Flounce Photo by Cam Jones

Two Portland acts are celebrating the release of new music. One’s a brand new band, and the other is a veteran singer-songwriter. While radically different styles of music, both Flounce and Jeff Christmas have held my ears for the past several days.

For a relatively new band, Flounce has a polished sound, self-described as genre-bending original progressive jazzfunk with R&B  dance grooves. “Throw in some prog math rock and a touch of Bossa nova, and you’ve got something delicious,” reads the description on Bandcamp. After giving its self-titled EP several spins, I’ll happily co-sign on that assertion.

The band is singer Emily Bodley, drummer Gabe Blanchard, Nicholas Thompson-Brown on bass and guitarist Conor Linehan.

Flounce EP cover art Design by Sabbath Zwiercan

The EP’s four tracks include “Rip,” which has chill vibes and the refrain “a slice of apple pie in the eye of the storm,” and “I Will Always Choose Me,” a moody, empowering declaration of self-worth flavored with reggae and flashing some teeth with fiery electric guitar, vicious percussion and throbbing bass pulses. “Love Island,” which comes alive with funky punches, might be my favorite track as it’s a playful plea for release from a mundane life. Lastly, “Rose Gold” is a slower jam that heats up and speeds up with Bodley’s gorgeous vocals dropping lines about love.

On Bandcamp, you can purchase a digital copy of the EP, which is also on streaming platforms.

Jeff Christmas Photo by Lauryn Hottinger

North Carolina native, now Portlander Jeff Christmas will release new album “Little Universe” on Wednesday, his first since his 2004 debut.

He’ll be celebrating its release with a streaming show on Wednesday night hosted on the One Longfellow Square Facebook page at 7 p.m.

The album was recorded at Penumbra Studios in South Portland and was mastered by Pete Morse from Red Vault Audio.

Christmas teaches courses in music history, songwriting and voice at Bowdoin College and also works at 317 Main Community Center in Yarmouth where he leads folk ensembles, teaches guitar, voice and songwriting and directs the local vocal ensemble. Some of his 317 Main musician friends and others he’s made since moving to Maine in 2015 played a big role in the making of the album.

The “Little Universe” band is Jamie Fink on harmonica and trumpet, Katie Bradley and Joe Beninati on drums, Monique Barrett on backing vocals, Chris Moore on mandolin and John McCain on electric guitar. Along with singing, Christmas plays acoustic guitar, bass, piano and tenor banjo.

Christmas said that he loves the collaborative and community aspect of music making and although “Little Universe” is technically a solo album, he wants to be sure his fellow musicians are recognized. “I have been so welcomed into this community since I moved here a few years ago, it was important to me that this record reflect that – and it really does.”

Christmas said he was born into a musical family and among his first memories is sitting on his grandmother’s lap at her piano and playing hymns and folk songs. In high school, Christmas discovered the joys of playing music with friends and learned guitar. He lists some of his influences as Bach (from his Lutheran church choir days) and ’80s and ’90s pop. He also recalled his love for a Kingston Trio cassette purchased by his parents at a gas station during a road trip. “I loved the acoustic sounds and all the vocal harmonies.”

Christmas got into folk music while in college in North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains and said that his biggest influence is probably Ani DiFranco who blew him away as a player, writer, activist and human.

In 2004, Christmas released his debut album. So why such a long stretch between that and this one? Christmas said it took him 15 years to finally turn down the “you’re not good enough” voices in his head. “After the first record, I went through a real writing drought and the longer it went between releases, the louder those voices grew,” said Christmas. “This current record is a triumph of my finally shutting those up and getting over the hump to share my music with the world.”

Was it worth the wait? Without a doubt. “Little Universe” is a Maine-made album to throw both arms around.

Right out of the gate, it’s a captivating listen with smart, emotive lyrics and first-rate musicianship from everyone involved. Fink’s trumpet on the opening track “Functional” is one example; Barrett’s backing vocals on “Devour Ourselves” is another.

“Learning In the Line” is as gentle as a zephyr, sprinkled with Moore’s mandolin, but also makes a strong political statement with these words: “I am a patriot, some may call me a liar/Cause I don’t want my babies learning in the line of fire.”

“Little Universe” closes with the piano ballad “Steam,” and Christmas shines on the keys as do his rich vocals singing about life choices.

There’s not a dud to be found on “Little Universe.” “More Of You” has an olde-timey kick to it, “Sorry” is a gut-spilling apology song and the title track has radio written all over it, with a folk rock groove that’s more than a little addictive.

While I’ll resist the temptation to trot out an entire string of Christmas puns, I’ll end by saying that you really should pick up a copy of “Little Universe.” I guarantee it’ll sleigh you.

“Little Universe” album cover. Artwork by Leslie A. Grossman, Design by Tracy Brockhouse

“Little Universe” is available for streaming; CDs will be available at Bull Moose in the coming weeks and at live performances once those start up again.

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