Dr. Dog

  • Be The Void
  • Anti

Dr. Dog’s music feels gritty and lived-in. It reflects the bustling streets of their hometown, Philadelphia, but also picks up the scent of the surrounding suburbs and countryside. It is equal parts urban decay and rural rust. Dr. Dog’s music is built on the bones of classic rock, particularly the psychedelic rock of the late 1960s, and carries hints of Americana folk and blues. Be the Void erupts like spontaneous combustion. The playing is raucous, with a vitality that feels cathartic. Scott McMicken and Toby Leahman trade-off lead vocals and harmonize in frenetic fashion. The production is expansive, allowing new band members Dimitri Manos and Eric Slick the room to amp up the role of guitar and percussion. (RMW)


Dr. John

  • Locked Down
  • Nonesuch

The life of Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John, is one of two personalities. Dr. John is Rebennack’s alter ego, the master of the music who is part hipster, part voodoo shaman. Rebennack is the survivor, a man who has faced drug addiction, broken relationships and the whims of the music business. Locked Down is an honest look at the dystopia of urban living from both a personal and political perspective. Rebennack’s songs capture life on society’s fringe, and he grows sentimental on songs about of his oft-neglected family. His music bubbles out of the melting pot of New Orleans genres. Jazz, funk, blues, rock and West African rhythms filter through swampy, reverb-soaked arrangements provided by Black Keys guitarist and producer Dan Auerbach. (RMW)


Alabama Shakes

  • Boys and Girls
  • ATO

Alabama Shakes’ debut is an exhilarating mix of soul, blues and garage rock, elevated by the extraordinary vocals of Brittany Howard. Boys and Girls reflects the band’s diverse musical influences—from Black Sabbath to Muscle Shoals. Powered by a swampy rhythm section and raw guitar licks, the songs are unfettered by production and packed with passion. Each member of the quartet knows when to hold back and when to plug into that extra volt of energy. But, it is Howard’s vocals that drive the music. She is the Mack Truck of singers. Even when she’s idling you sense the power of her voice. She coos, howls, and twists your heartstrings with her emotive phrasing. (RMW)


Jack White

  • Blunderbuss
  • Columbia

For a musician as accomplished as Jack White, it’s hard to believe that Blunderbuss is his first solo release. White has worn many hats: rock and roll front man (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs), producer (Loretta Lynn’s career-revitalizing Van Leer Rose), record-label and studio owner (Third Man Records). Blunderbuss combines these many talents and then some. “Sixteen Saltines” finds White embracing his White Stripes persona as he tears it up on the vocals and plays his signature shrieking guitar. Next, he’s embracing 1950’s doo-wop with his sassy cover of Little Willie John’s “I’m Shakin’.” Jack White displays his varietal prowess on his first solo album, proving he’s got the chops and hutzpah to carry it off. (CH)


Jimmy Cliff

  • Rebirth
  • UMe

Only two reggae artists have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff. Although instrumental in introducing reggae to the world, Cliff took a three decade detour into pop music. Rebirth finds Cliff returning to his roots to, as he puts it, “complete a chapter of my career that was incomplete.” Cliff’s voice is as strong and supple as ever. His songs resonate with personal and political perceptions that capture the complexities of modern life. Producer Tim Armstrong gathers a group of young admirers to work with the veteran. He captures Cliff’s vitality by recording live in studio with the band using vintage gear and the same recording techniques employed in 1967-68. (RMW)


The Shins

  • Port of Morrow
  • Aural Apothecary/Columbia

Port of Morrow, the first album from The Shins in five years, finds lead singer and songwriter James Mercer returning as the only original member of the band. He’s joined by a roster of high-profile musicians and several former Shins members. His main collaborator is producer Gregg Kurstin. Their musical template features multi-textured production, and songs that are more musically aggressive than past Shins offerings. Choreographed collisions of guitar, synthesizers and drum set the tempo; Mercer’s reedy tenor glides above. Intensely introspective lyrics that excavate the depths of angst have been Mercer’s forte, but that attitude proves to be the exception here. A new found sense of domesticity is the impetus for songs about commitment, love and the responsibility of newly minted fatherhood. (RMW)


Brandi Carlile

  • Bear Creek
  • Columbia

Brandi Carlile refers to Bear Creek as a milestone record. Working with long-time collaborators and trusted band mates, twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth, she’s crafted personal and powerful songs matched by organic production. Moods range from country rockers with ripping guitars, to Appalachian folk, to soulful ballads that bear witness to Carlile’s maturation as a writer. The album’s centerpiece, the stunning “That Wasn’t Me,” will resonate with anyone who has struggled to come to terms with youthful indiscretions. Few singers match Carlile’s emotional depth, the way her voice breaks and shatters in critical moments. Bear Creek tones down the drama and plays up the singer’s nuanced phrasing. Carlile has never written with such poignancy or sung with such refined intensity. (RMW)


The Black Keys

  • El Camino
  • Nonesuch

Following their critically acclaimed album Brothers, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney abandoned their Akron studios, heading to Nashville for a second date with producer Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse. El Camino is structured around the band’s signature garage rock, but with added dimensions and shifts in musical focus. Still core to the band’s sound is Auerbach’s fuzz guitar, reverb-enhanced vocals and Carney’s propulsive percussion. New to the repertoire is a menagerie of keyboards, odd instruments and backing singers. Reggae bass, surf guitar, even a touch of glam rock is built into the mix. The decibels count is amped up in comparison to the last release, with the band playing at full voltage. Burton gets co-writing credit, which might explain El Camino’s expanded sound. (RMW)


The Avett Brothers

  • The Carpenter
  • Universal Republic

The Carpenter finds The Avett Brothers taking the next step in their evolution. Scott and Seth Avett and bassist Bob Crawford show a new level of confidence in their songwriting, playing and arrangements, while exercising their primal musical instincts. The sound is tidy, with few ragged edges. Arrangements offer complexity with a variety of instrumentation. Keyboards, trumpet and strings expand their sonic spectrum, while the banjo, so prevalent in their music, occasionally jumps to the forefront. What makes this band so endearing is their ability to convey profound experiences in simple terms, making ordinary life seem extraordinary. Nearly half the songs on The Carpenter deal with mortality. And, despite heavy subject matter, The Avett Brothers remain positive. It’s their nature to handle adversity as just another part of the balancing act we call life, and their music reflects that. (RMW)