April 18, 2014
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Jesse Winchester passed away a week ago at the age of 69 leaving a legacy as a songwriter's songwriter. His first album, produced by The Band's Robbie Robertson and engineered by Todd Rundgren, stands as a brilliant and understated collection of songs and a sound that paved the way for what we now know as Americana. "As underrated a singer as Chet Baker," wrote Janis Ian in tribute. "As underrated a guitarist as Willie Nelson. A man who held the audience in the palm of his hand without moving an inch. One of the best songwriters on earth." On the 2012 Winchester tribute album Quiet About It, Rosanne Cash recorded this lovely version of "Biloxi," a song that would fit perfectly with the southern theme of her latest album The River and the Thread.

Rosanne Cash - "Biloxi" (Jesse Winchester)

If anyone or anything might put Baraboo, WI, on the map, we're thinking it might just be PHOX. High school chums who each left town and then returned, the group became a band in a communal home in nearby (and immensely more hip) Madison. Their bio describes their music as straddling "Feist and Monty Python," but we're hearing some rather intriguing, nimble alt/pop with enough artful and sophisticated musical sidetrips to keep things interesting and unpredictable. Fronted by singer/lyricist Monica Martin, PHOX create a curious amalgam of intricate indie pop, neo-soul, folk and tongue-in-cheek cabaret songs that never seem to end up where you think they're headed. Time signatures switch up, a kitchen sink's worth of instruments drift in and out (horns, strings, you name it), melodies turn on a dime, moods ebb and flow and Martin's lovely, natural voice just flits about above it all in one oddly compelling melody after another. Produced by Brian Joseph (Bon Iver), PHOX's self-titled debut drops June 24 via Partisan. Click through to stream a live version of the exquisite "Blue and White."

PHOX - "Slow Motion" (from PHOX)

“Fuck!!! This is one of the best things I’ve ever seen in my life hands down,” tweeted Adele when she saw the live-in-the-studio take of Paolo Nutini's "Iron Sky." No wonder. Taken from his new album Caustic Love, just out in the U.K., and the U.S.-only EP of the same name (full-length due later this year), "Iron Sky" takes the soulful belting of Caustic Love's lead track "Scream (Funk My Life Up)" and slows it down to a simmer while losing none of the emotional power. Click through to watch the "Iron Sky" video from the live Abbey Road studio sessions that got Ms. Adele in such a tizzy. More DC on Nutini and "Scream" here and here.

Paolo Nutini - "Iron Sky" (from the Caustic Love album and Iron Sky EP)

Boasting the tight-knit harmonies of Jay Byrd and Laura Supan and a sound that deftly balances modern Americana and timeless Dixie-meets-SoCal folk/rock, Washington DC's South Rail craft songs that wear their '70s influences as comfortably as a pair of well-worn jeans. Famed producer (and Blue Note records chief) Don Was, known for his studio work with the likes of Bonnie Raitt, John Mayer and The Rolling Stones, layers a rich, organic dimension to the band's May 6 self-released EP Stars, amping up Supan's keys and Byrd's guitar and bringing in the fiddle of Punch Brother Gabe Witcher for a rustic touch. It takes only a few seconds for lead track "Be That Way Again" to evolve from a slight acoustic strum to full-bodied sound, mellow but with a formidable kick. Stream the band's self-titled 2013 debut EP here...

South Rail - "Be That Way Again" (from the Stars EP)

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