Jersey Beat Music Fanzine
 




Reviews by Joe Wawrzyniak


MR. PAYDAY – Music Explosion (www.reverbnation.com/mrpayday)

Offering up six songs of perfectly well-crafted tough and punchy pop, this EP CD skips along with utmost skill and vigor. The vocal harmonies vault to the heavens and back with breathtaking precision and vitality. The arrangements add a welcome bit of grit thanks to the rippin’ guitar riffs, potent forward-ho drums, and sturdy basslines. The to-the-point songwriting likewise warrants praise. A damn solid and impressive item.



THE FELICE BROTHERS – Favorite Waitress (www.thefelicebrothers.com)

Life can be overwhelmingly stressful. Especially in a modern world in which calamity seems to be more and more the unfortunate norm. So what to do as some kind of counter to all this chaos? Why, sit back, relax, and listen to some perfectly pleasant and soothing music. The vocals cast an extremely nice and calming spell. Ditto the gentle ebb and flow of the delicately dulcet music. Said music for the most part falls into the laidback folksy country vein, which means it’s very sweet stuff indeed. Better still, this group tackles the ups and downs of life itself in a commendably direct, honest, and levelheaded manner. A lovely and affecting little beaut.

RUTHANN FRIEDMAN – Chinatown (www.ruthannfriedman.com)

One of the more enigmatic singer/songwriters to emerge from the 1960’s (she penned the hit “Windy” for The Association), Friedman has finally returned to the recording studio with her first album in over forty years. Combining a beautifully gentle and lulling folksy sound with pleasant lyrics and an utterly appealing reflective sensibility, Friedman immediately puts the listener at ease and relates the twelve songs with utmost laidback assurance. The arrangements wisely keep things spare and harmonic, with ace use of mostly acoustic instruments which give the music a terrifically timeless feel. Friedman’s pretty and soothing voice serves as the delicious icing on an already quite tasty sonic cake. Very nice album.

THE RAVING KNAVES – All the Pretty Planets (www.theravingknaves.com)

Fifteen minutes of pure power-pop pow! Yep, that exactly what you get with this immensely enjoyable and energetic five song EP CD. The vibrant vocals happily holler over a dynamic array of shredding guitars, bubbly basslines, and jumpin’ drums, plus a little tasty cowbell for extra bangin’ measure. The snappy tempos and fiercely charging forward-ho beats never let up for a minute. An absolute blast.

NEIL HOLYOAK – Rags Across the Sun (neilholyoak.com)

Tinged with a bittersweet sense of melancholy, Canadian musician Neil Holyoak mines a perfectly touching line in sad-eyed reflectivity on his latest album. Using a twangy and harmonic high lonesome country sound to always melodic and often poignant effect, Holyoak’s delicate tenor voice projects a strong feeling of yearning and regret as he pours his heart out over the course of eleven songs. The tunefully brooding arrangements further add to the exquisitely forlorn moodiness while the songwriting thankfully avoids overdoing the schmaltz in favor of a much more wrenching and admirable restraint. An achingly tender and moving album.

TINNAROSE (www.tinnarose.com)

Representing pop-rock at its most infectiously breezy, catchy, and dynamic, this Austin, Texas outfit hit it out of the bouncy ballpark with their remarkably energetic debut album. The seamless harmonizing between Seth Sherman and Devon McDermott on the peppy vocals manages to take flight and soar in the most effortless and enjoyable manner imaginable. Moreover, the equally lively arrangements provide a wealth of extra jazzy pizzazz and sweet soulful funk along with a distinctly quirky sound that’s a total kickin’ treat to hear: The guitars dig away at the yummy grooves with galvanizing gusto, the basslines lay down a sturdy undertow, and the drums keep the beats thick and hoppin’ throughout. Spot-on sharp lyrics, too. An immensely fun and thrilling album.


THE FLURRIES – Colour Show (www.cdbaby.com/artist/TheFlurries)

Rolling on down from the sonic prairie with a winning surplus of catchy bounce and twangy harmony, the twelve songs on this album are sure to have you tapping your toes within the first few bars of the opening song. Swinging and swaying with topmost harmonic countryish aplomb, given an extra tasty kick of the soothing vocals, tuneful arrangements, and concise songwriting, further enhanced by the gentle ebb of the gradual tempos and sturdy, yet subdued beats, it’s a total relaxing treat to hear from start to finish.



SPEAK – Pedals (www.hearspeakhere.com)

Offering up fourteen tracks of exceptionally dense, tuneful, and entrancing pop-rock, this Austin, Texas group score a major bull’s eye with striking dexterity and often deliciously intoxicating results. The intricate arrangements deliver a wealth of tasty and captivating hooks, with mesmerizing synth lines, deep diggin’ basslines, sturdy pushing ahead drums, and smoothly cutting guitar licks all making quite a strong and melodic impression. The cool and expressive vocals and lovely harmonies rate additional significant assets. Ditto the smart and reflective songwriting. An excellent album.


TOMMY STRAZZA – Songs From the Escape (www.tommystrazza.com)

Singer/songwriter Tommy Strazza offers ten songs worth of winningly jaunty and flavorsome folksy country on this utterly charming album. Strazza’s warm voice, sturdy knack for infectiously bouncy melodies, and equally sound grasp of upbeat lyrics all make this one quite an engaging treat to hear. Moreover, Strazza manages to look on the positive side of things without ever getting too corny or cloying about it. The snappy tempos and steady beats keep the music bubbling along from start to finish. An absolute delight.

 

MIA DOI TODD – Floresta (www.miadoitodd.com)

Consisting of ten songs of Brazilian music that are all about nature, this album offers a delicately lush and lulling sound that immediately puts the listener in a relaxed state of mind. Todd’s lovely voice casts a beguiling spell as it gently wafts its way around the soft and soothing melodies. The arrangements keep things basic and direct, with subdued, yet steady percussion backed up by catchy fluttery guitars and a subtle undertow of bass. It’s the stripped down nature of this music which in turn gives it an extra appealing purity and intimacy. Simply sublime.



JOSHUA WORDEN – Into Fog (joshuaworden.com)

Pulsating to a hypnotically languid electro-pop beat, singer/songwriter Joshua Worden’s latest album bumps along at a pleasingly relaxed clip. Worden’s mellow voice puts the listener immediately at ease while his succinct and intelligent songwriting ably mines an affecting line in low-key reflectivity. The neatly percolating arrangements likewise keep everything simmering at a decidedly medium boil, thereby making this album an ideal one to spin while in a laid-back and contemplative state of mind.



UGLY KIDS CLUB – Head Games (www.Uglykidsclub.com)

Exquisitely dreamy and hypnotic, this Nashville-based eclectro-pop duo specialize in carefully crafting entrancing soundscapes that transport the listener to a divinely serene and arresting alternate realm that’s rich in smooth texture and captivating hooks. Aliegh Shields’ beautifully unearthly voice and the concise songwriting make for a potent double whammy. Moreover, the arrangements are laudably spare and tuneful, with zero clutter and a perfectly sleek streamlined sound reigning supreme throughout. A terrific little beaut.

 

JUPITER IN VELVET – Glitter On the Sun (www.jupiterinvelvet.com)

There are albums that you automatically know right from the punchy first note are going to be something special and extraordinary. Well, this certainly is one of them. Let’s start with Jupiter’s smooth and passionate voice: This guy wraps his tonsils around a tune with exceptional fluidness and can caress a catchy melody like nobody’s business. Next up, Jupiter ain’t no slouch as a songwriter, as his lyrics blend succinctness and intelligence with A plus results. Then there’s the man’s uncanny knack for captivating hooks and shimmering arrangements. This is insanely enjoyable and energetic pop-rock done by a true master craftsman. It’s got a sound and sensibility that’s an entity unto itself. In other words, Jupiter In Velvet rates highly as one of the most exciting and original artists of current vintage.

ROB DRABKIN – Little Steps (www.robdrabkin.com)

Denver, Colorado-based singer, songwriter, and guitarist Rob Drabkin hits it out of the ballpark with his latest album which skillfully combines smart and thoughtful songwriting with tuneful arrangements and lively playing. Drabkin’s warm and reedy voice casts a comforting spell while his guitar supplies a steady succession of tasty ringing riffs. The snappy tempos and sturdy charging beats keep things neatly rocking throughout. However, its Drabkin’s keep it honest and simple down-to-earth sensibility that makes this one such a winner: Drabkin endures life’s hardships with admirable directness while maintaining a pretty positive outlook on things without getting too corny or sappy about it. Moreover, the songs nicely alternate between all-out rockers (the rousing opening number “For You I Would Die”) and more low-key reflective stuff (the touching “Stay (The Morning Fades)”). A mighty fine album.

STEVEN CASPER & COWBOY ANGST – Endless Sky (http://caspermusic.com)

This EP CD delivers five songs worth of flavorsome folksy country that vividly evokes the pleasant downhome charm of a quiet backwoods community. Casper’s twangy voice mixes well with the atmospheric swampy sound created by the tasty array of pungent guitar licks, gospel-style backing vocals, honky tonk piano rolls, and bluesy slide guitar. The slithery tempos and steadily chugging beats further enhance the overall tangy kick of this most enjoyable item.

 

 


KRIS N. – The Thankful Parade (www.krisn.com)

Ohio-based singer/songwriter Kris N. brightens things up with an infectious wealth of positive vibes and catchy melodies on his latest album. Sparkling with a sense of sweet sunshiney joy that thankfully never becomes too sappy or cloying, Kris N.’s pleasant voice and upbeat sensibility make for an engaging double act. Moreover, Kris N.’ concise songwriting stays on the right side of positive; i.e., it manages to maintain an optimistic outlook on life with getting all corny and dippy about it. The tuneful arrangements deliver a fun array of catchy hooks, with springy guitar riffs, smooth basslines, and steady drums all laying down a solid and energetic foundation. A total delight.

DOWN HOME BAND – Monrovia (www.downhomeband.com)

As the name of the band implies, what we’ve got here is a tasty’n’twangy serving of straight-up down home country rock music. To make matters even more savory, there’s plenty of spirit to go along with the already delicious spice: The hearty vocals kick up plenty of vigor while the snappy arrangements are vibrantly filled out by lively riffin’ guitars, jumpin’ drums, rollin’ basslines, and hoppin’ harmonica. The songwriting keeps things straightforward and unpretentious. Fun stuff!

 

BROKEN TWIN – May (www.brokentwin.com)

Keeping things beautifully spare and simple, Danish singer/songwriter Majke Voss Romme manages on her debut album to produce a work of supremely haunting and melancholy power that puts most more elaborately produced items to shame. Consisting mainly of gentle piano and tender strings along with Romme’s exquisitely delicate and expressive voice, the remarkable intimacy and fragile melodicism evident throughout captures a wrenching poignancy that’s made extremely effective and immediate thanks to Romme’s refreshing emphasis on mood and emotion over flash and spectacle. Warm and forlorn in equal measure, this minimalistic lo-fi marvel overall rates as one to relish.

SUNSHINE RIOT – A Fresh Bottle & A Brand New Day (www.sunshineriot.com)

Offering up a splendidly spirited blend of country, rock, punk, and blues, this dynamic Boston outfit deliver a winning surplus of pure thrilling sonic pow on their debut full length album. The robust vocals hit the stirring spot. Ditto the lively arrangements that boast tasty fat guitar riffs, bouncy basslines, and sturdy forward-ho pushing drums. The songs neatly alternate between thoughtful low-key numbers and more rousing all-out rockers. Spot-on terse and to the point songwriting, too. A very cool and enjoyable album.

TOMMY WALLACH – I Meant It to Be Sweet (http://tommywallach.tumblr.com)

Singer/songwriter Tommy Wallach comes through with eleven utterly engaging story songs on his debut full length album. Blessed with a firm grasp of grand theatrical flair along with a sharp ear for warm bubbly melodies and a keen aptitude for vivid lyrics, Wallach spins his musical tales with considerable charm and panache. The arrangements keep everything on the pleasant and jaunty side of tuneful, with especially sound use of gently strummed guitars and elegant pianos. But it’s Wallach’s soothing voice and eclectic taste in all different forms of harmonic music which runs the gamut from quietly reflective pop to incredibly moody rock that in turn gives this album an extra flavorsome appeal.

COHFLA – Crystal Clear (www.cohfla.com)

Beautifully brooding, yet still arresting and melodic, this ten song album makes quite a strong and lasting impression. Working with some pretty dense and tricky sonic textures, the sound blends electronica with a syncopated beat and gradual tempos that cast a hypnotically lulling spell. The subdued vocals project a strong feeling of morose regret while the songwriting remains concise and thoughtful throughout. This album has kind of a hip-hop vibe to it, but thankfully eschews rap’s trademark bragging for a more reflective sensibility.



 

LITTLE DIPPER – The Last Broadcast (www.littledipper.us)

This Garden State quartet rock it up somethin’ crunchy’n’punchy on their sophomore album. Non complaints are the tight’n’tuneful arrangements: The gritty guitars, grinding basslines, and sturdy forward-ho charging drums mesh together to craft a strong as an ox tough’n’sinewy sound that hits the rugged target with bracing accuracy and musicianship. It certainly helps that the vocals are likewise very potent and passionate. The snappy tempos and bulldozing beats rarely let up for a minute. Best of all, the smart songwriting possesses a welcome and refreshing substantial amount of depth, clarity, and maturity. These guys earn extras points for not attempting to wallow in the past days of their youth; instead these are grown adult men dealing with the hardships of the present in an admirably direct and unsentimental manner. A very damn impressive album.


THUNDEREGG – C’mon Thunder (www.thunderegg.org)

Conjuring up a mighty purdy and engaging laid-back country-flavored pop-rock sound, this San Francisco-based quartet deliver one sweetly soothing treat with their latest album. The pleasant vocals cast a relaxing and reassuring spell. The gradual tempos and subdued beats further add to the overall easygoing charm. The tuneful arrangements and keep it simple’n’straightforward songwriting likewise hit the bull’s eye. A very nice and appealing little beaut.

RANDOM ORDER – Black Lipstick Kiss (www.randomorder.ca)

Conjuring up vivid images of sexy danger and thrills around every corner, this six-piece outfit from Toronto, Canada hit it straight out of the ballpark with their supremely boss and enjoyable latest album. The sultry vocals cast a highly alluring femme fatale spell. Meanwhile, the slinky basslines, smooth’n’sinuous guitar riffs, and swanky, yet swaggering horns lay down one hell of a sweet and sumptuous groove. Sounding like the great lost soundtrack for some unsung and forgotten late 60’s/early 70’s spy action/adventure romp, this one rates highly as a divinely hip’n’heavenly treat.

SAM DENSMORE & CURTIS IRIE – Quite Work Make Music (samdensmoreandcurtisirie.bandcamp.com)

It’s always a treat to hear two musical heavyweights collaborate on an album. Densmore and Irie mesh so well that one gets the feeling that some kind of strikingly special and unique sonic alchemy is at work. The vocals are wonderfully warm and pleasant, the songwriting sharp and thoughtful, the playing precise and expert, and the melodies tuneful and arresting. However, it’s the way these two guys directly address certain provocative issues head on that gives this album an extra strong impact: Whether confronting the harsh realities of getting older and being rendered obsolete in today’s youth-obsessed world in the poignant “Old Ghost,” or tackling the grim mood of the profoundly dejected “Flea Circus Stair,” this formidable duo dig deep and make one hell of a potent lasting impression. The sound encompasses everything from folk to country rock to lowdown gritty blues (“Oregon Blues” rates as one awesomely dirty blast!) , thereby offering a tasty little something for everyone. A terrific album.


MATTEAH BAIM – Falling Theater (matteahbaim.com)

Beautifully serene and elegant, singer/songwriter Matteah Baim’s latest album possesses a graceful and intricate quality to it that’s an exquisitely dulcet joy to hear. Baim’s soft and ethereal voice casts a soothing spell on the listener. The gradual tempos and subdued beats ebb and flow at a pleasingly relaxed rate. Better still, the supremely delicate arrangements are gorgeously filled out with lovely weeping strings, gently strummed guitars, and laid-back, yet still persistent drums. In equal degrees lush, languid, and luxurious, it’s one to relish while sitting back on an easy chair and sipping fine wine.

ED TANG & THE CHOPS (edtangmusic.com)

Five songs worth of perfectly catchy and energetic straight-up folksy rock, this EP makes for a very bouncy and enjoyable listen. The raspy vocals project a certain rough’n’ready charm. Meanwhile, the kickin’ arrangements keep things sprightly and stirring with a steady succession of zingy guitar riffs, buzzing basslines, dynamic drums, and flavorsome harmonica. Solid to the point songwriting, too. Damn good stuff.

SETTING SUN – Be Here When You Get There (www.settingsun.cc)

File this one under pop-rock music done by total professionals. The songs are crafted with exceptional skill and tunefulness: The catchy’n’bouncy melodies perfectly offset the sad content of the lyrics, thereby providing a neat mix of yin and yang which in turn gives this album an extra savory sense of depth and substance. The plaintive vocals soar with exquisitely graceful dexterity over a dulcet sonic bed of jaunty guitars, weeping strings, and sturdy drums. The thoughtful and reflective songwriting ably mines an affecting line in bittersweet regret. Granted, this album isn’t exactly “fun” to listen to, but it’s quite poignant and compelling just the same.

PATROLLED BY RADAR – Cool Your Jets (www.patrolledbyradar.com)

Okay, here’s a few pointers on how to do rootsy rock right. First off, make sure the lead singer has one of those super cool raspy, yet still soothing whiskey‘n’bourbon soaked voices. Next, keep the arrangements tight and tuneful, with loads of tasty guitar licks, steady drums, a sturdy underlay of bass, and a few snazzy organ washes to add a dash of funky sizzle. More importantly, keep the songwriting simple and to the point: Tell the story in every song with utmost precision and concision, without a single wasted word and a keen ear for winningly eloquent plain-spoken phrasing. Lastly, don’t pad the album with a numbing surplus of flashy razzle-dazzle or unnecessary filler: This album clocks in at a terse 29 minutes, so it cuts straight to the heart of the matter and certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome. Excellent stuff.

BONSAI (http://simone-stevens-nyly.squarespace.com)

Simone Stevens has one hell of a lush, lovely, and captivating voice. Her beautiful angelic vocals alone make this five song EP a keeper. Luckily, the songwriting likewise hits the bull’s eye with its winning blend of concision and thoughtfulness. Moreover, the dreamy melodies and carefully crafted arrangements provide an exquisitely ethereal and seductive sound. Wonderful stuff.


JUSTINSLACKS – Other Side Come With Me (www.reverbnation.com/justinslacks)

Okay. This one is one of the shortest EPs I’ve ever reviewed. It’s just two songs that clock in at a mere seven minutes. So, is it any god? Yep, it certainly hits the twangy’n’tuneful spot thanks to a jaunty and harmonic honkytonk country sound, pleasant vocals, and snappy arrangements. “See You on the Other Side” registers well as a truly touching song while the lively “Come Home With Me” does the thrilling trick. Well, that was easy enough to write. Here endeth the review.

OBLIO – Square Peg (oblioband.bandcamp.com)

Offering up five songs worth of pure infectiously exuberant pow, this EP crackles with a positively uplifting energy that’s both rousing and refreshing in comparable measure. The lively vocals shout and holler with happy abandon. The crunchy arrangements keep things hoppin’ with plenty of snappy tempos and jumpin’ beats. Done with remarkable joy and aplomb, this one’s sure to leave a smile on your face.



SLEEPYHEAD - Wild Sometimes (www.sleepyheadrockband.com)

Another it’s about friggin’ time long over album, the 90’s group Sleepyhead have finally come out with an album after a decade and a half since their last one. Luckily, this band have returned in prime tuneful form, with the dulcet vocals, pretty’n’bouncy melodies, crisp arrangements, and expert playing all providing enough infectious and boundless go-for-it joy and vitality to make the lengthy wait more than worth it. Better still, there’s a delicious sweetness to be savored along with plenty of damn fine sunny harmonies and thoughtful songwriting. A total treat.

RACHEL TAYLOR BROWN – Falimy (www.racheltaylorbrown.com)

Tackling nothing less than that ever complex, frustrating, and occasionally rewarding entity known as the family (both personal and universal alike), singer/songwriter Rachel Tyler Brown fearlessly jumps head first into a certain emotional abyss and comes out a stronger and wiser individual at the end of her harrowing, yet ultimately worthwhile and illuminating journey. Naturally, this doesn’t make for completely comforting or comfortable listening (confronting particular ugly truths about basic human foibles really shouldn’t be a walk in the park), but fortunately Brown’s robust voice, keen grasp of catchy and dynamic melodies, and wickedly funny sense of biting sarcastic humor keeps thing palatable and, most amazingly, pretty goddamn enjoyable throughout. Whether it’s the hysterically vicious “Little Fucker,” or the startling raw emotional gut punch of “Me Hurting You,” Brown’s fiercely open and direct honesty proves to be truly something to behold. An extraordinary album.

THE EMPERORS OF WYOMING (http:///www.emperorsofwyoming.com)

Galloping along at a wonderfully gradual and laid-back clip, this country-flavored album does a striking job of vividly evoking a certain moody and meditative high lonesome sound. Better yet, there’s a strangely (and splendidly) timeless quality to the music contained herein: It’s partially due to the smartly plain-spoken songwriting, likewise partly because of an eclectic blend of musical styles that encompasses everything from country to folk to rock without sounding too much like particular one thing, and wholly due to the fact that the issues and themes addressed in the songs possess a universal topicality that transcends any specific period of time. The great thing about this album is that it could have been recorded twenty years ago. And twenty years from now folks will probably be saying the same exact thing when they give it a fresh listen. If that’s not the stamp true art, then I don’t know what is.


LIFE IN A BLENDER – We Already Have Birds That Sing (www.lifeinablendernet)

Blessed with a wickedly funny sense of cracked humor and a positively infectious grasp of go-for-it full-bodied swagger that encompasses everything from romping country lunacy to all-out big band brio, these New York City-based jokesters return with another album that’s more amusing and enjoyable than should be legally permissible. There’s a feeling of pure joy and devilishly playful aplomb evident in everything from the robust vocals to the gorgeously melodic and energetic arrangements – those lively horns are simply divine! -- to the witty songwriting. Sure to put a smile on even the most jaded and bitter cynic’s face, it’s a total hale’n’hearty (and often hilarious) treat from start to finish.

THE SHOW - … Until You Know What It’s Like To Stand There is No Ground … (www.facebook.com/theshowofficial)

Offering six songs worth of perfectly pleasant pop-rock bliss, this band from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania certainly have the chops and potential to make it big. The vocals are smooth and assured, the arrangements tight and tuneful, the playing proficient, but never too flashy or show-offy, and the songwriting smartly mines a moving line on low-key introspection. The gradual tempos and subdued beats further enhance the overall appealing laid-back vibe of this extremely likable and impressive winner.



THE FOOTNOTES – Comin’ Home (http://www.reverbnation.com/thefootnoteshotx)

When it comes to rock’n’roll, I plead guilty as charged that I prefer my rock done in a meat’n’potatoes manner with precious little in the way of either flash or pretense. Well, this six song EP of perfectly crunchy’n’punchy straight-up rattling rock certainly fits that particular bill quite nicely, with robust vocals, lean’n’mean snappy arrangements, kickin’ up the dirt dynamic melodies, and crisply dexterous playing all merging together to craft one hell of a simply fun platter. The zippy tempos and constant beats slither along with utmost rousing aplomb. Kudos are also in order for the plain-spoken simplicity of the to the point songwriting. A total blast.

MIDNITE ON PEARL BEACH/CALEB WILLITZ – Bermuda/ The Day Will Come (pearlbeachband.com)

This full-length album is split into two in order two showcase two separate musical artists. Midnite on Pearl Beach are a pleasantly mellow group who special in extremely soothing and laid-back songs that are ideal for listening to on a lazy’n’hazy day off from work: Y’know, slow tempos, softly purring raspy vocals, and a gentle relaxed bluesy vibe that’s impossible to either resist or dislike. Singer/songwriter Caleb Willitz not surprisingly goes in for a more thoughtful and introspective approach along with an exquisitely spare, yet still melodic and arresting sound. Better still, Willitz not only handles the vocals quite well with his smooth and reassuring voice, but also wrote, recorded, and mixed all of his songs. A tasty twofer.

BEN WATT – Hendra (www.benwatt.com)

Let’s get this out of the way first: Ben Watt hasn’t recorded an album in over thirty years. That’s by any account an awful long time in between albums. Fortunately, Watt has finally returned in fine form with this exquisitely mellow and meditative little gem. Coming in soft and gentle like a delicate spring breeze on a bright lazy day, the lyrics and melodies carefully caress the listener in a quiet, yet still potent and arresting way. It’s this element of restraint and subtlety that in turn makes this album so powerful and affecting: There’s no needless flashy razzle-dazzle or goopy sentiment evident at any point; in their place we’ve got a thoughtful, sensible, and compassionate look at the fragile condition of life itself that’s all the better for being so stark, simple, and straightforward in both its overall style and basic outlook. Let’s just hope that Watt doesn’t take nearly as long to do his next album after this terrific jewel.

CAJITA – Tiny Ghosts (www.cajita.net)

Virtual one man band Jay Chakravorty – he wrote all the thoughtful songs, did the tuneful arrangements, sings the gently reassuring vocals, and even played almost all of the instruments -- scores strongly with this supremely lush, soothing, and affecting debut full-length album. Gorgeously soft and subdued, with a lovely sense of reflectivity and an achingly tender and fragile sound, there’s a delicate dulcet quality evident throughout that’s both moving and entrancing in equal measure. A lovely and touching little beaut.

WOLVERTON – Horse Head Down (www.wolvertonmusic.com)

Beautifully mellow and melodic, this debut six song EP from a San Antonio, Texas quartet immediate puts the listener at easy with its lovely and gentle folksy Appalachian country sound. There’s a soft lulling quality to this delicately tuneful music that’s both charming and soothing in equal measure: The reassuring vibe projected by the subdued vocals, the fragile harmonic nature of the arrangements, and the laid-back sensibility articulated in the plain-spoken songwriting all cohere to make this sweetly dulcet honey one to relish.

 

PAULO FRANCO & SHANE COOLEY – The Green Porch Sessions (www.shanecooleymusic.com)

Kickin’ it up with a winning surplus of tuneful spark and positively infectious hearty gusto, this six song EP radiates a galvanizing vigor that’s impossible to either resist or dislike. The drawling vocals, straight to the point reflective songwriting, jaunty harmonic arrangements, engaging countryish sound, and tip-top proficient playing certainly does hurt matters any in the least. Best of all, this whole thing just reeks of a groovy little side corner of the street honkytonk cowboy bar on a laid-back Saturday night.


ROPETREE – Bacon (www.facebook.com/ropetree)

Hot damn! Talk about pouring on the supremely moody and brooding intensity something fierce and thick. The vocals moan and holler with topmost go-for-the-throat aggressiveness. Meanwhile, the grinding hacksaw wah-wah guitars mercilessly shred everything in their lethal path, the heavy trudging basslines lay down a substantial gutty undertow, and the primordial drums deliver a staggering succession of enormous bulldozing beats. As the saying goes, that’s pure rock’n’roll, baby!


LOST IN THE TREES – Past Life (http://lostinthetrees.com)

Positively exquisite in its beautifully brooding intensity, this album throbs with an achingly tender pop heart that captivates the listener on the basis of its lovely and delicate sonority alone. The vocals project a poignantly open and fragile sense of longing while vaulting straight to the heavens and beyond. The brisk tempos and charging forward-ho beats pulsate to one hell of an incredibly thick and tasty rhythmic groove. The arrangements keep things dead-on tight and tuneful throughout. The succinct songwriting likewise scores a bull’s eye with its commendable clarity and concision. Most impressive of all, the music possesses a fragile quality and pure sensitivity that manages to be quite moving and ethereal without ever seeming too cloying or calculated. Simply sublime.

LIFEGUARD NIGHTS – Bruetown (http://swimminginashallowsea.blogspot.com)

This EP release offers six songs worth of delightfully jaunty straight-up rock’n’roll. Simple. Upbeat. Zero pretense or unnecessary razzle-dazzle. Just hearty vocals that project an easygoing charm, straightforward to-the-point songwriting, and tightly harmonic arrangements. The snappy tempos and lively forward-ho beats convey an infectiously merry vibe. Fun stuff.



GRAHAM REPULSKI – Ballerina Arcade (http://grahamrepulski.bandcamp.com)

Clocking in at just seven minutes, this is certainly one of the shortest EPs ever recorded. Fortunately, this honey is loaded with lots of tasty ripping guitar riffs, lively vocals, and fierce stomping drum beats. While one wishes it was longer, the stuff contained herein nonetheless is pretty damn yummy and does one hell of an effective job of making the listener hungry for more.

 

DEMITASSE – Blue Medicine (www.bedlamrecords.org)

Expressing a profoundly touching feeling of extreme sadness and regret, this beautifully spare and low-key little jewel makes for a very poignant listen. The plaintive vocals project an achingly tender sense of moroseness and vulnerability. The succinct songwriting gets to the heart of the matter with wrenching clarity and directness. The arrangements are appropriately tuneful and uncluttered. Most refreshingly, there are moments of true happiness and optimism to be relished amid all the melancholy. It’s this precarious balancing act of joy and sorrow that in turn gives this album an extra special element of substance and resonance, for if it was too much of one or the other the whole thing would have been either way too corny or much too depressing to bear. An exceptionally lovely and affecting beaut.

BUTCHER KNIVES – Misery (www.butcherknivesmusic.com)

Bands that specialize in an eclectic sound that mixes in a little bit of everything can be a tad tricky to critique. One simply gets stumped trying to find the right words to describe said sound. In the case of this Brooklyn-based group, the sound encompasses everything from bluegrass to flamenco, with a heavy dose of traditional Eastern European folk, plus a sprinkling of fiery rock and kickin’ rockabilly tossed in for extra tasty measure. So, what exactly is their sound? Well, it’s essentially a dab of this and a smidgen of that, done in a lively and proficient manner, with a refreshing dearth of pretense and loads of infectious go-for-it passion. In other words, it’s pretty damn great and impressive in its exciting and energetic wide-ranging singularity.

THE VALERY TRAILS – Buffalo Speedway (www.thevalerytrails.com)

This sophomore album hits it out of the ballpark with its firm grasp of neatly chugging rock that bristles with a wealth of tasty hooks and sparkling harmony. The vocals are smooth and expressive, the arrangements tight and tuneful, and the sharp songwriting once again ably explores a perfectly touching vein of bittersweet reflectivity. This is the type of music that lifts one’s spirits in the most direct and immediate way possible: There’s a straight-on honest sincerity at work that’s impossible not to be moved by. Moreover, this group sure knows how to rock out something stirring when the urge overtakes them, as the super snappy and rousing titular track irrefutably confirms. A lovely little gem.


DAYTONA (http://ernestjenning.com/band_daytona.htm)

Bubbling forth with an enchanting mix of delicately melodic folk, groovy classic rock, and easygoing Caribbean rhythms, this New York trio cast a hypnotically mellow spell on their debut full-length album. The soothing vocals and pleasant harmonies float over a gentle sonic bed of gradual tempos and subdued beats. The arrangements keep things quite catchy and tuneful, with ringing guitars, fluid basslines, and laid-back, yet persistent drums providing a sumptuously serene sound. The songs are kicked back relaxing in the best way possible while the songwriting remains concise and reflective throughout. A very nice and likable album.

BILL PRITCHARD – A Trip to the Coast (www.tapeterecords.com)

British singer/songwriter Bill Pritchard hasn’t recorded an album in quite a while, so it’s a great relief that he has finally resurfaced with this delightful ten song album of perfectly melodic pop-rock. Pritchard’s pleasant voice casts a soothing spell while his succinct and thoughtful songwriting cuts to the heart of the matter with winning clarity and directness. The snappy tempos and kickin’ beats chug along at a satisfyingly hearty clip. Moreover, the tuneful arrangements provide plenty of bounce and vigor, with the sprightly guitar riffs, bubbly basslines, and sturdy drums keeping things hoppin’ throughout. Now let’s all hope that Pritchard doesn’t take half as along to record his next album, because the world sure could use a little more of his engaging brand of sweet and sparkling sunshiney pop in it.

 

BRACE/CHOIR – Turning On Your Double (tapeterecords.com, www.bracechoir.com)

Beautifully dreamy and hypnotic, this eight song trance rock album floats on by with a languid ease that’s both relaxing and captivating in equal measure. Loaded to the heady brim with buzzing synthesizer lines, zoned to the funky bone Farfisa organ ripples, and cutting guitar riffs, this music delivers a potent feeling of druggy coolness that one feels as much as hears. The anguished vocals likewise impress with their bracing urgency. The songwriting effectively explores a poignant line in brooding despair and melancholy, but it’s the overall strong grasp of atmospheric psychedelic moodiness that makes this honey one to relish.

NEXT STOP: HORIZON – The Harbour, My Home (www.nextstophorizon.org)

Supremely brooding and elegant, this album creep crawls along at a exquisitely languorous pace. The vocals are marvelously emotive and richly textured, with male and female voices seamlessly blending into a single dulcet and cohesive uniform sound. The arrangements are likewise gorgeously harmonic and uncluttered: There’s no needless flashy solos or excess fancy fireworks; instead everything is kept in check and serves as a means to an end for carefully crafting some mighty lovely and graceful music. Moreover, this Swedish duo provides a divinely lush and dreamy atmosphere for listeners to get lost in. Really fine stuff.

SCATTERED BODIES – Talking Songs (www.dreamtowerrecords.com)

Damn, this album sure is spooky. Basically it’s just folks talking over these spare moody arrangements complete with eerie ghostly chanting, stinging guitar riffs, trudging tempos, and subdued beats. Amazingly, the very stark simplicity of this highly ominous and atmospheric music gives it an undeniably potent haunting quality. The vocals alternate between a guy with one hell of a resonant baritone and a gal blessed with fine smoky’n’sultry pipes. The straightforward songwriting rates as another major asset. Such dark subjects as death, aging, decay, love gone wrong, and loneliness are addressed in a refreshingly blunt and unsentimental way. A remarkably offbeat and original pip.


THE SOFT HILLS – Departure (www.tapeterecords.com)

Sumptuous. That’s the first thing one will think while listening to this divinely lush album: The soft and sweet soaring vocals, the delicately harmonic arrangements, the gentle ebb and flow of the gradual tempos and subdued beats, and the gorgeously lulling melodies all evoke a pleasant vibe that’s soothing and enchanting in equal measure. Moreover, the thoughtful songwriting astutely pegs a feeling of regret and melancholy that manages to be genuinely moving without ever degenerating into sappy mush. But it’s the achingly tender and fragile quality of the dulcet music that in turn makes this one so special and endearing. A lovely gem.

I LOVE RICH – Respect the Rich (www.iloverichnet)

Crank up the speakers super loud and bolt your CD player to the floor, because what we got here is one mighty primordial slab of pure straight-up pulverizing no-bullshit rock’n’roll. This bunch of Chicago hellions tear it up like nobody’s goddamn business: Wild-assed open up and holler vocals roar over a ferocious onslaught of shred ‘em up guitar riffs, churning basslines, and savage steamrolling drums. Better still, these dudes certainly have the right rude’n’crude attitude, as the exquisitely tasteless numbers “(You’re So Hot) I’m Gonna Fuck You With the Lights On” and “If You Don’t Take Your Clothes Off, Tonight’s Gonna Suck” confirm in the most hilariously obnoxious manner possible. A deliciously down’n’dirty treat.


RIGBI – Visionary (www.rigbimusic.com)

Coolly simmering electronic pop-rock that manages to sound utterly modern and captivating without a single faint hit of smug irony or arch calculated cynicism, this North New Jersey quartet serve up plenty to relish on their latest album. These guys sure know their collective stuff when it comes to wrapping the songs around a wonderful warm blanket of lush arrangements and sweet sparkling melodies. The chipper vocals convey a winning sense of infectious upbeat joy while the songwriting stays on the right side of happy and carefree (i.e., positive without getting silly giddy or cutesy cloying about it). A total delight.


DRIVIN N CRYIN – Songs for the Turntable (www.drivinncryin.com)

This group proves once again that they sure know their way around a tasty groove on their latest five song EP release that milks the twangy and harmonic Southern rock music genre with totally spot-on stirring results . The tempos slither along with utmost happening aplomb while the deliciously fat beats roll and bounce with equally captivating gusto. The drawling vocals likewise seriously smoke. And, yep, those tuneful arrangements also score a smack dead on the money honey bull’s eye thanks to those diggin’ guitar riffs, gutty basslines, and hard-stompin’ drums. A totally kick-ass beaut.

WATER LIARS (www.waterliarsmusic.com)

Beautifully spare and moody, with a refreshing death of needless flash and pretense, this album possesses a jolting urgency and immediacy that cuts straight to the heart of the matter with bracing directness. The vocals are appropriately anguished, yet never overwrought. The arrangements are impressively tight and uncluttered, with basic ringing guitars, sludgy basslines, and subdued, yet persistent drums all trudging along at a remorseless gradual rate. There’s a weirdly haunting quality to this stripped down music that’s mighty hard to shake; it has a way of creeping into the listener’s psyche with all the unsparing clarity of a vivid sad dream. Accolades don’t come much better than that.

A HUNDRED YEARS – Altered Reality (a-hundredyears.com)

Mining a way groovy line in dynamic, yet still melodic grunged-up psychedelic rock, this power pop trio from Edmonton, Canada tear it up with a raw go-for-the-throat gusto and intensity that’s both exciting and impressive in equal measure. The gritty fuzzed-out guitar riffs rip everything to shreds, the sturdy basslines provide a wealth of gutty undertow, and the hard-stomping drums supply a fiercely remorseless succession of humongous rolling beats. The songwriting cuts to the heat of the matter with admirable concision. And as for the vocals, these guys sure know how to roar and holler up a gloriously manic and anguished storm. A damn fine album.


QIET – Pet Driftwood (Composition #8) (qietmusic.com)

Swinging like nobody’s vibrant and rousing business with a marvelously funky and eclectic avant garde sound that artfully blends tasty elements of soul, jazz, and rock into quite a yummy mix, this album makes for one hell of an enormously entertaining and invigorating listen. The robust vocals project an infectious sense of sheer unbridled joy and go-for-it enthusiasm. The lively arrangements cut loose with a plethora of jaunty guitar riffs, swaying violins, fiercely stompin’ drums, and urgently blurting horns, all of which swirl and whirl up a deliriously dynamic and enjoyable sonic storm that’s sure to have you happily dancing up and down the aisles. Best of all, there’s a heady’n’hearty theatrical flair evident throughout that’s a complete delight to behold. All in all, it’s more fun than a dozen boxes of jumping beans and twice as energetic, too.

THE SOON-ANOTHER – Autodidact (thesoonanother.com)

Bouncing along with utmost infectious joy and vibrancy, this electronic pop-rock album radiates a feeling of pure sonic bliss that’s impossible to either resist or dislike. Adele Fournet’s sweet voice handles the vocal duties with considerable charming and sunny aplomb while the rest of the group play their instruments with praiseworthy skill and gusto. The get-down funky sound goes to town on the tasty deep diggin’ grooves like nobody’s business. The snappy tempos and chunky beats charge ahead with rip-roaring brio as well. Better still, there are welcome exquisitely harmonic elements deftly woven throughout to ensure that this honey isn’t just a lot of wildly boppin’ noise. The lyrics are surprisingly smart and substantial, too. An immensely enjoyable album.

THE MARAVINES (http://maravines.bandcamp.com)

Coming up all soft and gentle like a delicate spring breeze, this lovely ten song album immediately puts the listener at ease and transports you to a sweet soothing place. The pretty tenor vocals project an achingly tender and fragile sense of sensitivity and vulnerability. The melodies are very mellow and relaxing, with the gradual tempos and subdued beats casting a laid-back vibe that’s quite appealing in its easygoing quality. The thoughtful songwriting clinches the whole endearing deal, thus consolidating this honey’s status as one to relish.

 

ANGELA PERLEY & THE HOWLIN’ MOONS – Hey Kid (www.facebook.com/angelaperley)

Sporting one of those amazingly sultry’n’throaty voices that just oozes passion and charisma, singer Angela Parley makes one hell of an immediate favorable impression with her formidable pipes alone. Fortunately, Parley also has a winningly tough’nsassy persona and a spot-on snazzy knack for writing dynamic hard-stomping straight-up bluesy rock’n’roll songs as well. The music contained herein delivers a fantastic plethora of guts, soul, and scrumptious meaty hooks, with beefy swaggering basslines, fiercely cutting guitar riffs, and enormous steamrolling drum beats laying down a terrifically full-bodied sound that shakes and rattles with topmost galvanizing vigor. A totally kick-ass blast.

PIQUED JACKS – Just a Machine (www.piquedjacks.com)

This funk rock group from Italy sure know how to produce music that’s incredibly visceral and exciting: the vocals soar and roar over a scorching hot array of springy’n’zingy guitars, roiling basslines, and full-bore headlong pushing drums. The fast tempos and huge meaty rolling beats merge together to create a dynamic rhythmic whoosh that goes for broke with thrilling joy and vigor. Best of all, the raw energy evident throughout makes this one quite the rousing fist-pumping delight to listen to. Plenty of yummy thick’n’diggin’ grooves, too.


TARA ELLIOTT & THE RED VELVETS – Drop a Needle on the King (www.reverbnation.com/taraelliottandtheredvelvets)

Pouring on the lowdown bluesy rock’n’roll like nobody’s goddamn business, singer Tara Elliott and her group deliver a fierce’n’fiery onslaught of pure punchy rock that’s sure to make you shake your ass with gleeful abandon. Elliott’s formidable full-throated voice projects a keen sense of power and passion with galvanizing directness. The band ain’t nothin’ to sneeze about as well: Gritty grinding guitars, churning basslines, and roll over deadly stomping drums all kickin’ it up to the barnstorming nines. The slithery tempos and meaty beats keep things chooglin’ throughout. A damn fine album.


RYAN VANDORDRECHT – Beast of Love (http://ryanvandordrecht.com)

Representing the more soft and soothing side of pop on his full length debut album, singer/songwriter Ryan Vandordrecht displays a sweet sensitivity and pleasant grasp of delicate harmony that’s all the more affecting and endearing because of its very achingly pure fragility. Better still, Ryan is a virtual one man band: Besides tackling the vocals with topmost appealing tenderness and writing the spot-on smartly reflective lyrics, Ryan also plays a lot of the instruments with consummate musicianship. The music itself varies from easygoing country to slightly more gritty, yet still laid-back rock, so it’s always really hoppin’ and certainly never dull. A very impressive and promising debut.

SKELETONS IN THE PIANO – Please Don’t Die (Magnetic Eye Records)

Beautifully brooding with one hell of an exquisitely gloomy’n’doomy mood, this album gains a considerable amount of strength from its deliciously oddball jazzoid hard rock metal esthetic alone. The vocals howl and yowl up a crazed storm with infectious go for the throat abandon. The fierce hacksaw guitars, buzzing basslines, and remorseless clip-clop hoppin’ drums likewise kick up one of a stirring sonic hell storm. The band’s overall eclectic sound offers a potpourri of everything from funk to rock, with a zoned to the groovy bone psychedelic aura radiating heavily throughout, sudden and startling mid-tempo shifts, and an admirably adventurous “try it, do it” attitude all begetting often impressive and always exciting results.

JENNY & THE FELINES – Don’t Look Back … (facebook.com/jennyandthefelines)

This power pop-rock trio from New Jersey seem to have a real monopoly on straight-up fun’n’catchy rock’n’roll. There’s a delightfully happy and infectious go-for-it spirit evident in the springy guitars, buzzing basslines, and dynamic full-speed-ahead jumpin’ drums that’s sure to make you bob your head up and down in cheery appreciation. The exuberant vocals likewise score a joyful bull’s eye. Nicely concise and to the point songwriting, too. A hugely enjoyable album.


RECKLESS IN VEGAS – The Hard Way (www.recklessinvegas.com)

How’s this for a fresh and inspired idea: Take a bunch of classic moldly oldie tunes that include “Luck Be a Lady Tonight,” “Ring of Fire,” and “My Way,” and give them the hard’n’crunchy kick-ass pulverizing power rock treatment. Sounds pretty damn awesome, right? Well, it’s pretty damn awesome indeed, thanks to the surprisingly smooth’n’sonorous vocals, fiercely cutting guitars, relentless churning basslines, and full-bore steamrolling drums. Better still, these timeless chestnuts are treated with utmost respect and reverence while being given a new super charged and exciting life at the same time. One hell of a fun and dynamic little pip.

TERRY MCCARTHY – The Charm (http://terrymccarthymusic.wordpress.com)

I’m one of those guys who just loves surprises. I had no idea whatsoever to expect when I decided to give this album a listen because it didn’t come with an info sheet. So boy was I pleasantly surprised by the beautifully tuneful and catchy music on this album: Terry McCarthy’s voice has a certain soothing hoarse quality to it, the gently strummed guitars provide a wealth of jaunty riffs, the melodies are warm, vibrant, and comforting, and the lyrics manage to be quite thoughtful and moving in their refreshing succinctness. Done in a winningly simple and immediate style, with a satisfyingly eclectic blend of low-key contemplative numbers and more full-on rockin’ songs, this is the sort of utterly engaging no-frills music that gains considerable strength and appeal from its welcome dearth of flash and pretense.

MATT BOROFF – Sweet Hand of Fate (www.mattboroff.com)

Atmosphere is something that can add immensely to the overall strength and impact of an album. For example, the powerfully brooding atmosphere that permeates every last moody note of songwriter and musician Matt Boroff’s second full length album registers so strongly that you can feel it rattling your bones as you listen to it. This is the type of album that grabs the listener right by the throat and shakes you willy nilly as it vividly creates a completely lived in world rife with despair and yearning. The grinding guitars, seething basslines, and urgently propulsive drums craft a sound that’s positively thick and delicious in its unwavering intensity. The commanding nature of Boroff’s anguished vocals and the striking clarity of his songwriting serve as the yummy icing on an already quite tasty sonic cake. Amazing stuff.

DANIEL CANNA – Hook (cdbaby.com/cd/danielcanna)

Representing pop-rock at its most disarmingly basic and immediate, singer/songwriter Daniel Canna’s debut full length album has a sweet simplicity to it that’s both engaging and refreshing in comparable measure. Canna’s hoarse voice projects an affecting sense of battered resignation and just get through it unwavering resilience while his songwriting gets to the poignant heart of the matter with an admirable blend of thoughtfulness and straightforwardness. The gradual tempos and kicked back beats further enhance the overall mood of low-key reflection. The arrangements are appropriately spare and uncluttered, with no needless flashy razzle-dazzle to get in the way of the pretty melodies. A very nice album.

KILL THE BAND – Happy Ending (www.billythekid.com)

This delightfully irreverent and sarcastic group returns with a spot-on sidesplitting five song EP. This time this bunch of merry pranksters poke gleefully wicked fun at hypochondria, God wanting you to cum, and getting anal sex for Christmas. Sure, this stuff sure ain’t for the faint of heart or those of a politically correct bent, but if deliciously deviant anything-goes no-holds-barred humor is your bag (and it’s certainly mine, baby), then this often hilarious honey will most definitely light your proverbial pipe. Moreover, the music seriously smokes as well, with especially excellent use of a sultry saxophone. An absolute hoot and a half!



PERENNIAL REEL – Silver Plane Crucifix (www.facebook.com/pages/Perennial-Reel)

Representing electronic indie pop-rock at its most divinely vibrant, upbeat, and harmonic, this Jersey City trio delivers nine songs worth of deliciously sunny sonic bliss. The lovely and lively golden-throated vocals project a winningly pure sense of naked and unabashed sensitivity. Meanwhile, the sparkling and intricate arrangements lay down a complex, yet still tasty shimmering groove thanks to the melodic guitar riffs, steady drum beats, and sturdy basslines. Better still, these guys know how to neatly alternate between low-key reflection and all-out hardcore rocking with consummate skill and ease, with several songs starting out slow and meditative prior to whipping up into incredibly stirring and spirited crescendos. Simply exquisite.

 

THE SHARP THINGS – The Truth Is Like the Sun (www.thesharpthings.com)

For those with a taste for exquisitely classy rock done with real theatrical orchestral flair and consummate musicianship, the latest album from this Brooklyn, New York-based group will most definitely be the answer to your prayers. Everything about this shimmering marvel just smacks of pure posh style: The sumptuous supple vocals, gorgeously elegant arrangements, lovely lulling melodies, and intelligent songwriting provide a graceful quality that elevates this darling to the lofty status of the simply sublime. The gradual tempos and subdued beats really enable this divinely serene and sophisticated music to linger in one’s mind in the best and most appealing manner possible. A positively beautiful jewel.

THE PAPER JETS – We Are All Strange Friends (www.thepaperjets.com)

This Princeton, Jew Jersey indie power pop trio cook up eleven songs worth of sheer sonic pow on their latest full length album. The robust vocals soar over an infectiously energetic array of ringing guitars, snappy basslines, and dynamic steamrolling drums. The quick tempos and full speed ahead charging beats whisk by at a remarkably ceaseless and lively clip. The songwriting hits the spot in a pleasingly smart and concise manner. Best of all, there’s a vitality and urgency evident throughout that’s a totally invigorating blast to hear. Damn good stuff.


ENGLISHMAN – Unsafe and Sound (www.facebook.com/pages/Englishman)

Beautifully simple and delicate, this seven song EP outing from this indie folk Lexington, Kentucky band benefits tremendously from its refreshing dearth of pretense and winning surplus of aching purity. The vocals project a pleasant and reassuring attitude with disarmingly casual straightforwardness. The spare and uncluttered arrangements carefully craft a lovely and gently soothing sound. The plainspoken quality of the songwriting totally hits the spot as well. The laidback ebb and flow of the gradual tempos and subdued beats further enhances the overall sweet’n’sonorous appeal of this impressive effort.

 

THE APPLESEED COLLECTIVE – Young Love (www.theappleseedcollective.com)

Recorded almost entirely live, this gloriously basic and bare bones acoustic album has a certain raw and unadorned immediacy to it that’s both bracing and appealing in equal measure. Offering up an artful blend of flavorsome elements stemming from jazz, swing, ragtime, and bluegrass, this supremely harmonic honey sways and sashays to one hell of a delicious Dixieland beat. The vocals are every bit as sweet and tasty as pure sugar while the arrangements are nicely filled out by such acoustic instruments as a banjo, washboard, mandolin, and upright bass. A marvelously mellow and melodic delight.

GATSBY’S GREEN LIGHT – Annalee (www.gatsbygreenlight.com)

Delightfully sprightly and upbeat, this five song EP CD bounces along with a carefree joy and vibrancy that’s both infectious and uplifting in equal measure. The lively vocals belt out the happy lyrics with winning aplomb. The arrangements keep things tuneful and dynamic throughout, with especially nice use of jaunty acoustic guitars and jumpin’ drums. Moreover, all the songs cohere together to tell the engaging tale of nurturing and good-hearted teenager Annalee. A real treat.

 

YOU BE MY HEART (www.youbemyheart.com)

This seventeen song various artists compilation was recorded for the nonprofit organization 826 National, which offers a variety of inventive programs to under-resourced students ages six to eighteen so they can explore their creativity and improve their writing skills. All the lovely and thoughtful songs contained herein were written by San Francisco filmmaker Devon Reed, who volunteers for 826 International. The songs are done in a beautifully low-key way, with a welcome and refreshing emphasis on delicately pretty melodies and smartly introspective lyrics. The spare and uncluttered arrangements rate as another substantial plus. All the artists bring their A game for this commendable outing, with especially stand-out contributions from Becky Stark, Fruit Bats, Marissa Nadler, Danielle Ate the Sandwich, Letting Up Despite Great Faults, Maps & Atlases, and The Finches. A wonderfully touching compilation.

ANDY SHERNOFF – On the First Day, Man Created God (AndyShernoff.com)

The key problem with this four song EP CD is that it’s way too short at a mere thirteen minutes wrong. One wants more of Andy Shernoff’s wickedly funny sense of take-no-prisoners sarcastic humor, firm grasp of groovy melodic rock, and pleasant voice. Moreover, the arrangements have an infectiously jaunty and timeless quality to them while the lyrics address such weighty subjects as faith, sin, and doubt in a fiercely witty and hilarious manner. Okay, so this baby would be better if it was longer, but what’s here is so damn tasty and amusing that one must be grateful and hence relish this honey all the same.

MACHINE DON’T LIE – Nobody Panic (machinedontlie.com)

Austin, Texas-based singer, songwriter, and guitarist Ben Mallott gathered up several of his talented musician friends for this album. Mallott specifically brought his buddies together to create an album with a particular emphasis on the sheer enjoyment of the music. And boy has he ever succeeded with that goal, for first and foremost the music contained herein is exquisitely well-crafted stuff: The folksy guitars, simmering basslines, and subdued, yet steady drums perfectly cohere to present a gorgeously lush and lulling harmonic sound that’s a softly entrancing and sonorous treat to hear. Moreover, Mallott’s raspy voice has a certain hoarsely appealing quality to it while his songwriting smartly mines an affecting and engaging line in low-key reflectivity. The gradual tempos and kicked-back beats further enhance the soothing spell that this lovely little winner casts on the listener.


NATHAN ANGELO –Out of the Blue (facebook.com/nathanangelo )

Blessed with a divinely soulful tenor voice, further benefiting from a sweetly funky and appealing sound that artfully blends elements of rhythm & blues and retro 60’s soul, and topped off with a winning sense of straight-up honest and sincere songwriting, Nathan Angelo scores a complete bull’s eye with his latest album. Although one can hear traces of such legendary artists as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Smokey Robinson in this right-on relaxing music, Angelo still manages to assert his own pleasantly mellow and engaging personality throughout. The arrangements lay down quite a tasty and supple shake it up kicked-back groove, with especially exquisite use of a rippling organ and zoned to the heavenly bone horns. An absolute treat.

TRUE BELIEVERS – Dedication (www.thetroobs.com)

True Believers were an 80’s rock group that almost, but not quite made it. Beloved by many in the local Austin, Texas rock scene, the band’s sound alas was too raw and unique to click with a mass audience. Offering up five songs worth of good’n’gritty straight up rock’n’roll, this EP CD hits the stirring and spirited spot something sweet as it confirms this group’s status as one of the great unsung bands from the 80’s: The guitars totally shred while the basslines provide a gutty undertow and the drums lay down a positively fierce primordial beat. The three live numbers from March, 2013 find the group in tip-top thrilling form. So give this honey a listen and find out what you’ve been missing.

DR. DOG – B-Room (www.drdogmusic.com)

The sweet soulful old school RB- flavored music continues with the latest album from this Philadelphia, PA-based group. Once again we got pleasantly mellow melodies that mesh nicely with beautifully pure upfront honest songwriting, tunefully laidback arrangements, and reassuring vocal harmonies. The basic easygoing vibe proves to be quite soothing and appealing, with a refreshing dearth of pretense and a welcome emphasis on infectiously basic fun pervading throughout. It’s this latter charming element of simplicity which in turn makes this album a hugely enjoyable undemanding listen from start to finish.

EUREKA BIRDS – Strangers (www.eurekabirds.com)

This Baltimore, Maryland group specialize in beautifully lush, languid, and dreamy indie pop that goes super heavy on the hypnotic wonky atmosphere. Bland and conventional this low-key spacey stuff sure ain’t, as the offbeat percolating keyboards, subdued, yet steady drums, and soft whispery vocals clearly confirm. The exquisitely spare and moody nature of this music gives it a certain quietly mesmerizing quality that’s soothing and captivating in equal measure. A lovely and perfectly relaxing album.


LACEY CAROLINE (www.laceycaroline.com)

Lacey Caroline may hail from Northern New Jersey, but her sweet twangy voice and sturdy knack for supremely catchy crossover country-pop music suggests that she’s really a Southern gal from, say, Georgia or Alabama. Starting off with the infectiously jaunty “Can You Feel It,” the bouncy hooks, kickin’ guitar riffs, and toe-tappin’ drum beats never let up for a minute. The pleasant lyrics, rootsy harmonic, and overall upbeat vibe further enhance the irresistible perky charm of this seven song EP. All the songs are quite melodic and enjoyable, with the touching “Joke’s on Me” and the lovely closing number “Daddy’s Little Songbird” rating as definite stand-out tunes.

ZAK SMITH – The Precambrianage (www.zaksmithband.com)

Pouring on the down in the dumps melancholy in a supremely bluesy and soulful manner, Montclair, New Jersey-based singer/songwriter Zak Smith scores himself a winner with his latest album. Smith’s endearingly rough-around-the-edges raspy voice and smartly reflective songwriting make for a strong and impressive double whammy. The sound artfully combines elements of rock, country, soul, and the blues into a deliciously rich and tuneful sonic stew. Moreover, the harmonic arrangements are given an extra tasty kicky thanks to the generous sprinkling of zoned to the heavenly bone horns, blistering guitar licks, simmering organs, and sweet choir-like backing vocals. A totally kick-ass album.

TRACY SHEDD – Arizona (www.tracyshedd.com)

Beautifully spare and stripped down, this acoustic album from singer/songwriter Tracy Shedd possesses an achingly delicate homespun simplicity that’s a true gentle joy to behold. Blessed with a lovely, yet fragile voice, a winningly direct style of laconic songwriting, and a firm grasp of pretty lulling melodies, Shedd projects a low-key and thoughtful moody vibe that proves in its own deceptively quiet and understated way to be quite powerful and compelling. Thankfully bereft of any flashy show-off pyrotechnics, this supremely elegant no-frills music achieves a deeply moving poignancy and intimacy as well as has a timeless quality about it that’s nothing short of sublime.

STEVE WEINSTEIN – Last Free Man (www.steveweinstein.net)

Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Steve Weinstein ain’t your run of the mill musician, for he’s a well regarded physicist and philosopher to boot. Not surprisingly, Weinstein puts the topsy-turvy modern world of the 21st century into marvelously idiosyncratic perspective on his quirky and surprising latest album. Addressing such timely and topical issues as how people are more interconnected than ever, yet somehow more fragmented as well, the ubiquity of surveillance cameras intruding on our lives (the terrifically bitter and defiant titular track), and how various folks feel more increasingly lonely and depressed than ever, Weinstein’s biting black humor, dark, yet illuminating point of view, and insightful lyrics project a startlingly vivid and accurate portrait of a society that’s lost its sense of compassion, intimacy, and privacy thanks to radical technological advancements that have happened so quickly people are still trying to catch up with them. While Weinstein’s nasal voice may make him sound like a latter-day successor to Bob Dylan, his offbeat and incisive sensibility are entirely his own. An amazing album.

CASINO SUNDAE – Retrograde (www.reverbnation.com/casinosundae)

Man, does this band really know how to serve up one hell of a stirring and spirited platter of pure straight-up rousing rock’n’roll punch: The snappy tempos and forward-ho driving beats charge ahead with tremendously exciting momentum, the vocals are robust and passionate, the arrangements tight and punchy, and the songwriting cuts to the heart of the matter with commendable directness. The basic sound has a cool gritty’n’grungy groovy vibe to it that flows along with infectious joy and vitality. A very solid and enjoyable album.

THE HARMED BROTHERS – Better Days (theharmedbrothers.com)

There’s nothing like the peppy and effervescent combined sound of a banjo and guitar; these two acoustic instruments merge together with such remarkably seamless synergy that one can’t help but break out in a smile and tap one’s feet in appreciation of this delightful sonic bliss. Fortunately, said admittedly formidable banjo and guitar combo isn’t the only thing this spot-on lovely and affecting folkie bluegrass Americana album has in its favor: The vocals are quite pleasant and expressive, the gradual tempos and kicked-back beats mosey along at a pleasingly relaxed rate, the melodies are real pretty and simple, and the lyrics cut to the touching heart of the matter with praiseworthy directness. Fine stuff.

BOG IRON BLOOM – Welcome to Bears (www.bogironbloom.com)

Offering up six marvelously moody’n’melodic songs of dynamic folk-flavored rock, this group from New Jersey keep things quite tasty, thrilling, and tuneful throughout. The usual line-up of cutting guitars, throbbing bass, and diggin’ drums gets an extra lift out of the ordinary by the inclusion of a beautifully brooding string section, which in turn provides an exquisitely delicate quality that neatly counters the grittier hard rocking elements. The frantic way said strings swirl and whirl around the driving beats and snappy tempos proves to be both exciting and intoxicating in equal measure. Damn cool stuff.

STEVE KATZ – Barricades (www.stevekatzmusic.com)

Blessed with a warmly reassuring voice, a strong sense of concise and reflective songwriting, and an equally sturdy grasp of delicately dulcet melodies, singer/songwriter Steve Katz delivers five songs worth of perfectly affecting and engaging low-key pop-rock on this excellent EP release. The opening song “Thrive” touchingly addresses one’s ability to weather the storm of life’s countless hardships with utmost grace and quiet inner strength, the titular track boasts an uplifting message about resilience as well as a sweetly harmonic countryish twang, and “A Modern Tale” concludes everything on a beautifully thoughtful note. Moreover, Katz’s skillful guitar playing provides an extra sonorous buzz to the already tuneful proceedings. A lovely and moving little jewel.

NIGHTMARE AND THE CAT – Simple (http://nightmareandthecat.com)

Beautifully moody and gloomy, yet still thrilling and vibrant, this Los Angeles-based rock group whip up five galvanizing songs that are ripe to bursting with exquisitely intense anguish and despair on their latest EP. The passionate vocals soar over a fiercely urgent and driving sonic bed of ringing guitars, churning basslines, and fiercely propulsive forward-ho drums. The songwriting astutely nails a heart-wrenching sense of bittersweet regret and melancholy. The snappy tempos and constantly charging beats keep things exciting and energetic throughout. A totally kick-ass pip.


THE CARTWHEELERS – Hot Socks! It’s The Cartwheelers! (thecartwheelers.bandcamp.com)

A two man band from New Jersey, these guys whip up a pleasingly raucous rock’n’roll racket on their five song debut EP. The hoarse raggedy-ass vocals holler over a caterwauling array of scrappy guitar riffs, dirty trudging basslines, and constant hard-stompin’ drums. Granted, the sound may be pretty raw and basic, but there’s a certain rough’n’ready vitality evident throughout that makes the whole thing a total scruffy blast to hear.

 


DEXYS – One Day I’m Going to Soar (www.slimstylerecords.com)

The first album in nearly thirty years from the British group formerly known as Dexys Midnight Runners of “Come on Eileen” fame, this eagerly anticipated comeback album from lead singer Kevin Rowland and company finds the band in tip-top form. Rowland’s vocals are as smooth, robust, and passionate as ever while his songwriting has a fierce wit and raw frankness to it that’s both startling and refreshing in equal measure. The arrangements are beautifully classy and melodic, with the expert and understated use of such instruments as horns, strings, and piano all adding a lovely touch of grace and elegance. Moreover, there’s an underlying assurance and maturity evident throughout that gives this album extra depth and substance as Rowland and everyone else wisely choose not to attempt to recapture old glories by instead emphasizing the here and now in an admirably low-key and reflective manner. Welcome back, Dexy.

THE KIMBALLS (www.thekimballsrock.net)

Representing power-pop at its most bouncy, catchy, and dynamic, this 12-song album hops along with tremendously infectious joy and aplomb. The energetic vocals project a winning sense of gaiety and positivity. The crunchy guitars, punchy forward-ho drums, and sturdy basslines keep things lively and rousing throughout. The steady succession of snappy tempos and kickin’ beats rarely let up for a minute. Best of all, a delightful feeling of frothy merriment ensures that this one remains fun to listen to from start to finish. A real treat.


JUPITER IN VELVET – Shut Off Your Mind (www.jupitorinvelvet.com)

Coming on like furious gangbusters, rock singer/songwriter Jupiter In Velvet hits it straight out of the ballpark with his remarkably upbeat, exciting, and energetic sophomore album. Jupiter’s passionate vocals soar to the heavens and beyond with rip-roaring gusto while his songwriting displays a winning knack for tasty hooks and catchy dynamic melodies. The lyrics cut to the chase with refreshing clarity. However, it’s the insanely thrilling nonstop whirlwind of delicious jangly guitar riffs, ceaseless hacksaw basslines, and constant hard-charging drums that in turn makes this music so damn rousing and enjoyable; the whole thing registers strongly as one delightfully dynamic ball of pure punky pop-rock pow. A terrifically lively romp.

JOE D’URSO & STONE CARAVAN – Sway (www.jdcaravan.com)

Rootsy meat and potatoes rock’n’roll gets quite a pleasant and melodic workout on this enjoyable and engaging album. Joe D’Urso’s endearingly hoarse voice immediately puts the listener at ease. Moreover, D’Urso straightforward songwriting has a plain-spoken simplicity to it that cuts right to the heart of the matter with a refreshing clarity and dearth of pretense. The arrangements are likewise basic and uncluttered, but still tuneful and lively enough to keep things boppin’ along throughout. The earnest and affecting average folks subject matter along with D’Urso’s down-to-earth perspective serves as the tasty cherry on an already yummy cake. A fine and moving gem.

RICHARD X. HEYMAN - X (www.richardxheyman.com)

Singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Richard X. Heyman has been a steady part of the DIY pop-rock scene since the late 1980’s. Heyman proves he’s still got the goods on his tenth solo album. Heyman’s raspy voice casts a soothing spell while his sharp and concise songwriting mines a fine and thoughtful line in bittersweet introspection. Whether he’s addressing the sudden disappearance of an old friend in the poignant “When Denny Dropped Out of the Scene,” or rocking it up with utmost rip-roaring brio on the marvelously grungy “Compass,” Heyman keeps the kickin’ music on a steady course throughout. Moreover, Heyman’s knack for catchy melodies and harmonic arrangements never falters for a minute. The overall sound has a wonderfully timeless classical rock’n’roll vibe to it that further enhances this baby’s considerable charm. A total winner.

TONY JOE WHITE – Hoodoo (www.yeproc.com)

The Almighty Swamp Fox just recently turned 70. Best known for penning the hits songs “Polk Salad Annie” and “Rainy Night in Georgia,” Tony Joe proves he’s still got that lowdown bluesy, funky, and soulful thing going strong on his latest album. White’s highly distinctive deep growly voice and tasty’n’slithery whomper stomper guitar style are both in potent and impressive form throughout: Whether he’s providing a deliciously snaky slow-crawling groove on “Who You Gonna Hoodoo Know?,” relating how he grew up on a cotton farm in “9 Foot Sack,” or returning back home in the wake of a terrible flood in the astonishing epic tale “The Flood,” White keeps things gloriously basic, tuneful, and to the point from start to finish. The gradual tempos and subdued beats might seem laid-back, but they still pack one hell of a divinely thick and crunchy punch just the same. An excellent album.

RYAN MICHALSKI – I Am Starting Over (www.ryanmichalsi.com)

New Jersey-born, but Florida-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Ryan Michalski expertly mines a very tasty and tuneful vein of snappy indie pop-rock on his second album. Ryan’s robust voice and thoughtful, yet straightforward songwriting make for a strong, stirring, and effective double whammy. Moreover, his guitar playing displays a firm hand with cutting’n’crunchy riffs that ring loud and clear. The basic sound combines elements of hard punchy rock, more soft melodic pop, and fiercely churning metal into quite a dynamic and enjoyable synthesis. Better still, Michalski eschews needless flashy razzle-dazzle in favor of just getting right to the heart of the matter in an engagingly direct and uncomplicated manner. The songs themselves alternate between all-out thrilling rockers (“Rock Star” in particular totally … well, to put it bluntly, rocks!) and more moving and reflective numbers, with “Don’t Cry” rating here as a truly touching stand-out track. A damn good album.


TOMMY KEENE – Excitement at Your Feet (www.secondmotionrecords.com)

I’m usually not a big fan of cover albums. I prefer artists who write their own work over folks who eke out careers riding on the backs of other people’s work. But I’ll gladly make an exception with this album for two reasons: A.) Tommy Keene has certainly consolidated his status at this point as a very fine artist of his own work and B.) the songs covered here are decidedly quite obscure and overlooked gems that are worthy of greater renown. I mean, how many outside of a chosen few of the most diehard audiophiles are even aware of “Have You Seen My Baby?” by Flamin’ Groovies or “Guiding Light” by Television? Moreover, Keene gives these tunes the full-on groovy-rockin’ treatment that they richly deserve, with tasty ringing guitars, sturdy basslines, and steady pushing ahead drums maintaining a high catchy’n’bubbly harmonic level throughout. A very cool and damn fun album.

ALL SENSORY VOID – Psychedelic Syd and the Recklessly Abandoned (http://allsensoryvoid.bandcamp.com)

Sometimes my life takes a turn for the worse and things become so harsh that it’s pretty damn unbearable. When this happens I treat myself to what I call some “musical therapy” (.i.e., listen to same damn good and enrapturing music that I get so absorbed in that I totally forget my troubles at the moment). Which brings us to this album. After listening to those groovy mellow melodies, the divinely hypnotic buzz and bite of the guitars, the calmly propulsive urgency of the sturdy drums, and the softly seductive pull of the basslines, along with the pleasant vocals and the general sweetly happening’n’harmonious sound, whatever stress and strife I was contending with was essentially forgotten by the end of this album. Accolades don’t come much better than that.

THE BYNARS – X vs. X (www.thebynars.com)

Hittin’ the straight-up chillin’ trance-rock spot with winning get-down buzzin’ style and an utterly engaging breezy’n’easy spirit, this album rates as a hell of a lot of honest-to-goodness mellow fun to listen to. The cheery vocals soar over a dynamic and exciting array of bumpin’ guitars, diggin’ basslines, captivating zoned-to-the-funky-bone keyboards, and subdued, yet steady drums. The pleasingly moody tone, basic laidback vibe, and overall groovy electronic sound give this honey an extra tasty kick that’s both appealing and exhilarating in equal measure. So hop on board the groove train and ride that honey right to heavenly hipsville.

FRANKIE ROSE – Herein Wild (www.missfrankierose.com)

One of the things I love about writing album reviews for this column is the fact that it gives me a great opportunity to be introduced to all kinds of wonderful artists and their work. To be honest, I rarely (if ever) know a thing about the majority of artists whose albums I review until I’m sent their work to evaluate. Frankie Rose is a case in point. I had no clue whatsoever who this gal was until right now. And, well, frankly I’ve been missing out. For starters, Rose has one hell of a lovely and seductive soft feminine purr of a voice; it’s the kind of voice that gently caresses every note with exquisite tenderness. The melodies likewise do the tuneful trick something sweet, with a sense of delicate, yet still sweeping harmony that’s impossible to dislike or resist. And as for the thoughtful songwriting, it ably mines a touching line in careful reflectivity that never resorts to glibness or easy sappy sentiment. Simply marvelous.

BARBEZ – Bella Ciao (www.barbez.com)

Geez, one really doesn’t where to start with this fabulously fresh, creative, and wholly singular album. Expertly combing elements of European folk music, old school cabaret, contemporary classical, and avant-garde rock’n’roll, the sound as one would expect comes across as exceptionally rich, stirring, and eclectic, what with spirited strings, urgent horns, otherworldly theremin, cutting guitars, and propulsive drums swirling, whirling, and crashing about in a beautifully graceful and dynamic manner. This is the type of divinely gorgeous and rousing music that one feels as much as hears as it takes you away to a lush, brooding, and dreamy soundscape that’s totally unlike anything you have previously heard before. Bloody lovely and majestic stuff.

THE MUSGRAVES – You That Way I This Way (www.themusgravesband.com)

Bursting through the speakers with a positively infectious and invigorating surplus of winning bliss and catchy’n’bubbly melodicism, this debut album from a British four piece rootsy pop-rock band will have you smiling and dancing around your room within the first few bars of the opening song. This band thankfully eschews pretense and cynicism in favor of a sunny outlook and upbeat attitude that keeps things happy and bouncy throughout without ever becoming cloying or smarmy about it. The soulful vocals soar right to the heavens and back while the arrangements deliver a tuneful array of yummy hooks that sink in with considerable verve and impact thanks to the stirring strings, jaunty guitars, and dynamic drums. The incessantly cheery and energetic sound wisely takes a simple and straightforward approach to the music that never falters for a moment. A total treat.

RICHARD TYLER EPPERSON – Falling Between the Stars (www.RichardTylerEpperson.com)

Singer/songwriter Richard Tyler Epperson makes a strong and favorable impression with his lovely debut album. Deftly mining a sweetly engaging and affecting line in laid-back amiability, Epperson keeps things on the right side of relaxed and likable: The tempos mosey along at a gradual clip, the beats are likewise subdued, yet steady, and Epperson’s pleasant vocals cast a reassuring spell on the listener. Moreover, Epperson’s concise songwriting cuts directly to the chase in a satisfying and straightforward manner. However, it’s the neatly percolating arrangements that give this honey an extra tasty kick, with an overall groovy and captivating electronic-pop sound that’s loaded with plenty of neatly harmonic buzz. The fact that Epperson recorded this album in the basement of his home and played the bulk of the instruments on it makes it all the more remarkable.

HEATHER STEWART – What It Is (www.heather-stewart.com)

Blessed with a warm, soothing, and sultry voice, a firm grasp of sweetly harmonic rootsy country rock, and a keen songwriting sense that delivers astute observations articulated in winningly plain-spoken terms, Heather Stewart’s sophomore album comes across as a real refreshing and captivating delight. The title track puts things in a properly down to earth perspective (inspirational verse: “Once we get over what it’s never going to be like/ What it is is alright”), “Black and Blue” asserts a certain sturdy (and affecting) inner strength about enduring the countless hardships of everyday existence, “We’ll Learn” shines through with a deeply moving hard won optimism, and “Underneath” rates highly as another sterling anthem on the virtues of inner strength. It’s the way Stewart keeps soldiering on no matter what obstacles life throws her way that in turn gives this album an extra bracing poignancy. The gentle ebb and flow of the gradual tempos and kicked-back beats keep the sound on the right side of tuneful and relaxing. An absolute gem.

GOLDEN SUITS (www.goldensuits.com)

Representing pop-rock at its most dense, melodic, and relaxing, this album possesses more than enough variety and harmony to qualify as a real rich, absorbing, and rewarding listen. Fred Nicolaus’ warm voice and thoughtful songwriting make for a strong and appealing double whammy. The gently strummed guitars, quietly sturdy basslines, and subdued, yet steady drums carefully craft a pleasingly mellow and intricate sound rife with many tasty layers, skillful playing, and an exceptionally sharp grasp of pure musicianship. The basic attitude tends to be low-key and reflective, with a nicely touching line in bittersweet regret and melancholy. An extremely fine and affecting jewel.

POOR LILY – Vuxola (www.poorlily.com)

Fuck yeah, man! Time to crank it up and spew, for what we got here is a 19 song eruption of pure straight-up no-bullshit punk rock’n’roll that kicks mad ass and takes lots of names. The manic vocals holler over a furious sonic onslaught of relentless grinding hacksaw guitars, seething’n’swaggering beefy basslines, and nonstop hard-crunching drums. The rapid-fire tempos and chunky steamrolling beats go right for the jugular with deliciously vicious abandon and ferocity. If this tasty nasty shit doesn’t make you want to crush beer cans on your head and kick your dog out the window, then you just ain’t with the venomous program, baby. Awesome in-your-face stuff.



JON CASPI & THE FIRST GUN – Sucker (www.joncaspi.com)

Yee freakin’ haw! Break out the beer, pull out that American flag, and prepare to whoop it up somethin’ rowdy, for what we got here is one righteous blast of raucous’n’rousing straight-up unpretentious rock’n’roll served up hot and tasty! The lively vocals holler away with toe-tapping vim and vigor. The springy’n’zingy guitars, throw yer wait around beefy basslines, and full steam ahead dynamic pushing drums kick things up with considerable rip-roaring aplomb. The lyrics cut right to the point in a pleasingly straightforward manner, too. Damn good stuff.


WHALE BELLY – I Was Once a Bird (www.Whalebellymusic.com)

Massaging the listener’s ears with its highly beguiling mix of gentle harmony and warm positivity, this sophomore album from a Brooklyn-based folk quintet is downright impossible to either dislike or resist. The soothing vocals carefully waft over a sweetly tuneful array of delicately strummed guitars, soft, yet still urgent drums, and swirling classical strings. The gradual tempos and subdued beats greatly enhance the laid-back appeal of the overall enchanting fragile sound. While these guys crank it up and rock out a tad on occasion (especially on the rather punchy “Everything Causes Cancer” and the rousing “The Color Orange”), this group for the most part keep things mellow and melodic. And that’s just fine, man.

WAITING FOR HENRY – Ghosts & Compromise (www.waitingforhenry.com)

Representing indie folk-rock at its most harmonic and downhomey, this New York trio keep things real tasty and tuneful throughout. The raspy drawling vocals project a right-on country charm. The beefy ringing guitars, swaggering basslines, and sturdy forward-ho drums provide a wonderfully rousing wealth of kickin’ grit and sparkling melody, thereby delivering music that possesses the best of both worlds. The smart and reflective songwriting serves as the yummy cheery on an already quite delicious sonic cake. Better still, these guys neatly alternate between spirited rockers and more low-key thoughtful numbers without ever missing a beat. Excellent stuff.

BOBBY WHITLOCK & COCO CARMEL – Carnival (Live in Austin) (www.bobbywhitlockandcococarmel.com)

Okay, everyone, it’s time to get your funk on! Grind that guitar nice and slow, lay down a fat throbbing bassline, keep those drums tight and persistent, make sure the vocals are smooth and soulful, sprinkle in some underlying horns, top it off with rippling organs, and milk those sweet stretched out grooves for maximum butt-shaking sultriness and volatility. Recorded live with no jive, these two formidable R&B titans are both on top of their divinely hip game, going from one tasty jammin’ number after another with the utmost skill and agility. Simply delicious.


SNOWBALL 37 – Declasse (www.snowball37.com)

Serving up thirteen snappy songs worth of gloriously basic, vibrant, and unpretentious meat and potatoes rock’n’roll, this Jersey City quartet keep things rolling along with a winning blend of energy and simplicity. The vocals are lively and passionate, the arrangements clean, harmonic, and uncluttered, the playing crisp and dynamic, the songwriting concise and to the point. The spirited array of sprightly guitars, steady basslines, and sturdy forward-ho drums ensure that the brisk tempos and constant beats remain hoppin’ from start to finish while the occasional bits of smooth wailin’ saxophone provide some additional soulful kick to the rousing mix. A hugely enjoyable album.

THE ANATOMY OF FRANK – Pangaea (www.theanatomyoffrank.com)

Representing pop-rock at its most breezy, catchy, and charming, the debut album from this Charlottesville, Virginia group possesses a sweet’n’upbeat quality that’s both endearing and invigorating in equal measure. Fortunately, the positive attitude that pervades throughout like a welcome burst of sunshine on a fine clear spring day never gets too cutesy or cloying. Moreover, the robust vocals project a chipper vibe that proves to be positively infectious. Better still, the arrangements are bouncy and tuneful throughout, with plenty of surprising mid-song shifts in tempo to keep listeners on their toes along with a neat blend of bright pop and punchy rock. The dynamic beats sweep you in their rousing headlong rush and rarely let up for a minute. The smart and thoughtful songwriting serves as the tasty icing on an already quite delicious sonic cake. A total treat.


RAINBOW FRESH – Sung to Me (www.rainbowfrehmusic.com)

Bouncing along with an infectiously chipper and energetic breeziness, this perfectly pleasant album projects a sunny upbeat charm that’s impossible to either dislike or resist. The smooth vocals sail to the heavens with utmost happy-go-lucky aplomb. The arrangements likewise sparkle with an utterly engaging vitality, with catchy guitar riffs, neatly percolating basslines, and persistent forward-ho drums seamlessly merging together to craft a merry and becoming groovy’n’poppy sound. An absolute delight.
THE LOOMIS FARGO GANG – The Prettiest Shade of Blue (www.theloomisfargogang.com) Beautifully delicate and harmonic, this group from Virginia ably mines a gentle and melodic vein of folksy indie pop-rock with always lovely and often touching results. The soothing whispered vocals project a tender and appealing sense of aching fragility and vulnerability. The low-key arrangements keep things frail and tuneful throughout, with especially fine use of carefully strummed guitars and serene tinkling pianos. The thoughtful songwriting likewise does the trick in a smart and subdued manner as it addresses regret and longing in touchingly open and simple terms. A lovely little jewel.

MS MR – Secondhand Rapture (http://www.msrsounds.com)

This mysterious New York-based duo make a lot out of their deliciously dark, brooding, and atmospheric brand of chilly pop. The vocals project a strong feeling of icy resolve. The exquisitely stark arrangements carefully craft hypnotic trance-like hooks that sink into the listener’s mind in a subtle, yet still powerful and lingering way. Meanwhile the gradual tempos and subdued beats hold sway in a relaxed, but somehow still mesmerizing manner. But what makes this album so striking and memorable is the intriguing moodiness of the whole thing: If you’re a sucker for highly dramatic and theatrical regret and melancholy (and who isn’t?), then this baby will be sure to hit that special angsty spot something sweet. Bloody marvelous stuff.

THE DIE MAKERS – Detroit Recordings (www.thediemakers.com)

Crank it up loud baby, for this six song EP CD delivers a hot steaming heap of raw’n’rough rock’n’roll racket! Fiercely grinding hacksaw guitars spit and snarl out savage riffs while the brutal forward-ho drums steamroll over everything in their merciless path and the basslines provide a gutty undertow of pure spew. The vocals likewise shout and holler with appropriately unbridled aplomb. A totally kick-ass blast.

 

JOE HERTLER & THE RAINBOW SEEKERS – The Russell Sessions (joehertler.com)

This six member band are caught in terrific spirited form on this five song live recording. Besides the marvelously raw-throated vocals and spot-on precise playing (the cutting guitars and persistent drums in particular are quite tasty, plus a little soul saxophone sprinkled here and there certainly never hurts), this music further benefits from excellent smart and thoughtful lyrics as well as a crackling energy that’s both palpable and galvanizing in equal measure. The music itself blends elements of folk, pop, funk, and rock into a highly rich, eclectic, and overall savory synthesis. The group never puts down a wrong foot or hits a single sour note, thereby clinching this honey’s status as one to relish.
Crank it up loud baby, for this six song EP CD delivers a hot steaming heap of raw’n’rough rock’n’roll racket! Fiercely grinding hacksaw guitars spit and snarl out savage riffs while the brutal forward-ho drums steamroll over everything in their merciless path and the basslines provide a gutty undertow of pure spew. The vocals likewise shout and holler with appropriately unbridled aplomb. A totally kick-ass blast. >

 

SWAAI BOYS - Meet the Mysterious Swaai Boys (www.swaaiboys.bandcamp.com)

Picture yourself on a hammock on the beach on a fine bright summer day in Hawaii complete with a nice cool drink in your hand, a soothing breeze wafting through the air, and the feel of the warm sun gently caressing your face. Well that’s exactly the image that’s vividly conveyed on every last sweetly mellow and harmonic note of this utterly engaging four song EP CD. Boasting delicate acoustic guitars, pleasant vocals, and dead simple lyrics, this baby rates highly as an ideal item to kick back and chill out to.


RICK BARRY - This Postdiluvian World (www.myspace.com/rickbarryband)

Offering up six songs worth of moody and introspective pop-rock, this EP takes the listener on a movingly sorrowful trip. Barry’s mellow soothing voice and thoughtful lyrics make for a strong and effective double whammy. The prevailing mood of melancholic regret gives the music an extra touching resonance. The delicate tunefulness of the arrangements further adds to the achingly fragile quality. A bittersweetly affecting little gem.


WALTER SICKERT AND THE ARMY OF BROKEN TOYS – Soft Time Traveler (armyoftoys.bandcamp.com)

Crank up the volume, buckle your seatbelt, and nail down anything (and everything) that might fall or shake, for this fierce and intense eighteen song beast of an album possesses the right savage and harmonic stuff to set your hair on end and get your ass shakin’. Moreover, this Boston-based group have a firm knack for strong kickin’ hooks, tight playing, and lyrics with real substance to them. It’s this deft combination of ferocity, tunefulness, and on the money musicianship that in turn makes this album so damn impressive and enjoyable.

ROUND MOUNTAIN – The Goat (www.roundmountainmusic.com)

This Santa Fe-based duo keep things real warm, simple, and folksy on their latest album: The vocals are casual and comforting, the playing crisp and able, the arrangements basic and unadorned, yet still tuneful, the melodies pretty and soothing, and the songwriting straightforward and unpretentious. The diverse array of instruments that include horns, an accordion, a dobro, and a mandola produce an extremely rich, harmonic, and appealing gentle sound that puts the listener immediately at ease. Moreover, the whole thing has a genuinely nice and pleasant quality to it that’s impossible to either resist or dislike. A lovely album.

ANGELA PERLEY & THE HOWLIN’ MOONS – Nowhere is Now Here (www.angelaperley.com)

Blessed with a sweet twangy voice and a terrific knack for colorful lyrics that paint vivid pictures in a handful of sharp phrases, singer/songwriter Angela Perley deftly blends blues, folk, country, and Southern rock into a flavorsome brew with tang, soul, and spirit to spare. Whether living it up at the “County Fair,” or advising a lady friend to dispose of her unfaithful companion in “18 Feet Under,” Perley projects a winning mixture of sassy grit and downhome spark that’s utterly charming without ever becoming too cutesy or cloying. A total treat.


THE NEIGHBORHOOD – I Love You (www.thenbhd.com)

This Los Angeles quintet comes on like gangbusters with their debut full-length album: Moody, yet bouncy and dynamic, these guys really know how to milk a big, fat, and meaty hook for all its worth. The smooth vocals radiate a winning blend of laid-back ease and confidence. The cutting guitars, sturdy basslines, and persistent drums deliver a steady succession of crisp syncopated beats and constant snappy tempos. The smart to the point songwriting clinches the whole deal: This group doesn’t beat around the bush and cuts to the chase with spot-on precision and straightforwardness. It’s this sense of fiercely streamlined efficiency that gives this album an extra tasty and appealing charge and potent brooding atmosphere that’s impossible to shake or resist. A bang-up yummy winner.

ALESSSI’S ARK – The Still Here (www.alessisark.com)

Charming. That’s the first thing one thinks while listening to this lovely and lulling album. Singer/songwriter Alessi Laurent-Marke’s incredibly sweet voice? It just radiates a certain soothing and delicate charm. Ditto her thoughtful lyrics and sturdy grasp of tender, yet lush and hypnotic melodies. The gradual tempos and subdued beats possess a gentle sway that’s appealing and captivating in equal measure. Toss in the careful playing by a top-notch array of musicians, sprinkle it with a pleasant dulcet sound, and the net result sizes up as one to relish.

SPUTNIK – Rising (www.elgrande.net)

Representing pop-rock at its most buoyant, vibrant, and engaging, this album radiates a bright light-as-a-feather gaiety and positivity that’s sure to put a smile on your face. The warm and energetic vocals soar over a tasty array of jangly guitars, bouncy drum beats, and smooth basslines. Moreover, the dynamic backing harmonies add extra zing and appeal. The smart songwriting mines a likable line in sunny optimism. Good easy’n’breezy fun.



COLIN STETSON – New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light (http://colinstetson.com)

Multi-instrumentalist Colin Stetson returns with yet another album of exceptionally fluid, melodic, and often surprising jazzy improvisational perfection. Stetson’s remarkable facility with the saxophone gets quite the extensive workout as he makes that baby weep and wail like nobody’s business. This is the type of off-kilter, yet still captivating music that boldly eschews conventional formula in favor of a more brave and startling “screw it, do it” experimental avant-garde approach. What makes this album so impressive and compelling is the way Stetson keeps things on a steady course without ever faltering for a moment. Recommended listening for those with a taste for something daring and different.

THE SHOUTING MATCHES – Grownass Man (http://theshoutingmatches.com)

Pouring on the lowdown bluesy rock with topmost tang and snap, these three grown-ass men keep the grooves thick and tasty throughout the duration of this ten track album. The guitars deliver a steady succession of fierce cutting riffs, the drums lay down a strong stomping beat, and the bass provides a gutty undertow. Moreover, we also got some spot-on moaning harmonica and zoned to the heavenly bone organ ripples to further ensure that things be hoppin’. The vocals are quite lively and passionate as well. Better still, the straightforward songwriting says what it means to say in a pleasingly direct and unpretentious manner. Damn solid and satisfying stuff.

ESQUELA BAND – Are We Rolling? (www.esquelaband.com)

Representing good ol’ get-down rollicking Southern-fried rock’n’roll at its most simple, charming, and unpretentious, the second album from this upstate New York band bubbles with a warm and loose vitality that’s sure to have you tapping your toes. Nothing real fancy or complicated here; this band keeps everything basic and straightforward, throughout, with lively vocals, crisp playing, sharp to the point songwriting, and tuneful arrangements holding sway from start to finish. Words of wisdom: “Ass, gas, or grass/ There ain’t no free ride.” A hugely enjoyable and engaging little beaut.


MR. PAYDAY – It’s Payday!!! (www.facebook.com/mrpaypadyband)

Screw pretense, crank that sucker up as high as it will go, and get right down to thrilling brass tacks with topmost brio and enthusiasm. That’s the essential meat and potatoes attitude of this New Brunswick, New Jersey rock outfit. The vocals are robust and compelling, the playing tight and dynamic, the melodies awfully damn bouncy and catchy, the writing smart and succinct. The guitars riff up a hellacious storm, the drums keeps the beats big and constant, and the basslines supply a strong undertow. Better yet, the lyrics have some genuine substance to ‘em as well, so it’s not just mindless noise. An excellent and impressive debut album.

DRIVIN’ N’ CRYIN’ – Songs from the Psychedelic Time Clock (www.DrivinNCryin.com)

Paying gloriously raw’n’ragged homage to 60’s garage rock, this six song EP CD totally nails the wild vitality, spaced-out experimental attitude, and scruffy quality of that particular beloved subgenre of rock. The open and holler vocals roar over a furiously freaky array of cutting 12-string guitars, groovy electric sitars, funky synthesizer washes, and snazzy blurting horns. Moreover, the songs actually sound like they were recorded back in the far-out 60’s, with not even the faintest hint of smug post-modern irony to be discerned throughout. Instead this group brings a winning conviction and sincerity to the music that’s a complete treat to hear.

MAL BLUM – Tempest in a Teacup (www.malblum.com)

Blessed with a wispy, yet sweet voice and a strong knack for clever and witty lyrics, indie folk singer/songwriter Mal Blum adroitly mines a charming line in pleasant whimsy on her fifth album. The key to this honey’s remarkable appeal is its winning blend of simplicity and honesty; The arrangements are spare and tuneful, the melodies warm and effervescent, and the lyrics offer an engaging mixture of quirky humor and equally offbeat reflection. Inspirational verse: “It’s about the altitude not who is climbing up.” A delightfully idiosyncratic album.

COHFLA – Breaking Out! (www.cohfla.com)

White guy doing hip-hop. Like word up, homies. Or, to be brutally honest, word down, man. Seriously, this shit just doesn’t fly my proverbial kite. Listening to the same monotonous hammering beat drill its way into the base of my skull is about as much fun as having my wisdom teeth pulled with a rusty old pair of pliers sans anesthetic. That is, no fun at all. Sorry, but me no likey.

CARSIE BLANTON – Rude Remarks and Dirty Jokes (www.cassieblanton.com)

Sporting an impossibly sweet voice and a smack dead on the money knack for wickedly barbed lyrics, Carsie Blanton registers strongly as a singer/songwriter to be seriously reckoned with on this three song EP CD. Opening with a fiercely funny song about a fed-up gal who’s in prison for murdering her husband, followed by another amusing tune about a woman with an unfortunate tendency for falling in love with every man she sleeps with, and concluding with a lovely slow drag blues addressing the lack of backbone and brutal honesty in the modern world, there’s plenty of choice quirky originality to relished throughout. Combined with the tuneful melodies, eclectic sound (traces of pop, country, jazz, and even blues are all tossed into the harmonic mix), and skillful playing by the musicians, this honey overall sizes up as a total treat.

VICTORY – Victory is Music (www.victoryismusic.com)

Bursting forth from the speakers with completely galvanizing and irresistible go-for-it snap and aplomb, Los Angeles-based multi-instrumentalist Robert Fleming’s debut pop-rock album possesses a vitality and catchiness that’s both infectious and engaging in equal measure. Fleming’s smooth voice soars over the lively arrangements while his lyrics get straight to the point with commendable concision. The quick tempos and forward-ho pushing ahead beats keep things fresh, dynamic, and flat-out hugely enjoyable throughout. The key word for this one is fun. If you’re looking for music that makes you wanna dance and provides a wealth of energetic entertainment, then this particular platter will fit that bill quite well.

KEATON HENSON – Birthdays (www.keatonhenson.com)

Achingly tender and delicate, London-based singer/songwriter Keaton Henson’s sophomore album possesses a wrenching poignancy that’s all the more moving because of its intrinsic fragile quality. Henson’s quivery tenor voice and thoughtful songwriting vividly capture a deep-seating feeling of regret and melancholy that’s affecting and endearing in equal measure. While the gloominess threatens to get a bit too heavy-going at times, this album nonetheless manages to be quite powerful and captivating thanks to the pretty melodies and engaging simplicity of the spare moody arrangements. It takes a special artist to make depression seem so haunting and beautiful; Henson is definitely such an artist. A lovely album.

GRAHAM REPULSKI – Cop Art (www.bigschoolrecords.com)

Representing Do-It-Yourself lo-fi indie rock at its most rough, basic, and immediate, this short’n’snappy little outing gets right down to stirring brass tacks with considerable go-for-it vigor and a winning dearth of pretense. The jangly guitars, clattering drums, and churning basslines roar and rattle up a gloriously raw’n’raggedy storm while Graham Pepulski’s tattered tonsils howl over the caterwauling noise. Slick and polished this rickety racket sure ain’t, but it still hits the deliciously scrappy spot somethin’ sweet.

WHOABEAR (www.whoabearmusic.com)

Delivering eleven tracks worth of extremely dense, dreamy, and hypnotic electro-pop, this album casts quite a strong and captivating spell. The cutting synth lines prove to be especially mesmerizing as they weave in and out of the tuneful arrangements. The hip-hop style vocals give the music an extra funky appeal. Moreover, the driving beats and brisk tempos keep things punchy and exciting throughout. Better still, the lyrics possess some real substance to them, so this isn’t all just eminently catchy and danceable mindless noise. Damn tasty stuff.



 

HOLLY GENTRY – So Much More (www.hollygentry.com)

Coming on strong with a winning combination of sass and spirit, Atlanta, Georgia-based singer/songwriter Holly Gentry scores a bull’s eye with her debut album. Gentry’s soulful twang blends well with the lively and tuneful country-flavored Southern rock sound. Moreover, her clever and colorful lyrics dig deep into personal experiences to give the music its own distinctive and engaging identity: Whether addressing the challenges of motherhood on the rousing opening number “Rockin’ on the Inside,” or taking an old college boyfriend to task for compromising his values in the wickedly biting “Justin Timberlake Show,” Gentry maintains a winningly honest, sincere, and down-to-earth straightforward sensibility throughout. The arrangements keep things dynamic and melodic without ever becoming too slick or flashy. A very enjoyable and impressive album. zzz

 

UNSUDDENLY – Don’t Waste the Mystery (www.unsuddenly.com)

Richly textured soundscapes are perfectly meshed with a strong brooding sensibility and smart introspective lyrics on this fine six song EP CD. Will James’ deep-voiced vocals gently float over a soothing sonic bed of captivating synth lines, tinkling pianos, steady pushing ahead drums, and quivery guitar riffs. The basic prevalent vibe is lush, dreamy, and hypnotic, with a sturdy underlying sense of regret and melancholy adding a significant emotional punch to the whole thing. An excellent album. z

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KEATON SIMONS – Beautiful Pain (www.keatonsimons.com)

Los Angeles singer/songwriter Keaton Simons keeps the touching and melodic bluesy rock firmly on tap on his sophomore album: There’s loads of incredibly moving passion and pour-your-heart-out open feeling evident throughout, which combined with Simons’ supremely expressive voice, smart introspective songwriting, and spot-on sharp guitar playing kick this honey right over the goalpost into so warm and sensitive that it’s downright endearing sweetness. Simons’ ability to bare his soul with disarming ease, candor, and clarity provides an additional powerful emotional punch. Beautiful pain indeed.

THE BELLE SOUNDS (www.thebellesounds.com)

Effervescent folk-pop done with tremendous buoyancy and melodicism, one can’t help but be swept away by the sheer infectious tunefulness that’s richly evident in this spot-on delightful album. Noelle Hampton’s sweet honeydew voice soars with breathtaking grace and agility. The harmonic arrangements likewise hit the dulcet spot, thanks to both the superbly proficient playing and the sure grasp of heavenly lush hooks. In addition, the songwriting digs deep into a strong melancholy mood with often touching results (the haunting “Away Away” in particular is simply heartbreaking in its plain-spoken articulation of forlorn regret). A beautifully fragile and affecting little jewel.

THE MILK CARTON KIDS – The Ash & Clay (www.themilkcartonkids.com)

Los Angeles-based contemporary folk duo Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale offer a wealth of lovely vocal harmonizing as well as exquisitely delicate and intricate acoustic guitar playing on their latest album. However, it’s not just those two above cited assets that make this music so lovely and soothing; there’s also an extremely pleasant sensibility and gentle homespun quality evident throughout which provides an extra appealing lift. The gradual tempos and subdued beats further enhance the overall charming simplicity of this supremely tuneful and timeless treat.


ARRICA ROSE & THE …’S – Lucky (www.arricarose.com)

Representing California folk-pop at its most lush, dreamy, and captivating, this six song EP CD casts an incredibly strong hypnotic spell on the listener. Arrica’s Rose’s sultry voices purrs with utmost seductive ease. Meanwhile, the arrangements keep this tuneful and enchanting, with the gradual tempos and subdued beats combining together to carefully craft a delicately pretty and soothing sound. Best of all, the smart and thoughtful lyrics ably mine a touching line in bittersweet reflectivity. Lovely stuff.



THE ORANGE PEELS – Sun Moon (www.theorangepeels.com)

Infectiously sunny and sparkling indie pop, done with a firm grasp of snappy hooks and nicely reflective songwriting, the fifth album by this always sturdy San Francisco Bay Area group delivers the expected bright and harmonic goods. The vocals smoothly glide over the immaculately tuneful array of jaunty guitar riffs, forward-ho persistent drums, neatly percolating basslines, and exuberant keyboards. There’s a sweet’n’swooning romantic sweep and pleasant positive sensibility to this music that in turn gives it a super tasty uplifting kick; one can’t help but smile while listening to this zippy and engaging affair. An absolute delight.

THE DUMB EASIES – Love! Love! Love! www.TheDumbEasies.com)

As tasty and bouncy as fresh bubblegum, this perfectly snazzy debut album delivers eleven tracks worth of straight-up no-bullshit rock’n’roll racket that happily eschew pretense in favor of just immediately gettin’ down to stirring and spirited brass tacks. The guitars grind up a fierce storm, the basslines churn away with equal relentless ferocity, and the drums lay down a mighty primordial steamrolling beat. Meanwhile, the vocals are quite lively and rousing. The plain-spoken simplicity of the songwriting rates as the yummy cherry on an already delicious sonic cake. It’s the extremely basic and uncomplicated quality of this music which in turn gives it a substantial breezy’n’easy charm.

KAGERO – Gumbo du Jour (www.kagero.com)

Bouncing along at a nicely jaunty clip, this 13-track album possesses a certain merry vibrancy that’s both infectious and invigorating in equal measure. The lively vocals project a winningly happy and carefree vibe. The peppy arrangements are dynamically filled out with incessant energetic guitar riffs, rousing strings, and surprisingly catchy accordions. Moreover, the lyrics are quirky and colorful, with the offbeat humor evident in such choice kooky cuts as “Rockstar in a Grocery Store” sure to put a smile on even the most humorless grouch’s face. A real toe-tapping treat.


NEW LUNGS – Lanterns (http://newlungsmusic.bandcamp.com)

This Seattle, Washington group skillfully weave an intricate sonic tapestry of complex, yet stirring and arresting melodic rock on this five song EP. The guitars swirl and whirl around while the bass supplies a gutty undertow and the drums lay down some damn formidable clip-clop pushing heavy beats. The emotive vocals are likewise up to snuff (the harmonies in particular are absolutely exquisite!), plus the songwriting gets right to the heart of the matter with admirable concision. Better yet, the songs vary from slow and reflective to more flat-out snappy and rousing, with the latter stuff providing the strongest socko punch. Damn good stuff.


NEW DAY DAWN – Rise Above This (www.facebook.com/newdaydawn)

Singer/songwriter Dawn Botti returns with this spot-on tuneful and dynamic five song EP CD. Botti’s strong and supple voice once again soars to the heavens with characteristic verve and graceful agility. Moreover, the songwriting cuts to the heart of the matter with bracing directness. The skillful playing on the tight arrangements serves as the delicious cherry on an already quite tasty sonic cake: The guitars cut and slash with galvanizing precision, the drums lay down a potent stomping beat, and the bass provides a gutty undertow. Best of all, there’s a smart and reflective mature sensibility at work that gives this beautifully melodic music extra substance and resonance. An absolute gem.

IL SOGNO DEL MARINAIO – La Busta Gialla (www.orgmusic.com)

Q: What do you get when legendary tireless and prolific indie musician extraordinaire Mike Watt decides to collaborate with Italians guitarist Stefano Pilia and drummer Andrea Belfi? A: You get one hell of a supremely trippy, offbeat, and startling “try it, do it” experimental avant-garde sonic excursion that boldly eschews conventional song structures and tried’n’true proven formulas in favor of an extremely fresh, inspired, and often surprising approach to music. This is the type of music that excitingly walks on that usually neglected beaten path that only the most hardy and adventurous consummate pro musicians dare to tread. This stuff is downright impossible to categorize – it’s got traces of the blues, quite a lot of rock, a smidgen of pop, and bits of just about everything else – and that’s precisely what makes this truly singular album so great.

RECOVERY COUNCIL – Plan-Do-Check-Act (www.recoverycouncilmusic.com)

The New Jersey-based rock trio are in super resilient and spirited form on their third album: Bursting with insanely catchy hooks and a positively infectious light-up-the-room happy vitality, it’s flat-out impossible to resist the urge to break out in a smile and start bopping your head up and down to the sweet radiance of this blissful music. The peppy vocals fly smoothly over a pleasing array of snappy guitar riffs, sturdy forward-ho drums, and nicely percolating basslines. Fortunately, the overall upbeat and determined vibe that pervades throughout never gets too cutesy or cloying; it stays on the right side of breezy and positive without ever succumbing to pure sappiness and perseveres through life’s hardships with an admirable keep-your-chin-up resolve. A real fine album.

MY GOLD MASK – Leave Me Midnight (www.mygoldmask.com)

Projecting a supremely ominous, yet captivating sound, this Chicago duo’s latest album possesses a potent and pronounced eerie quality that’s both haunting and hypnotic in equal measure. Gretta Rochelle’s divinely smoky’n’sultry voice pants and purrs with utmost darkly seductive aplomb while the guitars swirl and whirl around serpentine riffs and the drums lay down a fiercely unremorseful clip-clopping beat. There’s something deliciously sinister about this hellishly beautiful music, with Rochelle’s anguished and emotive singing in particular rating as a definite gorgeously spooky highlight. Incredible stuff.

GOLDEN BLOOM – No Day Like Today (www.goldenbloom.net)

Bouncing along with infectious verve and catchiness, this remarkably bubbly five song EP CD is sure to put a smile on the listener’s face thanks to its winning mix of snappy hooks, bright cheerful vocals, and sparkling tuneful arrangements. The carefree vibe of the music is vividly captured by Shawn Fogel’s merry vocals and sharp songwriting. Moreover, there are a few pleasantly relaxed and more thoughtful songs to act as a nice counter to the more lively and exuberant ones. A jaunty delight.


BROADHEDS (www.broadheds.com)

Bursting from the speakers with a gloriously raw’n’raucous shoot-for-the-moon vitality, there’s certainly enough ragged energy evident on this album to power an entire town for at least a month. Snappy guitar riffs bounce off a fiercely urgent blurting saxophone while the drums lay down a steady succession of constant chunky and driving beats. Meanwhile, the lively vocals yelp and yell with topmost lip-smacking joy and gusto. Best of all, the persistent gaiety and vibrancy of the music gives it a delightfully positive and uplifting quality that’s impossible to either dislike or resist. A total treat.


PRECIOUS BONES – Fracture (www.preciousbones.com)

Dynamically evoking the groovy and thrilling psychedelic rock music of the 1960’s, this five song EP CD skillfully mixes a catchy’n’lively rousing and tuneful sound with an utterly engaging reverence for good old fashioned straight-up rock’n’roll music. The playing is crisp and proficient, the singing harmonious and captivating, the songwriting sharp and reflective. The snappy tempos and constant beats keep things fresh and enjoyable throughout. Spot-on good and tasty stuff.



LIGHTNING JAR – Summerworld (http://lightningjar.org)

This four song EP CD keeps things nice and mellow with its gently melodic folk rock sound. The pleasant vocals softly glide over the tuneful arrangements that are beautifully filled out by delicately strummed guitars, laid-back, yet persistent drums, and exquisitely humming organs. Extra kudos are in order for the sweetly reflective songwriting, the gorgeous harmonies, and the divinely soothing air of easy’n’breezy amiability. Lovely stuff.

 

 

THE LUNA LAVAL – A Good Fear (www.thelunalaval.com)

Offering up three songs worth of sunny and melodic pop-rock, this Old Bridge, New Jersey quartet keeps things bubbling along in a very pleasant and reassuring manner. The vibrant vocals soar over a neat array of sparkling guitar riffs, steady basslines, and sturdy pushing ahead drums. The snappy tempos and bouncy beats possess a winning surplus of joy and vitality. The smart introspective songwriting rates as the yummy cherry on an already delicious sonic cake. A really nice item.



GRAHAM PARKER – Three Cords Good (http://grahamparker.net)

British singer/songwriter Graham Parker has been around for well over thirty years. Initially known as an angry young man, Parker might have mellowed a tad with age, but that certainly doesn’t he has nothing relevant or interesting to say. Quite the contrary, as his excellent latest album confirms. Okay, the sound is mellow and bluesy, the voice sounds a bit croaky, yet Parker manages to keep things compelling with his thoughtful songwriting and sturdy grasp of soothing laid-back melodies. Moreover, Parker’s casual acceptable of life’s numerous ups and downs possesses a genuinely moving honesty and maturity to it: This isn’t a man who’s fruitlessly attempting to change the world; instead he’s coming to terms with the fact that people are flawed and things don’t always work out the way you hope they will while hanging in there and doing one’s best to accomplish a few good things amid life’s myriad disappointments. Parker’s band The Rumour are in top form throughout; this is the kind of supremely tuneful music made by folks who know what they are doing, but are old and grown up enough to trust what they’re doing to do the job with no needless showing off. A very fine and affecting little jewel.

ENGLORIA – Shine (www.engloria.com)

Representing pop-rock at its most infectiously upbeat and vibrant, the eleven songs on this debut full-length album sparkle with a happy go-for-it verve that’s a true delight to hear. The radiant vocals soar to the heavens over a lively sonic onslaught of rousing ringing guitars, dynamic drums, and sturdy basslines. Best of all, the incessant stirring cheerfulness of such bouncy songs as “High Tonight,” “Where You Are,” and the specially exciting and energetic “Found a Girl” are sure to put a smile on even the sourest grump’s face. Moreover, there’s a positive optimistic streak evident throughout that’s both touching and uplifting in equal measure. A total treat.


KOWTOW POPOF – Tastes Like Armageddon (www.kowtowpopof.com)

Projecting an otherworldly vibe that’s eminently danceable and hypnotic in equal measure, the latest album from this offbeat singer/songwriter carves out its own unique little corner of the pop-rock universe with praiseworthy clarity and vividness. What makes Popof’s music so delightful is not only his firm grasp of tuneful sparkling melodies and similarly strong knack for sharp quirky lyrics, but also his ability to keep his chin up no matter what obstacle life might throw in his direction. Better still, the singular grooves dig deep into a tasty deep spacey soundscape that undulates with utmost captivating bounce and fluidity. An intoxicating journey into a dreamy and sumptuous aural wonderland.

ANDERS & KENDALL – Wild Chorus (www.andersandkendall.com)

The singer/songwriter duo of Anders Parker and Kendall Meade join forces to produce a real lovely, harmonic, and utterly endearing little beaut of an album with their debut CD. Although Parker’s dry croak neatly contrasts with Meade’s sweet delicate alto, they still nonetheless meld into a single pleasant and satisfying sound. Moreover, the thoughtful songwriting mines a nicely low-key line in quietly affecting introspection. The songs for the most part mosey along at a perfectly kicked back clip, with the gradual tempos and subdued beats chugging by in a soothing and engaging manner. The basic sound falls into the twangy’n’tuneful country-folk realm, with a dash of pop and a smidgen of rock tossed in on occasion to keep things lively and interesting. An extremely impressive and promising debut.




CHARLES COMPO – Foolish Pleasure (www.charlescompo.com)

Hitting a supremely cool, mellow, and soothing smooth jazzy breeze right from the first spot-on precise and melodic note, this instrumental album ace New York-born musician Charles Compo makes for an extremely captivating listen. Compo’s remarkably proficient playing of flute, guitar, and tenor saxophone totally hits the bull’s eye with unerring deftness and accuracy. Moreover, the arrangements are tight and tuneful while the music flows along with exceptional grace and swiftness. Pouring on the sweet bumpin’ funk like nobody’s business, this one should be savored like fine wine.


LISA RICHARDS – Beating of the Sun (www.lisarichardsmusic.com)

Blessed with a strikingly girlish, yet strong and compelling voice, a fine eye for telling minute details, and an equally sturdy grasp of harmonic country-flavored folk-pop, singer/songwriter Lisa Richards carves out her own touching and fascinating corner of the musical universe on her latest album. There’s an astounding individuality not only to Richards’ uniquely sweet and tremulous vocals, but also in her concise and thoughtful songwriting. The delicately melodious arrangements are devoid of needless clutter and compliment Richards’ sharp and insightful lyrics in an admirably stark and unadorned manner. The trudging tempos and relaxed, yet steady beats give the music a downright magnetic pull. However, it’s the way Richards addresses life’s most testing hardships in a brave and direct manner that makes this extraordinary album so poignant and resonant.


CHRIS RIFFLE – Another Dream (www.chrisriffle.com)

New York City-based indie folk singer/songwriter Chris Riffle delivers six exquisitely delicate and harmonic songs on his latest EP CD release. Riffle’s gentle soothing voice merges well with the softly tuneful arrangements. The gradual tempos and subdued beats ebb and flow at a relaxed rate that’s hypnotic and reassuring in equal measure. Best of all, there’s a lush and dreamy quality evident throughout that rates as the extra tasty cherry on an already delicious aural cake. Lovely stuff.

ROSEMARY’S GARDEN – Royal Flush (www.therainmakermediagroup.com)

For those who dig lively and pretentious straight-out no-bullshit rock’n’roll served up with loads of glee and gusto, this here be the album for you. Crunchy guitar riffs? Check. Fabulously raw-throated open up and holler vocals? Yep. Strutting basslines and fierce jumpin’ drums? Ditto. Almighty galloping beats and forward-ho speedy tempos? Yes, we got ‘em! Concise lyrics that cut right to the chase with admirable profane honesty and directness? Also present and accounted for. Shake it up with a surplus of grit, keep it simple, and play it loud, baby!

SPACE WOLVES – Space Wolves II (www.space-wolvesbandcamp.com)

Delivering twelve songs worth of extremely catchy, jangly, and vibrant lo-fi noise pop, this Buffalo, New York group keeps things bubbling along with a positively infectious surplus of joy and vigor. The peppy vocals soar over a neat array of snappy guitars, jumping drums, and percolating basslines. The speedy tempos and kickin’ beats never let up for a minute. Moreover, there’s a feeling of pure go-for-it giddy and dynamic fun to be relished in every last delightfully happy and radiant note. A total merry treat.


 

WAR POETS – Dulce et Decorum Est (www.warpoets.net)

Get ready to have those toes a tappin’ while listening to this incredibly catchy’n’snappy debut album from a very promising Minnesota band. There’s a positively infectious surplus of sheer bounce and vigor evident throughout, with the springy guitar riffs, bubbly basslines, and energetic drums supplying a steady succession of quick tempos and constant forward-ho charging beats. The vocals are likewise quite lively and rousing. Moreover, the songwriting tackles mature subject matter such as gay marriage and the necessity for honesty in relationships with admirable depth, clarity, intelligence, and thoughtfulness. Better still, this group deftly blends elements of pop, rock, and country into an extremely rich, tasty, and eclectic sonic mix. A very one the money album.
Live from the Lowdown Hudson Blues Festival (www.sojournrecords.com)
Okay, everyone, it’s time to relax. Draw the shades, turn down the lights, and pour yourself a cool one as you kick back listening to this divinely mellow music. Just let those lazy tempos and gradual beats put you at ease. Unwind as the lush melodies, supremely assured playing, and casual vocals take you away to a place that’s as sweet, calm, and refreshing as a quiet spring Sunday afternoon. Most of the songs contained herein are pretty laidback and soothing, with the occasional more lively and exciting number like the dynamic “Fashion Blues” by The Beauties tossed in to keep things hoppin’. Recorded live in July, 2011 at a blues festival, this is the kind of CD compilation that’s the perfect capper to a long, hard, and stressful day at work.

DANNY KALB AND FRIENDS – Moving in Blue (www.dannykalb.net)

Veteran Greenwich Village musician Danny Kalb returns with a vengeance on this sprawling, ambitious, and hugely enjoyable two disc CD release. Encompassing everything from blues to gospel to country to good ol’ rock’n’roll, this album comes across like a lovely, tuneful, and passionate sonic encyclopedia of rock itself for the last forty odd years. Sometimes going at it solo with just his own marvelously deep mellifluous voice and a well-strummed acoustic guitar, other times ably backed by a slew of top-rate players, Kalb pours his heart, soul, and extensive experience into the music with always melodic and impressive results. Best of all, Kalb wisely keeps it simple throughout, with no needless filler or flashy fireworks to be found at any point. Instead he digs into the tasty drawn-out grooves, lingers on those hypnotically gradual tempos and subdued, yet steady beats, and casts a divinely jazzy spell on the listener that’s both soothing and seductive in equal measure . A total treat.

PARKWAY DRIVE – Atlas (www.parkwaydrive.com)

Beautifully melodic, yet still quite punchy and visceral, this Australian hardcore metal band totally hit it right out of the ballpark with fiercely crunching aplomb and exceptional musicianship on their fourth album. Sure, on a strictly gut level this album certainly makes the grade with flying colors: The ferocious growly vocals, relentless hacksaw guitars, churning basslines, and savagely pummeling drums roar away with an awesomely aggressive vigor and abandon that’s exciting and impressive in equal measure. The rapid-fire tempos and stomping beats barrel along with a forward-ho momentum that lays brutal waste to everything in its lethal wake. However, it’s the remarkable skill evident in the playing and the breathtaking complexity of the music itself that makes this album so damn special and notable.

VINCA MINOR – Capital of Sorrow (www.secondshimmy.com)

Beautifully sparse, haunting, and melodic, this album creates a powerfully sorrowful and melancholy mood that grabs the listener right from the first brooding note. The richly layered sonic textures are vividly filled out by ambient synth lines, stately pianos, a tremendous sense of intoxicating cinematic sweep, and Matt Menovcik’s exquisitely forlorn vocals. The feeling of overwhelming sadness fortunately never degenerates into saccharine mush; instead it’s given a certain wrenching poignancy and dignity by Menovcik’s gorgeously lush and stark arrangements, thoughtful songwriting, and consummate musicianship. The gradual tempos and subdued beats further add to the hypnotic pull of the music. Lovely and moving stuff.

REESE VAN RIPER – Ghost Oil Revival (www.facebook.com.reesevanriper)

Spitting out five songs worth of fiercely crunchy’n’punchy scraped right up from the howling gutbucket bluesy rock’n’roll, this Newark, New Jersey group totally tear it apart on their latest EP CD release. Everything you love about lowdown dirty rock is present and accounted for: Wild raw-throated vocals holler over a seething sonic onslaught of savage hacksaw guitars, churning basslines, and relentless steamroller drums. The speedy tempos and chunky beats roll along with ferocious go-for-broke joy and vigor from start to finish. What’s not to like?



THE FAVE – Watching Me Starve (www.thefave.com)

Delivering quite the deliciously get-down funky groovy diggin’ rock’n’roll buzz with a mere four songs, this EP is sure to make you stand up and shake your ass for all its worth. The grinding guitars, chugging basslines, and sturdy drum beats spit out a steady succession of hard-as-granite hammering beats and nicely slithering gradual tempos. The hoarse vocals likewise possess a perfectly gritty and weathered quality. Spot-on sharp and reflective songwriting, too. Damn good no-bull rock served up nice and snappy with a yummy side order of skill and smarts.

DOTS WILL ECHO – Drunks is the New Sober/ Stupid Is the New Dumb (www.reverbnation.com/DotsWillEcho)

The Ridgewood, New Jersey indie rock duo of singer/multi-instrumentalist Nick Berry and drummer Kurt Biroc have concocted one incredibly massive, sprawling, and ambitious monster of a double length album. Clocking in at 79 minutes, this baby not surprisingly dips and ducks all over the place, but luckily these two amiable and good-natured fellows are funny, talented, and personable enough to sustain one’s interest throughout. The ragged vocals possess a certain scruffy charm, the playing is loose and spirited, the arrangements are a tad rough, but still tuneful and captivating. However, it’s the soothing lazy’n’lulling quality of the music that makes this outing so much likably laid-back fun to listen to. Often sounding like it was recorded at the tail end of a pleasantly casual weekend bender, with an eclectic array of songs that neatly alternate between lively and thrilling and more relaxed and comforting, this honey gets by on the basis of its utterly engaging easygoing vibe alone.

DRIVIN’ N’ CRYIN’ –Songs About Cars, Space and The Ramones (www.drivinncrin.com)

Spitting out six songs worth of furiously dynamic and exciting go-for-the-throat thrilling no-bullshit rock’n’roll, this kick-ass EP item gets right down to stirring brass tacks with considerable rousing brio. The lively vocals shout and holler over a fiercely energetic sonic onslaught of rippin’ guitars, churnin’ basslines, and full-speed-ahead relentless steamrollin’ drums. Best of all, the snappy tempos and hard-charging stomping beats never let up for a minute. An absolute blast of pure rock vitality.


AARON EMBRY – Tiny Prayers (www.weareeachother.com)

Hey you? Stressed out? Life getting you down? You need to hear something to take the edge off at the tail end of a long, hard, and arduous day? Well, sit back, relax, and give this beautifully gentle, tuneful, and lulling folksy treat a listen. Singer/songwriter Aaron Embrey’s soothing voice will immediately put you at ease. His pleasingly relaxed persona and the engaging homespun simplicity of his straightforward songwriting are likewise quite appealing and comforting in equal measure. Moreover, Embrey’s sturdy knack for soft and pretty melodies serves as the tasty cherry on an already delicious cake. This is the type of sweetly harmonic music that conjures up pleasant visions of a quiet afternoon spent with your closest friends on a back country porch. Plaudits don’t come much better than that.


NEIL NATHAN INC. – Sweep the Nation (www.neilnatha.com)

Paying gloriously full-blast thrilling dynamic and passionate tribute to 70’s glam-rock, deftly mixing elements of power-pop and alternative rock for yummy good measure, former high school history teacher turned singer/songwriter Neil Nathan assumes the identity of his delightfully outrageous and provocative alien alter ego The Overlord for this immensely enjoyable concept album. Boasting loads of insanely catchy’n’crunchy guitar riffs, infectiously danceable grooves, vibrant melodies, totally kickin’ arrangements, soaring choruses, and spot-on smart lyrics urging the need for freedom and democracy in America, this honey not only provides plenty of great energetic music to shake your butt to, but also delivers a handy helping of tasty food for thought to chew on and digest as well. Long live The Overlord!

THE JIGSAW SEEN – Gifted (www.thejigsawseen.com)

Coming on like total gangbusters, the latest album from this eclectic and ambitious Los Angeles group offers a tasty array of diverse elements that range from raw gritty blues to elegant orchestral pop to full-speed-ahead all-out rock’n’roll. Some of the songs are short and snappy (“Open Up the Box Pandora” in particular seriously smokes like nobody’s damn business), others are more low-key and lengthy (“Christmas Ain’t for Christians (Anymore),” about a bitter old geezer on his hospital deathbed, is simply heartbreaking), all are exceptionally well crafted, played, and arranged. In fact, the musical proficiency on display throughout really makes this one to relish, with smooth vocals, shimmering keyboards, percolating basslines, and snazzy guitar riffs all carefully creating a sound that’s as shiny, polished, and streamlined as a new car straight off the factory line. Beautiful stuff.

THROAT SPROCKETS – Methadone Picnic (www.myspace.com/throatsprockets)

Groovy and wiggy in equal measure, this offbeat and engaging third album from an alternative Los Angeles band score major points for its sheer wildly creative and original weirdness alone. Fortunately, weirdness isn’t all that this group has to offer: The intricate arrangements are rich in catchy riffs and surprising mid-song tempo shifts, the melodies are likewise quite dense, dynamic, and delicious, the vocals smooth and charming, and the songwriting bright and witty. Such choice kooky cuts as “Asleep at the Wheel,” “Vivesexual,” and “Undecided” possess a delightfully bouncy verve and flaky quality that’s both appealing and invigorating in comparable measure. Plus this band can turn the sweetly burnin’ funk up like nobody’s freakin’ business. A total treat.

H.E. MILLER – Your Time Will Come (www.HEMillermusic.com)

Coming on with a winning blend of cocky swagger, sharp wit, and sheer go-for-it raw thrilling vitality, New Jersey musician H.E. Miller’s sophomore album possesses a grungy and gritty verve that’s both exciting and appealing in equal measure. Miller scores a bull’s eye in all possible categories: His vocals are lively and enthusiastic, his playing of multiple instruments skillful and dynamic (the beefy strutting guitar riffs in particular are very tasty), his songwriting concise, thoughtful, and to the point, the arrangements are tight and vibrant. Flashy and polished this gloriously rough’n’ragged racket sure ain’t; instead it’s every bit as fierce, scrappy, and unvarnished as it ought to be. Proof positive that the keeping it simple back to the scruffy basics approach to rock’n’roll is a sure way to go.


BERN & THE BRIGHTS – Work (www.bernandthebrights.com)

This Montclair, NJ group whips up seven tracks worth of infectiously bubbly’n’bouncy pop-rock on their latest EP release. The opening tune “Slave Driver” addresses the hapless plight of the average working stiff with spot-on precision while providing an insanely energetic danceable beat, “I See Red” swings and sways to an irresistibly lush’n’breezy tropical groove, and “Thieves, Creeps, and Automatons” concludes everything on a nicely harmonic note. The lively vocals belt out the concise and thoughtful lyrics with real hearty aplomb while the crisp basslines, snappy guitar riffs, and peppy drums supply a steady supply of brisk tempos and straight-up kickin’ beats. An immensely enjoyable outing.

KHALED – Luci (www.khaleddajani.com)

Delivering a nice blend of energetic flamenco-flavored grooviness and laid-back contemplative sensitivity, this eleven song album supplies a steady succession of tasty licks, poignant moments of reflection, and thrilling kicks. We’re talking straight-up no-bullshit meat and potatoes rock’n’roll here along with a good deal of more low-key and cerebral introspection tossed in for good measure, with lively passionate vocals soaring over a dynamic array of surging basslines, snappy guitar riffs, and forward-ho jumpin’ drums on the faster cuts and more pleasant whispery singing plus appropriately tuneful and delicate melodies on the quietly thoughtful numbers. Tasty stuff.

BUILDER OF THE HOUSE – I Am a Tidal Wave (www.builderofthehouse.com)

This six song EP release immediately puts the listener at ease with its warm folksy sound, pleasant vocals, and pretty melodies. This Portland, Maine trio delicately blend elements of folk, bluegrass, and Americana into a pleasingly fragile, jaunty, and harmonic whole, with the snappy tempos and jubilant beats creating a happy vibe that’s rousing and endearing in equal measur e. Moreover, there’s a sweet and upbeat quality to this music that’s impossible to either dislike or resist. A very nice little item.

MATT BAUER – No Shape Can Hold Me Now (www.Mattbauermusic.com)

Blessed with a soft and soothing whispery voice, a strong knack for thoughtful lyrics, and an equally sturdy grasp of serenely fragile, yet tuneful melodies, alt folk singer/songwriter Matt Bauer certainly has what it takes to come through with a very pleasing and appealing five song EP CD. Whether it’s his lovely opening duet with Jolie Holland on “Andaman Sea” or the haunting reflection of “Tonight We Get to Sing Our Songs,” Bauer delivers a real winner with this engrossing and impressive release.


BRIGHT LITTLE FIELD – Treatment Bound: A Ukulele Tribute to The Replacements (www.brightlittlefield.com)

Now, here’s a real cool and inspired premise for a tribute album: Let’s do these incredibly happy and peppy acoustic bluegrass-sounding ukulele renditions of originally raw’n’snarly punks songs by the legendary group The Replacements. Does it work? Like a charm, buddy, thanks to the snappy playing, impassioned singing, and, most of all, an infectiously spirited feeling of pure go-for-it merry aplomb. The extremely catchy and folksy country-flavored sound gives the whole thing an extra harmonic kick and warm appeal. An absolute delight.

THE LUYAS – Animator (www.deadoceans.com)

This extremely quirky and charming album from an experimental Canadian indie rock outfit casts a singularly hypnotic and captivating spell with its tranquil and unusual sound. Jessie Stein’s soft and delicate voice floats over a fluid and languid array of gradual tempos and subdued beats. The arrangements create a compelling assortment of oddly entrancing sounds that bleep and waft throughout like a gentle breeze in an empty giant orchestral theater. There’s a fragile and ethereal quality to this highly distinctive and creative music that’s endearing and enchanting in equal measure. A strikingly original one-of-a-kind marvel.

MUD PIE SUN – Wooden Circle (www.mudpiesun.com)

The Philadelphia-based duo of Steven Pitcherella and Tom Quinn, who started out recording music together initially on cassette back in the early 1980’s, make a belated entry into the digital age with their latest collaborative effort. Offering up an offbeat and eclectic, yet still tuneful and compelling blend of such diverse sources as pop, psych, folk, and garage rock, these guys conjure up a sound that not surprisingly comes across as quite fresh, novel, and varied, with quiet reflective pieces that go heavy on the pretty delicate melodies, brooding regretful moods, and hushed vocals as well as a few more snappy and exciting all-out rockin’ numbers sprinkled throughout for good measure. The wildly creative arrangements not only use traditional instruments and fierce guitar feedback, but also utilize natural sounds that include cicadas, chirping birds, and barking dogs with always surprising and often stunningly haunting results. A marvelously idiosyncratic pip.

THE KNIGHT OWLS – Turning the Triad (www.reverbnation.com/theknightowls)

Crank up your stereo, sit back in your easy chair, and prepare for a hip’n’heady trek into the pleasingly tripped-out aural alternate dimension while listening to this incredibly groovy psychedelic rock treat. The surging basslines, funky fluid guitars, and sturdy charging drums all go full speed ahead with utmost stirring momentum and impressively skillful musicianship. The songs bend and wind around the most exceptionally well sustained protracted corners, with the steadily pushin’ tempos and constant rolling beats keeping this continually exciting and interesting throughout. Better still, the melodies are extremely rich and layered while the arrangements are remarkably dense and intricate. Very fine and enjoyable album.


HELVETIA – Nothing in Rambling (www.joyfulnoiserecordings.com)

Beautifully trippy and laid-back, this experimental psych rock outfit take the listener on a groovy soothing sonic journey into the blissed-out heady beyond with their seventh album. Nifty sitar and wonky wah-wah guitar riffs cut a sweet swath through buzzing basslines and constant clump-thumping drums. The nasal vocals project a winningly casual and relaxed vibe that goes down smooth and easy. The gradual trudging tempos and subdued beats further add to the overall refreshingly hazy’n’lazy atmosphere. It’s a stone gas, baby!


BAND OF HORSES – Mirage Rock (www.bandofhorses.com)

Blowing on down from the gentle and melodic country-flavored indie rock hills on a gust of exceptionally crisp and proficient musicianship, the fourth album from this Charleston, South Carolina group hits the sweetly tuneful spot with right-on captivating accuracy and consistency. The reedy vocals project a certain winningly folksy charm while the harmonic arrangements keep everything on an easy’n’breezy soothing keel throughout. The mid-tempo shuffles and relaxed beats further add to the overall comforting laid-back vibe. The thoughtful songwriting likewise warrants kudos as well. A perfectly mellow and worthwhile album.

KILL THE BAND – Mock Bottom (www.KILLYTHEKID.com)

Fuck yeah, bitches! This quirky and creative Brooklyn, New York band joyfully mix straight-up meat and potatoes punk rock’n’roll with a side order of funky white people rap and a megadose of wickedly funny sarcastic and irreverent humor. Lead singer Killy Dwyer goes to town on the kooky vocals with lip-smacking loopy aplomb. No foolin’ about the fiercely right’n’tight arrangements: The drums lay down plenty of chunky steamrolling beats, the guitars spit out groovy riffs with head-bopping brio, and the fat throbbing basslines supply a get-down pulsating undertow. But it’s this group’s cheery willingness to blithely poke fun at everything from celebrity babies to post 9/11 terrorist paranoia that makes this album such a gut-busting riot to listen to. Single most sidesplitting track: “Timing is Everything,” in which these giddy pranksters engage in a lively and uproarious gripe session when nobody can properly remember how to play a song correctly. An absolute hoot and a half!


JAMES DALTON – Frankonia (www.jamesdalton.co, jamesdalton.bandcamp.com)

Okay, everybody. It’s that time again. You know, it’s time to chill. And what exactly are we going to chill to today? Why, this perfectly pleasant, soothing, and tuneful latest album by folk blues singer/songwriter James Dalton. First off, we’ve got Dalton’s supremely mellow, yet hearty and engaging voice to take the edge off of a day. Next up there’s Dalton’s appealingly basic and uncluttered musical style: No fancy frills, no needless flashy pyrotechnics, no protracted show-off solos, just a guy strumming a guitar and playing a harmonica with utmost simple’n’straightforward skill and aplomb. The eloquently homespun quality of Dalton’s concise and thoughtful songwriting rates as another sterling asset. An absolute delight.

BOY OMEGA – Night Vision (www.boyomega.com)

Beautifully moody and brooding, dripping with a strong sense of despair and regret, there’s a delicate, yet powerful and compelling vibe to this pop-rock album that’s deeply affecting and endearing in equal measure. The frail whispery vocals project a potent feeling of yearning and melancholy with bracing directness. The bittersweetly reflective songwriting further captures an overall atmosphere of profound sadness with a similarly striking vividness. The spare, but tuneful arrangements carefully craft a gently melodic sound while the gradual tempos and subdued beats add to the pervasive haunting quality. By no means a fun album, but definitely a very touching and resonant one just the same.

TWO GALLANTS – The Bloom and the Blight (www.twogallants.com)

Erupting from the speakers with a bracing melodic ferocity and raw emotional intensity, this album hits you with all the startling force of a sudden sucker punch to the solar plexus. The hoarse anguished vocals howl and moan out a shockingly naked feeling of gut-shredding angst. The lyrics are likewise quite fierce and uncompromising in their straightforward articulation of urgency and honesty. But it’s the punchy arrangements and dynamic playing that really provides an additional powerful quality to this brutally cathartic and explosive music. The songs for the most part are really savage and aggressive, although there are a few more subdued and touching numbers scattered amid all the caterwauling racket. An extremely haunting and impressive album.

THE BERGAMOT – Static Flowers (www.thebergamot.com)

Artfully blending a beautifully crisp, tuneful, and energetic sound with smart songwriting and an equally sharp-as-a-tack worldly sensibility, the indie pop-rock duo of Jillian Speece and Nathan Hoff totally hit it out of the ballpark with their excellent third album. Speece’s sultry voice works well with Hoff’s smooth pipes; the pair belt out the precisely observed lyrics with tremendous skill and aplomb. The arrangements keep things lively and harmonic throughout, with a neat array of instruments crafting a sound that’s rich, warm, and captivating in comparable measure. Moreover, the eclectic mix of jazz, pop, rock, and even country elements adds an extra tasty zing to an already quite delicious sonic cake. A lovely little jewel.

DOUG RATNER & THE WATCHMEN – Lessons Well Learned (www.dougratner.com)

Loaded to the roaring brim with a furiously explosive surplus of pure galvanizing energy, this five song EP CD shakes and rattles up an invigorating storm with its smack dead on the money serving of straight-up unpretentious meat and potatoes rock’n’roll. The dynamic vocals belt out the lyrics with utmost brio while the rippin’ guitars, diggin’ drums, and churnin’ basslines spit out a fabulously raw rough’n’ready sound that goes right for the jugular. Great kick up the dirt gritty stuff.

ECLECTRIC MAYHEM (www.eclecticmayhemmusic.com)

Adroitly combining pure go-for-it aggressive hard rock punch with the intricate melodicism of pop, this Cleveland, Ohio quartet knock listeners flat on their keisters with their spot-on proficient playing and one-two-pow sonic dexterity. The passionate and expressive vocals soar and roar with considerable aplomb while the cutting guitars, smooth basslines, and sturdy drums lay down a strong-as-marble aural foundation. The heady furious buzz of “Again” gets things off to a rousing start, the more low-key “Want It All and ” “Let You Down” nicely mine a touching line in thoughtful introspection, the sweetly harmonic “For the Birds” chugs along at a pleasingly relaxed rate, “Fun with Gun” snarls and sneers it up to the supremely crunchy’n’punchy max, “Better Off Dead” likewise rocks it out somethin’ stirring, and energetic “Lost” concludes everything on a perfectly snappy and exciting note. A real fine and impressive album.


STEPHEN KALINICH & JON TIVEN – Shortcuts To Infinity/Symtomology (www.foothillrecords.com)

Musicians Stephen Kalinich and Jon Tiven collaborate on two albums for this double CD release. Symtomology cuts loose with loads of great’n’gritty bluesy rock, complete with boozy’n’woozy vocals, tasty harmonica, crunchy guitars, grungy basslines, hysterically raunchy humor, and trudging drum beats. The whole thing gives off the sensationally sloppy vibe of having been recorded over the course of a wild weekend bender of heavy duty partying and carousing. However, the lyrics are often extremely sharp and biting (“Hard to be a Millionaire” in particular is a hilariously wicked hoot while terrific “Weed” boasts the following immortal verse: “If at first you don’t succeed/ Try a little weed”), so it’s not all just mindless noise. Shortcuts To Infinity keeps the fine bluesy rock on tap, but adds a more mature thoughtful and reflective sensibility along with a stronger grasp of tuneful musical construction and more proficient playing (the marvelously protracted “Out of the Darkness” tears into a delicious slow-drag bumpin’ groove for a little over seven minutes). A top-rate double dose of straight-up scrumptious rock’n’roll.


THE JELLY PROJECT – Ugly Dirty (www.rockthejellyproject.com)

Kickin’, screamin’, and hollerin’ up a wonderfully raw’n’raucous storm, the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based bluesy rock group the Jelly Project joyfully eschew needless bullshit filler and flashy razzle-dazzle show-off pyrotechnics on their terrifically primal and stripped-down debut album. Lead singer Angelica “Jelly” Thomas’ fierce throaty voice roars over a seething sonic blend of churning basslines, rippin’ hacksaw guitars, and relentless steamrolling drums. The snappy slithery tempos and massive pounding beats keep things blazing along at a constant furious pace. Better still, the sharp lyrics offer a lot of biting social commentary amid all the ferocious caterwauling noise, thereby ensuring that this album works exceptionally well on both a visceral and intellectual level. A very tasty serving of straight-up no-nonsense rock’n’roll.

SEAN ROWE – The Salesman and the Shark (www.seanrowe.net)

Blessed with a marvelously deep, soulful, and commanding baritone voice, singer/songwriter Sean Rowe brings an authentically weary and rundown, yet sturdy and durable lived-in quality to his stripped-down simple country folk music that’s moving and compelling in equal measure. Rowe’s astutely observed story songs vividly capture a brooding melancholy vibe with bracing clarity and an admirable dearth of maudlin sentiment. Moreover, the spare and atmospheric arrangements do the tuneful trick sans any unnecessary flashy razzle-dazzle filler. Moseying along at a deliberate pace, with the slow tempos and relaxed beats both taking their own sweet time, this strong and affecting sophomore album sticks in the listener’s memory long after the CD has finished playing.


WHITE VIOLET – Hiding, Mingling (www.whiteviolet.net)

Close the windows. Turn down the lights. Get real comfy in an easy chair and pour yourself a glass of your favorite tasty beverage. ‘Cause it’s time to kick back and chill to this supremely gentle, soothing, and harmonic Americana pop-rock music. Lead singer Nate Nelson’s quivery tenor casts a calm and captivating dreamy spell as he softly sings the concise and thoughtful lyrics. The beautifully dulcet and delicate arrangements keep things properly tender and tuneful throughout with a steady succession of gradual tempos and subdued beats. But it’s this Athens, Georgia band’s weary and battered, yet still resilient and optimistic sensibility that in turn makes this album so special, touching, and endearing. A lovely and haunting little jewel.



MELISSA ANTHONY – Live at the Saint (www.reverbnation.com/melissaanthony)

Offering up five songs worth of lovely, soothing, and delicately melodic folk-pop, this album immediately wins the listener over on the basis of its glowing warmth and stripped-down sonic intimacy. Sporting a sweet’n’sultry voice, a fine way of playing a gently harmonic guitar, and an engagingly straightforward songwriting style, singer/songwriter Melissa Anthony cuts an impressive and captivating figure throughout. Best of all, there’s a real gracefulness and fragile dulcet quality to the enchanting music featured herein that’s a truly luminous joy to hear. An utterly charming and wonderful little jewel.

REALITY SUITE – Avoiding the Red Lights (www.realitysuite.com)

Ringing through loud and clear with a pleasingly punchy and melodic brand of highly kickin’ pop-rock, this quartet from North Haledon, New Jersey serve up six songs worth of immensely exciting and energetic pure sonic pow. The robust and passionate vocals belt out the concise lyrics with topmost urgency. The snappy guitars, steady pushin’ basslines, and firm diggin’ drums keep the speedy tempos and meaty beats hoppin’ along at a constant dynamic clip. Moreover, such songs as the divinely chillin’ “Sinking In” and the supremely hip’n’happening “For Those That You Love” tear into a hard-crunching rough’n’tumble groove with commendable flair and skill. Damn tasty stuff.


THE MOMMYHEADS – Vulnerable Boy (www.mommyheads.com)

Representing pop-rock at its most pretty, charming, and thoughtful, this album possesses a sweetly delicate appeal that’s both affecting and endearing in equal measure. The soft vocals project a lovely sense of wide-open sincere emotion. The extremely dense, complex, and tuneful arrangements are quite tasty indeed, with tinkling pianos, percolating keyboards, cutting guitars, sturdy basslines, and urgent forward-ho drums delivering a steady succession of snappy tempos and constant shuffling beats. The songs neatly alternate between low-key reflective numbers and more all-out exciting full-bore rockers. Best of all, the songs are frequently stretched out long and winding, with all kinds of surprising peaks and valleys done with an utmost skillful and consummate musicianship that’s truly something to hear. A simply terrific album.


THE DROWNING MEN – All of the Unknown (www.thedrowningmen.com)

You all know the drill. I just had a very grim, grueling, and thankless day at my crappy job. So after work I decided to get a much-needed load off by giving this particular album a spin in my CD player. Right from the first infectiously chipper and dynamic note I knew I was in for a real treat. The lively vocals soar over an energetic, engaging, and invigorating sonic onslaught of ringing guitars, smooth basslines, and steady drums. The tuneful arrangements keep things humming in a pleasingly crisp and straightforward manner. Better still, the bracing clarity of the smart and reflective songwriting gives this sweet rootsy indie folk-rock music an additional appealing warmth and immediacy that’s impossible to either resist or dislike. By the time I got to the end of this album, I totally forgot about the lousy day I had at work. Accolades don’t come much better than that.

DELICATE CUTTERS – Ring (www.skybucket.com)

Artfully blending elements of indie folk, pop, and rock into a beautifully brooding and atmospheric mix, the strong melancholy vibe conveyed on this album pulls the listener in and makes one hell of a potent lasting impression. Despair and heartbreak positively drip from every last harmonic note, with lead singer Janet Elizabeth Simpson’s achingly tender and lovely vocals projecting a forlorn sensibility with bracing clarity and authority. The gorgeously tuneful arrangements further enhance the overall mournful attitude thanks to the weeping fiddles, soft, yet urgent drums, and sturdy guitar riffs. Moreover, the songwriting cuts right to the touching heart of the matter with a winning directness and a refreshing dearth of pretense. A really haunting and moving little jewel.


ECHO ORBITER – Aerosol Power (www.echoorbiter.com)

Offering up 12 tracks worth of gloriously raucous pop-rock racket, this Philadelphia group keep things buzzing and hopping with considerable kick up the dust gusto on their latest stripped-down-to-the-rickety-bare-essentials release. The robust vocals holler over a lively and exciting onslaught of grinding hacksaw guitars, diggin’ basslines, and sturdy hard-charging drums. The constant tempos and meaty driving beats ensure that the music remains thrilling and dynamic throughout, with a tough and energetic rough’n’ready sound that eschews needless razzle-dazzle in favor of a more winningly basic and straightforward approach to bangin’ out a tune. It’s this latter element of stark simplicity that in turn makes this platter such a raggedy-ass delight to hear.

ANNIE AND THE BEEKEEPERS – My Bonneville (www.annieandthebeekeepers.com)

Exquisitely delicate and melodic, with a lovely feeling of real warmth and a winningly gentle’n’tuneful folk Americana sound, one would have to be a total joyless sourpuss to resist or dislike the sweetly captivating spell that this album casts on the listener. Annie Lynch’s gorgeously lilting voice and the astutely observed details in her precise songwriting make for a strong and impressive double whammy. The sparse arrangements likewise hit the calmly harmonic spot, with plenty of especially nice and carefully strummed guitar picking as well as supremely understated use of horns. Best of all, this album manages to be quite charming and pleasant without getting to cute or sappy about it, with the catchy titular song in particular rating as a definite delightful highlight. A total treat.


POOR LUTHER’S BONES – Jukes & Junk (www.myspace.com/poorluthersbones)

Pouring on the lowdown gritty bluesy moaning rock something fierce, the heady’n’heavy buzz and handy helping of poignant regret to be savored on this album are both truly something to hear. The raspy vocals project a strong and affecting sense of bone-weary resignation. The scrappy arrangements are nicely filled out by raggedy chopping guitars, churning basslines, and steady, but laid-back drums. The gradual tempos and kicked-back beats keep the rough-around-the-edges music bumping along at a pleasingly relaxed clip. But it’s the strongly felt mood of deep-seated discontent and melancholy along with an underlying delicate hope bubbling just underneath the brittle surface despair which in turn makes this album so touching and compelling.

DW DUNPHY – Reliquary (www.myspace.com/dwdunphy)

A fine compilation of fifteen of Do-It-Yourself New Jersey-born singer/songwriter Dw. Dunphy’s strongest and most impressive songs, there’s a quiet and understated power to this exquisitely lo-fi music that pulls the listener in a supremely subtle, yet still potent and captivating way. Dunphy’s dry voice projects a certain weary appeal while his sharp songwriting offers a wealth of precisely observed details and an utterly disarming matter-of-fact attitude on life’s countless ups and downs. The spare, but melodic arrangements likewise do the appealingly basic trick, with especially lovely use of gently strummed acoustic guitars and delicately humming synthesizers. Moreover, there’s an exceptionally wrenching poignancy evident throughout that reaches its heart-breaking zenith with the deeply touching “Cannot Hear You.” A beautifully fragile and moving collection.

 


 

ANTHONY D’AMATO – Paper Back Bones (www.anthonydamatomusic.com)

The perfect album to listen to on a lazy’n’hazy Sunday afternoon, singer/songwriter Anthony D’Amato artfully blends twangy country and harmonic folk into a lovely, touching, and altogether savory mix. D’Amato’s warm and reassuring vocals cast a pleasant and soothing spell while his songwriting impresses with its eloquently plain-spoken simplicity and straightforwardness. The gradual tempos and subdued beats give the gently tuneful music an utterly winsome kicked-back charm. Kudos are also in order for the crisp, tight, and uncluttered arrangements. A sweetly affecting and endearing little jewel.


DAVEY AND THE TRAINWRECK – Last Stop Hoboken (reverbnation.com/daveyandthetrainwreck)

Moseying along at a pleasingly woozy, yet melodic and captivating kicked-back clip, this album offers seven tracks worth of nicely cookin’ and simmering blues-rock bliss. Dave Calamoneri’s smooth vocals project a certain easygoing charm while the arrangements are neatly filled out by percolating basslines, funky burnin’ guitar riffs, soulful harmonica, rippin’ organs, and steady bumpin’ drums. The alternately slow slithering or more quick barnstorming tempos and subdued, yet constant beats keep things loose, groovy, and get-down happening throughout. This is the kind of right-on bitchin’ music that’s best listened to while wearing shades and leaning back in a leather recliner while drinking a long tall cool one. Dig it, baby.


THE TEMPER TRAP (www.thetempertrap.com)

Exploding with a positively infectious blast of sheer bouncy vitality and captivating harmony, this Australian pop-rock group come through with thrilling flying colors on their energetic sophomore album. Artfully blending soaring choirboy vocals with lively arrangements and sparkling melodies, this band produces a sound that’s exciting and arresting in equal doses. The dynamic “Need Your Love” gets things off to a cracking start, “London’s Burning” simmers with a seething sense of outrage, the neatly syncopated “Never Again” gets down with a spot-on pulsating groove, and “Leaving Heartbreak Hotel” concludes things on a beautifully graceful note. A very solid and satisfying album.


THE GRIP WEEDS – Speed of Live: In Concert In New Jersey (www.gripweeds.com)

The retro 60’s psychedelic rock outfit from New Jersey totally hit it out of the ballpark with this incredibly dynamic and exciting live album that was recorded all over the Garden State at various different venues. The passionate and energetic vocals soar and roar over a fierce nonstop array of burning basslines, blazing riffin’ guitars, and relentless steamrolling drums that rarely let up on the speedy forward-ho tempos and constant hard-rolling beats. The band tear through a slew of their own songs with a sense of joy, fury, and sheer go-for-the-throat bone-rattling brio that’s a galvanizing blast to hear. Better still, they also shred it up somethin’ ferocious on inspired covers of “(So You Want to Be ) a Rock’n’Roll Star” by The Byrds and “Shakin’ All Over” by The Guess Who. Insanely awesome stuff.


PAT GUADAGNO – New Jersey Material (www.PatGuadagno.com)

Sporting an appealingly raspy voice, a clean and straightforward style of dynamic guitar playing, and a wonderful knack for bringing a simple song to exceptionally exciting and energetic life, singer, guitarist, and troubadour Pat Guadagno covers fourteen uniformly excellent songs with a laid-back skill and engaging ease that’s a total tuneful treat to behold. Better still, there’s a tremendous sense of warmth, harmony, and a marvelously wholehearted passion for music permeating every last lovely glowing note. Guadagno wisely keeps the arrangements spare, tight, and uncluttered, with no flashy show-off pyrotechnics and a laudable noted emphasis on both the plain-spoken poetry of the lyrics and the basic sweet sound of the pretty melodies. A lovely album.


KAIA – Two Adult Women in Love (Jealous Butcher)

Blessed with a beautifully husky voice, a firm grasp of delicately pretty melodies, and a refreshingly frank, honest, restless, and emotionally open persona, out-of-the-closet lesbian singer/songwriter Kaia Wilson’s latest album deserves praise for its remarkable bravery and fierce integrity alone. Wilson’s smartly reflective songwriting addresses the bittersweet reality of being a gay woman with a put-it-all-out-there forthrightness that’s affecting and endearing in equal measure. Moreover, the spare, yet tuneful arrangements carefully craft a gently harmonic country-flavored sound that casts a soothing and compelling spell. A lovely and inspiring album.


JENEE HALSTEAD – Raised by Wolves (www.jeneehalstead.com)

Supremely mellow and melodic, singer/songwriter Jenee Halstead’s third album makes a strong and lasting impression on the basis of its beautifully low-key and reflective sensibility alone. Halstead’s exquisitely crystalline voice pierces through the delicately harmonic music with bracing clarity and an achingly sumptuous honeydew sweetness. The tuneful arrangements keep things tight and simple, with deftly spare use of such basic instruments as the banjo, a ukulele, synth bass, and an acoustic guitar producing a warm folksy sound that’s intimate and ethereal in equal measure. Best of all, Halstead’s songwriting smartly mines a nicely touching line in laidback introspection. A lovely album.

THE BRIXTON RIOT – Palace Amusements (www.thebrixtonriot.com)

Hey, you! Yeah, you. Ya wanna hear some mighty fine hard-stompin’ straight-up meat and potatoes rock’n’roll that just gets right down to stirring crunchy’n’punchy brass tacks with considerable brio and zero high-falutin’ pretense? Of course ya do. Well, this particular album totally fits that tasty bill somethin’ sweet: We’ve got passionate smooth-voiced vocals that soar into the melodic sonic stratosphere with tremendous aplomb, killer riffin’ guitars that happily hack away throughout, firm and unyielding basslines, rousing jumpin’ drums, constant snappy tempos, and constantly pushin’ ahead forward-ho meaty beats that never let up for a minute. Naturally, the crisply proficient playing and nicely concise songwriting definitely don’t hurt matters any. But it’s the invigorating sense of sheer go-for-it vitality and the band’s consummate musicianship that makes this honey such an absolute pleasure to hear. If your butt doesn’t shake while listening to this fun and energetic music, then you better go to the doctor ‘cause you’re missing your ass.

THE STATIC SEA – Third Parties (http://thestaticsea.com)

Offering up 12 catchy tracks worth of extremely bubbly, upbeat, and invigorating indie pop-rock, this delightfully buoyant album makes for a very enjoyable listen. The robust vocals soar over a lively sonic bed of snappy guitar riffs, smooth buzzing basslines, and constant jumpin’ drums. Better still, this New Jersey group keep things simple and straightforward throughout, with a neat noted emphasis on steady driving beats, swift tempos, and tight uncluttered arrangements that get right to the energetic meat of the matter with a refreshing dearth of flash and fuss. The music itself has a fluid and coolly undulating rhythmic momentum to it that’s extremely tasty and captivating. The overall chipper and pleasant mood that pervades throughout serves as the yummy icing on an already delicious cake. Damn impressive stuff.

THE PORCHISTAS – The Baby Album (www.theporchistas.com)

Hopping and bopping up a frothy sonic storm with an irresistibly rough-around-the-edges go-for-it buzz, this pleasingly scruffy rock’n’roll album has a real scraggly kick to it that’s both engaging and enjoyable in equal measure. The raw and merry vocals shout out the simple lyrics with considerable aplomb. The scrappy, yet tuneful arrangements keep things loose, ragged, and charming, with churning basslines, tattered cutting guitar riffs, woozy blurting horns, and relentless drums delivering a steady succession of crunching beats and laid-back, but steady tempos. Favorite song: The hilariously twisted and tasteless “Zombie Jesus.” Polished this rattling racket sure ain’t, but it’s got more than enough pure joy and scroungy vigor for it to qualify as a perfectly satisfying sliver of fun and unpretentious rock noise.

THE MODERN AIRLINE (themodernairline.com)

Clocking in at a right’n’tight 28 minutes, this remarkably catchy, groovy, and dynamic album from a five piece punk/New Wave band from Brooklyn, New York gets straight to the thrilling heart of the matter with topmost flair and finesse. The robust vocals mix well the snappy synth lines, manic riffin’ guitars, poppin’ basslines, and insanely kickin’ drums. Sheer infectious shoot-for-the-moon joy and vigor are the order of the day here. Both items are rendered with a delightfully cheery vitality that’s impossible to either dislike or resist. Favorite song: The amazingly witty and energetic butt-shaker “Vee Haf Vays (of Making You Rock).” A hugely enjoyable album.

JENNY OWEN YOUNGS – An Unwavering Band of Light (www.jennyowenyoungss.com)

Bursting with infectious energy, given an extra shot of uplifting vitality by the incredibly chirpy and robust vocals, with a strong knack for sharp and wickedly witty lyrics, catchy’n’snappy melodies, and tasty big’n’bouncy pop-rock hooks, New Jersey-born singer/songwriter Jenny Owen Youngs’ third studio album possesses so much sass and verve that one can’t help but smile and happily bop one’s head up and done while listening to it. Youngs’ spirited brash persona eschews sappy sentiment in favor of a more clear-eyed and sarcastic take on life and relationships that gains considerable strength from taking things on the chin with an unflappable attitude that’s both endearing and affecting in equal measure. While a majority of the songs rock out with tremendous rip-snorting gusto, there are still a few more subdued, thoughtful, and touching numbers sprinkled throughout. An absolute treat.


MICHAEL ANDREWS – Spilling a Rainbow (http://everloving.com)

Beautifully moody and melodic, suffused with an exquisitely pure feeling of hope and anticipation, composer/singer/multi-instrumentalist Michael Andrews comes through with a delicately well crafted album of achingly frail and tender harmonic pop. Andrews’ slight wispy voice and thoughtful songwriting make for a strong double whammy as he chronicles his excitement about becoming a father for the first time. Andrews manages to address the subject of fatherhood in an admirably positive and straightforward manner that fortunately avoids cliché and sentiment while noting both the highs and lows of being a parent. The gorgeously lush, ornate, and tuneful arrangements are likewise up to par. A lovely and touching little jewel.

KELLY HOGAN – I Like to Keep Myself in Pain (www.beekeepercorp.com)

Atlanta, Georgia native Kelly Hogan hits it out of the ballpark with this beautifully smooth, soulful, and soothing third album that deftly melds elements of pop, R&B, and country into one supremely tasty and tuneful sonic mix. No fooling about Kelly’s extraordinary voice: It’s warm, rich, and lovely, with a wonderfully delicate Southern lilt, the kind of sweetly appealing purr that sends the listener right to a more pleasant and relaxing soundscape that’s a complete joy to visit. The smart and thoughtful songwriting certainly doesn’t hurt matters any. Ditto the gently harmonic arrangements and consummate playing by a first-rate group of musicians. A total winner.

DELTA MOON – Black Cat Oil (www.deltamoon.com)

Shaking and rattling with a fabulously raw feeling of fierce urgency and equally burning intensity, this bluesy Atlanta, Georgia Southern-fried outfit dredges up 11 songs of terrifically ragged and slithery gut-bucket rootsy rock’n’roll. The raspy vocals possess a satisfyingly hoarse quality. The guitar riffs quiver with utmost snaky aplomb while the bass supplies a gritty undertow and the drums lay down a strong pounding beat. Better still, the concise songwriting gets right to the point in an admirably terse and unpretentious manner. This is the type of lowdown groovy music that vividly evokes images of a blood red moon hanging moodily in the sky over a dusty and desolate desert landscape. A damn fine album.

PARLOVR – Kook Soul (www.parlovr.com)

Representing indie pop-rock at its most infectiously frothy and catchy, this Montreal, Quebec trio really hit it out of the joyfully bouncy ballpark on their second album. The exuberant vocals project a robust happy vibe that’s impossible to either dislike or resist. The lively arrangements keep things hoppin’ along with a steady succession of dynamic head-boppin’ beats and constant speedy tempos. The smart songwriting neatly explores a perfectly touching line in bittersweet reflection. But it’s the overriding feeling of sheer bliss and boundless vitality which makes this album such an uplifting and exciting treat to hear.


STOLEN RHODES – Falling Off the Edge (www.stolenrhodes.com)

Rolling along the stirring sonic road with utmost verve and harmony, this lively rock album sweeps the listener along on one hell of a hugely rousing and enjoyable journey down the ol’ rock’n’roll highway. The raspy, yet expressive vocals hit the soulful spot. The tuneful arrangements likewise do the trick, with ringing guitars, sturdy drums, and smooth basslines keeping things chuggin’ along at a pleasingly constant clip. The songs nicely alternate between full-bore exciting barn burners and more laid-back and reflective numbers. Better still, these guys eschew needless flashy razzle-dazzle and just get right down to the straight-up butt-shaking basics with a winning lack of pretense. A really solid and satisfying album.

MIGHTY HIGH – Legalize Tre Bags!! (www.mightyhigh.net)

A gloriously loud blast of trashy’n’thrashy bluesy rock’n’roll noise that offers 11 songs about smokin’ weed and getting’ high, this album sure ain’t politically correct by any stretch of the imagination, which is exactly why is so goddamn funny and enjoyable to listen to. These Brooklyn-based bad boys really kick out the blistering jams with a steady succession of rippin’n’wailin’ guitars, churning basslines, and relentless steamrolling drums. Better still, there’s a hilariously brash and irreverent sense of blithely tasteless humor evident throughout, as confirmed by the gut-busting tunes “Tokin’ N Strokin’” (about the life and unfortunate untimely death of David Carradine) and “Drug Wars,” in which “Just Say No” Nancy Reagan gets a well-deserved sonic raspberry blown right in her officious face. The rapid-fire tempos and barnstorming beats never let up for a minute. Great grungy stuff.

XAVIER RUDD – Spirit Bird (www.xavierrudd.com)

Indie Australian multi-instrumentalist Xavier Rudd takes the listener straight to the lush, vibrant, and entrancing wilds of the outback on this album.: The yowling vocals, pulsating tribal beats, extraordinarily exciting didgeridoo playing, and snappy forward-ho tempos sweep one along in a madly thrilling swirl of harmonic folksy sound that possesses the rousing energy of a dingo stampede. Better yet, there are plentiful moments of finely affecting introspection amid all the aural whooping and hollering, plus the music is always melodic and captivating throughout. A terrific album.


FALLON CUSH – April (www.falloncush.com)

Fallon Cush continue to nicely mine a delicately harmonic line in gentle and soothing country-tinged pop-rock on their sturdy sophomore album. The group’s characteristic fragile warmth asserts itself once again with sumptuously tuneful and thoughtful results. Steve Smith’s reedy voice projects an engaging feeling of easygoing intimacy and introspective. Moreover, Smith’s smart and thoughtful songwriting grapples with life’s constant hardships and addresses the need for reconciliation as well as the basic desire to keep on plugging away no matter what with utterly winning resilience and straightforwardness. Kudos are also in order for the divinely melodic arrangements. The gradual tempos and laid-back beats trudge along at a pleasingly relaxed clip. A lovely and touching album.

MISS MAY I – At Heart (www.facebook.com/MissMayIMusic)

Oh fuck yeah! Strap yourself in, crank it up loud, and get ready to blow out your eardrums while listening to this fabulously thunderous slab of pure in-your-face punishing hard metal rock. The ferocious vocals howl and yowl over a savage sonic onslaught of rippin’ guitars, diggin’ basslines, and pile-driving drums. The relentless steamrolling beats and rapid-fire forward-ho tempos keep things tearin’ along at a brutally intense and constant rate. Moreover, one can discern amid all the shred ‘em up noise a genuine sense of complex melody and a firm grasp of real musicianship that are both impressive and exhilarating in equal measure. Hell, even the songwriting manages to evoke a potent feeling of raging anger and angst that comes across as sincere and authentic. Amazing stuff.


WATERSLIDE – Lincoln Signal (www.waterslidemusic.com)

Singer, songwriter, and producer Mark Doyon stakes out his own funny, inventive, and singular corner of the sonic universe in this marvelously offbeat and inspired album. Doyon’s smooth vocals and sharp’n’witty lyrics make for a potent double whammy. Musically, this album delivers a richly layered, melodic, and hypnotic sound that buzzs and hums with a startling sense of playfulness and imagination that’s truly something to hear. The crisp arrangements keep things tight and tuneful throughout while the songs take the listener on a captivating trip into an entertainingly idiosyncratic aural world where off-kilter humor, keen observations, and genuinely surprising creativity are the order of the day. A worthwhile foray into the eccentric indie-rock outer limits.


CALLAGHAN – Life in Full Colour (www.callaghansongs.com)

Blessed with a beautifully sweet and soothing voice, a strong knack for pretty and harmonic melodies, and a firm grasp of smart and thoughtful songwriting, UK-bred singer/songwriter Callaghan comes through with a terrifically radiant and engaging winner on her sunny and appealing country pop debut album. Covering life’s various ups and downs with a keen eye and an utterly charming down to earth positive attitude, Callaghan cuts through the nonsense and gets right to the heart of the matter with refreshing clarity and directness. The delicately tuneful arrangements qualify as another sterling attribute, with the gentle guitar riffs, subdued drums, and understated bass all creating a sound that’s fragile and enchanting in equal measure. Best of all, a lovely warmth and purity of spirit shines throughout. A wonderful album.

SUIT OF LIGHTS – Shine on Forever (www.suitoflights.com)

Singer/songwriter Joe Darone artfully blends harmonic indie pop and angular hard rock into a beautifully brooding, complex, and arresting sonic whole with his supremely moody third album. Exploring the many facets of human consciousness in a smart, incisive, and provocative manner, Danore takes the listener on an absorbing aural journey that chugs along at a gradual, yet still hypnotic clip. Danore’s soothing vocals and smart songwriting make for a potent double whammy while the shimmering arrangements keep things tuneful throughout. The calmly reflective sensibility provides an extra intelligent quality. Excellent stuff.

RED – Broken Earth (www.redsongs.com)

Two CDs of everything under the sun rock’n’roll music is a lot to listen to. Fortunately, the music contained on these two discs is strong enough to be worth all the time one has to invest in listening to it: Usually punchy and energetic, sometimes subdued and reflective, always melodic, and often thrilling, this stuff seriously cooks on primo unleaded gas like nobody’s freakin’ business. The robust vocals hit the right-on stirring spot while the gritty guitars, sturdy drums, and churning basslines supply a steady succession of fierce barnstorming beats and constant forward-ho charging tempos. Better still, there are a few more thoughtful, low-key, and harmonic songs sprinkled amongst the all-out rousing rockers. It’s this latter tasty element of variety and eclecticism which in turn makes this album such a deliciously rich and diverse treat to hear.

ADVANCE BASE – A Shut-In’s Prayer (www.caloverderecords.com)

Neatly bumpin’ along to a cool syncopated rhythm, this album delivers ten tasty tracks worth of nicely soothing and melodic meditative electronic pop-rock. The relaxed vocals and spare, tuneful, and unflashy arrangements both cast a pleasantly insouciant vibe. Moreover, the thoughtful songwriting nicely mines a winningly casual line in low-key introspection. The gradual tempos and subdued beats keep things percolating at a perfectly mellow manner. A good album to listen to when you want to kick back and take a load off.

THE MEMORIES (Underwater Peoples)

Representing straight-up no-bullshit rock’n’roll at its most short and snappy (most of the twelve songs contained herein are well under two minutes long), this group certainly gets right to the point with admirable clarity and concision. The vocals are fairly ragged, yet still sturdy and passionate. The arrangements keep things buzzing with a neat array of jagged guitar riffs, relentless drums, and smoothly percolating basslines. Moreover, there’s a truly touching wide-open sensitivity and vulnerability evident throughout. But it’s the fierce brevity and rattled intimacy of the cut to the bone music which in turn makes this album so weirdly endearing, affecting, and enjoyable.

SAM DENSMORE – Ku-Thar’-Tik (www.reverbnation.com/samdensmore)

Portland, Oregon singer/songwriter Sam Densmore adroitly mines a nicely affecting and incisive line in bittersweet reflectivity on his debut solo album. Low-key, subtle, and contemplative, Densmore casts a sharp and down-to-earth unsentimental eye on life’s steady stream of ups and downs while maintaining a firm grasp on delicately tuneful melodies and tight arrangements that keep things buzzing along with utmost harmonic finesse and a refreshing dearth of needless flashy razzle-dazzle. Densmore’s pleasant voice and smartly succinct songwriting make for a strong and impressive double whammy. Moreover, Densmore plays a mean acoustic guitar and never degenerates into mushy cliché at any point throughout the album. Best of all, by emphasizing a stripped-down no-frills blunt’n’basic sound Densmore is able to bring an immediacy and intimacy to the music which adds considerably to its overall power and poignancy. Wonderful stuff.

HAROULA ROSE – So Easy (www.haroularose.com)

Offering up five songs worth of sweetly harmonic folk-pop, singer/songwriter Haroula Rose’s second EP release casts a very warm and relaxing spell. Rose’s soft and pleasant voice puts the listener immediately at ease. The frothy melodies and bouncy arrangements likewise project an utterly engaging cheerful vibe. Rose’s upbeat attitude and thoughtful songwriting further add to this honey’s considerable sunny charm. Highlighted by the lovely titular track and concluding with a beautifully haunting spoken-word cover of Jimmy Webb’s great “Wichita Lineman,” this one’s a perfectly winsome winner all the way.

 

 

 

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