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 and associate editor Ben Sauder.
Holy Forest is the genre-mixing project of musician and filmmaker Jon Fine. Having spent the last several years making music videos for the likes of Herbie Hancock and working on the Bill Wither’s documentary “Still Bill,” Fine is returning to his roots as a musician. Enlisting the help of Ed “Preacherman” Holley, Gambian griot Tata Din Din Jobarteh (aka the Jimi Hendrix of the Kora), members of Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, and others, Fine has produced an album that spans continents and genres. The first single, “Africa Calling,” features funky horns, light Kora melodies, and the soulful vocals of Ed “Preacherman” Holley. Holy Forest is out now.
Songwriter Scott Fagan has experienced a fascinating life. Raised in the Virgin Islands, he moved to New York City in the mid-1960s at the age of 19 and ended up writing a song cycle about that experience that become his debut album, South Atlantic Blues. A fascinating mix of psychedelic, folk, and soul that few people heard when it was first released in 1968, the album was rediscovered in 1969 by painter Jasper Johns, who based a series of paintings on the songs. Despite the fact that the album inspired one of the 20th Century’s greatest artists, the album has lived in relative obscurity for the past 45 years and is just now receiving the reissue treatment that it deserves. Even better, Fagan will get a chance to see firsthand how his early songs influence a new generation of listeners as he’ll be participating in a special performance of the album to coincide with its release on independent record label St. Cecilia Knows. Here’s the single from South Atlantic Blues, “In My Head.”
Goddess Polka Dottess is the fifth studio by the eclectic New York-based world music collective TriBeCaStan. Founded by multi-instrumentalists John Kruth and Jeff Greene, the project allows a varied group of outstanding musicians the opportunity to erase the boundaries between musical genres. With each member bringing their own unique musical backgrounds and influences to the table, the new album is another fantastic reminder that music truly is a universal language. Here’s the outstanding track “Vagabundo” off Goddess Polka Dottess, which is out now on Evergreene Music.
Prior to founding British folk band Pentangle with Bert Jansch, guitarist John Renbourn honed his influential playing style like most folk musicians: learning the songs of his influencers. For Renbourn, that included a lot of early American blues and songs that he picked up from other players he encountered during the great folk revival of the 1950s and 60s; The Attic Tapes is a collection of those early recordings. Among the many recordings of blues classics that would become fixtures in his set up to the point of his death this past March, The Attic Tapes also features some previously unreleased live performances of original compositions like “Judy.” The Attic Tapes is out now on Riverboat Records.
Babes, the LA-based band of siblings and cousins, have taken the hand-clapping, vocal harmony goodness of 60’s girl groups and added layers of synths to craft an album of solid pop tunes. The thematic inspiration for Untitled (Five Tears) is summed up by the band’s recent experiences with loss. “Lots of horrible things happen to us all – friends and lovers move on or drop dead, everything changes right under our feet, and just when you start to understand something, you realize you have no clue and it slips away.” Here’s “Wild Dreams,” from Untitled (Five Tears), out October 30 on Barsuk Records.
Austin-based Atlas Maior bridges the musical space among American jazz, Middle Eastern traditions and Latin American idioms with their new 3-track EP Keyif. While Istanbul, Turkey acts as a geographic focal point for the group’s new sound, their influences extend to the musical traditions of Brazil, Spain, and the Canary Islands. Charles Lockwood, one of the band’s three members and player of the oud (a pear-shaped ancestor of the guitar), says they aimed “to come away with a sound that illustrated our original compositions, but also captured a natural and lively rendition of each song.” Here’s “Cynthia’s Tears” from Keyif, out now.
The Greatest Hoax
The Greatest Hoax is the dreamy electronic- and piano-driven project of Washington, D.C.-based Taylor Jordan. The familiar nature of the soundscapes found on his upcoming release, Enso, exhibit an analog warmth reminiscent of Brain Eno’s explorations in works such as Music for Airports. Here’s “Opus No. 29” from Enso, out November 20 via self–release.