* * * 1/2
Vancouver duo Brian King and David Prowse throw themselves into every song as if it's the last one they'll ever play. That go-for-broke attitude carries their third album, which is less about the songs than the sheer joy of playing them.
King and Prowse suggest a couple of overgrown golden retriever pups playing fetch with a well-chewed tennis ball at the beach. King's guitar is less about virtuosity than texture, evoking an ocean wave big enough to surf or the relentless throb of a factory machine. Prowse keeps the frenzy at a high pitch on drums, frequently thrusting himself into the foreground as lead soloist.
The give-and-take is like a garage-rock version of gospel music, building to feverish crescendos in which the guys purge their anxieties ("I don't wanna worry about dyin' ") and declare their desire to have their hearts dashed against the rocks by those ever-elusive "sunshine girls."
Even those who believe that there's nothing new to express with a guitar, drums and two voices may have their jaded hearts melted by Japandroids' blue-flame exuberance.
-- Greg Kot
Country group in jubilant harmony
On the debut album from young country quartet Gloriana, there's a real affection for the gender-war harmonies of Fleetwood Mac and the open-road earnestness of John Mellencamp. That these kids would turn so deeply to their parents' vinyl collection says a lot about their ambitions for a country-pop crossover: Make sure there's something for everyone, including the moms and dads who were in tow when Gloriana opened for Taylor Swift.
The four-part harmonies are the centerpiece on "Gloriana," and they add jubilance to workmanlike tracks about rustic hell-raising, like the breakout single "Wild at Heart." Gloriana is democratic about passing the lead microphone around, and that group-think yields some rousing moments, like the Journey-worthy rocker "If You're Leavin'," but sometimes sags into teary closing-credits fade-outs such as "Lead Me On."
Intriguingly, the best moments of "Gloriana" are the quietest. On album-closer "Time to Let Me Go," a sad little minor-key guitar and fiddle run feels almost spooky. Gloriana's pop acumen (and virtuoso hair-care abilities) are a sure bet to fill arenas very soon, but they shouldn't forget to toss an occasional "Landslide" in for the grizzled oldsters out there.
-- August Brown
Pretty songs with a lot of hearth
The Duke & the King
"Nothing Gold Can Stay"
* * 1/2
This new indie-roots duo takes its name from "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," its album title from a Robert Frost poem, and its sound from early-'70s folkies such as Cat Stevens and Neil Young. As you might expect, there isn't much about "Nothing Gold Can Stay," the Duke & the King's debut, that suggests it was made during this century.
The Duke is Simone Felice, who until recently played drums in the Felice Brothers, a rollicking family band from upstate New York that released a terrific record earlier this year called "Yonder Is the Clock." The King is Robert "Chicken" Burke, an old multi-instrumentalist pal of Felice's who has worked with George Clinton and Sweet Honey in the Rock.
The pair recorded the 10 songs here in a cabin-turned-studio near Woodstock, and if their stay there involved lots of quiet evenings spent sipping stiff Irish coffees, then "Nothing Gold Can Stay" reflects it beautifully: This is hushed, deliberately paced acoustic music perfect for sitting around a fireplace pondering the coming thaw. "All our days are just so many waves in the wind," Felice observes in "If You Ever Get Famous," a supremely lovely line that hints at his other life as a novelist.
As pretty as this stuff is, though, it can get a little snoozy, as in "Union Street," where a maddeningly metronomic drumbeat slows things to a crawl. With his brothers, Felice has shown he's capable of injecting old-school roots music with fresh energy; without them, he tends to drag his feet.
-- Mikael Wood