Review: Versatile Friedman proves he deserves a following
‘Can’t Talk Now’
Greg Friedman (Popluxe)
Every so often I have to just sit and scratch my head as I try to figure out why a particular band or solo performer hasn’t been able to develop the type of following and/or acclaim that their music deserves. One such case is indie pop singer/songwriter Greg Friedman. His sophomore full-length “Can’t Talk Now,” six long years in the making since 2007’s “Souls of Passing Feet,” is an absolute delight and shows Friedman to be one of the most talented and versatile musicians that you’ve probably never heard of. There aren’t any missteps to be found on this eclectic 12-track release, with Friedman especially awesome on “Melancholy Melody,” “Hear the Sound,” “Zombies and Cannibals,” “Pancake, I Love You,” “Wake Up” and “Stories I’ve Told.” Do yourself a favor and seek out a copy of “Can’t Talk Now.” You won’t regret it.
Erin Ivey (self-released)
Austin, Texas-based folk songstress Erin Ivey has a loyal core group of fans. So much so, in fact, that a couple hundred of them donated 154 percent of the goal Ivey set out in a Kickstarter campaign to fund production of “Dreamy Weather.” Those who gave their money (as well as those who didn’t) are almost certain to fall in love with this nine-track collection of stripped-back, intimate tunes recorded during a performance at Austin’s famed Cactus Cafe. Ivey is on top of her game here, delivering soul-baring renditions of “Amelia,” “Rest Your Head” (featuring pal BettySoo), “Canyon” and “Sorrow No More.” The opening cover of Tom Waits’ “Alice” sets the tone for a truly remarkable performance.
‘Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole’
George Benson (Concord)
Pittsburgh’s George Benson is one of the greatest jazz guitarists ever and he pays tribute to an even more famous figure in “Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole.” This 13-track release finds Benson working with the 42-piece Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra and includes guest spots from the likes of Wynton Marsalis (“Unforgettable”), Idina Menzel (“When I Fall in Love”), Till Bronner (“Smile”) and Judith Hill (“Too Young”). The set opens with a 1951 recording of Lil’ Georgie Benson, then 8, singing “Mona Lisa,” and closes with a second version of the tune recorded more than six decades later. A must for Benson’s fans.
‘Year of the Dragon’
Brent Amaker & the Rodeo (Fin)
There’s little doubt that Brent Amaker spent a lot of time spinning Johnny Cash records in his youth. He has adopted the Man in Black’s distinctive baritone and utilizes it to great effect on “Year of the Dragon,” the latest album from Amaker & the Rodeo. Though these 13 tracks are brand new, they sound as if they were written and recorded during Cash’s Sun Records heyday in the mid-1950s. Among the highlights are “The Tiger Inside,” “Captain of the Ship,” “I Put My Boots On,” “Time to Set Things Straight,” “Suitcase” and “What’s Wrong With You.” The parody/homage wears thin after a while, but “Year of the Dragon” is plenty of fun.
Destiny’s Child (Music World/Columbia Legacy)
We’ve been inundated with Destiny’s Child retrospectives over the last eight months, with “Video Anthology” following on the heels of “Playlist: The Very Best of Destiny’s Child” and “Love Songs.” This DVD contains 16 music videos that accompanied some of the trio’s best-known songs. Among the keepers are videos for “No, No, No Part 2” (with Wyclef Jean), “Bills, Bills, Bills,” “Say My Name,” “Survivor,” “Independent Women Part 1,” “Bootylicious,” “Soldier” and “Cater 2 U.” If you’re a fan of Destiny’s Child, this is probably worth the investment.
The Maine (Eighty One Twenty Three)
Emo rockers the Maine are back with their fourth studio effort and though the genre seems to be waning in popularity, the Phoenix-based outfit inject enough life into “Forever Halloween” to make it an album worth exploring. Opener “Take What You Can Carry” is a mid-tempo gem and the clear-cut highlight of the 12-track release, though the Maine also deliver on “Love & Drugs,” “White Walls,” “Birthday in Los Angeles,” “Kennedy Curse” and “These Four Words.” This one’s better than I expected it to be.
‘Live at Billy Bob’s Texas’
Charlie Robison (Smith Music Group)
Though aware that he was a country singer in his own right, I’ve most often associated Charlie Robison as the ex-husband of Dixie Chick Emily Robison and the inspiration for that trio’s hit single “Cowboy Take Me Away.” Robison has a handful of albums on his resumé and latest effort “Live at Billy Bob’s Texas” showcases him nicely in a honky-tonk setting. The two-CD set, recorded last August, totals 18 songs and more than 90 minutes of music, as Robison serves up energetic readings of his own stuff (“Good Times,” “Feelin Good,” “Molly’s Blues,” “Loving County”) and first-rate covers of Bobby Bare Jr. (“Nothin’ Better to Do”), Elton John (“Rocket Man”) and Lynyrd Skynyrd (“They Call Me the Breeze”).
Jon Hopkins (Domino)
My first exposure to British ambient electronic producer Jon Hopkins came a couple years ago when he teamed up with Scottish singer/songwriter King Creosote for “Diamond Mine.” “Immunity” finds Hopkins working alone again and, truth be told, his stuff benefits from a bit of collaboration. Fans of electronic music likely will dig this swirling collection of synth-fueled tunes, but these eight tracks aren’t as warm and inviting as some of his earlier stuff. “Open Eye Signal” merits multiple listens, as do “Collider” and the title track, but the rest doesn’t really register.
‘I Love You’
Said the Whale (10 Spot)
Canadian indie rockers Said the Whale have knocked it out of the park on their past two albums (“Little Mountain” and “New Brighton”), and they keep their fans tided over nicely with three-track EP “I Love You.” This nine-minute release has the type of infectious melodies we’ve come to expect from Said the Whale, with the title track charting on Alternative Rock radio and “Barbara-Ann” and “Mother” seemingly destined for radio play as well. Terrific placeholder until the next album comes along.
‘The Days Run Away’
Frankie & the Heartstrings (Pop Sex/Wichita)
Fans of bands like Franz Ferdinand, the Futureheads and Kaiser Chiefs should get a charge out of neo-New Wave quintet Frankie & the Heartstrings. “The Days Run Away” is the stellar sophomore slab from the British outfit and there aren’t many missteps on the 11-track, 33-minute release. Things get off to a rollicking start with “I Still Follow You” and “That Girl, That Scene,” and Frankie Francis and his mates also score with “Nothing Our Way,” “She Will Say Goodbye,” personal favorite “Everybody Looks Better in the Right Light” and “Light That Breaks.”
I Can Lick Any S.O.B. in the House (Sad Crow)
Initially a solo project for singer/songwriter Mike Damron, I Can Lick Any S.O.B. in the House have evolved into a first-rate rock band. Fifth release “Mayberry” is their best yet, with 13 twang-tastic tunes that have earned them comparisons to the likes of Drive-By Truckers and Lucero. The title track launches the proceedings and the keepers continue with “Break All Your Strings,” “Galaxies Collide,” “From Bad to Worse,” “Dead By Christmastime,” “When the Sleep Don’t Come” and “King James.” Good stuff.
‘How Far Away’
Alex Bleeker & the Freaks (Woodsist)
Real Estate’s Alex Bleeker has a first-rate side project on his hands in Alex Bleeker & the Freaks. “How Far Away” is their second album and features contributions from Mountain Man’s Amelia Meath, Woods’ Jarvis Tanviere, Big Troubles’ Sam Franklin and Real Estate’s Jackson Pollis, among others. It’s a twangy collection of 11 tunes highlighted by “Don’t Look Down,” “Leave on the Light,” “Time Cloud,” “Who Are You Seeing?” and “Step Right Up (Pour Yourself Some Wine).” Real Estate are a good band, but Alex Bleeker & the Freaks are better.
‘All the While/Where the Hell We Are’
Old Time Machine (File Under Music/Headless Owl)
Having gained a little traction with last year’s self-titled debut, indie folk duo Old Time Machine (Ryan McNalley and Kyle Cashen) launched a brief tour this month — including a Pittsburgh stop Monday at Garfield Artworks — and have a couple digital tracks to tide fans over until the next album. “All the While” is a new tune and it’s backed with a new version of “Where the Hell We Are,” one of the highlights of last year’s debut. Keep an eye on these guys.
‘Golden Rules for Golden People’
Pretty & Nice (Rory)
As someone who really enjoyed Boston trio Pretty & Nice’s 2008 sophomore LP “Get Young” (my pal Brian Krasman, who reviewed it for The Daily News, wasn’t nearly as enamored), I’ve been wondering when/if there was ever going to be a third album. “Golden Rules for Golden People” arrives at long last and finds Pretty & Nice still serving up catchy hooks — only this time the production is a lot slicker. That figures to turn off some, but I got a kick out of keepers “Stallion & Mare,” “Critters,” “New Czar,” “Gold Fools,” “Money Music” and “Golden Rules.” Like its predecessor, this 11-track slab is a lot of fun.
The Bunny The Bear (Victory)
The Bunny The Bear deserve credit for originality with their blending of dance rock and screamo, but now three albums into their career I’m still not sure what to make of this band. Latest effort “Stories” has some truly inspired moments (“In Like Flynn,” “It’s Not Always Cold in Buffalo,” “Another Day,” “Imagine,” “What We’re Here For”), but a little bit of The Bunny The Bear goes a long, long way. With 11 tracks clocking in at a reasonable 42 minutes, I still found my attention waning down the homestretch.
Smoke Fairies (Year Seven)
Though it dropped more than a year ago in their native England, “Blood Speaks” only recently was made available on our shores. The third album for indie folk duo the Smoke Fairies (Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies), this 15-track release — which includes five more tracks than the British version — is a compelling record from beginning to end. Opener “Let Me Know” sets the scene, and the Fairies also soar on “The Three of Us,” the title track, “Take Me Down When You Go” and “Feel It Near.” The extra songs are OK, but not at the expense of dragging the running time out past the one-hour mark. Still, it’s time you got to know the Smoke Fairies.
Arrica Rose & the …’s (PopRock)
Two years ago in reviewing “Let Alone Sea,” the first album from singer/songwriter Arrica Rose to feature backing band the …’s, I predicted that it would be the record to raise Rose’s profile to the level the music merits. That didn’t happen, so now I’m putting my faith in equally awesome EP “Lucky.” This six-track release finds Rose on top of her game as she delivers the goods on “Without My Love,” “Come on Home to Me,” “I Wasn’t Done Dancing” and “Paper Days.” Shame on you if you still aren’t onboard with Arrica Rose & the …’s.
Jeffrey Sisk is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1952, or [email protected].