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DEAN JONES with THE FELICE BROTHERS­—Rock Paper Scissors (independent)

The hardest working man in Hudson Valley showbiz is back, having stepped away from his various group and side projects.

If your kid’s a fan of the prolific Dog On Fleas or Saugerties-based puppet theater troupe Arm of the Sea, chances are they might spend more time with Dean Jones than just about anyone else. On his second solo album, Jones leaves behind the lullabies of his debut in favor of a party atmosphere. And who better to join in on the sing-a-longs than the Felice Brothers, who not only feature on more than half the album’s tracks, but also on its colorful cover, ensuring fans of the wildly popular Americana group don’t miss out. Jones is a charismatic musician, which has always served him as well in a live setting as in the studio, and on Rock Paper Scissors, his charm shines through. Make no mistake—even with the all-star guests (which also include Jones’ fellow band mates from Earmight and the Hudson Valley’s other kid-friendly success story, Uncle Rock), Jones is the ringmaster.

The all-inclusive vibe running through the album serves the material well, and its most fun on tracks like the rockabilly-inflected “Roncando” and “Frenzy”, which instructs the listener to pick up an instrument and get in on the action.

In the unlikely event you’ve got kids and haven’t met Jones yet, this is the perfect place to begin. Think Dan Zanes or They Might Be Giants, and you’re on the right track. It may be kid-friendly, but if you’re also a grown-up who used to be a kid, it’ll probably work for you, too. —Crispin Kott

DEAN BATSTONE— No Angel (Battunes Music)

I can’t decide if this is a compliment or a criticism, but Dean Batstone’s new album, No Angel, doesn’t sound as though it was recorded and released in 2009. If it’s amiable rock & roll in a mid-career Tom Petty vein, does that mean it’s classic or derivative? And if it’s still got one foot firmly in the late 20th century, does that mean it’s timeless or out of step?

Over 10 original numbers—two of which were co-written with a fellow member of the Harder Men, Jim Weider—Batstone’s voice is either soothing or dull, his songs comforting or innocuous. Take, for example, “The Leaving Kind,” a song presumably about heartbreak. The musicians shuffle along politely with a gorgeous organ raising the hairs on the back of one’s neck. But through it all, Batstone’s decision to simply sing the song means any emotion that might be found in such a theme is almost wholly absent. “Heavy as a Heartache” feels just as shallow, with lines like “What don’t kill me makes me strong, and strong for you is what I’ll be” unlikely to inspire much confidence.

Nine of the album’s songs fall into this trap, carrying little weight as they drift through the speakers. Only on “Waiting for the World” does Batstone deliver, matching the menace of his fellow musicians with a vocal completely of the moment. It’s a pity there’s so little of this to go around. —Crispin Kott

BRIAN GOSS— The Firing Line (BTG Records)

All music scenes are incestuous in some form or fashion, especially when they center around an area as music-friendly as the Hudson Valley. The benefits of this are well illustrated reading Brian Goss’ curriculum vitae, both in the bio on his website and among the partners in crime who play on his outstanding new album, The Firing Line.

Goss cut his teeth with two of his brothers in the Warmjets in the late ‘80s, eventually touring with alt-rock heroes Jane’s Addiction. Brother Tom returned to the fold in the early ‘90s, when the pair formed Dripping Goss, and years later, Goss teamed up with Simone Felice to form Fuzz Deluxe. These weren’t the only stops along the way for Goss, but they’re key pieces of the contemporary puzzle, as both Tom Goss and Felice feature prominently on this release.

Strings are such a gamble in rock & roll. Just ask Richard Ashcroft, who used them to great effect on his old band, the Verve’s biggest chart successes, then fell into lite-rock self-parody trying to replicate the formula over his solo career. To the credit of Goss and his fellow musicians, the strings on songs like “Trainwreck in Your Eyes” featuring cellist Jane Scarpantoni blend seamlessly with everything else, often producing something epic.

Former D-Generation front man Jesse Malin has carved out a modest solo career as an earnest Lower East Side sub-Springsteen rocker, but it’s Goss who should be receiving the accolades. And even with his grimy past, Malin would never dare mix a Sonic Youth wall of sound guitar passage in a song as gorgeous as “Holiday.” But for Goss—the musician and the producer—this not only makes sense to try out, but also works perfectly.

Goss’ bio lists an early exposure to British post-punk and goth thanks to another brother as being a key to his early development, and maybe it’s still in the mix somewhere, as his vocals often sound like those of Bauhaus front man Peter Murphy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

If there’s any justice left in the music industry, The Firing Line should sell like hotcakes. —Crispin Kott

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