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Indie Spotlight: rants, raves and reviews

Indie music reviews, from ex-Bodeans Sam Llanas' solo work to the dark, despondent sound of David Robert King.

By Lee Zimmerman

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Sounding like the unholy offspring of Tom Waits, Cohen, Cash and Cave, David Robert King creates a dark, despondent sound that suggests he has more than merely trouble on his mind. And yet, his wizened vocals aside, King ‘s able to offer up some surprisingly affecting songs on Idaho, an album filled with thoughtful, provocative melodies that definitely dig deep. Several songs sound like they’re of the spiritual persuasion, all hushed invocations backed with cooing harmonies that appear they’ve come courtesy of a gospel choir. An ominous elegy of sorts, these somber incantations resonate with an ethereal beauty and otherworldly ambiance. Granted, the foreboding melodies and hushed rumination may not be to everyone’s liking. Clearly they require committed ears. Yet, at the same time, there are several songs here that simply won’t let go once they get under the skin. In that sense, King really does rule.

A tunesmith of the first degree -- and a Grammy winning songwriter to boot -- Scot Sax can count consistency as a chief asset throughout the course of his ever-fertile career, one that’s found him both on his own and in the company of such pioneering alt-pop bands as Feel and Wanderlust. Consequently, it’s been clear from the outset that there’s never been an enticing melody that’s avoided his grasp, or lacked a compelling connection once he’s laid his claim. Both affable and agreeable, Sax’s superb new album, Drawing from Memory is, as its title implies, an homage to the classic pop sounds of days gone by, sunny assurance that all it takes is an affecting embrace to allow a song to shine through on its own. That said, it’s also a tribute to Sax’s exceptional ability to imagine those supple sounds and make them sound as if they’ve been in the ether forever. On that basis alone, Sax soars.

One can think that they’ve heard every band that’s worthy of praise and then suddenly, expectedly, along comes an outfit so remarkable, it’s hard to believe they’ve been below the radar and out of sight. In this case, the group that that refers to is the Wooldridge Brothers, a band comprised of two siblings -- Scott and Brian and sister in law Julie -- along with two able compatriots, Scott Gorsuch and Jack Rice. Their’s is not an uncommon sound, but as expressed on their new disc, Starts At Dusk, it’s music so obviously infectious, so singularly spectacular that it simply rings with recognition almost immediately. Scott Wooldridge has a voice that’s ideal for pure pop, while the songs sound like a classic combination from which timeless melodies are made. Hints of Springsteen, the Eagles, the Hollies and other radio-ready references immediately come to mind, but the Wooldridge Brothers can claim each of these efforts as their own. This is an ageless endeavor made to please, and for anyone that appreciates ready hooks and carousing choruses, Starts At Dusk is a great place to begin.

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It’s been a slow go for Amanda White in terms of getting the absolute attention she deserves, but with Rhythm of the Rain, one would be right to assume she’s indeed on the verge of wider recognition. A sterling set of songs, flush with emotion and determination, it features nine of the most urgent and emphatic tunes she’s ever complied, all delivered with credibility and conviction. Helmed behind the boards by Dave Coleman, one of Nashville’s most accomplished producers, the album runs the gamut from stoic reflection to assertive authority. White seems to breathe these sentiments as fully as she sings them, reflecting a deep investment in the material that underscores the inherent meaning and message. While this may be White’s best record yet, it’s also indicative of her craft and creativity, qualities that ought to elevate her to the top tier of Nashville’s current crop of singer/songwriters.

Sam Llanas gained fame with the band the Bodeans, who in turn scored a formidable hit with the song “Closer to Free.” Their rootsy, midwestern appeal notwithstanding, they came close, but never quite equaled that triumph in the years that came after. Llanas, who was already invested in a solo career, abruptly quit the band in August 2011 due to personal issues and conflicts with the band. Today, that early history is behind him, and a new individual effort, Return of the Goya -- Part 1, attests to his determination to steer his music in new directions. Not surprisingly then, the songs are amiable and accessible, far less passionate and purposeful than his earlier work with the Bodeans. Llanas seems to have found true contentment and it shows, echoed in the gentle acoustic textures, his soft spun vocals and an effortless ambiance overall. As a result, these songs are easy to cling to and they leave a sense of satisfaction in their wake. Let’s hope Part 2 isn’t too far off...

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Denver, Nevada, the new album from Dutch singer and songwriter Ad Vanderveen, further affirms his prowess as a journeyman singer/songwriter who has quite a way with supple melody, passion and purpose, Vanderveen’s been plying his trade for quite awhile now, making gradual inroads outside his native Holland, but still missing the bigger breakthrough that he so clearly deserves. Boasting certain similarities to other European-based troubadours like Iain Matthews, Elliott Murphy and others of a similar lilt and persuasion, Vanderveen’s winsome narratives and spoken dialogues convey a personal conviction that’s by turns both stirring and sublime. While every album of his has resonated well, Denver, Nevada strikes an instant chord, a travelogue of sorts that combines scenes and sounds in a strikingly sensual way. In a larger sense, it fully embraces Vanderveen’s knack for imagery and observation, and, given adequate exposure, it ought to establish him as an artist for the ages, one whose skills define the very essence of a true modern minstrel. We can only hope that indeed, Denver, Nevada puts him on the map.