As I wrote at the beginning of this new reality without sports, our site would venture into some different topics to provide content strewn in among as much Rutgers coverage as we can provide. You probably already knew I love music, so I wanted to put together a list of musicians and bands that I thoroughly enjoy that you might not know of. Some on this list are long established and even teeter on the mainstream perhaps, I’m really not sure. From my perspective, none are household names on a global or even national scale here in the states. Perhaps you’ll discover a new band or two, or be reminded of a couple you forgot about.
I love musicians and bands who have a unique sound that when you hear them, you know it can only be them. I also differentiate good to great acts by how they sound and perform music live. Here are ten musical acts I recommend listening to at all times, but could be particularly enjoyable during this time of social distancing and staying at home. Live shows are included for each. Enjoy, stay well and healthy.
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats
I’ve featured Rateliff and his band with the great name in a basketball game preview this past season. I love their energy and sound. The 2018 album, Tearing at the Seams, has tremendous pace and spirit. It puts a hop in my step even during this difficult time. There are shades of blues, Americana and rock in their sound. Rateliff also has a new solo album out that’s strong as well called And It’s Still Alright. I know he is becoming more well known of late, but still wanted to make sure as many people are aware of him and his band as possible. What a showman he is and the Night Sweats can jam with the best of them. Here is a performance from last year.
The psychedelic soul band received a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist recently, but that’s not a defining reason for why they are worthy of a listen. The two member band have great chemistry and produce an interesting sound coming from different backgrounds. I think this duo will only rise up the music landscape in the years to come, so get to know them now. You can actually check them out on a livestream benefit concert they are performing this Thursday here, plus a recent full concert right here.
I’ve featured this New York band before in game previews as well and they are one of my all-time favorite acts. Sadly, they broke up several years ago after making an impact on the city scene for about a decade. I fell in love with the Walkmen watching them live while I worked at the Guggenheim in 2008 without ever hearing them before. I was hooked and took my now wife to see them live at Terminal 5 during their last tour. Lead singer Hamilton Leithauser has a relatively successful solo career and just released a new album last week called The Loves of your Life. He is very good on his own and has a unique voice, but his days with The Walkmen were his best showcase in my opinion. All are fine musicians and here is one of their last live performances ever.
They are a band that’s been around a few years that brings a real edge and darkness to their sound. Lead singer Adrienne Lenker is a powerful and raw vocalist, while her lyrics can pack a punch as well. She was born into a cult as a child before her parents left it in her youth, so her perspective is quite unique. Her story overall is fascinating and this band plays very well and tight around her deep vocals. The New Yorker did this great profile on the band last year here. The critics loved their last album Two Hands and here is a live performance from the Brooklyn band.
I don’t know Mr. Bird, but he seems like a highly intelligent person who is able to produce music in a different way than I’ve heard it before. He’s been a hard working but below the radar artist for a long time. There is a intensity and rhythm to his voice and music that really makes him stand out, while also being beautiful at times. He is a violinist that’s put out 15 albums over the last 20+ years but has become a staple across the indie rock scene. Check out a recent live performance here.
Vitamin String Quartet
I’m not sure how many people are aware of this group but they are very different in multiple ways. First off, they are basically a cover band that recreates rock and pop songs through classical interpretation. Second, they are produced by an independent record company that takes each album as a separate project involving different musicians. They’ve played songs made famous by Led Zeppelin to Iron Maiden to Bruce Springsteen to Adele. In times like these, I find classical music soothing to the soul, but this groups’s music is also fun because much of it will be familiar sounding but a different interpretation of many famous songs. I couldn’t find a live concert, but here is a performance of the Quartet covering Radiohead’s, True Love Waits.
The lead singer for the Alabama Shakes released her first solo album last year and it was fantastic. I’ve seen this band live and they are electric. Howard is a bonafide star that I think will grind her way into a household name before her career has ended. She is poweful, authentic and has the it factor where her live performances are even better than her studio work. Here is a full show she put out late in 2019 on her tour for her solo album. Editor’s (Note: the Shakes song Always Alright is a pretty good pump up song for the times we are in, by the way.)
This band has an energy that resonated with me when I heard their first album, Ode to Sunshine, which came out over a decade ago. They are not a prolific band, as they’ve only made five albums and the last came out over five years ago. However, they are a great touring band and have great chemistry on stage. As you can see from this recent performance, they are a band worthy of the strong following they’ve developed over the years.
You may already know of this group, but they are one of my favorite bands of all-time and have really evolved over the years. Their latest record, I’m Easy To Find, from late 2019, was not embraced by critics or fans as well as their previous work. However, I loved it. They explored boundaries and it was extremely artistic. Like all their albums, I can listen to it all the way through, which is an indicator of how much I really like a band. They also seem like good people, as they are currently fundraising for their entire crew after their tour was cancelled. Check their new video release every Monday here and a full concert from last year here.
The longest running and most successful band mentioned in this article, I still think they don’t get enough credit. Jeff Tweedy might be the most under appreciated frontman in rock music today. The Chicago alternative rock/country band has been around since 1994 and all the current members have been involved since 2004. Tweedy has led the entire 25+ year span and the band’s 2019 release, Ode to Joy, was one of their best they’ve ever produced. Love is Everywhere (Beware) and Everyone Hides are my favorites. They’ve evolved but been consistently reliable over the years and created a legacy I think will one day land them in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Not that they need that induction to validate their career, but they are certainly worthy in my opinion. Here they are in a recent performance.