Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: Weezer "Everything Will Be Alright In The End"

Rocking Out Like It's '94
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Weezer took a four year hiatus before delivering "Everything Will Be Alright In The End," with much hullabaloo that they were returning to previous form, the kind that made the Blue album and Green album great. And guess what. For a change the hype lives up to the album. "Everything Will Be Alright In The End" is full of big riffs, catchy hooks and geeked out songs that only Rivers Cuomo can produce.

They even poke fun at fan disappointment in the lead single "Back To The Shack." They promise to play the "start with the lightning strap...more hardcore." They also let you know that even they are tired of "those stupid singing shows," But they also turn the other cheek with "Eulogy For a Rock Band." Did they feel like they might have been left behind? "Time marches on, words come and go," they sing, as they worry about becoming the kind of band machine that plays the greatest hits circuit forever and ever. It's a trap the band won't have to worry about.

Cuomo still turns out great turns of lyrical phrase like (in "DaVinci") "Stephen Hawking can't explain you, Rosetta Stone can't translate you." It's done in the trademark power-pop that has always been the hallmark of the best Weezer songs. It's no coincidence that Ric Ocasek (of The Cars) is back to producing, he was behind the boards of the Blue and Green albums. It's more of the point that Weezer wants to remind you that they have greatness in them once all the right ingredients are in place. That includes a duet with Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino on "Go Away," where she's the one calling Cuomo out for years of d-baggery.

That's not to say the album is pure brilliance; both "The British Are Coming" and album closer "The Futurescope Trilogy" suffer from blandness on the former and trying too hard on the latter. Even so, "Everything Will Be Alright in The End" compensates for the past few mediocre albums (anyone seriously looking back at "Hurley" with nostalgia?) and puts them back on top of their game.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: Natalie Merchant "Natalie Merchant"

Richer and Darker
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Natalie Merchant has become more of a rich singer as the years have gone by. Her voice has become more full, her alto voice breathing a deeper mood to her new music on "Natalie Merchant." While deeper moods will likely come as no surprise to her fans (I've been one since seeing 10,000 Maniacs three times), the introspection might be. Gone are the days where she sang poetic socially agitated lyrics atop the Maniacs' new wavish pop, instead, she sings her straightforward poetry in a mix with some truly gorgeous instrumental players.

She's not totally devoid of socially conscious songs, as "Texas" could easily been seen as skewing a certain former president. But it's more mood than anything else she's aiming for. The fork tinged "Seven Deadly Sins" is a perfect example. Stripped to a fairly bare boned structure that slowly builds from acoustic beginnings to slide guitar and ultimately to a martial drum and tastefully played french horn ending, it's adult contemporary music that's for contemporary adults. It's finally at "The End," where Natalie once again touches on the wishful thinking of liberals, that she sings for the final laying down of arms against a 'sea so wide and treacherous,' all while backed with another gorgeously played string section. She may have a touch of grey in her hair as the CD cover depicts, but the elder spokeswoman of "Natalie Merchant" delivers pretty songs that are filled with the most distinct of emotional weight.


Monday, October 20, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: Jason Mraz "Yes!"

3 Out Of 5 Stars

Jason Mraz has always seemed like a puppy, always buoyant and ever so eager to please, His albums were catchy and fun, light pop with folk elements. Not so with "Yes!" Moving from slow song to slow song, Mraz has evolved from a fun and loveable lightweight to straight up middle of the road schmaltz. I guess you can call this an attempt at maturity, but with the exception of "Shine," things kind of blend into each other.

He's now working with an all-female, rock-folk band called Raining Jane, but you'd never know it from the general facelessness of the proceedings. They do add some pretty harmonies (like the lush opener "Rise - Love Someone") and some interesting instrumental touches (the sitar on "Shine") and the occasional bouncy bit (the drum beat of "Everywhere"). Yet the album personifies the definition of 'easy listening,' as Mraz doesn't seem to want to challenge his persona as a singer songwriter. It's not that an artist can't swing into a folk style and make it work, John Mayer proved that with his "Born and Raised." However, Mraz is taking it a little too laid back to make things happen. "Yes!" is still eager to please, but the man who laments the lack of "Quiet" in the modern world is taking that a tad too literally here.


Friday, October 17, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: The Black Keys "Turn Blue"

Psychedelic Stew
4 Out Of 5 Stars

While The Black Keys were always something of a glorified garage band, it's no surprise that they'd eventually delve in to the psychedelical forms of the 60's garage bands. Think "96 Tears" or "Journey To The Center of Your Mind." So the question isn't so much as what The Black Keys are doing with the spacy sounds that scatter through "Turn Blue," It's more like, "What took you so long?" Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, along with producer Danger Mouse, delve deep in the a psychedelic swamp and emerge with a mighty fine album that is sure to polarize. The album is still primarily the guitars and drums, but the crunch is replaced by woozy synths and female backing singers.

The opener, "Weight Of Love," puts it all out there. Straight up blues with touches of Pink Floyd spaciness, it's a mission statement. The band wants to expand their musical horizons and blow your mind at the same time. Ditto the single, "Fever." It's as sugary as it is spacy, while still pinned down by the guitar/drums of the Black Keys basic sound. Such mixtures run rampant all over "Turn Blue," be it the dreamy build up to a punchy "Bullet In The Brain" to the funky "10 Lovers," or the jungle drums of "It's Up To You Now," this album is The Black Keys tweaking their sound to a slightly different color palette.

But if you were missing the big guitars, then hang in there for the album's closer. "Gotta Get Away" has a big guitar hook raging on top of Danger Mouse's organ, landing the most basic rock on "Turn Blue." Complete with one of Dan's buzzing solos, it's just their way of saying they've still got their guts in the rock and roll of their previous albums. Love it or hate it, "Turn Blue" catches the Black Keys getting courageous enough to deliver an album that punches and floats, often in the same song.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: Train "Bulletproof Picasso"

This Train Keeps A'Rollin'
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Picking up where "Highway 37" left off, Train keep up their winning streak with "Bulletproof Picasso." Pleasing pop rock, a variety of styles and Pat Monahan's easy on the ears voice. From a far back place, he cries out "hey baby" on the opening "Cadillac Cadillac," like he's vying for your attention, and he keeps it for the album's 12 songs. They also keep the harmonies intact, especially the opening to "Angel In Blue Jeans," which is downright soulful.

There's even some toying with country western, as the typical country topic "I'm Drinking Tonight" finds him pining for a lost love. What's the way out? "The only thing stronger than you is whiskey...poison's the cure." Reminded me a little of Chris Isaak's high lonesome, just without the falsetto. Speaking of falsettos, Pat gives his some running room on "Give It All," which veers in the direction of Maroon 5. There's plenty of romance and life lessons to go around, especially on the make up song "Baby, Happy Birthday," where a chastened Pat sings his heart out for forgiveness. Or the sweet acoustic "Don't Grow Up So Fast," this time sung as a reminder of parenthood to keep the growing years precious in your hearts.

Still, there's lots of playful and catchy material here. The bubbly duet with Marsha Ambrosius, Wonder What You're Doing For The Rest Of Your Life" even has the band in giggles at the start. While I think "Highway 37" has the edge as the better album, "Bulletproof Picasso" mines the veins from party to pathos and keeps the Train comeback ride alive.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: Roxanna "Exotica"

Falling for Exotica
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Hailing from Iran, the US and her adopted homeland of Canada, Roxanna uses her multicultural upbringing to inform "Exotica," a lushly produced debut album. While she claims Olivia Newton John and Julio Iglesias as muses, the modern listener will hear traces of Gloria Estefan and Celine Dion. That could be drawn from producer Mark Portmann, who has worked with the likes of Dion, Barbra Streisand, Annie Lennox and Christina Aguilera. You get the picture. Pretty pop, lovingly sung by a wishful Diva. The extra thing Roxanna has going for her album is the distinct Latin flavor it incorporates. Flamenco guitars and jazzy trumpets flow in and out of songs like "Here With Me" and a solid cover of Lionel Richie's "Hello."

The style is high diva, with majestic climaxes (the big building "Close Your Eyes") and the Internationally exotic cover of Iglesias' "El Amor," sung in its original Spanish. (The CD opens with another Iglesias tune translated into English, "Only You.") Many of the songs here are heartfelt originals that Roxanna had a hand in composing, including the first song she ever wrote, "Unforgotten," all about being stood up for her own wedding. Talk about drawing from real life.

Overall, "Exotica" is a sturdy debut and stumbles only on a too loungey cover of The Hollies' "The Air That I Breathe." If anything, I'd like to hear Roxanna step away from the safe territory she effortlessly glides throughout much of her debut. But for those looking for contenders to the woman who could be the next big Pop Diva Songstress, Roxanna is quite near the front of the pack.


Monday, October 13, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: The Gaslight Anthem "Get Hurt"

Could this be the best album of 2014?
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The Gaslight Anthem are the kind of band that, should you see them in a local pub, would either have you raising your bottle clenched by your pumping fist, or crying in your beer over how damn good they are and how rare a band that rocks like they mean it seems to be these days. This time, on the excellent "Get Hurt," they stretch out even more than any of their previous albums. The hushed sonics of "Stay Vicious" open the album in a way that definitely says that this isn't going to be a carbon copy of "Handwritten" or "American Slang." The band is tighter than ever before, but they are now willing to toy with your expectations.

Granted, they are still worshiping at the alter of Springsteen and Tom Petty, but they claimed their own sound on "Handwritten" only to refine it here. The soulful title track is one of immense longing. It's a slow burner and and an open hearted song, pleading with the woman in question to ultimately sign off with "You might as well do your worst to me." For a band that built its reputation an barband blues and bluster, opening up this much takes a lot of guts. But before you think The Gaslight Anthem have sold out, you have "Helter Skeleton," with big chords and a ripping lead guitar. Lead singer Brian Fallon can emote with the best of them, be it the speed balling "1,000 Years" or the exposing of the heart that is "Underneath The Ground."

"Get Hurt" is an expansion, one some fans may have trouble adjusting to. But to me, hearing them tackle new sounds without losing their original spirit is healthy. TGA know that their listeners are probably still in that bar I talked about at the beginning of the review, clutching that bottle, and getting it on when a band sings more about them than glitz and glamor. Already a best of for 2014.