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Around Hear: March 2013

Jess Godwin

Cher, Polica, Future . . . The 7th Year? In the annals of pop songs that purposefully use Auto-Tune as a special effect (as opposed to its more sinister origins), “Voices,” on this power-pop outfit’s The Arrival, might go down as the least expected entry. Elsewhere, Randy Raatz’s latest venture go on an energetic pub-rock run that touches the influence of Elvis Costello, Dave Edmunds, The Beat, and even a dab of CSN harmony.
(reverbnation.com/the7thyear)
– Steve Forstneger

Cousin Bones revels in gritty, underdog Americana folk-rock on the 15-track album, King Of The Losers. Songs with titles like “At The Plasma Clinic,” “Village Idiot,” and “Bottom Of A Bottle” sling hardscrabble tales with organic, acoustic instrumentation of all sorts, including banjo and melodica. At times the gruff, cartoonish vocals are overdone, but it somehow fits the down-on-our-luck tone. (cousinbones.com)
– Jason Scales

With a mix of socio-politico-sexual satire and guitar-driven rock not heard since The Tubes’ heyday, the crusading duo behind The Divotones continue their singular musical mission to move the listener’s feet via simultaneous attack of both ears and funny bone. While the riffs might, at times, sound a bit obvious, the slick and sure-handed production on fourth CD Magic Hat is otherwise well-suited to the material at hand and – in the case of “Hell No! That Ain’t No Sock,” a paean to groupies, which leaves nothing to the imagination – occasionally reaches for the stars. (divotones.com)
– David C. Eldredge

Palace Of Dreams is beautiful proof that two solid solo musicians can join forces to create the perfect blend of varying musical styles. Victor Ghannam and Jacco Muller team up their guitar and qanoun skills to, along with a variety of guest musicians and vocalists, merge the sounds of Middle Eastern music, flamenco, jazz, and rock into an exotic musical concoction. Mostly instrumentals with a few Indian female vocals thrown in, Ghannam and Muller create a unique worldwide sonic journey. (jaccomuller.com)
– Carter Moss

“You like me, you love me, you need me; you just never saw it before.” So sings Atlanta-born Jess Godwin on the closing track (“Girl Next Door”) of her debut four-track EP – and she just might be right. Settling in the Windy City for the past 14 years, Godwin has assembled some high-quality Chicago musicians to back her up and produced a fun pop/rock romp that combines the attitude of Kelly Clarkson with the sweetness of Ingrid Michaelson. Her lyrics are simple yet smart and her vocals are mature and confident – a promising combination for a young artist. (jessgodwin.com)
– Carter Moss

R&B-based Alex Jenkins & The Bombers stick to its roots on Creepin After Midnight. It shows off the Jenkins brothers’ love for the deep blues of greats like Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy, but also explores a modern-day Stevie Ray Vaughan sound. Album opener “Let’s Stick Together” is an upbeat blues shuffle decorated with twangy guitar licks and Alex Jenkins’ gruff, smoky voice. Blazing harp on “She Wants To Rock,” the upbeat, swinging rhythm of “Good Bye Baby Blues,” and the luring horn section on “Look What The Cat Dragged In” are all highlights. The group isn’t offering anything new within the genre, but they’ve mastered the boogie blues sound. (reverbnation.com/alexjenkinsthebombers)
– Kelley Simms

JC Jordan And The Way‘s debut, Between The Shadow And The Light, has a plethora of ingredients in its mixture. Everything from ’70s-inspired Santana shuffles to rock, blues, pop, folk, and bluegrass flavors are included. With the twangy funk riff and bouncy bass line of “Deliverance,” the Hendrix-like licks of “You’re The One,” the haunting melodies of “Find A Ride,” and the playful Rolling Stones-ish “Waiting On A Friend” vibe of “Lookin’ Out,” the listener will be hard-pressed to find something to dislike. (jcjordanband.com)
– Kelley Simms

When it comes to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young cover bands, Marrakesh Express is one of the most active and respected, though this self-titled collection goes beyond simply covers. Four originals find the fellas writing in a psychedelically-framed folk-rock motif that most readily recalls The Black Crowes, while CSNY classics like “Carry On” and “Love The One You’re With” paint the songs in a fresh, more aggressive light that would make the politically-charged foursome proud. (marrakeshmusic.net)
– Andy Argyrakis

For its sophomore effort, Super Pig, Chicago trio Mike Michalak Band altered its musical course, focusing on straight-ahead, no-frills rock. The songwriting remains solid, but, unfortunately, the band’s even-keeled vocals over simple chords and rhythms leave nothing to write home about. “If She Comes Around” is the sonic bright spot, with hints of Angels & Airwaves showing this trio does have potential. (reverbnation.com/mikemichalakband)
– Carter Moss

Demented electropop/rap/rave unit The Prep School Tragedy’s It’s All A Show serves as a soundtrack to an apocalyptic teen-angst movie. The group creates revved-up sports anthems with touches of twisted goth and industrial elements, loads of hypnotic buzzsaw beats, catchy raps, and a whirlwind of infectious, pulsating rhythms. They’re also skilled at injecting memorable melodies and hummable choruses into the songs. It wouldn’t be surprising if you heard one of these little ditties out on the dance floor at your next rave. (facebook.com/theprepschooltragedy)
– Kelley Simms

Southern rock is still alive and kickin’ – at least if The Righteous Hillbillies have anything to say about it. The quartet channels soul, blues, and country rock that seem to come from a place much farther south than their hometown of Joliet. These boys were smart enough to build on the foundations of Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, Black Crowes, and Charlie Daniels Band, and creative enough to not just rest there. Trece Diablos contains 13 tracks of straight-on foot-stompin’ rock that’s so unapologetically Southern it’s like these Hillbillies are trying to single-handedly save the genre. (righteoushillbillies.com)
– Carter Moss

Bred on mid-’90s indie/alt rock, Save The Clocktower serves up ten tracks of synth-washed pop tunes with uplifting and dreamy melodies on its third studio album, Through The Glass. The songs are short and sweet, simplistic yet memorable, and straight to the point. Album opener “Really Wanna Say” has a playful rhythm with an eclectic mix of funk, dance, soul, and R&B. “Better Than Ever” features vocalist Genevieve Schatz from indie rockers Company Of Thieves. From the ’70s soul and pop-rock vibe of “Like That” and “It Happens” to the surrealistic Beatles melodies and floating vocal harmonies of “Feeling,” the band sure knows what it’s doing. (savetheclocktowermusic.com)
– Kelley Simms

The Scissors are like a ska-less version of No Doubt: high-energy, post-punk pop confidently delivered by a Gwen Stefani-like female vocalist. On Over Your Dead Body (10 tracks in 31 minutes), the band values big, repetitious choruses, as on the opener “Skeletons” and “Stay Away,” which adds punchy male backing vocals to boot. These Scissors are sharp, polished, and ready for arena rocking. (thescissors.com)
– Jason Scales

Years ago, X’s John Doe told me that he chose the power-trio lineup for the band because he felt “it hadn’t been pushed to its limits yet.” Add local three-piece Sissy Mena to Doe’s choir, as its first full-length, Record Machine, shows there’s lots of life and compelling music to be found in mining this most basic of rock formats yet. This is pretty straightforward guitar-charged rock with solid backbeat and bass bottom interplay, resulting in a sound that’s perhaps shoegaze, but a little less fussy, bringing to mind early Mission Of Burma. (sissymena.com)
– David C. Eldredge

Just because The Steak House Mints‘ latest long player has a terrible title (the presumably cheeky Love Songs For Prostitutes) doesn’t mean the music inside should be ignored. The quintet, consisting of past and present Filter, Backyard Tire Fire, Cabaret Diosa, Mighty Blue Kings, and Maggie Speaks players, dive head first into orchestra-centered power pop loaded with meaty rhythms, melodic harmonies, and pristine production.
(thesteakhousemints.com)
– Andy Argyrakis

“Lucky” by Union Hotel is a subtle gem of American rock: reverbing guitars, soft snare drum hits, and warm vocals – a dreamy take on life not unlike Wilco or Band Of Horses. This old-school rock aesthetic is carried through the solid six-song EP, Blackeyed Moon with “Minneapolis” and “One Click” showcasing the band’s more upbeat electric guitar chops. (reverbnation.com/unionhotel)
– Jason Scales

Chris Vallillo spends a lot of time on the road, not necessarily performing, but instead letting the sights, sounds, and sentiments of the people he meets soak in. That quiet passion is readily apparent on The Last Day Of Winter, a 13-song country/folk recording filled with gentle music and haunting lyrics. A mix of sweet originals (“Silhouette Against The Stars,” “Lettie’s Song”) and sundry covers (“Shenandoah,” “Tequila”) all played on vintage guitars, the collection is an entirely enchanting experience. (chrisvallillo.com)
– Jeff Berkwits

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