Kim Edwards impresses at every turn with ‘Lovers and Loners’

Kim Edwards‘Lovers and Loners’
Kim Edwards (self-released)
4 stars out of 5

Pennsylvania-based singer/songwriter Kim Edwards made a nice splash with her 2012 “Wanderlust” debut album, hitting No. 25 on the iTunes Top 200 chart, and builds on that solid foundation with terrific new EP “Lovers and Loners.” It chronicles the entirety of a relationship from the happy beginning to the rubble-strewn aftermath. Amazingly, Edwards insists the sequencing of “Lovers and Loners” was a happy accident.

Kim Edwards CD“To be totally honest, I never noticed until it was done how the track order contributes to the narrative,” Edwards says. “Truly, I didn’t consciously write the songs or sequence the record with any sort of theme in mind. It just kind of fell into place.”

Stellar opener “Love,” a duet with Cameron Ernst, is the ideal lid-lifter and Edwards also scores with “The Book of Love,” “Words,” the title track and “The Sweetest Sound.” Truth be told, there isn’t an out-and-out misfire on the six-track, 24-minute release.

“Life is filled with highs and lows and everything in between,” Edwards notes. “I think this record will speak to anyone, whether they’re a lover, a loner or somewhere in between.” Amen to that. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Downpilot return after four-year hiatus with ‘Radio Ghost’ LP

Downpilot‘Radio Ghost’
Downpilot (Tapete)
3.5 stars out of 5

Downpilot, the indie outfit spearheaded by Seattle-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Paul Hiraga, have been kicking around for the better part of two decades without ever cracking into the mainstream consciousness.

Downpilot CDVarious members have come and gone over the years, with Hiraga the lone constant, and he effectively turned Downpilot into a one-man show with the release of 2011 LP “New Great Lakes.” It was one of the band’s better efforts but it’s taken Hiraga four long years to return to the studio.

“I was not sure if would release another album, but these things cannot be buried,” Hiraga explains. “Time heals, experience colors the narrative, desire swells and wanes and resurges. There is always movement, away from the past with a heavy-heartedness, and towards something hopeful.”

Latest effort “Radio Ghost” is inspired in part by Hiraga’s father’s experiences in a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II. Recorded on vintage analogue equipment, with Hiraga playing almost every instrument himself, Downpilot deliver a winner. Among the standouts here are the title track, “Day of the Long Sun,” “Rosline,” “My Paper Son” and “Suzanne (The Silence).” Good stuff. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Columbia Legacy celebrates legendary crooner Johnny Mathis with ‘The Singles’ boxed set

Johnny Mathis‘The Singles’
Johnny Mathis (Columbia Legacy)
4.5 stars out of 5

Legendary crooner Johnny Mathis celebrates his 80th birthday today and the folk at Columbia Legacy are helping celebrate the milestone with the release of terrific new boxed set “The Singles.” This expansive set features 87 non-LP and compilation-only tracks spread over four discs, including 31 tunes never before available on CD.

Johnny Mathis CD“When over the course of a career you record as many songs as I have recorded, you tend to forget a few,” Mathis explains. “Revisiting this music was a complete surprise. I was thrilled beyond belief that some of the songs that I recorded specifically for single records, some of which had simply disappeared once they had been released, are now going to be heard again. It is my greatest hope that my fans will share my enthusiasm.”

Mathis was at his commercial peak between 1957 and 1963, with 18 tunes landing in the Top 40. Over the course of his long career, Mathis has earned 10 gold, four platinum and two multi-platinum albums. “The Singles” is a completist’s dream that should fill in any gaps in his discography.

His biggest hit, “Chances Are,” is here, as are classic cuts “It’s Not for Me to Say,” “The Twelfth of Never,” “No Love (But Your Love),” “Teacher, Teacher,” “My Love for You,” “What Will My Mary Say,” “Gina,” “Small World,” “A Certain Smile” and dozens more. At a whopping 260 total minutes, “The Singles” is all the Johnny Mathis anyone could ever need. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Fever the Ghost’s ‘Zirconium Meconium’ an acquired taste

Fever‘Zirconium Meconium’
Fever the Ghost (Complicated Game)
3.5 stars out of 5

The music of psych-pop newcomers Fever the Ghost is very much an acquired taste. So much so that after a couple spins of their “Zirconium Meconium” full-length debut, I was all but certain that this four-piece outfit was not for me. But a funny thing happened on my third trip through the trippy platter: I found myself getting hooked on the Los Angeles-based band’s infectious weirdness.

Fever CDFever the Ghost, who first popped up on my radar last year with their contribution to The Flaming Lips-spearheaded Beatles tribute record “With a Little Help From My Fwends,” describes the new record as a “collection of songs musically interpreting the third dimensional process from the perspective of vital force energy incarnating into physical world.” I have no idea what that means, but frontman Casper Indrizzo and his mates do a surprisingly effective job of making their quirkiness accessible.

The 12-track, 43-minute “Zirconium Meconium” gets off to a bizarre start with “Metempsychosis” and “Rounder II,” and the band hits their stride with “Hinterland,” “Surf’s Up! … Nevermind,” “1518,” “Sun Moth” and “Vervain (Dreams of an Old Wooden Cage).” Fever the Ghost won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but more adventurous listeners should seek them out. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Caustic Casanova crank up the volume on latest album ‘Breaks’

Caustic‘Breaks’
Caustic Casanova (Retro Futurist)
3.5 stars out of 5

If you like your music loud — and I’m talking the kind of loud that threatens to make yours ears bleed — you might want to consider giving “Breaks” a spin. That’s the latest full-length from high-decibel trio Caustic Casanova. It’s a high-octane gathering of seven sprawling tunes that find the band taking their music in a new direction.

Caustic CDNew guitarist Andrew Yonki joins original members Francis Beringer (lead vocals/bass) and Stefanie Zaenker (drums/vocals) and Caustic Casanova haven’t missed a beat. The songs on the 55-minute “Breaks” are abrasive and riff-heavy — filled with lots of distorted guitars, fuzzy bass and thunderous drumming — and should help the trio expand their fan base. Yonki in particular shines throughout the recording.

Opener “Thundersnow” sets the tone for what’s to come and Caustic Casanova later score with nine-minute opus “Elect My Best Friend for a Better World,” “Quezalteca Deathswitch Blues,” “The Forgiveness Machine” and 12-minute closer “The Painted Desert.” This is the kind of record that takes its toll on the listener, leaving you spent — but satisfied — after every spin. (Jeffrey Sisk)

The Dears make welcome return with ‘Times Infinity Volume One’

The Dears‘Times Infinity Volume One’
The Dears (Dangerbird)
4 stars out of 5

I’ve long contended that orchestral pop/rock collective The Dears are every bit as talented (if nowhere near as acclaimed) as fellow Montreal outfit Arcade Fire. Their 2011 gem “Degeneration Street” capped a string of three near-perfect albums (along with 2006’s “Gang of Losers” and 2008’s “Missiles”) and I felt The Dears were finally on the verge of mainstream success in America.

The Dears CDJust when things seemed to be taking off, however, The Dears went silent. Charismatic frontman Murray Lightburn released a solo record (2013’s “MASS:LIGHT”) but it took four long years for the band to follow up “Degeneration Street.” Newest platter “Times Infinity Volume One” marks a welcome return for The Dears and though it might be a notch below its predecessor, it’s still better than 90 percent of the records being released these days.

By the midpoint of opener “We Lost Everything” it’s clear that The Dears haven’t lost a step and the band continues to impress throughout the 10-track, 38-minute album. Additional highlights include “I Used to Pray for the Heavens to Fall,” “You Can’t Get Born Again,” “Here’s to the Death of All the Romance,” “Someday All This Will Be Yours” and “Hell Hath Frozen in Your Eyes.” Welcome back. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Lee Bains & The Glory Fires return to Pittsburgh’s Smiling Moose on Thursday, Oct. 1

(Photo by Wes Frazer)

(Photo by Wes Frazer)

Alabama rockers Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, who scored with sophomore full-length “Dereconstructed” last year, invade Pittsburgh’s Smiling Moose on Thursday, Oct. 1, at 10 p.m. Tickets for the over-21 show, which includes PUJOL, are $10. The Smiling Moose is located at 1306 E. Carson St. on the city’s South Side. Call 412-431-4668 or visit http://www.smiling-moose.com for additional information.

Jury remains out on Guides after hit-and-miss ‘Abstract Mind’ EP

Guides‘Abstract Mind’
Guides (self-released)
3 stars out of 5

Even after multiple spins of “Abstract Mind,” the new five-song EP from post-rock trio Guides, I’m still not quite sure what to make of the Los Angeles-based band. There are some terrific moments to be found on the 23-minute release, along with a couple of misfires, and the jury remains out on guitarist/vocalist Chris Cogswell, drummer Jayson Larson and bassist Be Hussey.

Guides CD“I wanted to write lyrics that went well with the expansive music we were making,” the ambitious Cogswell explains. “Including melody that is familiar … you know, the kind of melody that can only be heard while dreaming. That was my goal. It’s our way of saying, ‘This way, into the abstract mind.’”

Things get off to a solid start with “Abstract Head” (my favorite cut) and “Pictures on Pictures,” before Guides stumble a bit on middling entries “Long Face” and “Midas Eye.” The band closes things out with a flourish on “Get Conceptual” and the New Order cover “Leave Me Alone,” featuring the talented Kristeen Young. Hopefull they’ll build on the solid foundation their next time out. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Renaissance man David Berkeley sets sail in ‘Cardboard Boats’

David Berkeley‘Cardboard Boat’
David Berkeley (Straw Man)
4 stars out of 5

I first heard the wistful voice of singer/songwriter David Berkeley in 2009, when he contributed a song to the “Ciao My Shining Star” Mark Mulcahy tribute album. And I became a fan with the release of his 2011 album “Some Kind of Cure.” Berkeley, a true renaissance man and wrote an accompanying book of short stories with one tale for each of the record’s 13 tunes.

David Berkeley CDHe continues in the same vein on newest offering “Cardboard Boat.” It’s another melancholic — but quite ear-pleasing — collection of tunes and has an accompanying novella, “The Free Brontosaurus,” with 10 interwoven stories. I guess we should expect nothing less from a guy with a degree in literature from Harvard.

Berkeley is a gifted writer and he showcases those skills throughout the 10-track, 48-minute platter. The centerpiece of the album is the jaw-droppingly good title track, but he also delivers the goods on keepers “To the Sea,”, “Colored Birds,” “Hole in My Heart,” “Brighter Day” and “Dinosaur and Sages.” I’ve yet to read his short stories, but if they are anywhere close to as good as Berkeley’s music I’m sure to enjoy them. And I’m betting that you will, too. (Jeffrey Sisk)

The Pollies impress at every turn on newest platter ‘Not Here’

The Pollies‘Not Here’
The Pollies (Single Lock/Thirty Tigers)
4 stars out of 5

Jay Burgess-fronted band The Pollies emerged on the scene in 2012 with “Where the Lies Begin,” an album, I’m sorry to say, that never popped up on my radar. Fortunately, second full-length, the sublime “Not Here,” made its way across my desk and has been in steady rotation on my iPod for more than a month. There’s a Wilco-like vibe to the record — a touch of alt-country with a dose of experimental rock — and I’m guessing the Alabama-based outfit is even better in person.

The Pollies CD“When you write a song, you have a million different things you can do with that long,” Burgess explains. “On our records, we always try to shake up the landscape. On this one, we incorporated a lot of elements that we normally wouldn’t think about using. It changed the atmosphere of the music and pushed it in a different direction.”

The opening salvo of “Jackson” — based on slain Civil Rights activist Jimmie Lee Jackson — and “Lost” set the tone for the 10-track, 41-minute release and The Pollies also soar on standout cuts “Threw It All Away,” “My Darling,” “Games” and “Lonely Betty.” Do yourself a favor and get to know this talented outfit. (Jeffrey Sisk)