Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: JP, Chrissie and The Fairground Boys "Fidelity!"

Low Fidelity
2 Out Of 5 Stars

Chrissie Hynde is a rock goddess. I think if I saw her in a bar, I'd saunter up to her, too. Which is what happened to JP Jones, a singer of unknown repute until this CD. Seems he and Chrissie had a fling and, once it became apparent that their near 30 year age difference wasn't going to work, they broke it off. But they also decided to make an album about it.

And that album is "Fidelity." It is, believe it or not, the first album Chrissie Hynde has ever released that wasn't under The Pretenders banner. I hate to say this, but it's pretty awful. The soulful, husky voice of Chrissie remains a universal wonder, and when she sings, she still sounds great. JP, on the other hand, has a range of about five notes, and has a problem hitting most of them. When Chrissie opens "Fidelity" with the lament that "I found my perfect lover, but he's only half my age," you can feel that she's still got it as she nears 60. That talent is even more emphasized as soon as JP opens is mouth. He begins interjecting observations into "Perfect Lover" that sound like some joker prank calling the studio and getting caught on-mike.

Which pretty much sums up this album. There are some pretty good songs here just aching to get out ("Your Fairground," "Courage," "Misty Valleys"), but they crash to the dirt every time JP's carny barker donkey-bray hits the speakers. Next to Rufus Wainwright's "All Days are Nights/Songs for Lulu," this album is one of the year's biggest disappointments. Mark JP Jones in your trivia book now.

Pretenders Learning to Crawl Break Up the Concrete

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Band of Horses "Infinite Arms"

Infinite ArmsSplittin' Apart at The Seams
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Band of Horses jump to a major label and do the new members shuffle for "Infinite Arms." While the result still sounds like the band that recorded "Everything All The Time" (mainly due to Ben Birdwell's wonderful voice), the band now sounds more like it belongs to Ben than ever before. His voice is now more front and center, the playing tighter and there's less of a dream-world sound than before.

This is a mixed blessing. While "Infinite Arms" feels more like a cohesive record than the previous two, it comes at the expense of the grandiose mood swings those albums owned. Ben is also working on his radio-friendly chops. "Laraedo" is the obvious ringer, but I was also seriously taken by the Beach Boy harmony on "Blue Beard." "For Annabelle" even comes off as a Southern Rock/Eagles ballad. There's atmosphere to spare all around (and especially on the title track and opener, "Factory"), so those who did fall in love with the ethereal sounds of the earlier album will find their space.

Overall, a solid record, maybe their best. Like Fleet Foxes and My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses is finding a way to stay spatial while still finding their way down to Earth.

Fleet Foxes Cease to Begin Z

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: The Smiths "The Sound of The Smiths"

The Sound Of The Smiths: The Very Best Of The Smiths  Smithy Sounding
5 Out of 5 Stars
Morrissey and Johnny Marr composed the most idiosyncratic duos of the 80's as the core of The Smiths. Morrissey of the complex and quintessentially droll gay Brit lyrical sensibility, Marr of the melodic yet jangular guitar mixture. Despite the dichotomy (and the friction that ultimately broke the band apart), when the two men clicked, they created brilliant bits of hit single obtuseness. "The Sound of The Smiths" captures that perfectly.

The finest examples are songs like "How Soon is Now," where the unbearably devious guitar riff anchors the song, dragging you into the Morrissey's usual tale of desperate relationships with a sickening thud. Then there's the jangling tease of "This Charming Man," about a piece of insecure street trade being solicited by a man of class. And who can resist the sardonic call of "Panic's" "Hang the DJ, hang the DJ, hang the DJ"?

While it is hard for me not to recommend any single Smiths album or the many compilations, I can also safely say that any of their four proper albums (especially the debut) is likely a better buy than their multiple best ofs. But if all you're really looking for is the brilliant decade of genre defining singles, "The Sound of The Smiths" is invaluable.

The Smiths Best of Bona Drag: 20th Anniversary Edition

OMG - OK Go goes to the Dogs

Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky Oh No Ok Go

Saturday, September 25, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Arcade Fire "The Suburbs"

The SuburbsIt takes a village to make a Suburb 
4 Out of 5 Stars

Allegedly a song cycle that came together after various band members either visited or heard from the areas they grew up, "The Suburbs" is Arcade Fire's love-hate letter to nostalgia, decay and growth, growing up and the hazy nostalgia of being young in a small town. It's a pretty good series of songs, and more straight-forward than "Neon Bible."

There's also a decidedly folkier edge to the music this time around, especially in the title track and the epic "Sprawl II." However, there are still times when the dense rock that built the band's reputation. The punkish "Ready To Start" may be the most propulsive song AF has ever recorded, and the ever present Springsteen influence reigns over "City With No Children." The blend of songs is pretty incredible, as fairly soon afterward is the poppish lament of "Wasted Hours," reminiscent of The Band, and the most acerbic lyric of the whole album.

"The Suburbs" is a complex and rich album, yet Arcade Fire's most direct. When Wim sadly describes "kids and buses still waiting to be free," it cuts as hard as anything off "Funeral" ever did for me. I may find "Funeral" to remain their best album, but "The Suburbs" is maybe even more universal. One of the year's best.

Funeral  Neon Bible Arcade Fire

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Shoes "Stolen Wishes"

Stolen WishesSoles Wearing Through  
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Now down to a trio and having reactivated their Black Vinyl imprint, the newly DIY Shoes returned to music with "Stolen Wishes" in 1989. Other than a Shoes Best CD (and a Europe only release, "Propeller"), it was their first USA release since being dropped by Elektra post "Boomerang." It carries their tradition of buzzing guitars and killer harmonies, along with an impeccable knack for catchy hooks and choruses.

Time did seem to have tempered them a bit, however. While there are some really incredible songs here, especially "Torn In Two" and "Love Is Like a Bullet," there seems to be a little of the youthful spark missing from "Stolen Wishes." Adding keyboards also diluted the band's sound, even if only a slight bit. If there weren't two brilliant and one exceptional album in front of "Stolen Wishes," this would have been seen for what it was; a great power-pop album in the tradition of The Raspberries and Badfinger with almost Byrds-ian harmonies. Roughly translated, an album that most bands would have killed to make. Trust me, it's worth owning. And if you're reading this, you probably are already aware of Shoes' reputation. So go ahead and add it to the collection.

Greatest Shoes Best Very Best of Badfinger

Thursday, September 23, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Jason Falkner "I'm OK, You're OK"

I'm OK... You're OKWorth The Wait
4 Out of 5 Stars

I am always stunned when albums of this caliber get left by the wayside. Pop-Confectionist extraordinaire Jason Falkner first released "I'm Ok, You're Ok" overseas in 2007, yet no US label saw fit to issue it here until 2010. And yet, this album all but bursts with sugary hooks, catchy choruses and gleeful singing. I am now able to listen to this in Philadelphia without paying an extortionist import price.

Thankfully, the patience was worth it. Falkner must have been saving these songs up, as each and everyone clicks with the power-pop thrills of his pedigree bands Jellyfish and Three O'Clock. You'll hear the traces of Paul McCartney, The Kinks, Todd Rundgren at his poppiest, and hosts of 80's power-poppers ("Stephanie Tells Me" is like a sister song to Material Issue's "Valerie Loves Me"). There's a joyous ode to finding freedom in "NYC," a killer boy-band in waiting hit called "Runaway," and an opening track that cloaks his frustration in a chocolate bar ("This Time").

How he makes it sounds so effortless is amazing to me. Like his classic solo debut "Author Unknown," Falkner spins together influences so seamlessly that you can merely sit back and let them wash over you. Likely while whistling along.

 Presents Author Unknown Can You Still Feel Spilt Milk