Ryan Adams Demolition (Lost Highway)

To deride Ryan Adams as ‘derivative’ is like accusing Hugh Hefner of being a ‘playboy’! I mean, where’s the sting of that put-down in the modern world context? Yes, sure, Adams definitely sounds like Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, the Stones, Gram Parsons, the Byrds, Tom Petty, Paul Westerberg and many more besides. But that probably describes a whole lot of modern rock musicians parlaying in the same musical space as Adams. So forget it already! What about the music, eh?

Demolition has been marketed as a collection of demos and not the third album proper although to be honest, I really can’t tell the difference between Demolition and Adams’ earlier Heartbreaker and Gold. It’s almost an advance precaution against expected criticism. Fact of the matter, I actually like Demolition more than the others as gems like spacey “Nuclear,” stomping “Hallelujah,” endearing “Cry On Demand,” spry “Tennessee Sucks” and bluegrass jolly “Chin Up, Cheer Up” resonate strongly. With the potential clearly to become a truly great singer-songwriter in the same class as his inspirations, Demolitions contains enough signposts for Adams to go all the way. A

Porcupine Tree In Absentia (Lava)

Is it possible for Steve Wilson’s Porcupine Tree to get the respect it obviously deserves instead of the stigma normally associated with bands tagged with the dreaded ‘neo-prog’ millstone? Backhanded references to this maligned genre fails to recognize that musically, Porcupine Tree is no less progressive (in every sense of that word) than say, Radiohead, whose last two albums have certainly been more indulgent and obtuse than anything Porcupine Tree has ever produced. In any case, In Absentia continues the upward path Wilson and cohorts have been ploughing since the decision to produce tighter, concise pop songs with a prog edge with Signify (1997). As instrumentally impressive as ever, Porcupine Tree also manages to insert accessibility into the mix without sacrificing an iota of artistic integrity. Recommended, highly. A

Dan Israel and the Cultivators Love Ain’t a Cliché (Hayden’s Ferry)

The Cultivators basically mine the rich vein of roots rock that the likes of the latter day Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, the Stones & Steve Earle have distinguished themselves with in the last 40 years. As usual, it is the softer moments that hit the nerve, particularly the somber “Jump Through the Rings,” remorseful “Hey Kid” and the frustrated “Sandbags.” Bristling with ominous energy, songs like “Don’t Feel Like Laughing,” “Feet in the Water” and “Overloaded,” should appeal fans of Ryan Adams, Whiskeytown, Son Volt and Uncle Tupelo. B+

Tony Low Sleight of Hand (Self-released)

Let me warn the audiophiles out there, this album is extremely ‘lo-fi’ and when the sleeve proudly declares – ‘Electronically enhanced to simulate stereo’ – you better believe it! That said, if its well-crafted, intelligent pop-rock music you’re looking for, then I would challenge you to give Tony Low a chance. Despite the austere production values, the songs literally shine out from under the murky sound with the jaunty “When I See That Girl,” the baroque “When the Good Times Go Away,” garage rocking “Rev” and the delicate instrumental “White Splinters” the obvious highlights. The strong need for better recording apart, Sleight of Hand is the work of a skilful songwriter-musician. In a perfect world, Low should get the recording budgets reserved for boybands and pop divas. Sigh. B

The Me Decade Gentrification is Theft (Spade Kitty)

In case you’re wondering, ‘gentrification’ is ‘the process by which a street of poor people used to live in is changed when people with more money go to love there.’ The fact that poet and fellow Amplifier scribe Larry O Dean is fronting this neo Americana project band then comes as little surprise. In that respect, cerebral country rock is probably the most simplified description I could muster to convey the sound of The Me Decade. The songs on Gentrification contain a touch of classical music with the prominent inclusion of a mini-string section courtesy of Derek Walvoord which lend to poignant roots rock material like the sad “Love Aloud,” raucous “Hard Goodbyes,” melancholy “I Always Wake Up Remembering” and the feisty “Left It All Behind” a distinctive flavour. Thoughtful. B 

The Bitter Little Cider Apples Still (Pink Hedgehog)

Loads of nervy, edgy, frenetic, hyper kinetic energy enliven this punky little album where references to British rock scene (circa late 1970s) abound. So, kudos indeed to Messrs Huntington, Carbis A, Strawbridge and Carbis G for birthing this truly estimable collection of power punk nuggets which prove conclusively that punk rock in the right hands can be as intelligent, inventive and vital as when it first broke out with the likes of the Buzzcocks, the Jam and the Undertones. So c’mon grab your pogo sticks and go crazy to the strains of “Antique Happiness,” “B.L.C.A.,” “Playground,” “Park the Car” “Scented Garden” and more. B

Kitchens & Bathrooms Utter a Sound (Sonic Unyon)

Okay, so it’s not powerpop by any stretch of the imagination and anything that even remotely resembles pop. I suppose the easiest handle on Kitchens & Bathrooms is ‘math-rock’ or even ‘post-rock’ though I’m still not clear what either actually mean. So let’s put it this way, songs like “Tri-Coastal Grievances” and “Fetching Farewell” feature a little jazz fusion, hard rock, atonal melodies and odd time signatures and variously suggest Pink Floyd, Primus, Rush, Frank Zappa, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Frank Black, AC/DC and erm, Captain Beefheart & his Magic Band. If that sounds about right to you then investigate. C