Sleeper Agent, Celebrasion: On riffy rockers like "Proper Taste" or "Force a Smile," Sleeper Agent sounds like The Who on speed. But just when you think you have a fix on the band's sound, out comes a sweet pure pop tune like the ballad "That's My Baby" or a Strokes-ish rocker like "Get Burned."1.
2. Centro-Matic, Candidate Waltz: Though its music falls under the roots rock/Americana umbrella, Centro-Matic is more sonically adventurous and creative than most such acts. There's crunchy rock ("All the Takers"), lovely but sturdy balladry "Shadow, Follow Me" and ghostly, grainy, yet pretty pop-rock ("Estimate x 3"). No newcomers, (the band dates back to 1995 and its frontman, Will Johnson, is a member of Monsters Of Folk), Centro-Matic should be vastly better known than it is.
3. Tommy Keene, Behind the Parade (Second Motion): Since the early 1980s, Keene has been turning out tightly crafted, highly melodic and lyrically smart rocking pop. "Behind The Parade" follows suit. "Deep Six Saturday," "Running For Your Life," "Already Made Up Your Mind" sound like pop classics in waiting - and they are just a few of the keepers on "Behind The Parade."
4. The Dears, Degeneration Street (Arts & Crafts): Highly popular in its home country of Canada, the Dears might be considered a poor man's Coldplay. Except the Dears' catalog of albums may be stronger than Coldplay's, even with a disappointing 2008 CD, "Missles." The Dears bounce back from that CD on "Degeneration Street," which combines epic and passionately delivered rockers like "Lamentation" and "Galactic Tides" and more direct, brisk and poppy fare ("Yesteryear" and "5 Chords").
5. Caitlin Rose, Own Side Now: Rose professes to wanting to write simple songs that are dressed in simple sounds. The approach works because Rose's vocal melodies are pretty and deceptively sturdy and her backing musicians add just the right muscle and color to the songs. Add in her plain-spoken but expressive lyrics about longing and imperfect love, and you have a pretty complete package.
6. Jack Oblivian: "Rat City": A fixture from the Memphis garage rock scene, Jack Yarber, aka Jack Oblvian, doesn't play a narrow brand of this music on "Rat City." "Mass Confusion" is a rocker with a disco beat, "Old Folks Boogie" is a garage blues track. "Kidnapper" puts some serious boogie in its soul-ish sound.
7. Locksley, "Locksley" (Feature Records): Locksley's songs have a seemingly endless supply of power pop hooks and exuberance, be it the energetic "Don't Make Me Wait" and "The Whip" or the more textured "Days Of Youth." Want another recommendation? Kinks frontman Ray Davies has used Locksley as his backing group. 'Nuff said.
8. Papa Juke, "Out of the Blues" (self-released): This band's music would heat up any juke joint, but its songs also make blues and roots rock sound fresh and alive. Papa Juke pulls in elements from across the roots music spectrum, but the bottom line is that bluesy roots rock doesn't get much better - or original - than on "Out of the Blues."
9. Imelda May, "Mayhem" (Decca Records): May gained visibility as Jeff Beck's vocalist on his tribute CD to Les Paul. But she's even more impressive on "Mayhem." The music here (nearly all of which was written by May) ranges from high-octane surfabilly ("Psycho") to rocking swing ("Mayhem") to jazzy balladry ("All for You").
10. Garland Jeffreys, "The King of in Between" (Luna Park Records): Jeffreys went 13 years without a CD before releasing "The King of in Between," but this musically diverse CD is a gem. Jeffreys serves up potent rock on "Coney Island Winter," gives "All Around the World" a sweet reggae sound, kicks out some driving blues on "'Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me," and jumps, jives and raves on through the standout song "Rock and Roll Music."