ALMOST ALWAYS NEVER
Joanne Shaw Taylor (Ruf Records)
Joanne Shaw Taylor delivers some of the most filthy and wicked blues guitar solos you'll hear from a 26-year-old, man or woman.
It's scary to think how good she could be years from now. Discovered a decade ago as a 16-year-old guitar prodigy by former Eurythmics frontman Dave Stewart, the talented Brit accompanied Stewart's former musical partner, Annie Lennox, at a performance at Buckingham Palace in London on June 4 as part of Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee.
Taylor, who's now on tour in the United Kingdom, has settled in the Houston area and offers a bit of a southwest tinge on this disc, recorded at an Austin studio. She is backed by musicians who have played with John Mayer, the Tedeschi/Trucks Band, Fiona Apple, Blues Traveler, and others.
This disc -- her third CD -- is powerful, confident and fearless stuff. It features 11 originals with weathered, raspy vocals from someone who cuts straight to the heart of the blues. Her first two albums, "White Sugar" (2009) and "Diamonds in the Dirt" (2010) won Taylor honors as Best British Female Vocalist of the Year at the 2010 and 2011 British Blues Awards.
-- TOM HENRY
Nearly 40 years after first slapping on the makeup, donning the costumes and changing forever the way a live concert is performed, Kiss can still bring it.
"Monster" is the caped crusaders' 20th studio album, and one that fans of old school '70s classic rock will be just as comfortable with as those who cut their teeth on later material.
It opens with a bang in "Hell or Hallelujah," a fast-paced rocker that could be the band's best concert opener since "I Stole Your Love," way back in 1977 (though they put it in the middle of the set this summer).
Imagine a mash-up of "Helter Skelter" and Kiss's 1992 track "Spit," and you've got "Wall of Sound," a dramatic, ground-pounder. "Freak" uses a grungier distorted sound to showcase the band's longstanding philosophy of not caring what anyone else thinks of them. And "Back To The Stone Age" features Eric Singer's pounding drums with a beat reminiscent of the Stones' "Live With Me."
This is guitarist Tommy Thayer's second studio album with Kiss since replacing Ace Frehley in 2003 (and completely stealing his musical identity to the point where the FBI should have been notified). His first outing, 2009's "Sonic Boom" LP, was marred by rampant theft from Frehley's classic solos.
This time, Thayer restrains his most larcenous impulses. These solos won't make anyone forget Eddie Van Halen or Randy Rhoads, but at least most of them are his.
Things bog down somewhat on tracks in the middle of the disc, but finish strong on "Last Chance," propelled by an AC/DC-like "Thunderstruck" chant. This album isn't "Destroyer" or even "Love Gun," but it's still worth having.
-- WAYNE PARRY
GREAT LAKES WATERS
Russ Franzen (Self-produced)
Russ Franzen, a Toledo singer-songwriter, is back strumming his folk guitar and offering a new collection of mellow songs he wrote about two of his biggest loves, baseball and the Great Lakes.
Most of this disc is about the water except for "A Park at the Corner," a song he wrote about life in Detroit post-Tiger Stadium demolition. The disc is dedicated to lighthouse volunteers, with four of his 12 songs mentioning lighthouses.
Included is a ditty about the Upper Peninsula village of Grand Marais and its unorthodox proposal to build a long-anticipated breakwall to help save its beach, a $7 million project that finally began this summer after 60 years of planning and frustration with government bureaucracy.
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