Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Review: Tyketto "The Last Sunset: Farewell 2007"

With exception of the die-hard fans, most of us will probably admit to being a little skeptical when a band announces the sudden "discovery" of lost or forgotten early or live recordings. So here we have the hard rock AOR masters, Tyketto, pulling this one out of their hat. "The Last Sunset: Farewell 2007" is marketed as "a collection of unreleased tracks, album demos, and live recordings." Sounds bottom of the barrel scary.

But the stereotype does not apply with this release...the Tyketto boys have delivered yet again and put out a "lost" recordings compilation that truly feels like a time capsule (circa 1988-1992). Having these tunes cranking out of your speakers just makes you want to grow the mullet back out and hit ebay for some spandex. Wow! Tracks like "Big Wheels" and "Till the Summer Comes" sound like they could have been on their AOR masterpiece "Don't Come Easy." Another standout is "Is Anybody Watching Me," which sounds like a follow-up to their classic acoustic-driven ballad "Standing Alone."

Even in the linear notes (also nicely done), vocalist Danny Vaughn writes, "Let's be honest, the reason these songs never got heard is because we never felt they were quite good enough." Their classification of these tracks as their sub par crap is testament to how awesome their "A-list" stuff was. But I thoroughly enjoyed most of their D-list throwaways.

As one might expect for such a record, some tracks are better produced and in more of a final form than others. But Danny never disappoints on vocals, and the trademark big chorus hooks are still present in these unheard tracks. I enjoy the "new" stuff better than the demos. The demos are interesting to hear, providing insight as to how certain beloved songs evolve, but it is hard to appreciate them more than once when biased by the well known version.

Fans of Tyketto rejoice...this is a "leftovers" CD worth picking up.

iPOD-worthy: 1-6, 9

Tyketto site.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Rare CD: Dave Clark Five "History of..."

This 2CD collection of Dave Clark Five tracks is a really nice find (Hollywood Records, 1993). You'll be surprised just how great many of their non-radio hits are as well. Why the Dave Clark Five has not been inducted into the Hall of Fame is beyond me. This set almost always goes for $50-100 on ebay. One recently sold for $71.00 used.

Prices for used copies on Amazon.com are all the place, averaging from $49 to $150.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Review: Hurt "Vol. I"

Hurt stormed onto the hard rock scene in 2006 with this debut, which they were quick to follow up on in 2007 (guess the title). They are difficult to describe, and that can be a good thing. It is near impossible to find a unique sounding band these days. They struck me, at least on this record, as a hodgepodge of post-grunge and alternative rock. I can hear some Nine Inch Nails, Tool, and Cold. Dense, thick guitars and equally thick vocals constitute most of the darkened atmosphere that permeates every track, but I give them props for incorporating some remarkably good orchestration in many places. The singer is clearly talented, but when he slips up to the excessive growling, it just ruins it for me. Doom and gloom, slow and plodding. It gets old fast.

"Rapture" and "Falls Apart" were released as singles, and were decent choices. I prefer "Unkind" - a nice heavy riff mixed with a likable chorus with harmonies to boot. Another cool track is the acoustic-driven change of pace, "Danse Russe". Other than that, there is not much here for fans of AOR and melodic rock. Hurt is interesting to listen to, but not a band that will probably see repeated spins in my player.

Hurt on MySpace. Official site.

iPOD-worthy: 7, 8

Check out the video for "Rapture":

Friday, November 23, 2007

Review: Cold "A Different Kind of Pain"

Cold is a heavy guitar-driven rock band that had a respectable hit with 2003's "Stupid Girl" from the album, "Year of the Spider." The band was then strangely ignored by its label and suffered a sudden lack of promotion just as things were -ahem- warming up for them. After some personnel changes, Cold got back into the studio to cut this record, "A Different Kind of Pain." (Lava Records (Atlantic)).

The lyrical content is presumed to center around Scooter Ward's (vocals) sister, who was fighting cancer at the time. Songs like the title track, "When Angels Fly Away" and "God's Song" would seem to be consistent with this rumor. It is a sad and moving record when listened to with this perspective in mind. The first single, "Happens All the Time" is one of the more melodic tracks despite its heavy themes and should have been much bigger at radio.

Cold seems to be surrounded by bad breaks. It is a shame, as this record showed a lot of promise for the developing band. But this one appears to be their last record, as they announced one year ago that they had disbanded. You can track what Scooter is up to these days at the MySpace link...watch for his new project, "When November Falls." I wonder if this speaks to the fact that Cold disbanded in November?

Cold at MySpace. Official site.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11

Check out the video for "Happens All the Time":


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Hot tip: Trim your mp3s

mp3DirectCut is freeware that you can download and use to crop your mp3 files:

"mp3DirectCut is a fast and extensive audio editor and recorder for compressed mp3. You can directly cut, copy, paste or change the volume with no need to decompress your files for audio editing. This saves encoding time and preserves the original quality, because nothing will be re-encoded. The built in recorder creates mp3 on the fly from your audio input. Using Cue sheets, pause detection or Auto cue you can easily divide long files."

This one is worth check out, folks. I've used it many times to get rid of pointless intros or outros on otherwise iPOD-worthy tracks. Also an excellent tool to separate that "bonus" track from the last official track listed on the CD.

Review: Foreigner "Mr. Moonlight"

Foreigner is legendary...few bands have released more consistently good AOR singles over the course of two decades. But, all too common with highly successful bands, individual egos start to swell and there is no longer enough room in the studio for so many big heads. The feuds between lead singer Lou Gramm and guitarist Mick Jones are equally legendary, and we fans were deprived of a third decade of Foreigner's brand of rockin' AOR. By 1988, the band was dissolved and Gramm and Jones did their own thing. Jones flopped with a new incarnation of Foreigner using Johnny Edwards (releasing "Unusual Heat" in 1991). Gramm flopped with his new band, Shadow King (1991). By 1992, perhaps with egos now back in check and wallets in need of a refill, Gramm and Jones put their differences aside to reform Foreigner and record a comeback/reunion album.

But the 90s in general were not kind to AOR bands, and "Mr. Moonlight" suffered for it. But the record is just a victim of circumstance...on its own, "Mr. Moonlight" is a solid Foreigner record. The production is great and Gramm's chops were, as always, fantastic. The songwriting is not as strong as the biggest Foreigner records, but tracks like "Rain," "White Lie," and "All I Need To Know" are slices of AOR heaven. The beautiful, moody ballad "I Keep Hoping" should have been a hit. It is a crime the band had to go out on a whimper.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 4, 7, 9

Foreigner on MySpace. Official site.

Link to the music video for the single, "Until the End of Time"

Review: P.O.D. "Testify"

As a fan of MELODIC rock, it should be obvious that bands infusing rap with rock (rapcore, as the kids call it now) just don't do it for me. However, there are some I not only tolerate, but enjoy very much, such as Saliva and Chronic Future. I enjoyed P.O.D.'s single "Alive" when it was popular a few years ago, so thought I'd check out their 2006 effort, "Testify."

By and large, the CD is uneven, with genres from rap, rock, and even reggae clashing. However, there are a couple of stand out tracks that appeal to those of us who champion something called melody. "If You Could See Me Now" and "This Time" are highlights. I also enjoyed "Let You Down," which sounds like something Tears for Fears would do if they grew testicles.

Incidentally, "Testify" is the last record the band made for Atlantic. They put out a Greatest Hits record with Rhino and now have signed to Columbia. It will be interesting to see how the changes in labels shapes the band in the upcoming year.

P.O.D. on MySpace. Official site.

iPOD-worthy: 3, 4, 7, 9

Check out the single from this CD, "Goodbye for Now", which almost cracked the Billboard Top 40 (stalled at #47):

Review: Scorpions "Unbreakable"

I was pleasantly surprised with the latest Scorpions release earlier this year, "Humanity Hour 1" (read why). Steve (from Heavy Metal Addiction) told me that I would also like "Unbreakable" (2004, Sanctuary Records). I finally found a used copy for cheap and got to check it out this week. Steve's recommendation was right on and while I still prefer "Humanity Hour 1", "Unbreakable" is a terrific record.

As on this year's release, the Scorpions sound older and wiser (I mean that in a good way!). The production on "Humanity" is superior to what I hear on "Unbreakable," but the Scorps sound strong and not dated. The record just got better and better as it progressed, and I found myself enjoying the latter half more than the beginning...the record is consistent and flows effortlessly. Ballads are scarce, and the rockers are anthems. The talents of these rock veterans are really shining in this new millennium, and I truly hope they are not finished making music yet. To me, they sound better than ever. For the fans of catchy melodies, just out the instantly likable tracks "Someday is Now" (7) and "My City, My Town" (8), "Can You Feel It" (10)

iPOD-worthy: 2, 3, 7, 8, 10-13

Check out "Deep and Dark":

Friday, November 16, 2007

Review: House of Love "Audience with the Mind"

Sometimes when you dip into the $1 bargain bin you get what you pay for...and I have to say that is my conclusion regarding House of Love's 1993 CD, "Audience with the Mind." I risked my 100 pennies on the chance that some of the tracks would rival their best known single, "I Don't Know Why I Love You" off their self-titled (a.k.a. "Butterfly") release. I could not be more disappointed.

I can only dig this type of music for a few tracks, then it gets stale. The ingredients are good...acoustic guitar driven rock with just the right dose of psychedelia...but the recipe just results in a bland, half-baked mess. The low monotone of this rather limited lead singer doesn't help create any excitement. Fans of The Church or The Stone Roses should dig their sound, but they would probably agree with me that the songs just aren't there on "Audience with the Mind."

Official site.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 6

Monday, November 12, 2007

Rare CD: "ONXRT: Live from the Archives"

This series of one of a kind live performances from popular artists can really go for big bucks on ebay. ONXRT: Live from the Archives (currently 10 volumes) are compilations of various artists doing their thing live at Chicago radio station WXRT, and thus can't be heard elsewhere. These recordings are done for charity, and made in limited pressings with little to no chance they'll be re-issued. The lower volumes currently go for much more than the newer ones, which are still available at various bookstores and coffeeshops in the Chicago area. More info.

Two copies of VOLUME I recently sold on ebay at $102.50 a piece. Link to the other one. Strange they should both end on the same exact dollar figure!

PS: One of my favorite tracks I've heard so far in this series is Matthew Sweet's acoustic take on his hit "Girlfriend."

UPDATE (12-9-07): Volume II sells for $57.00 on ebay (14 bids)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Review: 30 Seconds To Mars "A Beautiful Lie"

I was not too impressed with the mixed debut from the hard rock band 30 Seconds To Mars, but this follow-up is something to write home about. While still far from a masterpiece, it is much more consistent and contains some tunes that stick with you well. "A Beautiful Lie" came out in 2005 and over the course of 2 years, spawned 4 Modern Rock hits: "Attack," "The Kill," "From Yesterday," and the title track.

The lead singer Jared Leto has some great chops that mesh well with the heavy, driving guitars. The screaming is unnecessary, though, and ruins some of the tracks for me. But the biggest problem: beyond the singles there is not too much I won't be skipping over during a replay of this CD. Those tunes are just loud without a cause...or just go plodding into rock boredom.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 3, 6, 7

30 Seconds To Mars on MySpace. Official site.

Check out an mellow acoustic version of "The Kill":



Then wake up with the album version:

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Review: Ingram Hill "Cold in California"

Ingram Hill is a folk rock band hailing from Memphis. In 2004, they released "June's Picture Show" to moderate success, thanks to two catchy singles, "Will I Ever Make it Home" and "Almost Perfect." After 3 long years, we're treated to another offering of 11 new tracks from this talented band. Fans of the 90s pop rock greats Better Than Ezra, Gin Blossoms, and Toad the Wet Sprocket should take note.

"Cold in California" is a worthy follow-up to the 2004 record, full of more of the same melodic rocks that make you want to sing along. I found this release to be just as consistently enjoyable as "June's Picture Show," maybe even more catchy. They really seemed to treat almost every song as if it were going to be a single. As a result, nearly every track is going on my iPOD.

Ingram Hill on MySpace.

Here's an acoustic version of the first single, "Why Don't You":

Friday, November 2, 2007

Rare CD: Tool "10,000 Days In Minnesota"


This is a very rare CD featuring 9 live tracks by Tool performing at Orpheum Theater (MN) in 2006. It was put out as "promotional" on GBB Records. An import copy from Germany recently sold on ebay for $157.70.