Anne McCue's 2003 album Roll showed off the Australian blues-rock veteran as a fully formed performer, equally skilled at coolly emotive singing and eruptive guitar solos. The songs aren't as strong on McCue's follow-up, Koala Motel, but her voice still captivates, and as with vintage Eric Clapton, it's worth slogging through even her blandest material—like the generically twangy protest song "From Bakersfield To Saigon"—to get to the part where she starts playing her instrument. McCue writes vivid lyrics, and she has a gift for light ballads like "Bright Light Of Day" and "Sweet Burden Of Youth," where she moans deeply and cleanly over gently swaying rhythms, converting heartache into bewitching shimmer. But Koala Motel is at its best when McCue gets to stretch out, as on the chunky mid-tempo rocker "Hellfire Raiser," which stretches to almost seven minutes, giving the guitar ample room to cascade.
Alt-country stalwart Richard Buckner has been spinning his wheels some since mastering the art of low growl and brusque rock on his first three albums—a cycle that peaked with 1998's Since. His new album, Meadow, is his best in a while, because it returns to Since's stripped-down sound and abstract balladry. At times, Buckner's band sounds like a intimate jazz combo, playing tight improvisations around hooky, driving rock songs like "Town" and "Spell." Buckner still tends to force every song into the same tumbling cadence, but Meadow features some nice variations on his usual theme, and as always, it's striking the way he weaves his voice through hanging chords.