Glen Hansard, “Drive All Night” (Epitaph)
Trying to out-earnest Bruce Springsteen on one of his most earnest songs, “Drive All Night,” isn’t easy, but veteran Irish singer-songwriter Hansard manages it with help from Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Springsteen’s sax man Jake Clemons. Many know Hansard from his work in the 2006 movie “Once,” and removed from his former partner Marketa Irglova, he skews serious and heavy-handed. But all four of the songs on this EP aren’t bad: “Pennies in the Fountain” uses fingerpicking to advance its folkie loneliness, and the a cappella “Standing In the Shadows” has a change-is-gonna-come heft. A portion of the “Drive All Night” sales go to music-education nonprofit Little Kids Rock.
Steve Knopper, Newsday
Black Flag, “What the …” (SST)
Three decades ago, Black Flag helped invent hardcore punk, a form so raging and reductive it always threatens to obliterate all musical distinctions. Yet these Southern California deviants kicked off their 1981 breakthrough “Damaged” by pledging to “Rise Above,” and by the time they disbanded in 1986 they had done just that. “Damaged” and the best from the overproductive years that surround it still distinguish themselves with jabs of menace and humor, stoicism and hysteria.
Now, original guitarist Greg Ginn hires once-removed band relations old and new to show how easily it could have gone the other way. By its second track, “Down in the Dirt,” this album has already sunk into undifferentiated aural mud, with 19 more doses of thin drums, buried vocals and shredding guitar to come. On closer “Off My Shoulders,” Ginn and company finally lighten up by tossing their legacy for mainstream hard rock. But these days, Black Flag mostly distinguishes itself with Ginn’s enthusiasm for suing his rival former bandmates (and, justrecently, in reportedly ejecting from his band this album’s vocalist, Ron Reyes).
Franklin Soults, Boston Globe
Courtney Barnett, “The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas” (House Anxiety/Marathon)
“In my dreams I wrote the best song I’ve ever written,” Barnett sings on “History Eraser,” one of a dozen tunes here that announce the 25-year-old Australian as a seemingly offhand songwriter of startling depth. “Can’t remember how it goes.”