Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Review: Bowling For Soup “Fishin’ For Woos”

Pop rock/punk
Although they formed as early as 1994, the novelty pop punk band Bowling For Soup didn’t strike it big until nearly a decade later with their commercial breakthrough “A Hangover You Don't Deserve”. Driven by the smash single “1985”, Bowling For Soup made a big splash. The band has released a few more moderately successful records, and they’ve appeared on tons of soundtracks, but a follow up hit as big as “1985” has been elusive.

With their latest, “Fishin’ For Woos”, the band steps back up to bat as if “1985” just happened. With all the energy and tongue-in-cheek humor that fans love, Bowling For Soup’s 11th studio album is a winner. You may have already heard the first single, a signature party anthem called “S-S-S-Saturday”, which was incidentally used at the Professional Bowling Association's Tournament of Champions. It’s clear that this band is not about making bold statements or providing intellectual fodder to contemplate - this is not why someone puts on a Bowling For Soup record. “Fishin’ For Woos” is a feel good record for the times you want to laugh, party, blow off work, or just hear some remarkably good ear candy. Although, there is some wisdom buried within their wit on tracks like “Let’s Pretend We’re Not In Love”. The guys also take legitimate stabs at power ballads with the sweeping “Turbulence” and “What About Us” (but fans don’t panic…they quickly follow this up with “Here’s Your Freakin’ Song”).

The record has no shortage of highlights if you’re aiming to fill a feel-good playlist. In addition to those tracks mentioned above, be sure to check out “This Ain’t My Day”, “Smiley Face (It’s All Good)”, and the Toad The Wet Sprocket sounding “Guard My Heart”.

The band is indeed “Fishin’ For Woos”, but they’ve brought a tackle box full of melodic bait and sharp hooks. In my book, this one rivals “A Hangover You Don't Deserve” and will hopefully generate a few more deserved hits for the band. Check them out if you like Simple Plan, American Hi-Fi, or SR-71.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 11

Bowling For SoupOfficial site.

Listen to S-S-S-Saturday:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Odds and Ends

Each week I use this space to post some mini-reviews, cool tracks, random thoughts, neat news, or whatever else I damn well please.

Meekos & Me “Anxious Little Turtles” – Meekos & Me is a duo based in L.A.: Joey Colando on vocals and guitar and Danny Grab on cello. Their debut, “Anxious Little Turtles”, due June 21, features 14 mellow tracks best suited for rainy day listening. There are some truly inspired moments where the gentle folk melodies mesh beautifully with the strings, but for the most part this is a mood record. While the music is well played and nicely recorded, the hooks are too few and far between to hold my interest. If sleepy coffeehouse music is your thing, check out the track “Animals In My Room” for a taste. More info on the band can be found here.

Surprise of the week
Paul McCartney is planning to make a “heavy rock album” – and he’s asked Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) for tips on how to go about it. Read all about it here. A heavy rock album from the man who brought us Silly Love Songs? Maybe we’ll be amazed…I’m looking forward to this one!

Def Leppard says “We would like to work again with Mutt”. Mutt Lange, that is. The famed producer who helped craft “High ‘N’ Dry”, “Pyromania”, and “Hysteria”. C’mon guys…let’s make this happen! Read the full interview with Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott here.

REO Speedwagon is releasing a special 30th Anniversary Edition of their smash 1980 record “Hi Fidelity” on July 19. It will contain a second CD with 9 previously unreleased goodies.
Disc One – Selections: 1. Don't Let Him Go 2. Keep On Loving You 3. Follow My Heart 4. In Your Letter 5. Take It On The Run 6. Tough Guys 7. Out Of Season 8. Shakin' It Loose 9. Someone Tonight 10. I Wish You Were There.
Disc Two: The Crystal Demos – Selections: 1. Someone Tonight 2. Tough Guys 3. In Your Letter 4. Follow My Heart 5. Take It On The Run 6. Don't Let Him Go 7. Keep On Loving You 8. Shakin' It Loose (Instrumental) 9. I Wish You Were There. (All tracks previously unreleased.)
Read the full story here.

Ingram Hill’s 2010 album, “Look Your Best” was my pick for best of 2010. They have an acoustic set coming out on June 21 called “Blue Room Afternoon” (only on iTUNES). Read more about it here.

Random iPOD song of the week
This week my iPOD reminded me what a gorgeous and moving song Lillian Axe created when they wrote “The Day That I Met You”. Off their excellent “Psychoschizophrenia” album from 1993.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Review: The Rationales “The Distance In-between”

Power pop/rock
Boston-based pop rock outfit The Rationales are poised to impress their brand of music on you with their latest, “The Distance In-between”. Following 2008’s EP, “The Going and the Gone”, “The Distance In-between" represents a significant step forward into territory singer-guitarist David Mirabella knows well – a land populated with sharp hooks, groovy harmonies, smart lyrics, and uplifting melodies.

It is really difficult to identify the cream of the crop on this record as so many of the songs contain moments worth talking about. But at the end of the day, the tunes I wanted to go back to immediately including the simmering opener, “Real Life”, the breezy “Burned Again”, and Tom Petty-flavored “Slower-Faster”. Most of you will probably be able to spot the distinctive vocals of Bill Janovitz (Buffalo Tom) punching up “Another Moon”. I actually found “The Distance In-between” to be one of those records that gets better towards the end. Most bands stack their best right up front, but in my opinion this record starts off reasonably good then gets great. Case in point: the gritty and inspiring “Still We Believe” is a fantastic example of how much heart goes into their music.

“The Distance In-between” is a quantum leap forward for The Rationales – a terrifically cohesive record that is sure to please fans of pop rock that have a closet fetish for a pinch of alt-country. Should you check out this band? To not do so would be…illogical.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9

The RationalesOfficial site.

Listen to “Still We Believe”

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Odds and Ends

Each week I use this space to post some mini-reviews, cool tracks, random thoughts, neat news, or whatever else I damn well please.

28 Days of Joy “Are We Ghosts” EP (2011) – A neat little EP of sweeping pop and light rock from Rob Bowden, who is 28 Days of Joy. The four songs gracing this EP constitute a “manifesto on the nature of love and being in the 21st Century. Key track here is “Broken Bones”, a wonderful piece that slowly builds to a rewarding climax. “Bruising” was co-written with Matt Hales for you fans of Aqualung. Check it out if you like Snow Patrol or Coldplay.

Free album download
L.A. indie band Lowlight have released their full-length album, “A Wonderful Lie” completely FREE for music fans. Its atmospheric pop with a bit of country twang scattered here and there. Their music is off the beaten path and not always palatable, but clearly original and inventive.
Free album download here.
Check out their award winning music video here.
Band website: ilovelowlight.com

Surprise of the week
John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics for The Beatles’ 1967 song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” have been sold at auction for more than $237,000 in Los Angeles, according to Spinner.com.

Queensryche mark their 30th anniversary with the release their 12th studio album, “Dedicated To Chaos,” on June 28. "It's kind of like an 'Empire' record set 25 years in the future,” singer Geoff Tate recently told Paul Anthony of U.K.’s Rock Radio. “It's a very listenable record, I think. (read full story here).

Listenable? That is the best adjective you can come up with to describe your new album?! I have my fingers crossed, Mr. Tate, because mostly everything since “Empire” has been pretty unlistenable (save some tracks off “Hear In The Now Frontier”.

By the way, did you ever wonder how Queensryche got their name? Read about it here.

Random iPOD song of the weekPoison “Until You Suffer Some (Fire and Ice)” off their under-appreciated “Native Tongue” album. Features lots of Bobby blowing smoke and some terrific harmonies.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Review: Sixx A.M. “This Is Gonna Hurt”

Modern rock
Sixx A.M. is the moniker for a side project of the infamous Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx. Rounded out by James Michael and Dj Ashba, this hard-hitting trio made quite the impression with 2007’s “The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack”, based on the Sixx’s bestselling book. Building off this success, thanks in no small part to the rock album hit “Life Is Beautiful”, the boys are back with a sequel of sorts. The music on their sophomore release is the soundtrack to a new book by Sixx called “This Is Gonna Hurt: Music, Photography and Life Through the Distorted Lens of Nikki Sixx”.

“This Is Gonna Hurt” is a modern rock extravaganza. Sixx A.M. blazes through your speakers with all the vigor of a young band starving for success – the energy is absolutely contagious. This is one powerhouse of a record that is going to hurt your mother’s ears like any rock record worth its salt should. Things kick off with the title track, a blistering modern rocker that introduces some dark, near-Goth elements among the slick melodic riffs. First single, “Lies Of The Beautiful People” features a hugely addictive chorus that rises like a Phoenix from the industrial verses. “Are You With Me Now” is even more commercial, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why this isn’t all over radio. “Live Forever” is another cool track, made remarkable thanks to its interesting chord changes and irresistible riffage in the verses. The stomping verses of “Deadlihood” march their way right into another arena-ready chorus. As if things couldn’t get better, along comes the infectious rhythm of “Help Is On The Way”. And is just me, or does “Goodbye My Friends” sound like Radiohead reborn as a rock band once again?

If there’s anything that doesn’t work well it’s the ballads – the sappiness in the lyrics just sticks out like a severed thumb. “Sure Feels Right” is tolerable, but avoid “Smile”. But don’t let these minor diversions deter you from this record.

There is no reason in the world why Sixx A.M. shouldn’t be right up there with Shinedown or Three Days Grace in the pantheon of modern rock gods. Sixx A.M. is easily the best side project from any member of Motley Crue.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10

Sixx A.M.Official site.

Listen to “Lies Of The Beautiful People”

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Interview: Kasey Anderson

Kasey Anderson and his band (The Honkies) recently released their new album, “Heart Of A Dog” (see review here). Kasey Anderson was kind enough to sit down and answer some of our questions. In the interview, he discussed how the band came together, the perils of labeling an artist, and how failures in math led him to a career in music.

Bill: So Kasey Anderson and The Honkies is made up of some stellar talents…you got members who worked with the Presidents of the United States of America, The Long Winters, Posies, and more. How did fate put you guys together into a band?

Kasey: It wasn’t fate, it was Andrew McKeag. Andrew was the first person I reached out to when I knew I wanted to make a record that couldn’t be described as “twangy.” Andrew has been one of my favorite guitar players in the world for the last fifteen years, so, once I knew I wanted to make a real, live, Rock ‘n’ Roll record, that phone call was a pretty easy decision. When we talked about putting a band together, he said he had “some ideas.” He called Muzz [Mike Musburger, drums] and Eric [Corson, bass], and that was that. About a month after the record came out, we roped Ty [Bailie, keys] in. I spend a lot of time at rehearsals laying back and watching those four guys play together; it never gets old.

Bill: You’ve mentioned that your latest record, “Heart Of A Dog”, was written as a straight-up rock and roll record. What do you have against the label “roots rock”?

Kasey: It is an incredibly restrictive and reductive label, and it’s not really a label I’ve ever been comfortable with, no matter how my records sound. Any time you label an artist, you’re limiting their audience and limiting your own perception of what they can and should do. I don’t find there to be anything especially appealing about that equation.

Bill: Tell us a little about your songwriting process and what types of things provide you with inspiration.

Kasey: Inspiration is everywhere. Newspapers, films, overheard conversations, life, whatever. I’ve found that I write more when my life is, for better or worse, in a state of upheaval, as is currently the case. So for me, there’s an element of either escapism or catharsis to the process, a lot of the time. I’m trying to stay away from writing autobiographically, because I already made that record [Nowhere Nights] and it took too much out of me to write, record, and tour behind it. It ended up being two-and-a-half years of staring at myself in the mirror without blinking, and I’m not sure that’s healthy. It certainly wasn’t healthy for me. I’m not sure what this next record will be, but what’s coming out right now is fiction. It seems like, with my records, there’s always at least one love song and at least one kiss-off song so I’m sure that stuff will find its way in eventually, too.

Bill: Have your tastes in music changed over the years? What sort of styles led to your sound?

Kasey: My taste in music hasn’t really changed that much since I was 11 or 12. My parents had a great record collection and most of what I gravitate towards was informed by that. What has changed over the years is my understanding of the music I like. My parents had Blonde on Blonde but they didn’t have Street Legal, so when I found that, it was like opening up a new door but knowing that my folks had unlocked it for me. I suppose the exception to that is hip-hop. My folks don’t own any Mos Def records, y’know? But they probably would. I bet they’d buy a Mos Def record if they heard it. I oughta test that theory.

Bill: Was there a single episode in your life when it dawned on you that making music was what you had to do?

Kasey: Every failed math exam and lost service industry job made it exceptionally clear to me that I’m not good at anything else. I’m not sure there was one “lightning strikes” moment. Once I started playing guitar, I arrived pretty quickly at the conclusion that it was the one thing I loved more than anything else. From there, it was just a matter of figuring out whether I was a good enough writer to do this, and that took a while to figure out. On the rare occasion I go back and listen to those first couple of records, it is very clear that I was just a kid trying to figure out how to write, while tape was rolling.

Bill: What is your take on the music business today? Do you think major labels are walking in the footsteps of dinosaurs? In your mind, is that a good or bad thing?

Kasey: I think instead of complaining about how the “machine is broken,” artists should make themselves aware of the ways in which the playing field has been leveled, and work to take advantage of them. Money is much tighter, but advertising budgets don’t buy what they used to. I’m pretty tired of hearing people bitch about “the system.”

Bill: What is the craziest moment you’ve had on tour so far?

Kasey: I’m not sure those are fit to print. I think most of the “crazy moments” are pretty run-of-the-mill stuff for any band. We’re not snorting lines of ants or setting hotel rooms on fire. I’d love to tell you some story about my band cutting a drug-addled swath of destruction across North America but, we’re not that band. After the gig, we hang out and watch CNN, and fall asleep. I don’t have the energy for the other shit anymore.

Bill: What band or artist would you most like to tour with?

Kasey: You Am I.

Bill: What can fans expect in the near and distant future from Kasey Anderson and the Honkies?

Kasey: We’ll tour in fits and starts throughout the summer, and probably make a record in the fall. From there, I’m not sure. It’ll be a long time before I make another solo record, though, I can tell you that much. This band is way too good, and way too much fun, for me to walk away from.

Bill: Now, just for fun, let us know the first thoughts that come to mind when you hear the following:

Steven Tyler on American Idol:
Kasey: Shoulda been David Lee Roth.

President Obama’s birth certificate:
Kasey: It is disgraceful to me as an American that our president was put in a position where he felt it necessary to produce proof of his citizenship.

Charlie Sheen:
Kasey: Who?

The GOP:
Kasey: Greedy Old Protestants. Gang-raping Oppressed People.

Steve Jobs:
Kasey: I use Apple products but I don’t think a lot about Jobs. I hope he’s able to recover from his disease, though.

Kasey: It has always seemed like a pretty good idea but lately, I’m not so sure. I know people who put the effort into making it work, and I admire them a great deal. It’s a hard thing to say but, after my last couple of relationships, I’m not positive that I’m in a place where it makes sense for me to think about that. Odd way to end an interview, but there it is.

Bill: On behalf of BMF, thanks again for your time and best of luck with the new release!

Kasey Anderson - Official site - Facebook - Twitter

Catch Kasey Anderson and The Honkies on tour!

May 19 – San Francisco, CA | Great American Music Hall (with The Knitters)
May 20 – Petaluma, CA | Mystic Theatre (with The Knitters)
June 11 – Seattle, WA | Tractor Tavern (with Lazy Susan)
June 18 – Seattle, WA | King Cat Theater (with Soul Asylum)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

By Kurt Torster

Feel “Feel” (2002)

There are some albums that you just know from the very first crashing riff that it’s going to be something special.

Formed from the ashes of cult power pop bands Wanderlust and Bachelor #1, Feel was just one of those bands that, for a fleeting moment in time, released one of the most perfect power pop albums ever laid down. Not a note wasted, not a melody out of place. It’s crunchy when it needs to be, jangles otherwise and knows how to pace itself with the occasional introspection. It’s like the Foo Fighters decided to be as pop as they could be and enlisted the help of Paul McCartney circa “Band On The Run.”

What could have been a cross genre smash album sadly amounted to very little. Songs like the blistering “Won’t Stand In Your Way” and “Until They Close The World” could have ruled summer rock radio and beyond, while the more laid back “Under The Radar” and “Girl In A Raincoat” are the kinds of songs that these days are all over country radio. Throw in the sure-fire yet not quite hit “I Am The Summertime” and you’re left with an album that demanded repeat play.

I know Feel released a few more miscellaneous albums, EPs and tracks over the years and while all are pretty good, nothing came close to matching the punch and power of this set. Leader Scot Sax also wrote some songs for Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, but beyond that I know very little of what the band is up to lately. Shame really, because the staleness of the power pop scene could use a little kick in the ass right about now.

Scot Sax is now recording again with Wanderlust – throw them a bone to get it done at http://www.feedthemuse.net/wanderlust

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Review: Jesse Young “Live Love Learn” [EP]

Jesse Young is a singer/songwriter from Coconut Creek, Florida. In only a few years he has accomplished a great deal, including sharing stages with Jason Mraz, O.A.R., Fall out Boy, and the Steve Miller Band, among others, winning an online battle of the bands competition, beating out more than fifty bands to win the South Florida Band Challenge, and becoming one of six finalists selected out of more than 200 Florida artists to showcase for the Recording Academy at the 2006 Florida Grammy Showcase. Most recently, Jesse worked with Grammy Award-winning producer Zach Ziskin to record his newest EP, “Live. Love. Learn.”, an album fully-funded by fans via Kickstarter.com.

The EP consists of four songs that put the spotlight on the great potential this singer/songwriter holds. Each is meticulously crafted and bursts with energy…radiating sunshine into the room from your speakers. From the opening blasts of the horn-laced “Every Step We Take” to the driving surge felt in the sax-enhanced closer “Shattered”, these four tracks are pop rock heaven. In-between, “Live. Love. Learn.” continues to please with a mid-tempo number called “If You Go”, which is arguably the most commercial in the bunch. Hitting all the right melodic buttons, “If You Go” should be all over contemporary radio. There’s also one ballad – a pretty duet called “Running”. Kickstarters…this was money very well spent!

Check out Jesse Young if you like Ingram Hill, Graham Colton, or O.A.R. Keep your eye on this guy – he should be a household name soon if there is any justice in the musical world.

Jesse Young on MySpace. Official site.

Check out a live acoustic version of “Shattered”:

Monday, May 16, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

DANGEROUS TOYS "Dangerous Toys" (1989)

Hailing from Texas, the tale of Dangerous Toys begins in 1981 when Scott Dalhover, Mike Watson, and Tim Trembley formed Onyxx. In 1987, Trembley recruited Jason McMaster from Watchtower to become their singer and changed their name to Dangerous Toys. The new band landed a deal with CBS to release their debut in 1989. Ironically, Trembley eventually left the band, to be replaced by Danny Aaron. This album was well-received and certified Gold in the USA.

The music of Dangerous Toys fell into the sleaze glam category - they played a mean stab of animalistic hard rock like dynamite ready to explode - this is the type of music your mama will hate. The first single, "Teas'n and Pleas'n", is a good starter and it gets better with "Scared", a groovy song with catchy chorus. My other favorites here are "Take Me Drunk", "Outlaw", and the peak of the album, "Queen of The Nile", probably the most commercial composition featuring a shaky, stomping chorus.

Jason McMaster's vocals remind me of Axl Rose a bit and the band plays quite tight here. Even though Dalhover and the rest of the gang ain't virtuosos, they made a great record and this is an exciting album if you want to just go crazy and have a couple of drinks on your Friday night.

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Odds and Ends

Each week I use this space to post some mini-reviews, cool tracks, random thoughts, neat news, or whatever else I damn well please.

Looks like I am not the only one disappointed with the new one from The Cars. See more reviews here.

Review: Raining Jane “Paper Nest” EP (2008)
Raining Jane is comprised of four women creating high quality organic folk pop. Exquisite songwriting, vivid imagery, and harmonies that remind me of what the Bangles might have sounded like if they were folkier. Check them out if you like Dar Williams, Melissa Etheridge, or Sarah McLachlan. They are working on their next record in the midst of collaborating with Jason Mraz and opening for Sara Bareilles.

Surprise of the week:
The latest from Sixx A.M. is killer – one of the best modern hard rock records so far this year. Full review coming soon.

Can’t miss this:
Goo Goo Dolls John Rzeznik performs with Daryl Hall on the latest installment of “Live From Daryl’s House”. Check out the news here.

Live Whitesnake double-album and DVD package coming June 7
CD1 : Slip Of The Tongue; Slide It In; Judgement Day; Slow An Easy; Kitten’s Got Claws; Adagio For Strato; Flying Dutchman Boogie; Is This Love; Cheap An’ Nasty; Crying In The Rain (featuring Tommy Aldridge Drum Solo).
CD2: Fool For Your Loving; For The Love Of God; The Audience Is Listening; Here I Go Again
Bad Boys; Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City; Still Of The Night.
DVD: Slip Of The Tongue; Slide It In; Judgement Day; Slow An Easy; Kitten’s Got Claws; Adagio For Strato; Flying Dutchman Boogie; Is This Love; Cheap An’ Nasty; Crying In The Rain (Featuring Tommy Aldridge Drum Solo); Fool For Your Loving; For The Love Of God; The Audience Is Listening; Here I Go Again; Bad Boys; Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City; Still Of The Night.

Random iPOD song of the week:
Slaughter “Street of Broken Hearts” from their sophomore release “The Wild Life”

Friday, May 13, 2011

Review: Still Spark “Still Spark”

Rock/Pop rock
Still Spark is a duo comprised of 90s alternative rocker Seth Freeman (of Boston’s Little John) and aerospace engineer-turned songwriter Dan O’Leary. The pair site musical influences as diverse as Van Morrison and Bob Dylan to Weezer and Nirvana. What comes out is a post-grunge pop rock sound characteristic of the late 90s. Freeman sums up the band’s philosophy as, “The meaning of Still Spark is about being okay with wherever we are, as long as we got there following our inspiration”.

The guys started the project with a Kickstarter campaign that was so successful that they were able to attract big name producers and players. The record was produced by Kay Hanley (Letters To Cleo) and Chris Zerby (Helicopter Helicopter, Hello Dragon), and features performances from musicians who’ve played with Our Lady Peace, Melissa Etheridge, Five For Fighting, and other luminaries best known for their 90s work.

The result is basically a modern sounding, guitar-driven record rooted in the late 90s sound. Vocals are reminiscent of Robbie Williams. One of the strong suits on the record is their use of lush harmonies and backing vocals, which are strategically placed in almost every song. They know some girls with excellent voices! While most songs are catchy enough as is, these sorts of additions take them to the next level and help the band stand out from the crowd. Highlights worth checking out include “Love Comes Calling”, “The Way I Am”, and “Best Times”. “The Limelight” is the standout ballad for me – it contains a good story wrapped in a nice chorus hook that grows on you quick. But honestly, you have to almost force yourself not to like something on this record – it is a great listen from beginning to end.

Check out Still Spark if you are a fan of Gin Blossoms, Five For Fighting, or The Rembrandts. The record is out now.

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

Still Spark on MySpace. Official site.

Listen to “The Way I Am”

Blogger Problems

For those of you not aware, Blogger is having issues. Should be restored soon.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Review: Jerzey Street Band “Jerzey Street Band” [EP]

It is understandable why you might think this band is from New Jersey, but they’re actually from the other side of the pond: Manchester, England. However, the band members were raised on the soulful American sounds of the Counting Crows, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. Jerzey Street Band (JSB) manage to tightly pack all of these influences into the five songs gracing their self-titled EP out this May.

Formed by JSB front-man Dave Wrobel, the band characterizes their sound as a “freight train rock band…an Americana band with one eye firmly fixed on an ambitious wide-screen future and one eye on a glorious historical musical heritage.” And there is more of a connection to Jersey than being influenced by The Boss. The band’s 7-piece line up supported the likes of New Jersey legends Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, Alabama 3, Sandi Thom and Jon Allen before recording this EP at the start of 2009.

These five tunes show superior craftsmanship in both structure and delivery, with thought-provoking lyrics and tuneful melodies. The vocals and musical style straddle the more melodic side of early Wilco with the grit of Son Volt. The first single, “Wasting Time” is an atypically sparse acoustic number that sounds more like a demo and doesn’t grab me as immediately as the sizzling rocker “Cold Feet” or mesmerizing ballad “Give The Rivers Back To The Rain”. “Rebels” is another highlight – an upbeat rocker infused with harmonica and harmonies that leave a lasting impression.

Jerzey Street Band on MySpace.

Listen to “Cold Feet”

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

By Kurt Torster

Strangeways “Native Sons” (1987)

1987 - It was about this time in my life when I had two habits that were both essential to my life and ultimately, ridiculously expensive. First, my weekly fix of heading into the city (New York City that is) and haunting a dozen or so record stores where a $20 bill would let you walk out with about 19 brand new albums, all *cough cough* promo - not for sale *cough cough*. Secondly, my bi-weekly fix of reading what was then my musical bible, Kerrang! magazine. These two combined led me to amass close to 2000 albums over a very short period of time, most of which are those gems that have become AOR cult classics that outside of a small circle, very few even know exist.

Leading the way as a diamond in a very large rough is “Native Sons” by Strangeways. Headed by session vocalist Terry Brock, this is about as close to a Journey album as one can get without Perry, Schon and Cain performing it. Brock’s soaring vocals on a song like the mid-tempo never was hit “Only A Fool” only cement this fact and put him in a pretty small group of singers that to my ears can do no wrong.

But it’s all about the songs here, which still deliver almost 25 years on. Whether you’re looking to scratch that arena rock itch (with the driving “Where Do We Go From Here” or “Empty Streets”) or romanticize in the bombast of sentiment (the exceptionally written “Goodnight LA” or “Shake The Seven”), you’ll find it on what is a canvas of melodic perfection.

Research this one and you will find glowing reviews and high placings on almost every “best melodic rock” list around, including a #4 showing on Kerrang!’s all important fan voted best AOR of all time. All too often albums in this genre are tagged as “essential,” this is one of the times it’s every bit deserved.

The band would go on to record another exceptional album with Terry Brock, “Walk In The Fire,” before attempting one without him and calling it a day...until last year when they reunited for the Eagles-sounding “Perfect World.” Brock in the meantime has recorded a few solid solo albums as well as handling lead vocals on the last album from Giant.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Review: The Cars “Move Like This”

Rock/Power pop
Who would have thought we’d be treated to a new record from The Cars in 2011? Fans have waited a long, long time for new material from the champions of new wave power pop. Just how long have they waited? The last studio album from the Cars was “Door To Door”, released in 1987.

The new album has been percolating since 2009 as singer/songwriter Ric Ocasek contemplated what to do with his latest batch of songs - those crafted since his 2005 solo outing entitled “Nexterday”. Ocasek soon realized that his best option was the three players with whom he had the most symbiotic relationship. “I just thought, it’s been a long time since I played with these guys,” Ocasek says, “but they’re the ones that will do the best job. They’re the ones that I wouldn’t have to explain things to, they wouldn’t have to get used to the way I write, they’re already inundated with all that. I’ll just put out a feeler and see if they’d be interested in doing it.” He reached out to Greg Hawkes, Elliot Easton, and David Robinson, each of whom were excited at the opportunity to play together again. “It totally clicked immediately,” Ocasek says. “Everybody got right into it as if we had never stopped playing. After two days I thought, ‘Oh yeah, this is going to be cool.’”

It is easy to have lofty expectations and think the band might deliver another iconic release like their 1978 self-titled debut or the 1984 blockbuster “Heartbeat City”. You can’t go into “Move Like This” with that attitude or you’re going to be deeply disappointed. The record immediately projects the classic Cars sound, with that trademark quirky keyboard out in front of the riffing guitars, but you’ll soon realize that those big fat 80s hooks that permeated the choruses of the monster hits simply aren’t there. And that is a shame. While the record is a good listen that mixes nostalgia with a contemporary edge, I’m not finding myself wanting to sing along with a lot of these tracks.

Some of the new songs, such as “Blue Tip” and “Sad Song” (the first and second singles, respectively) provide examples of The Cars forging new lyrically territory, taking on topics such as multimedia conglomerations and how they influence our perceptions and opinions. These songs also best capture the signature Cars sound – they could almost have been included on their late 70s albums. “Too Late” is another pleasant and peppy track that comes close to the excellence we know these guys are capable of. “Keep On Knocking” is one of the heaviest tunes the Cars has recorded – the riffs are meaty, but the song doesn’t really go anywhere special. “Soon” is the first ballad on the record, a gentle albeit sleepy tune that lacks the charm of predecessors like “Drive”. “Drag On Forever” injects a little bluesy feel into the record, but the title says it all – the song is only 3:38, but just creeps along like a car with flat tires. “Take Another Look” is the second ballad – superior to “Soon” - but still sounding like a throwaway track pawned off to an 80s movie soundtrack.

The new record is an intriguing addition to the band’s discography, but unfortunately I don’t see it denting the charts. It is a grower that should satisfy most die-hard Cars fans, but most others are going to think the band is just spinning their wheels on this one. “Move Like This” comes out today.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 5

The Carsofficial site.

Check out the video for “Sad Song”

Monday, May 9, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

RATT "Out Of The Cellar" (1984)

From the frantic prowling of "Wanted Man" to the blasting celebration of "Round and Round", Ratt epitomized the glam metal breakthrough in 1984. The twin guitar attack of DeMartini-Crosby and the slutty sleazy voice of Pearcy established a new genre called Ratt n' Roll. "Lack of Communication" has their trademark dirty rhythm and "Back For More" is so freakishly addictive, you’ll want to keep coming back for another listen. Other worthy tracks that were estranged and buried six feet under are "The Morning After", "She Wants Money", and "Scene of The Crime".

Going triple platinum is not an easy task but they sealed it - and thankfully they went big and positioned many newer bands…otherwise glam wouldn’t have lasted that long. Seeing Crosby's long time girlfriend Tawny Kitaen crawling in her lusty torn lingerie actually made it easier to spot this record in the local store. A truly influential album that you have to buy and listen to before you die!

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Review: Carus Thompson “Caravan”

The new album by Carus Thompson “speaks of his time on the road split over two Continents”. “Caravan” was recorded between studios in England, Germany, and his native Australia, and it is sure to add to the 30,000 CDs he’s sold independently so far. Despite being recorded in so many different locations, it is amazing how cohesive “Caravan” sounds.

As a struggling independent musician, Thompson is always feeling the heat of being up against the wall. This “do or die” philosophy permeates his music, providing the backdrop for many of the stories he tells in song. “Caravan” sparkles with clean and crisp acoustic guitars, and emotive strings placed in all the right places. His vivid lyrical imagery is also a cut above the rest. Thompson would appear to feel most comfortable around a campfire singing his ballads, but what I am drawn to the most on “Caravan” are the handful of upbeat numbers. Thompson’s melodic hooks have sharper teeth when the pace picks up, most notably on tracks like “You Can’t Find Me” and “You Made Me”.

This is not to discourage anyone from losing themselves in his slower material. “Imperfect Circle”, with its breezy mandolin juxtaposed against gritty lead guitar, and “Whistleblower”, with its gorgeous string accompaniment, are two prime examples of his gift for balladry. It is just my personal bias to gravitate to the peppier stuff.

Very much aligned with the likes of Damien Rice, Jack Johnson, and Neil Finn, Carus Thompson is clearly worth adding to your coffeehouse music playlist. Thompson is the real deal.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 4, 5, 12

Carus Thompson on MySpace. Official site.

Check out the video for “You Can’t Find Me”

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Review: Skyler “Take You Away” [EP]

Pop rock
There are a whole lot of people – especially musicians - who would scoff at the idea that they could learn something from a 19 year old “kid”. But Maine’s pop rock sensation, Skyler, could really take them to school. Since third grade, Skyler has been working to make his musical dreams come true. By sixth grade he was a multi-instrumentalist, and just one year later had converted his bedroom into a recording studio. By ninth grade, he released his debut full-length album, followed by four more prior to graduation. He’s played 250 gigs to date and even found time to excel at Berklee College of Music for a year.

His latest EP, “Take You Away”, which arrived this April, is poised to catapult this young man into superstardom. With a voice and vibe that just makes you feel fuzzy and warm all over, Skyler is the tonic for troubled times. The EP begins with the shimmering “Empty Rooms”, a nifty little anthem that impresses with a memorable chorus and lyrics that demonstrate Skyler can write to universal appeal despite his young age. The mood grows sober with the acoustic picking at the beginning of “Hold On (Pray)”, but this song of encouragement swells with lucidity by the time the sparkling chorus rolls around. With uplifting strings and an infectious backbeat, the title track – quite the serenade - is guaranteed to win over the heart of any girl. The proper ballad is “It Kills Me”, complete with dazzling backing vocals during the guitar solo, which comes straight out of the 80s power ballad songbook. The party ends too soon with “Sentimental”, a worthy upbeat closer with breezy verses sandwiching yet another catchy chorus.

Skyler’s music is modern pop rock at its best – “Take You Away” will appeal to fans of Ryan Cabrera (whom he’s opened for), Lifehouse, and Michelle Branch.

Skyler on MySpace. Official site.

Listen to “Empty Rooms”

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

By Kurt Torster

Loud & Clear “Disc-Connected” (2002)

In the early 2000’s, for a genre as dead as melodic rock (or AOR, hard rock or whatever else you want to call it), there were a fair amount of great albums released then that no one, save a small yet devoted following, would ever know about. A lot of them would find homes on many of the various European specialty labels at the time, and seemingly the cream of the crop was German house MTM. To go it one further, the cream of the MTM crop was this release from Loud & Clear.

The trio, hard rock at their core, took many cues from the sounds of the day and released an album vibrant, fresh and ultimately ignored. Using Van Halen like riffs, Def Leppard shout along bombast and boy band pop melodies, the album has a very familiar feeling from first listen. Yet, its repeated listens where gems like “Fly Away,” “Time To Let Go” and “Lovers In The Night” really begin to shine as the hits that could, nay should have been. This is all compounded by the fact that the boys can play and sing with the best of them.

With anthems like “Tell Me Why” or “When I Feel Like That” it’s so easy to reach for the volume knob and push it past any sort of healthy levels, especially when the weather is warm and sunny.

Sometimes when I sit back and think about the disc I am listening to for this column, it just boggles the mind that most are 10 years or older. As time has progressed, technology has gotten more and more in the way, yet here was a release that used it to its advantage. Some synths here, some purposeful auto-tune there and it still sounds contemporary and special.

Amazingly, this band seemed to be nothing more than a hobby as lead singer Jess Harnell has a nice day job as one of the premier voices for animation, television and film (including key parts in Animaniacs, America’s Funniest Home Videos and the Transformer movies). Lead guitarist Chuck Duran is also big in the voice over department while drummer Alex Track is a well known audio engineer, winning a Grammy in 2006 for his work.

Together, the band continues as hard rock mash up specialists Rock Sugar, who released a rather wicked covers disc “Re-Imaginator” in 2010 and tours incessantly to packed houses wherever they play.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Review: The Poodles “Performocracy”

Hard rock/AOR
The Poodles are a hard rock band from Sweden pumping out vintage 80s AOR covered in a modern sheen. The band has achieved some notable accomplishments in their home land since forming in 2005 and even wrote the Official Swedish Theme Song for the Olympic Games in Beijing 2008.

Despite the band’s ridiculous name, The Poodles have bite. Sonically the CD sounds terrific – these guys have taken the glam rock influences they’ve grown up with and infused them with modern guitar tones, so the songs sound less dated. Unfortunately, what they don’t have in abundance are memorable hooks, and sometimes the lead vocals go up into a range that only dogs should be able to hear. I found my mind wandering far too often and had to force myself to pay attention to many of these songs. Some of the exceptions include rockers like “Cuts Like A Knife” and “Bring Back The Night”, and the power ballad “I Believe In You”. I also really enjoyed “Father To A Son”, which is lyrically a cut above the rest and also features a kicking chorus.

The Poodles are not ‘Best In Show’, but some tracks will make you sit at attention. Others will make you roll over and play dead. Throw them a bone if you’re a fan of Motley Crue, Dokken, or Hinder. “Performocracy” arrives May 3 on Frontiers Records.

iPOD-worthy: 3, 4, 5, 10

The Poodles on MySpace. Official site.

Check out the video for “I Want It All”

Review: Black ‘N Blue “Hell Yeah”

Hard rock
D-list 80s rockers Black ‘N Blue have become a bit of an underground favorite and on May 13 we’ll see their first new album since 1988 arrive on Frontiers Records. Entitled “Hell Yeah”, the record strives to exude the party time atmosphere that summed up 80s melodic rock. The band’s biggest “hit” was “Miss Mystery”, a hugely catchy lost gem in AOR circles. Lead singer Jaime St James (who also fronted Warrant after Jani Lane) reunited the group several years ago to finish material for the long shelved “Hell Yeah”.

“Hell Yeah” doesn’t have anything that matches their favorites from the past. The band has done an admirable job updating their sound, but they left their melodic hooks behind. The album is a failure because there are simply no memorable choruses, even more forgettable verses, limp solo work, and cringe worthy sleaze lyrics. It is a shame these guys could not recapture the magic that produced “Miss Mystery”. Only two tracks come close – the energetic single “Target” and the melodic “So Long”.

But all things considered, “Hell Yeah” should have just been named “Hell”.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 8

Black ‘N BlueMySpace.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

COLD SWEAT "Break Out" (1990)

Cold Sweat was a major surprise to me when I first heard them years ago. Their only album, "Break Out" was released in 1990, a year when so many average bands were competing in the market. Fortunately, Marc Ferrari and the gang put out an extraordinary, classy album. Almost everything here deserves applause, from the gritty superior voice of Rory Cathey, the mind-boggling song composition, the killer shredding riffs of Ferrari and Gamans, and the balanced variety of musical styles.

"Four On The Floor" opens big with an up-tempo and cracking rhythm, a great verse, and a wonderful chorus. "Cryin' Shame" displays a bluesy attempt for the band, and a good one. "Waiting In Vain" is the mandatory ballad but this one is truly beautiful. "Take This Heart of Mine" and "Let's Make Love Tonight" are both sparkling commercial gems with punchy, sing-along choruses. Cold Sweat also explored some melodic heavy metal territory, just like the old days of Keel and Dokken, and it's portrayed in the tracks "Riviera / Long Way Down", "Fistful of Money", and "Jump The Gun".

Cold Sweat is totally underrated and they deserved a much better appraisal than what they got. If you're a big fan of glam, I don't think you should miss this one, and if you're a fan of traditional heavy metal, I’m still pretty sure the band has a lot to offer you as well. A superb release!

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.