The Blackbird Revue
Churchy McLachlanisms abound on Glow, the new four-song EP from husband-and-wife duo the Blackbird Revue. They establish the mood straightaway, on opener "When You Are Mine." Where you go, I will go/Where you lay your head, I'll be/Where you go, I will go/I am yours eternally, Jacob Prestidge sings, accompanied by some flavorless folk strums. Then Danielle Prestidge chimes in for a virginal verse of her own. This terrifying earnestness goes on for two and a half minutes, but in the song's last 30 seconds, we get a blasting guitar solo, suggesting that Blackbird Revue might have aspirations beyond coffeehouse fare. It's the same deal on "Winter Rest": three minutes of meadow wandering, and then some scorching guitar work to close it out. The Prestidges needn't play it so safe: More Ryan Adams, less 7th Heaven. Nobody wants to listen to music that reminds them of their parents' tender kisses.
Drew Black and Dirty Electric
Dead Kings & Queens
If you import Dead Kings & Queens, the debut EP from locals Drew Black and Dirty Electric, into iTunes, you'll find that the group has classified its genre as "Sexy Glam Rock." Need more reasons to ignore this band? Let's start with how singer Drew Black is channeling Ed Kowalczyk, from 1990s melodramatic rock band Live. Black never passes over an opportunity to imbue an ordinary word with false weight. As one small example among many, on "Saint Andrew" — a new contender for the worst song I have ever heard in my life — he pronounces "fire" like "fi-yahhh." Pretty cool, huh? On the title track, he slips into French; tries on a deep, Danzig-lite growl; and sings, quite seriously, the line There's an empire inside of her. I suppose these unfocused attempts at epic theatricality are why the group cites Bowie as an influence. But until Bowie goes through a butt-rock phase, let's just call Dead Kings & Queens what it really is: a record that has no reason to exist.
Phil Neal & the Wornalls
Phil Neal's résumé as a local pop songwriter dates back to 1979, when his band the Artists played shows with Kenny Loggins and later landed some brief MTV rotation. Nothing much came of the Artists, but Neal has been hobbying around with heartland rock in various bands — the Rockhills, the Phil Neal Band — in the years since. Like the Rockhills, his new outfit is named after some Brookside-area geography: Phil Neal & the Wornalls. Their recently released debut album, Lonely Tonight, is no great departure for Neal, just another friendly batch of rootsy power-pop songs. The clearest touchstone is probably the Jayhawks, who also like the way acoustic guitars, jangly electric guitars and vocal harmonies sound together. (Although, what kind of monster doesn't?) There's also a bit of pub rock in the proceedings (opener "Bad Boys") and a few unexpected instrumental flourishes (the pretty accordion on standout cut "In Your Car Tonight"). There's nothing remotely cool about Lonely Tonight — technically, it's dad rock — but that doesn't matter a whit. A nice, warm verse-chorus-verse has a way of transcending fashion.
(Golden Sound Records)
The one-dude-with-an-acoustic-guitar road is a tough one to hoe, and it's littered with the bad poetry and boring chord progressions of a million pseuds. On previous solo outings, Mat Shoare (who also fronts the bratty surf-rock group the Empty Spaces) worked this terrain, and the results were average in a sub-Saddle Creek kind of way. On Domestic Partnership, he has wisely opened up his sound. On opener "Patterns in the Sand," the acoustic guitar is supplemented by some piano chords and spectral backing vocals, which elevate the track from a folkie moper to something like Radiohead's "Karma Police." It bleeds into "Keeping Everyone Happy," a Kinks-like shuffler with some twangy electric-guitar fills; it's surely the best song that Shoare has penned to date. Elsewhere, on tracks like "Meadowlark" and "Put That in Your Pipe and Smoke It," there's a strong whiff of the nasal folk-pop of Fruit Bats. Domestic Partnership is a bit front-loaded — sad-white-boy fatigue sets in sometime around the sixth track — but on balance, it's a win for Shoare and a big step in the right direction.