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Jon Regen is dripping with talent. How else to explain the contributions of heavyweight pals like Andy Summers, Benmont Tench, Rob Thomas, David McAlmont and Ricky Fataar on Regen’s latest album, Revolution, where they don’t so much stand out apart from the music as they become part of it.

Regen’s skills as a songwriter, storyteller and performer of true blue soul music have never been more apparent. Witness a song like “Delores,” which evokes the raw descriptive power of early Springsteen or Waits with a heady brew of piano and organ washing over the whole.

While he’s perhaps most connected in people’s minds to the piano and keyboards, it’s Regen’s voice that ultimately sets him apart from his peers. If Anthony Kiedis ever knocked off the juvenile horseplay and faux emcee stylings and concentrated on hitting a few notes every now and again, that wouldn’t even put him in the same area code as Regen.

Whatever satellite subscriptions and internet prognostication have done to us as music fans is immaterial, because all that really matters is that the world as it exists today just doesn’t have nearly enough avenues for someone to stumble upon bona fide future classics like Revolution’s opening title track and “Excuse Me, But It’s Not Supposed to End Like This,” which thankfully comes along at roughly the midway point of the album.

It’s sometimes a struggle to pigeonhole music into genres or under labels, especially when all you really want to do is lay back in the cut and enjoy it. So if “Spirits of the Soul” (featuring tasteful guitar by Summers) is a torch song or a ballad or something else, what possible difference could it make? What it is is terrific, which puts it in common with the other nine tracks on Revolution.

Manufactured pop has been around for decades, so to pretend the Justin Biebers and Ke$has of the modern age somehow represent a new low would be disingenuous. Still, Revolution really does feel revolutionary in its combination of craftsmanship and genuine soul. —Crispin Kott


For some, releasing an EP is considered a stopgap between full-length albums, an opportunity to remind people you exist and maybe make a few bucks in the process. For singer-songwriter Luke Liddy, his new EP Back Door Rain is a chance to get clear, concise and deep without overdoing it.

Six songs of finely crafted contemporary folk make up Back Door Rain, including the titular number three tunes in. The song has a homespun feel in the music, with its warm harmonies and violin; the lyrics are also familiar and comforting, a sense that runs through all six songs in the collection.

If you were ever inclined to write an ode to songbirds with the title “Songbird,” you needn’t trouble yourself, as Liddy has already got you covered. “Call Me California” speaks to the laid back and pastoral parts that make up the majority of real estate in the populous state, though it successfully evokes the Laurel Canyon scene of the mid-to-late ‘60s in its softly strummed guitars and Liddy’s own equally soft vocals.

As the region makes its gentle transition from summer into autumn, Liddy has provided the ideal soundtrack. —Crispin Kott


My Pet Dragon may not realize it, but they’re sending mixed signals with their new album, Mountains and Cities. The cover is so evocative of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon there was some initial worry that it might contain electronica covers of tunes like “Money” and “The Great Gig in the Sky.” But then the music starts and it’s anthem after U2-inspired anthem…and before long you might find yourself inexplicably on your feet and pumping your fist in the air.

Though My Pet Dragon are indeed a band, they’re primarily the construct of Todd Michaelsen, who not only wrote all the songs and Bono-belts lines like “Only love can save us now” (from “Love Anthem”) with sincere bombast, but also plays enough instruments that if you saw him doing so all at once on the street, you’d probably stop and marvel and empty your wallet into his open guitar case.

The first three songs on Mountains and Cities are so relentless in their single-minded pursuit of stadium acceptance, that it feels like much further in before the delicate swoon of “Siren” comes into the picture. So gentle and unimposing is “Siren” that it’s almost sad to see it go.

Even mid-tempo numbers like “Darling” are built like a fortress populated by classic sing-along truisms that might sound like things you've heard before. None of this is meant as a knock, of course, because the number of bands that can write rollercoaster calls to action like “Crystal Ball” can be counted on one hand. As U2 and Muse are already packing stadiums around the world with the formula, it’s really only a matter of time before My Pet Dragon is doing the same. Thanks to Michaelsen and his musical compadres, they’ve already got the hooks and chutzpah to make it happen. Now all they need is opportunity to knock on the door. —Crispin Kott

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