Dig These Discs :: Tim McGraw, Atlas Genius, Kwanza Jones, Gold Fields, Joan Armatrading
Turn your face to the sun, Diggers! We've got the wonders from Down Under when Aussie quartet Gold Fields and Aussie brothers Atlas Genius drop their debut albums. Stalwart country star Tim McGraw launches yet another instant classic, and classic folkie Joan Armatrading shows her moxie playing all the instruments and laying down vocals in "Starlight." Kwanzaa Jones puts some flavor in the mix with her new release of dance club and dubstep tracks. Can you Dig it?
"Black Sun" (Gold Fields)
Australian quintet Gold Fields is a glossy pop outfit whose music is studded with dark tribal percussives and two drum kits. With their new full-length debut album, they hope to make their mark on the U.S. market. A recent concert at New York’s Bowery Ballroom was streamed on MTV Hive, to great effect. And they will tour this spring from coast to coast, with a stop along the way at SXSW. Imagine them as a modern take on Duran Duran, with smaller hair. They launch into the fray with "Meet My Friends," which references the Police hit "Roxanne" midway, with the lyrics, "Diane, you don’t have to bare your breasts tonight, make plans and break them like it’s fair to run and hide." The percussion plays off the wordless vocal hooks to great effect. Their first single "Dark Again," is a pop beauty about pulling yourself out of a rut, with synth and rippling guitar building up to a momentum. They intro "Treehouse" with tribal rhythms before meshing into a poppy love song, singing, "we lost our way, we almost wound up in Tokyo, whose to say they would’ve found us anyway?" "The Woods" seizes on this same vibe, with the lyrics, "Somewhere in the woods I lost my shoes/ so I walked through thorns to get back to you." The track is loaded with percussives coming from not only the double set of drums, but also the boys beating on old chairs and discarded lumber. A deep disco sound rings through on "Happy Boy," with a swishing high-hat punctuating the chorus, as singer Mark Fuller chants, "I’m going to be happy." Look for this one at the clubs. "Thunder" is another catchy dance track that finds Fuller’s voice shining through high and light over toe-tapping instrumentals before ending with a banging drum solo. A throbbing electronica beat is the thing on the dark track "Ice," with haunting, whispered vocals. They go back to a soft pop sound in the catchy, sad anti-love song, "Closest I Could Get." The electro-pop vibes run through "Moves," a fast-moving song about riding in an ambulance with a girl named Ashley, who broke her arm, and the sad, "You’re Still Gone." A dark plodding vibe dominates "Anxiety," with Fuller singing, "I don’t think I’ve ever loved someone more than being on my own." Gold Fields tracks strike the perfect balance of highs and lows, each one simultaneously a celebration and a heartache. Although they are just starting out, Gold Fields seem to have put in some time working out the kinks on their debut album, to present a polished collection of 11 tunes, each very different, but all very much their own.
"When It Was Now" (Atlas Genius)
Adelaide, Australia’s Atlas Genius is a family affair, with brothers Keith Jeffery on vocal and guitar, Michael Jeffery on drums and Steven Jeffrey on bass, with keyboards by Darren Sell. Their first single "Trojans" dropped in May 2011, and peaked at Number 4 on the Billboard charts. It is a catchy pop song that plays with themes of regret, as Jeffrey sings, "Write a song, make a note for the lump that sits inside your throat/ Change the locks, change the scene, change it all but can’t change what we’ve been." The band’s official debut album "When It Was Now" seeks to validate their effort, three years prior, to build their own home recording studio in an effort to hone their sound. The band tracks heavily to the classic sounds of bands like The Police and the Rolling Stones, whom they count among their influences. Fast-moving guitar rocks songs like "Symptoms," as Jeffrey moves vocals up and down the scales to infectious result. There is something familiar and easily likeable about this outfit, with it’s thrumming guitars and pounding bass. The electro vibe in the aptly-named "Electric" and the bouncy "On a Day" evokes memories of old Men At Work songs, as if a Vegimite sandwich will be handed down at any moment. And a Coldplay sound comes through in the metered hit, "If So." Among the best tracks are "Back Seat," which could easily find its way to radio play before long. A likeable emo sound dominates the moody "Centered On You," and "Don’t Make A Scene," with the lyrics, "I don’t feel like myself, there, she’s falling down don’t make a scene, don’t make a sound." Love gained and lost is the thing in "All These Girls" and "When It Was Now." This band of brothers from Down Under is set to turn the music scene upside down.
(Warner Bros. Records)
"Two Lanes of Freedom" (Tim McGraw)
Country star Tim McGraw, married to singer Faith Hill, is currently the third best-selling country singer in the nation, with 11 consecutive albums debuting at Number One on the Billboard charts. And his debut album with Big Machine Records, "Two Lanes of Freedom," appears to be moving in the same direction. His easy acoustic guitar riffs and modern country sound are easy to enjoy. "Two hearts, two bucket seats, too much sun not to wear shades/Boot to the pedal and pedal to the metal are the reasons this road was paved," sings McGraw in the title track. He covers the classic country touchstones of beautiful girls, heartbreak, pickup trucks, roadside hotels, God and the open road. In this collection of 11 new songs, McGraw visits these themes without pretense. In "One of Those Nights," he gives a blow-by-blow of an unforgettable date with a beautiful girl. Despite the fact that he is probably richer than God, McGraw sings of backyard parties and looking up at the moon through a crack in the windshield, bringing these tales of valor within reach of the everyman. He’s not popping bottles of Cristal in the VIP section; he’s a regular guy in a pickup truck, just like you. And like you, he experiences love and loss. In "Friend of a Friend," he reminisces about an old girlfriend now teaching yoga and seriously involved with another man. It’s like a country version of 10CC’s hit "I’m Not in Love," with McGraw singing, "no matter what they say, it’s just not true, I don’t spend all my days and all my nights just missing you." McGraw gives The Beach Boys "California Girls" a run for its money in "Southern Girls," giving due respect to New York and Chicago before bestowing his heart on those "kisses sweeter than Tupelo honey, little bit crazy like New Orleans, Memphis blues and Daytona sunny, soft as cotton in some cutoff jeans/ don’t you know ain’t nothing in the whole wide world like a Southern girl." Unafraid to stray into new technology, he even includes an auto tune reverb refrain. Look for this tune to rock the two-stepping hotspots in your town, come summer. And speaking of rocking, McGraw puts out all the stops in the rocking, "Truck Yeah," a new redneck anthem. He rolls back the honky-tonk sound in "Nashville Without You," envisioning the cradle of country music as "just another river town" without her blue eyes. He leafs through the memories in the heartfelt "Book of John," and tickles the funny bone in "Mexicoma," singing, "I’m sitting here stoned at Tortilla Joe’s and nobody knows my name and that’s alright with me/She said adios, so I said hello Don Julio, top shelf self-help remedy." He even dabbles into prison life in "Number 37405," the story of a man locked up after an accident while driving drunk. McGraw teams up with Taylor Swift in "Highway Don’t Care," a song about a girl driving through heartbreak, listening to the radio. McGraw is an affable character, with a streak of bad boy that makes him even more endearing. During a recent appearance on late-night talk show "Chelsea Lately," McGraw was quick with the saucy banter, not afraid to match Chelsea Handler’s lighting-fast patter. He has experience in front of the camera before, starring with Sandra Bullock in "The Blind Side," and taking on lead roles in "The Kingdom," "Four Christmases" and "Country Strong."
(Big Machine Records)
"Supercharged" (Kwanzaa Jones)
Pop singer Kwanzaa Jones has a long history with music, from playing flute, violin and piano to singing in the church choir. It all comes into play with the release of her third studio album, "Supercharged." The album features sounds from electro house to tribal, with great dance tracks from her explosive title single. This slightly nutty "Supercharged" has Jones singing, "I’m a gladiator in a thong," and touting herself as "my own special brand." Her electro dance track "Vicious" has Jones set off like a bomb, telling a lazy lover, "Club really bumpin’ but you wastin’ my time/ Better make a move, or lose your place in line." Big Rush, Ray Sytes and Denace add a fast-paced rap break to this track. Jones takes a tip from Madonna’s MDNA in her cheerleading-style track "T-E-A-C-H-E-R," singing, "I’ll make you earn my grade...you can be my pet." The song is more campy than catchy. She fares better with "Shatterproof," a drama-laden club song about rising up out of the smoke of heartbreak, singing, "Hearts bleed but they never break." The classic clap-track sound found on the dancefloors in gay nightclubs in the ’90s intros "#StopHate," an ode to standing up to hatred, homophobia and bigotry, with a shout out to RuPaul. And "Clockwork" makes the most of an electro beat to raise the call for all to hit the dance floor, on the regular. Sytes chimes in with another trademark rap break here. The track "Think Again" melds electro with dubstep, underscored by Jones’ message to "go on stop playin’/ I’m not your toy now." Among the best tracks is "Time to Go," a fast-moving dance track with dubstep flourishes, and tight vocals. "Turn It Up" features a great bass drop, and "Flawless" finds her flaunting her swag, with a nod to Lady Gaga. Jones has a definite style and her tunes all deal heavily with making the most of romance and nightlife. Her lyrics are far from profound, but her beats are sure to grace dance floors in clubs across the nation.
"Starlight" (Joan Armatrading)
British singer/songwriter and guitarist Joan Armatrading has long been a darling of the lesbian community, and with her new album "Starlight," she shows she’s still got it. Taking a turn on the bass, she proves her chops with jazz grooves like the scat-influenced "Single Life" and "Close to Me." Armatrading made her name with folksy confessional tunes like "Willow." This album goes back to those roots, showcases the spine-tingling highs and grotty lows of her voice in tunes like "Tell Me" and "I Want That Love." This skilled songwriter plays every instrument on the album, but rather than feeling like a collection of sounds, the effect is more like a night at a neighborhood jazz lounge. Armatrading has always had the ability to tap into the hopes and dreams that reside in our deepest psyche; with "Starlight," she weaves more of this magic. Her voice is fine and high in her first track, "Single Life," woven into the fabric of the deep bass and electric guitar flourishes. Her married friends make much of her bachelor status but don’t see the whole picture. Armatrading sings, "They want my life, they call me a crafty little devil, they think I’ve got it made, that my streets are paved in gold and I bathe in sunrays every day." A rapid-fire scat break follows. Piano and a high-hat give a gorgeous cabaret jazz feel to her track, "Close To Me," a soft-spoken love song that has her admitting that while it’s the not the first time she’s been kissed, she’s "never been kissed like this before." "Tell Me," is a discordant track with sad bass chops that slide up and down. It reaches back to her older work; Armatrading is an artist not hedged in by what others feel is "appropriate." She is above all true to her own vision. "Back on Track" is perhaps the most pop of her offerings, albeit with the folksy message of calling on Mother Nature for help out of a betrayal of the heart. Her guitar breaks call to mind the funky sounds of ’70s soft rock. "I Want That Love" has the same vibe as classic tracks like "Love and Affection," as she sings, "Everybody tell me that I’m out of my mind, I’ll never get you," but it lacks the urgency of that seminal hit. "I wanna know why you chose me, out of all of the people in the world, cause I never dreamt you were thinking of me baby, the way I think of you," she sings in the sweet piano torch song, "The Way I Think Of You." In matters of utter heartbreak, there is no better go-to girl than Armatrading. Her music has the ability to take you to the absolute heights and darkest depths of that crazy little thing called love. She rocks it out on guitar in her peppery "Always On My Mind," calling her lover "my Achilles heel." "Starlight" and "Busy With You," feature great snare and horn sounds, despite their sad subject matter. She finishes things up with "Summer Kisses," a sad song about cheating, featuring sparkling keyboards. Armatrading has an impressive body of work, boasting 23 studio albums. While many may still be unaware of her music, she is a towering presence in the canon of American folk rock, and her contributions just keep coming.