Pegi Young & The Survivors make sweet music on newest album ‘Lonely in a Crowded Room’

Pegi Young‘Lonely in a Crowded Room’
Pegi Young & The Survivors (New West)
4 stars out of 5

Pegi Young began her music career as a backup singer for then husband Neil Young — yes, THAT Neil Young — but eventually emerged as a solo performer with the release of her self-titled debut in 2007. Since then, the 61-year-old Young has gone on to record three more platters — including terrific latest offering “Lonely in a Crowded Room.”

Pegi Young CDWith backing band The Survivors (an all-star collective featuring Spooner Oldham, Kelvin Holly, Rick Rosas and Phil Jones), Young positively shines on the 10-track release. In addition to some stellar originals that are immersed in the Muscle Shoals sound (“I Be Weary,” “Obsession,” “Feel Just Like a Memory,” “Blame It on Me”), Young & The Survivors offer up stellar covers of Oldham’s “Lonely Women Make Good Lovers,” Allen Toussaint’s
Ruler of My Heart” and Jerry Ragovoy’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely.”

If nothing else, “Lonely in a Crowded Room” proves that there was more than one first-rate songwriter in the Young household. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Punk rockers The Pests deliver rock-solid ‘A Damn Fine Mixture’

The Pests‘A Damn Fine Mixture’
The Pests (60 Grit)
3.5 stars out of 5

New Orleans-bred, New York-based punk rockers The Pests have never been afraid to mince words. They stirred up controversy for the song “Nazi Trot” on their 1996 “Simplified” debut, but a close look at the lyrics revealed the blistering track to be vehemently anti-Nazi. The guys got back to their roots earlier this year with the release of 7-inch “Disturbance in the Gulf,” with in-your-face tracks “Pissed and Menacing” and “Kill Her Some More.”

The Pests CDThe Pests — Steve Halprin (vocals/guitar), Chuck Diesel (bass/vocals) and Mazz-1 (drums) — continue that DIY approach with latest full-length “A Damn Fine Mixture.” It’s a high-octane gathering of 13 songs that speed by in just 28 mayhem-fueled minutes.

Highlights include both of the “Disturbance in the Gulf” tracks, plus “The Pain,” “All Nighter,” “Rage Against the Vending Mahine,” “I Wanna Run” and “Fun Fun Fun.” If you like snarling punk rock delivered at a breakneck pace and maximum volume, I suggest taking “A Damn Fine Mixture” for a spin. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Ultimate Painting hit all the right notes on self-titled debut album

Ultimate Painting‘Ultimate Painting’
Ultimate Painting (Trouble In Mind)
3.5 stars out of 5

James Hoare of Veronica Falls and Jack Cooper of Mazes have teamed up to form indie rock duo Ultimate Painting and they make a solid first impression on their self-titled debut album. The lads went old school when it came to laying down tracks for the 10-song release, recording it straight to tape in Hoare’s apartment. There are no digital bells and whistles anywhere to be found.

TIM081-UltimatePainting-FINAL.LP_jktUltimate Painting come out of the gate firing on all cylinders with the title and “Can’t You See?” as they effectively set the tone for what’s to follow. Hoare and Cooper also impress on “Central Park Blues,” personal favorite “Ten Street,” “Rolling in the Deep End,” “She’s a Bomb” and “Winter in Your Heart.” With such a solid foundation in place, I expect big things from Ultimate Painting in the future. (Jeffrey Sisk)

The Foreign Resort successfully exploring ‘New Frontiers’

The Foreign Resort‘New Frontiers’
The Foreign Resort (Blvd)
3.5 stars out of 5

Danish trio The Foreign Resort exploded into the mainstream consciousness with their 2012 sophomore slab “Scattered & Buried,” enthralling audiences with their moody mix of 1980s new wave and post-punk. The guys are back with another solid entry in “New Frontiers.”

The Foreign Resort CDListening to the music of Mikkel Borbjerg Jakobsen, Henrik Fischlein and Morten Hansen, reminds me of my high school days with any number of songs that could have popped up on the soundtrack for a John Hughes film. Released in their homeland in February, “New Frontiers” finally is available stateside and should do nothing to quell The Foreign Resort’s career momentum.

Catchy singles “Dead End Roads” and “Alone” have garnered plenty of radio airplay in the United States and Europe, and the lads are equally impressive on standouts “Dead Leaves,” the title track and “Quiet Again.” This one merits some attention. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Yusuf/Cat Stevens gets back to his roots on ‘Tell ‘Em I’m Gone’

Yusuf‘Tell ‘Em I’m Gone’
Yusuf/Cat Stevens (Legacy)
3.5 stars out of 5

Cat Stevens was one of the most prolific and successful singer/songwriters of the 1970s, reeling off a string of hits songs that remain in heavy rotation on classic rock stations everywhere. Shortly after becoming a Muslim and adopting the name Yusuf Islam in 1977, he retired from the music business. Other than controversy generated on his comments about the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against novelist Salman Rushdie in the late 1980s, Yusuf remained out of the public eye.

Yusuf CDIn 2006, almost 30 years after the last Cat Stevens record, Yusuf returned with “An Other Cup” and followed it up with the rock-solid “Roadsinger” three years later. The 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee is back with his best Yusuf album to date in “Tell ‘Em I’m Gone.” The 10-track mix of originals and cover tunes finds the 66-year-old Yusuf returning to his blues and R&B roots.

“Although I was to venture through many lyrical terrains, melodious valleys and cadences during my 50-year musical and spiritual exploration … hidden in the background behind by renowned troubadour persona lurked an R&B alter-self waiting to be let free,” Yusuf says.

In addition to first-rate covers of Edgar Winter (“Dying to Live”), Luther Dixon & Al Smith (“Big Boss Man”) and the standard “You Are My Sunshine,” Yusuf delivers rock-solid original compositions “I Was Raised in Babylon,” “Cat & the Dog Trap” and “Gold Digger.” There are no second comings of Cat Stevens classics like “Wide World” or “Peace Train” on “Tell ‘Em I’m Gone,” but there are enough quality songs to merit taking the album for a spin. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Anna Wilson soars to new heights with new LP ‘Jazzbird/Songbird’

Anna Wilson‘Jazzbird/Songbird’
Anna Wilson (Transfer)
4 stars out of 5

Philadelphia native Anna Wilson first popped up on my radar a few years back with the release of her sublime “Countrypolitan Duets,” an album of jazz-arranged country standards featuring the likes of heavyweights Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, Connie Smith and Kenny Rogers. It was an interesting and entertaining project that let the longtime songwriter indulge her jazz side.

Anna Wilson CDWilson continues in that vein on latest full-length “Jazzbird/Songbird,” an old-school collection of seven originals and stellar covers George & Ira Gershwin’s “Little Jazzbird,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird” and Johnny Mandel’s “The Shadow of Your Smile.”

“This album is a real evolution for me as an artist,” Wilson explains. “It was a challenge to marry the jazz singer in me with the pure songwriter in me. I really wanted to write a jazz-based singer/songwriter album that was musically influenced by my love for vocal jazz and melody, but was also lyrically impactful with songs that make people think, feel and find their own experience inside them.”

Wilson succeeds in that quest, shining bright on original gems “Show Me Love,” “Inconsolably Blue,” “How Do You Measure a Life?” and “While the Music’s Still in Me.” Good stuff. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Home Free offer a cappella tidings on holiday LP ‘Full of Cheer’

Home Free‘Full of Cheer’
Home Free (Columbia)
3.5 stars out of 5

Might as well strike while the iron is hot, right? Home Free, the Season 4 winner of NBC’s a cappella singing competition “The Sing Off,” scored earlier this year with major-label debut “Crazy Life” and are back with some yuletide offerings in “Full of Cheer.”

Home Free CD“‘Full of Cheer ‘is exactly what our fans want in a holiday album,” vocalist Tim Foust says of the 10-track offering. “From holiday classics to new favorites, ‘Full of Cheer” is filled with harmony and humor with some amazing collaborations and a few surprises along the way.”

While I didn’t quite figure out what “surprises” Foust was referring to, I can tell you that “Full of Cheer” is a very enjoyable holiday offering. The guys are ridiculously talented and the put their vocal wizardry to good use on seasonal staples “White Christmas,’ “O’ Holy Night,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (with guest Kira Isabella), “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and “Silent Night” (featuring violinist Taylor Davis).

Home Free knock it out of the park on humorous opener “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” and the Foust-penned title track is another winner. Merry Christmas, y’all. (Jeffrey Sisk)

The Shivas take step forward on fourth LP ‘You Know What to Do’

The Shivas‘You Know What to Do’
The Shivas (K Records)
4 stars out of 5

The Shivas emerged from the Pacific Northwest indie scene a few years ago with the release of third full-length “Whiteout!” It was an enjoyable collection of garage punk tunes that earned the foursome comparisons to indie darlings like Thee Oh Seas and Black Lips. They’ve taken things up a notch on newest release “You Know What to Do” by stripping back the production values and reveling in the rough-around-the-edges of their garage-rock sound.

The Shivas CDUtilizing vintage microphones and recording straight to tape in the studio adds an old-school feel to album that, with its jangly guitars and surf-rock melodies, could easily have been recorded 40 years ago. Guitarists Rob Manering and Jared Molyneaux are the glue that holds The Shivas together and they both shine throughout a 13-track release that whisks by in just 37 minutes.

The Shivas come out of the gate swinging with “You Know What to Do” and “Do the Crocodile,” and after treading water for a few tunes, find their stride with keepers “You Make Me Wanna Die,” “Beach Heads,” “Stalking Legs” and “Used to Being Cool.” Can’t wait to hear more from this up-and-coming outfit. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Scott Ainslie draws inspiration from 1934 Gibson archtop guitar on ‘The Last Shot Got Him’

Scott Ainslie‘The Last Shot Got Him’
Scott Ainslie (Cattail Music)
4 stars out of 5

For his latest album, veteran blues musician Scott Ainslie let his guitar do the talking. In this case the guitar was a rare 1934 Gibson archtop that produces a sound unique to that era. So Ainslie cobbled together “The Last Shot Got Him,” a 14-track platter comprised of tunes that likely would have been played during the instrument’s heyday.

Scott Ainslie CD“The guitar came to me out of the blue,” Ainslie explains. “A dear friend in Louisiana played it in front of me about five years ago. Eventually, she sold it to me. I’ve allowed that guitar to choose songs it plays well, songs from its youth, and music that is comfortable on the instrument.”

Ainslie utilizes the Gibson to interpret the work of Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson , Rev. Gary Davis, Fats Waller and Irving Berlin, among others, and even found a place for his own 2008 composition “Late Last Night.”

The six Hurt tunes (“The First Shot Missed Him,” “Avalon Blues,” “Let the Mermaids Flirt With Me,” “Got the Blues, Can’t Be Satisfied,” Honey, Right Away,” “Monday Morning Blues”) are the focal point of the album, but Ainslie also shines on Johnson’s “Love in Vain” and “Cross Road Blues,” Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and Davis’ “Sally Whiskey.” This is a must for fans of old-school blues. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Veteran outfit His Name Is Alive get ambitious on ‘Tecuciztecatl’

His Name Is Alive‘Tecuciztecatl’
His Name Is Alive (London London)
3.5 stars out of 5

So you say you’ve been longing for a psychedelic rock opera depicting an epic struggle between (possibly demonic) identical twins? Well, you’re in luck … thanks to veteran Michigan dream pop collective His Name Is Alive. The ambitious “Tecuciztecatl” is their latest project and makes for a compelling listen.

His Name Is Alive CDThe story begins with a young woman discovering during an ultrasound appointment that she’s pregnant with twins. Realizing something is wrong, she visits a local library for research — only to have the librarian inform her that one of the twins is demon child and offer instruction on how to kill the evil spawn. Sounds like an ideal release for Halloween week, right?

His Name Is Alive (vocalist/pianist Andrea Morici, guitarist Warren Defever, guitarist Dusty Jones and drummer J. Rowe) manage to tell the intricately dark tale over the course nine tracks and 44 minutes. Sprawling opener “The Examination” is a 13-minute tour de force, and HNIA also impress on “Reflect Yourself,” “I Believe Your Heart Is No Longer Inside This Room” and “African Violet Casts a Spell.” “Tecuciztecatl” is a record, that while quite good, is going to leave you pretty drained when it stops spinning. You’ve been warned. (Jeffrey Sisk)