Stolar hits the right notes on 'More Than We Think'
‘More Than We Think'
Jay Stolar (self-released)
New Jersey native Jay Stolar seems determined to make a name for himself in the crowded singer/songwriter pack. His “More Than We Think” debut is a radio-ready collection of mainstream tunes that has earned him comparisons to everyone from Bruno Mars to Daryl Hall. With a soulful voice and first-rate writing chops, Stolar hits all the right notes on the 10-track release. Opener “Fall Apart” sets the tone, and he continues to impress on “Leading Me Down,” “Lost,” “Everything Seems Much Harder” and “When I'm Acting Crazy.” Keep an eye on this guy.
‘What It Is'
Heather Stewart (self-released)
Armed with a powerful voice and trusty acoustic guitar, former television producer Heather Stewart is following her musical dreams. “What It Is” is Stewart's sophomore full-length (she self-released “Life of the Party” in 2008) and shows why she's been mentioned in the same breath as A-listers Bonnie Raitt and Sheryl Crow. The title track is the best of the 11, and she scores with “Stand Up,” “We'll Learn,” “Had It All” and “Another Perfect Day.” Good stuff.
Clara May (self-released)
Sometimes bigger isn't better. And for Chicago indie outfit Clara May, bigger isn't quite as good. Two years ago, I was impressed with Clara May's “Hush” debut, a folk/pop platter cobbled together by Tom Silva and Nicole Sotelo. As a duo, Silva and Sotelo seemed destined for great things. “American Desi” is being billed as their sophomore effort, but Clara May has grown into a six-member rock band fronted by the admittedly talented Silva, with Sotelo relegated to a backing vocals contributor. It's not the same band and though there are some nice tunes on the 10-track release (lead single “Badlands,” “The Last Word,” “Long Shadow,” “Seville”), I can't help but long for the scaled back, earlier incarnation of Clara May. Oh well.
Tim Kasher (Saddle Creek)
As a big fan of indie collective Cursive, I had high hopes when frontman, Tim Kasher, dropped his “The Game of Monogamy” solo debut in 2010. Kasher didn't disappoint, delivering a rock-solid album followed by the delightful “Bigamy: More Songs From the Monogamy Sessions” the following year. Kasher returned to Cursive for last year's fantastic “I Am Gemini” and continues his winning ways with second solo full-length “Adult Film.” Kasher has toned down the theatricality that worked so well on “Monogamy,” and the less ornate arrangements are equally effective. He is most effective on “American Lit,” “Truly Freaking Out,” “The Willing Cuckold,” “Lay Down Your Weapons” and closer “A Lullaby, sort of.” Highly recommended.
Steve Poltz (Pounder/Arrival)
Nova Scotia-born singer/songwriter Steve Poltz has enjoyed success as a solo performer, frontman (the Rugburns) and hired gun (he co-wrote Jewel's mega-hit “You Were Meant for Me”) but I was unaware of this talented Canadian until “Running Wild” came across my desk. The 26-track release is a soundtrack to Suzanne Mitchell's documentary of the same name and is an appealing gathering of twangy, Americana-tinged tunes. Mixing vocal tunes with some instrumentals (plus one entry from Lily Kaminsky's “She Rose”), Poltz has crafted a winner.
‘Adding Up the Wasted Hours'
The Lonely Forest (Trans/Chop Shop)
Indie pop quartet the Lonely Forest popped onto my radar in 2009 with sophomore effort “We Sing the Body Electric!” It was a promising though overstuffed record, with 15 tracks clocking in at more than 53 minutes, but I figured with some self-editing, the Lonely Forest could be on to something special. The band built on that solid foundation with 2011's stellar “Arrows” and further fine-tunes its sound on “Adding Up the Wasted Hours.” Frontman John Van Deusen's compelling tenor continues to anchor the set, and the band soars on “Pull the Pin,” “Fire Breather,” “Left Hand Man,” “Last Time” and “Warm/Happy.”
Wild Child (Noise)
Indie freak-folk collective Wild Child comes into its own on sophomore full-length “The Runaround.” Led by Kelsey Wilson (violin/vocals) and Alexander Beggins (ukulele/vocals), Wild Child has evolved from a duo into a full-fledged six-member band, and this 11-track release is a delight. The catchy title track kicks off the proceedings, and the band further impresses with “Crazy Bird,” “Coming Home,” “Stitches,” “This Place,” “Living Tree” and “Left Behind.” If you like what you hear on “The Runaround,” be sure to catch Wild Child's Oct. 19 performance at Pittsburgh's Thunderbird Cafe.
‘Tally All the Things That You Broke'
Parquet Courts (What's Your Rupture?)
Self-described Americana punks Parquet Courts brightened up my 2012 summer with full-length debut “Light Up Gold,” and the band delivers the rock-solid EP “Tally All the Things That You Broke” to tide us over until the next full-length drops. More than a placeholder, “Tally” is an exciting gathering of five tunes that further establishes the band as an outfit on the rise. The highlight of the 19-minute EP is closer “He's Seeing Paths,” an eight-minute ode to a bicycle-riding, marijuana-delivery man. Parquet Courts scores with “Descend (The Way)” and “The More It Works.”
Sunwolf (El Rey)
Washington garage rock trio Sunwolf isn't well-known outside of the nation's capital, but all that could (and by all rights should) change with the release of new EP “Angel Eyes.” With its arresting cover art and irresistible lead single “Push It,” the six-track release is sure to get your attention. The remaining tunes, while good to above-average, can't measure up to “Push It,” but there's enough here to make me want to hear more from this up-and-coming three-piece.
Devon Sproule & Mike O'Neill (Tin Angel)
Though her vocals are, to be fair, an acquired taste, I've always enjoyed the work of folksy singer/songwriter Devon Sproule. Her 2011 release “I Love You, Go Easy” was the best in her decade-long career and I was eager to hear “Colours,” Sproule's collaboration with Mike O'Neill of the Inbreds. Though not as good as its predecessor, the 10-track release by these Canadian cohorts makes for an enjoyable listen. Keepers include “You Can Come Home,” the title track, “The Fan,” “Talk to You” and “The Fire Inside,” as Sproule and O'Neill generate some nice musical chemistry.
‘Let It Be Told'
SWF (Mecca Lecca)
Musician/artist/yoga aficionado Stevie Weinstein-Foner records and performs under the SWF moniker, and debut album “Let It Be Told” came together in fits and starts over a period of almost five years. It's a solid, but inconsistent collection of nine indie pop tunes that offers occasional flashes of brilliance. Lead single “Black & Golden” and “Turtle Brain” are the best of the bunch, while “Warrior” and “Saturn Returns” merit a few listens. Perhaps, with some more seasoning, SWF will pull everything together.
Summer Camp ([PIAS] America/Moshi Moshi)
Having busted out of the gates swinging with its 2010 debut EP “Young,” British indie pop duo Summer Camp stumbled a bit the following year with so-so full-length “Welcome to Condale.” Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey have righted the ship on this self-titled sophomore set, serving up 11 consistently enjoyable twee pop tunes. Filled with jangly guitars and ear-pleasing harmonies, the album soars highest on “Fresh,” “Crazy,” “Two Chords,” “I Got You,” “Everything Has Changed” and “Night Drive.” Give these talented Brits a try.
‘Sleep Dreamt a Brother'
Mathew Sawyer (Fire)
“Sleep Dreamt a Brother,” the latest record from musician/artist Mathew Sawyer, isn't going to leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy. The album is about death as Sawyer dealt with the loss of three friends a few months apart in 2011. The 10 songs here are stark and mournful — the “brothers” in the album title are Sleep and Death — but there's a haunting beauty to much of the album. The title track is the standout, and Sawyer impresses with “Don't Tell the Others What We Were Singing,” “October All the Time” and “Golden Heart.”
The Flatliners (Fat Wreck Chords)
Canadian punk foursome the Flatliners has been going strong for a decade and has come into its own after 10 years of making records and touring relentlessly. Fourth full-length “Dead Language” finds the guys taking a slightly different approach. Instead of tracking and overdubbing in the studio, this high-octane 13-track release was recorded live in the studio and it adds another jolt of energy to the listening experience. “Resuscitation of the Year” and “Bury Me” get things off to a fast start and the Flatliners maintain that momentum through keepers “Drown in Blood,” “Ashes Away,” “Hounds” and “Brilliant Resilience.” Rock on, lads.
‘Off the Beaten Path'
Justin Moore (The Valory)
At a time when country music is being dominated by the likes of Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley and Luke Bryan, it would be easy for Justin Moore to get lost in the shuffle. That would be a shame because the twangy Arkansas native's spin on contemporary country deserves an audience. A big one. Fourth full-length “Off the Beaten Path” may be Moore's best yet, a universally enjoyable gathering of 11 tunes proudly aimed at the redneck set. The songs that bookend the album — “Old Back in the New School” and “For Some Ol' Redneck Reason” (featuring the legendary Charlie Daniels) are the highlights, and Moore soars on “Point at You,” “This Kind of Town,” “Country Radio” and “One Dirt Road.” Enjoy, y'all.
Hudson Hank (Laveta)
It took me a few spins of “DayBreak,” the debut album from New York five-piece Hudson Hank, for me to start buying what Sammy Oatts and his mates were selling. The 10-track offering, produced by Coldplay bassist Guy Berryman, is full of ambient melodies and delicate arrangements. Truth be told, I was a little bored initially, but the more I listened to “The Cut of Your Gibberish,” “Breakfast of Fools” and the title track, the more the album grew on me.
Andrea Tomasi (Team Love)
A generation ago, Vermont native Andrea Tomasi would have shared the stage with Joan Baez and Judy Collins. Her 11-track self-titled debut could have been recorded in the mid-1960s with its simple, effective arrangements and languid melodies. Recorded outdoors in New York's Shawangunk Mountains, Tomasi soars on “Birdflower,” “West Virginia,” “He Waits” and “Falcons.” Though a bit too sleepy for my taste, it's still a record worth exploring.
‘To Color a Fool'
Burning River Ramblers (self-released)
Ohio alt-pop collective the Burning River Ramblers has built a loyal following in and around Cleveland and looks to expand its sphere of influence with sophomore full-length “To Color a Fool.” Mixing pop, rock, blues and soul, the 12-track release makes for a compelling listen. Though the 12-track CD is too long by about a third, BRR hits all the right notes on “Coyote,” “Closer,” “Undertow,” “Open Road” and “I'm No Ghost.” Keep an eye on these guys.
Jeffrey Sisk is an editor for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-664-9161 ext. 1952, or firstname.lastname@example.org.