hopesandovalHope Sandoval, best known as the lead singer for the 90’s band Mazzy Star, returns with her second solo record, eight years after her first one. To say that it’s reminiscent of both that first album, Bavarian Fruit Bread, and her work with Mazzy Star is something of an understatement, but then this is a very good thing. Sandoval’s richly evocative, heavily atmospheric blend of folk, country, blues and rock is as striking, beautiful and mysterious sounding as it has ever sounded, so fans who have been patiently, or not so patiently, waiting for new material from Sandoval will be amply rewarded. (She also has gone on record as saying another Mazzy Star album is forthcoming, though she gave no indication of a possible release date.) Her voice, which is perhaps one of the most distinctive in modern rock, is alone worth the price of admission, though musically and lyrically, Through The Devil Softly finds her and her band to be in top form, even more so than on her first solo record. Hopefully it won’t take Sandoval the better part of another decade to record a third one. Standout cuts: “Blanchard,” “For The Rest Of Your Life,” “Trouble” and “Satellite.”

http://www.myspace.com/hopesandoval

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theettesThe new album from Nashville based rock trio the Ettes, Do You Want Power, is somewhat gritty and a bit more poppy than their 2006 debut, which may or may not be a disappointment to their longtime fans, but they haven’t lost their knack for writing catchy tunes. The music here retains the blues, garage and punk rock mix that made that first album so memorable, and while they’ve retained their edges, they’ve also polished those edges up quite a lot this time out, adding some psychedelic and power pop touches here and there. They’ve even thrown in a couple of country inspired ballads, “Love Lies Bleeding” and “While Your Girl’s Away.” Do You Want Power is certainly their best sounding album, their most wide-ranging, and generally their most accomplished and fun set of music yet. Standout cuts: “I Can’t Be True,” “Modern Game,” “Seasons” and “No Home.”

http://www.myspace.com/theettes

samanthacrainStellar debut for Oklahoma based Samantha Crain and her band, the Midnight Shivers: Songs In The Night is charming, infectious and wonderfully confident, and features 11 songs that whiz by all too fast, all firmly in an Americana mode, with just the right mix of folk, blues and country. Crain’s vocals are reminiscent of Jolie Holland, but stylistically, her spirited music has more in common with Mary Lou Lord and Richard Thompson. Her band is first rate, and they are reportedly pretty great live (and currently on tour as of this writing). This is one of the albums I’ve played a lot so far this year, and it always puts a smile on my face. Songs In The Night should elevate Crain and her band into the top ranks of Americana and folk bands. Standout cuts: “Rising Sun,” “Songs In The Night,” “Get The Fever Out” and “Bullfight (Change Your Mind).”

http://www.myspace.com/samanthacrain

Gomez – A New Tide

April 1, 2009

anewtideIf there could be a perfect embodiment of what Gomez fans like about their music, it may well be their latest album, A New Tide, their sixth album since their 1998 debut. Their often brilliant and influential fusion of blues, psychedelia, explosive roots rock and electronica along with what would come to be known as freak folk is showcased fully here, rather like a greatest hits album, albeit with all new material. The eleven tracks are an ideal mix of off-kilter beauty and rough edges, the epic and the intimate, with some tracks containing all those elements at once. The material on A New Tide isn’t quite familiar enough to qualify as “Gomez product,” but it does work as a pleasing summation of a decade-plus long career, like a gift to long time fans, and an excellent case for new ones. Standout cuts: “Mix,” “Little Pieces,” “Win Park Slope” and “Airstream Driver.”

http://www.myspace.com/gomez

justintownesearleSuperb sophomore album from Nashville based singer/songwriter Justin Townes Earle: Midnight At The Movies has a definite traditionalist sound about it, but it’s by no means a nostalgic trip. The twelve tracks hark back to pre-1960’s country and folk in particular, though his background as a member of a bluegrass/ragtime band shows through on a couple of songs, too (particularly on tracks like “Black Eyed Suzy” and “Walk Out”). Townes has a nice way of marrying the traditionalist elements of his music with a very contemporary lyrical sensibility so that the songs on Midnight At The Movies have a compelling and utterly pleasing immediacy and vitality. His excellent cover of the Replacements song, “Can’t Hardly Wait,” is a great example of melding the traditionalist with the contemporary. And though he’s just in his mid-twenties, most listeners are likely to think they’re listening to an old hand. If you’re a country or American roots music fan, or just a fan of plain good music, then you should definitely check out Justin Townes Earle. Standout cuts: “Midnight At The Movies,” “Mama’s Eyes,” “Can’t Hardly Wait” and “Halfway To Jackson.”

http://www.justintownesearle.com/

M. Ward – Hold Time

February 19, 2009

mwardWhen I first heard M. Ward’s take on blues and folk music at the beginning of the decade, I was struck by its often otherworldly quality, music that one might’ve been pulled down during a séance. It was haunting, lyrical and a bit eerie at times. Eight years later, Ward’s music still has those qualities from time to time, though he’s mostly left any lo-fi feel it once had behind him awhile back, which isn’t a bad thing. It is worth remarking on, however, as Hold Time is his most elaborately produced album yet, with copious strings and some synths layered over the usual electric and acoustic guitars. The title track even pushes the latter two into the background, to nice effect. The tone is generally pretty weighty, with a number of the tracks directly addressing spiritual and existential issues, i.e. “Fisher Of Men” and “Epistemology.” There are some fun tracks, too, notably “Never Had Nobody Like You” with its glam rock beat, and a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On,” both tracks duets with She & Him collaborator Zooey Deschanel. And then there’s the insanely catchy “To Save Me,” done with Jason Lyle. (The fourth duet is the less successful cover of “Oh Lonesome Me” with Lucinda Williams.) All in all, this is a pretty solid release for Ward, both a reiteration of past musical themes and a progression forward, which I imagine longtime fans will have no problem embracing. Standout cuts: “Never Had Nobody Like You,” “Hold Time,” “To Save Me” and “Stars Of Leo.”

http://www.myspace.com/mward

Dan Auerbach – Keep It Hid

February 11, 2009

danauerbachDan Auerbach, better known as lead singer and guitarist for blues rock band the Black Keys, makes his solo debut with Keep It Hid. Thirteen out of fourteen tracks are Auerbach originals, with most of the instruments played by the artist himself in his newly constructed home studio in Akron, Ohio. Genre-wise, the music on Keep It Hid hews pretty close to what the Black Keys specialize in, that is, blues and blues rock, but Auerbach layers on some country, folk, psychedelia, funk and soul influences as well, to often stunningly good effect. The album also shows off Auerbach’s considerable skills as a multi-instrumentalist as the music here is more expansive and layered than one would find on a typical Black Keys album, which is usually just Auerbach on guitar and vocals with bandmate Patrick Carney on drums. Though much of the album is dark and gritty, there are some moments of real beauty, “When The Night Comes” and the album closer “Goin’ Home” being prime examples. That Keep It Hid will be essential listening for Black Keys fans is a bit of a no brainer, but Auerbach stakes out enough new musical territory on his own for Keep It Hid to be an essential listen on its own merits. And did I mention it frickin’ rocks? Because it does. Just check out “My Last Mistake” and I think you’d be sold on the rest of the record. Standout cuts: “Trouble Weighs A Ton,” “I Want Some More,” “When The Night Comes” and “My Last Mistake.”

MP3s: “I Want Some More” and “The Prowl”

http://www.myspace.com/danauerbachmusic

isobelcampbellThe second collaboration between Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan is a surprisingly bluesy fusion of rock, country, folk and orchestral pop, done with a lot of style and with impeccable taste. As with their first collaboration, Campbell wrote most of the songs included here with Lanegan in mind for lead vocals. (She takes the lead on “Shotgun Blues” and “Hang On.”) She occasionally provides background vocals, her delicate, angelic voice creating an interesting and sometimes inspired juxtaposition with Lanegan’s gravelly vocals. Disappointingly, there are only two real duets, the decidedly sexy album highlight “Come On Over (Turn Me On)” and “Rambling Rose, Clinging Vine.” The former track is so good that one wishes the album had a bit more fire, and meandered a bit less (“Back Burner,” case in point). As it stands, however, Sunday At Devil Dirt is a solid, satisfying effort. Standout cuts: “Seafaring Song,”
“Come On Over (Turn Me On),” “Shotgun Blues” and “Rambling Rose, Clinging Vine.”

http://www.myspace.com/isobelcampbell

Ryan Adams – Cardinology

November 4, 2008

ryanadamsSinger/songwriter Ryan Adams’s latest album with his band the Cardinals is a true mixed bag, with strong material alternating with weaker material almost every other song. The weaker material isn’t exactly bad, just sort of uninspired, and sometimes afflicted by curiously prosaic lyrics, as on “Sink Ships”: “This position is not open now for applicants” sounds like something that Adams probably intended to have more meaning than it actually does. And “Magick” is an otherwise good rocker almost ruined by the lazy sounding chorus: “So turn the radio up loud and get down / Let your body move / Let your body sway / Listen to the music play…” Musically, Cardinology is Adams’s usual mix of rock, country, blues, folk and Americana, and when it’s good, as on “Born Into A Light,” “Fix It,” “Cobwebs” and the album closer “Stop,” it’s very good. Those songs are the reason to stick with the album, even when it seems rather bland. All in all, a good, but not great Ryan Adams record.

http://www.myspace.com/ryanadams

Despite beginning with the current single, “Real Love,”Little Honey, the latest album from Lucinda Williams, didn’t do much for me until track four, “Little Rock Star,” a barbed commentary on problematic rock stars. It’s followed in short order by one of the best rockers she’s written, “Honey Bee,” and from that point on, it felt like a real Williams record, romantic but tough minded, though considerably more optimistic and upbeat in tone this time out. It’s more of a rock and blues record than it is an alt-country and folk record, and she mixes in a bit of soul for good measure. The gospel tinged AC/DC cover that concludes the album, “It’s A Long Way To The Top,” is a good summation of what she’s up on Little Honey, and even if it’s not necessarily one of the best tracks, it’s clear she’s having a good time, as she does on the profanely funny duet she does with Elvis Costello, “Jailhouse Tears.” It’s definitely got its highs and lows, but this is a pretty solid album from Williams, maybe not her best album ever, but a lot of fun in general. Standout cuts: “Little Rock Star,” “Honey Bee,” “Well Well Well” and “Jailhouse Tears.”

http://www.myspace.com/lucindawilliams