Well, it finally happened: an Indie Round-Up where not one of the CDs under review — there are four this week — is available with cover art at Amazon. That means, for those of you reading this on Blogcritics, which is probably 99% of you, an unreferenced CD will be pictured at the head of this article. However, far from being a random pick, the CD pictured has been selected for you using our patented Bagel&Rat Recommendation Engine. So you, yes you, will be sure to enjoy it.
Now on to this week’s new stuff:
Ann Klein, My Own Backyard
Every so often the busy New York City guitar-slinger Ann Klein releases a CD of her own work. Her recent My Own Backyard is the sweetest and smoothest yet.
The opening track, “Hank Williams,” is a delicious rootsy rocker that reminds me a tiny bit of one of my all-time favorite guitar songs, the Hollies’ “Long Cool Woman.” The bouncy “All That I Had Missed” establishes the CD’s Americana focus as well as Klein’s mastery of country guitar feeling and technique – she plays the regular six-string, the lap steel, the mandolin and the dobro (as well as the bass), all on this one song.
The title track is a beautiful little ballad co-written with Tim Hatfield, who also mixed and co-produced the album.
Klein’s expressive but small voice has been skillfully recorded and set in the mix so that it punches through, and the songs are well crafted, especially those noted above and the juicy Mary Chapin Carpenter-style twang-rocker “You Can Be My Rainy Day.” But Klein’s guitar work is the star; the CD would be a pleasure to hear on the strength of that alone.
In some songs, the whole doesn’t equal the sum of the parts – “Part of the Game” and “There’s a Storm Comin’,” for example, are full of charm and flowing guitars, but have somewhat wilted hooks. Inspired bits like the solo in “Go Back to Chattanooga” and the sparkling harmonies on the chorus of “Love Is Standing By” keep the second half of the CD from losing steam, however.
Good stuff here, on several levels.
Available at CD Baby here.
Controlling the Famous, Automatic City
With their gloomy alt-rock lyrics dressed in shiny power-pop duds, Controlling the Famous sounds more like a cleaned-up Clash than like most of the new rock bands on the scene. With U2-influenced guitar drills and ska-leaning beats, the songs motor through your brain like fast cars speeding along Big Sur.
The straight-up, vibrato-free vocals remind one of Dave Grohl, and although these boys can’t quite match the Foo Fighers’ melodic prowess (few bands can), their best songs are a cut above the norm, in particular the clever, punchy opener “Detox,” the passionate, midtempo “Heart Attack,” the intense “Highway Parking Lot,” and the catchy “Two Sides” which seems like a snappy answer to the No Doubt hit “Hey Baby.”
Automatic City will be available in stores May 16. Meanwhile, you can listen to “Two Sides” at the band’s Myspace page.
Joe Rohan, These Days
Sometimes there’s nothing better than a dose of good old heartland rock. Cleveland’s Joe Rohan is like a more honey-voiced John Mellencamp with a supple falsetto added. Sharp production makes a polished place-setting for Rohan’s strong tenor voice, and the arrangements feature just enough keyboard licks and crisp funkiness to suggest a blue-eyed, countrified kind of soul – the smooth-as-silk “Cold Winter Day” in particular suggests Lyle Lovett.
The fabulous opener, “Desert Love,” could be a radio hit, and “Lovestruck Romeo” is a good, bluesy number. Rohan’s expert acoustic guitar work is featured on the sweet “James Dean,” but as a song, it, like most of the remainder, is just average, composed of really nice parts but too often (as in “Angeline” and “Pair of Horses”) relying too heavily on melodic clichés. These songs cry out for big hooks that don’t come.
Still, the best tracks on here are excellent indeed. And Rohan includes a frantic, Bad Company-style cover of “Ring of Fire” that’s maybe worth the price of admission all by itself. Finally, stay till the end for the lovely, evocative guitar instrumental called “The Moon.”
Kevin So, The Brooklyn Sessions EP
While he works on a new full-length CD, the prolific Kevin So is giving his fans something to tide them over with this low-budget but slick-sounding EP. Four good Kevin So songs are worth more than an hour of music from most artists, and these tracks represent some of his best, maybe even a new peak in his career.
Since his move to New York about three years ago, So has evolved from a hardworking, top-notch folkie to a jazzy neo-soul genius. If he didn’t have an Asian face, would Kevin So be where John Legend is now? Quite possibly. Are Western audiences ready for a literate and sophisticated, but mainstream and accessible, Chinese-American R&B singer-songwriter-guitarist-keyboardist with mesmerizing stage presence, brilliant songs, and godlike cheekbones? If it ain’t, it sure as hell should be.