blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
In Charge
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Sounding more supple and vested than anyone could have expected at this stage of her career, "I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss" finds Sinead O'Connor still exploring her themes of romantic bruising, the push and pull of theology and the inner turmoil that has marked her work since the beginning. Her voice has gained a rougher edge over the years, which is masked on this album by multiple vocal overdubs. The pure voice is no longer there, but she hasn't completely ruined it (ala Joni Mitchell). She also seems a little more playful, in the tone of the album's title and latex love goddess cover picture.

While that playfulness slips into the songs ("How About I Be Me") and occasionally upping the tempo ("Take Me to Church" another theology rant bucked up by self-empowerment), it makes the album a delightful listen. There's also the O'Connor who creeps under your skin, especially on the potent "Streetcars," which loses the multi-tracked vocals and allows her to use that powerful voice backed by little more than a piano and bells. It closes the CD with a reminder of just how potent an artist O'Connor can be when she's at her best.

On the opposite end, she's trod this ground more than a few times and there's not much here thematically than you've heard if you've been a longtime follower. I like the song "8 Good Reasons," but I am weary of her railing against the music industry. She's had a career that many singers would die for, even if she's not the Miley Cyrus type that she's publicly chastened. But as she states on the CD's inner sleeve, "This Album is Dedicated to Me." She still has melodic fire and opinions to be outspoken with, and with "I'm Not Bossy..." O'Connor makes a nice return to form in the manner in which she wants to make it.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Adult Kids
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The Cold War Kids have hit their stride, since "Mine Is Yours" and "Dear Miss Lonely Hearts." On the new (2014) "Hold My Home," they continue their streak of mainstream alternative albums. The album starts off strong, with three killer tracks, where the band embraces their inner U2 and shoot for the stadiums. "All This Could Be Yours" ("All That You Can't Leave Behind," anyone?) really has echoes of Bono and the boys. They are also literal types, where "Hot Coals" begs the question "whatever happened to the strong and silent type?" And to put the point into proper perspective, there's "Harold Bloom." He's an American literary critic and Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University (thanks Wikipedia).

"Can you be wise if you never leave the room?
There will always be another Harold Bloom"
to criticize your every move."

Yes, the Kids have some fight in them. "Hotel Anywhere" looks at the process of achieving your goals, with lead vocalist Nathan Willett's call that he writes and paints, lives and breathes and "it's incredible how little I need." They also have grown braver with the stylistic choices, with the finale, "Hear My Baby Call" approximating a blues groove. With the diversity of music but clarity of purpose, "Hold My Home" is another solid effort from the Cold War Kids.



   
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What a Beautiful World We Live In
4 Out Of 5 Stars

After pounding out an R.E.M. sound-alike in 2011 in the form of "The King Is Dead," The Decemberists back up a bit for the more middle of the road "What A Terrible World, What A Wonderful World." There are some subtle changes, like heavier strings and horn charts, which are good. The band that crafted CD long suites now starts off an album with a song where the band apologizes for making a commercial for Axe Shampoo ("The Singer Addresses His Audience"). They know they aren't the same band that cut the masterful "The Crane Wife," and openly admit such.

What they are for "What a Terrible World..." are a crafter of songs. They've found a sweet spot between the ornate structure of those early albums to a sense of pop melody. It makes a love song like "Philomenia" all the more jaunty and "Lake Song" a hip folkie haunter. The band also sound more integrated this time around, where "The King Is Dead" was a showcase for Chris Funk, here, piano dominates many of the songs. Me. I kind of like when they get into that folk vein, as one of my favorites here - Colin Malloy almost making a sea shanty song out of "Better Not Wake The Baby."

"What a Terrible World..." will probably polarize fans who can't get over the fact that the band hit an early peak and then decided to try other things. As for me, I can respect that The Decemberists are not content to stay in one place for every album. Maybe they still aspire to be R.E.M. or even 10,000 Maniacs (some of the poetic lyrics recall the Maniacs'). What ever direction they travel, I am happy to follow as long as the music is this good.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
And it's finger popping.
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Coming off the rocking success of "Eat To The Beat," Blondie hit 1980 ready to do whatever struck their fancy. The result, "AutoAmerican,' was a hodgepodge of styles, everything from disco, rap, rock, cabaret, a surprisingly well done showtune from "Camelot," even reggae. The album starts of eclectically enough, with the mostly instrumental drone of "Europa," which ends with Debbie Harry robotically speaking about phase gridlock and being left on your rims. Getting that out of their systems quickly enough, "AutoAmerican" breaks into a disco groove with "Live It Up," which seemed, in comparison the such monsters as "Heart Of Glass" and "Call Me," a bit tepid.

Which sets the tone for much of "AutoAmerican." Blondie was so all over the map that many of the songs kind of pale in comparison to other songs from earlier albums. The hits off the album itself show those flaws in sharp relief. The number one "The Tide Is High" (a cover of a Jamaican band called The Paragons) took reggae and used Harry's breathless vocal to make a striking pop song that stuck to the roof of your brain like the best of their singles. Then there was the truly unique "Rapture," in which a mostly underground and novelty form of music suddenly found itself at number one. It could easily be the first rap/rock crossover single. and still holds up remarkably well after over three decades.

One of the things missing from "AutoAmerican" was the rock. There's nothing here to compare to the explosive "Dreaming" or the muscle of "The Hardest Part" from just one album back. There are a couple tries, like the wild abandon in "Walk Like Me" and the horn driven "Go Through It." It also shows up on the bonus tracks, where the extended version of the number one "Call Me" blows away many of "AutoAmerican's" weaker moments. Harry was at Force 10 against Giorgio Morodor's Eurodisco pumping pulse. Which means that the best of the album are the singles, one of which is a bonus track. It didn't much matter at this point as the band was beginning to splinter (Frank Infante had to sue to be on the album) and the limp "The Hunter" would quietly close this chapter on Blondie. (They've made a couple of very strong reunion albums, including "No Exit" and "Panic Of Girls" in the new century, however.)



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Juxtapositions
4 Out Of 5 Stars

On their last CD, Fall Out Boy announced their mission was to "Save Rock And Roll." On the follow-up, "American Beauty/American Psycho," it sounds like they're still headed out on that path. There's some righteous rock here. And there seems to be a theme here, it's all about the juxtapositions.

For example, the title track. You're blending a Brent Easton Ellis horror novel with a Grateful Dead album of classic Americana. Add Patrick Stump bouncing the word "Psycho" into a bouncy sing along, and you have the makings for a concert staple. The same with "Uma Thurman." Placing the "Pulp Fiction" star inside a song that mashes in the theme to "The Munsters" is something close to a work of genius. Then there's the heroics. Suzanne Vega's "dit dit doo doo" hook from "Tom's Diner" teases the intro before Stump challenges the listener. "You Will Remember Me...for Centuries" Stump wails to music meant to be played over a sports highlights reel. Same goes with "Immortals." Fall Out Boy are back to make rock that knows no limitations (there's nothing here that resembles a sappy ballad), and you'll have a very good time if you just let yourself follow along.


 
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Retaking The Throne
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Sporting a deeper groove and riffs that would make a voodoo bluesman proud, Marilyn Manson takes back his seat at the table for "The Pale Emperor." With 2012's "Born Villain," Manson seemed to be getting his full swagger back, and here he takes full advantage of his place as elder statesman and lead crank in the old school of LA evil that Manson had as his own court back in the "Dope Show" days.

The sound is sleeker and more percussive than usual, adding menace where before might have been labored screaming. Manson, to his credit, still uses all sorts of voices for dramatic effect to get what he wants, but instead of hectic he goes for menacing. "Killing Strangers," "The Pale Emperor's" pulsing opening cut, sounds like it slithered its way out of some hell-hounded biker bar, made even more so by Manson's insistence that "we got guns, you better run" growled in a nasty fashion. He's no longer tethered to a media that demands that he produce a hit "single," leaving him to operate as an outsider of sorts in his advancing years.

I mean that in a good way. The man who was once blamed for mass school shootings now plies his trade in TV and movies along with his music. (His multi-episode stint on "Sons Of Anarchy" was actually kind of funny.) So he can be, as he puts it himself, "The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles," all while sounding like he can still raise the devil when he wants to. He may sing that he's ready to meet his maker, but with "The Pale Emperor," Marilyn Manson still makes like he could scare that man off for a few more rounds. It's also been said that much of the album's songs were single takes. All the better to grit and glitter you with.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Effortless pop, Expertly delivered
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Better than the overproduced "Overexposed," "V" is Maroon 5's return to making candy-floss pop. I mean that as a compliment. As many bands that try to make this kind of music, few succeed at it quite the way Adam Levine and the boys do. Want more proof? Just think of Adam's TV stint on "The Voice," where assorted contestants vie for the opportunity to make this kind of music (with the odd country or soul belter mixed in for variety) and remind yourself that the show has yet to turn out a viable star. If it was that easy, they'd all have sales of the magnitude Maroon 5 have achieved.

For one thing, Maroon 5 know their way around a killer hook. Both "Maps" and "Animals" have hooks so big they belong in butcher shops and Adam's blue eyed soul delivery (and falsetto) make them stick to your ear canals. He also knows how to deliver one for the ladies, as the ballad "Unkiss Me" shows. The big piano ballad with Gwen Stefani, "My Heart Is Open" is a wonderful pairing, although "Moves Like Jagger" wins the duet contest by virtue of its snappiness. Yet Maroon 5 provides the fizz that pops in the 10's decade that it needs to stand above the fray.

I'll add an extra recommendation for the deluxe version of "V" in that two of the three songs are actually worthy of the couple extra bucks. There's the surprisingly bare bones version of the 90's one hit wonder Marcy Playground's "Sex And Candy." Then there's the Levine Oscar nominated solo track "Lost Stars," which Levine recorded for the movie "Begin Again" which he had an acting role in. They round out "V" and make it an album to rival Maroon 5's better entries.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Ah hey ma ma ma ma...
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Long overdue but well worth the wait, "The Morning Lasted All Day" finally collects a solid set of The Dream Academy's best from their three albums, a few B-sides and oddities and the brand new "Sunrising." Augmented with a comprehensive booklet written by Nick Laird-Clowes, exquisitely remastered with his supervision, this is about as good a Dream Academy anthology as a fan could hope for.

While it naturally is heavily weighted in favor of their dynamic debut, both "Remembrance Days" and "A Different Kind Of Weather" are given exposure. (I've always been of the mindset that "Weather," despite the fact that it didn't even chart in the US, has been vastly underrated.) The band's chamber-pop gets much of its otherworldliness from Kate St. John's oboe and other reed instruments flowing beneath Laird-Clowes' folkish guitars and vocal delivery. There's a lovely sort of soft focus to many of their songs that made the majority of them difficult to fit in during the synth-heavy 80's, leaving such contenders as "Indian Summer" and "Power To Believe" (included here both in its instrumental version as heard on the "Planes Trains and Automobiles" soundtrack, and the vocal version from "Remembrance Days") frozen out of the top 40.

The ethereal quality of their songs a times masked the presence of noteworthy contributors. Friend of the band and Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour was a frequent collaborator and co-producer, Lindsay Buckingham co-producing and adding background vocals to "Indian Summer," and The Smiths' guitarist Johnny Marr playing on "Ballad In 4/4." It takes away nothing from the band's presentation, even offering proof just how powerful The Dream Academy 'sound' was to all the stages of the band's recording history.

I have a few of my own favorites to recommend as a fan, one of them being the lovely version of John Lennon's "Love," as featured on "Weather." Actually using a drum-loop, Laird-Clowes brings an emphasis to Lennon's message (including a portion of "#9 Dream") that few covers of Lennon have done. The cover of The Smiths' "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" is good for a smile, and I have always thought "Indian Summer" was a single cheated out of deserved hit status. Then there's "Sunrising," the first new Dream Academy song in 30 years. It's a welcome treat and fits in with the band's legacy, with Gilbert Gabriel's piano painting the mood (alas, St.John is not featured on it).

Even with that minor wish not coming true, I am very happy to have "The Morning Lasted All Day" to augment my original CD's of The Dream Academy. The remastering enables you to hear things that were tempered in the originals, and makes for a satisfying listening experience. Now if only the original albums could get the deluxe treatment....

   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
All Rock, No Bust
4 Out Of 5 Stars

There's no-one else alive that can power-chord the way Angus Young can. Or yowl the way Brian Johnson does. It's why any AC/DC album is met with such great anticipation. This time, from the powerful title track to the walking shuffle of "Emission Control," "Rock Or Bust" delivers hammer-down rock like only AC/DC can.

Another noteworthy thing about "Rock Or Bust" is its brevity. Clocking in at 11 songs in 35 minutes, it delivers short and sharp stabs of guitar and Phil Rudd's primitive thud, Each song delivers its message, solo and gets out of its own way as soon as the meat is delivered. Heck, the great "Play Ball" (heard during the 2014 MLB World Series) gets it done in under 3 minutes. While it may disappoint fans who would rather Angus wing-it off into super solo land or a blues workout or two, to me it's like a prize fighter dispensing with the dancing and heading straight for the knockout punch.




At times the lyrics fall into beer raising similarity (4 songs that have 'rock' in the title is more than a little telling), but the album doesn't suffer from it. You don't come to an AC/DC party looking for PhD material. "Rock Or Bust" is AC/DC proving their point. There's a nice shout out to founding member Malcolm Young in the CD booklet...like it or not, your favorite bands are growing older with you. Even so, AC/DC enter their 40th year as a rock and roll powerhouse, and they show no signs of stopping.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Underneath The Serious Moonlight
4 Out Of 5 Stars

In the documentary "5 Years," there's a segment about "Let's Dance" that is kind of telling. When he arrived at the studio with producer Nile Rodgers, the consensus was that A) He wanted to make a 'hit record' and B) He was in fighting shape, buffed out from working out and taking boxing lessons. Those boxer gloves on the cover were not an affectation. Neither was the desire to have a commercially successful album. "Let's Dance" became Bowie's biggest hit to that date and racked up three hit singles, two of them top ten and only his second number one in the title track.

The album, as a whole, has held up quite well, given the production being very much of its time. Rodgers' bass lines are prominent, but the secret weapon was then little known guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. His sinewy guitar fires up "Modern Love" and the second recorded version of "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)." (The original was a synth heavy and more ominous version produced by co-writer Giorgio Morodor.) It's the first thing you hear on the CD, firing off the trio of hits back to back; "Modern Love," "China Girl" (co-written with Iggy Pop) and the title track's triumphant dance wallop. Had the album been an EP of the first side alone, the rating would have been five stars.
Bowie lets dance

It's the lesser known songs that don't completely fulfill the early promise of "Let's Dance." That leaves "Ricochet," "Without You," "Criminal World," "Cat People" and "Shake It" to flesh out the album. I've already said how much I enjoy "Cat People," and of the others, only "Shake It" sounded like it could have been a follow-up single to the big three. The rest just can't compete.They aren't total tail-waggers, It's just that the initial salvos were flawless. Bowie is in fine form throughout, and he got his wish. "Let's Dance" still sounds like it was supposed to, and that is purely commercial, brainy and danceable pop.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Kook Funk
3 Out Of 5 Stars

The Kooks have become an entirely different band since their debut. What began as a band that used The Kinks and The Arctic Monkeys as a jumping off point has reinvented itself as, of all things, funky. Soulful background vocals, disco-fied guitars, use of electronic drums and other trappings cover a lot of ground on "Listen." It's a much better album that the lackadaisical "Junk Of The Heart," but I never expected them to want to be Chic. Or Daft Punk.

The biggest culprit here is "Down," which breaks into a "down down, diggity down down diggy diggy down" (Kid Rock, anyone?) hook. Along with an insistent bass, it's a song that wouldn't be out of place to get a polished up club remix. The big soul vocal backups from "Around Down" bust the album wide open from the very beginning, Granted, this is a far more exciting album than "Junk" was, but not the direction I ever thought I'd hear The Kooks aiming for.

the-kooks-listen

There are a couple classicist pop tunes here, like "Bad Habit" or the squiggly synth in "Dreams," lead singer Luke Pritchard has an engaging voice, and guitarist Hugh Harris and bassist Max Rafferty get a real chance to strut their stuff. Along with a touch of irony; in my I-tunes library, "Listen" buttresses Kool And The Gang" without the feeling changing up very much. So if you came here looking for the inspiring "Konk" or the perkiness of their debut, you won't find it on "Listen." But if you want a serving of dance-rock, you'll get what you came for.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Four Chords and a Beat Keep Me Alive
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Neon Trees make flashy 80's inspired pop in primary colors. Lot's of flash, plenty of synth-buzz and jittery guitars, all sung over big hooks and plenty of melodies. They proved that they were capable of writing a radio ready song with "Everybody Talks," a song catchy enough to get covered by the cast of Glee. Unfortunately, that song set the bar high enough that expecting the new "Pop Psychology" to be more of that kind of flawless pop. Unfortunately, they fall short.

Not for a lack of trying. The first three songs are mighty fine pop tunes, and "Sleeping With A Friend" comes closest to the effervescence of "Everybody Talks," while "Text Me In The Morning" is goofy enough to cling to the roof of your brain. There's a duet in the form of "Unavoidable" that's pretty good, as well.

But that leaves the rest of the disc, Most of it is indistinguishable from much of the many bands worshiping at the alter of 80's new wave, and lead singer Tyler Glenn chirps his way through "Pop Psychology" like every song has to be drilled in your head through sheer force of his happy singing style, For one or two songs, it's OK, but after a bit you want him to change it up a little. You're all but ready to beg him to show a little angst or something.

"Pop Psychology" ends with one more plea for getting together. "First Things First" is a peppy song about putting your needs to the front of your life, to "get what you deserve." Neon Trees, to the very end, want you to enjoy themselves and yourself. Not a bad message, but there's too much sugary sameness and not enough by way of killer material to make the grade of the CD go any higher than average.



   
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Appetite For Power Pop
4 Out Of 5 Stars

For better or for worse, OK Go are more known as the band who make videos of themselves on treadmills and inside contraptions made up to look like real life versions of the Mousetrap game. What gets overlooked is that, for four albums now, there's a first rate pop-rock band hidden behind the paint balls. "Hungry Ghosts," four years after "Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky," captures that effortless pop fun that the band has been excelling at since their debut.

Admittedly, the oddly funky and falsetto filled "Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky" was a divisive album for fans, but that can be forgiven here. "Hungry Ghosts" keeps some of "Colour's" quirks while integrating them into the new music. It means the twitchy new wave of the debut is tempered into sonic neatness like the atmospheric "Another Set of Issues." They haven't completely forgone their fascination with Prince by way of The Cars, like the cowbell clanging "Obsession" and the danceable "I Won't Let You Down" shows. Vocalist Damian Kulash gleefully bounds from the straightforward power pop vocals to the funky stuff while making the whole of "Hungry Ghosts" a cohesive album.

While "Oh No" remains OK Go's high-water mark, "Hungry Ghosts" is a crowd pleaser. Fans will be happy to hear OK Go in fine form, and note that the four year wait was well worth it. From the pop magic of "Upside Down and Inside Out" that opens things up to the gentle strains of the final "Lullaby," this is a solid album from beginning to end, proving they can have their say without adorable trained dogs to guide them.



   
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Close Encounters of the Loud Kind
2 Out Of 5 Stars

In his first album since breaking up My Chemical Romance, front-man and comic book fanatic Gerard Way jettisons the rock opera confines of "The Black Parade" and "Danger Days" and floods "Hesitant Alien" with fuzzed out guitars, touches of glam rock and his considerable skill at big, meaty hooks. Problem is, things sound like maybe writing big songs with theater in mind might have been a bigger skill than he wanted to own up to. The songs on "Hesitant Alien" distort madly and bleed into each other with a sort of wall of noise monotony.

There are a couple of good songs here that cut through the mix. Both "No Shows" and "Action Cat" favor speed over noise, and comes close to Sweet in terms of Brit-Glam. "No Shows" has a pretty insistent hook. The only other song of note is the speed demon "Juarez," making Way sound like he had some old Pixies CD's mixed in with pop opera aspirations, but I get the feeling all across "Hesitant Alien" that Way is stretching himself too thin. The songs have plenty of sing-along moments when he stops screaming into a distortion pedal, and you keep waiting for that one big number to emerge, ala "Sing," "Helena" or "The Black Parade." Just never happens.

And I'll add one more thing: The album has a horrible mix. On some of the songs, things are so compressed that Way's voice is just another sound crammed in the mush. "Zero Zero" might even had been the big song that "Hesitant Alien" needed, but the production is so bricked out that there's no breathing room for any element of the song to stand out above the others. Same goes for better than half the album. Of all the CD's I've bought recently, the only album to come close to production this bad has been the flat-line of Imagine Dragons' debut. "Hesitant Alien" desperately needed some light between the cracks.




   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Rocking Out Like It's '94
4 Out Of 5 Stars

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

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

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

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



   
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Richer and Darker
4 Out Of 5 Stars

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

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



   
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Maybe.
3 Out Of 5 Stars

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

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



   
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Psychedelic Stew
4 Out Of 5 Stars

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

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

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



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
This Train Keeps A'Rollin'
3 Out Of 5 Stars

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

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

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



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Falling for Exotica
3 Out Of 5 Stars

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

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

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



   

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