The Avett Brothers, “Live, Volume 3″ (Columbia)
When North Carolina’s pop-bluegrass phenoms the Avett Brothers signed to a major label and released a record that strayed from their banjo-fueled ragers in favor of piano-fronted ballads, they stayed true to their music and upped their international profile significantly. And “Live, Volume 3″ — their second Columbia release — is proof that the band, at its core, hasn’t changed all that much.
The beauty of “Volume 3,” as with the band’s inimitable live shows, is in its imperfections. When Seth Avett flubs the intro to “Ballad of Love and Hate” — and recovers, gracefully and melodically — it’s an even bigger triumph when he finishes the polarizing ballad. And even though Scott Avett’s harmonies in “Shame” are sliiightly off-key, it’s worth a smile because fans know how rigorous the banjo player thrashes when he really gets ajumpin’.
“Volume 3″ is best with the band’s new songs, specifically “Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise,” “The Perfect Space” and the now-ubiquitous “I and Love and You.” And the new material sounds just fine alongside the band’s oldies. –Ricardo Baca
Boulder Acoustic Society, “Champion of Disaster” (Boulder Acoustic Society)
These moody pickers from the People’s Republic have a new EP out, and they couldn’t have picked a stronger lead-in than “Shelter” to start things off. The song is a driving, methodical ballad that plays off its spooky banjo and timeless harmonies.
“Shelter” is an end-of-the-world epic that has music that matches the evocative lyrics — and it’s the brightest (in an apocalyptic kind of way) gem we’ve heard from Boulder Acoustic Society in a long time. When this band goes dark, they go really dark. And we like it.
The band wraps things up in earnest fashion with the melancholic “Where Have the Good Ones Gone,” a thoughtful song that plays off its stark snares and plaintive vocals. The title track is a winner, a subtle jam that recalls the darker sides of Old Crow Medicine Show with its aggressive, rock- oriented evolution. —Ricardo Baca
KT Tunstall, “Tiger Suit” (Virgin)
When KT Tunstall sings, it’s part coo and part growl. The singer has a slight edge, a jigger full of gravel, in her voice. And it’s so easy to listen to her do her thing. It’s sexy and scary, odd and alluring. When the songs match her choice vocals, Tunstall wins — and so do we.
On her latest, “Tiger Suit,” she uses her subtle grr-owl in upbeat songs that play off tribal-pop, jittery dance music and well- constructed indie rock. The CD-starter “Uummannaq Song” is an unbridled good time, a catchy jam that will get the party started.
While other songs aren’t as infectious (with a name like “Glamour Puss,” it should be so much better), some are every bit as likable. “(Still A) Weirdo” is a glitchy acoustic exercise in introspection. And when “Madame Trudeaux” kicks off with that janky guitar, it’s easy to listen to Tunstall’s jagged- edge approach to the blues — and it’s easy to appreciate the refreshing life that lives in her music. –Ricardo Baca