Declaration of Independents: Great Releases from Indie Acts

Another gathering of releases by independent artists that deserve wider recognition.

Videos by American Songwriter

Various Artists | Put Down That Weapon: Make Music Not War | (Y&T Records)

Any set of songs that advocates for peace and perseverance makes for an admirable effort, but these days, that message of nonviolence is even more essential. So credit the folks at Y&T Records for gathering a group of like-minded musicians and teaming with the nonprofit organization Guitars Over Guns for an album of peaceful protest songs that resonate with added urgency. Those covered here are mostly of a vintage variety — “Turn, Turn, Turn,” “For What It’s Worth,” “Eve of Destruction” and “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” being among the best known — but as relayed through these touching and tender renditions, they sound as fresh and vital as they did back in the day. Indeed, even half a century on, “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” and “Universal Soldier” still purvey a certain poignancy that reflect the futility of war. The artists included are mostly Florida-based, but the involvement of seminal ’60s folk singer Eric Andersen brings further credibility to the cause. (

Rev. J. Mikhael Smith | Dogwood Winter | (Independent)

It’s often assumed that anything musical associated with Tennessee inevitably applies to either Nashville or Memphis. Yet if one ventures east over the plateau at the center of the state, they’ll find the equally fertile realms of East Tennessee, home to dozens of musicians deserving of recognition. Josh Smith, formerly of the Knoxville band Handsome and the Humbles, is one of those especially gifted singer/songwriters. Now with a solo album under new moniker Rev. J. Mikhael Smith, he applies a rustic charm to his down-home demeanor. Though this particular offering is only five songs long, it packs enough empathy and emotion to fill out an entire album. Smith comes across like a determined troubadour; indeed, on songs such as “10:18” and the title track, he shares his sentiment with skill and sensitivity. Fiddle and banjo underscore that rootsy regimen, although “Scoundrels and Sinners” bows to the Avett Brothers in both its sound and set-up. It’s good stuff all. (

Kris Delmhorst | Long Day in the Milky Way | (Big Beat Music)

A renowned member of the folk music community, Kris Delmhorst has outdone herself with what may be her best effort to date, the strikingly sensual Long Day in the Milky Way. Flush with emphatic emotion, cooing harmonies and dreamy songs of delicacy and desire, it lingers in the atmosphere long after its final notes fade away. Naturally, there are any number of tracks that stand out — among them the assertive “Wind’s Gonna Find a Way,” the shimmering and celestial “Golden Crown,” the quiet and caressing “Nothing ‘Bout Nothing,” and the passionate yet perky “The Horses,” the latter written by Rickie Lee Jones and the album’s sole cover. On the other hand, there isn’t a song here that lacks an alluring melody, one that’s fully capable of dazzling and delighting with a clear, thoughtful perspective. Once again, Delmhorst proves that delicacy and dazzle need not be mutually exclusive.  (

The Coronas | True Love Waits | (So Far Good Records)

Granted, a name like the Coronas doesn’t exactly ring a positive note given the current pandemic. Nevertheless, with a career that stretches back more than a dozen years and an impressive fan base both in their native Ireland and abroad, there’s no reason to believe they aren’t capable of staying the course. The band’s latest effort, True Love Waits, follows on the heels of last year’s Live at the Olympia, offering further evidence of their anthemic aptitude and overarched intents. Songs such as “Never Ending (On Your Side),” “Heat of The Moment,” “Find The Water” and “Need Your Presence” soar on the strength of cascading crescendos and a daringly dramatic approach that helps to further solidify their stance. It’s borne from Irish insurgence, the same tact taken by U2 when it comes to amplifying their stadium-sized sound. It’s that combination of balls and bluster, drama and determination that makes True Love Waits the overarched effort it is.  (

Pete Kronowitt | Do Something Now | (Mean Bean Records)

“Time to kick your ass in gear,” San Francisco singer, songwriter and activist Pete Kronowitt urges on “Do Something Now,” one of several erstwhile offerings on his new album of the same name. That message — a plea for preservation, protection and conservation — is echoed throughout the album, from the soothingly sensual “Stay Safe” to the bouncy and buoyant “You Never Ever Never Know” and the surprisingly jubilant “Roly Poly,” the latter of which finds Kronowitt asking the pertinent question, “Can I make a difference?” Like Pete Seeger, Kronowitt focuses on conscience, concern and a message meant to inspire activism at a time when it’s sorely needed. A pundit can always pontificate, but credit Kronowitt with getting right to the point. “I am blue, you are just mean, but we know truth will just set us free,” he tells an antagonist on the aptly titled “Truth Will Set Us Free” before running through all the derogatory names assigned to those who disagree with the radical right, “Are We Great Yet?” There seems to be hope in happenstance after all.  (

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