New releases from The Lumineers, Janiva Magness, and Alt-J 

Sound Advice

click to enlarge The Lumineers
  • The Lumineers

The Lumineers



File next to: The Head and The Heart, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

One of 2012's bigger surprises was the explosive response to The Lumineers' self-titled debut and its infectious call-and-response tune "Ho Hey." That success was quickly followed by a backlash, especially among indie-folk fans who considered The Lumineers second-rate. But one good thing about a backlash is that it lowers expectations. All The Lumineers really had to do was display some competence on this sophomore release, and there's plenty of that in Cleopatra. Wes Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites provide engaging storytelling in songs like "Sleep on the Floor," and the simple arrangements benefit hugely from Neyla Pekarek's violin and David Baron's guest keyboards. It still remains a mystery how the band can headline multiple nights at Red Rocks. Then again, one might say the same for the Avett Brothers. — LW

click to enlarge Janiva Magness
  • Janiva Magness

Janiva Magness

Love Wins Again

Blue Elan Records

File next to: Bonnie Raitt, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Shemekia Copeland

Though she's been making albums for decades now, blues vocal powerhouse Janiva Magness was initially an interpreter of other composers' music. It's only been in recent years that the seven-time recipient of the Contemporary Blues Female Artist award has turned her attention to writing her own songs, and the positive feedback she earned encouraged her to continue in that direction. Magness' triumphs in facing her own personal demons have provided plenty of subject material for her. The vocalist's hard-earned upbeat (yet clear-eyed) point of view informs the disc's 11 tunes, and the title track is a tidy summation of where she is today. Tasty blues-based instrumentation often leans in a Memphis style; there's a soulful character to the songs on Love Wins Again that was only hinted at on Magness' already-excellent earlier material. — BK


click to enlarge Alt-J
  • Alt-J

Live at Red Rocks


File next to: Foals, Bombay Bicycle Club

Every so often, there is one overpriced monster that demands attention due to its heft alone. So far this year, the award goes to Alt-J's LP/CD/DVD document of their July 2015 performance at Red Rocks, a package recalling some of the most overblown of 20th-century arena-rock live albums. The Leeds, UK band is famous for unusual a cappella vocal arrangements resembling a slightly twisted Fleet Foxes, layered with EDM-style electronics and musical washes that approach Mogwai in the best moments. This collection also brings together some of Alt-J's finest work, including "Fitzpleasure," "Breezeblocks" and "Nara/Leaving Nara." A limitation lies in sound engineering so clinically perfect, even the audience encore calls have a predictable sterility. But even with few unexpected moments, most fans will still find Live at Red Rocks worth its swollen price tag. — LW


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