Carey Murdock & NoStar -- Baby Don't Look Down: When fans look back at Murdock's hopefully long and productive career, chances are this release won't rate as one of his best. It very well might, however, rate as one of the more interesting and, more pointedly, important.
If I'm being completely truthful, this is a fairly uneven record. The songs are sort of all over the place, touching on a lot of styles and ideas. There are a handful of Springsteen-style tracks where Murdock is clearly trying to emulate not only the songwriting style of the Boss, but his unique delivery as well.
There's some power pop and some squalling guitars clearly left over from the band's previous release. This is what an artist searching for his own voice sounds like. This is what artistic evolution sounds like. Often, this kind of record can be a difficult slog, but Murdock is a fairly extraordinary artist. While he clearly has not evolved into the musician he will one day be, he has learned to tap into his greatest gift, the one that will sustain and ultimately mark him as an artist.
Even as Murdock and his talented band shift from song to song and style to style, making those sometimes awkward musical transitions, there's always a sense that what's going on is authentic. There's no affectation, no writing or performing that feels forced. Sure, some songs feel less mature than others, but that's the freedom that Murdock and NoStar, as young musicians, are allowed to enjoy. If for no other reason, local fans should check out Baby for the truly inspired and clearly personal Silvergirl and Augusta. The latter, an unapologetic love letter to Murdock's hometown, could well become the song generations associate with the Garden City.
We could do worse.
John Kolbeck -- Replace the Memory: If I were to indulge in the fool's gambit such as assembling an all-star act of Augusta musicians, there's a very real chance John Kolbeck would be the first drafted. An exceptionally gifted writer and player, he's the rare musician who understands the importance of augmenting technical skill with real emotion. His songs are never cold showpieces focused on exotic scales or oddball time signatures. They are warm and heartfelt.
They have not, however, always been that exciting.
Here's a painful truth: Very few musicians have the combination of talent, personality and, most importantly, unique timbre to truly pull off the solo singer-songwriter thing. In fact, the advice I've given to musicians most is find a band. Sailing solo has, in the past, diluted some of Kolbeck's songs. Recording them on Replace in full band arrangements has only improved them.
This is the Kolbeck I've always wanted to hear. It incorporates his many musical interests -- Americana, British rock, folk and unfettered bar band bluster -- and builds a cohesive sound that never feels forced and finally does real justice to his talent. Standout tracks include the infectious album opener Come and Gone My Dear and the ambitious Less Now . This is John Kolbeck at the top of his game.
Jason Michael Carroll: Thursday, Tin Roof, Columbia
Blind Boys of Alabama: Friday, Wingate, Charlotte
Usher: Sunday, Philips Arena, Atlanta
Jim Brickman: Dec. 7, Township Auditorium, Columbia
Switchfoot: Dec. 7, Philips Arena, Atlanta
Crystal Gayle: Dec. 12, Newberry (S.C.) Opera House
Hinder: Dec. 15, Amos' Southend, Charlotte, N.C.
Justin Beiber: Dec. 23, Philips Arena, Atlanta