CD reviews: Warm Soda's debut album delivers
‘Someone for You'
Warm Soda (Castle Face)
Last March, Matthew Melton saw his garage punk trio Bare Wires implode, but soon after the dust settled he put together an outfit (with bassist Chase Oren, guitarist Rob Good and drummer Ian McBrayer) that's every bit as promising in Warm Soda. The new quartet's “Someone for You” is a first-rate debut and delivers a sound that, while still edgy, has a bit more polish than Bare Wires. In addition to punk, there are elements of power pop and glam rock on a 12-track release that zips by in a blink-and-you-missed-it 27 minutes. After a so-so start with “Violent Blue,” Warm Soda hit their stride with a series of keepers in the title track, the infectious “Jeanie Loves Pop,” “Spellbound,” “Waiting for Your Call,” “Stargazer,” “Busy Lizzy” and “Sour Grapes.” This is a band on the rise.
‘Left of the Right Direction'
Winslow (Little Fish/RCR)
It's been a tumultuous five years since Cleveland-based pop/soul collective Winslow made their full-length debut with “Crazy Kind of Love.” The current version of the sextet features just three original members, but fortunately one of the holdovers is dynamic frontman Maurice Martin, who provides a steady anchor on 10-track sophomore set “Left of the Right Direction.” There's a lot to like about the new record, which finds Winslow in peak form on personal favorite, the Earth, Wind & Fire-ish “Alone Tonight,” “Quarter-life,” “Stand Up,” “Clarity,” “Mo's Joint” and “Last Goodbye.” Heavy-handed closer “The Change” and its over-reliance on sound bites from President Obama dampens my enthusiasm for the album to a certain extent, but pretty much everything that comes before it is right on the mark.
‘The Ash & Clay'
The Milk Carton Kids (Anti-)
Indie folk duo the Milk Carton Kids (Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan) are one of my favorite new bands of 2011. In addition to their near-perfect “Prologue” studio debut, the Kids dropped a stellar live album that year and I've been not so patiently waiting for another record from Pattengale and Ryan. At long last they're back with sublime effort “The Ash & Clay.” Still utilizing the minimalist approach of two guitars and two voices to perfection, the Milk Carton Kids don't miss a note on the 12-track release. Songs like “Snake Eyes,” “Honey, Honey,” “Years Gone By,” “Promised Land,” “The Jewel of June,” “Whisper in Her Ear,” “Heaven” and “Memphis” are flat-out fantastic, and the rest of the record is almost as good. Highly recommended.
Mwahaha (Plug Research)
Considering they hail from the Bay Area, it's not surprising that Mwahaha incorporate some serious psychedelia into their music. And if you dig that kind of spacey sound, I'm guessing you'll get a kick out of the Oakland band's self-titled debut CD. Released independently in 2011, the reissue is getting a wider roll-out this time around. The opening salvo of “Swimmer” and “Rainbow Diamond” are straight-up psych rock tunes and should have stoners everywhere firing up their, uh, lava lamps. Additional keepers include “Love” (featuring Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs), “We Build” and “Rivers of Teeth.” Mwahaha lose their way a bit on the 11-minute “Bathynomus Gigantes!”, a tune that sounds fine for awhile but overstays its welcome by a good six minutes.
Considering I'm neither a fan of electronica nor experimental music, the deck was probably stacked against Lapalux, the nom de plume of British producer Stuart Howard, and his “Nostalchic” debut. Truth be told, I enjoyed the 12-track release more than I expected, though Lapalux didn't manage to convert me into a fan of electronica. There are some excellent nuggets to be found — namely “One Thing,” “Swallowing Smoke,” “Straight Over My Head” and “Dance” — but you'll have to patiently seek them out amid a sea of lesser entries. Fans of the genre should enjoy “Nostalchic,” but I doubt it'll do much for the rest of you.
‘Runaway Freeway Blues'
The Black Lillies (self-released)
While the Black Lillies should be familiar to those in the know when it comes to Americana music, it's high time the rest of the world caught on to their toe-tapping blend of country, folk and bluegrass. “Runaway Freeway Blues” is their third winning full-length in as many tries (following 2009's “Whiskey Angel” and 2011's “100 Miles of Wreckage”) and cements the Lillies' status as one of the best in the business. You won't find a clunker among the 11 songs here, and the Black Lillies shine especially bright on “The Fall,” “Gold and Roses,” personal favorite “Smokestack Lady,” “By the Wayside,” “All This Living” and “Glow.” They are scheduled to perform a free concert at Greensburg's St. Clair Park on Aug. 9. It's a show you won't want to miss.
‘Change Becomes Us'
It's been 37 years since British post-punk outfit Wire formed at art school, and the quartet that features original members Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, Robert Grey and new guitarist Matthew Simms goes back to its roots for new studio release “Change Becomes Us.” The 13-track album is the result of the band reworking songs (and song snippets) they performed live in 1979 and 1980 and injecting them with a more modern flair. It's a pretty cool idea that Wire mostly make work. Keepers include “Keep Exhaling,” the blistering “Adore Your Island,” “Stealth of a Stork,” “Magic Bullet,” “Love Bends” and “As We Go.” Clocking in at more than 48 minutes, the album loses steam down the stretch ... but it's nice to see a veteran band like Wire doing their best to remain relevant.
‘Standing in the English Rain'
Lizanne Knott (self-released)
Philadelphia-based singer/songwriter Lizanne Knott's folk-leaning tunes might not be as familiar to American audiences as those in Great Britain, but that's not a reflection on the quality of the music. Latest full-length “Standing in the English Rain” ranks among Knott's best efforts to date and hopefully will broaden the fan base of an artist who has garnered comparisons to such heavyweights as Bonnie Raitt, Janis Ian, Julie Miller and Damien Rice. Though a little overstuffed with 13 tracks clocking more than 52 minutes, there's a lot to like about the new album. Among the standouts are “Be Careful With My Heart,” “Miss You,” “Jello Shot,” “There Are Angels,” “Lay Me Down” and a stellar cover of Randy Newman's “I Think It's Gonna Rain Today.” Good stuff.
‘Alive on Arrival/Jackrabbit Slim'
Steve Forbert (Blue Corn)
Veteran folk rocker Steve Forbert enjoyed a career renaissance of sorts last fall with the release of “Over With You,” the 58-year-old's most consistently excellent album in decades. The folks at Blue Corn look to capitalize on that momentum by reissuing Forbert's first studio efforts — 1978's “Alive on Arrival” and 1979's “Jackrabbit Slim” — as a must-have two-CD set chock full of bonus tracks. The Mississippi native has never been better than on those first two releases and the songs hold up remarkably well some 35 years later. “Alive on Arrival” gets off to an awesome start with “Goin' Down to Laurel” and Forbert soars on “What Kinda Guy?”, “It Isn't Gonna Be That Way,” “Tonight I Feel So Far Away From Home” and “You Cannot Win If You Do Not Play.” “Jackrabbit Slim” features Forbert's best-known song “Romeo's Tune” (later a huge hit for Keith Urban), and additional keepers include “I'm in Love With You,” “Say Goodbye to Little Jo,” “Baby” and “Complications.” Among the bonus cuts, “It's Been a Long Time,” “House of Cards,” “The Oil Song,” “Witch Blues” and a live performance of “Romeo's Tune” shine brightest.
‘That's Just the Way I Roll'
Dave Adkins & Republik Steel (Rural Rhythm)
Fans of modern bluegrass should run — not walk — and track down a copy of Dave Adkins & Republik Steel's twang-tastic debut “That's Just the Way I Roll.” Adkins proves to be a first-rate frontman and he's supported by a foursome of string musicians that clearly love playing together. The title track gets things off to a scintillating start before Adkins slows things down a bit for keeper “Rose Colored Glasses.” Additional standouts include “Heartstrings,” “Laura Mae,” “Don't They Know He's Watching” and “Chasin' a Dream.” Adkins & Republik Steel also serve up a cover of Dave Loggins' “Please Come to Boston” that exceeds the original. Seriously. Enjoy, y'all.
Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors (Magnolia)
My first exposure to Tennessee-based country-rock collective Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors came a couple of years ago with the release of their fourth full-length “Chasing Someday.” Sadly, they remain relatively anonymous outside of indie circles, but perhaps latest release “Good Light” will change all that. This is a sunny gathering of 12 tunes that should appeal to mainstream listeners. Holcomb & the Neighbors soar highest when wife/bandmate Ellie Holcomb joins in on vocals, and the quartet delivers the goods on the title track, “The Wine We Drink,” “Tennessee,” “A Place to Lay My Head,” “Nothing Like a Woman” and “Rooftops.” This is a record you'll want to revisit again and again.
Buckcherry (Century Media)
It's hard to believe that Los Angeles rockers Buckcherry have been kicking around for almost 20 years. And they deserve credit for that perseverance, even if only two of their previous albums had any staying power whatsoever. Having apparently hit the wall with 2010's disappointing “All Night Long,” Buckcherry return with the unexpectedly listenable “Confessions,” a good-but-not-great collection of 13 songs. At 50-plus minutes, the album is too long by about a quarter, but Buckcherry hit the mark with songs like profanity-laced opener “Gluttony,” “Nothing Left But Tears,” “The Truth,” “Water” and “Lust.” Five additional tracks take their names from the seven deadly sins, but “Wrath,” “Greed,” “Sloth,” “Pride” and “Envy” fail to register. This one won't win new fans, but the old guard should enjoy it.
Having thoroughly enjoyed the last two albums from electro-tinged indie pop outfit STRFKR (2009's “Jupiter” and especially 2011's “Reptilians”), I had high hopes for the band's latest album. I'm happy to report that “Miracle Mile” doesn't disappoint, as STRFKR turns in their most impressive record so far on this infectious 15-track release. Catchy gem “While I'm Alive” sets the tone, and STRFKR keep you dancing with keepers “Malmö,” “Beach Monster,” “Kahlil Gibran,” “Atlantis” and “Golden Light.” The most collaborative effort we've seen thus far from the band, “Miracle Mile” has the Portland, Ore.-based group poised for stardom.
White Lung (Deranged)
Vancouver punk rockers White Lung showed great promise a couple years ago with their “It's the Evil” debut and live up to that promise in rock-solid sophomore set “Sorry.” Frontwoman Mish Way's emotion-fueled vocals anchor this whip-smart 10-track, 19-minute release, but give credit to the drumming of Anne-Marie Vassilou and Kenneth McCorkell's blistering guitar work. The best song of a very good bunch is opener “Take the Mirror,” but White Lung also score with “Thick Lip,” “Bag,” “Bunny,” “Glue” and “Those Girls.” If you need to release some aggression, give “Sorry” a couple of spins.
Jeffrey Sisk is an editor for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-664-9161 ext. 1952, or firstname.lastname@example.org.