This Month’s Four Play contributed by Mike Coleman, Ashley Estill, Nicole Pearo
Show: Jan. 14 at Tortoise and Hare, Arlington
Niki Barr Band’s latest album, Radar Radio, is an impressive 10-track collection of rock. It’s proof that they’re continuing to master their trade and mature with each album. Niki’s voice brings to mind a more metal version of Paramore’s Hayley Williams — it’s unique, memorable and always delivers. The album begins with “Sex Fiend,” an infectious track that will make you get up and…dance of course. The album features a nice little surprise in the slow ballad (yes, a slow song), entitled “Fallen.” It’s not the band’s typical sound, but we like the switch up nonetheless. All the tracks are catchy, but “Lips Like Crucifix” is worth a second (and third and fourth) listen. “You keep me alive, your lips like crucifix…You keep me alive with the curse of your kiss…” Always known for their inspiring song writing, the streak continues with Radar Radio.-AE
Show: Jan. 16 at IOTA Club and Café, Arlington
Mix four veteran musicians from four established Washington-area rock bands and what do you get? In the case of The Ruins’ new album, you get a well-produced, highly listenable slice of roots-rock music that will have you tapping your toe or singing along at the top of your lungs, depending on your personal style. Album opener “April May,” is a pretty slice of organic melody – punctuated by a lilting accordion – that hearkens to the mid-90s, countrified pop of the Bojangles or Better than Ezra. “Enemy Love,” a straight-ahead Steve Earle-esque rocker, provides a nice showcase for Rob Receveur’s electric guitar licks, which lend the song a muscularity that is lacking in other spots on the record. Throughout the album, David Graziano’s (formerly of popular DC-area band Blame it on Jane) self-assured vocals varnish the tunes with a professional polish that is sometimes lacking among local bands. Maybe the best thing about The Ruins is their apparent chemistry – the cohesiveness of their arrangements and harmonies suggests they’ve been playing together a lot longer than they have. And it’s probably even better live, so check out their record release party Jan. 16 at IOTA.-MC
Show: Jan. 21 at Velvet Lounge, Washington, D.C.
With nothing more than a couple of guitars, a harmonica and his distinctive ragged-around-the-edges voice, Washington, D.C. troubadour Alex Vans has produced an impressive record marked by solid songwriting and an appealing mixture of rock, folk, blues and jazz styles. Eschewing flash for substance, Vans employs spare but impeccable guitar strumming and mature-beyond his years vocal phrasing on “I Got Lucky.” On “A Poor Man’s Time” Vans’ trenchant, observant songwriting – a lament about the declining state of America – is made even more compelling by his ability to create drama through tempo changes. A wailing harmonica on the same track evokes memories of Neil Young. As the EP progresses, it seems to grow in intensity as Vans’ electric guitar melds seamlessly with acoustic guitar and his singing grows ever more urgent and soulful. This is a promising singer-songwriter who easily evades the staid and predictable sounds that so many bring to the genre. –MC
On their recent stop through Washington DC, Cloud Cult proved that they have a passionate cult following. The majority of people in the Black Cat could even sing along with the words – impressive for a band from Minneapolis. Their most recent album, “Light Chasers,” shines brightly. Even if you don’t grasp the theme of spiritual growth immediately, the concept album contains many songs that are replay-worthy on their own, like “Running With the Wolves” and “You’ll be Bright.” Whether featured on a Geico commercial, or heard on an indie podcast, Cloud Cult’s unique compilation of brass instruments, strings, drums, guitar and synthesized vocals is unmistakable. Like their painter pals who join them on stage for every show, this band is truly a team of artists, led by front man and songwriter Craig Minowa. If you are looking for something unconventional in the Indie Rock genre and haven’t discovered Cloud Cult yet, now is the time to pick up “Light Chasers”. – NP