Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Review: The Simple Carnival “Girls Aliens Food”

Back in June, I reviewed The Simple Carnival’s EP entitled, “Me and My Arrow”, which was a real blast of fresh air for pop purists (review here). Now, The Simple Carnival mastermind Jeff Boller is back as promised with the full-length release “Girls Aliens Food”, due to drop tomorrow.

As expected, “Girls Aliens Food” (I am guessing these are Jeff’s three favorite things besides music) delivers more of the same brand of Harry Nilsson style pop that we heard on the EP. There are a few intriguing instrumentals thrown in, but I prefer the tracks with vocals. Jeff’s soothing tone is like an instant stress reliever, and he has a true gift for harmony and melody. The music is pure pop – not rock, not even power pop – but still undeniably catchy and fun. My kids (5 and 3) really enjoy the stuff! If you like the gentle and mellow sounds that The Carpenters used to hammer out, then The Simple Carnival may feel like a welcome retreat to you.

As on the EP, my favorite track remains “Caitlin's on the Beach”, a brilliant example of a sunny pop masterpiece. Additional standouts on “Girls Aliens Food” include the quirky “Really Really Weird” (see video below) and “Flirt”, which features an irresistibly bouncy piano riff. The acapella track, “Nothing Will Ever Be As Good”, showcases Jeff’s talent for harmony and is reminiscent of the 60s pop group The Association. Sounding like something from an Austin Powers movie, “Over Coffee and Tea” just makes me laugh, and I could use a dose of that kind of laughter more often. “Misery” and the acoustic driven “You Jump First” are two more wonderfully catchy tracks to round out this exceptional release.

If you really want to have some fun at your next party, sneak a Simple Carnival CD into the stereo after the new Metallica. The looks on the faces should be priceless.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 3, 5, 8, 9, 10

The Simple Carnival on MySpace. Official Site.

Jeff also runs a really cool gearhead blog called Songs and Sonics. A must see if you are a home recording artist.

Check out the video for “Really Really Weird”:

Friday, September 26, 2008

Trivia Corner

1986 saw this debut release by Matthew Sweet, "Inside". "This Above All" is a track that features Aimee Mann on prominent backing vocals, fresh off the heels of her successful smash with 'Til Tuesday's "Voices Carry". Being in Athens, Sweet was also buddies with R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, which explains why Scott Litt produced and/or mixed a number of the better tracks on the record.

Trivia Corner

Richard Marx was one of the backing vocalists on this 1985 release by Christopher Cross, "Every Turn of the World". Watch for the long awaited reissue out October 7, which will be available as a 2CD set with 1988's "Back of My Mind": get it here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Review: Todd Herfindal "Collective"

OK, it is official. Todd Herfindal (Her-fin-doll) is my new songwriting hero. The Meadows frontman releases this 11 track set of solo tunes aptly titled, "Collective" on September 29 and fans of shimmering jangle pop everywhere need to take note.

As with most debut solo releases, you kind of fear that the tunes may just be stray leftovers that were not up to snuff for their band. This is certainly not the case with the tunes on "Collective", each one is capable of standing up to the quality of any track on the Meadows CDs. Having released two full-length Meadows CDs and now this solo CD (not counting his numerous collaborations) since 2004, he is one of the most prolific singer/songwriters of the day. More impressive than that, I do not believe I've ever heard a bad song penned by Herfindal.

Despite being a literal collection of songs from over the years that for some reason or other did not find their way onto a Meadows CD, "Collective" plays seamlessly like a premeditated full-length studio project. The CD is entirely consistent and works well as a cohesive release. As a whole, the material is not too different than The Meadows, so we're talking sounds like The Jayhawks, Tom Petty, and the more rocking side of Counting Crows. Herfindal has one of the best voices for this genre of music, with great instincts on when to throw in a growl and when to let things simmer.

"Air I'm Breathing" is a wonderful way to start the CD - Todd's voice is always like a blast of fresh air, and the lyrical theme is a great daily affirmation: "I won't waste another day on little things that don't mean nothing". "Waiting on the Sun" is another bright spot - a little more laid back with some greasy slide guitar and gleeful harmonies. "Won't Look Back" is a classic Herfindal ballad and his emotive vocal instincts soar above the lush string accompaniment. We leap back to foot stomping, sing-a-long action with "Forget It All Again", which laments "Maybe someday we'll learn half of what we need to know and forget it all again by tomorrow". "This Is A Love Song" is a beautiful acoustic driven ballad with another subdued, but brilliant vocal performance. "Here We Are" showcases his alt-country side, a happy romp featuring some tastefully placed accordion, brush drumming, and gentle strumming. One of my favorite tracks, "So Let Me In" features one of the funkiest verse grooves I've heard Herfindal write - their juxtaposition with the super melodic chorus works perfectly and highlights this man's skill as a songwriter.

iPOD-worthy: all tracks...seriously!

Todd Herfindal on MySpace. Official site.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Review: The Romeo Flynns “Pictures of You”

The Romeo Flynns have pulled out all the stops with their debut release, a concept album of sorts dedicated to musing over the universal but tired question: why did you leave me? The CD is surrounded by professional looking art, models without pants, and sleek packaging. They got thick riffs, a good dose of harmony, a dash of sax, and a knack for melody that mostly turns this "woe is me" record into a party.

The Romeo Flynns state (warn us?) right up front with the diner dialogue in track 1 that we will be flies on the wall listening to this guy come to grips with losing his gal. This kind of stuff is OK for a few tunes, but a whole record dedicated to this soap opera? It certainly has its moments, but many listeners are going to find the songs tedious, with their redundant themes and one too many choruses wearing out their welcome. At times, you’ll wish you could just reach out, slap the guy, and yell, “Get over it, dude!"

There are some noteworthy elements about this band, the first being their winning ability to make modern pop rock that wonderfully emulates 50s and 60s music without sounding like they are ripping it off (check out "Gonna Feel Alright"). Some parts of the tunes are bursting with musical instincts as sharp as The Dave Clark Five, The Knack, or The Romantics. The interlacing themes between the songs, as well as the dramatic flair the orchestration brings, reminded me of classic Meatloaf. But at the end of the day, about half the songs could not hold my attention (some of which demand nearly 5 minutes worth) and the vocals grate on me when he reaches for the higher register, which he does way too often. Songs like "A Better Man Than Me" are heartbreaking...great songwriting, played to perfection, but the vocals kill it for me. The sappy and slow "Every Time We Part" and "Something About Her" stick out as the two sore thumbs and are out of character with the other tunes.

“Pictures of You” is one of those musical sandwiches, with the meat in the middle. Standout tracks include the punchy "Wasting My Heart", which is followed by the equally peppy "Just Fade Away." I also enjoyed "Won't Pass This Way Again", which reminds me of the 70s pop gem "Seasons In The Sun" by Terry Jacks. The Romeos also pull off an electrifying cover of "Better Things" originally done by The Kinks in 1981. It is a healthy way to end the record.

Recording this record was probably very therapeutic for the writer, but did it win back the girl? My guess is no…but I trust they will win some fans.

iPOD-worthy: 8, 9, 10, 12

The Romeo Flynns on MySpace. Official site.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Review: Soundtrack "If Looks Could Kill" (1991)

I've never heard of this 1991 movie (starring Richard Grieco), but the soundtrack caught my eye because a number of bands I somewhat enjoyed had some songs on here that I've never heard. Judging by the booklet and movie poster, it is not a movie I am going to rush to Blockbuster to check out. But here is the scoop on the tunes for those who care...

Glenn Medeiros (remember "Nothing's Gonna Change My Love For You"), starts off us with a track that tries really, really hard to keep the 80s sound alive, despite the fact that it was recorded in 1991. It sounds exceptionally dated and wasn't the kind of 80s music I was a huge fan of. I began to think that I made a mistake with this soundtrack, but then comes a long lost track from The Outfield, an 80s favorite of mine. "One Hot Country" is classic Outfield and is one of their better tracks from the time period. Sounds like it could have come off "Rockeye". The short-lived hair band supergroup Contraband makes a decent contribution with a track made for cruising, "Loud Guitars Fast Cars, and Wild Wild Women." Trixter's track, "One Mo Time" is queer; the only song I know from them featuring sax. I would not have known it was Trixter. This track did very little for me. The soundtrack reaches a low point with a pure dance track by Kylie Minogue (WTF? Who puts this on a soundtrack of mostly AOR and hairband stuff?)

Next up comes Robin McAuley (McAuley Schenker Group), who is now the lead singer for Survivor. Songs like this "Teach Me How To Dream" probably got him that job. Robin McAuley sounds a lot like Klaus Meine (Scorpions) at times, and this song a lot like "Winds of Change" - overall, it is a respectable power ballad. The Fixx put in a surprisingly good rock track with harmonica to boot called "All Is Fair". Another underrated AOR band called The Stabilizers contribute a very nice track called "Maybe This Time", a pleasant uptempo rocker with plenty of harmony and a perfect balance of guitars and synth that was typical of the late 80s. Incidentally, their 1986 CD "Tyranny" is a good catch for collectors - currently going for $42 on Amazon.com - check now. "Maybe This Time" is much better than anything on "Tyranny", though. Bang Tango closes things out with another blast from the past - a funky rocker called "My Saltine". I was never a huge fan of this band, but this track is jazzed up with horns and quite catchy.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 6, 7, 8, 9

News: Kurt is Back!

The self-proclaimed Brett Favre of music blogging, Kurt of Kurt's Krap (formerly SFK) is back from "retirement".

Go lend him your eyes for a while when you are done here.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Rare CD: Lisa Hartman "Til My Heart Stops"

"Lisa Hartman ecorded four albums and a title song for a the soundtrack "Where The Boys Are 84". The first album was "Lisa Hartman" in 1977, next was "Hold On" in 1979 followed by "Letterrock" in 1983. "Til My Heart Stops" was her last one in 1988. This last album was definitely her very best recording. It was '80s melodic-rock/ pop in the finest form. Lisa rocks on this album. It also includes some touching ballads as well. It has aged well and you will not be disappointed.

This was her only released that saw a CD release. And it is MEGA-RARE these days, going for at least $100.


1. Tempt Me (If You Want To)
2. I Don't Need Love
3. Ooh, I'm Satisfied
4. I Can't Get You Out of My System
5. Tender Kiss
6. Dress
7. How Many Rivers?
8. Imagination
9. 'Til My Heart Stops Beating"

Sold for $64.02 on ebay (14 bids)

Note: Only going for $50 on Amazon.com - check now

Rare CD: Beck "Golden Feelings"

"This is a must own for any serious Beck fans. This cd was 1 of only 2000 ever made! This cd is of Beck's earlier work prior to mellow gold, it was recorded in 1992 and released in 1993."

Sold for $200.00 on ebay (Buy It Now feature)

Rare CD: Bruce Springsteen "Oh Boy! (Live 1978)"

"This rare double CD is not shrinkwrapped, but is in excellent, near mint condition. It is original and NOT a cdr. SIAE, made in West Germany. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & The E Street Band - Live in Charleston, WV 1978 Fold out color insert with photos included."

Sold for $227.50 on ebay (12 bids)

Review: Only Makebelieve "Message From A Mockingbird"

Out of Ohio comes "Message From A Mockingbird", the new release from Only Makebelieve. These 13 tracks are superbly engineered and recorded; it is clear that a lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into perfecting this record. The band, driven by founding members Samuel Atkinson and Wyatt Michael, strive to produce a masterpiece in which every single song counts.

Only Makebelieve infuse their songs with complex textures of sound and harmony - it is intriguing to hear, but the hooks are not jumping out at me. Only Makebelieve is the musical equivalent to fine dining, and it takes a more sophisticated palate to truly appreciate what the guys have accomplished here.

There are some tunes that are much more accessible to power pop and rock fans who prefer instant gratification. "Rayna's Smile" and "Sunflower" are highly memorable, soaring gems of pop perfection. "Lost Time" is the first sign that these guys can rock and still maintain their standard of musical sophistication. "Backstab" is surprisingly punchy and sharp, fitting to the lyrical theme and title, and has become my first favorite on "Message From A Mockingbird". The record ends with a gentle acoustic guitar and piano piece that I also enjoyed very much called, "Your Flower Garden".

"Message From A Mockingbird" is a technical tour de force, a virtual tribute to art pop. They remind me of latter day Tears for Fears, Spandau Ballet, and 10cc. If you are fans of this genre, I encourage you to check out this ambitious release. If you are looking for big hooks and melodies that stick at first throw, there is probably not much for you beyond the cuts I recommend below.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 4, 8, 13

Only Makebelieve on MySpace.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Review: From Good Homes

I recently stumbled across this promo CD for "Open Up the Sky", a 1995 release from a band called From Good Homes. I never heard of them before, but just had to write about what a nice surprise it was. Contrary to the popular grunge at the time, From Good Homes is bright and uplifting, banging out world class rhythms with a full sound that includes sax, harmonica, fiddles, and oboe. Everything is based on acoustic driven pop songs, so it works in a very refreshing way. I would compare the sound to other bands that emerged during the mid-1990s that countered the grunge movement with similar spirit and world sounds, such as Edwin McCain and Railroad Earth. Another thing I like is that the lead singer, Todd Sheaffer, sounds a lot like Jim Ellison from Material Issue (RIP).

Since this is a promo EP, I can't list track numbers that are iPOD-worthy. But I can tell you that I am finding every track on this EP (6 of them) more and more enjoyable with each spin...I am confident the full-length release is great and will go to Amazon.com now to splurge the entire penny to get it. There are two tracks on the promo that are not on the full-length release: "Drivin' and Cryin'" and "Here Comes The Rain", both very good. Get them if you can!

From Good Homes website.

Todd Sheaffer on MySpace. Official site.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Review: Jim Basnight & the Moberlys "Seattle - New York - Los Angeles"

The prolific Jim Basnight was featured on this blog not too long ago in the form of his garage rock outfit "The Rockinghams". "Seattle - New York - Los Angeles" is another jam packed CD full of straight up rock and roll tunes, this time backed by his raucous bar band The Moberlys.

From the name you might surmise this is a collection of live recordings from various shows in the aforementioned cities, but this is not the case. It is 23 tracks of some of the strongest material I've heard from Basnight's extensive catalogue. This savior of rock and roll sounds a little different on each CD he puts out, but each CD is consistent in and of itself. "Seattle - New York - Los Angeles" is no exception.

This time around the theme appears to be strongly influenced by 50s be-bop and surf rock with a modern rock twist. Imagine The Replacements covering classic rock and roll artists like Buddy Holly or Beach Boys. Check out "I Wanna Be Yours" and "What I Wouldn't Do" to see what I'm talking about. We also hear some Material Issue coming through on cuts like "She Don't Rock" and Tom Petty on "The Rebel Kind".

These are some of the most melodic and instantly catchy tunes Basnight has recorded. From the Jim Basnight discography, this CD is my favorite so far.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12, 14, 16

Jim Basnight on MySpace. Official site.

Review: Blissters "I Love New Wave" (EP)

The Blissters are not your run of the mill power pop outfit - their boisterously melodic songs feature male and female vocals, often trading lines in a single song. I don't come across bands like that often and it was very refreshing to hear. "Right or Reason" is a high energy tune with hit written all over it, and "A-OK" is a perfect follow up. I really dig the surprise keyboard interludes - they give these tunes a healthy 80s vibe that works perfectly. If the Cure ever needed a new keyboard player, Erica C. would win the audition with ease!

On this 4 track Blissters EP, I hear a lot of The Rockfords, a little Paramore, and a pinch of Scandal (Patty Smyth...you know..."The Warrior"). The only negative for me is the production - the instrumentation sounds muddled and dense; consequently, the vocals often get drowned out in the mix. My two cents: I would re-record the guitars with better distortion tones - they are too fuzzy and distracting. Erica C. would benefit from a little confidence booster - she has a decent set of pipes and should sustain some notes more often for a powerful, dramatic effect. Doing this could turn a good song like "Wet Reckless" into a GREAT song.

That said, this material is very promising and should excite any music biz hotshot worth his or her salt to give this band the resources they need to make a blockbuster record. If you like pop punk with a new wave 80s flavor, check out The Blissters.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2

The Blissters on MySpace.

Check out the video for "Wet Reckless":

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Review: Cartographer “Cartographer” (EP)

Minnesota native Scott Gagner is a cog in the great melodic machine that constitutes Town and Country, whose spectacular debut was reviewed here not long ago. But he has also released an excellent solo effort under the name of Cartographer that is worth your attention.

Cartographer does not stray too far from the familiar Town and Country terrain. Like Town and Country, the lyrics and witty and fun, but the music is more on the folk rock side than alt-country. While based on acoustic guitar, the songs are vivaciously fleshed out with rich harmonies and piano; on top of this are tasteful accessories that include glockenspiel, mellotron, Moog synthesizer, and hand claps. Scott’s vocals are perfectly suited to this genre, which he plays expertly. He has captured a bit of a Sister Hazel (particularly Drew Copeland) meets The Grays feel.

We begin with a rather subtle opener, melancholy to match the lyrical epiphany that “the trouble with you is me”. It is a moving track that gently grabs you so that the following song, “I’m Not Following You” can shake you. This upbeat and snappy number is going to make Jason Falkner wonder if he’s been cloned. “Love Triangle for Two” (love that title) has downright groovy verses that almost make even me want to get up and dance. But don’t get me wrong – the song is still grounded in roots rock. “Waiting” is another highlight, a pleasant and breezy acoustic driven song featuring those bright and crisp guitar tones that I praised in the Town and Country review. “Suburban Girl” is a fun pop rocker that pulls out the distortion and has Scott doing his best Dave Grohl.

In a perfect world, the music of Cartographer should put Scott Gagner on the map.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6

Cartographer on MySpace. Official site.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Review: Deas Vail “White Lights” (EP)

In 2007, the rock band Deas Vail released “All the Houses Look the Same”, which garnered an impressive set of critical acclaim. Driven by the near Thom Yorke vocal styling of Wes Blaylock, Deas Vail wraps their reflective lyrics in blankets of modern rock in the vane of Mute Math, Death Cab for Cutie, or the warmer side of Coldplay.

Deas Vail is not as immediately as catchy or melodic as counterparts like Relient K, but the more adventurous and less commercial sound is refreshing and will grow on you. The title track "White Lights" is my favorite of the 5 songs on the EP; it is upbeat and showcases Blaylock's voice, which slips easily into angelic falsetto above the band's harmony vocals. "From Priests to Thieves" is another highlight, with Blaylock's vocals swirling blissfully amidst the beautiful orchestration in this piece. "Balance" is a similar tune, expertly mixing the strings with punchy guitars in the melodic chorus - very nice!

The EP plays more like a full bodied record than a collection of questionable tracks between proper releases. It is exceptionally produced, sweeping in scope, and fills the room with atmosphere. A must have for fans, and a nice introduction to the uninitiated.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 4, 5

Deas Vail on MySpace.

Review: Bad Company "Fame and Fortune"

I think I am in the minority to admitting that I actually like this 1986 release by Bad Company. "Fame and Fortune" was the first Bad Company record to feature Brian Howe (of Ted Nugent fame) instead of fan favorite Paul Rodgers (who left to work with the supergroup The Firm). I can understand their shock to the new direction this incarnation of the band took, but if you can get over their use of the band name and just judge the record, it ain't half bad.

Brian Howe brought more to the table than just a set of tremendous pipes...he contributed heavily to the songwriting on "Fame and Fortune" and the more commercially successful releases that followed. "Fame and Fortune" finds the band adapting to its new personnel while struggling to fit into the changing music scene. As result, this record has more keyboards and sax (!) than any other Bad Company release, hence sounding more like a Survivor or Foreigner record. In fact, Foreigner producer Keith Olsen produced this record with executive production by Mick Jones.

"Fame and Fortune" abandons the classic rock sound and is an unadulterated excursion into AOR territory. The songs are highly melodic, lyrically unsophisticated, and aim to please with a memorable chorus. The synths and bass line of "Long Walk" make it sound like a weaker cousin of Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger". "Hold On My Heart", my favorite of the bunch despite the omnipresent sax, is a great mid-tempo pop rocker. "When We Made Love" is the requisite ballad, but feels like it is more of a warm up to their comeback smash, "If You Needed Somebody" on 1990's "Holy Water". The single "This Love" may ring a bell for some of you in your late 30s. "Valerie" is another tune that sounds like it fell off a Survivor record.

So begins the Brian Howe era. Give it another chance if you are an AOR fan - it is the most overt 80s pop rock Bad Company ever did. They quickly ditched the keyboards and sax and ran back to their hard rock sound on 1988's "Dangerous Age". Incidentally, Bad Company was not the only band to try the switch to AOR - check out .38 Special's "Rock and Roll Strategy".

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 10

Bad Company official site.

Brian Howe official site.