Thursday, March 31, 2011

Review: The Respectables “Check Your Mind” [EP]

A new three song collection from the Detroit rock outfit, The Respectables, has been released entitled, “Check You Mind”. Led by the charismatic Nick Piunti on vocals and guitar, The Respectables impressed us in early 2009 with their “Sibley Gardens” album (review here). These three new tunes emit the perfect balance of grit and grace that should be earning The Respectables lots of respect. The first is the title track, a blistering arena ready rocker worthy of being stacked up front. The full frontal assault of pumping guitar and in-your-face vocal will wake you from your stupor. “Wore Me Out” goes deeper into blues bar territory, again showcasing the versatility in their songwriting. But by far my favorite track was saved for last: “B-side” has a great lyric sung with attitude and surrounded by crunchy guitars belting out the best melodies on the EP. “B-side” is 3 minutes you will remember.

The Respectables on MySpace.

Check out a video for “B-side”:

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

By Kurt Torster

Kyle Vincent “Trust” (1993)

I’ve never shied away from admitting my unabashed love of 70s AM Gold type pop. Even though I lost a bit of touch with it throughout the 80s and the earlier part of the 90s, I’ve come to look at it now as a sort of musical comfort food. With no sense of irony, I can listen to something like Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods or Shaun Cassidy like I am listening to The Beatles.

This love affair started in the mid-70s when my family lived in Germany for about a year when I was 10 years old. Since I didn’t speak the tongue, short of being in school during the day at the Air Force base in Wiesbaden, my only friend was an AM Radio that pumped out one glorious pop hit after another. Every Sunday was like a holiday when Casey Kasem would count down the top 40 on Armed Forces Radio, where I kept a notebook writing down the hits as they came in. Eventually I went so far as to create my own charts, counting them down to myself in an effort to combat the loneliness. Man, what I would give to see those notebooks now. On second thought...

As we returned to the US and my tastes eventually shifted into something a little more riffy, I never did lose touch with those softer pop roots. I’d imagine it explains a lot of why I was never really turned off by things like Air Supply or Rick Astley in “my” decade.

When I got my writing on in the late-90s, one of the people I frequently corresponded with was A&R guy Jonathan Daniel, whose own bands will feature prominently in the future. He wanted to turn me on to an artist he was working with, Kyle Vincent (one time singer of the poptastic 80s band Candy), who would set my 70s Pop senses tingling. This fantastic self-titled major label disc released in 1997 wound up spawning two minor hits in “Arianne” and “Wake Me When The World’s Worth Waking Up For.” Suddenly, it seemed that I didn’t need to hide my “Time/Life Sounds Of The 70s” collection anymore. I had company in my AM Gold closet…

Well, turns out that a few years before, Kyle recorded an album for MCA in 1994 called “Trust,” that wouldn’t see release until later on in 2007 (retitled “A Night Like This”). Falling somewhere on the musical spectrum between 80s Rick Springfield and 70s Barry Manilow, the album serves as a time capsule of a rather care free and happy period of time that would be changing rapidly.

Listening now, I’m still awestruck at how good Kyle’s vocals are. They are so clean and crisp and in the proper mixture, served as a finely tuned instrument on its own. And, although the production reeks of the early 90s, the songs as well hold up remarkably well and show that a well crafted song can bludgeon its way through any amount of gloss.

Whether it’s the straight up arena rock of the title track or the infectious “Something To Remember My By,” HUGE Eric Carmen-like power ballads “Maybe It’s Better” or “Wherever You Are Tonight” or the simple radio pop of a song like “What Am I Gonna Do” and “Now I Know,” Kyle’s heart-on-sleeve writing style takes the material many steps above what was going on at the time.

Kyle is still pumping out amazing softer styled rock to this day. His “Wow & Flutter” album is highly recommended and could easy have taken this place of this album for a column all on its own. He did gig for a spell with the Bay City Rollers (!) and also performs cover sets of 70s music with the Have A Nice Day band. A vastly underrated musician who really is seemingly all alone in the musical world.

[As I finished the article, I asked Kyle himself to give me some thoughts on the album and the era around it. When he sent me is just priceless, enjoy!]

Kyle: I have mixed feelings about the days of the Trust album. As the album itself was eclectic, so were the sessions. One day I'd be in a top Hollywood recording studio watching Jerry Hey conduct an incredible orchestra playing the little notes I had written for them, and another day I'd be singing a vocal track in Clif Magness' bathroom in Calabasas.

So many great artists contributed to the 'album that never was'. The title track was a groovy R&B number that featured the percussionist who played on the Spinners' hits, female backing singers that sang on some of the biggest Soul hits of the 70s, and of course the producer was Steve Levine, best known for his work with Culture Club and the Beach Boys.

Sadly, the record company suits were just impossible to work with. They would come into a session at the end of the day, BMW keys jangling in one hand, and toss out ridiculous comments that had nothing to do with anything. They signed me because they loved my demos and the songs, but when it came time to actually record those songs for the record, they complained that they couldn't decide if I were George Michael or Bryan Adams. I would tell them, "Uh, can't I be both and double my fan base?" They didn't see it that way.

There were 3 producers. Me, Clif Magness, who was coming off some huge hits with Wilson Phillips, and Steve Levine. On the tracks I produced, I hired all my favorite players. I called in Freddie Washington on bass, Michael Jackson's drummer JR Robinson, Madonna's drummer Jonathan Moffett, Rick Springfield's guitarist, and one of the Brothers Johnson on bass. I called up saxophonist Gerald Albright to come down and play a solo, and he did. And then I had Gerry Beckley from America sing and play guitar and Fender Rhodes keyboards.

What incredible sessions those were. The creative part of the record making was all joy, especially the day David Bowie was in the adjacent studio and we got to just hang out for a while. [a clip of that is on my Facebook page].

The biz part of it was mostly aggravating. The label must've promised me 100 times when the record would be released. They gave every excuse, "We're waiting to find the right slot for it to drop. We can't drop it when Bobby Brown's coming out. We'll drop it in a month". It ended up being dropped off a cliff and never being released. I was on tour with Barrry Freaking Manilow, playing in front of tens of thousands of people per night, and there was no record in the stores. I didn't even have t-shirts. Nothing. I remember one night after a show I went to the hotel office and borrowed their typewriter and typed up mailing list cards, one by one, so I could have something to hand out to people after my shows. To this day many of my faithful fans came from those little cards.

I could write a book on all the good and bad that went on behind the scenes during the Trust sessions, but overall it was an amazing experience, I learned a ton, met some great people, and am incredibly proud of the musical results.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Review: Daniel Park “Search and Rescue” [EP]

Singer/songwriter Daniel Park was born in South Korea and raised in New Mexico. He’s been making a name for himself in the local music scene there and looking for a wider audience. Unlike his debut, “These Illusions”, his new EP features an assortment of talented musicians to complement his philosophical songs.

But sometimes less is more. While I can appreciate some of these songs at their core, some of them have been overproduced and the slick sheen runs right over Park’s modest vocal. We get off on the wrong foot with the opener, “Be Right Here”. For reasons I’ll never understand, Park generously applies autotune to his vocals, which nearly made me hit eject and immediately toss the CD in the waste bin. But I’m glad I pressed on because “Be Right Here” is not representative of the other songs on this EP. The title track is up next, and while still suffering from too much studio tinkering, is a lyrically smart piece worthy of repeated listens. Park’s voice is better suited to the stripped down version of this song closing the EP. The perfect version of this song is somewhere in the middle between the two.

“Sparks Fly” is a pretty fun tune – got that playful “I Want Candy” beat and an 80s sounding lead. “Roller Coaster” is another worthy modern songwriter track – bright acoustic guitar and a driving rhythm help propel this song into your long-term memory. I think this track is the type of song Park could build a sustainable career around. “Love In Your Hands” is sweet but innocuous - no more special than the millions of other acoustic ditties that make you feel like walking in a field of sunflowers.

Daniel Park on MySpace. Official site.

Listen to “Roller Coaster”

Monday, March 28, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

SAIGON KICK "The Lizard" (1992)

It's a shame that "Love Is On The Way" is much more popular than the name of Saigon Kick itself and that's also probably the same case with Extreme or Harem Scarem. Released in 1992, "The Lizard" contained a lot of groovy hard rock moments bursting with the grungy flare and down-tuned guitars, causing a lot of confusion in the glam fans camp. Beware that if you're not into the alternative movement of the 90s, you may find this album isn't interesting at all, but if you can adapt to that change, then you can still hear a lot of great songs here, mostly composed by the real genius behind the band, Jason Bieler.

The massive hit "Love Is On The Way" needs no introduction, but along with "All I Want", these two commercial tracks are the gems of the album. I also like the body-shaker "Feel The Same Way", the classic Skid Row style in "All Alright", the light-crunchy-rock "Miss Jones", together with the Beatles-influenced closing track, "Chanel". Some people also find that the heavy-grungy "Youth Hostile" and "Freedom" are appealing tracks. If you can find this cheap, it's worth the catch. To me, "The Lizard" is a good album although it's not for everyday and everyone.

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rare Trax: Ben Folds "Still Fighting It"

Every Saturday at BMF we present rare or deep tracks from my collection for your listening pleasure, or perhaps for your amusement!

This week’s track is "Still Fighting It" by Ben Folds from his masterful 2001 album, "Rockin' The Suburbs". This song was released as the second single but didn't really get the attention it deserves. This beautiful piano ballad is a father-son song, balancing deep thoughts about growing old ("Everybody knows it hurts to grow up") with the mundane pieces of everyday life ("You want a Coke? Maybe some fries?"). Brings a tear to the eye every time, "You're so much like me...I'm sorry. One day you'll fly...away from me."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Review: Scott Gagner “Rhapsody In Blonde”

Singer/songwriter/Power pop
We were first introduced to Scott Gagner as part of Town and Country, then through his solo effort under the name Cartographer. Both EPs made quite an impression back in 2008 (read reviews here and here). Now Gagner is back with his debut full-length record, “Rhapsody In Blonde”, and no longer hiding behind the name Cartographer.

“Rhapsody In Blonde” begins with one of the most instantly likeable guitar riffs you’re bound to hear all year – a snappy little riff that reminds me of a beach party for some reason. Hand claps and harmonies decorate this power pop confection called “I Hate To Say” but, to be to fair, this sunny treat is not representative of the rest of the album. Most of the other tunes are considerably mellower, but that is not to say that they are boring by any means. “Speak and Spell” is a delightful mid-tempo treat with a clever melodic line from the Todd Rundgren songbook. “Laura No. 1” combines classic doo-wop chord progressions with modern power pop sounds – a unique ear worm. With the rugged “Take Two”, he channels Jason Falkner during his Grays days.

“Houdini” is another favorite of mine, showcasing Gagner’s remarkable talent for phrasing – people who can sing, “How can you realistically expect to win - it only took one punch to do Houdini in” with such finesse don’t come along every day. Folks who want to hear the coffeehouse side of Gagner will enjoy the gentle finger-picking on “Right Before My Eyes” and his downshifted version of the Guns N’ Roses hit “Sweet Child O’ Mine”.

With exception of “Golden Mean”, a murky six minutes to wade through, there really isn’t a bad tune in the bunch, and if it didn’t grab you on the first spin, chances are it will on the second. Gagner stands a cut above the rest thanks to an abundance of clever songwriting, with an attention to detail that should be the envy of any inspiring musician.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 14

Scott Gagner - Official site. Facebook.

Check out the video for “I Hate To Say”

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Review: Chris Alvy Band “Anything Goes” [EP]

Rock/Pop rock
Born in Cuba and raised in Spain and the US, Chris Alvy is making a mark on the Miami music scene. The Chris Alvy Band captures the vintage 70’s rock sound and combines it with an alternative edge with brilliant results. This remarkable band sounds like they are Cheap Trick or Boston performing songs written for ABBA. I’ve not heard melodies so delectable and instantly gratifying since Jellyfish. The band’s six song EP, “Anything Goes”, features exquisitely catchy songwriting, surprising musical twists, and spectacular harmonies.

“Inside Job” greets us with raining drums, a gentle riff, and Alvy’s warm voice…all of which quickly builds up to a driving chorus laced with rich backing vocals that you’ll be humming for the rest of the day. “Something New” was the next song to grab my attention – not quite as all consuming, but a solid straight up rocker with crunch and haunting leadwork. “The Fall” is one of the coolest examples of how this band effortlessly blends musical styles to cook up something you’ve never quite tasted before. We’ve got staccato 60s guitar, a 70s-style pop buildup, and the soaring vocal tone of the 80s. The EP ends on a strong note with “This Is Your Life” – the verses are a bit chaotic, but man that chorus is a work of genius.

Try to get through this EP without grinning – it just isn’t possible. Easily one of the best powerpop EPs we’ll hear this year. Congratulations, Chris Alvy and company.

Chris Alvy Band on MySpace.

Check out the video for “Inside Job”

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

By Kurt Torster

Van Zant “Van Zant” (1985)

When this album came out, unless you were watching MTV at 3AM like I was prone to do, you would have completely missed out on this. Luckily, not only was I watching but was completely hooked on the single, “I’m A Fighter,” in one shot. It was the kind of the sound that only 1985 could bring, bordered on one side by the decline of new wave and the other by the over produced and glossy arena rock of the latter part of the decade. Taking major cues from Survivor, Van Hagar and the like, the youngest of Florida’s Van-Zant clan released this effort to thunderous silence.

The band was signed to Geffen, which was the kind of label I tended to purchase albums from “sound unheard.” They had a real knack of releasing quality radio rock without any promotion and letting them drown without a trace. All things considered I could write a year’s worth of columns on that alone. Anyways...

The Van-Zant release always puzzled me how it didn’t at least get the band a foothold on Gold territory. “I’m A Fighter” sounded like a lost tune from the Rocky 3 soundtrack (and with good reason as seeing how it was written by Jimi Jamison) and was the kind of song that top down summer nights was made for. Strange thing (or maybe not depending on how well you know the music business), that was far from the best song here.

Listening now takes me back to those days when I was driving around in my cherry red Mustang GT, which was required driving in northern New Jersey. But, rather than blasting cheesy dance music that sounds like it was recorded with a Casio SK1, songs like the smooth and hit worthy “You’ve Got To Believe In Love,” the Jeff Paris penned “Heart To The Flame” or the urgent sounding “2+2” all should have had no trouble finding a home on rock radio or MTV.

Of course, like so many gems of the era many have tagged the “AOR Glory Years,” it went almost straight to the cut out bins only to be treasured by those who stumbled across it accidentally. To further cement that AOR connection, background vocals were provided by the awesome Terry Brock, whose band Strangeways is another cult classic that will be featured here in the future.

Though most of the songs were written by outside songwriters, the best songs were written by Johnny along with his brother, Donnie, and somewhat pointed the way of how .38 Special’s sound would shape up on their “Strength In Numbers” album. My favorite song here is the mid-tempo ballad “Two Strangers” and is one of those songs that I just never get tired of hearing. It has the kind of sonics that probably would have sounded equally as great in front of a lighter waving, crowd filled arena as it would pumping out of a beer spilled boom box.

Not much ever happened with this band after, as Johnny released a few more Southern tinged solo efforts, leading to his transformation as the lead singer in Lynyrd Skynyrd. Looks like a few of his bandmates came along for the ride for a few years, but I could find no information otherwise.

A textbook example of quality over quantity, it’s a AOR true bargain bin classic.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Review: Mr. Big “What If…”

Rock/Melodic rock
Mr. Big should need no introduction to most readers – one of the rock super groups formed in 1988, consisting of Eric Martin (vocals), Paul Gilbert (guitarist), Pat Torpey (drums), and Billy Sheehan (bass). Despite a notable debut, Mr. Big really hit it big with 1991’s “Lean Into It”, which spawned the # 1 cross-over smash “To Be With You”. This sweet acoustic tune was a departure for Mr. Big at the time, but seemed to steer the band into soft melodic rock territory for the next several follow up albums. By year 14 the band called it quits.

So what if the original line up got back together for a reunion record? Would the band be able to recapture its winning sound twenty years later? The new record, the first Mr. Big record in 10 years, gives us a chance to find out. Our first taste of these seasoned AOR masters comes with “Undertow”...and what an awesome way to remind us of the abundance of talent in this band. Martin’s vocals – kept in shape from an active solo career – sound as if he hasn’t aged a day. His smoky rasp is ideal for the genre and it is a shame we don’t hear it on the radio in this day and age. Sheehan’s fingers are still as dexterous as ever, crawling up and down the bass like spiders on steroids. Musically, these guys haven’t missed a beat.

After a promising opener, the band slides into their comfortable boogie-woogie groove in “American Beauty”, which sounds very “Colorado Bulldog”. Meh. It doesn’t take long for the band to slip into another comfort zone for them in the power ballad “Stanger In My Life” – but wow, do they knock this one out of the park – great chord changes, super harmonies, and decent lyrics. This one may be their best since “Just Take My Heart”. “Nobody Left To Blame” is also engaging, with its mix of acoustic and electric guitars over thundering drums – every member gets a few seconds of the spotlight on this one. After a few mediocre songs, “All The Way Up” wakes us back up with a compelling melody and radio-friendly blend of sound. This is followed by a string of excellent cuts, including a terrific gritty rocker called “I Won't Get In My Way” and a feel good sing-a-long in “I Get The Feeling”.

“What If…” is a great start to a reunion and on its way to becoming my second favorite Mr. Big record (behind “Lean Into It”). Hopefully pigs will continue to fly and we’ll hear even bigger hooks from Mr. Big.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 11

Mr. Big official site.

Check out the video for “Undertow”

Monday, March 21, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

MOTLEY CRUE "Shout At The Devil" (1983)

"Shout At The Devil" was the sophomore release by Motley Crue, following their punk/glam-inspried debut "Too Fast For Love". “Shout At The Devil” boosted their name to the sky, and introduced a heavier and darker side of the band. This highly anticipated record thrust their name to stardom when it was released in 1983, on the strength of the mystical anthem, "Shout At The Devil" and the fierce groove of "Looks That Kill". At that time, Nikki Sixx was deeply drawn to books about black magic and the occult, giving him the idea for the pentagram art and the album’s title. But after weird things began to happen around their house, he was spooked and dropped the Satanic ideas, moving on to his expertise - sex, drugs, and violence.

While their later release, "Dr. Feelgood", was their most successful creation, racking up six platinum stars and also being my big favorite, "Shout" - in my opinion - should be considered their magnum opus. Crue showed their true identity with the raw rampaging riffs and the bad attitude, constructing a perfect combination of shock rock, glam, and heavy metal. Listen to the fast-paced adrenaline-pumper "Red Hot" and "Bastard", the catchy "Too Young To Fall In Love", or the magnificent rendition of Beatles' "Helter Skelter", you'll know how Motley Crue shaped the decade. Great entertainment!

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Rare Trax: Echobelly "King of the Kerb"

Every Saturday at BMF we present rare or deep tracks from my collection for your listening pleasure, or perhaps for your amusement!

This week’s track is "King of the Kerb" by Echobelly from their 1995 album, "On". A great pop rock gem that fell through the cracks during the 90s.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Review: The Trews “Hope and Ruin”

We should know who The Trews are. This Canadian band has released four albums in the last seven years. Two of them went gold. They’ve had two number one hits and ten Top-10 singles. They’ve played nearly 800 live shows, including support slots for the Rolling Stones, Robert Plant, Guns N’ Roses, Nickelback and KISS.

Led by an exceptional voice that is nearly a dead ringer for Pat Monahan (Train) on his best day and backed by an organic, roots rock ensemble, The Trews is a refreshing blast of modern pop rock. Producing good hooks just seems to be in the very fabric of this band’s DNA and there’s no shortage of excellent songs to mine from the dozen on their latest, “Hope and Ruin”.

“Hope and Ruin” has all of the ingredients a music fan could ask for – compelling vocals, intelligent lyrics, crisp production, and superb melodies. You get the sense that the band labored for months over the craftsmanship in these tunes, yet it sounds like they are simply having a blast. Highlights include the energetic rocker “Misery Loves Company”, “The World I Know”, and the smoldering title track, but my favorite is “People of the Deer”. On the more contemplative ballad side, try “Stay With Me” or “If You Want To Start Again” on for size.

Rock and roll purists – especially you fans of early Train or Will Hoge - are gonna love The Trews. “Hope and Ruin” will be available April 12.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9

The Trews on MySpace. Official site.

The band is also offering a free download:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Review: Alert The Medic “We, the Weapon”

Alert The Medic has been perking up the ears of fans and critics alike in Canada’s east coast region. They’ve made some major career strides so far, having toured alongside Ill Scarlett and shared stages with Our Lady Peace, The Arkells, Hollerado, and more. They received 4 nominations at the Nova Scotia Music Awards and in early 2011 it was announced that they are nominated for the much coveted "Fan's Choice Entertainer of the Year" award at the East Coast Music Awards.

“We, the Weapon” is the band’s sophomore effort released last year, which follows their self-titled debut album from 2006. The band has gained a reputation for writing driving rock anthems and performing them passionately during their energetic live shows.

“We, the Weapon” greets us with a static guitar riff played over a thundering drumbeat – a most inviting sound to pop rockers. As “Atlas” builds to a rousing chorus, it becomes evident that the band is deserving of the hype accumulating around them. But “Atlas” isn’t your ordinary anthem - it contains smart lyrics and effective harmonies that take it to a whole new level. “Cause For Alarm” maintains the energy level and keeps your attention with a sharp hook. “Let's Hear It For The Symphony” is a hard-hitting arena-ready rocker inviting the youth of the world to stand up and be counted. The band takes a detour into darker territory with the creeping piano ballad, “The Weatherman (pt 2)”, breaking up the flow of up-tempo tunes and allowing a fuller appreciation of the vocal talent in Ryan MacDonald. “Aid The Getaway” brings us back to familiar fast-paced rocker turf, and it goes down well. A 70’s classic rock vibe permeates “Hey Kid To The Back Of The Line”, which also features a pounding shout-out chorus. The remaining tunes are solid as well, but the “na na”s in “Cross Your Fingers” will stick in your head the most.

Alert The Medic is not only poised to take Canada by storm, but should also raise plenty of eyebrows among music fans around the world. As they sing on “Atlas”, they are off to see the world. Make sure Alert The Medic makes a house call to cure what is ailing you. Recommended for fans of Gaslight Anthem, Neon Trees, and Kings of Leon.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 10

Alert The Medic on MySpace. Official site.

Check out the video for “The Weatherman (pt 2)”

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

By Kurt Torster

Sugarbomb “Bully” (2001)

I’ve always been something of a pop-head. I guess it came from being raised on AM radio back in the 70s, where the worlds of ABBA would collide with the likes of Kiss, and no one thought it strange in the least. Even when I was a “rocker” by day, listening to Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd, by night I was listening in secret to the Bee Gees and the Bay City Rollers. I was always more of a McCartney and not Lennon guy. Give me those silly little love songs any day.

As I skated through the 80s, bouncing between Iron Maiden one day and Journey the next, I was dragged into the 90s and, while I might have been late to their party, discovered the band Jellyfish. It really did shake the foundations of my musical base. Suddenly, here was a band that was not only afraid to cite someone like the Carpenters or Badfinger as influences, they did so quite proudly by covering their songs in concert. While the rest of the world was nursing the mediocrity of the hair metal hangover, Jellyfish were busy attempting to craft the perfect intelligent pop song and succeeding, even if no one was listening at the time.

That discovery also set me on a course of finding bands that shared their vision of a pop utopia. I came across many albums, both old and new, that I still treasure to this day, but none more so than “Bully” from the Dallas band Sugarbomb. Taking equal bits of the grandiose of Queen, the orchestration of Electric Light Orchestra and the brilliance of Supertramp’s pop sheen, it has become the kind of album I love as much from the first listen as I do on the thousandth. Like the best classics, each time out brings new bits that you didn’t catch before and remains fresh to this day, some nine years on.

Oddly enough, the band was dropped by their label RCA as their single “Hello” was denting the lower reaches of the chart, thanks to its placement in the film Van Wilder. The album had the really unfortunate timing of being released two weeks after September 11, 2001 and a world that was bordering on happiness was thrown into years of despair then hope and eventual recovery. There just wasn’t a place at the time for happy go lucky pop.

There were so many potential hit singles here, from the bouncy power pop of “What A Drag” to the balls out rock of “Clover” and “Gone” to amazing harmonics of my favorite song on offer, the very Queen-like “After All.” I wonder if everyone might have been better served to put the album back on the shelf for a year or so while the world sorted itself out.

I was lucky enough to get a CD with a handful of songs that would have made up the next album and these guys were definitely on to something. But, nothing ever became of it and I have no idea what happened to the foursome after. Even Google searches turn up very little other than glowing reviews of people who share my unyielding passion for this set. Considering the price it currently fetches on Amazon, this would be the best $1.52 you ever spent.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Review: R.E.M. “Collapse Into Now”

As I predicted after hearing “Accelerate” (reviewed here), R.E.M. has finally gotten back into the groove that most fans have been longing for since “Adventures In Hi-Fi”. “Accelerate” was a solid release in my book, and a decent ramping back up to form. The band felt like they had the pedal to the metal, but weren’t 100% sure where to go. On “Collapse Into Now”, the band is on cruise control and taking the listener down the roads they know and love.

Easily the band’s most consistently good release in over a decade, “Collapse Into Now” sounds like it belongs in the strata with their best work. It is not quite a masterpiece, but definitely resurrected my affection for the band I knew and loved as a teenager and young adult. Overall, the record is upbeat and rocking, exuding more power and energy than we’d come to expect from today’s R.E.M. The ballads that are present are well done and not so cumbersome. Stipe and company come out with both guns blazing on “Discoverer”, a track that might have been a single from the “Monster” era (Patti Smith lends some vocals on this one as well as “Blue”). On “All The Best” they sure do show the kids just how it’s done. “Uberlin”, “Walk It Back”, and “Oh My Heart” bring back the classic R.E.M. folk ballad side, incorporating mandolin, piano, and/or accordion in ways not heard since “Automatic For The People”. “Mine Smell Like Honey” is generating a lot of buzz – and justifiably so, being one of the most accessible rockers on the record. I also got a kick out of the peppy “Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter”, which features someone named Peaches on backing vocals, and the sublime but almost too short “That Someone Is You”. Also be sure to listen for Eddie Vedder on “It Happened Today”.

Thank you R.E.M. for another terrific record – I can see myself reaching for this one as often as I reach for some of the classics. Just one word of warning – don’t stare at the inside of the digipak too long. Those black and white stripes will make you dizzy!

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10

R.E.M. on MySpace. Official site.

Check out the video for “Oh My Heart”

Monday, March 14, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

KIX "Hot Wire" (1991)

“Hot Wire" is the last Kix album released by Atlantic Records in 1991. At that time, Kix was in financial trouble due to the poor sales and finally dropped by the label when the grunge arrived. Even though this album failed to match the sales of their previous album “Blow My Fuse”, "Hot Wire" was still acclaimed as a strong release by this East Coast glam act.

If you like the fast-paced, AC/DC guitar-driven rock and roll style, you will love this album, especially the high-speed rebellious "Hot Wire", "Girl Money", and "Rock and Roll Overdose". The razor-sharp guitars of the duo Forsythe-Younkins sound crisp and clean, the solos are fabulous, and Whiteman's voice is wickedly fine. To compare the ballads, in my opinion, "Tear Down The Walls" is the best song they ever made over their entire career and way better than the famous "Don't Close Your Eyes", and this could be one good reason for you to rush out and buy this album. The whole album kicks some serious ass and highly recommended!

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Rare Trax: The Grays

Every Saturday at BMF we present rare or deep tracks from my collection for your listening pleasure, or perhaps for your amusement!

This week’s track is "Very Best Years" by The Grays from their 1994 album, "Ro Sham Bo". The Grays were a powerpop super group comprised of Jon Brion, Jason Falkner (Jellyfish), Buddy Judge, and Dan McCarroll. The entire record is fantastic and its a sin that it went nowhere. These guys had a great chemistry - I was very fortunate to see them live while they lasted!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Review: The Great Valley “Ruthless”

Pop rock
About a year ago, we were greatly impressed with the debut EP “Wrecking Ball” from The Great Valley (see review here). The EP was a teaser of what this band could be capable of, and my hopes were high that their first full-length release would be stellar. That release has finally arrived in the form of an 8 track record called “Ruthless”.

The Great Valley, a duo of Louis and Nick Matos, stands out from the overcrowded field of pop rockers – they have the expected universal lyrics, delivered by potent vocals backed by tasty harmonies, and lots of high energy guitar – but they have great instincts for writing memorable songs. The brothers Matos have a lot of youthful angst, but thankfully they realize that their message will be sustained if conveyed in the form of a strong hook. “Ruthless” was recorded in the boys’ basement, but don’t let that mislead you into thinking the production is anything but top notch.

The party kicks off with “Yesterday”, a fiery jam with tantalizing verses that groove up to an explosive chorus. “Dreamer” is even more commercial ready, and the skillful chord changes show off the band’s innovative songwriting. On “Dirty Work”, the boys fill the room with an avalanche of sound, but they don’t forget to build this symphony of distorted guitars and harmonic shouts around a slick melody. “Me, Myself, and Time” is another winner – the punchy guitars really drive the rhythm along in this one and you’ll be pumping your fist during the chorus. “Sweeter Side of Life” is a song we all sing from time to time during our search for sweeter times that we hope to taste one day – not quite a ballad, but the closest the guys come to slowing down on this high octane release. The record ends with another terrific anthem in “Like We Do”.

If there is anything to complain about it’s that “Ruthless” is too short – two or three more songs would have made it feel more like a record than a lengthy EP. Additionally, many of these songs are polluted with overused profanity, leaving me to wonder if they have the smarts to devise more edifying and creative ways to express their angst. But don’t let these minor issues stop you from checking this band out today. Don’t overlook The Great Valley if you like Simple Plan, Jimmy Eat World, or Weezer. Also, their special acoustic “Stripped” EP is still available for free – you can get it here. “Ruthless” is available now.

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

The Great Valley on MySpace. Facebook.

Listen to “Dreamer”

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Review: Category 5 “Off The Ivory Coast” [EP]

Category 5 is a quintet formed in 2006 in Detroit and they are introducing themselves to the world via their new five song EP entitled “Off The Ivory Coast”. Composed of five members with diverse musical backgrounds and influences, it is perhaps no surprise that the band’s sound is all over the map. The EP is consistently inconsistent in terms of musical styles, drifting from straight up rock to funk to jazz to prog rock to metal. Individual songs work well, but as a whole, they don’t work well together when listened to in succession as an EP.

The two strongest tracks are stacked right up front. “Lost In Legacy” is an epic rocker with sizzling leads and a touch of dated keyboards reminding me of 80s AOR. The melody is solid and harmonies are used effectively. “Home Again” shows the band’s ability to downshift into a sweet sentimental rocker. At his best, vocalist Perry Zaremba reminds me of Danny Vaughn (Tyketto). Zaremba has his moments, but on other tracks his voice is not as controlled and sounds like it is slipping out of key (most noticeably on “I Wonder”). Things end with the metal track “7 Daze Warning”, the band’s autobiography. Not bad as a standalone, in your face shredding rocker, but it just doesn’t sit right with the rest of the tunes presented here…it’s like a lion in a room of kittens.

The EP also suffers from a production standpoint, sounding muddled and unbalanced. There is potential for this band if they can bring some consistency to their songwriting, strengthen the lyrics, and get the resources to record their music properly.

Category 5 on MySpace.

Listen to “Lost In Legacy”

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

By Kurt Torster

Nine Days “So Happily Unsatisfied” (2002)

I think just about anyone my age would call the decades of the 90s/00’s a vast musical wasteland. Sure there were exceptions, but overall, the mainstream continued to get further flushed down the crapper. So leave it be to me to come across one of the great undiscovered rock albums from a band that might have been considered to be part of said wasteland.

Nine Days will always be looked at as nothing more than a one hit wonder, with their “Absolutely (Story Of A Girl)” propagating many a “Now That’s What I Call Music” type compilation.

Sure, the follow up single, “If I Am” did a minor bit of chart damage but it’s doubtful many remember this one.

So with a moderately successful major label debut under their belt, the band set out to record their second for Sony and then were promptly dropped and the album left to sit around unreleased.

I have to wonder what the people at the label were thinking when the band handed in the tapes for this one. Even as I listen now, this set holds up remarkably well and if one didn’t know any better, could easily have thought it came out yesterday (well, minus a reliance on stuff like auto-tune).

With a sound that now resembles what Train might sound like if they were a Green Day cover band, it’s everything a fan of anthemic rock would want. Big, bold and loud with choruses made to be sung along combined with a handful of introspective (yet never plodding) ballads, this album is close to the top of my “WTF was the label thinking?” chart.

What easily could have been mined for hit after hit, songs like “Good Friend,” the infectious “Emily,” the poptastic “The Joneses” and the amazing epic “Ocean” should have taken this band multi-platinum alongside their similarly sounding brethren Matchbox 20.

Looking back to 2002, music was trending more towards the forthcoming decade chart dominance of American Idol and hip-hop. With Nickelback being the only rock band in the top 10 for the year, it might have been one of the many periods of “experts” proclaiming yet again...rock is dead. But, with a little scratching at the surface, albums like this were easily uncovered and this was actually one of my favorite musical time periods. I found so many great bands that for the most part remain undiscovered, and will give me endless writing fodder.

As opener, “Favorite Song,” prophetically stated, “What if everything you had, was like a castle made of sand, would you open your hand or hold on tight?” Who knew they might have talking about their own career?

The band has since released a handful of excellent EPs and seems to have fractured into a set of solo acts. Since it remains unreleased, the band offers this album for free (yep, free!) in high quality downloads over at their site, So, really, now you have no excuse.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Review: Buckcherry “All Night Long”

Buckcherry stormed out of the gate with their 1999 self-titled debut with hits like “Lit Up” and “For The Movies”. The band proved they were not one hit wonders by topping this success with “15” (see our review here). With “All Night Long”, their fifth album, the band demonstrates once again that their formula for good old fashioned party rock still works.

The band has several things going for them that makes things work every time. Josh Todd is arguably one of the best contemporary rock vocalists around, and it is pretty amazing that his raspy voice has held up over a decade. Second, the band has an explosive chemistry that has only improved with age. But what helps to maintain their longevity is the knack to come up with memorable hooks in their songs. I wish they would do this in all of their songs, but you can always find a few gems on any Buckcherry record.

“All Night Long” is yet another decent record by Buckcherry – not stellar, but no slouch either. Fans know what this band delivers by now and the boys do not disappoint. Things that could have been better: the lyrics are probably the most banal the band has done and some of the tunes sound like clones of ones we’ve heard before. Where is the creativity and originality? They even ripped off the CD cover from Candlebox!

On the plus side, the band is expanding their scope a bit by including songs about topics beyond drinking, drugs, and one night stands (check out “Our World”).

The highlights include the anthem “Never Say Never”, “Recovery”, and “Our World”. The title track is a respectable Buckcherry staple, as is the power ballad “These Things”. “I Want You” is the other ballad – it is darker, haunting, and doesn’t jive with the lyrics. The rest of the songs are OK, but I think only hard core fans will appreciate them the most.

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

Buckcherry on MySpace. Official site.

Check out the video for “All Night Long”

Monday, March 7, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

BATON ROUGE "Shake Your Soul" (1990)

Hailing from Louisiana, the idea of naming the band Baton Rouge is pretty obvious to everyone. But actually when they started the band as Voices, Kelly Keeling was responsible for handling rhythm guitar and keyboard while Lance Bulen performed vocals. When they moved to LA, Voices changed their name and Keeling and Bulen switched positions - the rest is history. Baton Rouge's musical style is pure melodic rock, a mix of Bon Jovi and Germany's Bonfire or Fair Warning. Kelly Keeling has a great voice, quite close to Sammy Hagar's timbre, and he was the center of attention.

"Shake Your Soul" came up too late in 1990 when glam metal began to fade, and the band was soon forgotten not long after their debut was released. This record was quite mediocre compared to other better quality releases, but still I think this album has several enjoyable tunes such as "Doctor", "Walks Like A Woman", "Melenie", "There Was A Time", and "Bad Time Comin' Down". The rest are passable except for "Hot Blood Movin'" and "It's About Time" which I think are just okay.

The production level is good and with Keeling's great voice and several great songs, "Shake Your Soul" is a good buy if you like later day glam metal, but it’s far from essential. If you can pick this up cheap, it's not a bad idea to grab one to stuff into your CD rack.

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Rare Trax: Animal Bag "Everybody"

Every Saturday at BMF we present rare or deep tracks from my collection for your listening pleasure, or perhaps for your amusement!

This week’s track is "Everybody" by Animal Bag from their self-titled 1992 album. A little nugget of funk rock with a great chorus hook that got washed under by the shifting musical tide of the day.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Review: Castlelights “Paint The Stars” [EP]

Pop rock
Castlelights shines in Texas, but many will think they’re from London after hearing their sparkling Brit-pop sound. The band originated from the beginnings of a solo career initiated by Jeremiah Wood after parting ways with the band Leeland in 2007. He is joined by Aaron Eaves (The Blinding) on bass and Tyler Susuras (guitar/vocals). “Paint The Stars” is the band’s debut EP, providing five songs to give you a feel of their musical leanings.

Castlelights goes for the jugular to create rich sonic landscapes that fill the room. The music is both expansive and expressive, with earnest lyrics sung with warmth and gusto. Within these majestic soundscapes, the band strives to create memorable melodies. For some of these songs they hit the mark, but on others there is some room for improvement. Tyler Susuras has an excellent voice, pristine yet firm, with the ability to gently float up to a gorgeous falsetto (which he uses wisely) – talent like this is a joy to hear. The top tracks where the boys manage to hit the melodic nail on the head include the beautiful “Wait For You” and the upbeat “Maze of Love”.

I’d recommend that you check out Castlelights if you enjoy Coldplay, Palo Alto, or Travis.

Castlelights on MySpace. Official site.

Listen to “Wait For You”

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Review: The Sitcom “Eisoptrophobia”

Indie pop rock
On the tail end of a trend made famous by post-punk indie rock bands like Fall Out Boy, the Ontario-based group, The Sitcom, is going up to bat with their debut full-length record, “Eisoptrophobia”. With cited influences ranging from the The Beach Boys to The Smashing Pumpkins, you can’t be certain what you’re going to hear from song to song.

So the first question that probably comes to mind is what is eisoptrophobia? It is the fear of gazing into mirrors. Unfortunately, that is the advice I must give this band after listening to the record – they need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and re-evaluate their musical direction. I just don’t see “Eisoptrophobia” taking them anywhere – it is not necessary a bad record, but it is plagued with forgettable songs and does nothing to stand out of the crowd. Plus, I think the whole post-punk trend is quickly being ushered out the door, and The Sitcom gives us no reason to reconsider welcoming it back into the house.

Some cool things about this band that suggest potential – the lyrics and good, and often wry and witty as evidenced by song titles like “The World Ends Pretty Hilariously” and “How A French Girl Rolls”. The vocals are solid, and the band knows harmonies are a good thing. The problem is that the harmonies are just all over the place, making them a distraction rather than a synergistic element to augment the lead. There are also a couple of fillers – commercials, if you will – that make this sitcom drag, such as “The Snake Song” and “Hell Is Close”. To my ears, the strongest cut on this record is the halfway melodic “Sorrow In Pavement”.

Check out The Sitcom if you like Fall Out Boy, Panic At The Disco, or Modest Mouse. “Eisoptrophobia” is available now.

The Sitcom on MySpace. Facebook.

Listen to “Sorrow In Pavement”

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

We’re proud to roll out another new feature here on BMF! Beloved music writer Kurt Torster (SFK, Kurt’s Krap) is back with a new column, “The Best Albums You Never Heard”, which shines the spotlight on records that – for reasons that defy all logic – never got the fame and recognition they deserved. There is no better example of this than the Canadian hard rock band Harem Scarem

By Kurt Torster

Harem Scarem “Harem Scarem” (1991)

It’s weird how what has become one of my all-time favorite bands completely slipped under my radar for a few years. 1991 was a weird time in my life where music had taken a backseat to outside forces and my sense of discovery had been replaced by a complacency for whatever was fed to me via MTV (yes, they were still playing videos then). I had stopped buying my bi-weekly fix of Kerrang! magazine, which was my musical bible for much of the 80s, so new music was not high on my list of priorities. Even my monthly shopping trips into the Village in NYC had stopped.

Fast forward a couple of years, past life changing events, and a swelling undercurrent of discovery thanks to friends I had made through that new fangled thing called the Internet. By some point in 1993 or 1994, I had started to trade tapes (yeah, cassettes!) with people all over the world. One particular mix tape had found its way to me from Scotland. Insert tape, side A, press play and the first song that came out was “With A Little Love,” and I know it sounds cliché, but it changed my world.

"With A Little Love"

At this time frame of the decade, about all I was hearing of late were bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden and their ilk. Suddenly though, with one simple song, I was catapulted back to my first (and still strongest) musical love. Taking equal parts of 80s arena rock (like Journey and Def Leppard) blended with late 80s hair metal (lots of Extreme and Winger), it was really like nothing I had heard in years. I drove out that day and hit all my favorite import haunts until I found not only their debut but the follow up, “Mood Swings.”

But that one little song, and eventually the entire album, re-lit my flame of discovery and led to my starting of a promotional website and company, SFK (which ran for almost 12 years), where like that mix tape, allowed me to share with the world all the great music that might be slipping under other’s own personal radars thanks to the mainstream musical wasteland that was the 90s.

That was only one song too. The rest of the album had so much more. Whether you felt like rocking your own arena to “Hard To Love,” “All Over Again” or “How Long” or taking it easy to acoustic power ballads like “Honestly” and “Something To Say,” it makes me wonder how this album didn’t sell millions. And, considering the band only seemed to get better more diverse with each outing, the mystery just deepens. In melodic rock circles, the band are still gods, with their cult-like following snapping up everything the foursome touch.

"Hard To Love"

Nowadays, the members own one of Canada’s biggest recording studios and do a lot or work for Canadian Idol. Smokey voiced singer Harry Hess also released a great hard rock album last year under the name of First Signal (read the BMF review here) while guitarist Pete Lesperance, who could stand his own with guys like Nuno Bettencourt or Brian May, had some minor chart success with his new band Fair Ground.

Maybe it was all in the timing. As this album was released, a wind known as grunge blew through and, well, you know the rest. Shame we couldn’t turn the clock back just a little bit and let them be big on their own terms.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Review: Terrible Things “Terrible Things”

Modern rock
Terrible Things is a new modern rock super group consisting of Fred Mascherino (Taking Back Sunday), Josh Eppard (Coheed and Cambria) and Andy Jackson (Hot Rod Circuit). Their new self-titled album is out now through Universal Motown and the band leaves on tour next week for a month long jaunt with Streetlight Manifesto.

Though the band didn’t initially set out to do a concept album, this is how the debut record took shape. The song themes are centered on a series of fires that haunted Fred’s former hometown, the depressed Pennsylvania steel-millburgh of Coatesville, PA. A reign of arson terror scorched the more modest neighborhoods of Chester County from 2007-2009. "I was just struck by the helplessness," says Fred. "Growing up there I remember the decay, but this was such a mindless thing, symptomatic maybe, of pure hopelessness."

The first remarkable achievement evident on the record is how explosive the chemistry is between the members. Despite coming from three different successful bands in their own right, egos have taken a beat seat to the greater good. The trio sounds like they’ve been playing together for years, yet there is an excitement in this music that makes it clear they are in their honeymoon phase. Produced by Jason Elgin, the record is a sonic triumph. The second achievement is their successful generation of volatile modern rock that does not ignore strong melodic hooks. Each song plays like an anthem with driving verses escorting us to giant arena-ready choruses. With intelligent lyrics and attention to melody, Terrible Things fills a crater in the current musical landscape. Hard hitting highlights include “Revolution”, “Up At Night”, and the title track. On the power ballad side, don’t miss “Lullaby” and “Been Here Before”. The quirky verses in “Conspiracy” come as a bit of an uncertain surprise, but – wait for it – that chorus is gold.

On the title track they sing, “We’re doing terrible things”. On the contrary, what this band is doing is terrific and I hope they don’t change a thing.

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

Terrible Things on MySpace. Official site.

Check out the video for "Revolution":