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A Wealth Of Artistry on 4 New CDs in 4 Genres

Four new CDs, in four different genres, are proving that alt.rock, soul, blues and country are still vital and being made with the kind of attention-to-detail and respect for tradition that empowers the sound. Shawn James, Kat Riggins, Mark Chesnutt and The Pineapple Thief may not be household names but they all bring the goods.
Studio portraits of UK progressive rock band The Pineapple Thief

London art-rockers The Pineapple Thief, on their 11th CD in 17 years, “Your Wilderness” (Kscope), have settled into the kind of trippy synth-laden futuristic pop that tickles the brain as well as the ear. It’s a worthy successor to 2014’s “Magnolia” and goes beyond what fans of these alterna-darlings have ever even attempted: Supertramp’s John Helliwell on clarinet, Porcupine Tree’s Gavin Harrison on drums, a string quartet and even a four-piece choir. Main man Bruce Soord still writes brooding, yearning odes to life itself from the perpetual stance of the outsider. He’s the same boy who obviously grew up being told one set of parameters in which to live his life, then, as a man, realized they were all false (sorta like Lennon). This disparity fuels the philosophical conundrum of his existence…plus it sounds so darn pretty. “Your Wilderness,” just might be the CD that’s transcends The Pineapple Thief from cult status to world beaters.

By recording at the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis, Shawn James is standing 'On The Shoulders Of Giants." Growing up on the southside of Chicago as he did, he's also breathed in the blues giants he loves so. They just happen in inhabit the nine songs he's written here, especially "Hellhound," "Belly Of The Beast" and "Snake Eyes." He sings 'em in a rough-hewn voice of experience while accompanying himself with the kind of tasty guitar licks that most singer/songwriters can't hold a candle to (unless you're Paul Simon). He's played his share of dives and he's played in the street for chump change as a one-man band as he's also proficient on kick drum, tambourine, piano, trumpet and musical saw. Having just finished a tour pulling double-duty as a solo opening act for his own band, The Shapeshifters (a swampy blues rock'n'metal band), he's already at work on a new batch of tunes. Dredging up the ghosts of long-ago and far-away figures like Howling Wolf, Son House, Robert Johnson and Otis Redding, his bluesy folk-soul country gets under your skin. As such, it's too profound for radio...but that's radio's fault, not his.

Shawn James by David Arteaga

There's a "Blues Revival" goin' down and singer/songwriter Kat Riggins is leading the charge. She wants to "wake up the blues, one song at a time" and here she does it times 10 on eight originals, and covers of Sam Cooke's "Change Is Gonna Come" and the Etta James showstopper "Blues Is My Business (And Business Is Good)." Putting Southern Rock, gospel and that good old soul feeling in her particular brand of blues makes her more entertaining as well as profoundly listenable. Highlight has to be her audacious "Blues Is The New Black" but "Good Girl Blues" has her rebelling against what society expects from a proper young lady. Backed by a smokin' hot band of guitars, keyboard, bass, drums, there's volume aplenty, funk where you least expect it and overflowing sex appeal.

Kat Riggins

Tired of all the garbage posing as country music? It's time to throw away all your CDs by such know-nothings as Florida Georgia Line, Miranda Lambert, Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan and that jerk on NBC-TV's "The Voice." No reason for alarm, though, as "Tradition Lives" (Row Entertainment) in the person of Mark Chesnutt. Mark's got that died-in-the-wool, low-in-the-throat once-in-a-lifetime real country voice that only the greats have. His many hits in the 1990s--including "Bubba Shot The Jukebox," "Too Cold At Home," "It Sure Is Monday" and "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing" which cuts Aerosmith's original to ribbons--had many missing him. Well, the wait is over. With such new songs as "Is It Still Cheating," "Never Been To Texas," "Hot," "I've Got A Quarter In My Pocket" and eight more, Chesnutt is back to stake his claim as the rightful heir to George Jones, Merle Haggard and Lefty Frizzell. And you can't teach that!

mark chesnutt