By Bliss Bowen
CHRIS PIERCE, American Silence (Hearth Music): 3
“American silence is a crime,” the Pasadena-raised soul artist declares over acoustic guitar and harmonica during the title track, which leads off 10 civil rights anthems written for this character-defining era in American history. Pierce persuasively channeled Mussel Shoals legends for his 2016 album “You’ve Got to Feel It!” Here, he draws on wrenching episodes from his own life (the melodic, memorable “Sound All the Bells,” “Young, Black and Beautiful”) and responds to George Floyd’s murder and generations of injustice with a bone-weary howl on “It’s Been Burning for a While”: “Glad you stopped to see/ And ain’t no water gonna douse it down/ Until you hear from me.”
RICK HOLMSTROM, See That Light (LuEllie): 4
For 13 years, the veteran blues guitarist has been too busy touring with Mavis Staples to focus much on his own music. So, consider this viscerally satisfying set an unexpected benefit of the pandemic, which knocked Holmstrom off the road. Recording close to home in Venice with longtime drummer Steve Mugalian and bassist Greg Boaz, he pushes past the blues with the swampy “Losing My (expletive)” and groovers such as “I’d Rather Be a Loser” (a romping showcase for his lean tremolo tone) and “Come Along” (revamped from his 2010 “Twist-O-Lettz” version), before sweet closer “Joyful Eye” celebrates the comforts of family in a bewildering world.
CHARLIE HICKEY, Count the Stairs (self-released): 3½
There’s a sly charm to the South Pasadena songwriter’s midtempo blend of melody, melancholy, and smart pop hooks. Produced by and co-written with Marshall Vore, this six-track EP fulfills the promise that Hickey, now officially in his 20s, has been showing on local stages since he was in his early teens. Beautifully imagistic single “Ten Feet Tall” is animated by his vocal chemistry with guest Phoebe Bridgers, while deceptively conversational lines unfold over plangent banjo to confess a dreamer’s soul (“No Good at Lying”) and the title track’s domestic drama (“She gave you a trigger and a bullet/ I bet she thought that you’d never pull it”).
JOYANN PARKER, Out of the Dark
(Hopeless Romantics): 3
A welcome return from the Minneapolis-based diva, who’s in commanding vocal form throughout this rootsy set. The material, composed by Parker and guitarist Mark Lamoine, ventures into classic rock and country (graceful ballad “Either Way” is a highlight), but always circles back home to blues with her tight, punchy band. Highlights include the gospel-infused “Carry On,” the shimmying “Predator,” the New Orleans-partying “Dirty Rotten Guy,” and the title track, composed during a pandemic-imposed break. RIYL Janiva Magness, Danielle Nicole, Davina and the Vagabonds.