Artist: Prefab Sprout, England
Album: Two Wheels Good, 1985
Notes: The chord-change momentum which builds up on this lost classic is terrific, typical of so much first-rate but undiscovered music from top English tunesmith Paddy McAloon and his group. Mr. McAloon is considered by many music critics to be one of the most underrated writers of the 1980s. Not a single recording by Prefab Sprout has ever made the Billboard Hot 100 and you rarely hear them on the radio which is a missed opportunity - do check out their superb last album, 'Crimson/Red'.
Song: Monkey Tree
Artist: Mother Mother, Canada
Album: Very Good Bad Thing, 2014
Notes: Already a mini-hit north of the border for a Canadian quintet celebrating its first decade together. Formed in Vancouver by frontman, guitarist Ryan Guldemond, originally naming the combo simply Mother but adding another Mother to avoid legal issues over the singular moniker. Four indie albums prior to being picked up by Universal Records Canada last year for their major label debut. They'll be setting out on a headlining US tour at the end of May through the beginning of July. More at mothermothersite.com/usa/.
Song: Outta My Head
Artist: Liz Longley, Philadelphia, PA
Album: Liz Longley, 2015
Notes: The lovely lead-off cut from the singer's latest album, a predictably quality self-titled affair which was fan-funded. A graduate of the finest contemporary music school out there, the venerable Berklee School of Music in Boston, Liz was named Female Performer of the Year in New England a couple of years ago - and the plaudits just keep on coming. The Washington Post declaring that she is 'destined for a larger audience' and Dig Boston called her 'a rising acoustic sensation'.' Even John Mayer is a fan, calling her music 'gorgeous, simply gorgeous'. She's playing a few West Coast dates this month before beginning a major tour supporting Delta Rae from the beginning of June. Dates at lizlongley.com.
Artist: Nick Mulvey, England
Album: First Mind, 2014
Notes: A breezy acoustic winner 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. More at nickmulvey.com.
Song: Crossing Muddy Waters
Artist: Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz & Aoife O'Donovan, Santa Monica, CA/Austin, TX/Newton, MA
Notes: Three L&F alumni combining so sweetly as an ad-hoc combo, I'm With Her' deftly reworking a John Hiatt composition. The trio's 'I'm With Her Tour''premiered during February's Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow, Scotland and swings into the US on May 22. For dates, go to sarawatkins.com/tour/. Their impromptu collaboration began at the 2014 Telluride Bluegrass Festival and one hopes that this delightful one-off amuse-bouche yields a full-length album.
Song: What You Want
Artist: Luke Reynolds, Cornwall, VT
Album: Maps [EP], 2010
Notes: If you're a serious music lover you might be familiar with a truly outstanding one-off album, 'Burning In The Sun,' by a group called Blue Merle from 2005. This is a rare cut from their former lead singer, an accomplished multi-intrumentalist tunesmith originally from Vermont. He also performed under another band name, Pictures and Sound after Blue Merle dissolved and more recently has been a regular member of that fine Boston-based outfit, Guster. He's currently in the studio working on a new solo album. If you want to contribute financially to its making, check out his website - lukereynoldsmusic.com.
Song: Nothing Really Matters
Artist: Mr. Probz, Netherlands
Notes: An unexpected old-school soul ballad sitting unexpectedly across from his more familiar DJ/electro-pop wizardry. A one-off single from last autumn, but not included on his debut album, 'The Treatment'. The song took pole position in his home country of the Netherlands, but not a sniff over here - a sign that 'Waves' might prove him to be a one-hit wonder.
Song: No Regrets
Artist: Walker Brothers, Hamilton, OH/New York, NY/Glendale, CA
Album: No Regrets, 1975
Notes: Although coming a decade after their greatest successes, this re-working of the Tom Rush classic showcases the Godlike genius of Scott Walker, one of the truly great voices in the history of pop music. Mention must also be made of John Walker's superlative harmony work. He passed away in 2011, but Scott returned last year with 'Bish Bosch,' his first album in six years. The trio started out in Los Angeles in the mid-'60s, cutting a superb version of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil's 'Love Her', with a stunning Spector-like arrangement by Jack Nitzsche. They moved to the UK a year later and had a string of smash hits, never matching their success there in the US.
Song: Turning Back Around
Artist: Rhodes, England
Notes: A relative newcomer who opened for London Grammar on a UK tour last year. David Rhodes is a British tunesmith from Hertfordshire just north of London and has only been performing for a couple of years but has also already opened for the likes of Laura Marling and Rufus Wainwright and much praised over his first three EPs by the British music press. A standout act at last year's Glastonbury, he deserves a wider berth over here - a free track is currently downloadable at rhodesmusic.co.uk.
Artist: David Bowie, England
Notes: Curiously released as a single in the US six months before its domestic issue in the UK, but not a hit on these shores. Bowie also produced the hit version of the song by perky Scottish songstress Lulu. Interestingly he's currently completing a stage show musical inspired by 'The Man Who Fell To Earth', based on the 1963 novel by Walter Tevis (Bowie starred in the 1976 screen adaptation). The new show will be titled 'Lazarus' and will premiere at the New York Theatre Workshop this coming winter featuring new songs and rearrangements of some of his past masters.
Song: St. Jude
Artist: Florence + The Machine, England
Notes: Uncharacteristically subdued, a restrained jewel previewing the group's upcoming third studio set. The British songstress Florence Welch has long teamed with her main machinist, Isabella Summers, who plays keyboards in the band: indeed when they first began playing music together as teenagers in London they performed as Florence Robot and Isabella Machine - hence the origins of the Florence + The Machine name. Ms Welch has the arts in her DNA - her mother Boston-born Evelyn Welch is a scholar of the Renaissance and Early Modern period and is currently Vice-Principal for Arts & Sciences at King's College London.
Artist: Wake Owl, Canada
Album: Wild Country [EP], 2013
Notes: Some nu-school Americana from a Vancouver based act firmly revolving around Californian-born singer-songwriter Colyn Cameron who began making music after several years training in organic agriculture and working on farms around the globe including rural stops in Germany, Britain and Chile. Snapped up last year by the wonderful Vagrant Records which consistently signs literate, melodic tunesmiths. Their debut album, 'The Private World of Paradise', appeared just over a year ago. More on them at wakeowl.com.
Song: Unpack Your Memories
Artist: Trevor Hall, Hilton Head, SC
Notes: Songs come and songs go. Some get lost in the folds of time, while others are passed on and shared in infinitude' - a line from the title cut of his latest EP, which he recorded entirely on his laptop. The ever-spiritual tunesmith hails from South Carolina, but is big into Indian and Caribbean culture and spends a lot of time in India working at orphanages and raising money for under-privileged kids. He scored a notable film placement with a song called 'Other Ways' on the 'Shrek the Third' film soundtrack. He's served up five interesting studio albums since 2006, and will be busy playing festivals and individual gigs throughout the summer. More at trevorhallmusic.com.
Song: Still In Love With You
Artist: Sade, England
Album: Greatest Hits, 2015
Notes: Added at the last minute to their last hits compilation, the Sade Adu-led band with, amazingly, a cover version of an old Thin Lizzy track. Never one to rush anything, there have been no new postings on their website for three years and it takes the band up to ten years to record a new album, so don't expect anything fresh from the band until 2020. Saxophonist Stuart Matthewman has taken advantage of his downtime, forming Twin Danger with Vanessa Bley, daughter of renowned jazz pianist Paul Bley. More on them at twindanger.com.
Song: Pull Up To The Bumper
Artist: Grace Jones, Jamaica
Album: Nightclubbing, 1981
Notes: Bearing a similar rhythm vibe to the Tom Tom Club's 'Genius of Love', a self-penned soul-rock shuffler which missed the Hot 100 by a whisker. Born Beverly Jones in Jamaica some 66 years ago, she pushed the boundaries of fashion and dance music, generally being wonderfully provocative when Lady Gaga was still in a stroller - she was actually a muse for Andy Warhol back in the Studio 54 days in New York in the 1970s. She's also taken more than a dozen film roles over the years including a memorable turn as May Day in the James Bond movie 'A View To A Kill' and had a new song 'Original Beast' included on the soundtrack of 'The Hunger Games - Mockingjay, Pt. 1'. No website for Ms. Jones, but plenty to find out at facebook.com/GraceJonesOfficial.
Song: A Girl Called Johnny
Artist: Waterboys, Scotland
Album: A Girl Called Johnny, 1983
Notes: Rolling piano and sax sounds on a lost corker from a Scottish band out of Edinburgh and active since 1983. Formed and firmly led by lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Mike Scott, they're still getting it done today, having just made their long overdue US national TV debut on the 'Late Show With David Letterman' and currently playing some selected North American dates, promoting their brand new album 'Modern Blues'. More at mikescottwaterboys.com.
Song: Slow Creepin'
Artist: Lindsay Perry, Satellite, FL
Album: L.O.V.E., 2015
Notes: Described as a surfer, model, musician, artist, the 24-year old has worked for Billabong Girls, Spy Optic, Nixon Watches, Lost Surfboard, Osiris Shoes and Taylor Guitars. Her debut album has been more than two years in the making and she recently went down a storm at SXSW. If her musical career turns out to be as successful as her modelling career, then expect big things. Check out all things lindsay at lindsea.com.
Artist: Pocket Size, England
Album: 100% Human, 1999
Notes: A fabulous insistent groove, that never quite made it out of the Dance bracket by the short-lived British synth duo of Liz Overs and Darren Pearson who hailed from the southern coastal town of Eastbourne. Formerly known as The Hip Troop and latterly called themselves Baby Jupiter. They only cut one album, called '100% Human', and then just disappeared, but this peppy number showed what they were capable of.
Song: For Your Babies
Artist: Simply Red, England
Album: Stars, 1991
Notes: Too good and so sweet, quality old school pop/soul from 1992 and a huge UK hit that flew entirely under the radar in many other countries including the US. Written by frontman Mick Hucknall, who's the lucky owner of that distinctively honeyed blue-eyed soul vox, it's hard to believe he was first inspired to pursue a music career after attending a gig by punk pioneers the Sex Pistols in 1976. 'Big Love', their first album in eight years, is due next month. More at simplyred.com.
Song: Able May
Artist: Lucette, Canada
Album: Black Is The Color, 2014
Notes: Clearly influenced by the likes of Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn and George Jones, Lucette is a 22-year old Canadian alt-folk/country singer-songwriter and recently played five shows at SXSW. The Edmonton native, born Lauren Gillis, cut her debut album in Nashville with Dave Cobb, whose credits also include Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson. More at lucettemusic.com.
Song: Meet Me In The Woods
Artist: Lord Huron, Los Angeles, CA
Album: Strange Tails, 2015
Notes: Light, bright, shimmering prairie folk-pop from the Los Angeles-based indie rock quartet formed and fronted by Ben Schneider. Celebrating five years together Schneider named his band after Lake Huron, one of the five Great Lakes of North America and which he visited often while growing up in Michigan. It's taken three years, but their sophomore album has just been released. Touring all spring and summer long to plug the new set, check for dates at strangetrails.com.
Song: I Was Gonna Marry You
Artist: Tristan Prettyman, San Diego, CA
Album: Cedar + Gold, 2012
Notes: Written about her engagement to and subsequent break up from fellow musician Jason Mraz by the former Roxy model who was diagnosed with vocal cord polyps after the release of her 2008 album 'Hello.' Her third album, from which this track comes, was mostly a bare bones autobiographical account of the end of that relationship. A silver lining however, the San Diego-based songstress, former top surfer and sometime model, now in her 30s did get married last year to venture capitalist, Bill Maris, so all's well that ends well.
Song: Boat To Bolivia
Artist: Martin Stephenson & the Daintees, England
Album: Boat To Bolivia, 1986
Notes: Formed in Sunderland in the north-east of England in 1982, it took them four years to make it on to vinyl (as it was back then). Another four albums followed, until they split in 1992. Always the front man, Stephenson reformed the band in 2000 after releasing five solo albums. After another hiatus, he put together a new Daintees in 2011, releasing the album 'California Star' and touring, performing the 'Boat To Bolivia' album in its entirety. A peculiar subject for a song, but a winner nonetheless with its smooth lilting reggae beats. They have a busy summer touring the UK. More at daintees.co.uk.
Song: Every Beat Of The Heart
Artist: Railway Children, England
Album: Native Place, 1990
Notes: Originally signed to indie rock impresario Tony Wilson's seminal Factory Records label which also spawned Joy Division and New Order, the Railway Children with a single that nabbed modest college rock airplay back in 1990 and remains the band's best known release. They were from Wigan in the north of England, cut three sturdy LPs in the late '80s but went their separate ways in 1991. Their frontman Gary Newby moved to Japan and wrote and arranged for several artists before returning to the UK in 2010. More at railwaychildren.co.uk.
Artist: Bruce Cockburn, Canada
Notes: This musical poem swings along so effortlessly and was a mid-range hit back in 1980, but is rarely heard on radio these days which is a shame. The Canadian folk-tunesmith has recorded two dozens albums over a long and storied career and has seen this song covered by both Jimmy Buffett and Leo Sayer. Turning 70 at the end of the month, he's currently touring the north east. More at brucecockburn.com.
Song: Voices In My Head
Artist: Naked Eyes, England
Album: Naked Eyes, 1983
Notes: A catchy slice of vintage new wave pop rock from the duo best known for their big US hits 'Always Something There To Remind Me' and 'Promises Promises'. Interestingly the British duo of Pete Byrne and Rob Fisher from the lovely ancient city of Bath were much more popular here than in their native country - they never had even a top 50 entry in the UK. Fisher died in 1999 at the age of 42, but Byrne continues to perform live from time to time on those new wave package tours with the likes of the Human League and ABC. More at nakedeyesmusic.com.
Artist: Laleh, Iran
Notes: Issued as single in Europe last year and now available here, Laleh with a fab indie-pop anthem, Speaking of Truth. Born Laleh Pourkari in Iran in 1982, she ended up with her family in Sweden after earlier seeking refuge in Azerbaijan, then Belarus and finally a refugee camp in Tidaholm, Sweden. Initially setting out on an acting career, she switched to music via her own production company in 2003 and quickly became a chart-topping act in Sweden. Five Top 3 domestic albums and a slew of hit singles have established her as a household name on home turf. The truly dire 'The Royals' TV series on E! TV recently featured this number in one of its shows. More at laleh.se.
Song: Until I Met You
Artist: Judy Rodman, Riverside, CA
Album: Judy, 1986
Notes: A clippety-clock cheesy arrangement, cheesy lyrics, but a fond sentiment and first-rate old school country high harmony. This timeless barn ballad was a genre hit in 1986 but didn't dare crossover and annoyingly still isn't available in digital form or on CD anywhere - only a re-recorded effort. It was released on Mary Tyler Moore's MTM label which Capitol Records now owns though the company itself may be unaware of that fact since none of the wonderful country albums released on MTM has ever been digitized for online sales. Originally from Riverside California, Rodman is now a successful songwriter and vocal instructor in Nashville.
Song: Down The River
Artist: Milky Chance, Germany
Album: Sadnecessary, 2013
Notes: Still making waves after their breakthrough 2014 hit, 'Stolen Dance', which was played long ago on L&F, the laid-back laconic stylings of a German folk-pop duo comprising Philipp Dausch and Clemens Rehbein. Growing up in Kassel, where they were schoolfriends, they were members of the Flown Tones jazz quartet before outputting their own music a couple of years ago. More at milkychanceofficial.com.
Song: A Woman Caught
Artist: Penny & Sparrow, Dallas, TX/Austin, TX
Album: Tenboom, 2013
Notes: Former room-mates and now band mates, Texan tunesmiths Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke teamed up as Penny & Sparrow, influenced by the likes of Bon Iver and Mumford & Sons. So far they've released two finely crafted lo-fi Americana albums - 'Tenboom' and last year's 'Struggle Plenty'. More at pennyandsparrow.com.
Song: On A Bus To St. Cloud
Artist: Trisha Yearwood, Monticello, GA
Album: Thinkin' About You, 1995
Notes: Too sad for words - a woman so in love with a past love, her mind and her aching heart are deceiving her, she keeps seeing haunting images of him wherever she goes. Its writer Gretchen Peters explained its genesis, saying that she was planning a trip to either the West Coast or the Upper Mid West. 'I was thinking about going up that way, and I saw the name St. Cloud, and I just thought, what an evocative name. I had really no particular image of what that place would be like, except I knew it was in Minnesota, so it must be snowy. But I hadn't been there, and so I really just started with that name. And I remember really well the day I was writing. I didn't finish it in one day, but the day I sort of started it and got the main bulk of that song. It was snowing in Nashville, and that I'm sure was responsible for a couple of the lines, like 'With the snow falling down around you like a silent prayer,' and those sorts of things'. Mrs Garth Brooks released a new collection called 'Prize Fighter' last November, but now devotes much of her time to writing cook books and developing her line of cookware and furniture. However she's back on the road through June 13th. More at trishayearwood.com.
Artist: Midway State, Canada
Album: Paris Or India, 2011
Notes: Anthemic modern rock from a Toronto quartet fronted by Nathan Ferraro. They've been together for six years, a popular opening act around North America for the likes of Third Eye Blind, Jimmy Eat World and Death Cab For Cutie. Little new from them since 2011, when they released the album 'Paris Or India.' In 2008 they cut a secret version of the Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush duet 'Don't Give Up' with none other than Lady Gaga, but it was never officially released (though can, of course, be found on youtube).
Artist: Mark Knopfler, England
Album: Tracker, 2015
Notes: Sounding more than ever like one his strongest influences, J.J. Cale, Mark Knopfler with one of several choice cuts from his eighth and latest solo offering. The former Dire Straits founder and frontman is about to begin an 85-date tour, arriving in the US in September. Dates at markknopfler.com.
Artist: Grace Mitchell, Portland, OR
Album: Design [EP], 2014
Notes: Clearly circling Lorde and Lana Del Rey, Grace is a 16-year-old newcomer armed with authentic songwriting chops and boasting a remarkably mature vocal range: this exuberant pop pleaser from her maiden offering was released back in October and was universally ignored by radio, except L&F naturally. Originally from Queensland, Australia, her only previous outing was a crafty cover version of Daryl Hall & John Oates' chestnut, 'Maneater', which emerged on 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' soundtrack last year. Being groomed by Universal Records as a major new talent, her EP is certainly a promising start. More at gracemitchell.com.
Song: Heart of Gold
Artist: Genevieve Toupin, Canada
Notes: A classically trained pianist and vocalist, Toupin grew up in the Canadian province of Manitoba. After spending time in Paris in her teens, she moved to Montreal in 2004, where she teamed up with Benoit Morier. He produced her self-titled 2009 debut as well as co-producing her 2012 'The Ocean Pictures Project' album. She also contributed 'Little Sparrow' to the wonderfully titled soundtrack 'The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom'. More at genevievetoupin.com.
Song: Heart of Gold
Artist: Neil Young, Canada
Album: Harvest, 1972
Notes: In a career spanning six decades, Young has only managed to top the US charts singles once and it was with this classic, which has been covered by at least 30 different artists, including Willie Nelson, Matchbox Twenty, Dave Matthews and now the aforementioned Ms. Toupin (above). James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt helped Young out on backing vocals and years after its success, he described it thus: 'This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there'.