Robbers on High Street
Do you ever wonder what Brendan Benson does when he isn’t being a raconteur? I happen to know. He does his awesome pop routine on tour with Robbers on High Street. Always one to pick great collaborators, Benson has picked some excellent tourmates.
Although not quite as crafty with their lyrics as Jack White’s right-hand man, the New York-based trio weaves adorable tunes that have much in the way of substance. Their second full-length record, Grand Animals, bubbles over with fun, summery music (make sure you check out “Crown Victoria”).
From the first tracks onward, you can be sure that the Robbers’ music is clearly most swayed by ’70s pop rock, but it’s easy to hear their modern influences as well (the Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, the White Stripes and maybe even a little Coldplay/Keane, just for good measure). It’s obvious to even the casual listener that the Robbers are borrowing from their contemporaries, but, more often than not, they take a leaf out of the books of others more than they directly emulate. If you liked “Take Me Out,” or even just Strokesian guitars, Grand Animals has your name written all over it. —Kirsten Schofield
Hide Your Heart in a Hive
Arkansas native James Apollo’s Hide Your Heart in a Hive is a sparse, chilling masterpiece of noir folk that sets a musical backdrop for the dusty, brooding images of the American West captured in “On the Road” and the works of John Steinbeck. Like those of his blues, folk and country influences, Apollo’s rasping voice bears witness to countless nights of bourbon, hand-rolled cigarettes and heartache, giving weight to his advice in “Don’t Hurt Yourself Baby,” and explaining the desolation suggested in “Where All Love’s Pilgrims Come.” The foreboding intro to “Bad Old Buzzard” is a thunderstorm brewing across the horizon, with the ensuing deluge dominated by the pulsing upright bass and gloomy reed organ. “Wicked Was the Way” features a sweet, beguiling melody and a theme apropos of Apollo’s old-timey, Americana predecessors — note the song’s title and the lead-in to the chorus: The Everlasting’s gaining fast/So baby don’t turn ’round. Overall, this haunting album depicts a harsher and more isolated era but does so with an unadorned tenderness that is without parallel. —Andrea Hunt
Plays Well With Others
Growing up in Nashville, I knew a lot of people who earned their keep as studio musicians. That basically means that they act as more or less independent agents, playing the violin or the harp or whatever else as a sort of guest star on the albums of others. They’re generally very talented musicians who don’t get enough attention in their own right. This is why it’s so refreshing to see Wayne Bergeron having his own success. He’s played his trumpet for everyone from Christina Aguilera to the Mars Volta to Barry Manilow. Highly sought after, his first attempt at making his own record, 2004’s You Call This a Living?, earned him a Grammy nomination. His second solo release, Plays Well With Others, is fun, jazzy swing that demands attention. This is not brunch jazz. This is animated, big band jazz. Plays Well With Others is a great combination of original works (“You Hid What In The Sousaphone?”) and American standards made anew (“You Go To My Head”). Although it is at times a little bit over the top, it’s a record that has something for jazz aficionados and pop lovers alike. —Kirsten Schofield