Thursday, April 26, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Bonnie Raitt "Slipstream"

All You Would Have Expected,
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Bonnie Raitt's third album this century, "Slipstream," is everything a Raitt fan would want. Her earthen, gritty voice, that great, blusey slide guitar of hers, some choice covers (Bob Dylan, Gerry Rafferty), selections from old friends (Joe Henry, Louden Wainwright III) and the longing attitude mixed with confident swagger that made her best records ("Nick of Time," "Give it Up") such long loved releases. "Slipstream" alternates between the blues she so loves - love the way she turns Dylan's "Million Miles" into a biting question of lover's remorse - and the punch she gives to "Used to Rule the World" and rocking "Split Decision."

Two more tracks here merit mention, Henry's "God Only Knows" and the late Gerry Rafferty's "Right Down The Line." Rafferty gets a subtle reggae pulse and is the obvious single, and does what most covers don't; equals the original. "God Only Knows" (not Brian Wilson's) is a hard knock piano ballad that Raitt (who lost both her parents prior to this album) gives such an emotive reading of that it closes the album perfectly. Time may have been hard leading up to the album itslef, but kind to Raitt's talents. "Slipstream" is a solid album, and will likely wear well as the years pass.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Shinedown "Amaryllis"

Worth it just for "Bully"
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Shinedown goes for the commercial rock sound on their fourth CD, "Amaryllis," which means if you like Nickelback, you'll probably dig this. Plenty of stop/start guitar chords, lead singer Bent Smith does good vocal air-horn, and drummer Barry Kerch is a secret weapon. Shinedown go hard, fast and melodic. Nothing new here.

What does set them apart is subject. "Bully" takes on a touchy topic; if you're in high school and you actually look like most hard rockers do, you're probably gonna get the crap kicked out of you. Shinedown goes for the attackers with gusto and it is the best thing on the disc. Second is their smack-back of fair-weather fans on "Nowhere Kids," who will probably dislike this album since it went top ten.

There is the obligatory set of power ballads on "Amaryllis," "I'll Follow You" actually has some soul to it (and strings). Smith can carry a melody just fine, and he does so on the acoustic finale, "Living Through The Ghost." Shinedown uses "Amaryllis" to come off as better than the average rock band, and this may be their best album so far.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Bob Dylan "The Essential Bob Dylan"

The Basics of Bob
4 Out Of 5 Stars

At two discs and 30 songs, The Essential Bob Dylan is about as basic a primer to America's Greatest Living Songwriter. Thing is, as O write this, it is 50 years ago this week that "Blowin' In The Wind" was first released, and that means your 30 songs doesn't even merit a song per year. Dylan-Philes would not be satisfied with that few songs, but then Dylan-Phobes might get a better notice of what all the fuss is about.

Despite the mythic mumble mouth of legend, Dylan has a killer knack for melodies, which is why some of his songs have made surprisingly odd cover versions. "If Not For You" was an early hit for Olivia Newton John, "Mr Tambourine Man" helped define The Byrds, and Rod Stewart did a heck of a version of "Forever Young." There's even the covers that outshine Dylan's own, like "Mr Tambourine Man" and Jimi Hendrix' definitive version of "All Along The Watchtower." After all the years, the songs of Bob Dylan can still hold relevance, as "The Times They Are a Changing" making an appearance in the movie "Watchmen" opening credits.

All of Dylan's periods are represented, including the Christian moment and his latter day resurgence ("Jokerman," "Everything is Broken"). What is amazing is just how consistent Dylan is. No covers albums, no attempts at lounging it, no albums of "revised" materials (live albums discounted). There are far two many songs omitted to make this perfect, but this Essential is perfect for a casual music fan.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Adam Ant "Ant Music; The Very Best Of"

Ant Music is Our Banner
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Adam and The Ants were probably more exciting than their actual music, but while they were shaking people up with their antics, they were great fun. Their lone really good album, "Kings Of The Wild Frontier," is well represented here. The digital remaster does enhance the flat sounding CD's from Ant's career, and maybe a notch better than "Antics." If you remember the post-"Dirk" videos and songs fondly, this is an entertaining byproduct of the video happy era when "Antmusic" lured in hip college and high-schoolers (I was a college junior at the time). So to my tastes, I'd had wished for "Beat My Guest," "Physical" or "Whip In My Valiase" over the vile annoyance of "Ant Rap" Had that been the track listing, I may have bumped the CD up a star.

Like most of the many labels "Essential/Millenium" styled series, there seems to be an unwritten rule to give not quite everything worth having on each disc. On the plus side, you do get three B-Sides previously not on CD ("Friends" is the best of the trio), his attempt at a 90's comeback, "Wonderful," and his entry into 80's sythn-dance, "Room At The Top." That makes all his label periods represented on one 22 track disc, which is a solid value for the buck.

These days, Adam's personal problems are certainly overshadowing his days of rock and roll notoriety. But there's just no denying it, when Adam and secret weapon/guitarist Marco were in their prime, they racked up a string of hooky singles that most song writers would sell their beads and makeup for. Even his last two hits (the dance heavy "Room At The Top" and the dreamy "Wonderful") have a certain charm that belie Adam's 15 year run as a record maker.


Friday, April 20, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Tori Amos "Little Earthquakes"

Shifting the faultlines
5 Out of 5 Stars

Say what you will about Tori Amos, her second album bent music in a new direction. Once "Little Earthquakes" opened a whole new audience of sensitive women who liked their music heavy on mystic and or religious imagery, devoid of bombast and just speaking to a crowd that was being ignored, Tori Amos found that crack and made it her very own Teutonic plate. There's good reason for that. "Little Earthquakes" sounded like little else out at the time (bear in mind, this was the year of Nirvana) and. other than Kate Bush, no other woman was bending traditional pop structures at will.

It makes Tori an anomaly. "Silent All These Years" missed the top 40, bit she's hit the top 5 albums constantly. She rarely uses electric guitars, "Crucify" starts the album with piano and drums only. Tori;s voice was often the most electrifying here, breaking from whispers and panting into tortured wails, then back again, like "Precious Things." (Which contains one of the most brutal put-downs of all-time in "So you can make me cum? That doesn't make you Jesus.") The painful alliance between womanhood and Christendom is a reoccurring theme on "Little Earthquakes," and Tori's "faeries" clung to it because they all understood where a riposte like "what's so special about really deep thoughts? You better hope I bleed real soon, how's that thought for you?" could spring from.

It's why "Little Earthquakes" meets one of my main standards of 5 star/classic albums. Tori successfully leapt from Glam/Goth Gal on "Y Kant Tori Read" to a knowing singer/songwriter the likes we hadn't seen since Carole King. She has artistically outgrown that label a long time back, but "Little Earthquakes" made young adult women realize that there was a place for them in music that didn't have to be Nine Inch Nails or Phil Collins.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Goodbye Sophie Cat: A Tribute.

We had to let Sophie Go today. The cancer finally got her. I'm devastated and heartbroken.

Monday, April 16, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Josh Ritter "So Runs the World Away"

The Curse of John Ritter
3 Out Of 5 Stars

There are fans of literary type singer songwriters. Trouble is, they are few and far between, and tend to work a vociferous cult that falls in love with what you;re creating, while the rest of the world sits by in sonic indifference. Josh Ritter is that kind of guy. Rivaling Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen for intricate wordplay and Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes) for slavishly devoted fans, all while giving his soft spoken voice room to trip and trickle around his songs.

His 2010 CD "So Runs The World Away" maintains that superb quality. Be it the travels of the ageless Pharaoh aboard a cruise to America ("The Curse") or the sly humor of the distorted "The Remnant," Ritter juggles folk idioms like few others save for Iron and Wine and Bright Eyes. Nowhere is this more in evidence than "Folk Bloodbath," which pulls Stagger Lee, Louis Collins, Delia and Judge Hanging Billy Lyons into one scenario where, ultimately, the pursuit of Delia brings them together. And, ultimately, "the angels lay them away." For those who wonder why I am okay with a Dylan comparison in Ritter's, case, download "So Runs The World Away" and start there.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Sammy Hagar "The Red Collection"

Crimson Intensity
4 Out Of 5 Stars

You gotta hand it to Sammy Hagar. He's jumped careers so many times that it's hard to keep up. Frontman for Montrose, Solo Act, Van Halen's second act frontman while still solo Sammy, Post VH breakup solo, Chickenfoot. And a few soundtrack hits on the side. If there was ever a case for rocker as journeyman, Hagar fits the bill. With "The Essential Red Collection," he finally gets his due as Sammy the frontman.

Other than his best song from Montose, "Bad Motor Scooter," this disc covers solo songs from soundtracks, his Capitol years, the breakout years on Geffen, and a couple since becoming as well known for his tequila as his guitar work. Like his Tequila, Sammy knows how to hook you with spiky good hooks that taste great. There's populist Sammy ("Heavy Metal," "I Can't Drive 55"), speed demon Sammy ("Eagles Fly," "Bad Motor Scooter") and pop hook singles Sammy ("I'll Fall In Love Again," "The Girl Gets Around" from Footloose). Hard rock is his forte, but he knows how to reel in radio (and in its height, MTV, which even sponsored a "name the album" contest with Hagar).

Granted, I miss a few personal faves, like "VOA," "The Iceman" or Montrose's "Space Station #5," but the disc is packed to the limit. Commercial Rock doesn't come much better, or with this much crunch.