For artists looking for traction, February often marks a new beginning. Like early buds signaling springtime’s bloom, new songs enter the world with the promise of the summer bounty — full-length albums and national tours — to come. Below, a few tracks of note from L.A.-based artists with larger projects in the offing.
John Carroll Kirby, “Blueberry Beads” (Stones Throw)
Though he wears the most impressive mullet of 2020 (so far), Kirby’s business-in-front-party-in-back aesthetic doesn’t extend to the work on his debut album as a solo artist. Rather, his work (like his hairstyle) cascades from front to back like a stream rolling over rapids.
Kirby, best known for his songwriting and production collaborations with Solange on her 2018 album, “A Seat at the Table,” has been a behind-the-scenes keyboard stylist on tracks by artists including Frank Ocean, Shabazz Palaces, Blood Orange, Sébastien Tellier, Yellow Days and Kali Uchis.
“Blueberry Beads” is a tease from Kirby’s forthcoming album (April 24) for Highland Park-based Stones Throw records. A mid-tempo instrumental funk jam, it’s driven, like most of Kirby’s work, by a piano-based melodic theme. Partway through, a fuzzy synthesizer enters the frame to harmonize, and the beguiling conversation, along with a snare-snap propelled rhythm, suggests an artist ready to take the lead after an early career as a sideman.
Carla Olson featuring Stephen McCarthy, “Timber, I’m Falling in Love” (Sunset Blvd. Records)
The first song from the forthcoming record by Olson, the longtime Angeleno country rock singer-songwriter, is a collaboration with the Long Ryders’ McCarthy. Armed with jangled guitar riffs and an easy harmonic interplay, the two tag-team on a first-crush song written and performed by Patty Loveless.
Though this is their first recorded duet together, Olson and McCarthy have collaborated in the past, most notably on her 1987 duet album with the late Byrds co-founder Gene Clark, “So Rebellious a Lover.”
Olson’s new album, “Have Harmony, Will Travel 2,” which arrives March 20, closes with a previously unreleased version of a duet with Clark. Called “Del Gato,” it brings to glorious light a Clark-written song about a wanderer with “lips parched and bloodied” and a “face torn by sandstorms and pride.” For the new album, Olson, who’s got deep roots in L.A. going back to her early 1980s work with the Textones, also plays with the Eagles’ Timothy B. Schmit, Herman’s Hermits singer Peter Noone, soul crooner Percy Sledge and early Bee-Gees instrumentalist Vince Melouney.
Cassowary, “Belt Notch!” (Fat Possum)
The new video from young producer, multi-instrumentalist and singer Miles Shannon, who performs as Cassowary, finds the Inglewood-born artist and a two-man rhythm section playing a jazz-funkish stutter-step beat in the desert. As he sings of a desire for real connection, a woman in the background appears, her hands gripping thick ropes. “Don’t want to be a belt notch / Just want to get my dance off,” Cassowary declares.
As a musician, Shannon has an impressive résumé. His first gig was as a player on Earl Sweatshirt’s 2015 record “I Don’t Like ..., I Don’t Go Outside.” In fact, scenes from Earl’s breakthrough video for “Earl” was filmed at Shannon’s house. Shannon also studied at a few prestigious East Coast music schools.
Sand whips through the frame in the “Belt Notch!” clip as Cassowary grabs a tenor sax and blows a solo. We watch as the woman pulls the ropes; she’s dragging a black body bag and struggles to move the dead weight through dunes. By the end, she’s disposed of her albatross. “Belt Notch” is an early song from Cassowary’s self-titled debut album, which comes out April 24.