With so much great independent music to choose from, there’s certainly a lot to prompt a rave. Multiple raves, in fact. But being the type that has to find a balance, I feel compelled to rant about the fact that there’s so much good music, it’s impossible to get to it all. Time is fleeting and it offers little solace when most is worthy of inclusion and there’s simply not enough daylight to allow an ample opportunity for discovery. Well, forget daylight; even nightfall can’t provide the time needed to properly scour all the terrific tunes that await. Here then is the compromise between the rant and the rave. We can celebrate the abundance of exceptionalism, but lament the fact that much of the music will, by necessity, remain undiscovered. All we can suggest is that you start here, and then venture as far as you’re able. The rewards are certainly worth it.
On that note, and at the risk of repeating the obvious, it’s again worth stating that we’re amazed at how much incredible talent resides just below the surface. Take the case of The Burbans, a New York based band whose penchant for straight forward rock ‘n’ roll, absolutely catchy choruses and exceptional arrangements demands attention even with minimal exposure. The band’s new album, aptly titled A Fourth of Burbans, is, natch, their fourth to date, another example of this savvy outfit’s ability to vary the mood, opt for nuance and still deliver a compelling case for their credence. Stately in one sense, but unabashedly rollicking in another, they come across as mix of Tom Petty, the Who, the Beatles and a hybrid of other mid ‘60s rockers all at the same time. (Note the nod to John Lennon’s beloved Aunt Mimi on “Dear Mimi.”) Their shared harmonies, astute instrumentation and compelling melodies asserts their ability to blend hooks and happenstance, making these tunes so infectiously catchy, they convey a sense of timelessness even at the outset. It’s an exceptional album, one that suggests more taste of Burbans is immediately in order. It’s simply that intoxicating.
Credit Jeff Mix & The Songhearts for going several steps beyond and creating not only a masterful debut album, but a film for which to provide accompaniment. With Lost Vegas Hiway, Mix shares a spellbinding story about a group of ne’re-do-wells at a shady Las Vegas motel, all of whom are drawn together by gunshot in the middle of the night. “You’d hock your gun for bullets before you realize I’ve got a tongue like the devil and mouth full of lies,” Mix declares early on, setting up a tale of strange circumstance and intrigue.Yet as spellbinding as this story appears, the music remains warm and accessible -- shimmery country rock of the most inviting variety. It stands alone even sans the script, while creating a truly transformational experience. Suffice it to say that Mix and company are already ones to watch in terms of sheer creativity paired with an instantly engaging sound.
Irene Pena enters our radar as an adept young singer and songwriter whose new EP, Trying Not To Smile, did the opposite of what its title suggests, bringing a broad grin regardless. A five song set, it shows a singular spirit, a sound that’s upbeat and infectious, and a determined drive and delivery that affirms the fact she’s in this game for keeps. In some ways it’s reminiscent of the giddy girl groups of an exacting ‘80s vintage -- sparkly, robust and unencumbered by angst but smitten by attitude. Pena provides the perfect anecdote for today’s sobering times, a reminder that music can lift us out of our doldrums and yes, put a smile on our face when needed. BTW, nice to see my writer pal John Borack pitching in on drums for three tracks. It’s clear proof that even we geeky writers can also practice what we pitch.
Weened on ‘60s rock of the British Invasion variety, The Doughboys recreated their childhood combine several years back, and what was once a collective dream of teenage rock ‘n’ roll stardom gelled in the form of a fully formed band. The most famous name involved here is power pop magnate Richard X Heyman, but clearly every member of the band has come into its collective own. At this point they reach well beyond the parameters, making any suggestion that this is a mere side project utterly untrue.. With Front Street Rebels, their affinity for the Stones, the Yardbirds, Them and other dominant names of the ‘60s is as clear as always. However at this juncture, their ability to emulate their heroes is also obvious, and when singer Myke Scavone launches into opening track “Sink or Swim” or the tenacious “She Rocks My Soul,” one only wishes that Jagger and company would take the hint and return to making music that once mattered. By far their best effort yet, Front Street Rebels is a powerhouse collection of could be classics, both mighty and memorable. In short, it really rocks, sounding for all the world like a seismic set of ‘60s standards.
Canyon City’s Constellation is the kind of album that can lull a listener to slumber, not because it’s simply a yawn, but rather because it’s so sweet and alluring it provides a cradle of comfort even on first hearing. The nom de plume of Nashville-based singer and songwriter Paul Johnson, it’s Canyon City’s follow up to last year’s Midnight Waves, an album that set the stage for Johnson’s superior solo career. Like that earlier effort, Constellation is both quiet and captivating, a gentle mix of hushed vocals, gentle keyboards, and the shimmer and strum of acoustic guitar. The songs rarely rise above a whisper, underscoring the austere ambiance that embraces the album overall. A solitary selection of songs, Constellation provides an unfettered tranquility that’s unobtrusive yet suggestive, circumspect and yet still provocative. It’s hard not to appreciate its winsome appeal while soaking up the solace. Indeed, it’s rare to find music that makes its mark in such a quiet and contemplative way.
Naming your band The Americans could imply a certain amount of pretension, but in this case, the handle is well justified. The band takes an uncompromising, fully charged approach to their music, resulting in a sound that’s as adventurous as any American explorer ought to be. Always bold, teetering on the edge, riveting and resilient, the band’s new album I’ll Be Yours finds them mining unexpected terrain, much the way our nation’s forebears did when the country was young. In this case, they venture out, not with covered wagons, rifles and provisions, but rather with a sound that holds to rock, roots and indie precepts, all working in tandem to create an intense and adventurous sound. The credence and confidence inherent in these grooves makes them worthy of their banner, and if this is any indication of what’s to come, then, like those Americans that came before, they clearly possess plenty of promise. In short, this is one extraordinary entry, and even as they proclaim I’ll Be Yours, they provide an invitation that’s too compelling to resist.
On the other hand, the Aussies have never had a problem sharing their penchant for pop, one reason why on their eponymous debut, The Stanleys come out of the gate at full blast, offering up a rousing set of pure, uncompromising, powerhouse rock ‘n’ roll. The band have obviously learned their lessons well, and here they demonstrate a verve and vitality that’s clearly capable of carrying them forward. It’s noteworthy that Ken Stringfellow and Michael Carpenter are present behind the boards, because their unabashed style is definitely an influence here. An ideal example of pure power pop at its most uninhibited, the album provides a promising first proviso, chock full of riveting hooks and frenzied flourishes. Taking the exultation imbued in “Everybody Dance” as but one example, it takes only a single listen to affirmt he fact that the Stanleys have made an impressive first impression, setting a high bar that they will hopefully meet be able to meet every time out.
Glancing at the cover of One Step Ahead of Your Past, the new offering by Benyaro (AKA Ben Musser), it’s evident that there’s one suave, sophisticated guy here at the helm. It’s not surprising then, that the music that’s exuding from these grooves radiates a cool confidence, a determined demeanor devoid of posturing or pretence. Self-composed and astutely executed, it’s the kind of record that portends a savvy sensibility and a decidedly knowing stance. There’s a certain amount of mystique at play here, but what drives the delivery is Benyaro’s dry determination. So if One Step Ahead of Your Past seems an unlikely title for an artist that’s still finding his way forward, it also demonstrates the fact that he’s not about to be deterred. Indeed it’s evident already that he has plenty of talent to bank on, flush with ample ability to exhibit both craft and clarity.