Michael Fracasso, Here Come the Savages. In my head, I’ve long maintained a list of artists whose lack of fame seems inexplicable to me, given the size of their talents. Austin, Texas-based Michael Fracasso has been high on this list since I first heard his A Pocketful of Rain album more than a decade ago. He writes wonderful, imaginative lyrics, has a gorgeous one-of-a-kind tenor, and delivers his folk-based music with enough pop sensibility to have been compared to the likes of Gene Pitney and the Everly Brothers.
Listen to this latest album and I suspect you’ll join me in wondering why Fracasso isn’t renowned. Its seven original tunes convey both beauty and pain (the latter an apparent reflection of the artist’s recent divorce), and the six inventive covers are as diverse as his influences. Among this latter group: a version of Brian Wilson and Tony Asher’s “Caroline, No” that conveys even more melancholy than the Beach Boys’ original; a great Beatlesque reading of the Rascals’ “How Can I Be Sure”; and “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory”—a breakup song if ever there was one—which was written by the New York Dolls’ Johnny Thunders. The album ends on a sanguine note with a fine, atypically rocking rendition of the Kinks’ “Better Days.”
Kyle Britton, Riddle. Much time and effort clearly went into the making of this sonically rich CD, whose intense, demanding music employs violins, horns, mandolin, dobro, organ, and accordion. Kyle Britton has a unique voice, both as a singer and a songwriter, and the best tracks here pay major dividends. Check out the emotional “Soundtrack” and the erotic “Taken,” a pair of beautifully crafted duets with Jewella Hepburn-Zaferes.
The Posies, Solid States. The Posies’ first album of new material since 2010’s Blood/Candy is a rhythmic and exhilarating alt-pop gem. The album relies heavily on electronics but never suffers from the sterility that sometimes hurts studio-reliant records. One reason is the lush harmony vocal work that adds warmth to every track; another is the melodic, well-hooked original material. The Beatles are clearly an influence: I’m reminded of such similarly addictive studio-enhanced masterpieces as Revolver’s “I’m Only Sleeping,” “She Said She Said,” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.” This stuff isn’t that potent, but it’s plenty good enough to keep me coming back for more.
The Hitman Blues Band, The World Moves On. Albums often lead off with their strongest suit, which is why I sometimes bail out if the first track doesn’t catch my attention. That would have been a mistake in this case, though. The CD opens with a competently performed but musically and lyrically clichéd blues rocker. But lead singer Russell “Hitman” Alexander’s personality starts to shine through on the infectious second track, “That’s What It’s Like to Be a Man,” and some of the later performances are even stronger. The best of the bunch is the horn-drenched “Jenny Goodbye,” a three-and-a-half-minute rave-up that profits from stinging guitar, a soulful vocal, and a party-ready baritone sax solo. If you’re not tapping your foot by the end of this number, check your pulse—you’re probably almost dead.