Friday, July 31, 2009

Review: Grand Atlantic "How We Survive"

The moody and powerful "Coast Is Clear" sets the stage for the new sophomore CD by Australia's Grand Atlantic. "How We Survive" is out to impress and Grand Atlantic is taking no prisoners. Uncompromising in songwriting quality and recording expertise (the record was mixed by Magoo, whose clientele include Midnight Oil and Powderfinger). Sonically, "How We Survive" sounds terrific.

More important, many of the songs also sound terrific, well-written and harboring to-the-point melodies that aim to grab you quick. Grand Atlantic has a sound along the lines of Carolina Liar or O.A.R., masterfully blending driving modern rock riffs with smart pop hooks and spot on harmonies. But Grand Atlantic doesn't stop there - they pay just as much attention to detail in their thoughtful lyrics.

The first single, "She's A Dreamer" fits this bill being a radio-friendly track that has it all. I like "Freeway" even better, which tattooed itself onto my brain even faster - the track is my favorite in the bunch. Other highlights include "Tripwires" and "Hit n Run/So Cold". Pop fans will delight in singling along with the sha la la of the infectious "Used To Be The Sensitive Type", and Jet fans should take note of "Holding Pattern".

iPOD-worthy: 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8

Grand Atlantic on MySpace. Official site.

Check out the new video for "She’s A Dreamer":

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Review: Ted McCloskey "One Night Bland"

The latest from Ted McCloskey is the musical equivalent of a Supersized ValueMeal. Loaded with 23 tracks, McCloskey's 2009 opus "One Night Bland" record has been divided into two distinct sections: the 'Prefixes', and the 'Remixes'. I initially thought this meant that the first half of the tracks were demos of the second half of the tunes - but that is not the case. These are 23 independent tracks, the 'Remixes' representing recordings first heard on his 2003 debut, "One Man Misery Parade". So set aside a sizable block of time to digest all of "One Night Bland".

The vocals are bipolar - most of the songs have that classic "raunch n' roll" tone - that characteristic rasp that sits somewhere between Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls and Josh Todd of Buckcherry. But during a down-shift in the music, McCloskey appropriately sounds tamer - even tender - and like he didn't spend all night shouting at the waitresses while chain smoking in the bar.

The thing I love most about this record is the spirit - McCloskey is a purist for that classic rock and roll sound and attitude. Even better, he grounds everything with a strong hook in the chorus; as he puts it, his music is like "highly refined chaos". Ted McCloskey has all the swagger of the early Rolling Stones, the innovation of The Replacements, and pop sensibilities of The Kinks. In many respects, Ted McCloskey simply has it all, and "One Night Bland" is so packed with diverse songs I'd be surprised if you couldn't find at least one track that suits your taste. McCloskey throws at you gritty electric and acoustic guitars, slide guitar, harmonica, piano, banjo, and tunes that range from good ol' rock n' roll to bar blues to honky tonk to coffee shop to that thing Beck does (check out "Let-Me-Go-Or-Let-Me-In).

For the Prefixes portion, my personal picks include "Tilt-A-Whirl", "Some Other Planet", and the very Replacements sounding "I'm Gonna Learn You How". For the Remixes portion, it is even more difficult to find highlights as so many of the songs are great, but I'll pick "Misdirected Karma", "A Passing Moment of Thought", "Beautifully Dead", and the terrific ballad, "Even If...". For anyone who loves rock - you need to reserve an evening for Ted McCloskey's "One Night Bland". Excellent, excellent record.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 5, 7, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 20, 21, 22

Ted McCloskey on MySpace. Official site. Get it.

Check out the video for "Tilt-A-Whirl":

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Review: Tim Be Told "From The Inside" [EP]

From Charlottesville, Virginia, here comes a piano-driven pop rock band called Tim Be Told (Tim Ouyang, Luan Nguyen, Andrew Chae, Jim Barredo, and Parker Stanley). In their words, "The name 'Tim Be Told' was inspired by the quote 'Truth Be Told', reflecting the band's musical ethos of honesty, hope, redemption, and change." Hot off the heels of winning the 2008 UVa Battle of the Bands, they are back with a new EP, "From The Inside".

You can get a sense of what this band is all about from comments made by singer/songwriter Tim Ouyang: "Music, for me, is the sincerest expression of the human soul. It has the power to heal the heart, and the strength to soothe its anger." Complementing this conviction, the band members are largely self-taught musicians; in other words, they are doing this for the love of the game, and that sentiment comes across loud and clear in these passionately performed songs.

Listening to Tim Be Told is a bit of an adventure, as the tracks infuse a dazzling array of pop, rock, gospel and blues. Lead off track "Analyze" sounds a lot like Train, but then lead single "System" veers into territory marked by Jason Mraz. The jangle and bounce of "Third Wheel" will delight power pop fans, while "Perfect" is a grand and soulful song, so full of gospel and blues influence that Joe Cocker will want to cover it. If you like any of the aforementioned artists, or others such as Five for Fighting or The Fray, you need to give Tim Be Told a try. "From The Inside" is about as heartfelt as records can get, whose diversity should satiate even the most discriminating musical palate.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 3, 4, 5

Tim Be Told on MySpace. Official site.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Review: Fate Lions "Good Enough for You"

The Fate Lions, led by songwriter and front man Jason Manriquez, have roared onto the scene with their new CD entitled, "Good Enough For You". It has a pretty lo-fi indie sound, but remains charming and melodic. The best resemblance that comes to mind is The Lemonheads, but also some traces of Golden Bloom (recently reviewed here), Teenage Fanclub, and the early jangle pop days of R.E.M. "Good Enough For You" is "an album title jokingly plucked from Manriquez’ own experiences regarding family and, oddly enough, food". It will be up to the listener to decide how good it is, but after a couple listens I think these guys could have a real future with proper backing and better resources at their disposal.

Manriquez has some keen instincts for pop rock songwriting, and the band incorporates plenty of elements like oohs and ahhs, hand claps, and tambourine to keep things interesting and enjoyable. One thing they should have changed some more is the guitar tone, but at least it is played capably. Manriquez comes across a bit of a slacker in the vocal department, but somehow it seems to fit with the musical and lyrical vibe.

By far and away the best track is "Seen It All", but I'd also like to call your attention to the driving "Starsign", which incorporates clever 70s style backing vocals over a breezy acoustic rhythm, the amusing "All You Do Is Crazy", and the clap-a-long treat, "The Girls Are Alright". "Astronaut" would have also made my list, but the distortion on the vocals was a deal breaker for me.

All in all, Fate Lions ain't half bad - now the question is: Is it "Good Enough for You"?

iPOD-worthy: 1, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12

Fate Lions on MySpace. Official site. Get it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Review: Bleu "A Watched Pot"

Bleu needs no introduction to readers of our blog, so I will cut right to the chase and tell you that his new record, "A Watched Pot" is nothing short of brilliant. I believe my hunch that this record would be an instant classic (read here) was right on the money. What does it sound like? Well, not quite "Twisted Sister meets Mister Mister", as Bleu sings in "Boy Meets Girl".

The first thing that struck me about the record was the number of slow to mid-tempo numbers. Nothing really accelerates much except the thrilling E.L.O. flavored "Kiss Me", which could easily have been written during his stint with L.E.O. - reviewed here). Normally a collection of slower tunes would be a turnoff for me, but these songs are so infectious, so meticulously produced, and so well sung that you forget their pace. Bleu sounds better than ever on this batch of tunes, pulling off some of the greatest vocal moments I've heard from him. Sandra McCracken (sounding very much like Sheryl Crow) duets with Bleu on the ballad "When the Lights Go Out" while The Get Up Choir contributes to "One Day", giving both tracks that little something extra to make it special.

To add to the majesty, many of these songs are augmented by a lush orchestral background. Every track sounds like it was written and recorded with "this one is the hit single" in mind (with the possible exception of track 6, which has a most radio-unfriendly title!). My three instant favorites include "Save Me" (kind of like a runaway Train hit), "Come 'n Go", and "One Day".

Overall, "A Watched Pot" boils over with hook after hook, spilling a very satisfying musical meal into your soup bowl...a musical soup so chunky that you'll have to listen to it with a fork.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10

Bleu on MySpace. Official site. At Ning.

Check out the video for "Come 'n Go":

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Review: Ray Mason "Like Bugs Chewing on Paper"

Ray Mason (a.k.a. Ray Mason Band) is an old school veteran keeping the flame of retro rock alive. Quirky, fun, different, and always better with a few beers, he is back with the new CD, "Like Bugs Chewing on Paper", aiming to please long-time fans and recruit new ones alike.

With his beloved axe, the road worn 1965 Silvertone guitar, Ray Mason smiles and charms his way through another 11 jovial tracks. His voice is pedestrian but friendly, at times reminding me a little of John Hiatt. Mason's vocals beam with so much joy that it is obvious that he is in his element and wouldn't want to be doing anything else, despite 40+ years in the biz. His experience helps carry the record in terms of quality production and the wisdom to build your songs around memorable hooks and riffs. "Lunch Box" and "Eloise Please" exemplify this the most in my opinion.

You won't be "bugged" by Ray Mason if you like chewing on NRBQ, They Might Be Giants, or Marshall Crenshaw. Like the CD cover suggests, Ray Mason is inviting you to a carnival...if you can find the little kid inside you, his music is sure to delight.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 3, 4, 8

Ray Mason on MySpace. Official site.

Review: Alan Cohen Experience "Eat the Peace" [EP]

Not long ago we reviewed the self-titled EP from notable eclectic pop artist, Alan Cohen (review here). The guy and his mighty 'Orchestra of Personality' have been busy as we've already received the new forthcoming EP, "Eat the Peace", set for release on Election Day (November 3). "Eat the Peace" includes six songs that examine the cycles between war and peace.

For the uninitiated, Alan Cohen Experience (ACE) has a reputation for recording some pretty far out and offbeat stuff, venturing into Frank Zappa territory, but sounding refreshingly unique to my ears. The bizarre lyrics and arrangements made the previous EP intriguing and, well, an 'experience' alright. Comparatively speaking, "Eat the Peace" sounds subdued and calm, almost to the point where it sounds like ACE is running out of energy. Alan Cohen Experience comes up a bit short in the hook department, but on the last EP they made up for that with providing an energetic and wildly dynamic set of tunes. I'm not feeling that on this latest effort. This time out, they use a more straight-forward Southern rock sound to tell a different story for each song.

The noteworthy track that I enjoy most is "Peace", where supporting vocals from Catherine Pierce (The Pierces) really shine (she contributes to "Ranger Stranger" and "Truck Driver" as well).

iPOD-worthy: 5

Note you can grab a couple tracks for free at their official web site - go check them out for yourself!

Alan Cohen Experience on MySpace. Official site.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Review: Willy Porter "How To Rob A Bank"

When it comes to intelligent music that is meaningful as well as entertaining for adults, we don't have a lot of choices. That is where Willy Porter steps in...

Since 1990, Willy Porter has been quietly wowing audiences around the world with his virtuoso acoustic guitar playing, soulful voice, and emotive lyrics. The guitar is stunning - a cross between the guitar gymnastics mastered by Michael Hedges and the pop sensibilities of Lindsey Buckingham. With his latest release, "How To Rob A Bank", Porter has outdone himself. Everything he's learned during his two decades in the trenches culminates here, resulting in one of the most consistently mesmerizing discs of his notable career.

I can't understate how terrific "How To Rob A Bank" is, and it just gets better with each spin. The tunes that don't quite grab you the first go around will sink their subtle hooks into you shortly, and you'll be glad for it. Porter covers a lot of ground on this CD, from his insightful looks into interpersonal relationships through experienced eyes, to a heart wrenching story about a multi-generational family of soldiers, to the despicable corruption in corporations and politics. Musically, he infuses numerous genres with ease while maintaining his characteristic sound, largely due to his acoustic guitar being front and center. These are the kinds of smart, hip songs you'd expect to hear at the end of an episode of House, M.D. Vocally, I would liken Porter's skills to the talents of John Mayer and David Mead.

There isn't a song I don't appreciate, but the tracks I am particularly fond of include the tuneful "Colored Lights", "The Lemon Tree" (probably prompting Paul McCartney to check his catalogue for possible pilfering), the Bob Dylan flavor of the sad but true title track, and the catchy "Psychic Vampire", which seems to be inspired by The Band.

I would recommend Willy Porter for fans of David Mead, Glen Phillips, and Dave Matthews Band. "How To Rob A Bank" will rob your other CDs of their share of your listening time.

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

Willy Porter on MySpace. Official site.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Free MP3: Ken Block and Drew Copeland of Sister Hazel

Holy crap! Go get the solo releases from members of Sister Hazel for FREE at

Ken Block "Drift" for free here! (review on BMF here)

Drew Copeland "No Regrets" for free here!

Review: Mandy Moore "Amanda Leigh"

I never really gave Mandy Moore a second thought - nice voice, but her discography generally is comprised of unremarkable, corporate teen pop. But then I heard that her new 2009 album, "Amanda Leigh" was making some noise in the power pop circuit, propelled by the fact that one of our modern day power pop heroes (Mike Viola) had a huge hand in writing, performing, and recording this record. With that backdrop, I had to tuck my tail between my legs and get my first Mandy Moore disc.

What a pleasant surprise. "Amanda Leigh" is a clear deviation from her past recordings, so long-time Moore fans should be forewarned: this is what REAL music sounds like! Moore has matured, and Mike Viola's stamp is on every track here - keeping the music organic, throwing out the dumb drum machines, and incorporating his staples of harpsichord and (sigh) toy piano. Moore and Viola were inspired by 70s singer/songwriters, especially Paul McCartney, and you'll definitely hear that influence among these tracks.

By far and away, the best track is "I Could Break Your Heart Any Day Of The Week", but I would cite "Love to Love Me Back" and "Nothing Everything" as additional standouts. Most of the songs are exceptionally well-crafted and pay homage to their 70s idols by incorporating plenty of memorable hooks and harmony. Unfortunately, the CD is pretty damn dull in the middle, but it starts and ends very well.

Moore has sold over 8 million albums worldwide and now I can say that I am not ashamed that I own one of them. "Amanda Leigh" is not likely to outsell her previous work, but I applaud the new artistic direction her music has taken and look forward to where she is going.

Check out "Amanda Leigh" if you enjoy Kelly Jones, Lisa Loeb, or Mike Viola.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 3, 8, 9, 10

Mandy Moore on MySpace. Official site.

Check out the video for "I Could Break Your Heart Any Day Of The Week".

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Review: Boh Runga "Right Here"

The latest sensation from New Zealand has arrived, and she is now crafting and recording exquisite pop songs in Hollywood. "Right Here" is the solo debut from Boh Runga, lead singer and guitarist of Stellar, Sony's biggest selling kiwi band.

"Right Here" is extremely impressive - Runga's sweet, captivating voice is second only to the sweetness of the memorable melodies she composes. Her pop instincts are sharp and the rock edge shows itself in exactly the right measure. A good mix of ballads and more uptempo numbers keep "Right Here" moving steady, providing a very satisfying listening experience through all eleven tracks. She is liberal with her angelic backing vocals and has recruited some first rate musicians to flesh out her songs, which generally revolve around love, loss, and hope.

There are just too many great songs to pick from, but I will highlight the starting trio: "Starfish Sleeping", "Evelyn" (see below), and "Dark Horse". Also noteworthy is "Be Careful", which features the distinctive voice of Serj Tankian (System of A Down) - how they managed to hook up is probably an interesting story!

Boh Runga is for fans of Tasmin Archer, Nina Gordon, and K.T. Tunstall. A truly excellent debut.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 11

Boh Runga on MySpace. Official site.

Take note that there is currently a link to a free mp3 of "Evelyn" on her MySpace page.

Check out the video for the K.T. Tunstall-flavored "Evelyn":

New video from Adam Marsland!

"When I Lied To Everyone" -- the first video from the forthcoming (8/18/09) double CD GO WEST by ex-Cockeyed Ghost frontman Adam Marsland.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Review: Boom Crash Opera "Dancing In The Storm"

I thought I had seen the last of new releases by Boom Crash Opera, one of my favorite Aussie bands of all time. Over here in the States, BCO was tragically ignored for reasons I've never been able to resolve. At heart they are a straight-up melodic rock band, but their big and bold sound, rich with harmonies and orchestral stabs, gave them a unique sound.

Now they are back with "Dancing In The Storm", their first collection of acoustical renditions of thirteen of the best songs spanning their career. Most of the tracks are from the trio of their most extraordinary releases, including their 1987 self-titled debut, "These Here Are Crazy Times!" and 1993's "Fabulous Beast". I actually doubted how their big and bold rock songs would translate to the stripped down acoustic format, but that was foolish. These songs sound amazing like this and the vocals sound better than ever. Most of the songs are true to the original, with exception of "Talk About It", which has been dramatically reworked into a subdued and haunting piece.

Coming with a DVD of a 1993 MTV Unplugged (Australia) performance, this release is more than worth the money - whether you were a fan or not, I highly recommend you check this out.

Boom Crash Opera on MySpace.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Review: Daughtry "Leave This Town"

Chris Daughtry is now feeling the other side of the double-edge sword of having a phenomenally successful debut album. The former American Idol contestant was subject to one of the biggest injustices in the history of the show by being voted off far too early in the competition several years ago. Perhaps a blessing in disguise, he went on to make one of the biggest selling records in recent times, gracing radio with plenty of melodic hard rock goodness. He is his own hard act to follow.

To help with the sophomore effort, Daughtry has enlisted the songwriting talents of Nickelback's Chad Kroeger, Brian Howes, Mitch Allen, and more. The disc begins with the in your face guitars and the soaring, badass vocals we all expect from Daughtry. After this fierce reminder that he is still a force to be reckoned with, he glides right into the more radio-friendly "No Surprise", following this up with three more pop-based rockers, "Everytime You Turn Around" (a personal favorite), "Life After You", and "What I Meant To Say". After this, the songs are OK, rarely leaving the ballad or mid-tempo pace, and not matching the quality we've heard on the debut. The latter half of the CD is very ballad heavy and grows tiresome, not helped by duds like the country-flavored "Tennessee Line".

Another complaint is that the record seems to be on a mission to impress with the guitars and bombastic production rather than the voice. Daughtry has an amazing voice, but it is a shame to hear it take so few chances and to persistently get buried in the excessively loud guitars. Lyrically, we're also on ho-hum ground: unimaginative and straight-forward, but at least not silly.

The record is solid, but Daughtry is just running in place. In short, the title of the first single pretty much sums up the record as a whole: no surprise. I hope he comes back with a vengenace on the third release to give us the record we know he has the potential to deliver.

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

Daughtry: Official site.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Review: Jayhawks "Music From The North Country - The Jayhawks Anthology"

Formed in 1985 (!) The Jayhawks have been quietly and consistently releasing masterpiece after masterpiece, pioneering a musical path that blends alt-country and modern folk rock. At long last, the band has blessed the musical community with their first compilation of twenty of the shiniest gems from their treasure chest full of precious stones. All of the essentials are here, from the early tracks on 1989's "Blue Earth" to their last (and my personal favorite) 2003 record, "Rainy Day Music".

That would have been enough, but The Jayhawks have given fans so much more with this package. Included is a second CD and a separate DVD stuffed full of B-sides, rarities, demos, alternate versions, and other previously unreleased tracks. Even more fun, the linear notes include a brilliant piece on the history of the band by PD Larson, as well as detailed stories behind each of the tracks on CD2. If you pick your copy up at Best Buy, you get an additional bonus CD with yet five more tracks. In short, a lot of bang for your buck even if you already own their entire discography. It is an outstanding package for newcomers who need to become acquainted with one of the most influential bands of the genre.

No iPOD should be without all of the songs from CD1 in this comprehensive anthology. As for the other material, die-hard fans will probably love every note, but I find a lot of it to be hit and miss. As with many collections of "residual" material, finding some diamonds in the rough is like finding an attractive person left at last call. I've done the hard work for you...

CD2 - 4, 8, 12, 14, 16, 17
Bonus CD - 5

The Jayhawks official site.

Review: Rhett Miller "Rhett Miller"

Rhett Miller has returned at last with this self-titled follow-up to 2006's masterful "The Believer". During the break he spent some time with his old friends in the acclaimed alt-country band Old 97's to release the excellent "Blame It On Gravity". Frequent readers of this blog have probably noticed my fondness for both the Old 97's and Miller's solo work, and won't be surprised when I say his latest is unbelievable. Readers may be surprised that what I really mean is that "Rhett Miller" is unbelievably mediocre.

Obviously, Miller has been writing an awful lot and perhaps the well is running dry. Most of these songs are devoid of the sweet melodic hooks that make you keep coming back for more, and Miller's vocals come off like he isn't even convinced that these are strong songs. I have spun this record many times now, trying to find something to love, but I can only find things I like.

The element that has remained strong, maybe even gotten better, are his lyrics. "Haphazardly" for example, may be one of his most heart-wrenching yet. So don't get me wrong - this is a good record, but I don't agree with the many folks calling this his best release yet.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 4, 7

Rhett Miller on MySpace. Official site.

Free mp3 - Sister Hazel

Sister Hazel has a new album coming out August 18.

In the meantime, SYNC is offering a free mp3 of an acoustic version of the new song and title track, "Release" - check it out.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Review: Works Progress Administration "Works Progress Administration"

Taking its name from President Roosevelt's 1939 New Deal initiative, Works Progress Administration (WPA) is a conglomeration of similarly minded musicians, crafting music that is meant to inspire and enlighten while it entertains. An impressive list of stellar talent has had a hand in steering the music that has found its way onto the self-titled debut record, due September 15. The founding members are listed as Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket), Sean Watkins (Nickel Creek), and Luke Bulla (Jerry Douglas Band/Ricky Skaggs/Lyle Lovett), but substantial contributors include Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek), Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers), Greg Leisz (Joni Mitchell), Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello and the Imposters/Randy Newman), and Davey Faragher (Elvis Costello and the Imposters/Cracker). The founding fathers are regulars who interact at the legendary LA club, Largo, which is the very place Phillips recorded his 2003 live record.

As if that isn't enough name dropping, WPA partnered with Jim Scott to do the engineering; he's worked with the likes of Wilco and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. So with all this talent on board, is this project right on track or a messy train wreck?

The twelve songs include some of the "best" of unrecorded material from various members, as well as some tunes specifically written for the project. Remarkably, the record has tremendous cohesion, despite the myriad of styles and vocal tones each team member brings to the table. I'll admit I was attracted to WPA largely because of Phillips, whose solo efforts and work with Toad remain some of my favorite recordings of all time. For those of you who share my taste, be warned that WPA is markedly country and Americana, with lots of fiddle and pedal steel. For those familiar with the 2004 Nickel Creek-Phillips collaboration, Mutual Admiration Society, I think you'd agree that WPA sounds like a logical extension of that effort. It isn't too Hee Haw (with exception of "Wedding Or A Wake"), but it is the most country-flavored release of Phillips' career.

Of course, this is not a Glen Phillips record - WPA is more like a modern day version of The Eagles, with Phillips, Bulla, and the Watkins siblings taking more or less equal turns on lead vocals, with plenty of masterful harmonies throughout (in keeping with the Eagles analogy, they even have a song called with "Already Gone" in the title!). As with most of the other work from these artists, the lyrics are almost always reflective and philosophical.

There is a good mix of slow versus mid-tempo songs, with the disc lending itself well as a soundtrack for watching sunsets on the back porch. Two of the most enjoyable and more upbeat numbers are right up front, "Always Have My Love" and "Good As Ever", and the haunting ballad "Rise Up" is deeply compelling (all sung by Phillips). Several of the other highlights from the record include the buoyant little ditties "Paralyzed" and "You're Already Gone". The album's closing piano ballad, "The Price", tenderly sung by Sara Watkins, is one of the finest songs I've heard this year; it was actually written by Tench more than two decades ago during his tenure with the Heartbreakers.

A more appropriate name for this project could not have been selected. No one is a hero in this outfit, and when egos are sacrificed for the betterment of the whole, you get a success story like the first record from WPA. While some of these tracks take two or three spins to appreciate, each listen brings a new reward. Today's music world needs a New Deal, and the biz could learn a great deal from the spirit driving WPA.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 12

Take note that if you join the mailing list through their main web site, you can get a free mp3 of "Always Have My Love".

Works Progress Administration on MySpace. Official site.

Check out a video detailing the story of WPA (the band, this is not a lesson in the Great Depression):
Introducing Works Progress Administration

Mellencamp Signed Guitar Contest

Live Daily have launched an exclusive John Mellencamp signed guitar contest. One grand prize winner will win a copy of the new live CD "Life Death Live And Freedom" along with a Fender Squire Telecaster guitar signed by John Mellencamp.

Don’t miss your chance to score the new release and a sweet piece of rock memorabilia.

One Grand Prize:
- Autographed Fender Squire Telecaster guitar arctic white
- Life Death Live and Freedom CD

Five Runner-up Prizes:
- Life Death Live and Freedom CD

Enter here

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Review: Michael Gross and the Statuettes "Dust and Daylight" [EP]

From Salt Lake City we have Michael Gross and the Statuettes, who have just released their new EP, "Dust and Daylight". The music is right at the border of pop and indie rock, so fans of both camps should be able to find something on there that will tickle their fancy.

"Dust and Daylight" sounds distinctly 80s with all the muted electric guitar driving the rhythm and Gross' early Bono-esque vocals. Reminds me of a cross between The Refreshments and Cheap Trick. The production is a bit on the lo-fi side, but does not distract from the catchy riffs and the heartfelt vocal delivery. While no single song is over the top awesome, every single song is pretty damn cool. Some big time production and engineer could take the skeleton of these songs and catapult them to radio-friendly gems that everyone would want to blast out of their speakers.

His partners in crime, the Statuettes, and indeed a little 'stiff'. With some loosening up and additional creativity, the tunes might sound more compelling on each listen rather than tired. Still, "Dust and Daylight" is a solid debut that has a retro rock charm and overall fun vibe - very cool for summer! "I've Been Wrong Before" is the clear outlier here, but "Novocaine" and "You Can't Get What You Want" are becoming more enjoyable with each spin.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 3, 5

Michael Gross and the Statuettes on MySpace. Official site.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Review: Light In August "Places"

Light in August is an indie quartet from Ann Arbor, Michigan that has been honing their craft since 2007. Being classically trained, they have a rather sophisticated and eclectic edge to their brand of pop rock, which could be classified as "prog folk". Alex Wand's songwriting and vocals have parallels to Cat Stevens; Alex also plays the guitar, sitar, and flute. "Places" has a bit of a coffeehouse feel to it, but on occasion you'll hear some smattering of distortion to disturb the rather tranquil nature of most of the tunes.

Light In August is not love at first sight for me; I'm not really finding too many reasons to play these songs again anytime soon. Not too many hooks, the voice is so-so, and I am not a big fan of the flute. Like Joe Christmas in the Faulkner novel, the music of Light In August is mysteriously complex; one minute you like it, the next you may not, but the one certainty is that it is engaging. I'd recommend this for fans of Frente!, Nick Drake, or Jethro Tull.

Light In August on MySpace. Official site.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Review: Scott Warren "Quick Fix Bandage"

Those of you familiar with indie rock band Signal Hill Transmission (reviewed here) may already know Scott Warren, whose first solo effort "Quick Fix Bandage" drops on July 28. "Quick Fix Bandage" is described by the artist as a "collection of subtle yet powerful reflections on loves lost and found and the crossed wires one encounters along the way." Regarding his musical style, Warren reveals, "I'm influenced by songwriters like Bob Dylan and Ray Davies, but at the same time I'm inspired by things happening here and now".

A diverse list of talent has contributed to the record, including Brian Young, (Fountains of Wayne, The Posies), Tommy Rickard (Michelle Shocked, Linda Perry), Taras Prodaniuk (Lucinda Williams, Richard Thompson), and many more. The result is a wonderfully cohesive record grounded in roots-based rock. But what really separates "Quick Fix Bandage" from the pack? Warren's pop instincts combined with the multiple layers of musical complexity provide a record that gets more enjoyable with every spin.

There is just enough country twang augmenting these acoustic-driven songs to provide a sorrowful feel when appropriate, but never enough to make you think this is a country record. Warren's lyrics are poetic, and his voice has a gentle urgency about it - soothing, but strong at the same time. The music on "Quick Fix Bandage" is true to the record's name - perfect for healing, introspection, or meditation during the sinking of the sun. Interspersed with harmonica, pedal steel, organ, and mandolin, each song sounds organic yet different from the last.

The most notable tracks include "Before You Say Goodbye", "I Got Your Back", and "Speed of Sound", the latter of which is my favorite. And you won't want to miss what Warren has done with America's classic, "Sister Golden Hair". Take note, you fans of Rhett Miller, Todd Herfindal, and Matt Nathanson.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11

Scott Warren on MySpace. Official site.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Review: Colin Healy and the Jetskis "...Or Just Don't Go" [EP]

If someone came up to you and said that a band won the Skittles "Down To The Core" video contest on Buzznet, would you be eager to hear their music? Taste the rainbow, anyone? Well here we have the winners, Colin Healy and the Jetskis, who just released their new 5-track EP, "...Or Just Don't Go".

Colin Healy and the Jetskis do kind of remind me of Skittles - crunchy outer shell surrounding a sweet and sour softspot. Pretty flavorful, but you only want to eat a handful and not the whole bag. The EP comes off like an innocent ode to the bittersweet roller coaster of high school romance. Youngsters are going to relate to the lyrical content with much greater enthusiasm than others, and probably mind less that Colin Healy and the Jetskis are just treading water.

The music is categorized as youth pop with an indie edge...there is some truth to this and they align very well with bands like Dashboard Confessional (largely due to strong similarities in Healy's vocal tone and inflections) and recently reviewed All Time Low (click here). They've even shared a stage with the latter.

Highlights include the title track and "The One", but the rest just kind of get lost in the mix. The other songs aren't bad by any means, but they are not screaming out to be replayed anytime soon. Still, I think it is a pretty solid debut for their age and it will be interesting to see and hear how Colin and the guys evolve. The hooks need to be sharper, the harmonies more creative, and the lyrics more original.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2

Colin Healy and the Jetskis on MySpace. Get it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Review: All Time Low "Nothing Personal"

All Time Low is one of the many "pop punk" bands struggling to stand out in the crowd. Their 2007 major label debut, "So Wrong, It's Right", earned some good press but really didn't increase their visibility too much. The band is out to change that with this year's follow-up, "Nothing Personal".

"Nothing Personal" pretty much picks up where "So Wrong, It's Right" left off. We have plenty of catchy, crunchy guitar riffs to complement the adolescent lyrical themes. While the lyrical content centers on the issues of their targeted demographic, there are some witty moments that indicate some actual thought went into writing them. Generally, the vocals stick to the comfort zone of pop punk - borderline whiny, but much more tolerable than other bands of this ilk. Lead vocalist/guitarist Alex Gaskarth shows he has more vocal dexterity on the album's decent closing ballad, "Therapy".

The album leads off with the single "Weightless" (video below), which I find to be a puzzling choice as it is a mediocre track. Much stronger are the follow up tunes "Damned If I Do Ya (Damned If I Don't)" and "Lost In Stereo". The obligatory pop punk power ballad, "Sick Little Games", is another highlight. A lot of devoted fans are knocking the overly slick production (some of which is compliments of Butch Walker) - I don't mind this so much, but I did experience a wave of nausea at a couple of the electronica/house-rock fusions such as "Walls" and "Too Much". The genres are like oil and water and simply are not meant to be mixed!

Overall, there is marginal maturity with this new release, but I get the distinct feeling that maturity is not necessarily what their fans want at this point. All Time Low is all about fun and their brand of music delivers in that category. The problem, however, is that without crossing over to a wider audience, I don't see how they are going to be more than a blip on the radar.

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

All Time Low should please fans of New Found Glory, Simple Plan, and Sum 41.

All Time Low on MySpace. Official site.

Check out the video for "Weightless":

Is the album dead?

I largely agree with this, but have mixed feelings about it. As a child of the decades when albums were still popular, it pains me to see the format going to the grave. Then again, I always hated album filler!

"Doug Pullen of recently conducted an interview with The Cult frontman Ian Astbury. A few excerpts from the chat follow. On the current state of rock music: "Rock 'n' roll now is pretty much in the garbage. It's barely alive. Everybody has taken from it. Nobody has given back. There are a very few who have given back. It's a very selfish occupation. A lot of people never really returned. That's why we have a lot of pastiche and we have a lot of artists who are never involved beyond their sophomore albums. It's a travesty."
"There will be no new album. I don't think we'll ever see a Cult album. Albums are dead. The format is dead. iTunes destroyed albums. The whole idea of an album. Albums were established in the '70s and '80s and into the '90s, but they've been dead for a long time. Nobody buys albums. It's been proven. It's an arcane format, as much as the 78 rpm or writing sheet music for an orchestra. It's an old form and, for me, it's much more about if we have a great song we really believe in, then we'll record it and release it."

"For me, the idea of making albums is dead. The idea of spending a year and a half in the studio arguing over agendas and trying to fit into a format that's settled before we started the creative process (is unappealing)."


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Review: Dune Tran "Heart Anchors"

Originally from an igloo in Edmonton, Canada, singer/songstress Dune Tran has been basking in the warmth of the San Francisco music scene since 2001. Similar to her change in milieu, the songs on her self-released debut, "Heart Anchors", transition between the chilly and sunny sides of indie pop. The songs of Dune Tran are largely rooted in sultry and melancholy piano melodies, but her pop sensibilities shine through sunlight breaking through an overcast sky. The combination provides a haunting, yet comforting, atmosphere as the songs glide by.

Tran's voice is icy smooth, with a tone perfect for chilling out to. Sometimes, however, I feel it is a bit too laid back - a few of her tunes could be taken to the next level with some added expression. If she could leave her vocal comfort zone - expand her range, take some chances, sustain some notes - it would serve her songs well.

The real standout is the instantly likable midtempo gem, "Kites". But some other highly enjoyable tunes on this strong debut include the sublime ballad "Silence", "Daydreams", and "Trust Me". Anchors away if you enjoy Dido, Tori Amos, or Aimee Mann.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 4, 6

Dune Tran on MySpace. Official site.

Review: Sunstorm "House of Dreams"

Where would AOR be if it weren't for the Frontiers label? They released a real winner this year with "House of Dreams", the latest from the Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow, Deep Purple, TNT, etc) outfit called Sunstorm. After all these years, JLT still never ceases to please and is sounding incredible. Backed by some of the heaviest hitters in the genre, "House of Dreams" is an AOR fan's dream. Included in this ensemble is legendary Jim Peterik, who probably even takes his remarkably prolific songwriting pen into the john with him. He contributes on "Say You Will", "Gutters Of Gold", and "Tears On The Pages". Another songwriting master with strong melodic hard rock roots, Desmond Child, co-wrote the closing track "Walk On". The CD boasts outstanding musicianship (including members of Pink Cream 69), top of the line production, and a bold attitude to stick to a classic AOR sound rather than cater to today's trends (in other words, plenty of harmonic guitars, big drums, and keyboards). Helping the record to sound even more anachronistic: many of these songs are revamped versions from ones written years ago.

I like the fact that there are a decent number of uptempo rockers here, but it would not be AOR without your power ballads, so there are a few of these too. The CD is consistently good and plays well from start to finish. Standout tracks include "Divided", "I Found Love", "Forever Now" and the title track.

Sunstorm is highly recommended for fans of Jimi Jamison, Journey, Europe, or Hardline. Undoubtedly one of the best melodic rock releases of 2009, one that makes you think it is 1990 all over again.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10

Joe Lynn Turner on MySpace. Official site.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Review: Scott Brookman "A Song For Me, A Song For You"

Scott Brookman specializes in "highly melodic pop music in the grand tradition of 60's and 70's that mixes wry humor and imagination." On his latest, "A Song For Me, A Song For You", you'll find plenty of classic pop in the style of Brian Wilson and Burt Bacharach, with several bossa nova-based tunes thrown in for good measure. There is a little bit of everything here - bouncy piano, playful acoustic guitar, and of course, xylophones, kazoos, and sleigh bells. With this diverse assortment of ingredients, Brookman rolls up his sleeves and starts experimenting in the kitchen.

Now as I listen to this record, I am not sure if I am laughing WITH Brookman or laughing AT him. But maybe the point is that I am laughing, and I should tip my hat to him for making me smile. The songs are gay and the humor is dry, so overall the CD sounds like music intended for children rather than adults, despite the adult-oriented lyrics. Perhaps this one is more for the (very) young at heart, or adults who are still fascinated by Sesame Street and Play-Doh (not that there's anything wrong with that!). Brookman's voice is velvet smooth and harmless, perfect for the sweet pop confections he bakes.

If you're a fan of light-hearted pop in the neighborhood of The Simple Carnival (reviewed here) or Mitch Friedman (reviewed here), you are likely to find a song or two for you on Brookman's latest. I'm not a big fan of this stuff, but even I could find one song for me: "The First Assault Upon My Day".

iPOD-worthy: 3

Scott Brookman on MySpace. Official site. Get it.

Check out the video for "Seabird":

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Rare CD: Price Sulton "Lights On"

"Price Sulton - Lights On JAPAN CD rare AOR

Front cover is original. Liner notes is copied.

Year: 1986
Label: CBS/ Sony (Japan)
Catalog Number: 32DP 586

1. Shotgun Shy
2. No T.V.No phone
3. Lights On
4. Take Me Away
5. Shana
6. Something's Gonna Happen
7. Stories
8. Reckless And Wild
9. Heaven's Girl
10. Oh No"

Sold for $152.50 on ebay (27 bids).

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Review: Alan Semerdjian "The Big Beauty"

"The Big Beauty" is the latest offering from New York-based indie singer/songwriter Alan Semerdjian. Taking great pride in his city, Semerdjian likens his musical style to NYC - "a bit rough around the edges, strangely poetic, and always in pursuit of what's real." Semerdjian has played over 900 shows in the last dozen years or so, placed his music in tv and film, and charted on CMJ. Will "The Big Beauty" be his big break or reveal itself to be a beast?

Semerdjian has a capable voice, but it sounds a bit understated and lost in many of the more richly textured songs accentuated with viola, cello, flute, sax, accordion, or brass. One of Semerdjian's strong suits is his lyrics, which are almost always interesting, clever, and thought-provoking. The musicianship is there, the lyrics are there, and the voice is there...but at the end of day the songs just aren't very catchy or memorable. Things get off to a promising start with the comparatively upbeat "Your Love" and "I Can't Tell You How", but then the record quickly nose dives into snoozy territory that none of the expertly executed instrumentation, try as it might, can make interesting.

I'd recommend Semerdjian for fans of Matthew Barber, Counting Crows, The Wallflowers, and Ray LaMontagne. If you need a contemplative record that is slow and haunting, with diverse instrumentation that is masterfully played, then audition Alan Semerdjian's "The Big Beauty".

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2

Alan Semerdjian on MySpace. Official site. Get it.

Check out the video for "Can't Wait":

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Review: Golden Bloom "Fan The Flames"

Golden Bloom is the brainchild of singer/songwriter Shawn Fogel, an unusually gifted artist ready to blossom in the pop rock garden. "Fan The Flames" is a remarkably good full-length debut from start to finish.

"Fan The Flames" is half sunny and half cloudy, fitting to the lyrical content, which drifts between half-full and half-empty perspectives that address modern societal concerns. Armed with humility and wit, Fogel tackles the issues in an entertaining fashion, while leaving a lasting impression with his memorable melodies. The upbeat tracks are particularly strong, especially the emphasis track "Doomsday Devices", which just screams 'hit single'. However, my mind wandered during some of his ballads, which can get a little monotonous. Notable exceptions to this include the gorgeous "She Leaves Me Poetry" and the stunning "Theme for an Adventure at Sea". Fogel almost sounds like Chris Martin (Coldplay) on this subtle, quiet acoustic track and suddenly - land ho! - the band kicks in to create an amazing and rousing finish.

On most of the other tracks, Fogel has an Evan Dando (Lemonheads) quality to his voice that fits comfortably into his brand of pop rock, which often inches into the alt-country territory of Wilco. In addition to the aforementioned tracks, "E.H.M." and "Dead Petals", seemingly written to appeal directly to fans of Guster, are also highlights on this CD. And don't miss the sixty second bonus track written just for disgraced Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.

Back at the start of the year, SPIN Magazine designated Golden Bloom as one of "8 undiscovered bands worth a listen”. With "Fan the Flames" arriving this August, you'll have the chance to judge for yourself - and I highly recommend you do. With its pop-centric melodies and Fogel's easy on the ear voice, Golden Bloom is poised to end the summer on a high note.

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

Golden Bloom on MySpace. Official site.