Artist: Asgeir, Icleand
Album: In The Silence, 2014
Notes: The most pumped up cut on his simply superb album from last year, 20-year old Icelandic folktronica tunesmith Asgeir Trausti who goes by the single moniker, Asgeir. One in 10 citizens of Iceland now owns that album which came out on home soil in Icelandic language in 2012 - fellow singer-songwriter John Grant from Colorado then translated the original Icelandic lyrics into English for the international edition which emerged last year - and those original lyrics were co-written by a team of scribes which included Asgeir's 72-year old father. Highly recommended, much of the rest of the album is a quieter ambient affair which has gained inevitable comparisons to Bon Iver. Issued by the first-rate indie label, One Little Indian which also houses fellow Icelander, Bjork.
Song: Lover Lover Lover
Artist: Races, Van Nuys, CA
Album: Year Of The Witch, 2012
Notes: This was such a strong start to their young career back in 2012, a band from Van Nuys in California with a fabulous catchy burst of no-nonsense alternative rock. It was the bonus cut on their debut set 'Year of the Witch' which you can still stream in its entirety on the Soundcloud platform at soundcloud.com/races. Now trimmed to a quintet from its six-piece beginnings, formed by disillusioned, then 23-year old, Wade Ryff in 2009.
Song: Fallen Leaves
Artist: Grand Nationals, Newtown, NJ
Album: Tennessee Rain, 2011
Notes: A sorely underloved quartet formed in 2010 by longtime musical chums, lyricist Ian Bennett and melody maker Adam Honeycutt, rounded out by top fiddler Sammy Barnes and bassist Jay Harris. They had a couple of songs featured on 2012's equally overlooked festive movie 'The Oranges' which starred Hugh Laurie. More than a passing resemblance to the wonderful Blue Merle, check them out at facebook.com/TheGrandNationals.
Song: Old Man
Artist: Redlight King, Canada
Album: Something for the Pain, 2011
Notes: If you saw the recent dead on duet of 'Old Man' by Jimmy Fallon with Neil Young - both dressed identically in classic Neil garb on Fallon's 'Tonight Show' - it was eerily good. Nonetheless, this 2011 urban treatment of the Young classic is by Redlight King - the performing name of Mark Kasperczyk - or Kaz for short - who hails from Hamilton, Ontoario, north of the border but now living in the City of Angels. When he wanted to use the Neil's chorus sample of the song, he was denied the rights to use it, but Young took one listen and gave the green light. He wrote the classic in 1971 for the caretaker of his Broken Arrow Ranch in northern California - and it first appeared on what remains his most complete album, the multi-platinum 'Harvest' opus from 1972. More at redlightkingmusic.com.
Artist: Radical Face, Jacksonville, FL
Notes: A rather neat acoustic outing from the Floridian tunesmith Ben Cooper who goes by the name of Radical Face. (He named his act after seeing a plastic surgery flyer which said 'Radical Face-Lift' but wisely left off the 'lift' bit.) Ever-restless he is also a member of several other combos including Electric President, Iron Orchestra, Patients and Clone - more details at radicalface.com where you can stream lots of his fine repertoire.
Song: Straight From My Heart
Artist: Richard Marx, Chicago, IL
Album: Days In Avalon, 2000
Notes: An uncomplicated acoustic ditty from a sadly deleted 2000 CD by the deeply unfashionable Richard Marx. Born and still living today in Chicago, he racked up more than a dozen hits a couple of decades ago including three chart-topping ballad hits. He also wrote smash songs for the likes of Luther Vandross and NSync - no longer in vogue but still recording and occasionally performing. In 2011 he helped actor Hugh Jackman rehearse for his 'Hugh Jackman In Performance' music show, inviting him to his home in Lake Bluff and practising together in his living room. More at richardmarx.com.
Song: Accidents Will Happen
Artist: Elvis Costello & The Attractions, England
Album: Armed Forces, 1979
Notes: A New Wave classic from over 30 years ago, a single released between 'Oliver's Army' and 'I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down' - two equally brilliant three minutes of excellence. Entertainment Weekly named it one of the singer's Top 10 greatest tunes in 2004. Hard to believe only 'Veronica' in 1989 has graced the Billboard Hot 100, just astonishing that none of the remaining 60+ singles released by him over the years made the grade in the US. Worth checking out the accompanying video for this song which was one of 35 clips selected for a historic exhibition by the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2003. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer turned 60 last year and has just wrapped up a few US dates. More at elviscostello.com.
Artist: Saturday Sun, England
Album: Seagull [EP], 2012
Notes: A completely unknown, obscure A+ acoustic nu-folk ballad showcasing the vocal grit and instrumental craft of a new British quartet, led by vocalist Alex Hedley. Taking their name from a Nick Drake song, they claim they got together because of 'a mutual love of roast potatoes' and hail from the southern English town of Swanage. Their debut album, 'Orix'' has been out for just over a year. In a recent interview they described their music as 'a full cream Mr. Whippy dripping from a dog's nose in the rising sun!' More at saturdaysunmusic.co.uk or at Facebook - just add saturdaysunmusic.
Artist: Zeb, Italy
Album: Zeb Step, 2008
Notes: Cool World Music and dubtronica strains over a neat reggae backdrop from an Italian-born DJ multi-instrumentalist going by the name of Zeb. Born Moreno Visini, the musician and producer relocated to New York some years ago and hooked up with the Organic Grooves dance collective. This number is also buried on a first-rate world music/electronica compilation called 'The Sound of Rhythm & Culture' which was released back in 2010. He now goes by the name The Spy From Cairo - for more details go to facebook.com/arabadub/info?tab=page_info or hear some of his more recent music at soundcloud.com/zeb-the-spy-from-cairo.
Artist: Rachael Yamagata, Arlington, VA
Album: Heavyweight, 2012
Notes: The melodic, lyrical genius of Rachael Yamagata with the title cut from her 2012 EP. She brings an authentic emotion, effortless melodic mood, an intelligent, clever script to all of her work, all trademarked by one of the best voices around gracing everything she writes and performs. Now in her mid-30s, originally from and still based in Arlington, Virginia, she's much in demand for collaborations with the likes of Ryan Adams, Ray LaMontagne and Jason Mraz among others and has just wrapped up a national tour supporting Joshua Radin. More at rachaelyamagata.com.
Song: Can't Get Enough
Artist: Rivvrs, San Francisco, CA
Album: Hold On [EP], 2014
Notes: Soulful folk pop and another cracking offering from last year's fab EP, Rivvrs is the performing name of folk-pop tunesmith Brandon Zahursky, who's based in San Francisco where he's developing a loyal following. Extracts from the EP have already been used on several TV shows including 'About A Boy' and 'Red Band Society'. Stream this cut again at rivvrs.com.
Song: Coming Home
Artist: Leon Bridges, Forth Worth, TX
Album: Coming Home [singles], 2015
Notes: Old school nu-school, an authentically crafted vintage soul sound and just one of two singles issued to date, both prefacing the musician's freshman album, which will emerge in the summer. A gospel-weaned soul stirrer and guitarist from Fort Worth Texas, the 25-year-old served a relatively short apprenticeship at open-mic nights in Fort Worth while working as a dishwasher at a local restaurant, before being snapped up Columbia Records last year. He played at this year's SXSW festival just a few days ago. More at facebook.com/LeonBridgesOfficial.
Song: Clap Your Hands
Artist: Whilk & Misky, England
Album: First Step [EP], 2014
Notes: Discreet Spanish guitar flavors and a faux whistling trumpet, the cutely-named Whilk & Misky with the lead-off track from their debut EP. They're a new electro-folk duo out of London comprising former flat-mates, Iranian-born producer, Nima, and British guitarist and vocalist, Charlie. Their EP is self-described as 'an eclectic and cinematic blend of blues, rock, electro and a healthy dose of other'. More on the promising duo at facebook.com/whilkandmisky or islandrecords.co.uk/island-artists/whilk-miskey-2/.
Song: I Have Made Mistakes
Artist: Oh Hellos, San Marcos, TX
Notes: A Texan brother-sister duo of Tyler and Maggie Heath, staunchly independent and all the better for it, with a track from their freshman offering simply brimming with lovely harmonic folk-Americana. You can preview all of the tracks on the album at theohhellos.com. Easy to understand why they're fans of the Lumineers and Sufjan Stevens.
Song: A Promise Broken
Artist: Asha Ali, Ethiopia
Notes: Ethiopian born singer-songwriter but long-based in a town just outside Stockholm, Sweden, with a well-crafted lost pop/soul nugget. She cites her diverse musical influences as Dolly Parton, Kate Bush, David Bowie, Jeff Buckley and Nina Simone. Only one EP and two albums since bowing in 2005, and after a long period of silence, she returned late last year with the album 'Loud and Out of Place'. More at facebook.com/ashaalimusic or ashaali.com.
Artist: Rebecca Roubion, Nashville, TN
Notes: Compositional and performing excellence, lyrical and melodic perfection from a stunning limited edition 2014 maiden album which is sadly no longer available. A Mobile, Alabama native who studied public relations at Louisiana State University, Rebecca's been focusing on her music career since 2012 and since relocating to Nashville - influenced by the music of Carole King and Eva Cassidy, she's a gifted pianist and singer-songwriter who released a couple of EPs in 2012/2013 funded by a 164% crowdsourcing effort. She says of her song craft: 'Every composition is a child, born of (my) oversized heart and raised by (my) hands and voice with nothing but the best of intentions.' More at rebeccaroubion.com.
Artist: Ben Howard, England
Album: I Forget Where We Were, 2014
Notes: A typically ethereal literate floataway gem from his second album issued last October. L&F first featured Howard in July 2011 but he was only discovered by radio at large a couple of years later. He is a singer-songwriter from the west county of Devon back in the UK, signed to the venerable Island Records label which has a long tradition of snapping up seminal British folk artists including Nick Drake and John Martyn. More at benhowardmusic.co.uk.
Artist: Lily Kershaw, Los Angeles, CA
Album: Maybe [single], 2014
Notes: A deft but overlooked ruby from a year ago by a 23-year old lifelong Los Angelino singer-songwriter, with just one album to date, the rewarding but morose 'Midnight In The Garden' from 2013. Something of a black rose, often choosing mortality and darkness in her lyrics, indeed she says of all her music to date: 'It's all about death. I'd love to say most of my music isn't about death or heartbreak, but it is.' More at lilykershaw.com.
Artist: Alex Winston, Bloomfield Hills, MI
Album: Careless [single], 2014
Notes: Played last week and will do so again in the future - a track with a hint of Joanna Newsom, and perhaps PJ Harvey, but most definitely Kate Bush in her vocal style, from a singer originally from the suburbs of Detroit but has been based in the Big Apple for the past five years and started releasing songs around the same time. She's got a burgeoning following in Europe and has opened for the likes of Gotye and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. More at iamalexwinston.com or facebook.com/AlexWinstonOfficial.
Artist: Cinematic Orchestra, England
Notes: Initially this track was heard on the soundtrack to the movie 'The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos' in 2012 and then in a commercial for Giorgio Armani's Acqua di Giola. It's perhaps best known for its appearance at the end of the Oscar-nominated 'The Theory of Everything'. The marvellous Cinematic Orchestra was assembled in 1999 in London by Jason Swinscoe and has released three studio albums, the last in 2007, but their career highlight to date is the L&F classic 'To Build A Home' recorded with Patrick Watson. More at cinematicorchestra.com.
Song: Sooner or Later
Artist: Mat Kearney, Eugene, OR
Album: Young Love, 2011
Notes: A hook-filled pleaser that can be found on his 2011 album, 'Young Love', the poppiest and most accessible collection he's recorded to date. If you wonder why his first name only has one 't' and not two: it turns out that when he was born the nurse left the second 't' off the paperwork and so he was named Mathew with only one solitary 't' used thereafter. (You need to know these things.) His new offering, 'Just For Kids', emerged last month and he's currently on the road promoting it. More at matkearney.com.
Song: Lose That Gun
Artist: Alfred Hall, Norway
Album: Wilderness, 2013
Notes: As light as helium, fresh as a daisy and one of ten first-rate cuts on the duo's freshman set. They are Hans Thomas Kiaer and Bjorn Tveit, a couple of Norwegian farm hands, who got together in 2009 and recorded the album in a barn in Drammen, Norway, where they encountered a bull named Alfred - hence their name. Snapped up in 2013 by Sony Music in Europe but still seeking wider attention worldwide. Their new single, 'The King of Cape', was released last week. Check them out at facebook.com/alfredhallpage.
Song: Heaven's On Fire
Artist: Radio Dept., Sweden
Album: Clinging To A Scheme, 2010
Notes: A lovely mid-'80s sounding British indie-rock track from a Swedish duo, formed by high school class mates Elin Almered and Johan Duncanson in 1995. They split up in 1998 but reformed in 2001, adding Larsson's then girlfriend Lisa Carlberg, Daniel Tjader and Per Blomgren. Their freshman set, Lesser Matters, was named one of the best albums of the year by influential UK rock mag, the NME. The group has been a trio for close to a decade, now comprising Duncanson, Larsson and Tjader and have been quiet the past two years. More at theradiodept.com.
Song: Don't Bring Me Down
Artist: Sia, Australia
Album: Colour the Small One, 2004
Notes: A whispy, evocative, dramatic, soulful track from more than a decade before Sia became a household name. Last year's sixth long-player by Sia '1000 Forms of Fear' had a revealing title: despite her growing success and popularity, Sia has become extremely uncomfortable with the public demands of fame and refused to undertake nearly all promotion for the new record - indeed the very reason she was singing in the corner with her back to the camera throughout her performance at this year's Grammys. She battled a serious episode of depression and anxiety a few years ago, before hitting the big-time as a co-writer for huge hits by Flo Rida, Rihanna and Beyonce. Adelaide born Aussie, Sia Kate Isobelle Furler is now one of Australia's most successful female songwriters. More at siamusic.net.
Artist: Marianne Faithfull, England
Album: Broken English, 1979
Notes: A timeless, fatalistic tale of mid-life crisis, documenting the chains and dreams of middle class house-wifery. The maverick singer memorably co-wrote 'Sister Morphine' with Jagger and Richards for the Rolling Stones' 'Sticky Fingers' album way back when - and of course she was one of Jagger's girlfriends in the mid '60s. This extraordinary song was actually composed by famous children's book author, Uncle Shelby - Shel Silverstein - and recorded by Dr. Hook - but covered here in a far superior version showcasing the uniquely fragile, broken vocal pipes of the irrepressible singer, still going strong at 68 - with her most recent album, 'Give My Love To London', released last September. More at mariannefaithfull.org.uk.
Artist: Robbie Williams, England
Notes: One of England's biggest solo stars and a former member of boy-band supreme Take That, with his anthemic ballad, sampling John Barry's 'You Only Live Twice' theme and which appeared on the 'Bridget Jones - The Edge of Reason' soundtrack. Mention should be made of the sumptuous production by Stephen Duffy, who fronts his own band, the always-interesting Lilac Time. A household name in every corner of the world - except the United States, where his record label spent a small fortune trying to break him over here a few years ago, he's sold more than 60 million records to date and is the recipient of no less than 17 BRIT Awards.
Song: Over The Hill
Artist: John Martyn, England
Album: Solid Air, 1973
Notes: The much missed singer-songwriter with one of so many underloved lost treasures in his extensive catalog. The British folkster was a friend of another folk icon, Nick Drake - indeed this album's title cut was written as a tribute to him just 18 months before he died from a drugs overdose. In 2008, he performed the song at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards when he was honored with the Lifetime Achievment Award, with Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones accompanying him on mandolin. A really interesting update of the song by L&F preferred vendors Ben Howard and Michael Kiwanuka from a SXSW bash a couple of years ago can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEOPKpTyd4w.
Artist: Kodaline, Ireland
Album: Coming Up For Air, 2015
Notes: One of the most promising groups to emerge from Dublin in recent years. The quartet fronted by Steve Garrigan began life as 21 Demands in 2005 but name-switched to Kodaline in 2011 and good things have happened ever since, including being one of the final 15 for the BBC's Sound Of 2013 poll. This track is featured on their recent set which was produced by Jacknife Lee, who's also worked with Snow Patrol and U2. In an interview awhile ago they said 'If you put us in a cave or anywhere, we're always going to write. We write because it's fun, it's never crap, if it ever gets like that, you know it's time to take a break'. Their latest US tour begins on April 21st in Philadelphia. For the full itinerary, check out kodaline.com/us.
Song: Matthew & Son
Artist: Cat Stevens, England
Album: Matthew & Son, 1967
Notes: Written and recorded by Cat Stevens when he was just 18 years of age lyrically inspired by his London tailor, Henry Matthews. He did of course transition from that melodramatic pop sound to a more mellow tunesmith frame by the 1970s becoming a leading light of the literate singer-songwriter genre. Since his conversion to Islam in 1977, many have assumed that his real name was always Yusuf Islam - but in fact Cat's real name is Steven Demetre Georgiou, born to a Greek Cypriot father. After being unfairly regarded as controversial, he was deservedly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year.
Song: Only Love Would Know
Artist: Gordon Lightfoot, Canada
Album: Waiting For You, 1993
Notes: In the days gone by I came to believe, everything is trust, all the rest is dust.' One of the originals and one of the true greats proving his moving and understated genius yet again on another lost diamond. Following some big hits at the beginning of his career, the legendary singer-songwriter has subsequently been universally ignored by radio. He's now 76 and nearly died a few years ago from a very serious illness - but made it through, thank goodness. He's finally been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and continues to play his songs to those discerning enough to listen. More at his unofficial website gordonlightfoot.com.
Song: Almost Lover
Artist: A Fine Frenzy, Seattle, WA
Album: One Cell In The Sea, 2007
Notes: Effortlessly engaging, enchanting music by Alison Sudol better known under her performing name, A Fine Frenzy - 'Goodbye, my almost lover goodbye, my hopeless dream I'm trying not to think about you, can't you just let me be? So long, my luckless romance, my back is turned on you, should've known you'd bring me heartache, almost lovers always do'. Sudol is the Goodwill Ambassador for the International Union for Conservation of Nature and is now pursuing an acting career, appearing in 'Dig', the new USA series starring Jason Isaacs and Anne Heche. More at facebook.com/afinefrenzy.
Song: Thieves and Their Hands
Artist: Rachael Cantu, Orange County, CA
Album: Far and Wide, 2009
Notes: Some curious but infectious indie-pop, featured on ABC Family's 'Pretty Little Liars' TV show, courtesy of a singer who Incongruously opened on a number of dates for B.B. King a few years ago as well as also supporting Ben Lee and the wonderful Tegan and Sara with whom she's also recorded. A 30-something songstress from Los Angeles, she started performing in high-school bands and has three worthwhile albums and a bunch of EPs on her resum' to date. She recently teamed up with Harlan Silverman as the duo Little Brutes, and have just released a self-titled debut EP. More at rachaelcantu.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 the conscious coupling of 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. She 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''.
Song: A Stutter
Artist: Olafur Arnalds featuring Arno Dan, Iceland
Album: For Now I am Winter, 2013
Notes: Another supreme lo-fi extract from the must-hear 2013 CD from the Reykjavik native who formerly drummed in Icelandic metal and punk bands before taking a dramatic 180 degree musical turn as a solo act writing and recording neo-classical ambient modern classics. Collaborator lyricist/singer Arnor Dan brings a beautifully layered falsetto to this fragile musical dance. More at olafurarnalds.com.
Artist: The Wind & The Wave, Austin, TX
Album: Covers One [EP], 2105
Notes: A re-working of the Simple Minds' classic featured on a brand new seven-track EP of cover versions, that also includes Sia's 'Chandelier', Stevie Nicks' 'Edge Of Seventeen', Metric's 'Gold Guns Girls', R. Kelly's 'Ignition', Regina Spektor's 'You've Got Time' and Cyndi Lauper's 'Time After Time'. The Wind & The Wave are the harmony-dipped creative duo of Patricia Lynn and Dwight Baker - a couple of best friends who hail from Austin, Texas. They're playing a handful of dates in the north east next month. More at thewindandthewave.com.
Artist: Simple Minds, Scotland
Notes: Released at the height of the British New Wave synth movement in the mid '80s, this marked the more melodic stadium-ready pop-rock sensibility which saw the band move away from its awkward post-punk roots. Lead singer Jim Kerr and co-founder Charlie Burchill and their underrated tub-thumper, Mel Gaynor, are still going strong some 35 years after first assembling in Glasgow. A sparkling, remastered greatest hits collection called 'Celebrate' came out in 2013, and a new album, their 17th, titled 'Big Music' was released last November. More at simpleminds.com.