There are some really great artists who have made it into the greater conscience of mainstream, radio listeners over the last few years that I truly enjoy: Jason Isbell, Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, The Revivalists, Sam Hunt (my daughter’s current fave, so I have to include him), and more - musicians who have been working hard for years to become “overnight sensations.”
I am always full of suggestions for people when it comes to music, and love to hear what others are enjoying. There’s nothing better than finding a new favorite and adding it to the queue. My tastes and interests are all over the board, so I thought I would update readers on my current list of listening pleasures and see if it has the same effect. I hope you are able to find something you like from the list - if so, let me know.
So, here it is, five bands I think you should be listening to right now. Like, literally right now. Start it up.
These guys are making huge waves in the music industry, and all over the internet. Formed in 2011 at the University of Michigan, this four-piece outfit is a reminder of the great rhythm sections of the past. Jack Stratton, Theo Katzman, Woody Goss, and the amazing Joe Dart play low-volume funk music that makes me very, very happy.
The band is prolific in its recording, video output, and touring schedules, and all of the members have either released solo projects, joined or started other bands, or recorded with a myriad of artists on the side. Katzman has released an impeccable solo album (“Heartbreak Hits”), Dart has recorded with the great Nate Smith and Fearless Flyers, Goss is popping up as a side man all over the place, and Stratton has emerged as a leader of the DIY soul movement, handling the band’s management and production, as well as acting as chief songwriter and bandleader.
If you get a chance, you’ll want to digest everything in their catalog, especially their work with Bernard Purdie, Cory Wong, Joey Dosik, and the insanely talented vocalist Antwaun Stanley. It will be well worth your time, and there is plenty of options online to take up hours of it.
Side note: I enjoyed the band so much, I joined a fan group on facebook, the first time I’ve ever done such a thing. My suggestion for anyone thinking of doing the same? Don’t. The Vulpeck fan community is stacked with snobbery and littered with picky infighting. I get the feeling this is a constant in any such community. Lesson learned.
2. Joshua James
For the life of me, I can’t understand why this guy is not a huge star. Joshua James has the sound, the look, the songs, and the talent to take him wherever he needs to go, and he should be there already.
I became aware of him through his 2009 release “Build Me This,” which was one of the finest Americana albums I’ve ever heard, and I’ve been enthralled with his voice ever since. The album was highly acclaimed and garnered lots of critical praise, but was unable to crack the charts as it should have, and that’s a shame.
From the opening line of the emotional rollercoaster Coal War, through the storybook of Magazine and the sing-along chorus of Annabelle, into the weight and sadness of Daniel, and beyond, the album is one great song after another. After another.
Once you’ve heard it, you can’t help but latch onto his later recording, “From the Top of Williamette Mountain.” It makes the search well worth it. Check this guy out, folks - you’ll be happy you did.
Thundercat is a prolific bassist, producer, and songwriter from LA whose real name is Stephen Lee Bruner, and he may not be everybody’s cup of tea. He just may be one of the most diverse artists of our time, though, having worked with Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, Suicidal Tendencies, Michael McDonald, and Kenny Loggins, to name a few.
His music is palatable and funky, and his production for others is inventive and unique - but his solo works are not designed for radio play. He has garnered an immense amount of critical acclaim, and won a Grammy in 2016 for his work with Lamar, but if you want to hear what he really does you should check out his wonderful 2017 release “Drunk.” It’s not for everyone, as I said, and you might want to have the parental advisory rules in effect, though his songs are far from offensive.
If you like fusion jazz mixed with new age funk and soul, with a healthy dose of Zappa-esque humor and chord changes, then you might like Thundercat. I’ve grown to be a fan over the past few years, and there doesn’t seem to be a need to stop listening, as the output continues to be interesting and inventive enough to keep me coming back. This is good stuff.
He’s actually my ring tone right now, and I’m not one who usually goes for that sort of thing.
2. Cookin’ on 3 Burners
If you’re a big fan of Australian funk trios (like I am), then Cookin’ on 3 Burners is the band for you.
Ever since Jake Mason, Dan West, and Ivan Khatchoyan released the amazing “This Girl” in 2009, they have been dancing all over Australian radio - and in 2016, the Kungs remix of that song landed on my radar. And I’m not complaining.
These guys have an immediately contagious energy that gets your toes tapping, your feet moving, and your hands wondering where drums are. It’s infectious and fun, and they do it very, very well.
Another session band for others, the 3 Burners family is large, including Kylie Auldist, Tex Perkins, Mantra, Harry Angus, Daniel Merriweather, and more. Whoever they are working with as a vocalist, one thing remains the same - great rhythms and amazing songs. Check ‘em out, good people!
Jarle Bernhoft is a Norwegian singer/songwriter my brother turned me onto 5 or 6 years ago. He made a name for himself in several bands, and then by uploading his R&B-influenced videos to youtube, using looping pedals to form a full band as many across the video-sharing platform do.
What set him apart, though, was the sheer talent and amount of soul that poured into these recordings.
For a slight Norwegian with pale skin and a sickly look, Jarle Bernhoft has an inner strength that flows from him and his music, delivering a dizzying amount of deep, soulful vocal runs and guitar licks that makes any viewer or listener go directly to an internet search for more. I know I did.
The videos worked, and the attention came, as he was nominated for a Best R&B Album Grammy in 2015 for his LP “Islander,” and played Glastonbury, and traveled the world. Bernhoft was becoming as well known elsewhere as he already was in his native Norway. Since that time, though, he has not had the impact in America I’d expected.
I would love to see that change, because he’s someone you should know about. So, get out there and find some Bernhoft, good people. You’ll be glad you did.