It's been goshawful busy over here at the Round-Up, with summer and fall releases piling up and lots of good music bursting insistently out of the piles of magical plastic. There's something for nearly everyone in this week's edition, from bluegrass innovators and a blues traditionalist to a solo disc from a member of Matchbox 20 and a couple of sharp "comeback" CDs. Onward to the music...
Cadillac Sky, Gravity's Our Enemy
One of the most rewarding experiences a new music aficionado can have is to come upon a band that both fulfills and transcends a beloved genre. Cadillac Sky is every bit a bluegrass band, but the Texas quintet quietly expands the frontiers on its second CD, and the result is one of the best discs to have hit my mailbox this year.
They establish their country and bluegrass credentials right away, with principal songwriter Bryan Simpson's high-lonesome keen opening "U Stay Gone." Close harmonies, banjo picking, a call-and-response section, and a mournful fiddle solo from Ross Holmes all follow, building into and out of hummable choruses - and that's just the first song.
The tempo picks up with the nervously jumpy "Goodbye Story," which is topped with sweet-as-molasses harmonies, another inventive fiddle solo, short features for Simpson's mandolin and Matt Menefee's banjo, and a clever breakdown section. "Bible By the Bed" is a gentle, sad ballad with a standard country music structure under a catchy, pop-inflected melody which devolves into a tasteful, wordless coda.
"My Precious Waltz" brings a spooky Eastern European flavor, aided by a guest appearance from Dan Cantrell on musical saw. It serves as an introduction to the fast-picked "I Hate How Happy She Is," which draws a twisted classic-rock sound from a set of acoustic bluegrass instruments and also showcases banjo wizard Menefee, while Simpson wails, "Why can't she be as miserable as me?"
That sense of humor is one reason these extremely skillful musicians never sound too studiously virtuosic. The CD continues with sad songs, inventive instrumentals, and some very un-bluegrassy moments, like the quirky instrumental break in "Wouldn't Put It Past Love," the old-time jazzy verses of "Inside Joke," and the unexpected minor-chord changes and plucked rhythms in "The Wreck." Simpson's also handy with traditional country-music songwriting rhetorical devices, as evidenced by "It Won't Be Over You," which closes pithily: "When my bones grow weary of this world / And my days are numbered few / I might hang my head down in regret / But it won't be over you."
Donna Lewis, In the Pink
After making a couple of sultry splashes in the late '90s with hits like "I Love You Always Forever" and "Love Him," Welsh-born Donna Lewis took a hiatus to raise a family. Now she's back, picking right up where she left off with an excellent new disc of danceable electronica-pop. Many of the songs have a meditative bent but also just enough catch that one's ears stay perked up. The songs with the livelier beats (like "Shout" and "Obsession") should stand up to any sort of dance-club use or abuse, while the quieter moments (like "Kick Inside" and the folky "You To Me") have a thoughtful and slightly exotic quality, reminding me of Emiliana Torrini.