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Indie releases to embrace: Rootsy rock, power pop and a gem of a tribute to Pete Townshend

The Bros. Landreth’s roots rock, Salim Nourallah's explosive pop, Half-Handed Cloud's uniqueness, Jem Record's grand Pete Townshend tribute and more.

By Lee Zimmerman

“All I want is you, write a long song for you.” Those sentiments, shared in the chorus of “See You In Marfa,” the lead-off track on Salim Nourallah’s expressive new EP named for the small Texas town referenced in the tile, aptly sums up the sentiment shared throughout this wonderful new set of songs. Of course, that ought to come as no surprise whatsoever who have followed Nourallah’s career over the course of the past 30 years, first as part of a duo with his brother Faris known, appropriately enough, as the Nourallah Brothers, then as helmsman for the power pop band the Happiness Factor, before finally launching his solo career nearly 20 years ago. Aside from his own offerings, he’s produced fellow Dallas denizens the Old 97’s for the better part of the past eight years as well. Nevertheless, Nourallah’s own efforts allow him to stand on his own, and See You in Marfa, with its superb mix of sensitive ballads and rugged rockers, is no exception. Meet him in Marfa, or wherever the music takes you.

  

The follow up to the duo’s debut, Poets & Sinners, Edward Rogers and Steve Butler's continued collaboration, Brighter Day, maintains the tuneful template established the last time around. Both men are firmly entrenched in Brit rock tradition, Rogers as part of the pairing known as the Bedsit Poets, followed by his own prolific solo career, and Butler as lead singer and guitarist for the power pop outfit known as Smash Palace. Not surprisingly then, Brighter Day shares that affinity for instant accessibility, courtesy of most memorable and melodic set of songs that retain the pair’s allegiance to a decided '60s sensibility. However, the thing that’s especially prominent here is an unabashed exuberance that pervades practically every entry, from the opening offerings “Brighter Day” and “Where Does the World Hide” through to the optimism shared on the song “A Perfect Market Day” and on to the album’s upbeat conclusion, the cheery “Oh Romeo” and the appropriately dubbed “A Brand New Tomorrow.” The energy and enthusiasm is simply too difficult to resist. So why try?

  

Emulating The Who is a decidedly challenging task, because, after all, nobody does the Who better than the Who themselves. Nevertheless, credit the roster of the renewed Jem Records roster for providing a celebratory salute in hte form of Jem Records Celebrates Pete Townshend. Those that take part — The Weeklings, The Grip Weeds, The Anderson Council, Nick Piyunti, Richard Barone, The Gold Needles, Jonathan Pushkar, The Midnight Callers, The Airport 77s, and Lisa Mychols & Super 8 — are obviously all fans, and while some of the artists that take part take a few liberties with the material, most stay true to the template, in spirit as well as execution. Again, there’s a high bar, and if some of the interpretations seem slightly amiss, the material mostly stays true to the tone and tenacity of the originals. The Grip Weeds’ take on the mini opera “A Quick One” is especially well done, considering the twists and turns taken by the original song suite. So too, The Weeklings’ rendition of “I Can See For Miles” retains the drama and dynamic inherent early on. Credit this Who’s Who for a job well done.

  

  

The fact that Jason McNiff is such an exceptional singer/songwriter in his own right makes an album of covers seem an odd turn at this point in his already prolific career. Nevertheless, Tonight We Ride is still an absorbing effort thanks to McNiff’s intriguing choices. A solo take on the Beatles’ psychedelic masterpiece “Tomorrow Never Knows,” may be its most surprising entry — indeed, the song’s rarely been reimagined in such a stripped down setting — but practically every offering reflects McNiff’s confidence and credence in equal measure. Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Bert Jansch, The Waterboys, and Dire Straits are all represented, but it’s the traditional tapestry inherent in such songs as “Hard Times Come No More” and Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings” that best fit with McNiff’s folk finesse. Rather than offer concessions to any established template, McNiff adapts the material to fit his parameters. Consequently, Dire Straits’ “Tunnel of Love” and the Waterboys’ “Fisherman’s Blues” are practically unrecognizable in reference to the original renditions. Ultimately then, Tonight We Ride finds McNiff pursuing his own distinctive path forward.

   

A Juno Award-winning duo, The Bros. Landreth’s new album, Come Morning, finds a perfect mesh of soulful sentiment and rootsy reflection. It’s a different sound from brothers David and Joey Landreth, given that the emphasis is on expressive introspection. It’s a sound that adds deeper meaning to each of these entries, requiring those that hear it to lean in and listen. While their earlier offerings were rather robust in comparison, the new album leans more on meditative musings, all while digging deeper into the inherent emotion and a simmering sensibility which hints at deeper concerns. It’s an enticing effort to be sure, but one that finds them scouring their own psyches in the hope of finding meaning behind the mystery. Alluring and evocative, Come Morning is as revealing as it is reflective, given the personal paradox that informs each of these offerings. That said, Come Morning is a most thoughtful sojourn, flush with a subtlety and sound that ought to elevate this these siblings to an even higher plateau.

  

Borne from the influence of Sufjan Stevens, the aptly-named Flutterama, the latest album from Half-Handed Cloud — the nom de plume for chief songwriter and multi-instrumentalist John Ringhoder and drummer Brandon Buckner — offers a deliriously fluid array of spunky soundscapes and quirky yet catchy melodies. The music contained herein frequently comes across as a random series of flighty fragments that share a common bond courtesy of Ringhoder’s dazzling dexterity and the chirpy vocals that heighten the eccentric nature within each of these outlays. It’s a curious collection to be sure — unnerving at times and fanciful at others — and it takes an appreciation for abject experimentation to fully traverse the duo’s demonstrative designs. An approximate description is elusive at best, but indulgence is imperative. Suffice it to say, there’s nothing quite like it, and, as one might suspect, that’s how it was intended.