Laura Vecchione, Girl in the Band
Laura Vecchione’s second disc is a consummately crafted and craftily written set of tunes that straddle the borders between commercial country, country-rock, and alt/Americana. My colleague Michael Bialas detailed Laura’s devotion to and work on behalf of post-Katrina New Orleans. Notably, on this CD, she covers the traditional “Indian Red” a capella and flows it into her own “Fly Home Flag Boy.” “Magnolia” too evokes the “Crescent City moon” and “wrought iron lace and Spanish roofs.” It’s the same moon, of course, that shines over her Boston and New York City roots in “This Town” and the pillowy but catchy title track. My favorite, though, might just be the sneaky “Don’t Come Creepin’.”
Laura tried out some different styles on her previous disc; here she stretches a bit in her nicely subtle rendition of the Etta James ballad “A Lover is Forever,” while the closing number, the beautiful original “Stone By Stone,” also has a bluesy-jazz tilt to its folky bedrock.
If you haven’t met Laura Vecchione, this is a great place to start. Links to listen and purchase are at her website.
G Tom Mac, Though Shalt Not Fall
G Tom Mac is the strange moniker for the pairing of Gerard McMann, known for the goth track “Cry Little Sister” from the film The Lost Boys, and collaborator/producer Tony Silver. Perhaps because the duo has concentrated on creating music for TV and movies, there’s a variety of moods on their new disc, but a strong thread is their appealing fusion of industrial sounds with a skilled songwriter’s feel for pop music, along with a bit of gothic bite. A good listen altogether.
The Simple Things, The Simple Things
I’m glad I didn’t read The Simple Things’ press kit before listening to their music. “Imagine McCoy Tyner, Rickie Lee Jones, and James Jamerson coming together…” Sure, imagine those people…and then think about their opposites, and you might get something like The Simple Things. What we have here is a collection of spacious chamber pieces, feather-light yet highly focused. Singer Kaitlin McGaw alternates between a controlled wail (“Eyes For Me”) and an affectless Liz Phair delivery (“The Moon Is Torn”), both effective in their own ways. The music behind her is subtle piano and organ from Michael Gallant and tasteful, precise electric bass from Raymond Ruiz, who has a penchant for bass chords. The result is a very modern but accessible sound, contemplative and easeful but rewarding careful listening as well.
The Art of Walking, The Art of Walking
This music is so unobtrusive it’s hard to find something to say about it, other than simply that I liked it. One could safely say that Brian Malvey, who is The Art of Walking, makes excellent use of the studio in creating settings for his appealingly reticent songs with their often winning melodies. But that doesn’t tell you what they sound like. Let’s leave it at this: somewhere between Death Cab for Cutie and Sufjan Stevens, you’ll perhaps find The Art of Walking, treading on soft feet.
Red Wanting Blue, These Magnificent Miles
Listen to the first couple of bars of “Gravity,” the opening song of Red Wanting Blue’s eighth (yes, eighth) album, and if you were new to the band you’d be tempted to say, “Oh, no – another Pearl Jam clone – didn’t that go out of style around the turn of the century?” You’d soon be proven wrong, though – Scott Terry’s throaty baritone turns out to be its own thing, and so is this band’s music.
Based in Athens, Ohio, the group certainly has the earnest heartland-rock sensibility that you can’t avoid when you traipse through the Midwest. (“The road’s paved the same way for sinners and saints.”) But they vary the moods well. Try to resist the elemental rock of “New Cool.” And with solid songwriting, superior musicianship, and their own slant on the basics of rock, they carve out their own niche, with crashing symbols and ringing guitars framing catchy tunes and socially conscious lyrics.
A final note: if you decide to pick up this album, consider spending the extra few bucks for the physical CD. It’s one of the more impressive artistic packages you’ll find on an indie release.