Friday, September 30, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: My Morning Jacket "Circuital"

Completing The Circuit
4 Out Of 5 Stars

My Morning Jacket have such an ingrained sound that, no matter how many left turns they've taken since "Z," you can still pull their identity out of the ether their albums have become. On "Circuital," they make something of a return to the atmospheric space rock that had gone missing on the almost funky "Evil Urges," while still carrying the chromosomes of that album into this year's warp drives. Like a country-fried version of The Flaming Lips, Jim James and Company just can't stop evolving or lunging into the glorious fogs.

When your album starts with a vocalized faux-horn entrance into a "Victory Dance" and then into the epic title track where James hush/wails that he's "right back in the same place that we started out," and those two pieces are already almost a third of your album, you know you're in for an unconventional ride. Everything here is trippy but assured, from the beauty of the romantic waltz "Moving Away" to the goofy "Holding On To Black Metal;" the band never sounds tentative or as if they're searching for something. Or even if they're cracking musical jokes, as they do on "Outta My System," it's more like an ode to growing up than what most bands would use for filler.

My Morning Jacket may have become America's most fearless band. "Circuital" pulls influences together yet never seems to go down the same road twice, be it Pink Floyd mystical or The Who-like guitar intensity. (Having seen him play twice, I can assure you, the one thing I really wish for is the album where James lets that Townsend-sized energy appear on an album.) They now have discovered how to manage their many musical fusions while remaining their own band. While not the startling revelation that "Z" was, "Circuital" may well be MMJ's best to date, and one of 2011's best albums.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Tinted Windows "Tinted Windows"

Wayne Hanson's Smashing Trick 
3 Out Of 5 Stars

A most unlikely supergroup, Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger asked pal pop singer Taylor Hanson (who'da thunk?) to team with him and James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins and then hauled in Cheap Trick drummer Bun E Carlos to pound the skins. So you have a multi-generational and multi-stylistic team who cranked out a one shot (so far) album under the moniker "Tinted Windows." Not surprisingly, with Hanson's and Schlesinger's affinity for power-pop and Carlos used to backing the glammy rock of Cheap Trick, the album is a power-popper's dream.

What is so funny about this is just how teen-pop this sounds. Rack up Jonas Brothers' "B-B-Good To Me" with "Kind Of a Girl" and you'll be hard pressed to tell which cut is the Disney act. James Iha is all but a reformed jangle popper this time around, and the whammy he puts into "Messing With My Head" or "Nothing To Me" is going to make you wonder why he didn't ditch Billy Corgan years ago. It's also easy to tell Carlos is having a ball when he digs into "Can't Get a Read on You."

"Tinted Windows" is by no means a brilliant album, at best it will make Dwight Twilley, 20/20 or fans of The Knack get nostalgic for their skinny ties. Or fans of any of TW's respective members (and frankly, there were a couple moments where I found myself wondering what FoW's Chris Collingwood would have done with a few of these. However, for straight-up four-piece power-pop rock with no synths, the Tinted Windows' debut makes me hope for maybe another go-round.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My Amazon DVD Reviews: The Adjustment Bureau"

3 Out Of 5 Stars

Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are star crossed lovers. While that may sound like a set up for a romantic movie, in "The Adjustment Bureau," it could destroy the world as 'The Chairman' has planned. As loosely based on a story by Phillip K Dick, the adjusters come to Earth at the orders of the Chairman to quietly make little tweaks so the world runs just as it should. Trouble is, Damon and Blunt are not supposed to be in the plan.

In Dick's story, Damon's Dick Norris is not a rising polition, but some grey suit in an office who stumbles into the adjusters, who happen to be dogs. In the story, the dog is supposed to bark and delay Damon. In this case, the adjusters are given human form and magic fedoras that make John Slattery look like he just crossed the street from shooting Mad Men, but in the movie give them the power to navigate strange portals (a store door that opens to Yankee Stadium, for example) and make things work as the Chairman sees fit.

Religious Allegory much? While that is never mentioned, Chairman = God gets obvious and tiresome as the movie stretches out. While Dick's original story was deeply misogynistic, at least Blunt is given a woman who could conceivably be the strong character Damon would fall for. Ultimately, the faith versus fate versus freewill argument consumes the movie and the holes begin taking up more space than the magic doors. Blunt and Damon have good chemistry, Terrence Stamp is a menacing adjuster, but the movie can't maintain a steady pace. "Inception" this isn't.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Graham Parker "Imaginary Television"

Channel Changers
3 Out Of 5 Stars

It's been over 20 years since Graham Parker has managed to chart an album on the American top 200, yet the man has been building a steady and sturdy body of work now since "Struck By Lightning" squeaked onto the charts in 1991. Like many of his fellow pub rockers from the period, like Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello, Parker has mellowed with age, but not gone dull. "Imaginary Television" finds Parker playing a game where he invents his own Television network and writes themes for the shows he dreams up. Instead of a lyric sheet, Parker comes up with a synopsis of each show and tart mini-reviews.

The music? Parker can still turn as clever a phrase as ever, but his music now is more folk-rock than pub-rock. His voice is still hardy and gruff, suiting the temper of his selections. "Weather Report" is the closest thing to an electric song here, and one of many character sketches Parker places through the album. Best of the bunch is the sardonic "It's My Party (But I Won't Cry)," which both nods to Leslie Gore and Parker's longevity as an artist. Even the lone cover, of Johnny Nash's "More Questions Than Answers," lopes along on an easy reggae groove.

I'm also partial to the album's closer, "First Responder," about a Dad who tells his kid that Pops'll be there no matter what. Even if the kid's gonna get a 'box your ears till your head comes loose' comeuppance from the old man. It's a fun song and actually has a sweet center, despite the lyrical twists. It's just one more reason why, to his loyal legion of fans that have been picking up the occasional Parker CD since he went independent (on the terrific "12 Haunted Episodes" in 1995), you'll never walk away with a let-down.


Monday, September 26, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Brett Every "Menu"

Sample all the Entrees
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Brett Every is a roughhewn, last call at the bar singer songwriter, and I've been a fan since I first heard "Camping Out" a few years ago. Possessed of a moaning, hopeless voice, he seems crossed with Mark Weitzel and a gay Tom Waits. Every's deep, shaky voice drips pathos and emotionalism, with frequent guest Estelle Noonan adding a similar female foil to add to the bluesy burn of his writing. "Menu," his third album, continues this course in a solid fashion, offering few changes from his first two distinctive albums.

On his previous album, Brett pulled Bette Midler's "Come Back Jimmy Dean" and wrapped his smokey longing around it to perfection. On "Menu," he takes an even bigger risk by hauling out Concrete Blonde's new wave one-hit "Joey" out and turning it on its head. On the original, singer Johnette Napolitano was confronting a junkie boyfriend, trying to pull him out of a destructive relationship. Here, Every is locked into a tense battle with Joey, trying to convince him that his desperate love is worth kicking the habit over, even if you know that Joey has no intentions of being the better man. Brett's version tugs harder at the heart that CB's ever did.

There are also some stunning original compositions, including "Man Walks Into a Bar," where the 40 year old Brett discovers his 20 year old self, and tries to convince him that being careful will avert future heartaches. You know full well that the 20 year old Brett is blowing the old geezer off, and the elder Brett aches to know that his youthful self needs to make his own coming out path, pains and all. Just as delightful is when he tackles this in first person fashion during "Rough Road," hoping his life is restaurants and country clubs, where 'all they have are chili dogs." There's a romantic streak here just struggling to get out from the back of the bar, and Brett's "Menu" is another fine album from this out Aussie performer.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Alice Cooper "Welcome 2 My Nightmare "

Alice and Vince Gill are buddies?
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Maybe the strangest aspect of "Welcome 2 My Nightmare" is Alice Cooper's guest list. Kei$sha makes a convincing auto-tuned devil on "What Baby Wants," and his old buddies from the classic days, Micheal Bruce, Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith rejoin Alice for the first time since "Muscle of Love." Bob Ezrin gets back into the producer's chair. Steve Hunter (guitars on the first "Nightmare") is back in the fold, along with Dick Wagner. Rob Zombie drops in. But weirder than anything else is that Vince Gill plays lead guitar. Not just once as a novelty, but twice. And fer cryin' out loud, on "Runaway Train," he freaking shreds.

Yep. Alice Cooper and Vince Gill are pals, golfing buddies, even. It's just one of the pieces that makes "Welcome 2 My Nightmare" work better than you'd ever expect. Alice has never really retired the "Nightmare" concept, as little Steven has popped up on plenty of albums since 1975. "Goes To Hell," "The Last Temptation" and 2008's "Along Came a Spider" were all extensions of Steven's sleepy-time. However, Alice has never explicitly labeled them as sequels to the original "Nightmare," so when the familiar piano tinkle leads off "I Am Made of You" (despite the Linkin Park styled Auto-Tune) he makes the connection as obvious as he can.

Before you know it, Steven is running out of ways to stay awake ("Caffeine, Caffeine") and is on-board the nightmare express. The aforementioned Vince Gill exits Nashville pickin' for a ripping solo on Alice's Hellbound "Runaway Train" (his other solo is the more subdued "I Gotta Get Out of Here," the obligatory 'Steven wakes up' number). Alice's playful nature stays up on tracks like "Ghouls Gone Wild" and the first single "I'll Bite Your Face Off." Nor does the sinister Alice stay away, as "When Hell Comes Home" goes serious on a very dark topic. More obvious than anything is that Alice is clearly enjoying himself and resurgent popularity ("Along Came a Spider" was his first Top 100 entry in over a decade), and despite the obvious attempt to attach this album to a past highlight via title, "Welcome 2" is a darn fine rock album.

Friday, September 23, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Peter Case "Wig!"

Diggin' What He's Putting Down
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Peter Case recovers from a serious illness and surgery, and gets out the guitars for therapy. "Wig!" - eleven songs recorded in barely a week to a two inch analog tape machine plus another song done in one take from a few years back - is a ragged, raw, blues-based rock album that sweats. In the early days of The Plimsouls, Case exhibited ab affinity for blues in his power-pop, and in the years since going solo, has delved deeper and deeper with each release. "Wig!" is that sort of convincingly gritty rock that his fans have been waiting for, with legendary X drummer Dj Bonebrake pounding the drums and guitarist Ron Franklin giving heat to the backing.

"Life is long and the road gets mean/but the old blue car is more than just a machine" Case howls on "New Old Blue Car" (which he originally recorded for his 1986 solo debut as "Old Blue Car"), which could be a metaphor for Case's recovery. Case is, as usual, on point with the new songs and their lyrics. His medical emergency was both physically and financially draining; like so many musicians, Case had no medical insurance. he came out of this grateful for the support of his friends (who put on benefits to cover the expenses) and with an understanding of how fragile the safety net can be. The songs "House Rent Jump" and "Ain't Got No Dough" are racing with energy, while the lyrically obtuse "Somebody Told The Truth" ponders what would happen if everyone woke up and realized just how stacked everything is against them.

Feisty or moaning (the piano based "My Kind of Trouble"), Peter Case is back in his zone. No polish was required to get the feelings out on "Wig!" I'd recommend this for fans of T-Bone Burnett and Steve Earle.