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 →