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 →

Tift Merritt takes to the stage, wrapped in a light, summery flesh-colored dress. She sits at the piano with a harmonica neck-rack, and the fiftieth anniversary of the Newport Folk Festival begins with her original “I Know What I’m Looking for Now.” Dreamy-eyed and diffuse, she comments on a plane swirling in the sky.Across three stages and two days at Fort Adams in Newport are several of the latest folk, country and indie acts. Saturday brought a particularly strong line-up, including indie/folk phenomenon Iron and Wine, and Britain’s veteran punk Billy Bragg. Whether it was Gillian Welsh asking for extra reverb for Jefferson Airplane’s classicRead 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 →