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Lou Barlow, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Tommy Keene 

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click to enlarge LOU BARLOW
  • Lou Barlow

Lou Barlow

Brace the Wave

Joyful Noise

File next to: Richard Thompson, Nick Drake, Richard Buckner

Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between a Lou Barlow solo release and an album by his '90s band Sebadoh. But that's not the case on Brace the Wave, which finds Barlow playing all the instruments on what he humbly refers to in the liner notes as a short and dashed-off set of nine tracks. In reality, the new album offers some of the most complex and introspective lyrics of his career. These are paired with layers of mandolin, ukulele and synth that give the music a Mediterranean feel. Even with the lo-fi aesthetic, Barlow's intonation resembles that of British folkies, except on "Moving," where he sounds more like Eddie Vedder. Barlow's work has always been uneven, but the understated Brace the Wave is genuinely powerful. — Loring Wirbel

THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE
  • The Jimi Hendrix Experience

The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival

Legacy

File next to: Cream, Led Zeppelin

By the time of this historic July 4, 1970, concert — in front of his largest-ever American audience — Jimi Hendrix had broken up the Experience, briefly formed Band of Gypsys, and re-formed a new Experience. Joined by bassist Billy Cox and returning drummer Mitch Mitchell, Hendrix here focused on his 1967-68 material, while also previewing three numbers from his then-current recording project. The manic "Room Full of Mirrors" provided a clue to what would have been Hendrix's new direction. Musically, the band is very together, and the live arrangements stick closely to the studio versions; only on the slow blues of "Red House" does Hendrix stretch out, doubling the song's length. Though most of the performance was released on the 1991 box set Stages, here this long-bootlegged recording finally gets official and complete release. — Bill Kopp

TOMMY KEENE
  • Tommy Keene

Tommy Keene

Laugh in the Dark

Second Motion Records

File next to: Smithereens, Matthew Sweet

A dedicated soldier in power pop's ongoing struggle for critical and commercial success, Tommy Keene is at the top of the genre in terms of both quality and consistency. His preternatural abilities — crafting a sharp hook; wrapping it in a memorable melody; and applying heartfelt, often melancholy lyrics — make him an exemplar of what power pop can be at its best. After the tangent of his deep-cut covers album (2013's Excitement at Your Feet), Keene returns with another winning set of originals. He blasts out of the gate with the chiming near-perfection of "Out of My Mind" and continues with nine more tunes boasting muscular backing. The shimmering "All the Lights Are Alive" demonstrates his skill at delivering lump-in-the-throat emotional content in the guise of impossibly catchy pop songs. Laugh in the Dark shows that Tommy Keene's muse hasn't failed him yet. — Bill Kopp

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