Charlie Parr (self-released)
Blues/folk artist Charlie Parr makes music that sounds like it originated three-quarters of a century ago in dusty gin joints of backwater towns, alongside the likes of Robert Johnson, Charley Patton and Blind Willie McTell. The Minnesota native doesn't stray far from his winning formula on his 11th studio effort “Barnswallow.” Mostly accompanying himself on banjo and guitar (plus some killer washboard work courtesy of Mikkel Beckmen), Parr serves up eight stellar original compositions bookended by traditional tunes “Jimmy Bell” and “Rattlesnake.” Keepers include “Nowhere ... Fast,” “My Wife Left Me,” “Badger,” “Groundhog Day Blues” and “Jesus Is a Hobo.” This one's a winner.
‘The Waiting Room'
Lusine (Ghostly International)
Ambient/experimental techno artist Jeff McIlwain, better known in musical circles as Lusine, is one of the genre's grizzled veterans. Lusine has more than a dozen EPs and full-lengths to his credit since 1999 and his latest effort is “The Waiting Room.” He's enlisted a few guest vocalists for the 10-track, 52-minute release which at least offers a slight variation to the similar melodies playing throughout. Opener “Panoramic” and “Another Tomorrow” are the highlights here, with “First Call” and “Stratus” also meriting attention. Unfortunately, the same-sounding nature of electronic music eventually weighs down the record, making “The Waiting Room” challenging to the casual listener.
‘Islands & Islands'
Misfit Mod (Stars & Letters)
Playing the type of minimalist electronic pop that could cause drowsy folks to drift off into dreamland, London-by-way-of-New Zealand musician Sarah Kelleher (aka Misfit Mod) unveils her debut album, “Islands & Islands.” While overall I found the record to be too low-key for my liking, it's obvious that Kelleher is the real deal. Her voice is hypnotic, even if these 11 songs aren't, and we get glimpses of terrific potential in “Queen Love Zero,” “Tribes,” “First Aid” and “Pool House.” Here's hoping she can bring all the elements together and deliver a truly special Misfit Mod record.
‘The Other Side'
Tim Chaisson (Bumstead)
Canadian singer/songwriter Tim Chaisson lays bare his soul on his American debut “The Other Side.” Long a treasure in his homeland on the strength of three solid albums since 2009, Chaisson figures to win over U.S. audiences with this ear-pleasing gathering of 11 rootsy tunes. Opener “Beat This Heart” lures you right in, and Chaisson keeps you there with standouts “Blast Your Way Out,” “Come Clean,” “Wherever You Are,” “The Healing,” “Long Road of Love” and “Til the Sun Comes Up.” Looks like his days as Canada's best-kept musical secret are numbered.
‘Down in Louisiana'
Bobby Rush (Thirty Tigers)
A late 1960s pioneer of what he dubbed “folk-funk,” 77-year-old living legend Bobby Rush gets back to his old-school blues roots on the sublime “Down in Louisiana.” This 11-track gathering of original tunes is a must for blues fans, as Rush delivers one of the best records of his esteemed career. Personal favorite “You're Just Like a Dresser” sizzles with such lines as “You're just like a dresser / Somebody's always ramblin' in your drawers.” Rush scores again with the title track, “Tight Money,” “Don't You Cry,” “Boogie in the Dark,” “What Is the Blues” and “Swing Low,” which borrows liberally from the spiritual “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” Highly recommended.
‘Turn Up the Stereo'
Delhi 2 Dublin (self-released)
Who would've guessed that the sonic fusion of India's Bhangra folk music and Ireland's better-known Celtic sounds would be so much fun? I'm betting that midway through Delhi 2 Dublin's infectious new album “Turn Up the Stereo,” you'll be on the dance floor wondering why it took so long for someone to mash up these styles. A quintet comprised of Tarun Nayar, Sanjay Seran, Andrew Kim, Ravi Binning and Sara Fitzpatrick, D2D has crafted an album that even those who don't like international music very much (me, for instance) can readily embrace. Among the many highlights are “Our House,” “Love is the Hero,” the title track, “iLove,” “She Moved” and “Bali High.” If you're looking for something a little different, give “Turn Up the Stereo” a spin.
The Soft Hills (Tapete)
Psych-folk quartet the Soft Hills hit all the right bittersweet notes on last year's breakthrough release “The Bird Is Coming Down to Earth,” and continue their wistful ways on every-bit-as-good follow-up “Chromatisms.” Frontman Garrett Hobba's soaring vocals remain the musical anchor as the Soft Hills impress with “Riding High,” “Sweet Louise,” “Dear Mr. Moonlight,” “Horse & Carriage” and “The Gifts You Hide.” This is a band that should appeal to fans of Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes.
Anders & Kendall (Nine Mile)
Pals Anders Parker and Kendall Meade earned their stripes on the indie rock scene in bands like Varnaline, Mascott and Sparklehorse, but their first album together as Anders & Kendall has a delicious indie folk/alternative country vibe. “Wild Chorus” is an absolute delight from beginning to end, as Parker and Meade take turns at the microphone with his gruff vocals perfectly complementing her crystal clear voice. The one-two opening punch of “We're on Fire, Babe” and “City of Greats” is worth the purchase price, and Anders & Kendall soar on “Across the Years,” “Gettin' Ready,” “Oh, Love” and “The Sun Will Shine Again Someday.” Go buy this album!
‘The Best of the Howling Hex'
The Howling Hex (Drag City)
Try as I might, I've never been able to fully embrace the quirky, often off-putting indie rock put forth by Neil Hagerty's the Howling Hex. The 2008 release “Earth Junk” was the band's most accessible to date, and won't be supplanted by “The Best of the Howling Hex.” Despite its misleading title, the eight tracks that make up the album are new and the band's first since relocating from New Mexico to Denver. It's a mostly hit-and-miss affair, with keepers “I Built a Friend,” “Primetime Clown” and “Trashcan Bahamas” offset by clunkers “Electrico Northern” and “Green Limousine.” As ever, Hagerty and the Howling Hex remain an acquired taste.
Sin Fang (Morr Music)
Icelandic singer/songwriter Sindri Sigfússon is the founder of both Seabear and Clangour, yet I find his solo work as Sin Fang his most compelling. The rock-solid “Flowers” is his third solo effort and could be the one that helps raise his profile considerably. There isn't a bad tune to be found on the 10-track release and represents a step up from 2011's “Summer Echoes.” Among the keepers here are “Young Boys,” “What's Wrong With Your Eyes,” “Sunbeam,” “See Ribs,” “Everything Alright” and “Weird Heart.” Do yourself a favor and let this talented Icelander keep you warm this winter.
‘What the Brothers Sang'
Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie “Prince” Billy (Drag City)
Kudos to Dawn McCarthy (Faun Fables) and Bonnie “Prince” Billy (aka Will Oldham) for putting a different spin on a tribute album. Both are professed fans of the Everly Brothers and they've reimagined 13 of the duo's songs for modern audiences on the fantastic “What the Brothers Sang.” They've steered clear of mega-hits like “Bye Bye Love,” “Wake Up Little Susie” and “Cathy's Clown” in favor of revamped, folksy renditions of lesser-known gems “Breakdown,” “Empty Boxes,” “My Little Yellow Bird,” “Devoted to You,” “So Sad,” “Omaha,” “Poems, Prayers, and Promises” and “Kentucky.” And though the songs sound different in the hands of indie stalwarts McCarthy and Oldham, there's no doubting the greatness of the source material.
‘Someone Else's Cake'
Red Jacket Mine (Fin)
Seattle-based trio Red Jacket Mine are more akin musically to the British pub-rock movement of the late 1970s than the grunge-fueled signature sound of their hometown, and it's high time these talented power-poppers got the national attention they deserve. Long-gestating third album “Someone Else's Cake” may be the one that catapults Lincoln Barr's band to new heights. The 11-track release is remarkably consistent and a heck of a lot of fun, as Red Jacket Mine serve up one delicious tune after another. Among the many highlights are “Amy,” “Ron Nasty,” “Engineer,” “Skint City,” “Listen Up (If the World Is Going to Hell),” “Better to Be Broken Than Blind” and “Have You Got a Permit to Preach on This Corner?” Sounding both retro and current at the same time, “Someone Else's Cake” is one of 2013's early surprises.
Jeffrey Sisk is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1952, or firstname.lastname@example.org.