2014
Notes: Borrowing a couple of piano chords from Billy Joel's 'My Life' and throwing in a nice horn bridge, this nugget was tucked away on their recent second EP 'Megaphona'. A deliberately mysterious outfit, they're an alternative-rock quintet based in Athens, Georgia, home of course to the likes of The B-52s and R.E.M., who all wear masks when performing live. They do have a website where you can download all their music, much of which is terrfic, for free - which is rather gracious of them. Type in quiethounds.com.
Song: Better Off This Way
Artist: Left, Canada
Album: Cycles, 2012
Notes: A quintet of brothers and cousins who grew up in Langley, British Columbia but who now call Vancouver home. They all attended the same high school and have been playing together for more than a decade. Their latest recording, 'Cycles,' produced by GGGarth (the man behind Biffy Clyro and many others) and Ben Kaplan, came out a couple of years ago and features a really nice female guest vocal turn on a soothing and sweetly melodic gem by band friend, Sheree Plett. More at theleft.ca.
Artist: Michael Martin Murphey, Dallas, TX
Album: Michael Martin Murphey, 1982
Notes: Wistful romantic recollections of a dear lost love, gone for good, remembering only the crystal-like purity of both the woman and the love and the frozen, cold crystal months which lie ahead alone without her. A gem of a song from a long deleted LP released in 1982 by a singer-songwriter who continues to make great music 50 years on from forming The Trinity River Boys with ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith. His songs have been covered by the likes of Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers and Lyle Lovett among others. Still a virtual fixture on the road, he'll be performing his Cowboy Christmas Tour between Thanksgiving and Christmas. More at michaelmartinmurphey.com.
Song: Do You Realize?
Artist: Flaming Lips, Oklahoma City, OK
Notes: Perhaps their most popular live number and one of their signature songs despite never being a hit. The neo-psychedelic combo who always put on a dazzling and colorful stage show is fronted by the creatively restless Wayne Coyne. It was made Official State Rock Song of Oklahoma in 2009 after an online poll, receiving 51% of the vote among a number of other tunes. Only three states have one - 'Hang On Sloopy' is Ohio's and 'Louie Louie' is Washington's - pretty good company to be in. More at flaminglips.com.
Song: The Bell
Artist: First Aid Kit, Sweden
Album: Stay Gold, 2014
Notes: From their first-rate latest long-player, the Swedish sister act of Johanna and Klara Soderberg, who became critics' darlings a couple of years ago and good to see that Columbia Records has snapped them up for their third album. Their world tour to promote the album is in mid-stream heading to these shores on October 24th - well worth seeing live if you like your Americana served up sweet but Nordic - dates at thisisfirstaidkit.com.
Artist: Finley Quaye featuring William Orbit and Beth Orton, Scotland/England
Album: Not available
Notes: A terrific musical stew created by three top British talents: Scottish trip-hopper Finlay Quaye, London-based electronica whiz William Orbit and folktronica songstress Beth Orton combining on a one-off single they recorded in 2004. Quaye is the younger half brother of Caleb Quaye, who was a member of Elton John's band for a decade; Orbit continues to make excellent music - his website is well worth checking out: williamorbit.com, and Orton is playing a handful of west coast dates at the end of September. More at bethortonofficial.com.
Song: If I Needed You
Artist: Joseph Arthur, Akron, OH
Notes: A cover of a Townes Van Zandt song recorded for a compilation album to help fellow musicians struggling financially or with health problems by an always interesting singer/songwriter. Earlier this year he released 'Lou', a 12-song tribute to his friend, the late Lou Reed and during the past week he penned 'Robin (A Tribute To Robin Williams 1951-2014)'. He's on the road through the end of October. More at josepharthur.com.
Song: If I Needed You
Artist: Don Williams & Emmylou Harris, Floydada, FL/Birmingham, AL
Album: Cimarron, 1981
Notes: Originally released on Emmylou's ninth album, which consisted mostly of outtakes, assisted on this track by country great Don Williams. The song has since been covered by Lyle Lovett, Guy Clark and more recently by Mumford and Sons. Harris is still making wonderful music - her recent collaboration with Rodney Crowell won the Grammy for Best Americana recording, and is out on the road with several dates coming up. More at emmylouharris.com. Williams is back on the road next month. Check for dates at don-williams.com.