WUNC's #NowPlaying Picks New song recommendations from North Carolina Public Radio

WUNC's #NowPlaying Picks

New song recommendations from North Carolina Public Radio
September 2

Makaya McCraven, 'Frank's Tune (AKA De'Jeff's Tune)'

North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC

UMG Recordings/Blue Note Records YouTube

Chicago-based drummer and producer Makaya McCraven just announced Deciphering The Message, an album that reinterprets songs from the legendary Blue Note catalog. On "Frank's Tune (AKA 'De'Jeff's Tune')," McCraven reworks a song from Jack Wilson's album Easterly Winds with help from guitarist Jeff Parker and flutist De'Sean Jones. The trio take an upbeat hard bop standard and spin it into something smoother, dominating the groove through mellow flute and guitar. Underneath it all, McCraven provides a slow and heavy beat that modernizes the track and brings it into the present, giving the listener something to nod their head to.

August 26

Lady Blackbird, 'It's Not That Easy'

North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC

Foundation Productions/BMG YouTube

"It's Not That Easy" is the first official single from Lady Blackbird's long-awaited debut, Black Acid Soul. Having previously performed as Marley Munroe, Lady Blackbird has traversed a variety of genres over the course of her career, from alt-pop to jazz to rock. With one of the most stunning voices we've heard in awhile, she takes a deep Southern soul classic, originally created by Reuben Bell and the Casanovas, and updates it with a stripped-down, minimal arrangement of piano, bass and organ. Equal parts torch song and funeral dirge, it's a raw and pining anthem whose heartbreak slowly seeps in as the organ crawls beneath Lady Blackbird's sorrowful vocals. It's one to play on repeat if you're looking for a post-breakup catharsis.

August 25

Helado Negro, 'Outside The Outside'

North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC

Private Energy/4AD YouTube

Helado Negro, aka Roberto Carlos Lange, just released "Outside the Outside," the second single from his forthcoming seventh album, Far In. A late-night song with an infectious groove, it transports listeners to a dance floor where the only light we see is bouncing off a disco ball. Lange's gentle vocals carry the melody perfectly without distracting from the beat. The track's accompanying video sets the mood perfectly by using footage from Lange's 1980s family house parties in South Florida. The child of Ecuadorian immigrants, he says of those parties, "My family came to this country as outsiders looking for and finding community. People would come to our house and bond through music, food and dancing." As another pandemic summer winds to a close, it's easy to find comfort in that spirit of connection.

August 20

Gabriels, 'Love And Hate In A Different Time'

North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC

Atlas Artists YouTube

Los Angeles-based trio Gabriels may be new to the scene, but they've already had a breakout performance on Jimmy Kimmel, signed to Elektra Records and received praise from Elton John, who said that their latest single, "Love and Hate in a Different Time," was "one of the most seminal records I've heard in the last ten years."

The track, a powerful re-recording, finds vocalist Jacob Lusk showing off his gospel background as he sings of distress during dark times. Fellow bandmates Ryan Hope and Ari Balouzian are classically trained musicians and soundtrack artists, which explains why the single feels so substantial. A driving drum beat and string section give the song a sinister feel, while its gospel chorus reminds us that we're not headed down this path alone.

August 17

Watchhouse, 'New Star'

North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC

Tiptoe Tiger Music/Thirty Tigers YouTube

"New Star" is our introduction to the newly renamed duo Watchhouse, formerly Mandolin Orange, and is the first single off their new, now-self-titled album. "New Star" carries many of the same hallmarks of the pair's previous work, but with the addition of producer Josh Kaufman (Bonny Light Horseman) it also bring a sense of musical exploration; this is a song of hope and kindness, with Frantz and Marlin's vocals and guitar and mandolin arrangements complementing each other perfectly, as they sing about setting a good example for the next generation.

August 10

Amelia Meath And Blake Mills, 'Neon Blue'

North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC

Psychic Hotline YouTube

Last week, North Carolina-based duo Sylvan Esso announced the launch of a new record label, Psychic Hotline, that the pair hopes will "do right in radical ways" by its artists. Accompanying and promoting the announcement was the debut of a singles series, led off by this song, "Neon Blue," a collaboration between Sylvan Esso's Amelia Meath and superstar producer and songwriter Blake Mills. They describe the track as a "nighttime song," and it's one that plays on both of their strengths: Mills provides a hypnotic and experimental samba rhythm, while Meath's layers of vocals give the minimalist piece a somber, nocturnal vibe.

August 5

D'Sound (Feat. Macy Gray), 'Save Some'

North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC

D'Sound DA YouTube

2021 marks the 25th anniversary of D'Sound's first single, "Real Name," and to celebrate, the Norwegian neo-soul group is releasing a series of singles featuring collaborations with a diverse range of artists from around the globe. "Save Some" sees D'Sound teaming up with the Grammy-winning R&B and soul legend Macy Gray, whose deep and raspy voice is better than ever here, melding perfectly with the throwback sounds of D'Sound's funky drum and horn arrangement. It's the sound of a block party, a summer celebration with a groove you can't help but move to and lyrics that insist this party will be going on all night.

August 4

Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band, 'Dirt Off Your Shoulder'

North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC

Big Crown Records YouTube

One of the highlights of my summer has been the weekly appearance of a shaved ice truck in our neighborhood. I'm a bit too old to be lining up for snow cones with a bunch of nine year olds, but what really makes me smile is the music coming from the truck's speakers. Steel drum covers of modern-day classics by Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga and more spill from the windows as the truck rolls down the street.

Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band has been making joyful music like this for years from its home in Hamburg, Germany, expertly crafting steel drum versions of hip-hop and funk classics from the '70s to the modern day. From its new album Expansions, here's a spot-on cover of Jay-Z and Timbaland's "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" that's as charming and infectious as the sound of the ice cream truck rounding your corner on a summer afternoon.

July 28

Emma-Jean Thackray, 'Say Something'

North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC

Movementt/Warp Records YouTube

Multi-instrumentalist and producer Emma-Jean Thackray has been an active member of the London nu-jazz scene for some time now, but her first full-length album Yellow just dropped last week. "Don't just speak, say something" serves as a mantra in "Say Something," which opens with a minimal drum-and-keyboard riff that eventually morphs into a house beat. That beat escalates to a chaotic fusion of the song's prior elements — a build-up and payoff that reflects the lyric's insistence on opening one's mind and connecting with something metaphysical.