- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 14, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It’s hard to believe summertime is more or less at its halfway point, but that doesn’t mean your outdoorsy fun has to stop any time soon. And just as important as what you do with the warm months is the soundtrack you choose to back it up.

In that spirit, here is a crop of new CDs from artists established and up-and-coming to add to your summer playlist while picnicking, barbecuing, boating or just curling up in the shade with a beverage — spiked or virgin.

Zella Day

 “Kicker”

 Pinetop Records/Hollywood Records

Zella Day may well be on her way to joining the pantheon of powerhouse female singers like Adele and Grace Potter on this, her debut for Hollywood Records. While the album definitely feels overproduced — but then, what record doesn’t these days — Miss Day’s talents power through all of the studio layers on “Jerome,” “1965” and “Hypnotic.” “Mustang Kids” is a great jumping track, while “Compass” is a genuinely mesmerizing album-closer.

Melody Gardot

“Currency of Man”

Verve/Decca

The U.K.’s Melody Gardot returns with a new album, her fourth, of jazz-infused tracks that meditate on pain and hope. Miss Gardot could give Adele and Norah Jones a run for their money, particularly on the bluesy, mournful “Morning Sun,” “Don’t Talk,” “Once I Was Loved” and “If I Ever Recall Your Face,” an orchestral-backed dirge of lost love and missed opportunity that could be at home in a 1940s Hollywood lounge. The simpler, more straightforward vocal performances make up for the overproduced “It Gotta Come” and “Preacherman.”

Britain, please keep exporting this kind of talent and we promise to apologize for dumping that tea overboard — eventually.

Royal Psalms

“I Could Have Been Anything”

Rise Records

Royal Psalms of Brooklyn, New York, bring fresh energy to the Gotham soundscape on their debut EP for Rise. The fellas from the Outer Boroughs unveil a catchy sound somewhere between garage rock and the more contemplative — though no less hard-core — work of acts like Sparta. Keep your ears out for the multiemotional “Dig,” the introspective “Constants” and the complicatedly romantic “Slow Horse.”

Alectro

“School of Desire”

Bebop Records

Sandwiched between bad boy country, bluegrass and rock is Alectro, a new partnership between music vets Jeff Eyrich and Steve Kirkman. Every track is a winner, a pastiche of Western and Southern sounds that make one long for the simplicity of the road and a cold beer on a summer’s eve. Color us incredibly interested to see what this duo does next. Pay special attention to “The Debt,” “School of Desire” and “Take Me to the Highway.” As close to perfection as we’ve seen on a new album in ages.

Demons

“Great Dismal”

Spartan Records

A dark album that is far from dreary, “Great Dismal” isn’t quite as sinister as its name — or that of its creators — implies. “Lenora Slaughter” and “Godless Girls” provide artistically calibrated counterpoint thematically and sonically, while “Quietly Waiting” offers an unexpectedly subdued acoustic capper to the EP. “Radical Cure” and “Parallel Lines” are a bit overly one-note, but fortunately there’s enough here to merit a place on your digital playlist.

Mod Sun

“Look Up”

Rostrum Records

For something a little bit different, we recommend this debut LP from techno-rapper Mod Sun, a fun-filled album that melds hip-hop with electronica for a unique soundscape medley for groovin’ and chillin’. “Headed Home” and “Goddess” are funktastic jams, while “Mushrooms” provides a more mellow groove. “My Hippy” and “Modivation” are somewhat sonic missteps, but they’re counterbalanced by the verve of “Shoot ‘Em Down” and “Never Quit” reviving the party. While it feels a bit like a first effort, the talent shines through and promises a lengthy career.

Hilary Duff

“Breathe In. Breathe Out.”

RCA

No longer a teen sensation, Hilary Duff proves she’s all grown up in this release on RCA. Danceable tracks abound, including standouts “My Kind” and “One in a Million.” “Lies” offers a deeper look at a disintegrating relationship — nonetheless still upbeat — while “Arms Around a Memory” provides a foot-moving yet simultaneously mellow tune.

The overall feel of the disc is a bit monotonous in timbre — a bit of variety in tempo and mood would have helped — and overproduced, as if the creative team was afraid to let Miss Duff’s God-given talents shine ahead of, instead of behind, recording-studio tricks. However, Miss Duff shows that she and her production team still have what it takes to craft a solid sound.

R5

“Sometime Last Night”

Hollywood Records

Poppy fun abounds on the sophomore album from R5, which kicks off in fine style with “All Night” before segueing into some upbeat, if overly stylized, cuts like “Dark Side” and “Lightning Strikes” before finding a better pace with “Repeating Days” and “Smile.” Disc is a bit uneven, but its fun-loving highs outweigh its less-than-stellar lows.

Bea Miller

“Not an Apology”

Hollywood Records

Bea Miller makes her full-album debut for Hollywood Records with a disc full of synth-pop to groove to. While she unquestionably has talent, “Not an Apology” seems to hew to a recent trend for studio glitz rather than relying on the raw talent of the performer. While the danceable tracks are fine for background noise, the album is at its best when it tones down the studio magic to allow Miss Miller to take center stage, most notably on the powerful acoustic ballad “Force of Nature.”

Samantha Fish

“Wild Heart”

Ruf Records

The pride of Kansas City returns with rocking and contemplative cuts on this new album for Ruf Records. Countrytastic tracks like “Road Runner” and “Highway Holding Me” are counterbalanced by the reverential “Go Home.”

“Wild Heart” was recorded in Louisiana and Mississippi in accordance with Miss Fish’s love for the blues, yet oddly, the album is rather light on anything close to the classic blues sound — staying far more into country territory until “Jim Lee’s Blues” kicks in on a light though Delta-influenced twangfest. The album drags a bit in its latter half until the titular track brings it to a country close.

“Infinitely Polar Bear” Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Lakeshore Records

As backdrop for the sad yet poignant story of a bipolar father attempting to raise his girls, the soundtrack for the new film “Infinitely Polar Bear” delves deep into the 1970s background sound of its story’s Boston setting. George Harrison on “Run of the Mill,” Brenton Wood’s “The Oogum Boogum Song” and “A Fool in Love” from Ike and Tina Turner are just a few of the confections that will take viewers and listeners back to a different time. Pop hits are counterpointed with gospel and bluegrass tracks like “Your Long Journey” by The Doc Watson Family and “Down by the Riverside” from Snooks Eaglin. A few elegiac instrumental tracks written by film composer — and Washington native — Theodore Shapiro round out the album.

The “Infinitely Polar Bear” soundtrack shows yet again how film is as much about its sound as its story on this well-rounded effort.

Astorian Stigmata

“Bones and Memories”

Standby Records

Based on the name alone, one might be tempted to believe the sound of Astoria Stigmata would be a bit hard, but the Pennsylvania band manages to craft a punk sound that is oddly retrotastic and reminiscent of some New Wave acts like New Order at the same teim. Standouts include the titular track, the unexpectedly mellow “Midnight Forever,” the experimental “The Alchemist,” “Chemical Burns” and the acoustic “Death March.” Definitely an act to watch.


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