Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

By Kurt Torster

Mr. Reality “Mr. Reality” (1992)

As the over the top decade of excess known as the 80s came to an end, the swelling undercurrent of the “unplugged” movement started to take hold. Suddenly, “every bad boy had a soft side.” Bands like Bon Jovi, Great White and Poison were all getting an extra boost by picking up their acoustics and gaining some new fans. Though the trend didn’t last long, we were fortunately left with some gems of the genre, including this superb effort from New Jersey’s Mr. Reality.

This album is almost 20 years old, and until this week, I haven’t listened to it in probably a decade. This set though is proof that solid song structure, amazing harmonies and catchy melodies are timeless.

It would be all too easy to dismiss this trio as Bon Jovi wannabe’s, as they follow the typical Jersey-style songwriting, which is big on storytelling and sweet as candy choruses, but I’d probably compare them closer to Nelson, Danny Wilde/The Rembrandts or even the Eagles (not surprising considering this was produced by famed LA producer/Don Henley sideman Danny Korchmar).

How songs like the upbeat and incredibly infectious “Anonymous,” “If I Close My Eyes” or “Jess” weren’t at least small market radio hits is beyond me. Throw in more introspective fare, like the excellent imagery of “In My Yard” or the down but never out tale of “To Leave Me Standing In The Rain” and I’m left more befuddled that this barely rates as a cult classic.

And, it would be absolutely criminal to not mention the rocking “Waiting For September,” about as sure of a hit as I’ve ever heard and sounds like it was lifted from a lost Night Ranger album.

The band would morph over the years, first into Samhill and eventually into Highway 9, whose debut also ranks as one of the “Best Albums You Never Heard.” Seems like all three are still somewhat active in music, with guitarist Gordon Brown going Nashville while vocalist Peter Scherer and bassist Rob Tanico still plugging away in their own ways.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Review: Jonny Lives “Revolution For Free”

Hailing from New York, rock band Jonny Lives! has readied their sophomore outing “Revolution For Free”. Fronted by Jonny Dubowsky, Jonny Lives! uses their platform as rock musicians to speak out for peace and the environment. However, they never let their lyrical aspirations compromise their yearning for listeners to just have fun. “Revolution For Free” expands on the Brit-grit and Lower East Side rock of their debut, “Get Steady”.

All the trademark signs of rock n’ roll reach out to grab you from the first chord of “Parking Lot”, a rousing opener with sizzling riffs and an undeniable hook in the chorus. An even catchier chorus awaits you in “Still Dreaming”, which resembles Weezer or Fountains of Wayne. “It's Not Your Fault (This Time)” is propelled by interesting chord changes and a fantastic bass line that interweaves between them with tasty precision. “If You Wanna Stay” couldn’t sound more radio-friendly, assuming we’re talking about 70s AM radio. The chorus in “Makes The Difference” is simply brilliant, lifted to lofty heights by wrapping a gorgeous melody in sweet harmony – may be the best chorus on the record. Those engaging harmonies can be heard again on the call to action anthem “We Will Not Die Quietly”, which also offers a taste of psychedelic pop rock.

After winning over your pop rock heart, the band gets a little too emboldened towards the end. “Your Money Or Your Life” is overly ambitious and tries to throw too much of every pop element into a single tune. “Vagabond Lovers” might have been better if served up with crunch, but its retro 70s bubblegum style just doesn’t gel with the surrounding songs. But have no fear – “My Favorite Song” is a strong return to form that quickly reminds the listener that this band can blend Partridge Family melodies with crisp modern powerpop riffs and make it sound ultra cool.

“Revolution For Free” contains songs exemplifying what good songwriting is all about, and Dubowsky’s voice sounds right at home on tracks like these. With just a couple of minor missteps, this album approaches masterpiece quality and is not to be missed!

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 11

Jonny Lives!Official site.

Check out the video for “If You Wanna Stay”:

Monday, November 28, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

GUNS N’ ROSES “Use You Illusion II” (1991)

The second disc in the epic Guns N’ Roses “Use Your Illusion” series is often hailed as superior to the first. The usage of the blue color on the cover would appear to represent a relaxing, bluesy, more laid-back batch of songs, but the gang keeps the anger and hatred going strong on several tracks, including "Get In The Ring" and "Shotgun Blues".

The Terminator soundtrack tunes, "Civil War" and "You Could Be Mine", are two tracks to fall in love with at first listen. "Yesterday" is a sway into light rock with a passionate vocal and delirious rhythm. The rendition of Dylan's classic, "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" is another instant hit, making a good stadium chant for every concert they held. "Estranged", the last section of the ballad trilogy, is one of their masterpieces, featuring a captivating voice and a breathtaking solo by the Axl Rose-Slash duo. The closer, "My World", is blatantly their worst creation and unnecessary filler, but overall this is an enjoyable disc packed with many good songs. If I have to pick one, I chose blue over yellow.

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Review: Car Party “High and Low Places” [EP]

Modern rock
The Baltimore-based pop-tinged alternative rock quartet, Car Party, has released their sophomore EP “High & Low Places.” The band was formed in 2009 through a CraigsList ad posted by female drummer, Taylor Hughes. Joining Taylor is vocalist Michael Matzke, guitarist Jim Luparello, and bassist Chris Martin. The new EP was produced and engineered by Ace Enders of the modern rock band, The Early November.

“Please Me” is the new single and you can check out the video below. Within a week of Substream's video premiere of this video, Car Party skyrocketed to #2 on “Please Me” is a slick and tight slice of modern rock straddling a sound that fall in-between Fall Out Boy and Jimmy Eat World. The other three songs on the EP follow suit, with “Dear Son” having the greatest impact after “Please Me”. Lyrically astute, “Dear Son” should resonate with listeners of all ages. “Forever Family” features a very impassioned vocal by Matzke, perfectly placed subtle backing vocals, and a gang chorus preceding the coda. The EP closes by showing a softer side to the band with the ballad “Anniversary”. One of the key things the band has going for them is chemistry – every member gets an opportunity to shine and the songs are written in a way that allows Matzke to showcase his vocal talents. One area that could use a little polishing: the band needs to focus on crafting more captivating hooks in the chorus of every song.

Catchy enough to satisfy most fans of pop rock, the songs on “High and Low Places” also boast contemporary production that will pull in modern rock fans as well. This EP suggests a band with great potential – with some sharper hooks, they will reach the high places for sure. Check out Car Party if you like Fall Out Boy, Panic At The Disco, or Jimmy Eat World.

Car PartyFacebook

CAR PARTY | Please Me | {} from {} on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

By Kurt Torster

Drake Bell - It’s Only Time (2006)

One of the secret joys about being a parent is being able to watch kids shows without any feelings of guilt whatsoever. One show that my boys watch over and over is Nickelodeon’s Drake & Josh, and I’m there with them every time. Just puts me in the mind of an 80s sitcom, a genre sadly missing from the television these days.

We bought this disc as a gift for my youngest and he would play it night and day, loudly. But, I sure as hell took notice because this was far from what I expected it would be. Obviously the boy was raised right musically because it would have been all too easy for him to release some over processed, auto-tuned mess rather than this power pop blast of goodness.

Seemingly inspired by Jellyfish, Paul McCartney and Cheap Trick, it’s standard three chord rock that far exceeds any sort of expectations. Not that I’m complaining, because it’s so easy to hit repeat on a track like the riffy and oh-so-hit-worthy title track, which not only reaches for the rafters but proceeds to blow the roof off. The same could be said for the sunny day 70s pop of “Makes Me Happy” or the acoustic take of the Drake & Josh theme song “I Found A Way” which continue this poptastic streak.

But, it’s songs like the vaudevillian opener “Up Periscope,” the pure piano pop of “I Know” or the deep Beatlesque “Fool The World” that elevate this far above typical teen idol fare.

On the musical front, Drake has been awfully quiet other than some live shows (where he actually covers Jellyfish’s “Joining A Fan Club” and nails it). I heard a new track from an album that’s been forever due and though it has an almost industrial touch shows a lot of promise and still very much in the power pop world.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: Ross and the Wrongens “Life In The Loos” [EP]

Pop rock
Headed by Ross Wrongen, he and his companions formed a band in 2009 that relied on a strong work ethic to deliver songs that echo the entire history of pop – from Sinatra to The Sex Pistols. The four tunes appearing on their EP, “Life In The Loos” embody the spirit of the Golden Age of AM radio. The band is raising eyebrows already, as evidenced by two of their songs (“That Magic Feeling” and “Summer Sun”) being nominated for best pop song at the Exposure Music Awards, an organization dedicated to promoting the best new bands in the UK.

Lead off track “That Magic Feeling” is terrific – a wonderful radio-ready gem bursting with sunshine and memorable melodies. The chorus is catchy enough as is, but the added backing harmony vocals make it truly irresistible. This is followed by another song heavily influenced by The Byrds and The Hollies called “Through With U (Ballad Of An Alcoholic)”. “Reason 2 Live” is another hook-laden feel good track, while “Summer Sun” ends the EP on a high note. The organ in this track is spectacular, rivaling the work found in many songs by Boston.

This excellent EP suggests that Ross and the Wrongens are a band that rejoices the jovial spirit of traditional pop rock, but don’t let their carefree disposition fool you – they take their songwriting most seriously. If there is only one thing I’d change about the band…lose the Prince abbreviations in your song titles!

Ross and the Wrongens Official site.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

HARLOT “Room With A View” (1989)

Harlot is Danish answer to Da Vinci, Treat, or Dalton. Most of them are probably unknown except inside the melodic rock community, but “Room With A View” is a long forgotten gem, a beautiful creation, that deserves to be recognized more by public. “Room With A View” is lush with keyboards, a mix of slow tempo to fast-paced tracks, and a soaring tenor vocal. If you love bands like Journey or Foreigner, I bet this one will be sheer enjoyment.

The first track, “Now I See”, is a great one but I don't think it really fits here. Despite the slow pace, it's too long and doesn’t pick up the momentum like “So Much For Happy Endings”. That one has a lot of energy and the arrangement is just stunning. “Out All Night” is also tremendous, but it's a mid-tempo tune, so if you're looking for a heavier and faster one, try “Kecia” or “Dancing On Dynamite”. Avoid “Invisible Ones” because it's kind of average - promising at first, but falling short.

“Metropolis Children” reminds me of Foreigner, especially the keyboards. The verse is much better than the chorus but overall it is still a top-notch tune. “Bring Home Your Love” is an enchanting piano ballad; if you know Australia's Air Supply you’ll note this song has a similar vibe with vocals even sounding like Russell Hitchcock.

This disc used to be hard to get but I believe there's a re-mastered version out there, even though it's kind of difficult to find as well. Rock Candy or Yesterrock should have done a proper reissue of this. I love this CD - it has the necessary heavier edge as in hard rock but not too harsh. Songs are mostly beautiful with a couple of acceptable fillers. Recommended!

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Review: The Bangles “Sweetheart of The Sun”

Pop rock
I feel compelled to set the record straight here. Too many people have been gushing about how great this new record from The Bangles is that I just have to chime in. I’ve been a fan of these girls for 30 years on, but to give “Sweetheart of The Sun” anything more than 2 stars is being overly generous. Yes, it is still a sublime experience to hear those trademark harmonies, but even those magical moments can’t pull this lackluster batch of songs out of the bin of mediocrity.

“Anna Lee (Sweetheart of the Sun)” is an okay start to the album – the song didn’t blow me away by any means, but it wasn’t a chore to get through. I grew optimistic after hearing the next cut, the very good “Under A Cloud”. Also ear pleasing is the gentle midtempo ballad, “I’ll Never Be Through With You”. After the decent “Mesmerized”, the record just fizzles into a great ball of hook free blandness. Not helping is the notable lack of Susanna Hoffs tunes – despite the years instilling a bit of a rasp in her voice, hers is still the sweetest and it isn’t heard enough.

On this outing, the Bangles lost an original member (Michael Steele) but gained Matthew Sweet. Sweet has been collaborating with Hoffs for years now, with the two of them producing a couple well received records of 70s cover tunes. The love for that music often spills into “Sweetheart of the Sun”, but just doesn’t fill the cup. Vocally, the Bangles aren’t missing a note, but the production is flaccid and songs too uninteresting to write home about. Instead, go check out 2003’s comeback record “Doll Revolution”.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 4, 5

The BanglesFacebook.

Check out “I’ll Never Be Through With You”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Review: Ex Norwegian “Sketch”

Indie rock
Following their 2009 debut, “Standby”, “Sketch” aims to propel indie rock band Ex Norwegian to greater heights. “Standby” helped the band attain national exposure with appearances on TV and radio shows, in addition to being critically acclaimed. “Sketch” delivers ten more doses of their brand of fanciful and sonically surprising rock.

A thumping bass line draws us in to climb aboard the ride that is “Jet Lag”, a slow burning tune that creeps up to a sticky chorus that gets better with each flight through your ears (video below). “Jet Lag” finds Ex Norwegian sounding very much like a highly evolved version of Weezer. “Smashing Time” lends support to this comparison with its groovy verses and hook laden chorus. Other highlights include the near Lennon-esque “Seconds” and the rumbling “Turn Left”. There are a handful of fillers, like the quirky “You’re Elastic Over Me” and “Girl With A Moustache”, but overall “Sketch” is well fleshed out.

Taking advantage of both their male and female vocal strengths, the band often incorporates delightful harmonies making them sound like the Mamas and Papas of the modern indie rock scene. With an effective mix of clever lyrics, tasty licks, and groovy rhythms, Ex Norwegian is one of the more commercial-ready indie bands I’ve heard this year.

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

Ex NorwegianOfficial site.

Check out the video for “Jet Lag”:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

By Kurt Torster

Def Leppard “Slang” (1996)

It amazes me that there are still a fair amount of people that think that “grunge killed hair metal,” when in reality hair metal did just fine to kill itself off. 3rd tier bands were releasing mediocre product thinking they’d be able to ride Bon Jovi and Poison’s coat tails forever. What people always fail to understand, music is cyclical in nature and no one genre ever stays on top for long. When the stagnation sets in, all that needs to happen is for the right band to be in the right place at the right time to bring about sweeping change. And, that’s exactly what Nirvana did. Did they plan it? No, Cobain was lucky to stand upright. But, for that one moment in time, lightning struck Seattle and the musical storm once again changed.

So by the time 1996 rolled around, I think it’s safe to say that not many were pining for a new Def Leppard album, except those who were still sitting around blaming grunge for all their begotten musical ills. Shame of it is - what is probably the most misunderstood Def Leppard album was also one of their best. Had the Mercury promotional team handled things correctly, sales might have been more multi-platinum rather than just scratching gold.

I have to admit, the first time I listened to it I had taken notice how different the sound was. In fact, you couldn’t not notice. It was contemporary and not so reliant on technology or production. It was rough, down-tuned and dare I say, industrial. Title track notwithstanding, gone suddenly were songs about pouring sugar and getting rocked to make way for much more personal songs.

The first two tracks, “Truth?” and “Turn To Dust,” were not exactly the best choices for album openers. Not bad songs by any stretch, just out of place. Once track three rolls on, the title track “Slang,” the album just kicks in and never lets up. That title track also should have been the first single in the US, as it is the closest song here that bridges the gap between old Lep and new Lep.

From there on out, the next seven songs in a row all had hit single potential. From the Bryan Adams like “All I Want Is Everything” to the thrash-like blitz of “Gift Of Flesh,” even now these songs stand up remarkably well. Hell, maybe even better than when they were released.

But, it is absolutely criminal that the superior power ballad “Breathe A Sigh” was never promoted in any way, shape or form as a single. A bit sparse and almost a capella at times, it is hands down one of the best songs this band has ever recorded. That goes for the other power ballads, “Blood Runs Cold” and “Where Does Love Go When It Dies,” which I’d throw up against any ballad the band has ever recorded.

I think this relative failure hit the band pretty hard. I saw them on the “Slang” tour, with Filter in tow, and although they played quite a few songs from the album, the passion and conviction seemed to be missing. They’d regroup though and go on to record a few more killer albums, all pretty much ignored as well. They have seemingly turned into a nostalgic touring act now but here’s hoping they still have the fire to get a few more albums out as there is definitely a huge hole in the musical world without them.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review: Mitch Malloy “II”

Melodic rock
Mitch Malloy is one of the unsung heroes in the melodic rock world, quickly rising to fame in the early 90s with his tasty hit “Anything At All”. A change in musical tides through the 90s found Malloy experimenting with a markedly more adult contemporary sound before returning to the rock area with 2000’s excellent comeback record, “Shine”. Fans parched for a new Mitch Malloy CD finally get to quench their thirst with his new release, simply entitled “II” to denote that this one is a sonic sequel to his 1992 self-titled debut.

Coming along for the ride are some notable guests including Phil Collen (Def Leppard), Pete Lesperance (Harem Scarem), and Jeff Scott Soto – virtual Knights of the Melodic Rock Round Table. Malloy still sounds incredible and has worked in plenty of opportunities in these tunes where he can sustain a hair-raising note. His songwriting style definitely aligns with his work from his debut, straddling the fine line between light and hard rock – a la Bon Jovi or Nelson.

“I’m The One” is an opener that testifies to Malloy’s return to form, sizzling with 80s sounding guitar tones and an overall vibe that matches the upbeat ear candy of “Anything At All”. “Falling To Pieces” is a bit grittier but still plenty catchy with an affable sing-a-long chorus. While the title might imply a power ballad, “Love Song” is a driving rocker that sticks in the mind quick. “On and On” and “I Don’t Know How” both shine with winners of a chorus, sandwiched by verses that are easy on the ears. Just when you think the guy has run out of hooks and moving chord changes, out comes the chugging rocker “What I Miss”. Fans of classic Malloy ballads will enjoy “Carry On”, “Take It All”, and “As Long As I’m With You” – for me, “Take It All” wins the day in this department. The album closes with a love letter to his fans with the stirring “All My Friends”.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12

Mitch Malloy - Official site.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

BADLANDS “Voodoo Highway” (1991)

After their underrated eponymous debut that was cheered by traditional hard rock fans, Badlands continued on the same path with "Voodoo Highway". But this time they recruited Jeff Martin from Racer X to fill in the drummer spot after Eric Singer left the band to join Kiss. At that time, only a few knew that Ray Gillen had a dispute with Jake E. Lee regarding the musical style - Gillen wanted them to be more commercial while Lee insisted they stick to their bluesy roots. Later we found out that "Voodoo" favored Lee's intention and Gillen was fired soon after.

If you like 70s-driven blues rock with an 80s wild-and-wacky jam flair, and influences such as Led Zeppelin, early Whitesnake, Aerosmith, and Bad Company, then you'll love this album for sure. Lee's guitar even sounds like vintage 70s. The album fires off with a straightforward burning hard rocker, "The Last Time". This is my favorite song along with other fantastic numbers such as "Soul Stealer" with a flaming intro, Zeppelin-esque riffings, and Gillen's signature scream, "Silver Horses" with an awesome guitar charge, an outstanding cover of James Taylor's "Fire And Rain", and "Heaven's Train", which features Lee's top-notch riffin' and Gillen's AeroTyler's rappin' style.

Probably you still remember Bo Bice from American Idol, who surprised the audience by picking a Badlands's song, "In A Dream". Now you can hear the original version with Gillen's magical voice here accessorized by Lee's lazy dobro pick. "Three Day Funk", "Whiskey Dust", and "Show Me The Way" are also well-composed songs worth checking out.

Since I'm not really a big fan of blues and they don't have anything commercial that fit onto a Billboard chart (which I think is still an important aspect), this record is something that I only enjoy occasionally as it depends heavily on my mood. Sadly, Gillen passed away too fast too soon. "Voodoo Highway" together with their debut, are essential early 90s records for fans of genuinely talented bands rooted deeply to the classic rock sound.

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Review: Crown Point “Wolves” [EP]

Pop rock
Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Crown Point is a collection of pop rockers with a very radio-ready sound. Their new six song EP, “Wolves”, showcases their knack for memorable melodies and affable lyrics. Formed in late 2009, the band features Jon Davidson (vocals/guitar), Russell Stafford (vocals/guitar), and Kaycee Kay (drums).

“Back To You” is a stunning opener that warms up to you quickly with its sunny disposition and hook filled chorus – an easy favorite. Featuring a darker atmosphere and crunchy guitar atop the acoustic base, the title track testifies that the band does not have an aversion to a grittier mood. Taking the pace down a bit, “Sound Of Your Voice” is a sweet confection with beautiful chord changes, highlighting their talent for balladry. “Easier Said Than Done” begins as another sparse tune, but the electric guitars creep in soon enough to give the song a satisfying edge. “Disappear” is another treasure – a gentle but engaging acoustic ballad to close an excellent EP.

Fans missing that 90s post-grunge pop rock a la Gin Blossoms, Counting Crows, and Toad the Wet Sprocket will find a friend in Crown Point. Looking forward to hearing more from these guys!

Crown PointOfficial site.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

FIREHOUSE “Firehouse” (1990)

Firehouse is a part of the last wave of glam metal bands that struggled and survived the grunge invasion, thanks to their double-platinum eponymous debut that put them on the map and won the Best New Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Band of 1991 at American Music Award. Their musical direction is pure melodic hard rock with some sleaze and blues, mostly displayed by the strength of sing-along choruses, memorable riffs, and an overall happy vibe. Singer C.J. Snare has a very unique and terrific high pitch vocal, similar to Mark Slaughter or Michael Sweet's squeal, and Bill Leverty puts out some beautiful guitar work all over the songs.

While they started off bumpy with a weak song, "Rock On The Road", the next three tracks are enough to get a high rating. "All She Wrote" is a great uptempo classic, "Shake And Tumble" unleashes a nasty groove, and "Don't Treat Me Bad" is an awesome slab of catchy hard rock. "Lover's Lane" is a bad-ass rocker with a really great riff, "Don't Walk Away" is a good bluesy experiment, "Helpless" is probably unknown to many but a wonderful closer with a big chorus, and "Love of A Lifetime" is a timeless ballad and everybody knows this song. However, in my opinion, the true gem of this album is "Overnight Sensation", from the Snare's screamintro to the commercial and bombastic chorus, this song came out as the champion.

The production level is quite thin, so you have to crank up the volume for maximum pleasure, but the details are crisp and clear, so it's still an acceptable situation. With a couple of decent tracks and the unnecessary instrumental fill of "Seasons of Change", this album still stands high above par. An essential album to have if you're fond of a high quality melodic hard rock output, a classic!

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Friday, November 4, 2011

This Just In: Brian Howe ends his recording career with EP

From Brian Howe, one time lead singer for Bad Company (posted on his Facebook page):


Review: Simple Plan “Get Your Heart On”

It is hard to believe that the young pop punk band from Montreal has now entered their second decade as Simple Plan. Their last album (self-titled) threw their fans for a loop with its uneven batch of songs mixing their standard sound with some techno and other experimental soundscapes. However, their fourth album “Get Your Heart On!” marks a strong return to form that should reignite the fanbase that fell in love with them from the get go. Released back in June, word has slowly been spreading that Simple Plan is back doing what they do best: belting out catchy pop rock tunes that sing about lost love, alienation, and the uncertainty of youth.

While the band foregoes the aloof experimentation that plagued the last album, they still brought in some A-list stars to guest on the album. Some that you might expect – Rivers Cuomo (Weezer) and Alex Gaskarth (All Time Low) – and others you wouldn’t necessarily expect, like Natasha Bedingfield and K'naan. But whoever is guesting, the song retains the distinct Simple Plan sound. The band rushes to reassure the fans that they aim to please by delivering a monster of a signature Simple Plan tune in “You Suck At Love”. This is the kind of song that made the band famous, and its peppy rhythm and sing-a-long chorus makes it an early favorite. “Jet Lag” is another arena-ready rocker featuring some infectious harmonies with Bedingfield and a huge chorus (video below). “Loser Of The Year” and “Last Man Standing” are classic teen anthems in the making.

For those of you looking for another big ballad along the lines of their hit “Perfect”, you might want to check out “Astronaut” and “Gone Too Soon”. They don’t quite rise to the heights of “Perfect”, but make a solid attempt. In the end, I am very pleased the band went back to their comfort zone – “Get Your Heart On” is a fine addition to the Simple Plan catalogue.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 3, 5, 6, 9, 10

Simple PlanOfficial site

Check out the video for “Jet Lag”

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Review: Republic of Letters “Stories”

San Diegi based Republic of Letters is a modern rock band that sounds like a fusion of 80s new wave and post-grunge rock…kind of like Echo & The Bunnymen meet Dishwalla. It is an intriguing and enticing sound for the most part, but would sound even better if these guys could write hooks that were better defined. The song structures are compelling and the lyrics interesting, so the stage is set for some very promising atmospheric rock. But there is something missing…

The band was originally formed by the Venti brothers, with Chris on vocals and guitar and Nick on drums. Chris Venti has a voice that is going to draw mixed reviews. He clearly has power behind his pipes, but whether he has full command of this power is a debatable question. He transcends into vibrato at times that borders on Eddie Vedder having a bad day, and sadly it distracts from the warm bellow he projects. Venti’s tone is a good fit for this style of music, and he has some melodious moments, but they are too few and far between.

Fresh off the heels of this debut, “Stories”, the band continues to write prolifically, accumulating another album worth of material already. If the guys in Republic of Letters keep at it like this, odds are they will realize their full potential. Highlights from this record include “Lost Chord”, “Long Way Down”, and the title track. Check them out if you like Dashboard Confessional, Snow Patrol, or Black Lab.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 4

Republic of LettersOfficial site.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

By Kurt Torster

Kyle Vincent “Trust” (1985)

I’ve never shied away from admitting my unabashed love of 70s AM Gold type pop. Even though I lost a bit of touch with it throughout the 80s and the earlier part of the 90s, I’ve come to look at it now as a sort of musical comfort food. With no sense of irony, I can listen to something like Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods or Shaun Cassidy like I am listening to The Beatles.

This love affair started in the mid-70s when my family lived in Germany for about a year when I was 10 years old. Since I didn’t speak the tongue, short of being in school during the day at the Air Force base in Wiesbaden, my only friend was an AM Radio that pumped out one glorious pop hit after another. Every Sunday was like a holiday when Casey Kasem would count down the top 40 on Armed Forces Radio, where I kept a notebook writing down the hits as they came in. Eventually I went so far as to create my own charts, counting them down to myself in an effort to combat the loneliness. Man, what I would give to see those notebooks now. On second thought...
As we returned to the US and my tastes eventually shifted into something a little more riffy, I never did lose touch with those softer pop roots. I’d imagine it explains a lot of why I was never really turned off by things like Air Supply or Rick Astley in “my” decade.

When I got my writing on in the late-90s, one of the people I frequently corresponded with was A&R guy Jonathan Daniel, whose own bands will feature prominently in the future. He wanted to turn me on to an artist he was working with, Kyle Vincent (one time singer of the poptastic 80s band Candy), who would set my 70s Pop senses tingling. This fantastic self-titled major label disc released in 1997 wound up spawning two minor hits in “Arianne” and “Wake Me When The World’s Worth Waking Up For.” Suddenly, it seemed that I didn’t need to hide my “Time/Life Sounds Of The 70s” collection anymore. I had company in my AM Gold closet…

Well, turns out that a few years before, Kyle recorded an album for MCA in 1994 called “Trust,” that wouldn’t see release until later on in 2007 (retitled “A Night Like This”). Falling somewhere on the musical spectrum between 80s Rick Springfield and 70s Barry Manilow, the album serves as a time capsule of a rather care free and happy period of time that would be changing rapidly.

Listening now, I’m still awestruck at how good Kyle’s vocals are. They are so clean and crisp and in the proper mixture, served as a finely tuned instrument on its own. And, although the production reeks of the early 90s, the songs as well hold up remarkably well and show that a well crafted song can bludgeon its way through any amount of gloss.

Whether it’s the straight up arena rock of the title track or the infectious “Something To Remember My By,” HUGE Eric Carmen-like power ballads “Maybe It’s Better” or “Wherever You Are Tonight” or the simple radio pop of a song like “What Am I Gonna Do” and “Now I Know,” Kyle’s heart-on-sleeve writing style takes the material many steps above what was going on at the time.

Kyle is still pumping out amazing softer styled rock to this day. His “Wow & Flutter” album is highly recommended and could easy have taken this place of this album for a column all on its own. He did gig for a spell with the Bay City Rollers (!) and also performs cover sets of 70s music with the Have A Nice Day band. A vastly underrated musician who really is seemingly all alone in the musical world.

[As I finished the article, I asked Kyle himself to give me some thoughts on the album and the era around it. When he sent me is just priceless, enjoy!]

I have mixed feelings about the days of the Trust album. As the album itself was eclectic, so were the sessions. One day I'd be in a top Hollywood recording studio watching Jerry Hey conduct an incredible orchestra playing the little notes I had written for them, and another day I'd be singing a vocal track in Clif Magness' bathroom in Calabasas.

So many great artists contributed to the 'album that never was'. The title track was a groovy R&B number that featured the percussionist who played on the Spinners' hits, female backing singers that sang on some of the biggest Soul hits of the 70s, and of course the producer was Steve Levine, best known for his work with Culture Club and the Beach Boys.

Sadly, the record company suits were just impossible to work with. They would come into a session at the end of the day, BMW keys jangling in one hand, and toss out ridiculous comments that had nothing to do with anything. They signed me because they loved my demos and the songs, but when it came time to actually record those songs for the record, they complained that they couldn't decide if I were George Michael or Bryan Adams. I would tell them, "Uh, can't I be both and double my fan base?" They didn't see it that way.

There were 3 producers. Me, Clif Magness, who was coming off some huge hits with Wilson Phillips, and Steve Levine. On the tracks I produced, I hired all my favorite players. I called in Freddie Washington on bass, Michael Jackson' s drummer JR Robinson, Madonna's drummer Jonathan Moffett, Rick Springfield's guitarist, and one of the Brothers Johnson on bass. I called up saxophonist Gerald Albright to come down and play a solo, and he did. And then I had Gerry Beckley from America sing and play guitar and Fender Rhodes keyboards.

What incredible sessions those were. The creative part of the record making was all joy, especially the day David Bowie was in the adjacent studio and we got to just hang out for a while. [a clip of that is on my Facebook page].

The biz part of it was mostly aggravating. The label must've promised me 100 times when the record would be released. They gave every excuse, "We're waiting to find the right slot for it to drop. We can't drop it when Bobby Brown's coming out. We'll drop it in a month". It ended up being dropped off a cliff and never being released. I was on tour with Barrry Freaking Manilow, playing in front of tens of thousands of people per night, and there was no record in the stores. I didn't even have t-shirts. Nothing. I remember one night after a show I went to the hotel office and borrowed their typewriter and typed up mailing list cards, one by one, so I could have something to hand out to people after my shows. To this day many of my faithful fans came from those little cards.

I could write a book on all the good and bad that went on behind the scenes during the Trust sessions, but overall it was an amazing experience, I learned a ton, met some great people, and am incredibly proud of the musical results.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: The Magnificent “The Magnificent”

Melodic rock/AOR
Frontiers Records will release the self-titled debut album from Scandinavia’s The Magnificent on November 4th in Europe and November 1st in North America. The Magnificent is an alliance forged by Circus Maximus singer Michael Eriksen from Norway and Finnish producer/guitarist Torsti Spoof (of Leverage fame). The rest of the band includes Rolf Pilve on drums, Sami Norbacka on bass and Jukka Karinen on keyboards. Collectively, they bring a dazzling blend of melodic and prog rock that works better than most bands trying to mesh these genres together.

Regarding the project, Torsti Spoof had this to say: “A lot of my musical influences come from the 80`s and I always wanted to make an album in that spirit. Now the dream has come true! This one was truly a joyride…I think together we`ve made a perfect blend of the old school songwriting with a big up to date sound”.

The record is equally heavy with keyboards and guitars, recalling the “Out Of This World” days of Europe. However, there is a lot of bite in the riffs and contemporary songwriting more along the lines of Eclipse or Brother Firetribe. The vocals are nothing short of amazing. AOR fans are sure to love this one from start to finish, but I find the more melodic numbers most satisfying, especially “Memories”, “Angel”, “Love’s On The Line”, and “Lost”.

iPOD-worthy: 3, 4, 6, 11

The Magnificent – More info here.