John Prine Dead at 73

The country/folk musician John Prine died Tuesday at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center from coronavirus complications, according to his family via a Rolling Stone report. He was 73.

Prine was widely considered to be one of the most influential singer/songwriters in all of roots music—if not American music as a whole. Early last week, his wife Fiona (who had also been ill with coronavirus two weeks earlier) announced in a statement that Prine had been hospitalized with symptoms brought on by coronavirus. A day later she reported that his condition was “stable.” He was in intensive care for almost two weeks.

Prine was a two-time Grammy winner and a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He’s known for his sharp, no-frills folk songs about everyday life, including “Same Stone,” “Hello in There” and “Angel From Montgomery,” which Bonnie Raitt famously recorded. He was also the head of his own label, Oh Boy Records.

Prine was diagnosed with cancer in 1997, but later recovered after doctors removed a tumor from his neck, threatening his singing voice. He of course regained it and went on to make more music before he died.

Artists have already begun sharing their thoughts and memories of the beloved musician on social media, and these will be far from the last:

Prine’s most recent album, The Tree of Forgiveness, was released in 2018. Hear him play “Angel From Montgomery” and more in 1973 below via the Paste archives.

Jazz Musicians Find a New Source of Standards: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame

There’s a reason Miles Davis recorded “My Funny Valentine” and John Coltrane “My Favorite Things.” Jazz musicians work via a strategy of theme-and-variation. They plant a melodic/rhythmic motif in the listener’s head, so that when they start playing variations on the theme, the listener can remember the original and appreciate how it’s being changed. This process works a whole lot better if the original tune is popular enough to already live in the listener’s head.

“My Funny Valentine” and “My Favorite Things” were that popular. The former song, written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart for the 1937 Broadway show Babes in Arms, was a song that most Americans knew, thanks to singers Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. Just as familiar was the latter tune from the 1959 Billboard chart-topping cast album for The Sound of Music, written by Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. So when Davis stretched out the first song with digressive lyricism or when Coltrane bombarded the second with sheets of sound, most listeners could remember the source material even as it was being reshaped.

If this process could happen with Rodgers’ songs, why couldn’t it happen with Sly Stone’s songs? Why didn’t Davis or Coltrane’s artistic heir Pharoah Sanders record Stone’s “Stand” or “You Can Make It If You Try” in the early ’70s? Why did we have to wait till the second decade of the new century to hear these songs tackled by major jazz artists? The SFJazz Collective recorded both songs for this year’s Live: SFJazz Center 2019 and Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra did both on 2011’s MTO Plays Sly.

What took so long? It’s as if jazz musicians forgot why they were covering show tunes in the first place. It wasn’t because they were show tunes; it was because they were popular enough for listeners to know the melodies and to follow along as those themes were revised. When rock ’n’ roll replaced show tunes as America’s most popular music in the ’60s, jazz musicians should have replaced show tunes with rock ’n’ roll in their repertoire. But they didn’t.

There was a certain snobbery involved. Jazz musicians will tell you that show tunes have more interesting chord changes, and there’s a certain truth to that. But jazz players usually end up changing the chords anyway, so what difference does it make? And in retrospect, it’s clear that the most beautiful melodies and interesting changes of the ’60s and ’70s were coming not from Broadway but from rock ’n’ roll songwriters such as Stone, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Brian Wilson, Smokey Robinson, Joni Mitchell, Maurice White, Carole King, Jimi Hendrix and Donald Fagen. It was a missed opportunity.

But better late than never. Jazz musicians are now recovering from their former myopia and turning to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for material. Recent jazz albums have showcased not just the usual suspects (the Beatles, Steely Dan and Stevie Wonder) but also such welcome surprises as Sly Stone, Led Zeppelin and the Allman Brothers Band.

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Matt Brewer, Etienne Charles and David Sanchez of the SFJazz Collective (courtesy of SFJazz Center)

The SFJazz Collective has been a pioneer in this effort. The octet is a group of jazz all-stars subsidized by the non-profit SFJazz Center, the West Coast equivalent of New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center. The California group hit on the inspired notion of subsidizing a group of top jazz musicians to write new compositions and new arrangements of old standards and to rehearse them thoroughly before going into the studio and then on the road. Time for arranging and rehearsing is one of the rarest commodities in jazz, and the payoff is performances that are not just a parade of solos by under-prepared players but thoughtfully shaped pieces.

Each year the SFJazz Collective picks a composer and tasks each of its eight members to arrange one song by that composer and to write a new song in a similar style. The result is 16 pieces, enough for a double album and an evening of live music. In the early years, the group chose obvious composers such as Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter and Horace Silver, but in 2011 they chose Stevie Wonder.

That album began with trumpeter Avishai Cohen’s arrangement of “Sir Duke,” Wonder’s tribute to Ellington. It was a splendid example of how a jazz band can add something to a rock ’n’ roll classic without merely regurgitating it. In his 14-minute expansion of the tune, Cohen gives it both a classic hard-bop swing but also angular modern horn solos. Wonder’s catchy melodies surface often enough to keep the listener grounded and able to trace the wide tangents taken by the solos.

Just as good is tenor saxophonist Mark Turner’s arrangement of “Blame It on the Sun,” which deepens the ballad’s harmonies by massing the horns into dense, extended chords that set up the solos by the vibraphone and trombone. For “Superstition,” alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon varies the chorus melody a little bit each time it’s mentioned thereby realizing the song’s potential as never before.

In 2015, the SFJazz Collective chose Michael Jackson as its artist for the year. This makes a lot of sense when you stop to remember that Jackson’s longtime producer Quincy Jones got his start writing arrangements for Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Frank Sinatra. The rhythms underneath songs such as “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough,” “Thriller” and “Smooth Criminal” were given a Latin spin, proving that jazz players can improvise on beats as productively as on notes.

The band’s new album of Sly Stone songs is less successful because the Collective takes too few liberties and remains too faithful to the original recordings. A big part of the problem is that the band hired a vocalist, which resulted in the open-ended instrumentals of the previous albums being replaced by more constricted vocal numbers. That singer, Martin Luther McCoy, has a good command of pitch and time, but he has none of Sly Stone’s high-tenor sizzle and inventive use of dynamics. The instrumental playing behind McCoy is virtuosic but often too polite for its own good. This project is proof that jazz musicians can’t beat the rockers at their own game; the jazz players have to rely on what they do best: theme-and-variation.

A far better jazz treatment of Stone’s songwriting can be heard on MTO Plays Sly. This wonderful New York nonet was joined on this album by P-Funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell, Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid and a variety of vocalists, all of whom understood the job better than McCoy. R&B veteran Sandra St. Victor sang “Stand,” coming in after three-and-a-half minutes of delightful instrumental variations on the tune. After singing the familiar chorus, St. Victor started riffing on the hook, gospel-style, and soon the horns were doing the same.

Even better was singer Dean Bowman, who brought a baritone growl to “M’Lady” and “Time”; he was as willing as the instrumentalists to hit a dissonant note if it would up the excitement level. On the superb instrumental versions of “You Can Make It If You Really Try” and “Thank You for Talkin’ to Me Africa,” you could hear how the bottom was muscled up by the combination of acoustic bass, electric bass and baritone sax and how Curtis Folkes’ trombone and leader Bernstein’s slide trumpet added a dizzying blues wobble to the proceedings.

A similar wobble can be heard on the recent album, Bonerama Plays Zeppelin. Bonerama is a New Orleans sextet featuring three trombones, tuba, guitar and drums, and they apply the loosey-goosey funk of the city’s traditional jazz combos to the songbook of the British rock quartet. It’s as if you were watching a Mardi Gras parade march down St. Charles Avenue and behind a bead-throwing float came a brass band stabbing the air with their trombone slides and playing “Black Dog.”

This is how the jazz/rock interface is supposed to work. The rock songs benefit from new instruments, new rhythms and new solos, all of which unlock the musical potential hidden within the original composition. The jazz players benefit from different beats and sensibilities than show tunes have provided. Moreover, the audience already knows these rock songs, so the listeners don’t get lost no matter where the improvisation goes.

Something similar happens on the recent record, the Big Band of Brothers’ A Jazz Celebration of the Allman Brothers Band. This 14-piece jazz orchestra tackles 10 tunes associated with the Allmans, integrating the latter’s blues-rock and country-rock flavors into the hard-swinging, horn-heavy vocabulary of big-band jazz. The arrangers—mostly guitarist Tom Wolfe and jazz educator Shane Porter—strike the right balance between the sound of the Allman Brothers Band and the Count Basie Orchestra.

The piston-pumping horn charts are the main motor for the music, but lead vocals, organ riffs and guitar solos pull the music far enough in the rock ’n’ roll direction to make this a true fusion. The band members aren’t famous names, but they play with the facility and precision of the new generation of college-jazz-department grads. They’re supplemented by Wynton Marsalis’s old trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, guitarist Jack Pearson of the late-’90s Allman Brothers, and singers Marc Broussard and Ruthie Foster.

You’ve never heard these songs like this, and you’ve never heard a jazz big band play like this either. Especially impressive is the mesh of moving parts on trumpeter Mart Avent’s soul-jazz arrangement of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.”

Ever since this new century began, there have been more and more examples of jazz artists recording music by members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Keyboardist Herbie Hancock recorded an album of Joni Mitchell compositions for 2007’s The River: Letters to Joni. It became only the second jazz album to ever win a Grammy Award for overall Best Album.

Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis has devoted albums to the songs of Ray Charles and Eric Clapton. Guitarist John Scofield also devoted an album to Charles. Bob Belden has arranged and produced albums devoted to jazz interpretations of Sting, Prince, Carole King and the Beatles. In 2005, an all-star jazz quartet (James Carter, Cyrus Chestnut, Ali Jackson and Reginald Veal) released Gold Sounds, an album of instrumental jazz interpretations of Pavement songs by Pavement (not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but likely to get there).

Guitarist Bill Frisell devoted an album to the songs of John Lennon, and has also recorded songs by the Beach Boys, the Kinks and the Byrds. Brad Mehldau has recorded Radiohead songs on six different albums. The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey has recorded tunes by the Flaming Lips, Brian Wilson and Neil Young. The Bad Plus has recorded numbers by Blondie, Aphex Twin and Nirvana. Cassandra Wilson has recorded songs by U2, Jimi Hendrix and Aretha Franklin. Joshua Redman has recorded the work of James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Eric Clapton.

All this activity is redefining what can be considered a jazz standard. But perhaps it comes too late, now that a new kind of hip-hop-flavored pop has supplanted rock ’n’ roll as America’s most popular music. It’s nice that jazz musicians are exploring the untapped potential of music by the Beatles, Stevie Wonder and the Allman Brothers. But we also need jazz musicians who will tackle the best songwriters of the new pop music: Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Mika, the Pistol Annies, the Decemberists, Billie Eilish and Gary Clark Jr.

The Beths Announce New Album Jump Rope Grazers, Share First Single “Dying to Believe”

New Zealand indie-rock quartet The Beths today announce their sophomore album Jump Rope Grazer, set to arrive July 10 via Carpark Records. The band have also shared the first single from the forthcoming album, “Dying to Believe” along with a vintage infomercial-inspired music video.

“Dying to Believe” is a welcome return from The Beths, featuring frontwoman Elizabeth Stokes’ signature songwriting that is both introspective and clever. The music video for the song, directed by Callum Devlin, is a mock “How to be The Beths” instructional video, featuring clunky instructional text and a fuzzy picture quality reminiscent of VHS tapes that one might watch via a TV on wheels back in an early-2000s high school health class.

Jump Rope Grazer follows The Beths’ 2018 debut album Future Me Hates Me, which put the band on the map on a global scale. In fact, the success of the album has had the band in a period of almost perpetual globetrotting while touring. Much of Jump Rope Grazers grapples with the prospect of being far away from home while also having a hunger to flourish in one’s craft.

You can watch the music video for “Dying to Believe” below, along with The Beths performing “Future Me Hates Me” during a 2019 Paste Studio session. Also scroll further to see The Beths’ tour dates for next fall, as well as the album art and tracklist for Jump Rope Grazers.


Jump Rope Grazers Album Art:

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Jump Rope Grazers Tracklist:


1. I’m Not Getting Excited
2. Dying to Believe
3. Jump Rope Gazers
4. Acrid
5. Do You Want Me Now
6. Out of Sight
7. Don’t Go Away
8. Mars, the God of War
9. You Are a Beam of Light
10. Just Shy of Sure

The Beths Tour Dates:

November

08 – Perth, AUS @ HBF Park*
11 – Melbourne, AUS @ Marvel Stadium*
14 – Sydney, AUS @ Bankwest Stadium*
17 – Brisbane, AUS @ QSAC Stadium*
20 – Dunedin, NZ @ Forsyth Barr Stadium*
22 – Auckland, NZ @ Mt Smart Stadium*

Lady Gaga to Curate One World: Together at Home, a Global Concert for Coronavirus Relief

The advocacy group Global Citizen and the World Health Organization (WHO) have announced a global concert curated by Lady Gaga to support healthcare workers across the globe who have been fighting to contain the spread of COVID-19.

In addition to Gaga, the forthcoming Live Aid-style concert called One World: Together at Home will include a slew of performers such as Lizzo, Billie Eilish, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Alanis Morissette, Billie Joe Armstrong and Eddie Vedder, with hosts Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel, according to a press release.

Hugh Evans, CEO of Global Citizen, said, “as we honor and support the heroic efforts of community health workers, ‘One World: Together At Home’ aims to serve as a source of unity and encouragement in the global fight to end COVID-19. Through music, entertainment and impact, the global live-cast will celebrate those who risk their own health to safeguard everyone else’s.”

Viewers can tune in at 8 p.m. EST to any of the participating networks, like ViacomCBS Networks, iHeartMedia, ABC, NBC, or streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime Video, Facebook, Alibaba, Tidal, Twitter, YouTube and Twitch.

If the concert’s name sounds familiar, it’s because artists like Chris Martin and John Legend have been live streaming performances for the past few weeks as a part of the Together at Home series.

Gaga and Global Citizen have thus far raised over $35 million for coronavirus relief efforts. In a Twitter post, Gaga described “One World: Together at Home,” writing, “we want to celebrate and highlight the singular kind global community and celebrate the power of the human spirit.” She added, “We are going to continue fundraising, and I want to let you know now… this broadcast is not a fundraiser. We will raise the money before we go on air, so when we do go live, put your wallets away and sit back and enjoy the show that you all very much deserve. I love you all.”

Gum Country Announce Debut Album Somewhere and Share Title Track

Courtney Garvin of The Courtneys has started a new project called Gum Country with multi-instrumentalist Connor Mayer. The project started in Vancouver from various four-track recordings made in an apartment, and they’re now based in Los Angeles, where they recorded their debut full-length Somewhere, out June 19. The album will be self-released digitally and released on vinyl via Kingfisher Bluez (Canada), cassette via Burger Records (U.S.) and Dinosaur City Records (Australia) and on CD via Waterslide Records (Japan). Today, they’ve shared the lead single and title track with an accompanying retro music video.

“Somewhere” merges ’90s noise rock and twee pop, and it will give you that same euphoric tingle you felt after falling in love with your first underground jangle pop band. Nimble guitar riffs swarm around Garvin’s subtle, sweet vocals, and it captures everything great about fuzzy rock and good-natured, classic indie-pop. The scratchy footage of the band in a warehouse only further emphasizes their grunge-y, throwback glory as it looks like a Breeders or Sonic Youth video you would’ve seen endlessly on MTV back in the day.

“I wrote ‘Somewhere’ a couple years after moving to LA,” Garvin says of the lead single. “It’s about leaving a place that you are comfortable in and landing in a strange new one, and discovering what parts of your identity remain and which were left behind. The first line I wrote was ‘haven’t felt this way in a while, I can’t think straight can’t hide my smile, I guess this is gonna be my life for a while’, and then it was just a process of unravelling that thought. I think the song could be about the range of emotions that come with any big change, and ultimately settling on a mellow excitement for vulnerability.”

Listen to “Somewhere” below, and preorder their album here.

Listen to Ohmme’s New Single “Ghost,” from Their Forthcoming Album Fantasize Your Ghost

Chicago rock duo Ohmme have shared the second single from their forthcoming album Fantasize Your Ghost. “Ghost,” which follows their previous single “3 2 4 3,” arrives with a subdued yet shimmering music video directed by Augstin Vesely. Their third studio album Fantasize Your Ghost is set to arrive on June 5 through Joyful Noise Records.

The music video for “Ghost” shows the duo of Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart clad in stylish white ensembles while avant-garde ghosts parade around them, donning iridescent gold and blue silk bed sheets.

“We’d been kicking around the idea of doing something like the Pop Musik video by M but darker,” the band says. “There’s a lot of darkness these days but it’s important to keep dancing. Austin said, ‘fancy ghosts’ and ‘can I press order on these California King satin bedsheets’ and we said ‘Yes, and YES!’”

Fantasize Your Ghost follows Ohmme’s 2017 self-titled full-length and 2018’s Parts. The distinction made with their forthcoming new release is that the album comes from a period of constant touring, the inevitable pressures of growing up and a natural desire to change and evolve in one’s art.

Watch the music video for “Ghost” below, and listen to Ohmme perform “Woman” during a 2017 Daytrotter session. You can find the rescheduled Ohmme tour dates below.

Ohmme Tour Dates:

June

05 – Los Angeles, Calif. @ Zebulon – Record Release Show *
06 – Oakland, Calif. @ Crystal Cavern *
07 – Santa Cruz, Calif. @ Atrium at The Catalyst *
08 – Sacramento, Calif. @ Harlow’s *
09 – Sisters, Ore. @ The Suttle Lodge *
11 – Portland, Ore. @ Doug Fir Lounge *
12 – Seattle, Wash. @ Barboza *
13 – Spokane, Wash. @ Lucky You (Upstairs) *
14 – Boise, Idaho @ The Olympic *
15 – Reno, Nev. @ Holland Project
16 – Bolinas, Calif. @ Gospel Flat Farmstand *

August

08 – Ripon, Wis. @ Avrom Farm Party

September

27 – Austin, Texas @ Scholz Garten %
28 – Houston, Texas @ Satellite %
29 – Atlanta, Ga. @ Terminal West %

October

01 – Nashville, Tenn. @ Exit In %
02 – Saxapahaw, N.C. @ Haw River Ballroom %
04 – Washington, D.C. @ Lincoln Theatre %
05 – Philadelphia, Pa. @ Union Transfer %
06 – Brooklyn, N.Y. @ Elsewhere %
08 – Winooski, Vt. @ Monkey House
09 – Providence, R.I. @ Columbus Theatre %
10 – Holyoke, Mass. @ Gateway City Arts %
12 – Pittsburgh, Pa. @ Rex Theater %
13 – Detroit, Mich. @ MOCAD %
15 – Minneapolis, Minn. @ Cedar Cultural Center %
16 – Omaha, Neb. @ The Waiting Room %
17 – Maquoketa, Iowa @ Codfish Hollow Barn %
18 – Madison, Wis. @ Majestic Theatre %

(* = w/ V. V. Lightbody)
(% = w/ Waxahatchee)

Charli XCX Is Recording a New Album During Quarantine, First Single Out Monday

Monday, through a Zoom conference, Charli XCX excitedly announced she would be recording a new album, the follow-up to her 2019 record Charli. Charli previously hinted at the album in several ways. Through the periodic quarantine diary she’s been keeping through Twitter, Charli said she was being encouraged by her frequent producer and collaborator AG Cook to start recording by herself, something she says she hasn’t done “for so many years.” She also noted she planned to “reunite” with Chris from Christine and the Queens on a new song. Often referring to herself as a workaholic, she told fans “I’m going to use this isolation time to make a brand new album from scratch.”

Charli then retweeted a seemingly jokey post from popular Twitter account Charli XCX Updates that appeared as a fake album proposal to Atlantic. The proposal noted brand partnerships with Zoom and Purell, a potential Elon Musk remix and a complete ban on the word “Taxi” (a track from her leaked album XCX World that is often requested at shows).

Charli says she will be recording most of the album “live,” with collaborators coming in and out remotely. She cites it as a very DIY project. The first single is set to release on April 13, with assistance from AG, 100 gecs’ Dylan Brady and BJ Burton (Bon Iver, Lizzo). “In some ways, this will be my most collaborative process,” she said via Zoom. “I want to open up the entire process to all of you, to all of my fans, to anybody who wants to watch. What I mean by that is I’ll be sharing every single step of the way.” She’ll be sharing demos, a capella songs and asking fans their opinions on the minutiae of the album and perhaps even video production. She notes she wants the process to be intimate and an opportunity to engage creatively with her fans.

how i’m feeling now, working title, has a tentative release date for May 15. In the meantime, Charli has frequently been going live on Instagram with several of her friends, such as discussing horoscopes with Orville Peck or taking an “Are You A Psychopath?” quiz with Rina Sawayama. There will be lots of opportunities to interact with Charli in the upcoming weeks. You can also revisit her 2012 Daytrotter session at 2KHz studios below.

Westerman Shares New Single “Waiting on Design” from Forthcoming Debut LP

British singer/songwriter Westerman has shared a new single “Waiting on Design” ahead of the release of his debut album Your Hero Is Not Dead, out June 5 via Partisan/Play It Again Sam. The album is a follow-up to Westerman’s 2018 Ark EP.

“Waiting on Design” follows the singles “Think I’ll Stay” and “Blue Comanche.” The song begins bright yet sparse, with animated shapes rotating and morphing in the accompanying video. Eventually, the music meets Westerman’s vocals, and the result is a chill but catchy tune.

“I was thinking about the absurdity of the self, and how nobody wants to look at themselves from the perspective of the people they hurt,” Westerman says. “What’s interesting to me about storytelling isn’t necessarily the stories themselves, but the mutual connection that comes from people’s understanding of what’s being conjured by that story.”

Westerman has moved back certain tour dates—primarily European shows—due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of right now, he plans to begin touring on July 20 in Washington, D.C. and finish in Berlin on October 25. All tickets for postponed shows are still valid for the rescheduled shows.

Listen to “Waiting on Design” below, and watch Westerman play “Confirmation” at Paste’s NYC studio back in 2018. Scroll down for Westerman’s upcoming tour dates, and preorder Your Hero Is Not Dead here.

Westerman Tour Dates:

July

20 – Washington, D.C. @ DC9
21 – Philadelphia, Pa. @ Johnny Brenda’s
22 – Brooklyn, N.Y. @ National Sawdust
23 – Boston, Mass. @ Great Scott
25 – Toronto, Ontario @ The Garrison
28 – Chicago, Ill. @ Sleeping Village
30 – Los Angeles, Calif. @ Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery
31 – San Francisco, Calif. @ The Independent

August

03 – Seattle, Wash. @ Barboza
05 – Vancouver, B.C. @ Fox Cabaret
20 – London, U.K. @ Hoxton Hall

October

19 – Paris, France @ La Boule Noire
25 – Berlin, Germany @ ACUD

How Spotify’s “Indigo” Playlist Captures a Moment of Alt-Country Magic

Pushing boundaries within country music is nothing new. Stars like Willie Nelson, John Prine and Emmylou Harris can speak to that.

But now, in 2020, it feels like artists are challenging notions of what country can be from more directions than ever before. There’s not just honky-tonk, outlaw and sweetly sung mountain songs—there’s everything from bluegrass pop and brushed folk to rootsy traditionalism and mainstream, souped-up country-rock of the Jackson Maine variety. There’s outlaw Americana. There’s a whole rainbow of country pop. There’s plenty of Texas roots music and spaghetti-western inspired storytelling. It’s a truly bountiful moment for roots music, and most of these blossoming subgenres can in some way be traced back or connected to the country genre.

The streaming giant Spotify is known to fashion playlists out of just about anything, from titles as ambiguous as “Kitchen Swagger” and “Chill Lofi Study Beats” to more conventional genre collections such as “Fresh Folk” and “RapCaviar” (a playlist famous for breaking some of the genre’s up-and-comers). One of the streaming service’s more recent entries, titled “Indigo” and released last week, feels more intentional than most “Mood” playlists users may stumble upon on the platform. “Indigo” doesn’t just incite a feeling—it captures the aforementioned country moment, a time when artists are experimenting with the genre’s conventions and slowly, but surely, making it their own.

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“Our Nashville team lives and breathes country music in all its forms, so this playlist has been a goal for a while,” says Mary Catherine Kinney, Artist & Label Marketing Manager at Spotify’s Nashville office and a force behind “Indigo”’s inception. “We saw a broad spectrum of country artists in the industry, and the subsequent diverse audience that was listening on Spotify. We also were seeing many of these artists on the road together as well: Hailey Whitters opened for Kelsey Waldon, Marcus King Band joined Chris Stapleton, Yola toured with Kacey Musgraves. The listening patterns of fans on Spotify mirrored these lineups, so there was a clear lane and appetite from the audience for a playlist of this nature.”

Those artists are just a few who make up “Indigo”’s folds and creases. Look a little closer, and in addition to mainstream stars like Stapleton, Musgraves and Eric Church you’ll find newer faces like country-pop singer Caitlyn Smith, space-age crooner Honey Harper, masked cowboy Orville Peck, country supergroup The Highwomen and roots duo The Secret Sisters. There are also veteran country outliers like Lucinda Williams, John Prine and Steve Earle, who arguably laid the groundwork for any curious, rule-breaking country artists who’d come after them. But they all have at least a few qualities in common:

“It all starts with the song,” says Laura Ohls, a Senior Editor at Spotify. “Regardless of artist genre labels, be it “country” or “americana,” the songs highlighted in ‘Indigo’ are those that reflect certain traits we see at the country genre’s very roots—storytelling, organic instrumentation, and a more authentic, raw production approach. It’s this sound of authenticity that we think threads the playlist together.”

That authenticity is apparent all over “Indigo,” which also notably features mostly left-of-center country artists—folks who aren’t necessarily fully embraced by the mainstream Nashville establishment for whatever reason. Even heavy-hitters like Kacey Musgraves don’t typically see significant radio airplay, so for any of her forward-thinking successors and peers, it can be even trickier to make noise in the traditional avenues for music promotion (For women it’s especially difficult: They still only comprise about 10% of airplay). Caitlyn Smith tells me that niche playlists like “Indigo” are helpful in that regard.

“What’s amazing about this playlist is that there are a ton of incredible artists out there that are maybe more genre-fluid that slip through the cracks in some of these bigger playlists,” Smith says. “And what I am so excited about this specific ‘Indigo’ playlist is there’s so many different types of artists that get to be represented.”

Jessi Alexander, another Nashville-based country crooner, has found her songs on other Spotify darlings like the discovery vehicles “New Boots” and “Women of Country.” She released her latest album, Decatur County Red, a dazzling alt/pop/rock country release with a humorously honest edge (see: “Mama Drank,” about the onset exhaustion that comes with motherhood) a few weeks ago, and she’s already found a home on “Indigo.”

“I didn’t really write these songs trying to fit into any particular format,” Alexander says of her new album. “It’s a country record, but as we all know that’s kind of a loose term these days, so I loved that [‘Indigo’] is kind of a harbor for people like myself that maybe made a record that’s a little outside the box.”

Landing on any one of Spotify’s more notable playlists can be huge for an independent artist—even if it just means added visibility. During normal times (as in, when the live music industry isn’t on hiatus because of an international pandemic), that can lead to more tickets and albums sold, even if streaming revenue doesn’t amount to much.

“It helps you find your fans,” Smith says of playlists like “Indigo.” “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been doing meet-and-greets at shows and people tell me, ‘We hadn’t heard of you before, but we heard you on this Spotify playlist.’ So it’s one of the most important tools for new artists.”

Another common thread for many of the newer artists (and in some cases, the newer materials by veteran artists, too) on “Indigo” is that the music exists firmly in a post-Golden Hour landscape. Country artists were certainly pushing the boundaries before Musgraves released her genre-defying masterwork in 2018: Outlaws have been testing country audiences’ limits for decades, while fresher faces like Margo Price, Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell (all of whom are represented “Indigo,” as well) had managed to solidify themselves as country misfits well before “Space Cowboy” was streaming. Heck, even Musgraves had made her share of enemies and outside-the-industry fans with taboo themes on songs like her 2013 hit “Follow Your Arrow.” But Golden Hour was a whole new ballpark: It set the bar for genre-pushing country albums sky-high. It’s the threshold by which any ambitious country artists will be judged going forward.

“Indigo” is a collage of those artists, some of whom have been part of the larger country community for years. Miranda Lambert’s “Bluebird,” a lullaby in the face of strife brought on by life, love and aging, is featured on “Indigo.” So is the title track from Nathaniel Rateliff’s latest solo album And It’s Still Alright, written in the aftermath of his friend Richard Swift’s death.

“‘Indigo’ is less about the individual artists and more about the songs in the list,” Ohls says. “While the songs pull from a number of different genres, all of them unapologetically tackle the extreme highs and lows of everyday life.”

We could spend all day dissecting the ins and outs of the denim-inspired “Indigo.” But when you get right down to it, this playlist is, in some ways, uncategorizable. British country-soul singer Yola sounds nothing like the dirt-emo rocker Ruston Kelly, who has a penchant for AutoTune. Yet, here they coexist, because sometimes a separation from the mainstream is enough to bring a community together. More playlists like “Indigo” that highlight under-the-radar sectors of all genres for unassuming listeners can only be a good thing.

“The one rule all of these artists abide by is a fierce loyalty to their songs and craft,” Kinney adds. “If there was a Venn Diagram of them all, ‘Indigo’ would be in the middle.”


Ellen Johnson is an associate music editor, writer, playlist maker, coffee drinker and pop culture enthusiast at Paste. She occasionally moonlights as a film fan on Letterboxd. You can find her yapping about all the things on Twitter @ellen_a_johnson.

Toronto artist Lonely SZN returns with new weed anthem “Reefah”

Toronto up-and-comer Lonely SZN recently dropped his second release of the year, “Reefah.”

The new weed anthem is available for streaming on various digital streaming platforms including SoundCloud and Spotify.

Just recently, Lonely SZN was featured on Episode 9 of Music Takeover, “Inferno Session.” You can check that out below along with the new single.

Toronto artist Lonely SZN returns with new weed anthem Reefah


You can follow @LonelySZN on Instagram.