For every artist pushing their new album back to when things return to normal, there are more who are bravely staying on schedule
Making music in the midst of a crisis is no picnic, but there are still a bunch of artists putting new material out there at a time when our souls need succor the most.
That’s not to impugn the opposite path in any way. When somebody spends an enormous chunk of their time prepping a new release, it’s completely understandable that they might want to reschedule it for a more opportune time, as many artists have been doing with their early spring releases.
But from marquee names to underground operators, there are musicians from all across the stylistic spectrum prepared to stare the current situation straight in the eye and carry on regardless. Some of what they’re releasing is free. Some of it supports a worthy cause. Instead of putting it off until a sunnier outlook emerges, they’re willing to risk their output going unnoticed amid the madness, so the least we can do is sit up and listen to what they’re laying down.
Bob Dylan “Murder Most Foul”
Leave it to the old master of mystery to move in a completely unexpected way. Dylan’s spent the last bunch of years mustache-deep in standards albums. Then, with no warning whatsoever, he drops “Murder Most Foul,” a moody 17-minute meditation on the JFK assassination and its affect on America. While lyrical brevity has never been among his signatures, the track is actually his longest ever, but he had no bones about making it freely available on YouTube for folks who need to hear from him more than ever.
AUDIO: Bob Dylan “Murder Most Foul”
Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts V-VI
A day ahead of Dylan’s big unveiling, Nine Inch Nails actually went Bob one better by surprise-releasing two new albums out of the blue for free download. The instrumental albums Ghosts V: Together and Ghosts VI: Locusts each contain more than an hour of music, finally following up 2008’s Ghosts I-IV with a new load of deftly layered electronic textures when nobody was expecting it.
AUDIO: Nine Inch Nails “Letting Go While Holding On”
Jim Lauderdale – When Carolina Comes Home Again
Americana king Jim Lauderdale wasn’t trying to surprise anybody with this one. In fact, he’d already announced it a while ago, and after a lifetime of maverick moves, he wasn’t about to let a little thing like a global pandemic put his plans off. Lauderdale’s love letter to his home state of North Carolina came out on March 27 just like it was supposed to, serving up a bounty of bluegrass tunes co-written with everybody from his late cohort Robert Hunter to John Oates.
AUDIO: Jim Lauderdale “When Carolina Comes Home Again”
Dirty Projectors – Windows Open
You have to hand it to Dirty Projectors for making a mighty ballsy move even in present company. Not only did they stick with the March 27 release date for their Windows Open EP, they completely reconfigured their sound in the bargain. While they’d previously been known for electronic-savvy, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink record-making, the EP represents a radical shift. Besides sticking new member Maia Friedman — who appeared for the first time on 2018’s Lamp Lit Prose as an instrumentalist — in the lead vocal role on every song, the old complex clatter has been replaced by spare, organic, acoustic-oriented arrangements.
VIDEO: Dirty Projectors “Overlord”
Paula Carino – “Door”/”Spiders”
AUDIO: Paula Carino “Door”/”Spiders”
Carino’s been blending quirky power-pop influences with idiosyncratic indie rock for a good while now, but her latest single represents an impressive evolutionary step. Where a lot of her previous work was all about the edges and angles, “Door” opens things up to a lambent, widescreen feel full of atmospheric keyboards, moody guitar lines, and spacious-sounding vocals. “Spiders” introduces a surprisingly slinky, funky groove kitted out with some skeleton-bone percussion in support of a simultaneously friendly and creepy lyric. Best of all, Carino and the Big Stir label are donating all proceeds to One Fair Wage Emergency Fund, aiding restaurant workers, car service drivers, delivery people, etc. who have lost their livelihood over the past few weeks.
Uncle Leon & The Alibis – “Home’s Where You Make It“
Leon Chase is the head honcho behind Uncle Leon & The Alibis, long known as one of New York City’s most beloved outlaw country outfits. He’s also recovering from COVID-19, but he found the time to record and release this tune while he was still recuperating in isolation at his Brooklyn home. The craterous quality to his voice at the time of the recording was perhaps the only upside to the symptoms he experienced during his sickness. The message he delivers here is ultimately a positive one, but it’s also from the front lines of the fight that’s currently consuming much of the planet.