New Music Friday: Steve Martin & Edie Brickell Team Up For “Won’t Go Back”

Steve and Edie

Sitting in the Drafts section of my blog dashboard are two unfinished New Music Friday posts that will likely never be completed. I really should have named this feature New This Week or New Music Spotlight or something, because naming it New Music Friday typically means it needs to be posted on, well, a Friday (and Fridays typically get too jam-packed for me to find time to write). Today, I’m trying something a bit different with New Music Friday. Rather than going over all this week’s new releases, I’ll just share a delightfully infectious music video for “Won’t Go Back,”  the lead single from Steve Martin & Edie Brickell‘s new album, “So Familiar,” out today.

Yes, we’re talking about that Steve Martin. He’s formed a remarkable second act as a musician, and in recent years he’s collaborated with celebrated singer-songwriter Edie Brickell. Their last album, “Love Has Come For You,” garnered them a well-deserved Grammy nomination, and “So Familiar,” this new effort, is even better. “Won’t Go Back” is lively and assured, a beautiful mix of folk and pop. Edie’s voice is lovely and distinctive, and Steve’s banjo playing is top-notch. And the video? I’ve watched it twice already, and it has me laughing and smiling every time. Steve’s facial expressions are worth watching alone, but the whole concept of the video is so much fun, and beautifully executed. It will most certainly brighten up your day, I can promise you that. (It may also have you be disappointed when you ride an elevator and no one recreates this video, but that’s another story…)

A very happy Friday (and Halloween weekend) to you all. Thanks for reading, watching, and listening.

Throwback Thursday: Pentatonix

Pentatonix wows the audience with their electro-infused style.

A little more than 4 years ago, on the second third-season episode of a cappella competition “The Sing-Off,” a group called Pentatonix stepped on stage for the first time. One of 8 groups making their debut that night, they sang a cover of “ET” by Katy Perry. Back then, I was doing regular recaps of the show, and this is what I had to say at the time:

I’m still not sure where I stand on this group, or this performance. The group is talented, but I’m not sure they’ve clicked for me yet. […] Their blend is striking, but it’s not entirely clear whether they’ve truly found their sound or not […] I have my eye out for Pentatonix, but I’m just not in their corner yet.

(I just watched that performance again, and hoo boy, my opinion has definitely changed in the four years since.) Here’s a video of Pentatonix’s introduction to America:

Looking back at my recaps, I quickly warmed to them from that initial ho-hum reaction. Within four short weeks, I wrote the following about their performance of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown”:

All the parts came together perfectly. […] Pentatonix just keeps getting better with each performance. Their formula is stellar, and I can totally see them doing a great job with a recording career. I started off the season with mixed feelings about them, but at this point, it’s official…I’m a huge fan.

Yep. They won me over…and I’m so glad they did. Another terrific performance by them, their best of the season in my opinion, was a cover of Florence + The Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over,” where I said at the time that they had pretty much just won the whole thing right then and there:

Watching them that season was just absolutely riveting. “Dog Days Are Over” is an incredible example of their range, their passion, their innovation in arranging, their powerful vocals…everything that makes Pentatonix what it is. It was so cool to see their star rise as “The Sing-Off” season 3 went on, and it was great to see them win the competition at the end.

Why am I waxing poetic about Pentatonix’s past today? Well, they just had their newest self-titled album (their first to consist of only original songs, I might add) debut at no. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 Chart. Which is a pretty big deal, especially for an a cappella group. (They are reportedly the first a cappella ensemble to have a #1 album.) They have simply catapulted to stardom in the last four years. As noted above, at the time I expected great things from them…but never this big. They’ve gone far, far beyond the confines of “reality singing competition winners” into the realm of legitimate, incredibly successful musicians. I’m glad I got to witness them getting their start, their ‘big break’ if you will. (And it was certainly fun to leave for my mission in Peru and be one of the relatively few who knew about Pentatonix, then come back 2 years later to find everyone knew and loved their music.) Congrats, Pentatonix, on your #1 album, and I look forward to even bigger things, and even better music, to come in the future.

Take a look at how far they’ve come with their new single, “Can’t Sleep Love”:

Thanks for reading (and indulging in a bit of nostalgia). See you very soon with lots more great music!

My Music: “Can’t Let Go of This”

This past weekend, Harmony Avenue turned 5 years old! It’s crazy to think that the blog has been around that long, and I’m happy to have been able to stick with this in some form for all these years (excepting, of course, the 2 that I served a mission in Peru). As always, thank you so much for reading and visiting.

Something I haven’t done in a while here is share my own music. Last year I took a songwriting class here at BYU. It really helped me grow and develop a songwriter, and realize that I can actually do this whole original-songs thing. As a result of both that class and me putting together my application for the BYU Commercial Music program last year, I had the chance to record 3 of my songs. (I’ll hopefully be working on more songs in the coming months as I apply for the program once more in January.) I already shared these songs on SoundCloud a few months ago, but I wanted to take the chance to share each one of them again, and also give a little background on how the writing/recording process went, while hopefully not giving away too much of the “magic.”

The first song I wrote in my songwriting class last year was called “Can’t Let Go of This.” I won’t go much into what the song “means” or “is about” or what have you. I feel like it speaks for itself for the most part. (I will say that it is fairly autobiographical.)

What is a bit interesting is how the song came about. It was written for our first songwriting project, where we had to write a “model song”…a song with the same structure–lines, number of syllables in each line, and verse/chorus organization–as an established song. The chords, lyrics, and melody were of course supposed to be different. This was meant to help us get the feel of song structure and the songwriting process in general. I had a really hard time deciding on a “model song” at first. Finally, just to try it out, I settled on “Someone Like You,” by Adele. I was kind of treading water for a bit after that, looking for somewhere to go, until I ran across a lyrical idea I had jotted down in the Notes on my iPhone, and ran with that. Then the melody started coming and evolving a bit, and before I knew it the song had pretty much come together. (It always amazes me how fast the songwriting process can be. Emphasis on can.) I was afraid that it would end up too close to Adele’s song, but when I performed it in class, people were surprised to find out what the “model song” had been. Heck, I was surprised that it ended up where it did.

A week or two after we were done with our assignment, my teacher recommended me to a Commercial Music student (Scott Shattuck) who was in need of a song to produce for one of his projects. I had never done any formal recording, so I was a bit nervous about how it would go, but it ended up being a really great experience, and I got an excellent demo out of it. Scott reharmonized some of the chords, which really made the song come alive. He also added a violinist and some synth sounds into the production, which turned out really nicely. Basically, he rocked it.

A few fun facts about my singing on the track: First off, I was on the tail end of a cold when it came time to lay down the vocal, which made for some…creative moments in the booth. Something else that even I forget when I listen to the demo, and a real testament to Scott’s mixing skills, is that my vocal is actually stitched together from the best moments of a few different takes (5, if I remember right). Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I kept having some weird pronunciation issues pop up throughout the takes. Scott did a good job covering those up, though if you listen really closely and/or know where they are like I do, you’ll hear some weird words here and there. In the future, I’ll work to get my brain and my mouth communicating a little better. :)

It’s great to share a little bit of my music with you all. Stay tuned in the future, as always, for more great songs, including a few more by yours truly. Here’s to another happy year of posting!

Throwback Thursday: “Tower of Sand” & “Sugar”

Chris Merritt

Taking it back all the way to 2007 and 2010, respectively, today’s Throwback Thursday post is double the fun. From a somewhat recent discovery of mine, indie singer-songwriter Chris Merritt, here’s not one, but two of his songs, “Tower of Sand” and “Sugar.”

I first came across Chris Merritt while on my mission, of all places. He contributed a stellar, unique version of “How Great Thou Art” to the 2009 compilation “Nearer: A New Collection of Favorite Hymns,” and I listened to and loved it throughout the 2 years I served. At least once since I returned home from Peru, I searched him out on iTunes, but didn’t dive into his music too much. Yesterday, for some reason I thought of him again and took a listen on Spotify to his most popular songs. “Tower of Sand” was at the top of the list…and there you go. I was finally hooked. (It’s from his 2007 debut album, “Hello, Little Captain.”) By default, I’m a sucker for these bouncy, swingy (such technical terms, I know) kind of piano-driven songs, but on top of that, the songwriting here is just spot-on.  The wordplay and metaphors are terrific, and it brings something new each listen. (It took me a bit to realize it was a breakup song. Props to Chris for leaving the song’s meaning as a bit of a mystery at first.) Here’s an example of just how cool and well-written the lyrics are:

“Give it away,” I told her. “‘Cause I don’t want that.

It’s only you on my mind and where you go,

I go where you go, I go where you go, I’ll be there.”

OK, so maybe they don’t look like much on paper, but just listen to how he places them in the melody…it just rolls off his tongue right into your ears. #songwritingnerdmoment

“Sugar” was actually the 5th song on the list of Chris’ most-played tunes. It’s off one of his more recent albums, “Virginia Is For Hoverers (Part II).” At first, I went, “OK, this is pretty good.” Today, I’ve had it on constant rotation (and I mean constant). It just keeps getting better and better. I can’t let it go, really. Once again, Chris’ songwriting is brilliantly engaging. The production also really stands out here as well. I particularly love the gorgeous multi-track harmonies (if my ear doesn’t deceive me, Chris provides them all). The way they cascade in the second chorus is a great touch. And gosh, the bridge? It’s absolutely beautiful, and on top of that, it rips your heart right out and throws it on the table, the way it builds and the way that Chris just sells those lines. He has brilliantly captured that storm of emotions you get right after a love is over, and seriously, I just can’t get enough of the whole thing.

I have a long way to go before I listen to the rest of Chris’ catalog (he’s also planning on releasing new music soon), but from what I’ve heard so far, he’s a real gem. Be sure to check him out on Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, what have you, because you will seriously not regret it. (I know I’m regretting not discovering his music until now.)

New Music Friday: Ellie Goulding, Yo-Yo Ma, & More

Today I introduce a new feature inspired by other music places across the Internet, New Music Friday. Each Friday that I can, I’ll highlight great new songs & albums just released, for your listening & discovering pleasure. (Yeah, not too much of a complicated concept.) Here’s some of the excellent music on tap this week:

Songs From The Arc of Life

Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma & celebrated pianist Kathryn Stott have a new album out today, “Songs From the Arc of Life,” an excellent collection of songs (many of them iconic) reflecting the journey each of us takes through life. The selections, ranging from Bach to Debussy to Saint-Saens, are top-notch. Even if you’re not a classical music fan, you’re sure to find a few recognizable favorites. And the interplay between Yo-Yo and Kathryn, who have been playing together for more than 30 years, is stunning. Both of them are in outstanding form here, and work together seamlessly, really bringing out the life and heart of each of these compositions. This is a real treat for sure, and one you’ll want to take a listen to even if you’re not that into classical fare.

Watch Yo-Yo and Kathryn perform Saint-Saens’ classic “The Swan” from Carnival of the Animals:

Ellie Goulding has a new single out, “On My Mind,” taken from her upcoming album “Delirium” which comes out in November. I’ve been an Ellie fan for quite some time, beginning back in 2011 or so when I first heard her debut album “Lights” (then not yet available in the States). The title track from that album became a big sleeper hit while I was in Peru, so I was surprised and delighted to come back to the USA and find that Ellie Goulding was fast becoming a household name. This new single is an excellent musical evolution for her, a confident, current, certainly dance-friendly pop number driven by skittering guitars, a great beat, and Ellie’s cool yet passionate vocals. As always, she’s terrific at mixing radio-friendly elements with real, honest songwriting and performing. This is bound to be a radio staple within a few weeks or so, but it’ll be a radio staple you’ll really enjoy.

Take a listen on Spotify:


Letters to Ghosts

It’s been nearly 10 years since singer/songwriter Lucie Silvas released her last album. Struggling through label troubles and other delays, it’s been a long journey towards “Letters to Ghosts,” released today. The result, however, was well, well worth the wait. This isn’t just any old set of tunes. This is a collection of beautifully crafted, intensely personal yet accessible songs that grab you right from the get-go. Lucie’s delivery is full of fire and commitment–she’s clearly been ready for quite some time to remind us all what she’s got. Her voice is on point, her songwriting is on point, everything just clicks. She’s taken her time with this one, but it’s all the better for it. If there’s justice in the world, this will be the album to put Lucie squarely on the map. If not, though, there’s lots of high-quality, bound-to-be-stuck-on-repeat music to savor.

Check out the title track…then go and listen to the rest of the album:


Many A New Day

Veteran jazz singer Karrin Allyson has sung countless standards and other tunes over the years, and today she releases an album, “Many A New Day: Karrin Allyson Sings Rodgers & Hammerstein,” consisting entirely of songs from one pair of composers, that pair being of course Rodgers & Hammerstein, those behind classic musicals like “The King and I” and “The Sound of Music.” Accompanied solely by legendary pianist Kenny Barron and seasoned bassist John Patitucci, and choosing a great mix of both well-known and lesser-sung numbers, Karrin manages to bring out new and intriguing facets of these chestnuts that really make the songs come alive again. (Not that they didn’t have life to begin with. This is Rodgers & Hammerstein we’re talking about here.) Her phrasing is fantastic, her voice is distinctive and in fine form, and Kenny & John are two of the best accompanists you can get. Fun, inventive arrangements and an impeccable level of performance make this a fine tribute to Rodgers & Hammerstein, and not just an excellent jazz album, but an excellent album, period.

Hear Karrin, Kenny & John turn “The Surrey With the Fringe On Top” from Oklahoma on its ear (just count the key changes, for starters):

There’s lots of great music for you to enjoy this weekend. (This is just the tip of the iceberg.) Let me know how you love/hate this new feature, and if there’s any improvements I can make. Thanks, as always, for reading and listening. It’s great to have you visiting the blog!

Song of the Day: “So There”

Ben Folds and yMusic

Ben Folds has gone in quite a few different directions over the years. He’s been in a rock band. He’s produced an a cappella album. He’s worked with acclaimed author Nick Hornby. One thing that has been constant throughout all his artistic exploration is that he’s consistently been making some excellent music. (Example: a song of his I shared for a Throwback Thursday late last year.) Today’s Song of the Day, “So There,” the title track from his new album (a collaborative effort with New York-based classical/pop sextet yMusic), showcases both qualities of Ben Folds (his penchant for throwing musical curveballs, and for giving us some terrific songs).

“So There” is one of the more uptempo songs on the album, and its jittery, kinetic vibe is both exhilarating and unique. yMusic really brings an exciting new energy to the table here, one that complements Ben’s wry, maturing brand of songcraft. The lyrics, as is typical with Ben, are beautifully clever and subtly heartbreaking, here telling the story of a failed relationship that will most certainly be staying in the past (though not without a few small undercurrents of regret). “A mattress and a stereo, just like I started,” Ben begins, “And a note composed with thumbs and phone on unpacked boxes.” By the chorus, however, he’s tossing off the lines, “And I will not forget you…there is nothing to forget. So there.” The jaunty backing by Ben on piano and yMusic on strings and woodwinds juxtaposes nicely with the biting melancholy of the words, and he and the group have a riveting instrumental break in the latter half of the song that leads wonderfully into the final verse and chorus. It’s just an exceptionally well-crafted, intoxicating mix of pop, rock, and chamber music. I really haven’t been able to get enough of it these past few days. The rest of the album is a treat as well (it includes an outstanding 3-movement piano concerto Ben composed and performed with the Nashville Symphony), and I highly recommend you check it all out.

Throwback Thursday: “Let’s Face The Music and Dance”

Briefly, for your throwback listening pleasure on this fine Thursday evening, here’s a gem from 1964…Nat King Cole’s outstanding version of the timeless jazz standard “Let’s Face The Music and Dance.”

I’ve long loved many of Nat King Cole’s recordings of jazz classics, but for some reason his take on “Let’s Face The Music and Dance” (covered excellently by other jazz singers as well over the years, such as Ella Fitzgerald and Diana Krall) passed me by until yesterday afternoon, when I was catching up on this week’s episode of “So You Think You Can Dance.” Two of the dancers performed a fine Broadway routine to the song, and later on, I listened to the song alone. It benefits greatly from a killer arrangement by the great Billy May (there’s even a short organ solo), and Nat’s typically effortless vocals. It may even make YOU want to get up and dance yourself. So, if you’ll pardon the pun…just face the music already, and take a listen.