Big Eyes scores with no-frills approach
Big Eyes (Grave Mistake)
There's an undeniable energy surging through the rough-around-the-edges garage rock of up-and-coming three-piece Big Eyes that makes sophomore release “Almost Famous” an enjoyable listen. Frontwoman Kate Eldridge pours her heart and soul into a 13-track slab that benefits greatly from its basic, no-frills approach to making music. Opener “Nothing You Could Say” lures you right in and Big Eyes impresses with “Being Unkind,” “Losing Touch,” “Ain't Nothing But the Truth,” “Can't Catch a Break” and “You Ain't the Only One.” If you're feeling a little lethargic or down in the dumps, pop Big Eyes into your CD player and get swept away.
‘Pale Green Ghosts'
John Grant (Partisan)
Having really enjoyed John Grant's first post-Czars effort “Queen of Denmark,” I had high hopes for the follow-up to that 2010 gem featuring Grant and the Texas folk rockers of Midland. “Pale Green Ghosts” finds Grant completely on his own this time and, while enjoyable, its is a little less accessible than its predecessor. The 11-track album was recorded in Iceland and there's a Scandinavian feel to many of the songs. Grant scores with the set-opening title track, “Black Belt,” “Why Don't You Love Me Anymore?” and “You Don't Have To” and once you get over the fact that “Pale Green Ghosts” is a radical departure from “Queen of Denmark,” these songs figure to grow on you.
Bobby McFerrin (Sony Masterworks)
I first discovered Bobby McFerrin a couple years before he became an international superstar (and just as quickly was reviled) for his 1988 feel-good hit “Don't Worry, Be Happy.” The things McFerrin can do with his voice are nothing short of amazing, and though he hasn't had a pop hit since “Don't Worry,” the 63-year-old has continued to push the boundaries of what the human voice can do. Latest album “Spirityouall” finds McFerrin “reimagining Americana” with his take on classic spirituals and a few originals thrown in for good measure. With a supporting cast that includes Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding, McFerrin puts his unique vocal stamp on “Swing Low,” “Joshua,” Bob Dylan's “I Shall Be Released,” “Whole World” and “Glory.” Among the originals, “Woe” and “Gracious” are the ones you'll remember.
Natalie Maines (Columbia)
As the most outspoken member of polarizing country trio the Dixie Chicks, Natalie Maines has come under fire for her political beliefs over the years. That was never more so than in 2003, when her anti-Bush statements at a London concert earned the Chicks the blacklist treatment from country radio. The ladies bounced back with Grammy-winning masterpiece “Taking the Long Way” in 2006, but haven't made a record together since. Maines makes her solo debut with “Mother,” a collection of rock covers that serves to remind us just how amazing her voice really is. The title track is a first-rate reading of the Pink Floyd classic “Mother,” and Maines also scores with Eddie Vedder's “Without You,” Jeff Buckley's “Lover You Should Have Come Over,” Patti Griffin's “Silver Bell” and the lone original “Vein in Vein.” It's nice to hear Maines making music again.
‘Hit or Mystery'
Stephen Brodsky (Little Black Cloud)
Best known as the frontman for the alt-metal stalwarts of Cave In, Stephen Brodsky explores his lo-fi side as a solo performer. The eight-track EP “Hit or Mystery” is his first batch of solo stuff since 2009 and the songs here are lush and surreal and almost hypnotizing. A little of this approach goes a long way, so Brodsky was wise to confine the platter to 27 minutes. That allows the listener to enjoy songs such as the title track, “Days of Heaven” and “Your Sweet Love” without fear of getting weighed down by too much weirdness along the way.
Mara Donis (Altone)
“Altered Tunings” is more than just the name of the latest album from the alternative rockers of Mara Donis. It also sums up the quartet's approach to making the 12-track release. Their blend of rock and pop is augmented by unique tunings of their guitars for every song on the album. That must make live performances challenging, but it works on the album. “Homer,” “Modern Geeks,” “Towering Inferno,” “Target Practice” and the wonderfully titled “Beatles in Utero” are the keepers here, and I can't wait to hear more from this band.
Natalie Nylon (self-released)
Electro-pop artist Natalie Nylon hails from Pennsylvania, but her big break came when European club-goers embraced her danceable, synth-fueled music. Hot on the heels of last year's “Out of Control” debut, Nylon returns with more of the same on the dance-tastic “Star-Crossed Lovers.” The 10 songs here aren't going to change your life, but I defy you to keep your toes from tapping to “Kiss From You,” “Prom Night,” “Lingerie,” “La Boyfriend” and “Together Again.” See you on the dance floor.
Jeffrey Sisk is an editor for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-664-9161 ext. 1952, or firstname.lastname@example.org.