Combine a Deep South childhood in a family of “Higher the Hair, Closer to God” ladies with an affinity for folksy bucolic songwriting, and it’s no wonder I’m a fan of Dolly Parton. For someone as lifted and cinched and packaged and painted as Parton, the one thing that has never sounded manufactured is her passion; her latest (42nd!) album, Blue Smoke, is proof. She sings soft rock with Willie Nelson on “From the Moon and Back” and a sappy/morbid mortality duet with Kenny Rogers called “You Can’t Make Old Friends.” She does Dylan Smoky Mountain-style, gives a gospel infusion to a Bon Jovi song, and puts a brilliant new spin on “Banks of the Ohio.” She giggles her way through French on “Lover du Jour.” There are misses—“Miss You - Miss Me” is painfully maudlin—but what would you expect from an artist whose heart is as big as her bosom? (M. Brianna Stallings)
Hailing from Chicago, The Safes plays clean and classic power pop in the vein of, say, The Raspberries and The Nerves. Some critics have namechecked Cheap Trick, but I don’t see it. That’s anthemic, stadium-friendly pop-rock for lighter-holding mooks; The Safes makes you wanna bop and sway and maybe dress up in a neatly collared shirt and winklepickers. It could be called radio-friendly but only if that designation is indicative of catchy, well-written pop rather than lowest common denominator AutoTuned swill. Are they breaking new ground? Not necessarily but The Safes don’t need to prove anything, unless it’s that they like what they do. As we used to say, "It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it." That’s a higher compliment than it seems. Pro-tip: Check your social networking site for a local Safes house show this week. Don’t forget: A house show means it’s in someone’s home. Mind your manners. (Captain America)
Pink Mountaintops’ latest, Get Back, is a clear indicator that rock and roll in this day and age permits the use of recycled sounds to convey its aural messages. And this is in no way a bad thing. This album is a fine catalog of the inspirations that have guided indie bands since the turn of the century ... and more prominently before that time. You have your college radio-rock circa 1992 in “Through All the Worry.” You've got your Bowie-produced Mott the Hoople-vibe on “Sell Your Soul,” and then album opener “Ambulance City” gives you wild, anthemic rock that boasts the energy of Japandroids, but its more subdued tones give it a life all its own. It's not the greatest record ever released, and there are some tracks that I could do without (see “The Second Summer of Love”). But if you like your music varied and vivacious, it's a nice lean-on for moments of radio fatigue. (Mark Lopez)
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Erika Wennerstrom • singer-