ARTIST: Midnight Youth
RATING: 4 out of 5

When it comes to over-played pop music you can hear on every station from Kaitaia to Invercargill, the general rule of thumb is that it isn’t usually lifted from a great album.

Consider the number of same-sounding singles from the likes of Britney Spears or Rihanna.

Nevertheless, despite cracking the national airplay chart with 2 singles from their debut album The Brave Don’t Run, Kiwi rockers Midnight Youth have managed to create an album that attempts to be unique and refreshing – and more often than not, it succeeds.

While singles “All On Our Own” and “The Letter” are the anthems on this record, the tracks between establish the group as a creative force.

Opener “Cavalry” is a catchy rocker sure to lighten up any party, while “Dead Flowers” is a pop masterpiece, reminiscent of local heroes like Evermore or Eskimo Joe.

Later on, Mexican-tinged rocker “Tijuana” shows the groups willingness to try new things with their music, and perhaps reveals the only real problem with the album: The Brave Don’t Run ultimately comes across disjointed.

Despite this minor weakness, Midnight Youth have released a solid, at times brilliant, debut effort, proving themselves worthy of all the radio time they are given.

ARTIST: Neil Young
RATING: 3 out of 5

It’s with some trepidation that I approach new studio albums from established legends.

I felt that way when I checked out the latest album from Neil Diamond (Investigate Magazine, July 2008) and I felt it again right before the opening chords of Fork in the Road, the latest from the other great “Neil”, Neil Young.

Truth be told, you never know ahead of time if you’re getting classic Neil Young – the guy who wrote “Heart of Gold”, “Old Man”, “The Needle and the Damage Done” – or the more recent Neil Young, who has failed to really capture his success of the 1970s.

Surprisingly, the album kind of straddles both extremes – you have your sing-alongs like “Just Singing a Song”, but the more anthemic tracks are countered by would-be political tracks that aren’t strong enough to hit home the way they should.

But while the songs themselves aren’t particularly strong, the album does manage to capture the feel and passion of Neil’s live show, which I managed to catch at this years’ Big Day Out festival – and I can tell you that between the familiar vocal and guitar work, Fork in the Road is almost throwback Neil Young.

Maybe that’s enough of a compromise.

ARTIST: Ben Harper & Relentless7
RATING: 4.5 out of 5

Ben Harper has spent much of his 18 year career proving that he simply cannot be contained.

From acoustic folk work like The Will to Live, to the reggae feel on Fight For Your Mind, to the straight rocking singles on Both Side of the Gun, to gospel work with the Blind Boys of Alabama, Harper has managed to dabble in almost everything except gangster rap.

Don’t laugh – he might try that sometime too.

Harper manages to tick off another style by forming Relentless7, a southern-rock band founded with Texas musician Jason Mozersky, and releasing his heaviest rocking album to date, White Lies for Dark Times.

From the first few bars of opener “Number With No Name” it’s clear what you’re in for, with the southern sound of slide guitar dribbling over the top of a funky bass-line and grungy blues guitar, before giving way to Harper’s familiar vocal over a catchy chorus.

In fact, it’s not too different from earlier work by current stars Kings of Leon. “Up To You Now”, “Why Must You Always Dress In Black” and first single “Shimmer & Shine” are all highlights on this great album from a proven talent, operating at the peak of his powers.