Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: The Call "Red Moon"

Red MoonThe Call Go Organic  
4 Out of 5 Stars

The last album of The Call's original run was a major left-turn away from the big, anthem filled previous albums. While the songs were still big in sound, the production tore down the walls, hid the synths, and went for something more intimate. In doing so, leader Michael Been rediscovered his soul, and made the most relaxed Call album in their discography.

It's obvious that something's afoot in the opening, "What Happened To You." Instead of Been's usually strident and sometimes accusatory manner, he sings in a gentler voice, backed by a shimmering guitar arrangement. Instead of a lyric that chastises, he asks his love what all the changes are about, and ends up being happy about them. "I like what I see," he cheerfully admits. And when a more Call-like song like "You Were There" comes up, exploring Been's love of Christian parables, it is punctuated by a saxophone instead of a raging synthesizer.
"Red Moon" continues in this vein, with richly textured songs and uplift. There's almost a vibe of The Band (Robbie Robertson and one time call pseudo member Garth Hudson both guest) to many of the songs here that never appeared on prior Call albums, and that's to "Red Moon's" favor. I was always confounded why, with three stints on major labels, The Call could never field a bona-fide, hit. I also wondered if "Red Moon" was seen by the band as a last hurrah, as they broke up shortly after releasing an album that was such a departure from their usual operations. Either way, when the sun set on "Red Moon," The Call went out with one of their best.

The Best of the Call - The Millennium Collection  Strength How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

Friday, October 29, 2010

Because THIS is what we are up against: Vote on Tuesday Nov 2

My Amazon Reviews: James McMurtry "Too Long in The Wasteland"

Too Long in the WastelandThey don't play no rock and roll 'cause it just ain't right...  
4 Out of 5 Stars.

James McMurtry established himself as a major American songwriter with his debut, "Too Long In The Wasteland." John Mellancamp discovered him and produced this disc, and it's easy to see what drew him. McMurtry writes dry, accurate portrait of heartland life with a wit that snaps like a bone.

He avoids sentiment, but works the emotional turf like a seasoned writer. From the opening portrait of the worker-droid to the closing deadpan observation about small-town cloisterism, McMurtry nails every detail. He also has a knack for the brittleness of family relationships, explored in the tale of "Terry" the teenaged convict, the broken family of "Song for a Deck Hand's Daughter" and the dark humor of "Poor Lost Soul."

It's all borne atop the kind of rock Mellencamp perfect around the time of his "Lonesome Jubilee," which is probably my only complaint about "Wasteland." That should not keep you away from this CD; the songs alone are far too good for that. This 1989 album holds up just fine, and he's still making solid songwriter albums today, including the recent "Just Us Kids." Just know that McMurtry got better fast and soon had his own musical voice somewhere between Mellencamp and the Austin blues rock of Joe Ely or Jimmie Vaughn.

Childish Things Just Us Kids Candyland

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Admiral and Me

I've been doing volunteer work for Admiral Joe Sestak, who is running for Senate here in PA. He's trying to mount a come from behind win over uber-conservative Pat Toomey. I managed to get this shot at a rally in Media, last Sunday. After trailing for most of the race, Sestak has pulled it into a dead heat.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: A-Ha "Hunting High and Low"

Hunting High & LowThe Hunt is Over
4 Out Of 5 Stars 

A-Ha made it big in America exactly one time, with this album and the number one single "Take On Me." The rest of the world kept them at superstar status, with hits continuing through the band's 25 year career. Granted, "Take on Me" is one of the absolute best pop singles of the decade, yet A-ha deserved a better fate in the states than to be known for "Hunting High and Low."

Part of that issue is how the video and the record company obviously thought these Norwegian pretty boys were the next Duran Duran and set about marketing them that way. While much of "Hunting High and Low" does fit the bill of lightweight synth-pop, A-Ha had much more up their sleeves. Songs like "Train Of Thought" had a darker lyric hidden inside the confection, and the title track was a great ballad about lost love. The only other single a-ha pushed into the US Top 40, "The Sun Always Shines On TV," is a dramatically produced song that highlights lead singer Morten Harkett's vocal flair.

The only time the band stumble is towards the end, with "Dream Myself Alive" and "Love Is Reason," which come off as filler synth-pop. They redeem themselves with the emotional closer, "Here I Stand and Face The Rain," which was a harbinger of how much the band would change by the much darker "Scoundrel Days" follow-up and the emotionally deeper album that came yet after. But for sheer pop thrills, "Hunting High and Low" remains a great album, and the remaster sounds terrific.

(Bonus disc contains a batch of so-so unreleased material, inconsequntial demos, with the real treats being disc one's bonus extended mixes of "The Sun Always Shines" and the title track.) 

25: Very Best of Scoundrel Days (Remastered Deluxe Edition) Memorial Beach

Monday, October 25, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Maroon 5 "Hands All Over"

Hands All OverHands All Over The Place
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Maroon Five make that perfect, glossy pop that sticks in your ear like a tootsie roll. They also have two main aces in that they are great pop writers and Adam Levine has a terrific voice for this kind of playfulness. For their third album, they go for the big bam boom of producer Robert Mutt Lange, who made the likes of Def Leppard and Foreigner shoot out of radios like sucker-tipped darts from plastic toy guns.

They definitely succeed in making a gloriously catchy pop album. "Hands All Over" sounds so pristine that you could eat the cotton candy right off the disc. Levine and company now show that they can clone any style, be it the Bee Gees pop of "Get Back In My Life," the Foreigner-lite of the title track and the Shania Twain for the boys of "Out Of Goodbyes" (featuring Lady Antebellum). There's also a bit more guitar in the mix, which adds some heft to some otherwise lightweight songs ("Never Gonna Leave This Bed" for example).

What is missing is any sense of continuity, which the other two Maroon 5 albums had. There's plenty to like about "Hands All Over," but I get the feeling Lange squeezed any personality out of the songs in his usual relentless push for perfection. The album sounds great. Song for song, it also works. I just wish it sounded more like a band than an art project. 

Songs About Jane It Won't Be Soon Before Long FutureSex / LoveSounds

Friday, October 22, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Marc Cohn "Listening Booth: 1970"

Listening Booth: 19701970 did rock on occasion...  
3 Out of 5 Stars

Marc Cohn, a singer of better than average talent and one I've been a fan of since his first album, and whose last album, "Join The Parade," I really enjoyed, has dipped into the covers album set with "Listening Booth 1970." It's made up of songs during a year Marc feels was crucial in his musical development, and includes artists like Eric Clapton, Smokey Robinson, Paul McCartney, The Grateful Dead, Badfinger and...Bread?!? Yes, it's eclectic. It's also a little flat.

Once things start with a promising cover of Cat Stevens' "Wild World," and a following of John Lennon's "Look at Me," he hits Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed." As that one fades and Marc enters into Bread's "Make it With You, " you're struck by the fact that everything so far has been played in a slow or mid-tempo blues or folk style. Even though you'd guess that The Box Tops' "The Letter" or Badfinger's "No Matter What" would up the ante a bit, you soon discover that Marc has reined in the speed in those, as well.

James Taylor, whom Marc emulates often, took the covers route awhile back and chose to make sure that his own laidbackedness occasionally was levelled out by a couple uptempo songs. As did Rosanne Cash, on her superb "The List." Marc's "Listening Booth 1970" musically on a par with both of these other artists' CD's, but what it lacks is the variety to lift it above the average.

Marc Cohn  Join the Parade The Very Best of Marc Cohn : Greatest Hits

Obama! A Modern U.S. President (musical spoof)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Heart "Red Velvet Car"

Red Velvet CarBaby, They Can Still Drive Your Car  
3 Out of 5 Stars

"Red Velvet Car" is Heart trying to revert to the days of "Dog and Butterfly" and "Little Queen." There's plenty of songs here that hearken to the classic sound, but for the most part, don't hold up. Thankfully, they've abandoned the overproduced pomp of the Capitol years entirely.

Most likely culprit is aging; you can't work up that hormonal rush at 60 that you could at 20. And lordy, is "Dreamboat Annie" really almost 40 years old? Time has not taken their vocal prowess away, as Ann and Nancy still sound terrific. It's also not for lack of effort, as songs like "Sand" and "Safronia's Mark" could be from the 70's. Like so many bands still slugging it out after decades, "Red Velvet Car" bears the sweet smell of polished professionalism. I enjoy it, but there's nothing here that made me think Heart was pushing themselves.

Which leaves the review at three stars for average, with a little extra credit to Heart for at least trying to do something new. Consider the alternative ala Journey or Rod Stewart; reduced to albums of hackneyed classics or re-recording your own material. "Red Velvet Car" may not be a fully restored model, but it's also not a false re-creation.

Dog & Butterfly [ORIGINAL RECORDING REMASTERED] [EXTRA TRACKS]   Dreamboat Annie  Essential Heart

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: The Call "Into The Woods"

Into the WoodsBreak Like a Fever, Fall Like Rain
3 Out of 5 Stars 

The fifth album from The Call felt like a bit of a slide back from the excellent "Reconciled." But while not up the the standard that its predecessor set, "Into The Woods" maintains the level of quality The Call had been setting for themselves, and holds its own against contemporaries of the time like U2, Simple Minds or Peter Gabriel (all of whom where Call Fans).

Micheal Been was one of the new breed of born-again rockers; always faithful, but not necessarily joyous. There's plenty of questioning and doubt to be found along the dark passages of "Into The Woods," with the dabs of redemption not as prevalent as they have been on other Call albums. The uplift comes from the lead track, "I Don't Wanna," which details a hard climb to devotion, and "Expecting," a minor key cry for hope.

Then there is the kick that closes the album, the rocking "Walk Walk," which chucks all the previous dark moods aside to finish things off with a bang-up 50's style shuffle. Overall, "Into The Woods" is a middling Call album, with fans better served by "Reconciled" or the more anthemic "Let The Day Begin." 

The Best of the Call - The Millennium Collection Reconciled Walls Came Down: Best of