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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.

June 2016

C.W. Stoneking – “How Long”

Australian bluesman C.W. Stoneking grew up with the music of Son House, Robert Johnson, Skip James, Bukka White and other influencers of the blues world. Despite being surrounded by the mainstream pop of the 80’s, Stoneking delved deep into the history of the blues and began playing guitar, banjo, and his coveted 1931 National Duolian dobro. C.W. began busking, started playing established venues, and eventually recorded a couple albums of all-original material. For his latest album, Gon’ Boogaloo, Stoneking recorded using no overdubs in just two days. The recording method was old school, too —using just a single ribbon microphone for the room and one tube mic for his guitar and vocals. Hear the stomping, call-and-response, old-time fun of Stoneking’s music on the album opener “How Long.” Gon’ Boogaloo is out June 3rd on King Hokum Records.

Al Scorch — “Lost at Sea”

Continuing the tradition of socially-conscious singer/songwriters like Woody Guthrie and Billy Bragg is Chicago’s Al Scorch, who has just released his second album of songs for Bloodshot Records. Armed with a booming voice and lightning-fast clawhammer banjo skills, Scorch’s music is a smorgasbord of Americana from alt-country to zydeco. Lyrically, Scorch wears his devotion to the common people on his sleeve. And when he’s not fighting for the working man, he’s expressing heartfelt concern for a friend in danger, such as the case of “Lost at Sea,” which is about a best friend’s near death aboard a sinking ship during Hurricane Sandy. Circle Round the Signs is out now on Bloodshot Records.

Aukai – “Alto Paraiso”

Pink and orange morning sunlight peeking through the cover of trees. A brisk hike through the fog of a forest. The smell of pine and the wonder of some ancient mystery. The cinematic music of Aukai evokes romantic images of a place and time far removed from the daily life of most. The ambient compositions of Colorado-based musician Markus Sieber open up and reveal themselves slowly over time. Having spent over the past decade working as an actor in St. Petersburg and Berlin, Sieber returned to his musical roots after a move to Mexico left a profound impact on him. The self-titled debut album was completed with the help of several accomplished musicians, including Sieber’s wife and brother, and was mixed by Martin Heyne of Nils Frahm fame. Aukai is out June 3rd.

Jay Arner – “Crystal Ball”

Jay Arner fuses aspects of glam rock and synth pop into concise and approachable song nuggets of goodness on his new album, Jay II. As on his first album, Arner shares almost all of the musicianship duties with his partner in Energy Slime, Jessica Delisle. The songs on Jay II stand under the thematic umbrella of “trying to fit in” and finding ones place in the world. Having spent the better part of the past two years touring, Arner came away from his adventures questioning who he is in the broad scope of space and time. On “Crystal Ball,” glammy guitar jangles and sweeping synth waves  back up the self-described “human musician” as he sings of his desire to see into the future. Jay II is out June 17th on Mint Records.

9Bach — “Llyn Du”

9Bach is a folk band with a sound and message that stretches far past their native Wales. Combining Welsh lyrics with experimental instrumentation and arrangements that pull from a variety of international influences, the band’s third album, Anian, has an urgent and unsettled mood that reflects singer/composer Lisa Jên’s current frame of mind. “It marks where I’m at, whether it’s my age, being a mother, or simply being much more exposed to social media, where I’m faced with pictures and videos, images and words which I find difficult to cope with right now,” says Jên. Considering its source material, Anian is an introspective album that translates to the listener whether they understand Welsh or not. “There is a seed in my belly, it feels revolutionary, it feels like there is a movement where our generation just might be waking up from a very long, deep sleep,” says Jên. Here’s “Llyn Du” off Anian, which is out now on Real World Records.

Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer – “Mantra”

A small cabin built with driftwood beams on a nearly uninhabited island in Washington State proved to be a fitting place for Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer to record their latest album, off-grid lo-fi. Despite the four donkeys nearby that would sometimes interrupt recording, the seclusion of the cabin studio offered the pair a chance to connect deeply with the music they were creating. “Touring is so social that I have to step away and hibernate for a bit,” says McGraw. “Island life is a part of our centering.” On album-opener “Mantra,” the two harmonize about the need to love oneself, especially in difficult times.  Of the song, McGraw explains, “The song was written at a time when my 92 year old grandmother was in her last few weeks of life and it is a deeply personal song about our attempt to move gracefully from chaos and pain to calm. A reminder to breathe.” off-grid lo-fi is out June 24th.

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