For the past few weeks I have grown increasingly frustrated with the format I have been using to create my “Today’s Top 40” posts. Using the Top 40 charts of radio stations and streaming services has proven ineffective as the charts have become stagnant, with the same artists occupying the same places for weeks at a time. So, starting today, and continuing for the next little while to see how it goes, I am abandoning the use of Top 40 charts as a source of material for this blog series. Instead, I am going to concentrate on new releases. There are tons of artists and bands who release new material each week so, starting today, I am going to mine that seam and see what nuggets I can find. As a result, I am also changing the name of this blog series from “Today’s Top 40” to “Tomorrow’s Top 40” to better reflect the potential of these new releases. In all cases, I wish the artists and bands the best of luck. I applaud their creativity and hope that you enjoy their good work. Let’s quit the chatter and git at ‘er! Here we go!
Look Up! By The Harlem Gospel Travelers.
If you do nothing with this post other than click on this song link then your life will be richer and I will have provided you with an invaluable service. What an inspiring story The Harlem Gospel Travelers are! This group proves why properly funding The Arts in public schools is a valuable investment. The story of The Harlem Gospel Travelers began in an after school music programme located in Harlem, New York called Gospel For Teens. This was a volunteer-run music programme that aimed to teach children (who would otherwise be on the street) about choral singing and the history of Gospel music, in particular. Because this programme is aimed at school-aged children, there is only a finite amount of time each singer can spend in the programme before they “age out”, as the saying goes. That’s where this story begins.
As a teenage boy named Thomas Gatling approached the end of his tenure with the programme, he went to the organizers of Gospel For Teens and asked if there was any possibility that, instead of receiving instruction in singing for choirs, he and a few of his friends could receive instruction in singing as a quartet. A man named Eli “Paperboy” Reed stepped up and offered to help. The quartet became a trio over time and ended up consisting of Gatling, along with his two friends, George Marage and Dennis Bailey. Originally, the trio sang Gospel standards from the 1940s, 50s and 60s but, in time, they came to learn the craft of songwriting and began to sing and record their own material. Through Reed’s mentorship, the three young men learned the long rich history of Gospel music. Soon they felt confident enough to release an album of original work, which they did in 2019. This album was filled with Gospel songs and spirituals but it was also filled with catchy tunes that sounded right at home with any of the classic Motown tunes of the 1960s. The three teenagers came to the attention of Sir Elton John who used his platform to shine a spotlight upon them.
This past week, they released their second album. It is called, Look Up! The title track is the first single they are releasing. It is so positive and uplifting. For my money, “Look Up!” is a song that could easily have been taken straight from the catalogue of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. It is that good. But also for my money, the really big potential hit is nestled in the middle of this album track listing. It is a song called “Fight On!” While the boys wish to continue singing songs of praise and affirmation, they also wish to use their growing status to speak on issues that matter to their community. So, they recorded “Fight On!”. This song is meant to act as support for the Black Lives Matter protests and against racism in all of its forms. The video for the song blends archival footage of protest marches from the 1950s and 60s, with those happening today which makes a powerful statement about how so little has changed in society for people of colour. What a rousing song this is! You can listen to/watch “Fight On!” here. The future is very bright for these young men. Thanks to mentors like Eli “Paperboy” Reed and all who believe in the value of an Arts education.
Two 6s, Upside Down by The Dropkick Murphys.
I have absolutely loved the Dropkick Murphys since I first became aware of them almost twenty years ago. They have been a fun, party band for awhile now. They produce rousing, sing-along songs and are known for admiring and promoting personal qualities such as being courageous, loyal and principled. They have had a string of hits that really began with the anthemic “Shipping Up To Boston” that is played at all home games of the Boston Bruins and Boston Red Sox. The Murphys, as they are known to their fans, have been together for 26 years now and have employed the same lineup for most of those years. They are like a brotherhood and their fans like a community and a fellowship.
In recent times, the Dropkick Murphys have begun to speak up about the politics of the times. In particular, they have come out as being strongly against the policies of former President Donald Trump, as well as the current politics as practiced by the Republican Party in the US. Not surprisingly, for their next album called This Machine Kills Fascists, the Murphys have decided to draw inspiration from a man they have dubbed as the “original punk”. Mr. Woody Guthrie. Guthrie, as you may know, wrote many politically-oriented songs back in the 1940s and 50s, including the seemingly innocuous but highly political, “This Land Is Your Land”. He was also known for a slogan that he wrote on the acoustic guitar he used. That slogan was “This machine kills fascists. The Dropkick Murphys were given special access to Guthrie’s archives by his daughter, Nora, who tapped the band as his modern day successor. From those archives came the lyrics and inspiration for their new album.
The song “Two 6s, Upside Down” is a Woody Guthrie song about retribution and incarceration. It concerns the story of a man who kills another man who had been having an affair with his wife. In true Guthrie fashion, a straight-forward crime story becomes something more of a societal commentary. In true Dropkick Murphys fashion, “Two 6s, Upside Down” becomes a rousing anthem. If you have never heard the Murphys before then this song is a good introduction to their style. I like them a lot. If you want to know more about the band, they have oodles of videos up on YouTube that you can access. They will all range from silly to fiery but they are all awesome and lots of fun. A day listening to Dropkick Murphy songs is a day well spent in my humble opinion.
Right On Time (In The Canyon Haze) by Brandi Carlile.
It is difficult to find a female singer as respected and productive these days as Brandi Carlile. In the decade since she first appeared on the national music scene in the US, Carlile has won numerous Grammy Awards for her Folk and Country recordings. She has appeared on former President Barack Obama’s influential year end song list for her song called, “The Joke”. She has recorded an album called The Story and then redid the album by having singers such as Adele, Dolly Parton and Pearl Jam each pick a song, with all of the money raised by this cover album going to charity. Finally, as an indication of how connected and well-spected Brandi Carlile is within the music industry, she recently held a performance at the Newport Folk Festival that was billed, “Brandi Carlile and Friends”. Well, the most noteworthy of those “friends” was none other than the reclusive Joni Mitchell, who joined Carlile on stage for a full set of her greatest hits. *(including “Case of You” that you can listen to here. This is beautiful in many respects). As a way to say thank you, Carlile has released an album called Brandi Carlile: In the Canyon Haze which is an ode to those singers who called Laurel Canyon their home. Joni Mitchell being one of the most famous of these residents.
It would be easy to go on and on about Brandi Carlile because she is such a talented performer and songwriter. But I will conclude this section of the post about her by saying a few words about her life beyond the stage. Very early on in her career, Brandi Carlile decided that she wanted to use her wealth and status as an entertainer to better the world around her. Thus, she has become widely known and respected for her philanthropic endeavours. Carlile and her wife, Catherine Shepherd, along with several others have formed a charitable corporation called the Looking Out Foundation. Funded by sales of her music and merchandise, Carlile has helped organizations around the world such as The Bridge School, War Child International, Doctors Without Borders and various local organizations focussed on poverty, racial justice and women’s rights. Carlile has raised her philanthropic funding in collaboration with a whos-who of the entertainment world such as Alicia Keys, Sam Smith, The Indigo Girls, Adele, MIranda Lambert, Dolly Parton (herself a renowned philanthropist), Michelle and Barack Obama and many more. So, hats off to this talented and compassionate woman. Brandi Carlile is the bee’s knees and then some.
Weather Alive by Beth Orton.
Beth Orton has been one of Britain’s most respected singer/ songwriters since the late 1990s. She is known for combining elements of electronic music with those of acoustic ballads. She has been nominated for…and won….many of the UK’s top music prizes such as the Mercury Prize for Album of the Year and the Brit Award for Song of the Year. Because many of her songs have an atmospheric quality to their construction, they have been deemed as being well suited for inclusion as soundtrack material for movies and TV dramas. As such, her music has been regularly used on shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and Dawson’s Creek, as well as movies such as Vanilla Sky. Orton’s latest work arrives in the form of an album entitled, Weather Alive. The first single is the title track. It is a completely lovely, dreamy song that I know will be a hit with audiences who like softer, more poetic and contemplative music.
Orton wrote this entire album under circumstances that I can completely relate to. She became a mother a few years ago. Her children are now old enough to be of school age. Thus, for the first time in many years, Orton would send her children to school and then return home to an empty house. Seeking ways to fill the empty space she suddenly found herself in, Orton bought a used piano and began to fill the isolation with song. The time spent alone, away from the hubbub of family life allowed Orton time to focus on her own thoughts and feelings in a way that isn’t possible when attention is required by tiny humans. Consequently, the poetry inside of Beth Orton was allowed to germinate and grow into an album’s worth of music that is very personal and completely lovely to listen to. The song “Weather Alive” is indicative of the music on this album. I am very hopeful that it will touch your heart and mind, as it did mine.
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