El Dorado News-Times

Arkansas artists’ new releases cover style gamut


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.


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.


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.”


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, iceage 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.


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.


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.


The latest from country-pop star and Center Ridge native Matt Stell is a sixsong 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.


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.


“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.


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.


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


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.


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.

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