1. Archie Powell & The Exports: “Great Ideas in Action”
(Good Land Records)
A CD’s title invites ridicule if the music doesn’t deliver the goods. Nothing to worry about here – Powell and his band crank out one rocking pop gem after another. For energetic power pop fans, your ship has come in with this gem.
2. Prima Donna: “Bless This Mess”
Green Day chose Prima Donna to open their shows on their Europe and Asia tours. That says something – but what speaks loudest is the music on the band’s third album. The CD brings together first-wave punk and glam rock influences and packs them within concise, boisterous and hyper-catchy tracks that will remind listeners how much fun no-frills, high-energy rock can be.
3. Kevin Bowe + The Okemah Prophets: “Natchez Trace”
(Okemah Prophets Records)
Bowe has written songs for Kenny Wayne Shepherd (“Riverside”), Etta James and Paul Westerberg, to name a few. “Natchez Trace” shows why he’s so much in demand. It touches on soul, country, pop, psychedelic and acoustic rock, suggesting Bowe should keep some of his tunes for his own albums more often.
4. The Mastersons: “Birds Fly South”
The husband-and-wife duo that is the Mastersons – Eleanor Whitmore and Chris Masterson – have been key members of Steve Earle’s latest backing group. They’re going to get noticed as major songwriting talents in their own right, though, with this auspicious debut, which often strikes a winning balance between country twang and tuneful rock.
5. The dB’s: “Falling Off the Sky”
This album brings back the original dB’s (featuring Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple) – one of the best pop bands of the ’80s. The band hasn’t lost its touch: “Falling Off the Sky” is a stirring reminder of the considerable talent the dB’s always possessed.
6. Claude Hay: “I Love Hate You”
Hay is literally a one-man band, playing all the instruments on his albums himself in the studio and on stage. This doesn’t stop him from creating a big bluesy rock sound – which is matched by some great stomping blues-rock on the title song and “Don’t Bring Me Down,” driving rock on “Good Times,” some thumping mountain soul on “Narrow Mind” and a whole lot more.
7. The Big Cats: “The Ancient Art of Leaving: Two Parts”
This band, based in Little Rock, Ark., has only made albums and performed live sporadically over its two-decade existence. This album, with its strong collection of classic guitar pop, makes one wish these Cats could record more often.
8. Kevin Gordon: “Gloryland”
The centerpiece of Gordon’s sixth album is “Colfax/Step In Time,” in which Gordon spins a vivid portrait of his days in seventh grade band, which becomes a chilling and ultimately triumphant look at race relations – all set to a tense, bluesy melody that segues into the rousing, gospel-accented “Step In Time.” The rest of this rootsy album is just as good, as Gordon once again shows he’s one of the most overlooked songwriter/artists in music.
9. The Dirty Guv’nahs: “Somewhere Beneath These Southern Skies”
This is about as old school as albums get these days. And that’s just fine, because The Dirty Guv’nahs have the songwriting chops and the passion to make any fan of soul-tinged guitar rock stand up and take notice.
10. 8MM: “Between the Devil and Two Black Hearts”
Usually, the track record for albums featuring artists from acting, dance and other disciplines is not great. But this duo, made up of producer/mixer Sean Beavan and his wife, “Stop Staring!” model Juliette Beavan, is the exception. Their fifth release shows an impressive command of both Americana and epic U2-ish rock.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Gregory Pepper and His Problems: “Crystal Skull Mountain” (Fake Four Inc.); Amy Cook: “Summer Skin” (Roothouse Records/Thirty Tigers); The Henry Clay People: “Twenty-five for the Rest of our Lives” (TBD Records); Sugar & The Hi-Lows: “Sugar & The Hi-Lows” (self-released); Amy Gore & Her Valentines: “In Love” (Space Lion Records); Hacienda: “Shakedown” (Collective Sounds); Jessie Baylin: “Little Spark” (Blonde Rat); Cosmo Jarvis: “Think Bigger” (25th Fame Productions/Middle Ground Records); Ty Segall: “Twins” (Drag City); and Waco Brothers & Paul Burch: “Great Chicago Fire” (Bloodshot).