Seven Lions enlist help from a handful of talented pals on solid ‘Worlds Apart’ short-player

Seven Lions‘Worlds Apart’
Seven Lions (Casablanca)
3.5 stars out of 5

California producer Jeff Montalvo is known in electronic music circles as Seven Lions and he has carved out a nice career for himself on the strength of a series of dancetastic EPs. His latest short-player, “Worlds Apart,” might be his best yet as Seven Lions team up with a handful of Montalvo’s pals to create a dynamic five-track release.

Seven Lions CDThe party gets started with Ellie Goulding lending her vocals to “Don’t Leave,” and Montalvo enlists Kerli on a pair of keepers in the title track and “Keep It Close.” The lone track without a guest, “Nepenthe,” is the wink link here, but Seven Lions score with Myon & Shane 54 and Tove Lo on the winning “Strangers.” (Jeffrey Sisk)

Singer/songwriter Ray LaMontagne switches gears on new full-length ‘Supernova’

Ray LaMontagne‘Supernova’
Ray LaMontagne (RCA)
3.5 stars out of 5

I was enamored with the music of folk-leaning singer/songwriter Ray LaMontagne the first time I spun his 2008 gem “Gossip in the Grain” and became a card-carrying fan a couple years later when the New Hampshire native released the sublime “God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise.”

Ray LaMontagne CDLatest platter “Supernova,” his first album of new material since 2010, finds LaMontagne tweaking his musical formula a little. And though the results are mostly good, it took a couple spins of the 10-track release for me to warm to the psychedelic-tinged sound. Middling opener “Lavender” had me a bit concerned, but LaMontagne washed away my doubts with keepers “Airwaves,” “She’s the One,” “Julia,” the title track and “Smashing.” (Jeffrey Sisk)

Early Morning Rebel ‘fashion’ a rock-solid EP in ‘Life Boat’

Early Morning Rebel‘Life Boat’
Early Morning Rebel (Baby Bird)
3.5 stars out of 5

Los Angeles pop outfit Early Morning Rebel got their big break a couple years ago when their plaintive ballad “Life Boat” was featured in an episode of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.” That raised the profile of EMR pretty dramatically and they soon landed a gig performing at Fashion Weeks in New York, London and Paris.

Early Morning Rebel CDThe guys show great promise on their “Life Boat” EP. Not only does seven-track release include the dynamite title track, Early Morning Rebel show they are more than one-trick ponies with keepers “Shallow Breath,” “Burn Us Down” and “Four Letter Word.” The ho-hum TC-Spitfire remix of the title track wouldn’t have been missed, but that’s a minor quibble about an otherwise solid EP. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Archie Powell & the Exports serve up their best album to date in ‘Back in Black’

Archie Powell & the Exports‘Back in Black’
Archie Powell & the Exports (Team Cool)
4 stars out of 5

Gritty Midwest rockers Archie Powell & the Exports serve up their best album to date in “Black in Black.” It shares a title with AC/DC’s 1980 masterpiece, but this 12-track, 34-minute slab more than stands on its own. Powell and his mates fold everything from power-pop to garage rock to a touch of grunge into a sonic stew that I found quite tasty.

Archie Powell & the Exports CDThe aptly titled “Everything’s F***ed” lifts the lid on the slab and Powell & the Exports also soar on “Lean,” “Scary Dream,” “Rodeo Crush,” “The High Road” and “Everything’s Cool.” It’s time you got to know this promising young band. (Jeffrey Sisk)

The Howlin’ Brothers continue their winning ways with dynamite new album ‘Trouble’

Howlin' Brothers‘Trouble’
The Howlin’ Brothers (Readymade/Thirty Tigers)
4.5 stars out of 5

Last year proved to be a coming-out party for The Howlin’ Brothers. The folk/country/bluegrass trio scored with both their debut full-length “Howl” and “The Sun Studio Session” EP to shoot their way toward the top of favorite new bands list for 2013.

Howlin' Brothers CDThe (unrelated) Brothers are back with another terrific full-length in “Trouble,” which finds Ben Plasse, Jared Green and Ian Craft on top of their game. There isn’t a clunker to be found on 13-track, 35 minute release that has a distinctly old-time feel. Favorites include “Boogie,” “Night & Day,” “World Spinning Round,” “Sing a Sad Song,” “Hard Times” and “Louisiana.” Enjoy, y’all. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Athens, Ga.-based Old Smokey shine on debut ‘Wester Easter’

Old Smokey‘Wester Easter’
Old Smokey (Cloud Recordings)
4 stars out of 5

As a proud graduate of the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) I have a soft spot, understandably, for bands hailing from my old college stomping grounds of Athens, Ga. R.E.M. and The B-52’s are probably the most famous groups to come out of Athens, but the tiny Georgia town has been a hotbed for good music since for decades.  You can add quirky psych-folk collective Old Smokey to the list of Classic City exports.

Old Smokey CDThe five-piece ensemble unveils debut full-length “Wester Easter,” with its old blend of folk, rock, psychedelic rock and even Spaghetti Western influences. It’s a never-boring gathering of 13 tunes highlighted by lead single “Dead Man’s Post,” “You’re Always Gonna Be Able to Get One More,” “All the Way Slow,” the title track and “Vacant Lot.” Good stuff. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Chad VanGaalen marches to the beat of his own drummer on latest full-length ‘Shrink Dust’

Chad VanGaalen‘Shrink Dust’
Chad VanGaalen (Sub Pop)
3 stars out of 5

Canadian singer/songwriter Chad VanGaalen is a strange dude. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. But this is a guy who recently considering changing his stage name to Banana Bread. Seriously. And when he decided he’d like to score a science fiction film, well, he started making the movie himself.

Chad VanGaalen CD“Shrink Dust,” his fifth full-length, is partially a score to his film “Translated Log of Inhabitants” and, believe it or not, VanGaalen’s stab at a country record. His dreamy falsetto dominates the 12-track release and though it’s not an unqualified success, VanGaalen scores with “Where Are You?”, “Lila,” “Weighed Sin,” “Leaning on Bells” and “Weird Love.” (Jeffrey Sisk)

Gambles deliver third stellar release in 10 months with ‘I Can’t Keep Still When It Comes to You’

Gambles‘I Can’t Keep Still When It Comes to You’
Gambles (GMBLS)
4.5 stars out of 5

Matthew Daniel Siskin has only been writing songs under the Gambles moniker for a couple years, but that’s more than enough time for him to have shot to the top of my list of up-and-coming young artists. Gambles enjoyed a banner 2013, scoring with June’s “Far From Your Arms” EP and October’s magnificent “Trust” full-length debut. Siskind hasn’t let any grass grow under his feet, returning with a third release — digital-only EP “I Can’t Keep Still When It Comes to You” — in the past 10 months.

Gambles CDThe four-track effort is an unqualified success for Gambles, and gives no indication that the creative wellspring is anywhere close to running dry. Opening track “You Won’t Remind It” is less folky than what we’ve come to expect from Siskind but it works on every level. Gambles dip back into their familiar sound on “The Sea,” City Song” and “Nola.” My only complaint is the 15-minute running time isn’t long enough. Call me greedy, but I want more. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Country songstress Martina McBride taps into soul on latest covers album ‘Everlasting’

Martina McBride‘Everlasting’
Martina McBride (Vinyl Recordings)
3.5 stars out of 5

Legendary country songstress Martina McBride has more than a dozen albums to her credit over the past two decades and remains one of the most relevant artists plying her trade these days. “Everlasting” is McBride’s second collection of cover tunes, but where 2005’s “Timeless” focused on country songs this set finds her interpreting classic soul and R&B. The results, as usual, are excellent.

Martina McBride CDMcBride serves up first-rate readings of Aretha Frankin (“Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”), Elvis Presley (“Suspicious Minds”), Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes (“If You Don’t Know Me By Now”), Sam Cooke (“Bring It On Home to Me”), Otis Redding (“I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”) and Little Walter (“My Babe”) on the 12-track release. Reliable as ever, the 47-year-old McBride remains a treasure. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Curtis Stigers successfully tackles the Great American Songbook on ‘Hooray for Love’

Curtis Stigers‘Hooray for Love’
Curtis Stigers (Concord)
4 stars out of 5

Like many artists before him, Curtis Stigers tackles the Great American Songbook on 11th album “Hooray for Love.” Unlike many of his contemporaries (I’m looking at you, Rod Stewart!), Stigers knocks it out of the park. His jazz-inflected voice is perfectly suited for a record that includes seven covers and three originals.

Curtis Stigers CDOpener “Love Is Here to Stay,” the Gershwin Brothers standard, sets the tone, and Stigers also scores with readings of Steve Earle’s “Valentine’s Day,” Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight” and Frank Loesser’s “If I Were a Bell.” Among the originals, the title track and “Give Your Heart to Me” are the standouts. (Jeffrey Sisk)