An understated gem, Josh Ritter’s second album Hello Starling is an album not to be missed this year.First listens to this Idaho-born singer-songwriter will reveal touchstones as familiar as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, even Tim Hardin.
There are some artists that just don’t act their age. And in the case of XPN Aritst To Watch Michael Kiwanuka, that's a good thing! The fact that this singer-songwriter is in his early 20’s will be the last thing to come to mind (if at all) when you make your way through his debut album Home Again. Kiwanuka is the latest in a wave of British soul and R&B singers to captivate audiences. And while connections to his peers like Adele exist, he paves his own path to our ears with the songs of Home Again.
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals have come a long way from their blues-rock beginnings in Waitsfield, Vermont. For Grace, she's finally emerging as the superstar frontwoman that so many of us knew she had the potential to be. And on the latest album, The Lion The Beast The Beat she grabs hold of the spotlight and seems unwilling to let it go. We know what a commanding presence this band, and Grace in particular, can be on stage, yet until now capturing that on record has been a challenge. The Lion The Beast The Beat may be the step in the right direction.
Following her impressive debut in 2005, there were big names lined up to work with Seattle songwriter Brandi Carlile. On The Story Carlile enlisted Grammy winning producer T-Bone Burnett, and on Give Up the Ghost the band bunkered down in Los Angeles with famed studio wizard Rick Rubin. For her latest, Brandi decided to settle in a little closer to home. The album Bear Creek takes its name from the studio in which it was recorded just outside of Seattle. As usual, Carlile is flanked by “the twins” Tim and Phil Hanseroth. And along with producer Trina Shoemaker (Sheryl Crow, Emmylou Harris), Brandi and the band set out to make an album that captures the heart of their sound.
Joan Osborne calls this new album - Pretty Little Stranger - her version of a country record, and that seems pretty fair after a few listens. The pace is moderate, the songs nicely arranged, and the whole package is tied together by her most important attribute - that remarkable voice.
It’s interesting to think back to over twelve years ago when many of us first heard the music of John Mayer. Fresh-faced and innocent he would become yet another staple in the emergence of acoustic rock joining the likes of Dave Matthews and Jack Johnson. Unlike the aforementioned songwriters, Mayer grabbed as many headlines for his off-stage activities as he did for his music. Controversial interviews and high-profile arm candy may have acted as distractions for critics and fans. But on his fifth studio album Born and Raised, Mayer aims to strike those public perceptions and regain focus on his music. If you’re ready to listen, you’ll find that these songs are some of his best yet.
.Rarely, over the course of a year, is there a lack of music that we would categorize as ‘retro’ or ‘old school’. It’s easy to become enchanted by the familiar sounds of years gone by that are injected with a breath of youthful charisma. But there is that dilemma of separating the purely redundant with a talent that acknowledges his or her influences and is forward-thinking enough to still engage; cue Nick Waterhouse. A young soulful hipster from San Francisco, he surely takes a page out of the book that preceded him, but fits quite nicely into the current musical landscape as well.
It’s been almost four years since their last studio album. Shy Pursuit is a welcomed return and as mentioned above, reconnects listeners to their knack for writing quick and catchy indie-pop gems. But on the new album their sound branches out a little more than we’ve heard previously. They approach some of these songs with a more worldly musical vision. Think along the lines of bands like Fools Gold or Vampire Weekend. Songs like “Jackhammer” soar over funky rhythms, as does the strummy album closer “The Living Things.” Overall, an adventurous musical ride.
While The Spinto Band has been making music for over 15 years, Cheers Elephant will have to play the role of new-comer this week. With that said the band’s third album Like Wind Blows Fire does a lot to impress. In many ways the new album does much to prove the band’s identity. Bright, summery tunes showered with melodic guitar riffs and catchy sing-a-long harmonies. The album starts with the tempting falsetto driven “Peoples” and follows with the album stand-out “Doin’ It, Right.” And as you work your way through these songs, more and more it’s clear that this is a band that’s realizing their potential with each note.
Since the announcement of Little Broken Hearts, the new studio album from Norah Jones, lots of critics have alluded to a change in direction. Initially, that was due in part to her collaboration with producer Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) whose tactics behind the board have been well documented with bands like The Black Keys, Beck, Broken Bells and Gnarls Barkley. But it would be somewhat misleading to say a sonic shift wasn’t something we saw coming with Norah’s last few projects. In fact, she worked previously with Burton as part of his Rome project with Daniele Luppi. So what is it about this new collection that sets it apart from Jones’ previous works? Well, quite simply, it’s the subject of the songs.