The Reverend Shawn Amos explores the blues on ‘Tells It’ EP

Shawn Amos‘Tells It’
The Reverend Shawn Amos (self-released)
3.5 stars out of 5

Shawn Amos earned his stripes as a rootsy singer/songwriter and the New York native has handful of first-rate albums to his name. But a trip to Italy changed the course of Amos’ career and has him singing and playing the blues.

Shawn Amos CD“Tells It” is an enjoyable six-track blend of original tunes and covers of songs by big-times blues heavyweights like Junior Wells (“Hoodoo Man Blues”), Sonny Boy Williamson (“Good Morning, School Girl”) and Elmore James (“Something Inside of Me”). Among the originals, “(The Girl Is) Heavy” and “Sometimes I Wonder” are the ones you’ll remember. (Jeffrey Sisk)

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Veteran ska punks Mad Caddies return to form with ‘Dirty Rice’

Mad Caddies‘Dirty Rice’
Mad Caddies (Fat Wreck Chords)
3.5 stars out of 5

Southern California ska-punk septet Mad Caddies have been away for a while, but the guys make an impressive return with sixth full-length “Dirty Rice.” It’s the Santa Barbaa-based band’s first album since 2007’s Keep It Going” (and best since 2003’s “Just One More”), with the Caddies’ signature blend of punk, reggae, pop and ska.

Mad Caddies CDThe 12-track release gets off to a fast start with “Brand New Scar,” “Love Myself,” “Down and Out” and “Shoot Out the Lights” before the momentum starts to wane. Happily, Mad Caddies regain their bearings down the homestretch with a few more keepers in “Airplae,” “Back to Bed” and “Drinking the Night Away.” Keep on rocking, fellas. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Folk icon P.F. Sloan honors a classical giant on ‘My Beethoven’

P.F. Sloan‘My Beethoven’
P.F. Sloan (Ms. Music)
4 stars out of 5

A founding father of folk-rock and West Coast pop, singer/songwriter P.F. Sloan pays tribute to composer Ludwig van Beethoven in a compelling way on latest full-length “My Beethoven.” For his first album in almost a decade, Sloan enlisted support from the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra for a nine-track release that utilizes Beethoven’s compositions as a framework for Sloan’s lyrics.

P.F. Sloan CDIt’s an ambitious undertaking, but one that Sloan pulls off without a hitch. There isn’t a misfire to be found on “My Beethoven,” with Sloan particularly effective on “The Black Robed Spainaird,” “Canto (My Beethoven),” “In Celebration Of” and remarkable set closer “The Joy of the Ninth.” This is a terrific tribute from one legendary figure to another. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Experimental musician Ben Frost misses the mark on new full-length ‘A U R O R A’

Ben Frost‘A U R O R A’
Ben Frost (Mute)
1.5 stars out of 5

Though experimental/avant garde music isn’t my cup of tea, I went into “A U R O R A” — the latest release from Iceland-based electronic musician Ben Frost — with a fairly open mind. After all, Frost’s previous albums were praised by critics and the early returns on “A U R O R A” suggested the nine-track release could be his masterpiece.

Ben Frost CDAfter a few spins of the album, however, I have to say that I just don’t get it. “A U R O R A’ is complex and fiulled with a cacophony of sounds, but that doesn’t make it an album I ever care to revisit. The 40-minute run time seems twice as long, with Frost serving up such off-beat entries as “Nolan,” “The Teeth Behind the Kisses,” “Venter” and “Sola Fide.” Proceed with caution. (Jeffrey Sisk)

The Howlin’ Brothers set to tear up Pittsburgh’s Thunderbird Cafe on Thursday, July 3

(Photo by Joshua Black Wilkins)

(Photo by Joshua Black Wilkins)

Stellar indie folk trio The Howlin’ Brothers dropped latest studio gem “Trouble” back in the spring and they’ll take the stage at Pittsburgh’s Thunderbird Cafe on Thursday, July 3, at 9 p.m. with co-headliner Kansas Bible Company. Tickets for the over-21 show are $10. Thunderbird Cafe is located at 4023 Butler St. in the city’s Lawrenceville neighborhood. Call 412-682-0177 or visit http://www.thunderbirdcafe.net for more information.

Spike Slawson uses the ukulele to interpret some of his favorite tunes on ‘Uke-Hunt’

Uke-Hunt‘Uke-Hunt’
Uke-Hunt (Fat Wreck Chords)
3.5 stars out of 5

Spike Slawson has built an impressive resume in the punk world with Swingin’ Utters and Me First & the Gimme Gimmes, but Uke-Hunt is the project nearest and dearest to his heart. On the self-titled debut album, Slawson delivers 10 heartfelt renditions of some of his favorite tunes interepreted through ukulele. Uke-Hunt avoided becoming a novelty act by treating the songs and the Hawaiian stringed instrument with the utmost respect throughout the 25-minute set.

Uke-Hunt CDUke-Hunt open with Barry Manilow’s “Ready to Take a Chance Again,” and later serve up readings of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence,” the Searchers’ “Needles and Pins,” the Carpenters’ “Rainy Days and Mondays” and the standard “Green, Green Grass of Home.” (Jeffrey Sisk)

Noise-rock duo Dub Thompson offer up “9 Songs” debut platter

Dub Thompson ‘9 Songs’
Dub Thompson (Dead Oceans)
3 stars out of 5

Not everyone is going to warm to “9 Songs,” the debut full-length from teen noise rock duo Dub Thompson. I wouldn’t be surprised if as many people are turned off by the efforts of Matt Pulos and Evan Laffer, both 19, as are enthralled by the headache-inducing, eight-track release. But more adventurous listeners just might find some things to enjoy about this polarizing slab.

Dub Thompson CDThe blistering “Hayward!” launches “9 Songs,” and Dub Thompson later score with “No Time,” personal favorite “Dograces,” the title track and “Ash Wednesday.” None of these songs are going to wind up on the radio, but it’s an intriguing way to spend a half hour of your day. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Power trio Radio Moscow score with high-octane ‘Magical Dirt’

(Photo by Maider Nunez)

(Photo by Maider Nunez)

‘Magical Dirt’
Radio Moscow (Alive Naturalsound)
4 stars out of 5

Iowa-bred, California-based power trio Radio Moscow deliver another blistering winner in “Magical Dirt,” their most enjoyable offering since 2009 gem “Brain Cycles.” Parker Griggs, Anthony Meier and Paul Marrone have crafted a hard-driving 10-track release that channels such legendary artists as Jimi Hendrix, Cream and Deep Purple.

Radio Moscow CDPsychedelic-tinged blues/rock is Radio Moscow’s stock and trade, and the lads don’t disappoint on standouts “Rancho Tehama Airport,” “Sweet Lil Thing,” “These Days,” “Got the Time” and dynamite closer “Stinging.” It’s time you got to know this band. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Quincy Mumford & The Reason Why to invade Pittsburgh’s Thunderbird Cafe on Wednesday, July 2

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHNew Jersey-based rockers Quincy Mumford & The Reason Why soar into Pittsburgh’s Thunderbird Cafe on Wednesday, July 2, at 9 p.m. The band is touring in support of last year’s terrific album “It’s Only Change.” Tickets for the over-21 show, which includes MoChester, are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. Thunderbird Cafe is located at 4023 Butler St. in the city’s Lawrenceville neighborhood. Call 412-682-0177 or visit http://www.thunderbirdcafe.net for additional information.

The Babys deliver first LP since 1980 in ‘I’ll Have Some of That!’

The Babys. Photo by Alex Solca.‘I’ll Have Some of That!’
The Babys (Skyrocket/All In Time)
3.5 stars out of 5

More than three decades after calling it quits, The Babys are best remembered for the guys who left the band for greener pastures (John Waite, Jonathan Cain, Ricky Phillips) than for the music they made in the late 1970s. In an attempt to change all that, original members Wally Stocker (guitar) and Tony Brock (drums) have added new singer/bassist John Bisaha and guitarist Joey Sykes to the fold and recorded the band’s first album since 1980.

The Babys CD“I’ll Have Some of That!” is a solid collection of 12 tunes that does nothing to tarnish the legacy, such as it is, of The Babys. Current single “I See You There” is pretty catchy, and the guys also score with “All I Wanna Do,” “After Midnight,” “These Days” and “Stay the Night.” This album isn’t likely to return The Babys to the top of the charts, but it’s certainly worthy of your time. (Jeffrey Sisk)