Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: Cliff Eberhardt "500 Miles: The Blue Rock Sessions"

Every Journey Starts...
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Blessed with a voice as roughly hewn as crushed walnut, Cliff Eberhardt took a journey to Texas to record "500 Miles: The Blue Rock Sessions." He's a singer songwriter in the classic mold, delving into songs of introspection and the trials of live. Whether it's with his definitive originals or covering a chestnut like "500 Miles" (probably most likely remembered as done by Peter, Paul and Mary), he also takes a minimalist's approach to the recording process. In at least one instance, just Cliff and a guitar, in another, Cliff's guitar accompanied by bass, percussion and accordion. It's amazing just how much resonance he can get with just a few slight touches. Although he often appears with a full combo, best heard on "When The Leaves Begin to Fall."

There's also a great cover of John Hiatt's "Back of My Mind," transformed here into a waltz. But the best is saved for last, as Cliff revisits one of his earlier songs, "The Long Road." I have to admit that I am unfamiliar with the original, but this is a wonderful version. As Cliff states in his liner notes after "20 years, it has changed as I have...I decided to take a new look at an old friend." With its questioning look at the people and places that surround your life, it turns from a song about a young man's look at the future to a rumination of how you've lived your life. It's a great song and alone, is worthy of your listening to "500 Miles."


Monday, October 28, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: Nine Inch Nails "Fixed"

Breakdown, Make Up
2 Out Of 5 Stars

Released as a companion piece to the already abrasive "Broken," Nine Inch Nails' "Fixed" is almost as caustic. Six songs (five remixes) are given a Cuisinart of studio trickery and often pair little resemblance to their sources. For instance, the remix of "Gave Up" tears apart the vocal track into some sort pastiche and stutters most of of the song into disconcerting fragments. "Throw This Away" is a remix of both "Suck" and "Last" that manages to not sound anything like their origins. "Fist F***" is one of two mixes given to "Wish," just with a nastier title and a lot more guitar and no actual use of the actual title.

One of Reznor's best (and most vitriolic) songs, "Happiness In Slavery" is also given a double dose, fist with a semi-standardized remix like you might have expected given the multiple remixes he released from "Pretty Hate Machine." It's almost a dub remix with more industrial sounds. The second, "Screaming Slave," is just what its title would reveal it to be. A total sandblaster musically, with a ton of agonized screams punctuating towards the end. Probably the least interesting track on "Fixed."

"Broken" is obviously the better of the two EP's as it represents Reznor's original vision of the songs, but "Fixed" makes an interesting curio. Reznot would tread this road again, soon after "The Downward Spiral" was released, a near full length LP of remixes called "Further Down The Spiral" would appear. I'd call "Fixed" an EP for completists only.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: Amos Lee "Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song"

Climb Every Mountain
4 Out Of 5 Stars

While Amos Lee has always mixed his blues with a healthy dose of folk music, "Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song" sounds like his folkiest album yet. There's still plenty of blues, like the vocal of "Stranger," but the backing of banjo belies the new folk underground running through this album. Then there's the backward guitar solo. Lee is having his cake and eating it. He approached this a bit on "Mission Bell," singing with the likes of Willie Nelson should have made that point obvious, but now it's more forward.

His brand of roots rocking is a potpourri of styles, and Nashville, where Lee and his band recorded "Mountains of Sorrow," weighs in heaviest this time. His guests magnify the area code as well, with Alison Krauss on "Chill In The Air" and Patty Griffin on the title track adding some high lonesome harmonies. But it's not all - to take from the album title - rivers of sorrow. The Dylan-esque and playful "Tricksters, Hucksters and Scamps" shows a sense of humor. Nor is Lee afraid of the new technology with the keyboard heavy "Loretta," and the horns that funk up "The Man Who Wants You."

I like "Mountains of Sorrow" just a tad less than I enjoyed "Mission Bell" (which I rated 5 stars in a previous review). But with his soulful voice delving still in the blues and folk elements that he's so good with, Amos Lee's "Mountain of Sorrow, Rivers of Song" is a solid album from a man who does Philadelphia (and this time, Nashville), proud.


Friday, October 25, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: Panic! At The Disco "Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!"

Can you be truly weird?
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Panic! At The Disco take on a heavy banner when they proclaim themselves "Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!" If you're going to call your album with that sort of proclamation, you'd best have the material to back it up. That's not the case. There's nothing wierd or rare here, just some standard issue emo-pop.

Which is OK if you're into that sort of thing. Along with their compatriots, Fall Out Boy, Panic At The Disco weave hooks in the middle of their pop/dance aspirations. There's a few more quality on this album than the previous "Vices and Virtues," and the recorded sound is eons beyond FoB's "Save Rock and Roll." They love their handclaps and hey-heys, and aren't afraid to play with the auto-tune, just short of overusing the thing. You can also tell where the inspiration for the big hit, "Miss Jackson," comes from when they ask "are you nasty, Miss Jackson?" In other words, what have PatD done for you lately?

They know what they need to do to make up for lost ground of "Vices and Virtues." Songs like "Nicotine," the new wave-ish "Girls Girls Boys," and even the Sesame Street sample on "Vegas Lights" scream, hey, we're back to our bread and butter! Hooks! Choruses! Brendon Urie singing at full-throttle! So yes, this is a decent album. The big surprise comes at the album with the affecting ballad "The End Of All Things." Elton John may have appeared on Fall Out Boy's album, but he's making his influence here. It's a beautiful song, although the auto-tune could have been ditched.

That's about the only "Weird" moment on "Too Weird Yo Live, Too Rare To Die." Frankly, they only lived up to their album titles on the power pop gem "Pretty Odd." That doesn't mean PatD aren't ready to share their pop thrills with you. Just be prepared to hear an album that's more well done than rare.


Monday, October 21, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: Various Artists "CBGB Original Soundtrack"

The Spirits of the '70's
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Offering conclusive proof that the 70's were more than disco balls and The Captain & Tenille, this punky soundtrack to the movie "CBGB" mixes in classic New York punk and new wave, along with some classic proto-punk and the late owner of the club, Hilly Kristal, singing a country inflected ditty called "Birds and The Bees." It's enough to make you sappy for the old, ugly pre-Disneyfied Times Square.

The mix is pretty cool, as well. While you get some of the more obvious (IE famous) bands to break out from the CBGB stage (Blondie, Talking Heads), you also are offered some of the better bands that got brought into the big label league, only to fall victim to an audience (and more often than not, record labels) that just didn't get it. Those bands include delights from The Dictators, Laughing Dogs, Tuff Darts and others. Then there's the notorious of the bunch, like Wayne (eventually Jayne) County and Johnny Thunders. There's also quite a few others that fell somewhere in the middle, building a well known reputation but never equaling the talk with the sales (New York Dolls, Television, Dead Boys).

If it seems to you that the bands I'm pointing out are all pretty darn different from each other (Dead Boys' nihilistic punk is not the same as Blondie's power pop is not the same as Television's arty guitar compositions), then you're right. The tiny stage of CBGB's was a place that hatched all sorts of Bowery Bands, and while the DIY ethic was often the same, the bands could often be miles apart. So having the likes of the MC5 ("Kick Out The Jams"), Iggy and The Stooges ("I Wanna Be Your Dog") and The Velvet Underground ("I Can't Stand It") along for the ride shows that the roots of the NYC Scene came from just as many sources as the sounds the new bands were making on their own.

There are a few nods to the aftermath of the time, including Joey Ramone's posthumous "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)" from 2002 as something of a footnote to the period. The neighborhood that fostered musicians and junkies is now gentrified and the original club closed. Kristal died in 2007, a year after the bar closed over a rent dispute. At one point, some jokers in Las Vegas wanted to open a club that carried the namesake amid all the rest of the phony glitter. There's real gentrification for you. But as Richard Hell sings, "I was saying let me outta here before I was even born!" which about sums up the heart of this whole soundtrack. While the trendier of the 70's NYC luminaries were headed for Studio 54, a whole batch of young ne'er-do-wells were smashing their way out in the opposite direction, preserved here on the "CBGB" Soundtrack.


Winning The Pantheon Of Leather Award

From this weekend in Atlanta GA.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: Joan Jett & The Blackhearts "Unvarnished"

Gett Jett
3 Out Of 5 Stars

A surprisingly supple and solid album, "Unvarnished" finds a mature Joan Jett and her long time associates, The Blackhearts, addressing life and the events that follow in a grown up world. Family, politics, personal strife are all touched upon. Even so, Jett commands a rocking album this time around, much more so than 2006's "Sinner."

Jett was affected by Superstorm Sandy, which she touches on in the opener, "Any Weather." As much a rallying cry as a discussion of the events of the devastation, it deals with its subject without turning maudlin. In fact, it kicks butt. Jett also hits a tough chord when she sings about the loss of family members in both "Fragile" and "Hard To Grow Up." She still loves rock and roll, but now she sees that love from the viewpoint of an adult.

That doesn't mean Jett gives rocking the short shrift. "TMI" (too much information) and "Reality Mentality" looks at a world where stars are viewed through a paparazzi lens 24/7, and how musical reality shows invent stars that might not be worth the effort to get to know. Coming from a woman who had to shake off the slime of over-hype to make her career count, show knows from where she preaches.

"Unvarnished" is a self assured look at this modern world, even to the point where the usually obligatory cover song is passed on. Jett wants her work to stand for itself, and for the first time in many albums, "Unvarnished" maintains a standard that Jett set for herself in her lengthy career. Not bad for someone who now sees music she's created enter a fourth decade.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: Trio "Da Da Da Da"

Trios and Errors
3 Out Of 5 Stars

When I picked this up in 1997, I just felt lucky that Volkswagon had re-popularized "Da Da Da Da" enough to force a reissue of some of Trio's music from the early 80's LPs "Trio and Error" and "Bye Bye" on to CD. The memorable stuff is here, which means "Da Da," "Boom Boom," "Anna" and "Hearts are Trump." They also do an outrageously fun cover of "Tutti Frutti." These guys were minimalists from the starting gate; Trio was drums and guitar (with an occasional keyboard played single finger style) and sung in German and phonetically enhanced English. I still love the simplistic fun of the main single and "Boom Boom."

The reason I drop this to three stars is that there are several digital skips in (thankfully) some of the lesser songs, most conspicuously in "Out In The Streets." It's basically a quality control issue. I would recommend the since released "Triologie."