Earth Tones & Red/Self-released
This Southern California-based rock trio has released a gem of a debut. Mixing rock and pop together with the precision and skill of a veteran act, Wetwood Smokes makes quite a statement with this release. The swelling piano pop of “I Am the One” is college radio perfect, while “2am” is triumphant rock ‘n’ roll at its best. The sexy, mid-tempo piano pop track “Madeline,” is irresistible and the hypnotic rock strains of “A Better Man” make it a clap-and dance-along number. Josh Bowman proves himself to be a dynamic singer throughout, with raspy, sweet vocals leading the way, and the fact that these guys all switch instrument duties at random is a nice touch. They have an impressive knack for exploring relationship-centered material without devolving into clichés on this impressive first release.
Just a County Down/Self-released
Local singer-songwriter Jason Burke’s debut EP, Just a County Down, is a nifty collection of songs filled with charm and variety. You will be hard pressed not to enjoy the groovy country opener, “Stealin’,” in which Burke plays up the mischief, and on the stripped down title track he croons soulfully about a woman who clings to her roots and refuses to let the world change her. “Reflections” is an acoustic number that sets the mood for a tryst beneath the stars, and the funky closer “Monkey See, Monkey Do” is a delightful send-up of the classic Esphyr Slobodkina children’s book Caps for Sale. Burke stays within a comfortable if somewhat limited vocal range on these songs, but injects enough charisma into his performances to make a pleasant, cheerful album.
The Falling Birds
Native America EP/Self-released
Music is not a place to hold back. So if you have a strong set of cards to play, you may as well play them all. The Falling Birds does this on its debut EP by packing a lot of punch into five songs. There’s a balls-to-the-wall rocker “Darling” for starters, followed by a country bluegrass number “If Time Allows, before the ’60s-era surf rock track “Arms Wide Out” rolls in like a beautiful wave. “Dead Man Walking” is filled with fuzzy electric guitars, wailing riffs, and monstrous howls from Stephen Artemis, and the record subsides with an acoustic guitar and harmonica leading “New York Love Song.” There is an appealing fearlessness to the band’s presentation that fuels the energy up from the start and keeps it on high throughout this raw, gritty release.