Salad Boys to invade Pittsburgh’s Brillobox on Wednesday, Sept. 30 for VIA Fest

093015 Salad BoysNew Zealand outfit Salad Boys roll into Pittsburgh’s Brillobox on Wednesday, Sept. 30, as part of 2015 VIA Fest. The show is part of the band’s inaugural tour of the United States and figures to include plenty of tunes from their “Metalmania” debut album. Brillobox (www.brillobox.net) is located at 4104 Penn Ave. Ticket information and additional show details are available at www.via-2015.com or by calling 412-621-4900.

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Patty Griffin crafts yet another musical gem in ‘Servant of Love’

Patty Griffin‘Servant of Love’
Patty Griffin (self-released)
4 stars out of 5

Patty Griffin was a relatively later bloomer in the music world. Her first album, 1996’s “Living With Ghosts,” was released when she was 32 years old, but she’s not slowed down since. The Grammy-winning Maine native is back at it with 10th studio album “Servant of Love.”

Patty CDThe dynamite record follows her one-two 2013 punch of “American Kid” — my favorite Griffin release to date — and “Silver Bell,” a “lost” album recorded at the turn of the millennium only to be shelved for more than a decade. “Servant of Love” continues her career-long streak of first-rate records.

Griffin digs deep into folk and roots music on this 11-track release that draws inspiration from the transcendentalism of writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman. As such the same transmigrated soul seems to inhabit each of the characters I these songs. Pretty heady stuff, but fear not: the album is very accessible. In other words, you need not have read “Self-Reliance” or “Leaves of Grass” before giving it a spin.

The haunting title track launches the proceedings, and Griffin scores with “Good and Gone,” personal favorite “Hurt a Little While,” “Everything’s Changed,” “There Isn’t One Way,” “You Never Asked Me” and “Shine a Different Way.” Highly recommended. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Vet rockers Widespread Panic going strong with ‘Street Dogs’

Widespread‘Street Dogs’
Widespread Panic (Vanguard)
3.5 stars out of 5

I was a freshman at the University of Georgia when Athens band Widespread Panic dropped their remarkable debut album “Space Wrangler” in 1988. Almost 30 years later, Widespread Panic are still at it, fixtures on the jam band scene, and serving up sizzling 12th studio effort “Street Dogs.”

Widespread CDThe guys haven’t changed their formula much over the years — hey, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right? — and they serve up more of the same on this first-rate new record. There are plenty of blistering guitar riffs and lots of noodling on the 10-track, 59-minute slab. “Street Dogs” comes on the heels of 2012 release “Wood,” which was recorded live during Widespread Panic’s first-ever acoustic tour.

The band wastes little time jumping right into things with “Sell Sell,” and later score with the sprawling “Cease Fire,” “Angels Don’t Sing the Blues,” “Poorhouse of Positive Thinking,” “Welcome to My World” and dynamic set closer “Street Dogs for Breakfast.” Keep on keeping on, fellas. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Grace & Tony deliver another masterpiece in ‘Phantasmagoric’

Grace & Tony‘Phantasmagoric’
Grace & Tony (self-released)
4.5 stars out of 5

A couple years ago, husband-and-wife duo Grace & Tony blew me away with their “November” debut album. Their intoxicating mix of punk, folk, bluegrass and Texas swing — which they dubbed “punkgrass” — was just what the doctor ordered and I played that record pretty much non-stop for several months. Even now, “November” is a platter I revisit every couple weeks and I never get tired of listening to it.

Grace & Tony CDAnd though I’ve been eagerly awaiting album No. 2, I confess that a part of me wondered if Grace and Tony White would be able scale those heights again. Well, after about a dozen spins of sophomore set “Phantasmagoric” I’m happy to report that Grace & Tony have done it again. This 10-track release is every bit as good as its predecessor and cements the duo’s place on my shortlist of favorite artists.

“We wanted to make something truly different,” Tony says of the new release. “Something memorable. We really wanted to blaze trails — and make music that we would enjoy, with lots of layers, that would be as pleasing to the mind as it is to the ear.”

There are some sinister influences at work on “Phantasmagoric.” Lid-lifter “Adam of Labour” is told from the perspective of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster and “Lullaby of the Red Death” owes a debt of gratitude to Edgar Allan Poe. In “Invitation to an Autopsy,” Grace narrates the true story of two pre-Victorian era murderers who sold corpses for use in anatomy classes and “The Marsten Prologue” and “A Lot Dies Today” are based on the Stephen King novel “Salem’s Lot.”

Not every song on “Phantasmagoric” is morbid, however. Grace & Tony share their love story on the terrific “072713,” their wedding date, and that adds some needed light to the dark subject matter. I can’t wait to see what they come with next. (Jeffrey Sisk)

3hattrio create unique sound on ‘Dark Desert Night’ release

3hattrio‘Dark Desert Night’
3hattrio (Okehdokee)
3.5 stars out of 5

Roots outfit 3hattrio don’t lack for ambition. The Utah-based three-piece has drawn inspiration from the natural landscape to create what they call “American desert music.” That sound is on full display on 3hattrio’s latest full-length, the aptly-titled “Dark Desert Night,” a slow-burn album that might take a few spins to be fully appreciated.

3hattrio CD“We live in a place that has a great and lasting indigenous imprint on it,” Hal Cannon explains. “We don’t attempt to perform the music of the nomadic Native peoples who have lived here for centuries. We are modern day settlers in a place where settlement is not all that old.”

Cannon (vocals/banjo/guitar) is joined by Greg Istock bass/vocals) and Eli Wrankle (violin) on the 11-track platter that reveals a new layer every time a hear it. Among the highlights of “Dark Desert Night” are opener “Get Back Home,” “Carry Me Away,” personal favorite “Off the Map,” “Western City Nights” and “Sandstorm.” I’d say they’ve done the desert proud. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Randall Bramblett serves up rock-solid ‘Devil Music’ release

Randall Bramblett‘Devil Music’
Randall Bramblett (New West)
3.5 stars out of 5

The solo career of Georgia-born singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Randall Bramblett is broken down into two distinct phases. He emerged on the scene in the mid-1970s with a pair of underappreciated Southern rock albums (1975’s “That Other Mile” and 1976’s “Light of the Night”) before spending the next two decades as a member of jazz fusion outfit Sea Level and a touring member of the reunited Traffic.

Randall Bramblett CDBramblett returned to the studio as a solo performer in 1997 with “See Through Me” and he’s continued to deliver rock-solid albums every few years ever since. His latest effort “Devil Music” comes on the heels of 2013 gem “The Bright Spots” and finds Bramblett strutting his stuff on vocals, keys, Hammond organ and saxophone. The 11-track release gets boost from a pair of high-profile guest spots courtesy of guitarists Mark Knopfler (“Dead in the Water”) and Derek Trucks (“Angel Child”).

Additional keepers include the blistering title track, “Bottom of the Ocean,” “Whiskey Headed Woman,” the sultry “Ride” and “Thing for You.” If you haven’t yet discovered the music of Randall Bramblett, here’s the perfect opportunity to remedy that. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Lucero at the top of their game on sublime ‘All a Man Should Do’

Lucero's new album, All A Man Should Do, comes out Sept. 18.

‘All a Man Should Do’
Lucero (ATO)
4 stars out of 5

For whatever reason, and I’m conceding that the fault is most likely mine, it took me longer than you might expect to fully embrace the alternative country stylings of Memphis-based outfit Lucero. It wasn’t until 2006’s terrific “Rebels, Rogues ad Sworn Brothers” that I finally got what the fuss was all about. I’ve been an unabashed fan ever since — even finding a new appreciation for their earlier material — and was thrilled when latest studio effort “All a Man Should Do” landed on my desk.

Lucero CDComing three years after the jaw-droppingly good 2012 effort “Women & Work,” this 10-track, 43-minute release finds Lucero on top of their game. Frontman Ben Nichols has never been better a songwriter than he is here and the band sounds great behind him.

“I was 15 years old in 1989,” Nichols notes. “This record sounds like the record I wanted to make when I was 15. It just 25 years of mistakes to get it done.”

Lucero explode out of the gate with “Baby Don’t You Want Me,” “Went Looking for Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles” and “The Man I was,” and later score with “Can’t You Hear Them Howl,” “They Called Her Killer,” “Young Outlaws” and “My Girl and Me in ’93.” There’s even a nice cover of Big Star’s “I’m in Love With a Girl,” featuring backing vocals from Big Star’s Jody Stephens. I can ‘t recommend this one highly enough, y’all. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Nick Kinsey steps into the spotlight on stellar ‘My Loneliest Debut’

Kinsey‘My Loneliest Debut’
Kinsey (self-released)
4 stars out of 5

Nick Kinsey first came to my attention, albeit in a minor way, as a founding member/drummer of folk-rock collective Elvis Perkins in Dearland. Even while in Dearland, Kinsey spent time on other projects, playing drums for the likes of indie darlings AA Bondy and A.C. Newman. He later formed Diamond Doves with Dearland’s Brigham Brough and Wyndham Boylan-Garnett before striking out on his own as Kinsey.

Kinsey CDThat circuitous route has led him to his true calling. “My Loneliest Debut” is a spectacular first effort from Kinsey, who aside from bass work contributed by Dan Edinberg of The Step Kids, plays every instrument and sings every lyric on splendid 11-track release. Hopefully “My Loneliest Debut” is the first of many Kinsey records to come.

Things get off to a great start with the opening salvo of “Wide Awake” and “Dawn,” and Kinsey later scores with “Whipping Boy,” the title track, “Defender,” “I’m Home” and “Eat Your Heart.” A couple of years ago I’d have wagered that Kinsey’s future resided behind the drum kit with Elvis Perkins in Dearland. Now there’s no question in my mind that this guy’s a star in his own right. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Kim Simmonds & Savoy Brown play the blues on ‘Devil to Pay’

Savoy Brown‘The Devil to Pay’
Kim Simmonds & Savoy Brown (Ruf)
3.5 stars out of 5

Acclaimed British blues outfit Savoy Brown, led by talented guitarist Kim Simmonds, celebrate their 50th anniversary this year. With more than three dozen albums to their credit, the band could be forgiven for resting on their laurels — but Simmonds and Savoy Brown are back with a brand-new album in “The Devil to Pay.”

Savoy Brown CD“When I started this band back in 1965, the concept was to be a British version of a Chicago blues band,” Simmonds, 67, explains. “And the exciting thing now is that vision is still alive. Do I have anything left to prove? Perhaps not to other people, but to myself, yes. There’s always, inside of you, a song not written or a new guitar lick waiting to come out. I still have the drive I had when I was young, and that keeps the dream going.”

Band members have cycled through Savoy Brown over the years, with Simmonds the lone constant. The current incarnation includes bassist Pat DeSalvo and drummer Garnet Grim. It’s a potent lineup that shines throughout the 13-track, 58-minute release.

Smoldering opener “Ain’t Got Nobody” gets the party started, with Simmonds and Savoy Brown also flying high on “Grew Up in the Blues,” “When Love Goes Wrong,” the title track, “Stop Throwing Your Love Around,” “Got an Awful Feeling,” “I’ve Been Drinking” and Whiskey Headed Baby.” (Jeffrey Sisk)

The Claudettes expand to a trio for sophomore set ‘No Hotel’

The Claudettes‘No Hotel’
The Claudettes (Yellow Dog)
3.5 stars out of 5

Blues piano-and-drum duo The Claudettes, named after the Illinois bar owner who formed the group as her house band, made quite a splash a couple years ago with the release of debut album “Infernal Piano Plot … Hatched!” The instrumental slab was a showcase for the key-pounding wizardry of Johnny Iguana and the frenetic drumming of Michael Caskey. For album No. 2, the terrific “No Hotel,” The Claudettes have tweaked their sonic formula with the addition of 24-year-old Nigerian-American singer/dancer Yana.

The Claudettes CDThe 16-track platter is broken into three distinct parts. The first six cuts are instrumentals, culminating with “Yana Arrives (Theme).” The middle portion puts Yana front and center, delivering five songs sung in English and French. Then comes “Yana Departs (Theme)” and Iguana and Caskey close out the proceedings with another handful of first-rate instrumentals.

“Yana was a tenant in Claudette’s apartment building and Claudette thought she’d look good on our stage,’ Iguana says. “It felt to me like a Nico/Velvet Underground situation and Michael and I didn’t really want a model up there with us. But Yana turns out to be a fantastic dancer and even better singer, which I’m sure Claudette didn’t even realize. Yana is a Claudette now and she sounds so good on this album. People are gonna be talking about her.”

While I might have sprinkled the vocal tracks throughout the album rather than bunching them in the middle, you can’t argue with the results. Instrumentals “Big Easy Woman,” “Southbound Stroll,” “The Swinger” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business” sizzle, and Yana mesmerizes at the microphone on “She’s So Imaginary,” “Laisse Tomber Les Filles” and “Ne T’en Vas Pas.” Good stuff. (Jeffrey Sisk)