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Indie releases to spotlight by Damn Tall Buildings, Mike Browning, Blue Dogs and others

Indie Spotlight column reviews top (and recent) releases by indie artists

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By Lee Zimmerman

Here is a look into the top (and recent) releases by indie artists.

  

The Brooklyn-based band Damn Tall Buildings share the sort of sentiment that’s much needed these days — a warm, reflective, down-home embrace that purveys an old school approach by way of songs that are undeniably effusive and enthusiastic. The title of their new album — their third to date — Sleeping Dogs, may hint at that unpretentious approach, but it’s the music itself, flush with old time instrumentation — fiddles, banjos, guitar and upright bass — that still manages to make an emphatic impression. The trio — Avery Ballotta, Max Capistran and Sasha Dubyk — share all the vocals and the majority of the songwriting credits as well, and as a result, they operate in sync with a shared enthusiasm that literally leaps from the grooves. This time around, they’ve expanded their reach, incorporating trumpet, drums, flutes, lap steel, and keys, but even so, their unassuming attitude remains undiminished. Damn Tall Buildings may boast a handle of sky high proportions, but happily this particular outfit comes across as decidedly down to earth.

  

Mike Browning Presents Another Bite of the Apple is a decidedly buoyant slice of power pop ecstasy. It’s not only a credit to Mike Browning’s ability to multi-task — he produced, recorded and mixed the album, in addition to writing all the songs — but also to the fact that it’s a family affair. Although he claims it’s his first full-length album of original material, she shares the credits with his sister, Teri Pierce, his niece, Alyssa Blevins, and his daughter Jillian Browning, all of whom sang background vocals on five of the ten songs. So too, his wife Janine shares a duet on another. In addition, he taps the talents of several other notable individuals as well, among them, such seasoned savants as Jamie Hoover and Steve Stoeckel of the Spongetones. Then again, that’s hardly surprising. Browning took a recording and production class taught by Hoover at Brunswick Community College in Southport, North Carolina, and clearly he learned his lessons well. These songs are effusive and exuberant, resonant and reassuring. A tastier bite of the apple would be hard to come by.

  



Freddie Steady KRC is an Austin based power pop staple that manages to combine both attitude and enjoyment in equal measure. His new album, suitably dubbed Dandy and recorded under the aegis of The Freddie Steady Revue, offers all the ingredients necessary to ensure immediate appeal, from a wealth of catchy melodies to an irreverent attitude that brings with it more than a hint of humor. The lyric from lead-off track “Bohemian Dandy” aptly says it all: “I’m salty as the sea, Sweet as sugar candy, “Won’t you let me be, your bohemian dandy.” Given both the tone and tenacity, that’s a proposition that’s difficult to resist, but happily, there’s no reason to demure. Granted, some of the titles hint at what appears to be some off-kilter intents — Muchacho Borracho,” “Chopped Beef” and “Girl Who Wore the Violet Crown, among them — but happily, they still manage to connect, thanks to an upbeat approach and a generally agreeable demeanor. As his name implies, Freddie Steady has been sharing his skills consistently for quite some time — as a guitarist, drummer, entrepreneur and champion of Texas music — but with Dandy, it becomes clear that wider recognition is long overdue.

  

Unknown

Peter Manning Robinson is a musical maestro, an astute pianist and composer whose new album, Celestial Candy lives up to its name. Comprised entirely of solo instrumentals — several of which are identified as “refractor piano music” — it’s intriguing, inviting and decidedly out of the ordinary, with titles that reflect Robinson’s brilliant creative concepts.“An Hour On Earth,” “Plateau of Mirrors,” “Obelisk”and “Spiritual Warrior” find their composer sharing fascination, fluidity and finesse in equal measure, which, in turn, leaves the listener spellbound from the grace and beauty that emanate from each. To be sure, this is far more than mere mood music, although it does create a tuneful tapestry that weaves a spell entirely its own. On the other hand, it defies categorization, courtesy of an atmospheric ambiance that’s all its own. There are those that insist instrumental music is mostly elusive and/or less than compelling, but suffice it to say Celestial Candy defies that notion entirely. Consider this a tasteful treat indeed.

  

AlRoseAgain

 
With his eighth album (!) Again the Beginning, Chicago singer and songwriter Al Rose offers evidence of what the world at large has been missing. Rose is a talented songsmith, and while his music is occasionally reminiscent of other artists — opening track “Don’t Know Why” sounds like the Who in their heyday — each of these songs pop with an urgency and immediacy that demands instant attention. It’s been six years since Rose’s last album, Spin Spin Dizzy and the world has seen more than its share of troubles and travails, from the plague of the pandemic, the undermining of democracy here at home and a deepening divide. Rose addresses these issues with insight, intelligence, spirit, and savvy. “The present and the future are just bastards of the past,” Rose declares on the riveting and anthemic “Said & Done,” summing up this disastrous dilemma so succinctly. An impactful album, Again the Beginning will hopefully bring this articulate artist the attention he so decidedly deserves. A beginning like this deserves repeating.

  

Blue Dogs

Comebacks are rare in the music biz, so when an artist or a band returns after an absence of nearly 15 years, it’s something to celebrate. So credit the Carolina combo Blue Dogs with making a fateful return with their aptly-title new album Big Dreamers. While the world at large might not be familiar with them then or now, they do have some pretty steady fans, including Radney Foster and Jerry Douglas contributed their talents to the new album, adding extra emphasis to an auspicious offering. Indeed, Blue Dogs’ new effort is ebullient and assured, an impressive combination given their time away. Though they were something of a cult band the first time around, if justice serves, Big Dreamers will bring them at least a hint of the recognition they so decidedly deserve. Hopefully too, it will be the first of several upcoming albums in this renewed phase of their career. After all, even a rock and roll band deserves a second chance to shine.