Singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer Bhi Bhiman has released Substitute Preacher II, an offbeat and artful new covers EP that follows the first installment in 2013. In spite of the eight-year gap, Bhiman’s approach to producing covers has stayed remarkably consistent. Substitute Preacher II’s performances mostly feature just Bhiman’s acoustic guitar and mighty vocals, captured in live takes with minimal overdubs. Bhiman saws straight through the trunks of some towering classic rock picks that might at first seem impenetrable to solo-acoustic interpretation: “Back in Black” by AC/DC, Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride.” But with the craft of a master carpenter, he also has the foresight and ingenuity to build something novel from the shreds he’s chopped.
Dua Lipa’s music has been omnipresent this year. Her Grammy-winning album Future Nostalgia, released last spring, became the soundtrack for a global audience’s new virtual reality. The record is cavalcade of glossy dance pop and a surprisingly transporting at-home listen, offering a fantasy facsimile of a night on the dance floor.
Legendary vocalists Billy Davis Jr. and Marilyn McCoo are founding members of The 5th Dimension, the venerable LA-based vocal pop group. As their otherworldly name suggests, The 5th Dimension had a knack for elevating novel tunes to new realms. Davis Jr. and McCoo’s lead vocals imbued hits like “The Worst That Could Happen” and “One Less Bell To Answer” with a buoyant blend of elegance, whimsy and surreal soul. The pair are old-school song interpreters in the most artful sense, illuminating new emotional planes in their powerful performances.
For all their freewheeling tendencies, The Polyphonic Spree have marched forward with an admirable persistence. When the choral art-pop ensemble first made a name for themselves in the mid-‘00s, the group’s massive unison choruses, prismatic visuals, and exultant vibes made them a curious bauble in a sea of jaded indie rock bands. Two decades down the road, The Polyphonic Spree have outlasted many of their iPod Age musical peers, through a stream of global tours, decade-defining needle drops and six studio albums.
Dev Marvelous and The Bird and the Bee’s Inara George are a well-matched creative pair. Though they’re divided by a generation and by geography — Louisville and Los Angeles, respectively — both create similar strains of inviting pointillist pop. Even the pair’s crate-digging influences appear to be uncannily aligned. In a trio of charming at-home performances shared recently on Instagram, Dev Marvelous plays an acid jazz Herb Alpert remix, an off-the-cuff midnight solo Rhodes improvisation, and even a wild Eumir Deodato fusion synth solo.
Soundgarden’s 1994 classic “Black Hole Sun” is one of rock’s titanic singles. The anthem carries an inextinguishable torch for grunge — its generational malaise, its plodding melancholia. Yet the song’s singular beauty arises from the ways it lifts the genre’s massive, earth-bound sounds to new and transcendent heights. In the song’s airy verses, Chris Cornell’s words swirl like gathering storm clouds, brewing power pop melodies and Sgt. Pepper psychedelia into a festering, ominous mass. By the time its final iconic chorus drops, “Black Hole Sun” has soared amid some pretty expansive sonic vistas — heaven, earth and back again.