Last year's album from The Dawn featured the seven-minute jam "Bring It All Home," which was for me the highlight of the record. It's safe to call that track foreshadowing, because the new release from the Quad Cities quartet led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Sean Ryan takes the idea and runs with it.

The four songs on At First Light range from just under eight minutes to a touch more than 11. None of the new tracks has the strong, clearly defined verse/chorus spine of "Bring It All Home," and that certainly makes it difficult to find handholds in the sprawling record; At First Light generally lacks the pop-song niceties that served as a springboard for the jams on the previous-album standout.

The vocal elements are sparse here - a late-arriving verse and chorus on opener "Let Me Down Easy," bookend singing on "Slow Motion," and a sustained vocal section on "Paradise." And while the lengthy instrumental explorations on the new album are never aimless, they are linear to the point of having little shape.

But let's take all that as a given rather than a flaw. I'll go a step further and say that by largely discarding formula and recursive structure, At First Light is a bold, committed departure for the band, and it's evident that these four tracks have been sharpened and polished: The compositions have a lean, focused elegance despite their lengths, and the whole is accessibly adventurous.

Photo by Laura Heath

"It was not really a comfortable situation," said Brooks Strause. "It was okay. It worked well, and it was worth it artistically."

Such dull words suggest a mundane departure for a musician - an experimental song, the dipping of a toe into a new stylistic stream. But Strause - the prolific 34-year-old singer/songwriter from Muscatine now based in Iowa City - is not nearly so timid.

He was, in fact, talking about having a bucket of actual lamb's blood dumped on him for a photo shoot for his second album. Differences in animal aside, Strause volunteered to be Carrie White - and it was his idea.

In that photo, Strause is foregrounded and exhaling smoke, with a couple clutching each other in the background. The concept, he said, "represented love in a way I haven't seen it represented that much," which made it a good match for the Strause-ian love songs that made up his album Dead Animals (whose first release was housed, it should be said, in actual animal fur).

In case you're curious, Strause said "there wasn't really time" for second thoughts at the shoot: "This photograph has to get done. Let's do it." And "it was kind of surprising - the texture. I definitely got some in my mouth very quickly. It wasn't really as gross as I thought it was going to be."

So he's human after all - although that's not necessarily apparent from the flood of work he's been producing. His seventh album, the richly rewarding The Chymical Wedding of Brooks Strause, was released this month, and he'll be performing October 23 at Rozz-Tox. Dead Animals was reissued earlier this year by the Maximum Ames label, and 2014 saw two new full-lengths, Acid Casual and Renaissance Beast.

Oh, but there's more. He has a rock/folk opera, an album of electronic music, and a solo-acoustic record in various stages of completion, and he's written all the songs for his next rock-and-roll outing with his band The Gory Details - with whom he'll share the stage at Rozz-Tox.

The differences between two versions of Satellite Heart's "Bob De Niro" are compositionally minor, but the new recording transforms the song.

On the 2012 compilation Hello Quad Cities Volume 1, the track was a catchy chug, but it also felt lumbering and unwieldy, with the insistently crashing cymbals exemplifying an overall coarseness.

On the indie-rock band's new EP, Between Phases, the track is, in all its component parts, pretty much the same - but it's been compressed and polished, and the effect is like coal becoming a diamond. It's just 10 seconds shorter, but the quicker tempo and other changes breathe such life into the track that it feels like it's performed at double speed.

The dynamic range has been flattened significantly, but the sloppy explosiveness lost in the Between Phases track is replaced by additions and refinement: a new buzz-guitar bit, more-precise harmonies given greater emphasis, the on-beat stuttering vocal on the word "my" in "my mistake."

The changes, said guitarist/singer Andy Smith, can be attributed to the earlier version being a quick take on a freshly written song, while the new one reflects comfort with the material and several years spent recording, mixing, and tweaking Between Phases. The Hello Quad Cities "Bob De Niro," he said, "wasn't the same level of detail, the same level of production." The core tracks for the EP were put down in the summer of 2013, he added, but the band members' work schedules meant that "it got mixed over a very long period of time."

The time was well-spent. The new record still rocks plenty hard, but there's an agile tightness that the quartet's 2012 album Become the New only hinted at. Smith said the goal with each track was to capture the best version of each song, and that care is evident throughout Between Phases.

The Seattle duo MoZo will be releasing its new album at a September 18 show at Rozz-Tox, and in its home base at a show in ... November.

That sentence has several layers of oddness, especially considering that guitarist/singer/songwriter Moe Provencher and drummer Aimee Zoe Tubbs have no MoZo shows scheduled in between.

Let's start with the band releasing its record here, despite never having played the Quad Cities area previously. Tubbs is from Eldridge, Iowa, and this will be her first hometown show - and her first show in eastern Iowa in six years. "I have played for family and friends before in other bands," Tubbs said. "I'm more excited than anything else to share our material and have them listen to what we sound like now." The Rozz-Tox concert will also feature the debut of Sheridan Drive - a duo that features the daughter of Tubbs' childhood best friend.

And having two months between record-release shows - and two months between shows, period - is part of MoZo's unusual character. The pair began busking together in Seattle roughly a decade ago, and although Tubbs and Provencher are full-time musicians, MoZo is more of an occasional outlet for their original music.

Sean Moeller

In June, Codfish Hollow Barn in Maquoketa hosted a show with Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes. The concert didn't have Sean Moeller's or Daytrotter's name on it, but the link was clear enough.

"I made that show happen," Moeller said earlier this month.

Moeller founded Daytrotter.com in 2006 as a source for exclusive live-in-the-studio recordings, and the vast majority of its thousands of sessions over the past nine years have been recorded in the Quad Cities. But even though concerts are not Daytrotter's product, they are an increasingly common and visible fringe benefit for the Quad Cities, and the Oberst performance illustrates the reciprocal relationship between the internationally known Web site and local shows.

Moeller said he'd been trying to get Oberst in for a session since Daytrotter began - but it only happened because of Codfish Hollow.

"I got a Daytrotter session out of Conor Oberst," Moeller said. "That's why I did it. ... I'm not going to not do that. ... I'm going to help make that happen so that I can get something for Daytrotter from Conor Oberst."

Over the past decade, much of the impact Daytrotter has had on the Quad Cities has been easily discerned - although it's infrequently been explicit, and often it's indirect. Rozz-Tox's lineup is littered with Daytrotter bands. Codfish Hollow concerts typically feature some of Moeller's favorite bands.

More and more, however, Moeller is putting his name on his work. For nearly a year, he's booked and hosted Moeller Mondays shows at Rozz-Tox. Last year he began shows at Davenport's Renwick Mansion under the same banner, and this year he started doing concerts at the Village Theatre in Davenport.

"It's a promoter thing," he explained about the decision to create a Moeller brand. "It's like a [prestigious] record label. People do believe in certain promoters. ...

"I think I tried to stay behind the name Daytrotter for the longest time. I'd go to places and I'd just be introduced as Daytrotter. 'This is Daytrotter.'"

Of course, the Web site is more than just Moeller. He has a business partner and several engineers, and he said the work of illustrator Johnnie Cluney is essential to the identity. And because Daytrotter is a media company and not a concert organizer and promoter, the name doesn't naturally fit with shows that Moeller books or otherwise helps with.

So he said he wondered: "Why the hell am I not building up my own name a little bit? ... I'm just trying to be a facilitator. I'm putting my name out there because why shouldn't I? There has to be something I put it under. I want to be associated with the good things that I'm bringing to town, not for an ego situation. There has to be somebody to validate something that's coming to town. ... You still need somebody to put a stamp on it."

Daytrotter itself plans to get back into the business of one-time local shows with the opening (likely this fall) of its new recording studio and live-music venue in downtown Davenport - although that's no guarantee given the history of the renovation project.

So Moeller's behind-the-scenes work continues. He booked artists for the September 6 East Fest at Davenport's BREW in the Village.

He and Quad Cities River Bandits Managing Partner Dave Heller are planning to present concerts at Modern Woodmen Park, possibly starting this fall.

And Moeller said he booked three of the four headliners for this year's River Roots Live festival: rising country star Kacey Musgraves, legendary R&B singer Mavis Staples, and the indie-pop outfit Hellogoodbye. "If you look at this year's lineup, there's a lot of my fingerprints all over it," he said.

That's not modest, but the man has no reason to be. For all that he's done with Daytrotter, Sean Moeller has also reshaped the local music scene when it comes to touring artists.

Rude Punch. Photo by Zion Design Photography.

Six years ago, I wrote a less-than-glowing review of the Quad Cities band Rude Punch's Killin' It, highlighting the strength of one song as a contrast to the remainder. Overall, I faulted the album for "a lack of imagination."

With an opening like that, you can probably guess what's coming next. The rock-y reggae outfit is back with a new record - Lovers Rock - and it represents a major leap forward, with levels of polish, arrangement detail, and nuance that make it easy to look past its generic trappings.

The phrase "lack of imagination" still applies in some senses. Two songs from Killin' It - albeit the best tracks, "Rock for Me" and "Payment" - have been re-recorded for Lovers Rock. That album title references a romantic subgenre of reggae, which is an accurate enough description but is way too on the nose for a record name.

And despite hints on Lovers Rock that Rude Punch - guitarist/songwriter/singer Brady Jager, drummer/singer Adam Tucker, former bassist Al Sweet, and current bassist/singer Jack Hill - could be an expansive rockers-without-borders trio, the new record still feels overly rutted in reggae. It works as a stylistic base, yet it's constraining for the band's talents - a too-comfortable default.

Those complaints are minor, though. All of Lovers Rock's eight tracks are compelling, and clocking in at less than 33 minutes, the album breezes past with plentiful pleasures - with impeccable grooves, playfulness in the production, smart sequencing, and just enough detours from reggae.

Jessica Lee Wilkes. Photo by Joshua Black Wilkins.

Lone Wolf, Jessica Lee Wilkes' debut recording as a solo artist, offers not the slightest hint of doubt. Its five tracks are a 12-minute blast of full-throated, deep-groove 1950s-style rock, with the bassist/singer/songwriter belting in an unvarnished, brassy voice that sounds wholly natural.

Listening to the new EP, it's hard to believe that Wilkes - who will perform at RIBCO on August 11 - questioned herself a lot. She spent the past half-decade playing and singing in J.D. Wilkes & the Dirt Daubers, but - unlike her music-biz-vet husband (the leader of the aforementioned band) - she's relatively new to performing and recording.

Making her introduction to the world in such an abbreviated form, she said in a recent phone interview, was partly a function of money, but it was also an acknowledgment of inexperience. She had plenty of songs for a longer recording, but she didn't want to get in over her head.

"I wanted to see if I could do it at all," she said. "This was sort of like my first little test run ... , a way to get my feet wet and try to see what I'm capable of as an independent artist."

Photos by Lars Rehnberg (Flickr.com/larsanders) from the Camp Euforia festival, held July 16 through 18 in Lone Tree, Iowa.

Jeff Austin Band

Lewis Knudsen. Photo by Mike Aubrey.

Lewis Knudsen kicks off his album The Way of Most Resistance with a track titled "Death & Cats," featuring the slightly ominous lyric "Death and cats are taking over / You better look over your shoulder."

It's not the most musically arresting track on the record, but in addition to its great title and chorus, it has a gently infectious (and not at all ominous) slink in both verse and chorus. It's a low-key charmer announcing that Knudsen's artistic potential has quickly become confident maturity.

I liked much of what the singer/songwriter/guitarist/pianist and his band were up to on last year's Joy, Pain, Love, Songs - although its mishmash nature made it hard to divine how its disparate threads could or would be woven into a coherent artistic vision.

While Knudsen admitted that his 2014 album was a collection of unrelated songs, he said via e-mail that he conceived The Way of Most Resistance as an "alt-funk/neo-soul" album. That description is a bit of a stretch given the restraint in tempo and dynamic range - and how well Knudsen's voice and his band fit within them.

The sax, keys, and bass on "Fire Inside Me" fit that funk/soul description, but the vibe on Resistance seems more rooted in the carefully orchestrated pop of Badly Drawn Boy. (Remember him?) Knudsen's palette isn't quite so broad, but his arrangements (as on his previous album) make smart use of saxophone, violin, and vocal textures, while his heartfelt singing and the wit in his songwriting complete the package.

Walter Trout last month at Royal Albert Hall

Last year was meant to be a celebration of 25 years as a solo artist for Walter Trout. For much of the year, it looked more like an obituary.

"Provogue Records for the last five years has been planning this big push," explained the guitarist/singer/songwriter in a phone interview promoting his July 21 performance at the Redstone Room. "They financed a biography to be written of me; they financed a documentary to be made about my life; they released all my back catalog on collector's item vinyl. And the whole record label was going to call 2014 the Year of the Trout. And to me, being an artist, my ship had come in."

Trout - a five-time nominee in the Blues Music Awards' Rock Blues Album category and a veteran of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers band - also had a new album, The Blues Came Callin'. "I've got this label and they're way behind me, and as soon as the record started to come out, I was sick and I canceled an entire year of touring."

Fast forward to the present. Another new album, Battle Scars, is nearly finished and is slated for release in October. One line from one track neatly summarizes, with a light touch, the fact that Trout missed his own party: "My ship came in and sailed away again."

You won't, however, hear the man complain - which is clear by his use of the vague and grossly inadequate word "sick."

In late May of 2014, Trout had a liver transplant.

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