Silent Lions (Self)
When you first give the Silent Lions a listen, you might think they're a quartet or even a quintet, but you'd be wrong.
The Silent Lions are a two-piece band — Dean Tartaglia and Matt Klein — from Toledo which maximizes its talents by producing a big and layered sound it calls heavy soul.
Tartaglia sings, plays bass, the sampler, and even the sax when he can, while Klein crushes on the drum and provides backing vocals.
The Lions recently released a new EP, "The Compartments," which showcases their potential. See them in the small clubs and "pay what you want" for their CDS while you can. This band is going to go as far as their big sound takes them.
"Stolen in the Heat of The Moment" is probably the standout track on the six-song effort. It's a fast number with heavy drums and plenty of melody, and you can hear a lot of the Black Keys, formerly of Akron. And that's not a bad thing. Those comparisons always will be there for any rocking duo from Ohio.
"Space in Time" and "Runnin' Me Down" are mid-tempo offerings which feature a lot of studio production and leave a lot of room for improvisation and groove onstage, in which Tartaglia says the band can reproduce up to 95 percent live.
The Lions take more of a straight forward approach on "Crash & Burn," which is sure to be a hit among the dancing crowd during shows. They show their softer side on the short and sweet "Condition" before rocking out again on "Everybody Freeze."
"The Compartments" was recorded in Detroit and produced by Zach Shipps, the unofficial third member of the Lions. You can purchase their music at silentlions.bandcamp.com, as well as on iTunes and Amazon.
— BOB CUNNINGHAM
Eric Church (EMI Nashville)
Eric Church is developing two separate and distinct personalities that seem to wrestle each other in a glorious battle royal on his fourth and best album, "The Outsiders."
There's that guy Chief, with the hat and sunglasses and the love of rock and roll, whiskey, stubborn streaks, and fistfights. And then there's the version of Church who wins (or loses) the girl, stirs moments of universal reverie, and tickles the funny bone with program director-wooing hits that appeal to country music's bedrock fan base.
Both these guys are at their best on "The Outsiders," one-upping each other with songs that embrace the breadth and history of country music while ignoring those conventions to explore far afield. Managing this trick requires a delicate touch, and Church and producer Jay Joyce push the limits while maintaining a balance that leaves a little something for everyone.
Don't like the heavy rock riffs and leather jacket-clad message of the Black Sabbath-leaning title song? Well, there's the tear-jerker ballad "A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young."
Tired of the paint-by-numbers party songs that flood radio? His answer is "Cold One," which offers a twist on a tired theme. Need a couples song for you and your new country gal? Try "Talladega," which somehow turns auto racing into an epic love poem. "Give Me Back My Hometown" is straight up nostalgia. And if that's not your thing, there's the rock-informed "Dark Side," ''That's Damn Rock & Roll," and "The Joint" to go with your shot and beer back.
Tempo-shifting "Roller Coaster Ride" and funky country "Broke Record" use sonic interpretations of Church's lyrics to rev up things. The organ on "Like a Wrecking Ball" and the trumpet at the end of "The Joint" are delightful moments that show Church is confident that his listeners are his to command. He even tries his hand at spoken-word noir on "Devil, Devil."
"The Outsiders" is the rare album that invites debate, and asks us to take sides. In this case, pick freely. You can't lose.
— CHRIS TALBOTT,
THE GREATEST HITS
Paul Potts (Columbia)
Put aside, for a moment, any knowledge you might have about Paul Potts having such an incredible rags-to-riches story that his life was made into a feature film, One Chance, that debuted last October at the Toronto Film Festival.
Put aside any knowledge you might have of how he went from relative obscurity in Great Britain as a chubby manager of a phone store in Bridgend, South Wales, to international singing sensation after getting his big break as the winner of Britain's Got Talent in 2007, a show that resembles American Idol and, in fact, has been associated with former American Idol judge-producer Simon Cowell.
Put aside what you might have heard about him being bullied as a youth and having been a former Bristol City Council member who was in such denial about his personal finances that he nearly went bankrupt before his stunning performance on Britain's Got Talent turned around his life. Just sit back and listen to his incredible voice, because — as this album demonstrates — he is every bit as opera-like as the world's top tenors.
Potts has now released three studio albums, with a fourth due out this year. In addition, this "Greatest Hits" compilation was released by Columbia as a companion to the movie and a memoir of his life that came out in the fall. This "Greatest Hits" album contains 16 songs, two of them Christmas songs ("O Holy Night" and "The First Noel"), but nearly everything else is opera, including his best-known treasure, "Nessun Dorma." There have been a lot of artists who have performed the classic, "Ave Maria," but few like him.
Potts' first album, also called "One Chance," soared to No. 1 in 13 countries, including the United States, shortly after its 2007 release; and in Great Britain it outsold all other Top 10 albums collectively its first week. And here many of you American Idol fans never thought Cowell could recognize talent.
— TOM HENRY