Graham Parker: Your Country (Bloodshot)
Graham Parker has always had a little bit of a country twang hiding behind his new wave and pub-rock leanings; more rockabilly than Nashville, I suppose, but there nonetheless. Much of the material on this album is more overtly country, but really, it's just a matter of choosing country cadences and settings than actually conforming his writing to a new style. Truth is, when I heard most of these songs for the first time, I could hear the driving, unmistakably Parker-esque rockers they might have been through the country arrangements he ultimately selected. Does that mean that this is a false step for one of our most reliably great singer-songwriters? Not really. The songs are still strong and the lyric sentiments are typically complex and well-developed. I really like “Things I've Never Said” and “Anything for a Laugh.” But it does feel a little forced in places. The rockabillyish numbers mostly ring true, however, and the two cover tunes are interesting: a truncated version of the Grateful Dead's “Sugaree” and Parker's updated take on his own classic originally cut by Dave Edmunds, “Crawling From the Wreckage.”
Producers: Graham Parker and John Would. Engineer/mixer: Would. Studio: Stanley Recording Studios (Venice, CA). Mastering: Joe Gastwirt/Joe's Mastering Joint.
— Blair Jackson
Daniele Luppi: An Italian Story (Rhino/Belmondo)
This won't be everyone's glass of Campari, certainly, but if you have a soft spot for semi-cheesy Italian film music from the '60s and early '70s — we're talkin' La Dolce Vita — era and later pop- and electronic-influenced craziness — the young Italian composer Daniele Luppi might be right up your alley. Luppi grew up adoring that sound, wrote pieces in that style and then went as far as tracking down some of the original musicians who played on those soundtracks — the Marc 4, or as the liner notes colorfully call them, “the Italian Wrecking Crew” (after Phil Spector's group, of course). The result is a marvelous retro excursion filled with Farfisas, B3s, slinky guitars, fat bass lines, wheedling Moogs and the occasional moody whistling. The titles say it all: “Fashion Party,” “Nightclub,” “Free Love Sequence,” “Jet Set” — you know what these sound like without me telling you. Camp? Perhaps, but also definitely cool, and the playing is tight and inspired. The Via Veneto has never sounded so good. A real find.
Producer: Daniele Luppi. Recorded by Aldo Amici. Mixed by Jeff Peters. Studios: Telecinesound (Roma; tracking), Sonora Recorders (L.A.; mixing). Mastering: Joe Gastwirt/Oceanview Digital.
— Blair Jackson
Ben Kweller: On My Way (ATO)
Any sunshine-y “ba-bas” and “la-la-las” heard on Ben Kweller's 2002 solo debut, Sha Sha, have fallen by the wayside on his follow-up, making room for more inventive guitar work and personal, plain-spoken verses. Produced and mixed by Ethan Johns (Kings of Leon, Ryan Adams), the album's lead track, “I Need You Back,” gets the head bobbing with a seamlessly played, hard left/right-panned, call-and-response guitar riff between Kweller and Mike Stroud, leading into the first of 11 highly infectious power-popish melodies. “Hospital Bed” incorporates a bouncy, '60s-themed piano line, while “My Apartment,” an homage to Kweller's tiny Manhattan living space, soars with another round of clever dueling guitar parts. Kweller deviates from his typically upbeat fare on the title track, a dark murder ballad of sorts that resembles one of the Violent Femmes' gothic folk tunes. He jumps right back to the album's stripped-down rock 'n' roll framework, however, on “The Rules” and “Down.” Kweller writes with more maturity on his latest release, delivering a strong sophomore effort that's smart and sweet, but the life of the party at the same time.
Producer: Ethan Johns. Engineers: Johns, Steve Mazur. Studio: Sear Sound Recording. Mastering: Greg Calbi/Sterling Sound.
— Heather Johnson
Carina Round: The Disconnection (Interscope)
Blending pop and punk with euphoric vocals that evoke the spirit and visceral poetry of musicians such as Jeff Buckley, fellow Brit PJ Harvey and Tori Amos, 24-year-old Carina Round is overflowing with intensity, and she's chosen to follow the path of her literary and musical mentors to let it all out, weaving unconventional, honest lyrics into a profound and beautiful soundscape. Strong drum patterns, an octet of stringed instruments, trumpets, trombone and sax, backing vocals and some delicate sampled loops drive her moody, Brit pop — influenced sound. Still, her voice always sits out front in the mix — intimately and soulfully communicating current and fleeting desires as if it was still the exact moment of revelation. No wonder her music has transfixed Ryan Adams and David Gray, with whom she has toured. Round's ability to channel deep emotion into a collection of beautiful, self-defining songs is a rarity in itself. And even more unusual: The entire album is compelling, encouraging us to discover new layers in her story and to eagerly anticipate the next move this burgeoning artist makes.
Producers: Gavin Monaghan and Carina Round. Engineer: Andrew Taylor at Magic Garden Studios. Mixed at The Thought Ranch by Tom Livermore and Carina Round. Masterering: John Dent.
— Breean Lingle