Fun as Snowglobe's live show is, the band's debut album, Our Land Brains (Bardot Records; Grade: A-), is even better. With their Elephant 6-ish brand of neo-psychedelic rock, the band (singer/guitarist/piano players Brad Postlethwaite and Tim Regan, bassist Brandon Robertson, and drummer Jeff Hulett) has been one of the most enjoyable outfits to emerge on the local music scene over the last year or so and could be said to be the centerpiece act of an incestuous and promising young rock scene that includes the Great Depression, the John Murry Band, Brad Bailey, Loggia, and Johnny Romania, among others. But, on record, Snowglobe gets to include all the additives not always possible in live gigs: horns, strings, big, swooning background vocals, and other bells and whistles.
Most of the group's songwriting is divided equally between Postlethwaite (one of the founders of the local record label Makeshift) and Regan (who previously home-recorded under the moniker Liftoff), who collectively produce a vision of '60s rock only possible from kids with well-curated record collections --heavy on echoes of the Beatles and the Beach Boys.
Our Land Brains is a record that feels homemade in all the right ways -- lovingly crafted, lived-in, spontaneous, and extremely welcoming, not merely tossed off. When you hear Regan clear his throat early on the anthemic "Dreamworks," it doesn't sound like careless recording; it sounds warm and intimate. And the record's gentle, wide-eyed vibe never descends into mush-headed hippieisms; Snowglobe makes lyrics -- "The search for you has just begun/I'm sure that there's meaning in this feeling/Slip away from all you've known/Swim out in the distance/Catch a ride on the furthest star" -- sound more like Van Morrison's visionary mysticism than Tiny Tim tiptoeing through the tulips.
As songwriters, Regan and Postlethwaite battle to a complementary draw, with Postlethwaite's epic yet personal "Big City Lights" and Regan's rollicking, surging love song "Muse" as highlights. And the whole record is littered with musical grace notes, like the dueling, carnivalesque pianos and sleigh-bell percussion that lead off "Beautiful." Ultimately, there hasn't been a local record this adventurous and playful since, well, Shelby Bryant's Cloud-Wow Music, which also managed the difficult task of being dreamy without being precious.
Fresh off their Premier Player nomination as one of the city's best bands, The Gamble Brothers Band showcases a style that balances jammy virtuosity with solid songwriting on their debut album, 10 Lbs. of Hum (self-released; Grade: B+). The opening "Blue Beat Years" is Steely Dan informed by funk and soul as much as jazz, though the band just as often evokes other "Brothers" bands such as the Allman Brothers and the Doobie Brothers (not the Chambers Brothers yet, but who knows?).
With a novel lineup of organ (Al Gamble, who also takes lead vocals), bass (Will Lowrimore), saxophone (Art Edmaiston), and drums (Chad Gamble), the band has a unique sound, but it's still a little disappointing to hear the album get away from tight songs and into longer instrumental jams. That stuff can be pretty dull if it isn't your taste (and it certainly isn't mine). Highlights include "Blue Beat Years," the chartworthy "Bring 'Em Back," and a spirited cover of the Motown standard "Don't Do It" (which owes more to the Band's version than Marvin Gaye's, and that's fine by me).
Ultimately, 10 Lbs. of Hum amounts to a more urban-centric take on the same strategy that has made the North Mississippi Allstars national names -- in the Gamble Brothers' case, taking a soul and jazz base (rather than the Allstars' blues one) and building a jam-friendly rock sound that doesn't stray too far from the basics. And there's no reason to think that these guys can't have similar success.
After debuting with a live album last year, the promising young band Ingram Hill returns with Until Now (Traveler Records; Grade: B), an eight-song, 30-minute disc that pairs five studio cuts (with local producer Jeff Powell) with three tracks from a live radio broadcast. The quieter songs from the radio performance don't do much for me, but the studio-recorded songs are pretty forceful. Ingram Hill plays song-oriented, middle-of-the-road commercial rock, the kind of band that might find middle ground between Matchbox Twenty and Cowboy Mouth, though the louder-than-expected guitars on this record are rough enough to make Crazy Horse comparisons possible too.
The group's lyrics are vague in a way that sounds both personal and generalized, like so much contemporary commercial rock, and don't leave much of an impression. The overly histrionic vocals that I remember from the live disc are toned down a little bit here to nice effect. They still project soulfulness in a manner de rigueur for mainstream rock post-Pearl Jam but don't sound strained anymore. But, musically, this is a band coming together in a good way. The opening "Will I Ever Make It Home," which goes pretty and acoustic on the opening verse before giving way to electric-guitar crunch on the next, is a radio hit waiting to happen. Later, "The Day Your Luck Runs Out" introduces a bluesy feel that adds variety and manages the admirable feat of being a powerful guitar song without relying on solos.
Local rock staples The American Death Ray (as they're called on this album; they've since extended the moniker to American Death Ray Music) make their album debut with Welcome to the Incredibly Strange and Erotic World of the American Death Ray (Sympathy for the Record Industry; Grade: B-), a fun record severely hampered by poor sound quality -- the whole album sounds too quiet no matter how loud you play it. Stylistically, the band is like the Velvet Underground crossed with some of the era's more organ-driven garage rock, which is a recipe for success in my book, with songs like the opening "Hip Hugger Suit(e)" and the vibrant-in-theory "Sweet Sensation" serving as templates for the kind of gritty glam-rock that this New York Dolls fan loves. Unfortunately, the production here is so flawed that it's almost hard to listen. If you strain, you can hear some great noisy rave-ups beneath the murk on songs such as "Rockets (red glare)" and "Make Me Sick," but it's almost not worth the effort.
You can e-mail Chris Herrington at firstname.lastname@example.org.