Arts District

The Big Baltimore Playlist: May 2018

The top five local songs you should download right now.

In the latest iteration of The Big Baltimore Playlist, we round up five local songs we can’t get enough of right now, ranging from boundary-breaking bluegrass to vital hip-hop and thought-provoking spoken-word poetry. Check back each month for new songs of the moment, and follow our Spotify playlist as we continue to build a soundtrack for our city. 

White Horse” by Bumper Jacksons 

At the exact moment of the Women’s March on Washington in 2017, Bumper Jacksons frontwoman Jess Eliot Myhre was in labor with her first child. The lead singer emerged from that life-changing experience and found herself moved to write this spirited anthem, reflecting on motherhood, feminine power, and the #MeToo movement. With hearty acoustic strums and the wavering twang of steel guitar, Myrhe and her master-of-their-craft bandmates create a call to collective action for women the world over. “We don’t need a man on a white horse, we don’t need anyone to save us,” she sings with gusto. “We can move mountains, when we harness our own power.” In this country-tinged tune, the Americana septet does exactly that, mobilizing through melody, using their feel-good sound to speak truth to power.

Feel Nobody” by Butch Dawson

This West Baltimore artist approaches his tracks with a punkish edge, carving out his own corner in the local rap canon as he imbues his smoke-swirled melodies with nonchalant murky beats and, lately, a horror film’s flare. See last fall’s video for “Dead Man Draggin’,” in which Dawson transforms into a woods-wandering zombie a la The Walking Dead. But where that slow-burned with chill wave vibes and jazzy drums, this new number is an edge-of-your-seat thriller. “Feel Nobody” hooks you with its incessant whir, deep bass, and occasional scream-like sample, then Dawson’s delivery brings the suspense—his rhymes gaining new intensity and volume with every hard-hitting verse. At its core, the song is about survival in “the swamps,” as he calls Baltimore’s toughest neighborhoods, and staying unapologetically true to yourself. Keep an eye out for his forthcoming full-length Swamp Boy.

Caroline” by The High and Wides

Since forming on the Eastern Shore in 2015, the High & Wides have crossed the Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore, combining the backwoods roots of their hometown with the gumption of their new city to create a modern “hillbilly music” revival. From fiery barn burners to heartbroken ballads, this talented string quartet is celebrating the region’s rich bluegrass history, carrying the torch for the Old-Line legends who came before. The band’s boot-stomping first single puts their expert instrumentation and finger-picking finesse on full display. Full of hearty harmonies, lightning banjo, tight fiddle, and driving bass, it’s a simple reminder of how goddamn gorgeous the naked voice and unadulterated instrument can be. We’ll follow their breathless tempos down whatever dusty road—or up whatever chart, as the album just debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard bluegrass chart—they go.

Invocation: Dear Baltimore” by Judah Adashi and Erricka Bridgeford*

One of the most beautiful things to be born out of the Baltimore Uprising is that of Rise Bmore, a free evening of music, speech, and community that takes place every April 19, on the anniversary of Freddie Gray’s death. Now in its third year, this spring’s event began with the premiere of this breathtaking ballad and love letter to Baltimore. The song combines “Rise,” a Civil Rights-inspired composition by Judah Adashi—Rise Bmore’s founder, plus Peabody professor and organizer of the Evolution Contemporary Music Series—with words by Erricka Bridgeford, the creator of Baltimore Ceasefire, which just celebrated another successful weekend without murder. With ascending piano and aching breaths of flugelhorn, the song evolves from poignant storytelling to courageous poetry. Bridgeford’s husky lines captures the city’s essence in a few simple notes. Listen. Meditate on these words. Feel your heart fill with hope for our hometown of Baltimore.

4 3 2 4 1” by Smoke Bellow

We first caught wind of this song by way of the long, strange trip of its music video. The short film was so perfectly oddball that it could only have been made in Baltimore. After a three-year hiatus in their Australia homeland, Christian Best and Meredith McHugh returned to Baltimore in 2017 with their first new record in years. Just released via Ehse RecordsIsolation 3000 was inspired by Smoke Bellow’s two distant and disparate locales, and includes this otherworldly song. With a new third bandmate, local artist Jessie Hughes, it takes the minimalist experimentation of the band’s past work and evolves it outward—or, rather, inward—down a sort of psychedelic rabbit hole. Swirling in synth loops and droning guitar, McHugh’s meditative incantations urge listeners to follow. Their labyrinthine dreamscape—from space through the ocean to the Outback—is worth getting lost in.

*Not available on Spotify. We’ll add it when if/when it comes online.