Everyone knows summer is playlist season.
Whether for backyard barbecues, graduation parties, sitting out on the dock, or floating on the water, there’s always music playing – and no one wants to get up and figure out what to play.
Luckily, there’s a ton of new music that will help you stretch those playlists out for hours and hours, and maybe even impress your friends along the way.
Here are six new albums that will give you plenty of tracks to choose from, regardless of the mood you’re trying to set:
• Bay Ledges, “Ritual” — There’s good reason people are looking forward to this debut full-length from Bay Ledges, set to drop this Friday, May 27. Now back home in Bath, Zach Hurd was a bedroom producer in Los Angeles back in 2016 when he started putting up Spotify numbers with breezy acoustic-pop numbers that are catchy as hell (“Safe” currently sits at 15 million spins).
A little pandemic put a kink in touring, but it allowed him to put together 13 songs that’ll blow a breeze up your skirt, infectious and danceable.
“Like a Bird” is crush-made music, with its “I don’t wanna talk to nobody but you” refrain, and see if you can keep yourself from joining in on the handclap backbeat on “sunsunsun.”
And don’t worry: There’s even a heartfelt ballad, “Waterfalls,” that will help you deal with those moments on Maine’s perfect blue-sky days by the water when you realize it will be cold and dark again in, like, a couple weeks.
Album of the summer candidate right here, for sure.
• Becca Biggs, “Genie” — With a classic country twang to her whispery voice, Biggs brings a Nashville sentimentality to the Midcoast on her debut record, and she’s got plenty of help.
Toughcats drummer Jake Greenlaw holds down the kit for her, the well-traveled Hamilton Belk provides his in-demand and elegant pedal steel, and JR Braugh (Dolphin Strikers), Zachary Bence (Chris Ross and the North), and James Hawkes contribute with any manner of guitars, bass, organs, and keyboards.
The result is a warm and resonant record, highlighted by the title track, where Biggs supplies a nostalgic banjo and Braugh’s lead guitar runs the full fretboard, living especially down in the lower register with plenty of grit.
And don’t miss the classic-rock “Hypermasculinity,” which is a bit like Dolly in her pop phase.
• Gina Alibrio, “Atlas” — No one who’s seen Gina and the Red-Eye Flight Crew on the stage at Portland House of Music should need convincing that Alibrio brings the big-time vocals on her debut record. There is a clarity to her voice that’s legitimately special and her enunciation and delivery are technically magnificent.
And, sure, there’s some funky and danceable R&B that suits her just fine, but where Alibrio shows is with takes like the sultry and sort of indie-rock title track, or the alternately moody and rocking collaboration with cello-drums duo Quad, “Boxcar.” Here she stretches her songwriting muscles enough to make you dive deeper into the rest of the work.
• Mr. Sun, “Extrovert” — Hot off their “Bluegrass and the Abstract Truth” release last spring, frequent collaborators Joe K. Walsh (mandolin) and Grant Gordy (guitar) are back with the first Mr. Sun record since 2015 – an eclectic, creative stringband work that features instrumental virtuosity and unpredictability that can truly delight.
They’re again joined by Darol Anger, a fiddler who needs little introduction for anyone who digs stringband music and have added bassist Aidan O’Donnell, who frequently shows off his jazz chops.
On a record that can be alternately manic and laconic, new-school artsy and old-school traditional, the quality of the playing always keeps it listenable even for people relatively new to the genre.
And Walsh’s singing on the fun “Tamp ’Em Up Solid” and sorta tongue-in-cheek “The Fiddler of Dooney” is a real treat.
• FonFon Ru, “Collapse of the Silver Bridge” — Among the most exciting new entrants to our local scene in some time, FonFon Ru follow up 2019’s excellent “Death and Taxes” with an album full of burners and dirges, including the genuinely sweet “I’ll Let You Lick the Salt off My Hands,” where “I’m just downtown with my best friend.” Just peel back the layers of irony.
Frontman Harry James bellows and snarls with the best of them, and the rhythm section of drummer Wes Sterrs and bassist Jimi Ledue are happy to get proggy with ramps up and pulls back, so you never quite get comfortable.
Oh, and “Manicure Manager” is a genuine hit, a strutting tale of a dude at the mall getting his nails done: “I’m here by myself, OK, not for a dare or prank.”
• Forest City and Friends, “Sol” — Portland’s reigning rock supergroup (even if there aren’t a ton of bands vying for that title) follow up their 2020 self-titled debut with a four-song EP that has plenty to dive into.
No wonder: The eight-piece band is full of people who have put together dozens of records over the years and know how to layer guitars, percussion, horns, and vocals into dense and tasteful classic rock tracks that sprawl out with a new hook around every corner.
“My Bird” is the likely radio track, a pretty little WCLZ acoustic piece, with bits of pedal steel and flute hits and a call and response. “Animal Crackers” was the first single to get a video treatment, a fiery treatise on the emptiness of our laptop culture.
And “Seasons-Sol” is a full-on rock epic, a story simmering out more than eight minutes.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at [email protected].
Be with the bands
Here are four festivals – one per month – you can hit in Maine this summer with big collections of bands, both local and not.
• Harry’s Happening, Starks, June 16-19: The folks at Harry Brown’s Farm have an ambitious slate of shows scheduled this summer, with everything from a festival celebrating women with guitars to a full-on hip-hop festival in August.
But Harry’s Happening is the biggest to-do, lasting three full days with Roots of Creation and Mighty Mystic as headliners and a wide variety of jammy bands in attendance, including world-renowned sitar player David Pontbriand and the Firebenders, who, well, juggle fire.
• North Atlantic Blues Festival, Rockland, July 16-17: Going strong since 1994, kudos to the festival for getting exciting new names involved, with King Solomon Hicks, Nora Jean Wallace, Ruthie Foster, and a bunch of other really interesting additions to the standard blues oeuvre.
And it’s great for those of us who don’t love going late night: Festivities are generally over by 6 p.m. unless you’re hitting the club crawl.
• Guster’s On the Ocean, Portland, Aug. 12-14: Portland’s favorite jam-pop sons are back with another curated festival that’s among the more interesting ways for fans to engage with a band.
On Friday, you get an acoustic set backed by a string septet and a guest appearance from Josh Ritter at the State Theatre. On Saturday, you get a big show at Thompson’s Point with great support from Shovels and Rope, Darlingside, Pete Kilpatrick, and more (even a comedy stage). Then Sunday wraps up with literal camp games with the band at Camp Winnebago in Fayette. And it’s all kid-friendly.
• Thomas Point Bluegrass Festival, Brunswick, Sept. 1-4: The grandaddy of Maine bluegrass festivals rolls on, as big as ever, after worries it would never come back from the pandemic.
And they’re back big: Bela Fleck, Del McCoury, and Dan Tyminski headline a powerhouse lineup that old-school bluegrassers are sure to swoon over. Plus, you’ll find a bunch of up-and-comers: watch for Sister Sadie and the Henhouse Prowlers and tell your friends you saw them when. A lovely way to close out the summer.
— Sam Pfeifle