Review: South rises again with Dead Confederate Morris' 'Audition Tapes'
T. Hardy Morris (Dangerbird)
In the summer of 2008, I was convinced that Dead Confederate was on the cusp of stardom. The band mixed psychedelic and Southern rock influences to create a sound all its own, and I sung the T. Hardy Morris-fronted band's praises to anyone who would listen. Yet its first two albums (2008's Wrecking Ball” and 2010's “Sugar”) came and went without much fanfare and Dead Confederate's momentum stalled. Things are looking up again for Morris and the band. Dead Confederate scored with its April release “In the Marrow” and Morris knocks it out of the park on solo debut “Audition Tapes.” Lower key than his work with the band, Morris shines on the 10-track release. There isn't a bad tune to be found, and he soars highest on “Lucky,” “Disaster Proof,” “Hardstuff,” “Share the Needle,” “History's Hoax” and personal favorite “Own Worst Enemy.” Good stuff.
Moreland & Arbuckle (Telarc)
Rootsy trio Moreland & Arbuckle (guitarist Aaron Moreland, vocalist Dustin Arbuckle and drummer Kendall Newby) have been churning out blues-tinged gems for the better part of a decade and rollicking new release “7 Cities” is a worthy addition to their catalog. Second only to 2008's masterpiece “1861,” this 13-track release is loads of fun. From the Americana twang of “The Devil and Me” to the Delta blues of “Tall Boogie,” M&A are on top of their game. Additional keepers include “Quivira,” ““Road Blind,” “Waste Away” and a killer cover of the Tears for Fears hit “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Rock on, fellas.
‘If Not Now Then When?'
Ethan Johns (Three Crows)
Ethan Johns is an acclaimed producer, having been behind the boards for the likes of Laura Marling, Ryan Adams and the Vaccines, but his true calling may be as a performer. His “If Not Now Then When?” debut is a 10-track slice of rootsy rock that sounds like Johns hails from America's heartland, rather than England. Opener “Hello Sunshine” lures you right in, and Johns maintains the momentum with “Morning Blues,” “Red Rooster Blue” and “The Turning.” He dabbles in psychedelia on “Rally” and rips your heart out on “Whip Poor Will.” Highly recommended.
Darden Smith (Compass)
Though he may not be a household name, Texas-based singer/songwriter Darden Smith is one of the most respected Americana musicians working today. Over a career that's spanned almost 30 years, Smith has dropped 14 mostly excellent albums and latest effort “Love Calling” ranks among his best. The 13-track platter includes a pair of bonus cuts (a cover of “I Say a Little Prayer” and the title track) recorded live at SiriusXM radio. In addition, Smith scores with “Seven Wonders,” “Better Now,” “Distracted,” “Reason to Live” and “Baltimore.”
Honey Island Swamp Band (Louisiana Red Hot)
The story behind New Orleans-based bayou outfit Honey Island Swamp Island is every bit as interesting as the music it plays. The group came together in San Francisco, where four of its eventual members were evacuees from the Big Easy in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The band moved back to the bayou in 2007 and has been mixing country, blues, soul and R&B ever since. Latest effort “Cane Sugar” is a delight, with a dozen uniformly strong tunes. Highlights include “Black and Blue,” “One Shot,” the title track, “Just Another Fool,” “Johnny Come Home” and “Never Saw It Comin'.” Enjoy, y'all.
‘All Hat and No Cattle'
Chris Shiflett & the Dead Peasants (SideOneDummy)
Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett tapped into his country/Americana roots a few years ago with his band the Dead Peasants and their 2010 self-titled debut was one of the year's more pleasant surprises. The gang is back with sophomore set “All Hat and No Cattle,” a 12-track collection of classic honky-tonk covers. Shiflett & Co. put a nice stamp on tunes by the likes of Don Rich & the Buckaroos (“Guitar Pickin' Man”), Merle Haggard (“Skid Row”), Faron Young (“Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young”), Buck Owens (“King of Fools”) and Waylon Jennings (“Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?”) There's even a solid original, “A Woman Like You,” to round out the set.
‘City Heart +'
Russell Howard (Rock Ridge)
North Carolina-based singer/songwriter Russell Howard earned kudos for his “City Heart” debut EP last year and Rock Ridge is expanding the package with this re-issue dubbed “City Heart +.” The 14-track release includes the six tracks from the original, newly recorded acoustic versions of all six tunes, and a pair of bonus tracks. I prefer the unplugged version of keepers “Home Sweet Home,” “Safe to Say,” “Won't Get to Sleep” and “Morning,” and “Find Me” is the winner among the new cuts. This is a talented young artists whose star is on the rise.
Dream pop newcomer Heaven makes a solid debut with first full-length “Telepathic Love,” a nine-track gathering of tunes that announce the quartet as players on the indie scene. Hopefully you were able to see the band perform at Pittsburgh's Lava Lounge last week. If not, track down a copy of the album to hear what you missed. Opener “Colors in the Whites of Your Eyes” sets the tone, and Heaven also soars with the title track, “Mountains Move” and “Southern Rain.”
Robin Nolan (H.O.T.)
Gypsy jazz guitar wizard Robin Nolan puts his skills on full display on “Gypsy Blue,” his first album in more than a decade. It proves worth the wait as Nolan delivers a dozen instrumentals that showcase his mastery of the jazz guitar. In addition to the standout Ravi Shankur/George Harrison tribute “Ravi,” Nolan puts his spin on Led Zeppelin's “The Rain Song,” Bob Dylan's “Buckets of Rain” and shines particularly bright on the flamenco gem “Paquito.” Even if jazz guitar isn't your cup of tea, the digital-only “Gypsy Blue” merits some attention.
Star & Dagger (TBOF Music)
Female-centric hard rocker band Star & Dagger stomps its way through 10-track debut “Tomorrowland Blues,” a slightly-above-average gathering of 10 tunes featuring the distaff trio of Sean Yseult (White Zombie), Dava She Wolf (Cycle Sluts From Hell) and newcomer Von Hesseling. There are some nice songs to be found here — namely “In My Blood,” “Selling My Things” and “Your Money” — but it's not a record I expect to revisit very often. Perhaps with some more seasoning Star & Dagger will come up with something special.
‘Love You in the Dark'
As a big fan of indie outfit Now, Now, I was excited to hear the debut album from the lone male member of that trio, Brad Hale, who records under the Sombear moniker. Though there's no doubt Hale is a talented guy, I'm less enamored with his solo work. “Love You in the Dark” is an electronic pop album with 10 songs that fall short of being essential. “Incredibly Still,” “LA,” the title track, “Never Say Baby” and “The Good” merit a couple listens, but Sombear isn't Hale at his best. At least not yet.
‘George Thorogood & the Destroyers' & ‘Move It On Over'
George Thorogood & the Destroyers (Rounder)
★★★★ & ★★★★
When blues rockers George Thorogood & the Destroyers exploded onto the music scene in 1977, they brought with them a modern take on classic blues songs by the likes of Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed, Elmore James, John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley, Robert Johnson and many of the all-time greats. Their first two albums — 1977's self-titled debut and 1978's “Move It On Over” — have aged well and Rounder has issued digital remasters of both. On the 10-track debut, Thorogood's bluesy guitar riffs take center stage as he and the Destroyers serve up tasty readings of John Lee Hooker's “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” Earl Hooker's “You Got to Lose,” A.P. Carter's “John Hardy” and the rollicking original set closer “Delaware Slide.” “Move It On Over” is every bit as good with its signature rendition of the Hank Williams-penned title track, Bo Diddley's “Who Do You Love?”, Berry's “It Wasn't Me,” “and James' “Baby Please Set a Date.” Both of these platters are must-haves.
Liam Singer (Hidden Shoal)
The experimental chamber-pop of Portland native Liam Singer may be an acquired taste to some listeners, but if you are patient with fourth full-length “Arc Iris” there is plenty of fascinating music to appreciate. The 14-track, 42-minute platter gets off to a slow start with “Prelude (Into the Luminous Currents),” but Singer soon hits his stride with standouts “Stranger I Know,” “O Endless Storm,” “Nine Ten,” “The Astronaut,” “Disappear and Appear” and “Unhand Me (You Horrid Thing).”
‘Love Like This'
Irish rocker Kodaline has a full-length debut slated to drop in the fall, and “Love Like This” is a nice appetizer in advance of October's main course. This five-track EP serves as an introduction to a band that should appeal to fans of Coldplay, Keane and Snow Patrol. A handful of songs have been featured in television series (“Grey's Anatomy,” “Cougar Town,” “Mob Wives”) in recent years, and the lads score here with “Love Like This,” “What It Is” and “After the Fall.” I'm curious to hear more.
The Joy Formidable (Canvasback/Atlantic)
Over the past couple years, Welsh trio the Joy Formidable has developed into one of my favorite indie bands. It impressed with 2011's “The Big Roar” debut and raised the bar higher earlier this year with “Wolf's Law.” New EP “Crushed” should tide fans over until Ritzy Bryan and her mates return to the studio. The four-track offering includes two versions of “Silent Treatment,” one of the “Wolf's Law” standouts, as well as previously unreleased track “All the Promise” and a live version of “Tendons” that show the band isn't the product of the studio.
The City and Horses (Paper Garden)
Marc Cantone's the City and Horses project has featured a revolving cast of musicians over the years, yet he's managed to make albums that are remarkable in their consistent excellence. Latest effort “Strange Range” is the City and Horses' third winner in as many tries (following 2009's “I Don't Want to Dream” and 2011's sublime “We Will Never Be Discovered”) and these 11 indie pop gems make for a terrific listen. While there's not a bad song to be found, Cantone & Co. shine brightest on “Whip,” “Pretty Pretty,” the title track, “All of These Things,” “My Strange Ways” and “Slave.”
‘For Distant Viewing'
Little Tybee (Paper Garden)
Georgia-based indie folk quintet Little Tybee is back with another warm and dreamy gathering of tunes in its third full-length “For Distant Viewing.” There's something soothing and entirely pleasant about the latest offering from these Southern musicians. The set-opening title track whisks you away with its buoyant melodies and Latin-tinged backbeat. It's the cream of a very good crop. Additional standouts include “Mind Grenade,” instrumental gem “Fantastic Planet,” “Boxcar Fair” and “Castle.”
Jeffrey Sisk is an editor for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-664-9161 ext. 1952, or email@example.com.