Sunday, August 20, 2006

Speechwriters LLC: Bull Moose After Party

Speechwriters LLC is a funky, California-based acoustic pop quartet. Bull Moose After Party is their 4th CD since 2001 and is a great testament to all the work this band has put in on the road of late.

While the instrumentation is acoustic, this album is pure pop-rock, the kind of music you want to tap your foot to. Every track on the album is loaded with hooks and the guys can really play. A lot of places categorize it as "folk" because (I'm guessing) you need electric guitars, a lot of synthesizers and a sexy girl or two for it to be pop. But unless you're allergic to real guitars, it qualifies as pop to me (which isn't necessarily a bad word either- it isn't all soulless crap).

Though this one of those albums without a lot of filler (in other words the entire album is worth a listen), the strongest tracks are track 2 and track 6. I think track 6, "Blood on the frets" is the best track on the album. It has a real dark energy to it that a lot of acoustic music lacks.

Track highlights:

Track 2: Spaghetti Streetwalker
Track 6: Blood on the frets

Blood on the Frets

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Weird Al Yankovic: Poodle Hat

Weird Al takes another acerbic look at modern music and shows he hasn't lost his touch. On display are the usual things one expects from a Weird Al album: plenty of spoofs of current hot songs, songs about food, songs that are really gross and a scalpel-like take on modern pop culture.

Track 1: Couch Potato spoofs Eminem's "Lose Yourself" but saves its most wicked barbs for the state of television with lyrics like "Fear Factor I watched maybe a half hour/after that felt I needed a long shower" and "next week on Fox watch lions eat Christians". When Al decides to put you in the crosshairs, he doesn't pull any punches and as someone who looks at the current flood of reality shows and says "WTF" I was laughing with every jab.

Track 2: Hardware Store is one of Weird Al's originals about, well, a hardware store opening in town and how orgasmically happy it makes him. One thing (among many) to like about Al is that he has a tremendous band, I love to see him live because his backing group is a tight, professional unit. Often the songs he covers don't give them the chance to show it. Al's originals however, are always written with his band in mind and are thus some of the most interesting songs on his albums.

Track 3: Trash Day is a parody of Nelly's "Hot in Herre". Al takes a groovy original and makes a groovy remake that is laugh out loud funny as he sings about deciding not to take the trash out for a few months.

Track 4: Party at the Leper Colony Just cataloguing all the gross double entendre in this song, in the style of songs like "Footloose"(though not directly spoofing any particular song). With lines like "met a pretty lady so pretty and young/she was quite a talker till the cat got her tongue" and "there's a guy in the hot tub I don't know who/wait a minute it looks like Stu!". Plenty of the lines in this song make you laugh and then go "ewwww" and not always in that order.

Track 5 might just be the best track on Poodle Hat and as is often the case, it's a polka, a genre of music Al loves. His polkas are much loved by his fans and this track, Angry White Boy Polka, which takes a look at "angst rock" like Pearl Jam, Rage against the Machine and similar bands shows that anything is better (and funnier!) when you make into a polka. Having listened to this track about 100 times, I am STILL trying to catch all the songs he blends together. Sometimes he gives you one line of a song and moves on.

Track 6 Wanna B Ur Lovr is another hilarious original and contains every bad pick up line known to man. Seriously. Plus a few that I hadn't even heard before like "maybe you've seen my picture it's in the dictionary under kablam".

Certainly not every track on the album is as good as these first 6, which are all winners. I think Track 9, Ode to a superhero, a spoof of the Billy Joel classic "Piano Man" is the weakest track on the album, despite being about Spiderman. While Al had a big hit as well as a tremendous success spoofing an enduring classic on his last album with the American Pie-inspired Star Wars Episode 1 send up "The Saga Begins", this track is much less successful and I can't put my finger on why.

In other places, such as Track 11, Ebay, a spoof of Backstreet Boys' "I want it that way" Al shows how much his sense of humor has entered the zeitgeist, since this song had been used in an Ebay commercial before his album was released! That said, Ebay is not one of the album's weak tracks, thanks to Al's fantastic wit and love of pop culture kitsch. Lines like "I bid on Shatner's old toupe" and "a smurf TV tray" are two of MANY lines in this song that will have you laughing, especially if you're a geek like Al (and me).

Another nice track on this album is Bob, a send up not of a specific song but of a singer, Bob Dylan. Immitating the singer's delivery and musical style, Al speak volumes about Dylan's supposedly deep lyrics and when you realize every single line in the song is a palindrome (saying the same thing forward then backwards) from the first line "I man am regal/A German am I". This song makes me laugh every time I hear it (especially the line "do nine men interpret/nine men I nod" because it's the kind of crap stoned Dylan fans have been trying to tell me was deep for decades) and has a great Dylan-inspired video to boot.

In short, Poodle Hat shows that Al hasn't yet lost the midas touch. He makes fun of us, he makes fun of our sex symbols, he makes fun of our music and we thank him for it, laughing all the way. Since a good laugh is always welcome, thanks Al.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Live on Letterman: Music from the late show

I am a part of the "Letterman Generation". If you don't know what that is, either you go to bed early or you're a part of it too.

See there used to be this guy named Johnny Carson who was on the Tonight Show before Jay Leno. His show was the grand tradition of late night TV. And then there was this guy behind him who my parents didn't get.

They didn't get his sarcastic sense of humor. They didn't get why that sarcasm was frequently trained on his celebrity guests. And they didn't get his music.

Along with his comedy style, the other reason to watch Letterman for me was his musical guests. He had people on I listened to, people Carson would never have on in a million years.

This CD collects some of the best live performances on Letterman's CBS Late Show and it's a knockout live sampler that shows how great a muscial venue the Letterman show is. I used to consider Saturday Night Live to be the best live music on TV but this CD shows Letterman now deserves that mantle.

The CD opens with an acoustic performance by David Grisman and Jerry Garcia, then moves to another acoustic performance, this one by Sheryl Crow performing "Strong Enough". Both songs are quiet and ease you into the album, allowing the virtuoso musicianship of Grisman and the pure Americana of Crow to shine through.

After this the album takes it up a notch in a big way, with the Dave Matthews Band performing "Too Much" and showing why they might just be the best live band touring today.

For a lot of albums this would be the high point but the next track is Aretha Franklin bringing the house down with one of her many seminal classics "Think".

After these two amazing tracks the album goes for another quiet song with Paula Cole doing a simply beautiful rendition of her hit "I don't want to wait".

After some very nice numbers by Elvis Costello, Lyle Lovett and Rod Stewart, the album takes it up again for the finish in a big way, beginning with one of my favorite REM songs "Crush with eyeliner". REM is a fantastic live band and this track is often overlooked among their many hits. This driving, raunchy live rendition is simply not to be missed and for me is the "must have" track on this CD.

The CD follows this track with Lenny Kravitz performing "Are you gonna go my way". Lenny is a great performer and always brings a ton of energy to his live performances and this track does not disappoint.

In short if you're looking for a live anthology or are a fan of any of the artists on this disc and want to pick up a live rarity that you may have missed, this CD is one you won't want to miss.