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Cover albums are always tough propositions, and there have always been two schools of thought as to their construct, and two general schools of thought regarding their reception as well. Some artists choose to stay close to the map laid out by the original, which works fine for some fans and irritates others. Matt Turk, for the most part, takes a different route, molding mostly familiar tunes into his own modern Americana feel.

Witness the stark harmonica in Turk’s smoky blues take on T-Rex’s classic glam stomp, “Bang a Gong (Get it on).” Over 11 songs, Turk taps into his inner Gram Parsons and dresses up some classics in Nudie suits and desert dust. The project is most successful when you don’t expect it to be, primarily due to the deft hand of Turk and his fellow musicians, who countrify songs that on paper might seem like odd choices to have made. It’s fitting the album was recorded in Burbank, as there’s something of a late ‘60s southern California country-rock flavor throughout.

In fairness, the Rolling Stones were also in debt to honky-tonk when they recorded “Sweet Virginia,” so the journey wasn’t as great as it might have been had Turk chosen something from Their Satanic Majesties Request, for example. Even so, the cover works, as do takes on other Brit legends of the era like a mournful pedal steel laden “I’ll Follow the Sun” by the Beatles and a haunting a cappella version of Pink Floyd’s “On the Turning Away.”

Elsewhere, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” is a fun opener, but it doesn’t set the stage for the adventures to come. American Preservation is at its best when it travels familiar roads in a different light. —Crispin Kott

TODD NELSON—HERE(independent)

That Todd Nelson is a skilled guitarist is not in question. His curriculum vitae boasts big names across the musical spectrum, and if everyone from Ry Cooder to Nick Lowe have found something in Nelson’s playing to sink their teeth into, who am I to argue? But when a skilled guitarist becomes the focus of a full album, sometimes things get out of hand and, well, show-offy. Fortunately, Nelson isn’t just talented; he’s also tasteful.

Nelson’s trio on his new album, Here, is rounded out by the fretless bass of Kyle Esposito and the drums of Manuel Quintana. Though there’s sometimes the temptation to overdo it in an effort to fill in space when the band is so small, Nelson and company seem comfortable allowing silence and subtlety to accentuate the strength of the playing. It’s a powerful result, as on the aptly-titled “Crestfallen,” which evokes an emotion about as well as any song in recent memory has done.

“Volts” is also perfectly named, as it’s something of an energetic rockabilly romp. “Into the House,” at nearly eight minutes in length, doesn’t necessarily feel like the work of David Gilmour, but there’s enough outer space there to make the comparison.

Coming in at seven songs and around three-quarters of an hour, Here is just the right amount of music delivered with both skill and style. What more could anyone want from an instrumental guitar album? —Crispin Kott

ORYAN—I ♥ RY(independent)

The Ramones did it by adopting phony last names, and three-fifths of Duran Duran did it by sharing an actual last name and no familial link. So why shouldn’t the members of ORYAN draw attention to themselves with their band name?

Three of the four members of ORYAN are named Ryan. Ryan Megan sings and plays rhythm guitar, Ryan Schoonmaker plays drums, Ryan McCann plays bass and the group’s lead guitarist breaks up the near full house by being named Adam Gosney. At least that was the lineup on the band’s compelling five-song EP, I ? RY, because according to their website, their bass player’s name is Paul Moran.

Over five meaty songs, ORYAN achieve their stated objective and play “solid, well crafted, kick ass rock music.” Megan, who wrote the lyrics himself and co-wrote the music with Schoonmaker, might not like the comparison, but given the Tennessee band’s continued chart success, it’s difficult to not draw parallels between his primal growl and that of Caleb Followill, front man of Kings of Leon. To his credit, Megan is a far more soulful prospect. “Manuals,” for example, is an absolute monster, deliberately shambolic and brimming with terrifying depth. At just under six minutes in length, the song is the EP’s emotional tent pole, one which best exemplifies the strengths of a band who do much more than merely rock and roll.

“Goodbye” is every bit as glorious as “Manuals,” and while I’ve no actual opinion on whether “Millbrook Needs a Taco Bell,” I’d be hard-pressed to argue with the Tom Waits-like drunken shanty which closes this all too brief release. Up next for ORYAN is an album proper, one which has some awfully filthy shoes to fill. —Crispin Kott

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