The music of tUnE-yArDs can be deceiving. Instruments transform; recordings morph; one voice can sound like four or five. The woman behind the project, Merrill Garbus, can certainly make a lot of noise on her own. Armed with a ukulele, drums and a voice that has been called a cross between Aretha Franklin and Yoko Ono, Garbus uses a loop pedal to build songs that are larger than life.
I'd never think that a banjo player could find my musical sweet spot, which falls somewhere between Mali and The Velvet Underground, but Otis Taylor hits it, spot on. Taylor's music is trance-inducing, and he achieves that effect by playing songs that are modal: Sometimes, they sit on one chord for the entire song.
"Here We Rest" was the original motto of Alabama, the state Jason Isbell was raised in and still calls home. It's a perfect title for his new album. After nearly a decade as a touring musician, Isbell spent more time at home last year to write the record, and his new songs reflect that choice. Finding himself in familiar territory, he reexamines his past, attempts to rekindle relationships and retrace old patterns, and fights the feeling of being a stranger in his own town in "Alabama Pines."
Using an eclectic blend of styles from Slavic to American punk, the Denver-based quartet DeVotchKa entered the public consciousness when it scored the Grammy-nominated soundtrack to Little Miss Sunshine. The group's orchestral melodies and energetic pop has been called souped-up polka rock, but its members have found room to explore and mature over the past decade.
Singer-songwriter Paul Simon was listening to a box set of old American recordings one day. Among the songs, he found a Christmas sermon bearing the voice of Atlanta's Rev. J.M. Gates, a hugely popular preacher in the 1930s and '40s. That sermon stayed with Simon, who turned it into a song.