Friday, April 30, 2010

Review: Right The Stars “Right The Stars”

Right The Stars is the brainchild of singer, songwriter, producer Rich Jacques, who grew up in Wisconsin seeing California on TV wondering why he was living in freezing cold. Jacques was raised on 80s music (his first record was Flock of Seagulls) and he even covers the 1986 hit “Life In A Northern Town” by Dream Academy. But you won’t find much of an 80s vibe on the debut from Right The Stars.

What you will find is a collection of warm tunes that intelligently meditate on the relationships in our lives. Very much the singer/songwriter, Jacques plays his songs with passion, and his gentle vocals are a perfect accompaniment for this style of music. Upon hearing the new record Rich’s Mom said “Sounds good, very professional”. Well, she is right about that – the guitars are bright and crisp – but I think she didn’t quite do justice to the lyrical depth, intricate harmonies, and beauty that many will find in these songs.

“Right The Stars” is a mellow record…the songs rarely exceed a mid-tempo pace, yet they often retain an upbeat character and sunny disposition. It is ideal to listen to during those times of reflection or even for a pick me up. The aching but graceful opener, “Let Go Of Her Hand” sets the tone for what Right The Stars is all about. “We Got It All” is an appropriately upbeat number that sticks in your head in no time – a perfect tune to welcome the summer. “House By The Ocean” is another shimmering standout, its vivid imagery and earnest vocal making a lasting impression. The aforementioned cover of “Life In A Northern Town” is well done, the band succeeding in giving this wonderful tune a more contemporary feel. The breezy feel and catchy melody of “Time” makes it a highlight as well.

The self-titled debut from Right The Stars will be available June 15, 2010, but you may have already heard some of the tracks in movies (“Time” was in The Breakup) or on TV shows (One Tree Hill). Music from Right The Stars will also be featured in the upcoming movie Furry Vengeance, which stars Brooke Shields and Brendan Frasier. Right The Stars is as right as rain.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8

Right the Stars on MySpace. Official site.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Review: Taylor Locke and The Roughs "Grain and Grape"

Take note of this name: Taylor Locke. Say it again: Taylor Locke. Locke is the next big name that should rise to prominence in the domain of melodic rock and power pop.

Some of you may already know the name through another band - Locke plays guitar and supplies vocals for the awesome power pop outfit Rooney (reviewed here). Locke's solo effort with his own backing band called The Roughs (Chris Price on guitar & keyboards, Charlotte Froom on bass, and Mikey McCormack on drums), is not a quantum leap away from the Rooney sound and spirit. In other words, Taylor Locke and The Roughs deliver plenty guitar-driven melodies, often surrounded by harmonies that conjure up the ghost of the Beatles or Queen.

Taylor Locke and The Roughs sound like a merger between Tom Petty and Badfinger - they have a style that is based in roots rock, but clearly shows some influence from British Invasion bands of the 60s. Best of all, they don't waste this likable sound on a bunch of junk songs - these guys can deliver the goods in terms of songwriting: crisp, memorable choruses that will have you singing along after just one listen. The lyrics touch upon universal themes, managing to be relatable without being overly trite (with possible exception of "Weekend Warrior"). Vocally, Locke reminds me of Owen Thomas from The Elms - he is a dynamic rock vocalist - gritty enough for the rockers, but also in possession of a sweet falsetto that is ideal for ballads. Sonically the album is terrific, mixed by the acclaimed Ducky Carlisle, who incidentally is the drummer for power pop supergroup called The Major Labels (reviewed here).

The record couldn't begin better - "Start Me Over" is a blast of fun with a soaring chorus that won me over right away. I didn't quite get the less memorable "Jennifer", maybe because I don't know said girl. Things come back strong, though, with a long string of consecutive radio-friendly gems like "Hourglass" and "Amnesia". "Reach for the Sky" is also a cool track, I just wish Locke would have done something more creative with the word "sky" rather than just scream it. "Joy" is the best ballad on the CD, showcasing Locke's gentle falsetto and the band's ability to ape a Queen harmony. "I'll Be Gone" is a groovy track laced with harmonica, thereby providing a welcome change of pace from the others in this pack of strong songs. The catchy "Stay Awhile" is another sunny, upbeat tune that ensures the disc ends on a high note.

I would highly recommend Taylor Locke and The Roughs for fans of Owsley, Bleu, The Grays, or The Elms. "Grain and Grape" may just be the best debut record you'll hear all year.

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

Taylor Locke and The Roughs on MySpace.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rare CD: Platinum Blonde "Alien Shores"


Mega-rare 1985 CD by Canadian high-tech AOR rockers, Platinum Blonde. Alien Shores gave the guys four big hits: "Crying Over You", "Somebody Somewhere" (their only Billboard chart entry), "Situation Critical" and "Hungry Eyes". Near MINT condition throughout."

SOld for $200.00 on ebay.

Rare CD: Accelerator "Welcome To The Show"

"ACCELERATOR-Welcome to the show! 1991 Original Rare !!
ACCELERATOR-Welcome to the show! CD released from Intercontinental Records in 1991.
Mega rare original pressing CD"

SOld for $224.72 on ebay.

Don't know much about this band - anybody?

Rare CD: Joe Bruce and 2nd Avenue

rare 1987 AOR gem with Dann Huff!

Here's your chance to get an original CD called JOE BRUCE & 2ND AVENUE. This 9 track CD was released by Lord Records. By far one of the finest AOR/westcoast gems on the face of this planet. More amazingly is DANN HUFF plays guitars on this very elusive collectable. Imagine an awesome mix of JAY GRAYDON, DAVID ROBERTS and VAN STEPHENSON (Dann Huff also play on VS release too). This CD rarely shows up on Ebay anymore so make your bid count on this AOR treasure!"

Sold for $305.00 on ebay.

Rare CD: Manilla Road "The Deluge"


Mark Shelton - Vocals, Guitars
Scott Parks - Bass
Randy Foxe - Drums, Keyboards, Vocals

11. Dementia (Live) - originally appeared on Roadkill.
by Underground Symphony Records

"The Deluge" is divided into three parts:
I. Eye of the Sea
II. Drowned Lands
III. Engulfed Cathedral
1. Dementia 03:09
2. Shadow in the Black 05:22
3. Divine Victim 03:09
4. Hammer of the Witches 02:41
5. Morbid Tabernacle 01:53
6. Isle of the Dead 02:53
7. Taken by Storm 03:19
8. The Deluge 08:13
9. Friction in Mass 06:27
10. Rest in Pieces 01:51"

Sold for $1026.00 on ebay

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Review: The Great Valley "Wrecking Ball" [EP]

A BIG sound from the small state of Delaware...Brothers Louis & Nick Matos, working under the moniker of The Great Valley, have just released their debut 5-song EP, "Wrecking Ball". The Matos boys fuse power pop with modern and alternative rock, but play it with the punch of punk. The result is a mix that has a little something for everyone. But even more important than their talent to homogenize multiple rock styles into one of their own, these guys can write some damn catchy hooks.

The EP is a fury of pop rock energy - concentrated into bite-size tunes that are as sweet and crunchy as a Nestle bar. Super tight in their playing and in the production, "Wrecking Ball" will shatter your preconceptions that rock is dead. But beyond the sonic goodness of their guitar tones, The Great Valley has a keen pop sensibility and they know exactly what chords and melodies make a song memorable. The Great Valley stands to have wide cross-over potential - seriously, this is one of the best EPs I've heard so far this year, and it is going to be hard to top!

All five of these tracks are winners, but if I had to choose favorites, the title track and "Above The City" would be my picks. Fans of Fountains of Wayne, Weezer, Jimmy Eat World, and Simple Plan - you must check these guys out now! Awesome!

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

The Great Valley on MySpace.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Review: Shake Some Action "Fire and Ice"

In April of last year, we reported on the unique process Shake Some Action! was using to record their third full-length album (see here). Briefly, the band decided it would be cool to post rough mixes of their new tracks and get feedback from the fans to help the album evolve. It provided an insightful view into the writing and recording process, and "Fire and Ice" is the result. In the words of the band, "Fire and Ice" has "a more sophisticated and modern sound with a nod to Madchester, 80s jangle pop and classic 60s songcraft".

"Fire and Ice" follows the sophomore effort, "Sunny Days Ahead", a truly radiant power pop affair with influences from Flamin' Groovies to Teenage Fanclub (review here). "Fire and Ice" does indeed run hot and cold, the fire being ignited at the beginning with intensely infectious tracks like "Stand and Deliver", "Touch the Sky", and the title track. "Can You Feel?" is a beautiful mid-tempo number that is one of my favorites on the CD. After this comes the cooler part of "Fire and Ice", but things heat back up again at the close with great rockers like "Where Is The Sun?" and the harmonica-laced party closer, "You Can't Say No", which reminds me of The Soup Dragons.

Vocalist and chief songwriter James Hall, which is a near dead ringer for Dave Faulkner of The Hoodoo Gurus, sounds better than ever, using more harmonies and falsettos to augment the melodies he belts out. I'm not so sure his voice fits as comfortably with some of the sparser material in the middle of the album (the ice part of the record), but the first four songs on "Fire and Ice" constitute the brightest, most enjoyable 15 minute block the band has recorded to date.

The album also finds James Hall asking a lot of questions: "Can You Feel?", "How Does It Feel?", and "Where Is The Sun". These introspective lyrics, which are also infused with meditations on the downward spiral of current times, is another leap ahead for the band.

"Fire and Ice" will be available May 4, 2010. There is no doubt "Fire and Ice" will satisfy fans of Shake Some Action! and find some new recruits as well. I am a huge fan of Hoodoo Gurus, and Shake Some Action! is my new Hoodoo Gurus.

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

Shake Some Action! on MySpace. Official site. Get it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Review: Hannah Georgas "This Is Good"

"This Is Good" is the full-length debut record from Vancouver’s Hannah Georgas. The record is described as "a warm collection of 11 indie-pop songs that highlight Hannah’s unmistakable voice and reveal her range as a songwriter, guitarist and vocalist." "This Is Good" follows her award-winning EP, "The Beat Stuff".

Indie-pop bands are a dime a dozen these days, but what promises to separate Georgas from the pack is her distinctive voice. Her vocals are velvety smooth, but she can shape and mold them to fit comfortably into almost any genre. Georgas is graceful enough for pop, sultry enough for jazz, hip enough for indie music, and edgy enough for rock. This is no easy feat, but the tone and inflections that Georgas has mastered with her voice should certainly take her far.

The styles of music also run the gamut on "This Is Good". We begin with the contemporary "Chit Chat", a track that jumps on the indie pop bandwagon, but rides it well. From there, Georgas turns left and belts out a smooth pop tune called "Lovesick" that is laced with lovely harmonies and has quite a radio-friendly melody. "Dancefloor" is a respectable party song, brainless and trivial as it should be, but Georgas throws in a hint of Blondie towards the end that is pretty cool. As if this weren't all over the map enough, we then hear the bluegrass opening of "The Deep End", a tune which develops into a wonderfully engaging mid-tempo ballad. "The Deep End" is well-placed, refreshing change of pace and has grown to be my favorite track on the record. "Thick Skin" (video below) is a rather bizarre song, with haunting strings and eerie melodies that are not for the musically tame. The title track is aptly named and marks a welcomed return to the band's more commercial side. "Bang Bang You're Dead" is also very catchy and has a clever play on the use of shhh in the chorus, the combination making this track another winner. Georgas finishes the record with a quirky and old fashioned ditty called "Something for You".

"This Is Good" does live up to its title in most respects, with some tunes being more instantly memorable than others. Overall, this is an impressive debut and should be an effective vehicle to introduce the rest of the world to the vocal charms of Hannah Georgas. I'd recommend it if you like Frente!, Bjork, or Tegan and Sara. "This Is Good" comes out on April 27.

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

Hannah Georgas on MySpace.

Check out the video for "Thick Skin":

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Review: Lactis Fever "The Season We Met"

Lactis Fever is indie-pop trio from Como, Italy. They've just recorded their full-length debut record, "The Season We Met", and it is a whopper that modern pop rock fans won't want to miss.

Lactis Fever is brilliant - I like everything about them. Bright and energetic rock, vocals that have a punk attitude but retain pop sensibilities, and keenly written melodies and harmonies throughout - what's not to love? The songs are terse and succinct, yet make an impression that lasts long after the three minutes is up. My only criticism is minor: the guitars are sometimes too muddled and dark for this otherwise upbeat pop rock. Outside of that, "The Season We Met" is one hell of a ride.

Lactis Fever is like a cross between Fall Out Boy and The Killers, and many of the harmonies remind me of the best things about 80s rock. This band should attract plenty of fans with varied tastes in music across the board - they are of a rare breed of acts that can please just about everyone. Given how terrific it is, it is hard to believe that "The Season We Met" is a debut record! There is not a single dud on the release, but some of the tracks I like best include "Down On My Knees", "Be Tray You", and "Friday 16th".

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

Lactis Fever on MySpace. Official site.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Review: TJay "Take A Seat"

While the name TJay might sound like a hip-hop artist to you, don't be fooled. The TJay we are talking about here is a former baseball player who almost went to the Major Leagues before settling on a career in making music as a singer/songwriter.

A few minutes into "Take A Seat" and you'll be drawing comparisons to John Mayer, Jason Mraz, and Dave Matthews. The latter is especially apparent when saxophone extraordinaire Bill Evans contributes to the songs (he can be heard on "State Street Blues", "Hey In Your Sleep", and "Pretend You're Driving". TJay, who has a voice that sounds remarkably like the AOR master Danny Vaughn (Tyketto), writes and plays the type of blues-tinged jazz rock that gained a lot of popularity in the 90s. It is not the typical musical dish I order off the menu, but when you are in the mood for this genre, TJay has a lot to offer.

There is no question that the playing and production on "Take A Seat" is top-notch. TJay is a terrific guitar player, riffing like nobody's business and reminding me of greats like Willy Porter. TJay also sings very well, but his tone is not a perfect fit for some of the tunes. I appreciate that he doesn't go off on endless jam sessions - one of the reasons I usually avoid these kinds of artists. TJay's songs are focused and to the point, with decent lyrics and sometimes a memorable melody. Most of the time, however, the music is too complex to effectively impregnate the mind the way a simple pop song would. And this is my primary dilemma with this sort of music - the melody and hook often play second fiddle to the "look what I can do on my guitar". There are key instances, though, where things gel rather nicely - these include the title track, "State Street Blues", "Goldfish", and "My Blues".

Perhaps the most informed comment regarding TJay comes from Steve Lillywhite (producer of Dave Matthews Band, U2, Counting Crows, Jason Mraz, Matchbox 20) says: "(TJay is) at the same place in (his) career that Dave Matthews was when he recorded 'Remember Two Things'". Will TJay like up to these high expectations? We'll have to take a seat and wait for time to tell.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 3, 5, 9

TJay on MySpace. Official site.

News: Skyrocket Love "Novacaine" FREE MP3

Influenced by such artists as The Killers, Daughtry, Muse, and OneRepublic, Skyrocket Love has received over 200,000 plays on terrestrial and internet radio and developed a rabid fan following via local shows and an active online presence since forming in late 2009. The band just released their first single “Novacaine,” which you can download for FREE right here.

The hard-driving and harmonically soaring “Novacaine” is the first taste of the band’s heavyweight sound, and a precursor to their forthcoming releases, which includes a 5-song EP planned for this summer and the band’s full-length debut due this fall.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Review: Tora Tora "Bombs Away" "Miss B Haven" "Before and After"

Tora Tora, one of the neglected "hair bands" of the late 80s and early 90s, have put out three "new" records of previously unreleased material. You may remember this band from their minor hits "Phantom Rider", "Walkin' Shoes", and "Faith Healer". They were one of my favorites of the day and I was always hoping we would hear from them again. Anthony Corder's voice is towards the higher end of the vocal spectrum, similar to Slaughter, but not so screechy. His tone suits the music well and he has excellent control of his voice. The musicianship in Tora Tora has always been impressive compared to the others that crowded this genre, and they frequently incorporated a healthy dose of blues into their brand of hard rock that helped make them stand out. After two terrific albums, "Surprise Attack" (1989) and "Wild America" (1992), Tora Tora dropped off the face of the earth. The band did record a third album in 1994 called "Revolution Day", but it never saw the light of day due to label restructuring.

The three records below come courtesy of a new label, FnA Records. From their website: "FnA Records, LLC. formed in 2009 to bring Rockers and Metalheads some of the best unreleased and hard-to-find music from the 80's and early 90's. We are also a label that allows you, the fans to bring us music that you remember from 'Back In The Day', and to have it professionally released."

"Bombs Away"

To the credit of FnA Records, these releases certainly do 'take you back' in time. "Bombs Away" features eleven demo tracks written during the "Surprise Attack" sessions. Being demos, the sound quality is pretty bad - FnA Records claims to have cleaned things up to produce a listenable product, but there is still significance tape hiss and an unpolished sound throughout. Tape imperfections abound and sound is sometimes panned to one speaker, all of which really distracts from the music. If you can get past this, there are a few noteworthy power ballads on "Bombs Away", such as "When The Wind Blows" and "Tonite (version 2)", and a handful of rockers like "Bringing Me Down" and "Lost In Paradise", but some of these tracks probably would have been bombs indeed.

"Miss B. Haven"

To me, "Wild America" was a quantum leap ahead of "Surprise Attack" - the band really hit their stride here and was simply in the zone. Not surprisingly, this batch of 13 leftovers recorded during the "Wild America" sessions contain a lot of standouts. "Wild America" could have been a double record - in 1992, it seems Tora Tora could crank out endless radio-friendly rockers. Despite being of demo quality, the hooks and catchy riffs jump right out at you. Highlights include "Take It As You Like It", "Ain't Nothin' To It", "Bite the Bullet", and "Serious". Loaded with thunderous rockers that are so infectious, you are willing to overlook the shortcomings of the sound quality on this one.

"Before and After"

This one is a bit unique in that it contains some of the band's earliest material from 1987 and some of their demos from the never released 1994 album. The first five tracks are from the EP "To Rock To Roll", the band's indie release made prior to being signed. It is a cool glimpse into the history of the band, but something that only the most hardcore fan will appreciate. It is kind of like a museum exhibit - once you've seen it, there's not much point in going back again. These songs suffer from tape limitations and sound very tinny, and several of these are on "Surprise Attack" in much better form. There is one ballad here, "Time On The Edge", that is very good - I am surprised it was not included on "Surprise Attack". The final four tracks are demos from "Revolution Day", which would have been their third major label record if Kurt Cobain and company hadn't radically altered the musical landscape. Unfortunately, after hearing these lackluster songs, I am a bit more sympathetic to A&M for not wanting to go forward with such a record.

Summary: I'd recommend these three records if you just can't get enough Tora Tora. With some notable exceptions, these tracks were left off the main releases for good reason - they are not the cream of the crop. I'd also argue that FnA Records was pretty lazy about doing the job right. The artwork is almost laughable, looking like something an amateur graphics artist would pluck out of the heavy metal clipart gallery. It also took them over 3 weeks to ship the overpriced CDs out to me. As mentioned, the worst deficiency is the disappointing sound quality. I understand most of these are demos that they "cleaned" up, but they cleaned them up as well as a 7 year old claims to have cleaned his room. I can't recommend these records for the casual fan - if you want to get acquainted with Tora Tora, start with "Wild America". You'll dig Tora Tora if you like Tesla, Slaughter, or Kix. If you want to try one of these three, "Miss B. Haven" is your best bet.

iPOD worthy:
"Bombs Away": 3, 4, 8
"Miss B. Haven": 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 9
"Before and After": 0

Tora Tora on MySpace. Official site. FnA Records.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Review: Andy Stone "You Don't See Many of These Nowadays"

Andy Stone's new CD, "You Don't See Many of These Nowadays" could refer to any number of things...VHS tapes, rotary phones, Bengal roof turtles, unselfish politicians...or could be referring to his own brand of music.

Stone describes his music like this: "Imagine a dinner party hosted by the Beatles, with a guest list that includes XTC, Squeeze, the Zombies and Kinks, Aimee Mann and Elvis Costello". The description is quite accurate, keeping in mind his CD is more like dinner and not dessert. Stone writes smart music for grown ups, and I imagine that fans of 60s/70s pop are going to connect to this much better than the younger crowd.

To his credit, Stone strives to be melodic and reaches a few great heights on "You Don't See Many of These Nowadays". The songs are generally tuneful and lush, but honestly I found my mind wandering off about one third of the way through each song. There's nothing bad...but nothing stellar either. Same could be said for the vocals, which are contributed by Phil Angotti, Mike Przygoda, and Tom Godsman (Accidental Charm) - they are serviceable, but less than remarkable. The rather low grade production value is another shortcoming of the record. Overall, very middle of the road all round. The main highlight for me was the catchy tune "Talk About the Love", which truly succeeded in blending Stone's retro and more contemporary influences.

There is a lot to like about Andy Stone's "You Don't See Many of These Nowadays", just not a whole lot to love.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 3, 5

Andy Stone on MySpace. Official site.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

News: Butch Walker - new album download only 3.99

News flash! You have until tomorrow to grab the new one from Butch Walker for only $3.99. Go here to download. Read our review of "I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart" right here.

Review: Lloyd Dobler Effect "A Mute Reminder"

Lloyd Dobler Effect (LDE) released "A Mute Reminder" on April 13th. You may recall our review of this band last year - we reviewed their self-titled indie version of this release (review here). The album made my top ten of the year (click here), so I highly recommend you check this out if you haven't already! Below is the official press release.

"Washington, DC (PRWEB) April 8, 2010 -- Imagen Records is proud to present the new CD by Lloyd Dobler Effect (LDE) entitled, 'A Mute Reminder'. The album contains 12 incredible songs that represent the best in contemporary rock music with strong vocals, powerful lyrics, infectious melodies and a driving back beat that pulls the listener in for more. LDE has been an influential part of the Indie music scene for over 8 years garnering a national/international fan base and worldwide recognition as one of the top up-in-coming bands in the industry. “We are really happy to release a collection of songs we’ve written over the past few years that we feel are the best of our songwriting to date,” said lead vocalist and guitarist, Phil Kominski.

“We are really happy to release a collection of songs we’ve written over the past few years that we feel are the best of our songwriting to date.” All songs were written by Phil Kominski, Chris Bruno, and Donnie Williams of LDE. The new single from the CD, 'Going Back to the End' is a power-packed jam that really highlights the band’s musical intensity and essence. 'A Mute Reminder' was produced by LDE and Bob Winegard, with final mixes by Grammy award winner Bruce Irvine for GYB Entertainment. The album was mastered by Emily Lazar and Joe LaPorta at the Lodge, New York, NY. Cover direction and design was created by Jeff Chenault for"

Llyod Dobler Effect on MySpace. Official site. Get it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Review: Moving Castles "EP One" [EP]

Moving Castles was formed in October 2009, and consists of members John Eric, Daniel Zane, Marshall Garrett Berry, Matt Letsinger and Eric Meeks. True to their influences, which include The Beach Boys to Morrissey, the guys are bent on crafting harmony-laden power pop tunes that you will want to crank up loud. Moving Castles state, "We are not trying to revolutionize anything. We just want to make music that makes us happy and we hope that you will find it intriguing and enjoyable."

Their latest, "EP One" is available now - it is brief: enough to give a taste of what these guys are capable of, but it will surely leave you wanting more. Opener "This Is The Life" is the perfect sunny day tune, radiating happiness with its feel good melody and bright instrumentation. Clearly the standout track here. "Wives (You're Near Me Always)" sounds like it might be a ballad, but no - this is another peppy rocker that kicks in right after some well orchestrated harmonies. The lyrics are sparse and too repetitive, which bring my enthusiasm for this track down quite a bit. "Theater, Girl", however, is a nice comeback and ends things on a high note.

Best of all, the boys in Moving Castle has made their 3-track "EP One" available for FREE at their website - click here.

Moving Castles on MySpace. Official site.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cover tune catastrophe: I Believe I Can Fly

In this ongoing series, I will uncover some of the WORST cover tunes ever recorded. We’ve all encountered that unsettling feeling upon hearing a beloved song redone by another artist. What were they thinking? How dare they try to redo this song! While we are powerless to prevent these clowns from trashing the originals, we can call them out on it.

William Hung – “I Believe I Can Fly” (R. Kelly)

William Hung is unequivocally the most catastrophic thing to come out of American Idol, other than Ryan Seacrest’s radio show. William Hung is exceptional in that he landed a record deal for NOT being able to sing…oh wait, isn’t that the rule these days? Hung’s entire album, “Inspiration” (2004), is atrocious, but I’ll only torture your ears with this one song. Take the Hung challenge…see if you can perform an entire song without singing a single note in key!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Review: Krokus "Hoodoo"

You were probably just as surprised as I upon hearing the news that the original headbanging band Krokus was aiming to make a comeback. Switzerland's Krokus attained an admirable following in the 80s alongside similar-sounding bands like AC/DC, Motorhead, Accept, and Nazareth. "Hoodoo" is the first record in 20 years for these classic rock purists.

Krokus picks up pretty much right where they left off - still belting out no thrills guitar rock - they show no signs of age. Marc Storace sings with as much bite as he did back in the day, the gritty texture of his voice perfectly complementing the band's brand of sharp riff rock. As always, Krokus plays with vigor and is just a shame that many of the new songs themselves don't do justice to the talents in the band.

Things get started on a high note with the feisty anthem, "Drive It In" - vintage Krokus. Then things get a little pedestrian with the cumbersome first single, "Hoodoo Woman", followed by a lackluster cover of Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild". The autobiographic "Rock and Roll Handshake" is pretty good - it injects some blues into the rock while condensing the history of the band into three and a half minutes. Next up is "Ride Into The Sun", a flat power ballad that comes to soon. Fortunately, "Too Hot" wakes you from your slumber, easily the most infectious and melodic cut on "Hoodoo". Fit for any party, "Too Hot" is an instantly memorable song with a great harmony-filled chorus - I truly wish "Hoodoo" had more tracks like it. The second half of the record kind of blends altogether, with only "Keep Me Rolling" and "Shot Of Love" standing out of the crowd.

Long time fans of Krokus will find a lot to love and get nostalgic about on "Hoodoo". I am not so confident, however, that the band is going to gain a new legion of younger fans with this one. Much like the newest release from their Australian counterparts, AC/DC (reviewed here), Krokus captures a certain magic when they build from a solid memorable hook. Unfortunately on "Hoodoo" they don't do that on many of the tracks.

"Hoodoo" will be released on May 25, 2010.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 4, 6, 9, 10

Krokus on MySpace. Official site.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Review: My Pet Dragon "Lover in Hiding" [maxi single]

My Pet Dragon stems from the meeting of New York singer/songwriter Todd Michaelsen and Indian dancer/actress Reena Shah. As the romantic feelings grew between Michaelson and Shah, so did their desire to form a band to record the musical aspirations in their head. The result was My Pet Dragon, whose debut album, "First Born", earned some attention from BBC radio and opened up some opportunities for collaborative songwriting with Karsh Kale and the chance to score an award-winning animated film called "Sita Sings The Blues".

The maxi-single for "Lover in Hiding" gives us a taste of what the upcoming full-length record will sound like, and fans of atmospheric pop with just the right amount of grit will want to take note. Michaelsen's vocals are a bit like Thom Yorke (Radiohead) at times and suit the musical style very well. "Lover in Hiding" is a sweet mid-tempo pop rocker that fills the senses and imprints on your brain in no time. A couple other tracks are present on the maxi-single, including "Between Us", which finds Michaelsen proclaiming, "There is something in-between us buzzin' 'round - there is something in-between us that science hasn't found". Of course science always wins in the end, but why not enjoy this kind of innocence while it lasts?

My Pet Dragon shows some real promise, especially if they continue to write songs as engaging and infectious as "Lover in Hiding". The duo plays an eclectic mix of styles and the end result is quite the ethereal experience. Check them out for FREE - we have been given permission to give you the "Lover in Hiding" mp3: click here.

My Pet Dragon on MySpace. Official site.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Review: Snow and Voices "Anything That Moves"

Snow and Voices is a collaborative duo comprised of singer-songwriter Lauri Kranz and multi-instrumentalist Jebin Bruni (Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple).. Their third CD, "Anything That Moves", is set for release on May 25.

The new record was produced by Jebin Bruni and Darrell Thorp (Radiohead, Beck), who could not have been better in bringing this dramatic, atmospheric music to life. Kranz and Bruni also pulled together a stellar collective of Los Angeles-area musicians who contribute their skills to Snow and Voices, both live and in their recordings. The talent pool includes Joey Waronker (Thom Yorke, Beck, REM), Joshua Grange (KD Lang, Dwight Yokaum), Chris Bruce (Michelle Ndegeocello, Joe Henry), Jennifer Condos (Ray Lamontagne, Ryan Adams), Blair Sinta (Damien Rice, My Brightest Diamond), Cedric LeMoyne (O+S), Gregory Slay (Remy Zero), Jeffrey Cain (Dead Snares), Vanessa Freebairn-Smith (Gnarls Barkley) and Brian MacLeod (Paul Westerberg, Sheryl Crow). Now that is some name dropping!

Opening track, "Maybe Finland" is superb and demonstrates the maximum potential of Snow and Voices. The delicate and seductive vocals of Lauri Kranz slip into your ears ever so gently. Best of all, you can grab this track for free below. Other very strong and engaging tracks include "Everything Coming Apart", "Liar", and "Please Be My Lover". Not everything held my attention as strongly - some tracks are quite sleepy - so this CD is most fitting for the blues, when you need something slow and easy. The lyrics mostly revolve around love and relationships, but are poetic, sincere, and thoughtful. A CD with every track as gorgeous and melodic as "Maybe Finland" would be heaven.

But to try and stop listening to Snow and Voices is like trying to leave the cozy warmth of your blanket on a cold winter morning. I recommend Snow and Voices if you like the dreamy pop side of Radiohead, Cowboy Junkies, Leona Naess, snow, or beautiful voices.

We have permission to give you the outstanding "Maybe Finland" as a free download. Just click here.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 8, 9

Snow and Voices on MySpace. Official site.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Review: Evan Bliss "ShhhPOW"

Former frontman for reggae rock group The Low Life, Evan Bliss has struck out on his own now to create "ShhhPOW". He has largely abandoned the reggae for his first solo outing in favor of contemporary pop rock.

But to pigeon hole Evan Bliss into the pop rock category would be a bit misleading. He dabbles in a multitude of musical genres and he and his band have the instrumental chops to do this effectively. There are bits of classic rock, some blue eyed soul, jazz, funk, and even a splash of ho-down (the band aptly describes their music as an "international rock buffet"). What emerges from this hodgepodge of styles is a trademark sound that has a surprisingly energetic quality that makes you want to dance. You could say that "ShhhPOW" sounds like the record Adam Levine would make if he went solo from Maroon 5.

Just a few seconds into the electrifying opening track, "Love Is A Dancefloor" you'll hear why. The beat goes on with another great track to groove and reflect on called "Fleiss", a power ballad about damaged relationships that features some of the most heartfelt vocal moments Bliss delivers. "Passerby" begins with the classic 50s rock beat that the Stray Cats revived in the 80s, and then launches into a signature Evan Bliss chorus. "Awake" is a grand ballad done in the finest Coldplay tradition, possessing a chorus that you'll be humming for days. True to its essay title, "On Love and Life", is a brutally honest meditation on relationships; combined with its breezy, "c'est la vie" atmosphere, this track is a real winner for me. A final highlight is the peppy "Parachutes and Ladders" - it is a little hard to keep up with the rapid-fire vocals on this one, but it is fun trying!

Currently they are best known on the East coast, but Evan Bliss is poised to dish out their buffet sound across the country. Bliss is a genuine vocal talent, a budding songwriter, and has recruited some top notch players. Check them out if you like Maroon 5, New Radicals, or Robbie Williams.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 11

Evan Bliss on MySpace. Official site.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Interview: Treat

Go read my interview with Treat, the legendary AOR band from Sweden. They've just released a spectacular new record called "Coup de Grace" (read our review here).

The Treat interview is here, only at Rock and Roll Report.

Review: Josh Ketchen and the 1000s "We Don't Belong Here"

One year in the making, "We Don't Belong Here" is the latest from Josh Ketchen and the 1000s. If you can imagine a mash up of Belle & Sebastian and The Beach Boys, you can come pretty close to approximating the sound of this most unusual band.

The first three tracks will make you feel like you have gone back in time to a 1950s high school dance. Other tracks sound like some of the indie pop you might have heard during the peak of "120 Minutes" on MTV. There is no real cohesive element that strings these songs together, other than the fact that Ketchen tries to sing on all of them. I say "try" because he is vocally challenged in that quirky, indie pop kind of way. Vocally - and sometimes musically - Josh Ketchen and the 1000s remind me of Aztec Camera, but Ketchen's pitch is all over the place and his tone too melancholy for some of the brighter pop written for the record. The lackluster production may be viewed as a plus by indie rockers, but it is not going to sit well for those who liked more polished pop.

For sampling purposes, I suggest you check out "Riverside", which is a pleasant number that encapsulates what Josh Ketchen and the 1000s do best. "Say So", the most instantly catchy track on the record, is even better. "The Rich Kids", the first single, is also notable - brassy, upbeat, and harboring an infectious chorus, this one is a keeper.

iPOD-worthy: 3, 6, 8

Josh Ketchen and the 1000s on MySpace. Official site.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Review: Four O'Clock Balloon "Four O'Clock Balloon"

The smart folks at Killer Music Group have "dusted off the cob-webs and spit to a shine the newly remastered Four O'Clock Balloon first release of the same title". I've not heard of Four O'Clock Balloon before, but was pleasantly surprised with this debut. The record originally surfaced back in 1997 and the band quickly gained a loyal underground fan base. I feel very lucky to have now become acquainted with this band through this reissue.

Four O'Clock Balloon features Santana band member Tommy Anthony, who seems to have repackaged all of the elements that made the classic pop of the 60s so great into a fresh new gift. Vocally he does a solid job, although he appears to struggle a bit when in his uppermost registry. No big deal, though, as he is in his comfort zone most of the time and is always supported by airy harmonies.

Four O'Clock Balloon is fab powerpop at its finest. The record opens with the muscular groove of "I Need You", a track that would be very comfortable among those found on any record by The Knack. My favorite tracks include the wonderful "Stood in the Rain", the infectious "So Long", and the snappy "More or Less". A couple other highlights include "Real" and "Ripley". I also thought the album's closer, "The Joker Laughs At You" was very good, but the effect applied to the vocal ruined it for me. The production is a bit on the lo-fi side, but the masterful songwriting really carries the day.

The band describes their music as "Liquid rainbow drops from a kaleidoscope sky". I don't believe I could say it any better. Any fan of powerpop - especially The Beatles, Enuff Z'Nuff, or Chewy Marble - should make time for Four O'Clock Balloon. Let's show the boys how much we love this lost gem in hopes of inspiring them to return to the studio to cut a new record full of powerpop goodies!

iPOD-worthy: 1, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9

Four O'Clock Balloon on MySpace. Official site.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Review: Giant "Promise Land"

I was so looking forward to the long-awaited new release from melodic rock outfit, Giant. The band consisted of the unbelievably talented Huff brothers - Dann Huff on lead vocals and guitar, and David Huff on drums. Giant released what many consider to now be a pair of classics in the genre of melodic hard rock: "Last of the Runaways" in 1989 and "Time To Burn" in 1992. We last heard from the band in 2001 with the release of "III", which was a solid effort but failed to capture the magic of the younger Giant.

These days, Dann Huff is too busy for Giant, being one of the most wanted session players and producers in the business (for good reason - the guy is amazing). So David Huff recruited Terry Brock (Strangeways, Seventh Key) to take the vocal helm for Giant's new release, "Promise Land". Additionally, John Roth (Winger) has taken over on guitars and original member Mike Brignardello still plays the bass. It should be mentioned that while he is not in the official line-up, Dann Huff did co-write several of the songs and does some guest spots on "Promise Land".

Unfortunately, "Promise Land" does not live up to its title and comes off as a mere shadow of the mighty Giant of long ago. Brock is a fine vocalist and has some stellar moments on this CD, but the distinctive vocal sound that makes Giant Giant for me is noticeably gone. Too many of the tracks just wander aimlessly for far two long, devoid of any hint of the fat grooves, catchy melodies, or stunning harmonies that fans have come to expect from a Giant record. Only a handful of tracks remotely caught my attention: "Two Worlds", "I'll Wait For You", and "Through My Eyes", which has a glimmer of the power ballad glory that gave Giant their biggest radio hit. As for the Giant I used to know and love - guess I'll see you in my dreams.

iPOD-worthy: 6, 8, 9

Giant - Official site.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Review: Stars Go Dim "Love Gone Mad"

"Love Gone Mad" was released by Tulsa pop rockers Stars Go Dim in August 2009. They've won an impressive assortment of awards so far in their early career - their song "Get Over It" won the Billboard World Song Contest and first prize in the USA Songwriting Competition, their song "Come Around" won the CMT and Nashville Songwriters Association International's 8th Annual Listener's Choice Award - just to name a few. And they've opened for Switchfoot, John Mayer, Daughtry, Billy Joel, Elton John, and more...a truly remarkable start for such a young band.

Their full-length debut radiates with bright pop and gentle rock in equal measure. As the title implies, the album explores love as it is seen from various points of view. “Even before we had and album title, I knew I wanted to write a song called ‘Love Gone Mad’,” guitarist and principal songwriter Joey Avalos revealed, “because there’s so many things that could mean". "A precursor to the ongoing narrative, which will include additional media and culminate in a book, can be found on the band’s website. The project is a tale of two young lovers with broken and guarded hearts who learn about themselves when they find the love letters of another couple from decades earlier and try to hunt down the rest of the story."

"Love Gone Mad" certainly has its strong suits. It is consistent and cohesive. The production is slick. Most notable of all, Chris Cleveland is a genuinely amazing vocalist. His warm, sparkling vocals and instinct to make a moment in every song makes even some of the more pedestrian tracks shine. The chief disappointment is the lyrical content. The lyrics are all too wholesome, simplistic, and generally unpoetic - they make Bon Jovi look like Walt Whitman. So what we have in the end is serviceable pop rock, but I struggle to see most of these tracks making a lasting impression.

Highlights include the award-winning opening track "Get Over It, the mild country-flavored "Come Around", the blue eyed soul of "Walk On", and "Incredible", in which Cleveland turns in one of his most striking vocal performances. The band has a great deal of potential, and with some stronger hooks and more compelling material, their stars will not fade.

Fans of sweet, charming pop with a bit of an edge will be all over "Love Gone Mad". Check out Stars Go Dim if you like Switchfoot, Carolina Liar, or O.A.R.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 5, 10

Stars Go Dim on MySpace. Official site.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Rare CD: Blyss "Diff's Lucky Day" (Lifehouse)

Blyss is the forerunner of Lifehouse, a.k.a. Jason Wade & his band.

"1999 Pre Release (1996 lyrics) Special Collector's Edition

Diff's Lucky Day is an EP by Blyss, the forerunner of Lifehouse. Jason Wade and his band, with Ron Aniello as producer, released their debut album in 1999 under the band name Blyss entitled Diff's Lucky Day. Originally intended for sale at concerts, or for giving to friends or potential industry contacts. This is an extremely limited-release CD & very few hard copies exist!!

Track listing:
"Cling and Clatter" (Also appeared on "No Name Face")
"Unknown" (A bit different than the version on "No Name Face")
"Fool" (This song ended up as a Lifehouse B-Side. Catchy tune!)
"Crown of Scars" (Only found on Diff's Lucky Day)
"Mudpie" (Only found on Diff's Lucky Day)
"Trying" (Very similar to the version found on "No Name Face")
"Storm" (Also appeared on "Who We Are")
"Breathing" (A bit different than the version on "No Name Face")
"Somewhere In Between" (Very similar to the version that is on "No Name Face")
"Fairy Tales and Castles" (Later re-recorded and became a B-Side on "No Name Face")
"What's Wrong With That" (Another song that ended up as a B-Side on "No Name Face")
"Revolution Cry" (Good song that was only on Diff's Lucky Day)

Sold for $400 on ebay (37 bids)

Review: Jeff Beck “Emotion And Commotion”

Guitar phenom Jeff Beck is back after a seven year absence with a new CD called “Emotion And Commotion” (coming out on Atco Records (Rhino Entertainment) on April 13). The first single, “I Put A Spell On You”, which features Joss Stone on vocals, can be heard right now at iTUNES. The Grammy-winning musician is legendary for his guitar work and has been amazing critics and fans since his early days in The Yardbirds. “Emotion And Commotion” delivers ten new tracks to feast on, from sweepingly dramatic numbers like the opening “Corpus Christi Carol” to his putting his stamp on old familiar tunes like the current single.

There is a little something for everyone on “Emotion And Commotion”, and no matter who you are or what sort of music you dig the most, there is no way Jeff Beck can leave you anything less than mesmerized by his guitar playing. Even for those who can’t really get into instrumental guitar rock, there are enough recognizable melodies scattered within these tracks to keep you engaged. Beck brings a new aching beauty to “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and a seductive draw to “I Put A Spell On You”. For long time fans thirsting for something that rocks a bit more, you won’t want to miss Beck’s new original composition, “Hammerhead”. For those looking for a mellow groove, there’s “Serene”. And for those of you yearning for more classical pieces, there's "Nessun Dorma".

Joss Stone also contributes vocals to the slinky "There's No Other Me", while Imelda May lends her gracious pipes to "Lilac Wine" and Olivia Safe adds some haunting touches to "Elegy For Dunkirk" (from the film ‘Atonement’). Beck recorded with a 64-piece orchestra on several of these songs, making you feel like you are in the movies when you play the record – there is a strong theatrical presence on “Emotion And Commotion” that will leave you with goosebumps.

Jeff Beck - official site.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

News: Lifehouse - L.A. Flyaway Sweepstakes

Lifehouse is participating in a LA Flyaway Sweepstakes where you can win 2 tickets to their concert at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on May 3rd, as well as hotel and airfare. Enter the contest by April 19th at 12PM EST to win!

Click here for the Lifehouse sweepstakes