Famed Singer-Songwriters and Bands Showcased on New Collections  

by Robert Kinsler

New releases from top-tier artists James McMurtry, Blackberry Smoke, as well as an essential tribute to ’70s soul singer Betty Davis and an inspired tribute to English tunesmith Elvis Costello are worth discovering.

james-mcmurtry_complicated-gameArtist: James McMurtry
Title: Complicated Game (INGrooves/Fontana)
You might like if you enjoy: Warren Zevon, Leonard Cohen, John Mellencamp

Tell me more: Modern-day songwriting rarely is as powerful as that featured on “Complicated Game,” the latest album from James McMurtry and one that marks the Austin-based artist’s first new studio album in six years. In addition to creating songs built around involving stories (“Copper Canteen,” “You Got To Me,” “Long Island Sound”) elsewhere the talented singer-songwriter tackles love (“She Loves Me”), restlessness (“Ain’t Got a Place”) and broken dreams (“South Dakota”) with an artful candor that draws comparisons with greats such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Cockburn and Warren Zevon. Whether blending his rootsy Americana sonic stew with backdoor rap (“How’m I Gonna Find You Now”) or Delta blues (“Forgotten Coast”), McMurtry’s “Complicated Game” marks another step forward for the acclaimed Texas songwriter. Information: JamesMcMurtry.com.

blackberry-smoke_holding-all-the-rosesArtist: Blackberry Smoke
Title: Holding All The Roses (Rounder Records)
You might like if you enjoy: AC/DC, Zac Brown Band, Jason & The Scorchers

Tell me more: At first listen, Blackberry Smoke’s fourth studio disc “Holding All The Roses” plays like a thrilling cross between AC/DC and the Zac Brown Brown. Categorizing the Atlanta-based quintet’s sound on the Brendan O’Brien-produced album as strictly hard rock or alt country misses the mark. Blending hard riff rock (“Let Me Help You (Find the Door),” “Fire in the Hole”) and straightforward rockers (“Rock and Roll Again,” “Wish in One Hand”) with authentic country and bluegrass leanings (“Too High,” “Randolph County Farewell”) and CSNY-styled classic rock (“Woman in the Moon,” “No Way Back to Eden”), Blackberry Smoke ultimately defies easy categorization and blazes a sonorous trail of its own.  Information: rounder.com.

joe-bonamassa_betty-davis-songbook_ooh-yeaArtist: Mahalia Barnes & The Soul Mates featuring Joe Bonamassa
Title: Ooh Yea! The Betty Davis Songbook (J&R Adventures)
You might like if you enjoy: Betty Davis’ early 70s records, Tina Turner, Betty LaVette

Tell me more: The legacy of high-octane ’70s soul singer Betty Davis is in great hands thanks to the incredible just-released tribute “Ooh Yea! The Betty David Songbook” featuring Australian singer Mahalia Barnes and her band The Soul Mates. Joined by guitar virtuoso Joe Bonamassa for the special project, the collection is pure joy. From scorching soul rock (“If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up”) and uptempo funk (“He Was a Big Freak,” “Your Mama Wants You Back”) to soulful ballads (“In The Meantime” featuring an incredible Bonamassa guitar solo), Barnes’ potent soprano is showcased in its full glory while honoring the groundbreaking Davis (who retired from music making in 1979).  And as hard as it is to imagine, the album was recorded in only three days with Barnes singing her vocal tracks live. Information: Facebook.com/JRAdventures.

beyond-belief_a-tribute-to-elvis-costelloArtists: Rob Smith, Matthew Sweet, Popdudes, Walter Clevenger, honey chain, more
Title: Beyond Belief: A Tribute to Elvis Costello (SpyderPop Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Elvis Costello, Barry Holdship, sparkle*jets u.k.

Tell me more: The aptly-titled “Beyond Belief: A Tribute to Elvis Costello” is just that. A wide-ranging tribute to the legendary English singer-songwriter born Declan MacManus, the collection spans three audio discs and includes 50 amazing songs covering a variety of styles. The collection is justifiably heavy on Costello’s early New Wave-minded material (including The Rubinoos’ fiery take of “Pump It Up,” power-pop rocker Matthew Sweet’s introspective piano-anchored version of “Alison” and Walter Clevenger’s savage “Uncomplicated”), but also includes gems he co-wrote with Paul McCartney (David Myhr’s melody-drenched version of “Veronica” and a baroque pop-styled “So Like Candy” from Paul Myers) and Burt Bacharach (the masterwork “God Give Me Strength” lovingly interpreted by Mike Viola). Kudos to executive producers Olivia Frain and John M. Borack for putting it all together; 100 percent of proceeds from sales of “Beyond Belief” go to the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation to keep music alive in schools. Information: spyderpoprecords.com.

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