Amos Lee shines on 'Live From the Artist's Den' DVD
‘Live From the Artists Den'
Amos Lee (Blue Note/EMI)
I've been trumpeting the praises of singer/songwriter Amos Lee for almost a decade and keep waiting for the Philadelphia native to become a bona fide superstar. His last four albums (2005's self-titled release, 2006's “Supply and Demand,” 2008's “Last Days at the Lodge” and 2011's “Mission Bell”) remain in heavy rotation on my iPod and I've cleared out space on the shelf for new DVD “Live From the Artists Den.” Filmed at Tucson's famed Fox Theatre, Lee puts on a compelling 16-track concert. Incorporating songs that span of his career, Lee is especially effective on “El Camino,” “Street Corner Preacher,” “Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight,” “Flower,” “Low Down Life,” “Jesus” and “Seven Spanish Angels.” A must for his fans, this is a good investment for anyone who enjoys quality music.
Rachel Zeffira (Paper Bag)
Best known as the soprano half of dream pop duo Cat's Eyes, Canadian singer/songwriter Rachel Zeffira strikes out on her own for solo debut “The Deserters.” This haunting collection of 10 tunes doesn't offer much in the way of sonic variety, instead letting Zeffira soar with her ethereal vocals. Taken individually, almost all the songs are quite lovely ... but things grow a bit stale when listening to them all in a single sitting. The title track is particularly lovely, as are “Letters From Tokyo (Sayonara),” “Silver City Days” and “To Here Knows When.” And if absorbed in bits and pieces, “The Deserters” is a winner.
‘Can't Talk Medicine'
Seattle up-and-comers Pickwick recorded stellar full-length debut “Can't Talk Medicine” in their living room, and the resulting blend of indie pop, bluesy rock and cool soul should help generate some buzz for the talented sextet. From the relentless piano-pounding opening of “Halls of Columbia” clear through to final notes of “Santa Rosa,” Pickwick are firing on all cylinders. They've enlisted the wonderful Sharon Van Etten for a guest vocal spot on personal favorite “Lady Luck,” and also score with “Hacienda Motel,” “Letterbox,” “The Shadow” and “Staged Names.” Keep your eye on this band.
Golden Grrrls (self-released)
Scottish indie pop trio Golden Grrrls sound like a less-mopey version of Veronica Falls on their rock-solid self-titled debut album. And that's meant as praise for both bands, who, coincidentally, are touring together. Golden Grrrls show little wasted effort on an 11-track platter that whisks by in less than 28 minutes. But there's enough here to convince me that this threesome are the real deal. The opening salvo of “New Pop” and “Past Tense” get things off to a stellar start, and after stumbling slightly on the middling “Paul Simon,” the Grrrls bounce back with “Take Your Time,” “Time Goes Slow” and “Never Said Enough.” With a bit more seasoning, I have every reason to believe they'll come up with a truly special album.
‘One & Two'
Charlotte Church (Alligator Wine)
Buoyed by a big voice, Welsh vocalist Charlotte Church was an international superstar while still a preteen. Focusing on classical compositions and show tunes, Church sold millions of records before she was old enough to drive. At age 19, Church tried to cross over into pop with 2005's “Tissues and Issues” and the results, perhaps not surprisingly, were mixed. She fared better in that musical realm on 2010's “Back to Scratch” and feels even more at home as a pop vocalist on latest record “One & Two.” You can still hear the classical roots throughout the 10-track release, but she puts that voice to good use on “The Rise,” “How Not to Be Surprised When You're a Ghost,” “Beautiful Wreck,” “Breach of the Peace” and “Nerve.” Now 27, Church appears to be leaving the whole child prodigy thing behind her.
‘Welcome to Oblivion'
How to Destroy Angels (Columbia)
After spending a couple decades releasing oodles of pent-up aggression in Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor took a decidedly different approach for his next project. Teaming with wife Mariqueen Maandig, Atticus Ross and Rob Sheridan to form How to Destroy Angels, Reznor got a chance to explore his more mellow musical interests with a couple of low-key EPs. It's more of the same on full-length debut “Welcome Oblivion.” While not technically an ambient record, this 13-track release has subtle elements so often lacking in the NIN discography. It might take some getting used to for Reznor's longtime fans, though songs like the title track, “Ice Age,” “How Long?” and “We Fade Away” have some definite appeal.
‘Down Side Up'
Old Man Markley (Fat Wreck Chords)
Having instantly warmed to Old Man Markley's infectious blend of bluegrass and punk rock on the Los Angeles outfit's 2011 “Guts n' Teeth” debut, I've been eagerly awaiting their follow-up. Happily, the fantastic “Down Side Up” shows OMM aren't a flash in the pan, as they serve up a 13-track effort that's every bit as much as its predecessor. Opener “Blood on My Hands” reaches out and grabs by the shirt collar and Old Man Markley don't let go for the next 40 minutes. Along the way are plenty of highlights, including “America's Dreaming,” “Blindfold,” “So Much More,” “Hand Me Down” and “Train of Thought.” Can't wait to see the boys do their thing live at the Smiling Moose tomorrow night.
‘A La Deriva'
Making Movies (self-released)
Even though I normally don't find myself enjoying bands with a more international sound (colleague Eric Slagle is our resident spokesman on this type of music), I find myself returning to Making Movies' “A La Deriva” pretty regularly. Led by Panamanian brothers Enrique and Diego Chi, the Kansas City-based outfit have mastered a sound that blends elements of Latin and world rhythms with alternative rock and even some synth pop. The 11-track release features lyrics in English and Spanish, with Making Movies especially effective on “Lo Que Quiero,” “Pendulum,” “Ego Trip,” “Luna” and “Ready for the Rain.” This one merits a few spins.
Waylon Speed (self-released)
Burlington, Vt. doesn't immediately come to mind when listing musical hotbeds in the United States, but the Green Mountain State's largest city has spawned a winner in Waylon Speed. The quartet showed great promise on two full-lengths and an EP since forming in 2009, and take things to another level on latest LP “Valance.” This 10-track gem is a must for anyone who loves country rock. Waylon Speed have shared the stage with kindred spirits Little Feat and Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, and cite influences as varied as the Drive-By Truckers, Fugazi and Frank Zappa. The guys serve up a series of keepers in “Beef Jerky and Beer,” “Livin',” “I Heard the Shot,” “Killin' Time” and “Train Out of Town,” but truth be told, there really isn't a clunker to be found. Let's hear it for Vermont!
‘The Ghost of Escondido'
Escondido (Kill Canyon)
Americana newcomers Escondido have cobbled together one of the year's most enjoyable — and impressive — debuts in “The Ghost of Escondido.” A Nashville-based duo comprised of Jessica Maros and Tyler James, they've already earned comparisons to such heavyweights as Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris and Lindsey Buckingham/Stevie Nicks. It's impossible to be mentioned in the same breath as those hall of famers after a single album, but this 10-track, 32-minute release makes me think they are on their way. Scene-setting opener “Evil Girls” gets things off to a terrific start, and Escondido additionally impress on “Cold October,” “Rodeo Queen,” “Willow Tree,” “Don't Love Me Too Much,” “Black Roses” and lovelorn closing ballad “Chase the Moon.” Highly recommended.
Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside (Partisan)
Despite being released on one of my favorite labels (Partisan), the 2011 “Dirty Radio” full-length debut by Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside somehow managed to slip past without me noticing. Fortunately, the same can't be said for delightful sophomore effort “Untamed Beast,” a 14-track gem that cements Ford's status as a rising star. With a powerful voice that incorporates everything from country, rock, the blues and swing in seemingly every note, Ford & the Sound Outside soar throughout. The first half of the platter is nothing short of perfect, with the band mesmerizing on “They Told Me,” “Party Kids,” “Bad Boys,” “Shivers” and “Devil.” The momentum wanes a bit on the back half of “Untamed Beast,” but this is an album that demands your attention.
Swingin' Utters (Fat Wreck Chords)
It can be difficult for punk rockers to maintain their snarl as the members ease into middle age. There's no such problem for Bay Area outfit Swingin' Utters, who have been railing against society's ills for more than a quarter century. The Utters ended an eight-year recording hiatus in 2011 with the better-than-expected “Here, Under Protest,” which found them exploring their rootsy influences, and show they still have plenty of bite on latest effort “Poorly Formed.” It's back to basics, for the most part, on a 14-track release that has the Swingin' Utters on top of their game with “The Librarians Are Hiding Something,” “Brains,” “I'm a Little Bit Country,” the title track and “A Walk With the Postman.” Keep on keepin' on, fellas.
You can't blame perfectly-coiffed newcomers R5 — a five-piece outfit comprised of siblings Riker, Rydel, Rocky and Ross Lynch, along with pal Ellington Ratliff — for jumping on the pop bandwagon. Sounding eerily similar to Hot Chelle Rae (which shouldn't be surprising since they're singing tunes penned by the same guy who helped make HCR into stars of the moment), R5 serve up a catchy, if disposable, four-track EP in “Loud.” I could see the title track, “Fallin' for You,” “I Want U Bad,” and “Here Comes Forever” all finding their way onto the radio, though I wonder if we'll still remember the songs two years from now. With a full-length debut slated to drop in the fall, 2013 could wind up being the year of R5. We shall see.
The Gallery (self-released)
Anthemic Los Angeles rockers the Gallery seem poised for mainstream success with the release of full-length debut “Restless.” Chock full of tunes that give a glimpse into the quartet's arena-rock dreams, the 12-track release is filled with catchy hooks and melodies that scream Top 40 radio. Crackling opener “White Noise Town” sets the stage for what's to follow, and the Gallery additionally score with “Young & Restless,” “Restless Soul,” “The Runaround,” “Ballroom of Broken Hearts” and “Dream Girl.” Mass appeal doesn't have to be a bad thing, contrary to what thousands of hipsters might lead you to believe, and the Gallery appear to have found a formula that works.
‘Desire Like Dynamite'
Sandra McCracken (self-released)
It's been a few years — too long, in fact — since we last heard a full-length album of new material from folk/pop songstress Sandra McCracken. Fortunately, the 35-year-old singer/songwriter returns in peak form on “Desire Like Dynamite,” a sparkling collection of 11 self-penned tunes that is a must for fans of the genre. Opener “Go” ranks among McCracken's best compositions to date and she also delivers the goods on “Hourglass,” “Gridlock,” “First Things First,” “Fall on Me” and “In the Garden.” Terrific stuff.
Jeffrey Sisk is an editor for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-664-9161 ext. 1952, or email@example.com.