By Lee Zimmerman
It doesn’t take a covers album like The Mavericks Play The Hits to prove that The Mavericks are one of the most versatile bands in the biz. Every since the beginning, they’ve proven their ability to combine influences of every variety — from rock and country to Tex Mex and Latino. Here however they’re offered the opportunity to pay homage to their heroes, and yet the sound stays in sync with their own signature style. Just as importantly, it shows they’re as adventurous as ever. Naturally, Raul Malo’s emotive vocals are the glue that holds it all together, and as always, the Mavs rise to the occasion. Of course the songs speak to themselves — “Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart, Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” Elvis’ “Don’t Be Cruel,” Waylon Jennings’ “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” among them. Consider this album further proof that the Mavericks have made it to the top tier of today’s Americana elite.
Jim Basnight has excelled as a purveyor of a true power pop motif over the course of the past 25 years. While that’s a broad definition, Basnight has helped define that style as the infectious sound it is, one that’s brimming with irresistible hooks, catchy refrains and the kind of memorable melodies that leave a lingering impression long after the final notes fade away. Basnight’s released several excellent albums over the course of his career — not only his own, but also with the Jim Basnight Thing and the Moberlys — but his latest effort, the aptly titled Not Changing, appears to be his best yet. While it might be loosely tied to that aforementioned power pop genre — song titled “Having Fun,” “Living the Way I Want” and “Saturday Dream” attest to that fact — it also finds Basnight placing more of an emphasis on songs that resonate and reverberate simply by virtue of a defined delivery and the emphatic energy. For those who haven’t discovered him up until now, Not Changing is a terrific point of entry. Likewise, longtime fans will likely see it as further confirmation of Basnight’s bountiful abilities.
Naturally, when you have an album produced by blues great Samantha Fish, it’s bound to attract attention. However if the songs and skills aren’t there to back up that distinction, there’s no guarantee of being able to sustain any success. Fortunately, Nicholas David has the skill and savvy to ensure his ready appeal, and on his new album, Yesterday’s Gone, he demonstrates an astute ability to fuse southern soul, basic blues and a set of songs that reflect his own rootsy regimen. Originally based in Minnesota, he made his way to New Orleans at Fish’s invitation and took the opportunity to further immerse himself in that city’s distinctive style and milieu. The result is manifest in a set of songs that are rich in melody and expression, with David’s expressive vocals and keyboard playing rooted in the core of each of these compositions. At the same time, he shows he’s adept at broaching borders without paying heed to any particular style or genre. Fish made a good choice when she chose to sit behind the boards and David distinguishes himself through his articulate execution.
Joshua Radin has a prolific history of putting out albums flush with a melodic caress and soft, seductive songs of a reassuring nature. His latest effort, Here, Right Now, is an ideal example. As always, Radin demonstrates that a great tune isn’t necessarily dependent on an overwhelming arrangement in order for it to full resonate. His ability to make people lean in and listen remains at the core of his success, and while much of the new album barely rises above a whisper, it’s as affecting and assuring as anything that occupies the modern musical milieu. His take on Tom Petty’s fierce anthem of resistance and rebellion, “I Won’t Back Down,” is an ideal example, Where Petty made his insurrection and independence obvious, Radin takes a decidedly soothing stance that coaxes and caresses rather than defies and decries the forces poised against him. A take on the Stones’ otherwise obscure gem “She Smiled Sweetly” shines through a wistful refrain. Any Radin album is worth acquiring, but, as its title implies, Here, Right Now is as good as any when it comes to a place to start.
In most circumstances, when an artist breaks ties with his or her longstanding ensemble for the sake of a solo album, it’s because he or she want to create a distinctive sound wholly apart from their former colleagues. Curiously then, Philip B. Price, a key player and performer with the chamber folk/pop band the Winterpills, opts not to make a dramatic shift in style, but instead, to turn to a topic of dire consequence, global warming. Bone Almanac, his first individual outing in 15 years, is both dark and demonstrative, 14 songs that emit an ethereal glow in ways both shimmering and seductive. Like the Winterpills, the tone can be chilling at times, but its also at once both sensual and seductive. Price plays practically all the instruments, creating spare sounding melodies that underscore the somewhat ominous intents. It’s an apocalyptic effort to be sure, but even so, its filled with a fragile beauty that still manages to loom large throughout. The fact that the music sometimes seems to express more with less makes it the more remarkable still.
Scott Wolfson isn’t an easy artist to classify. Yet that’s hardly a detriment by any means. He’s an expressive and imaginative individual, and with his band Other Heroes in tow, he creates a broad sweep that ranges from emotive ballads to a horn-infused ragtime romp. His new album, Flying Backwards, is an impressive follow-up to his sophomore set Welcoming the Flood, and makes for a strong addition to a collected catalog that dates back to 2014. Nevertheless, any impression instilled so far — especially as it applies to the idea that he’s tied to roots rock or Americana — will likely get dashed this time out, given the wide array of sounds and suggestion. Cinematic in scope, it finds Wolfson and company creating over the top melodies and an adroit execution that underscores what is in many ways a larger than life production. Wolfson has all the makings of being a major artist, and with Flying Backwards, he’s propelling himself forward in no uncertain terms.