Colin Hay – “American Sunshine”Compass Records-due out Aug 18 The opener to Hay’s tenth solo album is a placid, someone stagnant celebration of his home state in his adopted country. “California,” like other pieces in this album, just seems to lack a real excitement, and don’t evince that necessary freshness that art is supposed to bring to its subject. The following “Prison Time” is a well-crafted, somewhat sunshiny feel-good track, and this is how this album stumbles, with one good, and one limp leg. Hay’s laid-back, home-country groove seems to be either on or off, making for an uneven album. Hay’s fans should find enoughRead More →

Terence Blanchard – “Choices”Concord Jazz-due out Aug 18 If you’re unfamiliar with Blanchard’s work, simply sit back and enjoy the unexpected twists and snakes of “Byus,” the first track to his latest album. “Choices” is interspersed with spoken vocals by Dr. Cornel West about the choices people make in life: whether to go to school, whether to be a musician, whether to be good or not. This conversational tone to the album spices it up a bit and gives it a second voice; one that it can use, because it doesn’t quite have the sweetness and light of his 2003 “Bounce,” or the thunder ofRead More →

Catie Curtis – “Hello Stranger”Compass Records-out now Ms. Curtis’ authenticity as a country voice is difficult to question in her tenth album. The Boston-based singer and guitarist has an excellent bluesgrass instrumentation in the backing banjo, fiddle and dobro; the musicians here create a pleasant and enjoyable country ambience throughout the album, especially in the opener, “100 Miles,” and the Cat Stevens cover “Tuesday’s Dead.” The latter is upbeat and excellent, and a John Martyn cover “Don’t Want to Know (No Evil)” performes well also, seemingly creeping upon the listener. The album overall, however, is a different story, and much of “Hello, Stranger” feels aRead More →

Tommy Castro – “Hard Believer”Alligator Records-due out Aug. 11 My title means no offense to Mr. Castro, but in defense of it, a title’s got to be nimble, catchy, and good to grab your attention. While I purport to none of these, Castro’s eleventh album is all of these and more: his soulful album here does credit to blues jam with hard-knock vocals and lush big-band orchestration. Try out the well-paced opener, “Definition of Insanity,” and his cover of Dylan, “Gotta Serve Somebody”; if you don’t see yourself sipping Southern Comfort at a worn barstool under the spell of the band onstage, then just enjoyRead More →

The Bottle Rockets – “Lean Forward”Bloodshot Records-due out Aug. 11 There is a lot to like on the Bottle Rockets’ ninth studio album: the straight southern-rock songwriting, the instrumentals, solid hooks. But there’s equally as much that pulls down this album, including the toneless quality of the vocals, and how straightforward these songs play. The slight southern swagger just isn’t enough to blanket over these imperfections, nor is it enough to hook in casual listeners, though for fans of the band or just general rockers, this album should suffice. With just a few memorable moments on the album (try out “Give Me Room” and “SlipRead More →

Owl City – “Ocean Eyes”Republic-Out now It has all the elements necessary for it to succeed: plenty of echo, saccharine hooks, auto-pitched vocals and a catchy pop beat. But what “Ocean Eyes” seems to lack is the element of sui generis that it needs to distinguish its upbeat songs from other pop acts, such as Motion City Soundtrack and the more electronic PlayRadioPlay! Here you’ll find pleasant enough songs, almost nauseatingly so, that stick the first few plays. However, there is little depth in songwriting, which seems solely intent on utilizing the “in crowd” of musical effects (see above), and likewise little depth in lyricRead More →

The Duke and the King – “Nothing Gold Can Stay”Ramseur Records-due out July 4th4.5 / 5 The opener to this debut album is nothing short of magnificent, calm, composed, and serenely honest. The duo, Simone Felice and Robert Burke, take their stage name from two of Mark Twain’s rapscallions, but here is no trickery or deception; just simple, bare songs. Felice’s vocals are soothing and understated: on “The Morning I Get to Hell,” he demonstrates a soft-spoken passion and wonder, questioning “Where is all my fire,/ My missionary zeal?” “Lose My Self” and “Summer Morning Rain” are both winners as well, with the former’s dreamyRead More →

The Fiery Furnaces – “I’m Going Away”Thrill Jockey– Out now The Furnaces, brother and sister combo Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger, have been known to frustrate typical music aesthetics, as well as the occasional listener, throughout their impressively fruitful six-year career. Their eighth album hearkens to their tradition of bizarre song construction and melody with the two opening tracks, the aggressively avant-garde title track and lull “Drive to Dallas.” While these tracks are more abrasive than amusing, the rest of “I’m Going Away” is filled with strangely satisfying songs, such as the uplifting lilt of “Even in the Rain” and feel-good pop of “Lost at Sea.”Read More →

Band of Skulls – “Baby Darling Doll Face Honey”Artist First-due out July 28 We’ve come to expect a lot from the Brits: funny accents, crooked teeth, and their famous cultural restraint. Band of Skulls is a bit more reminiscent of White Stripes in their harder indie-stylings, and they yield some results: “I Know What I Am,” which almost has a classic-rock straightforward grind, and “Honest,” which diverges from the rest of the album with a beautiful acoustic solemnity.Yet, in their music, there is some restraint keeping them from out-and-out jam and instrumental breakouts, which seems appropriate at several points throughout the album (the otherwise solidRead More →

Portugal. The Man – The Satanic SatanistEqual Vision Records-due July 214.5 / 5 Portugal. The Man. Despite the bizarre name and punctuation, and the strange Zombies-era Cream-inspired psychedelic cover, it’s fair to say this album is good. I’ve never heard this much falsetto since I bought an Earth Wind and Fire greatest hits, but still it comes off groovy and with a bit of funk to it; the songs are inspired a bit by the era portrayed here, but this is solid modern rock with a great pop slant. These songs are very listenable, with great lyrics and choruses (“We may make it through theRead More →