By Lee Zimmerman
This time of year, Christmas albums are as plentiful as eggnog on grocery store shelves. However where most artists tend to retool holiday standards of both the sacred and standards variety, The Holiday Sounds of Josh Rouse opts for original songs that share the themes, but not necessarily the strict confines that define the sounds of the usual traditional tapestry. It’s a festive collection to be sure, but it also boasts a pop flourish that ought to serve it well any time of the year. Josh Rouse takes a soulful, shimmering approach to the material that seems a cinch for mainstream appeal. However, he doesn’t forsake the seasonal salutations either; a bonus disc offers renditions of “All I Want for Christmas,” “Up on the Housetop” and “Let It Snow,” along with demos of some of the songs on the main disc. That ought to be more than enough to tempt traditionalists event though he deserves more credit for subbing ho humdrum with plenty of ho ho happiness instead.
The duo that refers to themselves as Son of Town Hall bond their music in the guise of two travelers from the old country who make their way to America to seek the promise and prosperity of the New World. It’s an unusual premise to be sure, one draped in drama and a traditional seafaring template, but it works remarkably well as evidenced by their descriptively titled The Adventures of Son of Town Hall. Borne from the collaborative musings of singer/songwriters David Berkeley and Ben Parker -- the former from the U.S., the latter from the U.K. -- the album shares their journey in strict detail with emphasis on the deeper emotions that inform their thoughts, sentiments and dreams that guide them forward. Modern listeners will find an easy comparison to the Milk Carton Kids, but in fact, these tender trappings, with their sense of wanderlust and wistful reflection, find a common bond in the ‘60s sounds of Simon & Garfunkel in particular. It’s that reverence for their roots, both real and imagined, that make these Adventures such stirring tales.
Dori Freeman sometimes seems like a woman flush with contradiction. Once a single mom bemoaning her life in the aftermath of a failed relationship, she’s now happily married with a renewed confidence that diminishes her pessimistic perspective, substituting instead an upbeat attitude flush with revelry and celebration. While her Appalachian roots are still on display, her new album Every Single Star finds her shining brightly with an effusive sheen. Notably then, practically every track boasts a similarity in sound to Linda Ronstadt in full country pop regalia. With longtime compatriot Teddy Thompson again at the boards -- and sharing a duet on the track “2 Step” -- the album shares an upbeat point of view that clearly reflects both her confidence and craft. For an artist only three albums and a dozen years into her career, she’s made a credible bid for stardom and it’s clear that from here on out, each new album will ultimately provide yet another stepping stone to that higher plateau. Indeed, Every Single Star emits a radiant glow.
They come from the Land Down Under, which may be one reason why Fallon Cush may not have garnered more notice on this side of the globe. Nevertheless, their new album, Stranger Things Have Happened proves that, well, yes, stranger things have happened than a terrific pop band finally getting the attention they deserve. With the songs served up on their striking new CD, it’s evident that the band’s day may finally have come. It boasts an array of infectious gems that share instant accessibility and a radio-ready appeal that would certainly have made them stars in decades past. Overall, it’s both pleasing and perky, flush with invigorating melodies and an array of hooks and choruses that resonate with instant appeal. The new album is a great place for any newcomers to start, but it’s also well advised that the encounter ought not end there; obtaining their earlier efforts is a must, given that their rousing rock template. It’s hard to. Imagine anyone ever coming away less than impressed.
American Pleasure Dome, a rookie quartet based in Minneapolis, takes a similar tact with their self-titled eponymous debut, an album which belies the fact that they’re not a seasoned outfit with considerable experience under their collective belt. Chief singer, songwriter, vocalist, guitarist and overall architect Hans Schumacher has obviously has a sizable listening stack, as suggested by the fact that the band’s sound runs a stylistic gamut from West Coast country rock to power pop to the singer/songwriter types that permeated the airwaves in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Nevertheless, pinpointing specific references isn’t easy; the harmony-rich sound is elusive to the extent that they avoid direct comparison to anyone in particular, although if one were pressed to come up with a real reference, the Eagles and Pure Prairie League would likely come closest. Nevertheless, this is an auspicious entry and an unexpected treat that’s sure to score them points even on their initial time out. The name itself suggests grand designs, and it’s a credit to their credence that they don’t disappoint.
Comparisons come easier in the case of Wildwood Kin, three young ladies that bring to mind an unlikely blend of Fleetwood Mac, Wilson Phillips and Sarah McLaughlan. Suffice it to say their soaring harmonies and arched melodies give them a sound that’s both bold and supple all at the same time. Sisters and cousins, the U.K. trio share platitudes and an urge for a world free from strife and flush with understanding. Calling this self-titled sophomore set simply a wonderful record doesn’t seem to suffice, but the sweeping, soaring tones and a series of uplifting anthems ought to assure even the most diehard skeptics that there’s reason for optimism even in an oppressive world. It’s certainly a pleasure to come across an assertive ensemble that generates such a radiant embrace while still remaining anchored in songs that are so sturdy and striking. This is only their second album thus far, but it’s clear they possess a knowing sound that possesses sophistication and savvy. Consider it an astute example of pure folk finesse.