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'Tess' another Americana gem for ex-grunge drummer

| Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, 12:06 a.m.

‘Tess'

Mark Pickerel & His Praying Hands (Candy Cross)

★★★★

After cutting his teeth for six years as drummer for Seattle grunge outfit Screaming Trees, Mark Pickerel re-emerged a decade later as a first-rate Americana singer/songwriter. The compelling “Tess” is the third full-length for Pickerel & His Praying Hands, and marks their best work to date. Aided by a cadre of his talented friends, Pickerel serves up a fantastic eight-track release that underscores how talented he is. Opener “Man Overboard” lures listeners right in and Pickerel & His Praying Hands maintain their hold with “Your Wild West,” “The Throes of Love,” “Burn the Shrine” and “The Last Breath of Her Lullaby.” Highly recommended.

‘Essential Tremors'

J. Roddy Walston & the Business (ATO)

★★★★

Baltimore-based classic rockers J. Roddy Walston & the Business have been building a solid résumé for the better part of a decade and the quartet comes into their own on “Essential Tremors” (the title comes from Walston's real-life nervous system disorder), their dynamite third full-length platter. Walston & the Business stomp their way through 11 uniformly strong tunes, soaring highest on “Heavy Bells,” “Take It as It Comes,” “Black Light,” “Hard Times” and “Boys Can Never Tell.” Hopefully you got a chance to see them play live last week at Club Cafe. If not, make sure you don't miss Walston the next time he rolls through the ‘Burgh.

‘Amazing Grace'

George Jones (Bandit)

★★★½

Country icon George Jones passed away in April at the age of 81, but his fans can seek spiritual solace via posthumous release “Amazing Grace.” Eleven of the album's 12 tracks were recorded in 2002, with sprawling closer “Great Judgment Morning” (featuring Connie Smith, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, Ricky Skaggs, Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart) dating back to 1994. Jones delivers a chill-inducing rendition of the title track, and also soars to the heavens on “In the Garden,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Peace in the Valley” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Rest in peace, Possum. Amen.

‘I Don't Want Love You Won't Give Until I Cry'

Finnders & Youngberg (Swingfingers)

★★★½

Rootsy all-star collective Finnders & Youngberg is comprised of spouses Aaron and Erin Youngberg, Mike Finders, Ryan Drickey and Rich Zimmerman, and the five-member outfit delivers a twang-tastic new EP in “I Don't Want Love You Won't Give Until I Cry.” The six-track release should enthrall bluegrass fans as Finders, Erin Youngberg and Zimmerman trade vocal duties. The opening salvo of “Diner” and “Lonely Too Long” gets things off to a strong start, and F&Y scores with “Hey Ramona” and the title track. Can't wait to hear more.

‘New Frontier'

Missy Raines & the New Hip (Compass)

★★★½

Acclaimed bluegrass bassist Missy Raines takes things in a different musical direction on the aptly titled “New Frontier,” her first album with backing band the New Hip. The 10-track release finds Raines focusing on her vocals and the album dabbles in everything from roots music and newgrass to Americana and acoustic jazz. Longtime fans might need time to warm to the new approach, but Raines & the New Hip should win converts with keepers “Blackest Crow,” the title track, “Long Way Back Home,” “Kite” and “American Crow.”

‘The Wild and Hollow'

Colin Gilmore (Woobietown)

★★★★

As the son of progressive country legend Jimmie Dale Gilmore, singer/songwriter Colin Gilmore knew he had big boots to fill. With the release of third full-length “The Wild and Hollow” (following 2004's “The Day the World Stopped and Spun the Other Way” and 2010's acclaimed “Goodnight Lane”), Gilmore has once and for all emerged from his father's formidable shadow. This is a delightful gathering of 10 country/rock tunes, with the younger Gilmore especially effective on opener “Into My Future,” “Wait,” “Only Real to Me,” “Singing Streets (The Walk to Oxnard),” “All My Worlds Are Fleeting” and “Raging Eyes.” His daddy should be proud.

‘The Squirrel Hillbillies'

The Squirrel Hillbillies (self-released)

★★★½

Pittsburgh-based acoustic duo the Squirrel Hillbillies (Jenny Wolsk Bain and Gary Crouth) has been making music since 2010 and has appeared at the Three Rivers Arts Festival, Pittsburgh International Children's Festival and Folk Alliance International's annual conference. The enjoyable self-titled debut album features 12 original tunes that explore folk, country and blues to great effect. Opener “Insane When We're Apart” is the best of the bunch, and the Squirrel Hillbillies shine on “Omaha,” “The Carny,” “Sammy's Old Country Band” and “Engine Blues.” Keep an eye on this talented twosome.

Jeffrey Sisk is an editor for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-664-9161 ext. 1952, or jsisk@tribweb.com.

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