Sunday, February 14, 2016

Album reviews: Strong releases should bring attention to under-the-radar artists

A number of artists relatively unknown in the U.S. may see their profiles grow thanks to strong new releases.

Artist: JD & The Straight Shot
Title: Ballyhoo! (JD & The Straight Shot, LLC.)
You might like if you enjoy: The Civil Wars, Shawn Jones, Michael Ubaldini
Tell me more: Fans of Americana will want to introduce themselves to JD & The Straight Shot via the quintet's latest album Ballyhoo! The 11-song disc features a stripped down approach that nevertheless offers plenty of sparks amidst tracks that are refreshing in their authenticity and artful arrangements. Lead singer Jim Dolan's voice is ideally suited for the songs that blend country blues and folk styles, while the forceful line-up of Aidan Dolan (guitar, mandolin), Erin Slaver (violin, mandolin), Byron House (upright bass, mandolin) and Marc Copely (guitar, percussion) are skilled in a myriad of ways to bring nuance to the material while all assisting with backing vocals. T standout track is the genre-defying "Better Find a Church," a Rodney Crowell-produced song that brings gospel, soul and gypsy jazz guitar into JD & The Straight Shot's rootsy approach. The poignant "Perdition" is almost its equal, a lovely acoustic anthem penned by four of the five members of the troupe. Information:

Artist: Todd Grubbs
Title: As the Worm Turns (GrubbWorm Music)
You might like if you enjoy: Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Joe Bonamassa
Tell me more: Long recognized for his virtuoso guitar skills, Tampa, Florida-based guitarist Todd Grubbs has issued his first mostly-vocal album As the Worm Turns and the results impress across the length of the 11-track outing. Plenty of memorable songs to recommend emerge on the album, including the blues nugget "The Other Side of Forever" (featuring singer Emily Velasco), symphonic "We Are One" and experimental Frank Zappa-worthy entry "My Name Is Joe" (the latter showcasing how Grubbs can shred in the service of any style). Particularly effective is "Stay Alive," a baroque pop-meets-metal anchored song that recalls the sacrifice and uncertainty of war throughout the eyes of a single soldier where Grubbs' dazzling guitar work shares center stage with a string quartet in the early going and Daniel Swartwood's piano at the emotional close. Information:

Artist: Aunt Mary
Title: New Dawn (Wind Up Entertainment)
You might like if you enjoy: Early Deep Purple, Ten Years After
Tell me more: Pioneering Norwegian progressive rock outfit Aunt Mary burst on the European music scene in 1970 with the release of the band's self-titled album, and joined other top-flight bands including Ten Years After and Jethro Tull that blended blues, hard rock and other styles in a wandering spirit that forged early progressive rock. Although the band broke up in 1973, Aunt Mary would occasionally perform live and released an album of blues covers in 1992 titled Bluesprints. Listening to the band's full-fledged return via the aptly-titled New Dawn, Aunt Mary's sound in 2016 is a rousing attack that fuses strong musicianship with hard rock riffs and winning melodies personified by a wealth of great material. No doubt, the cancer-caused deaths of original singer Jan Groth (in August 2014) and drummer Ketil Stensvik (in April 2015) challenged Bjorn Kristiansen (the band's original guitar player and primary songwriter), but the results on New Dawn are sterling, including the melancholy-drenched "Happily Ever After," richly-textured acoustic song "Open Your Eyes" and soaring rocker "Blind Date." Information:

Artist: The Raz Band
Title: Madison Park (Gonzo Multimedia)
You might like if you enjoy: Joey Molland, Joe Vitale, Traveling Wilburys
Tell me more: The Raz Band's Madison Park recalls a simpler time when rock 'n' roll records could be lots of fun. On Madison Park, band leader Michael Raz Rescigno is joined by Joey Molland (Badfinger), Joe Vitale (Joe Walsh, The Eagles, Crosby, Stills & Nash) and others for a spirited straight-ahead collection of '70s-styled rockers and tuneful ballads. Highlights on the 16-track album include the rollicking "$1.50 For Your Love," the heavy blues-rocker "Say Ya Love Me," and the George Harrison-honoring "Time Marches On" (a reworked version Rescigno's track featured on the "The Best of Los Angeles 1987" compilation) and powerful early rock-mining "Love Me Do." Information:

Artist: C.C.
Title: In The Moment (CDC Productions)
You might like if you enjoy: Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder
Tell me more: R&B, soul, funk and related styles are the focus of the accessible collection of songs featured on the third full-length disc In The Moment from C.C. (Cornell Carter). Having opened for the late great James Brown, Natalie Cole and Ray Charles, C.C. is helping keep alive the sonic territory minded by those artists on his 13-track release. Among the notable tracks here are the grooving "Bobblehead" and a version of Lionel Richie-era Commodores favorite "Zoom." In addition to his excellent solo work, C.C. is an in-demand studio singer and was recently asked by guitarist Carlos Santana to provide background vocals on two tracks that will appear on the muli-platinum artist's 2016 album "Santana IV." Information:

Robert Kinsler

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