Last Bison never disappoint
Caitlin Rose (ATO)
With a voice that sounds like a cross between Neko Case and Jenny Lewis, Nashville native Caitlin Rose should be a star. Yet European audiences were first to discover her 2011 breakthrough “Own Side Now,” and she's still building a following in her homeland. Rose takes another step up the career ladder with “The Stand-In,” a delightful gathering of 12 tunes that flawlessly straddle the line between alternative country and pop. Opener “No One to Call” sucks you right in and Rose is in full bloom on “I Was Cruel,” “Only a Clown,” “Pink Champagne,” “Golden Boy,” “Everywhere I Go” and “Menagerie.” If you like what you hear on “The Stand-In” — and I can't imagine why you wouldn't — check Rose out live when she performs at Club Cafe on the South Side on April 6.
Brooke Waggoner (Swoon Moon)
Another Nashville native, Brooke Waggoner came to my attention in 2009 with the release of sophomore album “Go Easy Little Doves.” It's taken her longer than expected to record follow-up “Originator,” but I'm happy to report it's worth the wait. Her eclectic style of indie pop — anchored by ethereal vocals and prominent piano melodies — remains remarkably fresh. Waggoner reminds of Kate Bush in lid lifter “Shapeshift,” and also hits every note on “From the Nest,” “Ink Slinger,” “Welspryng,” “Waterlogged” and “Mixin' With the Birdies.” Do yourself a favor and track down a copy of “Originator.” You'll thank me later.
Jamaican Queens (Notown)
Quirky indie pop outfit Jamaican Queens make quite the first impression on stellar debut full-length “Wormfood.” With a sound that's influenced by everything from electronic dance music and folk to dub step and Southern rap, this nine-track release pretty much defies classification. In fact, the efforts of Ryan Spencer and Adam Pressley have spawned a sub-genre known as “trap-pop.” Things get off to a terrific star with “Water” and “Kids Get Away,” and Jamaican Queens shine on “Annie,” the title track, “Asleep at the Wheel” and “Caitlin.” If you're looking for something that's different from just about everything else out there, yet still engaging enough to make you want to dance along, take a bite of “Wormfood.”
‘Thought and Language'
Dead Leaf Echo (self-released)
Shoegaze devotees have a talented young band to give them their fill of droning, reverb-heavy guitars and dreamy melodies in Dead Leaf Echo. With a smattering of EPs, none better than 2011's “Pale Fire,” Dead Leaf Echo expand to a full-length for “Thought and Language.” I generally find that a little shoegaze goes a long way, and this 16-track, 69-minute platter overstays its welcome by about a third, but Deed Leaf Echo manage to maintain my interest throughout. Among the standouts are “Kingmaker,” “Language of the Waves,” “Child,” “Heavensent” and “Flowerspeak.” Drone on, fellas.
Javelin (Luaka Bop)
Though clearly in the minority among critics, I wasn't enamored with electronic pop duo Javelin when they exploded onto the scene with their 2010 debut “No Más.” I thought the songs in and of themselves were pretty good, but when strung together over the course of an album they started to blend together. George Langford and Tom Van Buskirk have evolved their sound in the ensuing years and album No. 3 “Hi Beams” finally allows me to understand what the fuss was all about. Less reliant on samples than the previous records, this 10-track release is a delight. Songs like “Nnormal,” “Judgement Nite,” “Friending,” “Drummachines” and “The Stars” merit multiple spins. Kudos
‘Lonely & Blue: The Deepest Soul of Otis Redding'
Otis Redding (Stax)
Every time I hear Otis Redding sing, I get sad thinking about how much great music he would have made had he not been killed in a 1967 plane crash at age 26. Some 45 years later, Redding still ranks among the very best soul singers to ever grace the earth and new compilation album “Lonely & Blue: The Deepest Soul of Otis Redding” underscores his remarkable abilities with a 12-track gathering of gut-wrenching ballads. There are plenty of familiar hits in “My Lover's Prayer,” “Free Me,” “These Arms of Mine” and “I've Been Loving You Too Long,” but what makes this platter worth the investment are lesser-known gems like “Open the Door,” “Waste of Time” and “Everybody Makes a Mistake.” Simply remarkable.
‘Drown in the Crimson Tide'
With a soulful voice raised on Chicago blues, Stax funk and Muscle Shoals soul, Nakia Reynoso captured the nation's fancy a couple years ago when the burly, bearded musician advanced to the semifinals of NBC's “The Voice” under the guidance of Cee Lo Green. For his second solo effort, the sizzling EP “Down in the Crimson Tide,” Nakia teamed up with a handful of first-rate artists for a six-track effort that showcases his songwriting and vocal abilities. Keepers include “Tight,” “Dream Big,” “Pieces and Castles” and “Walking on a Slant.” Slightly less effective are “Make Up With a Gun” and “When I Found You,” but it's evident that Nakia has some real chops.
The Howlin' Brothers (Readymade/Thirty Tigers)
Mixing elements of country, folk, bluegrass, pop and rock into their own delightful sonic stew, the Howlin' Brothers knock it out of the park on debut full-length “Howl.” Fans of early Avett Brothers and the Felice Brothers should get a kick out of this trio, who, despite their name, aren't related. There's a delightful traditional twang throughout the 12-track release that belies the Brothers' upbringing in upstate New York, Wisconsin and suburban Boston. “Big Time” gets the hoedown started, and the white felt hat-wearing threesome hit all the right notes on “Julia Belle Swain,” “Gone,” “My Dog Can't Bark,” “Tell Me That You Love Me,” “Take This Hammer” and “Mama Don't You Touch Me.” Enjoy, y'all.
‘All Fired Up'
Casual music fans might not know Poco by name, but this enduring band was at the forefront of the country rock movement of the late 1960s and early '70s. Though their days as hitmakers (“Heart of the Night,” “Crazy Love,” “Midnight Love”) are long gone, Poco have continued on for the better part of a half century. Singer Rusty Young is the lone original member, and he's surrounded himself with some fresh talent for “All Fired Up,” Poco's first studio album in more than a decade. The 12-track release does nothing to tarnish Poco's legacy, nor does the good-but-not-great LP enhance it much either. The title track is a winner, as are “Drink It In,” “A Little Rain,” “Hard Country” and “Neil Young,” but all in all, I still prefer the half dozen or so near-perfect platters Poco released between 1969 and 1973.
The Mavericks (Valory)
After churning out a series of fantastic albums in the 1990s that melded country, rock, Tex-Mex and Latin melodies into a sound all their own, the Mavericks parted ways. Frontman Raul Malo went on to carve out a successful solo career and the band released just one studio and one live album over a 15-year span. The Mavericks decided to give it another go in 2011 and “In Time” shows that Malo and his mates haven't lost a step. Malo's Roy Orbison-like vocals are the selling point for the 14-track collection of originals. The opening trio of “Back in Your Arms Again,” “Lies,” and “Born to Be Blue” are nothing short of magnificent, and the Mavericks also soar on “In Another's Arms,” “All Over Again,” “That's Not My Name” and “(Call Me) When You Get to Heaven.” Here's hoping the fellas have many more albums like “In Time” in their future.
‘Fiction Family Reunion'
Fiction Family (Rock Ridge)
When alt-rock frontman Jon Foreman (Switchfoot) and nu-grass star Sean Watkins (Nickel Creek) joined forces a few years ago to form Fiction Family, I wasn't sure what to expect. Their 2009 self-titled debut didn't do much for me, so my expectations weren't high when sophomore slab “Fiction Family Reunion” came across my desk. The 10-track release marks a noticeable step forward for the folk/pop four-piece. Songs like “Avalon,” “Guilt,” “Give Me Back My Girl,” “God Badge” and “Fools Gold” are terrific, with “Just Rob Me” the belle of the ball. Kudos to Foreman and Watkins for persevering and coming up with a winner the second time around.
Act Rights (Tonequake)
Austin rockers Act Rights turned heads this time last year with a buzz-generating performance at the 2012 South By Southwest Music Festival and the quartet looks to build on that momentum with terrifically raw debut “Sweat Equity.” Rough around the edges in the best possible way, the guys deliver the goods. Bluesy gem “Praying Mantis” is worth the purchase price all by itself, and Act Rights also soar on “Mind Train,” “East India Rush,” “Jamestown Jheri Curl,” “Hot Date” and “Sausage Mountain.” Can't wait to hear more from these talented newcomers.
‘My True Story'
Aaron Neville (Blue Note)
Hard to believe that New Orleans legend Aaron Neville is 72 years old. With his crystal clear tenor and distinctive falsetto, Neville sounds like a man less than half his age. For latest effort “My True Story,” Neville tackles doo wop with a 12-track covers album co-produced by fellow legends Keith Richards and Don Was. Neville's voice sounds as strong as ever on keepers “Ruby Baby,” “Gypsy Woman,” “Be My Baby,” “Tears on My Pillow,” “Under the Boardwalk” and a medley of “This Magic Moment/True Love.” Neville's fans won't be disappointed, and neither will those who still hold doo wop near and dear to their hearts.
Borrowed Toys (self-released)
Despite the best efforts of co-leaders Nancy Menhart and Joe Ciaudelli, Connecticut rockers Borrowed Toys have never managed to build their fan base beyond a regional level. Latest album “Better,” a collection of 12 original tunes, is a solid effort, but not one that's likely to propel the four-piece to the next level. I have no doubt Borrowed Toys are a great bar band — Menhart anchors the proceedings with her vocal work — and songs like “Wanna Go Back to Sleep,” “Jenny,” “She Won't Do What She's Told” and “Common Point of View” are very good. But there's nothing here that indicates this outfit is the next big thing. Still, as regional acts go, you could do a heck of a lot worse.
Jeffrey Sisk is a managing editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 152 or firstname.lastname@example.org.