Michael Oliver & The Sacred Band-Yin & Yanxiety. Boston's (by way of Buffalo) Michael Oliver has an interesting resume that includes time in a 90s power pop band (Buffalo's Go, Dog, Go!) and a graduate degree from Harvard. So it's no surprise that his latest effort with The Sacred Band, Yin & Yanxiety, boasts both a clever title and intelligent lyrics. But what makes it potentially one of 2011's best are the great tunes and consummate popcraft that he displays here. Oliver displays a variety of pop sounds here - the Matthew Sweet meets Tom Petty opener "Complicated", the Brian Wilson-inspired "Neverlast", and the twee indie pop of "Tell Me What You're Dreaming". But where Oliver finds his most consistent mark is when he goes with straight-up, melodic mid-tempo pop in the vein of Michael Penn, Cliff Hillis and David Grahame with tracks like "Love While it Lasted", "Little Miss Oblivious" and "Stranger from Another Planet". And the best part of all is that there isn't one clunker among the 13 tracks here. I'll close by saying that you should be yanxious to get this one added to your collection.
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Sam Hawksley-Somewhere in My Mind. Aussie Sam Hawksley has been a consistent purevyor of catchy folk/pop/rock for several years now, but his fifth and latest album might be his best. This may be the result of much of the album being recorded in Nashville, and at times it's reminiscent of another Aussie-gone-Nashville, Bob Evans. The bright, engaging "Thinking About You" is an excellent opener that fits Hawksley's strengths, and "Flying High in the USA" has a bit of a Jayhawks feel to it. Meanwhile, "She's Out Breakin' Hearts" is a fine Tom Petty-style rocker, "Save My Life" boasts a great guitar hook in the chorus, and "Stranger to You Now" and "I Wish" feature some excellent harmonies from Kim Richey and Hillary Lindsey. If you haven't been familiar with Hawksley's fine catalog until now, this is an excellent place to start.
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