New release puts Of Montreal back on track
‘Lousy With Sylvianbriar'
Of Montreal (Polyvinyl)
The Kevin Barnes-fronted indie pop collective Of Montreal is remarkably prolific — “Lousy With Sylvianbriar” marks its 15th album in 17 years — so it stands to reason that it would uncork a subpar record at some point. That was the case with last year's middling “Paralytic Stalks,” a rare misstep from a band that has been very consistent over the years. I'm happy to report that Of Montreal is back on its game with this 11-track gem. Barnes decided to go old-school, eschewing computerized recording in favor of live band takes, and the results are terrific. From the opening notes of “Fugitive Air” to the last strains of “Imbecile Rages,” Of Montreal hits just about every note. Along the way are standouts “Belle Glade Missionaries,” “Colossus,” “Triumph of Disintegration” and “She Ain't Speakin' Now.” Welcome back, guys.
‘Somewhere East of Eden'
Joe Grushecky (Schoolhouse/Warner Bros. Nashville)
Perhaps because I'm not a Pittsburgh native, I haven't held veteran rocker Joe Grushecky in as high esteem as most folks. His enjoyable, if familiar, brand of heartland rock has earned comparisons to Bruce Springsteen, but Grushecky never quite became a superstar. “Somewhere East of Eden” is his 17th solo album, and will no doubt please his loyal fans. New tunes “I Can Hear the Devil Knocking,” “John the Revelator,” the title track and “Changing of the Guard” are terrific, as is his cover of “Save the Last Dance for Me.” Grushecky has done his hometown proud.
Seasick Steve (Third Man)
I'd never heard of hobo-turned-rocker Seasick Steve before 2011's “You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks” came across my desk, but I was instantly entranced with his gruff vocals and intoxicating mix of folk, country and trance blues. Now in his 70s, Steve is still at it with “Hubcap Music.” Though not quite on par with its predecessor, it's a listenable album that features standout tracks “Down on the Farm,” “Keep on Keepin' On,” “Freedom Road,” “Home” and “Coast Is Clear.”
‘Brand New Day'
Marc Platt (self-released)
Over the course of 35 years as both a solo performer and as frontman for 1980s power/pop band the Real Impossibles, Marc Platt has seen and done it all. Latest effort “Brand New Day” finds the talented singer/songwriter dabbling in contemporary folk as he tackles subject matter like patriotism, ageism, the American prison system and treatment of war veterans. Though topical, Platt is never too preachy and he scores with “Nick Drake,” “No Damn Justice,” “Best in America,” “Nine Long Years” and “This Way to War.” Good stuff.
Aaron & the Spell (Rock Ridge)
Philadelphia native Aaron Brown, as the driving creative force behind Aaron & the Spell, has opened eyes with his effective blend of soul, rock and electric blues. Debut album “Sing” is flat-out terrific and should appeal to those who dig the music of fellow Philly denizen Amos Lee and Ben Harper. Brown blows the roof off with gritty opener “By My Side” and keeps the momentum going with “Don't Cry,” “Maria, Full of Grace,” “Won't Go,” “A Beating Heart” and the set-closing title track. It's time you got caught up in Aaron & the Spell.
The Stepkids (Stones Throw)
There's something awfully familiar about the eclectic sound of Connecticut three-piece the Stepkids. Sophomore full-length “Troubadour” flirts with greatness as the Kids seamlessly blend rock, pop, blue-eyed soul and a healthy dose of R&B. One of the album's highlights, “The Lottery,” sounds so much Steely Dan I had to make sure Donald Fagen hadn't joined the band. It's a top-heavy gathering of 10 tunes, with the best stuff (the aforementioned “Lottery,” “Desert in the Dark,” “Insecure Troubadour,” “Sweet Salvation”) coming early before the Stepkids start losing steam down the stretch. Not essential, but worthy of your attention.
‘The Whale's Back'
Chad Kichula (self-released)
Singer/songwriter Chad Kichula unveils a terrific third full-length in “The Whale's Back.” Though he still holds a full-time day job as owner of a forestry company, Kichula has crafted one of the more enjoyable Americana releases of the year. Whether performing standout originals “No Where But Down,” the title track and “Cry and Cry,” or tackling tunes by Hank Williams (“Alone and Forsaken”), Tom Waits (“Fall of Troy”) or a show-stopping reading of Johnny Cash's “Folsom Prison Blues,” Kichula is the real deal.
‘One Day I'm Going to Soar'
It's been more than 30 years since Brit Kevin Rowland and Dexys Midnight Runners caught lightning in a bottle with their lone U.S. hit, the infectious “Come On Eileen.” The lads called it quits in 1985 ... until now. Having streamlined their name to Dexys, Rowland & Co. are back with “One Day I'm Going to Soar,” a better than expected gathering of 11 pop/rock tunes. Quirky opener “Now” sets the tone over the course of almost seven minutes, and Dexys shine on “Lost,” “She Got a Wiggle,” “I'm Thinking of You” and “Free.” At 56-plus minutes, the album is too long by about a third, but it still makes for a fun listen.
Jeffrey Sisk is an editor for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-664-9161 ext. 1952, or firstname.lastname@example.org.