Nearer to the Wild Heart of Life
Japandroids' 2012 truth-in-titling breakthrough was called Celebration Rock. On it, the Canadian duo of singer and lyricist Brian King and drummer David Prowse executed a formula to near-perfection: Hard-driving heart-on-sleeve songs gathered intensity as they built toward roughly shouted choruses that exploded in seize-the-day (and chug-a-beer) catharsis. After a long break, the highly anticipated Nearer to the Wild Heart of Life is back at it, hurtling down the highway and thinking about what has been left behind, on the title track, "North South East West" and "Midnight to Morning." King and Prowse tend to perform as though everything is at stake all the time, an approach that can wear on the listener, and on the eight-minute "Arc of Bar," the duo sound pretty tired themselves. But when they hit the sweet spot on the noisy and mercifully slowed-down "I'm Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)" and ecstatic "No Known Drink or Drug," they're as close to the wild heart of the matter as they want to be. - Dan DeLuca
Japandroids at 8 p.m. Feb. 24 at Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden St. Tickets: $20. Information: 215-232-2100, utphilly.com.
Not Even Happiness
(Ba Da Bing, ***1/2)
A hushed and beautiful album suffused with wonder and light, Julie Byrne's Not Even Happiness is a quiet gem. The New Yorker's 2014 debut, Rooms Without Walls and Windows, was introspective and contained, recalling Vashti Banyan or early Cat Power. Not Even Happiness is equally delicate but more inviting, with arrangements anchored in her fingerpicked acoustic guitar but gently colored with gauzy keyboards and strings. It's a travelogue, of sorts, with songs set in "Southwestern towns" or "over the prairie, through the hills," and with the speaker feeling distant from her love, sometimes with relief. Byrne revels in thoughtful moments. Few albums so persuasively convey the joy of nature: of walks in woods, of sitting in a garden, of looking at the clouds or the sea or the stars or, in one of Not Even Happiness' many transcendent songs, the "Natural Blue" of the sky. - Steve Klinge
Julie Byrne at 8:30 p.m. Feb. 25 at PhilaMOCA, 531 N. 12th St. Tickets: $10. Information: Philamoca.org.
Delbert McClinton and Self-Made Men
Prick of the Litter
(Hot Shot/Thirty Tigers ***1/2)
Just in case you thought he might be slowing down at 76, Delbert McClinton comes out blazing on his new album: "Don't Do It" is a swaggering slab of horn-stoked R&B in which McClinton and his ace band are joined by Texas titans Jimmie Vaughan on guitar and Lou Ann Barton on vocals. "Skip Chaser" is also a blast of rocking rambunctiousness, showcasing the Nashville-based Lone Star native's way with a colorful lyric: "Fill my pocket with my favorite set of pliers / Got some nuts to crack, hope they ain't mine."
In other words, this godfather of Americana remains a vital force. And that's true even when he's not that interested in tearing the roof off. A lot of Prick of the Litter (how's that for punkish attitude?) finds McClinton slowing the tempos and exuding a vibe that's less roadhouse than lounge - on "Middle of Nowhere," his weathered rasp even breaks into a falsetto. Yet, he imbues everything with an innate soulfulness and the street-savvy wisdom of someone who has been around the block more than a few times. - Nick Cristiano
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