Like the paper-white flowers that her grandmother sends her every Christmas, Julie Davis surprised herself during the pandemic with a kind of resilience, despite periods of intense self-doubt.
The flowers “start to grow as the days get longer,” said Davis, a Denver indie musician known for projects like Bela Karoli, Fairchildren and Bluebook. “I was so depressed last Christmas that I did not take them out of the box. When I finally opened it, I noticed that they had already started to grow in the dark.”
“Paperwhites” is just one of nine captivating tracks on Bluebook’s new album, “Optimistic Voices”, which will have an album release show on Hi-Dive on February 12th. It’s a triumph of musical development for Davis and a recovery of her confidence in songwriting.
It’s also just one of several long-awaited albums by Colorado artists for 2022, following an unusually strong surge in 2021 from the state’s most prominent musicians, such as jam-band royalty Leftover Salmon (corn “Brand New Good Old Days”), EDM juggernaut and Red Rocks headliner Illenium (July’s “Fallen Embers”) and folk-rock legend Neil Young (December’s “Barn,” recorded near Telluride, where Young owns a ranch).
You may have also missed GRiZ’s “Rainbow Brain”; The Velveteers’ “Nightmare Daydream”; Chris Daniels, Hazel Miller and Dana Marsh’s “What We Did”; AJ Fullerton’s “The Forgiver and the Runaway”; Porlolos “No Praise, No Blame”; and The Centennials “Buried Gold”, among many others, said Denver music experts and radio DJs.
Everyone is worth tracking, according to Alisha Sweeney, local music director on Indie 102.3 FM, and Chris Kresge, host of “The Colorado Playlist” on 105.5 FM. Sweeney, for example, supported Alison Lorensen’s release of “Tender” in November, as well as N3ptune’s encouraging December album, “Renaissance,” which heralded a genre-jumping new artistic force in Denver.
The abundance is a sign that Denver artists, forced out of performing live, have increasingly turned to notebooks and studios and made music that reflects time – no matter how traumatic it is. In Davis’ case, she wrote new songs for the first time in years while filling the Bluebooks lineup with stage veterans Jess Parsons, Hayley Helmericks (Snake Rattle Rattle Snake) and Anna Morset (The Still Tide).
“Optimistic Voices” was recorded with James Barone (Tennis, Beach House) in June and August and also features Brad Cook (producer for Bon Iver) and mastering of Chris Colbert (Mazzy Star, Pedro the Lion).
Such a pedigree is common in a city with a humble music scene that still claims internationally touring, platinum-certified, Grammy-nominated artists The Lumineers, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats and Ingrid Andress as its own. But not being able to promote new releases in person has been difficult.
Rateliff and the Night Sweats, which was just confirmed for Bonnaroo in June, saw a 2020 summer tour that opened for Bob Dylan be preserved by COVID, as well as Rateliff’s sold-out pre-tour for the solo album “And It’s Still Alright. ”
While Night Sweats returned to the road last year, Rateliff told The Denver Post this week that the band had also talked about a North American tour in January 2022 to promote their new album, “The Future” – released in November as Night Sweats’ third full length. It would have followed their crack “The Tonight Starring Jimmy Fallon” performance of “Survivor” in November (Fallon is a longtime fan and advocate). But the idea was scrapped due to deteriorating COVID-19 conditions. (A publicist would not say how many dates it would have included.)
“It would be a lot of bigger rooms that we had not done before,” said Rateliff, who also recently bought South Broadway’s loved the Skylark Lounge with manager Chris Tetzeli and longtime friend Bob Ashby. “We were a little reluctant and decided to just wait and let people sit a little with the record. “We are still sticking to the dates for Europe in May and June.”
A couple of reportedly named singles from “The Future” – “Survivor” and “Face Down in the Moment” – have already joined Night Sweats’ Top 5 biggest songs on Spotify, alongside hits like “SOB” (132 million streams)) and “You Worry Me” (65 million). The marriage between Rateliff’s previously divergent personalities – quiet people and since 2015 the leader of the soul band – feels natural on “The Future”, leading Night Sweats into the hazy americana while still paying homage to their beat-heavy work.
“I’m definitely becoming a character by myself in that band,” Rateliff said. It’s going to be interesting to get back up there (on stage) and see if I can continue to be that person. … I get in my head (sometimes) with, ‘Maybe I just do what I want when I want?’ But I still want us to feel like a band, so the opinions of those guys are important to me. ”
The indie folk act Covenhoven – which quietly became one of Colorado’s most heard artists with several songs licensed for television and commercials – released another album worth revisiting, “IV”, which debuted in October. And The Lumineers, the biggest band to call Denver home, are releasing their fourth album, “Brightside,” on Friday, January 14th.
The title track is already a No. 1 hit at AAA radio.
“We were going to tour last summer and fall and made a difficult decision not to,” said Lumineers singer Wesley Schultz. As of press time, his band was scheduled to perform on “The Tonight Show” on Thursday, January 13th. “It felt like we were pessimistic, but you could also read the tea leaves.”
Schultz takes nothing for granted in 2022, he said, while still crossing fingers that spring and summer will be healthier times. The band’s new album, “Brightside”, is definitely suited to the stage, with a louder, more rocket sound than fans might be used to. Schultz and Lumineer’s co-conspirator Jeremiah Fraites also released their own solo album last year, suggesting the productive nature of their lockdown-era songwriting.
“We’re not trying to have (expectations) and treat this album like a $ 100 note you just found lying around,” Schultz said, adding that “IV” is his favorite record the band has made. “This album confirms a certain belief in ourselves, because when you and I started writing together 16 years ago, we were so full of confidence. … But recording this felt like we were free to express something, instead of having the inner critic to dominate our main images. “
With The Lumineers and Bluebook leading, radio hosts Sweeney and Kresge are also looking forward to 2022 releases from the Yonder Mountain String Band, Adiel Mitchell, Joe Michaels, Fast Eddy and Rootbeer Richie & The Reveille. Sweeney also joined the rising, nationally signed indie duos Companion and Annie Oakley.
“Even with all these albums, we’re back in the land of singles these days,” she said. “Local supergroups, external bands moving to Denver, and more artists watching more than 1 million streams on Spotify – that’s what 2022 Colorado music looks like at the moment.”
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