Odds 'n' Sods: Tom Jones, Los Lobos, Chely Wright, 36Crazyfists, and more

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Lots of CDs piling up. Let's have a listen at a few, shall we?

Norman -- Hay, Hay, Make a Wish and Turn Away:
These boys play Neil Young-meets-Uncle Tupelo country-folk-rock through a cloudy, green filter befitting their Oregon provenance. Mostly, it works, especially when they veer away from the freak-folk stylings so popular in the Northwest and kick up some dust with their up-tempo songs. Blitzen Trapper fans may want to look into Norman's musical offerings.

Just Surrender -- Phoenix: Flavor-of-the-month pop-rock full of mid-song tempo changes, loud-but-not-edgy guitars, sing-song vocals that don't fit the "heavy rock" behind it. Mallrats in Gilbert probably would call this punk, but it's strictly teenybopper stuff, just with more tattoos. These guys are on tour with Valley poppers The Maine. 

Los Lobos -- Tin Can Trust: Hardly vital, but definitely a solid and respectable record of Latin-tinted Americana/roots rock from these Los Angeles stalwarts. Longtime fans will not be disappointed in the least. Check out the fuzz guitar on "On Main Street."

Sarah Harmer -- Oh, Little Fire: The Canadian bills herself equally as singer-songwriter and activist, and the one-sheet accompanying her latest disc lauded her recent journey through the Canadian wilderness more than it did her music. It appears she's had some minor chart success in her native land, but her brand of indie light rock is a dime a dozen in the States, so she doesn't really stand out among the countless similar artists I've listened to this year. Worth noting: Neko Case provides vocal harmonies on "Silverado." 

Tom Jones -- Praise and Blame: The most famous lounge singer in the world takes on a dark-hued collection of blues, gospel number, and spirituals. To many, TJ may seem like a cariciature, but he delivers on this very good record. Sometimes, his voice seems almost too big for these often-sparse arrangements, but that's nitpicking. If you'd heard about this record and were curious in the least about it, go ahead and check it out.

36Crazyfists -- Collisions and Castaways: Apparently, all the good band names have been taken. How else to explain the plight of 36Crazyfists? Anyway, this three-piece does math-y metal with the tired formula of a Cookie Monster vocalist growling his brains out alternating with a dude singing a vaguely melodic line. What's with the all tough-guy metal bands using the liner notes nowadays to thank their moms, dads, and lovely and beautiful wives? Best song title: "Death Renames the Light."

Chely Wright -- Lifted Off the Ground: On Wright's publicity blitz for Lifted Off the Ground this spring, much was made about she's a, gasp, lesbian country singer. Pre-coming out, she apparently used to date country superstar Brad Paisley and a number one hit with "Single White Female." I've never heard that one. This record is big-time all the way, a slick Nashville production created by the best in the business. Unfortunately, it delivers not a single musical or lyrical surprise.

Pete Francis -- The Movie We Are InNew York singer Pete Francis' new record would not seem out of place next to acts like Pete Yorn or John Mayer in your CD collection. Mid-tempo, guitar-based pop-rock and Francis' easy-going vocal style recalls mid-1970s album-oriented rock with a little bit of Cat Stevens thrown in. The airy production lets the solid songwriting breathe. Best song: "Love Shakes You Down."

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