PICTURED: Joanna Connor Photo submitted
by Alan Sculley, Last Word Features
Here is a new batch of reviews, covering five new albums that may not get enough promotion to move the needle on any mainstream music charts, but deliver plenty of good songs.
Nature Always Wins
Maximo Park’s debut album, A Certain Trigger, was nominated for the UK’s Mercury Prize in 2005. Five more albums have followed. Now the band, trimmed from a quartet to a trio after the departure of keyboardist Lukas Wooller, is back with Nature Always Wins, and it signals a new evolution in the group’s sound. Earlier albums made extensive use of keyboards alongside guitars in crafting a sound that was angular, taut and more rock than pop. (Magazine, Gang Of Four and a less poppy Devo come to mind as references.) On Nature Always Wins, the keyboards are still present, if not as prominent, as Maximo Park goes for a more spacious, but still angular, sound. That’s certainly true of “Versions Of You,” where the tempo is brisk, but the band’s sound is a bit dreamy as the vocals and guitar ride above a bed of subtly mixed synths. “Why Must A Building Burn?” has a similar fast tempo and a bit more urgency, but its burnished sonics give the song an airy dimension. “Feelings I’m Supposed To Feel” has a silky, almost cinematic feel. The rest of Nature Always Wins rocks, but Maximo Park smooths out some of the jagged edges of the past, setting the stage to continue to evolve musically and keep its sound fresh for years to come.
4801 South Indiana Avenue
Connor has been a notable presence in blues for the past three decades. But 4801 South Indiana Avenue is the kind of album that could very well cause people to stand up and take notice all over again. It’s arguably her hardest rocking effort to date, as she avoids acoustic tracks. 4801 South Indiana Avenue includes the super-charged songs “Destination” and “Please Help,” the solid rocking blues of “For The Love Of A Man” and “Cut You Loose” and the Texas-flavored “Trouble Trouble.” Along with these hard-hitting tunes, there’s a solid shuffle (“Come Back Home”), a hard-edged ballad (“Bad News”) and a full-bodied soulful cover of “Part Time Love,” which is one of two songs featuring a guest appearance from Joe Bonamassa. Of course, Connor demonstrates her considerable skills on guitar, too, unleashing blistering leads and solos throughout the album. If you haven’t checked out Connor before, 4801 South Indiana Avenue makes this a good time to get acquainted with her talents.
The album title refers to how the four young musicians in Carpool Tunnel were making the transition out of adolescence as the songs for Bloom were written, literally trying to blossom into adulthood. Formed in 2017, the band spent its formative years developing a sound and songwriting chops that on Bloom capture both youthful energy and a maturing songcraft that seemingly would belong to a band with considerably more mileage. Songs like “Dreaming Still,” “I’ll Be Your Friend” and “Nostalgia” are breezy, imbued with likeable vocal melodies and a good bit of guitar jangle, while there’s just a touch more edge to “Flora” and “Forget My Name” (a tune with some creative twists and turns in its arrangement). The group’s melodic abilities are just as apparent on songs that pull back a bit on the tempo, such as “Better Now,” “Empty Faces” and “Closer.” If Bloom is the sound of a band only starting to find its stride, pop fans have plenty to look forward to as Carpool Tunnel continues to grow as a group.
Waiting On You Tonight
This Austin-based singer/songwriter has stepped away from her roots-rocking band, the Breakups, for her third album, enlisting Vicente Rodriguez (of Chuck Prophet’s band) as producer. The result is a song cycle that’s a little broader in scope than her 2016 album with the Breakups, Keep Your Mouth Shut. To be sure, Lee still has her feet firmly planted in rootsy rock and country, as the high-charged “Pens and Needles” and the title song demonstrate. But Lee also dips her toes into some catchy power pop on “Too Little Too Late,” an appealing mix of country and pop/rock on “Yale St. and 45,” some bluesy/soul balladry with a touch of country on “I Won’t Give In,” and some retro-pop with the sweet ballad “Birthday Song.” She also gets a bit dark and swampy on the ballad “Four Letter Name,” a song accented with moaning slide guitar. The greater musical diversity of Waiting On You Tonight marks a notable step forward for Lee and is the kind of well rounded album that should raise her profile on the Americana music scene.
I Won’t Care How You Remember Me
For the Scranton, Pennsylvania band’s sixth album, Tigers Jaw changed up its writing routine, with the usual songwriting duo of Brianna Collins and Ben Walsh collaborating with the other band members, Teddy Roberts and Colin Gorman. Writing as a band has produced a consistently strong collection of rocking guitar pop songs. It’s hard, in fact, to pick out individual highlights, as across the album, the songs boast melodic vocals built around hooky guitar riffs or leads and plenty of energy. I can’t even complain that there is not enough variety on the album, as there’s a solid ballad (“Never Wanted To”), an acoustic tune (the title song) and a mid-tempo closing track (“Anniversary”) that stand up to any of album’s other 10 songs. Suffice it to say I Won’t Care How You Remember Me will be recalled fondly by fans that care for crisp and catchy guitar pop.