Friday, April 28, 2006

Yes: 90125

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

You like that? I came up with it. Just now.

Ok not really, but just as that phrase by Dickens sums up just about every moment of human existence, so does it sum up this album, which showcases the best of 80's rock: its epic scope, it's willingness to try new types of songwriting and new technology. It also showcases the willingness to overproduce albums to death, hiding the actual music beneath layers of synths and echo vocals.

Even truly great bands like Rush succumbed to this technology, probably since it was just plain cool and as we all know any new technology is irresistable to men.

Since this flashy new production technology was a way to show you were hip, other bands from the 70's making comeback albums that wanted to make a splash and attract some attention also used this method, including the Blue Oyster Cult and Yes.

90125 took Yes from a band that made incredibly dense songs that featured virtuoso muscianship and lyrics that might make sense to you if you were very, very stoned and repackaged them as a radio friendly band perfectly situated for heavy rotation on MTV.

After a 3 year hiatus, longtime Yes members Jon Anderson (vocals), Chris Squire (bass guitar) and Alan White (drums) were joined by Trevor Rabin (guitar) and Tony Kaye, a member of the band in the late 60's and early 70's (keyboards). This album was given a slick production by former Yes vocalist Trevor Horn and sold over 6 million copies, making it Yes' most financially successful album.

With five of its 8 tracks receiving significant radio and/or MTV radio play, 90125 stayed on the charts for 53 weeks.

A further side note to illustrate how much electronics affected this album is the fact that its cover was generated on an Apple II.

Track Highlights

Track 1, "Owner of a Lonely Heart", one of the most sampled rock tracks ever recorded, an enormous radio and MTV hit, this song introduced Yes to a whole new generation of fans. This track is Yes' only #1 single to date and was even a hit on the R&B charts.

Track 3 "It can happen" another big hit from this album, this track is all about Jon Anderson's vocals.

Track 5, "Cinema" this incredibly complex instrumental, which was recorded live in the studio and won the Grammy for best rock instrumental proved that this new, slightly different Yes lineup could play with the virtuosity that had made their earlier incarnations famous.

Track 6 "Leave It" Another hit off this album which features one of the most stirring vocal tracks on any single.

Track 7 "Our Town" my personal favortie from this album, this track features some of the best synthesizer work you're ever going to hear.


A great album that still succeeds today despite how dated its electronics sound today (they were state of the art in 1983). In fact, today this album almost succeeds in spite of its production which seems to do everything possible to overshadow the music at times. Still, this is a great "classic" rock album (hard for me to think of it as classic since it hit the charts when I was in high school) that does hold up today.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Top 5 Live Bands: #2

This one has to go to Tori Amos, who I saw at the Tampa theater. Tori is something else in concert, especially at a small venue (what she plays the majority of the time).

It's like meeting a stranger on a plane and being told an interesting story. When you leave you know you made a connection, but that you're not sure you will ever see the person again.

I think the #1 recommendation for any live act is "would you go see them again". In Tori's case the answer is definitely yes (though I'm not one of those people who follows anyone around on tour and watches them night after night).


Elvis Presley

It's the 50th anniversary of Elvis' first album. To honor that event I thought I'd take a trip down memory lane and review one of the most celebrated albums in rock history. In fact you might just say that rock history begins at this exact moment.

And if you did, you'd be right.

When we think of history, we tend to think the way things turned out was a forgone conclusion. Since the Allies won WWII we downplay all the near misses and lucky breaks that made the war go the way it did.

While not exactly on the scale of a world war, the career of Elvis is often seen in the same light. How could anyone not see he was destined to be the best-selling recording artist of all time?

Well things were not quite so clear in 1956. Elvis, skillfully managed by Colonel Tom Parker and gaining a growing following from a rigorous tour schedule, especially in the south, was looking to leave the small record label where he had been recording singles, Sun Records, for a larger studio and eventually landed a deal with RCA.

Parker was a ruthless negotiator and the deal was a great one for his client, and other studio executives felt that RCA owner Steve Shole had committed a blunder in signing the relatively unknown singer to such a deal. The secretly referred to Elvis as "Sholes' folley".

Even more controversial was Sholes' decision to place Presley in the studio to record a full length album. The teenagers his style of rock appealed to didn't buy albums, they bought 45s.

That album, titled, Elvis Presley, started off with a little track called "Heartbreak Hotel", the song that would also be the first single off the album. This track started slowly but by the end of the year, following a series of appearances booked by the tireless Colonel Parker on TV variety shows, the album began to move up the pop charts.

Following a string of successful appearances on the Dorsey shows, Elvis was booked to a performance on the Milton Berle show in which his hip gyrations caused a storm of controversy. Controversy is always good, especially a sexy one and multiple singles began climbing the charts from Presley's debut album.

Very shortly, "Heartbreak Hotel" was the #1 song on the charts, the first of Presley's 100+ #1 singles. The album that was considered such a risk was the first Rock album to reach #1 on the chart's and RCA's first ever album to generate more than $1 million dollars in earnings (something it has since done many, many times over).

The rest, as they say, is history.

Track Highlights

Track 1, "Heartbreak Hotel", it's impossible not to like to this song. Even today it sounds like nothing else, with sparse instrumentation, Elvis has nowhere to hide. Fortunately hiding wasn't his style and he carries the track brilliantly with a delivery we take for granted today but which was unheard of in 1956.

Track 3, "Blue Suede Shoes", another legendary track and another song we take somewhat for granted today because it sounds like so much of the classic 50's rock we've heard everywhere from period films to the Happy Days tv show. Of course all those songs we've been listening to for 50 years by Roy Orbison and thousands of other performers were likely imitating this track.

Track 9, "Tutti Frutti", one of the things that set Elvis apart early in his career was his willingness to sing the songs of African-American performers and his ability to do them right. Here we see Presley doing a great rendition of the Little Richard classic. Many white radio stations in the south refused to play this track and others like it at first, thinking from his voice that the performer was black.

Track 10, "Tryin' to get to you", among Elvis' many strengths, as touched on above, was his ability to perform so many styles and impart his trademark style onto them. Blues, Soul, Pop, Rock, Country and Gospel were just a few of the genres he had chart-topping hits with. It added to his appeal and made his albums infinitely listenable since they encompassed such a wide range of music. This track is a great country number and one of the tracks from this album to receive wide play on country radio at the same time tracks like "Heartbreak Hotel" were dominating the rock radio airwaves.

Track 14, "Blue Moon" another standard from this debut album, this Rogers and Hart ballad showed yet another side of Evlis' range and foreshadowed the numerous hits he would have singing ballads and torch songs later in his career.

Track 15, "Shake, rattle and roll", this Charlie Calhoun classic was considered far to sexually charged for radio or television of the 50's with lines like "the devil in nylon hose", "you make me roll my eyes, baby make me grit my teeth", and "you wear those dresses, the sun comes shining through" was turned into a hit by Bill Haley and the Comets, using a santitized version of the lyrics and a less bluesy more pop-rock arrangement.

Elvis uses Haley's radio-friendly arrangement but his single uses the original, bawdy lyrics.


The original 12 track album is an amazing accomplishment, one of the greatest first albums ever recorded. The version issued by RCA today is even more stellar, with DSD remastering that sounds like it was digitally recorded in 56 and 6 tracks that were only released as singles in 1956 and not included on the original album.

Grade: A+

Monday, April 24, 2006

Top 5 Live Bands: #3

This can only go to one band and as I think about it, I realize I really have to catch him again next time he's in town: George Thorogood.

One of the best days of my life, I got a pass to the Riverside waterpark here in New England, which was a day and also got you into the show for free. I hadn't even planned to go to the concert, didn't know who it was. When I heard it was the Destroyers, I decided to stay an extra couple of hours to see the show and man was it worth it.

George and the boys put on a great show, for over 4 hours. He would not stop playing until the park officials turned the lights out on him. An amazing show.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

If MTV could make videos like this...

I'd watch.

The most notable thing about this video is that its better than the actual video on MTV (plus its hilarious).

Top 5 Live Bands: #4

I saw Live at an outdoor music festical in Florida called Livestock, where you went and camped next to a prison in this farmer's field and listened to music acts all weekend.

It was sort of surreal.

Live was one of the three headliners who played last, along with Bush and Hootie and the Blowfish and were touring in support of their second album (and I believe best selling album) Throwing Copper.

It was clear that they were beat, my guess would be with the unexpected success of the album they had added tour dates like crazy.

They arrived very shortly before their set and came out with very little in the way of a sound check and just hit it.

It was a very raw, very emotional performance.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Top 5 Live Bands

My personal selection of course, but I thought I'd take you through the best live shows I've ever seen and why.

Number 5: Candlebox

It's really, really hard to be an opening act. When you're opening for a band that a strong following, its even harder. When you're opening for a band *known* for the devotion of its fans, well that's a real trick.

I saw Candlebox open for Rush in 94 and they were clearly a young band. Not many showed up for the opening act (one of the reasons its harder to open for a band with such a strong following) and Candelbox was doing some of the things hair bands do. It was tough to watch for a few minutes, people were laughing at them. I'd be surprised if they could hear it- but they clearly knew they were losing the audience in a big way.

What happened then impressed me tremendously. They stopped flipping their hair around, started playing and singing with a new intensity, and after seeing them I went and put down money for my first Candlebox album.

Not one of my favorite bands of all time or anything, but a live performance in which a band seemed to grow up before my eyes, made an impression (a good one) and won over a crowd.

Alanis Morisette: Jagged Little Pill (Acoustic)

Its rare to see an artist revisit their work soon after release. When it does happen, especially with someone in the mainstream, one usually smells the aroma of money in the air.

And sometimes, as I suspect was true in this case, its because that artist wants to see how far she's come as a musician, and treats the rest of us to come along for the ride.

Track Highlights

Track 2, "You Oughta Know", this track, a monster hit in its "plugged" incarnation, replaces the energy and rock drive of the original for pure, unbridled pain that would be hard to listen to if it wasn't so compelling. Alanis knows from pain but this track really lets that shine through. And with less noise to hide behind the expressiveness of her voice and the pain it carries is palpable.

Track 7, "You Learn", another hit off JLP, this track is an excellent show of musicianship, especially of Alanis' voice. She carries this tune and with a spartan production its even prettier.


Jagged Little Pill (Acoustic) accomplishes something I never thought it would: it's better than the original. How many remakes can you say that about? Alanis has made great strides as a singer and a musician, and revisiting her break through hits show that in a much more drastic way than comparing different albums ever could.

Grade: A+

Monday, April 17, 2006

Junior Brown's Greatest Hits

Junior Brown is one of the unsung heroes of Country music today.

Why is he unsung? Well he actually makes country music and he doesn't do faux patriotic screeds to fire up the drunk rednecks.

Most country radio today is dominated by pop acts who wear cowboy boots, throw in the occasional fiddle and steel guitar and record in Nashville.

Johnny Cash isn't hip enough to be played on country radio. Just everywhere else.

Anyway, rant over, we're here to talk about Junior Brown and "Blackfoot Rag", a track from his Greatest Hits album that is a great introduction to the coolness that is Junior. He is a straight up honky tonk guitar player who can outpick and outgrin just about anyone.

He also ventures into other styles of music closely related to honky tonk including boogie woogie and 60's beach instrumentals. For spice he throws in the occasional soulful country ballad.

Track Highlights

Track 3, "Sugarfoot Rag" Great instrumental, shows off Junior's honky-tonk skills nicely.

Track 8, "Semi Crazy" great and funny song about a trucker. Now that's what country music should be.

Track 9, "Venom Wearing Denim" Song about a bad girl. Another country classic.

Track 10, "Joe the Singing Janitor" Really shows off Junior's baritone voice.


If you're in the mood for real country, this is the album (and maybe the artist) for you.

Grade: A

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Desert Island Discs

This site rocks. People post their top 10 discs they couldn't live without if they were on a desert island.

Desert Island Discs

I highly recommend this. Great way to see what other people love. Not like, love.


Green Day: Kerplunk

Before they were making political punk taking aim at the Bush administration, even before they stars with a mainstream breakthrough album on a major label, Green Day was just a punk band.

But as Kerplunk proves, they were a damn good one.

Green Day is a band I always associate with energy. When I'm sluggish or depressed I can slap in a disc and "Basket Case" or "Burnout" will pick me right up.

It's also a truism that young bands are filled with energy.

So when you think of a young Green Day, you'd expect an album brimming with energy and that's exactly what you're going to get. Frenetic, raw, unbridled punk energy.

Sometimes the riffs aren't as clean as they are on Dookie or American Idiot but for all that, this album ranks as one of their best.

Track Highlights

Track 1, "2000 Light Years Away" a Green Day punk-romance and its not even about a hooker. Awww how sweet.

Track 3, "Welcome to Paradise", a track that landed on their major label debut Dookie here we have a raw version that, quite simply, crushes the clean track like a grape. And this from a guy who would rate "Welcome to Paradise" as one of his favorite Green Day songs before he heard this version.

Track 6, "Dominated Love Slave", a hilarious track that has a country western vibe to it.

Track 12, "Words I might have ate", the classic Green Day punk played with acoustic guitars. The vocals are especially raw, but who cares. Hard driving acoustic music is awesome and something more bands should do more of.

Track 16, "My Generation" terrific cover of the Who classic.


A great look at a band just getting started, this first album with the full Green Day lineup (they produced one album before this with a different drummer) shows why they will become international stars and sell out arenas. It might be just me, but I prefer the young rough cuts on this album to many of their slicker, later numbers.

Grade: A+

Friday, April 14, 2006

Unchained: Johnny Cash

One of the best CDs recorded anytime, anywhere, Unchained takes Johnny Cash, backs him up with Tom Petty and the freaking Heartbreakers, and then sets him loose to perform covers and original songs (many written for him by Tom Petty).

As you can imagine with a lineup like this, it's pretty damn good.

Track Highlights

"Rusty Cage", a Soundgarden cover. Rarely is a cover better than the original. Even more rare does a cover completely destroy the original and make you never want to hear it again, preferring the cover.

I'm not sure if this says something about Soundgarden, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and conclude that it's just that Johnny Cash is that good.

"I've Been Everywhere", the Bob Dylan classic. In this case I again have to conclude that the cover is better than the original. Here the Heartbreakers really show why they are legendary band, and Cash's baritone is never more full of life than on this track.

Grade: A+

Single Review: "Change Your Evil Ways" by Rusted Root

Rusted Root is a band that symbolizes the kind of weirdness I like in my music. That's right, they're eclectic. They're not afraid to surprise you. Whether its with African-inspired drums, mixing in flutes and other wind instruments, electric and acoustic guitars and so forth, they're a band that's never content to be boxed in.

This cover of the Santana classic is a great introduction to this band, both their great soulful vocals and their eclectic instrumentation and their jam-band roots, it's all on display here.

If you like Dave Matthews, then you will definitely like Rusted Root.

Grade: A+

Rhino Hi-Five: Wilson Pickett

A primer on one of the greatest voices to ever grace planet Earth and why we all miss him.

Rhino's a great company that keeps a lot of great music and TV alive and this EP is a short and sweet, no muss no fuss love letter from Wilson Pickett.

Track 1, "In the Midnight Hour" one of the greatest blues songs ever written. This is one of those songs where Pickett's vocals can take a song any good bar band can do competently (and they have, for decades) and make it great through his sheer vocal talent.

Track 2, "634-5789" a great blues number that is built around Pickett's amazing vocal delivery and a great backing band.

Track 4, "Mustang Sally" the definitive Wilson Pickett song. Raunchy and smooth in equal measure, with a drive that just doesn't let up.

Track 5, "Land of 1000 Dances" a song I first heard from the Blues Brothers movie. And even though they brought in one of their many ringers for this one, Ray Charles in this case, there's just no comparison. Pickett's enthusiasm is always infectious and no one is able to carry off this song the way he did.

Single Review: "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" by Flatt and Scruggs

Flatt and Scruggs are old-school bluegrass that holds up today.

And the reason it holds up so well is simple: the boys can play.

I don't care what genre of music I listen to, I love to hear players that know what they're doing and are dedicated and talented. If you want to hear one of the greatest jam bands ever, this instrumental wouldn't be a bad track to start with.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Awake: The Best of Live

Just so you don't think I'm always behind the curve, like I was with A Tribe Called Quest, I'd like to state for the record that I liked Live before anyone.

I feel so cool right now. Just let me enjoy this feeling for a moment.

Ok, I'm done basking.

In all seriousness, Live is one of the best bands around, a band influenced more by the U2 school of rock than the grunge craze that seemingly allowed every bar and garage band to land a deal in the early 90's.

Seriously, I like Stone Temple Pilots, but if they weren't channeling Pearl Jam to get a deal on their first album, then uh, why have they never sounded like that since?

For those looking for a crash course in this great band, I recommend:

Track 1, "Operation: Spirit". This 1 track made me go buy Mental Jewelry (Live's first album) the first time I heard it. A great bass line and ballsy vocals (both signatures of Live).

Track 6, "Lightning Crashes". A great song that starts soft and builds on Kowalczyk's vocal power and builds into one of the best rock tracks every recorded.

Track 12, "Dolphin's Cry" a great song reminiscent of their first album in a lot of ways.

Track 19, "Walk the Line" a really nice cover of the Johnny Cash classic.


Experiment in progress

So when I started this blog way back in... ok it was a few days ago, my original idea, as evidenced by my early post, was to do lengthy reviews of long albums.

You might have noticed the last day or so, not so much.

Basically I've been reading about blogging and one of the recommendations was for shorter posts, so I am experimenting to see if I like that format better.

I return you to your listening of DOA by the Foo Fighters. Or maybe that's just me.


Cool Blogs

Sour Duck

A cool blog by someone who knows we should all listen to as much indie music as possible.


Single Review: "Love is an unfamiliar name" by The Duke Spirit

God loves indie bands.

Ok I have no solid evidence of that, but I do know that no major religion specifically condemns indie bands so that should tell you something.

The Duke Spirit had one record label go out of business out from under them and another choose to wait a year to market their debut album in America.

And despite that it still sounds fresh. If it had been released on time it would have been revolutionary.

This track is hard driving, take no prisoners college radio goodness. Its cookie dough for the soul.


A Tribe Called Quest: Anthology

Greatest Hits albums are for those nimrods who arrive late to the show and miss a great band when they are actually making great music. We find out about them later, and pick up the Greatest Hits to find out what the buzz is about.

Or its a way to make some quick cash for your new record label when you move from Mercury to Atlantic or from Atlantic to Epic.

Either way, they let those of us behind the curve catch up to the cool kids.

This is me with A Tribe Called Quest.

Rap isn't generally my thing because I like to listen to the music more than lyrics, but after owning Anthology for a couple of years I think there really are rappers who are musicians and not just pop stars reaching for a little extra street cred.

My list of rappers worth listening to would be about 5 long and A Tribe Called Quest would be #2 on that list.

Track Highlights

There's a lot of great tracks on this album, I'll try to hit the highlights.

Track 4, "Can I kick it" has a great funky vibe to it, backed by sampling from some classic rock songs. Just a great mellow tune when you want to let the music take you out of yourself. Great while working or playing a consol game with a terrible soundtrack in other words.

Track 8, "Electric Relaxation" has a nice rhythym and backing synths that might be drawn from Jazz or might be original (I didn't recognize them but I'm not a huge jazz afficianado).

But easily my favorite track on Anthology has to be "I left my wallet in El Segundo", a track with a nice story about, well, leaving your wallet in El Segundo and trying to find it. I actually like this track enough that I listened to the lyrics and its impossible for me to listen to it just once.


Im not really a rap fan, but I know good music when I hear it and Tribe always seems to deliver that in spades. If I had to pick the best rapper ever (and no one is beating down my door for this quote) it would have to be Tribe or Ice-T.

Grade: A-

Single Review: "I bet you look good on the dance floor" by Arctic Monkeys

Mmmm Brit Pop. For those of you unfamiliar with Brit Pop, which has never really crossed over into the mainstream the way it should, think the Clash. If you'd like to hear more bands like the Clash, then you'll like Brit Pop.

"I bet you look on the dance floor" is a fine example of high energy Brit Pop that will make you want to find someone and hit the nearest dancefloor.

Grade: A-

Single Review: "Pardon Me" by Incubus

In his second album Incubus puts a pop spin on the loud guitars, intense vocals and overall metal goodness he displayed on his first album. If you like metal even a little (in other words if loud music doesn't go against the grain) then you'll like "Pardon Me". It reminded me a lot of Alien Ant Farm (which is a good thing.

Grade: A

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Single Review: "On Video" by Juliana Hatfield

Juliana Hatfield is an interesting singer-songwriter with a bluesy rock sensibility. Her latest self-produced release, Made in China sounds almost like a demo tape. No frills, no layer upon layer of backup vocals and synths, just a band playing hard-nosed rock.

I like this disc and will likely do a full review on it in the future. For now let me recommend "On Video", a raw break up number with a gritty guitar riff and some nicely angry vocals.

While I recommend the entire disc, a few tracks are explicit (not this one however) so those of you with kids be aware that not all of the disc is appropriate for listening at all hours.


Tori Amos: Beekeeper

After a brief (and somewhat unfortunate) foray into a heavier, electrified sound, during which she toured with an actual band, Tori Amos seemed to go into a holding pattern. She released a cover album, the occasionally interesting Strange Little Girls, changed record labels, released Scarlet's Walk (an album that never grabbed me personally though it has its moments) and then a greatest hits album.

But with Beekeeper, Amos seems to have taken a big step toward the intimate music that's all about her sultry voice, her charisma and her connection with the audience.

Beginning with the first track, "Parasol", Beekeeper is all about nuance. The song is well-crafted and Amos' beautiful voice draws you in to listen closer, when you begin to pick out the piano floating in and out of the strings you're hooked.

Track 6, "Sleeps with Butterflies" is the single released from Beekeeper and is a fine example of Amos' soulful (some would say melancholy) song stylings. This track does a good job with Amos singing multiple vocal tracks, as well as playing piano, making the most of her virtuosity on two instruments.

Track 10, "Cars and Guitars" is a subdued rock number that uses a four-piece arrangement of acoustic guitar, bass, drums and piano and is one of the best Tori Amos tracks in years. Its this kind of track, which basically uses the instruments of the standard rock band that perhaps convinced Amos to take a shot at "arena stardom" by plugging in.

"Cars and Guitars" shows why that experiment was destined to fail, with the strongest elements of the song being Amos' voice and piano soaring over subdued accompaniment. Those little gems she delivers, in the studio but even more often live are lost with a bunch of electric guitars and synths behind her.

Amos can wail with the best of them, but her music loses something essential that makes her great, rather than very good when she does so.


Beekeeper shows Amos back at the top of her game, doing the intimate club music that made her famous and even gave her some crossover success. It's a much longer CD than the tracks I reviewed coming in at 19 tracks. This isnt a slight against the album. Amos isnt a singles spinner and her albums are best appreciated in full. Not many songwriters can take you out of yourself for two solid hours over 19 tracks but Amos can and its worth it.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Michael Buble: Its Time

Michael Buble's self-titled debut album, released in 2003 went to 47 on the Billboard charts. Think about that for a moment. A Jazz crooner with a Sinatra-esque voice and a rat pack sensibility moved into a top 50 dominated by hip hop and rap and rock.

Michael Buble's second album, Its Time faced the challenge of proving whether the jazz crooner could repeat the minor miracle of a second swing album to cross over into the mainstream.

Track 1, "Feeling Good" is a standard drawn from the 60's Musical Roar of the Greasepaint- Smell of the Crowd that has been covered by Sammy Davis Jr., Muse and Nina Simone (among others).

Buble delivers a smooth, confident rendition of this classic with a lot of big, brassy horns and some ballsy piano work backing him up, giving the song a cock, blustery feel that gets this album off to a fantastic start.

Track 2 is a little more mellow and is another standard, "A Foggy Day in London Town". Buble's delivery on this track channels Sinatra and Tony Bennett at their smoothest. A great dance number for those romantic evenings I have heard other people talk about.

Track 3 is as classic as the first two tracks but from a completely different genre of music. "You Don't Know Me" is a blues and country classic written by Cindy Walker and Eddy Arnold in the 50's and immortally rendered by Ray Charles in 1962. It was also covered by some guy named Elvis. You get the idea, its kind of a famous song.

While Buble's rendering of this song is nowhere near as good as Ray Charles' you can say that about everything recorded by Ray and, well, anyone else. Buble gives a workmanlike, solid rendering that showcases his smooth vocal talents. But for a classic country torch song I think I want to hear a little more pain.

Track 4, "Quando, Quando" is a Pat Boone song famously covered by Engelbert Humperdink. Buble records it as a duet with Nelly Furtado, a singer who's entrancing voice makes this track instantly enchanting and likeable.

Track 6 moves the album decidedly into more recent pop history with a Jazzed-up version of the Beatles classic "Can't Buy me Love". This song is such a winner it seems to fare well no matter who's recording it and Buble's rendition is no different.

Still, of all the versions of this song I've heard, this one messes with what was great about the original a little too much. A little too much production.

Track 8, the Drifters classic "Save the Last Dance for Me" does a much better job of updating a classic without trying too hard, adding a bit of a salsa feel that seems to make this great song even better.

Track 9 is a song near and dear to my heart, Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness", transformed by Buble from a raunchy blues number into a ballad. Like "Can't Buy me Love" it's a gutsy attempt to make the song his own.

Unfortunately, like with the Beatles classic, I think Buble went for something different rather than what would serve the song best.

It could also be that no one should try and cover one of my favorite songs, but I don't think that's it here. I've heard other covers of this song that I'd rate very highle (The Commitments for one).

Track 10, the Marvin Gaye classic "How Sweet it is (to be loved by you)" a song famously covered by James Taylor is a much more successful reinterpretation of a classic. Instead of going ultra-mellow, Buble goes Big Band and its a turn that serves this upbeat classic nicely.

Track 12 is a song closer to the sweet spot of Buble's musical style, "Under my Skin", a Cole Porter song perhaps even more famously recorded by Frank Sinatra.

Buble's comfort and affection for this song shines through, a great turn on an enduring classic that showcases Buble's talents nicely.


It's Time is a very good album only prevented from being great by a few stumbling blocks, mostly when Buble attempts to cover songs he probably shouldn't in an attempt to add more crossover appeal to the album. The closer he sticks to songs written for crooners like him (and he's a great one) the better he seems to fare.

Grade: B+

Rush: R30

Rush is a band in transition.

As a long time fan (since-ugh this is painful- 1979) I have watched Rush go through a few transitions already. From esoteric cult rock, to 80's radio rock, to a synthesizer sound that seemed purposely designed to alienate all those bandwagon fans from their 80's rock phase and back to a modern mature metal that would have been reminiscent of their 80's rock phase if there were any actual DJs left outside of the odd college campus with the power to play it.

Then tragedy struck the band with drummer Neal Peart losing his daughter and wife in a short span and a band that had recorded an album every 2-3 years for decades went 6 years without a studio album.

Although A Geddy Lee-produced live album was produced in 1998, the band went from 1996 to 2002 between studio albums. When Geddy Lee released a solo album and Vapor Trails, the band's 2002 "comeback" was followed by a greatest hits compilation, a lot of fans had to be wondering if the band was looking back with an eye to calling it a career.

I might have been one of them. But I'm not telling.

But boy was I (assuming I had any theoretical thoughts that the band might be winding down) mistaken. In the last three years Rush has released three albums.

First came Rush in Rio, a concert recorded live on one night without any overdubbing that showed that band hadnt lost a thing.

Including fans.

Having played before the largest crowd of their careers the night before, when 60,000 came out in the rain to hear the band in Sao Paulo, the band recorded Rush in Rio in front of 40,000 fans on the last night of their Vapor Trails tour.

Then in 2004 the band released Feedback, a cover album with songs that had influenced them when they were that struggling bar band. This album includes one of the best tracks Rush has ever recorded, a tight, heavy metal cover of Summertime Blues.

And then in 2005 the band was on tour again, for their 30th anniversary, when they recorded R30. Maybe the best live album I've heard. The album starts off with an instrumental called the R30 Orchestra, a tribute to the title track of 2112. This amazing instrumental includes snippets of half a dozen classic Rush songs including Finding my Way, Anthem, Bastille Day, Passage to Bangkok, Cygnus X-1 and Hemispheres.

Like Rush in Rio, R30 was recorded on a single night, proving the trio still has it in terms of muscianship and performance.

This is followed up with a second disc showcasing standout 70's concert tracks including such fan favorites as Finding my Way and La Villa Strangiato.

During this tour, the band let fans know that they weren't going to sit still for long after the R30 tour was done as well. They're back in the studio right now (Neal Peart recently revealed in his blog that 6 tracks were in the can for the new album).

And of course, the band has already revealed that once the new album is out, they will (wait for it) be going on tour again.


Life is good. I'm not done, and neither is my favorite band.

Which is a good thing, because someone needs to continue writing the soundtrack to my life.


Fall Out Boy: From Under the Cork Tree

Life is full of little miracles. Sunsets. The birth of a beautiful child. Punk albums that cross over into the mainstream.

That's right, you didn't mis-hear that. Punk bands who hit it big are one of life's little miracles. God Bless America.

Formed in 2000, Fall Out Boy comes out of the Chicago punk scene. From Under the Oak Tree is their second full-length album and was released in 2005. Fall Out Boy's albums have been released under two different record labels, indy label Fueled by Ramen (Best. Record label. Name. Ever.) and Island.

One of the things you have to love about Fall Out Boy is their ability to start an album right. The title of the first track of their debut album for FBR, Take This to Your Grave is "Tell that Mick he just made my list of things to do" (and if there's a better name for a song it's not coming to me right now).

Here, on From Under the Cork Tree we start things off with "Our lawyer made us change the name of this song so we wouldn't get sued". See? See? This opening track is punk-infused anthem rock at its best. We're only liars but we're the best the song tells us. Alright then, ladies and gentlemen, we have a rock band.

Track 2, "Of all the gin joints in all the world" continues to show off what's great about this young band (that would be loud guitars and lead singer with some awesome pipes). This song is enough to make old men like me get in touch with our inner headbanging moshpit crashing selves. Man it feels good to listen to an album that could even let you say that.

Track 3, "Dance, Dance" is a cut tailor-made for MTV and rock radio (again, assuming such a thing really existed anymore- where I live there isn't). A high-octane rock number with great vocals and energetic guitar riffs.

There hasn't been a single track on an album that drew a big arrow over a band and said "we're stars" like this since Live's "Lightning Crashes".

Track 4, "Sugar We're Goin Down" continues the string of hit-worthy rock tunes on From Under the Cork Tree. What's great about this album, in particular, but this band in general is the realization from the album's producers that energetic guitars and a booming-voiced lead singer, plus a dash of charisma is enough to carry an album.

As opposed to those producers who think slick overproduction is what makes a good album.

Track 5, "Nobody puts baby in the corner" is a good old fashioned thrash song that specializes in energy you could only classify as frenetic. Don't play this track while jogging unless you want to run. Don't play it while driving unless you have a radar detector.

Track 7, "7 minutes in Heaven" continues the album's trend of spinning out hit-worthy rock anthems.

Track 10 is my second favorite track on the album, "Champaigne for my real friends". A little more melodic than some of the harder-driving tracks on the album, this album is carried by the tremendous voice of FOB's vocalist.

Track 11, "A little less 16 candles" is another angsty-rock number all about love that just isn't going to go well. In other words, its a great song we can all identify with.


From Under the Cork Tree shows that Fall Out Boy has arrived. And quickly at that. This album continues to prove that high-energy rock isn't dead. This album is better than caffeine.

Grade: A

Why Track Reviews?

You might have noticed in doing the reviews on this site I'm spending a lot of time on each disc, breaking it down track by track.

This is different than most reviews I've read, which give a summary of the disc as well as a few bullet points.

I think this method of reviewing was fine 10 years ago, maybe even 5 but I don't think it's very useful today.

The simple truth is, with the rise of Napster, Yahoo Music, Itunes and similar services as many people buy music in individual tracks as buy CDs, maybe more.

For this reason I'll mention each track individually and give you a sense of that track as an individual piece of music whenever possible. It might be that I have nothing to say about a track or two, but I'll always try to at least touch on a track.

It may be that you want to listen to a track or two (or perhaps preview it on Napster Lite) or look for a preview of a certain track on Amazon or even the band's official site to get a better sense of the band or the album in question.

Since *I* buy music like this, I want to help others who read the current style of reviews today and ask "but where would I start to get a sense if I agree with you about this album".


Alison Krauss: Lonely runs both ways

Alison Krauss is a true prodigy of modern bluegrass. She was named "Most Promising Fiddler in the Midwest" at the age of 12, had signed a recording contractby age 14 and in 1987, at age 16 released her first album Too Late to Cry.

Her second album, Two Highways, released two years later was nominated for a Grammy award and in 1990, her third album, I've Got that Old Feeling won the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Recording.

In 1995 (and remember Alison is at this point about 24), she released Now That I've Found You: A Collection which sold 1 million copies and completed Alison Krauss' journey, along with her amazing backup band Union Station into the mainstream.

Lonely Runs Both Ways is Alison's 10th studio album (she has released a live album as well) and showcases her mature style, excellent musicianship and angelic voice.

Track 1, "Gravity" is something of an autobiographical song, about life on the road, a life constantly on the move. The sond manages to be soulful and quiet without being boring, and the excellent musicianship of Union Station really shines through and supports Alison's beautiful vocals.

Track 2, "Restless" is a more uptempo number and shows how well Alison and backup vocalist Dan Tyminski sing together. With Union Station's back-porch country guitar work and Alison's understated Violin (I suppose on a blugrass album I should call it a fiddle) make this a beautiful, moving track.

This track won the Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal (what a mouthful).

Track 3, "Rain Please Go Away" features some old-school banjo, as well as energetic fiddling from Alison. This track is sung by Dan Tyminski who has a very earthy country tenor. Dan was the voice of George Clooney's "Soggy Bottom Boys" in O Brother Where Art Thou, which was a big enough hit that you've probably heard Dan sing without even realizing it.

This is a very solid uptempo bluegrass number that you won't want to listen to just once.

Track 4, "Goodbye is All We Have" another song about moving on and is a simply wonderful track, maybe the best track on the album.

Understated is the best word for this song but as the track continues it builds a quiet intensity. Although you'll be tapping your foot right away, by the end of the song if you're singing along, we'll keep that between us k?

Track 5, "Unionhouse Branch" is an instrumental and showcases the fantastic musicianship of Alison Krauss and Union Station. This track shows that Union Station can hold their own with any bluegrass jam-band this side of Flatt and Scrugs.

This track won the Grammy award for best Country Instrumental.

Track 6, "Wouldn't Be So Bad" is another duet between Krauss and Tyminksy and is one of those classic songs about romance gone wrong. If you heard a lonely voice singing this song in a Mexican jail, it wouldn't sound out of place. (That's a compliment btw... if you can't sing a country song in jail, it's not that good)

Track 7 "Pastures of Plenty" is sung by Dan Tyminsky. This track is something of a "live free or die" song about a farmer willing to die to defend his land. It's also something of a "farmer's pride" song. Frankly the world can never have enough of either one and "Pastures of Plenty" is one of those country songs that will find a place in every true fan's MP3 player.

Here's a taste of this excellent song's lyrics:

Well, it's always we ramble, this river and I
All along your green valleys, I work till I die
My land I'll defend with my life need it be
'Cause my pastures of plenty must always be free
Track 8, "Crazy as Me" is all about Alison's vocals. She has one of the most beautiful voices you'll ever hear and this slow, soulful country song showcases it at its best.

Track 9, "Borderline" is the title track of the album, bearing the line "Lonely Runs Both Ways" and again shows how Tyminsky's country tenor and Krauss' voice for the ages sound even better when they sing in harmony.

Continuing the theme of lost romance, this track urges you to turn back before the burning bridge is gone and sounds like a lover's plea for one last chance at love.

So you're on youre own,
Looking down the road,
That goes only by one name,
And you don't need the signs,
To see lonely still runs both ways,

Track 10, "Poor Old Heart" has a real sense of urgency about it. As I listen to this disc I can almost see someone I love packing their bags. As we approach the end, time seems to be running out on something special.

I don't know that I will ever trust again
It's a price I must pay for all my sins
Time has changed me and left me full of doubt
And my heart may be lost never to be found
Add in a nice, understated banjo solo and you have a track that's a definite keeper.

Track 11, "Doesn't Have To Be This Way" is all about the band. The virtuosity of Union Station and Alison's fiddling really carry this sad track. As a wise man once said, "Country Music. The music of pain." and listening to this album, you're going to realize Alison understands that too. This might be the saddest track on the album.

Track 12 picks up the intensity and is another with Tyminsky singing the lead. Where the last track was sad and melancholy, this track is more angry. The deeper into this album you go, the more you hear an argument between a sad woman and an angry man in the alternating songs of Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminsky.

Not sure I've ever heard of a Bluegrass concept album before. But that might be just what this is.

Track 13, "If I Didn't Know Any Better" has a sense of finality to it, closing the door on any hope of reconciliation. A surprisingly upbeat song, it mixes in just enough melancholy to give a feeling we've all had: its over, but its for the best.

Track 14, "A Living Prayer" serves as something of a coda to the album and is a straight-up gospel song. Alison Krauss and Union Station have deep gospel roots and show them off on just about every album.

This track was nominated for Best Bluegrass Recorded Track of the year by the Gospel Music Association.


So much country music is really pop wearing cowboy boots, as formulaic and polished as all other forms of pop music, so anytime you get a chance to hear the real deal, a country band that would have been at at home opening for Hank Williams, you should treat yourself.

Grade: A+

Monday, April 10, 2006

Foo Fighters: In Your Honor Disc 2

Track 1 of the acoustic disc of In Your Honor, "Still" is a very quiet number that lives up to its name. Gorhl's vocals almost sound like he is whispering and a simple guitar riff is backed up by synthesizers and piano alone. In fact its not until half way through the song that the drums and bass make their presence felt, making "Still" a dreamlike, mellow first track.

Track 2, "What if I Do?" continues to lull rather than drive, drawing in the listener through melody rather than rhythym. Grohl's lyrical sense, hinted at even in his driving rock hits is clearly on display here in a song that can best be described as melancholy.

Track 3, "Miracle" is less lyric and has more of a beat than the previous two tracks, using rhythym guitar, drums and piano to provide a solid background to Grohl's vocals from the first beat. After the first two tracks, which were somewhat similar, "Miracle" is a welcome show that the band doesn't intend Disc 2 to be for dozing. This track also sees a wider range of instruments, with strings added into the mix to provide a different color to the musical palette.

Track 4, "Another Round" begins with Grohl and guitar alone and has a very old-school country-western vibe to it. Drums are minimal here, yet "Another Round" still has more rhythym and drive than any other track on Disc 2.

Like a painter experimenting with different colors, different brushes, each track on Disc 2 explores new territory and "Another Round" is no exception. Here the new colors are courtesy of accordion and harmonica, further reinforcing the back-porch quality of this crooning number.

Track 5, "Friend of a Friend" might be the weakest track of either disc. Although the musicianship is first rate, the number of mellow tracks has been a little too high and they all begin to run together. In terms of energy, the middle of the disc is not where you want a low energy point (of course, do you want one of those anywhere).

Track 6, "Over and Out" begins quiet but with a much higher intensity level than track 5. Its like a change in the taste of the air before a thunderstorm. And when the intensity rises in the song, you find yourself holding your breath.

Unfortunately, what "Over and Out" delivers is more of a warm shower than a thunderstorm. Its a fine song, comforting and with a genuine glow about it. Unfortunately what the album needed at this point was a jolt of energy, something to stop the listener from just drifting.

Track 7, "On the Mend" begins with more energy and its a welcome change of pace. The song is rhythymically more complex than the last few tracks and is almost instantly engaging. While drums and base provide a framework, Grohl's vocals and two guitars in counterpoint draw the listener into the track and make it a track you'll want to listen to again almost immediately to pick out the subtleties you might have missed the first time through.

Track 8, "Virginia Moon" features a jazz-like duet between Grohl and Nora Jones. With Jones' sweet voice mingling with Grohl's gravel and a nifty guitar solo, "Virginia Moon" manages to be assured and classy without being pushy.

Though the song ends with the duet singing "good night", you won't be ready for bed after this song (unless its at the end of a romantic evening with your partner). In fact what you will probably be in the mood for is another listen.

Track 9, "Cold Day in the Sun" is a great track, easily the best track on Disc 2 and has a lot of drive and energy. In fact this is the track that best represents the Foo Fighters' usual sound, only with acoustic instruments.

This is a track you could easily see the band playing with their normal (plugged) alignment on tour. It also has a great acoustic guitar solo, something the world is always in need of. After lagging in energy in the middle of the disc, tracks 8 and 9 will have you tapping your toes again.

As if determined to go out with a bang (always better than a whimper), Track 10, "Razor" continues the trend of higher energy, more complex music. In fact this track has the best guitar work by far on the acoustic disc and is a duet between Grohl and guitar.


In Your Honor serves up notice that the next ten years of the Foo Fighters might just be more interesting than the first ten and that the band isn't going to be pigeon holed into one little cubicle of the music industry.

It also shows the band with a lot of guts, and more musicality than most listeners have given them credit for.

Disc 1 is a driving rock album that might just be the band's best, well deserving of its Grammy nomination for Best Rock Album.

Disc 2, while suffering from a lull in the middle, shows the band stretching, and capable of more than we have seen thus far from them as a rock band. Though not as strong as the first disc, it contains a surprising number of gems for the band's first foray into acoustic music.

Grade (overall): A-
Grade (Disc 1): A
Grade (Disc 2): B+

Foo Fighters: In Your Honor Disc 1

The Foo Fighters are a band that rose from the ashes of legendary grunge-punk band Nirvana. Drummer Dave Grohl had started as a guitar player and had written songs when he wasn't on the road with Nirvana. Most of these tracks were never released but Grohl did release the occasional cassette of his music.

Following Kurt Cobain's suicide in 1994 Grohl booked some time in a real studio, pared his list of original material down to the 15 best tracks and made a demo tape, playing all the instruments himself.

After making 100 copies and passing them around, Grohl found the material spoke for itself and had record companies bidding to sign him. Rather than remain a solo act, Grohl decided to form a band, with Nate Mendel playing bass, William Goldsmith on drums and Pat Smear on guitar.

In 2005 the band released their 5th studio album, a double album titled In Your Honor, containing one disc of the band's signature driving punk sound and one disc of acoustic material.

In Your Honor kicks off with the title track, a driving rock number where the guitars, drums and Grohl's delivery (somewhere between singing and screaming) grab the listener by the throat and pull him into the album.

The second track, "No Way Back" takes the intensity up another notch and seems tailor made for rock radio. The same driving guitars and drums, but with a little more melody. A very solid track.

After the first two driving rock numbers, In Your Honor finally lets the listener catch his breath with a rock ballad, "Best of You". Best of you isn't some wimpy power ballad, after drawing the viewer in with Grohl's vocals, the song begins to pick up intensity, both rhythmically and muscially.

The fourth track, "DOA" is easily the standout track of this first album and is one of the best rock numbers I've heard for years. This is a track that will be played on rock radio 20 years from now. A driving guitar and drum rhythym make this a song you can't help but tap your foot to.

The 5th track, "Hell" is a good rock number in its own right and really only pales in comparison to the stellar "DOA" that precedes it. Still, another solid, tight number worthy of tapping your foot to, or even banging your head to (if you're into that sort of thing).

"Hell" is one of those driving numbers that succeeds by making its point and getting off the airwaves. Its short, clocking in at less than 2 minutes. Its like a flash flood of emotion with frenetic drums and vocals and then BOOM its gone.

Track 6, "The Last Song" isn't, fortunately, the last song on the metal disc. Dave and the boys like to keep us guessing apparently. While a bit of a drop off compared to the album's first 5 tracks, "Last Song" is a playable rock track that won't having you scrambling for the "next" button on your MP3 player.

Track 7, "Free Me" is a nice roller coaster of a song that never lets you settle into a volume setting on your headphones. It gets quiet, almost contemplated, before ascending into a driving, screaming rock frenzy. Only to take it back down again. It seems like a simple thing but the song keeps you listening by challenging your expectations about exactly what type of song its going to be and before you know it, its over and you're hitting repeat to listen again.

Track 8, "Resolve" is the closest thing to a pure ballad on Disc 1 of In Your Honor and provides a nice glimpse of the musicality and range the band is going to show on Disc 2. It manages to be intropsective without losing its edge or feeling like a formulated attempt to get on pop radio.

"Resolve" also features Groh's best singing on the album, showing that he has some vocal chops and that with him as the frontman, the Foo Fighters won't be limited to grunge numbers where the guitars are designed to drown out the lead singer's lack of voice whenever possible.

Track 9, "The Deepest Blues" continues the trend of track 7 but is a more consistently melodic number. The album does a good job of providing a needed transition between the driving rock of Disc 1 and the mellow acoustics of Disc 2.

Track 10, the last metal track of In Your Honor, "End over End" gives a nice rock flourish to Disc 1. This track, like "DOA" shows that the Foo Fighters a band that can combine a driving rock beat with a catchy melody in the tradition of the best metal crossover bands.

More information about Foo Fighters can be found at their official site.

Next time... In Your Honor Disc 2

What is eclectic music reviews?

Reviews of music your host (that would be me) would like to praise or trash.

Since life is too short to focus on the negative, expect more positive reviews than negative but if something just sucks, I will certainly say so.

Since radio has become way to formulaic and boxed in, limiting itself to a single narrow genre, I will try whenever possible to represent all different types of music, from metal to pop to bluegrass.

I have eclectic tastes and am always looking to be introduced to something new. If you are the same way, maybe we'll introduce each other to something new along the way.

At the very least I hope you enjoy reading my thoughts on what's out, what's new and what's hot.