Dive Index craft electro-acoustic platter in ‘Lost in the Pressure’

22f97223-0805-4d56-8991-e09049c4a819‘Lost in the Pressure’
Dive Index (Neutral Music)
3.5 stars out of 5

Will Thomas is the creative mastermind behind electro-acoustic project Dive Index. The talented songwriter/producer enlists a variety of guest vocalists and musicians whenever Dive Index hit the studio and he’s on the top of his game with latest full-length “Lost in the Pressure.”

Vocalists Isaiah Gage and Simone White augment a 12-track, 53-minute release that overstays its welcome by about a quarter. Despite the excessive running time, Dive Index deliver plenty of special moments that rival their stellar 2007 “Mid/Air” debut.

The opening salvo of “Rewind Your Patience” and “A Person to Hide With” set the mellow, downbeat tone and Gage, in addition to vocals, plays a killer cello on many of the best cuts. Additional keepers include “Be Cold With Me,” “Constant Chatter,” “Pattern Pieces” and “Sea Glass.” (Jeffrey Sisk)

The Rural Alberta Advantage impress on ‘Mended With Gold’

The Rural Alberta Advantage‘Mended With Gold’
The Rural Alberta Advantage (Saddle Creek)
4 stars out of 5

It’s been three long years since we last heard from Canadian indie rock trio The Rural Alberta Advantage, who were last seen soaring to new heights on 2011 sophomore slab “Departing.” Happily Nils Edenloff, Paul Banwatt and Amy Cole return at last with first-rate new release “Mended With Gold.”

The Rural Alberta Advantage CDEdenloff’s quavering vocals remain The Rural Alberta Advantage’s calling card and they are on display throughout the dynamic 12-track release. Percussionist Banwatt and multi-instrumentalist Cole more than hold their own on “Mended With Gold,” adding texture and depth to Edenloff’s lyrics.

“Our Love…” jumpstarts the proceedings, and the trio later scores with “On the Rocks,” “Terrified,” “To Be Scared,” “45/33,” All We’ve Ever Known” and “Not Love or Death.” Here’s hoping three years don’t pass before we get album No. 4 from this delightful band. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Sons of Bill make welcome return with fourth LP ‘Love & Logic’

Sons Of Bill‘Love & Logic’
Sons of Bill (Thirty Tigers)
4 stars out of 5

Siblings Abe, James and Sam Wilson — better known as alternative country trio Sons of Bill — blew me away with their last album, 2012’s flawless “Sirens,” so I had high hopes for fourth full-length “Love & Logic.” Well I’m happy to report that the brothers Wilson exceed my highest expectations on a 10-track release that surpasses its remarkable predecessor.

Sons Of Bill CDIt was a collaborative effort from the outset on “Love & Logic” for Sons of Bill, with the three brothers splitting lead vocals equally and co-writing all the songs. The Wilsons (plus pals Seth Green on bass and Todd Wellons on drums) once again navigate the fine line between country and rock.

Opener “Big Unknown” sets the tone and Sons of Bill show off their pop/rock leanings on “Brand New Paradigm,” another keeper. Additional standouts include “Fishing Song,” “Higher Than Mine,” “Light a Light” and the set-closing title track. My favorite track is “Lost in the Cosmos,” a hauntingly lovely tribute to Big Star’s Chirs Bell. This one’s a winner. (Jeffrey Sisk)

The Last Bison make a splash with latest full-length gem ‘VA’

The Last Bison‘VA’
The Last Bison (self-released)
4 stars out of 5

Virginia-based indie folk collective The Last Bison have, in just a couple short years, grown into one of my favorite bands around. Frontman Ben Hardesty & Co. first came to my attention with the 2012 release of the “Inheritance” EP and further impressed last year with their major label debut full-length, also dubbed “Inheritance.”

The Last Bison CDHardesty has one of the more distinctive voices around and he puts it to great use on latest platter “VA.” Named after their home state, the 11-track release is The Last Bison at their collaborative best. They’ve parted ways with Republic Records and seem rejuvenated by the return to their independent roots.

The Last Bison come out of the gate clicking on all cylinders with “Bad Country” and “Every Time,” and later score with “Endview,” “Burdens,” “Come What May” and “She Always Waves at the Gate.” Pittsburgh audiences can hear the songs from “VA” — and much more — tonight when the band headlines at the Hard Rock Café. Make sure to check them out. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Matthew Perryman Jones dropping by Pittsburgh’s Hard Rock Cafe on Wednesday, Oct. 1

100114-Matthew Perryman JonesSinger/songwriter Matthew Perryman Jones shares top billing with Andrew Combs at Pittsburgh’s Hard Rock Cafe on Wednesday, Oct. 1, at 8 p.m. Tickets for the limited all-ages show, which includes Jillian Edwards, are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. The Hard Rock Cafe is located at 230 W. Station Square Drive. Call 412-481-7625 or visit http://www.hardrock.com/cafes/pittsburgh/events for additional information.

Lucinda Williams crafts another masterpiece in ‘Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone’

(Photo by Michael Wilson)

(Photo by Michael Wilson)

‘Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone’
Lucinda Williams (Highway 20)
4.5 stars out of 5

Over the course of a career that’s spanned parts of five decades, rootsy singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams has managed to remain vibrant and relevant in cementing her status as a true Americana icon. She’s been one of my favorites since the first time I heard her 1998 masterpiece “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” and I’ve seen her perform live at least half a dozen times.

Lucinda Williams CDLatest studio effort “Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone” is her 12th overall and first for her own Highway 20 label. The two-disc, 20-track set also ranks among Williams’ best albums to date. Her distinctive vocals and killer songwriting keep listeners enthralled for 103 intoxicating minutes. In spite of the mammoth running time, the momentum never wanes. No worries about being bored with Lucinda.

“I felt like I was really on a roll when we stated working on this album,” the 61-year-old Williams says. “I usually have enough songs to fill an album, and maybe a couple more, but when I started writing for this, the inspiration just kept coming, and the people I was working with kept telling me the songs were worth keeping. I felt like I was really in a groove here.”

The centerpiece of “Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone” is the gut-wrenching “West Memphis,’ which chronicles the story of the wrongly-convicted West Memphis Three, and Williams also soars on “Burning Bridges,” “Cold Day in Hell,” “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” “When I Look at the World,” “Everything But the Truth” and sprawling closer “Magnolia.” Highly recommended. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Ray Charles’ final duets album ‘Genius Loves Company’ gets 10th anniversary deluxe reissue

Ray Charles‘Genius Loves Company: 10th Anniversary Edition’
Ray Charles (Concord)
4 stars out of 5

“Genius Loves Company,” a duets album with a cross-section of top-flight collaborators, proved to be the final studio album completed by the great Ray Charles prior to his death in June 2004. Amazingly, a decade has passed since Charles left us and the folks at Concord are paying tribute to him with a deluxe 10th anniversary edition of the album.

Ray Charles CDThe expanded version includes a bonus DVD that features an hour-long “Making of Genius Loves Company” behind-the scenes documentary. The film features assorted interviews and previously unreleased video footage of the “Genius” recording sessions. It’s essential viewing for longtime Charles fans.

The original 12-track album has been augmented as well, with a pair of previously unreleased tracks in “Mary Ann” featuring Poncho Sanchez and “Unchain My Heart” featuring Take 6. The original album still sounds great, most notably Charles’ collaborations with Norah Jones (“Here We Go Again”), Diana Krall (“You Don’t Know Me”), Natalie Cole (“Fever”), Bonnie Raitt (“Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?”), Willie Nelson (“It Was a Very Good Year”), B.B. King (“Sinner’s Prayer”) and Van Morrison (“Crazy Love”). This one is worth the upgrade. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Irish outfit Pugwash look to make mark stateside with ‘A Rose in a Garden of Weeds’

Pugwash‘A Rose in a Garden of Weeds’
Pugwash (Omnivore)
4 stars out of 5

Unless you’re a hardcore guitar pop fan with the inclination to track rare imports or have spent some time overseas, chances are Irish outfit Pugwash are a mystery to you. To date, the Thomas Walsh-fronted band’s albums have only been available outside of North America and many are now out of print. The fine folks at Omnivore are doing their best to bring Pugwash to American audiences with the release of compilation album “A Rose in a Garden of Weeds.”

Pugwash CD“(I am) so very, very proud to be releasing a career retrospective on the beautiful Omnivore record label,” Walsh says. “My pride will never wane when people I admire come along and have faith in my songs. America we love you. We hope, in time and song, that you’ll love us, too.”

This terrific gathering of 17 tunes serves an introduction to all things Pugwash, with material culled from 1999’s “Almond Tea … As Served By Pugwash” clear through to 2011’s “The Olympus Sound.” It’s a nice cross-section of tunes showcasing Walsh’s first-rate songwriting and I wouldn’t be surprised if the record will prompt you to track down Pugwash’s earlier stuff.

You won’t go wrong with standout tracks like “Take Me Away,” “Finer Things in Life,” “Shine on Norvell Jefferson,” “Two Wrongs,” the title track, “Fall Down,” “Answers on a Postcard,” “Apples” and “Be My Friend Awhile.” It’s time we all got to know — and enjoy — Pugwash. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Christian rockers Stryper strut their stuff ‘Live at the Whisky’

Stryper‘Live at the Whisky’
Stryper (Frontiers)
3.5 stars out of 5

As a child of the 1980s, I vividly remember having to listen to my cassettes of Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue and the like in secret. I knew that if my parents found this “devil music,” they would confiscate the tapes and I’d get a stern talking to in the process.

Stryper CDI also remember when Stryper ushered in an era of Christian hard rock in 1985 with full-length debut “Soldiers Under Command.” Finally, there was a “metal” album that my folks would let me listen to openly. The music wasn’t quite as good as the mainstream bands, but Stryper sure knew their way around a blistering guitar riff.

With frontman Michael Sweet gone to pursue a solo career, Stryper called it quits in 1992. They’ve reunited on occasion since then, even releasing a handful of studio albums over the past decade, but have never recaptured their early appeal. The original Stryper lineup still has their chops and that’s evident in surprisingly enjoyable new CD/DVD set “Live at the Whisky.”

Recorded at the legendary West Hollywood venue Whisky a Go Go last November, the 16-track release is a must for anyone who enjoys old-school hair metal with a positive message. Stryper strut their way through many of their better tunes (“Legacy,” “Marching Into Battle,” “Calling on You,” “Free,” “No More Hell to Pay,” “To Hell With the Devil,” “Soldiers Under Command”) and deliver a high-octane renditions of The Doobie Brothers’ “Jesus Is Just Alright.” Rock on. (Jeffrey Sisk)