Ruthie Foster: The Truth According to Ruthie Foster

It takes stones the size of volleyballs to name an album by prefacing your own name with The Phenomenal, but that’s just what Ruthie Foster did with 2007’s The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster – and damn if she didn’t just about live up to her own advance billing. Now she’s back with The Truth According to Ruthie Foster, a set of songs just as authoritative as its title, and once again, Foster has given blues fans a hell of a feast. Truth was recorded at the legendary Ardent Studios, with Jim Dickinson behind the boards – and if that wasn’t enough, she cut the tracks with a backing band that included Robben Ford, Charles Hodges, and Dickinson himself. The end result is an album that comes as close to the old Memphis spirit as anything has this century, stacked with songs that run the gamut from fiery struts (“Stone Love”) to slow-burning strolls (“Nickel and a Nail”) – and makes room for a cover of Patty Griffin’s “When It Don’t Come Easy” in the bargain. None of these tracks will make you forget the classics they evoke, but they will make you feel like howling at the moon for awhile…or at least knocking back a few mint juleps. Sounds like honesty is still the best policy. (Blue Corn Music 2009)

Ruthie Foster MySpace page

Dylan Connor: Breakaway Republic

A Latin teacher turned indie pop road dog, Dylan Connor sounds like a vocal cross between David Mead and Guster’s Ryan Miller, and fans of both acts should find something to love in Connor’s latest release, Breakaway Republic. Eleven tracks of tightly written pop-rock with a classic feel and a dash of postmodern humor, Republic isn’t going to win any awards for flashiness, but it’s still probably one of the sturdier collections you’re liable to hear from an unsigned singer/songwriter this year, and it’s to Connor’s extreme credit that he manages to avoid focusing on the tried-and-true boy/girl dynamic for at least part of the album, spreading his focus to less-trod subject matter like bomb shelters (“Blood Like Fire”) and mortality (“Had a Little Dream”). It’s to Republic’s extreme credit, too, because when Connor does focus on relationships, the results can be a little weak. Case in point: “I Want Everybody to Know,” which tells the story of the night Connor set aside front-row passes at one of his gigs for a girl, only to watch her making out with another guy, and makes all three of them seem pretty shallow and annoying. Still, on balance, Republic is an easy listen, and even at his worst, Connor displays a tighter grasp of songcraft than your average guitarslinger. A worthy diversion for fans of the genre. (self-released 2008)

Dylan Connor MySpace page

Lisa Hannigan: Sea Sew

She rose to prominence as a member of Damien Rice’s band and she’s out touring with Jason Mraz right now, but don’t hold either of those things against Lisa Hannigan – her solo debut, Sea Sew, is far better than her most high-profile associations might lead you to expect. To be certain, Rice fans will find a lot to love here; many of the songs are built on the same delicate acoustic framework that caused such a swoon over O and, to a lesser extent, 9. But where Rice rarely seems interested in much besides plumbing the emotional depths, Hannigan provides a gentler, more tuneful gateway into the world of Nick Drake fetishists – and has the good sense to surround her songs with warmer, more colorful arrangements. The music is fine, but the real star of the show is Hannigan’s voice, which purrs and flutters across Sea Sew’s 10 tracks, lending a coiled sensuality to what could easily have been just another collection of introspective ballads for moody twentysomethings. Hannigan’s presence even lends weight to trifles like “Splishy Splashy,” and keeps the dirge-y stuff (“Courting Blues”) from taking itself too seriously – and when she hits on all cylinders, as on the ethereal, gently driving “I Don’t Know,” it’s awfully difficult not to get caught up in all the hype that’s surrounded her for the last few years. There’s a glut of this type of stuff right now, but Sea Sew proves that, when it’s done right, it can still pack a punch. An extremely polite punch, but still. (ATO 2009)

Lisa Hannigan MySpace page

In Endeavors: You’ve Got Your Friends, I’ve Got Mine

Coming off like the Strokes’ no-nonsense southern cousins, Lexington, Kentucky’s In Endeavors pretty much do nothing but rock out on their pointedly titled five-song EP. Fortunately though, singer Gerren Reach doesn’t drench his vocals in quite as much sonic gook as Julian Casablancas, allowing his own textures to take center stage. What’s more, when bassist Patrick Meyers’ and guitarist Cliff Meyers’ backing vocals respond to Reach’s calls on “Private Eye,” the result is a small dose of good-time rock n’ roll to diffuse some of the smug swagger native to the territory of coolness. But they turn in their most satisfying combination of the EP’s closer, “I Can’t Run” – rough backing harmonies combine with between-the-beat drumming and shaking tambourine in the chorus for a dynamic, single-worthy entry into the band’s discography. Pretty it up a bit in the studio for radio, and it could be a hit. (Eugene 2009)

In Endeavors MySpace page

Cameron Matthews: green. blue. white.

Twenty-year-old Cameron Matthews is not much for pop hooks, but he sure has a gift for understated lo-fi beauty, not to mention confident, uncluttered vocals. Playing less like an album and more like a collection of his 15 latest musical loves, green. blue. white. effortlessly glides from the ‘50s R&B style of “Today I Love You,” to a the domestic Dylan exercise “Bungalow,” to the humorously titled but no less seriously excellent “Give You Up For Lent,” and even that “through the telephone” spooky blues effect on “Make it Rain.” The album really starts to approach classic touches by the fifth song and never looks back, culminating in the 6/4 rocker “Mirror” that channels Jeff Buckley filtered through Joseph Arthur in a jam with his bandmates – bassist Patrick Crecelius, drummer Danny Sher and guitarist Nicholas Risler – that breathes with the kind of dynamics one expects from veteran professionals. This talented Midwestern kid sounds like he has an earth-shattering album slowly gestating inside of him, and if green. blue. white. is any indication, he’s well on his way there. The fact that he’s more of a natural singer than most indie rockers will surely work in his favor in the long run. (self-released 2008)

Cameron Matthews MySpace page

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