Friday, August 27, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Shoes "Shoes' Best"

Shoes BestGet their Message
4 Out of 5 Stars

I rarely do the "Join a Fan Club" thing for bands, but there was one band where I was a card carrying member. Zion Illinois' Shoes were that band. From the first banging drumbeats of "Tomorrow Night" from "Present Tense," I was hooked. Folded up on a piece of "Boomerang" note paper is a Thank You" note from Jeff Murphy tucked inside my copy of "Shoes Best." I am a fan from way back.

That should not intimidate you from listening to this CD, released after the band had returned to the world of DIY releasing and relatively early in the age of the CD. Somewhere in their Elektra contract was a rights/reversion clause, enabling the band to get their masters back. So "Best" contains choice selections from their three Elektra releases, one from the initial "Black Vinyl Shoes" album, three from the self released 1984 "Silhouette," one from the rare "Shoes On Ice" EP, and the first single from the not-yet issued "Stolen Wishes." Over an hour of incredible power-poppish new-wave and a strong argument for the greatness of The Shoes.

They moved effortlessly between boy-girl crush songs ("Tomorrow Night," Now and Then"), anticipation songs ("Love is Like a Bullet,") and heartbreak ("Karen," "I Don't Want to Hear It"). There was also a playfully mean streak in their breakup songs ("I Don't Miss You" and "Too Late") that was more playful than mean-spirited, no easy trick to pull off. When required, they could whip up a sugar-coated fuzzy guitar rock ("Mayday" "Hate To Run") and the whispery longing of a solid ballad ("The Summer Rain"). Add the the core trio of brothers Jeff and John Murphy and Gary Klebe could harmonize like nobody's business and you get the story of a remarkable American Band that deserved better, yet has deservedly maintained their status as power-pop icons.

Present Tense/to Ngue Twister   Stolen Wishes  Boomerang/Shoes on Ice

Friday, August 20, 2010

Passings: Michael Been of the Call

Walls Came Down: Best ofThe Call made three albums of fervent rock in the early eighties that caught some notice for their nervy energy and passionate lyrics. When I was in college, my college station began discovering the intense "War Weary World," and the song caught on with our listeners so strongly that the local rock station was forced to add it to their rotation...that's how strong it resonated with those that heard it. (And this was a station that had Ozzy's "Crazy Train" in a heavy rotation at the time.)

That first album, represented here by 6 songs, was as dramatic a statement made by any band of the period (U2 always sprang to mind when I listened to the album). From the deadpan "Yeah, we've seen it all before" line behind lead singer Michael Been's righteous vocal on "War Weary World" to the stark questioning of "Doubt," The Call were obviously a band to be reckoned with. By the time the second album came out, they'd toughened up enough to hammer out an MTV anthem with "The Walls Came Down." They had begun forming a fan base of such luminosity that Garth Hudson (of The Band) had become a member by this time. His keyboards helped give The Call some diversity and propelled such numbers as the instrumental "Destination." Been's songwriting was also quickly turning more and more pointed, with "Turn A Blind Eye" continuing the political acuity that "War Weary World" delivered on the debut. The Best of The Call

Unfortunately, internal turmoil made 1984's "Scene Beyond Dreams" a transitional record. You can hear the focus shift on such tracks as "Tremble" and "Delivered," which sport a dated sound and feel less like a band than the first two albums' songs on this collection. It is also the album where Been began his spiritual journey that would gel on the albums to follow. Struggling with conflicts between Christianity and a formidable dose of rock cynicism (much like U2, Bob Dylan, Bruce Cockburn and Peter Gabriel), The Call had begun crafting songs that explored this rift with sincerity and power.

Despite the indistinct production, these five songs from "Scene Beyond Dreams" are still powerful statements about the human condition. By this time, however, there was enough tension that the band went dormant for two years, switched labels and stormed back with the incredible "Reconciled" in 1986. A singer as forceful and passionate as Been just could not be relegated to video pabulum. He and his bandmates always understood that rock, for many of us, could still make the world shift on its axis, if for only three and a half minutes. This early document of a largely unsung band is a must for those who respect deeply personalized, spiritual rock. That's pretty much the second half of The Call's noteworthy recording career, covering their stints with Elektra and MCA records, plus a few unreleased tracks and some from Michael Been's "On The Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough." 
Red MoonOn this set, the proof is in such songs as "Everywhere I Go." The passion is laid out, heart on its sleeve style, as Been wails away with such an earnestness that you wonder if he's looking for his lover or salvation from God (which are possibly in their eyes, one and the same). As for a one-on-one love song, Been's solo recording, "Us," addresses issues of trust and companionship in a manner that rivals some of this particular disc's contributing musicians. They include such luminaries as Bono, Peter Gabriel and Bruce Cockburn. The tone here is often one of hope, be it the wistful sort of "What's Happened to You" or the anthem "Let The Day Begin." And there is never a caving in to the banality of what frequently passes for rock rebellion.

The Best of the Call - The Millennium Collection
As I posted in my review of "The Walls Came Down," Been and his bandmates always understood that rock, for many of us, could still make the world shift on its axis, if for only three and a half minutes. If you find this CD intriguing to you, pick up "Reconciled" and though they are not in print, seek out "Red Moon" and "Let The Day Begin" as well. If you only want one Call disc, than this document of a largely unsung band is a must for those who respect deeply personalized, spiritual rock.

Been is also the son of Robert Been of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and was doing sound for BMRC when he had his fatal heart attack. Michael Been was 60.  

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Snow Patrol "A Hundred Million Suns"

A Hundred Million SunsFire and Snow
4 Out of 5 Stars

Snow Patrol is now the leader of mope bands, and "A Hundred Million Suns" cements that position. They bring the melancholy on songs like "Crack The Shutters" and the grand finale "The Lightening Strike." They even pull out their toughest rocker to date, in "Take Back This City." It's a confident album, emotional without being overbearing.

Lead singer Gary Lightbody seems to be insistent that he stay anonymous, with his bandmates having equal footing. The stomp/clap of "The Golden Floor" or the propulsion of "Take Back The City" are as dependant on the band than his fronting capabilities. That doesn't mean he can't be extremely convincing, as his pleading vocal on "Take These Photos From My Hands" or the gentle call of the folksy "Lifeboats" show. "A Hundred Million Suns" may not yet reach the heights of U2 or (at their best) Coldplay, but with the ever increasing rewards Snow Patrol offers with successive albums, they are still maturing as a band. This album keeps their momentum and turns up the heat.

 Up to Now No Line On The HorizonViva La Vida

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ray LaMontagne: New Album Download on Sale $3.99

     I have been in love with this guy since seeing him four years ago. The download sale is usually a 48 hour thing, so get it while you can....clickie

Friday, August 13, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: The Smithereens "Especially for You"

Especially for YouNow I Know that Nothing Lasts
4 out of 5 Stars

The Smithereens were one of those mysterious bands that seemed to appear from nowhere. On a smaller label, Enigma, with an unconventional sound falling somewhere between power-pop and bar-band rock. "Especially For You" was the darker side of power-pop, taking the jangle and turning it up to feedback. And lead-singer Pat Dinunzio had none of the boyishness of hardline power-poppers, but world-weariness of a man spent too many nights in the back of the bar.

Which is exactly what made these songs so great. There is real menace to "Blood And Roses," and crushing loneliness in "Behind The Wall of Sleep." Those two songs alone would make any band's best of a must have. Yet The Smithereens backed it up with muscular rock like "Strangers When We Meet" and killer harmonious hooks in "Tuesday's Groovy." There's Beatles chords matched with Who power on "Listen To Me Girl." And Go-Go girl/fan Jane Wiedlin adds counterpoint to DiNunzio on the blue "In A Lonely Place."

The Band never quite hit this level of coherence for a full album again, although "Green Thoughts" comes pretty close. And for a brief, stunning moment, The Smithereens looked like New Jersey had the key to the future of rock and roll in their collective guitar case.

Blown To Smithereens: The Best Of The Smithereens Green Thoughts (Reis) Christmas With the Smithereens

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Sly And The Family Stone "Greatest Hits"

Greatest HitsBoom Acka Lacka Lacka Boom!
5 Out of 5 Stars

One of the men who can lay an honest calling to "Father of Funk" is Sly Stone, and this brief but effective best of maps it out brilliantly. When I was in high school and on the Wrestling Team, there were "Sports Buses" that took team members home after practice. In reality, they were Ford Vans, but they also had 8-Track players. Our driver was this burly, bearded bear of a man named Terry, and he almost always had this album in the 8-track. I have many memories of going home on dark winter evenings as "Hot Fun In The Summertime" and "Everyday People" would play.

Almost Forty years later and I'm still digging it. Sly cross pollinated funk, rock, 60's psychedelic and a decidedly political bent and emerged with not just the first truly integrated rock band to create hit records, but anthems that partied and thought out loud. While Stone's eventual personal disintegration happened after this anthology was released (meaning it's missing "If You Want Me to Stay" and "Family Affair"), what's here is still extraordinary in its power.

After all, if you can't smile to the hits here, you're probably too old or old enough to have gone deaf. "Stand!," "Thank You (Fallettinme Be Micelf Agaon)" and "Dance To The Music" are still guaranteed crowd pleasers, and the non/lesser-hits like "You Can Make It" and "Sing A Simple Song" will pack the party. Which is the cool thing about this Greatest Hits. Stone may have had a little gas left in the tank, but this album was released at a peak moment in his creative timeline. You can pop it in and it rings joyously from beginning to end, holding together like a whole album and not just a collection of singles. To this day, it remains a classic time capsule for creativity in American Music.

Essential Sly & Family Stone Clones of Dr Funkenstein James Brown - 20 All-Time Greatest Hits!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Jack Johnson "To The Sea"

To the SeaAshes on The Water
4 Out of 5 Stars

Jack Johnson lost his father and his will to write before a sudden flood of songs emerged for the creation of "To The Sea," dedicated to his father's memory. While the songs rarely stray far from Jack's usual sunny surfer sound, there are a few moments where the grown-up lost-boy lets his emotions free in the lyrics. The result is my favorite Jack Johnson CD to date.

Both "To The Sea" and "Only The Ocean" have the emotional tug to them that has sometimes been absent from Jack's easy-going music. He was exploring relationships more on 2008's "Sleep Through The Static;" this time he's hitting the notes even better. And yet, his music, guitar playing and style are as smooth as always.

I am also enjoying his maturing lyrics outside the relationships. There's a certain Kinksian quality to "No Good With Faces" and "Pictures of People Taking Pictures," which ups the ante. "Red Wine, Mistakes and Mythology" is standard Jack Johnson, with a fun feel to it, with the clever wordplay and the sing-song feel of his best work. As always, Johnson sets a mood and runs with it through "To The Sea," and ultimately it's a satisfying one.

In Between Dreams On And On Sleep Through The Static

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Passings: Michael Gallagher

My Uncle Mike succumbed to the Cancer that has been in him for almost 5 years late Tuesday. Father, Brother, Grandfather, Uncle, great friend. That's his oldest grandkid. He leaves behind three daughters and three garndchildren, the newest of which was born in June. His wife Carole passed in 2000. To me, Uncle Mike was an inspiration. I ran for Class President in High School after he won a City Council seat in the mid-seventies.

I have a movie shoot in Austin this weekend. It's gonna be tough. This is the second family member to have died this year, following my Uncle Rick in April and Uncle Mike is the first of the Gallagher brothers and sisters (my Mom's side of the family) to leave us.

My Amazon Reviews: John Mellencamp "Trouble No More"

Trouble No More
Contract No More
3 Out Of 5 Stars

John Mellencamp made no secret about the fact that his tenure on Columbia was not much to his liking. Seems the did the usual artistic meddling (most notoriously complaining about India Aire's appearance on "Cuttin' Heads"), and the hastily recorded "Trouble No More" carries the scent of a contract buster.

Alleged to have come together after Mellencamp performed "Stones In My Passway" at a tribute to journalist Timothy White (to whom the album is dedicated), Mellencamp and his band spent two weeks recording a roots-influenced set of covers. While the bulk leans to old blues (Son House's "Death Letter" being the high point), Mellencamp also does a nice job on the old country classic "The End Of The World." The band is playing loose and raw, which adds to the album overall.

While some my think Mellencamp is jumping on a bandwagon, it pays to recall that he's been driving this wagon since "The Lonesome Jubilee" explored Appalachian influences and "Big Daddy" was almost half a bare-bones folk album. The difference now is that Mellencamp is less afraid of the grit in the guitars than he used to be, which makes his growl in "John The Revelator" all the more appealing. The only misstep is the heavy handed protest-tune "To Washington," which aims its 2x4 at GWB (in 2003, I have to credit JM, this was not a warmly welcomed practice). But aside from that, "Trouble No More" holds up with Mellencamp's finer albums.
Words & Music: John Mellencamp's Greatest Hits Life Death Love & Freedom (Advd) (Dig) Scarecrow (Rpkg)