Song: Open Road
Artist: Matthew Mayfield, Birmingham, AL
Notes: The Birmingham, Alabama-based songsmith describes his sound as 'a bipolar musical disorder', which seems to fuel his fire for the creative process. Atmospheric soundscapes are graced by his distinctive gritty, soulful vocal. The one-time leader of Moses Mayfield left to go solo in 2008, since when he's released a succession of worthwhile EPs and three albums, the most recent - which came out in January - being recorded in a small studio in the heart of Los Angeles' Koreatown. He's also had a few song placements on TV shows like the ever reliable 'Grey's Anatomy,' but not nearly as many as his talent deserves. More at matthewmayfield.com.
Song: Move Together
Artist: James Bay, England
Notes: Sporting long locks and a stylish black hat, a new young British singer-songwriter with a charming acoustic swayer with shades of both Ray LaMontagne and James Morrison. He made his name performing regularly at Communion Records' monthly musical showcases at the uber-cool Notting Hill Arts Club before filling opening slots for Kodaline and John Newman and last year was featured way down the bill of one of the British Summer Time festival days headlined by Neil Young & Crazy Horse, in London's Hyde Park. An alumnus of the Brighton Institute of Music on the south coast of England, his debut album 'Chaos and Calm' was released last month. More at jamesbaymusic.com.
Song: More Than I Can Bear
Artist: Matt Bianco, England/Poland
Album: Whose Side Are You On, 1984
Notes: Light Latin-laced synth-pop from another time by a group led by Mark Reilly, who first assembled his UK-based jazz-flavoured combo in 1983 with keyboardist Danny White and drummer Kito Poncioni, all of them alumni from the art-pop band, Blue Rondo A La Turk. The band was also the initial launch pad for subsequently successful Polish female singer, Basia Trzetrzelewska, who graced several tracks on their debut LP and who scored a platinum album here with her maiden album, 'Time And Tide'. Matt Bianco is still going today, with their 12th long-player, 'Hideaway' coming out a couple of years ago. More at mattbianco.com.
Song: Wreck of the Day
Artist: Anna Nalick, Temple City, CA
Album: Wreck of the Day, 2005
Notes: Astonishingly she's only had one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 - 'Breathe (2 AM)' now more than a decade ago. Told at the age of eight by her third grade teacher, who was impressed by her singing, that she would one day appear on 'The Tonight Show', she did indeed fulfil that prediction, performing her hit in 2005 at the age of 20, with her teacher sitting in the audience. Following problems with her record label, it was six long years before her sophomore effort emerged, and her third album is due this year. More at annanalick.com.
Song: Oh My Stars
Artist: Andrew Belle, Nashville, TN
Album: The Ladder, 2010
Notes: Another corker by the Wheaton, Illinois-born Drew Fortson, who must have decided fame would beckon with a name change. It hasn't happened yet which remains a mystery, because he is an accessible and consistently creative singer-songwriter. He constantly turns out first rate pop/rock music and has had plenty of TV and film placements for his songs over the past few years. This lovely cut was featured in the movie 'October Baby.' He recently established his own 1L Music company, on which his own music appears as well as new signing Watt White - do check it out: 1L-music.com. He played at the Ryman Auditorium last weekend along with a slew of L&F favorites. More at andrewbelle.com as well.
Song: January Rain
Artist: David Gray, England
Album: Lost Songs 95-98, 2001
Notes: A beautifully restrained instrumental offering from an artist who's usually extremely vocal. The British singer-songwriter Gray, who hails from Manchester in the north of England, has never re-scaled the heights achieved by his best-selling 'White Ladder' opus from 1998. There's a wonderful collection of his work before his mighty 'Babylon' breakthrough, called 'Lost Songs 95-98' which is stuffed with some excellent previously overlooked material - this winsome winner is included. His latest album 'Mutineers' was released last year and he's just released a brand new single, 'Snow In Vegas', a duet with LeAnn Rimes. He'll be back on these shores in July, performing two dates at the Hollywood Bowl with Amos Lee and accompanied by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. More at davidgray.com.
Song: What Went Wrong?
Artist: Until June, Hollywood, CA
Album: Young And Foolish, 2012
Notes: A throwback atmospheric gem from a Los Angeles-based trio comprising brothers Josh and Dan Ballard and Daniel Dempsey. Starting out in 2001, the band released a series of EPS as Juune, before bowing with the self-titled 'Until June' in 2007. A series of featured TV spots on 'Grey's Anatomy and 'Private Practice' followed and then in 2012 their second album, 'Young and Foolish' appeared, since when there's been nothing. More at facebook.com/untiljune.
Artist: Ali Campbell, England
Album: Silhouette, 2014
Notes: The familiar voice of UB40's former lead singer with a fun treatment of the Dylan chestnut, the focus cut on his fifth solo long player, which was released last year and also features new versions of songs by The Beatles, The Chi-Lites and others. Now in his mid-50s, Ali quit the veteran British reggae troupe in 2008 amidst a fair amount of rancor, mainly with his brothers Duncan and Robin. While he continues to battle with his former bandmates, he has now teamed up with Mickey Virtue and Astro, two other members of the original band and now, somewhat defiantly, has a new website - ub40.org.
Song: Stay Home
Artist: EG, England
Notes: Written by Andy Sturmer from the marvellous old San Francisco band, Jellyfish - they cut their own version in 1990, this hidden gem is from Eg, better known as Eg White. Starting out from humble beginnings - he was a member of Yip Yip Coyote - he has become one of the most in demand writers and producers around today. He has worked with Adele, Duffy, James Blunt, Florence + the Machine, Natalie Imbruglia, Kylie Minogue, P!nk, Joss Stone, Tom Odell, L&F favorite Kristina Train and the big Grammy winner, Sam Smith.
Song: Picture In A Frame
Artist: Tom Waits, Pomona, CA
Album: Mule Variations, 1999
Notes: Great music doesn't need to be any more complicated than this. How can one man impart so much while saying so little? The iconic tunesmith conceived this song while sitting in eight lanes of traffic on an LA freeway. If you're interested in top-drawer, fascinating musician websites do yourself a favor and head over to tomwaits.com - extraordinary images, words of wit and wisdom, superb videos and music - a real treat.
Song: A Perfect Day
Artist: Danny Cope, England
Notes: This little diamond remains a bit of a mystery. Used by a couple of TV networks over the past few years mainly in sports promos, clearly a female singer, but credited to one Danny Cope who apparently is a former graphic designer from Romford, England, who took up bass and songwriting while pursuing a degree in Popular Music Studies. He's currently a Songwriting Lecturer at Leeds College of Music. The single page website dannycope.com gives no information. The recording was uploaded to YouTube in Feb 2013.
Artist: Nick Mulvey, England
Album: First Mind, 2014
Notes: A breezy acoustic winner pronounced 'cookooroocoo' from an English folk-pop singer-songwriter. He moved to Havana, Cuba in 2003 to study music and art before enrolling at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies where he honed up on ethnomusicology - the study of music in its cultural context. He went on to join the Mercury Prize-nominated Portico Quartet in 2008 before going solo three years later. He's playing four dates in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles next month. More at nickmulvey.com.
Song: I'll Love You
Artist: Andrea Davidson, Louisville, KY
Album: Inspirit (EP), 2012
Notes: An outstanding ballad from a 20-something singer-songwriter/guitarist from Louisville, Kentucky. It takes a lot of confidence and a steady mind to write and perform a song this simple, this restrained, this perfect. If you like her, book her for one of her house concerts. She'll come to your home and perform - barefoot as always, with your guests making a donation on arrival. She recently hooked up with Grammy-nominated producer Jay Joyce and has her first TV placement with 'Longer' which will be featured in an upcoming episode of 'Nashville'. More at facebook.com/AndreaDavidsonMusic.
Song: I'd Be An Angel
Artist: Randy Crawford, Macon, GA
Notes: The angelic soulful jazz/R&B stylings of the wonderful Miss Crawford with the lost soul ruby released to almost universal silence in 1998. She has been knocking it out of the park for more than 30 years and has never got the mainstream success she richly deserves. She's recorded with dozens of top artists including the iconic jazz combo the Crusaders, Quincy Jones, Al Jarreau; even Steve Hackett from Genesis. Her last three albums have all been recorded with Joe Sample but nothing solo from her since 2001. More at facebook.com/randycrawfordofficial.
Artist: Travis, Scotland
Album: The Invisible Band, 2001
Notes: Veteran indie combo from Glasgow, fronted by Fran Healy, still going strong now into its third decade - indeed their seventh album and first in five years, titled 'Where You Stand' came out in 2013 - and it follows Healy's sorely overlooked solo album, 'Wreckorder' from 2010. (Chris Martin has even referred to himself as 'a poor man's Fran Healy'.) This song was featured in the Adam Sandler movie, 'Mr. Deeds', but the official video in which the band gets into a food fight was an infinitely better piece of film-making. More on them at travisonline.com.
Artist: Bill Medley, Los Angeles, CA
Album: A Song For You, 1971
Notes: Another great interpretation from the former Righteous Brother from his stunning 'A Song For You' LP, which has never found its way to either compact disc or any digital form despite being produced by Herb Alpert, featuring other equally excellent covers and with some sublime arrangements by Michel Colombier. Medley's still going strong as a solo artist, now touring with his daughter McKenna. More at billmedley.com.
Song: Like You Do
Artist: Angel Taylor, Sylmar, CA
Album: Love Travels, 2009
Notes: When L&F started 175 shows ago, a different song from her remarkable debut album was played for the first 14 weeks. One of most underrated young female singer-songwriters out there, she's a 20-something songstress based in Los Angeles with just a couple of EPs and one album to date. She was the featured vocalist on a one-off last year by Russian DJ Arty on 'Up All Night', but other than that - nothing. No website, but some information at facebook.com/angeltaylor, including some current dates.
Song: Living In Another World
Artist: Talk Talk, England
Album: The Colour Of Spring, 1986
Notes: A complete aural masterclass with swirling Hammond organs, an incredible, full rhythm track, urgent melodies, pleading lyrics and a spiffing harmonica solo thrown in for good measure. The band was around for a decade during the 1980s, fronted by the subsequently enigmatic Mark Hollis, splitting up in 1991. Hollis released a solo album in 1998 and then disappeared, to live quietly with his wife and two sons in London. In typically mysterious style, he resurfaced a couple of years ago providing an instrumental track for Kelsey Grammer's TV show 'Boss.'
Song: You Are The One
Artist: Matt Hires, Tampa, FL
Album: Take Us to The Start, 2009
Notes: A lovely romantic folk-pop acoustic swayer, from a singer-songwriter who's currently scoring with a song called 'Restless Heart.' He began his music career fronting Brer, but an Atlantic Records A&R executive heard their debut record and persuaded him to go solo. His freshman set, from which this track comes, counted Sara Bareilles among its guest musicians. Songs from the album have been placed in 'Grey's Anatomy,' 'Private Practice' and 'Cougar Town.' More at matthires.com.
Song: A Case of You
Artist: Joni Mitchell, Canada
Album: Both Sides Now, 1999
Notes: The blissful humanity, the divine words and music, dripping with emotion and originality - 'You taste so bitter, But you taste so sweet, I could drink a case of you, But still I'd be on my feet' - an absolute masterpiece. Written for her 1971 album 'Blue', but reinterpreted here with a full orchestral arrangement recorded in London in 1999 for the album 'Both Sides Now'. Now 71, she's becoming wonderfully outspoken on a range of subjects, not least her home town of Saskatoon. Incidentally, a few years ago VH1 aired a latest rundown of the 100 Greatest Women In Music - plenty of great artistes from yesterday and today, with everyone from Ingrid Michaelson to Alanis, Adele to Madonna - but no sign of Joni Mitchell anywhere on the list - which, given the inclusion of the likes of Courtney Love, Rihanna and Bjork is quite simply insane. Joni was rushed to hospital late last month, but glad to report she is making a recovery. More at jonimitchell.com.
Song: Waiting For A Train
Artist: Flash & The Pan, Australia
Album: Headlines, 1982
Notes: Aussie-based synth pop duo comprising Dutchman Harry Vanda, born with the delightful name of Johannes Hendrikus Jacob van den Berg, and Scottish-born George Young, who started out as members of The Easybeats in the 1960s, writing their best known hit 'Friday On My Mind.' In a parallel production career, they produced many of the AC/DC's biggest hits (George is the older brother of band members Angus and Malcolm Young.) They also wrote the worldwide smash 'Love Is In The Air' by John Paul Young (no relation however.) The pair was deservedly inducted in the ARIA Hall of Fame in its inaugural year in 1988.
Song: Odds & Ends
Artist: Magnolia Memoir, Los Angeles, CA
Album: Pale Fire, 2014
Notes: Not a quaintly named female singer, but a Los Angeles-based band formed around the voice of actress Mela Lee in 2008 by producer/musician Alexander Burke. The release of this, their third long-player, was delayed last year after Mela was in a serious car accident which fractured several of her vertebrae - from which she has now mercifully recovered. She's also developed a successful career as a voice actress mostly for wildly popular anime and video game projects. Worth checking out the video for the single, which has brief cameos from the likes of Will Forte, Doris Roberts, Josh Meyers and the always hilarious Fred WIllard. More on the group at magnoliamemoir.com.
Song: Darling It's You
Artist: Caitlin Harnett, Australia
Album: The River Runs North, 2014
Notes: Clear shades of her formative influences - Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and Judee Sill - on another track from one of the best singer-songwriter sets of last year. She's from Sydney, Australia and the city's Morning Herald newspaper described her simply as having 'a folk singer's voice, a country singer's heartache and a songwriter's talent'. Let's hope she returns to these shores for live dates this year having first visited to perform at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville in 2012. More at caitlinharnett.com.
Song: If I Had A Heart
Artist: Andy Burrows, England
Album: Company, 2012
Notes: Harking back to the golden singer-songwriter era of the mid-'70s - it's almost got an unapologetic Al Stewart flavor to it - some lovely breezy melancholia from the former drummer of British indie-rockers Razorlight. He inked their most popular number 'America' before leaving the group in 2009 for solo pursuits and a switch to tub-thumping for another band, We Are Scientists. He worked on the debut album by bright young thing Tom Odell and released his sophomore album, 'Fall Together Again', last October. More on him at andyburrows.co.uk.
Song: Decision Day
Artist: Field Report, Milwaukee, WI
Album: Marigolden, 2014
Notes: Another track from their sparsely elegant introspective sophomore long-player - one of last year's finest collections, neatly mixing some electronica flourishes to the otherwise rootsy Americana fare. Field Report is a six-piece folk outfit from Milwaukee fronted by Chris Porterfield - hence the anagramatic name of the band. He was originally in a band named DeYarmond Edison with that sensitive chap, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. Invited by the likes of Aimee Mann, Counting Crows and Emmylou Harris to open for them. Porterfield is currently on a solo trek through the beginning of next month at which point the band hits the road again. More at fieldreportmusic.com.
Song: I Had A Talk With My Man
Artist: Mitty Collier, Birmingham, AL
Album: The Chess Singles, 2008
Notes: Gospel-learned vocals from a vintage soul stirrer from a bygone era. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, she recorded for the legendary blues/R&B label, Chess Records, from 1961 through 1968 but was forced to temporarily put her singing career on hold in 1971 when she developed polyps on her vocal chords. Subsequently devoting her life to her Christian faith, she became a preacher, pastor and gospel performer in Chicago.
Song: Come Home To Me
Artist: Ernie Halter, Inglewood, CA
Album: Franklin & Vermont, 2010
Notes: A stripped down breathy acoustic ditty from an artist, born of a Cuban mother and Yugoslav father, with more than two decades of performing under his belt - he's still a regular at Los Angeles' best singer-songwriter venue, The Hotel Cafe. Believe it or not, Justin Bieber has recorded a remarkably faithful and not-too-bad cover of this song - proving once again there are no rules in music - but it goes without saying that this version is better. (The album from which this track comes is named after the cross streets where he resides in Los Angeles.) He begins a series of selected US dates next month. More at erniehalter.com.
Song: Where I Stood
Artist: Missy Higgins, Australia
Album: On A Clear Night, 2007
Notes: One of the standout cuts from her Mitchell Froom-produced second album released back in 2007. She has a lovely new long-player which has already gone Top 10 in her home country, an often lush, orchestral affair on which she tackles covers of songs by other fine Aussie tunesmiths. In addition to being one of Australia's best singer-songwriters in her own right, she is also a strident animal rights and environment campaigner and a top vegan and gave birth to her first child, Samuel Arrow Lee, in January. More at missyhiggins.com.
Artist: Prefab Sprout, England
Album: Crimson/Red, 2014
Notes: Brilliant lyrics as ever and loving the playful organ runs on one of several sorely overlooked delights on the drop-dead superb 'Crimson/Red' opus from 2013, which is finally available in the US. There have been ten outstanding albums by top tunesmith Paddy McAloon and his band since 1984, although this one is purely McAloon solo despite its group credit. If you want to capture a moment of McAloon magic, check out www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhZA8GuZ1SI.
Song: Lay My Burden Down
Artist: Aoife O'Donovan, Boston, MA
Album: Fossils, 2013
Notes: A fun Duane Eddy-ish guitar bridge gracing this lilting ruby from her 2013 long-player. She's a Boston-based singer-songwriter, whose forename is pronounced EEF-ah, and frontwoman for bluegrass combo, Crooked Still. She wrote the song quite a few years ago and was fortunate to have it recorded by Alison Krauss for her 2011 set, 'Paper Airplane.' Her new single, 'Crossing Muddy Waters', in collaboration with Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz is out next month after which the trio will embark on the 'I'm With Her tour. More at aoifeodonovan.com.
Song: Come To This
Artist: Natalie Taylor, Mechanicsburg, PA
Album: Come To This (single), 2014
Notes: Will you hear me when I speak, Do you feel the pain with me, I've tried to be so strong, I thought that hope would come, But you're not here, The darkness keeps it grip, How did it come to this?' Too sad for words. The criminally under-appreciated Natalie Taylor on a song which was mercifully released as a digital single last autumn. After growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, she moved to Nashville in 2009, since when she has released a 2010 self-titled EP, followed by three singles last year. A brand new EP, 'Wildfire', was released last week. More at natalietaylormusic.com.
Song: Katie Queen of Tennessee
Artist: Apache Relay, Nashville, TN
Album: Apache Relay, 2014
Notes: A rather neat and catchy retro '60s pop feel with sweeping strings from a band formed in a dorm room as an acoustic project and then ballooned out of control into a sextet. Fronted by Michael Ford Jr., they've been together five years, opened for Mumford & Sons and have been hugely successful on the festival circuit, including stops at Bonnaroo and the legendary Newport Folk Festival. Their sophomore set was released last year on their own Nomadic Records label. Their current tour comes to end on May 24th. More at theapacherelay.com.
Artist: Pauline, Zimbabwe/Sweden
Notes: A perky, hook-filled pop/dance cut from Pauline Kamusewu, a Zimbabwe-born songstress long-based in Sweden where so much catchy pop fare is consistently crafted. She's been making music for more than ten years, when she was named Best Swedish Newcomer upon her arrival in 2003. No website, but more at myspace.com/paulineartist.
Song: Mama Sail To Me
Artist: Amos Lee, Philadelphia, PA
Album: As The Crow Flies (EP), 2012
Notes: A typically restrained, poised and rewarding standout track from the eclectic singer-songwriter's third EP, featuring six songs recorded during the 'Mission Bell' sessions but not included on that album. An entrancing mid-tempo ballad with beautiful gospel backing vocals and produced by Calexico's Joey Burns, he gets better with each release. One of the best folk, blues and soul stylists getting it done every year now divides his time between homes in his native Philadelphia and San Francisco. He begins a major US tour with David Gray in June, closing out with a date at the Hollywood Bowl. More at amoslee.com.
Song: Your Love
Artist: Fay Wolf, Los Angeles, CA
Album: Your Love [EP], 2012
Notes: A superb reimagining, a live cover of the Outfield's 1986 rock smash, unrecognizably reversioned by Ms. Wolf. A first-rate balladeer, but conversely also a bit of a stand-up comedienne in concert with a great sense of humor. Also a sorely underrated singer-songwriter, pianist who is also a classically-trained actress. More at faywolfmusic.com/music.
Song: Your Love
Artist: Outfield, England
Album: Play Deep, 1985
Notes: Sounding forever like an American power pop band, The Outfield was in fact a trio from the Northern town of Manchester, making its music during the same period as fellow Mancunians, The Smiths, whose music couldn't have been more different. They racked up five Top 40 US hits, but none in their native country. Founding members Tony Lewis and Alan Jackman are still going strong, releasing their last album 'Replay' in 2011. More at theoutfield.com.