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Cale scales back to basics on 'Blue Rider'

| Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

‘Blue Rider'

Zachary Cale (Electric Ragtime/All Hands Electric)

★★★★

Zachary Cale gets back to basics on his fourth album “Blue Rider,” trading in the full-band arrangements that worked so well on 2011's “Noise of Welcome” for a more minimal approach. The experiment is a rousing success as Cale delivers his most fully realized record to date in this eight-track gem. Utilizing his signature finger-style guitar playing and a nasal voice that works well with the folk-leaning material, Cale impresses at every turn. Among the many standout tracks are “Dollar Day,” “Hold Fast,” “Blood Rushes On,” “Hangman Letters” and “Wayward Son.” It's time everyone got to know this talented young artist.

‘Memphis Circa 3AM'

John Paul Keith (Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum)

★★★★

Twangy Tennessee songwriter John Paul Keith has flirted with mainstream success for the past couple years and perhaps his fantastic third full-length “Memphis Circa 3AM” will be the album that makes it happen and is every bit as engaging as 2011's “The Man That Time Forgot.” Keith teams up with legendary producer Roland James on the 12-track slab. You won't find a clunker in the bunch, and Keith is especially effective on “You Really Oughta Be With Me,” “Ninety Proof Kiss,” personal favorite “Walking Along the Lane,” “True Hard Money,” “If You Catch Me Staring” and “Baby We're a Bad Idea.” Good stuff.

‘Hell Bent'

Potty Mouth (Old Flame)

★★★

All-girl punk outfit Potty Mouth pays homage to '90s punk and the riot grrrl movement (the band gets its name from a 1993 Bratmobile album) on its full-length debut “Hell Bent.” There's a grungy charm to the 10-track album, as frontwoman Abby Weems anchors the set with her wailing, monotone vocals. While not for all tastes, there are some treasures to be found here, including “Busted Shut,” “Black and Studs,” “Damage,” “Wishlist” and “The Better End.”

‘Big City'

New West Guitar Group (Summit)

★★★★

Don't be put off by its rather ho-hum moniker, because the three members of New West Guitar Group are masters of the six-string. Their fifth studio effort finds Perry Smith, Jess Tein and John Storie serving up an instrumental mix of originals and covers from such artists as Simon & Garfunkel (“Bleecker St.”), Joni Mitchell (“All I Want”), the Police (“Wrapped Around Your Finger”) and Tears for Fears (“Everybody Wants to Rule the World”). Among the group's compositions, “Every Big City” and “Pacific Blues” are the ones you'll remember.

‘Electric Air'

Eklipse (The End)

★★★★

Sexy string quartet (yes, I used the word “sexy” to describe a string quartet) Eklipse continues its quest to redefine the way we think of classical music on its sophomore full-length “Electric Air.” Noted for playing up the sex appeal of members Miss E., Viola, Helena and Scarlett, the German foursome tackles a host of pop hits and one classical standard on the 12-track gem. Whether putting its spin on David Guetta and Sia (“Titanium”), Lykke Li (“I Follow Rivers”), Nick Cave (“Where the Wild Roses Grow”), Adele (“Set Fire to the Rain”), Muse (“Supermassive Black Hole”), Florence + the Machine (“Shake It Out”) or Beethoven (“Ode to Joy”), Eklipse doesn't miss a trick.

‘Songs From Scandal: Music for Gladiators'

Various Artists (Stax)

★★★★

Steamy ABC drama “Scandal” revels in its status as one of television's “guilty pleasures,” but there's no guilt — just pleasure — when it comes to this soundtrack. Featuring classic soul of the 1970s, “Songs From Scandal” delights at every turn. From Edwin Starr's “War” to Nina Simone's gut-wrenching take on “I Think It's Going to Rain Today,” there isn't a misstep to be found. Other keepers include Sly & the Family Stone's “Everyday People,” Rufus & Chaka Khan's “Tell Me Something Good,” Bettye LaVette's “Crazy,” Johnnie Taylor's “I Believe in You (You Believe in Me)” and the Staple Singers' “Respect Yourself.” Enjoy.

‘Neon Fiction'

Sundowner (Fat Wreck Chords)

★★★½

When guitarist/vocalist Chris McCaughan and drummer Neil Hennessy need a break from their primary gig as two-thirds of punk trio the Lawrence Arms, they turn to McCaughan's acoustic side project Sundowner. Latest Sundowner full-length “Neon Fiction” is its best yet, with 10 solid tracks clocking in at a streamlined 34 minutes. There's no filler on an album whose highlights include “My Beautiful Ruins,” “Grey on Grey,” “Life in the Embers,” “Poet of Trash” and “Wildfires.” Who knows what the future holds for the Lawrence Arms, but here's hoping Sundowner sticks around a while.

Jeffrey Sisk is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext 1952, or jsisk@tribweb.com.

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