It’s been ages since I did one of these, and since my backlog has got out of hand, it’s time. As ever, each of these merits deeper discussion, investigation, discussion and appreciation. But 100 words is, I submit, better than nothing, especially if it leads you, gentle reader, toward one or more of those things.
Empire of Light – I Don’t Care Anymore
When this album showed up on my desk, I read the accompanying one-sheet and was immediately intrigued by an effusive quote from a critic. Then I read the credit on that quote: it was me! Happily, the qualities that impressed me when listening to 2019’s Let There be Light are present again on this new record. Here, Empire of Light conjures a country-flavored rock sound, but they do it in a way that sounds and feel fresh and new. It helps that the two guitarists (songwriter Peter Hutchison and Brian Wilkins) are superb players, backed by a rock-solid rhythm section.
Too Much Joy – All These Fucking Feelings
Too Much Joy had been making albums for years when I belatedly discovered the group for myself in 2021. Mistakes Were Made is, as I wrote then, a corker. They’re back now with this R-rated-titled collection of 13 songs, and the quality hasn’t flagged. The band’s deft mix of quirkiness and sterling melodic pop values serves them well. Clever lyrics that won’t insult the listener’s intelligence are part of Too Much Joy’s winning mix, and they deliver here; a wide range of emotions are explored. The band can jangle one minute, roar like Bob Mould the next, and back again.
The Well Wishers – Blue Sky Sun
The prolific Jeff Shelton is back for album #12 as The Well Wishers. His brand of hypermelodic rock is guaranteed to please those who appreciate sharp hooks and energetic, riffy powerpop. Shelton’s uncluttered and straightforward approach to arrangement places the songs in their best possible light. The guitars roar but never overwhelm the vocals. In recent years Shelton has expanded his catalog to encompass shoegaze and airy dream-pop (with excellent results, it should be noted), but powerpop is where he’s most at home. And that point is underscored by the consistently enjoyable Blue Sky Sun. Pick it up and dig.
Mud Morganfield – Portrait
If the name seems familiar, you’re on the right track Mud is the son of one McKinley Morganfield, better known as Muddy Waters. Morganifield carries on the legacy of the revered blues giant with his own work; his debut Fall Waters Fall was released in 2008. Portrait is a pleasingly varied set, with gospel-blues (“Praise Him”), vintage Chicago-style rollicking blues (“Short Dressed Woman”) and more. “Praise Him” is a brand new recording (with Mud on bass); all but one of the remaining tracks appeared previously as 2012’s Son of the Seventh Son, but remixing has improved them quite a bit.
Robeone – Dream Suite
Robeone is Robert Evan Schindler. All you’ll hear on Dream Suite is keyboards; lots and lots and lots of keyboards. Schindler is a gifted composer with a great sense of tone color; his use of myriad and countless synthesizer textures gives the six instrumental pieces variety, interest and heft. The centerpiece of the album is its title track, a twenty-plus minute work that (perhaps predictably) develops across multiple movements, each with its own distinct character. Some of the sounds are dated in a quirky, Moogtastic kind of way, but that’s surely by design. Dream Suite is a splendid aural experience.
More to come!