Monday, August 24, 2015

My Amazon Reviews: Muse “Drones”

Gonna Make You, Gonna Break You.
4 Out Of 5 Stars

In all heir pompous glory, Muse are old fashioned prog-rock band, with the fat trimmed off and aspirations toward the big statement. With "Drones," that landed a live one. "Drones" is allegedly about the dehumanizing of men and the militarization of the world. Y'know, you're a drones, we fight with drones and don't you make me one. Packed with big guitars, flourishing keyboards and Queenly harmonies, it's just what a Muse fan would be looking for, The concept gets a little wavy at times, but it's all good music.

The best songs are where the band stretches out, like "Pyscho" or the sprawling "Aftermath," a 10-minute epic that starts with an Ennio Morricone whistle, plays into a Pink Floyd vibe before finally tearing into some muscular metal. And that's before Matt Bellamy even sings a note, which he does over another flourish of piano. It's not like Muse has not tread this turf before, there was the two-pronged title track to "The Second Law" and the three part "Exogenesis" off "The Resistance." Just this time, they crammed it all into one song and rock it into submission. Same for the album opener, "Dead Inside," which throbs like Queen's "We Will Rock You."

I'm all for bands making sloppy concept albums. Done well, the concept often takes a back seat to the songs (like "Drones") or overwhelms and makes the album fly along one big trajectory (think of the classic Jethro Tull album, "Thick as a Brick"). Either way, you'll get more bang for your buck, and Muse are such a great band that "Drones" is a big deal of fun, without the overwhelm. It's as much a concept album as a return to form. Top notch stuff.


My Amazon Reviews: Drake Jensen “Retro”

Full Speed Ahead In Reverse
5 Out Of 5 Stars

Everyone's favorite out Canadian Cowboy, Drake Jensen, has set the control of his Wayback Machine for his new "Retro" album. Doing a covers album is always a risky venture as you're just as likely to step on a sacred cow than give a song proper respect. Drake walks that balance really well here, making his retro-world a place where Cyndi Lauper cuddles up to George Strait as easily as Pam Tillis plays footsie with Billy Idol. The thread that ties it all together is Drake's honey sweet voice, which, at times does resemble Strait's. It's not a completely country album, but you'll be surprised at just how much Lauper's "I Drove All Night" sounds with just a hint of Texas. Ditto for Idol's "Eyes Without A Face."

That's part of the fun of "Retro." There are a couple of die-hard country standards here, including the late Dan Seals' heart-breaker, "Everything That Glitters is Not Gold" and Strait's "Amarillo By Morning." He's also unafraid about some gender switching covering Tillis and Reba McEntire ("You Lie"). He also steps up to the plate to do a duet (originally by Seals and Marie Osmond) with Tia McGraff for "Meet Me In Montana." There are other artists here that you may be familiar with, some maybe not, But the result is pure; "Retro" may be a collection of oldies, but Drake Jensen makes them sound just like you'd want them to.

I can also recommend Drake's other studio albums linked below. "Stand By Your Man" is a good kicker single.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

My Amazon Reviews: Breaking Benjamin “Dark Before Dawn”

Meet the New Ben, Same as the Old Ben
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Six years and one messy public breakup later and Ben Burnley has recruited new members drummer Shaun Foist, bassist Aaron Bruch, guitarist Jasen Rauch, and guitarist Keith Wallen and leads this reconstructed version of Breaking Benjamin through "Dark Before Dawn." You could be forgiven for not noticing that the old band members are no longer around, but it also shows a minor flaw: the songs are little more than what you've heard on other BB albums.

So what does "Dark Before Dawn" have to offer? Well, you do have the fact that Burnley is the driving force (after all, the band name name-checks him), and his vocals still are as tough as ever. He does add melody to the well-hewn genre of hard rocking from the alternative zone. The push and pull between Burnley and the guitar licks are balanced nicely (although I will postulate that Aaron Fink was a hotter guitarist then either of the two newbies). There are the sharp, obvious singles ("Failure," "Defeated" and "Angels Fall") that stand out from the pack and a couple non-singles that sound just as good ("Hollow"). Then there is the moment where BB opts to provide a different sound altogether.

"Ashes Of Eden" has an atmospheric instrumental bed and gives Burnley the chance to drop the growling posture and actually sing. His natural voice is far more pleasant than you would have guessed. It's "Dark Before Dawn's" most original song and - by default - its best. It gives a fan hope that BB may have more hidden away in the trick bag than just worshiping Tool or Korn. So there you have it. There's little here to alienate longtime fans of "Phobia" or "Dear Agony" (still my favorite BB CD), but the new band doesn't break away from its sound after the long hiatus. It's just as you would expect it to sound in the scheme of things Breaking Benjamin-wise. That makes this review a minder for readers, if you like your alt-rock better than average, this CD will do just fine. Otherwise, you can take a pass.


My Amazon Reviews: Dawes “All Your Favorite Bands”

Your New Favorite Band Brings It All Together
4 Out Of 5 Stars

On the new "All Your Favorite Bands," Dawes maintain their infatuation with that 70's California sound. I guess all that time spent on the road with Jackson Browne helped mold the band's shape, but on this album, as on the previous albums, Dawes mine that vein successfully enough that they claim it as their own.

As much as this album harkens back to the LA heydays of yore, leader Taylor Goldsmith roots much of the album in modern heartache. The title song may seem like a fond farewell, but it's really a bitter kiss-off. Same with the opener, "Things Happen." Replace "Things" with a four letter word starting with the letter 'S' and you'll catch my drift. All this lyrical tension is buttressed by the band themselves. The playing has become more organic, and they went to a live in the studio recording method. ("Things Happen" was reported to have been nailed on the first take.) It leads to a few surprises, like the electric guitar solo in "I Can't Think About It Now." Or most obviously on the near 10 minute closer "Now That It's Too Late Maria."

Starting with just a hushed drum and low key bass, Goldsmith sings lightly, "Nothing sadder than a street light/shining on a stretch of empty sidewalk." Builds to a slow burn solo before the final verse, then eases into a jam session that winds up as the song continues. It captures perfectly how much the band's chops and trust in interplay has grown, even with the short span of time between "All Your Favorite Bands" and "Stories Don't End." Credit should be given to producer David Rawlings, who captures the band in their natural element, and to Dawes themselves for the leap in compositional acumen. "All Your Favorite Bands" is modern folk rock of the finest caliber and a contender for the best thing I've heard this year.