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Slightly more relaxed and groovy than the biting tracks off 2012’s Tramp, Sharon Van Etten recently dropped “Taking Chances”, the first single off her forthcoming album, Are We There?, due out May 27. Sadly and soulfully, “Taking Chances” doesn’t desert her signature dreamy style, but the song has a slick production quality to it and sharp, yet subtle indie-pop sensibilities. It’s a lot less sparse than usual and quite a bit more atmospheric, which is exciting considering Van Etten is skilled at slight tweaks to her distinct sound. She’ll also be touring extensively throughout the next few months.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis established their cred as gay allies with their earnest if clunky “Same Love”. But John Grant’s “Glacier” is a vastly superior take on homophobia and its injuries, hidden and otherwise. The closing track on Grant’s much-acclaimed 2013 album Pale Green Ghosts, “Glacier” is a seven-minute-plus, piano-driven ballad sung by Grant in an intimate, direct-address style that is quietly devastating.

This year winter has been one of the coldest and snowiest in Chicago’s not-overly tropical history with the third polar vortex of the season currently camping out over the area through at least the end of February. Fortunately, in the middle of this Chiberian ordeal local sextet the Lemons (not to be confused with the early ‘90s Seattle alt-rockers) dropped a debut album that positively radiates toasty mid-summer happiness.

After a quick listen, it’s clear Sturgill Simpson has the standard honky-tonk tools: a boozy baritone that recalls Waylon Jennings, the rooted mindset, a powerful, punchy delivery. But, when listening to him at length, it’s apparent there’s so much more to the Kentucky native, who used to front Sunday Valley. These skills and tendencies shine on his new single, “Living the Dream”, a desperate, rhythmic realization with piercing metaphors and layers of brilliant country guitar work. He has a ragged believability and this incredible gift to capture everyday struggle like few others. His forthcoming album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, drops on May 18th.

A rich country-infused, Caribbean-splashed folk-rock track, “Hundreds of Ways” is the first single off Conor Oberst’s forthcoming album Upside Down Mountain, which will drop on May 20. As it moves and breaks, the genre-jumping gem is deeply wordy, yet incredibly driving. In support of the new record, he hits the road in May. According to Oberst’s website, Dawes will open and act as his backing band during the tour. The dates are below.

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