Johnny Marr, John Mellencamp and Nikki Lane thrill on their highly-anticipated returns, while a new tribute to Bruce Springsteen’s epic “Born in the U.S.A.” is essential listening for Americana and roots music lovers.
Tell me more: The breakaway modern rocker “Back in the Box” that opens “Playland” proves to be the mere beginning of the thrills that Johnny Marr has in store for listeners on his wonderful sophomore album. The legendary English guitarist (The Smiths, The The, Electronic, Modest Mouse) is on the top of his game here, with his mighty vocals and concise guitar work sharing top billing on one memorable track after another. The dreamy “Dynamo,” bewitching “Candidate” and aggressive “Boys Get Straight” (propelled by a rapid fire drum beat) are among the magnetic songs that sound great from the get-go and even better with each subsequent listen. Blessed with an ear for melody and an inventive spirit (just listen to the tuneful “The Trap” and evocative “This Tension”), Marr remains one of rock’s true masterminds. Information: johnny-marr.com.
Tell me more: With John Mellencamp having scored an artistic triumph with his 2010 album “No Better Than This,” fans of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer might have wondered where Mellencamp would turn next. The Indiana native answers that question clearly on the aptly-titled “Plain Spoken,” a mostly-dark look at life beyond the veneer of his successful 40-year career as a musician, actor and painter. Mellencamp, 62, sings with straightforward honesty about faith (“Sometimes There’s God”), divorce (“Tears in Vain”), loneliness (“The Isolation of Mister”) and political dishonesty (“Lawless Times”) against a sparse and acoustic sonic backdrop. Information: Mellencamp.com.
Artists: The Quaker City Night Hawks, Trampled by Turtles, Joe Pug, more
Title: Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Born in the U.S.A. (Lightning Rod Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp
Tell me more: Even Bruce Springsteen’s most forceful rock songs lend themselves to acoustic arrangements so it’s no wonder that 30 years after the release of his biggest commercial success, the Boss’ “Born in the U.S.A.” gets the full-on Americana treatment. Apache Relay’s introspective take on “Cover Me,” the Quaker City Night Hawks’ delightful Dr. John-flavored “Darlington County” and Joe Pug’s acoustic piano-anchored “Downbound Train” are early highlights on the 12-song set, while Holly Williams’ ravishing “No Surrender” and Trampled by Turtles’ joyous “I’m Goin’ Down” shine on the latter part of the disc. Information: LightningRodRecords.com.
Tell me more: Fans of authentic country have plenty of reason to celebrate nowadays with a burgeoning Americana and roots music movement shining a well-deserved light on a number of artists, including Southern California’s own Michael and the Lonesome Playboys and David Serby. While the majority of the leaders of the movement have been male, outlaw country singer Nikki Lane proves she is more than up to the challenge of staking a claim on the scene via her second full-length album “All or Nothin’.” The Nashville songstress brings a bona fide bite to her infectious material, whether singing about one-night stands (“Right Time,” “Sleep with a Stranger”) or heartache (“Want My Heart Back,” “Love’s On Fire”). Information: NikkiLane.com.
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