By John B Moore

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers
The Best of Everything (Geffen/UMe)
It would be easy to write off this latest Tom Petty Best Of as just another cynical cash grab from record labels; that is if this 38-song set wasn't such a brilliantly-curated, meticulous collection of Petty's best work grabbed from his solo catalogue, his long tenure with The Heartbreakers and his pre (and sometimes post) Heartbreakers gig with the band Mudcrutch. Spread out across two CDs, though the songs are not in chronological order, the sequencing is solid, starting off with one of his biggest solo hits, "Free Fallin'" before moving into "Mary Jane's last Dance," which was ironically released on the band's last Greatest Hits album and then moving into another mix of solo and Heartbreakers songs. A beautiful companion to last year's essential Petty boxset, An American Treasure, The Best of Everything spans his four decades in music. And while it certainly houses a slew (i.e. every) hit he ever had outside of The Traveling Wilburys, it also boasts some of his lesser well known, but equally powerful songs. Especially warranted here are two unreleased tracks, an alternate version of "The Best of Everything" and a new track, "For Real". This set manages to be everything to everyone; a must-have for even the most casual of Tom Petty fans and a perfect launching point for those less familiar with his music (if such a person still exists).

Jeff Whalen
10 More Rock Super Hits (Supermegabot Music Concern)
Bands like Sweet and The Cars have long since stopped putting out any new music, but their sound still lives on powerfully strong on Jeff Whalen's debut, 10 More Rock Super Hits. Whalen, singer/guitarist for the fantastic, albeit short-lived power pop band Tsar, has not lost a bit of the energy or the pop sensibility that made his last group so infectious. But, while Tsar mixed a bit more punk rock-spiked guitars with their music, Whalen's solo effort is more power pop and glam-influenced. The themes are not particularly cerebral; think summer crushes, cruising and just goofing around (like on the opening track titled, um, "Goofing Around"). But the beauty of a great pop record is that you can take a break from the fact that the world is crumbling around you and simply get lost in fun lyrics and catchy sing-at-the-top-of-your-voice choruses. Among the most imaginative and addictive songs here is the ragtime pop number, "Shanghai Surprise," that manages to best personify the spirit of Whalen's album: creatively original, smart and simply carefree.

The Lemonheads
Varshons 2 (Fire Records)
It's been a decade since The Lemonheads last put out a record, the stellar, wildly eclectic covers album Varshons. So, it seems rather fitting that the band's next foray into recorded material be a direct sequel to that last effort.
Varshons 2 (naturally) is another beautifully quirky take on other's music, with Evan Dando offering a sincere, earnest takes on songs by everyone from Yo La Tengo and Paul Westerberg to The Eagles. And while it would be easy to write this off as just another musician trying to be ironic (clears throat, Weezer) by covering a track like The Eagles' "Take It Easy," the result is a solid cover, fun without being goofy. Elsewhere, their take on John Prine's "Speed of the Sound of Loneliness" is pretty close to perfect. The same could be said for their take on Westerberg's "Things".
Not every track here is as perfect, however. A song like "Old Man Blank" by The Bevis Frond simply seems to be here just to check off the "cooler than you" box. For the most part, though Varshons 2 is almost as flawless as the original. Now if Dando could just find his way to recording a new record of originals.

Forever (Blood Shot Records)
Texas has a remarkably diverse musical heritage that spans from Outlaw Country and Rock to Tejano – making it arguable one of the most brilliantly disparate musical landscapes this country has to offer. And it seems all six members of the Dallas-based Vandoliers have soaked up every bit of those influences over the years. Their latest release, and first for Bloodshot Records, Forever, is essentially a love letter to every pocket of Texas music out there. Cramming in Americana, Punk Rock, Country and Tejano throughout the 10 tracks here for an exhausting, though remarkably satisfying tour of everything that makes Lone Star music enduring. The band seamlessly slips in and out of a slew of different genres, from rollicking numbers like "Troublemaker" and "All on Black," perfectly accentuated by Tex Mex horns and twangy guitars, to the sublime funk of "Shoshone Rose," the band turn in a near-perfect album. Fans of everyone from Doug Sahm and Buddy Holly to Stevie Ray Vaughn and Waylon Jennings can rest assured that their legacy lives on strong in a band like Vandoliers.

Trapper Schoepp
Primetime Illusion (Xtra Mile Recordings)
Over the course of just three albums, starting in 2011, Wisconsin's Trapper Schoepp has quietly, steadily been winning over a slew of followers. That's not surprising given his knack for writing, catchy, memorable songs that stay with you long after the music has stopped; What is surprising is that his indie rock has managed to win over a solidly diverse group of music fans, from pop and alt country to punk rock. As a result, over the years he's been asked to tour with groups as disparate as the BoDeans, the Old 97s and Social Distortion. His latest and fourth LP, Primetime Illusion, is his best so far. Across 11 tracks, Schoepp has hit his stride lyrically, turning in compelling character-driven sketches backed by strong hooks and melodies. From the opening shot, the steady slow build "Shakedown" to more straight-ahead rock on songs like "Freight Train" or the brilliant anti-sexual assault track, "What You Do to Her" (with a great cameo by Nicole Atkins) Schoepp and his band take a massive step forward in their music. The record closes with "On Wisconsin," an old unfinished Bob Dylan tune that Schoepp was able to complete and share co-writing credit with fellow Midwesterner Mr. Zimmerman. Even though the style of "On Wisconsin," is a little removed from the rest of the record, its an obvious classic. It's taken less than a decade, but Schoepp has finally created a nearly flawless album that is certain to be a benchmark by which all future music he makes will be compared to.



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