It takes more than gumption to cover one of the most perfect of all rock 'n' roll records. Tucson, Arizona-based musician Brian Lopez doesn't overdo it on his version of Phil Spector and the Roneettes' "Be My Baby"; he lets his expressive voice and personal vision of the wall of sound make this baby his own.
With layers of acoustic and electric guitars, Boston's Sleepyhead invokes classic guitar-chime bands like R.E.M. and twee-pop groups like Camera Obscura, but with a distinctively arch tone. "Liberation Theology" testifies to the band's melodic ambitions and lightly-worn influences.
If you didn't know better, you'd think "No One Is Lost," the title track to the new album by Canadian band Stars, was cut in a closed-down gay discotheque in Montreal. Turns out you really didn't know better, and the song (like the album) was in fact recorded just above said disco. It's a state-of-the-art, dance-pop track from a band that still has some surprises up its glitter-covered sleeves.
With an unstoppable synth hook, hard-charging guitars and a refreshingly vulnerable portrait of romantic bliss -- "When I come home from the day's end with nothing but a dream/She's telling me she loves, she says I've been so sweet" -- "Never Afraid" by Bo and the Locomotive is as good as the St. Louis band has ever sounded.
In band years, 16 orbits of the sun is an eternity. Formidable and formative alternative-country group 6 String Drag is finally back with new music, notably the guitar-surfing "Drive Around Town," a representative slice of twangy cruising life from the Raleigh, North Carolina veterans.
On the new album "Sugar Sugar Whomp Whomp," St. Louis' favorite funk-jazz brass band broadens its palette to spread hip-hop, Latin, rock, country and gospel tones across its always colorful style. The title track, featuring a nice guest spot by Dave Grelle of the Feed on organ, is classic Funky Butt Brass Band: plenty of jazz chops, buckets of soul and truckloads of funk.
The complex, in-your-face art rock of Cleveland's Mr. Gnome belies just how fun it can be. "Melted Rainbow" isn't just artsy; it's a gloriously poppy, simply thrilling, slightly psychedelic anthem.
The Lowest Pair has a timeless old-time sound. Promo photos aside, Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee make no pretensions to authenticity. On a track like "Moving On," the beauty of their harmonies and intricate banjo-and-fiddle arrangements speaks for itself.
Memphis, Tennesse isn't generally thought of as a hotbed for chamber-folk music, but it depends on your vision of "chamber" and "folk." The vision of Memphis Dawls -- featuring a varied cast of musicians, including Holly Cole, Jana Misener and Krista Wroten -- is as inspired by classic Memphis soul as it is the complex, emotional pop of Big Star (the group recorded in the hallowed halls of Ardent studios). The new song "Please Don't Leave Me Now" expresses a string-drenched yearning that defies narrow definitions.
On his new album "Boxers," veteran songwriter and rocker Matthew Ryan takes the gloves off. You could call it a back to rock 'n' roll basics album, if your idea of basics is pure conviction, unvarnished commitment, "busted chords and a broken voice." The title track, especially, expresses a fierce commitment to justice and to the elusive dream of rock 'n' roll. It's the sound of an artist who still believes that promise is worth fighting for, worth keeping.