The music industry is in flux. This year, some proclaimed the death of the album, while others noted its triumphant return. In the Valley, we saw a beloved small Lowell venue, The Backpage, close its doors, but also witnessed Tupelo Music Hall move to a larger space in Derry, N.H., and find considerable success. Some researchers noted that shorter attention spans could be linked to pop songs getting shorter; at the exact same time, long songs were the trend in revitalized genres as diverse as ambient and heavy metal. When it comes to music, perhaps the only thing we can reasonably say is to echo Socrates — “All we know is that we know nothing.”
While the industry as a whole continues to struggle with the digital landscape, there is no shortage of creativity. While I’d rather be picking up new releases at Lowell’s Vinyl Destination or a similar brick- and-mortar record store, for now, the only way to access most of this year’s crop of Merrimack Valley talent is via the internet.
Below are a few favorite recent releases by local artists.
“Sounds of the Merrimack” by Various Artists
Conceived as a UMass Lowell honors project by music mastermind Nick Canovas, this compilation was mixed at UML’s Durgin Hall. Proceeds go to the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lowell’s Music Clubhouse. GEPH’s “Get Your Insignificance On” begins with sweeping ambient washes before the drums kick in and the circular rhythms rise. I’m not sure what the title led me to expect, but the song is the auditory equivalent of stargazing on a clear night. The band describes itself as a “jazz metal trio” and features two musicians on Chapman Sticks, unusual instruments that look a little bit like guitars but are mostly played by tapping, rather than strumming or picking. The band is currently riding the waves of a successful Indiegogo campaign to raise money for a record. (You can check out their new single, “Whole Body Headbang,” at GEPH.bandcamp.com.) “Sounds of the Merrimack” also includes the excellent “Pong Savada Khmer” by the Tepniyum Band, which features traditional Cambodian instrumentation. There are also tracks by Feed the Bird, performing a classic-sounding bebop number, and Vinyl Fiction, whose mix of funk, reggae and ’80s synth-pop are centered around the voice of up-and-coming singer-songwriter Meg Kelly. Check it out at LowellMusicClubhouse.bandcamp.com/album/sounds-of-the-merrimack.
“I’m an old soul,” Jillian Cardarelli says of her latest single, which evokes the cool feel of Faith Hill and Shania Twain. Her new EP was released at the end of June, and the first single, “Re-Run,” was written by a few top brass Nashville cats: Maren Morris, who won the 2017 Grammy for best country solo performance, Tina Parol and Jordan Reynolds. The new single demonstrates her increased maturity since moving to Tennessee’s capital city from her hometown of Haverhill. She also continues to develop as a live performer and has recently come off a tour with Lonestar. For updates, visit JillianCardarelli.com.
Lowell-based Space Juice has a Steely Dan meets Frank Zappa sound that veers quickly from relaxed jazz to interstellar funk. Fitting for outer space, the music alternates between the immense — big drums, big wiggling bass lines — and hushed vocals with understated, slinky guitar parts. The band’s live schedule has increased lately, so watch our online Community Calendar for upcoming dates. Take a listen at SpaceJuice.bandcamp.com.
Don’t be fooled by the fact that Thomasina Glenn recorded her debut album, “15,” when she was 15 years old. Her voice is nuanced, even smoky, in a way that you wouldn’t expect from someone her age. Her choice in songs proves that she is drawn to a mature level of lyrical complexity. “15” includes covers of Patsy Cline and Fleetwood Mac. Glenn is a songwriter as well as a multi-instrumentalist whose talents extend to the guitar, mandolin, piano and even the ukulele. She has played at numerous festivals and fairs, including a recent show at Vasa in Salisbury. If you want to see her live this summer or listen to “15,” head on over to ThomasinaGlenn.com for more information.
A working musician, occasional music writer for mvm and former Methuen resident, Alex Prezzano now lives in New York City, where he has performed at historic venues such as Cafe Wha? and The Bitter End. His debut release, “(EP)isode 1,” features four original compositions and evokes a range of reference points, from Jawbreaker to Dire Straits. The opening song, “Ghost,” includes rolling drums, swelling vocals and Prezzano’s own signature fretwork. An accomplished classical guitarist, he shows himself to be at home in the world of popular music, as well. “When I Woke Up” reaches into new territory. The multilayered interplay between the lead and backup vocals is almost baroque, and the snaking guitar lines veer between jazzy lightness and a cutting Clash-like edge. Prezzano is currently hosting a crowdfunding campaign to complete his first full-length album. Learn more at his website, AlexPrezzano.com.