After cutting her chops in Lynchburg, Virginia, Becca Mancari brought the traditions of Appalachia with her to Nashville, where she quickly made a name for herself in Music City’s Americana circles. Her debut album Good Woman (2017) drew on elements of her roots, elevating them to the modern day. In its wake, Mancari has spent the past few years forging her own path as an artist. She teamed up with friends Jesse Lafser and Brittany Howard (Alabama Shakes) to form the band Bermuda Triangle, and became more outspoken about social issues. These experiences have informed her sophomore release, The Greatest Part, which ditches the mountain tones in exchange for a dream pop sheen. The juxtaposition of sound and subject matter is crucial: While Mancari tackles personal traumas and truths, the weight is carried by her airy vocals and Beach Boys-inspired production. On the single “First Time,” Mancari recalls the aftermath of coming out as gay to her Christian fundamentalist family: “I remember the first time my father didn’t hug me back.” The rest of the album follows suit, acting as a celebration of Mancari’s heritage and identity as a queer Italian/Puerto Rican woman. There’s no sophomore slump here; The Greatest Part is a joyous expression of an artist coming into her own (released 6/26).
Kyle Grim and Ben Ryan began playing music together in high school, and bonded over shared influences from ‘70s-era folk rock—think Neil Young or Emmylou Harris. As Dogwood Tales, the Harrisonburg duo has brought flower power to the Shenandoah Valley through a handful of releases. The group’s latest LP, Closest Thing to Heaven, is no exception. With songs like “Truck Stop Town” and “Riding Horses,” Grim and Ryan combine a low country sound with straight-ahead Americana for an easy listenin’ ride tinged with slide guitar and folk narrative (released 7/17).
Diane Cluck has been a stalwart in the Charlottesville music scene for nearly a decade, churning out folk compositions and ushering in the next generation of artists as a songwriting teacher at The Front Porch, the area’s roots music school. Her notoriety is hard-earned: she spent 12 years in New York City, garnering accolades in the often-dubbed “freak-folk” scene and playing venues like the recently shuttered SideWalk Café on the Lower East Side with the likes of Regina Spektor and Kimya Dawson, spearheading the anti-folk movement. Cluck dropped her new album, Common Wealth, on Bandcamp last month, with a percentage of its sales benefiting the Equal Justice Initiative. Recorded last summer in Louisa, Common Wealth is a socially conscious collection that boasts beautifully understated melodies and Cluck’s singular voice. Her signature fingerpicking shines on “Jenny,” while tracks like the harmonica-laden “Float a Cuppa Tea” are a knee-slappin’ reincarnation of old-time music. Elsewhere, on songs like “Lie Quiet With Me” and “Grandma Say,” minimalist piano is front and center. Harkening back to a simpler time, Common Wealth is a welcome reprieve, bringing solace during a time of cultural unrest and sociopolitical uncertainty (released 6/5).