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Songs for the times we’re in

Otis Gibbs

“Grandpa Walked a Picketline”

Wanamaker

***

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Otis Gibbs is an old-school troubadour out of Wanamaker, Ind., who sounds only too happy to pick up the mantle of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger in championing the working stiff and blue-collar America in song. On “Grandpa Walked a Picketline,” due Jan. 20, he sings of everyday folks, not always the desperate or destitute, but the overlooked and underappreciated.

“Calling out tonight to anyone who’s tired of being down,” he writes in “To Anyone,” echoing Guthrie’s famous line about hating a song that makes you feel no good, or born to lose.

“Caroline” follows a woman much like the matriarch in Dolly Parton’s “To Daddy,” who leaves her family behind when she lights out in search of fulfillment after a lifetime of neglect. Gibbs gets impressively Dylanesque in “Preacher Steve,” about a charlatan who uses religion rather than snake oil to fleece his flock: “Preacher Steve could walk on water while the whole world’s dying of thirst.”

Gibbs brings his characters to life with a vocal growl that sounds just one pack of Camels shy of Tom Waits, and he’s assisted ably by a team of roots-music veterans, including bassist Don Dixon, steel guitarist-Dobro ace Al Perkins, mandolinist Tim Easton and producer Chris Stamey.

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There couldn’t be a better time for a voice this insightfully compassionate.

-- Randy Lewis

Brazil with an uptown sheen

Eliane Elias

“Bossa Nova Stories”

(Blue Note)

***

This Brazilian-born, New York-based singer-pianist has spent much of the last two decades minimizing the distance between the jazz and pop of her homeland with that of her adopted country. (Her gorgeous reading of Burt Bacharach’s “A House Is Not a Home” from 2004’s “Dreamer” is proof that a tricky melody is only improved by a tricky rhythm.)

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A sort of reverse-image companion to 2007’s “Something for You: Eliane Elias Sings & Plays Bill Evans,” “Bossa Nova Stories” seems to approach that stylistic equation from a more distinct angle than is typical for Elias: The new set opens with “The Girl From Ipanema,” as clear a suggestion as any that we’re in for an exercise in roots music.

Yet the appealing result is less straightforward than it first appears; in Elias’ view, tradition needn’t stifle the will to renovate. Here she refreshes the Gershwins’ “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” with a deliciously soft-pedaled groove, while Stevie Wonder’s “Superwoman” gets a tasty piano-bar make-under.

In contrast, Elias envelops some of the Brazilian material, including “Desafinado,” with lush Old Hollywood string arrangements that emphasize its drama rather than its delicacy.

A sophisticated pleasure.

-- Mikael Wood

A revival that’s missing in action

Audrye Sessions

“Audrye Sessions”

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Black Seal Records

* 1/2

There’s a certain kind of band for whom Radiohead is still a ‘90s Brit-rock act that peaked around “The Bends” and lost its way when the group brought laptops onstage. Muse is the biggest example of this phenomenon; Oakland’s Audrye Sessions is the latest.

From the first rousing chords of “Turn Me Off” through the relentless falsetto of “Julianna” and the obligatory acoustic mood piece “New Year’s Day,” the whole album feels like a meticulous attempt to resurrect a specific sound in time to ride an anticipated wave of nostalgia. But if Audrye Sessions is to do for mid-'90s Anglophile guitar rock what scads of peers have done for ‘80s dance music in recent years, it’s going to have to find some more memorable hooks on which to hang its bona fides.

The effortlessly regal “Where You’ll Find Me” and punkish “The Paper Face” come closest, but can we just say the snake of revivalism has long since eaten its own tail and be done with it?

-- August Brown

calendar@latimes.com


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