Faye Webster: “Better Distractions (Live)”
Singer-songwriter Faye Webster got a big-time boost in attention with this song, first released as a single last year, then re-recorded live at Chase Park Transduction Studios in Athens and released late last month. That boost came from former President Barack Obama, who named it one of his favorite songs of the year, crediting daughter Sasha for her musical acumen. This put Webster on the same list as Beyoncé and Bob Dylan, so . . . no pressure. ArtsATL chose her 2019 record Atlanta Millionaires Club as one of the best albums of 2019.
With its lazily swirling, floating petal-steel guitar, slowly swaying beat and the soft, plaintive longing in her quiet but resonant voice, “Better Distractions” feels steeped in a Laurel-Canyon-of-the-1970s vibe. And we’re here for it.
She’s also a bit of a yo-yo pro, a talent that began as a way to stave off boredom while visiting relatives in Texas. It has become a trademark she brings onstage with her and, according to a Rolling Stone interview a few years ago, sells a custom version called “The Pigeon.”
Mariah the Scientist: “To You”
We’ve entered a somewhat surreal chapter in live performance, where more prominent artists longing to connect with audiences have enthusiastically taken up the somewhat awkward practice of livestreaming concert series. This is where this live performance of the previously unreleased “To You” by Mariah the Scientist debuted as part of a “Genius Live” lineup. It’s evidently a track from her upcoming project, Little Monster, due soon.
Audience members who pay $5 extra get featured on-screen for a few seconds and are shown gasping ecstatically like baseball fans caught dancing in the stands, bobbing to the song (sometimes with pets in their arms) in their living rooms as the camera randomly lands on them. If you dare, check out the full-on quarantine concert weirdness.
The rising star and Atlanta native (whose MASTER) was one of our top albums of 2019) began writing music while attending St. John’s College on a biology scholarship in New York and has been shooting to fame for cleverly written pieces like “Beetlejuice.“ Even in its early iterations, with self-effacing asides like, “Y’all know the lyrics already? Hold up,” and “Give me a minute . . . or two,” it’s clear that some exciting stuff is brewing.
Sam Burchfield: “Hold My Hand”
Born and raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains of South Carolina, Sam Burchfield made his way to Atlanta in time to call it home. For the uninitiated, the singer-songwriter became involved in the Athens music scene while studying at the University of Georgia, auditioned for the 13th season of American Idol, made the cut and then turned it down, walking away to focus on writing his music. Now that’s chutzpah!
This new track, released at the end of February, brings forth his signature mixture of Appalachia-grown soulful folk music that’s earthy and earnest. His singing and guitar-playing, while he toe-taps the percussion, fills a room with feeling. It’s mesmerizing because you can tell he completely feels each note and each line. His latest album, Graveyard Flower, was released last year.
Algiers (featuring Fred Hampton): “Walk Like a Panther
Our Vintage Track of the Week honors one of the best movies of the year, Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah. It’s not actually old, though its themes, sadly, are both historic and contemporary. (Plus, anything pre-2020 now feels like eons ago.) “Apocalyptic-gospel-punk” band Algiers released its earthquaking anthem “Like a Panther” the summer of 2017 on The Underside of Power album.
It opens with an excerpt from a famous speech by Fred Hampton, the remarkable Rainbow Coalition organizer, rising civil rights leader, Marxist and deputy chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party whose all-too-short life gets a fraction of the spotlight it deserves in Judas via Daniel Kaluuya’s tour-de-force performance (watch Hampton’s actual speech here). Hampton was assassinated in his sleep by Chicago police and the FBI in 1969 when he was 21. It was and is a horrifying injustice, and revisiting the murder on film and in music reminds us how little has changed.
Algiers’ founding members Franklin James Fisher, Lee Tesche and Ryan Mahan began playing together in Atlanta in their youth, years before the band officially came together in 2012. They’ve been blazing a trail of ferocious protest songs ever since, gaining international attention as an opener for Depeche Mode on its 2017 European stadium tour, the same year this song debuted. “Walk Like a Panther” — which shakes and explodes with a palpable sense of betrayal, anger and helplessness — could well have been released today, as the fight against oppression continues.