Album Review: Jeff Litman – “Outside”

If you’re hurting a bit and want to feel better – or at least have a drinking buddy – fire up Outside, a new album from New York roots and power-pop singer/songwriter Jeff Litman.

With “Runaway”, he channels Petty’s bright and drawling vibe to create the best slice of jangly American rock since Matthew Sweet’s heyday.  Growling guitars, tight harmonies and a let-it-loose arrangement makes it a descendent of Sweet’s “Girlfriend”.

“Chasing My Tail” harvests the same territory, turning it into a bouncy, late 70’s Raspberries-style nugget

Litman has more than one influence, and the record shifts between the Petty’s guitar rock and Elvis Costello’s sneer and pop.  The title cut is mid-80’s Costello, with a loping rhythm and New York City doo wop underpinning.

The acoustic “It Hasn’t Happened Yet” is a gentle, melancholy ode to the end of a relationship.  Much of the album strikes a theme of relationship heartache and defiance; the centerpiece of the idea rides in this song.

The best cut is midway through the record, with “Don’t Want to Talk About it”, tying a tough midtempo rock melody with a killer chorus and lyric sung with anger and a “don’t mess with me” growl.  A beautifully skewered song wrapped in gleaming power-pop; it’s the sound of an ought-to-be hit song,

“Back to You” goes all Hall and Oates blue-eyed soul, crossed with more Costello, and includes a segue from rough and tough vocal break midway through the song to a Smokey Robinson gentleness.  Litman’s got the soulful vocal chops to separate him from many.  On this record, it is bonded to some smartly arranged and consistent pop-rock.

Still relatively unknown to most, Litman’s Outside is the work of an artist who fits firmly between classic rock and power-pop, and an mid 1960’s British invasion sound.  He’s never far from his influences, but is able to cut into the sounds with some of his own tough and unique ideas. It is enough to warrant another listen,  and to pay attention to where Litman goes next.

Jeff Litman website

Hear the song “Outside”

Album Review: The Lumineers

The debut record from The Lumineers wallops with a roots-rock punch of backwoods-via-NYC soul, mixed with giddy realism and music surprising and powerful.

Riding the rootsy sound, the Denver, Colo-based band, was founded by two New York City guys, guitarist Jeremiah Fraites and drummer Wesley Schultz.  They added multi-instrumentalist Neyla Pekarek through a craigslist ad when the pair moved west. They have been touring with another guitarist and bass player.

The band sold out a Friday, May 25 show at Radio Radio, and added a second show on Thursday. When they rolled into Indianapolis, it was with a self-titled debut full-length effort that reflects an Avett Brothers influence, but has echoes of an acoustic Gaslight Anthem, Springsteen-esque musical spiritualism, Arcade Fire majesty, and a hint of Blood on the Tracks-era Dylan.

“Ho Hey” is the song they have been playing on the TV stops (in the past two months, the band has appeared on “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson” and on “Conan”) and smartly builds with shouted backing vocals, a kick drum banging  in 4/4 time, and  a loose recording full of talk and echo.

“Stubborn Love” is a melancholy ode to not letting go even when you should, driven by acoustic guitar and violin.  “The Big Parade” mines gospel roots (“All my life I was blind, now I see”), with a soft, incessant backbeat.

“Flowers in Your Hair” opens the record with Dylan storytelling – a short two-minute taste of what is to come.  “Classy Girls” follows, telling the story of a meeting at a bar, a full-on narrative with a thrilling chorus.

“Morning Song” ends the album with a crashing electric guitar and lots of space to sing about a girl leaving.  Jeff Tweedy and Wilco would be proud. Songs reward patience, as opening notes build to include more instruments.

The cinematic words and sugar-coated rustic hooks of the record win us over; it’s a very good, – and at time s thrilling — gospel-stamped, folk-fried American rock album.

Lumineers website