Every month, Utne Reader presents free, downloadable music gleaned from current and upcoming releases on independent music labels. This sampler was curated by editor in chief Christian Williams.
Ghost Train Orchestra
The music of Ghost Train Orchestra comes from the period of jazz before large big bands swept the scene in the 1930s. Comprised of smaller ensembles that were heavy on the brass and the strings, the early “big bands” had a creative and distinct sound that combined hot jazz with the big-band swing. Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra picks things up where those early big bands left off and has reworked arrangements from four of the era’s most popular Chicago and Harlem-based bands on its latest album Hot Town. The title track is a great example of the unique sound that Ghost Train Orchestra is able to conjure with a skeleton crew, as far as “big” bands are concerned. Hot Town is out now on Accurate Records.
Austin-based musician Donny Silverman is a fixture in the local music scene, playing flute and saxophone in at least three different reggae, jazz, funk, and world music bands. His latest project, Noisetet, features him and his friends making improvised compositions that Silverman has dubbed “soundtracks without a film.” The compositions flutter between structured-melodies and free-form sound, and are wholly fascinating. In an apt description of the album, Silverman describes the experimental pieces as ranging from, “post-apocalyptic industrial mayhem, to a prehistoric scenario where a T-Rex is baffled by a hummingbird, to the sonic results of hurling notes against a wall until they shatter and break into tiny pieces.” Here’s “Dark Cypress” off Noisetet Obscure, out now.
Washington, DC-based singer-songwriter Sara Curtin has built a loyal following with folk-pop songs that have earned her well-deserved comparisons to Joni Mitchell and Sharon Van Etten. On her second solo album, Michigan Lilium, Curtin expands her sound past the familiar boundaries of folk music and demonstrates how it’s the ideal springboard for blending genres. Curtin’s beautiful voice serves as an ideal bridge between folk music and R&B in the sultry lead single “Summer,” which was inspired by R&B balladeer D’Angelo. Michigan Lilium is out July 24.
Aside from being a tireless musician and the front man for the eclectic New York-based world music ensemble TriBecaStan, John Kruth is also an author and a professor of music. He’s released nine solo albums, written three authoritative music bios (on Roy Orbison, Townes Van Zandt, and Roland Kirk), and now he’s taken on the task of introducing the world to the poetry of Tin Ujević, which he discovered on a trip to Croatia in 2007. Kruth was struck immediately by the profundity of Ujević’s work and the fact that no one outside of Croatia seemed to know about him. “It was like discovering Leonard Cohen’s lost notebook,” says Kruth. “My natural response was to transform these great poems into songs and spread the word on Tin, to get him and his work better known.” Enlisting the assistance of a host of musical friends, Kruth has done just that with the 13-track album The Drunken Wind of Life – the Poem/Songs of Tin Ujević. Here’s the spoken word instrumental “Agni” off the album, which is out now on Smiling Fez Records.
Singer-songwriter and visual artist Marlon Rabenreither was born in Vienna, Austria, but proves that you don’t need to be born in America to make engaging Americana-based music. Now based in Los Angeles, Rabenreither dabbled in other genres before writing some country songs that caught the ear of Lucinda Williams. Her encouragement went a long way and the end result is Dark Days, Rabenreither’s debut album under the moniker Gold Star. Here’s “Sadie” off Dark Days, out now on Starfish Records.
Heather Woods Broderick
When Portland-based singer-songwriter Heather Woods Broderick isn’t touring in other people’s bands (Sharon Van Etten and Efterklang), she’s writing beautifully melancholic music that draws from her busy life on the road. On her second album, Glider, Broderick’s delicate voice and reverb-soaked fingerpicking are the focal points in an atmospheric production that’s as expansive as the country she’s traveled across so many times. Here’s “Wyoming” from Glider, out July 10 on Western Vinyl.
Purveying a brand of indie rock dubbed scuzz pop, the Vancouver, British Columbia-based band Tough Age have pulled together an outstanding sophomore record that pays due reverence to ’60s garage pop, surf, and psychedelic. While I Get the Feeling Central is a more polished and studio-grounded record compared to their lo-fi debut, the songs were still written to be played loud and with the windows down. The cleaner sound also brings out the interesting nuances that Tough Age brings to a well-trodden genre, as is evident on psych tracks like “Guilt,” which features some interesting guitar interplay that likely would have been lost on an “in the red” recording. I Get the Feeling Central is out now on Mint Records.