* Hoodoo Gurus — Purity of Essence (Virtual Label/ADA)
Australia’s underrated Hoodoo Gurus (who reformed in late 2003, in case you haven’t heard) live by that old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Purity of Essence (due May 11), the band’s first since 2004’s Mach Schau, echoes such late 1980s efforts Blow Your Cool! and Magnum Cum Louder — and that’s a good thing. The Gurus’ guitars still pack plenty of punch (they’re upfront courtesy of an in-your-face mix by Ed Stasium), and few bandleaders can balance the serious and the silly like Dave Faulkner.
* No Second Troy — Colors (No Second Troy)
In his band’s bio, No Second Troy keyboardist Mike Beach talks about trying to navigate the middle ground between today’s pop and indie music, and in doing so makes a reference to pre- and post-“Clocks”-era Coldplay.
Beach’s Washington, D.C.-based band really has a lot more in common with The Shins and Rogue Wave in terms of pop sensibilities, attention to detail and good indie instincts – in other words, having the nerve and the smarts to throw in just the right amount of twists and turns to keep things interesting and a little different. Colors (out now) has plenty of crafty gems, with “The Black and White Movie” and “This Is the End of Me” far and away the best of the album’s 12 tracks.
* Otis Redding & His Orchestra — Live on the Sunset Strip (Stax/Concord)
On the official Otis Redding site, there’s apparel for sale that bills the late singer as the King of Soul. For a short time, Redding was indeed soul royalty, and Live at the Sunset Strip (due May 18) captures him the year before his death at age 26.
The double-disc Sunset Strip, recorded over multiple shows at the Whisky a Go Go in 1966, is explosive from start to finish and includes Redding chart hits (such as “These Arms of Mine,” “Mr. Pitiful” and “Respect”) as well as some notable covers (among them an awkward rendition of The Beatles‘ “A Hard Day’s Night” and an extended take on James Brown‘s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”).
* Susan Cowsill — Lighthouse (Threadhead Records)
Nearly five years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region, the storm and its aftermath continue to be a source of inspiration (not to mention frustration).
For her second solo album, Lighthouse (due May 18), Susan Cowsill draws from what she and her longtime adopted hometown have lost and endured since August 2005, and some of the results are quite moving. “Sweet Bitter End,” “ONOLA” and “Crescent City Sneaux” stand out among the originals; Cowsill also delivers a great rendition of the Jimmy Webb-penned “Galveston.” Guests on the disc include Jackson Browne and Waddy Wachtel.
* Anne McCue — Broken Promise Land (Flying Machine)
Anyone who’s ever wondered what Sheryl Crow might sound like if she were a tad grittier and backed by a ballsy, bluesy band ought to check out the latest from Nashville, Tenn.-based Anne McCue.
On Broken Promise Land (due May 18), singer McCue also handles guitar, keyboard and vibes duties, and the songs she had a hand in writing – particularly the kickin’ “Don’t Go to Texas (Without Me)” and the spooky “Ol’ Black Sky” – are the best of the bunch. Ex-Wilco drummer Ken Coomer keeps the beat on most of the songs.
— By Chris M. Junior