CD reviews: Currin's 'Pilgrim' a spectacular journey
Nate Currin (Archaic Cannon)
No one can accuse singer/songwriter Nate Currin of lacking ambition. Rather than rest on his laurels after landing a Grammy nomination for his “Goodnight California” full-length debut, Currin tackles 17th century religious English literature on mesmerizing sophomore set “The Pilgrim.” Based on John Bunyan's 1678 tome “The Pilgrim's Progress,” the 18-track collection of tunes is nothing short of spectacular. Currin enlists the Vespers' Callie Cryar on keepers “A Beautiful House,” personal favorite “The Traveler's Road” and “The River,” and more than holds his own on standouts “City of Destruction,” “The Interpreter,” “Doubting Thomas” and “Celestial City.” Currin aimed high and hit the mark. Kudos.
Brendan James (Noble Street Music)
Piano-based singer/songwriter Brendan James has spent the past few years trying to distinguish himself in a very crowded pack. Latest effort “Simplify,” like the two albums that preceded it, is good ... but not distinctive enough to take James to the next level. That's a shame, because James is a talented guy. He channels his inner Billy Joel on the dynamite title track, and also scores with “Windblown,” “Hillary,” “He Loved” and “The Good in You.” This 12-track release is worthy of some attention, but it's not the breakthrough James was looking for.
Barbarossa (Memphis Industries)
After earning kudos for his acoustic debut “Chemical Campfire,” Barbarossa (aka James Mathé) takes things in a totally different direction on follow-up platter “Bloodlines.” Still armed with his lovely tenor voice, Barbarossa surrounds his words with electronic melodies and plenty of reverb. That it works so well is a testament to Mathé's abilities and makes “Bloodlines” an enjoyable album. Lead single “Turbine” is the cream of the crop, but Barbarossa also deliver on “Bloodline,” “Battles,” “The Load” and “Seeds.” Can't wait to hear what Mathé comes up with next.
‘Everywhere at Once'
Paul Allen & the Underthinkers (Legacy)
When “Everywhere at Once” came across my desk a couple months back, I dismissed it as a rich man's vanity project. After all, Paul Allen & the Underthinkers are fronted by the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft and owner of the NBA's Portland Trailblazers. I figured the 60-year-old Allen lacked legit musical chops. Truth be told Allen is a serviceable guitarist and, thanks to boatload of famous friends, the 13-track blues-rock slab “Everywhere at Once” is better than I expected. Opener “Straw Into Gold” soars thanks to vocals from Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson, Ivan Neville steps to the microphone for keepers “Inside Out” and “Restless,” the inimitable Joe Walsh takes lead vocals on set highlight “Six Strings From Hell” and there are some nice guitar solos courtesy of Derek Trucks, Richard Hidalgo and, yes, even Allen. The rich get richer.
‘Down Fell the Doves'
Amanda Shires (Lightning Rod)
Amanda Shires first popped up on my radar two years ago when she sang backup on the fantastic Jason Isbell tune “Codeine,” and then she blew me away a couple months later with her near-perfect album “Carrying Lightning.” She manages to outdo herself yet again on “Down Fell the Doves,” a phenomenal gathering of 11 tunes buoyed by Shires' vocals and blistering fiddle and now-husband Isbell's first-rate guitar work. “Look Like a Bird” sets the tone, and Shires continues to impress with “Bulletproof,” “Box Cutters,” “Deep Dark Below,” “If I,” “Drop and Lift” and “A Song for Leonard Cohen.” Can't recommend this one highly enough, folks.
Summer Cannibals (New Moss)
Portland garage rock newcomers Summer Cannibals make an impressive debut with rock-solid freshman full-length “No Makeup.” It's a no-frills gathering of 10 tunes that whisk by in just 27 minutes. Founded by vocalist/guitarist Jessica Boudreaux and guitarist Marc Swart, who played in Your Canvas together, Summer Cannibals soar on “Emergency,” “The Hand,” “Wear Me Out,” “Take Me Out” and “Wives.” The future seems pretty bright for this bunch.
Jake Bellows (Saddle Creek)
When indie outfit Neva Dinova called it quits after 2008's terrific “You May Already Be Dreaming” (which came on the heels of 2005's sublime “The Hate Yourself Change”), I was more than little disappointed. To this day I can't understand why the Jake Bellows-fronted band didn't make it big. Half a decade later, Bellows returns with solo debut “New Ocean.” Time hasn't dulled his ability to cut to the bone in his songwriting and Bellows' haunting vocals dominate the 11-track release. There isn't a bad song in the bunch, with Bellows especially strong on the title track, “All Right Now,” “Drinking With Dad,” “I Can't Wait,” “Running From Your Love” and “Should You Ever Change Your Mind.” Welcome back.
Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion (Route 8)
You can count on husband-and-wife tandem Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion to deliver a quality record every few years and fourth collaboration “Wassaic Way” is no exception. Produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and Patrick Sansone, the 11-track effort is their most fully realized to date. Less folky than their previous work, Guthrie and Irion score with “Circle of Souls,” “Not Feeling It,” “Probably Gone,” “Still Dreaming” and “Hurricane Window.” Good stuff.
‘Shake a Little Harder'
The Please, Please Me (self-released)
The Please, Please Me are a new indie pop band that showcase a unique sound on debut EP “Shake a Little Harder.” Comprised of Jessie Torrisi (vocals/guitar), Augustin Frederic (drums/glockenspiel) and Alissa McClure (cello), the trio put their spin on the genre on this enjoyable five-track release. The best songs — “All Danced Out” and “Your Skin” — bookend the album, and the Please, Please Me also score with “She Leaves Notes” and “Dreamin'.” Time to see what they can do over the course of a full-length album.
Minks (Captured Tracks)
If I didn't know better, I'd swear New York-based duo Minks actually hail from England. They garnered comparisons to the likes of the Cure and New Order upon the release of 2011 debut “By the Hedge” and continue in a similar (though, thankfully, not as gloomy) vein on sophomore set “Tides End.” Shaun Kilfoyle and Amalie Bruun have cobbled together a 10-track release that could have served as the soundtrack to any John Hughes movie from the 1980s. “Doomed and Cool” is the standout track, but Minks also score with “Romans,” “Margot,” “Hold Me Now” and the title track.
‘To the Happy Few'
Medicine (Captured Tracks)
Noise-pop icons Medicine burned bright in the early 1990s on the strength of two game-changing albums (1992's “Shot Forth Living Self” and 1993's “The Buried Life”), but were done a couple years later. The solid “To the Happy Few” is the first Medicine album in 18 years to feature all three original members and while they don't catch lightning in a bottle a second time, they also don't embarrass themselves on this fuzz-filled 10-track slab. “Long as the Sun” is the ideal lid-lifter, and Medicine further scores with “Burn It,” “Holy Crimes,” “All You need to Know” and “Daylight.” Consider Medicine's musical prescription refilled.
‘Didn't It Rain'
Hugh Laurie (Warner Bros.)
An acclaimed comedian in his native England for more than 30 years, Hugh Laurie made the transition to television drama with an Emmy-nominated eight-season run on “House M.D.” As his Fox series was winding down in 2011, Laurie released an album of surprisingly accomplished New Orleans blues in “Let Them Talk.” He furthers his exploration of jazz with the enjoyable “Didn't It Rain.” A stellar piano player and above-average vocalist, Laurie and his supporting players groove their way through 13 jazz and blues standards. Highlights include “Junkers Blues,” “Kiss of Fire” (with Guatemalan vocalist Gaby Moreno), “The Weed Smoker's Dream,” “Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair” and “Careless Love.” The legendary Taj Mahal steals the show with a guest turn on “Vicksburg Blues,” helping make this a worthy addition to your record collection.
‘Behold a Pale Horse'
Anna Rose (self-released)
I really thought Anna Rose, the daughter of Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken, was going to hit it big with her 2010 full-length debut “Nomad.” It was a stellar introduction to the petite blonde with the big voice, but failed to make much of a dent. She goes the blues-rock route on sophomore set “Behold a Pale Horse,” an even-better gathering of 11 tunes that should, by all rights, make her a star. The riveting title track kicks off the album, and Anna Rose also shines on “Show Me Those Hands,” “Electric Child,” “Los Angeles” and “Drive.” Get to know this talented young artist.
The Delta Mirror (Lightwave)
Once a duo comprised of Craig Gordon (nee Chris Acosta) and David Bolt, the Delta Mirror now is a solo project for Acosta, who has gone back to his given name. Got that? I wasn't overly impressed with the Delta Mirror's glitchy electronics debut album “Machines That Listen,” but found myself warming a bit to “Better Unsung.” There are still plenty of computer-aided bells and whistles, but the songs feel more organic this time around. A tad overstuffed with 11 tracks clocking in at more than 50 minutes, the Delta Mirror score with “Goldfish,” “Never Better Unsung” and “Goodbye Horses.”
So you're hosting a party this weekend and can't afford a top-notch deejay to spin tunes while your friends dance themselves silly. Whatever should you do? If you're looking for an economical, effective way to entertain the EDM fans in your life, might I suggest Blondes' sophomore album “Swisher”? This nine-track, 65-minute platter is filled with the thumping bass and swirling electronic melodies that should keep folks dancing till the wee hours. The duo of Sam Haar and Zach Steinman scored with their self-titled debut last year and “Swisher” is every bit as enjoyable. The songs are somewhat interchangeable but the dance vibe never wanes.
Dinosaur Bones (Dine Alone)
After making an impressive debut with 2011's “My Divider,” Canadian indie rock quintet Dinosaur Bones wanted to challenge themselves when recording their next record. So they relocated to Texas to work with acclaimed producer John Congleton and “Shaky Dream” is the fruit of their labor. I think the 10-track release improves on its predecessor and frontman Ben Fox has never sounded better. Among the keepers here are “Dreamer's Song,” “Sleepsick,” “Nothing Left Between the Lines,” “Career Criminal” and “Don't Decide.” It's time to dig up Dinosaur Bones.
Though I've come to have a respect for techno music in recent years, the antics of Moderat are beyond me. A trio comprised of Apparat (Sascha Ring) and Modeskeletor (Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary), Moderat deliver a confounding sophomore full-length in “II.” On one hand, you have perhaps the most universally accessible song they've ever recorded in the terrific “Bad Kingdom,” but then they meander into experimentalism (“Versions,” “Damage Done”) and my interest wanes. Grrr.
‘Rust Belt Cowboy'
David Shelby (Highway South)
Musically speaking, Detroit is best known for its contributions to garage rock, rap and, of course, the titular Motown sound. Motor City native David Shelby is trying to make a name for himself in country music with the release of debut album “Rust Belt Cowboy.” Shelby acquits himself nicely on the seven-track release. There's a slight twang to his voice and plenty of rock-leaning guitars in standout tunes “Kick a Little Dirt Around,” “Stealing Honey,” “Moonshine” and “Story of Our Lives.” This is a good start for Shelby, but he'll need to take things up a notch if he wants to rub shoulders with the big boys.