Saturday, November 20, 2010

Manic Street Preachers - Postcards from a Young Man (9.6 out of 10)

When was the last time you heard legit, straight-ahead guitar solos in rock music? Or heard a genuinely great band on top of their game, playing with joy, power and utter conviction? This is that album. These rockers from Wales have been doing it for 25 years now and are always festival headliners in Britain. Unfortunately, they've never sniffed popularity here in the States which is our loss in a world of Gaga's and Katy Perrys. James Dean Bradfield's voice and guitar work give life to Nicky Wire's (as always) insightful, if not cynical social commentary lyrics. "Teenage Dream" this ain't. I haven't consistently enjoyed an album this much since Queen's "A Night at the Opera" in 1976, and I've listened to Postcards From a Young Man through at least 10 times now. Nicky Wire describes this album as Van Halen meeting Motown, or Queen combined with ABBA. Sign me up! This is a classic album and one to be treasured by all fans of rock and roll music. This is my album of the year, and definitely one of my 5 favorite albums of all-time. Tell me what band rocks with the utter passion as the Manic Street Preachers do on a song like "Auto-Intoxication"? "It's Not War (Just the End of Us)" is also the song of the year. Nobody does it like this anymore - for now, the Manics are the last of the mohicans.

Mt. Desolation - "Mt.Desolation" 8.0 out of 10

Well now, another pleasant find! 2 of the guys from the band Keane (minus the bloated lead singer) get together to make a stripped down, countrified cd that oozes with melody and authentic life...unlike, say Mumphord and Sons. Just plain enjoyable and well-done. Highly recommend.

Kelley Stoltz - "To Dreamers" 8.3 out of 10

Some may remember the song "Memory Collector" from 3 years ago that ended up on an Apple commercial. Fantastic melodies framed with occaisional retro-sounds that take you back to the late 60's. But in a good way. He makes all of the songs sound believable -a labor of love. Please do check it out! What a treat to finally be able to commend a cd. Eat your heart out Sufjan.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Taylor Swift - "Speak Now" and another rant about Sufjan's latest.

I'm not even going to offer up a score for Taylor Swift's new cd. But let me say a couple of things in her defense. First, if this had been her 1st cd, I think it would be a very nice accomplishment, and I would be hoping for more growth/output from her in the future. Also, it must be difficult and stressful to follow up the success of the 1st 2 cd's. Also, she's 20 years old. And does actually write every single song on here by herself. And she's not a ho. Kudos.
That said, "Speak Now" is boring and predictable - and believe me, I've heard it 4 or 5 times now riding around with my 15 year old daughter. Swift's melodic patterns and arrangements are getting to be very one-dimensional...except when she channels her inner Avril Lavigne on a couple of songs. Basically, if you've heard one Taylor Swift tune, you've sort of heard them all and I'm just not sure she's all that talented when all is said and done. We know for a fact that she can't sing live. We also know that her stage presence is a bit awkward - sort of this generations Barry Manilow. "But she writes her own stuff, she writes her own stuff, she writes her own stuff." So did Richard Marx.

My only question for those reviewers/people still raving about Sufjan Stevens' new cd "The Age of Adz" is this: Have you, in the past 2 weeks, actually played the cd for entertainment/enjoyment purposes, OR...have you ever played it in the car on a road trip or even while driving around town? That's what I thought. And are you really going to argue that it's better than "Come On, Feel the Illinoise?" Half as as good? If you said yes to either question, I respect you. Otherwise, there really needs to be some revisionist reviewing taking place before the end of the year IMO. Of course, people may complain about my gushing over Joanna Newsome's last cd, so that's fair.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sufjan Stevens - "The Age of ADZ" (2.0 out of 10)

I've been here before - I really have. Group or artist makes it big and then thinks they have to experiment and get artsy-fartsy or obscure...whatever. Fleetwood Mac with Tusk in 1979. Neil Young with On the Beach in 1974. McCartney with McCartney II in 1980...just off the top of my head. least in those cases the albums were interesting or at least LISTENABLE.
This may be one of the worst cd's I've ever heard - an exercise in the artists' self-indulgence and not something written to be enjoyed on any level. It is Stravinsky-esque if Stravinsky had no talent; John Cage if he had a melodic sense; or it is Gary Numan dicking around the studio one Saturday afternoon in 1980. I will not stand for any of this reviewer nonsense hailing this as a classic or masterpiece as I have read. This emperor is stark naked. Some of the reviews I've read have been painful and laughable as they grasp for straws in just what current artist he can be compared to or has been influenced by. He is a creative writer by trade, not a musician who is expert enough to know what or from whom he is borrowing. Plus, most of these songs are way too long, droning with sounds and flourishes like a creaky metal roof on a windy day. I hope he gets booed off the stage. The simple fact is, this cd is un-listenable. I dare you to use this as road trip music or use this as music beyond an audience of one. I'm hoping that Sufjan is just clowning with us, a la U2 in the Pop Mart period....but I have my doubts. Anyway - bottom line - do not buy this cd unless you really, really hate somebody.

Quickie Reviews form the past 2 months

Once again, dear reader, my absence has not been from lack of listening to new cd's. I have simply not had anything positive to say. So, here are some one sentence reviews of those cd's.

1. John Cougar Mellancamp - "No Better than This" (7.0 out of 10) We will all be better off when this T-Bone production thing just goes away. Nothing necessarily against T-Bone, but this "rustic" style of production is just a gimmick when there are crappy songs involved. I could record shit in Sun Studios.

2. Azure Ray - "Drawing Down the Moon" (5.0 out of 10) If they had continued as Little Red Rocket, these 2 women would be household names and headliners at summer festivals with their God given gift of crafting melodic pop. Instead, they spent way too much time with Conner Oberst and got all artsy on us. Sucks.

3. Robert Plant - "Band of Joy" (6.8 out of 10) Almost in the same vein/idea as mt T-Bone complaining above; the problen isn't necessarily with the genre per's just that the songs drag, guest stars are trotted out to spray paint the dung, and reviewers nod thoughtfully and call it inspired.
4. Grinderman - "Grinderman 2" (7.0 out of 10) I don't get it. Honestly.

5. Eric Clapton - "Clapton" (5.0 out of 10) Humiliating. Sad.

6. K T Tunstall - "Tiger Suit" (5.0 out of 10) Just awful. She once had such promise.

Belle and Sebastian - "Write About Love" 6.6 out of 10

I am broken-hearted and I have been here before. In 1985 Kate Bush released her magnum opus "Hounds of Love." Four long, agonizing (for her fans) years later she finally released a new cd - "The Sensual World." It was a great disappointment; a very mediocre effort. Belle and Sebastian fans have waited 4 and a half years to hear new music from the band. I was excited, thinking that a fresh Stuart Murdoch would be a classic Stuart Murdoch. I am here to report that this is by far their weakest effort as a band. A paint-by-numbers performance lacking vitality, wit, inspiration or punch. There are moments of course - "I Didn't See It Coming," "I Want the World to Stop," "I'm Not Living In the Real World," and the title track remind us (a little bit) of what once was. Oh well - you can't win 'em all. I'm calling this cd "Belle and Sebastian Write About Mediocrity."

Monday, September 6, 2010

Jenny and Johnny - "I'm Having Fun Now" 8.1 out of 10

Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley) and her boyfriend Jonathan Rice collaborate here with great hooks, sunshine harmonies, and all-around great song writing. I think Jenny Lewis is truly one of the best songwriters out there - maybe top 5? The first few songs here are interesting, but not quite transcendent, but the rocket takes off on songs 6-8 - "Animal," "Just Like Zeus," and New York Cartoon." Those 3 will definitely be making my year-end "best of" songs. The cd closes with a big rocker "Committed" - and I truly wish they'd have made this the opener instead. I've been anxiously awaiting Rilo Kiley's next one, but if she decided to leave Rilo, I do believe her partnership with Rice could produce some great cd's over the next years.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

David Gray - "Foundling" 8.2 out of 10

Like with Ray Lamontagne, you know pretty much what to expect when you buy or listen to a David Gray cd. His style and singing rarely veer from heartfelt, acoustic songs and passionate singing....not to mention insightful, honest, if not bleak, lyrics. I much prefer this cd to his last one....but it's not QUITE as good as the 3 before that. Are you with me so far, as Don Henley said in "Life In the Fast Lane? Gossamer Thread is a treat and highlight, but I didn't skip over any song; each one held my interest and enjoyment. A beautiful piece of work - highly recommended!

Ray Lamontagne - "God Willin and the Creek Don't Rise" (8.0 out of 10)

As my sons can tell you, this type of music is not my bag....white man, blue-eyes soul sung earnestly and strummed sensitively. Rarely does music like this make me do anything but roll my eyes at this faux-genre. But Ray Lamontagne....admittedly helped by great production and his stellar band....pulls it off. Early Neil Young and James Taylor come to mind for me. I won't buy it, but there's a good chance you will love it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Arcade Fire - "The Suburbs" 8.6 out of 10

So I'm very late to the game in reviewing this cd from Canada's Arcade Fire. And, honestly, maybe you shouldn't entirely listen to me concerning this particular release. I feel like I'm missing something that everybody else is seeing/feeling/hearing. But, for what it's worth, there is, indeed, a certain undeniable power here; a classic feel and with something to say to boot. From the "Heart of Glass" sounding "Sprawl II, to what would be the single if I were the A and R man, "City With No Children," this is truly Ruth's Chris Steak House compared to the McDonalds of Katy Perry or the cheap sushi, self-important Lady Gaga. But....there is a relative sameness here (no, not lyrically - I'm down with thematic albums), but instrumentally, vocally, and production-wise. Don't get me wrong - I don't think Arcade will ever be better than this and I do think it deserves "Best of 2010" consideration...but I'm not on-board the Arcade Fire train. I don't think this cd will age well. Call me in 2015. Post-script: At the insistence of my son Stuart and good friend Jane Anderton Cole, I'm revising my grade from 8.2 to 8.6, Listened to it again, and I think I'm closer to their view of "classic" album. Thanks guys.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Radio Silence

Well, dear readers, it has been a while. There simply hasn't been an interesting cd for me to review in over 2 months - a real drag. Again, I could rip on some new releases, but I don't want to be a crank. So, I've been listening to a lot of ELO and Gerry Rafferty in the meantime. I promise to be back whenever something interesting happens!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Best Songs of far.

Well dear readers, it's been a quiet few weeks in terms of cd releases that have been of any interest. Tom Petty's cd is disappointing by the way. 2010, however, HAS been a GREAT year in terms of individual songs....the best year in that category since 2006. So, here is a mix-tape for you all to make, either by purchasing on I-Tunes, or by downright pirating. As a pastor, I will visit you in jail.

1. Engine to Turn - Tift Merritt
2. July Flame - Laura Veirs
3. Sparrows - Matt Pond PA
4. The Coast - Court Yard Hounds
5. Rambling Man - Laura Marling
6. Our Lady of Stalingrad - The Secret History
7. Wide-Eyed, Legless - Laura Veirs
8. I Should Have Known It - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
9. On My Way Back Home - Band of Horses
10. Crash Years - The New Pornographers
11. Mixtape - Tift Merritt
12. Johnny Nightmare - The Secret History
13. '81 - Joanna Newsome
14. Specks - Matt Pond PA
15. We Will Make a Song Destroy - Rogue Wave
16. Good Intentions Paving Company - Joanna Newsome

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tift Merritt - "See You On The Moon" (8.2 out of 10)

Brilliant, lovely, beautiful, melodic. Tift's achy, expressive voice is a gift, and the production here is first-rate...not too slick, no bells and whistles, no false intimacy of a "stripped down sound recorded on a farm somewhere!!!" Ugh. This is very good stuff overall.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Essential and Non-Essential Paul McCartney Albums

This is off the top of my head without a great deal of reflection, so take that for what it's worth. Nevertheless, once the Beatles broke up, McCartney and Lennon, Harrison and Starr began cranking out solo albums - none of which reached the standards of the Fab 4. I'm afraid, however, that many people 30 years and under have never listened to even ONE McCartney album, and life's too short to let that happen. encourage purchasing and pirating in order to spread much happiness around - as well as telling you what to avoid - here is how I see the McCartney cannon. Even though I hate that word, especially when it comes to presbyterian pastors with that last name.


McCartney (1970) - His first, obviously, after the break-up. Organic. All instruments by Paul. No singles (unless you count "Maybe I'm Amazed), just an acoustic wonderland of snippets, full songs and half-baked ideas perhaps gathered from the scraps of unfulfilled Beatles tracks.
Ram (1971) - Some consider this to be his best post-Beatles work. In much the same vein and feel of the first record, the songs are better developed, more sing-along, a bit more upbeat. The bizarrely beautiful "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" (#1 U.S. single) is here and worth the price of the purchase alone.
Band on the Run (1973)- MOST people consider this to not only be his best solo release, but the only non-disappointing one. Not true, but any of these essential albums could lay claim, fairly, to being the best. Anyway - this is probably the one that I would tell folks to buy first. Recorded in Nigeria, Paul was robbed at gunpoint in Lagos and had the master demo stolen leaving he, Linda, and Denny Laine to go back to the studio and start from scratch. His first incarnation of Wings had already quit on him after the 2 prior tepid releases, and so Paul apparently had something to prove. Keith Moon asked Paul at a party once - "Man, I dig the drumming on the Band on the Run cd....who was that?!" "Me," said Paul. He played 4 of the 5 songs on the first side of the album on his last U.S. tour, so that tells you a lot.
Flowers in the Dirt (1989) - A real return to serious form here...a treat from first to last. There are a couple of songs co-written with Elvis Costello including the Beatle-esque single - "My Brave Face." A criminally neglected release, but it came out in the ghetto years of music (1987-1993), so what can I say? Milli Vanilli sold more copies of this for instance.
The Fireman - "Electric Arguments" (2008) - Ok, so McCartney IS the Fireman. So, now that that is clear, this is a classic. It's so great when Paul stops being cute and half-assed and isn't afraid to experiment and is clearly passionate about the songs. Flood's production is the key here - perhaps finally a producer that gets the best out of him rather than be in awe.

Londontown (1978) Recorded on a couple of yachts with a lot of ganga thrown in, this is my favorite McCartney album in terms of sound and production. Lots of great tunes here, and doesn't tail off dramatically as the album goes on or get too horribly silly or self-conscious. Just a great album, if not a little twee at times.
Back to the Egg (1979) - Produced by Chris Thomas of Pretenders fame, McCartney went into the studio thinking that he had his strongest collection of songs ever since the Beatles. But something intangible went awry and the magic that McCartney was hoping for simply didn't translate onto the vinyl. A couple of real rocking moments here ("Old Siam Sir," "Spin it Off," "Getting Closer," etc.) with a completely new band (this is the last Wings album...Paul would get busted in Tokyo in the coming weeks, so no tour either).
McCartney II (1980) - Recorded at his farm all by himself on a 16-track, and supplying all the instruments yet again, this is, without question, McCartney's most experimental and unorthodox release of his solo career (excluding The Fireman stuff). Fiddling around with synthesizers - it just sounds weird at times, but is so fresh also. Love it.
Tug of War (1982) - Released after Lennon's death and with production by George Martin, there are those out there that actually think this is his best solo moment. And boy does it come close to being an essential purchase. But...I just find it a little too slick and inconsistent in places, and is greatly hindered by the 2 duets with Stevie Wonder. "Tug of War" and "Here Today" are among the most beautiful tunes in the Macca songbook. And "Take it Away" is most definitely Beatle-esque.
Flaming Pie (1997), Driving Rain (2001), Chaos and Creation (2005), and Memory Almost Full (2007). These 4 are sort of alike to me - a 4 part series so to speak that sees Paul in a resurrection mode, career and inspiration-wise. Yet, these 4 almost did not make the cut...while they all have their great moments, I feel that the production lags, Paul is trying too hard, he sounds old in places, and the boundaries aren't being pushed. Still, all 4 are worth a listen.


Venus and Mars (1975) - The follow-up to Band on the Run saw Paul and Linda and Denny in New Orleans, and....I don' know. I just can't think of a single moment that is memorable. The single - "Listen to What the Man Said" is nice enough, and the album isn't a complete dog...I would be just fine if I never heard this album again...and I haven't since about 1977! Don't wast the cash.
Speed of Sound (1976) - Just download "Silly Love Songs" and "Let 'Em In" and you've got it. Well...while you're at it, download "Beware My Love" too. Then you've got it. Half-assed and half-baked otherwise. Quickly made while taking a break from the road.
Off the Ground (1993) - Don't have a lot to say here. Just check it out if you want to. I didn't tell you to.


Wild Life - (1971) - I remember seeing this album in a record store in like 1975. I had never seen it before and thought it was an import or a bootleg or something. And even as a kid I was always looking for the next McCartney release. This was so bad, it escaped my notice. I No singles, no nothing. Just awful. Really awful.
Red Rose Speedway - (1973) The drought continues. Apart from "My Love," and "One More Kiss," everything here is forgettable. Again, I have no idea why this happened to Samson shorn of his locks and strength. Sad to listen to really.
Pipes of Peace (1983) - 10 years of pretty great creativity found Macca slamming into the wall of mediocrity once again with this release. "Pipes of Peace" is an ok song, but beyond that there are no moments of greatness to be found here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

New Releases May18

1. The National - "High Violet" (7.5 out of 10) - I must admit that I don't get the heaping accolades that have come their way. Creative - check. Nice Production - check. Lead Singer - Not so much. Melodies - I dare you to hum one of their songs....go ahead. See? Dark and brooding and interesting...just unmemorable. Can't insist you run out and get this one, but if you're a fan it's ok. Maybe it's me.

2. Band of Horses - "Infinite Arms" (7.8 of 10) - You definitely can't say that they made a "leap" with this album. Some very nice moments to be sure, especially the single "Compliments," and the soothing "Blue Beard." But still, there are no songs on here (at least that I can detect) that have the urgency of "Is There a Ghost," or the timeless beauty of "No One's Gonna Love You," from their previous offerings. "On My Way Back Home" perhaps comes closest. But what can I say - they have spoiled us. And perhaps this one is a real grower. I love these guys, and at least they did not lay an egg.

3. Janelle Monae - "The ArchAndroid" - (8.0 out of 10) If this was my type of genre...I would probably score this much higher....this is excellent stuff. Stevie Wonder's mantle passed onto this 24 year old kid, giving us even more hope that the industry doesn't just belong to the Ke$ia's of the world. Maybe a little MJ in there as well. I'm gonna get crushed by some friends for saying this, but even like M.I.A except better. How's that? Check it out.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

New Releases May 5 2010

The New Pornographers - "Together" (7.5 out of 10) - At this point in their careers, you pretty much know what to expect from Carl Newman and his co-horts: melodic pop, interesting lyrics, nice harmonies. Their last album, "Challengers" found them at the very top of their game, so we sort of should have expected a drop-off in quality, and that is what we have here. "Crash Years" and "Your Hands Together" certainly get things rolling quite well, followed by perhaps Dan Bejars best contribution to the band yet, "Silver Jenny Dollar." But then the album starts to disintegrate into murky waters- sometimes too quirky, sometimes not so interesting. Oh well. I was hoping for much more, but they have not completely mis-fired.

The Hold Steady - "Heaven Is Whenever" (4 out of 10) - If Heaven is indeed whenever, then it can't hurry up fast enough after listening to this. Mara-na-tha.

Court Yard Hounds - "Court Yard Hounds" (6.5 of 10) - Two-thirds of the Dixie Chicks leaves us 3 points short of a great album. I'm not sure which sister sings lead here, and she does have a very nice voice, but most of the album sounds like Sheryl Crow when she tries to get country-fied (see her Kid Rock duet.) So - not so good. Who would ever thought I would miss Natalie Maines? Having said that, however, this cd does contain one of the best songs of this or any other year - "The Coast." Feel free to buy it or pirate it - it deserves to be heard far and wide.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Radio Silence

Well dear readers, the past 2 weeks of cd releases has been woeful. The only thing that the releases have proven is just how much I don't like Broken Social Scene. So, I will be offering, hopefully, some more articles on old albums, Bohemian Rhapsody, and 2nd hand highs at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium. Oh yeah - Willie Nelson's new cd of old country standards is very, very good.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Best Produced Songs Ever - Part 1. "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden"

Recorded in 1970 and produced by Glenn Sutton, Lynn Anderson's "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden" was a cross-over hit. Anderson won a Grammy for Best Country female vocal performance, and the great Joe South won a song-writing Grammy for the song. Country purists, perhaps understandably, by and large hated the song as well as the production with its "Countrypolitan" sound including strings (!) and such. It was always a sweet, haunting song for me and my childhood, and I remember really enjoying it when it was popular.
But it wasn't until RE-hearing the song some 20-25 years later driving in the car one day that I realized just how amazing and necessary the production was/is to this song. It is breathtaking, and I remember re-hearing the song with my mouth on the floor as to all the little details thrown in - a dash of this, a dash of that - which makes the song truly come alive. I mean, to sit on a stool and play this song on an acoustic guitar...I suppose it would work ok...but you really would only think of it as just a "normal" song at best. But what Glenn Sutton does here! Incredible. Those staccato opening strings and that single thumping drum announcing that this song, indeed, is in the house and demands to be heard - well, now you're hooked and lost in the song before you know it, and the ride begins. The harmonies, the guitars laying down the beat along with a skipping, almost jazzy drum. The staccato electric guitar dueting with Anderson's voice...then strings doing the same thing and swirling, cascading all the way through the chorus. Then comes the steel guitar calling back and forth to the strings like some classical piece. It's just "pixie dust magic" as Elvis Costello once said of ABBA's music. Download it today not only for a piece of music history, but for an example of fantastic production.

Monday, April 12, 2010

New CD Reviews - 4/12/10

MGMT - "Congratulations" (7 out of 10) - Just a little too quirky and inaccessible for me. I think they can do better than this if they would focus more on actually writing songs, although I do appreciate the creativity. I mean, if you can whistle back to me any of these songs, you get a gold star. Or else you have some good "stuff" from Northern California that's making it sound like the White Album. I just don't like to work this hard for my music, and I'm not willing to just nod my head and give them a great score because it would be cool to do so. I'm mainly here to say if a cd is going to give you enjoyment and joy, and I just don't think this will for the people I know. Oh well. And please don't name a song "Brian Eno" like you're all hip. "Siberian Breaks" is the highlight here.

And that's the only release this week that captured my interest. Hopefully a few more next week!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Laura Marling - "I Speak Because I Can" (8.8 out of 10)

She is all of 21 years old. This is her 2nd cd. I liked the first one. This is a classic.
Far better than anything Joni Mitchell could have conceived of at this age (or any age as far as I'm concerned), Laura Marling's "I Speak Because I Can" runs the potential danger of being too subdued and acoustic for its own good, but the danger is completely abated because the song-writing here is so strong, mature, passionate and hauntingly lovely. In a similar way to Joanna Newsome, Marling appears to have been channeled to us from another planet as a gift...we'll just call Marling a 1st cousin for now. The 2 highlights for me are "Rambling Man" and "Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)," the former steering away from the all-acoustic feel with an explosion of a chorus. If she never puts another cd out, she has cemented her worth as a true artist.

Monday, April 5, 2010

New Releases - 4/6/10

Jakob Dylan - "Woman and Country" (6.5 of 10) I was pulling for this - I really was. And the first song "Nothing but the Whole Wide World" is very nice and I perked up. I mean, a T-Bone production, Neko Case adding her vocals here and there - the ingredients were there. But it just starts to drag by the middle and just becomes a gothic, predictable set of songs. Oh well.

Dr. Dog - "Shame, Shame" (8 out of 10) Shame, shame on me...I honestly have no idea whether the score should be higher , lower, or what. Just check it out yourself. I'm at a loss. Maybe they are out of my genre or I hadn't had lunch yet.

Jonsi - "Go" (8.0 out of 10) The Sigur Ros frontman releases his first solo record. And with only 9 songs, I was expecting long, drawn-out stuff with some weird noises accompanied by brilliant moments. But this is more accesible than Sigur Ros - closer to Ok Computer-era Radiohead. And even though you can't understand what the hell he's saying most of the time, it's a pretty good atmospheric ride that always has fresh ideas and inspired hooks. Very impressive.

Matt Pond PA - "The Dark Lyrics" (8.2 out of 10) For some reason it just hasn't been cool to be a big Matt Pond PA fan; they've never really "made it" and, in fact, have sort of faded from view. I mean, I know sorority girls who love these guys, and I'm sure that doesn't help their image. But I think this band (with Matt Pond now being the only original member left), now on their 8th album, might be actually very under-rated. I loved this album. From the jaunty opening song "Starting" to the even more jauntier next song "Running Wild," complete with hand claps, strings, and a background banjo, to the 2 centerpieces - "Remains" and "Sparrows" (which should make my best songs of 2010 list), I love the sound, the confidence, and the craft of this release. What a nice surprise. Wonderful and inspired, even though it sort of gets a little thin towards the end.

Back after a week hiatus!

Between Easter week (I preached 3 times!) and the fact that all the new releases last week either sucked or were completely uninteresting, I had nothing to say. I did find one gem of a song on one of the new cds, and I'll mention that later today or tomorrow. Back with new cd reviews a bit later!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fleetwood Mac "Tusk" memories

October 19, 1979. It was a Friday, and I was a senior in high school in Knoxville, Tennessee. I should have been running in a cross-country meet, but I had quit the team a few weeks earlier for various reasons, not the least of which was so I could play basketball again instead. At any rate, I was a Fleetwood Mac fan, and this was the day that their new album "Tusk" was to be released. Their last album, "Rumours," had been released during my 9th grade year and had conquered the world, so there was rampant excitement and expectation swirling in anticipation of this new DOUBLE album, basically 3 years in the making! The local album rock station had played the album in its entirety the day before, but I missed out on the whole preview except for the last song "Never Forget - " a little piano ditty by Christine McVie that was definitely "Rumours-"like. So, on my way to the high school football game that night, I stopped in a record store near Suburban Center and bought "Tusk." At halftime of the football game, me and a friend went out to my car to open it up and look at the inner-sleeve stuff - liner notes/photos. No liner notes. No lyrics. Just a weird photo montage on every side of the sleeves. But what REALLY struck us the most was....what the hell happened to Lindsey Buckingham?! Did he quit the band? Who was this new clean-cut looking dude in the pictures? After a few seconds we realized it WAS Lindsey Buckingham after all, shorn of his big, moppy, fro-like locks. He looked like Jamie Mitchell now, who was a friend of ours at school. Crazy. So...after the my room....under the headphones I went. Always my favorite thing about music in those days....sitting down comfortably....breaking the album open....carefully putting it on the turntable...and then waiting....waiting to hear, like a gold miner or gambler or speculator, if there was going to be anything on this album that would be breath-taking, historic, life-changing, beautiful. You just don't get that with cd's in the 21st century for a number of reasons which we will save for another time. The album began with this slow, torchy, sort of bluesy song by Christine McVie, "Over and Over." Nice enough, but hardly an album opener! But then came the 2nd song, "The Ledge," a sort of punky ramble with a lot of echo (it was mainly recorded in Lindsey Buckingham's bathroom), Lindsey and Stevie sort of sharing back and forth. And the next 2 songs on side 2 were more of the same - not radio-friendly, sort of experimental songs by Lindsey. I liked it well enough, but it wasn't Rumours! But then came the last song on the first side...Stevie Nicks' first song on the album...the haunting, lovely, lther-worldly "Sara." I think I played it 3 or 4 times in a row. So amazing. Long story short...I liked "Tusk" a lot, but, being a conservative kid by nature (non-experimental, pop addicted), I was a tad disappointed for a number of years with this album. But, since the late 80's or so, it has not only been my favorite Fleetwood Mac album, I believe it's one of the great albums of all-time. If you skip over all of the Christine McVie songs, it's even better! Buckingham-Nicks at their creative peak. It was all downhill after this for Fleetwood Mac, although Lindsey's songs are great on every album. Or, al least interesting. If you have never checked out "Tusk," but it today!

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Secret History - "The World That Never Was" (8.2 out of 10)

What a joy! What a treat! This is the first album from The Secret History - fronted by Bowies' long-time guitarist Mick Ronson's daughter Lisa. And these kids know what they are doing and know what music is supposed to be, coming right at you with great melodies, a great sound, and great confidence to boot! None of that moping indie crap here! It's sort of a retro-sound - something of the 60's-80's mixed together...sort of like if The Sundays bred with Rilo Kiley and The New Pornographers, with Belle and Sebastian as a 2nd cousin somewhere down the line. And I think I hear some Cars and Pretenders in here as well. I don't know who their producer is, but give them an A+ also! There is no question that this is the best cd I have heard so far this year, discounting Joanna Newsom's release because that one is completely supernatural and beyond the work of a mere mortal. Listening to The Secret History almost makes up for all the dregs that I have to sift through every week. Great, great stuff.

Monday, March 15, 2010

New Releases- March 16 ; Philosophy of My Reviwing

Well boys and girls, I have listened to parts of about 12 new cd's so far today, and absolutely nothing stands out. At all. I could get smarmy and trash a few of these cd's for comic effect, but that's no fun. You may say - "Hey - what kind of a reviewer are you that you don't listen all the way through to every new release?!" Look, I'm 47. I obviously miss a few gems here and there along the way (I'm not perfect), or else something simply isn't my genre, but at this point in my life : 1. I've heard just about everything. I've seen the trends come and go. I remember almost every single one of the "classic" releases from 1968 onward. I just do not have time for cuteness or crap. And 2. I'm really just mining for those rare releases each year that really grab me and there's no real debate about its merit...either in its ability to please in the immediate or else its ability to stand as a work of art that can be admired for years to come. I am aware of the "low art" vs. "high art" arguments, and I can appreciate both well-done pop AND well-done experimental stuff, even though I may not actually like it. Radiohead comes to mind first. And maybe The Flaming Lips. 2 bands that I just don't enjoy, yet I really do APPRECIATE their merit and would honestly try to review them that way....even if I'm not digging it. This is where things can get a little subjective of course. But when I review a cd, I'm bringing all of my 43 years of intent music listening to bear, and I think that counts for a lot. Especially after 3 or 4 years of enduring a lot of "modern," much younger music critics who just frustrated me to no end with what they were affirming. I mean, give me Journey and Foreigner over 3/4ths of what is lauded as great today! That's what I'm saying.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Favorite songs of 2009

Well, I've previously posted my best of songs for 2008, as well as 2006-2007, so I'll close with this list. Not the best year for music ever by a long shot, but certainly there were a few gems. Here we go:

1. "Bang" - The Raveonettes (always puts a smile on my face. Danish pop...sort of)
2. "Dull Life" - Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Does anybody do it better than Karen O and the gang? A national treasure.)
3. "Bless This Mess" - David Bazan (former Pedro the Lion)
4. "What Went Wrong" - Mindy Smith
5. "From Africa to Malaga" - jj
6. "When I Grow Up" - Fever Ray (really weird, but I like the creativity)
7. "1901" - Phoenix
8. "Jump" - Anne Heaton (Just a lovely song)
9. "The Ocean" - Tegan and Sara (If you still haven't bought the cd Sainthood, please do.)
10. "People Got a Lot of Nerve" - Neko Case
11. "Ce N'est Pas Bon" - Amadou and Miriam (West African greatness!)
12. "Telescope"- Mindy Smith

And that's it. I'm already collecting songs for 2010, and it's shaping upto be a much better year so far. Of course if nothing else was released this year, 2010 will always be remembered for Joanna Newsom's landmark cd Have One On Me. I still can't believe how great it is.

Monday, March 8, 2010

New Releases - March 8, 2010

1. Broken Bells - "Broken Bells" Ok - what if you had something that sounded like a cross between Danger Mouse and the dude from the Shins (James Mercer)? Oh wait - IT IS them! Well, I bet they called each other and said - just bring your best song idea and we'll just wing it from there. It's not my bag, but I can sense some merit here, so I'll cut them some slack. But just this once! (7.4 out of 10)

2. Gorillaz - "Plastic Beach" Noel Gallagher said it best when they asked him what he thought of Gorillaz. "Music for 4 year olds," he said. Now, who could say that they couldn't find SOMETHING to like on their first 2 releases - well, HIS first 2 releases - we'll give Damon Albarn his due. In fact, I was a bit sad when I heard that Gorillaz had disbanded. But they are back...but. alas, not as we had hoped. You can either pretend that this is deep, profound, fun and inspired...or you can tell the emperor to put his clothes back on. "Plastic Beach" is like a scrap heap of all the ideas that didn't work on the first 2 Gorillaz cd's. And they tried to spray-paint it gold. I mean, seriously, when you are reduced to having to trot Lou Reed out for a guest appearance to liven things up, you are truly sunk. Off the shore of plastic beach I suppose. And 15 songs - are you joking me? (4.0)

3. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - "Beat the Devils Tatoo" Let's give them some credit here: at least they TRY to rock. If T-Rex and Jack White had 3 boys - this is their band. And it does have its moments, including the great title cut which opens things up. But "Sweet Feeling" sounded just like "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," and I couldn't figure out if that was a plus or a minus. (7.1 out of 10)

4. Morning Benders - "Big Echo" Well, it starts off with a Big Bang that raised my expectations way too much with "Excuses," whose recording was featured on Pitchfork for a while. But, like George Washington, I cannot tell a lie....the album fizzles the rest of the way. I can't tell if they are trying too hard to be derivative or are too self-conscious or what. My fault on that one, but I don't have the energy or interest to figure it out. It sounds like The Shins on a bad day. And please don't name a song "Pleasure Sighs" and then proceed to sing it with complete earnestness. Ugh. (5.5 out of 10)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

April 1976

I was in 8th grade in Knoxville, Tennessee, and at the height of my musical-junkie-ness. It was April, 1976 and it was late - like 11:00, and it was a school night. I had just discovered WWWE - a 50,ooo watt radio station out of Cleveland, Ohio, and had begun to listen to the Cleveland Cavalier and Cleveland Indian games, and they had become my new favorite sports teams. Even in Knoxville, you could really pick this radio station up, especially on clear nights. WWWE even boasted that they covered "38 states and half of Canada." ANYWAY...i was laying in bed, listening to the station after the Indians game, and I don't even recall them ever playing music on that station before or since, but on this night they played a song...some guy in concert...never heard the voice before, but I really, really liked it. It ended up being "Show Me the Way" by a guy named Peter Frampton. Up 'til then, he was as complete a nobody as you could hope to find, at least in terms of popular music. He had released 3 or 4 unheralded albums on A&M Records, and had been a member of a semi, semi-popular band, Humble Pie, and so I was truly shocked to hear his name after the song was over. I thought he was some weird metal guy. Now kids....if you are under, say 40 years old or so...this was truly "back in the day." This was before MTV, even before cable TV, and so over-saturation of your favorite band was a non-issue. Besides the album covers themselves that you bought and the accompanying inner sleeve art work, the ONLY real chance you had of seeing your favorite musical acts was either on American Bandstand on Saturday afternoon, or the Midnight Special TV show which came on on Friday nights at, you guessed it, midnight. So it was extremely rare for me to stay up and watch that show. You were really left to your imagination...and myth...and image... and to what your musical heroes were like or not like. And for a guy like Peter Frampton, who, with his good looks, would have been a star in the hey-day of MTV, the only chance he had was to hope and pray for a hit or 2. Otherwise - no exposure, no concert crowds, no following - outside of your geographical locale.
Ok - here's the deal, April 1976 concerning Peter Frampton: HERE'S a guy who has released 4 albums - all of them flops. NO singles. I'm sure his label was getting very antsy and impatient. So, what does Peter Frampton do for his next career move - a move that might very well be his last chance? HE FREAKING RELEASES A LIVE DOUBLE ALBUM!!!! No one, and I mean NO ONE at my school had ever heard of this guy. And no one - NO ONE released live albums unless they were very established and popular. What a gutsy, gutsy, even FOOLISH move really - all the more so when you consider that "live" albums almost never had singles released. Ever. I still can't believe he did it.
And this brings us back to April, 1976 there in my basement room in Knoxville. Not long after that night, my local pop station started playing "Show Me the Way." It had become a hit! Un-be-lievable ! And, to make a long story short, by the time the 1976 was over, "Frampton Comes Alive" had become one of the biggest selling albums of all time, and was #1 for 10 weeks. It also was awarded 1976 album of the year. Frampton fever had swept America in a true rags-to-riches story. I saw him in concert with a girl named Candy Reynolds in July 1976 at Knoxville Civic Auditorium. Festival seating (standing), and a TON of pot! I'm telling you - when the lights went out, it was like an atomic mushroom cloud at every concert I attended in the 70's. I passed many a joint along the line as a 13 and 14 year old! When I saw Fleetwood Mac in 2003, I was very bitter that there was no haze to be seen; no contact high to be had. Alas. So - that's the way it was in April, 1976 - the same month that "Afternoon Delight" was released. React to that as you wish!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I remember when....

It was a cold night in 1977. I was in Cincinnati for my 9th grade year - the only year I wasn't in Knoxville - listening to the big FM album rock station as always. Those were truly the days! And then the DJ said something like - "And remember, tonight at 11 we are playing the new album from Fleetwood Mac called "Rumours." I had become a Mac fan, like so many, with the album before that (self-titled), which contained, among other things, "Rhiannon," and "Landslide," so I was very pumped. So, 11 o'clock rolled around, I put my headphones on, and listened to the gradual intro to "Second Hand News" build up, and we were off and running! The funny thing is that, although I really, really liked it...a lot...I still thought the 1st Fleetwood Mac (with the new lineup of Lindsey/Stevie) was better! But I was in 9th grade - what did I know? A few weeks later, on the same station, I heard "Jet Airliner" and "Carry On My Wayward Son" back-to-back for the first time. That would NEVER happen today, so without sounding like an old codger I will say that I do feel lucky to have grown up when I did, musically speaking. Coming Soon: Hearing "In Through the Outdoor" the first time, and, How MTV ruined music.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Emma Pollock - The Law of Large Numbers (7.5 out of 10)

Emma Pollock (formerly of The Delgados) should be at least a minor star outside of her native Scotland, but alas, I doubt it will happen in today's musical climate. I mean, where are you going to hear an Emma Pollock song unless you have a pretty cool local coffee shop playing a good XM station? At any rate, since "Paper and Glue" was, perhaps my favorite song of my least favorite year (2008), she holds a special place in my heart forever. The new album - The Law of Large Numbers - is not quite as accessible as her debut release - opting for the famous "more mature sound" that all-too-often , means that the artist had no inspiration whatsoever or else starting believing their own good press and decided to be more "earnest." Which usually means it really, really sucks. And, outside of the first 2 songs ("Hug the Harbour" and "I Could Be a Saint"), I'm sure that her A&R man is nervous that he doesn't hear a single. But it's enjoyable enough.

Monday, March 1, 2010

New Release: Rogue Wave - "Permalight"

4 songs into this cd I was ready to write Rogue Wave's new one off as sort of Spoon or Phoenix-lite. I've liked their singles in the past, and would probably go see them at a Bonaroo or the like, but I've never been WOWED by them. But once you get to song #6 (and I'm not saying the first 5 suck, but...) and beyond, this is a pretty good cd - with some excellent moments! Even on the first few songs that I wasn't crazy about, I was struck with the excellent production and sound and execution (both vocally and instrumentally) of the songs. They sounded confident and on top of their game; there were just not a lot of melodic ideas floating around to hold interest or even compel. The first 5 songs do sound a little better the 2nd time around by the way, but nothing to write home about. But then Rogue Wave kicks it in gear beginning with "Fear Itself," and then climaxing with the next 2 songs - "Right With You" and "We Will Make a Song Destroy," which will definitely make my Favorite Songs of 2010. Nothing will bump that song out, copying a Dylan riff from "Neighborhood Bully" (Infidels, 1983). The last few songs are very, very good too, and so it actually redeemed itself with the last half. Not amazing, but not bad at all. (7.5 out of 10)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Random Memories

I spent 3 or 4 years (1968-1972) of my musical early days buying only singles - 45's. I had a whole stack of them, and sometimes they would scratch because i just put them on top of each other. "Ball of Confusion" (Temptations), "The Long and Winding Road" (Beatles), "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo," (Lobo), "Let's Stay Together" (Al Green) - music on the radio was so very diverse; a conglomeration of styles, beats and sounds. Don McClean's "American Pie" was so long that you had to flip the 45 over to hear the whole song. There was no "B" side of "American Pie" as there were on other singles. The great thing about singles was that, once you had it you could play it as many times as you wanted - you weren't forced to listen to hours of radio hoping it would come up again and be played in the rotation.
But one night at Sears, I had enough money to buy an album if I wanted, and I decided to get Elton John's - Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player. And it was this huge fold-out album, each page illustrating a particular song, including a unique photograph with corresponding lyrics - it was really a wonder! Plus, I thought that, apart from the 2 singles that I knew ("Daniel" and "Crocodile Rock") the rest of the album would be average at best. But I was wrong! The 2nd song on the album, "Teacher I Need You," (after "Daniel" the 1st song) was AMAZING. It's still one of my all-time favorite songs - fantastic production, a killer chorus, sweet harmonies - just a little miracle. I was so pleased that my 9th grade daughter thought it was great too - on a recent road trip she made me play it over and over again! Bernie Taupin's lyrics were a little dark and morbid for a 10 year old to handle (they got even darker on the next Elton John album, the classic "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"), but I don't think I bought more than 2 or 3 singles after that day.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Favorite albums of the decade: Rilo Kiley "Under the Blacklight"

Here is where I sort of take off my critic hat and put on my fan hat, although this album did get fantastic reviews by and large. And first of all, let me just say to any of my readers who over 40 yeard old - FOR SURE you need to buy this album immediately. It's the one of the best 70's albums ever made, and when you hear it you will know what I mean. Yet, it's fresh and not just some stupid "hey let's get retro" crap that many groups today impose upon us all. Rilo Kiley is led by former child actress Jenny Lewis who writes all but one song on the album. The lyrics can be a little bleak, but she was attempting to write about the dark underworld of L.A., and I appreciate her truthful, honest look at the subject. Great melodies, great rhythms, great singing, great playing, great production...great songs. I know that there are a few die hard Rilo Kiley fans who see this album as one big sell out, and I have empathy for you - I've been there before with my own favorite groups. Highlights include "Silver Lining" (sounding for all the world like "He Don't Love you Like I Love You for all you 40 and 50-somethings), "Dejalo," "The Angels Hung Around," and the title track. But there's not a bad song here - although "Moneymaker" may be a bit out of place for some. As far as ENJOYABLE albums from the past decade, I can only think of one other (Yeah Yeah Yeah's "Show Your Bones") that would rank higher. 9.0 out of 10

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Album Review: Joanna Newsom - "Have One on Me" (9.8 out of 10)

I fully expect there to be statues of her erected one day, with your kids and grandkids asking - "Were you alive to hear her cd's released?! What was that like?!" Sometimes it's hard for me to believe that Joanna Newsom is actually a real 28 year old American girl and not some alien transferred to us as a gift from the 15th century. But enough of my initial gushing.
My Cookeville peeps will be shocked at this review of Joanna Newsom's new cd, because I have always been a bit critical of her; before this newest release, she was certain to clear rooms and empty coffee shops were she to be played...I have seen it happen! That child-like voice and renaissance modus operendi were just too much - unusual and jarring. But something has happened to our chanteuse in the past couple of years apparently. Her voice sounds more bluesy, more mature - some intangible has taken place that allows for a wider audience to give her a listen. And "Have One on Me" is the music release of the century so far, although to label her as pop or rock or indie would be a mistake. She is world music in the purest sense.
Laura Nyro, Melanie, George Gershwin, Kate Bush, Sufjan Stevens....there really is no other artist to compare her with fairly. I would just try and define her as a musical artist with flowing melodies, sparse production (complete with a chamber orchestra on most songs which accompany her harp or piano playing), and word painting lyrics which will take many, many listens to begin to digest. This is timeless and enduring stuff. A meal; a feast. She honestly reminds me mostly of an early 20th century composer, say, a Satie, Elgar, Faure, Ravel; she just uses a different form. Most of her songs are simply a melody that she repeats over and over again with increasing embellishment. She's not a pop singer with a verse, chorus and a bridge. Most songs are like old Appalachian folk songs - compelling and haunting. Mournful, reflective elegies. My one slight concern (and I'm sure it's because I'm a mortal) is that most of the songs clock in at at least 6 minutes long. Could there have been better editing perhaps? Also, her voice....yes, it's more accessible and expressive, but I can see some folks not being to overcome it enough to embrace the songs as they should be. The highlights are "Baby Birch," "In California," "'81," "You and Me Bess," and the magnum opus "Good Intentions Paving Company" which, to me, is the song of the year, if not the century. The part from around 1:46- 2:26 is the stuff of legend. So I'm throwing it down: this is a classic, legendary cd and will endure the test of time - keeping in mind that this is not a pop/rock cd or review. Just a music review, so don't be surprised when you aren't able to dance to it. And, keeping in mind, that the full effect of "Have One on Me" won't happen unless you have the lyrics in front of you. Reading the Dickinson-like lyrics while you listen to the songs is the equivalent of putting on 3-D glasses at a movie designed for the 3-D glasses. It propells you into a different world; a world, I dare-say that has rarely existed in the history of music, for it is the perfect wedding of music and literature. She has created her very own art form. And I'm sure some dull-witted reviewers won't "get it" and punish it with a bad or average score, such as the PopMatters reviewer, who probably also thinks that Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective are the new Beatles, when neither are even a poor man's Wings. Do not listen to these false prophets. In 2110, "Have One on Me" will be regarded as a landmark in all of musical and artistic history. She would get a perfect score here, but I thought the title track just didn't go anywhere. Alas. (9.8 out of 10)

If I were any other artist, I would wait from now on to release my cd on any other week but Joanna's week. Everything else I heard was a massive disappointment, especially Shearwater's cd. Just awful. Also, Tegan and Sara's new video for their song "Alligator" is up and running on YouTube. Amazing. I'm still so bitter about critics not giving them their due, but whatever. It drove me to start this blog.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Favorite Songs 2008

Ok - these are the songs that I enjoyed the most in 2008...which was not as good of a year for music as 2006 or 2007, but still. 2009 was weaker still, but more on that later this week. I'm so looking forward to reviewing the new cd's on Tuesday, especially Joanna Newsome. Here are the best songs of 2008:

1. The Re-Arranger - Mates of State. (what a fantastic, fantastic cd. Glorious.)
2. White Winter Hymnal - Fleet Foxes (I know it's not an original choice)
3. Sarah - Travis (The cd was a disappointment overall, but no one crafts a melody as well as Fran Healy.)
4. Divine - Sebastian Tellier
5. Soon We'll Be Found - Sia
6. Sing the Changes - The Fireman (I don't ever want to hear again that McCartney is washed up or irrelevant.)
7. Tender Meeting - Brooke Waggoner (I'm surprised I like this, but I can't help it)
8. Hot Lips - Pacific!
9. The Captive Mind - Helio Sequence
10. Hideaway - The Weepies
11. Hot N Cold - Katy Perry (So shoot me, ok? It's amazing)
12. Paper and Glue - Emma Pollock (maybe my favorite of the year?)
13. Through Your Eyes - Nina Kinert (So lovely)

Happy downloading/pirating! I hope a few of these put a smile on your face.

Friday, February 19, 2010

PJ Harvey - "Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea"

Released in late 2000, this cd displays everything you would want from a genius at his/her creative peak. Or, at least, their most accessible. Which isn't always the same thing, but in this case I tend to think it is. Polly Jean Harvey can play that guitar too! Jangly, riff-laden axe work here. And is there anyone that sings with the intensity as PJ Harvey - which is such a jarring shock once you've heard her soft-spoken, thoughtful, reflective, NORMAL, interviews! "I walk on concrete/ I walk on sand/ but I can't find/ a safe place to stand./ but I've got a pistol in my hand." Yikes!!! Highlights include "A Place Called Home," "The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore," and "Good Fortune." I think that, on her other releases, she just tinkers too much with experimentation and gets bogged down with just weird, gothic sounds and imagery that just many times leaves the listener saying "WTF?" But even Picasso's doodlings on a post card we would treasure, and so it is with PJ. I guess all I'm saying is that, if you're new to her, start here. It honestly doesn't get any better, and is most definitely in my top 10 cd's of 2000-2009. Excellent. 8.7 out of 10.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Eisley - "Room Noises" : Magic, Melody and Muse

Ok, so it's not the White Album. Or Rumours. Or Thriller. And I have so many other blog ideas and other long lost albums to review, that I'm not sure why I'm wasting early blog space on this 2005 cd debut release from Eisley. It's certainly not going to gain me any cool points to not only commend this cd but to out and out heap lavish praise on it! But here goes.

The cd is "Room Noises" and the group is Eisley, consisting of 3 sisters, a brother, and a cousin. Home-schooled Christian kids at that! And surely nothing good can come from Tyler, Texas. Oh, but you would be wrong. Now my disclaimer is this: I am a melody guy all the way. Well, for the most part. And there is a fine, fine line - always - between genius in pop music, and real crap. And sometimes it's just this magical dust that's somehow sprinkled on the album, as Bono once described ABBA's music as containing. Who knows where that magic, that dust comes from. Sometimes it's in the songs themselves. Sometimes it's in the production. Or the harmonies. Or the passion and sincerity and soul in the vocals. Plus, sometimes music fans tend to immediately disdain the catchy or the lovely in exchange for the ambient and experimental and never give accessible music like this a chance.
Do you realize how hard it is to make a great pop song or craft a great melody? And capture it in a transcendent way? It is a gift. And Eisley executes all of the above on Room Noises. It is magical. Haunting. Innocent. Other-wordly. Lovely. And it's not a sweet sugary snack - it is a meal in itself. The Dupree sisters craft wonderful songs here - a torrent of inspiration. Sibling harmony abounds, the playing is superb, and the lyrics are compelling - given the fact that you realize you aren't listening to a jaded, world-weary 28 year old, but rather girls that are un self-conscious enough to write about subject matters that resemble chapters in Alice In Wonderland. Peaches it ain't. And the real evidence that Room Noises is one unique and wonderful record unfortunately came on their 2007 2nd release "Combinations" which, though it is a good enough record, is Ichabod ("the glory has departed") by and large. New production team, major label putting perhaps subtle expectations on them, whatever - it comes nowhere near to capturing the magic of Room Noises. But that's another story for another time. The girls have had a rough past couple of years personally, but now all seems to be righted thankfully, and I anxiously await their new cd coming out in the Spring. Know Hope. Make it your guilty pleasure or whatever you need to do, but if you don't have this cd, I recommend it as highly as anything I have heard in the first decade of this century. 8.3 out of 10

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Like I said earlier, I have been listening intently to the radio since I was 4 years old, and starting buying stuff when I was 6 (1969). I would just get completely lost in the melody and other-worldliness of the production and sound and MAGIC of the songs. I remember that 45's (singles) were 65 cents, and I would scrape and steal loose change until I had enough to go to Kmart (among other places). Back then, whenever I heard a song that I loved, it seemed to me that I could never in a million years ever get tired of the song, and I waited the 2 or 3 hour hit cycle on the radio for the DJ to play it again. But I soon realized that even the best things in life can sour or grow old, and it made me sad when I started realizing that I was getting tired of a song or that it no longer moved me as it once did. The first 45 I ever bought was "ABC" by The Jackson Five (RIP Michael). I just couldn't imagine how people came up with such music, playing, emotion - genius! For some cracked-out reason, whenever my parents had dinner parties (which was frequent), they would keep the intercom radio system on in me and my brothers room, which most of the time wasn't such a problem. BUT...the sheer terror of hearing "Knights In White Satin," or "Major Tom" or "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" theme at 11 at night when you're all alone upstairs...not cool. At any rate, much more on my listening habits and music history another day. Which is the name of Paul McCartney's first single.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New Release Quick Reviews Feb. 16

Every Tuesday, dear readers, I will be giving my "first impression" reviews of new cd releases that I think I can contribute to. In other words, if it doesn't fit my genre "expertise" I will shut up! Hopefully we can come up with a few hidden gems every week.

1. Adam Green - "Minor Love" (7.5 out of 10) Ok, so I've never heard of Adam Green, but apparently he used to be in the Moldy Peaches. Who I also don't know much about. But I checked it out, because you never know, and what a pleasant surprise. Think poor man's Tom Waits. Or Lou Reed with a better voice. Stripped down, acoustic album, but with nice rhythms and intersting lyrics. "Buddy Bradley" is Zevon-esque. "I fought the lessons of grace for so long," he confesses. Good stuff. For my Cookeville peeps - think if Andrew Barnes made a solo cd. Overall, it's a bit hit or miss, but well worth checking out.

2. The Go Find - "Everybody Knows It's Gonna Happen Only Not Tonight." (7 out of 10) Sounds like a sermon title for a revival meeting. It's labeled as Belgian electronica, but it's not really. Think Teitur or Sondre Lerche with a keyboard and you've got it. If The Go Find played at a festival or something, you would say - "Hey that's pretty nice, pretty catchy," and you would chat a little more with your friend, and then if someone asked about them the next day you would say - "Hey yeah, they were pretty good."

3. Scanners - "Submarine" (7 out of 10) - Pretty good find here. Strokes-like with a female lead. A poppier, more accessible PJ Harvey while maintaining the punch and dark edge. This cd always holds your interest - I can't believe they aren't well known. I'd give them an even better grade, but I'm a tough grader. Waiting for Joanna next week.

4. Mumford and Sons - "Sigh No More" (4 out of 10) - I feel like I'm back in the days of the "British Invasion" in the sense that you had all these bands racing to the studios in the summer of '64, success formula in hand, hair growing shaggy, in the hopes of becoming famous or even making a buck. Fast-forward to 2010 : Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, Bon Iver, blah, blah, blah. Been there, done that. This is the "British" version! Listen to that beauty! That earnestness! That organic sound! I'm not buying it. Meet the new boss - same as the old boss. If you want to bake in 90 degree weather at Bonaroo listening to this - well, it's a free country. They sound like Dexy's Midnight Runners on a bender. If Kevin Rowland went to the bathroom for a minute.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Song Favorites 2006-2007

I know, I know - this is always a subjective list. But just know this, dear reader....the only songs that ever make it on here are the songs that made me shake my head in wonder. Also know this (and I need to get this out of the way) -I do indeed have a bias towards songs with a sweet I'll let the other critic out there deal with experimental, electronica, rap, etc. I'm a pop/rock guy at the end of the day. So with that disclaimer out of the way, here we go:

1. My Eyes - Travis
2. Vi Kommer at D Samtidigt - Sakert (Swedish. Pop the way it used to be.)
3. The Re-Arranger - Mates of State (Complete genius)
4. Little Polveir - Monkey Swallows the Universe (gets me every time. Unbelievable).
5. Silver Lining - Rilo Kiley (Sorry hardcore Rilo Kiley fans...but it's amazing).
6. Let's Get Out of This Country - Camera Obscura
7. Time Is Running Out - Muse
8. One Moment More - Mindy Smith (Can you listen and not cry?)
9. Heartbeat - Annie
10. In My Head - The Ballet
11. Sing Me Spanish Techno - The New Pornographers
12. Chicago - Sufjan Stevens (Come On Feel the Illinoise! - best cd of the last decade.)
13. Casmir Pulaski Day - Sufjan Stevens
14. Dark Matter - Andrew Bird
15.Paranoia in Bb Major - The Avett Brothers
16. Soul Meets Body - Death Cab For Cutie
17. One Day I slowly Floated Away - Eisley (When they were MAGIC. Here's hoping for 2010).
18. Paper and Glue - Emma Pollock
19. Hide and Seek - Imogen Heap (Stops a room full of people cold every time).
20. Paper Planes - MIA
21. Call It Off - Tegan and Sara
22. Gideon - My Morning Jacket
23. Hold On, Hold On - Neko Case
24. On the Radio - Regina Spektor
25. 2 Dollar Shoes - Rosie Thomas
26. Two - Ryan Adams
27. The Underdog - Spoon
28. Warrior - Yeah Yeah Yeah's (Best group of the last decade. 2000-2009)
29. Way Out - Yeah Yeah Yeah's (And..."Show Your Bones" the 2nd best cd of the decade. Is there a better front-person than Karen O?)
30. On the Table - A.C. Newman

I'm leaving out a lot, obviously. But, if you are someone who thinks that there isn't any fantastic music out there anymore, let this be a start! Most of these songs have YouTube clips, so you can listen to it that way initially.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


So...have you ever been driving down the road, and a song came on the radio that blew you away so much that you actully pulled off the road to listen to it finish? I still remember my equally music-loving brother Brooks calling me all excited from a 7-11 because he just heard this Rosanne Cash song called "Seven Year Ache." That has nothing to do with this post, but I thought I'd ask anyway.
I just wanted to give a shout-out to an old 1969 song that I just re-discovered by The Guess Who called "Laughing." It's just beautiful. Amazing. Coupled with one of the videos that they have of the song on YouTube, it's a snapshot of those crazy, sort of innocent/turbulent times. It was their 2nd hit, right after "No Time." Great vocal by Burton Cummings (just ask him!), great melody that puts chills down your spine, great engineering, and there's a riff that Randy Bachman (Bachman Turner Overdrive.."Takin Care of Business") throws in on the repeat of every chorus that, under the headphones especially, is the part of the song that you most look forward too. And want to repeat. Again. And again. I've known this song all my life, but it's a rare re-discovery for me because I haven't really listened to it since I was 8 or so, and it's probably The Guess Who's most neglected hit. I won't comment on the fact that they aren't in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but since KISS isn't either, they shouldn't feel too bad. Stupid Hall of Fame.

Hello, Goodbye (2009/2010)

My first "real" post will be concerning my complete and utter dismay at the lack of "Best of 2009" lists that did NOT include Tegan and Sara's "Sainthood" cd. And I'm not even complaining about the lack of top-5 or top-10 lists that did not include them (although several did), but I'm talking about and calling out all those bloggers and critics that did not even include them in their top 20 or even top 50!!! Inexcusable and not even subjective. Fortunately, Tegan and Sara (who have improved steadily on every release over the years) have developed a substantial fan base and hopefully have moved beyond being crushed by neglect.
Thus far in 2010, I have been very underwhelmed. Spoon was good, but not great. The only cd I have heard that I can heartily recommend has been Laura Veirs' "July Flame." Which surprises me. I have always like Laura Veirs well enough...her music is melodic and nice. But I was never blown away by her stuff. Pleasant surprise. HEADS UP THOUGH MUSIC FANS: IF Joanna Newsome's TRIPLE cd (coming out February 23rd) is HALF as good as the 2 songs that have been pre-released ("'81" and "Good Intentions Paving Company"), then it will be an instant classic. In fact, "Good Intentions Paving Company" HAS to be the song of the decade for me so far. It's like Carole King meets Gershwin meets Kate Bush meets....who knows? Ah, Joanna. The harpist with the voice that could clear out a room on her first 2 releases. I've seen it happen. She's like this renaissance girl who was cryogenically frozen in 1430 and came back to life - child-like voice and all! She's perfect for a horror movie soundtrack in a strange least on her 1st 2 releases. Even as you enjoy its genius. she has, apparently, made "the leap" of genius, made her voice a little bluesier and mature, and...well, I just can't say enough about it. Sort of like "Bohemian Rhapsody" in its art and genius (and length!). Ok, I'm rambling now. Just go to YouTube, take a listen, and buy the cd on February 23rd.

Welcome Back My Friends...

Hello to all! I am a 47 year old guy who has been intently listening to music since 1966....and buying music not long afterwards. I've seen many trends come and go. The lead singer of The Knack died today (Doug Fieger), and that makes me feel old...but it also takes me right back to the Spring of '79 when "My Sharona" first came out and some people wore "Nuke the Knack" buttons on their shirts. Personally, I love the song!
The main reason I'm starting the blog, however, is hopefully not for narcissistic reasons, but as a music lover who not only wants to impart a little wisdom out there to a younger audience, but hopefully make some buying (or pirating) suggestions along the way to make your lives a little happier. Because there's nothing like the thrill of listening to music that moves you. Hopefully it's transcendent, hopefully it's technically well-done, but that doesn't always happen to be the case does it?
One word of caution: I have tended, traditionally, to be a music snob. And honestly, perhaps the biggest reason that I'm starting this blog, is because I just disagree so strongly with what most music critics today deem as good or even great. I can't handle it. So, these will be my thoughts and my tastes, but hopefully not always just a subjective exercise. I will try to be fair. In other words, many, many times over the years I haven't liked or enjoyed a certain group or singer, but still must acknowledge their greatness and their artistry. Much more later with some recent musical thoughts and 2009/2010 discoveries!