Build Me Up from Bones/Universal
While listening to the third album from singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz, Build Me Up from Bones, it is hard to believe she is only 22 years old. The prodigious mandolin, banjo, and guitar player has a gorgeous voice, an uncommon way with words that is spellbinding, and she takes chances. The bluegrass and folk elements that marked her first two releases are still there, but added to the mix are groovy jazz (“Book of Right-On”), gritty rock ‘n’ roll (“Over the Edge”) and moody Americana (“Dark Road”). Jarosz showcases her broad vocal range with a subtle performance on the bluegrass-tinged title track, while her alluring siren song reels you in on “Mile on the Moon.” Jarosz’s penchant for weaving picturesque tales continues on “1000 Things” when she deftly personifies Fear and Youth as people from her recent past, and the romantic, mournful ballad “Gone Too Soon” is so convincing that you’ll think it’s about you.
Fight for My Soul/Concord
If you want some good gospel-flavored rock, then Fight for My Soul, the latest record from Jonny Lang—his first collection of new material since 2006’s Turn Around —is your cup of tea. From the raucous opener “Blew Up (The House)” to the R&B grooves on “What You’re Looking For,” from the funk-infused “Not Right” to the soulful “We are the Same,” this record feeds on passion, emotion and the artist’s commitment to the material. In addition to Lang’s skill as a guitarist, the album highlights his skill with a pen as well. Lang takes on everything from a relationship with a woman (“Breakin’ In”) to a relationship with God (“Fight for My Soul”), and the 32-year-old’s gravelly voice adds a wizened element to the album as a whole. Whether wailing vocally or letting his guitar do the job, Fight for My Soul is a reminder of Lang’s phenomenal talent.
VII is a solid return to form for the Portland, Oregon-based rock band after its lackluster previous release, American Goldwing. It’s almost as if the group looked at the criticisms of the last record, shrugged its shoulders, and just got back to doing what comes naturally. “Feel the Chill” and “Shine On” are somewhat off-kilter rock tracks in the vein of Eels, and singer Eric Earley sounds as confident as ever in the heartfelt (“Don’t Be a Stranger”) or when he is freestyle rapping like it’s a breeze in (“Oregon Geography). Rock tracks like “Thirsty Man” and “Valley of Death” score points for including fun elements like scratching, beats, organs, banjos, and distorted harmonicas. Earley’s lyrical prowess is on display and also comes out during rapid-fire raps in a record that feels more honest and true to the spirit of the band.