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The Latest: For any mood in life's journeys

"Matt Costa"

By Matt Costa

Brushfire Records

I'm not going to lie: A part of me was expecting to hear bagpipes in at least one song from Matt Costa's self-titled album after reading on his website that he recorded most of it in Glasgow, Scotland.

But Costa's fourth and latest album with Brushfire Records put me in my place and presented me with 10 songs that showcased the Huntington Beach native's range when it comes to folk-pop.

Coming in at 33 minutes long, the album takes you on an interesting journey. There are stretches where the songs match and complement one another.

Opening the record is "Loving You," which starts with string instruments elegantly playing and then suddenly jumps up to a pleasant, upbeat tempo of a piano and backing band. Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" popped into my head when Costa sang, "As long as your heart beats, you were made for me / Where the lights are low and the smoke is thick / Let's go back to how it felt then so I can say...."

After that peppery track, "Early November" lulls you into a cozy state, with simple beats and warm lyrics. It made me feel like I was cruising down Pacific Coast Highway with my windows down on a warm summer morning. Or it could easily be an early November morning, it being Southern California and all.

Another good pairing is "Good Times," which has a catchy chorus line — "Those good times are coming to an end" — and the following track, "Shotgun," which will have you subconsciously clapping along.

But there comes a point in the album where it takes a strange, but somewhat welcome, turn. "Silver Sea" is the only song that sounds like it had some Gaelic influence. Though most of the album was recorded at Castle of Doom Studios in Glasgow, ironically, this was the only track recorded in Los Angeles at the Solar Powered Plastic Plant.

It's a strong song that makes you feel as if you were a medieval Scotsman traveling through a foggy lake, but like the chorus in this song suggests, I, too, think this song was "lost" in the album.

Things get a little cheesy, but sweet, with "Ophelia." Though it's carried with a warm, sweet melody, the lyrics come off as desperate, begging almost. With lines like, "The night was like a deck of cards / You hit me with the ace of clubs / I'm placing all my bets / Begging you to deal me some love," it's either a hit or miss with the significant other in your life.

"Matt Costa" isn't as cohesive as some of Costa's earlier albums, but he still delivers good songs that will complement any mood you're in.

Costa is nominated for best folk artist in the 2013 OC Music Awards. He's up against Huntington Beach natives Honeypie, Micah Brown, the Ultimate Bearhug and Yellow Red Sparks.

This latest album didn't meet the deadline to be entered into this year's "best album" category, but don't be surprised to see it on next year's list.

—Anthony Clark Carpio

*

"I Just See You"

By Tracy Newman and the Reinforcements

Kabeauty Music

"I Just See You" is nothing if not relatable.

A mother spends hours ferrying her daughter to and from school, only to be snarled at for being weird.

A girl makes a valiant effort to move on, but upon the unexpected discovery of her ex's gray and blue tennis shoes, finds herself on memory lane.

A dysfunctional couple fills the silence between them with a potent mix of alcohol and drugs.

Like I said, real.

Admit it or not, we've all been there — from wanting to protect a loved one from sadness to lamenting the loss of love.

This 11-song CD takes the listener on a voyeuristic journey through life, as seen through Tracy Newman's eyes.

Emmy award-winning TV writer Newman and the rest of her Reinforcements came together in 2004. Unveiled in September last year, "I Just See You" is the singer-songwriter's second album — a modern-folk creation that took five years to release.

The album is laced with a refreshing country flavor, with hints of jazz lilts in "If It Were Up To Me." Mostly upbeat, with pensive undertones, the album showcases Pat McGrath on acoustic guitar, Dave Francis on upright bass, Robbie Turner on steel guitar and pedal steel, and Russ Pahl on dobro, banjo and pedal steel. Some songs also features Gene Lippmann on the guitar and John Cartwright on upright bass.

Newman, with an airy subtle twang, and fellow singers Lippmann and Rebecca Leigh breathe life into the album with clear voices and effortless singing.

The album flaunts an acoustic sound, with mellow harmonies that complement, but never steal, the spotlight from Los Angeles-based Newman's poignant lyrics.

She uses every song to tell stories starring married couples, lovers and even parents. Relationships provide fodder for this album, which is alternately, and often simultaneously, humorous, honest and moving — all conveyed with simple and dulcet verses.

The album's songs, a sampling of Newman's creative prowess, don't require concentration to follow. Pop it in your car's player and the toe-tapping music will be sure to elicit a nod, sigh or chuckle, and leave you humming when it's over.

Newman seems like an approachable and down-to-earth person who would leave the recording studio and be game to grab a drink with you, which adds to the overall charm.

"Fire up the Weed" took first place in the Great American Song Contest in 2011 with its ironical tale — "This must be the way we want it/ This must be what we need/ I'll make the martinis/ And your fire up the weed."

"Table Nine," a tipping of the hat to Newman's idol, Merle Haggard, won third place in the American Songwriter Lyric Contest in 2011 for verses such as, "He asks my age, I'm 21/ He smiles and says, "How'd you get to be so young?"/ I call him a flirt, he calls me sunshine/ The man at table nine."

"I Just See You" was the result of a group writing class in which Newman was asked to write about looking into a mirror. A personal favorite with which the album shares its name, this song makes the listener privy to a long-term relationship with, "Let me be your looking glass/ Look at me when you walk past/ And see yourself the way that I do/ I don't see young, I don't see old — I just see you."

For those who'd like to see Tracy Newman and the Reinforcements live, the group is slated to take the stage at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Marine Room Tavern, at 214 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach. The band will perform at various venues across Southern California through March, before heading north for a six-day tour in April.

For more information, visit http://www.tracynewman.com/gigs.html.

—Rhea Mahbubani

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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