Trent Dabbs returns to his folk-pop ways
‘The Way We Look at Horses'
Trent Dabbs (Ready Set))
Singer/songwriter Trent Dabbs has some nice solo albums to his credit, but my favorite stuff from the Nashville musician is his work with Amy Stroup as Sugar + the Hi-Lows. Their 2012 self-titled debut is a ridiculous amount of fun and has me hoping for more music from them. Dabbs returns to his folk-pop ways on “The Way We Look at Horses,” a solid 10-track release, but not one near as exciting of Sugar + the High Lows. That said, the title track is lovely and Dabbs also scores with “Mountain Song,” “Confetti Girl” and “Thousand Nights.” This one doesn't disappoint, nor does it enthrall.
‘Want Is a Great Need'
Lo Fine (Atlantic Spice)
I'm a sucker for most Americana acts, but try as I might, I can't totally embrace Lo Fine. The moody country rock made by Kevin O'Rourke & Co. is compelling on occasion, but much of the impact is dulled over the course of an entire slowcore album. “Want Is a Great Need” is Lo Fine's first full-length since 2007's “Not for Us Two” and a solid addition to the résumé. Songs like “All We Need Is Hell,” “Lie in White,” “Be Very Careful,” “Hours Undone” and “My Moonlight” are excellent in and of themselves, but when absorbed in a single sitting some might feel their eyelids drooping.
I'm In You (Mean)
It's not unusual for me to really like two-thirds or so of the songs on any given album, while not having much use for the rest of the tracks. What is rare, however, is to really like two-thirds of EVERY song on an album. Such is the case on electro-pop outfit I'm In You's third LP “Trust.” Pretty much every one of the 10 songs gets off to a great start, only to lose steam because of excessive electronic noodling. The exception is opener “Call Me When You're Drunk,” a winner from beginning to end. But songs like “Lock,” “Years,” “Absentee,” “Fates Worse Than Death” and “Decide” are superb for about three minutes each, only to linger two minutes (or more) too long.
The Last (End Sounds)
Los Angeles punk rockers the Last influenced a host of bands in the late 1970s and early ‘80s before calling it quits in 1985. The gang got back together a few years later, releasing a trio of platters between 1988-96, before parting ways again. Seventeen years later, founding members Joe and Mike Nolte have put together a new version of the Last and the result is the solid “Danger.” At about three minutes each, on average, the album's 14 tracks are longer than what we've come to expect from punk — but the guys show they can still deliver a punch with “Red Hair,” “I Don't Know What to Say,” “I'm Not Crazy,” “When That I am Dead” and the title track. Rock on.
Howe Gelb (New West)
I most associate Howe Gelb with Giant Sand, the flat-out fantastic alt-country outfit he's helmed for more than three decades. But the Arizona-based singer/songwriter has recorded a handful of solo albums, including stellar new release “The Coincidentalist.” The 11-track gathering of “desert-folk” tunes entertains at every turn, starting with opener “Vortexas,” a pitch-perfect duet with Bonnie “Prince” Billy.” It serves as an appetizer for a series of tasty tunes that includes “Left of Center,” “The 3 Deaths of Lucky,” the title track, “Triangulatem,” “An Extended Plane of Existence” and “Instigated Chimes.” Highly recommended.
Medina (Ultra Music)
Danish pop singer/model/actress Medina is a bona fide star throughout Europe and the United Kingdom. Now she looks to conquer America with “Forever.” It's an admittedly catchy collection of 15 synth-infused dance-pop tunes that figures to be a hit in clubs across the globe. Standouts include “Fool,” “Junkie,” “Scars,” “Boring,” “Hotels,” “Good to You” and “Afraid.” I'm not sure how much staying power “Forever” will have, but as pop albums go, you could do a lot worse.
‘Is Back ... Live'
Lita Ford (Steamhammer/SPV)
When I was in high school, Lita Ford was the personification of heavy metal sexy. Having earned her stripes with the all-girl jailbait outfit the Runaways, Ford went on to carve out a solid solo career. Her 1988 release “Lita” remains a hair-metal classic and though Ford's star soon faded, I'll always remember her fondly. Still going strong at age 55, Ford kicks out the jams on this 12-track live set recorded in October 2012. Though a bit too reliant on songs from her so-so 2012 release “Living Like a Runaway” (“Relentless,” the title track,” “Devil in My Head,” Hate”), Ford shines on classic cuts like “Hungry,” “Can't Catch Me,” “Close My Eyes Forever” and “Kiss Me Deadly.”
‘The Spiritual Side of Wynton Marsalis'
Wynton Marsalis (Columbia Legacy/Sony Classical)
Trumpet great Wynton Marsalis has been at the forefront of the modern jazz movement for more than three decades and shows no sign of slowing down. For latest effort “The Spiritual Side of Wynton Marsalis,” he compiled 15 of his favorite spiritually inspired tunes into a single set. The songs were recorded between 1988 and 2002 and showcase Marsalis at his very best. Keepers include “Processional,” “Psalm 26,” “Hymn,” “Holy Ghost,” “Oh We Have a Friend in Jesus,” “To Higher Ground” and a previously unreleased rendition of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”
Paul McCartney (Concord)
As much as I respect and admire Paul McCartney, I had mixed feelings about the prospects of the 71-year-old serving up his first album of new material since 2007's mostly great “Memory Almost Full.” It took a single spin of the aptly titled “New,” however, to put those fears to rest. At a time when his musical legacy is ensured, McCartney continues to push the envelope on this delightful 12-track release. Opener “Save Us” lures you in, and Macca holds you there with “Queenie Eyes,” “Early Days,” the title track, “Hosanna” and “I Can Bet.” In “New,” McCartney has crafted one of best late-career albums. Go figure.
‘Classified: Remixed and Expanded'
James Booker (Rounder)
Even though he died 30 years ago this week, New Orleans piano virtuoso James Booker's legacy lives on. His 1982 masterpiece “Classified” was one of just two studio albums released during his lifetime and the folks at Rounder are bringing it to a new generation of listeners with the “Remixed and Expanded” edition. The reissue adds another 10 tunes, including nine previously unreleased songs, to the mix. You can't improve on perfection, but this record comes close with the title track, “If You're Lonely,” “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” “Professor Longhair Medley,” “Hound Dog,” “All These Things,” “Yes Sir, That's My Baby” and much, much more.
‘Day of the Dog'
Ezra Furman (Bar/None)
It's been a busy year for singer/songwriter Ezra Furman. Less than three months after releasing his solo debut “The Year of No Returning,” Furman's back with sophomore set “Day of the Dog.” Where the first album was dark and introspective, this 13-track release is considerably more upbeat. The garagey gem “I Wanna Destroy Myself” sets the tone and Furman additional scores with “My Zero,” the title track, “And Maybe God Is a Train,” “Been So Strange” and “Cherry Lane.” Furman is two-for-two.
‘In a Perfect World'
Emotive Irish rockers Kodaline tapped into their inner Coldplay and Snow Patrol on July's “Love Like This “ EP and the lads continue in that vein on full-length debut “In a Perfect World.” It's a radio-ready gathering of 11 tunes anchored by Steve Garrigan's soaring tenor and wisely includes “Love Like This” and “After the Fall” from the EP. Lead single “All I Want” is a fixture on satellite radio and Kodaline also score with “High Hopes,” “Big Bad World” and “Talk.”
‘Frame By Frame'
Cassadee Pope (Republic Nashville)
After a stint fronting emo outfit Hey Monday, Cassadee Pope struck gold by winning Season 3 of NBC's “The Voice.” Now being marketed as a crossover songstress in the vein of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, Pope goes back to her country (but not really) roots on solo debut “Frame By Frame.” Pope has a terrific voice and does what she can with the middling material on the 11-track release, but it might take a couple albums for the 24-year-old to blossom. Among the stronger entries are “Good Times,” “Wasting All These Tears,” “Everybody Sings” and “This Car.”
‘When the Night'
St. Lucia (Neon Gold/Columbia)
Building on the promise of last year's self-titled EP, St. Lucia has a synth-pop gem on its hands in first full-length “When the Night.” The brainchild of South Africa-born, Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Jean-Philip Grobler, St. Lucia continues to enthrall even as the 11-track slab comes perilously close to the one-hour mark. Lead single “Elevate” is one of the highlights, as are “The Way You Remember Me,” “We Got It Wrong,” “Closer Than This,” “September” and the sprawling title track. Good stuff.
‘I'll Find a Way'
The Blind Boys of Alabama (Sony Masterworks)
After the Blind Boys of Alabama impressed with 2011's country-gospel offering “Take the High Road,” I had high hopes for “I'll Find a Way.” Produced by Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver), the 11-track CD figured to be one of the more interesting BBoA offerings in a career that spans a whopping nine decades. Yet despite guest turns from Merrill Garbus (tUnE-yArDs), Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond), Vernon, Sam Amidon and Patty Griffin, something is missing. The Boys will never put out a “bad” album, and score with the title track, “Take Me to the Water,” Bob Dylan's “Every Grain of Sand” and “Jubilee,” but this one falls well short of great.
‘We Made It Home'
Melody Walker & Jacob Groopman (Maker/Mender)
Melody Walker and Jacob Groopman, anchors of progressive bluegrass outfit Front Country, try their hand as a duo on “We Made It Home.” The results are flat-out twang-tastic as they offer up a 12-track mix of originals, covers and traditional tunes. Walker and Groopman soar on “Retinue,” “Black Grace,” “Billy the Champ” and “Yellow Haired Girl.” They also provide a highlight with a rollicking reading of Paul Simon's “Graceland” and a stellar cover of Peter Rowan's “Mississippi Moon.” Enjoy, y'all.
‘Love Has Wheels'
The Bankesters (Compass)
It's a family affair for bluegrass collective the Bankesters. With mom and dad joined by three daughters and a son-in-law, there's an old-school approach to fifth full-length “Love Has Wheels.” From the surprisingly terrific cover of “Cups (When I'm Gone)” to first-rate originals “Time and Love” and “Found,” to keepers “Guardian Angel” and gospel gem “Rise Up,” the Bankesters hit all the right notes.
Ken & Brad Kolodner (self-released)
Father-and-son bluegrass tandem Ken (hammer dulcimer) and Brad (banjo/vocals) Kolodner strut their stuff on “Skipping Rocks,” an enjoyable gathering of 15 neo-traditional tunes. The Kolodners pay tribute to the old-time Appalachian sound with keepers “The Orchard,” “Falls of Richmond,” “The Reunion,” “Boatman,” “Reuben's Train” and “Lost Indian.” Had they cut a couple so-so tracks (“Grub Springs,” “Red Rocking Chair”), the results would have been even better.