Artists: Peter Himmelman
Title: Press On (Himmasongs/Six Degrees Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Bruce Cockburn, Steve Forbert, Bob Dylan, Randy Newman
Tell me more: Few would argue that 2020 has been among the challenging and tumultuous of years. Leave it to gifted singer-songwriter Peter Himmelman to release another stellar batch of songs (Press On, due July 31) that capture the mood of our times without necessarily being bound by current events. At the heart of the Minnesota native's 15th album is his straightforward but simultaneously rare gift of being able to tap into the deepest of emotions and sharpest of perceptions and then communicate those via timeless songcraft. Take in the tender ode "A Place In Your Heart," the stirring "Big Red Moon" or acoustic guitar gem "Outside Looking In" to hear his artistry resonate amidst sparse settings. Himmelman delves into the spirit of early blues on the acoustic "Flyin' Sideways Cross the Blacktop" and blues-rock on the edgy "The Wall of the Trumpets and the Clatter of the Hoofbeats." Other tracks are unveiled via other styles; the spirited swing track "Truth Proffered in a Hard Time" celebrates a man's ever-deepening love professed to his wife as evidenced by the oft-heard refrain "I never loved you more than I love you today." Those troubled by a global pandemic, a developing Cold War with China, senseless violence in this nation's big cities and bitter politics will be comforted by the album's spirited title track "Press On," whose arc ranges from spoken word, several sweet instrumental sections and an infectious blues-gospel chorus. Equally comforting is the colorful confessional "This Is My Offering" that closes out the 13-track Press On. Information: PeterHimmelman.com.
Artist: Chris Stamey & the Fellow Travelers
Title: A Brand-New Shade of Blue (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: Burt Bacharach, Bill Evans, Jimmy Webb
Tell me more: Chris Stamey is a bona fide music hero celebrated as singer, songwriter, composer and record producer. In addition to his early stint performing with Big Star icon Alex Chilton, he formed the groundbreaking band The dB's with Peter Holsapple in the early 1980s. More recently, he crafted a slew of great new Great American Songbook-styled entries for his marvelous 2019 release New Songs for the 20th Century. Fast forward to 2020 and Stamey's adventuresome spirit continues to be found soaring in the far-flung corners of the sonic universe. On Chris Stamey & the Fellow Travelers' enthralling A Brand-New Shade of Blue, an appreciation of the small-combo jazz sound of the late 1950s and early '60s is gloriously revisited across 13 original works. A magnificent listen from start to finish, selections include the John Coltrane inspired title song, the moving ballad "I Don't Think Of You," wistful "There's a Dream Around the Corner," swirling "Cerulean Is Lovely," and Bacharach-flavored "Speechless." The songs and instrumental pieces are evocative of the past, but have an ageless grace. Brett Harris is the principal singer on the project, with his amazing vocals bolstered by the top-tier skills of Stamey (guitar), Charles Cleaver (piano), 19-year-old tenor sax master Elijah Freeman, Will Campbell (also and soprano sax), Evan Ringel (trombone), Ben Robinson (trumpet), Dan Davis (drums), Jason Foureman (acoustic bass) and others. Information: OmnivoreRecordings.com.
Artist: Tawny Ellis
Title: Love Life (Music Building Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Neko Case, Jenny Lewis
Tell me more: Armed with a rich soprano and freewheeling spirit in tune with the world around her, songstress Tawny Ellis makes no secret of the thematic focus on her aptly-titled Love Life album. The highs and lows of love, challenges of romantic unions and mystery of it all are explored ably by the rising artist on the 10-song disc. Ellis' songs are enhanced by a wonderful cast of musicians and other notables including renowned mixer Bob Clearmountain, musician-producer Jesse Siebenberg and multi-instrumentalist Ted Russell Kamp who collectively help bring details that enlighten her songs. The magical Celtic-tinged "Moonshine" is ablaze with shimmering textures, with Ellis' on work on the Omnichord instrument a nice touch. The affecting "Pretend Love," pensive "No More," touching "Spark of Love," rocking "I Believe" and fervent "Powers That Be" are among the other standouts on the ambitious LP that blends Americana and singer-songwriter stylings effortlessly. It's not easy to cover a Steely Dan classic, but Ellis' emotive reworking of "Dirty Work" is great and marks the perfect way to cap "Love Life." Information: tawnyellis.com.
Artist: The Jason Daniels Band
Title: Downloads From The Universe (Jax-Zen Studios)
You might like if you enjoy: Ten Years Later, Sister Hazel, WAR
Tell me more: The cool vibes of British blues, jam rock, '70s funk, roots rock and even Latin blend in the captivating Downloads From The Universe, the new album featuring the Jason Daniels Band. Jason Daniels (lead vocals, lead & rhythm guitar), Murph Caicedo (drums), Rob Wicks (bass) and Chris Nash (keyboards) have a warm chemistry and their style combines good vibes, great musicianship and solid songwriting. The range of material is impressive, with the strong opener "I'm Not Going Down," the Texas-fried blues ride "I've Been Ramblin'," funky romp "39202," scorching rocker "Dead and Gone" and breezy folk rocker "Breathe" among this writer's favorites. Information: JasonDanielsMusic.com.
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