Earl avoids sophomore slump with full-length 'Swift Arrows'
Shelby Earl (Savage Man)
Two years ago, I was absolutely blown away by Shelby Earl's country-leaning indie folk debut album “Burn the Boats.” It ranked among my favorite releases of 2011 and I've been anxious to hear more from the Seattle-based singer/songwriter. “Swift Arrows” avoids the dreaded sophomore slump — while taking Earl's music in a slightly different direction — even though it can't quite match the sheer awesomeness of its predecessor. Her writing chops remain front and center in standouts like “Sea of Glass,” “Grown Up Things,” “Forget You Ever Wondered,” “This Is Me Now” and “If It Isn't You.” After kicking around the Emerald City's indie scene for more than a decade, it's time Earl got the recognition she so richly deserves.
‘Ricky Reed Is Real'
As was the case with Wallpaper's 2011 EP “#STUPiDFACEDD,” there's no reason that I should like the full-length debut from this profanity-spewing party quartet. Yet I find myself cranking up “Ricky Reed Is Real” on my car stereo pretty regularly — though I have to make sure my kids aren't with me at the time. The 12-track release, while definitely R-rated, is a ridiculous amount of fun and makes for a delightful summer listen. Things get started with the enjoyable “RRiR” and Wallpaper unveils a series of infectious keepers “Drunken Hearts,” “Hesher,” “The Underdog,” “Good 4 It,” “Life of the Party” and “You n Me n Everyone We Know.” Sit back and enjoy.
Pet Shop Boys (x2)
More than a quarter century after exploding onto the synth-pop scene, Pet Shop Boys are still going strong. I wasn't sure how much gas Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe had left in the tank in the wake of last year's underwhelming “Elysium,” but PSB bounce back on the dancetastic “Electric.” This nine-track gathering of dance anthems is their best work in years, highlighted by Kraftwerk-esque opener “Axis,” “Love Is a Bourgeois Construct,” “The Last to Die” and “Thursday.” The best of the bunch, however, also is the most surprising, as Tennant and Lowe transform Bruce Springsteen's 2007 tune “Last to Die” into a club banger. Dance on, lads.
‘Walk Through Exits Only'
Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals (Housecore)
Having always been ambivalent about thrash metal stalwart Pantera, I wasn't sure what to expect from frontman Phil Anselmo's latest solo project, Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals. Truth be told, it took me a couple spins to warm to “Walk Through Exits Only,” an angrily aggressive collection of nine tunes filled with blistering guitar riffs and pulse-pounding drums.
But each time I listen, I like the platter more and more. Anselmo and his mates exorcise a lot of demons, with standouts “Battalion of Zero,” “Betrayed,” the title track and “Bedridden” leading the way. Not for the faint of heart.
Nu-Blu (Rural Rhythm)
Veterans bluegrass band Nu-Blu celebrates a decade together with the aptly titled full-length “Ten.” Fans won't be disappointed with the 10-track release from husband-and-wife co-founders Carolyn and Daniel Routh, Levi Austin and Austin Koerner, and the ear-pleasing mix of original, traditional and cover tunes could expand Nu-Blu's audience.
The best song is opener “That Road,” and the band also scores with “Caught in the Middle,” “Eddie's Garage” and spectacular original instrumental “Giant Squid.”
‘Hole in My Heart'
Matt Pond (self-released)
Pennsylvania native Matt Pond has carved out a nice career for himself both as a solo performer and as frontman for Matt Pond PA.
He reached a career high earlier this year with the release of “The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hand” and this three-track EP offers up a few more tunes to tide folks over until the next full-length.
“Hole in My Heart” features two versions of the title track — the one that appeared on “Lives” and a fantastic acoustic rendition that surpasses the original — as well as a cover of the 1983 Stevie Nicks song “Wild Heart.” A nice place-holder.
Jeffrey Sisk is an editor at Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1952, or firstname.lastname@example.org.