The Able Heart/Self-released
As far as under the radar releases go, singer-songwriter Anna Gilbert’s is one of 2013’s best. The Able Heart is full of delightfully organic songs guided by Gilbert’s rich vocals telling a series of engaging tales. The minimalist opener “O, Freedom” sets the narrative tone for the album with a reflective lament about youthful faith and exuberance being crushed by outside influences, and the acoustic pop number “Lose My Love” captures the enduring power of love. And while the album generally takes a gentle, more contemplative tone, songs like “White Noise” stand out for their skyscraping, otherworldly atmospherics, shoegaze guitar solos, and lyrics about the small voice of God in the midst of life’s storms. Gilbert navigates her way through the album with the confidence of a seasoned veteran.
Cage the Elephant
Alternative rockers Cage the Elephant appear to be headed down the right path with a new album, Melophobia. Known for its energetic performances and raucous songs, the band has switched gears a bit. You won’t hear anything like the hit singles “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” or “Back Against the Wall,” but you will hear a band willing to boldly go in a new direction. Whether it is a glam rock track (“Black Widow”), Motown-meets-fuzzy guitars (“Spiderhead”), deeply introspective soul (“Telescope”), or a kooky rock stomper (“It’s Just Forever”), variety is the name of the game. When singer Matthew Shultz goes on a spoken-word rant about fighting for his creative soul (“Teeth”), you have to pay attention because it is so unexpected. Off-kilter saxophone solos and a guest vocal appearance by The Kill’s Alison Mosshart add to the album’s ambiance, and Shultz’s lyrical abilities have never been as strong as they are here.
The Devil Makes Three
I’m a Stranger Here/New West Records
The new record from The Devil Makes Three, I’m a Stranger Here, is a delight for fans of acoustic, roots-based Americana. The bluegrass-meets-country stomper “Stranger” is an energetic opening to the album, while “Dead Body Moving” is fiddle-driven and dance-friendly. Toss in a dash of down-tempo ragtime (“Forty Days”), a sarcastic riff on the classic Southern spiritual (“Hallelu”), and a slightly sinister folk/blues hybrid (“Hand Back Down”), and you get a sense of the band’s multi-dimensional skill.
The album flows lyrically across tracks about the plight of the poor (“Worse or Better”), finding respite where you can (“A Moment’s Rest”), and living on the edge while seemingly going at the speed of light (“Spinning Like a Top”). The drummerless trio does a good job of making the songs sound full and raucous, and as a result, I’m a Stranger Here is an interesting release.