Tag Archives: Country

Spring/Early Summer 2016 Album Lightning Round: A Whole Lotta Love

My buddy Ovidiu Boar over at Tangle Up In Music has a really nice recurring column where he combines a bunch of short album reviews into one long post. I’ve got a pretty large backlog of albums to review that came out over the last few months so I’m adopting (read: stealing) his format in order to purge myself of these albums. I believe in giving credit where credit is due, so go check out Ovidiu Boar and his fantastic website.

Alright, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s a couple of albums I’ve been meaning to review:

WEEZER (White Album) by Weezer

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Weezer are one of those bands that I sometimes wish would just stop recording and retire. But every time I completely write them off the band turns up with a decent album. The last time Weezer surprised me was back in 2008 when they released THE RED ALBUM, and that was nearly a decade ago. Since that time, the band has continued to tour and released albums. None of them were very good/memorable and when they came out, I didn’t hear anyone talk about them. I’m not sure what’s going on with Weezer, but when the best song your band’s put out in 8 years is a cover of “Unbreak My Heart,” it might be time to hang up your boots. Then last month, when I was listening to the new Monkees album, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my favorite track was written by Rivers Cuomo. Which got me excited about the new Weezer album, which is again self-titled and will henceforth be referred to by its color designation. THE WHITE ALBUM doesn’t have anything on it as good as his Monkee’s song “She Makes Me Laugh,” but the album isn’t a disaster. In fact, there’s some pretty good stuff on it. Before I praise the band, however, I have to acknowledge that once again the single is the worst part of a Weezer album. “Thank God For Girls” once again features Rivers embarrassing-as-hell rapping. I’m not sure who keeps telling him he can pull this off, but I wish they’d be honest with him. Rivers: you can’t rap, please stop.

“(Girl We Got A) Good Thing” should have been the single! It’s a great pop ballad that actually would have fit nicely on that Monkee’s album I keep mentioning. A fun, throwback pop song, it’s the kind of track the band’s marketing should be pushing. The album opener, “California Kids” is another track I really enjoy.  Both of these songs have a Beach Boys-by-way-of-The Cars sound that I really dig it.

“Do You Wanna Get High?” has a catchy chorus that (subject matter notwithstanding) also would have made a good choice for an album single. Near the end THE WHITE ALBUM loses steam, particularly on “L.A. Girlz” which is as dumb as the track’s spelling. Thankfully, the album redeems itself with the  fantastically sublime campfire singalong closing track “Endless Bummer.” This is hands-down my favorite track on the album, mostly because it’s the kind of sad sack song Weezer used to be really good at writing.  Any song (or album for that matter) with the lyrics “kumbaya makes me violent/I just want this summer to end” can’t be anything but awesome. Weezer, I’m glad you’re still out there plugging away. Hopefully it won’t be another 8 years before they put out another good album.

 

PAGING MR. PROUST by The Jayhawks

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The Jayhawks are one of those great 90’s college rock bands I don’t ever hear enough people talk about. I’m not exactly sure why they never reached the same legendary status of their peers R.E.M, but they really should have become household names. The last Jayhawks album I listened to was RAINY DAY MUSIC from 2003, which if you haven’t heard is fantastic and worth checking out. The Jayhawks are an Americana/Folk-Rock band that sometimes sound an awful lot like Neil Young & CSNY so if you’re a fan of that kind of music, The Jayhawks are probably your next favorite band.

PAGING MR. PROUST features the same brilliant harmonies and guitar playing one would expect to find on a Jayhawks album, but with an extra shade of darkness. I’m not sure how to explain it, but this music reminds me of autumnal sunset. There’s a cool edge bleeding into the band’s warmth and a lonely feeling permeates the album. PAGING MR. PROUST opens with “Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces” a song drenched in 60’s era folk. The harmonies kick in and I suddenly remembered why I love this band so much. “Lovers of the Sun” with it’s quiet melancholy is achingly beautiful and my favorite track on the record. My second favorite song is the harder edged “Comeback Kids,” which is a great love song that isn’t afraid to sound a little spooky. Another standout track, “The Devil In Her Eyes” features a stratospheric guitar solo at the end that recalls Mr. Young’s PSYCHEDELIC PILL record from a few years back.  “Dust of Long Dead Stars” with it’s Romantics-esque guitar riff is another standout track.

Not everything on the album fires on all cylinders, and there are sadly a few duds on the album. I have tried to love “Lost the Summer” but just can’t connect with it. The track’s intentionally cold, detached feel is no doubt the barrier preventing me from enjoying it. I can intellectually see that it’s great, with some fantastic guitar work, but it just doesn’t move me. Similarly, the scratchy/glitchy sounding “Ace” is more filler and less album track. I’m not sure why the band felt that this needed to be included on PAGING MR. PROUST. Still, these minor blemishes can’t distort the overall beauty of this Jayhawks album.

 

THE GETAWAY by Red Hot Chili Peppers

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I nearly copied and pasted my opening paragraph from my Weezer review. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are yet another 90’s band that I sometimes think should just give up the ghost and retire as legends. I found their last album, 2011’s I’M WITH YOU, to be pedestrian and highly forgettable. The band’s last truly great album was 1999’s CALIFORNICATION (I really liked parts of STADIUM ARCADIUM but being a bloated double-album take it down a few notches in my book), which if you’re keeping score was a really long time ago. I’ve never really been a real big Chili Peppers fan, but back in 2012 and 2013 the band released a bunch of songs recorded during the I’M WITH YOU sessions–songs that weren’t featured on the album. These songs, collected as I’M BESIDE YOU, are some of the best songs I’ve ever heard from the band. I actually need to sit down and do a write-up on these tracks because they are outstanding. So, these amazing b-sides are what piqued my interest for THE GETAWAY.

How is the album? It’s pretty good. Nothing on the album is as great as those b-sides from 2012/2013, but there are some good stuff on THE GETAWAY. The title track is a great, classic late-era Peppers-sounding track. With a funky beat and that distinct electric bass that’s come to define the band, it starts the album off right. Sadly the album can’t maintain this momentum and becomes a bit underwhelming, with one too many un-funky tracks for my liking. Besides the aforementioned “The Getaway,” I also enjoyed the equally good “Dark Necessities.”

And while the album never drops off, never to regain the heights of that one-two-punch, there are good tracks sprinkled throughout the rest of the album. For example, I enjoyed “Detroit” the band’s love letter to that hardscrabble Michigan city. The buoyant “We Turn Red” sounds like a single waiting to happen, it’s a great song that recalls the band’s earlier efforts. I wish the bulk of the album had been as energetic, the only other track on THE GETAWAY that comes close to being as interesting is the shimmering dance track”Go Robot.”And while I don’t think it’s fantastic, it’s worth checking out the album closer “Dreams of a Samurai” which besides being very strange, seems to reference the recent death of Scott Weiland.

Sadly, I don’t think I can recommend THE GETAWAY but there’s enough interesting stuff on the album that I also can’t outright dismiss it. If you’re a diehard fan you’ll probably be pleased enough with the record, everyone else should just stick to the singles. And, of course, stay tuned for that post on those amazing b-sides the band put out a few years ago.

 

That’s it for now. I imagine I’ll have to do one more of these to get myself fully caught up. Chime in below if you’ve heard any of these albums and agree/disagree with me (I love hearing how wrong I am).

 

 

 

 

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Robin Zander’s Secret Country Album: COUNTRYSIDE BLVD.

I’ve been on a roll with the country-themed posts, so I decided to do one more.  I’ve been meaning to reviewing COUNTRYSIDE BLVD.,  Robin Zander’s long-gestating (country) solo album with a complicated release history.  The record was supposed to come out a few years ago but has been stalled for reasons no one seems to know.  Apparently it was for sale on the Zune music service for two days before the record label spontaneously removed it. Since this is 2012, I of course have a bootleg copy of the album which I have been enjoying…

Robin Zander, a real rhinestone cowboy.

So why the delays? Well, it might have something to do with the fact that, on paper at least, a country album from the lead singer of Cheap Trick would be a train-wreck–an utter mess of twang and vanity, fit only for the most fervent Cheap Trick/Zander fan.  I adore Cheap Trick and think Zander can (almost) do no wrong, but even I was skeptical when I first heard about COUNTRYSIDE BLVD.  But after giving it a few listens I can honestly say that it’s really good.

The key to COUNTRYSIDE BLVD. not being an epic pile of shite is this: the album isn’t really hard-core country.  It’s a rock album with country overtones and twangy guitars (and some fiddling).  Robin Zander did not record a Garth Brooks record by any stretch.  Like many solo albums of those involved in major bands, there are many songs that sound as though they could have easily fit onto the next Cheap Trick record.  If like me, you’re starved for Cheap Trick, then this is a very good thing.  If Cheap Trick ain’t your bag, then you’re probably not going to find much to like on COUNTRYSIDE BLVD.

The album opens with “Every Dog,” which sounds like a weaker Traveling Wilbury’s number.  It’s not quite rock, not quite country  and right away there are Hare Krishna references.  It’s a good song and pretty representative of what lies ahead: Wilburys-esque rockers with an eccentric-lyrical bent. I’m sure Zander’s vocals have been touched up, but damn does he still sound good.  Even if it is a special effect, one can’t help but admire how great he still sounds.  I especially was impressed with his cooing on “Love Comes*.”  It might seem like a silly thing, but I don’t think it’s easy for most singers to belt it out one minute then come all the way down to a gentle coo.

Standouts on the album include the gentle ballad “Heart of Glass” and the barn-burner “Say You Will.”  The former being a countrified version of the epic tender-jams Cheap Trick are famous (notorious?) for.  “Say You Will” is a solid rave-up that finds Zander wailing á la Little Richard.

The best song, though, on COUNTRYSIDE BLVD. is “Pamela Jean.”  However, the first time I heard it I thought that my iTunes had skipped, or that the album was over, and I was hearing Cheap Trick.  “Pamela Jean” really stands out as a great song, but it doesn’t have much in common with the more countrified-songs on the record.   So here I am, saying that the best song on the record is the one that seems to fit-in the least.  I guess that’s a crappy backhanded compliment to both the song and the record, and perhaps this is the fatal flaw that’s doomed COUNTRYSIDE BLVD. from ever being properly released.

And so, while COUNTRYSIDE BLVD.  is a mind-blowing revelation,  it’s by no means the terrible album many have inferred it to be.  Hell, with all the hoop-la surrounding the album’s release (or lack thereof), the fact that it’s not an embarrassment comes as a relief.  I think this would be an awesome album to take along on a long, moonlight drive.  It’s a shame we all cant’ go to the store/iTunes and buy COUNTRYSIDE BLVD.  but in the meantime take a listen to “Pamela Jean”.  Just don’t tell the label.

Zander and his two best friends: his dog Buddha and the hat that hides his receding hairline.

*Which, all you hard-core Cheap Trick fans know is from the band’s 1985 album STANDING ON THE EDGE.

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COUNTRY FUNK: 1969-1975

The British have a grand tradition of introducing Americans to American music.  When The Beatles landed in New York, the press asked the Fab Four what they most wanted to see in the States,  to which they famously replied: “Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley.”   Some intrepid reporter then asked, without irony, “Muddy Waters, where is that?”

America is a big place and I guess we sometimes have trouble keeping track of the really good stuff.  Regardless, I was sitting in a plane reading the latest issue of Mojo magazine, that glorious bastion of British rock, when I happened upon a postage stamp-sized album review for COUNTRY FUNK 1969-1975.   Intrigued, I added the compilation onto my “to-listen” list and went about my vacation.  When I got home I promptly forgot about COUNTRY FUNK, until I picked up another music mag and saw it featured again.  After reading yet another positive review for the damn thing, but unable to find it on Spotify,  I decided to just bite the bullet and order it.

COUNTRY FUNK’s packaging designed by artist Jess Rotter is pretty schweet.

Which reminds me–record labels take note, if you want me to buy your album keep it off Spotify.  I love having every album at my fingertips, but when I get it in my head that I want to hear something and it’s not on Spotify I tend to whine, stomp my foot, and then go on Amazon and buy the damn thing (meaning you get my money).  But I digress.

COUNTRY FUNK 1969-1975 is a reissue put out by Seattle indie/hipster label Light In The Attic Records.  Besides putting new music, Light In The Attic has thing about digging out really awesome, really obscure music.  I’d never heard of them, but after seeing the care and attention to detail they put into their releases (at least this one) I’m itching to buy some more albums from them.

Essentially, COUNTRY FUNK is a hodgepodge of artists that walk the line between country, blues, gospel, and rock. The majority of artists featured on the album hailed from the South but wound up recording in California.  This juxtaposition between the grit of the South and the glitter of Hollywood forms the compilation’s central theme–and the very definition of country funk as a genre. The music is polished but soulful.  The blending of the best parts of black and white music creates a reese cup of awesomeness that’s thoroughly American.

I was only familiar with one of the album’s sixteen artists,* but I won’t lie 1970’s country isn’t my strongest area.  I’m 99.999% certain that these artists are obscure by most standards.  After listening to COUNTRY FUNK several times I desperately want to explore all of the artists catalogues, but I’m discovering that might take a bit of work (read: illegal downloading) because unfortunately this is music that time has forgotten,  which is a shame because every single track is a winner.

Standout tracks include “Georgia Morning Dew” by Johnny Adams, a bittersweet song about growing-up and moving away from one’s small town for the hustle and bustle of the big city.  Big horns and fuzzed-out guitars sandwich Adams’ remembrance of his early days in Georgia as he looks out at the early morning in L.A.  By the end of the song he’s painted such a charming picture of life in Georgia you just want to shout “Move back home!” which is exactly what he ultimately decides to do.

Johnny Adams, his eyes were on LA but Georgia was in his heart.

“He Made A Woman Out Of Me” by songstress Bobbie Gentry is like demonic version of “Son of a Preacher Man.”  The song, which is about the deflowering of a young country gal, is damn sexy.  Jim Ford’s “I’m Gonna Make Her Love Me” is groove from the other side of the war of the sexes.  More soul than country, Ford’s voice wails intensity to pure I’m amazed he isn’t a household name. Both Gentry and Ford are two artists I’m eager to hear more from, hopefully I won’t have to look too hard.

Bobbie Gentry…some lucky SOB got to make a woman out of her.

“Hello L.A., Bye-Bye Birmingham” by John Randolph Marr and “LA Memphis Tyler Texas” by Dale Hawkins are both celebrations of rising stardom and relocation.  Marr’s song details the tribulations of a up-and-coming musician trying to get to Hollywood (spoiler: it’s a little difficult).  The song’s protagonist has to do all sorts of things like hitch a ride with a biker and *gasp* take a two day job to get his guitar out of hock! “LA Memphis Tyler Texas” is almost an Vegas-style Elvis number about the three cities where Hawkins recorded the song.  It’s pretty fun and pretty funny.

Jess Rotter’s postal ode to the bearded-one, Jim Ford.

COUNTRY FUNK has a few less-than-fun serious moments, like Bobby Charles “Street People” which tackles the subject of homelessness.  Link Wray’s “Fire and Brimstone” is a gospel number about the end of the world…which is also kind of a bummer.  Musically and lyrically Wray’s song reminds me of the Rolling Stones maraca-shaking ode to Satan, “Sympathy For The Devil.” It’s an epic, good vs. evil number, complete with a nice, understated guitar solo.

The most surprising song on the compilation, however, is “Light Blue” by Bobby Darin.  It’s a fantastic song about depression and oncoming gloom.  According to the (fantastically written) liner notes, Darin was there the day Robert Kennedy was shot and killed.  He was so moved that he sold all his possessions and bought a trailer in the California backwoods, where he wrote this deeply dark, intense song. It’s an awesome, scary song made all the more awesome when one hears the transformation of Darin.  This is, after all, the man who co-wrote and sang the bath-time classic “Splish Splash.”  It’s cool to be able to actually hear something with depth from the man.  So, Mr. Darin, you’re officially redeemed.

As I’ve said, I’m really impressed with the care and attention Light In The Attic Records has taken with this release: the artist/song selection is magnificent,  the album artwork is really cool, and the CD booklet has a fantastic essay written by Jessica Hundley (whom I believe contributes to Mojo). This is far and away the best album that I’ve heard this year, and more importantly it’s introduced me to so many really cool artists that weren’t on my radar.  Hell, it introduced me to a whole genre.  In that regard, COUNTRY FUNK 1969-1975 breaks my heart and fills me with hope. It breaks my heart, because I’ve been living all these years without these wonderful songs! I’ve wasted so many years without “Hawg Frog” and “Piledriver.”  But it fills me with hope because as I get older, I become more jaded about the existence of “good” music.  Releases like COUNTRY FUNK prove that I haven’t heard everything and that there is still a lot of really cool old records for me to find.

I can’t recommend this record enough.

 

 

 

*And that was Bobby Darin of “Mack The Knife” fame, listed on the album as Bob Darin.

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