Popular music has been quantifiable for a long time, since the Top of the Pops and Top 40 and Platinum records and all the other ways we count success.
But it has never been as granular as it is now, where Spotify streams and YouTube streams and every kind of stream-count sits there right next to every song you might listen to on the internet.
It’s hard not to think about which Mainer has the most digital reach.
Spose’s “I’m Awesome” has been spun 8 million times on Spotify and has the further benefit of having been the theme song for the Canadian television show “Mr. D,” which ran for eight seasons. That’s a lot. But it’s dwarfed by Bangor native Howie Day’s “Collide,” which hits 280 million Spotify spins when you combine his album version and acoustic alternative.
And then there is Windham’s Amy Allen, still a couple years shy of 30, who co-wrote Halsey’s “Without Me,” which just crested 1 billion listens on Spotify. Yeah, with a “b.” Oh, and she co-wrote Harry Styles’ “Adore You,” which is creeping up on 500 million. And Selena Gomez’s “Back to You,” which is right around 300 million.
You get the idea. Amy Allen writes big hits. So, all ears should be on her first release as a performer since her 2017 work with the Boston-based Amy & the Engine.
“Queen of Silver Linings,” which has racked up 200,000 listens in the first week of its release, is just about everything all those hits are not: stripped-down, just an acoustic guitar, a bit of piano, some super-simple slide guitar, and Allen’s naked vocals, like she’s on the couch next to you, cooing right into your ear.
Like so many great songs, there’s nothing fancy about it, with two straightforward verses about a relationship that hasn’t always been full of great choices leading to a melancholy chorus, then a little bridge and two more choruses to call it a wrap. But it aches with emotion, and it’s nearly impossible not to hit “play” again when she finishes with the breathy and a capella: “I’ll always find a way – to love you.”
It’s the kind of song that broke fellow Mainer Ray Lamontagne (OK, he moved to Massachusetts, but he’s still got an island place here), like “Jolene” (113 million Spotify streams) where he found himself facedown in a ditch, booze in his hair and blood on his lips, a picture of her holding a picture of him, in the pocket of his blue jeans. Or anything off “Till the Sun Turns Black,” some of the most gripping odes to sadness and regret ever recorded.
But it’s also the sort of song Lamontagne has eschewed on his past two album releases, opting instead for complicated forays into psych-rock, full of breathy vocals and odd keyboard sounds.
Luckily the simple and song-focused approach has returned with the brand-new “Monovision,” a project Lamontage self-produced in his home studio, playing all the instruments and layering in his own backing vocals. It’s warm, inviting, and plenty nostalgic for anyone who grew up on ’70s rock, full of electric guitar licks, love songs, and a love for the outdoors and escaping the rat race.
“I Was Born To Love You” is a standout, a straightforward four-chord piece where the acoustic guitar opens and the electric joins like it were made for nothing else. Lamontagne’s delivery on “get me high-igh when I need a toke” is everything that got people excited in the first place, and when he doesn’t deliver the vibrato that the chorus seems desperate for until the last go-round, well, it’s just so much more delicious for the wait. Then it leads into “Strong Enough,” a “Proud Mary”-style rave-up, and it’s easy to remember all that “blue-eyed soul” talk from 15 years ago.
“Misty Morning Rain,” too, is classic “Trouble”-era Lamontagne, this time with an acoustic guitar providing flat-picked lead against a quick strum. There is an absolute rush that hits at the end of the first verse – “here and gone again” – and he reaches to the edges of his vocal power in verse two, pushing to distortion. Just like those great classic rock records, it runs to nearly six minutes. Who cares about attention spans or spin counts?
Is there some sentimentality here? Yes. But it’s really hard to be in a relationship right now, during all this shit we’re going through, and listen to “We’ll Make It Through,” and not feel it deep down: “Lean on me, and I’ll lean on you/ And together, we’ll get through/ We always do.”
If John Denver-style “Summer Clouds,” great for a snooze on the dock, is the price for getting Ray Lamontagne back from “Ouroboros,” that seems like a fair trade.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at email@example.com.
2 weeks, 5 releases
• Ghost of Paul Revere, “Love at Your Convenience.” The first release of a much-anticipated album, this sounds like a whole new band, full of pounding drums, piano solos, and big, big sound. Banjo? What banjo?
• Sons of Alfond, “Sons of Alfond.” This debut EP would be a rock record if country hadn’t completely subsumed the whole rock genre. Maybe the most contemporary country record ever released in Maine.
• Foret Endormie, “Une Voile Dechiree.” A very classical new project by Jordan Guerette, guitarist for the very heavy Falls of Rauros. French lyrics, delicate guitar, somber arrangements. Find it on Bandcamp.
• Coyote Island, “Here Before.” A bouncy and Mediterranean piece from Mike O’Hehir, former frontman for Old Soul. This bops, seriously.
• Shang-High, “You.” A great piece of contemporary pop, along the lines of Pharrell or Timberlake, with a ripping rap bridge.
— Sam Pfeifle