In conjunction with our January/February issue, American Songwriter proudly presents The Muse January 2013 Sampler, featuring 12 must-hear tracks from some of our favorite artists. And the best thing about it? It’s free!
You can download the sampler here: http://americansongwriter2013.bandcamp.com/
Matt Costa, “Good Times”
“Good times are coming! Good times are coming … to an end,” goes the refrain to this bittersweet pop/rocker, which mixes handclaps and horns with a downcast message. The whole thing feels like a sunny, updated version of “Instant Karma,” though, from the slapback echo coating Costa’s vocals to the old-school, Gary Glitter-ish drumbeat. Maybe the good times aren’t over just yet.
Joshua James, “Queen Of The City”
Caught halfway between heartland folk-rock and classic power-pop, this track – the leadoff single from Joshua James’ third album, From The Top Of Willamette Mountain – pits the songwriter’s voice against a strutting bass line and an airy, atmospheric guitar riff.
Whitehorse, “Peterbilt Coalmine”
Luke Doucet just wasn’t made for these times. “I been listening to the radio sometimes, and it’s making my backbone wilt,” he sings at the beginning of “Peterbilt Coalmine,” a bitter, biting tune about an old-school musician trying to find his place in today’s world. At least he’s got the company of bandmate Melissa McClelland, who keeps Doucet’s fire contained with some cooing, cooling harmonies.
Dropkick Murphys, “Rose Tattoo”
The Dropkick Murphys show off their ink with “Rose Tattoo,” a lilting folk song that uses Ken Casey’s tattooed skin to weave a larger story about the band, its hometown, and its fans. “The pictures tell the story,” Casey sings in a punky brogue during the first verse, his voice drawing equally from punk rock and Celtic folk.
The Lost Bayou Ramblers w/ Scarlett Johansson, “Coteau Guidry”
This Cajun-flavored rock anthem finds the Lost Bayou Ramblers widening their sound with help from Scarlett Johansson, who makes a cameo during the chorus (singing in Cajun French, no less), and producer Koren Richey, who gives the song a sweeping, cinematic touch. Once the refrain hits, it’s easy to be swept away, even if you don’t understand the words.
Spirit Family Reunion, “I Want To Be Relieved”
These Brooklyn coeds channel the South on “I Want To Be Relieved,” a foot-stomping, hell-raising song that allows every instrument in the band’s arsenal – from fiddle to banjo to acoustic guitar to washboard – to take the lead for a brief moment. Between string-band solos and rustic riffs, the Family members pile their voices into thick gospel harmonies, shouting their collective love for old-time music.
Lindi Ortega, “Cigarettes and Truckstops”
Influenced by Dolly Parton’s twang and Mazzy Star’s woozy sway, Lindi Ortega turns this alt-country ballad – the title track from her sophomore album – into a heartbreaking tribute to a lover she met on the road. “We were traveling like gypsies,” she coos, “singing to each other in the night, from highway to hotel room and every place we stopped at in between.” Later, when she mentions something about a Dolly Parton song on the radio, you wonder if she’s hearing her own echo instead.
Holly Williams, “Drinkin’”
Hank Williams’ granddaughter dedicates this sad-eyed country ballad to a fickle lover who can’t stop running around her back. While fiddles and acoustic guitars duel in the background, she poses a string of questions – “Why you drinking like the night is young?”, Why you cheating on a woman like this?”, “Why you leaving like we don’t exist?” – without receiving a reply. By the end of the song, her lover has walked out the door, and Williams finds herself picking up the bottle he left behind. Looking to chase away the heartbreak, she starts drinking while the night is young, thus bringing the song full circle.
Ashley Monroe, “Like a Rose”
As one third of Pistol Annies, Ashley Monroe sings old-school country tunes about taking pills and chasing boys. Here, she gets back to her solo career with the melancholic title track of her second album. Over a boom-chic chord progression that evokes Johnny Cash and a lush pedal steel riff worthy of an Emmylou Harris ballad, she delivers a biographical song about a girl who can’t seem to put down roots, no matter where she goes.
Night Beds, “Even If We Try”
“Even If We Try” is gorgeous and haunting, an orchestral ballad anchored by simple piano chords and a smart, sophisticated string arrangement. It’s Winston Yellen’s voice that leaves the biggest impact, though. Armed with an octave-spanning range that flies far above the treble clef, he sounds like a reincarnated Jeff Buckley singing in some astral cathedral, giving us something new to fall to our knees over.
Calvin Love, “Magic Hearts”
A former punk rocker, Calvin Love tries his hand at burbling, effervescent computer pop on “Magic Hearts.” Synthesizers and MIDI drums come together like sugar and water, turning this song into the sort of smart, candied confection that’s worth chipping a tooth over.
Matthew Ryan, “She’s A Sparrow”
Recorded live at American Songwriter’s office, “She’s A Sparrow” takes a beautiful, lonely flight through heartbreak and nostalgia. “She’s a sparrow and I’m a street,” Ryan sings, “and I’ll watch her float away from me.” The only accompaniment is a finger-plucked acoustic guitar, as tender as melancholic as the lyrics themselves.