Leatherbag, Golden Bear, Lee Simmons, PJ & the Bear, Focus Group, and Georgian Company
Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., March 13, 2009
Randy Reynolds, better known as Leatherbag, hit his stride last year with Love & Harm, and he's not about to slow down or even glance backward. Latest EP Tomorrow charges forth with renewed vigor and confidence, balancing American classic rock & roll and New Sincerity realism, epitomized by the closer, "Tom Petty Summer," and timely rave-up "Here Comes Change (Yesterday Tomorrow Today)." Golden Bear's digital-only Everest could pass as an appendix to 2007 full-length To the Farthest Star but scales back the overarching grandeur and amplifies its dual-guitar front, resulting in the local quintet's most triumphant work to date. Veteran songwriter Lee Simmons translates Jack Johnson's Californian breeze for West Texas skylines on his latest, Doniphan Nights, adult-contemporary pop for reflective, lazy afternoons. Corto Maltese's Answer, Answer plays out as an extended single for the title track – a sinister jaunt of modern glam-pop laced with Ben Maddox's cordial croon and glossy guitar – but the B-sides hold up, too, particularly "The Kiss Off," which sounds like the celebratory party after Arcade Fire's Funeral. The Georgian Company shows promise on its namesake debut, a gentle, polished collection of contemporary Americana pop, but the local octet still needs more time to come into its own. Newcomers PJ & the Bear could pass for a Ghostland Observatory side project on their nine-song, 18-minute, self-titled debut, a shameless romp of brown-sugar rock & roll, all swagger and no substance. Unlike local contemporaries the Invincible Czars and Brown Whörnet, the Ritalin kids of Focus Group value consistency over compression. The surprisingly smooth instrumental workouts on the quartet's eponymous EP dabble in everything from glitch-pop and ragtime jazz to galactic funk and trip-hop, at times recalling early Drums & Tuba, only with heavy doses of trombone.