Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Review: Stella Kidd "Kiddnapped"

Hard rockers Stella Kidd are back with a new EP called "Kiddnapped", the follow up to their previous 2007 EP, "Contact High" (review here). "Kiddnapped" sees the band progressing and maturing - they are moving away from being mimics of their influences to finding a sound they can call their own. Case in point: the vocals supplied by lead singer Limy don't sound as overtly similar to the stylings of James Hetfield (Metallica). You will still hear references to Hetfield every now and then, but Limy clearly made an effort to carve out his own niche this time around.

With these six songs on "Kiddnapped", Stella Kidd reaffirms that old school hard rock can still sound fresh and exciting today. While the guitars and drums are thick and loud, the guys really strive to bring a melody out to make the songs memorable. The EP just gets better as it plays, with the latter half outshining the beginning. The tracks that exceed expectations and really stand out include the radio-friendly "Wonder" and the groovy closer, "All For Nothing". "All For Nothing" features a very catchy riff and choruses that are bolstered with some good harmony vocals. I also really enjoyed the more relaxed (more relaxed for Stella Kidd, anyway!) tune, "Self-control".

"Kiddnapped" is due to arrive April 3.

Stella Kidd on MySpace.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Interview: Brian Howe

I recently had the good fortune to interview Brian Howe, whose new sophomore solo release "Circus Bar" is out now (reviewed here). He was very candid and very funny, especially when talking about his tenure with Bad Company!

Check out the interview here at Rock and Roll Report.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Review: Brian Howe "Circus Bar"

After 13 years, Brian Howe is back with a whopper of a new album. The ex-Bad Company singer begins his sophomore release with the announcement of his triumphant return in a terrific and feisty rocker aptly titled, "I'm Back".

Sounding just as fierce and energetic as his heyday in Bad Company, Howe has delivered what many will consider the surprise of the year. "Circus Bar" is packed with some of the most melodic and contemporary material he's ever written. The contemporary nature of the new record may be due in part to input from songwriting and producing partner, Brooks Paschal (formerly of the modern rock band Sullivan).

After the infectious opener ("I'm Back"), Howe launches into another catchy tune called "Life's Mystery", which, as you may surmise, is a reflective piece about our fragile and temporary existence. "There's This Girl" finds Howe on terra firma, a track that could easily have been placed on any of his records with Bad Company. "I'm Surrounded", a great mid-tempo song of yearning, will please those who enjoyed Howe's first solo record, 1997's "Tangled In Blue". "Flying", a sweet acoustic ballad laced with beautiful harmonies, is a touching tribute to moms that have passed on. "My Town" returns to the rock designed to get you to move and "Feels Like Coming Home" is another mid-tempo treat made even better with some great harmonies in the pre-chorus. "What Am I Feeling" could be considered the sequel to the monster power ballad hit, "If You Needed Somebody".

Fans will note that "Circus Bar" has newly recorded versions of two songs Howe made into hits with Bad Company. His new version of "How 'Bout That" is only mildly different, but his haunting piano-driven rendition of "Holy Water" is a very compelling listen.

In many ways, "Circus Bar" sounds like a stellar, proper follow up to Bad Company's "Here Comes Trouble". It possesses the maturity of his previous solo record from many years ago, but has much more of a rock vibe than the adult contemporary direction that dominated "Tangled In Blue". No fan of great melodic rock should miss this one - it is Howe's masterpiece.

Don't miss my interview with Brian Howe at Rock and Roll Report!

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13

Brian Howe on MySpace. Official site.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Review: Scorpions "Sting in the Tail"

It is the end of an era. Everyone's favorite arachnids are back for one last album. Hard to believe, but after 40 years, the Scorpions have released what they are calling their swan song.

It is easy to raise expectations too high for what we know to be a final record. It is even easier to set the bar excessively high after they rolled out one of the best albums of their entire career on their last outing (read our rave review of "Humanity Hour 1" here). So I have given "Sting in the Tail" many more than the usual number of spins I give a record under review, hoping that I would like it more than I initially did.

But if I'm being honest, "Sting in the Tail" is less than a terrific album. It certainly has its share of highlights, and listening to Klaus Meine open the record singing, "I was born in a hurricane" damn near put a tear in my eye - to think that there will soon be a world with no new music from the Scorpions. But its eleven tracks - most of which are plodding rockers or nondescript ballads - left me somewhat disappointed.

Don't get me wrong: "Sting in the Tail" serves as a veritable tribute to rock and roll and does have its moments. The opener, "Raised On Rock" is a fantastic trademark rocker, and "No Limit" and "Turn You On" recall some of the finer moments of their late 80s heyday ("Crazy World" era). The Scorpions also show their more thoughtful side with a moving song of a soldier's plight ("The Good Die Young") and a chill-inducing closer ironically entitled, "The Best Is Yet To Come". The guys sound tremendous as always, with Klaus Meine's distinctive vocals being as rugged as they were on day one.

So the boys don't quite go out in a blaze of glory, but "Sting in the Tail" is a solid capstone to one of the finest careers in hard rock music. Cheers to the guys and thanks for four decades of great tunes.

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

Scorpions on MySpace. Official site.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Review: James Henry "Overspill"

James Henry is a jack of all trades - writing, recording, producing, and performing for over ten years now from New York to L.A. to Austin to his homebase in London. "Overspill" is his latest offering - a follow up to 2004's "Sweetener". The first single, "The Sun Is Cracking The Flags", is a pop fan's dream that grabs you right at the get-go with its catchy 'la la la' opening. Henry wastes no time engraving the contagious chorus into your memory, and I've not been able to get this song out of my head all week. Since it is such a neat little pop tune that makes me smile, I don't mind so much.

There isn't anything else quite as smashing and instantly memorable on "Overspill" as the delightful "The Sun Is Cracking The Flags", but fans of light, acoustic-based Brit pop are going to find a little piece of heaven in this record. Vocally, Henry sounds like a cross between Glenn Tilbrook (Squeeze) and Gilbert O'Sullivan. "Milsom Heights" is a sunny opener, complete with handclaps and a chorus that will have you singing along in no time. "Checkout Idling" makes it clear that Henry is no stranger to the music of James Taylor. I also really enjoyed the upbeat "Don't Let It Happen", which features a guitar run that reminds me of Mason Williams. "I'd Be All Over That" sounds like it would be comfortable on Jude Cole's latest record, so that one won me over as well.

James Henry specializes in intelligent pop songs for adults. "Overspill" has excellent production quality, with acoustic guitars that are bright and crisp, complex harmonies that gently float into your ears, and plenty of instrumental dynamics to keep things interesting. Fans of Squeeze, XTC, and Paul McCartney need to put "Overspill" into their cups. "Overspill" will be released on May 17.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 7, 8, 10

James Henry on MySpace. Official site.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Review: Butch Walker "I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart"

Now four decades old and a father, Butch Walker is back with his follow up to 2008's "Sycamore Meadows" (reviewed here). On his latest, "I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart", Walker struts through more than four decades of musical genres and styles to produce another eclectic collection of unique tunes.

Despite the twisting and twirling of genres, the one thing that Walker strives to remain devoted to is having a good time with a good melody. To that end, "I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart" is modestly successful, but what stands out as a stronger plus is the marvelous production - from the weepy strings on "Don't You Think Someone Should Take You Home" to the gleeful harmonies on "House of Cards" - the record should be textbook for sonic quality. But the common criticism long time fans have of Walker - that his songs are not as strong as they used to be - is not remedied on this release...and no matter how hard you try to decorate a mediocre song, it's still a mediocre song.

Things get off to a reasonable start with catchy pop rockers like "Trash Day" and the aptly named "Pretty Melody", and the excellent ballad "Don't You Think Someone Should Take You Home". Then the record descends into a valley of slow tunes that make C-SPAN look exciting. But like a team that got yelled at during half-time, Walker comes out swinging at the start of the second half with several consecutive goodies. The autobiographical fun of "She Likes Hair Bands" and the sunny melodies on "House of Cards" make these two instantly likable. The album closes with "Be Good Until Then", a sparse acoustic Walker-styled lullaby that no father could dislike.

Since "Letters", Walker has evolved into a singer/songwriter that knows no musical boundary. Many of his compositions end up working brilliantly when he stays focused on a strong hook, but I am with the fan who remains disappointed that he's not been able to deliver something as masterful as his work with Marvelous 3 or even his first solo outing, "Left of Self-Centered". Walker has the 'Midas Touch' in the music business, writing songs and producing hits for everyone from P!nk to Avril Lavigne to Dashboard Confessional. "I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart" was written and recorded in just 5 days. It boggles the mind to think of the type of solo record he could create if he weren't spread so thin.

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

Butch Walker on MySpace. Official site.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Rare CD: Greg Laswell "Good Movie"

"Greg Laswell 'Good Movie', 12 songs, 2003 release.


1. Bright Ideas
2. Back To June
3. Carry Me Through
4. Tirade
5. 19" Life
6. 7:00 AM
7. Good Movie
8. Head For Today
9. Father Of Your Billies
10. Circle Around Again
11. You So Bright
12. New Day"

Sold for $105.99 on ebay.

Rare CD: Slash Puppet "Slash Puppet"

"SLASH PUPPET - S/T 1993 cd on SWEET LEAF records Canada, very rare and out of print. Cd is scratch free, mint condition. The jewel case, booklet and back liner are also in mint condition. This is melodic rock at its finest (ala Skid Row, Slik Toxik, Sven Gali etc.), with driving rhythm guitars, emotional solos, thundering drums, four on the floor bass, and a great singer to boot! Track listing is as follows;

1. When The Whip Comes Down
2. Rippin' On A Wishbone
3. Eyes Of A Child
4. Stop Telling Me Lies
5. Hitchin' A Ride (On A Train)
6. Slowdown"

Sold for $190.50 on ebay.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Review: Romeo Flynns "Masque of Anarchy"

We last heard from Detriot's power pop trio, The Romeo Flynns, back in 2008 (see our review of "Pictures of You" here). "Pictures of You" was a concept album of sorts that focused on a relationship that went south. Now the Flynns are back with another concept album of sorts, "Masque of Anarchy", one that focuses on an economy gone south. Like concept albums tend to do, they beat a dead horse, but "Masque of Anarchy" (named after the famous 17th century poem by Percy Shelly) shows some big strides in the band's growth both musically and lyrically. The sophomore effort is wider in scope, deeper in its meaning, and a more dynamic, entertaining listen.

If there is one thing you can't knock the Flynns is STYLE. Just like "Pictures of You", "Masque of Anarchy" is so rock star in its artwork and packaging. These guys got the look and attitude that just screams "we're ready for the big time". But this time the boys show they not only have style, but they got substance. While there is still some room for improvement, "Masque of Anarchy" towers above the debut in that the melodies are stronger, the band is tighter, and the singer has found his comfort zone.

The Romeo Flynns continue to write songs that merge classic 60s British Invasion songwriting structure with the signature rock sound of the Motor City. All of the songs are generally good, but there are some that really stand out as potential hits...if not of today, they surely would have been back in the 80s. The title track is the best track and this ultra catchy number gets things moving quick on a high note. "Dance The White Line" and "That Ain't The Motor City" both have an early Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers feel. The band shows some new strong suits in the Byrds-like "Falling Down" and the aching acoustic ballad "Annie", but prove they can still bring the house down with crunchy rockers like "Not Your Style" and "I Got My Eye On You", which is one of a few tracks that incorporate some blazing sax that sounds surprisingly at home among these pop rock nuggets. The CD closes strong with the powerful "Poor Man's Paradise" and epic "Don't Leave Me Now". Finally, there's two covers thrown in for good measure this time around, "Baby Blue" by Badfinger and "Lucifer", a deep track from the Bob Seger catalogue.

Check out Romeo Flynns if you like The Knack, Cheap Trick, or 80s-era Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13

Romeo Flynns on MySpace. Official site.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Review: Dirt Mall "Pacifuego"

"Pacifuego" is the sophomore set from Boston band Dirt Mall, following up 2007's "Got The Goat By The Horns". These eleven new tracks continue the band's love for writing and playing classic garage rock, but shows an evolution towards writing catchier stuff. There is a strong 70s influence in the guitar tone and chord structures, but the key standout is the riff-driven nature of these tunes. Everything else seems secondary to the riff, with possible exception of the bombastic drumming, which delivers big thick beats.

What I like most about Dirt Mall is the honesty that comes through in the performance. What you see is what you get, and certain points on this record take me back to the early Rolling Stones and Faces sound. There is plenty of attitude and rasp in the vocals of Johnny Anguish, a perfect accompaniment to this style of rock.

"Pacifuego" steams ahead full tilt from start to finish, not letting up for even a single ballad during the half hour it plays. My favorite track is "Pearl", with other highlights being "Building A Case" and "Calling All Clowns". Other notables include the Tommy Keene sound of "You've Got The Whole Thing Wrong" and the Superdrag inspired "Lost In Plain Sight".

Dirt Mall is for fans who dig riff-heavy guitar rock from Aerosmith to Drivin' N Cryin' to Queens Of The Stone Age. I applaud the move towards more melodic songwriting, and "Pacifuego" proves that this can be done without sacrificing any of your true rock and roll grit. I think they need to go even further in this direction because even a great riff can get old quick if its the only thing holding up the song. Dirt Mall is following a trajectory similar to The Replacements, and it will be interesting to see if they can produce a "Pleased To Meet Me" one day.

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

Dirt Mall on MySpace. Official site.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Review: Slingsby Hornets "Something Old Something New"

Jon Paul Allen (a.k.a. Frank E. Slingsby) is the veteran of the English blues boom/Brit invasion whose career has spanned nearly 3 decades. His third album under the moniker Slingsby Hornets is aptly titled "Something Old Something New". The title is spot on because he expertly blends modern power pop with guitar tones and song structures from the golden era of classic rock.

A distinguishing feature of Slingsby Hornets that will jump out at you immediately is the use of the signature Brian May (Queen) guitar sound. He's nailed the tone and does plenty of those trademark guitar harmonies. Some of the riffs sound like they could have been used in those Bill and Ted movies. Beyond the pleasant nostalgia, Allen does a fine job keeping the atmosphere fun and light on this one, making "Something Old Something New" a real treat from beginning to end. Vocally, he's got that raspy tone that reminds me of Donnie Vie (Enuff Z'Nuff).

Standout tracks include "Elevator", "Gettin' Better", "She's The One", and "Are Friends Electric?". Odds are you'll find something to groove to no matter when you were born - there are elements of the past (Queen, T. Rex, Sweet) as well as the present (Enuff Z'Nuff, Teenage Fanclub, Jellyfish). See what the buzz is about and check out the Slingsby Hornets today!

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

Slingsby Hornets on MySpace. Official site.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Review: Lifehouse "Smoke & Mirrors"

Lifehouse is back with a new record, "Smoke & Mirrors", the follow up to the strong "Who We Are". "Smoke & Mirrors", their fifth album, has already earned distinction as being the highest charting Lifehouse record yet, debuting at #6 on the BillBoard charts.

It is hard to believe that their smash debut, "No Name Face", landed in 2000. After ten years, you would expect a band to have perfected their chemistry and know exactly who they are - such is true for Lifehouse. If anything, the band has been steady and consistent, always delivering a batch of succinct, radio-friendly rockers and acoustic driven ballads. Why would a band want to risk screwing around with a formula that has been so good to them? Bearing that in mind, "Smoke & Mirrors" has no new tricks up its sleeve and is yet another CD full of more of the same. Like Collective Soul, the latest Lifehouse albums are largely indistinguishable. There is only one moment of deviation in the 'trying too hard to make you dance' "Here Tomorrow Gone Today", and its miserable failure is strong evidence why Lifehouse should do nothing but what made them famous in the first place.

Producer and AOR star Jude Cole is back on board to lend his expertise on "Smoke & Mirrors" - he also plays, sings, and co-writes extensively on this record, so they should just make him a fifth member of the band. Other guests include Daughtry on "Had Enough", which was co-written by Richard Marx. The infectious first single, "Halfway Gone" is the clear stand out on the record, but other notables include "All In", "Falling In", "By Your Side", and the title track. "Wrecking Ball" marks bassist Bryce Soderberg's first lead vocal with the band - his style and tone is very similar to Jason Wade, so most listeners may not even notice the switch. Lifehouse seemed to struggle in writing a compelling ballad like "You and Me" this time around, but the introspective mid-tempo closer, "In Your Skin", is quite good and ends the record on a high note.

The "deluxe" version features a second disc with 4 extra songs that were probably not deemed strong enough to make the original release. I despise this shameless tactic of milking fans for more of their money while being wasteful in making an entire second CD to hold a paltry 4 tracks that would easily fit on the main release. Even worse is that the only track on the deluxe version worth hearing more than once is "Crash and Burn".

In short, "Smoke & Mirrors" is another solid, by-the-book effort from Lifehouse, a band that is consistent but opening themselves to criticism that too many of their albums all sound alike. The 'deluxe' version is not worth the extra money - curse the record labels that engage in this greedy and wasteful practice!

iPOD-worthy: 1, 3, 4, 7, 8, 11, 12

Lifehouse on MySpace. Official site.

Check out the video for the first single, "Halfway Gone":

Monday, March 15, 2010

Review: Frontiers roundup - Treat, Crazy Lixx, Auras

Here we present a roundup of new hard rock and AOR releases coming soon from Frontiers Records.

Treat – “Coup de Grace”

True to their name, Treat is a treat…for the ears. The new CD from this Swedish melodic rock band comes out April 6 and will be called “Coup de Grace”. Any fan of catchy hard rock needs to mark their calendars for this one.

Treat’s acclaimed debut album “Scratch and Bite” was actually released 25 years ago, during the heyday for this type of music. 25 years later, “Coup de Grace” is their sixth effort, and it is a whopper. “Coup de Grace” is filled with one solid catchy rocker after enough. I can see myself going back to listen to this one time and time again. Older and wiser, the boys in the band embrace this and write intelligently about what dads and husbands with serious responsibilities might want to hear. Treat prove that a band can age gracefully and still rock the paint off the walls without singing about the same old tired themes of drinking, partying, and nailing groupies.

The record gets off to a bit of a questionable start, with a nondescript intro track and the first rocker, “The War Is Over” is less than memorable. But then you’d better hold on because the ride doesn’t let up with a long string of crunchy catchy tunes like “All In”, “Paper Tiger”, and “Roar”. “A Life To Die For” is a superb power ballad with a seductive chorus and glorious bridge that brings the best of Journey to mind. A CD stacked with so many great tunes up front usually fades away by the end, but not so with this one – the record ends on a climatic high note with “All For Love” and “Breathless”. As for favorites, my picks are “Paper Tiger”, “Heaven Can Wait”, and “No Way Without You”.

The band writes decent lyrics compared to most of their counterparts in this genre, unafraid to do politically charged songs. In this way, they remind me of White Lion, but other comparisons that come to mind include Europe and Firehouse at their rocking best. For those missing high-quality guitar and keyboard driven melodic rock of the late 80s, “Coup de Grace” is a treat indeed.

Coming soon - my interview with Nalley, the bassist for Treat!

iPOD-worthy: 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14

Treat on MySpace. Official site.

Crazy Lixx – “New Religion”

Formerly considered "The New Wave of Swedish Sleaze", Crazy Lixx has now refined their sound to 80's influenced hard rock. They remind me of the style and caliber of the second-tier hairbands like Faster Pussycat, Kix, or Danger Danger. In fact, Danny Rexon’s vocals often remind me of Ted Poley. One strong-suit is that the guys can definitely write a bombastic chorus, with rich harmonies that will draw comparisons to the majestic choruses of Def Leppard. As you might expect for such a band, lyrics are generally about rock music, warning fathers to lock up their daughters, and partying like you’re still 21. Their sophomore CD, “New Religion” comes out April 6.

As a whole, “New Religion” is a decent listen all the way through, but not quite enough to stand out in the crowd yet. However, their potential to do so is revealed in highlights such as the groovy tribute to their genre, “My Medicine”, their ‘live for the day’ anthem, “21 ‘Til I Die”, and the catchy “Blame It On Love”. Crazy Lixx drop the party atmosphere on occasion to show a more serious side, such as when they sing about the horrors of child abuse within the church in “Children of the Cross”. The requisite power ballad is “What Of Our Love”, which is pretty good, but not stellar.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 3, 4, 6, 9

Crazy Lixx on MySpace. Official site.

Auras – “New Generation”

Auras is a Brazilian rock band influenced by Journey, Survivor, Toto, and Chicago. They were formed by Gui Oliver (lead vocals) and Ferpa Lacerda (guitars) in 2007, and got to meet their idol Jimi Jamison (Survivor) during a gig they played in their hometown of Curitiba. Jamison remarked that Auras songs took him back to the eighties and the reminded him of the great bands of that period. Just a few songs into “New Generation”, you are undoubtedly going to agree.

Full of songs about love, dreams, faith and hope, Auras are an AOR band to the core. The vocals sound a lot like Steve Perry (Journey), or at least Steve Augeri (Tall Stories, Journey)! Things get off to a great start with a trio of terrific melodic rockers in “Beauty of Dreams”, “Forgive and Forget”, and “Never Give Up”, any of which would have fit comfortably on the Karate Kid Soundtrack. The record then offers a number of good songs, but they just don’t have that something special that made the first three such a treat. A couple exceptions are the excellent “Forever In Your Eyes” and “Keep On Lovin’ You” (not an REO Speedwagon cover). I also really liked the interesting “That’s The Way Love Goes”, which is a unique track on the record serving to break things up to give the listener something a little different. It maintains a good sense of melody but has a marimba flavor that will make you think someone is calling you on your iPHONE.

“New Generation” is a solid debut and I trust that Auras is going to get even better and with time.

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

Auras on MySpace. Official site.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Review: No Second Troy "Colors"

Washington DC's No Second Troy is out to blur the line between indie rock and pop with their upcoming release, "Colors". Surrounding classic introspective indie rock lyrics with melodic sensibility, No Second Troy is in position to make this a successful merger.

Another plus for the band is vocalist Jeff Wharen, who has that perfect tone for a rock singer - reminds me somewhat of Anthony Caleb Followill (Kings of Leon). The rest of the band is tight, effortlessly threading elements from across multiple musical genres into a fresh new tapestry.

One of my favorites on the record is "The Black and White Movie", both musically and lyrically. Keyboardist Mike Beach explains, "'The Black and White Movie' is an acknowledgment that we overanalyze our relation-ships and foolishly seek the perfection we see in Hollywood movies, thereby having our relationships fall into one of two categories - bliss or something inadequate, in other words, viewing the world as a black and white movie and failing to see all the colors and nuances."

The gentle and beautiful "Leap of Faith" is another strong cut, with Wharen showing his vulnerabilities in an earnestly touching performance. The back end of the CD is almost as captivating as the first half, with powerful standouts such as "Wake Up" and "Let It Go". "Golden Age" is another moving lyric about fatherhood, but it sounds like a demo and doesn't do the song justice.

No Second Troy's "Colors" will be available on iTUNES April 27. Check them out if you like The Fray, Coldplay, or U2.

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

No Second Troy on MySpace.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Review: Gary Hood "Gary Hood and the Last Show Ever" [EP]

Faithful readers know that we are nuts about Andy Goldberg (of The Goldbergs, see review here). He has produced and performed on a new five song EP by friend Gary Hood, entitled "Gary Hood and the Last Show Ever".

Gary Hood is a roadie and guitar tech who has worked with Lou Reed, Sean Lennon, Steve Earle, and - yes - Justin Timberlake. But he has his own musical ambitions and aspirations, playing impromptu acoustic gigs wherever he can while on tour with fellow musicians. Hood's own sound is an eclectic blend of folk, blues, and rock, at times recalling Bob Dylan, Todd Snider, The Band, or Wilco - no Justin Timberlake. A couple of tracks clearly have Goldberg's distinct pop sensibilities in the mix, most evident in the harmony vocals he contributes, which never fail to disappoint. The five songs that grace this EP are pure and organic, usually with harmonica and bouncy bass to make you feel like you're in a roadhouse. My favorite cuts include "Ice Cream" and "Space Age Blues".

"Gary Hood and the Last Show Ever" should be available on iTUNES by April.

Gary Hood on MySpace. Official site.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


(from BillBoard) "It's been a busy week for our less law-abiding celebrities. Not only did Lil Wayne finally begin his long-time-coming prison sentence, but D'Angelo got nabbed for soliciting sex from an undercover cop. Sucks for them ... but they're not the only famous faces who've been nabbed by The Man. Whether they're hip-hop gangstas, country crooners or squeaky clean pop tarts, history has proven time and time again that no musician, no matter how famous, is out of reach of the law's long arm.

With that in mind, we decided to look back at 50 of the most memorable musician mugshots. Some stars are dapper, some are demented-looking, most are just damn angry ... but they all fought the law. And the law won."


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Review: On The Rise “Dream Zone”

Good AOR is hard to find these days, but the Italian-based Frontiers Records is keeping this flame alive. Specializing in the release of new AOR groups, as well as new releases from classic AOR artists, Frontiers Records fills a unique niche in the music marketplace.

One of the acts on this label that has caught my ear is On The Rise, whose new 2009 CD “Dream Zone” is a musical time machine, taking you back to the days of Survivor, Toto, and Night Ranger. Amazingly, On The Rise is virtually a one-man band! Norwegian Terje Eide writes the songs, sings the lead and backing vocals, plays all guitars, keyboards, and bass. Eide has been active in the music scene since the 80s, getting his start when he was only 16. And while he may be older now, his love of the trademark 80s melodic rock sound has not changed a bit.

“Dream Zone” is the long-awaited sophomore effort for On The Rise, which first took shape 10 years ago. Eide sings his songs with conviction, with lyrical themes that are straight out of the AOR playbook – a handful of love songs, handful of inspirational “don’t give up” anthems, and so on. His vocal tone and musical style reminds me of 80s-era Tommy Shaw.

The 13 tracks provide over 50 minutes of AOR bliss, largely guitar-driven melodic rock with some tasty keyboards and harmonies in all of the right places. The beginning and the end of “Dream Zone” are particularly strong, setting a very high bar that the middle of the record generally fail to meet. The best cuts include the driving opener, “Lifeline”, the peppy “Lost Your Track”, and the very catchy “Why Wait Another Day”. On The Rise is highly recommended for fans of Vertigo, Mecca, and Two Fires.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 6, 10, 12, 13

On The Rise on MySpace. Official site.

Here’s a video for you:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Review: Koot Hoomi "The Dark Side of Hall and Oates"

Koot Hoomi (self-proclaimed Hall and Oates mega-fans) have set out with a vision of not only covering some of their beloved favorite songs, but also, as they put it, "re-imaging the catalog as it might exist in an alternate universe." Their creation, playfully titled, "The Dark Side of Hall and Oates", comfortably lies somewhere between George Harrison and Middle Eastern-infused, dirty, indie folk. The project was largely recorded in living rooms and basements, using cheap instruments and an old-school Tascam 488 analog tape recorder, giving it a entrancing, low-fi allure. In addition to tackling the songs that actually spent some time on the Billboard charts (ie: "Maneater", "Kiss on My List", "Out of Touch"), Koot Hoomi has also reinterpreted a number of deep cuts and b-sides, going all the way back to Daryl Hall and John Oates’ earliest Philly demos.

There's something oddly fascinating about a Hall and Oates tribute album that includes Tuvan throat-singing, sitars, and an the interpretation of songs that feel sort of like Ravi Shankar meets Sufjan Stevens meets Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now".

Highlights include their acoustical renditions of "Say It Isn't So", "Maneater", "One On One", and "Back In Love Again" - the understated beauty in these sparse arrangements truly speak to the brilliance in Hall and Oates' songwriting. Koot Hoomi also has some guts - taking liberty to turn "Adult Education" into a Beastie Boys-styled rap is going to seem sacrilegious to some fans. But whether you like these lo-fi and eclectic interpretations or not, one thing is undeniable: you've never heard Hall and Oates songs performed like this before!

iPOD-worthy: 2, 3, 6, 14

Koot Hoomi on MySpace. Official site. Go here to order.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Review: Jonathan Seet "The End Of The Beginning" [EP]

Canadian Jonathan Seet, one time bassist for Luke Jackson (review here), has released a new CD of arty Brit pop called "The End Of The Beginning". These 8 tracks make for a consistent listen and, along with his previous releases, lend support to his importance as an evolving songwriter.

The core songwriting themes explored on this EP are "redemption, re-invention, and the replenishing of innocence". With a voice somewhere between Dan Wilson (Semisonic) and David Mead, Seet is perfectly suited for sending these soothing melodies into your ears. "If The Last Kiss Made You Cry" is my favorite in the batch, but you are not doing yourself any favors by skipping over the somber title track and the epic "Down By The Bay", which builds slow to a hair-raising climax. "The Lost Week" is also a pleasant track, with acoustic guitars accompanied by keys from the 70s.

Seet will satiate fans of sophisticated pop with this one; those who need more instant gratification may not appreciate it until the third spin or so. Recommended if you like Radiohead, Elbow, or Travis. Note this is a digital only release - available on iTUNES.

Jonathan Seet on MySpace. Official site.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Review: Blanc Faces "Falling from The Moon"

Brothers Robbie and Brian La Blanc are Blanc Faces - they made a stunning impression on the AOR world with their self-titled debut back in 2005. Expectations have been running high for their follow-up release, 2009's "Falling from The Moon" (Frontiers Records).

Blanc Faces is a throwback to the hey day of 80s melodic rock: big hooks, abundant harmonies, and straightforward lyrics that typically say either "I love you" or "You can do it". The brothers La Blanc make no apologies for their dated sound and style because they know it is exactly what their fans want. Fortunately, this is also the kind of music the brothers want to write and perform, so it is a win-win situation for the band and the fans alike. The sheer joy that these guys have while playing this genre is palpable in their music.

The CD begins with a rousing opener called "I Come Alive", which easily could have been on a Rocky soundtrack at one point. I even think the La Blanc brothers must have raided Jim Peterik's keyboard closet for this one. The melodies keep coming with the peppy title track and the driving devotional, "I Swear To You". After a lackluster power ballad break, the boys come back with a couple of pleasant mid-tempo numbers called "It's All About Love" and "Goodbye Summer Goodbye". The mid-tempo pace continues for a couple more tracks, but rock kicks back in with "Like A Believer", and the CD closes strong with the electrifying sound of "I Will" and the epic ballad, "Fly", performed in perfect stereotypical 80s tradition.

Vocally, these guys will knock your socks off. To my ears, the vocals are remarkably like those from Glass Tiger. My favorite cuts include "I Come Alive", "I Swear To You", and "I Will" - these were hard to select, though, given that the CD is an excellent listen from beginning to end. You'll have trouble getting these songs out of your head.

In short, "Falling from The Moon" is just about as good as the debut and is a terrific slice of AOR that fans will want to sink their teeth into. Like its predecessor, the production is immaculate, making these strong songs even more of a thrill to hear. Both CDs by Blanc Faces are simply must-have items for fans of Survivor, Glass Tiger, or Journey.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 11, 12

Blanc Faces - more info and CD ordering at Frontiers Records.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Review: Sunrise Highway "Sunrise Highway"

I am going to take a wild guess that the studio Sunrise Highway used to record their self-titled CD is full of windows that let in generous amounts of sunlight. I make this assumption because "Sunrise Highway" just sparkles with sunshine. It radiates a warm, feel-good vibe that makes you feel like you are chillin' under the sun with an ice cold lemonade by your side and no cares in the world.

The Sun gods have been appeased, and Greg Schlotthauer and company have recorded a gem of pop genius. Sunrise Highway sounds remarkably like the Beach Boys for a new generation - breezy riffs, shimmering guitar tones, bouncy piano, and loads of amazing harmonies. It makes for a great mellow listen the whole way through, but standouts for me included "Endless Summer", "Baby Be Good", and "Lonely Guy". If you dig classic pop from the era of the Beach Boys, or if you just want a good spring and summer record to lift your spirits, you cannot miss Sunrise Highway.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 3, 5, 7

Sunrise Highway on MySpace. Official site.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Review: Dashboard Confessional "Alter The Ending"

I must confess: Dashboard Confessional is not normally a band that drives me wild. Yeah, I enjoyed their radio songs, but found many of their previous CDs uneven. However, with each CD they've released, it sounds to me like they move further and further away from the banal indie and alternative rock and closer to a more melodic and memorable sound. And with their 6th CD, "Alter The Ending", the band has finally hit their stride and put out a record that I look forward to hearing time and time again.

I wasn't under this impression after the first track, "Get Me Right", but right after that they launch into a fantastic streak of catchy pop rock tunes that changed my mind about these guys. "Until Morning" and "Everybody Learns From Disaster" are awesome preludes to the monster single, "Belle of the Boulevard" (although I can't get the tappers out of my head when I hear that song - Tap Tap Revenge fans know what I'm talking about here!). The infectious tunes keep coming with the peppy "I Know About You" and title track. Soon you realize these guys were just getting warmed up after they deliver one of the catchiest tracks they've even written, "The Motions", where they tattoo the following into your brain: "If this is chemical, then I am not afraid to be bound to the impulses of science." The record ends on a couple more very strong notes with the infectious "No News Is Bad News" and power ballad, "Water and Bridges".

Some might attribute the victory that is "Alter The Ending" to the masterful producers, Butch Walker and Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), and no doubt this is partially true. But I believe that after six albums, the guys have matured, refined their songwriting chops, and found their groove. "Alter the Ending" is an example of the magic that happens when all the stars are in alignment.

I received the "Deluxe" edition, which includes a second CD of acoustic renditions of all the tracks on the studio release in the same order. It is a good listen - not just vocal and acoustic guitar like you might expect - the guys spice it up with piano, strings, and percussion. Definitely worth the little bit of extra money.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11

Dashboard Confessional on MySpace. Official site.

Check out the video for "Belle of the Boulevard":

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Review: Keel, Wig Wam, Jaded Heart

The rise of grunge in the early '90s catalyzed the demise of many beloved (and equally bemoaned) glam 'hairbands'. It was a time of bonehead lyrics, ridiculous guitar solos, and even more ridiculous outfits...but it was also a time of big fat hooks, sticky melodies, and boatloads of harmonies. The songs were carefree rock that in many cases was just plain fun to listen to. Like them or not, their popularity at the time cannot be denied. As most of these million-selling artists were suddenly driven from the Billboard charts and shunned by their record labels, a small label called CMC International stepped up to become the afterlife for hairbands. This allowed a handful of them to continue releasing records through the 90s, but many groups caved to musical fads, attempting to incorporate grunge and alternative rock at the expense of the sugary melodies and easy to understand lyrics that earned them fans in the first place. By the end of the '90s, big hair rock was clearly dead and it seemed to take AOR with it.

So here we are ten years on and we're seeing new labels like Frontiers Records, based in Italy, proudly releasing AOR and glam rock like it was still 1989. This is a real treat for those who miss the days of Slaughter, Poison, and Warrant, and there is a niche of 30- and 40-somethings that will gladly shell over their cash to hear some new blood bring life back to this genre. Frontiers Records champions new bands that have taken up the glam baton as well as "classic" bands that are still alive and kickin'.

I've reviewed a number of Frontiers artists before, including W.E.T., The Murder of My Sweet, Blackwood Creek, Jimi Jamison. Today we're going to cover new ones from Keel, Jaded Heart, and Wig Wam.

KEEL "Streets Of Rock & Roll"

Ron Keel and his entourage is back with a record that sounds like the proper sequel to their breakthrough 1985 release, "The Right To Rock". 25 years later, Keel still delivers the goods with powerhouse twin guitars (from Marc Ferrari and Bryan Jay) and thundering bass and drums (from Geno Arce and Dwain Miller). Ron Keel sounds ready as ever, with his characteristic growl omnipresent throughout the vocals. The boys have updated their sound a bit, but not to the point where it would alienate longtime fans.

"Streets Of Rock & Roll" kicks off with the title track, one of the strongest in the new bunch of 12 arena-ready rockers. Guitars come at you from all directions, swirling around one of the most infectious choruses Keel has ever written. Despite the slump to bonehead lyrics, "Push and Pull" is an enjoyable slice of sleaze rock in the finest late '80s tradition. In stark contrast, the album gets a bit more serious with the excellent power ballad, "Does Anybody Believe". The record ends particularly strong with a great pair in "Hold Steady" and "Live". "Live" is arguably the catchiest tune in the dozen, with riffs reminding me a bit of White Lion's "Wait", and has become my personal favorite - this one would have been all over the radio back in the day. In short, I am finding "Streets of Rock and Roll" to be one of the best releases Keel has ever done.

Don't miss this one if you are a fan of Motley Crue, Kiss, or W.A.S.P.

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

Incidentally, Frontiers Records commemorated the 25th anniversary of Keel's “The Right To Rock" with a "25th Anniversary Edition" - don't miss that too!

Keel on MySpace. Official site.

JADED HEART "Perfect Insanity"

The German band Jaded Heart gravitates more towards the true heavy metal end of the spectrum, but they compromise on the melodies. No one can knock the musicianship, but it often feels like they go out of their way to avoid writing a good hook. So it probably comes as no surprise to many of you that I just couldn't get into this one as much. "Perfect Insanity" works well when you need to get your blood pumping, though. These guys have been going strong since 1990 and they have clearly mastered their craft. I would recommend this one for fans of heavier and less melodic bands like Queensrÿche, Dokken, or Heaven and Hell. Fans of classic metal such as Judas Priest will also appreciate Jaded Heart.

Jaded Heart on MySpace. Official site.

WIG WAM "Non Stop Rock & Roll"

I honestly didn't know what to expect from this band - from Norway, they kind of look like a nightmarish cross between Marilyn Manson, Brad Paisley, and Enuff Z'Nuff:

As if that weren't 'enuff', they call themselves Glam (vocals), Teeny (guitars), Flash (bass), and Sporty (drums)! But looks and goofy nicknames aside, these guys sound as glam as glam can get, so if you crave the long lost days of fun-filled rock and roll with huge juicy hooks and radio-friendly riffs, Wig Wam is gonna make you grin like a kid in a bubblegum candy store. In the context of this genre, Wig Wam does a superb job. Glam (the singer) sounds a bit like Vince Neil and CJ Snare (Firehouse). You'll almost want to chuckle with nostalgia at the opening gang chorus of "Do Ya Wanna Taste It". The party is just beginning, and if track 1 failed to move you, the thumping "Walls Come Down" will surely lift you out of your chair. "Wild One" and "C'mon Everybody" represent another one-two punch of melodic rock perfect for rocking your joint. "C'mon Everybody" features a riff reminiscent of Motley Crue's hit "Dr. Feelgood", and the groove won't let you go. "From Here" is the power ballad of choice on this CD. "All You Wanted" and "Rocket Through My Heart" are a couple more highlights from this very impressive set of sugar sweet hard rock tunes.

I would argue that if anyone could initiate a resurgence of '80s pop metal, Wig Wam is up to the task. Wig Wam will appeal to fans of Poison, Warrant, and Ratt. Unbelievably catchy, upbeat, and ready to party, Wig Wam is a winner for good ol' glam and roll.

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

Wig Wam on MySpace. Official site.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Interview: Crash Kings

My interview with Crash Kings - now on tour with Jet - is now posted at Rock and Roll Report. Go check it out.

See my review of Crash Kings new CD here.