In the day, the discovery of ‘new’ music was down to tuning into radio stations, maybe watching a TV programme, or very simply heading for your local record store and browsing through the trays. Nowadays, it’s all down to algorithms. Listen to something online, and before you know it ‘we have recommendations for you’; because you listened to <….>, you might like <,,,,,>. So here we are: my personal algorithm, I’ll just call him Al, thinks he know more about my musical tastes than I do. Not something I would readily agree with, but every so I have to begrudgingly accept that he seems to hit the jackpot. Recently, my other music buddy, YouTube, with Al’s help, has provided me with an endless stream of videos of musical performances by an assortment of artists that I didn’t know I liked. Amazing!
When earlier this year, the world ground to a halt with the coronavirus pandemic, music became one of my personal outlets – plenty of time to delve into the musical treasure trove in search of material that hadn’t previously registered on my radar. And my buddies were right on the case, ready to open up Pandora’s musical box. If Al had the chance to explain, he would tell you that my musical tastes are predominantly guitar-centric, somewhat rootsy, melodic, and with an emphasis on vocal harmonies. I have an assortment of early influences that good old Al has worked out, and which has enabled him/it to throw a plethora of recommendations my way. So, many is the hour, in these isolated times, that I have been able to check out whether or not Al is my new, best musical mate.
So, here’s the top three in my new musical world, but before we go any further, how on earth do these guys dream up their band names? The Milk Carton Kids, Mandolin Orange, The Civil Wars – how does this happen?
The Milk Carton Kids are an American indie folk duo from California. Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan are both singers and guitarists, who began making music together in early 2011. In terms of genre, they are labelled as a neo-traditional folk duo, whatever that is, but now and again, their harmonising has a Simon and Garfunkel feel to it. Their live performances are characterised not only by the quality of their musical material, but an extremely dry sense of humour, targeted at each other.
Watch them performing Maybe It’s Time
Mandolin Orange is a folk/country/bluegrass duo based in North Carolina The group was formed in 2009 and consists of the group’s songwriter Andrew Marlin (vocals, mandolin, guitar, banjo) and his wife, Emily Frantz (vocals, violin, guitar). They have a very distinctive sound characterised by Andrew’s southern accent and his exceptional mandolin playing.
Watch them performing Wildfire, in somewhat unusual surroundings.
The Civil Wars was an American musical duo comprised of Joy Williams and John Paul White. Formed in 2008, The Civil Wars won four Grammy Awards prior to their 2014 breakup. What is most remarkable about The Civil Wars is their live performances, and you just have to see them to understand (or not) the chemistry between them. It comes across as far more than musical chemistry. There is an untold story about their breakup, and there’s endless speculation in the comments sections on all of their videos, but the comments also include some absolute gems such as ‘I could watch them filling in their tax returns’, or ‘I think I lost my virginity listening to that song’. You just have to see them to get this!
Here they are performing a cover of Michael Jackson’s song, Billie Jean
So, thank you Al, and thank you YouTube, for providing a glimmer of musical light in the pandemic tunnel.