The following music reviews were originally slated for publication in the February 2007 issue of az magazine. They appear here in unrevised form:
Pernice Brothers‘ beautifully crafted pop has gotten play on TV fare such as Six Feet Under and The Gilmore Girls. The group’s music nicely complements the tone of both shows: sweet on the outside, bitter and ironic on the inside. The sixth and latest Pernice album, Live a Little (Ashmont), augments the creamy melodies of previous efforts with a string section (not heard since 1998′s Overcome by Happiness). They’re not reinventing the wheel here, but on the other hand why mess with brilliance? Worth getting for the caustic lyrics and Joe Pernice’s fascinating voice, as light and ethereal as an extended sigh.
Nanci Griffith has always been a singer-songwriter proudly unbound by categories (Is she Country? Pop? Folk?), which makes whatever she’s currently involved in all the more intriguing. With her all-covers collection Ruby’s Torch (Rounder), Griffith saunters through compositions by Tom Waits and Jimmy Webb, Frank Sinatra’s “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” and even the ’70s MOR standby “Bluer than Blue”. She creates a consistent mood with her smoky, authoritative voice — making this effort a perfect “nighttime wine sipping on the veranda” disc.
Brooklyn’s The Hold Steady emerged from obscurity and delivered one of 2006′s most critically acclaimed albums with the unapologetically fun Boys and Girls in America (Vagrant). The band strikes just the right combination of tight and rowdy rock ‘n roll and evocative lyrics on barflies, bad girlfriends, and disillusioned youth just aching to have a good time. If that description sounds like the Bruce Springsteen of thirty years ago, you have the right idea. Proving their depth, the group supplements this mostly upbeat set with a couple of first-rate ballads (“First Night” and “Citrus”).