Arkansas artists' new releases cover style gamut

Lucero, "Should've Learned By Now"
Lucero, "Should've Learned By Now"

Lots of new jams from Arkansas musicians have been released since the beginning of the year. There is fresh music from old favorites, major label stars, indie darlings, local heroes and a pair of stellar debut LPs from Little Rock acts. The offerings range from rock, pop, folk and R&B to country, extreme metal and a little bit of blues.

What follows are some of the 2023 recordings with Natural State ties that have caught our attention. Some of them have been out since early January, others are more recent releases and some will show up later this month.

Let's rock.

"Should've Learned by Now," Lucero -- Memphis-based Lucero, fronted by Little Rock native Ben Nichols, has been together for 25 years with pretty much the same lineup and has continued to release solid, often great, sometimes transcendent, bar-band, punk-influenced Southern rock.

"Should've Learned by Now," Lucero's 12th studio album, finds Nichols and his co-conspirators -- guitarist Brian Venable, bassist John C. Stubblefield, drummer Roy Berry and keyboardist Rick Steff -- playing with undeniable energy and verve.

The opening track, "One Last F.U.," complete with Berry's rowdy cowbell, is a defiant, boot-stomping anthem about being fed up and getting out of a bad situation. "At the Show" is a classic Nichols track that finds a young narrator playing a club gig, in love with his band, the music, the scene and hoping a certain girl makes it to the show. The title cut is a pile-driver of a song featuring an icy solo by Venable and the record closes with the bouncy "Time to Go Home."

After a quarter-century of records, gigs, countless miles in vans and buses and all the other things that come with being in a working rock 'n' roll band, it sounds like Lucero is stronger than ever.

"Hello, From Planet Earth," Emily Fenton -- The debut album from Little Rock singer-songwriter Emily Fenton is a beguiling joy. Mixing acoustic folk with indie rock and a bit of country, Fenton brings a sweet playfulness to these 10 songs. Some of that lively vibe comes from her voice and the way she enunciates and hangs onto to selected notes and syllables.

Along with composing each track, Fenton co-produced "Hello, From Planet Earth" with her husband, Marco M. Samour, at their home studio and at the White Water Tavern in Little Rock (an excellent live version of the record can also be found at Fenton's bandcamp page).

Among the many highlights are the breathless, powerful opener "Favorite Song;" the introspective, ethereal "Fried Eggs;" the slow waltz of the optimistic title cut and the chillbump-inducing "Pollyanna."

"Ice Cold Oblivion," Mammoth Caravan -- Speaking of promising debuts, here's another one. Little Rock doom-sludge metal trio Mammoth Caravan -- Brandon Ringo, vocals, bass; Evan Swift, vocals, guitar; Robert Warner, drums -- have only been around since July 4, but have already made an impression.

Using money they earned from gigs and merch sales, the trio recorded the six-tracks on "Ice Cold Oblivion" with producer Jason Tedford at Wolfman Studios in Little Rock. The result is nearly 40 minutes of raw, heavy, pummeling, ice-age theme songs with titles like "Nomad," "Petroglyphs" and "Megafauna."

The title track kicks off the album with an eerie synthesizer intro before lumbering to life, and be sure to stick around for "Frostbite," the epic final song that stretches close to 11 minutes and calls to mind early Black Sabbath. The album is streaming, of course, but the group also has CDs and cassette versions for sale at its bandcamp page. Vinyl records, which are running low, will be available at shows, Warner says, adding that more should be in stock by May or June.

"Hysteria," Billy Jeter -- Singer-songwriter Billy Jeter gets a little help from his friends on the roots-rock "Hysteria," which comes out March 24.

Jeter, who is originally from Wabbaseka, calls upon fellow Jefferson County native and Grammy-winning bluesman Bobby Rush to play harmonica on the driving blues workout "Buddy Roe" and "Unemployment Tree." Little Rock guitar hero Greg Spradlin shows up on a few tracks, as does Oklahoma multi-instrumentalist Jesse Aycock. Karen Jo Vennes and Sara Thomas provide backing vocals as well.

The result, arranged and produced by Jason Weinheimer at Fellowship Hall Sound in Little Rock, is a collection of well-worn blues, rock and folk in the spirit of the Grateful Dead and The Band. Along the way, Jeter creates back-porch character sketches on songs like "Sister Sally" and gets topical on "Labor Day Blues" and the title track, which cribs a bit of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction."

Physical copies will be available at record stores, Jeter says. See billyjeter.com for more details.

"Future Sanctuary 1," "Future Sanctuary 2," Isaac Alexander -- The venerable Little Rock singer-songwriter Isaac Alexander has been making music around these parts for quite a while now as a member of alt-country champs Big Silver and solo (actually, before moving to Little Rock, he was making original music in Searcy with his high school band, The Screaming Mimes, who regrouped late last year for an album, "Pleasure Avenue").

He released these two albums via Little Rock label Max Recordings on Jan. 1 and they are stellar Alexander recordings. Featuring 12 songs each, the two "Future Sanctuary" records are showcases for his hushed Americana and power pop and his smart, sometimes wry lyrics and quiet vocals. Highlights include the uplifting "Prove the World Wrong" on the first album and "Future Sanctuary" on the second.

"One of Us," Matt Stell -- The latest from country-pop star and Center Ridge native Matt Stell is a six-song EP loaded with songs about drinking, dirt roads, trucks and relationships. The title track is a stadium rocker about small town life; "Somewhere Over the Radio," about chasing country music dreams, closes the brief collection.

SINGLES

"Right Where You Want Me," Brae Leni, Tiffany Gouche -- Little Rock neo-soul artist singer-songwriter-producer Brae Leni duets with California's Tiffany Gouche on this sexy jam. There's a neat, watery vibe to the arrangement as the two singers exult in a night of passion. Leni says his new album, "Shilly Shally Valley," will drop April 28.

"Bomb," Black Party, Latto -- "Arkansas to worldwide," goes a lyric early on in this slinky, seductive single from Little Rock native Malik Flint, who lives in California and records as Black Party. Flint, who has worked with Childish Gambino and fellow Little Rock native Kari Faux, is joined by rapper Latto on this track, which came out Jan. 31.

"Light on in the Kitchen," Ashley McBryde -- Fresh off her Grammy win with Carly Pearce for "Never Wanted to Be That Girl," Mammoth Spring native Ashley McBryde drops this heartwarming track of homespun wisdom, perseverance and the unconditional support of the people who love you.

"Who Do U Luv," Rodney Block, Deshawn Harris -- Hardworking Little Rock trumpeter Rodney Block, who grew up in Dumas, teams with vocalist Deshawn Harris on this sensual, jazz-inflected, R&B track.

"Phasing In-Out (garage demo 2023)," Recognizer -- Central Arkansas rockers Recognizer pieced this studio experiment together and dropped it last month on their bandcamp page. The track has a '90s alt-rock, grungy vibe mixed with stoner rock elements and singer Mike Mullins' soaring vocals. There's not a new album in the works, Mullins says, but the group is thinking of releasing a series of singles.

"I Saw the Arkansas," Dylan Earl -- This is the title cut from the new album by Fayetteville singer Dylan Earl. The single, a hardcore country twanger about life on the road and making music, is available now and the album dropped March 10. Vinyl copies of the nine-track record can be ordered at Earl's bandcamp page.

Little Rock neo-soul artist singer-songwriter-producer Brae Leni duets with California's Tiffany Gouche on this sexy jam. There's a neat, watery vibe to the arrangement as the two singers exult in a night of passion. Leni says his new album, "Shilly Shally Valley," will drop April 28.

"Bomb," Black Party, Latto -- "Arkansas to worldwide," goes a lyric early on in this slinky, seductive single from Little Rock native Malik Flint, who lives in California and records as Black Party. Flint, who has worked with Childish Gambino and fellow Little Rock native Kari Faux, is joined by rapper Latto on this track, which came out Jan. 31.

"Light on in the Kitchen," Ashley McBryde -- Fresh off her Grammy win with Carly Pearce for "Never Wanted to Be That Girl," Mammoth Spring native Ashley McBryde drops this heartwarming track of homespun wisdom, perseverance and the unconditional support of the people who love you.

"Who Do U Luv," Rodney Block, Deshawn Harris -- Hardworking Little Rock trumpeter Rodney Block, who grew up in Dumas, teams with vocalist Deshawn Harris on this sensual, jazz-inflected, R&B track.

"Phasing In-Out (garage demo 2023)," Recognizer -- Central Arkansas rockers Recognizer pieced this studio experiment together and dropped it last month on their bandcamp page. The track has a '90s alt-rock, grungy vibe mixed with stoner rock elements and singer Mike Mullins' soaring vocals. There's not a new album in the works, Mullins says, but the group is thinking of releasing a series of singles.

"I Saw the Arkansas," Dylan Earl -- This is the title cut from the new album by Fayetteville singer Dylan Earl. The single, a hardcore country twanger about life on the road and making music, is available now and the album drops Friday (March 10). Vinyl copies of the nine-track record can be ordered at Earl's bandcamp page.

photo Emily Fenton, "Hello, From Planet Earth"
photo Mammoth Caravan, "Ice Cold Oblivion"
photo Billy Jeter, "Hysteria"
photo Isaac Alexander, "Future Sanctuary 1"
photo Matt Stell, "One of Us"

Upcoming Events