Super group Mad Season's lone album gets deluxe treatment
‘Above: Deluxe Edition'
Mad Season (Columbia Legacy)
With grunge at his pinnacle in 1994, Seattle musicians Layne Staley (Alice in Chains), Mike McCready (Pearl Jam), Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees) and veteran bluesman John Baker Saunders joined forces to form the supergroup Mad Season. They lasted only long enough to record one album, 1995's “Above,” but it's a platter that's endured for almost 20 years. Columbia Legacy is giving the record the “Deluxe Edition” treatment with a two-CD, one-DVD set that includes the original studio album, tracks from Mad Season's aborted sophomore set (featuring Screaming Trees' Mark Lanegan on vocals), a live performance and assorted other goodies that should appeal to those who came of age in the grunge era. “Above” is, more than anything, a blues record and the late Staley's distinctive vocals were ideally suited to standout tracks “Wake Up,” “River of Deceit,” “Artificial Red” and “November Hotel.” Scrapped Lanegan tracks “Locomotive” and “Slip Away” are almost as effective, but what sets this collection apart is the CD and DVD of the band's April 29. 1995, performance at Seattle venue The Moore. It's too bad we never got to hear more from Mad Season.
‘Pick a Piper'
Pick a Piper (Mint)
Perhaps best known as a touring member of Dan Snaith's Caribou, Brad Weber has quietly put together a first-rate side project in Pick a Piper. Their self-titled debut full-length (they dropped a couple digital EPs in 2009 and 2010) is a lot fun as Pick a Piper tweak the usual electronic music expectations on an eight-track release that merits some attention. Weber's use of warm, engaging melodies and some perfectly chosen guest vocalists help bring everything together over the course of 37 enjoyable minutes. Standouts include “All Her Colours,” “Cinders and Dust,” “Zenaida” and “Dinghy in a Quiet Cove.”
Caveman (Fat Possum)
Moody indie rock quintet Caveman self-released their “CoCo Beware” debut in 2011, and after generating some favorable buzz,it was snatched up by Fat Possum and given a proper release last year. The boys from Brooklyn are back with a self-titled sophomore set that mines much of the same musical territory. There are plenty hazy guitars, tribal drums and Caveman's signature four-part harmonies on an 11-track release that I found slightly more enjoyable than its predecessor. First single “In the City” is terrific, as are “Where's the Time,” “Over My head,” “Pricey” and “Never Want to Know.” While casual listeners might find the relentlessly mellow vibe of Caveman a little tiresome, this talented young band has a bright future.
Luxury Liners (Western Vinyl)
Singer/songwriter Carter Tanton is one of the busier guys on the indie rock scene. A member of both the defunct Tulsa and still-thriving Lower Dens, a collaborator with the lovely and talented Marissa Nadler, and an accomplished solo performer, Tanton apparently doesn't like down time. After recording the excellent “Freeclouds” under his own name in 2011, Tanton latest solo project (under the Luxury Liners moniker) is every bit as good. It takes a while for Tanton to find his groove on the nine-track release, but by the time the stellar “Sit & See” rolls around, Luxury Liners are, well, cruising. The rest of the record is a winner, with keepers “Life's a Beach (featuring Nightlands), “Dog Days/Afternoon” and “Broad Daylight.” Good stuff.
‘Out of Touch in the Wild'
Dutch Uncles (Memphis Industries)
If you prefer your music to have straight-foward, by-the-numbers themes and simple melodies, go ahead and steer clear of British math rock five-piece Dutch Uncles. Third full-length “Out of Touch in the Wild” is a delightfully complex collection of 10 songs exploring the notions of friendship and addiction amid maze-like melodies and sophisticated arrangements. Dutch Uncles build on the promise of 2011's “Cadenza” and are a well-oiled musical machine. The one-two punch of “Pondage” and “Bellio” is fantastic, and the lads additionally impress on “Godboy,” “Threads,” “Phaedra” and “Nometo.” I know math rock doesn't appeal to everyone, but Dutch Uncles do it better than many of their peers.
Clay Swafford (Lost Cause)
Described by the legendary bluesman Pinetop Perkins as seeming to have 20 fingers, piano player Clay Swafford has crafted a terrific debut album that's steeped in the rich tradition of boogie-woogie blues. “Rooster” is a compelling blend of 14 original compositions and rollicking covers of Big Joe Turner, Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter, Big Mama Thornton and Muddy Waters. The 29-year-old Swafford's piano playing, as expected, anchors the set and featured vocalist Diunna Greenleaf further brings the songs to life. Among the standouts are “29 Ways,” “Sometimes I Have a Heartache,” “Birmingham After Midnight,” “You Better Watch Yourself,” “Rock This House” and a stellar rendition of “Amazing Grace.” This one's a winner.
‘Good Man Down'
David Mayfield Parade (Beautywood)
Boosted by contributions from high-profile friends like Seth Avett, Dierks Bentley and bluegrass icon Doyle Lawson, talented Americana artist the David Mayfield Parade is at it again with terrific new album “Good Man Down.” Every bit as good as Mayfield's critically-lauded 2011 self-titled debut, this 12-track release is essential for those of us who enjoy twang-inflected roots rock. Opener “Love (Will Break Your Heart),” featuring Avett, sets the bar high and DMP rise to the occasion again and again. Additional keepers include “From a Dream,” “The Willow and the Babe,” “Tempted” (with Bentley), “Trapped Under Ice” and “Goodbye Farewell So Long.” Here's hoping “Good Man Down” is the last album Mayfield will have to fund by soliciting donations via Kickstarter. It's high time he got scooped up by a big-time label.
British indie trio Vondelpark seemed poised for a breakthrough a couple years ago when disaster struck. Riding high on the strength of two well-received EPs, Vondelpark were on tour in Amsterdam and were targeted by thieves. In addition to swiping the band's equipment, the culprits took a laptop with the only existing files for what was to be Vondelpark's full-length debut. The band floundered for several months in the wake of the theft before pulling themselves together to start making music again. The result is “Seabed,” a lush, maudlin gathering of 10 tunes that frontman Lewis Rainsbury says are “supposed to be the ultimate bedroom listen.” The mellow nature of the songs might not make them suited for everyone, but keepers “Dracula,” “Always Forever,” “California Analog Dream” and the title track certainly merit a few spins.
Chic Gamine (Lucky Fox)
Canadian collective Chic Gamine have a proven track record in their homeland, but only now are getting exposed to American audiences with the release of U.S. debut full-length “Closer.” Formed in 2007, the four girls and a guy who make up Chic Gamine have taken the best tunes off their 2008 self-titled debut and 2010 release “City City” to create a rock-solid nine-track slab. Songs like the title track, “Say It,” “Paper Moon,” “Shake Off Your Worries,” “City City” personal favorite “Don't Think That I Can Stay” are fantastic, and give every indication that Chic Gamine are the real deal. They were a hit at last year's South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, and figure see their profile rise even more on the strength of this record.
Senses Fail (Staple)
Last year's “Follow Your Bliss” release from post-hardcore/screamo veterans Senses Fail was a very pleasant surprise. The two-disc “best of” reminded just how good the band could be and helped me to forgive their underwhelming 2010 effort “The Fire.” Unfortunately, latest release “Renacer” doesn't do enough to build on that momentum. It's not a bad record, but neither is it one that you're likely to remember after the CD stops spinning. They're going for a heavier sound on the 12-track release, but heavier doesn't mean better in this case. The title track packs a wallop, as do “Mi Amor,” “Closure/Rebirth,” “Ancient Tombs” and “Courage of the Knife,” but unless you're a diehard fan, I'm not sure “Renacer” is a record you'll revisit.
‘Rise Above This'
New Day Dawn (Botti Parts)
Dawn Botti-fronted New Day Dawn hit almost every note on rock-solid EP “Rise Above This,” a five-track gathering of arena-ready anthems that could generate some mainstream attention. Though she generated a little buzz more than a decade ago in prior band Slushpuppy and dropped a full-length in 2008 with New Day Dawn, the EP marks Botti's first foray since quitting her lucrative job as a senior vice president of a major media company to pursue music full-time. The early results are good, with “You Are Everything,” “Lay Your Head” and “Runaway” unqualified successes. Remaining tunes “Life Impossible” and the slightly-too-repetitive “Whatever It Takes” are a notch below the others, but there's enough here to make me look forward to what Botti and New Day Dawn do next.
Wild Belle (Columbia)
Having heard lots of nice things about brother-sister duo Wild Belles, I was anxious to get my hands on the “Isles” debut album from the Chicago-based newcomers. There's something undeniably infectious about the Wild Belles sound, which infuses pop melodies with elements of reggae, folk and trip-hop. Natalie Bergman is a first-rate vocalist, while brother Elliot does yeoman's work on keyboards and saxophone. Stellar opener “Keep You” gets things off to a fast start, and Wild Belles also soar on “It's Too Late,” “Backslider,” “Happy Home,” “When It's Over” and “Take Me Away.” This is one of the “it bands” that appear to be worthy of the hype.
Foals (Warner Bros.)
British quintet Foals are one of those bands that it took me a while to appreciate. I liked — but didn't love — 2008's “Antidotes” debut, but found 2010's excellent “Total Life Forever” release to be a marked step forward for the band. Full-length No. 3 is “Holy Fire” and this 11-track makes me respect and enjoy Foals all the more. Things get off to a whisper-quiet start with “Prelude,” which soon builds to fever pitch, and Foals also impress on “Inhaler,” “Bad Habit,” “Out of the Woods,” “Milk & Black Spiders” and “Moon.” And if you like what you hear on “Holy “Fire” — and/or a fan of their first two records — make sure to check out Foals when they perform at Mr. Smalls in Millvale on June 9.