Tuesday, March 31, 2009
I've had a number of people ask me what I thought of the solo effort by Rob Thomas of matchbox twenty. Honestly, the first single, "Lonely No More", pretty much scared me away from this 2005 release. This track had an R&B flavor and seemed to me to be a sellout and transparent attempt for Rob Thomas to attract Justin Timberlake fans. I give him props for making his solo effort a true departure from what we expect out of the matchbox twenty frontman, but this sort of music is not my cup of tea. Many people compliment him on his ability to experiment and grace new musical genres, which is fair, but I find it to be a disorienting record that at the end of the day just doesn't have the hooks and melodies to keep my attention.
However, there are a few tracks on "Something To Be" that are reasonably good and would have been suitable as matchbox twenty b-sides. These include the follow-up singles, "This Is How a Heart Breaks" and "Ever the Same", as well as the ballad "When The Heartache Ends". I much preferred the engaging solo effort by Paul Doucette's Break and Repair Method (see here).
It will be interesting to hear what Rob Thomas does next - his second solo record is entitled "Cradle Song" and should be out later this year.
iPOD-worthy: 1, 3, 5
Rob Thomas: Official site.
I've had a thirst for some straight up, good ol' rock and roll for some time now - Danny Echo, a Vancouver-based band, really hit the spot with their explosive brand of classic rock and pop. Their first, self-titled full-length release is pure dynamite.
Danny Echo writes and performs each song on this record as if it were going to be the radio-friendly single. The skeleton for each of these 10 songs is a structure of solid melody, but fleshing it out is plenty of guitar muscle and vocal grit. So Danny Echo comes rushing out of the gate as more of a melodic rock band to me, with some sprinkling of powerpop here and there.
Danny Echo counts the Rolling Stones, The Who, Beatles, Radiohead, and U2 as influences; this is a diverse list of some of the kings of classic and modern rock. You'll hear a touch of them all among the tracks on this fine debut, but to my ears Danny Echo has injected something novel into the mix that really makes this record shine.
Vocally, Danny Echo resembles Noel Gallagher of Oasis somewhat, but nowhere near as nasally and mundane. His vocal tone is more colorful and his delivery has a greater emotional impact. Musically, this is downright catchy, punchy, no nonsense rock. The CD plays great in its entirety because there ain't a dud in the bunch, but highlights for me where largely stacked up front, with "Out of Style", "Killing Me", and "Tomorrow Today". I also really enjoyed the soaring and inspirational mid-tempo treat, "Barely Getting By".
If there is any hope for someone to stand up and save rock and roll in its truest and purist form, Danny Echo is a strong contender to lead that campaign. If there is any justice in the musical world, 2009 will be the year that the music of Danny Echo bounces back for everyone to hear and enjoy.
iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8
Danny Echo on MySpace. Official site.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Rob Stuart is the one-man band otherwise known as Broken Promise Keeper - my vote for one of the coolest "band" names of the year. The latest offering, "Ice Cold Pop" is another one of those bewildering discs that is so full of sound and harmonies that you find it difficult to believe that a single guy is behind it all.
BPK was active in the power pop scene in the mid-80s having some enviable brushes with fame, but life got in the way so to speak and the music stayed in his head rather than on a CD. But writing quality melodic rock and pop must be like riding a bike for BPK. What I love best about "Ice Cold Pop": the fun Rob Stuart is having in reviving his music effortless rubs off in an instantly contagious way.
"Ice Cold Pop" is an startling good album - BPK manages to remind us of the golden age of Southern Pop (think mid-80s R.E.M.) while demonstrating to us that he's embraced a diverse assortment of more contemporary pop (Red Button, The Galaxies, The Jellybricks) and can expertly weave a music tapestry with the old and the new. BPK goes beyond being a hardcore fan of power pop - he knows what makes things work and, as a result, he stirs in all the perfect ingredients to make "Ice Cold Pop" a near instant classic. We have a thick base of sticky melodies, generous harmonies, lyrics seasoned with wit and humor, and just the right amount of crunch with the guitar. "Ice Cold Pop" is one hell of an addictive cocktail.
The only item that struck me as a bit strange at the outset was the vocals. BPK has an adequate voice that gets the job done (and then some, in some cases), but the vocal tone just doesn't go down as smooth as the songwriting. I would love to hear what BPK could do with the resources a major label could supply, or if BPK collaborated with another vocalist. The good news is that the songs are so catchy and smart that I've acquired a taste for the vocals and keep spinning this disc nonstop.
It is hard to pick favorites from "Ice Cold Pop" - kind of like picking out which ice cube is your favorite one in the tray. But I will highlight "Directions", "Kristine", and the tragic comedy "I Blame James", which has BPK admitting that his childhood role models were James Kirk, Bond, and West, over a brilliant "secret agent" guitar riff - and then wondering why he doesn't win the fights and get the girl. By the way, the record is full of neat music-matches-lyrics tricks like the secret agent riff - to list one other example, BPK adds a carnival type organ in "Amusement Park Lover". "Look Out Hollywood" is another gem of hyper jangle pop, describing in his satirical fashion the all-too-familiar situation of our encounters with life's phonies. I also enjoyed the rare moment when BPK slowed things down a bit - appropriate at the sunset of the CD, with "Goodbye".
iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 11, 12
Broken Promise Keeper - official site.
Friday, March 27, 2009
"super rare 1990 melodic hard rock indie!
Here is an awesome 5 track indie released in 1990 by this Rochester, New York band. These guys have a well balanced hard rock sound in the vein of XYZ blended with melodic keyboard oriented NIGHT RANGER.......very unique but totally 80's sounding. Self produced, the total sound of the production is very impressive for an indie. This is an absolute must have for your collection and comes with my highest recommendation. Disc and inserts are in near mint condition. Please note: there is a prom + contact sticker from the band on the front insert.
Hit And Run
Sun Always Shines
Billy Raise Your Guns
I Need Your Love"
Sold for $130.49 on ebay (15 bids)
"Hi! You are bidding on a RARE CD from AOR band Beyond The Blue-"S/T" (Self Titled) from 1990 on the "Polydor" Records label (Germany), original CD, inserts, etc.
Le Bolderdijk guitars, bass, keys
Emile Den Tex lead and backing vocals
1. Atlantic Summer
2. More Than Ever Before
3. Here On Our Own
4. Beyond the Blue
6. My Town
8. Only the River Knows
9. Bleeding Heart
10. Another World
11. Romancing The Fire"
Sold for $133.27 on ebay (17 bids)
"Mega rare 1995 Australian melodic hard rock!
Here's your chance to get an original CD called SAFIRE - S/T. This mega rare 6 track CD was released in 1995 by the band. Killer sounding Australian AOR/melodic hard rock in the vein of Rising Storm, Bon Jovi, Surrender, Tainted Angel put into a blender. Overall, it's extremely catchy, with great songs and nice, big harmony vocals; keyboard laden melodic hard rock. Make your bid count on this very hard to find rarity!!! I HIGHLY RECOMMEND it. The CD and inserts are in near mint condition."
Sold for $150.49 on ebay (15 bids)
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Jeff Litman's musical tastes range from Johann Sebastian Bach to Skid Row's Sebastain Bach. After graduating from the IU jazz program, Litman obtained a masters in classical guitar performance and was on his way to completing a doctorate in classical music before returning to the melody-driven rock that he loved in his youth.
While his musical influences run the gamut, Litman is very focused on hook-laden power pop for his debut release "Postscript", which is a tour across the minefield of a failed relationship. Litman states that others have compared his music to Matthew Sweet, Elvis Costello, and Jason Falkner. There is a clear vocal resemblence to these artists, but to my ears he sounds a lot like Michael Penn or David Gray of the Idle Wilds. Muscially, Litman is a master of numerous shades of power pop - he does plenty of Byrds-like jangle pop, some delicate singer/songwriter pieces, and throws in a hint of garage pop not unlike The Replacements. "Let You Go" and "Detroit Lawyer", for example, both have a definite Paul Westerberg vibe.
Litman recruited a great team to record "Postscript" - the sonic quality of the CD speaks for itself (produced by Andy Thompson and Litman). His experience in classical music adds a wonderful dimension to his songs, as many are seasoned with flute, cello, violin, or fugelhorn. In addition, powerpop princess Kelly Jones, whose CD we loved in 2008, joins in the fun, sharing lines with Litman on the folky "Maine".
The entire disc is strong from start to finish, but highlights for me included the upbeat numbers, "Anna", "Everything You're Not", and "Detroit Lawyer". "Postscript" is a clear contender for one of the best melodic rock discs of the year.
iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 4, 5, 9, 10
Jeff Litman on MySpace. Official site.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
What is the sound of maple sugar on snow? That is how Vermont-based singer/songwriter Caitlin Canty describes the music on her CD "Green". The nine tracks are all acoustic guitar and voice, and the sparse and delicate arrangements make you feel as if you are right there in an intimate coffeehouse setting with the artist.
The CD is remarkably well produced for an indie effort - crisp and crystal clear. The acoustic guitars and Canty's angelic voice and breezy harmonies share a wonderfully warm tone overall. Canty's vocals will remind folks of some of her influences, such as Lucinda Williams, Mazzy Star, and Allison Krauss. To me, I hear a lot of Leona Naess as well. "Green" is a very cohesive effort that makes for an excellent mood piece, best suited for those quiet and reflective times (well, at least 25 minutes worth!). There is no high speed electrified rocker that kicks in from out of nowhere to disrupt the serenity of the other tracks. The shifts from sunnier to more haunting rhythms provide enough dynamics to the record to prevent the nine tracks from sounding like one long song; just contrast the country folk charm of "Trenches" with the stark and dissonant "Budding" with the bluesy sway of "Juicy Fruit".
Cantry writes vivid, sharp lyrics and plays music that appropriately matches the imagery. One thing I would suggest is more effort dedicated to a hook, line, and sinker to make some of the tunes more instantly memorable. I would also encourage her to take more risks with her voice...I think her songs would benefit immensely with a few sustained notes or greater emotion. Highlights include "Trenches", "Forget", and "Everyday". Fans of coffeehouse singer/songwriters will eat this stuff up. I understand that some new material from Caitlin Canty is coming soon and I look forward to hearing it.
iPOD-worthy: 1, 3, 6, 7, 8
Caitlin Canty on MySpace. Official site.
Friday, March 20, 2009
"OK Now", the latest from today's piano man, Jon McLaughlin, is quite a sharp turn from his impressive work thus far. Throwing the piano to the wind for the most part, Jon embraces 80s dance grooves and booty shaking rhythms. For those of us hoping and expecting another "Indiana", "OK Now" is a shock to the system. Going off in a new musical direction is always interesting and bold, but in this case the result is sickeningly commercial and boring. The attempt to be hip or contemporary in the vein of Maroon 5 is very transparent and just doesn't work for me. What have they done with poor Jon McLaughlin?
Jon's natural vocal talent and his stunning skills at tickling the ivories are greatly understated on this inflated and overly produced effort. The only track where this fusion of fluffy dance music works for me is on "You Can Never Go Back", largely because it sounds like E.L.O.. There is some potential with "Dance Your Life Away", a rare rocker featuring a crisp and crunchy guitar riff and 80s vibe, but the inane lyrics just kill it for me.
To be fair, there are a few more traditional Jon McLaughlin pieces to be appreciated, such as "Four Years", a handy guide to surviving the perils of high school. Other highlights include "The Middle", "Always On My Mind" (not a cover), and a reasonable ballad, "Throw My Love Around".
If you are a hardcore fan of Jon McLaughlin's past work and don't care much for Maroon 5, "OK Now" is one of those CDs where you are better off downloading individual tracks.
iPOD-worthy: 2, 3, 5, 7, 10
Jon McLaughlin on MySpace. Official Site.
The latest from AOR veteran Kyle Vincent has arrived. "Where You Are" finds the seasoned and grossly underrated singer/songwriter in top vocal form, exploring an array of retro pop subgenres from the 70s. Generally the tunes on this CD are piano-driven, upbeat and peppy with a bubblegum vibe, but firmly rooted in adult contemporary pop. The more rocking version of Kyle Vincent was left behind on this release, overshadowed by his gentler side.
Vincent has done a remarkable job emulating the feel good melodies and harmonies that made The Partridge Family and Bay City Rollers so irresistible to pop music fans. On the slower tunes, I am reminded of David Gates and Eric Carmen. Vincent drifts to falsetto and back with tremendous ease, and pulls out plenty of strings and sax to add some interesting dynamics to the mix. I don't think I've heard the sax in songs since the 80s! The lyrics are somewhat simple and infused with cliches, but are brimming with an optimism and hope that is well-suited to the sunny feel of the music. If you need a little something to cheer you up, listening to Kyle Vincent will do the trick.
Standouts include "It's Gonna Be A Great Day", "In Another Life", "Goin' Down", and the title track. "Where You Are" is exquisitely tailored to fans of 70s AM radio. In a way, it is analogous to what Butch Walker was going for with his "Letters" release (check out "Emily Standing"). But if you also enjoy modern soft pop artists, such as Mitch Malloy, Jude Cole, or Richard Marx, then don't let this one get away.
iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10
Kyle Vincent on MySpace. Official site.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Chris Corney is the UK's answer to Cliff Hillis. Corney is the lead vocalist and songwriter for the outstanding rock and power pop band known as The Ravines, whose 2005 CD "Manifesto of a Broken Heart" is knocking my socks off. While released 4 years ago, it is nice to see these guys and their instant classic enjoying a well-deserved resurgence on the power pop circuit. It almost makes me feel like there is justice in the music world after all...
Despite it coming from the UK, "Manifesto of a Broken Heart" actually reminds me of some of the finest power pop rockers from Philly, such as John Faye/IKE, Open Cage, Idle Wilds, and the aforementioned Cliff Hillis. Others have accurately compared The Ravines to Greenberry Woods, The Rembrandts, and Gin Blossoms. Corney's voice pleasantly drifts over the melodic guitars, augmented with tons of spot on harmonies and backing vocals. There isn't a chorus on this record that hasn't imprinted on my brain almost immediately. The lyrics are also a highlight, with frequent bite and wit along the lines of what you'd find on a Wonder Stuff record.
Hard to pick favorites among a batch of songs that is so consistently awesome, but I'll encourage you to listen to "Supersize", "Rubberneck", "Queen of England", and the title track. In short, GET THIS - GET THIS - GET THIS. And if you like it, be sure to check out Chris Corney's solo effort, "Built to Be Burned Down".
iPOD-worthy: ALL TRACKS!
The Ravines on MySpace. Official site.
"Your Star Was Shining" is the lastest release from the hot new San Francisco power pop band L'Avventura. Act quickly - you can download it for free until April 30, 2009 at their offical web site (link below).
L'Avventura is a hip blend of retro and modern pop. As evidence to this, they list their influences as "Buddy Holly meets The Flaming Lips". They remind me a lot of Fastball and Fountains of Wayne, with a dash of acoustic-driven indie pop the likes of Elliott Smith. My favorite tunes are stacked right up front and include "Swandive", "Pretend You Don't See Me", and "Rocket Sue".
Superb production, memorable melodies, and plenty of well-placed harmonies. What more could you want? And did I mention it is free right now?
iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 7, 10
L'Avventura on MySpace. Official site.
Here's a direct link to one of my favorites, the T. Rex-like track, "Swandive", for you to download and enjoy. There is plenty more where that came from - just hit their web site soon!
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
The Lonely Forest hail from Anacortes, WA, proximal to the city that altered the musical landscape in the 90s with grunge rock. There is still some grunge and garage rock in the veins of these boys, but like Nirvana, plenty of pop intuition as well. In fact, their latest effort (set for release on April 21, 2009), "We Sing The Body Electric!" builds from the grunge and pop fusion that worked so well with the aforementioned Seattle legend. In fact, Jack Endino, who has worked with Nirvana, has been drawn to work with The Lonely Forest.
The Lonely Forest deserve credit for steering clear of rock cliches and stale melodies - these guys are inventive. I think this is going to thrill indie pop rock fans, but for the readers who entrust me to recommend melodic rock, the pickings on this release are few and far between. By far and away, the best track is "We Sing in Time", one of the catchiest and instantly likable tunes of the year so far. I have hit replay so many times after this track that my index finger is numb. A CD full of tracks more like "We Sing in Time" will probably take these guys to the next level and get them some big time crossover success.
To my ears, there are a lot of late 90s overtones in The Lonely Forest, whose songs skillfully fuse garage, indie, grunge, and alternate rock with some punk thrown in for good measure. Vocalist John Van Deusen has a curious tone that reminds me of Coldplay or The Fray, but with considerably more gusto and attitude to match his band's unique sound. He's also one hell of piano player, and it is refreshing to hear it dominate on tracks like "Julia's Song" and "Tomato Soup". For fans of Cracker, Flickerstick, and early Jimmy Eat World, you will find solace under the canopy of The Lonely Forest.
iPOD-worthy: 2, 3, 10, 11
The Lonely Forest on MySpace. Official site.
Check out a video of "We Sing in Time":
Friday, March 13, 2009
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
"Clear Blue" is a musical meditation on life, awash in beautifully played acoustic guitar and overlaid with the delicate vocals of Australia's Paul Turner. Turner was moved to learn guitar after hearing Mason William's Grammy-winning instrumental hit from 1968, "Classical Gas".
"Clear Blue" is perfect reflection and relaxation music built on a foundation of stunning acoustic guitar. Sprouting from this foundation are plenty of strings and other goodies that serve to provide a more dynamic listening experience. While the hooks and melodies become more memorable after a few spins, there is no denying this music is pleasant to ingest - it goes down easy and leaves you feeling full and satisfied by the CD's completion in 31 minutes. The quiet build to an emotive climatic finish of opening track, "City Lights", makes it a standout track for me. "Love Meteorite" also 'struck' me as a highlight, as well as "Room", whose harmonica makes it sound like a cut from Sting's masterful "Ten Summoner's Tales". This is followed by one of the more haunting tracks on the record ("Poison") - a little bit of a dark cloud amid the clear blue. It's not only a great track, but breaks up the flow of the record and keeps it from sounding too homogeneous. Turner comes soaring back with the majestic "Come With Me", probably my favorite cut off the record. I am generally not a big fan of instrumental tracks, but the one included on "Clear Blue" (which happens to be the title track), is sublime.
If you enjoy acoustic-based singer/songwriters from Cat Stevens to The Williams Brothers to Glen Phillips, don't miss checking out Paul Turner. Additionally, if you are in charge of selecting songs for the next episode of Grey's Anatomy, consider some Paul Turner.
iPOD-worthy: 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10
Paul Turner on MySpace. Official site.
Monday, March 9, 2009
The just-released CD "Jam Tarts In The Jakehouse" by Chicago's Bitter Tears is one of the most unique listening experiences you'll have all year...possibly in your entire life. Mix up the righteous angst of Bob Mould with the innovative musicianship of The Police, and stir in a healthy portion of independent goofiness a la They Might Be Giants and Ween, and you have something that begins to describe the genre-defying Bitter Tears. The Bitter Tears are the Evel Knievel of the modern rock world.
You'd think such a hodgepodge would result in a musical train wreck and, well, it does! But you can't help but rubberneck here - slowing down to get a closer look at the twisted metal, to watch the ominous black smoke make its way up to contaminate the white fluffy clouds. The Bitter Tears do not necessarily draw me in to listen, but once I start I can't bring myself to stop. It is just too damn interesting and you have no idea what they're going to do next, or whether they'll bring out piano, horns, strings, accordion, or good old fashioned acoustic guitar. Upon closer examination, you will begin to appreciate that there is a method to their madness, and they add enough hooks and harmonies here and there to keep you on the line to discover it.
Offbeat, crazy, coarse, and unpredictable - by all accounts, I should not be enjoying this CD at all. But there is something seductive in what they do that has me addicted and rushing out to friends, saying, "You've GOT to listen to this!" The Bitter Tears are wildly strange and surreal, but you won't forget them anytime soon.
iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 5, 8, 9
The Bitter Tears on MySpace. Official site.
Friday, March 6, 2009
There are New People in Madison, WI. These New People I am referring to are a trio consisting of Matt Ackerman (guitar/vocals), Mark Lint (bass/vocals), and Julian Salgado Laredo (drums). Matt and Mark tag team with the singing and songwriting, like John Rzeznik and Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls.
As the cool cartoon artwork implies, these guys seem to make having fun the priority here. They describe their music as so: "We're aiming for direct rock/pop here with nice harmonies over a sort of a grunge base, but we've got wide tastes, and the music will inevitably reflect that". After listening to "The Easy Thing", I'd have to agree. The guitar tones and their playing style does smack of grunge or garage, but there are lots of other elements in the music that add a poppier shine to the majority of the tracks. For example, the guys make great effort to incorporate memorable harmonies into every track.
Highlights for me included "Love is the Problem", "Kite", and "New People". Sample some tracks for yourself today at their web site below and see if these people speak your language. Especially recommended if you like Local H, Eve 6, and Meatpuppets.
The New People : Official site.
Music video for "Love Is The Problem":
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Mark Kano is the powerful voice behind the 90s alternative rock band called Athenaeum - remember their 1998 hit "What I Didn't Know" off "Radiance"? See our reviews of Athenaeum here. Fans like me who have missed this band and lead singer Mark Kano's distinctive vocals have reason to celebrate with the release of his first solo CD, "Walking on Broadway".
The 8 tracks on this release will take you back to the late 90s when post-grunge bands like Toad the Wet Sprocket, Gin Blossoms, and Better Than Ezra were dominating the charts. As Kano's deep and rich voice pretty much defined the sound of Athenaeum, it is no surprise that "Walking on Broadway" sounds very much like his old band. For me, it is a familiar sound that triggers nostalgia for the past.
But for those who do not have memories of Athenaeum, Mark Kano is still going to impress you with his brand of melodic rock. Add to the mix the skilled hand of Gavin MacKillop (Toad The Wet Sprocket, Goo Goo Dolls, Athenaeum) and you have an unbeatable collection of sonically brilliant pop rock tunes. There is a 50/50 mix of ballads and mid-tempo rockers; lyrically, Kano keeps things simple and sincere. The title track is an obvious standout, with Mark Kano's love for Big Wreck shining through. My other favorites include the slow burner, "I'm Still Waiting", and the swirling and soaring, "Where Were You Last Night", which may be one of Kano's most creative vocal performances to date.
It is great to hear Mark Kano sing his music once again. I am eager to hear more!
iPOD-worthy: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6
Mark Kano on MySpace. Official site.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Faithful readers of this blog know I am a sucker for The Alternate Routes, exhibit A and exhibit B. Their full-length debut, "Good and Reckless and True" was one of the best CDs of 2005 in my opinion; it was passionate, earnest, and organic. They followed this up with the highly respectable "Watershed EP", which certainly whet the appetite for this long awaited sophomore release.
"A Sucker's Dream" is no sophomore jinx, but I'm afraid it is not going to help make The Alternate Routes a household name - I hope I am wrong, because these guys have a monopoly on talent. I just don't think it is maximized on this record. Normally, vocalist Tim Warren contributes a rather extraordinary performance, but on this release he seems to take a backseat to everything else going on. That is a shame. I kept waiting for more spine-tinging moments like those experienced when listening to "Ordinary", but such moments never came. The songs are a bit busier, which is cool at times, but it often distracts from the organic feel that made "Good and Reckless and True" a winner for me. The one moment that is stripped down is the breezy "Desdemona", but this tune is so drawn out and dull even backing vocals from Patty Griffin fail to salvage it.
The good news is that The Alternate Routes have maintained their sense of melody and lyrical competence in the majority of the songs. One-liner gems like "The future's nothing new - just another day to miss the things we used to do" permeate the record. The chord changes are wonderful and Eric Donnelly's lead guitar work rivals that of Dada. And even though he seems to have avoided vocally challenging himself this time out, Tim Warren still sounds charming and soulful. Standout tracks include the festive "On and On We Whisper", "Ain't No Secret", the Lennon-esque "All a Dream", the high octane title track, and the very catchy and reflective closer, "A Better Way".
If you enjoy Ryan Adams, Matt Nathanson, or The Finn Brothers, check out The Alternate Routes.
iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 11
The Alternate Routes on MySpace. Official site.