Johansing's 'Grand Ghosts' may be a little too soothing
Kacey Johansing (self-released)
There is something undeniably soothing about the acoustic pop of Bay Area singer/songwriter Kacey Johansing, who in addition to a burgeoning solo career has played in bands like Geographer, Honeycomb and, more recently, Yesway. The 10-track sophomore full-length “Grand Ghosts” has several lovely moments, but the subdued nature of the songs grows a little tiresome over the course of 40 minutes. Keepers like “River,” the title track, “Disappearing Act,” “Honey” and “Light in the Dark” merit some attention, but absorbing this album in smaller doses might be the more advisable way to go.
Wayne Hancock (Bloodshot)
Over the course of his lengthy career, Wayne “The Train” Hancock has spearheaded a revival of classic honky-tonk and rockabilly sounds, and carved out a place on the alternative country scene. In addition to relentless touring (including regular stops in Pittsburgh, where he headlined at Thunderbird Cafe a couple weeks back), the 47-year-old Hancock can be counted on to deliver a fantastic album every few years. The old-school “Ride” is the latest triumph for Hancock, a 12-track gathering of honky-tonk blues that likely has Hank Williams smiling down on him from the great juke joint in the sky. There isn't a misstep to be found and Hancock shines brightest on the title track, “Lay Down Blues,” “Get the Blues Down Low,” “Deal Gone Down,” “Home With My Baby” and “Cappuccino Boogie.” Enjoy, y'all.
‘New York Sun'
Young Boys (Holloweyed)
Garage punk newcomers Young Boys bring lots of attitude (and even more feedback) to the party on debut album “New York Sun.” Having shared the stage with the likes of Sleigh Bells, Crocodiles and Dengue Fever, the Brooklyn-based outfit seems poised for success. The album is dirty and raw in the best possible way, and Young Boys show flashes of greatness on “Fell From Grace,” “It's Alright,” first single “Love Hits” and a set-closing title track that drones on for almost 12 minutes.
‘Stoker: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack'
Clint Mansell (Milan)
Renowned composer Clint Mansell was tabbed to create the score for the new thriller “Stoker” from director Park Chan-wook, and the talented Brit has done his job well. In addition to his haunting instrumental compositions, Mansell enlists indie folk songstress Emily Wells for original tune “Becomes the Color” and “If I Ever Had a Heart.” There are snippets of movie dialogue featuring stars Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman sprinkled throughout the 18-track collection, as well as a composition by Philip Glass (“Duet”) and a song by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood (“Summer Wine”).
‘Life Without Jazz'
Idiot Glee (self-released)
Kentucky native James Friley records under the Idiot Glee moniker, but there's nothing especially happy about new EP “Life Without Jazz,” his solid follow-up to 2011's “Paddywhack” debut. That's not to say these five indie pop songs aren't good, because they (mostly) are. But Friley's music is more about mood and atmosphere (much of it somber) than the band name might lead you to believe. After a ho-hum start to the proceedings with “Vibrato,” Idiot Glee find their footing on “Pinkwood,” the title track and “Little Berlin.” Remaining tune “Pipes” is OK, but not one you'll remember. All in all, a pretty good way to spend 20 minutes.
Grave Babies (Hardly Art)
When “Crusher,” the sophomore full-length from Grave Babies came across my desk, I thought that it was a record best reviewed by my pal Brian Krasman. After all, the band's logo looks straight out of the black metal handbook and the cover art features a bloody pig head skewered on a stake. Despite these indicators, however, Grave Babies aren't the kind of dark metal outfit that Krasman knows so well. Rather, they more closely resemble the gloomy, post-punk of bands like Bauhaus and Joy Division. “Crusher” is a melancholy 16-track, 33-minute gathering of tunes that in no way aim to make you feel good. While this type of music can be a tough sell to some listeners, songs like “Over and Under Ground,” “Slaughter,” “Pain Cycle,” “No Fear” and “Death March” deserve to be heard.
‘On the Lam'
Lions in the Street (Beverly Martel)
Canadian rockers Lions in the Street have paid their dues. The band formed in 2000 as the Years and spent the next several years honing their craft and trying to land a record deal. A name change spearheaded a new era and a self-titled debut as Lions in the Street, released in 2010, helped generate some buzz. The guys are back with “On the Lam,” a driving EP comprised of five uniformly strong tunes. “All For Your Love” sets the tone and the Lions roar on Southern rock-tinged personal favorite “Tighten the Reins,” “Movin' Along” and “So Far Away.” Looks like their persistence is finally paying off.
‘Go Find Your Own'
Pony Time (Per Se)
Seattle-based garage-punk newcomers Pony Time make an effective (and loud) debut with first proper full-length “Go Find Your Own.” The tandem of Luke Beetham (guitar/bass/vocals) and Stacy Peck (drums) has crafted together a rough-around-the-edges collection of 12 tunes that speed by in just 27 minutes. There's no wasted effort here, and Pony Time deliver the goods on “What If You Caught Me,” “Hex on You,” “Kathleen Hanna,” “Lesbian Mayor” and “First Thing in the Morning, You and Me (Hard and Heavy).” Good stuff.
Connor Christian & Southern Gothic (Vintage Earth/Rocket Science)
More than four years after it dropped, Connor Christian & Southern Gothic's “90 Proof Lullabies” remains one of my favorite albums. So you can imagine how excited I was to learn that Christian had put the finishing touches on “New Hometown.” Even with raised expectations, Christian & Southern Gothic had no trouble reaching — and exceeding — them with this phenomenal 18-track release. Southern rock in the tradition of bands like Drive-By Truckers and Cross Canadian Ragweed, Christian and his mates have a twangy gem on their hands. You'll be hard-pressed to find a misstep on the platter — even a shockingly faithful, nine-minute cover of Guns N' Roses' “November Rain” somehow works — with the fellas especially awesome on “Sheets Down,” “That Ol' Jukebox,” “Hang My Head,” “The Light,” “(She's) My Salvation,” the title track and “Hotel Bar.” I have a feeling this one will remain in heavy rotation on my iPod for a long time to come.
‘Green Light Go'
The Redwood Plan (self-released)
The 11 songs of “Green Light Go,” the fantastic sophomore album from Seattle dance punks the Redwood Plan, are insanely infectious. Dynamic frontwoman Lesli Wood steals the show throughout, with her high-energy — yet melodic — vocals accompanied by punk guitars and catchy electronic beats. I defy you to keep your toes from tapping during the stellar one-two opening punch of “Panic On” and “Slam.” The good songs keep coming with “Rattle,” “Your Fair Share,” “The One” and “It Goes Something Like This.” You'll likely be spent after the 38-minute album stops spinning, but you also will have the urge to listen to it all over again.
The Nadas (self-released)
When last I heard from heartland rockers the Nadas, the Iowa quartet were releasing “Almanac,” the good-but-not-great 2010 album that was the culmination of the band releasing a single song a month in 2009. Give the Nadas credit for taking a novel approach, but the end product was hit-and-miss. The veteran band is much more effective on latest effort “Lovejoy Revival,” a dynamic 11-track release that showcases the band's songwriting and musicianship. The best track of the bunch is “Someone You've Never Known” (followed closely by “Star Crossed,” “Love You to Pieces” and “Hard Rain”), as the Nadas make plenty of good music for Middle America. The only real hiccup is “New Place to Hide” (and, to a lesser extent, the Rolling Stones cover “Beast of Burden”), but “Lovejoy Revival” is a winner nevertheless.
‘Fork in the Road'
Detroit Rebellion (self-released)
With the Black Keys scoring big at the Grammys last month, it became clear that there's a huge market for blues-tinged rock ‘n' roll. Hailing from a couple hundred miles northwest of the Keys' Akron, Ohio, hometown, Motor City duo Detroit Rebellion serve up a raunchy sophomore EP in “Fork in the Road.” Not as polished as their more famous counterparts, Detroit Rebellion get their hands dirty on this four-song gem. Among the keepers are the set-opening title track, “The Fire, Devil & Desire” and “Nothing to Lose.” I'm eager to hear more from guitarist/vocalist Jeff Toste and drummer Michael Lamantia Jr.
Cheatahs (Wichita Recordings)
Initially a solo project for Canadian guitarist Nathan Hewitt, Cheatahs have evolved into a full-fledged band and “Extended Plays” marks their full-length debut. Comprised of the group's “Coared” and “SANS” EPs, these eight tracks dabble in everything from noise-pop and shoegaze to punk and indie rock. There are some terrific moments to be found — most notably “The Swan,” “SANS,” “Coared” and “Ripper” — but “Extended Plays” feels a little too disjointed to be an essential release. Hewitt and his mates have laid a solid foundation and I'm guessing there might be a fantastic album in them yet.
‘Regions of Light & Sounds of God'
Jim James (ATO)
It's fair to say that I'm a big fan of Jim James. Whether fronting the stellar outfit My Morning Jacket, contributing to all-star collective Monsters of Folk or making solo records as Yim Yames, I pretty much enjoy everything he does. That's why my hopes were so high for “Regions of Light and Sound of God,” James' first full-length under his own name. Even as a professed fan, however, it took a few spins for me to warm to this dreamy collection of nine spiritually-themed tunes. It's a relentlessly mellow album that takes some getting used to, but patient listeners should find plenty to love in “Know Til Now,” “A New Life,” “Of the Mother Again,” “All Is Forgiven” and “God's Love to Deliver.” It's a deeply personal project for James, who wrote all the songs, played all the instruments and recorded all the vocals for “Regions.” It's not his best work to date, but it's hard for an artist this talented to completely miss the mark.
‘All That Echoes'
Josh Groban (Reprise)
Josh Groban spread his musical wings by teaming up with super-producer Rick Rubin for 2010's “Illuminations,” a stellar album that found Groban straying beyond his classical comfort zone and into the realm of pop/rock. The album earned rave reviews, and garnered Groban a few more fans, as his vocal bombast was toned down ever so slightly. For “All That Echoes,” Groban has joined up with noted producer Rob Cavallo, who adds a bit of alternative rock to the sonic stew. The results fall just short of “Illuminations” excellence, though the 12-track release certainly doesn't disappoint. Originals “False Alarms,” “Below the Line” and “Sincera” are classic Groban, and he also delivers solid covers of Glen Hansard/the Frames (“Falling Slowly”), Stevie Wonder (“I Believe [When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever]”) and especially Jimmy Webb (“The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress”). Groban needs to be commended for again successfully tweaking his signature sound.
Jeffrey Sisk is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1952, or firstname.lastname@example.org.