The Strange Boys
Texans do things differently, but not always bigger, if this wonderful little album is anything to go by. Coming across as The Basement Tapes might if Mick Jagger had taken The 60s Stones in that direction, Be Brave is full of a rusty, dusty blend of country, rock and blues.
The Strange Boys take Jason and the Scorchers onto a new, indie level the way that The Walkmen do when they play country. This record is as far from the X Factor as a record could get and still be released by a major(ish) label, but for those who partake, it has an infectiousness and a sheer joy to its existence that equally elevates other bands you've never heard of, like White Hassle or Delta Spirit - you will be so glad you came in, and want to share the secret, but realistically someone who listens to Radio 2 or a pop station is not going to get this record. If you prefer the 73 Springsteen to the 2009 one, the 60s Stones to the 80s Stones, however, do seek out this record.
ACE rating 9/10
Great Lake Swimmers
The Legion Sessions
Canada's Great Lake Swimmers don't make music, they make beauty sound like something. Front man Tony Dekker looks like the kind of man on whom religions get built, and sings like an angel. The Legion Sessions was recorded in a pub - the Royal Canadian Legion Pub - and features live acoustic versions of their acoustic songs from the lovely Lost Channels record. It is, if you like, a second chance to hear those songs, a perspective 2 degrees away from the one you first came at them. Songs like Palmistry and Pulling On A Line are gorgeous, layered and gentle, like a warm clear stream - Dekker makes every song a vulnerable, fragile thing, and the band adorn each perfectly with the minimum of effort and frill. The record sounds great, too - the feel of the wooden floor is tangible - this is no sticky-floored British pub, clearly. If you don't have Lost Channels already, it doesn't make sense to start here, although you can see most of the Sessions songs on YouTube to see if you'll like it. if you do, this will help you hear it in 3D.
ACE rating 8/10
Where The Wild Things Are (Live in Minneapolis)
Take care that this isn't something you buy by accident expecting the film soundtrack. There is a DVD to accompany this tour de force, but this is as high end as rock guitar gets, and there is no nice warm feeling at the end. Steve Vai is a guitarist's guitarist, and even those guitarists don't necessarily like what he does - the extreme technicality of the playing requires an appreciation of how hard it is to do at least as much as any appreciation of it as 'music'. However, the CD of this show contains 15 tracks that highlight an amazing front man of an amazing band - Vai has collected a band of virtuosos, including two violinists who can match his speed and style. This elevates the music from straight rock to jazz fusion, and brings him closer to his own Frank Zappa band roots than he has been in a long time, if with less improvisation. For the guitarist listener, there are probably too many vocal tracks, but songs like Now We Run or Oooo are simply jawdropping.
ACE rating 8/10