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CD reviews: Hot local sounds of summer to refresh you in the August weather

Staff Writer
Austin 360
Slowtrain

Some music sounds better in certain seasons. The icy solitude of Bon Iver's "For Emma, Forever Ago" is unmistakably cold-weather music, while Foster the People's inescapable "Pumped Up Kicks" has summer written all over it. This week, we look at local albums released over the past few months that will make for good listening as the August heat hangs over Central Texas.

Slowtrain

"Bound to Find You Out"

(self-released)

In an interview on Slowtrain's website, lead singer-songwriter Adoniram Lipton compares his band to the Jayhawks. He also names the Band, Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker and Muddy Waters. Those influences are certainly there on "Bound to Find You Out," but the best tracks on the album recall other artists, including the Beatles, who lurk on the choppy blues of the title track. Similarly, soulful rocker "About You" rolls along with the laid-back honky tonk of early Wilco. For the most part, Lipton avoids sounding like just another knock-off with songwriting that tends to reach beyond classic rock cliches.

— Peter Mongillo

Monarchs

"The Rise and Fall"

(self-released)

Celeste Griffin, the central creative force behind Monarchs, didn't start writing songs until later in life, but you wouldn't necessarily know it listening to the Mike McCarthy-produced "The Rise and Fall," a sometimes very personal account of a relationship's ups and downs. The material combines Griffin's unique voice with Southern-flavored rock and soul, resulting in one of this summer's stronger local outings. Strangely, the highlight of the album, the bouncy "Business Casual," is the one track that doesn't deal directly with Griffin's life. Deceivingly dark in comparison with its lighthearted exterior, the song exemplifies Griffin's songwriting skill.

— P.M.

The Ghost Wolves

"In Ya Neck!"

(self-released)

The Ghost Wolves are a new project from former Belleville Outfit drummer Jonathan Konya and folk/rockabilly musician Carly Wolf. In the tradition of guitar-and-drums duos like the White Stripes, the Ghost Wolves offer their own take on traditional blues rock, with Wolf merging her fingerpicking electric guitar style and attitude-filled vocals with Konya's noisy drumming. The Ghost Wolves' energy and potential lift their live show, which finds Wolf flying around the stage, and they manage to translate some of that energy to the album, where their big, gritty sound renders their bass-less status a nonissue.

— P.M.

The Warm Guns

"Something in the Night"

(self-released)

Most members of the Warm Guns, led by Ricky Stein, have been playing together for a while, so the band is more a rebranding than a completely new project. On their debut, "Something in the Night," their familiarity shines through, especially on the low key numbers, where the band proves adept at providing a soundtrack for the heat with sounds both mellow and familiar. An acoustic crescendo distinguishes the title track, which opens the album, building like the Allmans' "Melissa." "Oh" is more upbeat, with the band settling into a bouncy groove, and closing track "Sunrise" resembles a balmy summer night, complete with the sounds of crickets as Stein wonders about the promise of another day.

— P.M.

Gary Clark Jr.

"Bright Lights"

(Warner Bros. Records)

Gary Clark Jr.'s first major-label album isn't due in stores until early 2012, but while the Austin native is busy playing a series of high-profile dates, including the Austin City Limits Music Festival in September and an appearance Tuesday on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," Warner Brothers is offering the four-song "Bright Lights" CD as a tantalizing taste of things to come. The title track is the song that got Warner's attention, after Clark's searing live performance at Eric Clapton's 2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival wound up on the concert DVD. Produced here by heavy-hitter Rob Cavallo (Green Day, Kid Rock, Dave Matthews Band), it's a dark, jagged electric blues number with churning guitar that eventually rises to a scream and a commanding vocal that's equal parts angst, ambition and defiance.

"Don't Owe You a Thang," while more swampy and up-tempo, mines a similar vein, confirming Clark as a worthy heir to a long line of swaggering blues-rock gunslingers. But the two live solo tracks are more intriguing, showing a soulful, introspective side without losing any of the sinewy strength or propulsion of the full band numbers. On the mid-tempo ballad "Things Are Changin'," Clark's warm baritone has a liquid quality reminiscent of John Legend as it slides over his guitar's sparkling arpeggios. The ease of his vocal contrasts with the percussive flow of his fleet picking on "When My Train Pulls In," which surges into a couple of long solos that build suspense through hypnotic repetition and small, meaningful gestures rather than sheer pyrotechnics. While the thunder and lightning of "Bright Lights" probably make it a better calling card for the festival circuit, "Things Are Changin'" and "When My Train Pulls In" put forth a distinctive vision of R&B as a kind of folk music that's both elegant and elemental.

— Parry Gettelman