The Chieftains – Voice of Ages (Hear Music / Concord)

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Listen Now: The Chieftains “When The Ship Comes In (feat. The Decemberists)”

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The Chieftains, the world’s most celebrated traditional Irish band, will mark their 50th anniversary with the release of Voice of Ages on February 21st 2012 (Hear/Concord). An imaginative collaboration featuring a dazzling collection of like-minded musical visionaries and kindred spirits, Voice of Ages, produced by Paddy Moloney and T Bone Burnett, features The Chieftains teaming with stars from the worlds of indie-rock (Bon Iver, The Decemberists, The Low Anthem), country and Americana (The Civil Wars, Pistol Annies, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Punch Brothers), Irish and Scottish folk (Imelda May, Lisa Hannigan, Paolo Nutini) and more. “With 50 years of glorious music behind us,” Paddy Moloney says, “I can think of nothing more exciting than to spend another 50 years collaborating with the best voices of the future.”

The Chieftains 2012 US tour will kick off in Santa Barbara, CA February 17 and will culminate with a special 50th Anniversary St. Patrick’s Day show at New York’s Carnegie Hall March 17.

Focus Tracks: 8, 4, 5
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Liz Green – O, Devotion! (PIAS)

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Listen Now: Liz Green “Bad Medicine”

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Liz Green, The UK songstress released O, Devotion! on [PIAS] America on February 7th. And to celebrate the release of this album, Liz has made her song “Hey Joe” available for download, premiering the track over at NPR Music. Writing on the All Songs Considered Blog, critic Bob Boilen called the album, “a bit of Tom Waits, a bit of Kurt Weilland certainly an original.”

For the 28-year-old Liz Green, O, Devotion! is a labor of love, crafted with time and care over the last four years. First rising to prominence in 2007 after winning the Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition, Liz started turning heads with her first single “Bad Medicine” back in 2008. In the four years since the single’s release, Liz retreated into the studio with Liam Watson (White Stripes, everyone else). Recording with Liam, Liz found the pieces that were needed to fill out her sound, incorporating new and unique arrangements. “I thought, ‘Fuck it. I’m gonna get me that brass band I always wanted,’” Liz says, looking back on her decision to enlist New Orleans musician Kurt Weill to help create the woozy, brassy arrangements that appear on the album.

The end results are pretty impressive Over the album’s 41 minutes, O, Devotion vacillates between Weimar cabaret, Bugsy Malone dancehall hops, and a version of down-and-out folk that would make Johnny Cash smile. The album includes a single inspired by Holocaust chronicler Primo Levi and sung from the part of a self-reliant refugee (“Displacement Song”), a tale of an inveterate funeral-goer a la “Harold and Maude” (“Luis”), and an astonishingly visceral album highlight titled “Gallows,” which explores the inevitability of a bad end. It’s a multifaceted record that explores the high and lows of love, loss, and all the bad things in between.

Focus Tracks: 1, 2, 3
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Shana Halligan – Paper Butterfly EP (Unknown Breakthrough)

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Listen Now: Shana Halligan “True Love (Rob Garza Remix)”

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Change is the only constant. Just ask Shana Halligan.

After nearly seven exceedingly successful years as the singer/songwriter of sophisticated pop band Bitter:Sweet, the Los Angeles native found herself all alone in Europe, a freshly minted solo artist in search of her next sound. But as an artist who’s constantly craving new experiences and new ideas, it was a creatively fertile period that has resulted in a renewed confidence and a whole new way to express herself through music.

With a final (for now) Bitter:Sweet EP – appropriately titled The Breakup – released at the end of 2010, Halligan has spent the last two years stretching her musical muscles through a series of inspired collaborations. She indulged her house/dance music side with “Until You Find Another,” a track on house producer Carmen Rizzo’s Looking Through Leaves. She worked with Alex McGowan (Tricky, Martina Topley Bird) collaborating at his London studio on her forthcoming EP. She also recorded the blissful electronic dance track “Sleepwalk” with stalwart San Francisco DJ/producer Charles Webster exclusively for designer eyewear brand Oliver Peoples. Working with Webster proved especially fruitful, with the pair producing enough music for another future upcoming EP release. A far more unexpected collaboration found Halligan writing and recording with friend Serj Tankian, best known as the lead singer of progressive metal heroes System of a Down. “It’s seems like it would be an odd mix, but we go way back and the music comes together for us so easily,” is how she terms their working relationship. The pair collaborated on two songs that appear on his September 2010 solo album, Imperfect Harmonies. Halligan’s most recent achievement includes a collaboration with electronica band innovators Thievery Corporation where her seductive vocals and songwriting is featured on Culture of Fear.

More than anything, she’s ready to reconnect with old fans while introducing herself to a new world of music listeners as Shana Halligan, solo artist. The daughter of founding Blood Sweat and Tears band member/composer/arranger Dick Halligan, Shana learned from an early age that there are no limits as far as where you can go in music. “I’m not really scared of anything. There are so many different angles to work with now,” she insisted. “But some things never change. You still have to tour and put out good records. People will find you if you’re worth finding.”

Focus Tracks: 1, 4, 5
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Yellow Ostrich – Strange Land (Barsuk)

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Listen Now: Yellow Ostrich “Marathon Runner”

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“At some point you wonder if maybe the grass is greener, and then you go somewhere else and you realize it’s not that much greener — so what do you hope for now?” so says Yellow Ostrich’s singer-guitarist Alex Schaaf, summing up the themes of his band’s powerful new album, Strange Land.

Schaaf knows what he’s talking about — he moved to New York from Wisconsin in 2010, got a bunch of acclaim for the Yellow Ostrich album The Mistress, signed to Barsuk and toured the U.S. several times with his hot new band: multi-instrumentalist Jon Natchez and drummer Michael Tapper. Still, wherever you go, there you are, and that’s what Strange Land is all about.

“The Mistress was a guy in a bedroom,” says Schaaf. “Strange Land is a band. In a slightly bigger room.”

Strange Land retains Schaaf’s sweet, boyish voice and bracingly open-hearted songwriting, but adds a hardwon urban edge: brawny bass and busy, prominent drums, triumphal horns, and plenty of raw, overdriven guitar. As the album transitions from wistful but supercharged pop to new musical realms, it’s as if you’re hearing the transition the band itself made, from self-contained solo unit to a collaborative trio of outstanding musicians. Schaaf has a degree in music, and there’s plenty of his gorgeous stacked harmonies here, but this time Natchez’s horns occasionally take on that role, and it’s all animated by Tapper’s hip-shaking syncopations.

Yellow Ostrich did several US tours in 2011, opening for bands like the Antlers and Ra Ra Riot. It was a pivotal experience. “I found myself tending to want to flex a little bit, get bigger, so people wouldn’t talk over our whole set,” Tapper says. That — and the heavy airplay the Velvet Underground, Wire, and Crazy Horse era Neil Young got in the tour van — had a big impact on the new music they made, with its dramatic dynamic shifts and listen-to-me-now passion. “We took the energy from those performances,” says Natchez, “and allowed the live experience to direct the recording, as opposed to vice versa.”

It took that kind of power and urgency to unleash the emotional core of the songs on Strange Land. “They’re about all those pent-up feelings of anticipation you carry throughout your life,” says Schaaf, “and what happens to those feelings when imagination becomes reality, and you see things maybe quite aren’t as magical and easy as you thought they’d be. When your future becomes your present, an explosion happens; that’s where a lot of this came from.”

Focus Tracks: 1, 2, 3, 5, 7
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Mati Zundel – Amazonico Gravitante (ZZK/Waxploitation)

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Listen Now: Mati Zundel “Por El Pueblo”

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Waxploitation/ZZK is pleased to introduce Mati Zundel, a compelling new artist from Buenos Aires. In December, NPR Music named Mati one of their favorite artists of the year, as well as naming El Alto de La Paz one of the top 100 songs of 2011.

Raised on rural rhythms, Mati’s debut album Amazonico Gravitante (out 3/27/12) blends dance music and South American country folk, fusing chacareras, huaynos, and vidalas two-step with electronic textures. Shaman chants and charango guitar loops form the backbone of Mati’s songs, and native voices create the backbeat to percussion and bass, while melodies combine Argentine cumbia with psychedelic tones. The result is a furiously original style that takes indigenous roots, and layers it with a contemporary sensibility, maintaining respect for ritual and tradition while pushing classic Latin influences into a cosmic future.

Focus Tracks: 3, 7, 5, 8
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