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'Life, Love & Hope' has little magic

| Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013, 5:16 a.m.

‘Life, Love & Hope'

Boston (Frontiers)


Veteran rockers Boston have spent almost 40 years in the shadow of their very own debut album. Since that 1976 self-titled masterpiece and 1978's “Don't Look Back” followup, Tom Scholz and his mates have released an album every decade or so, never recapturing lightning in a bottle. “Life, Love & Hope” is their first effort since the 2007 suicide of vocalist Brad Delp and his absence is notable. Delp appears on a few tracks — most notably set highlight “Didn't Mean to Fall in Love” — but assorted guest vocalists can't fill his shoes. And that's a shame because there are some moments (“Heaven on Earth,” “Last Day of School,” “Someday”) when the old magic appears. But blink and it's gone.

‘Join the Dots'

TOY (Heavenly)


Unlike many critics, I was not enchanted by TOY's self-titled debut album last year. I found the London band's mix of shoegaze, pop and Krautrock too scattered for my liking and had tempered expectations for “Join the Dots.” I'm happy to say the record is better than I expected, anchored by keepers “You Won't Be the Same,” the title track, “Endlessly,” “Left to Wander” and “Fall Out of Love.” There's still work to be done, but TOY are on the right path.

‘Songs of Anarchy: Volume 3'

Various Artists (Columbia)


Naysayers love to poke fun about the (over)reliance of musical montages on “Sons of Anarchy,” the FX motorcycle drama that recently wrapped its bloody sixth season. But even the harshest critic has to admit that the songs used during those lengthy sequences are almost always terrific. “Songs of Anarchy: Volume 3” features 13 tracks from the show, mostly covers by cast members and “house band” the Forest Rangers. Highlights include tunes from Noah Gundersen (“As Tears Go By,” “Day Is Gone”), Chris Goss (“Sittin' on Top of the World”), Leonard Cohen (“Come Healing”), Joshua James (“Crash This Train”), Katey Sagal (“ For a Dancer”) and an all-star rendition of “Everyday People.”


Driftwood (self-released)


With a delightfully folksy sound that has earned them comparisons to the Avett Brothers and Old Crow Medicine Show, New York quartet Driftwood are poised for stardom with the release of their self-titled third full-length. There's nary a missed note on the 11-track release that shines from opener “High School Paycheck” clear through to closer “Brother.” Check out standouts “Roller Coaster,” “Before I Rust” and “Company Store.”

‘Embracing Light'

Jake Clemons (self-released)


Saxophonist/singer/songwriter Jake Clemons carries on the family musical tradition of his late uncle Clarence Clemons on rock-solid debut EP “Embracing Light.” The horns of opener “Song for Hope” sound like his uncle in his E Street Band heyday, and the younger Clemons also shines on “You Must Be Crazy,” the title track and “Carry Me Through.” A promising first effort that does “The Big Man” proud.

‘Britney Jean'

Britney Spears (RCA)


Former teen pop princess Britney Spears has called “Britney Jean” her most personal album to date, but there's not a lot of insight on the 10-track release. That's not to say the songs aren't enjoyable — many are quite catchy, in fact — but they don't peel back the layers of the onion that is Ms. Spears. As a pop album, though, “Britney Jean” works well on standouts “Aline,” “Perfume,” “Tik Tik Boom,” “Passenger” and “Chillin' With You.”

‘I Slept Thru the 80's'

The Big Bright (self-released)


A collaboration between Glen Patscha and Fiona McBain of Ollabelle and singer/songwriter Liz Tormes, the Big Bright explore their shared love of New Wave and Britpop on the aptly titled debut “I Slept Thru the 80's.” More than a standard covers album, the trio puts a dreamy spin on tunes by INXS (“Don't Change”), the Cure (“Just Like Heaven”), Depeche Mode (“Never Let Me Down Again”) and Tears for Fears (“Change”).

‘Into the Eventyr'

Norman (Hey Amigo)


Portland folk/rock quintet Norman take a huge leap forward on dynamite third album “Into the Eventyr.” There's a terrific country-rock vibe to the 11-track release that could help Norman make a name for themselves. The opening tandem of “Hawk” and “Golden” is terrific, and the fellas also soar on “Younger,” “By My Side,” “Alchemy,” “Aventura” and “Leaving the Valley.” This one's a winner.

‘Copper & Coal'

Copper & Coal (self-released)


There's a vintage feel to the self-titled debut from country duo Copper & Coal, an album of mostly original tunes that sound as though they were written for Loretta Lynn and Kitty Wells a half century ago. Carra Stasney and Leslie Beia have remarkable chemistry on a twangy gem highlighted by “Good Time Gal,” “Kentucky Blue,” “I Can't Believe I've Fallen,” “Faraway Places” and the Dolly Parton cover “Dagger Though the Heart.” Enjoy, y'all.

‘Destination Moon'

Deana Martin (Big Fish)


Deana Martin tackles the classics on fourth studio effort “Destination Moon.” The centerpiece of the 14-track release is a duet of “True Love” with her late father Dean Martin, but she also soars on “Beyond the Sea,” “About a Quarter to Nine,” “Paradise,” the title track and “Read Between the Lines.”

‘Analog Weekend'

Their/They're/There (Polyvinyl)


An emo supergroup comprised of Evan Weiss (Into It. Over It), Mike Kinsella (Owen) and Matthew Frank (Loose Lips Sink Ships), Their/They're/There drop their second mathy EP of 2013 in the good-but-not-quite-great “Analog Weekend.” Middling opener “Curtain Call” is the weak link, but the guys bounce back with personal favorite “New Blood” and “Travelers Insurance.” Keep an eye on this tasty side project.

‘Vibration Animal Sex Brain Music'

Orchestra of Spheres (Fire)


Try as I might, I can't fully embrace Orchestra of Spheres' quirky sophomore set “Vibration Animal Sex Brain Music.” It's not a bad album, but the 11 tracks are so all over the place that I'm not sure what the New Zealand collective is trying to accomplish. Songs like “Electric Company,” “Moro Con” and “Kairo” merit a few spins, but the rest are acquired tastes at best.

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

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