Michael McDermott

Ashes

For all the Jersey folk out there, there's been a change in tides. Just when you thought you heard enough Springsteen on the Jersey airwaves, the imitators have arrived. Michael McDermott belts out his best impression in his latest, Ashes.

In a disappointing attempt, songs such as "Arm Yourself" and "Hellfire in the Holyland" regurgitate Springsteen's smoldering voice and passionate subjects. The majority of the album focuses on broken relationships, missed opportunities and love that is like "trying to hold back a river."

All in all, this Americana album lacks any true character. The fire in Ashes hardly glows.

-- Kali Backer

Johnny Action Figure

Johnny Action Figure

The last thing the crowded field of mainstream emo needs is another faceless unch of college students trying to make a name for themselves. Pennsylvania natives Johnny Action Figure take a stab at it anyway with this uninspired debut. The vocalists have a nasty habit of repeating lines -- up to a maximum of seven times on "Thursday" -- and emphatically chanting nonsense lyrics ("Monster trucks/ Don't give up") like they actually mean something. While the group is decent enough musically, not a single unique or endearing aspect exists in their sound.

-- Rafael Garcia

Pat McGee Band

Save Me

Immediately upon listening to the first few tracks of Pat McGee Band's new album, Save Me, it becomes glaringly obvious that the band has strayed a bit too far from their Southern Rock roots since their last release in 2000. Everything from their Matthews-like album cover to the opening notes of the first track, "Beautiful Ways," -- which sounds frighteningly like BBMak with a full band -- to the Mayer-esque guitar intro in "Must Have Been Love," gives the listener the feeling that this is not PMB of old, but rather a melding of recent singer-songwriters who have inevitably come to find themselves on the long list of has-beens. To keep their pre-Save Me fanbase, PMB needs to stop copping off the adult contemporary playlists on international flights and rediscover their own style.

-- Ron Wallach

Garrison Starr

Airstreams and Satellites

Lovelorn and big-label weary, Garrison Starr is releasing her first album, Airstreams and Satellites, on indie label Vanguard. The album boasts the hallmarks of satisfying female singer/songwriter roots rock: Sincere, unpretentious lyrics? Check. Catchy, three-minute pop songs better than anything by Michelle Branch or Avril Lavigne? Double check.

Highlights include the shiny, shimmery "Wonderful Thing," where she croons, "I hate love, I really do/ It never works out quite the way I want it to." The affecting "Like a Drug" is for anyone who's known the disastrous addiction of a brand new relationship. Fitting somewhere between Lucinda Williams and Gemma Hayes, Airstreams and Satellites doesn't surprise, but it does satisfy.

-- Will Fenton

Tamia

More

Seductive Ontario native Tamia steps into the spotlight once again with her third album, More. A predictable addition to the urban R&B cannon, Tamia croons through a medley of songs about forgotten, fanatic and abused love. She does showcase some hot tracks with the help of A-list hit-making writers/producers such as Jermaine Dupri, Babyface, R. Kelly and Mario Winans. The good handful of up-tempo songs bolster this album, but a tedious remake of the 1970 Carpenters' classic "They Long to be Close to You" puts the cherry on top for sappy love ballads on More.

-- Carlos Rivera-Anaya

Eric Clapton

Me and Mr. Johnson

When you're as big as Eric Clapton, you can talk your record company into just about anything. On his latest, Me and Mr. Johnson, Clapton performs the Mississippi Delta blues music of his greatest hero and influence, Robert Johnson.

"[Robert Johnson's] music is like my oldest friend ... I have always trusted its purity, and I always will," writes Clapton in the liner notes. Me and Mr. Johnson is, in essence, an anthropology project. None of these songs are Claptonized: they are merely accurate reproductions of the originals. If digital technology were available to Robert Johnson, this is what his songs would have sounded like. Next to the original, this is the finest depiction of Johnson's legendary music.

-- Jon Levin

N.E.R.D.

Fly or Die

N.E.R.D.'s latest foray into the precarious genre of hip-hop garage rock should satisfy fans. Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams -- a.k.a.The Neptunes -- and friend Shay explore their skateboarding alter-egos on Fly or Die. Williams' thin falsetto whispers about everything from runaways to "Backseat Love."

Fly or Die shows musical growth with a sophisticated incorporation of piano, background vocals and a subtle use of synths. The sexy "Don't Worry About It" and single "She Wants to Move," seduce on wax. From the languid guitar plucks of "Breakout" to the bold trumpets of "Wonderful Place," Fly or Die runs the gamut from amusingly retro to reassuringly progressive.

A comparatively intricate album to their debut, Fly or Die suffers from confusing lyrics and redundant rhythms. Still, it is a sophomore effort that deserves several listens.

-- Mawuse Ziegbe


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