Ben Watt returns with rock-solid ‘Hendra’ CD more than 30 years after releasing his first solo album

Ben Watt‘Hendra’
Ben Watt (Caroline)
3.5 stars out of 5

Some artists take an extended period of time between albums, and then there’s Ben Watt. “Hendra” is Watt’s second solo offering and comes a whopping 31 years after his 1983 “North Marine Drive” debut. To be fair, Watt spent 20 years with Tracey Thorn in Everything But the Girl and another decade as a DJ and record label boss, so it’s not as if he’s been resting on his laurels.

BEN WATT hendra space 2Still, the industry has undergone seismic changes over the past three decades and there was a chance “Hendra” wouldn’t measure up. I’m happy to report the album, which Watt describes as “a folk-rock record in an electronic age,” is a winner. Watt’s voice sounds great and he’s written a series of standout tunes in the title track, “Forget,” “Golden Ratio,” “Nathaniel” and “The Levels.” Welcome back, Mr. Watt. (Jeffrey Sisk)

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Acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela make welcome return with ‘ 9 Dead Alive’

Rodrigo Y Gabriela‘9 Dead Alive’
Rodrigo y Gabriela (ATO)
4 stars out of 5

I have been singing the praises of Mexican acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela since the first time I spun their 2006 self-titled breakthrough album. Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero are absolute wizards with the guitar and play a uniquely enjoyable mix of classical, Latin and world music, along with a healthy heaping of heavy metal.

Rodrigo Y Gabriela CDThe latest instrumental gem from Sanchez and Quintero is “9 Dead Alive,” their first album of new material in five years. It proves well worth the wait as Rodrigo y Gabriela get back to basics with a series of standout tunes in “The Soundmaker,” “Torito,” “Misty Moses,” “Fram,” “Magaopolis” and “The Russian Messenger.” There are none of the jaw-dropping covers of Metallica and Led Zeppelin that have appeared on previous records, but these nine songs more than stand on their own. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Powerhouse vocals of Amy Lynn & the Gunshow elevate dynamic debut ‘Don’t Trip on the Glitter’

Amy Lynn & the Gunshow‘Don’t Trip on the Glitter’
Amy Lynn & the Gunshow (self-released)
4 stars out of 5

For a spirited modern female take on the classic Memphis/Motown soul sound, look no further than Amy Lynn & the Gunshow. This seven-member collective is anchored by Lynn’s powerhouse vocals, but she gets an able boost from her first-rate musical comrades in arms.

Amy Lynn & the Gushow CD“Don’t Trip on the Glitter” is their full-length debut and comes on the heels of their under-the-radar “Clearly” EP. Lynn & the Gunshow launch the nine-track release with a rollicking cover of the Shangi-Las classic “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” and the title track (my favorite song here), and later soar on “West Village Blues,” “Can’t Put My Finger on It,” “Dirty Mouth” and “When I Meet You Someday.” (Jeffrey Sisk)

Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed keeps blue-eyed soul alive and well on stellar new album ‘Nights Like This’

Eli %22Paperboy%22 Reed‘Nights Like This’
Eli “Paperboy” Reed (Warner Bros.)
4.5 stars out of 5

For as long as Boston-area native Eli “Paperboy” Reed wants to keep making music, you can rest assured that blue-eyed soul will remain alive and well. The superb “Nights Like This” is Reed’s fourth full-length album and continues his uninterrupted string of remarkable releases.

Eli %22Paperboy%22 Reed CDThere isn’t a bad song to be found on the 11-track, 36-minute release, as Reed delivers the goods on “Grown Up,” “WooHoo,” “Lonely World,” “Shoes,” “Ain’t Worth It (Goodbye)” and “Two Broken Hearts.” And “Shock to the System,” a sublime collaboration with Michael Fitzpatrick of kindred spirits Fitz & the Tantrums, should be a radio fixture throughout the summer. Highly recommended. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Failures’ Union mine college rock turf on terrific new CD ‘Tethering’

Failures' Union‘Tethering’
Failures’ Union (Dead Broke Rekerds)
4 stars out of 5

There’s something about Buffalo’s Failures’ Union that take me back to my university days in the early 1990s. The guys have a sound that would have been an ideal fit on college/alternative rock radio in those days and third full-length “Tethering” is their best effort yet.

Failures' Union CDThe guys get things started with “Painting Lines” and “Human Shield,” and offer up additional keepers in “I Have Never Been,” “Between,” “Landlines,” “Busted Open” and “Hard to Sea.” The 13 tracks speed by in an efficient 40 minutes, making “Tethering” a very enjoyable listen. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Brooklyn-based TEEN sweep you away on ‘The Way and the Color’

Teen‘The Way and the Color’
TEEN (Carpark)
3.5 stars out of 5

Brooklyn-based TEEN have accomplished a lot on their two records, with their latest “The Way and the Color” scratching the itch for people who like their pop with an indie sensibility and their music delivered soulfully like R&B bands from the ’90s. This group is both dreamy and intoxicating on their new record, and you might find yourself swept away by them.

Teen CDAs fun as the album is, it also has dark, dangerous undertones. Vocalist Kristina “Teeny” Lieberson sounds alluring and sultry on these tracks, and the band peaks on tracks such as the spacey and weird “Not for Long,” that is odd but catchy; “Sticky,” that has great
washed-out singing, textured backing vocals, and guitars simmering; “Breathe Low and Deep,” a nearly seven-minute track that keeps building layers of new sounds and that has vocals that are purely mesmerizing; and playful, reverberating “Toi Toi Toi,” where Lieberson warns, “You’re not convincing anyone.” Well, that line can’t be about TEEN, because they sure have convinced me of just how interesting and awesome they are. (Brian Krasman)

Wye Oak tweak their musical formula with fantastic results on latest platter ‘Shriek’

WyeOak_ShervinLainez_vertical_hi‘Shriek’
Wye Oak (Merge)
4 stars out of 5

The two faces of the members of Wye Oak might remain familiar, but their sound sure isn’t. On their fourth full length “Shriek,” the band has completely transformed its formula. Gone are the agitated guitars, the shoegaze wonder, and the feeling things could burn down at any moment. In their place are smoother, keyboard-driven melodies and Jenn
Wasner’s more soulful vocals.

MRG515_hiIt’s a bold but ultimately rewarding move for Wasner and drummer/keyboard player Andy Stack, and it pays dividends over and over. Credit to them, because they could have stuck at their older sound and kept people happy, but they wanted more. You can hear that passion in tracks such as blippy, poppy opener “Before,” where Wasner realizes, “I woke up on the floor thinking I had never dreamed before”; the dark and cosmic “Glory,” easily one of the standout tracks; “Schools of Eyes” that is built on shimmery keys and splattering noise; and killer “I Know the Law,” where Wasner’s vocals swing into R&B territory, and the keys waft fog. Every step of this band’s journey has been exciting, and who knows where they’re headed next? (Brian Krasman)

Wye Oak play Mr. Smalls Friday at 8 p.m. Braids open the show. Tickets
are $15. Get them at www.ticketweb.com.

Low Cut Connie bringing high-octane show to Pittsburgh’s Howlers Coyote Cafe on Friday, May 2

High-octane rockers Low Cut Connie invade Pittsburgh's Howlers coyote Cafe Friday, May 2, at 8:30 p.m. Tickets for the over-21 show, which includes Working Breed, are $6. Howlers Coyote Cafe is located at 4509 Liberty Ave. in the Bloomfield section of the city. Call 412-682-0320 or visit howlerscoyotecafe.com for additional information.

High-octane rockers Low Cut Connie invade Pittsburgh’s Howlers Coyote Cafe Friday, May 2, at 8:30 p.m. Tickets for the over-21 show, which includes Working Breed, are $6. Howlers Coyote Cafe is located at 4509 Liberty Ave. in the Bloomfield section of the city. Call 412-682-0320 or visit http://www.howlerscoyotecafe.com for additional information.

Amanda Homi explores worldly melodies on ‘Till I Reach Bombay’

Amanda Homi‘Till I Reach Bombay’
Amanda Homi (Drum Girl)
3 stars out of 5

The music of New York City-based singer/songwriter Amanda Homi isn’t for everyone, but those who dig some worldly flavor should warm to latest full-length “Till I Reach Bombay.” Homi is of British and Indian descent, and she incorporates pieces of her culture (and many others) into an 11-track release that melds Indian, Spanish, Egyptian, funk, folk and Afro-pop melodies.

Amanda Homi CDInspired by women dancing in protest as part of Arab Spring, she penned stellar lead track “Dancing Girls.” Additional standouts include “Lorca’s Desire,” the title track, “Cards, Coins & Chaos” and “Danger Be Damned.” (Jeffrey Sisk)

Manchester Orchestra show they know how to ‘Cope’ on new CD

Manchester Orchestra‘Cope’
Manchester Orchestra (Loma Vista)
4 stars out of 5

Atlanta-based indie rockers Manchester Orchestra have been one of my favorite bands since the first time I spun their 2006 stellar debut “I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child.” Equally adept in the studio and performing live, the Andy Hull-fronted quintet went on to record two more standouts in “Mean Everything to Nothing” (2009) and “Simple Math” (2011).

Manchester Orchestra CDFourth full-length “Cope” is the Orchestra’s heaviest yet, and just might be my favorite entry in their entire catalog. Hull and his mates continue their exploration of anger and loss on an 11-track release that is dominated by loud guitars.

Opener “Top Notch” sets the tone, and Manchester Orchestra also shine on “Girl Harbor,” “The Ocean,” “Every Stone,” “Trees” and the set-closing title track. This is one hell of a great band. (Jeffrey Sisk)