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New release from Carla Bianco and Grain


Carla Bianco
All This Time

These heartfelt piano-based songs showcase Bianco's slick vocals, honed through her studio and stage career. Opening with the bouncy "Words Are in the Way," the album alternates between mainstream balladry and mid-tempo pop, buoyed by drums, acoustic guitars and keys.

A few songs, like the hard-luck "Angel Mama," evoke the melancholy side of Todd Rundgren. But where Rundgren ranges from soft-rock gems to idiosyncratic experiments, All This Time has no wilder side. 

Despite the first-person lyrics, too often, these are generic confessions ("If I give you any more / my world will fall to the floor") or head-scratchers ("A force of nature can happen at any time"). Generalizations and time-worn messages can feel personal to almost anyone — a plus when courting a mass audience — yet reveal little specific about Bianco. 

CARLA BIANCO CD RELEASE. 7 p.m. Thu., June 7. Stage AE, 400 North Shore Drive, North Side. $8-10. All ages. 412-229-5483


Echo in the Air

Grain's Echo in the Air captures an appealing amalgam of Americana and dark guitar riffs, with echoes of Neil Young and fuzzy early-'90s alternative pop.

Vocalist Carla Simmons sounds raw and utterly in-the-moment, especially on softer songs like "The Best Part," while Wayne Smith's electric guitars ring with Townshendian chords (especially on "My Mind's Awake") and tumble into raggedly glorious solos. Studio musicians and local talents like Harrison Wargo fill out the duo's loose sound.

Eschewing tight song formulas, Grain prefers languorous sprawl that sounds better with each listen; you'll see the classic-rock build-ups coming a mile away, but these motifs usually lend the material a satisfying wallop.

 GRAIN CD RELEASE. 9 p.m. Sat., June 9. Smiling Moose, 1316 E. Carson St., South Side. $10. 412-431-4668

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