Album Review

Lee's Listening Stack: A Dozen Recommended Albums for Early October

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Rathbone
Soft
(True Believer)

Singer/songwriter Luke Rathbone –the namesake for the band now simply known as Rathbone – exercises his pop proficiency with Soft, an album that belies its title with a mostly upbeat motif. Rathbone demonstrates an obvious affection for an ‘80s-centric sound, imbuing the influences of the Cars, Blondie, the Knack, the Romantics and other power pop icons into an overtly accessible approach. The lovely “Little Moment” offers the only real change in tone, but songs such as “What More,” “Low!” and “Last Forgiven” are the songs best equipped to bring some notice, thanks to a giddy good-time approach that’s both alluring and effusive. Rathbone may reside below the surface in terms of mainstream awareness, but they’ve got the skills needed to widen their reach. (www.lukerathborne.bandcamp.com

Clarence Bucaro
Hills To Home
(20 20 Records)

So why isn’t Clarence Bucaro better known? That’s a question you may well ask yourself even after listening to only the first few songs on Hills To Home, as fine a pop album as any crafted in recent memory. With his smooth, assured vocals and gift for encasing his melodies with a particular polish and sheen, Bucaro clearly possesses the perfect combination of skill and savvy. Bucaro is a singular talent who takes his cue from a timeless pop precept, a mantra that states succinctly, great songs sung well are really all that matters when it comes to winning favor with the masses. “Hills of Your Heat,” “Tallahassee,” “Cracks of Love” and “Krista” -- the songs referenced above -- resonate from the start, assuring the fact that this album will be a keeper even before it has a chance to get fully underway. Remarkably, Hills To Home isn’t a singular triumph; each of Bucaro’s preceding albums were similarly melodically endowed. However the choice of producer Neilson Hubbard to helm the project emphasizes an essence of wistful repose and a singular sensitivity that reverberates throughout. It’s a  welcome home-coming indeed.(www.clarencebucaro.com

Jamie and Steve
Circling
(Loaded Goat Records)

Although their previous tenure had them identified as members of North Carolina’s famed power pop outfit the Spongetones, classifying Jamie and Steve strictly as rock ‘n’ roll auteurs doesn’t do this duo justice. On this, their latest entry, the pair -- known individually as Jamie Hoover and Steve Stoeckel -- perform all the arrangements and instrumentation, replicating their preferred technique of standing face to face in concert to effect a preferred synchronicity. Opener “Orgami Woamn” and later track “Skeleton” provide outstanding examples of Jamie and Steve’s exhilarating and effusive prowess, but beautiful ballads like the title track and “You” also show their sensitive side in full flush, replete with soaring harmonies and sensitive set-ups. Several of Circling’s tracks segue seamlessly, giving the impression of a continuous song cycle. An exquisite and vibrant display, it’s a credit to the skill and savvy of like-minded musicians. (www.jamieandsteve.net

Bill Mallonee
Winnowing
(Bill Mallonee Music)

The former frontman of the Vigilantes of Love, Bill Mallonee and his wife Muriah Rose packed up their possessions, left Atlanta and relocated to Taos, New Mexico, where he set up a cottage industry consisting of releasing a non-stop series of solo albums in digital form. The ever-prolific auteur now has over 50 releases available at billmalloneemusic.bandcamp.com, but it’s especially gratifying to find him again offering music in physical form courtesy of the wonderful Winnowing. Despite his vast catalogue, Mallonee never seems to run out of inspiration when it comes to casting beautiful melodies, and indeed, every selection here is a remarkable revelation in itself -- soft, sensitive and a window into his soul. Mallonee’s plaintive vocals -- vaguely reminiscent of Neil Young in a more subdued moment -- cast each song in a weary yet wistful glow, adding an earnest appeal to such entries as “Dover Beach,” “Those Locust Years” and “Blame It On The Desert Whispering.” Recorded at home, with Mallonee and Rose handling all the instruments between them, Winnowing is another exceptional release from an artist who never comes up short when it comes to displaying both taste and tenacity. (www.bllmallonee.net)

James Lee Stanley
The Apocaloptimist
(Beachwood Recordings)

After previous albums dedicated to recasting the music of the Doors and the Rolling Stones in acoustic settings, tireless troubadour James Lee Stanley opts for a collection of nearly all new material under the unlikely heading The Apocaloptimist. Cast with arrangements that suggest a breezy tropical sway, “Living the Party Life,” “Gypsies in the Hallway” and an unlikely jazz-infused take on the Beatles’ “Drive My Car” show his penchant for easy, appealing melodies and a decidedly sophisticated pop flair. Stanley’s tender vocals fall somewhere stylistically between Cat Stevens and James Taylor, and with the tender “Here We Have My Father,” he carries the earnest, bittersweet sentiments that have always been synonymous with each. Stanley further asserts his skills with the accomplished instrumental “Etude In E Minor” and the lovely “Lullabye for Chloe,” making The Apocaloptimist a near perfect prescription. (www.jamesleestanley.com)

Walter Salas-Humara 
Curve and Shake
(Sonic Pyramid)

While it might be tempting to initially identify Walter Salas-Humara merely as the former frontman for the Silos, a band that was postulating an Americana attitude as far back as the early ‘80s, Walter Salas-Humara also boasts a solo career that’s entirely equal to all he accomplished with his band. In that regard, Curve and Shake is the ideal encapsulation of the music he’s made during the lull in the Silos’ activities. Sporting a voice that’s weary yet resourceful, and a penchant for affable, unassuming melodies, the new album boasts songs that suggest both thoughtful repose (“The Craziest Thing,” “Counting on You”) and hooks that are just catchy enough to make an immediate impact (“Satellite,” “Uncomplicated,” “Hoping for a Comeback”). Nevertheless, Curve and Shake should be allowed time to sink in and fully absorb, given his gift for nuance. In its subtle suggestion there’s also finesse as well as a quiet urgency that compels further listens. Suffice it to say, this outstanding album is well worth any attention its given. (www.waltersalashumara.com)

Shear Shazar
Mess You Up
(Cussy in a Case Records)

Pal Shazar and Jules Shear are singular songwriters in their own right, but as husband and wife they have a potent combination of talent that gives them a fortuitous family resource. While they’ve worked on one another’s records in the past it’s rare to find them collaborating and acquiring equal billing. Consequently Mess You Up celebrates the occasion with a five song EP with songs that are as intriguing as they often are unlikely. The pair’s penchant for melody and irony is on full display here, from the jarring opener “Road Life” to the sly and subtle song that follows, tacitly named “Takeover.” “It Wasn’t Love” finds them in full stride, only to be followed by yet another showstopper, a tongue-in-cheek take on that familiar teen lament “It’s My Party.” It’s then left to the last track, “Random Take” -- the most emphatic melody of all these  offerings -- to end the set on a particularly boisterous note, a reminder that Shear and Shazar are possibly the most marketable matrimonial team around today. Suffice it to say, Mess You Up is a genuine joy.(www.shear-shazar.com)

Adam Carroll
Let It Choose You
(Gypsy Shuffler Music)

In the flood of singer/songwriters making their presence known these days it’s all too easy to overlook any artist that doesn’t emerge with some sort of high profile endorsement. Even though Adam Carroll can count producer Lloyd Maines among his collaborators, he’s never felt the need to trumpet his association or ride on anyone’s coattails. Which is appropriate, especially considering the traditional tack and eternal optimism sheltered in his sound. Carroll’s prowess is evident from the get-go, thanks to a narrative style that details the tattered lives of ordinary people living their lives in the heartland. Bittersweet entries like “Bernadine,” “Raining,” “Lil’ Runaway” and “Wrote It For You” recall the work of John Prine and Townes Van Zandt; in fact, the material’s effortless appeal actually makes them sound like standards. It’s no exaggeration to call Let It Choose You one of the best albums of the year thus far, especially in the category occupied by relative unknowns. Not that Carroll deserves that distinction; his recording career spans the past decade, and his catalogue is as creative and captivating as any of his contemporaries... bigger names included. Ultimately, the title of this exquisitely engaging set of songs says it all. Either choose it, or let it choose you. Regardless, it’s safe to say you’ll be thankful you did. (www.adamcarroll.com)

Ad Vanderveen
Requests Revisited Part 1
(Sea Front Music)

Admittedly, an album entitled Requests Part 1 suggests a certain popularity with the populace. In replaying the requests, the artist is acknowledging a demand by fans specific to certain songs. The only problem here is that Ad Vanderveen isn’t well known on these shores, despite the solid reputation he’s established in his native Holland and the rest of the continent. So be it, but even so, Requests Revisited Part 1 serves its purpose for those for whom Mr. Vanderveen is an unknown entity. There’s no cultural divide to be concerned with; in fact, it’s easy to see why these five songs do strike a chord with longtime listeners. Beautiful ballads like “Anchor,” “Wonders of the World” and “Driftwood” aren’t only supremely seductive, but also allow a tender touch that resonates instantly on even first encounter. For longtime admirers, the re-recoded versions will likely matter little. But for those unfamiliar with the original renditions, these songs should serve as an ideal introduction. It’s only the brevity that provides a cause to  complain.(www.advanderveen.com)

Eileen Rose
Be Many Gone
(Cadiz Music)

Ove the course of a relatively concise career, Eileen Rose has continued to assert herself and her abilities. The result makes this latest effort her most accomplished album to date. From the first song on, Rose shows she’s emerged as a formidable presence, even as she turns the album opener “Question of the Fake Smile” into an assertive statement of purpose. She shifts towards a thoroughly beguiling tone after that, a shamelessly sultry stance fthat transforms the two tracks that follow, “She’s Yours” and “Prove Me Wrong.” Then, just as quickly, she goes south of the border for the accordion sway of “Each Passing Hour,” joined on vocals by none other than sometime Pixie Frank Black. “Just Ain’t So” is brash and direct, “Wake Up SIlly Girl” finds Rose wailing like a brazen balladeer and from then on, what remains of the nine song set proves equally as formidable, right through to the rousing refrain of “Space You Needed.” Ultimately, Be Many Gone meaures up as an authoritative effort from an artist clearly on her way to greater glories.(www.eileenrose.com)

The Falls
Into the Fire
(Verve)

Supple harmonies, warm melodies and simple yet deft arrangements characterize this exquisite initial offering from The Falls, an Australian couple who bring a seemingly innocent yet knowing perspective to this six song set. Now living in L.A., the duo bring a quiet, unassuming perpective that all but assures an immediate embrace. “Girl That I Love,” “Home” and “Hollywood” make for obvious stand-outs, but in truth, there’s not a song here that could be even remotely deemed unworthy of inclusion. The quiet accoustic guitars and richly interwoven voices brings a folk-like glow to the material, but there’s also a certain pop finesse (think the Lumineers or Mumford and Sons, particualrly on a sing like “Hey”) that assures instant appeal. It’s a pretty good bet that we’ll be hearing more from The Falls as time goes on, but for now, Into the Fire is well worth relishing in the meantime.  (www.musicfromhtefalls.com)

Rod Picott
Hang Your Hopes  on a Crooked Nail
(Welding Rod Records)

Rod Picott’s consistent quality has always been admirable, but with the tellingly titled Hang Your Hopes on a Crooked Nail he’s clearly exceeded himself. As a songwriter, Picott shows his knack for penning concise melodies that nail their hooks every time, whether  it’s the soothing, subdued sound of tracks like “You’re Not Missing Anything” and “Might Be Broken Now” or a tune of a more swampy and snakey variety such as “65 Falcon.” Picott’s expressive vocals add just the right hint of tattered emotion, ensuring a reserve of sincerity and sentiment no matter what the song’s setting calls for. As a result, consistent quality is maintained throughout, and given the agile arrangments and unhurried pace, it’s an experience that practically begs keeping things in replay mode. “Where No One Knows My Name” seems a natural stand-out, a concise combination of Picott’s affecting and effective narrative abilities and that sense of quiet yearning and desire that’s always been so essential to his MO. If you’re not familiar with Picott’s work, start here, and then work your way back. You certainly won’t be sorry. (www.rodpicott.com)