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Indie Spotlight: Fred Neil, Birds of Play, Surge and the Swell and others

Indie Spotlight shines a light on Fred Neil, Birds of Play, Surge and the Swell, Landon Lloyd Miller, Corrina Repp and more.

By Lee Zimmerman

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Leave it to South Florida’s esteemed Y&T Records, an indie label that dates back several decades, to put together an impressive tribute to one of the area’s own, the legendary Fred Neil. An iconic singer and songwriter, Neil left behind a wealth of classic songs that would go on to become standards by other artists in later years — Jefferson Airplane, Harry Nilsson, the Lovin’ Spoonful, and Billy Bragg, among the many. Consequently, Everybody’s Talkin’: A Tribute to Fred Neil features an impressive line-up of singer/songwriters drawn from South Florida elsewhere, some who knew Neil personally — Eric Andersen, Bobby Ingram, Vince Martin and Keith Sykes — and a cast of later arrivals who now qualify as his future disciples —Arlan Feiles, Jim Wurster, Mary Karlzen, and Matthew Sabatella, several of whom are hallmark Y&T staples. The track list includes several of Neil’s better known signature songs — “The Dolphins” (repeated here twice), “Everybody’s Talkin’,” “Candyman,” and “The Other Side of This Life,” chief among them. All the artists do an outstanding job of covering the material, putting their own stamp on the songs while still staying true to the spirit of the originals. With a 18 tracks, it’s a generous offering to boot.

  

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Birds of Play may very well have invented a new genre, one that could be referred to as “chamber bluegrass.” Their new album, Murmurations Vol. 2 is quiet and low-key, but, at the same time, a decidedly upbeat affair, filtered through the delicate designs of triple mandolins, guitars, violin, alluring harmonies, and decidedly engaging melodies. It’s a carefully blended brew, and while the emphasis is on an unassuming delivery, the carefully plucked arrangements have the astute ability to easily win the listener over, even on an initial encounter. There are several singular examples — “Turn To Gold” and “Clumsy Dreamer” being among the many. Yet, given their history, it’s hardly surprising; having successfully competed at the 2018 Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, they were subsequently awarded a Telluride Arts District grant to record their first album. Four years on, they’ve made impressive strides, and indeed, with Murmurations Vol. 2, these Birds have taken flight.

  

surge and swell

With a name like Surge and the Swell, there’s really no hint as to the band’s musical mantra. Happily then, ambiguity doesn’t detract from the fact that the music that’s made is as introspective and evocative as one might hope from a band that’s making their their initial bow. That said, there’s plenty of experience and expertise involved with this ensemble. The man at the helm is Aaron Cabbage, a musician whose backstory spans several various environs, including Kentucky, Texas and, currently, Minnesota. His comrades include Adam Levy of the Honeydogs, Noah Levy of Brian Setzer’s band, Peter Frampton’s band and Golden Smog and their brother Isaac, among the several. More importantly, the songs share themes that relate to the shared scenarios that have become so integrated in the threads of everyday existence. "Full in the Now", "Hard Work" and "Gravity Boots" were inspired by the dramatic shifts that have impacted daily life in the wake of the pandemic and the stress and strain of modern existence. Given the sensual melodies that underscore it all, Offeringclearly lives up to its title.

  

With two discs spanning 20 songs by indie outfits like Grandaddy, Peter Bjorn and John, Kevin Drew, Strand of Oaks, James Yorkston, Sondre Lerche and the like, Covers of Covers, a compilation created by the esteemed American Laundromat Records, comes up with an interesting concept — that is, to offer covers of otherwise obscure songs by bands that have mostly remained under the radar. That said, the music is decidedly accessible and alluring despite its unlikely origins. Water From Your Eyes’ take on R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I feel Fine)” may be the most buoyant take on an R.E.M. song ever recorded and it ends the album on a decidedly upbeat note. Notably, the sound is enticing all the way through, making this a superb sampler of artists who might otherwise remain confined to realms which exist well beyond the mainstream. Kudos to all those involved and especially to the awesome array of musicians who prove that craft and creativity are still alive and flourishing.

  

LandonLloyd Miller



There are certain artists who seem to suddenly pop up out of the ether, making one wonder where they’ve been up until now. Landon Lloyd Miller, a native of Louisiana and now a resident of West Texas, is one of those. With his striking new album, Light Shines Through, he makes a decided impression, courtesy of a series of songs that blend folk, roots and hints of shimmering psychedelia in equal proportions. In the process, he relates stories of individuals caught up in their own isolated scenarios, told from Miller’s own personal perspective. His storytelling skills are hardly surprising; a former documentary film producer and winemaker — not to mention his long running role as the frontman of his Shreveport-based "space western" band, The Wall Charger — he’s a Renaissance man in every regard, sharing his songs with an assurance that only experience can bring. “Don’t blame the future to lie about the past,” he sings on the song “Only Dreaming,” a telling narrative about proceeding forward with both caution and courage. A brilliant beginning, the earnest and evocative Light Shines Through provides a mantra everyone can all take to heart.

  

Repp



The soft hues and intimate embrace of Island, Corrina Repp’s first self-written and self-recorded album, reflects the isolation and intimacy borne from her confinement in a tiny apartment at the start of the pandemic. It’s an intimate offering, flush with hushed arrangements and Repp’s quiet, unobtrusive vocals. In that sense, it’s a decidedly nocturnal affair, one that is quietly alluring and sweetly seductive in every sense. Repp’s no stranger to making music in that regard; her songs have graced such critically-acclaimed programs as “Better Things,”“Portlandia” and “Orange Is the New Black,” and indeed it’s that sense of cinematic suggestion that allows these songs to get under the skin and resonate there long after the final notes fade away. In that sense, this is a bold effort effort indeed, especially when one considers that it takes volume and veracity to make an impression in today’s noisy and aggressive environs. Happily, Island is a place where meditation and musing are still possible, and for that, we ought to be grateful.