New Music

For the past decade or so – for various reasons – I’ve been listening to less and less radio.

As a result, I’ve been having a hard time finding new music.

I was thinking about this discovery process (finding new music), and while a fine topic in itself, it made me realize that most of the new music I’ve found over the last 10 or so years has been female-led bands, or female singers/songwriters. The former group, think 10,000 Maniacs, which is nothing without the vocal stylings of Natalie Merchant. For the latter, think Patti Smith or Joni Mitchell.

Some is old, some is new – but all is newish to me.

Some examples:

Mazzy Star

Mazzy Star
I first stumbled across Mazzy Star on the Stealing Beauty soundtrack (one of my all-time favorite soundtracks; good movie, too).

I can’t recall what caused me to pull the trigger on purchasing an album, but – once I did – I purchased many others. Great sound.

Full disclosure: The band is technically called Mazzy Star, though the lead female vocalist – Hope Sandoval – sometimes goes by that name. I had always thought the female lead, and the real force of the music, was Mazzy Star – like Jethro Tull was the lead singer, not Ian Anderson.

PJ Harvey

PJ Harvey
There was a guy I used to work who I would swap CDs with: I turned him onto Son Volt, and he turned me onto PJ – Polly Jean – Harvey. She’s a British singer/songwriter in the same wheelhouse as Patti Smith – rock/punk/folk. Not a beautiful voice, but a powerful one.

I don’t know how many CDs of hers I have of hers; whenever I stumble across a new (or new to me) CD, I buy it and have yet to be dissatisfied.

My personal favs are “Is this Desire,” and “Let England Shake.”

New Pornographers

New Pornographers
This is a band that is a very collaborative effort, but it would be nothing without the lead vocals of Neko Case (strangely, unlike Natalie Merchant, I like Case’s efforts with the band much more than solo).

The music is a little hard to describe – oh, it’s rock, but more lyrical, almost old-English. Somewhat like some Fairport Convention, and early Richard Thompson (he of the Fairport).

The band’s name has an interesting – if apocryphal – origin: Some uber-Christian leader in the US declared that “rock and roll was the new pornography.” Since the band was producing rock and roll, well, they were the “new pornographers.”

Even if not true, a good story.

Regina Spektor

Regina Spektor
Another soundtrack discovery – this time two songs on the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack (“Us” and “Hero”).

Got the soundtrack, and then got around to getting some of her CDs after having those two songs stuck in my head.

Spektor – whom I believe was born in the then USSR – is similar to Tori Amos: The basic sound is her voice and her piano, but there are no Corn Flake girls here. Spektor is brash and with brass: heroic odes.

Nanci Griffith

Nanci Griffith
This one’s a little hard to describe – I can’t recall where I first ran across Griffith, but I’ve purchased at least seven of her CDs.

And they get heavy play.

A singer/songwriter, Griffith has an unmistakable country twang – and I hate country/country & western (as a general rule of thumb).

But how can I hate someone who has an album titled “Other Voices, Other Rooms” (the Truman Capote collection of short stories that paved his way to fame)?

She’s just an unassuming and engaging singer.

Years ago – before I had ever heard of her – she was supposed to be the opener at Ravinia (Chicago suburb outdoor music venue), where I think I was to see The Chieftains. But she had to cancel for whatever reason.

Didn’t think a thing about it then – but, today, that would be crushing.

Because Nanci Griffith – country twang and all – is a great talent, and I’d love to see her perform live.

Hey, that’s the way things roll…

Patty Griffin

Patty Griffin
Much like Nanci Griffith – and don’t get me started on the confusion with spelling – Griffin is a singer/songwriter.

Unlike Griffith, Griffin is a less twangy, more soulful singer. Where Griffith sounds like she’d be great to hear live, Griffin sounds like she’s performing for herself – a inner musical monologue.

And that’s a good thing. Beautiful music full of reality. Rich. Haunting.

I don’t know how I stumbled upon her, but getting each new CD was a delight. So good.


This doesn’t mean I’ve ignored the male-led bands/male singers/songwriters. It’s just that the bulk of purchases for “new” artists have been the above.

Chicago, 1/2/2015

Romy and I both had today off, and we decided to go into the Loop for a change (we usually go into Chicago once or twice a year).

As we normally do, we went to the Cultural Center – one of my favorite Chicago buildings – and to the Art Institute of Chicago. There were a couple of photography exhibits that I wanted to see before they ended their runs later in January.

They were OK – no great shakes – but I always enjoy the Art Institute.

After rubbernecking, we went to the Italian Village – a Chicago institution – for lunch. Romy’s eaten there; I don’t recall ever having a meal there, just going to the downstairs bar once or twice. It was very good – Romy had pumpkin-stuff ravioli (not to my taste), and I had the Chicken Marsala, which was excellent.

We took the train in, and there was a holiday train running when we were looking to go home that ran express from the Loop to Mt. Prospect (our stop). We didn’t even know about this, but it worked out perfectly.

Weather was sunny and above freezing (no snow on the ground); wind was minimal.

Nice day. We should do stuff like this more often.