Archive for June, 2006

CD Reviews: Indie Round-Up for June 29 2006 – Adamson, Vecchione, Next Wave Compilation

Friday, June 30th, 2006

Barry Adamson, Stranger on the Sofa

What is this? How should I know? Why do I like it? I don’t know. It’s a mishmash of electronica, pop, experimental music and noise-rock, with a sensibility so tentacled and topsy-turvy that it feels unnecessary to worry about what to make of it.

Barry Adamson has been part of two very different bands: Magazine, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. There’s some of the latter on this record, not much of the former. “The Long Way Back Again” is a good pop song. “Officer Bentley’s Fairly Serious Dilemma” has one section that is also a good pop song but then it becomes a radio-communication thing and then a swollen funk jam. Later on the record there’s some stuff that makes me think of Eno and Weill. There’s also some stuff in French. The Bowie-esque “Theresa Green” is sweet sweet sweet. And the coolest thing of all? Hardly any of it is set to dance beats. (If I never hear another dance beat in my life…)

Every section has not just its own sound but its own groove. Noir moods, Euros, easy sounds, clanky sounds. Is that why I like it? What is it, actually? Who is this guy? And what’s this about working with Barry White a few years ago? That doesn’t make any sense. I like things that don’t make sense. This is a CD that I like. Do you like it? I like it.

Laura Vecchione, Deeper Waters

Laura Vecchione’s dark, throaty voice and biting harmonies are reminiscent of Stevie Nicks, while the thoughtful tone of many of her original songs suggests Rosanne Cash. But she also has a playful side, something that’s lacking in certain Nashville stars (hence the enormous popularity of the gimmicky but fun Big and Rich). That, combined with the high quality of her songs (eight of these ten are originals), makes this soul-splashed country-rock CD a winner.

The opening track, “Jane,” is a towering anthem of self-assertion in the best tradition of stand-tall country singles. “Fool’s Gold” is a minor-key haunter in the vein of Patty Loveless, with Vecchione wringing every possible drop of emotion out of the dusky lyrics. It’s also a good example of genre-crossing, reminding me as much of soul-rockers like Nicola as of traditional country singers like Loveless.

The lovely, unusually well-written ballads lean towards the pop end of the country spectrum, with the exception of “Breaking Heart in NYC,” a slow, sweet shuffle whose country-and-western swagger is lit up by an old-timey clarinet solo.

On the lighter, uptempo side, Vecchione’s cover of the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” bops nicely, and her rendition of Dr. John’s “Qualified” is inspired (actually, “kick-ass” is the technical term that comes to mind).

The CD is good enough that one is led to think carefully about whether Vecchione, a passionate and technically expert singer, has quite enough heft to her voice to rise to the top of country music. Her voice tugs at the heart, breaking, calling, and twanging, but is it rich enough? Is she fundamentally a country singer, or a roots-rock/pop singer like Melissa Etheridge or Sheryl Crow? At the top level of the recording industry, where standards and specifics are pretty unforgiving, these things tend to matter. Meanwhile, such questions aside, Vecchione is forging her own path to excellence.

Various Artists, Next Wave

Norine Braun solidifies her reputation as a tastemaker of distinction with her new Braun and Brains compilation, Next Wave. These twenty songs represent the cream of the crop from an enormous variety of styles. Braun’s own “Crystallize” is a scintillating, flute-laced pop bauble, so infectious even her mispronunciation of “mischievous” comes off as ingratiating. Other highlights of the CD’s glossy first half include Public Symphony’s subtle chamber pop “Rise & Shine,” Morgan’s creepy “Nice Day (For a Murder),” and Katrina Parker’s ballad “Killing Me,” which snakes jazzy singer-songwriter passion through a dramatic piano-pop arrangement. Greg Summerlin’s rather banal lyrics in “I Would Fight” are lifted by an aggressively sunny and charming arrangement of jangly guitars, and the track from David Z will please Madonna fans, as will Flow’s jerky blue-eyed hip-hop R&B.

The compilation’s first rock track is ecb‘s fine “Francis and Matilda,” which sounds like a collaboration between the Rolling Stones and ELO. Bulgaria’s Liliput Project checks in with a timeless-sounding trance-electronica piece, and then the CD’s biggest-name contributor, Marwood, shows why Benji Rogers’s voice and songwriting have made the band such a hit in the past year with the crystalline, acoustic guitar driven pop-rock of “Name To Me No More.”

“Prince Meets Paul Weller” is not a bad description of NYC native Raymond Fiore, whose John Popper-esque vocals elevate his compact soul-rocker “Spin the Wheel” into one of the compilation’s top tracks. “A Waste In Vain” by Sweden’s Celebrate the Sun has a catchy chorus, if garbled English, and then there’s a change in direction towards the rootsy with Tracy Stark’s torchy jazz ballad “Morning Light” and Minimal’s quirky, tuba and mandolin-driven “Crescent City” which sounds like it could almost have been a 1970s western TV show theme song. Indiegrrl founder Holly Figueroa’s unique, deceptively sharp-edged chamber-folk style is well represented by “How It Is.” Australia’s Hopkinson has done better than the vaguely pretty but ulimately limp “No. 5,” but Anthill has an engaging Canadian take on 1990s British pop, and guitarist Dave Hart’s impressive and moody “Mexican Sonata” really is in something approaching sonata form. Finally, Australian Megan Laurie checks in with a solid, straight-ahead country tune, “Light at the End of the Bottle.”

Few if any listeners will like every track on here, but you could do much worse than using Norine Braun as your funnel to top-notch pop of many styles.

Book Review: Hotel California: The True-life Adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and Their Many Friends

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Our love for music often extends beyond listening to it. We want to know about the people who write and sing the songs that bring us the most joy.

There’s no shortage of popular mythology – and hence books – about, for example, Haight-Ashbury, Woodstock, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead and all the drugs and music that helped define the hippie generation. Plenty of legends – and hence journalism – arose from the punk movement too. And Motown, the Beatles, Doo-Wop and jazz all have their devoted scribes and historians.

Enter British journalist Barney Hoskyns, the former editor of Mojo, to fill in a notable gap. What happened between Altamont and disco? How did David Geffen come tantalizingly close to his impossible dream of creating an “American Beatles” out of four bickering North Americans named Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young? How did the Eagles, with their perfect (too perfect?) symbiosis of country and rock, come to be the most popular band in America? How did Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and Little Feat fit in?

Do you care?

If you are among the millions to whom their music means something, there’s a good chance you do care, and Hoskyns’s book will interest you. A speedy, somewhat disorganized tour through the L.A. musical mileu circa 1966-75, Hotel California is loaded with interesting stories and observations about those and other artists along with the managers, label execs, and hangers-on who helped create the scene.

One of the book’s virtues is a taut style that conveys a lot of information in crisp bursts of prose. Equally important is Hoskyns’s extensive research, based on a huge trove of contemporary sources and a great many of his own new interviews.

The biggest lesson of the endeavor may be that this important music scene depended upon a successful symbiotic relationship between artists and producers (both the studio-engineering kind and the money kind), based on a mutual feel for music and for popular taste. For every ambitious (and by all accounts obnoxious) Stephen Stills, who created the seminal Buffalo Springfield, there had to be an A&R man like Warner-Reprise’s Lenny Waronker:

A native Angeleno, Waronker was… intrigued by a new strain in the L.A. sound: a countryish, back-to-the-roots feel heard in songs by the Byrds and other groups. “My goal was very simple,” he says. “It was to find a rock band that sounded like the Everly Brothers”… When [he] saw the Springfield live they were wearing cowboy hats, with Neil Young positioned to one side in a fringed Comanche shirt. He went beserk: “I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is it!‘”

“For the new back-to-the-earth minstrels – chilling out in split-level cabins with their cats and patched-denim jeans, penning soul-searching songs about themselves and each other – living in Bel Air and driving a Rolls-Royce simply wasn’t hip,” Hoskyns explains. Instead they congregated in woodsy Laurel Canyon, where Joni Mitchell and soon-to-be-legendary manager Elliot Roberts arrived in early 1968 “from New York, where the Greenwich Village folk scene was petering out before their very eyes.”

Certainly some qualities of that time and place nurtured a musical movement with an identifiable sound, but the book’s analysis can be a little confusing. If it was the time when the solo singer-songwriter came into his and her own, why were the Eagles the scene’s biggest commercial success story? Was the public really, already in 1968, worn out by loud rock, as Robert Shelton wrote in the New York Times and Hoskyns quotes with approval – had “the high-frequency rock’n'roar… reached its zenith”? The public seemed ready for smooth country-rock from James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Browne, but was that precisely the same public that had been grooving, as Happy Traum described it in Rolling Stone, to “psy-ky-delick acid rock and to the all-hell-has-broken-loose styles of Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin” (not to mention Jimi Hendrix, the Who, and the Rolling Stones)? The book doesn’t delve deep enough to answer questions like this.

Of course the age of loud music was anything but over. But although the book may overestimate the importance of the direction popular music took in Southern California in this period – as distinct from the popularity and intrinsic value of the music itself – it still draws an engaging and useful picture of that time and place, from the singer-songwriter-fueled genesis of country-rock to its burning out in a blaze of rock star excess in the mid-70s.

By necessity, given the amount of ground Hoskyns covers in a fairly short book, the portraits of the major players are sketchy, which can get frustrating. The outsize talents and personalities of people like David Crosby, Joni Mitchell, Lowell George, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, Gram Parsons and Don Henley are a big chunk of the story, yet they’re brought to life only with little anecdotes, quotes and scraps of detail. (Interestingly, David Geffen jumps off the page more vividly than do most of the artists.)

Fortunately, Hoskyns includes an extensive Suggested Reading section. Personally I recommend starting with Crosby’s autobiography, Long Time Gone – it’s a wonder that man is still alive. Meanwhile, for an overall picture of the scene, with some valuable if not definitive analysis, Hotel California is a useful source and an enjoyable read.

CD Reviews: Indie Round-Up for June 15 2006 – Chapin, Splitsense, Graffin, Apollo 13

Thursday, June 15th, 2006

Jen Chapin, Ready

Some artists, upon becoming parents, grow soft and precious in their work, but Jen Chapin remains a vital songwriter with a jazzy bite. Her new CD may be her best yet.

True, it has many quiet times and gentle sounds, and even a lullaby (“Skin”). And she addresses the “little man” in so many words more than once. But her slithery delivery, pop-inspired melodies and cutting lyrics turn even the homiest sentiment into art.

Nor has Chapin left behind her social and political consciousness. Pretty tunes and easy, jazz-soul arrangements (played by a very tasty small band that includes her husband, bassist and co-writer Stephan Crump) carry acidic observations about politics, ambition and lust. With a muted sonic palette the group paints a broad variety of pictures.

The mesmerizing “Goodbye” has an almost Brelian sadness, while the funky Rickie Lee Jones-like “Election Day” reflects Chapin’s longtime work with World Hunger Year (co-founded by her father, Harry Chapin): “We fuse all our illusions to these long lolling hours / To dreams of new sneakers and memories of funeral flowers / To each distracting handout and styrofoam meal / Leave chanting to the children a fury we conceal.”

“NYC,” reworked from the bass-and-voice version on 2002′s Open Wide, features Crump’s upright bass at its funkiest, while in the title track, a 1970s-style funk-soul groove blossoms into a spacious jam about new love.

There’s a lot to discover on this CD. Since it’s mostly on the quiet side, a couple of listens may be needed for full appreciation. But it repays the effort, plus interest.

Splitsense, Purify

This isn’t my mug of grog, but if you like supercharged headbanging alternative gloom metal, it might be yours. Splitsense is all about glowering moods and crunching guitars, not sensitive songwriting, and with lyrics like “These walls won’t last forever / Stale clouds of dust infect me” it’s just as well. That’s from the hookiest song, “As Far As I Can See.” Lead vocalist Jason’s hoarse yell is almost satanically strong, though it can soften into sensitivity, as in the ballad “Nigh,” for me the CD’s other highlight, whose melody uncharacteristically verges on the sweet. Mostly this music is a blast of adolescent anger at the world. “You’ll never break free / Of my disease / Scream / You can’t repent for all your / Sins.” “Don’t fall / Fall to your knees / Cause I can’t save you.” They’re right: Splitsense isn’t going to save the world, or anyone’s soul, or rock and roll for that matter. But they make a hell of a noise trying.

Extended samples here.

Greg Graffin, Cold As The Clay

Some fans of Bad Religion might be surprised that front man Greg Graffin is releasing an album consisting entirely of old-time American folk music and original songs inspired by it.

Some might not, though. The influential punk band’s erudite lyrics and masterful song structures contain enough clues that a variety of classic strains have informed its music. Now Graffin, one of Bad Religion’s principal songwriters (the new CD’s producer Brett Gurewitz is the other), has “set out to create a record that would honor the legacy of American music,” and he has succeeded.

Though his voice isn’t the most artful of instruments, Graffin’s love for the music shines through. He is backed on some songs by old-time musicians and on others by a rock band, but all are refreshingly under-rehearsed and heart-on-sleeve. The original songs bear Neil Young, Gram Parsons, and The Band influences, as Graffin himself points out in his liner notes – Stephen Carroll of the Weakerthans contributes a beautifully Youngian sound to “Don’t Be Afraid To Run” and “Rebel’s Goodbye” – but they also stand on their own. Among the traditionals, “The Highway” and “Talk About Suffering” (with Jolie Holland on harmony vocals) are especially touching.

Apollo 13, Lovebomb

Fusing pop, rock and electronica allows new bands to get away with old-fashioned (e.g. meaningful) songwriting without sounding dated or uncool. All sorts of comparisons come to mind listening to Apollo 13‘s new CD: Elvis Costello with a dance beat, Power Station, Cat Stevens, Deep Purple, even The Who (“Oh I can see for miles, but I still can’t find the end,” they croon in “No Sign of Land”). The band’s success on college-centric Purevolume.com and at getting video and game placements bears witness to its hipness.

The hard-rock screamer “The Bomb” leads into the smooth techno of “Interference,” followed by the melodic “Up Up & Away” which spreads 80s-style harmonies over a thumping dance beat. “Rollin’ On” takes on hard southern-rock, with Shannon Savoie’s amped-up tenor shredding the high notes. The slinky “Another Lovely Day” suggests Robert Palmer recorded underwater, “Grandiose Palaces” sounds like Queen meeting the Turtles, and there’s a bit of soul in “Landslide to Oblivion.” Yet there’s consistent melodic and lyric depth beefing up the clever creativity of the production.

Its songs interspersed with theatrical instrumental interludes, Lovebomb isn’t quite categorizable, yet it’s both modern and accessible. That’s a tough thing to pull off. These lines from “Rollin’ On” sum up Apollo 13′s union of the tried-and-true with the up-to-the-minute: “I’m a-rollin’ down this old highway / Gonna find me a brand new life / Well I’m a-rollin’ rollin’ on / Don’t bother checking your GPS system girl / ‘Cause I’m gone yeah.”

Available, with extended clips, here.

Theater Review: Masterpiece (a reading)

Wednesday, June 14th, 2006

Masterpiece, a previously “lost” work of the distinguished contemporary poet, playwright and critic MZ Ribalow, received a reading last night at the National Arts Club in New York City. Erudite and suspenseful, talky and moving, the play begs for a full production – with, one hopes, a cast as good as the foursome that read yesterday.

Based on the true story of Han van Meegeren, a Dutch painter who made a small fortune forging Vermeers in the 1930s and 40s, the plot is part The Sting - with a snooty art critic’s reputation as the mark instead of a crime boss’s money – part “The Gift of the Magi,” minus the gloom – and part thriller. The cast brought Ribalow’s dense and elevated language brightly to life.

Patricia Randell was silky and centered as the forger’s love interest and the story’s moral fulcrum; Dara Coleman, like a young Jeremy Irons, richly embodied the elegant despair of the overlooked Salieri-like near-genius; Tom Kleh’s notes of childish vanity as the duped critic rang unfailingly true; and Victor Slezak, given the best lines and playing them up with exquisite, dry-as-dust timing, nearly stole the show as the police inspector hot on the trail of one of history’s most successful, and seemingly most colorful, frauds.

The script deals easily with complex matters of philosophy and culture: what is authenticity? What is genius and what mere craft? What is the role of the critic? “I paint,” van Meegeren declares, “because to not paint makes me miserable.” There are no villains or heroes in Ribalow’s telling. He stabs at the artist’s as well as the critic’s pretentions: “Actual prison,” the acerbic detective tells the painter, “is not a metaphor to those in it.” The script is loaded with such pithiness, yet its characters touch the heart as powerfully as its language tickles the brain.

Seldom is a simple reading, with actors holding scripts and sitting in chairs, as engaging and entertaining. One wishes producer Pat Flicker Addiss (Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life; Little Women; Shout!) the very best in her efforts to get this wonderful work staged.

DVD Review: The Clarks, Still Live

Monday, June 12th, 2006

Two years ago I wrote about the latest studio album by Pittsburgh rockers the Clarks. Since then the band has appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, put out a greatest-hits collection, and now produced this fine live DVD (along with an accompanying audio CD).

The concert video displays the stage charisma, sharp songwriting, tight musicianship and sheer joy in making music that have made the Clarks a big regional hit for two decades. It may also contain some clues as to why success at the national level has largely eluded them.

The DVD includes 79 minutes of professionally recorded and produced concert footage of the Clarks performing a selection of their best material from their numerous CDs up to and including 2004′s Fast Moving Cars. The atmospherically lit multi-camera shoot captures plenty of different angles, band closeups, and shots of euphoric audience members singing along. The stage at Mr. Small’s Theatre in Millvale PA is small, but as the Clarks don’t jagger about the stage much it doesn’t matter.

Handsome, lanky lead singer Scott Blasey exudes confidence, yet strikes his rock-star poses with a shy smile as if he’s still amazed by the fact that he gets to do this for a living. Lead guitarist Rob James looks like he’s having the time of his life while displaying an easy mastery of all things six-string. Bassist Greg Joseph and drummer David Minarik crank out the rhythms so expertly you can sometimes forget they’re there, which is the highest praise for a rhythm section.

The foursome has undergone not a single personnel change since starting as a college band two decades ago. This consistency pays off in a seamless but big-hearted stage show. A must-have for Clarks fans, the DVD can also constitute a thorough introduction to the band for left- and right-coasters. And therein may lie the key to the mystery of why the Clarks are still regional. A thoroughbred rock band that consistently puts out catchy new songs, they are not edgy. They may be just a little too nice to conquer gnarly New York or blasé L.A.

They’ve had a lot of radio play in the Pittsburgh area, especially from their 2000 release Let It Go, and their best songs – “Maybe,” “Born Too Late,” “Shimmy Low,” “Train,” and their 9-11 tribute “Hey You” among others – are better-written than, and as radio-friendly as, much of what’s heard on modern rock and pop stations. But maybe their sound is too middle-America: too rocking to be power-pop, but too friendly to be “modern rock.” If so, it’s a shame, because – forgive the marketing-speak – few bands offer as complete a package as the Clarks do. (Personally, I’ve had it with edgy. Give me a good song over an intriguing attitude any day.)

The DVD also includes 25 minutes of interviews with the band members, giving insight into how they got started, what they’re like personally, and how they write their songs – nothing out of the ordinary, but nice to have if you’re a fan. On the technical side, the authoring is smooth, the editing and lighting are eye-catching, the sound quality is as good as one can expect from a live recording – which is pretty darn good, these days – and for eighteen songs plus interviews, the price is definitely right.

There is an audio CD available too, but it has fewer songs. For a pure audio experience, you’re better off with their best-of collection, Between Now and Then. But for Clarks fans, and for lovers of melodic rock and real, honest bands in general, I can recommend this DVD wholeheartedly.

Chertoff to City: Drop Dead

Thursday, June 1st, 2006

Chertoff to City: Drop Dead

Thunder and lightning are barrelling over New York City as I write – a fitting backdrop to the storm of criticism which has greeted the Department of Homeland Security‘s 40% cut in anti-terror funds to New York City and Washington DC, the victim cities of 9/11.

The Daily News on its front page has called for DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff’s resignation. According to Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, the Bush administration has “declared war on New York.” Michael Bloomberg, the city’s outspoken Republican mayor and a major Bush fundraiser, pointed out that “when you stop a terrorist, they have a map of New York City in their pocket. They don’t have a map of any of the other 45 places [on the DHS list].”

Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing New York Post called it “shocking” that “New York City will get its vital anti-terror funding chain-sawed from $208 million this year to $124 million next year – even though security experts agree it is vastly more threatened than any other city in the country.”

DHS claims that cities with “shoddy or poorly articulated plans” had their grants cut. In fact, according to 60 Minutes:

No American city has done more to defend itself against a terrorist attack than New York. Its police department, 37,000 strong and larger than the standing armies of 84 countries, has transformed itself from a traditional crime-fighting organization into one that places a strong emphasis on fighting terrorism. A thousand cops have been assigned to work exclusively on a new “terrorism beat.” And, in an unprecedented move, New York has even stationed its own cops overseas.

Police overtime and security equipment are equally important expenses for which federal help is needed, yet Homeland Security’s grants are intended to be used only for infrastructure. Yet even infrastructure takes years to develop. It can’t be planned and built when there’s extreme budget uncertainty.

To claim that New York’s anti-terrorism plan is “shoddy” is an insult to eight million Americans, and especially the NYPD that protects them.

Most absurd of all is DHS’s determination that New York has – get this – no national monuments or icons. (Word on the street is that Hillary Clinton is sending Chertoff postcards of NYC landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building.) It’s this claim that directly gives away the politics behind DHS’s new “formula.” New York City and Washington DC don’t vote for Bush, so he and his administration have no use for them, their monuments, or their people.

The Executive branch of the federal government is the entity that’s supposed to represent and protect all the people, not just certain constituents. Unfortunately it’s currently headed by a man who knows only politics, and isn’t even good at that. How can we be surprised when Bush’s cronies play politics with anti-terrorism money when their role model is a man who took over 50 years to learn that “in certain parts of the world” “tough talk” like “bring ‘em on” could be “misinterpreted”?

Chertoff needs to go, but so do Bush and Cheney – now, not in two and a half years.

CD Reviews: Indie Round-Up for June 1 2006 – Cass, McKean, Stigers

Thursday, June 1st, 2006

Jen Cass, Accidental Pilgrimage

The gentle folk-rock sound of Jen Cass‘s new CD makes an effective contrast with her sometimes pointed lyrics. It’s Cass’s most political album, containing several protest songs (one is about Phil Ochs) along with some new historical and slice-of-life sketches of the type she’s always been good at, and a few straight-ahead love songs. Not surprisingly, the latter are a little less interesting. But the CD as a whole casts a soft, steady spell under which the plainspoken lyrics can work subtle magic. “In every church another Pharisee / Tells us ‘We are right, they’re wrong / I give you sin and guilt / And Judgment Day, now let us pray, / And let us join the choir in song.’” Religous imagery is everywhere in these songs. In “Forever Damned” a young protagonist makes a bad choice in love and now must live with some unnamed but terrible consequence; yet she’s defiant: “Still…I’d choose the apple / Over every other taste / And I would savor that sweet freedom / Letting Eden go to waste.” It’s the neverending struggle between what feels right and what is right that gives Cass’s songs, even the gentlest of them, their power.

Finian McKean, Shades Are Drawn

Lo-fi urban folkie Finian McKean‘s new CD is a collection of fashionably gloomy but original-sounding songs. Like J. J. Cale he records his resigned vocals deep in the mix so you have to lean forward to listen. Beatle-esque melodies tickle the ear; sixties-style guitar rock energy (“black hole,” “small request”) leavens the sadness; and quirky writing (“little beggar,” “where no one wants me,” and an unnamed extra song at the end) helps make the whole claustrophobic enterprise fun. You can just imagine him holed up in Red Hook grousing about how no one comes to visit him because there’s no subway in the area, while mixing his rock, country and folk sounds into a gritty, citified stew. This forty-minute Brooklyn howl should put McKean and his musical neighborhood on the hipster map, if not the MTA’s.

Jake Stigers, Comin’ Back Again

This has been out for a couple of years now, but that’s a short time in indie terms, and a CD this good deserves time to build. In fact it’s a good example of why new, original artists need to go the indie route. With his pedigree (he’s popster-turned-jazzman Curtis‘s brother) and talent, Jake Stigers might be expected to have had a shot at a major label record deal. But, whether by necessity or choice, he’s gone the indie route and is probably better off for it. The CD has sold over 5,000 copies and carried Stigers through hundreds of tour dates. Based on mere four-digit sales it would have long since vanished from sight on a major label, and writers like me probably wouldn’t have heard of it, received review copies, and been able to recommend it.

I can’t give you much on Stigers’s bio or tour dates because his web site has an annoying Flash introduction that resizes my browser window. This is a big turn-off. Fortunately you don’t need the official website – you can listen to extended samples at CD Baby here.

The opening track, “Do You Feel High,” with its fuzzed out guitars, sounds a bit like a sped up Steve Miller song with an unexpected change in elevation during the chorus. “Another Negotiation” is a short and sweet high-energy rocker, with a strange, quiet little coda that leads into the Beatle-esque ballad “Only Wanna Be With You,” which is where the heart and soul of the album begins. “We Don’t Need Anybody” returns to the hard rock tip but in a soul-infused Southern rock vein, like Lynyrd Skynyrd filtered through Elton John. “Comin’ Back Again” features crying guitars, as in an Eric Clapton or Strawbs soft-rock ballad, cushioning another timeless-sounding melody.

“Marlena” is a highlight, a startlingly groovy neo-soul tune sung in a fluid falsetto, and the CD closes with “That Ain’t Livin’,” another hard driving southern-soul rocker. Stigers’s solid songwriting and his fine voice and band keep the whole thing on course. Musical comparisons aside, this CD is a whole lot of fun, and isn’t that the main point of rock anyway?

This seems to be my month to discover famous musicians’ brothers going successfully in different directions – in my last column I reviewed Zack Hexum’s new CD – but more importantly, it seems to be a year for good, well-written new pop and rock CDs. I don’t envy reviewers who have to cover major label releases in those genres. Right here is where it’s at.

OUT AND ABOUT: Mala Waldron appears live as part of my Soul of the Blues series in Brooklyn NY next Thursday, June 8, and Scott Weis performs at the next show, this one at Cornelia Street Cafe, NYC, on the 28th… Katell Keineg makes a couple of NYC and LA appearances this month. I plan to be at the NYC shows at Joe’s Pub on the 20th and the Living Room on the 30th. Come on out and introduce yourself. (Not while Katell’s playing, though, or I’ll punch you.) I’ll be the one with the beatific, rapt look. But come to think of it, that won’t work – everyone else in the audience will have the same glazed, worshipful expression. Anyway, look for a profile of Katell in the New York Times Magazine at the end of June.