Delta Spirit, Amy Mcdonald, And More Get Reviewed

Delta Spirit

Ode to Sunshine (Rounder)

Sunny/smoggy San Diego ought to be as fine a place as any to forge some folk-rock gold. With Delta Spirit, a three-year-old five-piece that sounds at turns way smaller or waaaay bigger, you have more than enough evidence. After debuting with a heartfelt 2006 EP, I Think I've Found It, on Monarchy Music, the band gathered in a cabin in the mountains outside the city to piece together its first full-length, Ode to Sunshine, which it self-released - until Rounder Records took notice, unveiling it anew this week. The first thing you pick out is the distinctive tenor snarl of Matt Vasquez, who lends every song, hard or soft, an emotional gravitas. The songwriting is first-class too and a big part of why Vasquez sounds so good.

The abbreviated opener "Tomorrow Goes Away" and the closer "Ode to Sunshine" are well-placed Beatles-esque ditties, with Vasquez wailing at all the right places. Rock songs like the Kinksian "Streetwalker," "Parade" and "Trashcan" swagger like old men on Viagra. Meanwhile, epic troop-rallying pop-rock like the U2-inspired "Children" ("Children, shut your eyes, we'll tell you what to see") or the piano-heavy "People C'mon," with its Billy Joel "ba-baba-ba-baaaahs" and handclaps, stand the soul back up when it's been crying on its knees after yet another masterfully mournful dirge. On "House Built for Two," subtle key-tapping underlies Vasquez's breathless, bar-worn voice. "Bleeding Bells" is another crier, a stripped-back strummer with trumpets adding majesty. But my favorite, "People, Turn Around," is a harmonica-tinged piano ballad that morphs with harmony and intensity into a rallying cry that soars with its chorus. Delta Spirit is adept at mining its influences for the freshest and most timeless ingredients. With this proper debut, it's established itself as an absorbing purveyor and articulate innovator of the American song. - Dan Harkins

Amy Macdonald

This Is the Life (Decca)

Twenty-one-year-old Scot Amy Macdonald's debut album knocked Radiohead out of the No. 1 spot when it was released in the U.K. a few months ago. Whether or not she'll click with stateside fans has a lot do with their accepting songs by a sassy young woman whose cynicism rivals that of a 70-year-old man. Macdonald isn't like other girls her age - partying till the breakadawn isn't her thing; she's more into skewering extravagant lifestyles and fretting over the future of the world. "Where you gonna sleep tonight?" she asks on This Is the Life's title cut, which bounces over a bubbly, folksy rhythm that veils its underlying anxiety. And on "Run," Macdonald's characters ponder Big Issues like "I don't know what you're living for" over swelling U2-size guitars and a chorus that's damn-near uplifting. But don't let those occasional bursts of youthful enthusiasm fool you: If your ball lands in her yard, you won't get it back. - Michael Gallucci

B. B. King

One Kind Favor (Geffen)

The word "legend" gets tossed around liberally in the music industry, sometimes by hyperbolic publicists looking to inflate the importance of their long-in-the-tooth clientele. In the case of B.B. King, "legend" barely scratches the surface of his stature as a bluesman, innovator, entertainer and influence. Next year marks King's 50th anniversary as a recording artist (having roadhoused for over a decade before considering the studio), so for his new album, One Kind Favor, he takes a look back as he contemplates the genre in the context of the new millennium. On the record, King teams with veteran producer T Bone Burnett to run through a set of songs that hark back to the blues master's earliest influences, from Blind Lemon Jefferson ("See That My Grave Is Kept Clean") and T-Bone Walker ("I Get So Weary") to Big Bill Broonzy ("Backwater Blues") and John Lee Hooker ("Blues Before Sunrise"). King, of course, plays with the same kind of elegant economy and intuitive fluidity that has marked his best work for decades. For his part, Burnett assembled the brand of bare-bones combo that King employed in his post-WWII touring outfits and keeps the string charts simple and the players sharp and focused. As a result, One Kind Favor unspools with a mellow authenticity that speaks not only to the astonishing talent that King exhibited at the dawn of his career but to the truly iconic blues status he now enjoys. Only B.B. King could charge into his 83rd birthday by recording an album that taps so completely into both his role as one-time young blues Turk and his three-decade run as the genre's revered elder statesman. - Brian Baker

Inara George With Van Dyke Parks

An Invitation (Everloving)

Inara George has been exploring pop's sizable landscape for a couple of years now. She's done the singer-songwriter thing as a solo artist, she's given electronica-spiked lounge jazz a spin as one-half of the Bird & the Bee and on An Invitation, she teams up with the Beach Boys and Joanna Newsom's arranger, Van Dyke Parks, for an album of lush, swirling pop that sounds at least a half-century old. Polysyllabic words spill out of George (whose dad, Lowell George, fused Southern rock and funky struts as frontman for '70s Dixie hicks Little Feat), while Parks piles on one convoluted string arrangement after another. It all gets a bit too precious at times, as George bends her lyrics ("All the words sound so accidental," she sings on one song) around Parks' lavish orchestral swells. But when they connect - like on the flighty and playful "Right as Wrong" and "Dirty White" - it's all so elegantly hip. - Gallucci

The Fiery Furnaces

Remember (Thrill Jockey)

It's hard to imagine that a Fiery Furnaces live performance could ever be forgotten. And that's why Remember is such an appropriate title for the band's first live disc. The double-CD treatment is to be expected from a band as prolific as this one. Remember is a 52-track opus that's not really a traditional live album - it's a compilation of concert performances recorded from 2005 to 2007. But it's still a pretty accurate document of the live show. Songs ebb and flow from one to another and often reappear for a reprise minutes later, as is the case early on with the kinky "Single Again." Songs stop on a dime, segue and ride off into the proverbial sunset before you can glance at the track listing to learn the name of the tune you just missed. The rap with the band's studio output has always been that it's a bit too dense for the casual listener. But buried in those audio strata are a handful of melodies that can stick to the brain after a single listen. And nearly all those melodies appear here. But be warned - Remember is the aural equivalent of one of those mom 'n' pop burger joints that'll give you a five-pound burger for free, so long as you eat it in a half-hour. It's a huge slice of music to digest, but one that's certainly worth it. - Jeremy Willets

The Music Tapes

Music Tapes for Clouds and Tornadoes (Merge)

While most of the Elephant 6 collective (Neutral Milk Hotel, Apples in Stereo, etc.) draw inspiration from 1960s pop psychedelia, the Music Tapes - founded by Julian Koster, formerly of Chocolate USA - pursue an entirely different tack than their friends/associates. Koster seems to be fueled by kaleidoscopic, somewhat-fractured Americana ˆ la Tom Waits, Van Dyke Parks and Ry Cooder. Most of the songs on Clouds and Tornadoes have languorous, dreamy tempos and idyllic melodies that have more in common with Stephen Foster, hymns circa World War I, boogie-woogie blues and Bing Crosby than rock 'n' roll. The palette of instrumentation highlights musical saw (an eerie, haunting tone somewhere between a steel guitar and theremin), accordion, piano, banjo, horns, percussion and a disembodied-sounding choir. (No guitars, period.) The overall ambience of this album evokes back porches in summer and towns that haven't yet become metropolises. Alas, as a whole, Clouds ends up being more interesting than enjoyable, because of Koster's monochromatic singing. His tuneless, yowling "old coot"-style vocals suggest the elderly fellow sitting at the counter at your local 24-hour restaurant, "serenading" someone or something unseen. The Music Tapes have an imaginative and unique style, but the singing epitomizes the phrase "acquired taste." - Mark Keresman

There for Tomorrow

There for Tomorrow (Hopeless)

Produced by James Paul Wisner (Paramore, Dashboard Confessional), There for Tomorrow's self-titled EP is a collection of road-tested songs that the band has refined through extensive touring, including several stops on the Vans Warped Tour. There for Tomorrow plays alternative pop that wouldn't be unfamiliar to anyone who's listened to the radio the past couple of years. The songs bring to mind bands like Cute Is What We Aim For and Cartel. TFT's style is hooky and layered with rhythms, though the group too often settles for a generic approach. "Remember When" combines earnestly catchy-yet-predictable lyrics with exploding guitars, making the track a perfect example of why the band is likely to be forgotten. - Ryan MacLennan

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