Monday, December 26, 2011

Best Records of 2011

It’s that time of year again my fellow melodic pop and rock fans! This is not a comprehensive “best of” by any means, but a list of some of the releases I heard this year that truly stand out in my memory. Being human with only 24 hours in the day, I obviously can’t listen to everything, so if I missed something here post it and let us know! Here’s to another great year ahead in finding the best music in 2012!

To find our review for most of these artists, find them on the alphabetized list on the right panel. The lists below are not in any particular order.

Genuine Fakes
Lannie Flowers
Chris Alvy Band

Readymade Breakup
The Trews
Canon Logic
Sixx A.M.
Foo Fighters

Pop Rock
Still Spark
The Rationales
Fire Apes
Ocean Grove

Melodic rock/AOR
Mr. Big
Work Of Art
Mike Tramp
Kimball Jamison
Mitch Malloy

Scott Bricklin
Ari Shine
Richard Snow
Freddy Monday
David Mead
Butch Walker

Friday, December 23, 2011

Review: Various Artists – “Guilt By Association Volume III”

Indie rock/glam
Yes I struggled to type that weird label, but on “Guilt By Association Volume III” you’ll find some of the finest indie rock bands covering favorites from a bygone era best known for hairspray, Spandex, and cheesy lyrics. Say what you want about the glam rock bands of the 80s - they always knew how to write a great sing-a-long melody with fist-pumping choruses. Having their tunes stripped down and reworked by these modern bands is going to ignite some passionate mixed emotions. Fans of indie rock with a soft spot for glam (all 7 of them) are going to love every track on this record. Fans of the glam bands are probably going to think that this amounts to blasphemy. But music lovers who aren’t limited by a love for a single genre are going to find a lot of entertainment on this record.

For this newest installment from Engine Room Recordings, the songs had to be chosen from 80s “hair metal”. You’ll hear theSTART cranking through the Crue, Helmet crushing Loudness, and Elk City covering “Heavy Metal Love”. Some of the experiments don’t work at all – the worst offenders being the electrodance rock of Malibu’s Shark Attack version of Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love A Bad Name” or My Cousin, The Emperor struggle to sing Extreme’s “More Than Words”.

Fortunately there are more highlights than duds. Canon Logic starts things off with a speedy piano-driven version of Cinderella’s monster ballad, “Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Till It’s Gone)”. None other than the great Mike Viola covers Ratt’s “Round and Round”, reworking it as a haunting acoustic track. Some of the more intriguing cuts include a sparse reworking of Winger’s pedophile hit, “Seventeen”, which sounds no less creepy when sung by a woman. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Common Rotation’s acoustic rendition of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister and the downshifted version of Europe’s hit “The Final Countdown” by Farrah. Madison Square Gardeners, sounding very much like Gavin DeGraw, do a groovy version of Poison’s “Nothing But A Good Time” that wins the day for me.

Not sure what to think about this concept? Well, we’ve been given permission to share this free mp3 file with you: check out “Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Till It’s Gone)” right here.

More info here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Review: The Cry “The Cry”

Hailing from Portland, OR, The Cry wears their influences on their sleeve. If you share their love for The Beach Boys, The Who, Nick Lowe and The Sweet, then you should love The Cry. With an album full of 12 songs that are no nonsense, short and to the point, the band is clearly aiming to craft a new set of 2 minute pop songs for the modern era. The Cry sounds like a 60s jangle pop rock band that just stepped out of a time machine. The vocals have a confidence and swagger about them that is very Rolling Stones, and the chord changes and do-wop harmonies are right out of the 50s songbook. More than just a throwback, The Cry is electrifying and they deliver a remarkably consistent effort on this record with no ballad to be found. It’s a little raw and terse, but that only helps them capture the vintage sound they’re after. And if you come upon a song you’re not crazy about…don’t worry, it will be over in just a couple more seconds! Standout tracks include “Sleeping Alone”, “I Think I’m In Love”, “Such A Bore”, and “Modern Cinderella”.

The CryOfficial site.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: The Wellingtons “In Transit”

I’m really glad I listened to this one before the end of the year or else I would’ve had to revise my highlights of 2011 list, which will be posted soon. Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, The Wellingtons have released 3 albums in 7 years, drawing comparisons to the likes of fellow powerpop icons like Fountains of Wayne and The Posies. Their latest is a near masterpiece free of filler, and the fact that they have both male and female lead vocals keeps things interesting. The band incorporates a tasty dose of keyboards reminiscent of The Cars and plentiful bubblegum pop harmonies. “Keep Me Holding On” (video below) is one of the more rocking tracks, venturing close to Simple Plan. “I’m Feeling The Same Way” is a better representation of the jubilant pop this band does best. Other highlights include “Adamant”, “Your Love Keeps Bringing Me Down”, and the sublime “Baby’s Got A Secret”. If you are in the mood for something slower but no less melodic, try “I Fell For You”. Hands down one of the strongest records I've heard all year, especially the first two-thirds.

The WellingtonsOfficial site.

Check out the video for “Keep Me Holding On”:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Review: The Jellybricks “Suckers” [EP]

There is good news and bad news surrounding the new release from powerpop outfit, The Jellybricks. The good news is that “Suckers” doesn’t suck at all, which leads me right to the bad news…it’s only an EP. The Jellybricks school wannabe powerpop musicians with these 7 tracks, but they are so good you’ll wish school was in session for another 7 more!

Nevertheless, let’s not discount the release or the band because of the brevity. “Suckers” might be classified as hard rock candy, as these tracks generally have more of an edge than previous Jellybricks fare. Take the crunchy riffs of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” as an example – this opener is a stupendous song that has a lot of gusto but not at the expense of euphoric harmonies and a catchy chorus. “Their Own Way” coasts along a more familiar road for this band and is a simply gorgeous ode with words of wisdom. “Sold” boasts another round of intelligent lyrics with a shout out verse sandwiching a golden chorus swirling with harmony. “Dead End Girl” is the standout ballad, with melancholy melodies surrounding the biting lyrics. The EP concludes with the bonus track “Beryllium”, a cool track that edges into Blink-182 territory, and an acoustic version of an old favorite, “Who Is God 2011” (originally on the 1997 record “Kinky Boot Beast”).

“Suckers” is a tremendously enjoyable EP from a consistently great band – lick it up.

The JellybricksOfficial site.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review: Chris Alvy Band “Art Noise”

The Chris Alvy Band is back with their new album, “Art Noise”, which follows their “Anything Goes” EP (both on Forward Motion Records). We’ve been eagerly awaiting this full-length effort since being blown away by the EP (review here). The Chris Alvy Band casts the classic sound of vintage 70’s rock in a contemporary light – much like Jellyfish did back in the 90s. The band sites influences that include the Beatles, Bowie, The Beach Boys, Todd Rundgren, and Jason Falkner (Jellyfish, The Grays). In fact, the band set out to make a record that “delivers an enjoyable listening experience reminiscent of the days when people bought records to listen to them in their entirety, not just for one or two songs”.

The band line up consists of Chris Alvy (lead vocal/guitar), Darrell Killingsworth (bass), Todd Taulbee (back vocals/drums), Fernando Perdomo (back vocals/guitar), and Ana Valenzuela (keyboards). People familiar with the “Anything Goes” EP are going to recognize some of the tracks, as some have been duplicated for “Art Noise” (this includes “Inside Job”, “The Fall”, and “This Is Your Life”, all of which are outstanding). The title track kicks things off with great pomp and circumstance, quickly quenching our thirst for the crunchy riffs and catchy choruses Alvy teased us with on the preceding EP. The title track sizzles with spicy lead guitar work, a groovy organ, and tasty backing vocals – a tune that can help kick start your day for sure. Another round of sophisticated harmonies and compelling chord changes come at you in the splendid “Can’t Get You Off Of My Mind”. And that’s not all – the band shows us that they can still make an engaging song when slowing things down – “Something Missing” is simply gorgeous, and “Born” is epic in a “House of the Rising Sun” kind of way.

“Art Noise” is available now and should be put at the top of your “to buy” list!

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 9

Chris Alvy BandOfficial site.

And be sure to check out our interview with Chris Alvy here!

Wednesday, December 14, 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, December 13, 2011

Review: Nick Howard “When The Lights Go Up”

Singer-songwriter/Pop rock
From the UK, but seasoned in New York, Nick Howard is one of those musicians you didn’t know that you knew. Since his 2009 album “Something To Talk About” hit the scene, he’s been featured on a plethora of TV shows (Jersey Shore, 90210, and LA Ink to name a few) and racked up lots of airplay and live television features. One listen to his sophomore effort, “When The Lights Go Up”, you’ll see why the masses are gravitating toward his easy-going pop soundscapes.

“When The Lights Go Up” is an organic and soulful record at heart, but polished to a professional sheen with lush strings and crisp production. Howard is a virtual dead ringer for Jason Mraz in sound and style – many people could understandably mistake “When The Lights Go Up” as a new Mraz record. But it’s not…it’s better, thanks to a super strong second half. The first half of the record is also fairly good, but a little too middle of the road in the hooks department and fairly boring in the lyrics department. The exception is the title track, which has more than its fair share of charm.

Beginning with the soulful grove of “Days Like These” (video below), the record kicks into fifth gear and sinks its hooks into you for the long run. “Breakout” is a terrific mid-tempo rocker encouraging the listener to take those chances in life while you can – a great track to start your day. “Tomorrow” and “Looking For Life” follow similar themes, showing a more contemplative side to Howard’s writing, which is bolstered with well-placed harmonies. Howard’s gentle voice is a perfect fit for these kinds of breezy musical pep talks. “Let You Down” rounds things out as a textbook example of what top quality modern pop should sound like.

Check out Nick Howard if you like Gavin DeGraw, Graham Colton, and of course, Jason Mraz.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Nick HowardOfficial site.

Check out the video for “Days Like These”:

Monday, December 12, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

TUFF “What Goes Around Comes Around” (1991)

Tuff is an American pop/sleaze metal band that was heavily inspired by Poison - not only by their music, but also with their style and appearance. When Stevie Rachelle came to front the band, they looked even more similar, with Rachelle often called a Bret Michaels copycat. "What Comes Around Goes Around" was released in 1991, bad timing for a glam band to start their career. Before they could begin, grunge plagued the charts and Tuff was completely forgotten.

If you happen to like fun and naughty glam style rock, Tuff's debut could be a great pick. Out of 10 tracks, I found many favorites here, from the up-tempo opener of "Ruck A Pitt Bridge" with a smart funky groove fader at 3:00; the commercial Poison-rip of "The All New Generation"; relaxing acoustic-driven rock in "So Many Seasons"; the huge power ballad, "Wake Me Up", which was co-written with Bret Michaels and better in any aspect than their biggest single, "I Hate Kissing You Goodbye"; and the exhilarating Motley-fueled track, "Good Guys Wear Black". Only "Ain't Worth A Dime" and "Spit Like This" are filler.

Jorge DeSaint's guitar style was inspired by CC DeVille and that's definitely not a big surprise. But Rachelle's voice isn't very close to Bret. Instead, he sounds like a cross of Alice Cooper and Bonfire's Claus Lessmann. The production is acceptable but 38 minutes feels like a short ride. If only they could have included a couple more smokin' hard rock tracks, this album would be a blast. Recommended for fans of Poison, Pretty Boy Floyd, and the later-day pop/sleaze metal.

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Review: The Genuine Fakes “Linear Notes” [EP]

Power pop
Swedish power pop band, The Genuine Fakes, made a hugely favorable impression on us with last year’s debut record, “The Striped Album” (reviewed here). The band is back already, serving up an EP of “leftovers” of sorts that for various reasons didn't make it onto the debut album. In addition to the original tunes, the EP also contains two covers speaking to the band's influences. “Metal Sky” was originally written and recorded by Andreas Mattsson of Popsicle fame and “Somehow Everything” is a revamped Posies song that was first released on “Beautiful Escape: The Songs of The Posies Revisited” tribute album a few years ago.

Every song here sparkles with those affable harmonies we have come to expect from The Genuine Fakes, although the hooks in most of them are not quite as sharp as the tunes that grace the debut EP. My favorites include “Time Is Slight” and “I Wanna Be A Stranger”.

If you fell in love with “The Striped Album”, there is surely something here that will please you. If you haven’t experienced The Genuine Fakes yet, start with “The Striped Album” instead of this EP. The EP was released 11/11/11 and can be purchased through the band’s web site. Their next full length album is expected to be released in 2012.

The Genuine Fakes - Official site.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Review: IKE "The Little People, Church, And The Steeple"

John Faye and company are back with a new record, "The Little People, Church & The Steeple”. The new release is essentially an EP of 5 new songs, but the second half consists of acoustic versions of the new tunes. For the uninitiated, we’ve been long time fans of Faye, whether in the context of his first major band, The Caulfields, IKE, or his solo projects, the most recent of which found him teamed with Brittany Rotondo (reviewed here).

We last heard from IKE with the stellar 2010 release, “Tie The Knot With All That You Got” (reviewed here). "The Little People, Church & The Steeple” continues to refine Faye’s penchant for crunchy riffs and sticky hooks, with plenty of his trademark wise-cracking lyrics. IKE roars back into action with the appropriate opener, “Rock and Roll Dreams” – an in-your-face arena-ready rocker with a tongue-in-cheek message about the music business. “Dead To Me” is vintage Faye, with its steady beat and surf guitar riff recalling the magic of his early Caulfields work. “If I Can Help It” is a majestic power ballad that allows Faye’s vocals to soar to new heights, but truly is a testament to the explosive chemistry in the IKE lineup. Perhaps my favorite tune is “Glorious Mistake”, a pleasant mid-tempo rocker that is instantly likeable. The final new tune here is “Just Like That”, which begins with its infectious chant of a chorus before slipping into its crunchy powerchord verse. These five songs are repeated with nothing but voice and guitar, giving us a glimpse into what IKE sounds like in the coffeehouse. Stripped down to their bare bones, this format reveals the simplistic beauty in IKE’s songwriting that manages to hit the right buttons every time.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Best Albums You Never Heard

By Kurt Torster

The Orchestra “No Rewind” (2001)

Growing up in the mid to late 70s, and looking back now, I really had two bands that I would count as favorites of that era: Queen and the Electric Light Orchestra. In fact, I remember saving all my miscellaneous change and taking it down to the record store in the Styretown Shopping Center in Clifton, NJ to buy ELO’s “Out Of The Blue” set. As a pop minded 11 year old though, I don’t think I ever got past side A of record one until at least 15 years later. And as the late 70s become the 80s, my musical mind eventually turned to heavier and more riffier fare, leaving the orchestral grooves of ELO far behind.

Sometime in the 90s, as I discovered bands like Jellyfish, I also rediscovered my love of ELO and started to go beyond the hits. Though I would rank their 1979 effort “Discovery” as one of my all time favorites, I can now find the genius in not only their 80s discs but even the “Xanadu” soundtrack. I also discovered the rather tasty discs from the Electric Light Orchestra Part 2 offshoot as well as the next progression, The Orchestra.

Containing members of both versions of the band as well as a few “new guys,” this set is a proud and worthy addition to the band’s legacy. Recorded strictly on the band’s own dime, but you’d never know it as all the ELO trademarks are there, from big bouncy choruses and huge orchestrations to the almost Beatlesque layering of tracks, it sounds like a million bucks. Even though there’s no involvement from Jeff Lynne (other than some legal action!), you can even hear traces of his production stylings with George Harrison and The Traveling Wilburys.

Songwise, it’s so easy to press repeat of tracks like “Jewel & Johnny,” “Can’t Wait To See You” or “I Could Write A Book.” They have a very upbeat 70s pop feel without sounding like it’s completely stuck in the past. And with an epic like “Over London Skies,” it’s frankly about as close to the ELO sound as anyone could get without involving Jeff Lynne.

Judging by my personal enjoyment of this disc as well as the sold out crowds the band is still playing too, I’d say there’s still something of a market for grandiose pop and roll. With the addition of ex-Styx man Glen Burtnick and a never ending tour, I’m hoping chances are good that a new album will eventually see the light of day.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Review: Mecca “Undeniable”

Melodic rock/AOR
Back in 2002, the melodic rock world embraced a new band called Mecca, specializing in polished AOR rooted in the classic 80s sound but with a contemporary flair. Formed by vocalist Joe Vana, he enlisted, among others, the services of former Toto members David Hungate (bass) and Fergie Frederiksen on vocals and close friend and former Survivor founding member Jim Peterik, who contributed masterfully to the songwriting and production of the album. With such heavy hitters, the project could do no wrong.

Fans have been salivating for a new Mecca record ever since and now – 6 long years later – their dream has come true. Despite numerous setbacks, Vana continued charging forward to make this long-awaited follow up record, enlisting the talents of session masters such as Pat Mastellotto (King Crimson, Mr. Mister), Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel, King Crimson), along with Tommy Denander and Wolff. His core band was also created around Rick Vitek on drums, Brian Moritz on keyboards, Wally Hustin on bass, Eric Ragno on keyboards, Mark Alano on guitar and Joe’s son (Joey) on guitars and backing vocals.

The sophomore record wastes no time in regaining the foothold Mecca had that captivated audiences many years ago. “Perfect World” boasts engaging melodies augmented by slick production and smooth vocals. “Closing Time” flexes more guitar muscle, but not at the expense of a memorable chorus. Admirably reaching beyond their comfort zone are tracks like “Life’s Too Short”, which experiments with spoken word verses flanking a majestic chorus – it took me aback at first, but a second listen and I warmed up to this track fast. “I Know” slips right back into late 80s Toto and stands out as one of the best mid-tempo numbers on the record. Even though it clocks in over 6 minutes, “Did It For Love” is so masterfully written that you’ll want the song to continue nonetheless. Far and away the heaviest track in the bunch, “W2W” (which stands for wire to wire) is a blistering explosion of AOR strong enough to shake anyone out of a slumber and shows yet another side of this dynamic group.

“Undeniable” is described as an album that perfectly melts the outstanding High-Tech AOR approach of Mr. Mister’s “Welcome to the Real World” to the commercial brilliance of Toto’s “The Seventh One”. After hearing the record, I can’t argue with this description – it is close to a masterpiece. Fans of the debut are going to love it, and if you haven’t experienced Mecca before, now is the time! And one more thing…Mecca III is already underway!

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 9


Monday, December 5, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

ROXXI “Drive It To Ya Hard” (1990)

Not to be confused with Roxy Blue or Roxx Gang, this Boston-based quartet tried their luck at the glam scene at the early 90s with no knowledge that in just a couple years grunge would change everything. What’s interesting about this band is that they're signed to an indie label, but the songwriting quality and the sound production are very good - and they got a phenomenal guitar player. The bad thing is this disc has been out of print for too long and no one seems to care to reissue the disc, causing the market price to float to an unreasonably high level.

Roxxi's musical style is similar to White Lion meets Firehouse, but they have a metallic edge and sound heavier compared to both bands. There's a slight similarity with Roxy Blue or Heaven's Edge if you happen to know those bands. Grasseschi's vocals are quite good and he can even reach the peak notes like Rob Halford, but Sciammacco's phenomenal guitar playing steals the show.

There are too many fantastic tracks to list out but several unforgettable songs that stand up high are the title track. With its upbeat rhythm and catchy hooks, this song is perhaps their best moment on the entire album. "Wild Child" and "Take Me Down" have superb arrangements and killer solos. "Wasted Love" is a cool piano driven power ballad. "Searchin' For The Light" has a Dokken-ized riff and "Fire In My Heart" is clearly influenced by Poison…a great party anthem. Roxxi's one and only album, "Drive It To Ya Hard!" is a hidden treasure and a valuable gem if you can find one with a decent price. I just hope some label will reissue this album so it can be heard and owned by all glam fans as this is one hell of a record!

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Review: Daughtry and James Durbin

Modern rock
A quick look at two new releases from should-have-been American Idol winners. In short, it is a good day for fans of heavy melodic rock.

Daughtry “Break The Spell”

Back with his third effort, Chris Daughtry is seeking to recover from a lackluster sophomore jinx. “Break The Spell” certainly does just that – the record is a winner from start to finish, jam packed with melodic hard rock tunes. This record is much more like his blockbuster debut, bringing copious melody back into his brand of arena ready rock songs. Daughtry sounds hungry again - his vocals are soaring and passionate in every cut. Nearly every song is a winner, but if I had to choose favorites they would include “Renegade”, “Crawling Back To You”, “Outta My Head”, and “Spaceship”. If you are looking for the big power ballad, “Gone Too Soon” is the one to check out, but don’t overlook the understated beauty in the mid-tempo number, “Rescue Me”. Overall, this collection is markedly less gritty than some of his previous work, but the strong vocal performances and irresistible hooks win the day. Some fans might not appreciate his gravitation towards a more commercial sound, but it suits me just fine.

James Durbin “Memories Of A Beautiful Disaster”

One of the most shocking moments of last season’s American Idol was the premature dismissal of hard rocker James Durbin. Similar to David Cook in style and conviction, Durbin stays true to his heavy hitting roots on his debut. Blasting out first is the take no prisoners cut, “Higher Than Heaven” – despite its pious name, the tune features monstrous riffs that could make the Devil weep. It is a terrific opener, but don’t be mislead into thinking that Durbin doesn’t have the ability to balance his love of hard rock with more commercial melodies. Tracks like “All I Want” and “Love In Ruins” are much more mainstream, but will still sound as potent as “Stand Up” when it comes to belting these out live in the arena. Durbin’s voice is nothing short of amazing – he is incredibly adaptive. We all know his prowess at the mic when supporting an ferocious modern rock tune, but listen to the tenderness that shines through in songs like the touching “May”. “Love Me Bad” is probably my favorite tune, though, and Motley Crue fans should take note that Mick Mars is along for the ride on the track “Outcast”. Is it me or does Durbin actually channel some Vince Neil on this one too?