Eclectic duo The Blue Dolphins shine on ‘Walking in the Sun’ EP

The Blue Dolphins‘Walking in the Sun’
The Blue Dolphins (self-released)
3.5 stars out of 5

Rootsy duo The Blue Dolphins are based in Los Angeles but there’s an international flair to the music they make. Lead vocalist Victoria Scott hails from England, while guitarist Alfonso Rodenas, a two-time Grammy-winning sound engineer, calls Spain home. They twosome met at The Cat Club on L.A.’s Sunset Strip and the enjoyable new EP “Walking in the Sun” is their third collaboration.

The Blue Dolphins CDThe Blue Dolphins made their full-length debut with 2012’s “My Favorite Word” and followed that up with the “In Between” EP in 2013. This six-track release serves to whet the appetite for a new full-length scheduled to drop in the fall. There are elements of pop, rock, roots and folk on a 23-minute slab that figures to have pretty broad appeal.

The terrific title track opens the EP and is the clear-cut highlight of “Walking in the Sun.” The bouncy “Afraid of Moving On” is another winner, and The Blue Dolphins also score with “If I Could (Dreams)” and “Shelter Me.” The future if this band is as bright as their music. (Jeffrey Sisk)

The Railsplitters serve up twangy gem in ‘The Faster It Goes’

The Railsplitters‘The Faster It Goes’
The Railsplitters (self-released)
4 stars out of 5

Contemporary bluegrass doesn’t get much better than Colorado collective The Railsplitters, a dynamic five-member outfit that enthralled with their 2013 self-titled debut album and went on to claim Best New Band honors at the RockyGrass and Telluride bluegrass competitions. Happily, they’re back again with spectacular sophomore set “The Faster It Goes.”

The Railsplitters CDLauren Stovall (vocals/guitar), Dusty Rider (banjo/vocals), Christine King (fiddle/vocals), Peter Sharpe (mandolin/vocals) and Leslie Ziegler (bass/vocals) are collaborators in every sense of the word and that spirit permeates “The Faster It Goes.” Though Rider is the primary songwriter, all the principals contribute to the twang-filled, harmony-fueled sound.

You won’t find a clunker anywhere on the album, but The Railsplitters soar highest on “Salt Salt Sea,” “It’s a Little Late,” “The Estuary,” “Planted on the Ground,” “Goosetown” and a set closing cover of “Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes.” Enjoy, y’all. (Jeffrey Sisk)

‘Keepsakes of the Interior’ could push rockers Filligar over the top

Filligar‘Keepsakes of the Interior’
Filligar (Decade)
3.5 stars out of 5

Chicago-based indie rock outfit have been flirting with mainstream success for more than a decade and perhaps eighth studio effort “Keepsakes of the Interior” will be the record to push this talented four-piece over the top. Filligar were selected by the United States Department of State as cultural ambassadors and have toured the world representing American music through the Arts Envoy Program. Those experiences have influenced the music on his 11-track release.

Filligar CDFilligar are comprised of siblings Johnny Mathias (guitar), Pete Mathias (drums) and Teddy Mathias (bass), along with pal Casey Gibson (keyboards), and they’ve honed their chemistry over the years. Made up entirely of original tunes, “Keepsakes of the Interior” is a thoroughly enjoyable album that already has spawned a pair of terrific singles in opener “Motor Shines” and “White Light Rose.”

Other standouts include “Truth & Anger,” “Hurricane Entertainment,” “Riverblind,” “Established in Baltimore” and sprawling set closer “The Vandal & the Godsend.” If you have yet to experience Fillgar’s music, here’s a chance to remedy that. (Jeffrey Sisk)

The Textones albums ‘Midnight Mission’ and ‘Cedar Creek get reissue treatment from Omnivore

(Photo by Gary Nichamin)

(Photo by Gary Nichamin)

‘Midnight Mission’ & ‘Cedar Creek’
The Textones (Omnivore)
4.5 stars out of 5; 4 stars out of 5

Rootsy rockers The Textones are the victims of unfortunate timing. Their 1984 debut album “Midnight Mission” is an intoxicating mix of rock, power-pop and country, but never found the audience it deserved at the time. Their 1987 sophomore slab “Cedar Creek” is almost as good, but mainstream acclaim still eluded the Carla Olson-fronted outfit and The Textones called it quits after 1989’s underwhelming “Through the Canyon.”

The Textones CD 1“Were we ahead of our time or just didn’t get the breaks needed?” Olson wonders. “An artist never knows. What I do know is that when The Textones played together we created a musical fabric never far from our many influences and diverse backgrounds and that the connection we felt between us was one of the joy of entertaining and the hopefulness of our music.”

The Textones CD 2A new generation of listeners now has the opportunity to experience The Textones thanks to the folks at Omnivore. They’re offering up deluxe reissues of “Midnight Mission” and “Cedar Creek” that are definitely worth exploring.

“Midnight Mission” remains the jewel in the band’s crown. In addition to the 10-track original album — highlighted by “Standing in the Line,” “Number One Is to Survive,” the title track and Bob Dylan cover “Clean Cut Kid” — there are five bonus tracks. The live versions of “Running” and “No Love in You” are the ones you’ll remember.

The “Cedar Creek” has even more live stuff from The Textones. In addition to the original nine-track slab — topped by keepers “Every Angel in Heaven,” “One Love,” “Austin” and “You Can Run” — there’s an eight-song live set recorded in Santa Cruz, Calif. on Nov. 20, 1987. Check out the killer performances of “Gotta Get Back Home,” “No Love in You,” “Upset Me” and “Standing in the Line.” (Jeffrey Sisk)

Indie rock duo Frog deliver the goods on ‘Kind of Blah’ LP

FROG‘Kind of Blah’
Frog (Audio Antihero)
3.5 stars out of 5

Don’t feel bad if you haven’t yet heard of New York-based based indie rock duo Frog. Their 2013 self-titled debut EP failed to make much of an impact in the United States, though Scottish music blog GoldFlakePaint and British webzine Drowned in Sound heralded the album as one of the year’s best.

Frog CDFrog — Dan Bateman on guitar and vocals, Thomas White on drums — spent most of 2014 fine-tuning their sound with countless live performances and have seen fit to make their full-length debut with the rock-solid “Kind of Blah.” Recorded in an old bowling alley, the 11-track platter shows a great deal of promise.

Notes Bateman: “(The new record) was an attempt to engage modern musical ideas from a 1950s style of arrangement, and was a complete failure in that respect but a success in most others.”

Things get of to a so-so start with middling opener “All Dogs Go to Heaven,” but Frog soon find their stride with standouts like “F***king,” “Wish Upon a Bar,” personal favorite “Knocking on the Door,” “Catchyalater” and “Judy Garland.” Keep an eye on Bateman and White. (Jeffrey Sisk)

‘Songs of Aloha’ is a nice companion piece for new Cameron Crowe film

Aloha‘Songs of Aloha’
Various Artists (Madison Gate/Legacy)
3.5 stars out of 5

I’ve long been a big fan of writer/director Cameron Crowe. From “Say Anything…,” “Singles” and “Jerry Maguire” to “Almost Famous,” “Elizabethtown” and “We Bought a Zoo,” I enjoy Crowe’s movies a lot. The one exception is “Vanilla Sky,” which I found to be pretty much a mess, but six out of seven ain’t bad. And I have high hopes for latest effort “Aloha,” which hits theaters this week and stars Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, John Krasinski, Danny McBride, Alec Baldwin and Bill Murray.

Aloha CDCrowe has been almost as successful with the soundtracks albums for his films and the “Aloha” platter hit stores a few days in advance of the film in hopes of whetting the appetite. It’s an interesting record, but not the kind of home run I’ve come to expect from Crowe.

The first part of the 19-track, 80-minute slab is populated with Hawaiian music, highlighted by “Hanohano Hanalei” (Alfred K. Alohikea), “Alika” (Genoa Keawe) and “Ipo Lei Manu” (Cyril Pahinui). The rest is decidedly eclectic mix of artists, including songs by David Crosby (“Kids and Dogs”), Fleetwood Mac (“I Know I’m Not Wrong”), Kurt Vile (“Take My Advice”), The Tallest Man on Earth (“A Field of Birds”), Evening Hymns (“You and Jake”), Josh Ritter (“Come and Find Me”) and Beck (“Heart Is a Drum”). Give Crowe credit for not using the ukulele version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” a cool tune that’s been way overused. (Jeffrey Sisk)

The Shoe Birds pay allegiance to their Mississippi roots on debut album ‘Southern Gothic’

The Shoe Birds‘Southern Gothic’
The Shoe Birds (WaxSaw)
3 stars out of 5

Everything about pop/rock band The Shoe Birds screams of a steadfast allegiance to the Deep South, specifically the band’s home state of Mississippi. Co-founders Scott Coopwood and Norman Adcox met at Ole Miss and eventually named the band after a children’s story written by acclaimed author Eudora Welty, a native Mississippian.

The Shoe Birds CDThe music on The Shoe Birds’ debut album “Southern Gothic” is influenced by Southern culture and its rich literary heritage. The songs were written by Coopwood and Adcox between 1984-90 but languished on a shelf until recently. The Shoe Birds went into the studio and those dusty demos were brought to life.

“We stuck closely to the demos because we wanted to keep the spirit and sound of that era,” Coopwood says of the eight-track, 30-minute platter. “We didn’t want to beat the songs to death or ‘slick them up.’ We wanted to capture the raw emotions of each song. And we had a ‘two-take rule,’ meaning that we recorded all of the songs twice and chose the best take.”

The resulting album is solid, if not spectacular. “Southern Gothic” figures to be one of those records that are perfectly fun to listen to but not one you’ll remember once the record stops spinning. Highlights here include “Can’t Stop the Rain,” “Old Man,” personal favorite “Tell Me Mother” and “Rhythms of Love.” Enjoy, y’all. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Composer/pianist Rachel Grimes soars on ‘The Clearing’

Rachel Grimes‘The Clearing’
Rachel Grimes (Temporary Residence)
3.5 stars out of 5

While there’s no disputing the fact that Rachel Grimes is a remarkable pianist and a first-rate composer, be advised that you’ll need to be in the right frame of mind when spinning her latest solo album “The Clearing.” Grimes is best known for her work in chaber-rock ensemble Rachel’s and continues in that vein on the 11-track instrumental platter.

Rachel Grimes CDIt’s a lovely, but decidedly mellow gathering of tunes that won’t get your pulse racing. That said, it is possible to get swept away by Grimes and her talented cadre of accompanying musicians. Most impressive are saxophonist Jacob Duncan, who shines brightest on “The Herald” and “Further Foundation”; and violinist Adriane Tilanus, who helps Grimes make the eight-minute title track the highlight of the entire album

Grimes & Co. also soar on “In the Vapor With the Air Underneath,” “Transverse Plane Horizontal” and “The Air at Night.” “The Clearing” clocks in at a reasonable 42 minutes, but feels longer, and requires the listener to really invest in the compositions in order to get something out of the music. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Banditos knock it out of the park on their self-titled debut album

Banditos‘Banditos’
Banditos (Bloodshot)
4 stars out of 5

Banditos are the real deal. A roots-rock collective originally hailing from Alabama and now located in Nashville, this six-member ensemble knock it out of the park on their self-titled debut album. With an eclectic sound that incorporates everything from country, rock and soul to gospel, jazz and the blues, there’s a little something for every listener.

Banditos CDThe brainchild of co-founders Corey Parsons (guitar/vocals) and Stephen Pierce (banjo/vocals), the band’s secret weapon is vocalist Mary Beth Richardson, who earned her stripes performing in the church choir. When she belts out tunes such as personal favorite “Old Ways,” don’t be surprised to feel chills running down your spine. The rest of the Banditos include Jeffrey David Slater (guitar), Randy Taylor Wade (drums) and Jeffrey “Danny” Vines (bass).

There isn’t a bad song to be found on the 12-track, 48-minute slab, but pay special attention to “The Breeze,” “No Good,” “Still Sober (After All These Beers),” “Long Gone, Anyway,” “Blue Mosey #2” and “Preachin’ to the Choir.” Keep an eye on this bunch. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Little Wings continue career-long winning streak with ‘Explains’

Little Wings‘Explains’
Little Wings (Woodsist)
4 stars out of 5

Singer/songwriter Kyle Field performs under the Little Wings moniker, which is apt considering he’s flown along just under the radar for the better part of two decades. The sublime “Explains’ is the latest gem from Little Wings, who have more than a dozen (mostly) excellent albums and EPs to their name.

Little Wings CDField is a first-rate songwriter and the raw emotion and longing in his vocals help bring the tunes to life. “Explains” is one of the finer indie folk offerings of the year and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a misfire anywhere on the 11-track, 41-minute release.

From the opening strains of “By Now” clear through the final notes of set closer “Where,” Little Wings keep listeners enthralled. Along the way are keepers like “Fat Chance,” “Old Apocalypse Style,” “A Blade of Grass,” “Around This World” and “This Evening.” Field is a true master of lo-fi music making and “Explains,” like all his previous efforts, deserves to be heard by as many people as possible. (Jeffrey Sisk)