Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Review: Fountains of Wayne "Traffic and Weather"

Why did I wait so long to get this CD knowing full well what Fountains of Wayne (FOW) are capable of based on their prior releases? I've been following FOW since I heard "Radiation Vibe" on the radio in 1996. You might think they would have run out of steam ten years on, but they keep cranking out their trademark brand of ultra catchy power pop. Many of the tracks also showcase their humorous lyrics, although nothing is as overtly funny as "Leave the Biker" from their debut CD. I really hope this band is not just remembered for 2003's "Stacy's Mom"...a great tune, but not representative of the heights of pop craftsmanship these guys have attained. True to the title of the record, these songs have themes and tell stories of travelling and wandering...great to take on the road with you. And they have to win something for what may be the best song title this year in "Revolving Dora."

Check out FOW at myspace. And here's the video for the lead single "Someone To Love":

Fountains of Wayne - Someone To Love (hi)

Add to My Profile More Videos

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13

News: Eagles to soar back?

Eagles Prepping New Studio Album, Tour
The Eagles are planning to take flight with a long-awaited new album and a tour. Guitarist Joe Walsh tells Billboard.com that the album -- the Eagles' first full-length studio set since "The Long Run" in 1979 -- is "almost out. We're just finishing vocals and mixing it. We're all finally signing off on it." Story.

Review: Blessed Union of Souls "Perception"

I haven't heard much from Blessed Union of Souls, or BUOS (link), since the late 90s. How surprised was I to learn that they were still going strong and putting out new music? After a very healthy beginning with their string of hits in the 90s (I Believe, Hey Leonardo (She Likes Me For Me), I Wanna Be There, Light In Your Eyes, etc), they kind of fell off "the edge of the earth." Which is a shame given the vocal talents of Eliot Sloan. Like most other BUOS albums, we have here a mix of good and mediocre tunes, and a couple that really stand out. BUOS is perhaps best known for thought-provoking ballads, some with just simple piano and some grandiose with orchestration and the works. "Perception" has all of this, and fans of BUOS should rejoice at these 16 (!) new full-length tracks (17 counting the "bonus" track, annoyingly placed on track 16 - why do bands continue to do this in the mp3 era?). Nearly every track is a great acoustic-driven pop rock affair, but some are less engaging than others. The stand-outs for me include the instantly catchy lead off track "Could've Been With You" and the apparent sequel to "I Believe" called "I Still Believe in Love." I also really like "Closer," which is more of a funky rock track and quite different than their usual output. And check out that busting harmonica throughout "Say Hello To My Little Friend."

You can get the "new" (2005) CD at CDbaby. Also be sure to check out their myspace page.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 14

Monday, July 30, 2007

Review: Rooney "Calling the World"

I've been waiting impatiently for a new "official" release from Rooney (web site) since their impressive debut CD came out in Spring 2003 (self-titled). "Calling the World" is more of the same that made the debut so infectious, and in my book that is a good thing. Their signature hooks and harmonies abound on this one, and their experimention with unique sounds and instrument effects continues with great results. I can easily hear nods to a lot of classic 80s stuff in here, from the Hall & Oates-like "Are You Afraid?" to the Prince & the Revolution-like drums on "All in Your Head". Rooney shines on the more upbeat and bouncy numbers compared to the rare moments when they slow things down. A remarkable band that has skillfully taken dated 80s sounds and made them suitable for listening again. We should expect no less since they take their band name from Ed Rooney, the high school principal from the 80s film Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Check out the video for the first single, "When Did Your Heart Go Missing."

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

Rooney on myspace.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Review: Athenaeum "Radiance" and "Athenaeum"

Athenaeum. What? Say it...ATH-A-NEE-UM. In Latin, it is a school in ancient Rome for the study of arts. The strange name is probably one reason this fantastic band never took off...DJs were too embarrassed they would mispronounce their name!

"Radiance" (1998). If you are going to recognize anything from this band, it would probably be the minor hit from this record called, "What I Didn't Know." An excellent tune, but my favorite cut is "Flat Tire." In fact, "Flat Tire" is worthy of 5-star ranking on the ol' iPOD. "Radiance" is a fantastic record. I admit I only instantly liked a handful of tracks first, but the others grew on me fast with repeated listens, as did the baritone quality of the lead singer's voice. These guys have very intricate harmonies and sophisticated songwriting - things probably not appreciated by most folks with the initial listen. The production is exquisite...and when I checked who was responsible it all made sense: Gavin MacKillop. If I were to make another record one day, my dream would be to have Gavin at the helm.

iPOD-worthy: all tracks!

"Athenaeum" (2001). A very respectable follow-up to the debut CD, continuing in the same vein with great melodies and harmonies. Highlights include the track "Comfort," which unfortunately flopped as a single, and "Waiting For You." Once again, the production is top-notch and the CD is sonically awesome.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9

Visit Athenaeum at myspace. They put out another CD upon their demise called "Hourglass," which is a collection of rarities and demo stuff. It is quite rare, last going for over $50 on Amazon. I've not heard it, so can't comment on how good it is relative to the other releases.

I'll close with video for "Flat Tire"...

Friday, July 27, 2007

News: Semisonic Solo

Dan Wilson, formerly of Semisonic, will release solo album called "Free Life" in October.
"Among the contributors to the album are Sheryl Crow, who sings on "Sugar," the Jayhawks' Gary Louris, who plays guitar on "Cry," Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers pianist Benmont Tench, N*E*R*D drummer Eric Fawcett and Nickel Creek guitarist Sean Watkins." Story.

If you can't wait, check out his 2 song release from Awarestore.com

Personal note: I am pretty interested in hearing this one...I thought Semisonic was great, and I've missed Dan's voice and songwriting.

News: Kelly Clarkson Going To Pop Again

Kelly Clarkson Gets the Message, Returns to Pop
"There was no bucking the system, and no going against Clive Davis. Sources tell me that Clarkson has agreed, through her wise new manager Narvel Blackstock, to make a pop album for release in 2008 with songs selected by Davis and his team." Story

Review: Lone Justice "Lone Justice"

I think this one is going to fall under the "what in the world was I thinking?" category. It is one of those CDs you might be tempted to get because it is cheap and readily available on the CD trading sites. I recall the hype that surrounded this rockabilly/country/rock band from the mid-80s...why I remember that and not things I should remember about yesterday I cannot explain. I even think some reviewer from Rolling Stone referred to them as the best band...ever. ?!

The release came out in 1985 and was put on CD in 1996. I thought it would have some good Southern rock flavor, and I can live with a little bit of country (melodic rock that masquerades as country music to shamelessly go for the cross-over sales), but this is way too hillbilly for me. Maybe if you are in the right mood...like when riding a hayride in Arkansas on your way to some rodeo. The single released from this record isn't too bad (Sweet, Sweet Baby I'm Falling), and Tom Petty fans might want to take note of the tune he participated in (Ways To Be Wicked).

Sweet, Sweet Baby (I'm Falling)

Maria McKee, who lead this outfit, does indeed have some noteworthy pipes, I just didn't like them in the context of this genre of music. She now has a solo career you can follow on myspace.

iPOD-worthy: tracks 3, 6

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Review: Billy Falcon

Today I'm spotlighting Billy Falcon's releases "Pretty Blue World" (1991) and "Letters From A Paper Ship" (1994).

Billy Falcon had some other LPs come out in the late 70s and 80s, but I am not aware of any of them making them to CD. Be nice if they were made available for download, but you can at least stream them from Billy's web site. He's also got a page on myspace.

Billy never hit it big, but struck a chord with Jon Bon Jovi, who served as a catalyst to put Billy Falcon into mainstream for 15 minutes with his only top 100 hit "Power Windows," from "Pretty Blue World." Jon Bon had his own (short-lived) record label for a while (JAMCO via Polygram Records), which put out these two records. Billy also (co-)wrote a decent amount of material for others, including several Bon Jovi tunes. But don't expect a Billy Falcon record to sound like Bon Jovi! While more acoustic-driven rock than Bon Jovi, Billy does share a great knack for a good hook. His voice is a bit grainy at times, and make take some getting used to, but I think it suits his music style very well.

"Pretty Blue World" is a really great effort. Not a bad track in the bunch. Billy's songs tell stories, but stories that we can all relate to. I think a lot of his lyrics are drawn from life experience. "Power Windows" is about extracting the joy out of the simple things in life, while "Heaven's Highest Hill" is about coping with the loss of a significant other. This theme comes up again on his next record. Billy also has a good sense of humor, as heard on tracks like "Married in the Morning." Having a sense of humor must be important to the guy, as it is apparently the barometer of success in his relationships; he ironically addresses the theme of complacent lovers watching the flames die in the tune "Not Funny Anymore." Like his next release, the songs almost always follow the pattern mid-tempo/slow/mid-tempo/slow, etc. To me, it is better than those records that cram 4-5 ballads in a row and put you to ZZZZZZZZZ.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10

"Letters From A Paper Ship" is a decent follow-up, but didn't engage me as much as its predecessor. "Wonder Years" and "Paper Ship" make the CD worth picking up - two outstanding tracks that I could listen to again and again. As on "Pretty Blue World," we have the homage to departed wife/mom again, this time in "Mama's Face," an upbeat and happy song, but with lyrics that may bring a tear to your eye. That sense of humor comes out again on the bluesy "Don't Want Any." The closing track is the only song I know comparing love to a cup of java.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 6, 7, 9, 11

By the way, Billy Falcon has gone on to produce more music, by making more records (web site) and by making babies (Rose Falcon).

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Rare CD: David Gates "Goodbye Girl"

David Gates (formerly of Bread) never achieved the heights that Bread managed to reach, but his solo catalogue should not be overlooked. That is, if you can find it. The tunes on this CD are just like more slices of Bread (OK, bad joke). It contains the 1977 smash "Goodbye Girl," also featured in the Neil Simon film and the top 40 hit "Took The Last Train." Most songs are recycled from his first two solo releases. I actually prefer his last outing..."Love is Always Seventeen" from 1994. Easier to find, too. Shame he did not put out more...such a great voice.

Today this CD was selling for ~$100. Check current price. You can probably score it cheaper on ebay.

Free mp3: Nina Gordon

Nina has generously posted some free mp3 files of tunes from her unreleased recording "Even the Sunbeams" and a couple demo tracks too (circa 2004). You can find them here. This is the recording that would have been in the sandwich of "Tonight..." and "Bleeding...", but she decided to shelve it for reasons explained here.

Review: Nina Gordon "Bleeding Heart Graffiti"

I hate to say I was quite bored with this release (2006), especially after waiting a long 6 years since her superb solo debut (2000's "Tonight and the Rest of My Life"). Only Suffragette rocks, and being at track 4 really sticks out like a sore thumb among the other zzzzz tracks. If you are in a very mellow mood, feel sorry for yourself, or simply need help sleeping...then give this one a listen. For those who don't know, Nina Gordon (myspace) used to be in Veruca Salt (of 90s "Seether" fame).

iPOD-worthy: track 4

Rare CD: The Bob Seger System

In the late 60s and early 70s, Robert Clark Seger (Bob) went by the moniker "The Bob Seger System". Their debut record "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" is seriously hard to find. The title track was a minor hit (reaching #17). It was released once on CD in 1993 (Capitol) and has been out of print since. It was selling used on Amazon for an astonishing $500 when I last checked. Check again.

The Bob Seger System then released the follow-up "Noah," which was pretty much a flop. I don't think this one ever got put out on CD. The "System" returned in 1970 with their final release called "Mongrel" (1993 on CD, Capitol cdp o777 7 81240 2 3). This one is another rarity, going for over $100. Check prices now. After this one, Bob started the solo career.

In short, if you see anything by The Bob Seger System, you should pick it up. Unless they are re-issued, they should remain highly sought after collector's items for some time.

UPDATE (8/29/07) - Bob Seger System "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man CD sells for $150.38 on ebay!
UPDATE (9/16/07) - Another sells for $104.72.
UPDATE (11/13/07) - And another sells for $122.49.
UPDATE (12/12/07) - One is sacrificed for $89.88 (14 bids) - what a steal!?

UPDATE (2/2/08): "Mongrel" sells for $60.00 on ebay (12 bids).

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Hot product: The iLIVE boombox

I picked this up at Target over the weekend on sale for $65 (regular $80): The GPX iLive iPod Dock/Boom Box/CD Player. It sounds great, is very portable, and has it all. If you are looking for a good set of speakers for your iPOD, why not get some that also come with a CD player (in the back, you can't see it on the photo), radio, clock? Has an AUX jack if you have a different mp3 player that precludes use of the iPOD dock. Highly recommended.

Review: Kenny Loggins "How About Now"

I've been a casual fan of Kenny Loggins (myspace) through the years, but have been feasting on his catalogue recently thanks to LaLa. In most instances, I've been pleasantly surprised ("High Adventure," "Leap of Faith," and "Nightlife" stand out as being particularly good). In some cases, I've been left scratching my head, laughing out loud ("The Unimagineable Life"), or falling asleep ("Vox Humana"). In short, his material during most of the 90s is "the dangerzone". That is why I was very hesitant to even bother with this new release. Additionally, it is only available at Target, which made me suspcious.

BUT, "How About Now" is - thankfully - one of those pleasant surprises. I've been spinning this disc a lot lately and it gets even better each time. It is way more upbeat and down to earth than his new-age 90s junk. There are also subtle overtones of his country-rock roots, which really works on this release. He collaborates with some other great songwriters, including Richard Marx, who steps in to ... guess! ... slow things down. Fortunately it isn't too boring.

A quick look at the lyrics and you can see that this release is clearly inspired by his recent divorce. This divorce (his second) evidently didn't go down as nicely as the first...compare "The Real Thing" from "Leap of Faith" to some of the angry tones on this record. Still, the experience did wonders for Kenny's creativity, and resulted in one of his best releases.

iPOD-worthy: all tracks made it!

Review: Darling Cruel "Passion Crimes"

Darling Cruel released their debut CD "Passion Crimes" in 1989 (Polygram Records). I was prompted to check it out after seeing the video for the lead single "Everything's Over" late one night on MTV. This is still a 5-star song on my iPOD.

The music is quite unique - and maybe that is why I am drawn to it, and why this CD is still a favorite. I would call it "goth lite". Most tracks are produced with a rich orchestra and/or backing choir...in a way that really works! Bottom line is that these tunes have some great hooks and grooves, and some of the best orchestration since ELO. But be warned: the singer's voice takes a bit of getting used to...it is an acquired taste. But once you are tolerant, the music and tunes should satisfy. There is a myspace page, but it is not very informative. Anyone know what happened to these guys?

iPOD worthy: tracks 1, 2, 5, 7

Rare CD: Bricklin

Bricklin emerged from Philly in the late 80s, named after the siblings Scott and Brian Bricklin. This is a very rare, out of print CD that easily goes for $50 or more on ebay, when you are lucky enough to spot it. I have yet to get my hands on a copy - leave a comment if you can help!

You can download the songs (and other fine work by Scott Bricklin) from this web site

Check Amazon

Bricklin also had a minor hit on the soundtrack to "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" called "Walk Away." Afterwards, they formed Martin's Dam and released two CDs (some of the tracks are redone): "The Healing" (1995, Paulstarr Enterprise) and "Sky Above" (1998, Hybrid). The latter is easy to find, but the former is more difficult to locate. I have both and rank them very favorably. Outstanding melodies, great harmonies, and not so stupid lyrics. One day I'll have to give each release a proper review.

Scott Bricklin also worked in the band 4 Way Street to release a CD called "Pretzel Park" (2003, Sanctuary Records). It is an easy find, and worth picking up. The band's name is homage to the classic Crosby-Stills-Nash album. The songwriting and harmonies are very reminscent of CSN. Scott Bricklin (myspace) is now pursuing his solo career...I'd be interested in hearing if anyone knows an update!

UPDATE (11-2-07): "Bricklin" sells for $102.50 on ebay today.

Welcome! Mission statement

Welcome to my Music Forum. This blog is simply about my encounters with all things music, with a strong focus on melodic rock, pop, AOR, whatever you want to call it. I will review CDs (old and new) and plan to run some features highlighting cool CD covers and rare, hard to find CDs. We'll see what happens...enjoy.