Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Review: Rob Bonfiglio "Bring on the Happy"

One of the fondest memories I have from my days in Philly was seeing a band called Wanderlust play a New Years Eve gig at The Electric Factory. After years of enduring grunge, my ears were elated to hear such sunny and bright melodies emanating from the stage once again. I told a friend at the show that the new record from Wanderlust, "Prize", was going to be HUGE. Well, I am known to be wrong once or twice a year, and this was one of those times. "Prize" remains a classic power pop release that still pleases whenever I play it, but Wanderlust tragically never got the recognition they deserve.

Scot Sax has done well moving on as a songwriter for established artists, and he has continued to release brilliant new stuff with the group Feel. Rob Bonfiglio moved on to write songs for others as well and plays guitar for Wilson Phillips. And he's now released an astonishingly good debut solo record.

Optimistic and inspiring, "Bring on the Happy" brings all the greatest elements of power pop and melodic rock together: instantly catchy rhythms, perky guitar riffs, abundant harmonies, and chord progressions that make you shout, "Oh yeah!" There is nothing to dislike on this record; even more impressive, this is Rob's debut and he did virtually everything. Whether Rob is jamming on the guitar like on "Blow Me Away" or pounding on the piano like in "The Best Is Yet To Come", the resulting sounds are wonderfully intoxicating. Vocally, Rob is in the league of Matthew Sweet and Jason Falkner - perfectly pleasing and just right for this genre of music.

While I am hard pressed to find even a mediocre track, I'd have to count "Nothing Will Hold You Down", "Sympathy (Who I Am)", and "React" as my favorites.

"Bring on the Happy" could not be more aptly titled, and I find myself nostalgic for that glorious Wanderlust show I saw on New Years Eve about a decade ago. Dare I try to say it again? What the hell..."Bring on the Happy" is going to be HUGE.

iPOD-worthy: all tracks - way to go!

Rob Bonfiglio on MySpace.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Review: Harem Scarem “Hope”

How sad it is that after delivering 20 years of some of the best, although virtually ignored, melodic hard rock, the Canadian boys in Harem Scarem are calling it a day. They have left us with a swan song in the form of “Hope”, another blast of ominous, thundering rock poised to shake your bones loose.

Anyone who has yet to discover the majesty that is Harem Scarem is in for a royal treat. Every CD I have ever heard by this group impresses with its loud and bold sound – they are the giants with all the muscles in the weight room at the music gym. Their CDs are impeccably produced with modern guitar tones, one of the tightest rhythm sections, and towering vocals. Best of all, Harem Scarem bases everything on a foundation of melody and memorable songwriting.

“Hope” is a great release - one that I would count among the best of melodic hard rock albums for 2008. However, as a whole, I do not find it as instantly likable as their previous recent masterpieces like “Human Nature”, “Higher” or “Weight of the World”. Despite its title, I find it darker and more serious - which is fine - but it is also deficient in the hook department. Still, there is plenty of what we love from Harem Scarem, with highlights including “Time Bomb”, “Dark Times”, and “Never Too Late”. Even the slower and mid-tempo tracks rock you right out of your chair, such as “Shooting Star” and “Nothing Without You”. Before the curtain falls, they close with a tender and acoustic rendition of “Higher” that is chill-inducing, showcasing the raw talent these guys have that unfortunately is not finding its way into many an ear.

Keep an eye out for the inevitable solo discs these guys (Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance) are going to be releasing in the future. In the meantime, be sure to check out the ones they have already put out a few years ago.

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

Harem Scarem on MySpace. Official site.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Review: Television of Cruelty “Dead Sea Shanties”

Some artists defy classification and I would classify The Television of Cruelty (TVC) as one of those. “Dead Sea Shanties”, the third and latest offering from Ian Williams et al., is more like a journey to be experienced in full and through headphones rather than a collection of disjointed tunes comprising your average CD. Some would liken their work more to rock opera.

The lead off track, “Nowhere Central”, is simply fantastic – everything is optimized to pure melodic pop perfection from the songwriting to the vocal performance. It excited my ears, so I settled back into my chair for more of this wonderful carnival of pop rock. Unfortunately, despite some flickering moments of genius, nothing else really captured my attention like the excellent first track. I guess I got spoiled! Don’t get me wrong, though…if you are looking for something that sounds unique, with bold and witty lyrics, you need not look further than TVC.

“Dead Sea Shanties” is a musical smorgasbord – clearly rooted in 80s new wave, but with branches that venture into carnival pop, acoustic driven pop rock, prog rock, Celtic rock, and, naturally, electronica. It just leaves me asking one thing…where’s the gangsta rap, Ian?

Some will applaud these bold forays into so many different branches of musical genres, but others will not have the energy to climb such a tree. Ian is also notable for his ability to mold his voice to fit the piece. On “Nowhere Central” he sounds like Tommy Keene. On “Tommy Catt’s Bride” he sounds like Alice Cooper. On “Humber” he sounds like, well, nothing…it’s an instrumental. Actually, there are a considerable number of instrumentals (“musical narratives”) scattered throughout the disk, some reminding me of Enigma (check out “Sand Babies”).

To fully appreciate this CD, it would do you well to read through their web site. There you will find the curious explanations behind each of the two groups of songs, “The Dead Sea Shanties” (fictional) movie soundtrack (C side) and “The Nettlemen” (B side). You’ll also find, as you would expect of course, the “lyrics” to the instrumentals (musical narratives).

iPOD-worthy: 1, 7

Television of Cruelty on MySpace. Official Site.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Free mp3: American Werewolf Academy

Check out this free mp3 of "Man with No Off Switch" courtesy of American Werewolf Academy! Read the review below.

Hurry – link expires in one week!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Review: American Werewolf Academy “Triceratops”: free mp3

“Triceratops” is the aptly named third release from A.W.A., a.k.a. American Werewolf Academy. I like them already.

After listening to the slick and polished sound of Echo Jet (reviewed here), AWA sure comes out of the speakers like a screeching surprise. Unpolished and raw, this Dallas trio is pulling rock up by the roots. They play the kind of rock and roll that puts hair on your chest. It will make you howl with delight. OK, enough with the werewolf references.

The core of the songwriting here is classic power pop, but you might not spot it at first because it tends to get covered in the fuzzy and sometimes overly distorted guitars. But the hooks are there. The raw energy of the leading tracks, “Jack Frost” and “Company of Owls”, showcase their love for punk, but their mastery of pop rock rears its head on “Good Night for Anything” (my favorite track) and “Summer Ship”. “Man with No Off Switch” is also a quirky cool rocker with a strong chorus. “Tell Them Right Now” ends the record with a final blast of sing-a-long fun complete with hand claps. The songs are short, with all 11 tracks finished in just under 30 minutes. I wish the drums were recorded better – the drummer, Tony Harper, is excellent, but the drums sound muddied.

The vocals have the perfect rasp for this style of rock – often sounding a lot like old school Rod Stewart. The band combines elements of The White Stripes, The Singles, and Jet to give us a unique blend of indie rock and commercial viability.

Some of the favorite bands of these boys include Favorite bands of AWA include Roky Erickson, Cheap Trick, The Kinks, and The New Pornographers. If you like any of these groups, you are sure to find something that will please you when listening to AWA.

Join the Academy! Go to their home page now and pick up some mp3 files the boys are offering free of charge.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 6, 7, 10, 11

American Werewolf Academy on MySpace. Official site.

News: We're now on The Rock & Roll Report!

Great news! I've been asked to write some reviews for The Rock and Roll Report. I am very excited about this opportunity - go check out the site and you'll understand why. I will feature some of my favorite indie artists in the reviews I submit to RnR Report, so keep your CDs coming (contact me for address). Of course, Bill's Music Forum will continue as always, but I am very much looking forward to greatly increasing the exposure of my favorite new artists through Rock and Roll Report. Rock on...Bill

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Review: Echo Jet "Echo Jet" (2008): free mp3

It figures...as soon as I find something I REALLY like, it disappears. It usually happens with a new candy bar, restaurant, shoes, etc, but it also happens with bands. Echo Jet is my latest new find that I was truly excited about. I go to their MySpace page to help write this review and read the following:

"Sorry guys, but our label could not get it together with the promotion of this record, so we decided to call it a day. We want to thank all the fans past and present for all your support. We just want to keep the music out there. ----Just email us at echojetfreemusic@aol.com and let us know what tracks you would like to receive. We will be glad to email you an MP3 free of charge. Thanks! EJ"
So the good news is that you can get free mp3 files, but the tragedy is that there may be no more new music from this outstanding modern pop rock band.
Echo Jet consists of Denny and Kenny Scott, formerly of Swirl 360. I was not a huge fan of Swirl 360, but could see the potential there, and Echo Jet affirms my suspicions of the greatness these guys would achieve with a little growth. The 2008 self-titled Echo Jet release is full of slick pop rock numbers that hit all the right notes. Harmonies, big choruses, great vocal performances, and wall of sound production define Echo Jet. Go get your free mp3s and see what I mean. Obviously for fans of Swirl 360 - but Echo Jet will also appeal to those who enjoy groups like American Hi-Fi, Evan and Jaron, Nine Days, or Safetysuit.

There really isn't a lame song in the bunch, but my favorites include "Chemical", "Something To Believe In", "Everybody". Note some songs, e.g. "California Blur", have been retooled from the original located on the Swirl 360 release of the same name. I hope these guys persist in some way, shape, or form...let me know!

iPOD-worthy: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11

Echo Jet on MySpace.

Check out the video for "Wave":

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Review: Stella Kidd "Contact High" (EP)

Stella Kidd is a hard rock band shredding the music scene in Concord, North Carolina. Their 7-track EP "Contact High" surfaced in 2007. Stella Kidd impresses with their intensity and power. Lead singer, Limy, tempts one to draw comparisons to Metallica as his phrasing and growl sounds a lot like James Hetfield. However, Stella Kidd is different from Metallica in that their songs are more on the melodic side, use more harmony vocals, and are a fraction of the length of a traditional Metallica tune, most clocking in just under 3 minutes.

"Enough" and "Bleed" start the EP with a jolting one-two punch. These two blistering tracks demand repeat listens and are great for getting pumped. "Speak Out" has more of a grunge feel to it, but the thundering and catchy "Time" returns them to their comfort zone. "Silver Tongue" is another awesome cut, reminding me of a heavy .38 Special song...something that would fit on their "Drivetrain" release. And while Limy does a bit too much James Hetfield on "Burned Out", it is yet another groovy headbanging rocker with a crafty hook in the chorus.

These guys are old school rockers - passionate and powerful - with enough melody to please AOR fans and plenty heavy riffs to satisfy the headbangers. If you dig Metallica, Shinedown, or Disturbed, you shouldn't miss out on Stella Kidd.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 4, 5, 6

Stella Kidd on MySpace.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Rare CD: Pointer Sisters "Black and White"

(RCA/BMG ND-89378)
Produced by: RICHARD PERRY

1. Sweet Lover Man
2. Someday We'll Be Together
3. Take My Heart, Take My Soul
4. Slowhand
5. We're Gonna Make It
6. What A Surprise
7. Got To Find Love
8. Fall In Love Again
9. Should I Do It"

Sold for $89.99 on ebay.

Rare CD: Sleeze Beez "Look Like Hell"

Only issued on CD in Belgium on CNR Records! LONG OOP!!"

Sold for $113.01 on ebay.

Rare CD: Mindless Self Indulgence "Tight"

"Yes, this is exactly what you think it is. This is the ORIGINAL Uppity Cracker 1999 release of Mindless Self Indulgence's debut album, Tight. If you are looking at this auction, I am sure you know how hard this album is to come by. This is your chance to own it! I really hate to let this album go but I need the cash."

Sold for $142.50 on ebay.

Selling on Amazon used for "just" $119.95!

Rare CD: Concrete Jungle "Wear & Tear"

"CONCRETE JUNGLE Wear and Tear 1988 Indie Glam CD; Mega Rare and Awesome Eighties Metal for fans of Lillian Axe, Poison, Motley Crue"

Sold for $182.50 on ebay.

Rare CD: Uprising "Let It Ride"

"Hyper rare 1993 brilliant hard rock treasure!

Here's your chance to get an original CD called UPRISING - Let It Ride. This hyper rare 6 track CD was released in 1993 on a US indie label. Another candidate for one of the rarest and most unknown hard rock indie treasures. I've said it before, how can there still be so many cool hard rock indie treasures no one knows about today. Well, here we got UPRISING hailing from the midwest. All I can say is prepare yourself for one heck of a killer mind blowing gem. They are a tough band to describe but you'll hear elements of DOKKEN, THEATRE and PLEEZER. Smokin' guitars and killer keys abound on this release. It has a very cool mix of uptempo hard rock rockers with some very well done ballads. Make your bid count, it's my only copy available. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND it. The CD and inserts are in mint condition.

1. Tied Up In Love
2. I Remember
3. Loving You
4. Let It Ride
5. Tomorrow
6. Killers Of Passion"

Sold for $250.00 on ebay.

Rare CD: Firebrand "Assembly"

"Firebrand – Assembly CD

1994/MI Records. 12 tracks, melodic hard rock, powerful vocals, killer guitar work combined with a top-notch rhythm section. Jett, vocally is a true rocker, the versatility of her voice is even showcased when she delivers a heart-felt ballad or a bluesy number. A few tracks are textbook Signal material. This one will appeal to fans of Saraya, Devay, Witness."

Sold for $280.00 on ebay.

Rare CD: David Cook - Axium "Matter of Time"

2002 USA

"Why Do You Care?"
"Close Your Eyes"
"Empty Again"
"Matter of Time"
"No Free Advice"
"No Place to Go"
"Peace of Mind (Song for Sarah)"

Sold for $510.00 on ebay.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Review: AC/DC "Black Ice"

It has been a long wait for AC/DC fans. "Black Ice", exclusively available at Wal-Mart of all places, has reassured the world that AC/DC has not slipped off the rock landscape. The only thing unpredictable about this record is that the band opted to sell their new CD through a single major retail store.

"Black Ice" boasts 15 brand spankin' new tracks from the legendary classic rock outfit that sound pretty much like the last batch of brand spankin' new tracks dispensed by this band many years ago. Giving the fans exactly what they expect is a double-edged sword; while it will jerk some fists in the air upon hearing their brand of raspy, guitar-driven rock once again, there isn't much on this CD that I feel is going to make most fans choose to listen to it more than some of the early classics, or even "Razor's Edge".

Just as they pioneer little new territory musically (the exception being Angus doing some wild slide guitar on “Rainy May Day”), the boys also stick to very familiar lyrical themes: the glory of rock n roll, girls, and good times. However, "War Machine" is a pretty decent track that touches the tip of the iceberg of politics. Overall, "Black Ice" is a good, solid rock record, and you have to give these guys props for still being able rip it up like kids in this day and age, and appeasing fans by sticking to their straight-forward formula. The production is fantastic and the guys sound tight as ever.

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

AC/DC on MySpace. Official site.

Watch the boys in their video, "Rock N Roll Train" here.

New music: Jimi Jamison "When Rock Was King"

Wow - this one really brings back the memories. Check it out if you grew up loving 80s rock and AOR. Jimi Jamison and Jim Peterik (Survivor) pull out all the stops and collect all of their 80s friends on this new music video. The song will appear on Jamison's new solo record, dropping next week. Send me a copy, boys!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Trivia Corner: Kenny the Wet Sprocket

Back in 2003, a lot of people were picking up the phone and replying, "Kenny who? Loggins? No kidding? Sure I'll meet you halfway and do a song with you!"

Soundtrack god and AOR mastermind Kenny Loggins released "It's About Time" later that year, trying to redeem himself from the gut-wrenchingly awful "The Unimaginable Life" from 1997. Not quite the return to form that would be "How About Now" (read our review here), "It's About Time" ain't half bad and boasts a surprising number of diverse collaborators of songwriters and performers I have enjoyed over the decades.

First up, 70s singer/songwriter Michael McDonald joins in on the title track, trying to recapture a little of the soulful feel of their previous work together, 1979's "This Is It" and 1982's "Heart To Heart".

Then enter 80s singer/songwriter Richard Marx, who works with Loggins on plenty of the ballads (surprise). They actually sound good harmonizing together, and I did not need the linear notes to tell me that Marx was doing back up vocals. His distinctive rasp sounds great on these tracks - I just wish he could remember how to write an uptempo song.

Next up we have 90s singer/songwriter Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket helping out with a track called "This Is How My Song Goes". I would never have guessed this match up, but it was a pleasant surprise to see them working together. I don't like the song too much, though.

And appropriately, we have Clint Back helping out with the country-flavored track, "Alive N' Kickin'".

Curiously, all of these guests are thanked in the linear notes EXCEPT Glen Phillips. What's up with that, Ken?

Free mp3: John Taglieri

Check out this free mp3 of Everything We Are (A Toast) courtesy of John Taglieri! Read the review here.

Hurry – link expires in one week!