Reviews: Murs emerges as bona fide pop star on 'Right Place Right Time'
‘Right Place Right Time'
Olly Murs (Columbia)
Having gotten his break with a runner-up performance on the 2009 season of Britain's “The X Factor,” Olly Murs has emerged as a bona fide pop star. He's been all over the radio with “Heart Skips a Beat” (featuring Chiddy Bang) and the Maroon 5-esque “Heartbeat” long before “Right Place Right Time” dropped in America (it bowed to great fanfare last November across the pond), making the 14-track release one of the more anticipated pop platters of the spring. If you like the first two singles, chances are you'll dig the rest of the album. Murs oozes personality and it's evident on keepers such as the title track, “Hey You Beautiful,” “One of These Days” and “What a Buzz.” Time will tell if Murs has any staying power, but “Right Place Right Time” is a heck of a lot of fun.
‘Inspiration Information/Wings of Love'
Shuggie Otis (Epic Legacy)
Though respected by his peers as a legitimate “soul man,” I knew nothing about Shuggie Otis before two-disc set “Inspiration Information/Wings of Love” came across my desk several weeks ago. This two-disc set combines a remastered version of his acclaimed 1974 album “Inspiration Information” with “Wings of Love,” a gathering of previously unreleased tunes recorded between 1975 and 2000. “Inspiration Information” is the standout disc, with the album's original nine tracks augmented by four bonus cuts. The title track, “Sparkle City” and “Rainy Day” are the best of the bunch. Disc 2 is sightly less effective, with lots of trippy tunes that seem dated in 2013. That said, I enjoyed “Give Me Something Good,” “Wings of Love” and “Give Me a Chance.”
Metal Mother (Post Primal)
Exotic avant-pop songstress Taara Tati records under the Metal Mother moniker and her sophomore full-length “Ionika” is an exotic gathering of 11 tunes that should appeal to the more adventurous listeners out there. Tati has a hauntingly compelling voice and though none of these songs seem destined for radio play, Metal Mother impress with “Mind_Off,” “Windexx'd,” “Tactillium,” “Little Ghost” and “Cardiac Blossom.” With 11 tracks clocking in at more than 54 minutes, “Ionika” is too long by about a third. The overstuffing makes it difficult to absorb the album in a single sitting. But in smaller pieces, Metal Mother's latest is worthy of attention.
The Thermals (Saddle Creek)
Having recorded their first five albums for hip labels Sub Pop and later Kill Rock Stars, post-punk trio the Thermals have enjoyed a nice following in their native Pacific Northwest. Now the Portland, Ore.-based outfit has moved on to Saddle Creek and their raw, engaging sound (happily) remains intact. After more than a decade together, the Thermals have come up with another batch of catchy, high-octane tunes that made 2010's “Personal Life” so enjoyable. Among the many keepers here include “You Will Be Free,” “The Sunset,” “The Sword By My Side,” “Faces Stay With Me” and “The Howl of the Winds.” There's little wasted effort on this 10-track gem that speeds by in just 26 minutes. It's time to warm up to the Thermals.
‘How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat'
Amy Speace (Wind Bone)
Considering folk singer/songwriter Amy Speace's career almost ended a couple years ago as the result of a case of acute laryngitis, we should feel lucky to have any new music at all from the Nashville-based performer. That latest effort “How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat” is so good is just icing on the cake. While recovering from the debilitating throat condition, Speace turned to the Bard for inspiration. She re-read the plays of William Shakespeare and the themes of love, lust, longing, etc. prompted her to start writing again. The 11-track release ranks among the better efforts of her career, with Speace especially impressive on “The Fortunate Ones,” the title track, personal favorite “The Sea & the Shore” (a duet with John Fullbright), “Bring Me Back My Heart” and “Feathers & Wishbones.” Fully recovered and on top of her game, Speace's future (and present) are equally bright.
‘Every Day Is Picture Day'
Picture Day (self-released)
Rising from the ashes of unknown outfit Team Tomato, St. Louis-based rockers Picture Day are starting to generate some national buzz with the release of sophomore EP “Every Day Is Picture Day.” The radio-ready tunes that make up the five-track release are anchored by the vocals of frontman Brian Weigert. After a so-so start to the album with “Madoline,” Picture Day snap into focus with standouts “Immaterial,” “Long Division” and “Happens Daily.” Kudos to Jordan Ross, who augments Weigert's vocals with some killer guitar riffs. This is a band on the rise.
‘Way to Blue: The Songs of Nick Drake'
Various Artists (StorySound)
One of the tragic figures in the annals of popular music, British singer/songwriter Nick Drake's genius was fully appreciated only after his fatal overdose on prescription medication in 1974 at the age of 26. In the 40 years since his passing, Drake has become an almost mythical figure whose music remains relevant to this day. “Way to Blue” started as a series of tribute concerts in which various artists would perform songs from Drake's catalog, but the universal acclaim generated from the 15 shows made this compilation album a no-brainer. There are contributions from a handful of talented artists on the 15-track release, with Luluc (“Things Behind the Sun,” “Fly”), Scott Matthews (“Place to Be,” “When the Day Is Done”), Shane Nicholson (“Poor Boy,” “Rider on the Wheel”) and Teddy Thompson (“River Man”) especially impressive. Thompson and Krystal Warren team up for a sterling rendition of Drake's most recognizable tune, “Pink Moon,” which was featured in a 2006 Volkswagen commercial. A fitting tribute to a musician who left us too soon.
The Laurels (self-released)
Unless shoegaze is your thing, there's a pretty good chance you'll find “Tidal Wave,” the sprawling opening cut on the Laurels' “Plains” debut, a bit off-putting. The song drones on for more than six minutes and, frankly, made me a bit leery of what was to follow on the Aussie outfit's 10-track debut. Happily, the Laurels hit their sonic stride with second track “Changing the Timeline” and the rest of the record, with its blend of psychedelic noise rock and, yes, shoegaze, is surprisingly effective. Along the way are standout tunes “Traversing the Universe,” “This City Is Coming Down,” “Manic Saturday” and “Sway Me Down Gently.” This is one of those records that grows on me a little more every time I listen (with the exception of the aforementioned opener), and has me eager to hear more from these talented chaps from Down Under.
‘Echo Mountain/Little Echoes'
K's Choice (Wallaby)
★★★½ and ★★★★
The brainchild of Belgian-born siblings Gert and Sarah Bettens, K's Choice have been kicking around for more than 20 years. They made a dent in America with their 1996 sophomore release “Paradise in Me,” but are best known among European audiences. Double-disc set “Echo Mountain” and its acoustic companion piece “Little Echoes” were released across the pond in 2010 and 2011, respectively, and now become the first new K's Choice CDs to drop in the U.S. in a decade. With a total of 14 tracks clocking in at 48 minutes, “Echo Mountain” needn't have been spread over two CDs, but alternative rock gems “Let It Grow,” the title track, “Perfect,” “Say a Prayer,” “16” and “America” merit multiple spins. The real gem is “Little Echoes,” which puts many of the same songs in a (superior) acoustic environment. Highlights include “Message to My Girl,” “Killing Dragons,” “No Surprises,” “Come Live the Life” and “Cannonball.”
Tera Melos (Sargent House)
My first exposure to math rock trio Tera Melos came with the 2009 free release of EP “Idioms Vol. 1,” and the band grew in my estimation the next year with proper full-length debut “Patagonian Rats.” Latest effort “X'ed Out” finds the band tweaking their sound slightly, though the intricate melodies and time signature changes are omnipresent on the 12-track platter. The one-two opening punch of “Weird Circles” and “New Chlorine” lure you right in, and Tera Melos keep you there with “Snake Lake,” “Melody Nine,” “No Phase,” “Slimed” and “Surf Nazis.” This isn't music for the masses, but adventurous listeners figure to get a jolt out of “X'ed Out.” ‘Three Roads Home'
Halle & the Jilt (self-released)
Having made the often-difficult transition from Broadway musicals to pop/rock, Halle Petro and backing band the Jilt come into their own on stellar sophomore set “Three Roads Home.” Blending elements of rock, jazz, blues and folk, Halle & the Jilt have cobbled together a 10-track gem. Petro's voice is equally impressive on uptempo tunes (“Kiss My Ghost”) and heart-wrenching laments (“Confessions”) and her songwriting skills are every bit as impressive as those golden pipes. Among the many keepers on “Three Roads Home” are “Graveyard of the Ocean,” “Take What I Can Get,” “Trees” and “Carry Me Home.” And bonus points for making the classic “Wayfaring Stranger” sound different than the hundreds of cover versions that preceded hers.
Team Ghost (Wsphere)
One-time M83 member Nicolas Fromageau founded Team Ghost in 2009 and after rounding out the lineup with four other accomplished musicians and dropping a pair of well-received EPs, the band delivers a solid debut full-length in “Rituals.” Influenced by cold wave artists like Joy Division and Cocteau Twins, Team Ghost add poppier elements to the mix and the results are mostly favorable. Though a tad overstuffed at 12 tracks, “Rituals” has some moments of greatness — including keepers “Curtains,” “Dead Film Star,” “Things Are Sometimes Tragic,” “Fireworks” and “Pleasure That Hurts.”
‘My Shame Is True'
Alkaline Trio (Epitaph)
Even though they've never enjoyed the success or universal acclaim of fellow pop/punk outfits like Green Day and Fall Out Boy, I've always had a special spot in my musical heart (and iPod) for Windy City three-piece Alkaline Trio. The predictably excellent “My Shame Is True” is the band's eighth studio effort in 15 years and Matt Skiba, Dan Andriano and Derek Grant have become true masters of their craft. Anthemic openers “She Lied to the F.B.I.” and “I Wanna Be a Warhol” set the tone for what's to come, and the remainder of the 12-track slab manages to maintain that momentum. Additional standouts include “The Temptation of St. Anthony,” “Only Love” and killer closer “Until Death Do Us Part.” There's still plenty of gas left in the Alkaline Trio tank.
‘Hard Coming Down'
Gun Outfit (PPM)
Lo-fi and rough around the edges in the best possible way, Olympia, Wash.-based rockers Gun Outfit enthrall on third album “Hard Coming Down.” With Caroline Keith and Dylan Sharp trading vocals throughout, this 12-track release is the trio's most accessible to date and (thankfully) softens some of the Sonic Youth-like elements of their music. “Hard Coming Down” starts a little slow with good-but-not-great tandem “Flyin' Low, Maria” and “Lau Blues,” but picks up steam from there. By the time Gun Outfit bring things to a close with “Another Human Being” and “Songwriter,” I was completely onboard.
Jeffrey Sisk is an editor for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-664-9161 ext. 1952, or firstname.lastname@example.org.