Thursday, July 28, 2011

Review: Ocean Grove “Another Place To Stay” [EP]

Pop rock
Ocean Grove is a pop rock quartet comprised of John Taylor (vocals/guitar), Ryan Liestman (Keys/backing vocals), Greg Garbowsky (bass/backing vocals), and Jack Lawless (drums)…otherwise known as the backing band for the Jonas Brothers. Now I know some of you are going to stop reading right here but don’t! These guys are first-rate pop rockers that have made an EP for all ages, and the balance is more towards the rock end of the spectrum thanks to mixing by Paul Hager (Van Halen, Goo Goo Dolls, American Hi-Fi). Their new EP, following the acclaimed “Little Record” EP, is called “Another Place To Stay” and was released back in June.

With a voice a little like Donnie Vie (Enuff Z’Nuff) and a backing band to match, Ocean Grove sounds like a long lost friend to me. Their style of music is instantly memorable and just makes you feel good for a change. Lead single, “Away”, is the perfect tune to get you ready for a vacation break. The breezy verses gently float through your ears before the huge sing-a-long chorus comes crashing over you like a wave. “Take It Easy” is another sugary treat that showcases how well these guys harmonize – they clearly built a fluid chemistry while on tour and playing together for so long. “The Best” is a biographical tune about getting the big record deal that many musicians will relate to. “Won’t Say Goodbye” is a terrific acoustic-based mid-tempo rocker that steers a little more towards the Tom Petty direction. Finally, there is a hidden track on the EP called “So Cool” that is a rewarding encore. There isn’t a bad or downbeat tune in this batch of five songs. If you are a fan of power pop rock in the vein of American Hi-Fi, Cheap Trick, and Enuff Z’Nuff, you simply can’t miss out on Ocean Grove. Highly recommended!

Ocean GroveOfficial site.

Check out a video from their previous EP:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

By Kurt Torster

Tsar “Tsar” (2000)

It’s a safe bet that by 2000, anything remotely glam was dead. Between rap’s “edge” and teen pop ruling the charts along with most rock bands downtuning their instruments and their looks, it seemed no one was interested in good ol’ fashioned “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.” I guess the boys in Tsar never got the memo, and I’m actually somewhat amazed that someone at Hollywood records gave them a shot.

This album was a 10 song celebration of what made so much of the 70s and 80s great: fist pumping, lighter waving melodies bursting with hooky riffs and punchy leads surrounded by the Robin Zander-like wail of Jeff Whalen. All the songs here show the potential for filling an arena yet carry an almost indie-like cred to them that should have endeared them to both those still trying to hold on to their youth as well as that wanna-be alternative crowd. Judging by the sales, sadly they latched neither.

With songs like the infectious candy of “I Don’t Want To Break Up,” the immense “Kathy Fong Is The Bomb” and the slow yet not quite ballad “Ordinary Gurl” all screaming out to be the lost hit singles the NY Dolls never had, this is LA strip meets NY gutter meeting up somewhere in the heartland of America.

Worth hunting down is the “King Of School EP,” with remixes and B-sides from the album including a wicked rocked up cover of the Backstreet Boys’ “Larger Than Life.”

The band would eventually follow up this release with the rather disappointing “Band-Girls-Money,” where gone was so much of the polish that made this debut so enjoyable. Apparently a new album is in the works. I hope so as this lot proves there’s still a massive void in rock waiting to be filled by someone not afraid to have fun.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Review: Richard Snow “Am I Really That Boring?”

There is Snow once again in the forecast for this summer – this time in the form of Richard’s highly anticipated new album, “Am I Really That Boring?” One listen is enough to answer that question with a resounding “no!”

“Am I Really That Boring?” is the third release from Richard Snow, following his self-titled effort and “Tuesday Music” (reviews here). Snow sounds like he is in top form on this one, which will please fans who have been patiently waiting for new music. Snow plays tight Rickenbacker guitar riffs and his vocals are very reminiscent of Elvis Costello. Snow’s satire and cynicism are as crisp as a winter’s morning, but you get the feeling he has a sense of humor under it all as well. As if this list of ingredients isn’t enough to make the perfect smart man’s pop record, he heaps generous portions of sophisticated harmonies as frosting on the cake.

Launching right into it with the Byrds-inspired “Stop Your Crying” – he’ll have you with the first arpeggiation. Another infectious gem, “Middle Class Girl” (video below), showcases his ability to envelop a stinging lyric with sugary melodies: “Your face is like an angel but you’re no girl of my dreams” never sounded so sweet. Snow changes things up early with the gentle finger picking on the lovely “If You Don’t Rescue Me”. There is a jamming Hollies feel meshed with Partridge Family harmonies on the retro “Do You Want To” that a lot of people are likely to find too intriguing to resist. I prefer the more straightforward melodies of tunes like the affable “Take Me Back Home” or the relatable anthem in “Good Guys Never Win”. Snow saves one of his best – the title track - for last. What could have been a borderline novelty tune with its falsetto and amusing lyrics actually sounds undeniably cool.

Keeping true to his influences, Richard Snow will appeal to fans of The Byrds, The Left Banke, and Tom Petty. Without a single dud in the bunch, “Am I Really That Boring?” will be one of the top releases in its genre this year.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11

Richard SnowOfficial site.

Check out the video for “Middle Class Girl”

Monday, July 25, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

SHY “Unfinished Business” (2002)

The similarity of Tony Mills' melodic screech with TNT legend, Tony Harnell - and with him joining TNT to replace the mighty Harnell - sparked my curiosity on Shy's back catalogue. Honestly, I didn't expect this 2002 release to be one of their best, but in fact it is! Jumping back to 1990 after “Misspent Youth” - a disappointing album according to the band - Shy still kept a lot of rough diamonds in the vault and when the opportunity arose in 2000 to do a new recording under Z Records, Mills and Harris decided it's time to finish the unfinished business.

"Skydiving" is an explosive melodic blast…you just can't believe there's a song like this in the year 2002. The soaring vocal, the thrilling guitar, it's basically like TNT in their golden years. "Change of Direction" didn't change anything, still grand and gorgeous. "Breakaway" is as strong as "Skydiving", another champion of the record and a huge contender to be the song of the year. "Mary-Anne" is another wow - power ballads have never been this good - it has that unimaginable beauty.

"Heaven Tonight", "Can't Stop Lovin' You", and "No Other Way" aren't slowing down and still racing to the top. Check out also the superb solos in "Whole Lotta Feelings", the song itself might not be as good as the others, but that solo guitar is killing everything. "Storyline" is another brilliant ballad in shape of classic Journey. I've told you before but now I need to tell you again, Shy didn’t spend two years recording this album for nothing: they managed to put out a ten-out-of-ten album in my book. Like my French friend said, "fantastique!"

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Saturday, July 23, 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.


Paul Starling “All of My Heart” (single) – At the moment, there is only a single that has been released by Paul Starling (SideBMusic), but it is a very promising indication of things to come on his new collection entitled “Shipwrecked Commotion”. His dazzling single, “All Of My Heart” is a perfect beach tune…upbeat, radiant, sunny. Following in the tradition of power pop luminaries like Brian Wilson, Starling crafts a sugary melodic around warm and fuzzy lyrics. You just can’t help feeling a little lighter while listening to “All of My Heart” – check it out below.

All Of My Heart - Paul Starling by SideBMusic

Paul Starling writes and records original songs in the Ventura County area of California. He plays guitar, bass, drums, piano, banjo, ukulele and other instruments. Known for a 60s vibe with a modern twist, Paul Starling creates what he calls ‘nautical pop’. Music to sail to. Float to. Skip rocks over the Pacific to. To keep up with the latest from Paul Starling, find him on Facebook.

Surprise of the week
Remember Ugly Kid Joe (of “I Hate Everything About You” fame)? They’ve got a comeback album in the works, their first since 1995’s “Motel California”. Read all about it here.

Finally some new Shinedown is on the horizon. Details here.

Carolina Liar is back with a new single called “Drown” from their forthcoming new album “Wild Blessed Freedom” Details here.

The “Is rock dead?” debate continues. Queensrÿche frontman Geoff Tate sees a pretty gloomy future for rock bands, unless they can adapt to new ways of doing things. Read his interesting ideas on how rock can keep moving here.

Last week we announced the return of Bush (the band, thankfully). This week you can hear their comeback single, “The Sound Of Winter”. Perfect tune to release in the middle of a heat wave, right? The song doesn’t do much for me, but maybe you’ll dig it. Check it out here.

Random iPOD song of the week
A terrific lesser-known tune from Olivia Newton-John – “A Little More Love” from 1978.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Review: The Fire Apes “A Life In Letters”

Pop Rock
Inspired by bands like Fountains of Wayne, Green Day, and Oasis, John Seymour is a singer/songwriter who records under the name of The Fire Apes. His brand new eleven track CD, “A Life In Letters” sounds like a professional release ready for radio to jump all over. The songs sound brilliant thanks to helping hands from Eric Bass (Shinedown), Sean O’Keefe (Fall Out Boy, Plain White T’s), and Jody Porter (Fountains of Wayne). You may have already heard some of his songs on MTV’s “The Hills” and “Parental Control”. Seymour is racking up all kinds of airplay, and one listen to this Fire Apes CD will tell you why.

The Fire Apes had me at track one, with the Cheap Trick-ish opener, “It’s Over”. Not only do we have an abundance of hooks and well-produced crunchy guitar tones, but Seymour blows us away with a tremendous vocal performance – this dude can sing. He downshifts right away into an affable power ballad with “Killing Me From Inside”, showing us up front that he’s no one-trick pony. But he quickly wakes us back up with the peppy “Hey Kate!”, which sounds as commercial as anyone can get. There is another radio-friendly ditty in the pleasant “If Things Don’t Look So Good Today”, which has a sunny AM radio feel to it. We advance to the 80s with the Cheap Trick meets The Cars feel of “Only You Could Make Me Happy”. For you younger music fans, this one is very close to Fountains of Wayne. “Lori” is another highlight and I can’t help but wonder what Kate thinks about it!

Overall, “A Life In Letters” is a modern pop rock triumph not to be missed.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10

The Fire ApesOfficial site.

Check out the video for “It’s Over”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Review: The Handcuffs “Waiting For The Robot”

The primary links in the Chicago-based band The Handcuffs are lead singer Chloe F. Orwell and drummer/songwriter Brad Elvis (formerly of the band Big Hello). The duo sites their influences range from David Bowie to Burt Bacharach, PJ Harvey to the Pixies, White Album to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, with some Ting Tings, T. Rex, and Sparks tossed in for good measure. Two albums down already, “Waiting For The Robot” is due to arrive September 6.

Overall impressions: Orwell and Elvis have crafted a record that truly pays homage to their influences without ripping them off. Elvis is a fantastic drummer and his beats are a highlight throughout the record. The rest of the band is tight, helped along by masterful production from Mike Hagler (Wilco, Pulsars, Neko Case). Orwell is a solid rock vocalist that brings Shirley Manson (Garbage) to mind - not all that remarkable, but it suits the musical style of The Handcuffs. There is some filler weighing the record down and one could argue that the best tunes should have been pulled for an EP release.

The blistering opener “Dirty Glitter” is hot – it sizzles with intensity and has a juicy hook lifted by T. Rex-styled backing vocals. On this track the band reaches its full potential. The closing track is my favorite - a moving, contemplative ballad called “The Scary Side Of Me”. This song is truly beautiful, and Orwell’s vocals sound right at home in this well developed piece. There isn’t anything else on the CD that soars to the heights reached by these two tunes, but most of it is still a fun ride. Some of the songs are spiced up with some horns, which provide an interesting dynamic, but usually not enough to rescue the song from mediocrity. Some of the more melodic highlights include the danceable “Ooh Baby Baby” and the acoustic-based pop rocker “Eight Down”. Some other tracks, like “Kiss This Goodbye”, probably work better live on stage.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 4, 5, 13

The Handcuffs Official site

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

By Kurt Torster

Cutting Crew “Broadcast” (1987)

I doubt there’s a person older than 30 that hasn’t heard the massive #1 single “(I Just) Died In Your Arms,” but for whatever reason, the massive success of the single failed to translate into album sales and I never could quite understand why. Listening now, it stands firmly as a period piece and yet is filled with enough layers and textures that almost 25 years later holds up better than most of that year’s efforts. Caught somewhere between Tears For Fears and Night Ranger, it’s a release that all at once both sums up a decade musically while having the potential to look forward and be so much more.

Produced to absolute perfection by a team more associated with the harder rock of Rush or Tesla (Steve Thompson, Terry Brown, John Jansen and Michael Barbiero), it really is one of the best sonically sounding discs from the era. From the chiming arena rockers “One For The Mockingbird” and “Don’t Look Back” to the more subdued balladry of “I’ve Been In Love Before” and the soaring “Sahara”, this should and would have appealed more to the “90125”-era Yes/Journey/Genesis crowd rather than the end of the new wave romantics they seemingly were promoted to. I can only imagine that a lack of touring combined with Virgin’s inability to see beyond a quick hit single did them in.

The band followed this release up with two more albums that sank with little fanfare. Though co-founder guitarist Kevin MacMichael went on to play with Robert Plant, he sadly passed away in 2002. In 2006, vocalist Nick Van Eade gave the band another try with the release of “Grinning Souls,” and had limited success touring the nostalgia circuit. Whether there’s another Cutting Crew release or tour in the future is anyone’s guess.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review: The Webstirs “The Webstirs Re-Present Smirk”

Rock/Power pop
We last covered The Webstirs with their release of “So Long” in 2009 (review here). Strongly influenced by the pop craftsmanship of Brian Wilson, “So Long” was one of the best offerings that year for power pop rockers. But the Webstirs actually debuted on the music scene back in 1994. Their latest offering, “The Webstirs Re-Present Smirk”, is a re-release of that debut, which provides fans with a real treat to experience the band’s humble beginnings.

True to form, “The Webstirs Re-Present Smirk” is a friendly nod to Brian Wilson’s long lost album “SMiLE”, which finally saw the light of day in 2004 as “Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE”. However, it should be noted that “The Webstirs Re-Present Smirk” is not strictly a re-release…it has been completely reworked. The band remixed, remastered, added unreleased goodies, and shuffled the order and redid the artwork. In the words of keyboardist Mark Winkler, “It’s a total reboot of the original”.

It is always a joy to discover older material written by a band that you recently became a fan of…and “The Webstirs Re-Present Smirk” does not disappoint. The band was just as good during their start in 1994 as they are now. There are plenty of well structured tunes in the power pop tradition, bolstered with well placed accordion, jangling piano, and gentle horns. You’ll be hard pressed to find a bad tune in the batch, but the Webstirs really knock these out of the park on cuts like “You Can Hang Around”, “Old Enough”, and “It’s Over Now”. Recommended if you like Brian Wilson, Jellyfish, or Jellybricks.

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

The Webstirs Official site. Visit now and get a free download!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

SHARK ISLAND “Law of the Order” (1989)

Gazzarri's was a popular nightclub in Sunset Strip (demolished in 1995 and replaced by Key Club) which was a home to many big names such as The Doors, Van Halen, and Motley Crue, long before they were discovered. Shark Island was one of the home bands in the 80s that has been highly praised for their energetic and bombastic live performances. Richard Black, the lead singer, was the trump card of the band – he was the champion that was responsible for introducing the seductive snake dance and tight bike pants (soon to be copied by Axl Rose), he had a large range of vocal capability.

If only this album came out earlier, Shark Island could've been big in LA, but fate wasn't on their side. Not only did it fail commercially, but Richard Black's name faded away like an ash in the sand. But one thing for sure, "Law of the Order" was immortalized by many glam freaks as one of the most fantastic albums of 1989, unleashing excellent tracks from "Paris Calling" to the spectacular "Shake For Me", and from the emotional ballad of "Why Should I Believe" to the mid-tempo "Bad For Each Other".

A tremendous unnoticed album of the 80s, two thumbs up!

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Saturday, July 16, 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.

Afterlife Parade “Death” [EP]
– A bit of a throwback to the post-Radiohead bands, gentle pop rockers Afterlife Parade are focused on writing reflective lyrics set to atmospheric sonic textures. As one can surmise from the title, the theme of their debut EP centers on endings – the ending of an era, a life, an idea, and even the world. To counterbalance this happy topic, a follow-up EP will be entitled “Rebirth”. Afterlife Parade is the brainchild of singer/songwriter Quinn Erwin, who has a Thom Yorke quality in his voice, with hints of Mike Peters (The Alarm). The title track, “Death”, is not a harsh or even haunting tune, but quite light and radiant with an expertly picked acoustic guitar riff carrying the verses forward to a rewarding chorus. “Nothing But Love Can Stay” sounds like a Springsteen penned tune performed by Coldplay – quite beautiful, but not the most melodic ballad. “Arrows Fly” may be the strongest cut lyrically, but failed to engage me at a musical level. My favorite track on the EP is the closer named after the project itself, “Afterlife Parade”. This song actually gets past 50 beats per minute and the upbeat pace is refreshing, as are the wonderful harmonies in the chorus. Considered with “Death”, the song “Afterlife Parade” gives me hope that Erwin can better surround his terrific lyrical ideas with catchier melodies. Recommended for fans of Palo Alto, Arcade Fire, and Travis. More on the band can be found here.

Surprise of the week
Lady Gaga is not the only one to give Weird Al Yankovic a hard time about doing a parody of their songs. Paul McCartney actually refused Weird Al’s request to parody “Live and Let Die” as “Chicken Pot Pie”. Sounds like it would have been pretty funny to me, but Paul didn’t want to promote the eating of animals. More on the story here.

Finally some new Soul Asylum on the way to follow-up the excellent “Silver Lining” release from 2006. New record is tentatively entitled “Rough Air” and features guests from Prince and Replacements alumni. Check out the story here.

Noel Gallagher (Oasis) is ready to release his solo album, and according to him it is brilliant. Read about it here.

You call this a reunion? Bush is said to be back together to release a new album, “The Sea of Memories” in September – their first since 2001. The “reunion” only consists of Gavin Rossdale and drummer Robin Goodridge. More on the story here.

Iconic rock n roll magazine “CREEM” is coming back! Check it out.

Random iPOD song of the week
“Him” was the follow-up to Rupert Holmes’ smash hit “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”. I think I like “Him” better.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Review: Escape Directors “The Crowded Room” [EP]

The Escape Directors are back with a new five song EP entitled “The Crowded Room”, which follows their noteworthy “Ladders” from last year (reviewed here). For fans of bands like Coldplay, The Fray, or O.A.R., the Escape Directors specialize in atmospheric pop rock featuring brilliant sonic textures, smart lyrics, and top notch production. When they combine their studio know how with a memorable melody, the results can be breathtaking.

The first three songs are the best on the new EP. The opening track, “The War Outside” is a slow burner that claws its way into your memory cells with a soaring chorus and dramatic vocals. “Set Fire To A Crowded Room” sounds more like Snow Patrol – a compelling lead guitar line carries the verses, building up to a powerful chorus that tempts you to sing along every time. One of the more upbeat tracks, “The Distant Past” could be my favorite Escape Directors song yet. “The Distant Past” is propelled by an engaging rhythm and shines with gorgeous harmonies. Don’t let “The Crowded Room” escape you – look for it on July 16.

Escape DirectorsOfficial site.

Check out the video for “The Distant Past”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Review: The 99ers “Everybody’s Rocking”

Punk rock/surf
The 99ers are a punk surf band from the Twin Cities. The founding members are Steve Shannon (guitars and vocals), Colin Selhurst (drums), and Molly Holley (vocals). Their three musical rules are: bang it out, keep it short, and no messing about. The 99ers are named after the band's favorite dessert - a 99 - which consists of a soft serve ice cream cone with a Cadbury's flake (a British chocolate bar) stuck in it. But is their music as sweet as that confection?

You’ll see plenty of homage to cavemen (!) and Minnesota in the song titles, including the amusing “St. Paul Girls” (St. Paul, Minnesota being their hometown). Steven and Molly (who sounds a lot like Blondie) trade off singing lead vocals and often come together to harmonize effectively. The music is a clear throwback to the classic days of punk and surf rock, stacking a thick layer of distorted guitar on top of solid 1950-ish song structures. The 99ers are most reminiscent of bands like The Ramones, with maybe a little bit of Social Distortion – they are proud of this comparison and praise their influences on a song called “Ramones Forever”. “Minnesota Day” is track that represents the sound of the band at their best. Among the other highlights in this lengthy set include the raucous title track, the melodic “Just Like Jonesy”, and “Play Around”. There is also a cool cover of Brenda Lee’s “Sweet Nothings”.

At 18 songs, their brand of music starts to stretch a little thin about halfway through “Everybody’s Rocking”. But at least the album is consistent in style and delivery. For fans of punk/surf, The 99ers are a must to check out – they are doing it better than most these days.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 5, 7, 11, 13

The 99ers - Official site

Check out a video:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

By Kurt Torster

Eric Martin “I’m Only Fooling Myself” (1987)

Sometimes “best” depends on what you’re in to. If you’re tastes run to the eclectic or different, than this album is not for you. But, if you’re like me and can appreciate a finely performed pop song as much as you can a Led Zeppelin blues jam then this over-produced slab of confection (and that’s meant with nothing but affection) is for you.

The transition from the mid to late 80s were an interesting time in pop music. Punchy new wave guitars were being pushed aside for as much keyboards as you could fit into a 3 minutes song. Suddenly every song on the charts sounded like it came straight out of a movie.

Eric Martin released a rather spunky hard rocker a few years earlier to little success. Trying a different approach on this second outing by surrounding himself with some of the best studio musicians and songwriters in the business, the result is a superior vocalist singing the crap out of simple almost danceable tunes and elevating them far above where they ended up.

Kicking off with the “how it never was a hit single is beyond me” track in “These Are The Good Times” (which also featured on the Iron Eagle soundtrack), things find a a comfortable groove and never stray far. From the beautiful soul of “Everytime I Think Of You” the infectious swing of the title track to the outright arena rock of “Crazy World Like This” the whole affair brings to mind Steve Perry’s “Street Talk,” Phil Collins affliction for horns and the best of Hall & Oates white boy soul. There’s really not a song here that, with just the right push, couldn’t have been pulled aside and made into a hit.

Obviously, Eric Martin would go on to much bigger things as the lead singer for Mr. Big and most of these songs would go on to be covered by other artists.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Review: Steven Page “Page One”

Rock/Pop rock
“Page One” is the latest chapter from this former force behind the popular band Barenaked Ladies. Page hasn’t had much of a musical life outside of his 20 plus years with Barenaked Ladies, so there was much speculation about how his solo album would sound. Not surprisingly, as one of the principle songwriters and singers for Barenaked Ladies, much of Page’s solo work sounds very much like what he’s been doing the past two decades. I hasten to add that it is also much more melodic than what Barenaked Ladies has been cranking out of late. “Page One” was released in 2010 and follows two other solo works.

Once again, Page has teamed up with some luminaries in the pop rock as well as singer/songwriter world. He’s co-written songs with Stephen Duffy and Craig Northey (of one of my favorite underrated bands, The Odds). Among the guests making an appearance on the record are Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello), Esthero, the Baird brothers (Feist), and Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket). You’ll also get to hear the late Will Owsley do one of his last recordings.

Appropriately, things begin with a song entitled, “A New Shore”. Page’s instantly recognizable voice jumps right out at you, soon followed by a choir of sweet harmony vocals that are augmented with sweeping strings. The bright acoustic guitar throughout maintains the buoyant atmosphere. “Indecision” dips down into his talents for blending power pop with mild lounge music. The strong lyric that accompanies this tune makes it the perfect choice for a single (check out the video below). “Marry Me” doesn’t come off nearly as corny as it sounds and actually makes the grade for one of the highlights on the record. A hat trick of pop rock perfection brings the album to a satisfying close, starting with the infectious “She’s Trying To Save Me”, followed by the breezy “Over Joy”, and finally the feel good, fun-loving tune “If You Love Me”.

“Page One” is excellent – a brilliant, cohesive record that is a joy to play all the way through. I can’t wait for “Page Two”.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 9

Steven Page - Official site.

Check out the video for “Indecision”:

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Review: Phlying Saucer “Pancakes” [EP]

Pop rock
Phlying Saucer is a modern rock and pop outfit consisting of Phil McDonald (vocals), Lydell Valdriz (drums), Evan Brass (bass), and Chris Miranda (guitar). Their latest EP, “Pancakes”, is a stack of 5 tracks covered in syrupy melodies and buttery goodness. But this yummy music will not be hazardous to your waistline.

You can get a whiff of how great this little EP is going to be just by sampling the top track, “Breaking Down Takes Two”. With a groovy crunch and snappy backbeat, this track would fit comfortably on modern rock radio. The musical style incorporates a little of Tinted Windows and Simple Plan, with a touch of the pop smarts one might find on a Drake Bell album. Vocals are well produced and harmonies strategically placed. “Suddenly” is just as catchy, with an infectious chorus that reminds me of Plain White T’s. “Warning Signs” has a slightly darker edge in the verses, but the sun comes out big time on the soaring chorus – excellent. “One Red Light” is a perfect summer anthem for driving around town with the top or windows down – one of my favorites in the batch. The EP ends all too soon with “Carry On”, another upbeat melodic rocker designed to keep you going when the going gets tough. In short, “Pancakes” is a very tasty treat from top to bottom.

Champions of the ‘no more than 3:30 minute’ song, Phlying Saucer doesn’t invade your space for too long. But they don’t have to linger long before you realize you would like to be beamed away to their world again and again.

Phlying SaucerOfficial site.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

By Kurt Torster

The Loveless “A Tale Of Gin And Salvation” (1995)

When I used to run my website back in the 90s, I used to get a lot of CDs to review in the mail. Daily I would open the mailbox to pull out five or six packages and I’d say roughly, that 99% of them were crap of the highest (lowest?) caliber. But, what made it all worth it was the occasional gem pulled out that would just blow you away.

My first listen to The Loveless was unlike anything I had heard in a long while. In 1995, glammy power pop wasn’t exactly in flavor, with the harder alternative rock dominating the airwaves. So, when the first strains of “If I Only Knew Then” came ripping out of my tinny laptop speakers, I immediately perked up. Before the song could even end, I had already popped out the disc, hopped in the car and took it for a ride. This album was so good that after it finished the first time, I kept driving long enough to hear it through a second time.

Besides the infectious nature of all twelve songs, what really sets this album apart from practically anything that has come down the pike before or after is the drop dead amazing songwriting of Jonathan Daniels. The wordplay of the lyrics is witty to the point of novelty, yet comes from a depth of reality of broken hearts and shattered lives. They’re the kinds of tunes that not only will you be singing for days on end, but quoting in everyday life. I mean, when this is the first line that hits you, you know you’re in for something special:

“The story of his life is a book of regrets
The might-have-beens and the days he’d rather forget
So busy jumping someone else’s train
He always missed the boat
Another missed opportunity, another song somebody else wrote”

The pinnacle of this genius can be heard in the absolute, should have been massive hit, “The Return Of The Ex-Girlfriend.” You’ll be laughing along all the while feeling the pain of every lost love you ever had.

“The return of the ex-girlfriend
the pretty face rears its ugly head
drop dead gorgeous
drop dead...”

From the heartfelt strains of “I Almost Miss You” and “Can’t Stand Loving You” to the outright sarcastic glee of “Growing Up Has Let Me Down” and “Sex And Drugs And Rock & Roll Are Dead,” there is not a wasted word, note or melody line here. The band’s chemistry, a seeming New York City brotherhood, keeps everything tight, with each thump of the bass or crisp snap of the snare driving home points of hope and despair.

For being an independent release, the band’s image and noire’ packaging rivals those from major labels and is just one more piece of a perplexing puzzle of commercial failure.

Though there were some demos floating around of a second album, nothing ever really materialized but considering the band was formed from the ashes of the Electric Angels (which in turn was formed from the ashes of Candy), their self-titled disc is also highly recommended. Bassist and lyrical leader Jonathan Daniel is now manager to acts like Train, Butch Walker and Panic! At The Disco. Guitarist John Ceparano now plays in a swing band while drummer John Schubert is a history teacher. As for vocalist Shane, despite the occasional MySpace release, still MIA last I heard.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review: Ingram Hill “Blue Room Afternoon”

Pop rock/Acoustic
Fresh off the heels of last year’s magnificent record, “Look Your Best” (see review here), Memphis pop rock stars Ingram Hill are back with acoustic renditions of some of their finest work. The collection is called “Blue Room Afternoon” and is available exclusively on iTUNES, courtesy of Rock Ridge Music. The new record, which consists of a dozen tunes, was produced by lead vocalist/guitarist Justin Moore with the goal to have that “living room concert” feel. The set is more expansive than their unplugged EP from 2005 (also on iTUNES).

“We had always discussed releasing an acoustic album,” says Moore, “but for whatever reason had never done it. It was kind of strange recording older songs all over again, but it was fun to be able to approach them differently, and try a few new things with them, which totally gave a fresh feel to songs we've played thousands of times. It's almost a look into what songs sound like when we first wrote them, without all the bells and whistles of a full production record. We're excited about the album, and we can't wait for our fans to hear our songs in a fashion that is not normally available to them.”

I usually approach these types of records with mixed feelings of apprehension and excitement, but with a band loaded to the gills with talent like Ingram Hill, I had few reservations. Stripping these tracks down to their bare bones only serves to validate that the songwriting skill and musicianship in this trio far exceeds normal expectations for your average pop rock band. “Blue Room Afternoon” provides the perfect backdrop for chilling out, with ringing acoustic guitars swirling about well crafted melodies and harmonies.

Things couldn’t get off to a better start than with a long time fan favorite, “Will I Ever Make It Home”, which is quickly followed by the hot lead off track from their latest studio effort “Look Your Best”. Additional tracks from “Look Your Best” included in this set are “Lady Grey”, “Hey Girl”, and “Miss Kennedy”. “L.A. Crazy” is also here, which is nice as it previously was only available as a bonus track on iTUNES. Dipping deeper into their back catalogue, the band treats us to acoustic arrangements of older gems like “Almost Perfect”, “Never Be The Same”, and “On My Way” (all from “June’s Picture Show”). Even deeper into their past is the biting track “The Day Your Luck Runs Out” from 2002’s “Until Now”. Some pleasant surprises include the hard to find “Magnolia Me”, a beautifully sparse track heard at some of their live shows. There is a glaring absence of songs from the excellent “Cold In California” and their “Why The Wait” EP – it would have been cool to hear a couple tracks from these notable releases as well. I also would have loved to hear an acoustic rendition of their cover of Boston’s “More Than A Feeling”, which graced the “Herbie: Fully Loaded” soundtrack. It is hard to pick favorites, but if I were forced to choose they’d be “Will I Ever Make It Home”, “Hey Girl”, and “Lady Grey”.

Fast or slow, nearly every one of these songs lends themselves well to the acoustic format. “Blue Room Afternoon” will surely please fans of the band and hopefully win them some new recruits as well.

Ingram HillOfficial site.

Saturday, July 2, 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.

Golden Bloom “March To The Drums” [EP]Shawn Fogel, the mastermind behind Golden Bloom is back with a new six song EP (3 “proper” songs really, the other 3 tracks are short interludes). The EP follows his excellent 2009 effort, “Fan The Flames” (reviewed here). With “March To The Drums”, Fogel keeps us hungry for another full-length release with these teaser tracks, the most impressive of which is “You Go On (& On)”. “You Go On” has a tasty melody that suits Fogel’s smooth vocal delivery flawlessly and is instantly likeable, sounding like one of the better songs recorded by Guster. “Rhyme The Reason” is another strong effort, possessing a more pronounced indie vibe than the radio-friendly “You Go On” – very Ben Kweller. “We Have Grown” features the best lyrics and Fogel’s music perfectly balances melancholy with optimism. And, while just an interlude, “Passing” is a beautiful acoustic piece with soft harmonies that serve to relax and sooth between tunes. The EP is due to be released August 16. Learn more about Golden Bloom here.

Venice Sunlight “Vs. the Rabid Rabbits” [EP] – Here is a great new 4 song effort from Philly band Venice Sunlight. Their sound blends a bit of the post-grunge pop that emerged during the late 90s with more contemporary indie rock songwriting. What results is something along the lines of Foo Fighters mashed with Fountains of Wayne. “Annabel” and “Arms” are excellent pop rockers that offer instant gratification, while “The Green Room” takes a little longer to grow on you – but the stomping chorus is worth waiting for. The only track that sounded a bit too nondescript was “Bridges”, but it isn’t bad by any means and does have a wicked solo. These guys hold a lot of promise and if they stay focused on keeping the melodies strong and hooks sharp, they could be the next big thing. More about Venice Sunlight can be found here.

Surprise of the week
An amusing surprise…Michelle Bachman can’t catch a break trying to find a theme song for her political campaign! First Tom Petty filed a cease and desist for her unauthorized use of his hit “American Girl”, and now Katrina and the Waves refuse to let her exploit their hit “Walking On Sunshine”. Maybe she should try “Crazy” by Aerosmith! Read about here.

Cool article on Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine. Interestingly, he calls musicians who give away their music “stupid” and “careless”. Read it here.

Has it really been 20 years? U2 will mark the 20th anniversary of their classic album “Achtung Baby” by re-releasing it in a deluxe package. Regarding the bonus material that will appear, The Edge said: "There's some very interesting alternative versions that we discovered of songs that wouldn't have seen the light of day" and described them as being "like 'Achtung Baby' out of focus". U2 is also working on an app for iPAD to tie into this release! Details here.

Not quite the masterpiece to rival “Achtung Baby”, but the Spin Doctors are also marking the 20th anniversary of their breakthrough record, “Pocketful of Kryptonite” with a glorified reissue. Read the details here, Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong…

New Tesla record called “Twisted Wires & The Acoustic Sessions...” coming July 25th in Europe…details here.

Lou Reed on collaborating with Metallica: “The music I've done with Metallica is the best thing done by anyone, ever.” Read all about it here.

Random iPOD song of the week
Eddie Brickell’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Review: The Click Five “TCV”

Pop rock/power pop
“TCV” is the third record from young pop rock sensation The Click Five, who first stormed onto the scene in 2005 with their commercially successful “Greetings from Imrie House”. These guys have a talent for whipping up a storm of crunchy guitars around classy melodies, which results in catchy songs that will blow you away. I also enjoy their fearless tendency to incorporate signature 80s sounds into their music.

Back-to-back power pop tunes “The Way It Goes” and “I Quit! I Quit! I Quit!” start this one with a terrific one-two punch. These songs draw heavily from their primary influence (Cheap Trick), and should get plenty of summertime airplay. The album simmers down for a while until the requisite power ballad “Don’t Let Me Go” cues up. It’s not one of their best, but a reasonable effort that breaks up the pace. In terms of the slower songs, I think “The World Comes Crawling Back” gets the best in show. “Good As Gold” is a break from their usual wall of sound - a stripped down acoustic-driven midtempo tune. Its positive lyric and charming melody makes it a keeper. A couple other highlights include the synth-infused “Way Back To You”, which shimmers with bright harmonies and an irresistible chorus, and the Bay City Rollers-inspired “Be In Love”.

Another very solid release from the reliable Click Five – let’s hope the third is the charm for this talented band. The Click Five’s brand of modern power pop should appeal to fans of Cheap Trick, Rooney, and The Raspberries.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 10

The Click Fiveofficial site

Check out the video for “Don’t Let Me Go”