Friday, June 29, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Regina Spektor "What We Saw From The Cheap Seats"

Not Cheap, and Not Easy
4 Out Of 5 Stars

"The piano isn't firewood yet," declares Regina Spektor on the melancholy "Firewood," and like so many singers of her ilk, she finds many ways to make you beg her to stay at the keyboards. "What We Saw From The Cheap Seats" is an album filled full with optimistic despair, desires quenchless, and Spektor's own unique take on the world of pop tunes. There's a finesse to her songwriting that is now taking on the likes of Randy Newman for elegance in the darkness of the human condition, from the aforementioned "Firewood" to the poignant ballad "How."

I think it should be noted that her producer this time is Mike Elizondo, the man who helped Fiona Apple rescue "Extraordinary Machine." Unlike the multi-producer helmed "Far," "Cheap Seats" maintains a consistent feel and sound. Be it the guttural rasps that she uses to punctuate "Open" or the longing she drives out from "All The Rowboats" ("...keep trying to row away"), she's pulling no emotional punches. Yet, even with the album's cohesiveness and dour lining, there are moments of childlike glee. She pulls the chorus of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" into "Oh Marcello" with such cheer that you'd think she was the original writer, or the warm calypso feel of "Don't Leave Me," which bounces along chipperly.

Don't kid yourself, however. Spektor buries the cruelest cuts in her poppiest moments, like "The Party." "You're like a big parade through town, you leave a mess but you're so much fun." "What We Saw From The Cheap Seats" is on a par with "Far" and her acknowledged masterpiece "Begin to Hope," and is the type of CD that rewards you the more you listen it it. Her track record continues unbroken.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Jack White "Blunderbuss"

All Aboard The Blunderbuss
5 Out of 5 Stars

Well, no one can claim that Jack White was hoarding his best material for the Dead Weather or Raconteurs albums. "Blunderbuss," his first official solo album, is top heavy with raucous guitars, southern-fried blues, big, liquid guitar fuzz-bomb solos, and White's odd view of the world. When your first song is about a woman who - literally - takes pieces of you with her, you know you're not in for your typical guitar hero album.

"Blunderbuss" tackles the radical sides of love almost as viciously as Marilyn Manson did on his new album. On the big noise of "Sixteen Saltines," White sings about the femme fatale whose "spiked heels put a hole in the lifeboat." Or "Love Interruption," the acoustic-ish number where White wants her so bad that he wants to turn "His friends into enemies." He's got it bad, and for us, that's good. Or the title track, where he moans that "doing what two people need is never on the menu."

Along with the great guitar, While pulls out an oldie to play about with (and would have fit in just as nicely on his production of Wanda Jackson), "I'm Shakin'." Originally by bluesman Little Willie John (and well covered in the 80's by The Blasters), White gets playful, again about another questionable lady who'll make him 'noivous' or get his locks clipped ala Samson and Delilah. While I certainly can't psychoanalyze the guy's "Blunderbuss" obsession with threatening women, I do hear the grooves in the album that he's inspired to make. His guitar is doing the bulk of the talking, the songs are all killer. This is on my shortlist for favorite album of 2012.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Fleetwood Mac "Fleetwood Mac"

Dreams Unwind and Love's a State of Mind
4 Out of 5 Stars

The varying incarnations of Fleetwood Mac had been slowly gaining commercial ground in the USA over several albums, but few would have predicted the mammoth breakaway success of 1975's "Fleetwood Mac." The newcomers Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham provided an 'X Factor' the band sorely needed; Nicks being the ultimate space-woman front-person and Buckingham being a guitar craftsman/songsmith that gave the band's nucleus of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie (along with singer-pianist Christine McVie) a jolt of energy along with a congealed line-up.

The songs speak for themselves. There was Christine McVie's dreamy "Over My Head," her soulful "Say You Love Me" and Nicks' introduction to the world via "Rhiannon." The group had newly magical harmonies with the mixture on McVie and Nicks (as well as Buckingham's rubbery vocals) that made many of the songs pop-out like previous albums hadn't before. Nicks' personalty, as expressed in "Rhiannon" and the tender, country-ish ballad "Landslide," gave the band a new focal point, and Buckingham's oddball persona surfaces on the turgid "I'm So Afraid."

It seems like the eponymous nature of the album was by no means an accident. "Fleetwood Mac" was both reinvention and reinterpretation of the long-standing band's strengths with some new twists added. It shocked almost everyone by selling 5 million copies, and can you name another superstar album where the band is posed in a bathroom (as on this disc's back cover)? As unassuming as they may have seen it to be at the time, "Fleetwood Mac" marked a major turning point in America Music as the LA novices and UK vets spun a musical web that everyone (including former bandmate the late Bob Welch and associates like Walter "Magnet and Steel" Egan) wouldn't wait to capitalize on.


I'm Floored.

Dear Tim Brough,

Congratulations. On behalf of Pantheon of Leather, I would like to inform you that you have been nominated for the Pantheon of Leather Lifetime Achievement Award.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Marilyn Manson "Born Villain"

Reborn Again,
3 Out of 5 Stars
Manson jumps to the world of Indie-recording and delivers a big bang. "Born Villain" is his heaviest album since "The Golden Age of Grotesque" and sounds like he's back to being a bad-guy. Or at least a bad guy that isn't going though the motions. Gloriously gory, obviously obscene, flirtatious and filthy, all while MM wallows in some back to basics bible bashing. Have you heard it all before? Of course you have. But sometimes some gratuitous sex and violence in your hard rock makes for good junk food.

"Born Villain" works the turf like the pro Manson is. Starting with a "Life Sucks" number and closing with a deconstructed cover (featuring, of all people, Johnny Depp on one bluesy guitar), Manson sneers and winks his way along some well trodden paths. The highlights include the ode to sexual abuse in "Pistol Whipped," the talking blues of "The Gardener" and the mangling of "You're So Vain." There's plenty of absorbed Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop in these three songs alone to make this tasty.

Then there's the unexpected stuff, like the MacBeth soliloquy that opens "Overneath The Path of Misery;"

""And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."

Yes, it's Shakespearean, and Manson chews through it in a carnivorous whisper. Just when I thought the guy didn't have any shocks left in his bag of tricks, he pulls one off. It's glitter from the gutter, and Manson, with "Born Villain," is back in form.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Eric Hutchinson "Moving Up Living Down"

Pure Pop for Moving People
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Eric Hutchinson is such a talented songwriter that I keep wondering why he doesn't get snapped up by the Jason Mraz crowd. Lilting melodies, great wordplay, more than a bit of smart-alecky tongue in cheek lyrics, but with a sense of warmth many singer-songwriters lack. In the 80's, he would have been gussied up, hitched to a Casio and produced by Nick Lowe. This is pure pop for now - circa 2012 - people. After all, you have to love a guy who sings about how cool he's not ("I'm Not Cool").

Eric as a writer often reminds me of the oft-underrated Jules Shear (but is also an immensely better singer). The best song here, "Watching You Watch Him," kept calling me back to Shear's "Whispering Your Name" as Eric deals with the girl he pines for as she follows the unattainable..."God only knows why I still wait around/Except I hate to see you cry" he moans. He's the Jonah Hill of pop.

"Moving Up Living Down" is limber, good-natured pop. Eric has the soul of a Daryl Hall and the funk-lite of Mraz. He is certainly a better songwrter than Mraz, and "Watching You" should be a smash like "Private Eyes" for its own infectious paranoia. I can also recommend "Talk Is Cheap" and the fun "Afterlife."


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I join the Kindle Age!

I am joining the Kindle age with this new Collection: Brutality! It's a pun on that it's the totality of my work and the correct pronunciation of my last name, Brough,  Gor for it, Kindle readers. It's better than 50 Shades of Grey.

Click on the image for more info.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: The Rutles "The Rutles"

Maybe the best Musical Satire in History?
4 Out Of 5 Stars

In 1978, NBC foisted this special television event on America when they debuted "The Rutles' All You Need Is Cash" mockumentary. Parody documentaries were still in their infancy at the time, and The Rutles were the brainchild of one Python (Eric Idle) a Bonzo Dog (Neil Innes) and others not only spoofed the legacy of Beatles performances, they made impeccable variants on the Fab Four's music. There were inside jokes everywhere in the TV show, down to George Harrison playing a reporter, Mick Jagger and Paul Simon giving mock interviews, and assorted takes on the foibles the Beatles themsleves faced through their career.

But it's the music that matters on this CD. An expansion of the original LP (time constraints left some of the songs of the original album), every song here directly references multiple Beatles songs and the entire beat period (some of these could be lost Merseybeat singles from unknown bands, the quality is that high.) Some, like "Ouch's" take on "Help" or "Piggy In The Middle" copping "I Am The Walrus" are obvious, while others are just brilliant songs on their own, like the "Twist and Shout" contortion that becomes "Number One."

More to the point, Innes is a perfect Lennon imitator, while Rikki Fatar does Harrison's bits staggeringly well. Sometimes the bite is too deep ("Cheese and Onions" takes a poke at Yoko, while "Piggy In The Middle" has a potty joke that loses it's impact after repeated listenings), but all can be forgiving by the humor of "Ouch" or the impeccable takes on "Doubleback Alley" ("Penny lane/Strawberry Fields") and "Get Up And Go" ("Get Back"). Lorne Michaels oversaw the whole deal, and 30 plus years on, it can still elicit a smile. Bear in mind that it took another six years before anything even comparable entered the musical spoof world - aka Spinal Tap - and you get the idea just how effective Innes and Idle's Rutles work here was and remains.


Monday, June 18, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: The Shins "Point of Morrow"

Mercer, Becker, Fagen,
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Once upon a time, Steely Dan was a band. Built around an axis of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen that duo eventually decided the sounds they were thinking of could only be achieved by a rotating crew of musicians, but continued on under the Steely Dan moniker. Not so long ago, there was another band, called The Shins. Recently, their leader, one James Mercer, decided roughly the same thing. The records he wanted to make would only be created if he jettisoned the previously assembled band and rotated assorted musicians into the line-up per the songs' requirements. Thus is born "Port of Morrow," and he still calls it an album by The Shins.

This is not a bad thing. Steely Dan became a major force in modern music, and The Shins may just find their way onto the same pantheon. Mercer's ongoing fascination with perfection via dreamy and lush pop-tunes still makes for an affecting listen. I'm guessing the Broken Bells project got his experimental urges out of his system, because these songs are rich with choruses and memorable melodies. "Simple Song" pokes fun at the whole system, while there's even a song called "Bait and Switch" to tease the Broken Bells crowd with its airy intro, before breaking into a melody worthy of prime REM.

"Point Of Morrow" walks a tightwire between alt/indie pop ("No Way Down") and sweet love songs ("40 Mark Strauss"). The precision and perfection of the album (especially in the production) may have fans whimpering sell-out, but this sounds like James Mercer growing up and into his own music. I am already feeling this may be one of 2012's best albums.