In the same vein as the better-known Mayer Hawthorne and Eli "Paperboy" Reed, Boston's Jesse Dee is a charismatic soul prodigy. His songs are at once gritty and pretty, and his easygoing voice can hit a boisterous trill. Dee's 2008 album, Bittersweet Batch, would be a joy even if it weren't peppered with sumptuous falsetto and snappy horns, guitar, and organ. Like all good soul, the most delectable numbers sneak in a life lesson. "Slow Down" is especially valuable, though the no-nonsense swagger of "Reap What You Sow" makes it Dee's should-be hit. Also in the running is his more recent holiday original, "Underneath the Christmas Tree." Catch him now, while he's still underrated.
- Doug Wallen
More than 40 years after Lowell George and Bill Payne joined forces to create the genre-defying Little Feat, the group - considered a quintessential live act - is still going strong despite numerous personnel changes. Most recently, 2009 brought the departure of the lone female member, singer Shaun Murphy, and Gabe Dixon was recruited to fill in for cancer-stricken drummer Richie Hayward. With its mix of California rock, New Orleans swamp boogie and sprinklings of funk, folk, and country, Little Feat has never strayed far from the sound it pioneered on its self-titled 1971 debut (which featured the band's much-loved and much-covered signature tune, "Willin' "). Its most recent effort, 2008's
Join the Band
, was a musical step backward, featuring an array of Little Feat's trademark songs - "Fat Man in the Bathtub," "Dixie Chicken" and "Sailing Shoes" among them - reconfigured with guests who included Emmylou Harris, Dave Matthews and Jimmy Buffett.
- Nicole Pensiero
With his own "Roots on the River" Vermont summer music festival (nicknamed "Fred X" by attendees), an annual charity picnic for environmental initiatives in his native Ontario, and a bona fide tribute album a few years back, Canadian alt-country singer-songwriter Fred Eaglesmith should probably be more famous. But no matter: To Eaglesmith's die-hard fans - affectionately known as "Fredheads" - the soulful road warrior is already a star. The songs of this longtime critics' darling have been covered by everyone from Toby Keith to the Cowboy Junkies. For the last year, the 52-year-old musician has been on the road nearly nonstop with his band, The Flying Squirrels, to plug his Juno-nominated
CD, a roots-rocks opus touching on faith, love and loss. Despite the often dark themes of his compellingly atmospheric music, onstage Eaglesmith lightens things up with witty between-songs banter.