* 7 Walkers — 7 Walkers (Response Records)
Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann is the most familiar name in this quartet, but the star is singer/guitarist Papa Mali (who got his stage name while touring with reggae legend Burning Spear). At times, Mali’s wonderful rasp brings to mind Dr. John, John Hiatt and Elvis Costello. Standout songs on the band’s self-titled debut (due Nov. 2), a mix of New Orleans-flavored rock and funk, include “Sue From Bogalusa,” “New Orleans Crawl” and “Someday You’ll See.” Willie Nelson makes a cool cameo on “King Cotton Blues.”
* Tumbledown — Empty Bottle (End Sounds)
With drummer Yuri Ruley retiring from MxPx in July, the future of the punk band is up in the air. In the meantime, though, MxPx singer Mike Herrera has a pretty good side thing going with the cowpunk outfit Tumbledown. Empty Bottle (out now) blends tasteful twang with hard, steady beats and would fit comfortably between Mike Ness‘ solo work and most everything by the Old 97’s on an all-alt-country jukebox (if one exists). “Great Big World” and “St. Peter” are among the best of the bunch.
* Sarah Sample — Someday, Someday (Ramona PO Records)
Blessed with smooth, sexy voice, Sarah Sample puts it to good use on Someday, Someday, which was recorded live in a Utah studio over three days in July. She lives at the corner where rock ‘n’ roll and country intersect, and she sounds right at home on ballads, mid-tempo tunes and even rockers. Notable tracks include “Be My Middle Ground” and “Staying Behind.”
* Fran Healy — Wreckorder (Rykodisc)
For his first solo album, Travis frontman Fran Healy chose to literally go at it alone, handling with aplomb nearly all of the singing and instruments himself. But Wreckorder (out now) is not entirely a one-man show: Notable helpers include Paul McCartney (who plays a, well, McCartney-esque bass line on “As It Comes”) and Neko Case (who contributes sweet vocals to “Sing Me to Sleep”). Healy’s voice remains gentle and inviting, and he’s written some good material this time around.
— By Chris M. Junior