The last thing the world needs is another rant by some snooty music scribe who actually believes he can peg the next Coldplay or validate some MySpace wannabe. Don't worry; yours truly doesn't make any such presumptions. You won't find any holier-than-thou prognostications here -- just good new sounds worth checking out in the pop/rock/roots/Americana/singer-songwriter/whatever vein. These artists fly well below the radar, but here's some help with tracking their trajectories.
The Matthew Herbert Big Band
There's Me and There's You
Despite the name, the Matthew Herbert Big Band has as much in common with Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong as Dave Grohl does with Barry Manilow. Instead of bringing brass to the fore, it's mined in the mix, creating an ethereal ambiance that's surprisingly soulful. The band lends an alternative attitude to trad jazz, creating songs that could otherwise serve as a score for an experimental musical. Not surprisingly, "Just Swing" steers closest to expectations, while the surging, swaggering "The Story" offers instant gratification. Likewise, the overtly experimental "The Yesness" and the ambient atmospherics of "Knowing" and "Nonsounds" provide There's Me and There's You with sounds that span the divide.
Bringin' It Back Home
When you've written and recorded with Jackson Browne and shared stages with Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt, you'd think fame wouldn't be so elusive. But for Steve Noonan, who recorded his eponymous debut in 1968 and waited 40 years to issue its follow-up, there's a reason so few people know who he is. As an old-school folkie, Noonan takes a supple approach to making music, using little more than acoustic guitar and his sensual, sandpapery vocals on these songs. The politically charged "Fair Trade Boogie" and the haunting "War Is Your Business," two Dylanesque diatribes deriding the effects of the Bush era's economic policies, provide searing protest songs that echo a distinctive Sixties sensibility.
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Quality and quantity are often mutually exclusive. Not so in the case of Matt Keating, a veteran singer/songwriter whose new double album finds each addressed with equal aplomb. Keating's songs come on subtly at first but ultimately leave a captivating impression. "Louisiana" is as compelling a post-Katrina ballad as they come, while the riveting refrains of "Te Amo," "Little by Little," and "Only Let You Down" are pure nuggets of joy. And that's just disc one! Like Springsteen, Graham Parker, or Steve Earle, Keating is the quintessential journeyman -- rugged, riveting, and a master at writing about Everyman concerns. On Quixotic, you'll find a unique blend of sophistication from a homespun perspective.
-- Lee Zimmerman