It is times like these where we most need artists. And they are rising to the occasion. Many a music fan has watched some of the flood of online streaming shows that have – and continue – to occur. While these events are a crucial source of income to artists in an era where most earn their living through touring, the shows are also a salve to a world coping with fear, isolation and grief.
Artists can help us process our state of affairs, offering perspectives with both gravity and humor. Here is a collection of recently released singles, encompassing songs those that are newly written and those that are older but are remarkable timely.
Heaven Is a Place on Earth by Matthew Ryan
Matthew Ryan exquisitely turns Belinda Carlile’s 1987 hit “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” on its head. Ryan, accompanied by Neilson Hubbard on piano and Molly Thomas on strings and backing vocals, contrasts the song’s hopeful lyrics against a stark musical accompaniment.
As if the song’s fragile beauty wasn’t enough, the accompanying video makes the song even more meaningful. The video is a moving collage of archival home movies that captures earlier generations savoring happy moments. It is a subtle reminder that we’ve encountered troubled times – from war to disease to economic hardship – in years past and persevered.
They say in heaven, love comes first
We’ll make heaven a place on earth
One of the first – but far from the only – American musicians to succumb to Covid-19 was Adam Schlesinger. Although known to many for his work with Fountains of Wayne, he played in varied projects and was a sought after songwriter for TV and movies.
Several weeks after his passing, his bandmates were joined by Sharon Van Etten on bass and vocals to perform the group’s melancholy “Hackensack” in support of the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund. The song, which tells the tale of a lost love, is now a sad reminder of a lost talent.
The song will be available as a download for one month only, with proceeds going to the NJ Pandemic Relief Fund. Buy it here.
M. Lockwood Porter’s “What We’ve Lost” is 90% exasperation and 10% hope. Porter is quick to point out that the song, originally recorded for 2019’s outstanding Communion in the Ashes, was originally inspired by the impact of climate change on the world. It’s core message that global issues require solutions that are centered around collaboration, community, and humanity is just as relevant – and needed – in the age of Covid.
There’s a deadness in my neighbors’ eyes
But it hides a spark that never truly dies
There is music on the wind
I hear it in the voices of my friends
One day this dark is gonna end
Stay Safe and Easter Sunday by Grant-Lee Phillips
Grant-Lee Phillips has kept himself busy with not one, but two self-quarantine singles. First he teamed with John Doe, Sam Phillips & Eric Gorfain on the isolation ditty “Stay Safe”. Grant-Lee kicked things off with a verse and then passed the song off Doe and Sam Phillips to add their own verses. Gorfain follows with an extended fiddle solo before Grant-Lee closes out the songs with a chorus of “stay safe in your home, but that doesn’t mean you have to be alone.”
As much as I enjoy “Stay Safe”, it’s Grant-Lee’s solo “Easter Sunday” that really hits the mark. In just over two minutes he shares a beguiling take on life in isolation. The song mixes moments of humor with political commentary amidst a melancholy reflection of a holiday spent sequestered.
I’m getting used to social distancing, staying up all night
Wore my pajamas every day this week, and there’s no end in sight.
The weeds are poking through the sidewalks and the government’s all thumbs
It’s hard to imagine all those churches full when Easter Sunday comes.
All the better that he performs the song in a t-shirt that reads “We Will Rise”.
Patterson Hood, accompanied remotely by his Drive-By Truckers bandmates, takes a semi-humorous look at dating in the age of social distancing. “We might as well quarantine together as be miserable all alone,” he sings against a gentle acoustic rock backdrop, “so if you come on over to my place I promise you I will stay six feet away.”
Mike Errico does an annual holiday show every December, celebrating the close of one year and the launch of the next one. Little did he – or anyone – have an idea of what was in store for us in 2020.
One of Errico’s signature tunes is the mysterious and spiritual “Someday”, originally released in 1997. The singer-songwriter has just released an ethereal live performance that was recorded at the 2019 holiday show. Says Errico about this version, “ ’Someday’ has always been a song of quiet determination, and it feels appropriate to the moment.”
As a bonus for songwriters (and others), the Bandcamp bundle comes with some additional goodies that includes a sample of the tongue drum that is featured on the song.
Someday I’m gonna get where I’m going
Somewhere past the blindness of my faith
I keep my eye on the plans I’ve made
And someday I’ll get there
Past the smiles that crack like frozen lakes
Under children’s figure skates
Past all of my own mistakes
Thousands more I’ve yet to make
But I am going
I do not care how long it takes
I do not care what stands in my way
I don’t care what anybody has to say
I know myself
I know myself and I am not afraid
And someday I’ll get there
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.