Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Review: John Taglieri "Everything We Are" EP

New Jersey indie all-star, John Taglieri, is back with a new EP entitled, "Everything We Are". This was one of the last CDs I listened to today, after a bunch of snoozers. John Taglieri woke me up and gave me reason to crank up the volume. The EP is a party, starting with a "toast" and leaving you in a better mood than when you started listening.

John Taglieri is writing some of the best modern AOR I've heard in recent times. There are hints of powerpop goodness like The Jellybricks, but plenty of solid rock reminding me of 40 Ft. Ringo and Waltham. Vocally, John sounds a bit like C.J. Snare (FireHouse).

The opening track, "Everything We Are (A Toast)" sets the tone for the rockin' fun about to begin. This anthem seems to be written specifically for the stage, to start (or end) a show, but it also makes for an ideal way to start the record. "Open Up To Me" and "Lonely Together" are choice mid-tempo numbers with superb chord progressions and excellent guitar work. "Get You Back" is a power ballad in the style of Bon Jovi; I almost got up to get a lighter. There are a couple of novelty songs like "Booty Call" and a bonus track ode to mac n' cheese. Amusing, but like most novelty songs, one listen is enough for me.

Fans who love the Jersey AOR sound will pick up on it immediately when they spin a John Taglieri record. John Taglieri makes it feel so good to be alive...

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 4

John Taglieri on MySpace. Official site.

Review: Michelle Lewis "Little Leviathan"

Showing its face in 1998, Michelle Lewis' "Little Leviathan" was a bit late to ride the coattails of similar female singer/songwriters exploding at the time. Her effort is not as immediately accessible, and understandably could not beat the heavy competition from the likes of Jewel, Joan Osbourne, Tracy Bonham, Meredith Brooks, and ... oh the list seems endless. The fad died out of course, but here we are ten years later seeing it rise again (e.g. Sara Bareilles, Colbie Caillat).

Listening to this release with fresh ears, I find it has aged well. Michelle Lewis was a victim of bad timing and could have made bigger waves had the music scene not already been overcrowded with every label's copycat artist. While "Little Leviathan" has its share of filler, and Michelle Lewis does not have the range of someone like Jewel, she holds her own and delivers some tracks that are certainly worthy of some space on the iPOD. Her vocal style is more like Shawn Mullins, doing a spoken word thing in the verses of many tunes, and singing to a melodic chorus. Lyrically she is fairly interesting, touching on topics most 20-something girls could relate to. Sonically, the record sounds great, no doubt due to the contributions of the capable Tom Lord-Alge.

Michelle Lewis is still working in the music business, writing songs for others and performing on her own. Recently, she's teamed up with another 90s hitmaker, Kay Hanley (Letters to Cleo), to form The Dilettantes, touching on topics most 30-somethings can relate to.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 4, 6, 7

Michelle Lewis - official site.

The Dilettantes on MySpace.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Review: Candlebox “Into the Sun”

I was very excited to hear that Candlebox had reunited to record “Into the Sun”, their fourth studio release. Though hailing from Seattle and breaking during the advent of grunge, Candlebox really is more straight-up rock and roll than anything else. Moreover, their records have gotten increasingly melodic with the exception of the strange misstep that was their sophomore record (“Lucy”).

“Into the Sun” gracefully picks up where the excellent “Happy Pills” left off ten (!) years ago. Kevin Martin (also of the Hiwatts) still sounds fantastic; he sings his heart out on the rockers and infuses the ballads with a good dose of soul. The record starts off with two angry and blistering rock tracks, “Stand” and “Bitches Brewin’”, written and performed in the style that made their monstrous debut so popular. The band showcases their talents for rock balladry more than ever with outstanding works such as “Surrendering”, “Miss You, and “Breathe Me In”, which capture some of the finer moments from “Happy Pills” like “Sometimes” and “It’s Alright”. The title track is a brilliant, dark opus that delivers a huge hook in the chorus and leaves you with a cool change up in the coda.

The reunion works and I hope we do not have to wait another decade for more from Candlebox. Kevin Martin is channeling some Robert Plant at times, the musicianship and production are top-notch, and lyrics are generally of high quality.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 10, 12

Candlebox on MySpace. Official site.

Check out the music video for “Stand”:

Friday, October 24, 2008

Trivia Corner: Goo Goo Dolls & Westerberg

1993's "Superstar Car Wash" remains my favorite album by The Goo Goo Dolls, a band who, in the early days, was considered a Replacements knock-off. This comparison seemed to be solidified when John Rzeznik asked Paul Westerberg (of the Replacements) to write the lyrics to the song "We Are The Normal", one of the singles from the classic "Superstar Car Wash" CD.

Lyrics here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Review: Andy Spitson "All Eyes On You" (EP)

Andy Spitson is a young singer/songwriter from Illinois stating that he specializes in writing catchy/melodic songs about love and life. I recently received his new 4 song EP, "All Eyes On You", which validates his claim. You might see him in a coffeehouse doing his acoustic shows, in a bar rocking out with his band Spinderson, or in a cornfield with his guitar posing for photos for his MySpace page. Wherever you spot him, request some of the tunes from "All Eyes On You" for a few minutes of escapism into a universe where great, well-crafted pop songs rule.

Each track on this EP sheds light on Andy's varied influences. We can hear some John Mayer on "No Place Like Your Heart", Cheap Trick on "First, It's The Crush", The Cars on "Dear Friend", and something out of Happy Days on the infectious be-bop track, "Hand Jives & high 5ives". Every song has its own distinct elements, displaying Andy's versatility as a songwriter capable of creating a cohesive musical landscape from different shades of pop rock. Did I mention that he plays nearly everything himself?

Vocally, Andy has more of an everyday voice than classically trained pipes that blow you away, which in part explains the Elvis Costello references he receives. But more important, his voice suits the style of music. Fans of Cliff Hillis, James Guffee, and Matthew Sweet should take note.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 4

For a taste of Andy Spitson at his acoustic best, check out his previous EP, "Love's Not A Tough Start", also available through the links below. Very nice for chilling out on a Sunday morning...

Andy Spitson on MySpace. Official site.

Review: The Brigadier "Rhymes for Rainy Days"

The Fall is my favorite time of year, and giving me one more reason to celebrate it is The Brigadier, who has just released a seasonal EP inspired by autumn. "Rhymes for Rainy Days" follows his noteworthy full-length release, "The Rise and Fall of Responsibility", reviewed here not long ago.

On "Rhymes for Rainy Days", The Brigadier (a.k.a. Matt Williams), offers more of a retro pop feast for our ears. This is most noticeable on the lead off track, "To Go On Holiday", my instant favorite among the 6 tunes on the EP. The subtle disco beat underneath the classic oohs and aahs in the harmony vocals gives this track an extra boost that makes you nod and tap your foot right along. Other tracks, including "No One's Ever Here To See" and "The Same Old Sunday", are more solemn and reflective, nice mediation pieces to accompany the Fall. We venture into carnival territory with the brief instrumental tune, "Guy Fawkes", and what is the Fall without a carnival? I really like the addition of acoustic guitar on tracks like "The Same Old Sunday" and "What Happened To The Autumn?" - they sound kind of like The Byrds, perhaps flying south for the winter. We end on another acoustic-driven piece, the gentle lullaby, "As The Nights Draw In".

Fans of The Brigadier won't want to miss this one. Matt continues to evolve as a songwriter and performer, and this EP serves as a great introduction to his style of 60s and 70s-influenced pop with a modern twist. Also be sure to check out his other seasonal offering, the holiday inspired, "6 Christmas Tales". Both are available by following the links below.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 4, 5

The Brigadier on MySpace. Official site.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Review: Keane "Perfect Symmetry"

With eager anticipation, I downloaded this new Keane release last week. It has been incubating with me for quite some time now, but still is not growing on me as much as I'd hoped. I am a big fan of the previous two releases, and the main problem I believe I am having with "Perfect Symmetry" is that it does not sound like Keane.

I have no problem with bands wanting to experiment and try something new, but the direction Keane has gone with this one is not pleasing to my ears. This does not even sound remotely like a Keane record until we get well into the second half...only then do the soaring vocals and piano-driven melodies that we expect come into play. The first track and single, "Spiralling" is a surprising jolt of irritating synth effects and 80s dance grooves. I almost thought Amazon screwed up with the download and gave me an old track from E.M.F. The 80s vibe continues with the next track, "The Lovers Are Losing", which has shadows of The Pet Shop Boys. "Better Than This" is goofy and all over the place, trying to mesh banjo, hand claps, synths, U2-esque backing chants, and a falsetto lead vocal.

After all this unorthodox stuff, Keane gets back to basics by track 5, the title track. Unfortunately, it sounds more like a b-side of "Hopes and Fears" to me. Much better are "You Don't See Me", "Again and Again", and "Pretend That You're Alone". And while the synth in "Black Burning Heart" almost sounds like it came from a John Cusack 80s movie soundtrack (especially "Better Off Dead"), the song is one of the standouts tracks for me. The epic "Playing Along" is also notable, in which the band interweaves noisy choruses with soft and subtle versus, to match the lyric, "I'm going to turn up the volume till I can't even think."

Kudos to Keane for trying to explore new musical possibilities...some are going to love it, but it is not my taste. I will proceed with caution before blindly purchasing the next release from this band.

iPOD-worthy: 6, 7, 9, 10

Keane on MySpace. Official site.

Here is the music video for "Spiralling":

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hot deal - Keane "Perfect Symmetry" - $2.99

This is not a typo...you can download the new release from Keane, "Perfect Symmetry" in its entirety for just $2.99 right now at Amazon.com. I have not reviewed it yet, but based on their past two releases, you can't go wrong with Keane. Especially for just $2.99!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Review: Luke Jackson “…And Then Some” - Free mp3

Straight out of his right hemisphere, “…And Then Some” is the new release from Luke Jackson that will have your head swirling with pure pop rock goodness. It all began with Luke pondering the question, “WHY NOT make an album with my favourite musicians on the planet?” Why not indeed. If the results sound this good every time, then every artist should begin their project pondering this question.

I detect a lot of Merrymakers, Roxette, and even Abba throughout this collection of flawless pop tunes – perhaps due to the fact they were recorded in Sweden; or just as likely, my mind was biased to hear such influences since I knew it was recorded in Sweden! At any rate, what I am trying to say is that Luke Jackson has put out a record that power pop fans sharing my taste in music are going to adore.

The sleek packaging and extensive linear notes accompanying the CD speak to the perfectionism that Luke strives for – his goal is to get everything right, down to the last detail. This philosophy extends into his music of course and the results speak for themselves. “Come Tomorrow” (available below as a free mp3 for a limited time) is a perfect example of the type of music you’ll find on this excellent release. With an instantly catchy chorus and plenty of oohs and aahs backing things up, this track hits all the right buttons…and then some. And there is much more where that came from. “Half A World Away” and “Longest Day” are additional standouts with an upbeat and peppy vibe, with memorable melodies and sweet harmonies. The more contemplative “This Life” and “The Fear” are outstanding, showcasing the brilliant mix between pop sensibilities combined with expertly executed orchestration. “Let go of the things you know you’ll never control, you got to lose the fear or it’ll eat you whole”.

Fans of Bleu, E.L.O. / Jeff Lynne, Owsley, or Swedish power pop must check out Luke Jackson.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 4, 6, 9, 10

!Check out a FREE mp3 of “Come Tomorrow” courtesy of Luke. Hurry – link expires in one week!

Luke Jackson on MySpace. Official site.

The video for “Come Tomorrow” is now on YouTube:

Monday, October 13, 2008

Rare CD: Richard Wright "Wet Dream"

"Rare USA pressing of the late Pink Floyd keyboardist and founding member Richard Wright's first solo effort entitled "Wet Dream". You will not find many of these around on CD (though the Lp is relatively common), especially in such nice MINT condition. It even has the original jewel case sticker intact. A must have for the Pink Floyd fan and collector!

One Way records (Sony Music Special Products) A 24090"

Sold for $84.99 on ebay.


"not.com.mercial is the twenty fourth album released by American singer/actress Cher released on November 8, 2000 exclusively through Cher.com and Artist Direct, it was the album that followed Cher's largest commercial hit - Believe.

The majority of not.com.mercial (pronounced not dot com dot mercial) was written by Cher in 1994 when she retreated to France. The song Born With A Hunger was written by Eikhardt, and Classified 1a is a newly-remixed version of her 1970 Sonny Bono-penned song. The rock-themed album with some slow ballads was never taken to record companies for release, because it was considered "too personal for commercial purposes".

Many years later, it was decided to be released as an exclusive Cher fan project through her website and Artist Direct. not.com.mercial, which released no singles, received moderate sales. Though no singles were released, the song "Born With the Hunger" has been featured on the international version of The Very Best of Cher.

None of the songs have ever been sung live and little information is known about the album itself, though Cher's comments (and liner notes) assert that the song "The Fall (Kurt's Blues)", co-written with Pat MacDonald of Timbuk3 and Bruce Roberts, is her tribute to rock singer Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide in 1994.

Track listing:

01 Still [Cher, Roberts, Thiele] 06:15

02 Sisters of Mercy [Cher, MacDonald, Roberts] 05:01

03 Runnin' [Cher, MacDonald, Roberts] 03:56

04 Born With the Hunger [Eikhardt] 04:05

05 The Fall (Kurt's Blues) [Cher, MacDonald, Roberts] 05:17

06 With or Without You [Cher] 04:50

07 Fit to Fly [Cher, Millet Savigar] 03:53

08 Disaster Cake [Cher, MacDonald, Roberts] 03:25

09 Our Lady of San Francisco [Cher, Garvin, Wayland]02:15

10 Classified 1A [Bono] 02:15"

Sold for $98.00 on ebay

Rare CD: Sublime "40 Oz to Freedom" (Skunk)

"Sublime's debut album "40 Oz. to Freedom"
Skunk Records.
Very Rare and Out of Print for over a Decade.

Extremely Hard to Find Second Pressing

This cd is very rare because it was released on their independent label, Skunk Records, before the band gained fame from their self-titled album in 1996.
The MCA Records version of this cd that you can buy at the store has a lot of differences from this Skunk Records version. Quite a bit of material was removed on the MCA release that is on this Skunk version due to copyright infringement lawsuits. Most notably, is track #2 , "Get Out!" This song was completely removed from the MCA release and a remix version of the song is on "Second-Hand Smoke." The version of this song on this Skunk Records album is a lot cooler than the remix. Also, the song "Rawhide" is on this Skunk version at the end of "Date Rape." This was also completely removed on the MCA release of the cd. Additional sampling on "Let's Go Get Stoned" and "We're Only Gonna Die for Our Own Arrogance" also appear on this Skunk version that is not featured on the MCA release. There are also differences in the cd artwork between Skunk and MCA versions of this cd including: there are just symbols on the spine of the cd on the Skunk version and the MCA version actually reads "Sublime 40 Oz to Freedom." The cover of the Skunk version does not have the parental advisory warning that is on the MCA release. Also, in the booklet, the band members names are "Texas, Cricket and DJ Spock" in the Skunk Records version, and Brad, Eric and Bud in the MCA version. There are also other small differences between the contents of the booklet.

This cd is a masterpiece and a must-have for any Sublime fan. This is how the album was meant to be heard before content was removed."

Sold for $99.99 on ebay

Rare CD: Plain White T's "Come On Over"

"Up for bid is an extremely rare, out of print Plain White T's CD - Come On Over. Condition is perfect, like new. Disk is absolutely scratch free and plays perfectly. All inserts and artwork are included and are in great shape - see pictures! This is a CD released in 2000 by the Plain White T's before they hit it big. This is NOT a CDR or burned copy. I have only recently ever seen one other copy of this going for 250 bucks on ebay right now so I am assuming it is near impossible to find. The Tracklist is: 1. Skinny Dipping 2. Behind 3. Kitty Cat Shirt 4. All Dressed Up 5. Maybe Another Day 6. Cinderella Story 7. I-88 8. Come On Over 9. Aud. 10. Round 2 11. Show Your Face 12. Rave $5.00 PRIORITY MAIL SHIPPING TO USA. Please contact me for international shipping or for any questions. Thank you."

Sold for $102.51 on ebay.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Review: Brian Vander Ark "Brian Vander Ark" (2008)

All of you should be familiar with Brian Vander Ark; if not his name, you undoubtedly are aware of his previous band, The Verve Pipe, which produced the monster hit "The Freshman" in 1997. Now, one of the smartest and most vital songwriters around, Brian Vander Ark has released his third astounding solo effort (self-titled).

This time out, Brian Vander Ark has recruited producer Bill Szymczyk, who has worked with everyone from The Who to The Eagles. Unlike the gritty post-grunge sound of Verve Pipe, Brian's solo efforts are typically acoustic coffeehouse affairs. Thankfully, with rare exception, he continues in this style for the third time out. The style is perfectly tailored to his thought-provoking lyrics and emotive, mildly raspy vocals. It is difficult to find tracks on any BVA release that are not engaging and screaming for an instant replay.

As expected, the production on this release is outstanding - crisp and clean acoustic guitars, beautifully placed piano and orchestration, vocals at just the right volume. Standouts include "And Then We Fell", "Little Man" (wonderful lyric; "there are no ordinary lives"), "Lily White Way", and one of the most honest love songs ever, "Optimism's Glow".

BVA has done it again. Fans of Glen Phillips, Aimee Mann, and Peter Stuart take note. And if you like what you hear, pick up his previous two releases as well.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Brian Vander Ark on MySpace. Official site.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Trivia Corner: Kevin DuBrow and Starship

Kevin DuBrow, fresh off the wild success of Quiet Riot's "Mental Health", contributed his trademark wail and backing vocals to the track, "Rock Myself To Sleep" on Starship's 1985 smash record, "Knee Deep in the Hoopla".

Friday, October 10, 2008

Review: 7th Heaven "U.S.A.-U.K."

If the guys from Def Leppard mated with the gals from Vixen, the result would be 7th Heaven. Remarkably, this band has been around since 1985; even more remarkable is that their unmistakable late 80s pop rock sound did not make them famous back in the day of Bon Jovi, Europe, and Giant.

This Chicago band has evolved nicely over the years and now sound more like Def Leppard than Def Leppard, but with a twist. The new lead singer, Keith Semple, gives the band a modern feel, infusing sounds that also remind me of American Hi-Fi, SR-71, or the Marvelous 3. Keith Semple, for those who do not know, was a winner of "Pop Stars", the UK version of American Idol (incidentally, this is where the inspiration came from to title this 2008 release USA-UK).

7th Heaven is truly unique in today's musical landscape, fusing the best of pop rock from the 80s and early 90s with modern sounds that definitely keep it fresh. There isn't a dud in the bunch, but my favorites include "Better This Way", "Cellophane", "Gave You My Word", and "Oh So Really Old".

Like the good old days of "Hysteria", the record is over 70 minutes and there just seems to be no end to the number of singles that could be huge on radio...if only it were 1988 again. The production is generally outstanding, although the drums could sound better in spots. For those of us who still love anthem rock with a big and bold chorus that you can't help but shout along to, 7th Heaven is a dream come true. You should be gettin' it - Armageddon it!

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 17, 18

7th Heaven on MySpace. Official site.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Review: The Levellers "Zeitgeist"

"Zeitgeist", which came out back in 1995, is my first exposure to The Levellers - quite fresh, it is a mix of hard rock and traditional English music. Reading some other reviews around the net, a lot of people are arguing that this is the weakest Levellers CD because it is the most mainstream of their efforts. Interesting, because I kind of like it.

They strike me as a cross between Black 47 and Sonic Youth, or more formally, Celtic punk. The juxtaposition of the English folk sounds with thick and driving guitars is an auditory intrigue. Most of the songs on the CD sit well with me - the sound is unique but largely centered on decent songwriting with some good hooks. Plus, some of the songs sound like early Alarm, with vocals not too distant from Mike Peters himself.

My favorite track is "Hope St" - if anything, go check out this tune for a sense of what I mean. Other highlights include "The Fear" and "Fantasy" and "Lead This Town". There is some filler, some of which is downright irritating ("PC Keen"), but it can be forgiven given all the other good tracks. I look forward to digging deeper into their catalogue...

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 5, 8, 11, 12

The Levellers on MySpace. Official site.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Review: The Smith Brothers "Restless"

I wasn't even paying attention when I popped the next CD in for review, but - whoa! - I immediately scrambled to find the notes on who was pumping out this most infectious brand of retro power pop. It was the pre-release sent to me by The Smith Brothers, whose CD "Restless" drops October 20 (and hey - thanks for the nifty calendar magnet!).

The lead off track that grabbed my attention so, "How Wrong You Are", is the embodiment of a perfect power pop single. I am happy to add that the vast majority of the 15 tracks on this impressive release stay true to this tradition. The one thing that sticks out for me above all else on "Restless" is HARMONY. Some of the most ear pleasing and brilliantly crafted backing harmonies this side of the Beach Boys. While these guys are clearly emulating the famous pop gems from 70s AM radio (The Raspberries are a good comparison), they manage to sound modern, with hints of The Posies and The Rembrandts. Lead vocals are satisfactory - they are more than adequate, with a Smithereens or Teenage Fanclub quality. But it is the flawless harmonies and sugary melodies that will make a lasting impression. I also have to give them credit for keeping the songs short and sweet - perfect for music fans with ADD or too many other CDs stacked up for listening!

There really isn't a bad song in the batch, but if I had to pick some favorites (not easy) I'd go for "How Wrong You Are", "She's Under My Skin", and "Too Long". The stage is set...The Smith Brothers have shot and scored. Retro 70s pop fans rejoice! Your AM radio has returned.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 14

The Smith Brothers on MySpace. Official site.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Review: Constantine “Constantine” (2007)

Constantine Maroulis was voted off American Idol in 2005, before being a rocker was feasible on this “talent” show. He ended up in 6th place, hence his label’s name “6th Place Records”. His first solo CD, the self-titled “Constantine”, surfaced in 2007 and boasts an impressive assortment of established talent to help him make his own mark. Constantine seems to have found his niche somewhere in the Rob Thomas vibe, trying to infuse a bit of soul in his otherwise straight up pop rock.

The debut CD has its flaws and fillers, but has more pleasant surprises than negatives. First, I forgot how good his voice sounds. Constantine has an excellent voice for this genre and he knows how to please by reaching up for the dramatic notes at the appropriate times. Second, he’s recruited Philly songwriter Jim Boggia to pen a handful of songs; Jim is an awesome songwriter.

The first song had me worried. “Girl Like You” sounds like a Rob Thomas-Santana leftover, and is pretty generic and bland to me. I also don’t find his efforts to rock out sincere; “Child, You’re The Revolution” and “I Thought It Was Something” fall flat. But “Several Thousand” (also heard on Jim Boggia’s “Fidelity Is the Enemy”) and “Sister, Sister” are slow to mid-tempo numbers that sink their teeth in deep and keep hold of you. “Right To My Head” is another great mid-tempo track with a nice mix of acoustic and electric guitars and sing-a-long chorus. “So Long” is a simple acoustic appeal that finds Constantine pining for a lost love, but he hits all the right buttons and the sparse arrangement puts his voice in the spotlight…and it shines. “Heaven Help The Lonely” is a nice upbeat track near the end of the CD, and you’ll be singing this chorus for the rest of the day.

Funny – I usually gravitate to the more upbeat numbers when listening to CDs, but for Constantine, I seem to prefer the ballads and mid-tempo numbers. If you were a fan of him on American Idol, the CD is a no brainer; for the rest of you, few pop rock fans will be disappointed with this release. It should have been a much bigger success! I look forward to the follow up...

iPOD-worthy: 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11

Constantine on MySpace.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Review: Bigfellas "Chubbed Up"

This 2008 release by The Bigfellas is one of the most interesting records I have heard in a long time. Full of tongue-in-cheek satire, playful lyrics and melodies, and a sophisticated sense of music to suit the topic, The Bigfellas are an intellectual pop fan's dream. These guys are the MAD magazine of modern pop - a bunch of "What Me Worry" Alfred E. Newmans on the stage.

Not many will pick up on the subtle jabs in the lyrics or "samples" in the music first time around, so the record demands repeated listens. For example, catch the switch to U2's "Bullet the Blue Sky" in the coda of "California King", which happens to be one of the most accessible and catchy numbers on the record. And then there is the seemingly goofy rap song called "On The Green" which is based on the 70s hit "Love's Theme" by Love Unlimited Orchestra. Not a favorite, but the juxtaposition of gangsta rap with the hard knocks life of golf is hilarious. The band takes similar satirical risks with "I Wish That I Were Gay". But we're all about the hooks and melodies here; while there are plenty of such moments scattered throughout "Chubbed Up", few of songs sustain them for the entirety of their rather lengthy duration. In addition to "California King", "Dollar For Every Dime" and "Adam and Eve and Red and Alice" hold up very well for repeated listens. The more serious ballad, "Wish You Knew" is unexpectedly moving and a definite highlight. Fans of ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky" may be interested in the banjo-driven cover, included as a bonus track on "Chubbed Up".

There is a very strong Ben Folds vibe here, both in the 'everyday kind of guy' tone of the singer's voice and the fact that most of the tunes are based around catchy piano riffs. Many others have already noted the comparison to Randy Newman as well. The Bigfellas have been voted "Best Local Band In San Diego" for 2006 and 2007. In the areas of novelty, musicianship, and satire, The Bigfellas don't come up short.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 6, 9

The Bigfellas on MySpace. Official site.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Review: Signal Hill Transmission "Starting Gun"

LA-based Signal Hill Transmission was formed in 2001 by Scott Warren and Scott Schoen. They recorded their first album, “Tomorrow, The Stars,” in the spring of 2005 and a second, “An Empty Space,” in early 2007. This year, they won a songwriting contest that landed them a recording contract with ATO Records.

This four song EP, “Starting Gun”, is the result. Recorded with producer Brad Wood (Liz Phair, Pete Yorn), these songs "aim" to please. The songs are pure pop rock bliss, recorded with perfection with ringing guitars, crisp drums, and thumping bass. The vocals are smooth and strong, just the tone you would expect for power pop.

"On and Off" is my favorite track, containing a big fat hook that instantly stakes a claim on your memory cells. "Pause, Then The Punchline" is another catchy rocker wiht some great backing vocals and a driving melody. There is a definite Meadows (Todd Herfindal) quality to these tunes, and for good reason: Scott Warren has penned some tunes with the Meadows. So if you dig The Meadows, Gin Blossoms, or Del Amitri, head over to Signal Hill Transmission's site now.

The EP is available in digital format only - check them out here.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2

Signal Hill Transmission on MySpace. Official site.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Review: Poplord “Full/Filled”

Poplord is the brainchild of Stan Schaffer and Tom Magill, and is an evolutionary product stemming from their Beatles tribute band (The Beetles) back in the early 90s. The most recent recruit, Craig Daniel, also lends his talents to this 2008 release. All three of the guys can be heard taking turns on lead vocals, but a casual listener probably wouldn't even notice. You’ll hear plenty of influence from the Fab Four, in addition to hints of Jellyfish (especially "Where'd He Go"), Brian Wilson, and Tears for Fears.

All of the usual ingredients for a wonderful pop record are present and accounted for on “Full/Filled” – plenty of harmonies, interesting lyrics, a dash of harpsichord - but something is leaving me feel a bit empty. It's not that any of these songs are bad; in fact, most are fairly good. It's just that few are popping out at me as being great. There are several notable exceptions, including the lead off track "Change in Time For Monday", which manages to push all the right power pop buttons from the first to last note. Good momentum continues with "What's Beneath", which is adorned with well placed harmonies wrapped around smooth hooks and terrific organ and guitar solos.

The acoustic driven ballad, "The Gray", is an excellent example of what Poplord can do at their best. However, this tune and several others would benefit from better production on the drums, which sound deadened and muffled to me. "Used To Town" is a sweeping track with a lot of umph...and harmonica...that I found particularly engaging. A lot of retro sunshine pop can be heard in "A Tree Beyond", which is my favorite track on the CD. Instantly likable and cheery, "A Tree Beyond" sounds like Billy Joel jamming with Captain & Tennille .

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 4, 6, 10

Poplord on MySpace.