CD reviews: Joseph Childress’ emotional full-length debut mesmerizes
Joseph Childress (Empty Cellar)
The music of indie folk singer/songwriter Joseph Childress is deceptively simple. On debut full-length “The Rebirths” there seems to be little more than Childress’ nasal vocals and some acoustic guitar, but there is a wellspring of emotion bubbling just below the lo-fi surface. Without the bells and whistles of the studio, the 10 songs here are even more poignant. It’s almost as if Childress is performing a concert for a single listener and he mesmerizes on keepers “Old William,” “The Sun Rises Cold in the Mountains,” “Mama’s Strings to the Sun,” “Six Holes” and “Dance With Me.” Terrific stuff.
‘Light Is a Ghost’
Julia Weldon (self-released)
Singer/songwriter — and outspoken gay rights activist — Julia Weldon is closing in on a master’s degree in music from Columbia University, yet found time to write and record a dozen songs that became sophomore full-length “Light Is a Ghost.” Not bad for someone who balances music with college and a day job. The 12-track releases straddles the line between indie rock, pop and folk and shows Weldon to be an accomplished songwriter and performer. The opening tandem of “Meadow” and “Went to My Woman” set the tone, and she also delivers on “Careful in the Dark,” “All I Gave Her,” “Marian,” “Miles” and “Same Games.” Weldon’s star is on the rise.
‘Made Up Mind’
Tedeschi Trucks Band (Sony Masterworks)
Guitarist Derek Trucks (Allman Brothers Band, Derek Trucks Band) and vocalist wife Susan Tedeschi formed the Tedeschi Trucks Band in 2010 and “Made Up Mind” marks their third blues-rock gem in as many attempts. While last year’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” live album remains my favorite TTB effort to date, this 11-track release is every bit as good as their 2011 “Revelator” debut. Trucks is a guitar wizard and Tedeschi’s soulful vocals make songs like the title track, “Do I Look Worried,” “Part of Me,” “Whiskey Legs,” “All That I Need,” “Sweet and Low” and “The Storm” flat-out terrific. Highly recommended.
‘Sweetheart of the Sun’
The Greencards (Darling Street)
I’ve enjoyed watching contemporary bluegrass trio the Greencards evolve over the years. With members from England and Australia, the Greencards put a different spin on a distinctly American style of music. They came to my attention with 2007’s “Virdian” breakthrough and raised the bar higher a couple years later with “Fascination.” Firmly ensconced in Austin, Texas, the Greencards took their time making “Sweetheart of the Sun” but it’s worth the wait. Opener “Once and Gone” lures listeners in, and the Greencards keep you enthralled with “Forever Mine” (featuring Sons of Fathers), “Paddle the Torrens,” “Traveler’s Song,” “Wide Eyed Immigrant” and “Fly.”
The Horse’s Ha (Fluff and Gray)
Indie folk duo the Horse’s Ha were responsible for one of 2009’s more compelling debut albums in the eerie “Of the Cathmawr Yards” and are back with a sophomore set, “Waterdrawn,” that is no less fascinating. Janet Bean of Freakwater fame and James Elkington have undeniable chemistry and they put their skills to good use on standouts “Conjured Caravan,” “Hidey Hole,” “Contenders,” “The Feathered Rover,” “Stick Figure Waltz,” the title track and “Bonesetter.” Only the so-so “Willing Hands” comes anywhere close to being a misstep on an otherwise outstanding record.
Native (Sargent House)
Indiana rockers Native made a splash in 2010 with mathy full-length debut “Wrestling Moves.” Rather than spitting out a similar-sounding followup, the quartet took things in a new musical direction on “Orthodox.” The results are mostly excellent as Native tap into their raw emotion better in these eight tracks than they did on the first record. Opener “Word City” makes it clear that “Orthodox” is anything but and the band maintains listener interest throughout the razor-sharp 28-minute slab. “Monday Night” is the best of the bunch, and Native hit all the right notes on “Fundraiser” and “Kissing Bridge.” I’m curious to see where these guys go next.
‘The Crushed EP’
Army Navy (The Fever Zone)
After hearing their 2008 self-titled debut, I was convinced Los Angeles-based indie trio Army Navy were on the verge of something special. But 2011’s “The Last Place” was a bit disappointing and failed to build on the promise of its predecessor. I’m happy to report that the Justin Kennedy-fronted band seems headed in the right direction again with “The Crushed EP.” This four-track release should tide fans over until another full-length drops, and Army Navy are especially good on “Crushed Like the Car,” “Pickle” and “Running Wild.” Even remaining tune “Summer Morning” has its moments, making “The Crushed EP” a nice way to spend 15 minutes of your day.
Leo Genovese (Palmetto)
Argentine jazz pianist Leo Genovese has carved out a nice career over the past decade and the Berklee College of Music grad does nothing to quell that momentum on latest album “Seeds.” The mostly instrumental gathering of 11 songs (Esperanza Spalding lends her voice to keepers “PPH,” “Portuguese Mirror” and “Letter From Wayne”) showcases Genovese and some first-rate supporting players, though at almost 59 minutes “Seeds” outstays its welcome by about a third. Jazz fans should dig “Father of Spectralism,” “A Minor Complex” and “Chromatic Hymn.”
‘We Knew It Was Not Going to Be Like This’
Surf City (Fire)
Though they remain fairly anonymous in the United States, Kiwi indie rockers Surf City have been generating waves in their native New Zealand for the better part of a decade. As with 2008’s self-titled EP and 2010’s “Kudos,” the lads serve up some first-rate noise-pop on latest full-length “We Knew It Was Not Going to Be Like This.” The nine-track, 45-minute release works its way into your cerebral cortex steadily as Surf City allow each song to unfold naturally. “It’s a Common Life,” “Song From a Short Lived TV Series” and “What Gets Me By” are the standouts, but “NYC,” “No Place to Go” and “I Want You” also merit a few spins.
Daniel Kirkpatrick & the Bayonets (Rock Ridge)
With a vintage rock sound that reminds me a bit of Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers, Seattle-based trio Daniel Kirkpatrick & the Bayonets make a nice first impression on “Alibis.” The polished 11-track debut shows a three-piece outfit (Kirkpatrick, Jordan Cassidy and Spencer Booth) that clearly enjoys making music together. “Someday” and the Elvis Costello-ish “Cynthia” get things off to a fast start and Kirkpatrick & the Bayonets also are on point with the title track, “Don’t Leave Me Waiting,” “All I Can Take” and “Emerald Blues.”
Willy Mason (Communion)
Still just 28 years old, it feels as if singer/songwriter Willy Mason has been around forever. His folk-leaning rock sounds far more world weary than this kid has any right to be, yet both of his previous albums — 2004’s “Where the Humans Eat” and 2007’s “If the Ocean Gets Rough” — had unexpected depth and resonance. Mason continues in that vein on “Carry On,” a dynamite collection of 11 tunes that showcases his writing chops and distinctive voice. There isn’t a bad song to be found, though Mason soars especially high on “Pick Up Truck,” “Talk Me Down,” “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” “Shadows in the Dark” and the phenomenal title track.
Kim Lenz & Her Jaguars (Riley)
Doing her very best to keep rockabilly relevant, fiery redhead Kim Lenz & Her Jaguars return with a fourth fantastic album of retro-sounding tunes in “Follow Me.” I didn’t know if Lenz could surpass the sheer brilliance of 2009’s “It’s All True,” but this 12-track, 33-minute gem comes darn close. Keepers abound, including “Pay Dearly,” the title track, “Tumble and Fall,” “Whiplash,” “Number One Reason,” “Shadows on the Old Bayou” and “Right Here With Me.” Highly recommended.
‘Any Port in a Storm’
Scott & Charlene’s Wedding (Fire)
Fans of Pavement, Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks — and just about anything Malkmus has been a part over the past few decades — should get a nice jolt out of Australian outfit Scott & Charlene’s Wedding. Frontman Craig Dermody sounds so much like Malkmus it’s a little scary and the 11-track release should help raise their profile in America. Among the highlights are “Lesbian Wife,” “1993,” “Clock Out & Leave,” “Downtown,” “Spring Set” and “Charlie’s in the Gutter.”
Kady Z (Fraknwitch)
Having captured the dance-pop world’s attention with last year’s “One Million Pieces” EP, singer/songwriter Kady Z — the daughter of 1980s icon Pia Zadora — tries to expand her influence with debut full-length “Ordinary Girl.” The 12-track release features four of the EP’s five tunes (“One Million Pieces,” “Beautiful Disaster,” “Fun,” “Save Me From Yourself”) but none of the new tunes, save maybe “Crashing Down” and “Crush Gone Wrong,” make upgrading to “Ordinary Girl” not worth the investment.
Karnivool are icons in their native Australia and look to move out from Down Under with the ambitious “Asymmetry.” This CD/DVD finds the five-piece exploring elements of metal, prog rock, alt rock and everything in between. The CD portion of the package is a 14-track studio effort, Karnivool’s third, and the guys knock it out of the park on “Nachash,” “We Are,” “The Refusal,” “Sky Machine” and “Float.” The DVD is the real find here, featuring a 92-minute concert performance at Melbourne’s famed Forum. Their set includes healthy heapings of tunes from their first two albums, including “Simple Boy,” “Goliath,” “Cote,” “Deadman,” “Themata” and “Change.” Rock on.
Br1ght Pr1mate (Pause)
Though chiptune — the style of synthesized electronic music that features classic videogame hardware — isn’t really my thing, I found myself enjoying Boston duo Br1ght Pr1mate’s “Night Animals” debut. At least for the first 25 minutes or so. At that point, the songs started blurring together and I was far less enamored with the efforts of James Therrien and Lydia Marsala. But before things grow too tedious, Br1ght Pr1mate impress with “Source Code,” “Outside Myself,” “Hypnotized” and “Acid Pity Death Spiral.”
‘Nothing to Lose’
Pop trio Emblem3 got some nice exposure on the 2012 season of “The X Factor,” and despite a fourth-place finish earned a deal with Simon Cowell’s Syco Records. Lead single “Chloe (You’re the One I Want)” has been a radio staple for months (and is admittedly catchy as hell) and the youngsters also score with reggae-tinged “Just for One Day,” “XO,” “Sunset Blvd” and “One Day.” I have doubts as to the staying power of Emblem3, but as far as summer pop albums go, you could do a lot worse.
Junior Astronomers (Broken Circles)
Indie four-piece Junior Astronomers pull out all the stops for their “Dead Nostalgia” debut. The Charlotte-based band take a melodic hardcore approach to the 12-track release that has earned them comparisons to At the Drive In and the Blood Brothers. Opener “Before Crimes” is the cream of a rock-solid crop, with Junior Astronomers soaring on “Gimmicks,” “Lisalla,” “Vibrator” and the title track. They’ve laid a terrific foundation with this record and I can’t wait to hear more.