Pinewood Smile is the four-piece supergroup’s biggest album in terms of raw sound and diversity of style. The electric guitars are as heavy hitting and prominent as ever, but Justin and Dan Hawkins execute some fantastic acoustic work toward the end. You can always hear what’s going on with the orchestration on the drums, and Rufus Tiger Taylor (son of Queen’s Roger Taylor) sounds perfect on every track.
“All the Pretty Girls” kicks the band’s fifth album right open with aggressively sexy guitar riffs reminiscent of Led Zeppelin and vocal harmonies that recall early Queen. The uptempo “Buccaneers of Hispaniola” is a fine example of how over-the-top the Darkness can be and how well they do it. “Solid Gold” is a hilariously self-aware title that has the most classic rock feel on the album, and the relaxed yet fast-paced chord progressions and melodic vocals of “Lay Down with Me, Barbara” had me playing the track repeatedly.
Pinewood Smile, like all of the Darkness’ albums, is a delightfully heavy yet lighthearted release that will be enjoyed by any rock ‘n roll enthusiast.
– Chris Leavenworth
Peter and the Wolf
Christmas is coming, and I have a six-year-old daughter, so I needed at least one recording of Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. This is performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic (Vasily Petrenko, conductor) and richly narrated by British comedian-actor Alexander Armstrong. Peter and the Wolf is the “symphonic fairy tale” of a boy who finds the courage to capture a wolf. Composed in 1936, it’s reportedly riddled with Stalin-era metaphor and propaganda. Maybe, but the use of various orchestral instruments to represent people and animals in the tale is also a great way for kids to learn to identify instruments.
– Bruce Collier
Blue Note All-Stars
Our Point of View
Lionel Loueke (guitar), Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Marcus Strickland (tenor sax), Kendrick Scott (drums), Robert Glasper (keyboards) and Derrick Hodge (bass) are Blue Note Records’ Blue Note All-Stars. Our Point of View begins with a look back at the glory days of jazz (“when songs were short and careers long”) and a challenge forward. The ensemble roster was picked to include innovators, and these guys have all been featured players on their own. There’s some hard bop here, some conjure-music and funk a la Miles Davis, bits of Monk, even some stuff that invokes Dave Douglas. You’re bound to like something.
– Bruce Collier
Brave New World
Combining ethereal post-rock sensibilities with post-hardcore vocals to create ambient rock, Pensacola’s Brave New World hits it out of the park with their debut EP. With swirling, airy guitar work and impassioned lyrics, the band forges an exceptional sound that manifests into a phenomenal three-song outing. Even if your tastes stay on the mainstream side, give these guys a spin. You won’t regret it.
– Nikki Hedrick
Johnny Hayes & the Loveseats
Hailing from Mobile, the band exudes southern charm. With a silky smooth voice and instruments that run the gamut from old-school keys and twangy acoustic guitars to New Orleans approved horns, Hayes puts all that southern rooted musical goodness into a giant blender for this full-length release. Whether it’s the bluesy barnburner “Sweet Salvation” or the R&B vibe of “Without a Woman,” Hayes’ voice is never far from center stage. And for very good reason.
– Nikki Hedrick
Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Díaz are French-Cuban twins who make eclectic, multilingual music together as Ibeyi. Their sophomore album Ash is a beautiful, complex work in which they grapple with emotional hardships and find catharsis in their process of writing painful memories into pleasurable music. The songs are visceral and captivating, from the way they reclaim the racist words that were spat at Lisa-Kaindé by a French policeman to their sampling of an empowering speech by Michelle Obama. The Díaz sisters offer ways of looking forward and finding power while still confronting intense political and personal realities.
– Jane Morgan
Take Me Apart
On her stunning debut album, Kelela lets us into her world. Her mix of pop persuasion with brooding, emotional R&B storytelling creates a space that feels like a constantly unfolding rumination on desire and intimacy. There is a refreshing level of directness in her blunt confrontations and frankness about her needs. Kelela doesn’t brush over anything over the span of these 52 minutes. She fully feels the darkness of a breakup, the freedom of autonomy, and the jittery joy of finding someone new. Take Me Apart is truly enthralling in its range.
– Jane Morgan
This is the Killers’ first studio album in five years. Lead singer Brandon Flowers says it was inspired, at least in part, by his wife’s struggle with PTSD. He points to “Rut,” the album’s third track, as a song that evolved as he watched her day-to-day struggle with depression. It sounds a little like what Flowers is describing—there’s nothing exciting about it. Other tracks benefit from livelier beats, like the title song and “The Man,” which is reminiscent of the Talking Heads. Another good one, “Some Kind of Love,” is slower and more poignant. Overall, a good album despite a couple ho-hum tracks.
– Joni Williams
Christian McBride Big Band
In 2011, bassist McBride first circled his big bandwagons for The Good Feeling. He got the band back together—20 musicians in all—for Bringin’ It. To give you an idea of the fatness quotient, there are four trumpets and five trombones, plus an uncountable corps of saxophones, reeds, a guitar, even one “girl singer” (hey, it’s a Big Band). The 11 tracks cover a wide range, and it’s not confined to swing. Highlights include “In the Wee Small Hours,” a Sinatra standard, getting personal attention from McBride, whose masterful bowing sounds a lot like Frank.
– Bruce Collier
Her haunting voice full of emotion, Tallahassee’s Morrison fearlessly crafts songs outside of conventional structure expectations. Each song feels more like a poem set to music. Complicated ideas and metaphors delicately drift behind her primary keyboard accompaniment. It’s a bold album, full of strength and sorrow, that takes the listener on a striking journey.
– Nikki Hedrick
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