Red and Blue/Mad Buffalo Records

Don't be surprised if after your first listen to Mad Buffalo's new CD, "Red and Blue," you feel more than just a passing familiarity with the songs.

The music on the album is new, but thanks to the songwriting talents of Randy Riviere, who basically is Mad Buffalo, that music feels like a well-worn pair of jeans.

Riviere, who hails from Montana, has a special way with lyrics. The Americana flavor of the music on "Red and Blue" allows even the more political tunes to be listened to by either side of the aisle.

In addition to being a musician, Riviere is a wildlife biologist and a student of American history, and songs such as "Big Joe Walker," 'Tides" and "Shiloh" reflect those extra facets of his personality.

In addition, Riviere has some truly impressive guest artists playing on the album, including guitarist Reggie Young, who has played with everyone from Elvis Presley to John Prine, and drummer Chad Cromwell, who is best-known for his work with Neil Young and Mark Knopfler.

In the end though, it is Riviere's singular vision that really powers this collection of songs, and it's definitely worth a listen if ambitiously written Americana music is among your interests.

Key Tracks: "Be Here Tomorrow," "Big Joe Walker," "Shiloh"

Low Country/Independent

While country music has taken many forms over the course of its history, there really is no substitute for the good old fashioned type. You know, a story song, perhaps with some fiddle or pedal steel thrown in to accentuate the musical style.

While much of the current country music offerings more closely resemble pop music in look and sound, there are thankfully a few artists who still choose to record country music like it was done during its golden age.

Local musician Jeep White is just such an artist.

Originally from West Virginia, White has been performing music around the Charleston area for the past quarter- century as a solo artist and with groups such as Blue Eyed Soul.

White's new CD, "Low Country," features 10 original songs, most of which demonstrate his strength as a songwriter. With a voice reminiscent of Hank Williams Jr., White sings about the stuff that matters in the country music universe, namely loneliness and heartbreak, although there is the occasional burst of hopefulness here and there.

An impressive list of guest musicians, including Bruce Roberts, Fred Hudson, Jay Miley and Josh Kaler, give White a hand on the album.

Standout songs include the album's kickoff tune, "I Got Nobody," the old school flavored "Short Road to (expletive)" and the outlaw story song "Shotgun," which features some great backing vocals.

If traditional country is your bag, then "Low Country" is worth a listen.

Key Tracks: "I Got Nobody," "Short Road to (expletive)," "Shotgun"

Break It Yourself/Mom & Pop

While most folks first heard of musician Andrew Bird through his work with the Squirrel Nut Zippers, the artist really came into his own in the late '90s thanks to his work with Bowl of Fire.

Never one to do things the easy way, Bird is a perfectionist in the studio and onstage. This legendary fussiness, though, results in a truly great listening experience for Bird's fans, who are an ever-growing bunch.

On Bird's latest solo effort, "Break It Yourself," the musician once again proves that a little variety never hurt anyone.

"Desperation Breeds ... ," which kicks off the album, is a stark yet beautiful tune, while "Danse Caribe" employs violin, saw and Bird's beautiful whistling to nail one of those songs that demonstrate why Bird should be way more well-known than he already is.

"Eyeoneye" is probably the closest thing you'll find to a mainstream rock song on the album, and even that description is iffy.

One has to wonder what wonderful tunes must be floating through Bird's head at all hours of the day and night after hearing the contents of this wildly eclectic album.

A known fan of classical, folk, Irish and jazz music, Bird incorporates all that and more, and part of the fun of picking up a Bird release is that, like Forrest Gump's famous box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get.

Key Tracks: "Danse Caribe," "Eyeoneye," "Near Death Experience Experience"

Live at the Carousel Ballroom 1968/Sony Legacy

It is always interesting when a previously unheard recording of a substantial musical act seemingly drops from the sky for fans to hear.

Of course, everyone familiar with '60s rock music knows that Big Brother & The Holding Company's best years were the ones spent with the late, great Janis Joplin as its lead singer.

Although the association between Joplin and the band lasted just two short years, 1966-68, it produced some of the rawest, most incendiary blues rock that decade, thanks to hits such as "Piece of My Heart" and their cover of George and Ira Gershwin's "Summertime."

Now, just a year after the death of legendary sound man Owsley Stanley, Joplin fans have a chance to hear an extraordinary recording of the Joplin era Big Brother & The Holding Company.

Recorded June 23, 1968, at the Carousel Ballroom (which would later become the legendary Fillmore West) in San Francisco, this live performance, recorded by Stanley, captures the bottled lightning that was Joplin.

Songs such as "I Need a Man to Love," "Catch Me Daddy" and "Ball & Chain" demonstrate why Joplin's whiskey-soaked vocals still have no equal.

Her primal scream at the end of "Piece of My Heart" rivals that of The Who's Roger Daltrey on "Won't Get Fooled Again."

There are other recordings out there of Big Brother & The Holding Company live, but this new one will likely send shivers up the spine of any fan who listens, thanks to the unbridled power put forth by all parties involved. (A)

Key Tracks: "Summertime," "Catch Me Daddy," "Piece of My Heart"