Americana rockers the Fallen Stars, singer-songwriter Vonda Shepard, and a groundbreaking collaboration between contemporary heroes and the late Tommy Bolin are all recent under-the-radar releases worth adding to any discerning listener’s collection.
Artist: The Fallen Stars
Album: Heart Like Mine (Kiss My Squirrel Music)
Tell Me More: Exhilarating and emotive, the Fallen Stars’ latest disc “Heart Like Mine” explores the expansive alt-country movement with forceful rock (“Glad,” “All I Want”), infectious mid-tempo material (“Jealous Kind,” “Jericho”) and poignant ballads (“Dam,” “Last Hurrah”). Singer-guitarist Bobbo Byrnes and singer-bassist Tracy Byrnes trade lead vocal duties, while guest spots from keyboardist Rami Jaffee (the Wallflowers), lap steel great Danny Orr and lead guitarist Gregg Braught bring greater sonic richness to the proceedings. The Fallen Stars bring the genre’s history to the forefront courtesy of “Tequila & Morphine,” a chilling look at the 1973 death of alt-country music pioneer Gram Parsons (the Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers) with Bobbo and Tracy Byrnes’ voices blending in inexorable harmony.
Artist: Vonda Shepard
Album: Solo (Pan Shot Records)
Tell Me More: Although Vonda Shepard achieved worldwide success during her five-year stint as a regular on the popular television series “Ally McBeal,” she has continued to write and release exceptional material since the show went off the air in 2002. Her latest album “Solo” finds the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter tackling a range of confessional songs armed simply with her soprano and piano in an intimate approach enhanced by Mitchell Froom’s caring production. Highlights include the blues-tinged “I Know Better,” an evocative “Soothe Me” and a tender interpretation of “You Belong to Me.”
Artist: Tommy Bolin and friends
Album: Great Gypsy Soul (429 Records)
Tell Me More: Both a tribute and a collaboration, “Great Gypsy Soul” is a pioneering collection of outtakes from singer-guitar virtuoso Tommy Bolin’s 1975 solo debut “Teaser” that have been enhanced by the likes of Warren Haynes (Gov’t Mule, Allman Brothers Band), Nels Cline (Wilco), Sonny Landreth, Steve Morse (Deep Purple), Derek Trucks and Joe Bonamassa. While “Great Gypsy Soul” offers up a perfect chance to sample the impressive talents of a horde of today’s greatest guitarists, it above all celebrates the legacy of Bolin. Although he was only 25 when he died of a drug overdose in December 1976, Bolin’s ability to merge blues, rock, jazz fusion and funk is displayed across the aptly-titled “Great Gypsy Soul” (available as either an 11-track single-disc CD or deluxe edition that includes two discs and five bonus tracks).