Zac Brown Band, “Welcome Home” (Southern Ground/Atlantic). While helping to keep Nashville producer Dave Cobb busy, the Georgia boys of Zac Brown Band also help themselves move away from recent toying with pop and EDM and back toward more basic country-rock good times on ZBB’s fifth big-label album.
Paramore, “After Laughter” (Fueled By Ramen). Once-former drummer Zac Farro is back in and former bassist Jeremy Davis is out of the Tennessee-originated punk-pop band whose best-known member is lead singer Hayley Williams anyway, and its fifth full-length is a fun-seeking belly flop into the pop part of its heritage.
Harry Styles, “Harry Styles” (Columbia). On the bright side of his first solo LP, the young fellow on hiatus from One Direction has seen his first tour sell out in less time than it takes to read this sentence; on the darker side, he’s being accused of ripping off the Beatles…but he’s gonna make crazy stacks of pop-music money regardless.
Ásgeir, “Afterglow” (One Little Indian/Columbia). Icelandic singer-songwriter with single stage name brings out second full-length and upgrades his earlier electronics into integrated sounds that makes him resemble, in good ways, a Majical Cloudz and Bon Iver hybrid.
Ruth B., “Safe Haven” (Columbia). The “B.” stands for “Berhe,” the last name of a Canadian songwriter and singer who’s gone from the popularity of a Vine page and the hit “Lost Boy” to a major-label contract and a debut LP of piano-based pop and the potential of a Fiona Apple or Alicia Keys.
Natalie Bouloudis, “Dead Sea Scripts” (Natalie Bouloudis). London-based musician drops an EP that makes itself heard in the busyness of that mega-metropolis by finding Albion alcoves in which a combination of English folk and gypsy folk might enchant.
Brother Ali, “All the Beauty in This Whole Life” (Rhymesayers Entertainment). On his first official release in a half-decade, the Twin Cities rapper with a unique perspective—not only Muslim but also albino—finds some of his realest stories, most striking flows and best-produced music, with help from Atmosphere’s “Ant” Davis.
Don Bryant, “Don’t Give Up on Love” (Fat Possum). Now 74, Bryant—a Hi Records and Memphis-soul player who co-wrote “I Can’t Stand the Rain” with his wife Ann Peebles—slides back into the spotlight with members of the Hi Records rhythm section, the Bo-Keys and a mix of covers and original soul songs.
Jonathan Cavier, “Blue Room” (Peah Candle Flame). Once “Alan Clark” in the ten-year, five-LP pop duo EyeTalk, northern-California native Cavier is lately a Phoenix resident and is up to his second solo LP of pleasant adult-contemporary pop.
Day Wave, “The Days We Had” (Harvest). Former Berklee School of Music student Jackson Phillips comes from out of the Bay Area with a first full-length of fuzzy guitar, alt-pop ethereality and ornate production wrapped up in sun-blinding California summer.
Dreamcar, “Dreamcar” (PLOF, LLC/Columbia). Three members of No Doubt—three that aren’t Gwen Stefani—join up with AFI’s frontman, Davey Havok, for a different band that isn’t meant to replace No Doubt but does resemble a kind of restrained Panic at the Disco or Bleachers.
Hollow Everdaze, “Cartoons” (Deaf Ambition). Started in 2007 and putting out a first EP in 2013, an Australian band whose moniker reflects its wooziness if not its mentality gets to the LP format for the first time and fulfills dreams of modernity-touched psychedelic folk.
Juanes, “Mis Planes Son Amarte” (Universal Music Latino). Acclaimed, popular Colombian star Juan Esteban Aristizábal Vásquez puts out his seventh solo studio album in a CD/DVD combo and doesn’t toy overmuch with the lightly groovy Latino pop at which he’s so smooth.
Kobra and the Lotus, “Prevail I” (Napalm). With tough, comely lead singer and songwriter Kobra Paige, Alberta, Canada heavy-metal quartet KATL is making a bigger move this year with the planned release of two parts of “Prevail,” with this first part showing more frequent use of samples and synthesizers and highlighting Paige’s increasingly deft vocal range.
Los Colognes, “The Wave” (Big Deal Media). On its third long-player, Nashville quintet with aromatic name recalls Dire Straits, 1980s Phil Collins and a little bit of Roxy Music’s desiccated debauchment on a strong and oft-spare set of alterna-pop songs.
LeToya Luckett, “Back 2 Life” (eOne Music). A two-time Grammy winner and hitmaker as part of Destiny’s Child during its first two full-lengths, Luckett is back with her third solo full-length—her first new one since 2009—and creates a modern R&B style not far removed from her DC days.
Machine Gun Kelly, “Bloom” (Bad Boy/Interscope). Originally from Houston and with a career and life in Cleveland, the rapper known to his mother as Colson Baker drops his third long-player, upon which he finds his inner emo boy and puts guests like pop singers Hailee Steinfeld and James Arthur on the same list featuring Ty Dolla $ign.
Janiva Magness, “Blue Again” (Blue Élan/Fathead). On this particular EP, the Detroit-born blues singer who’s one of two women be a Blues Foundation B.B. King Entertainer of the Year spins smartly through a half-dozen covers of songs known previously to fans of Nina Simone, Etta James, Bo Diddley and more.
Bette Midler, David Hyde Pierce, et al, “Hello, Dolly! (The New Broadway Cast Recording)” (Masterworks Broadway). Just recently given ten Tony nominations, this popular revival of a very popular stage musical now gets a release of a recording from its new cast, including the “Divine” Miss Midler devouring the world in the titular role.
Juana Molina, “Halo” (Crammed Discs). Molina, an Argentine actress as well as musician, isn’t the most prolific artiste in the latter classification, but her seventh long-player in roughly the last 20 years is a slowly mesmerizing meld of electronics, Gothic moods, Spanish-language fluidity and a strangeness to rival that of Sam Phillips or Tori Amos.
Passafire, “Longshot” (Easy Star). Located in Savannah, Georgia, the decidedly jam-friendly reggae-rock quartet Passafire drops and passes its sixth album, a (natch) groove-heavy affair with plenty of pastiches from rock, R&B, hip-hop and any other music that can be cool and isn’t nailed down.
Marco Pavé, “Welcome to Grc Lnd” (Radio Rahim Music, LLC). A Memphis community organizer as well as a Memphis rapper, Pavé meshes aboveground concerns and underground cred on an introductory LP that puts his city’s crunk to work for the dispossessed and disdained.
PWR BTTM, “Pageant” (Polyvinyl). In case you weren’t aware there is a subgenre known as “queer punk,” this flamboyantly rocking New York (state) duo is ready to remind everyone of that subgenre’s, and its own, existence with a fun, funny, foolhardy second long-player.
Raging Fire, “These Teeth Are Sharp” (Raging Fire). A truly alternative-rock Nashville group, which struggled during the 1980s to find label support for its potent mix of punk politics and Southern-rock and country fuel, returns with a set of songs that range from the band’s original Ring of Fire days to brand-new material.
Todd Rundgren, “White Knight” (Cleopatra). According to his knowledgeable cult, singer, songwriter, producer etc. Rundgren is among the most underrated of American musicians, but on his newest disc, the guest list—Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, Daryl Hall, Joe Satriani, Bettye LaVette and many more—indicates that he is far from unnoticed.
Seether, “Poison the Parish” (Canine Riot/Concord Music Group). Frontman Shaun Morgan is also the producer of the latest LP from his post-grunge, yet grunge-influenced, rock band, so he can back up promises of a return to a sound from heavier days of yore, as well as a re-engagement with a Nirvana fetish.
Smith & Thell, “Soulprints” (Playground Music). The Smith is Maria Jane, the Thell is Victor, and together they are yet one more sign that music education and talent are encouraged in Sweden, with a debut album that indicates a potential pop place besides ABBA, Robyn and Lykke Li.
Suicide Commandos, “Time Bomb” (Twin/Tone). A Minneapolis punk band that dropped one full-length, “Make a Record,” in 1978 has, a mere 39 years later, found the time and energy to put together a second one, inspired in part by the 2014 death of Tommy Ramone and in part by its own reunion gigs.
Sunshine & the Rain, “In the Darkness of My Night” (Ernest Jenning Record Co.). Out of Jersey City come wife and husband Ashley Anderson Morey and Justin Angelo Morey, who as Sunshine & the Rain somewhat continue their work in the psych-rock Black Hollies with a fuzzed-out Raveonettes feel on an introductory full-length produced by Jon Spencer.
Various artists, “American Epic: The Soundtrack” (Columbia/Legacy). Taken from the PBS series narrated by the likes of Robert Redford and T Bone Burnett and covering music from the Roaring Twenties, these 15 tracks include seminal songs from Mississippi John Hurt, Jimmie Rodgers and more, restored to maximum fidelity.
Various artists, “The Bob’s Burgers Music Album” (Sub Pop). The fanbase for the animated show “Bob’s Burgers” is evidently large enough to justify 107 songs collected from the first 107 episodes and including turns from, among others, Sarah Silverman, Carly Simon, Kevin Kline, Cyndi Lauper and tracks like “Butts, Butts, Butts” and “Funky Finger.”
The Velveteins, “Slow Wave” (Handwritten Records). Edmonton isn’t the Canadian musical Mecca that Toronto or especially Montreal is, but the Velveteins are representing their hometown well with a debut full-length of unabashed, sticky-fingered pop-rock sweetness that ought to make Weezer (more) ashamed of itself.
Warrant, “Louder Harder Faster” (Frontiers Music Srl). After a six-year recording gap, four original members of the hair-metal “Cherry Pie” outfit back newer singer Robert Mason on slick-as-usual hard rock, plus a cover of Merle Haggard’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.”
Paul Weller, “A Kind Revolution” (Parlophone). At 59, the man who brought Mod cons to punk via the Jam returns, slightly, to the pop melodicism of his Style Council on one of the most tuneful records he’s released in the artistic restoration he’s undergone during the 21st century.
Wild Arrows, “Dreamlike Dream” (Wild Arrows). Recovering slowly from Hurricane Sandy’s destruction of a recording studio, the Brooklyn-residing Arrows have with delicacy assembled a new collection of noir-tinged synth-pop songs that do not draw too heavily upon the 1980s.
— Jon M. Gilbertson,
Special to the Journal Sentinel