Blaudzun’s recording career antedates Mumford & Sons’ by at least a year. So, if anything, they sound like him and not vice versa. Still, to the many fans of over-earnest folk-rock who discovered Mumford & Sons first, Blaudzun will sound like the one with something to prove. He even sings about Mumford-worthy topics like crashing waves that “wash away our sins” and a girl who “reads books on Jesus.” The main difference is that his over-earnestness feels less, rather than more, annoying with each repeated listening.
A Mississippi native, Mathus comes by his Oxford drawl and roots-rock affinity naturally. Unfortunately, he’s not unique. So he sounds generic except when his rhythm section achieves a propulsive bounce or when he paraphrases Billy Joe Shaver so blatantly that you believe old chunks of coal really will be diamonds someday. Sometimes generic hits the spot: “Fake Hex” could improve a Rolling Stones album. But calling a song “Self” was a mistake—as was trying to beat Paul McCartney at writing a song called “Run Devil Run.”
In 1985, Amy Grant released Find a Way, which A&M Records cross-marketed to pop radio with moderate success. A few years and albums later, Grant was a star. Enter Britt Nicole, whose Gold (released last year by Sparrow) now has Capitol Records seeing crossover dollar signs. The production will tickle hit-radio ears, and young women are definitely getting a more righteous role model than Madonna, Lady Gaga, or Lana Del Rey. But, her emphasis on eternity notwithstanding, Nicole sounds every bit as ephemeral.
Whether it’s Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra or the Cramps and X that this baritone Aussie is obsessed with, he’s a “novelty act,” right down to his melodramatic song called “I’m in Love with Mary Magdalene” and his literal take on gallows humor called “A Hangman’s Work Is Never Done.” As “Give Things a Chance to Mend,” however, proves, Wagons also has a serious side. From the weepy steel guitars to sentiments with which George Jones and Tammy Wynette could’ve identified, the song could pass for classic country.
Rival Sons’ first album, Pressure and Time, had critics breathlessly heralding them as the second coming of Led Zeppelin. Whatever the merits of that comparison may have been, their latest effort, Head Down (Earache), finds them tunneling backward beyond Led Zeppelin to Led Zeppelin’s roots in first-wave, high-voltage, British Invasion blue-eyed R&B: namely, Small Faces.
Jay Buchanan is no Steve Marriott, Small Faces’ charismatic and doomed frontman. But he’s a reasonable enough facsimile thereof to make up for the negligible extent to which bassist Robin Everhart is no Ronnie Lane (Small Faces’ bassist) and drummer Mike Miley is no Kenney Jones (who after Small Faces was Keith Moon’s replacement in the Who, 1979-1988).
Except for the acoustic misstep “True” and the vestigially biblical “Jordan,” specific tracks don’t stand out. But the riffs render track-specific ID moot. Los Angeles kids these guys may be, but their heart and soul are strictly mid-’60s British mod.