Sep 022016
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

Dan Reeder

The first Dan Reeder song I heard was his meditation on death, “Maybe,” featured on an Oh Boy Records CD sampler. Oh Boy is an indie label founded by John Prine, who signed Reeder after hearing his demo cassette. His first album, Dan Reeder, was as one-man-show and homemade as you can get – he wrote it, played it, recorded and engineered it, did the artwork, did all the harmonies, and even made his own instruments. The songs are brief, thoughtful, humorous, and direct – profanity is sprinkled throughout in a way that somehow manages to be organic and not crude. It was the (NSFW) “Work Song” that made me a fan for life; it’s a song with one line repeated over and over, to perfection and beyond. As NPR said, “you’ll want to play it because it’ll ring true inside you, not because it’s gratuitously vulgar.”

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Aug 262016
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

hem

Writing an “Under the Radar” piece inevitably forces the writer to address the elephant in the room: Why is an artist you like enough to spend time researching and crafting a piece about considered to be “Under the Radar” by the vast majority of people? Hem, a band that formed in 2002 and sporadically released music until last year, would seem to have had so many advantages – intelligent songwriting, fine musicianship, a distinctive sound and, maybe most importantly, a lead vocalist with a scarily gorgeous voice. Seven of their songs were used in national commercials for Liberty Mutual Insurance, a classic Christmas cover was used in an ad for Tiffany’s, and other songs have appeared in television shows. They created music, which was well received by The New York Times, for a production of Twelfth Night for New York’s legendary Shakespeare In The Park program, featuring Anne Hathaway, Audra McDonald and Hamish Linklater. They were touted by outlets as diverse as NPR and Entertainment Weekly. Yet it appears that radar just doesn’t pick them up.
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May 202016
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

caught_a_ghost

“It’s an old expression,” Jesse Nolan explained in an interview with MTV. “Musicians used to say you caught a ghost if you gave a good performance. Like you were possessed.”

The spirit has certainly moved Caught a Ghost, the Los Angeles indie-electro-soul musical collective headed by Nolan. They give a 21st-century voice to the ghosts of Stax and Motown, welding them to ’90s hip-hop and electronica. Nolan, who plays most of the instruments in the studio and leads a whole stageful in Caught a Ghost’s highly-praised live shows (could be four, could be eight – “We just take whoever is available when we play”), describes himself as an “imperfectionist,” making sure the music is realer by not refining it to death.

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May 032016
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds H&M Photo Shoot at SXSW in Austin, TX

“Our music is loud, fun, and it’s supposed to make you feel good.”

That’s straight from the mouth of Arleigh Kincheloe, the lead singer and Sister Sparrow to the collection of Dirty Birds that backs her up in this amazing rock/soul/funk band. Arleigh and her brother Jackson, who plays the prominently-featured harmonica for the ensemble, came from the Catskills to the band’s base of operations, Brooklyn. They formed in 2008, and by 2010 they had their self-titled debut album available. Since then, they’ve been road warriors, hitting venues and festivals all over the country. They’ve won listeners over the old-fashioned way: putting on the best damn shows they can and bringing to music to every pair of ears they can find.
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Feb 262016
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

tift-merritt

Tift Merritt came out of Raleigh, North Carolina, back in 2002. Her debut, Bramble Rose, was well respected, finding itself on multiple best-of lists, but it was her second album, Tambourine, which was truly respected, getting Album of the Year nominations from the Grammys (country category) and the Americana Music Association. She’s toured hard, opening early in her career for her friend Ryan Adams and for Elvis Costello. She’s continued to release critically acclaimed albums, both on her own and in joint projects such as Night, her 2013 collaboration with classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein. Her work has led to a great deal of respect from people in the industry, but not a corresponding amount of fame. Even so, fans in the know recognize her as a leader within the field, and her talent shines through no matter where she shows up. Emmylou Harris said that Merritt stands out “like a diamond in a coal patch.” Emmylou is right. Tift Merritt may not be played on your local radio station very often, but she deserves a place in your listening library.

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Feb 102016
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

sons of bill

Sons of Bill hails from Charlottesville, Virginia. The band was formed by brothers James, Sam, and Abe Wilson, whose father Bill is a professor of theology and Southern literature at the University of Virginia. The lineup, filled out by Seth Green and Todd Wellons, has honed their sound across four albums. Their latest, Love and Logic, is a huge step forward in the band’s literary and thoughtful brand of Southern rock. Ken Coomer, of Uncle Tupelo and Wilco, produced the record, saying it “takes [him] back to some of the creative heights” he found with the latter band. That’s high praise indeed, but Sons of Bill deserves it. They’ve toured the States and Europe relentlessly, working hard to win fans over one at a time both with their original music and with a selection of covers. The songs they choose reflect their wide range of influences. Here’s some of their best cover work.

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