Friday, December 7, 2012

#139: Rolling Stones - Aftermath (1966)

There are two types of good albums, there are graboids (named, of course, after the Tremors movie) or creepers. Graboids grab you off the bat and don't let go, it doesn't matter if you're sitting on top of a tire, on the top of a building, or hiding in your basement - it's gonna getcha. Creepers are albums that you don't necessarily love on your first listen, but the more you listen the more you're sucked in. Graboids are albums you wish you wrote, they are completely up your alley. Creepers, however, force themselves to resonate with you. They have the potential to have more of a lasting impact on the listener because it's (previous to hearing the record) outside the listener's usual spectrum. The Stones are creepers, they're growing on me.

Under My Thumb
This song is not only the best song on the album, it's also symbolically the pinnacle of the record. A lot of the other songs have a similar vibe, but this brings all the parts together perfectly. It's blended so well, it provides a great counter melody with the marimba, I love the riff on the guitars, the melody is phenomenal, and Jagger is really, really starting to grow on me.

Flight 505
The amount of reverb on the piano at the beginning of this track is ridiculous. It makes it so you can hear the rock piano that's going on underneath it, but it doesn't rock - it's a lot more subdued. I adore how much the Stones incorporate the blues, but I particularly love the mesh and blend of rock, pop, and blues. One particular thing I think the Stones improved on this album is the harmonies. They're much more seamless  they're more felt than heard and their placement is spot on.

Out of Time
I love the fact that they're using the marimba so freely on this record. It's by far the best use of a marimba on any rock album I've ever heard. I've always enjoyed the White Stripes "The Nurse", but the Stones keeps the instrument on an even level as the others. The marimba provides such contrast to the guitars and it works much better than I would have ever anticipated. Jagger is one hell of a vocalist, the way he changes the pronunciations of words in order to make the sound more appealing is amazing.

All in all, I really, really enjoyed it. There's not one area in which this album did not greatly improve over the previous albums. The Stones are creepers but 'Aftermath' did grab me a bit. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe this record is a hybrid. Maybe it's a creepoid.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

#137: The Mothers of Invention - Freak Out (1966)

The Mothers are a band from California in which Frank Zappa débuted. The band's sound can be classified as progressive rock or experimental rock. In 1970, Zappa formed a different line up, this time with former members of the Turtles. In 1971, a fan shot a flare during a concert and destroyed the band's equipment, burning the casino to the ground. The song "Smoke on the Water" was written about this event. A few weeks later using rented equipment, The Mothers played again but Zappa was injured on stage when a fan pushed him into the orchestral pit below. Unable to tour for a year and a half, Zappa focused on writing and after the hiatus he created a final line up for '73 - '75. This is the second rock double album, after Dylan's Blonde on Blonde.

Who Are the Brain Police?
So far this track has the best vocals on the album. To put it gently, the vocals are a bit rough throughout and I can understand how this type of music has a market - I'm just not part of that target. At many times the vocals feel flat, or off. I can appreciate that they're doing something very different and unique, in fact I applaud it. However, just because something pushes musical boundaries doesn't make it good. To make a very generic point about these reviews: Who the fuck am I? I have no right to judge these musicians who have a billion times more success than I ever will. This is just one simple man's opinion that doesn't matter. That being said, I still don't dig it.

Go Cry On Somebody Else's Shoulder
This track has an old school 50's vibe to it, the harmonies and bass create a very "Earth Angel"-ish type feel. In contrast to the vocals on the previous tracks I love these, they have soul, they have emotion, I can't say enough for them. It's not necessarily better than any 50's tracks, but it's very true, very genuine to it. They add their own particular spin to it and it works. I really enjoyed it.

How Could I Be Such a Fool?
I probably sound like a man who's impossible to please. After the first two tracks the album really changed, I thought the vocals were much better and musically it was a stronger record. Musically the Mothers are very different from their predecessors and I'm sure it set them apart. You can hear hints of other popular bands of the time such as the Byrds. I particularly love the horns on this track, the whole this is good - it's just not quite doing it for me.

All in all, there were other songs I didn't care for (vocally) than the first few (see: Wowie Zowie). I wouldn't be surprised if this album was a big predecessor to punk music. It's not a bad album and I wished I liked it, but I just didn't. There were some flashes of brilliance but just not enough of it. That being said, I'd like to hear more Zappa. There's plenty of talent underneath it all, tons of musical ingenuity. While I may not have enjoyed this particular instance of his music, I'm sure he grew from it and there's plenty of really amazing stuff down the line.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

#136: Jessie J - Who You Are (2011)

It's refreshing to see a pop artist who writes their own music. Jessie J got her start as a writer, writing for artists such as Chris Brown and Miley Cyrus (Party in the USA). While neither of those artists are on my radar, I appreciate the fact that Jessie J has her stamp on this record - she's not recreating some else's. What drew me to Jessie J was two things: her song, 'Domino' and how unique she is. Stylistically she sets herself apart from the pack.

Price Tag
I'm still surprised this song didn't do better on the charts. Granted, it was her first chart topper and it débuted at #1, but it's a well crafted, feel good pop song designed to dominate pop radio. It's light, and it's fluff, but it's fun. The lyrics and message are worn out but the music breaths new life into them. It's got a reggae feel to it and regardless how many times you've heard it, it's fun to sing along to. B.O.B. is featured on the track and while I may not listen to rap, he makes me think about reconsidering. Usually rap breaks in pop songs are awful and jarring, however, here's it's natural and fitting.

I wish the entire album was more like this and 'Mama Knows Best'. I love the Maroon 5 type funk guitars and the piano is superb. The piano is sparse, think, and provides a lot of soul. Jessie J has got a set of lungs on her, she's gifted. While at times the album is clearly a "vocal album" where the vocalist is the absolute focus, Jessie J pulls it back on this track (well... for her). She has plenty of moments where she showcases her voice but she doesn't fill every moment with trills and vocal exercises. I think the reason I dislike some of the ad libs so much is because they remind me very much of Mariah Carey. I get it, you can sing really well. The real question is: what's more important, showing off your voice or making sure the song is the best it can be regardless of your talent? 

Now here's a chart that didn't do nearly well enough on the charts, it peaked at #6. This is one of the best pop tracks I've heard in a very, very long time. The guitar rocks, the drums push, and the vocals are incredible. This is the perfect setting for Jessie J's vocals. The feel-good-ish-ness of the track masks the crummy lyrics, but then again who cares? That's the point of pop radio, isn't it? This song is one of my dirty little secrets along with, 'Only Girl in the World' by Rihanna. They're just songs that I have no right to sing along with as loud as I do.

All in all, it's not really my cup of tea. At times her lyrics indicate either arrested development, accidental over generalization, or a desire to reach a very young audience. Then again, she was only 23 when she released this album. After listening to the album, I can say that the image that she portrays is not a façade. Her vocal style is just as unique as her style. There's no doubt she can write an amazing pop song, however, the rest of the album (other than the tracks above) failed to do it for me. A perfect example of it's duality is 'Who's Laughing Now', I absolutely adore the opening - it's unique, fresh, and endearing. However, the rest of the song is cringe worthy. Overall, it may not gel with me at times but she's very honest with who she is and that's something I can get behind.

Monday, December 3, 2012

#135: Paul Revere and the Raiders - Midnight Rider (1966)

At first I started to wonder if Paul Revere had considered the Google ramifications of choosing his name. SO I went to Google only to discover that his given name is 'Paul Revere Dick' and then I thought he made the right choice. 'Paul Revere and Raiders' has a better ring to it than 'Paul Dick and the Raiders'.

I'm not sure what I expected to hear, but wow this guy has a voice on him. It's sultry, soulful, and it rocks. Musically the song vamps a lot but it really allows the focus to stay on Revere. While the song could be redone today and would absolutely rock, it still holds it own all these years later. It's an incredibly solid track. Definitely worth the listen if you've never heard of this group before.

(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone
Paul Revere and the Raiders sound like a mish-mash of several other bands. If I had to pick a band their most similar to, I'd have to choose the Zombies - except these guys rock a little more with a little less focus on harmonies. The album uses excessive vamping and for the most part it's very effective, especially when it kicks into a different phrase. It's good but it doesn't grab me quite like 'Kicks' did.

There She Goes
Now this song uses a ton of harmonies. It's got a very different feel to it, ditching part of the rock for a little more folk. However, it's the vocals that really make the track. I'm a sucker for vocals singing horn parts. Rhythmically and musically it varies a lot more each phrase stands on it's own. It's short, sweet, and to the point but it's also one of the best tracks on the album.

All in all, I fell in love with them on the first track and then slowly fell out of love throughout the album. Don't get me wrong, the album is solid throughout, but the record starts out at the top of the mountain and then slowly descends. I debated taking off points for the voice over at the end (reminded me of the nightmare that was Phil Spector's 'Silent Night') but decided against it. As the vocals stopped, I listened to the music and the harmonies and I realized that taking off points would be childish. Then, moments later, the same voice over started to replay in it's entirety. So I took off two points.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

#134: Jason Mraz - Mr. A-Z (2005)

I decided to review back to back Mraz albums both as a test to see if I enjoy the format better, and more importantly to find the precise moment of growth between albums. I think his first two albums (this being the second) are much more similar to each other than his other records. During the touring of this album, Jason opened for Tracy Chapman, Alanis Morissette, and even a few dates for the stones.

Geek in the Pink
It's laundry day. It's an amazingly fun song. The guitar is smooth yet funky, the bass is dirty and wet, and the rhodes is silky and chill. It's incredibly well produced. There's so much going on and yet it all fits so well. However, as always, it's Mraz's vocals that really push this track. The lyrics are sharp and to the point and they flow perfectly from phrase to phrase. When you think of Mraz what songs do you think of? 'I'm Yours', 'The Remedy', 'I Won't Give Up'? This song will challenge that idea of what Mraz does as a musician. When I think of Mraz, this is the first track I think of. It's a bit left of normal for him but it's also the perfect culmination of all his best traits.

Did You Get My Message?
What an amazing track. I honestly forgot how good this album was. I remember all these songs so vividly and yet I'm still entranced by every moment. The harmonies are both subdued and expertly placed. I'm not huge on duets but Mraz has two of my absolute favorites, this track and 'Lucky'. Then again, this isn't a normal duet. It's has very upbeat, rock feel to it. Mraz is the master of one of the lost arts: good ad libbing. Throughout the album, but particularly on this track from 2:10 - 2:19 showcases just how good of a musician he is. As a listener, I already love the song but this nonsense he sings becomes my favorite part of the track. In writing this review I finally discovered who provides the amazing female vocals, it's none other than the wonderful, talented Rachael Yamagata.

Please Don't Tell Her
One of my absolute favorite Mraz songs. As I get older, I enjoy listening to oddly specific lyrics. It makes the story much more vivid, more real, more believable. He could throw in several lies to spice it up and I wouldn't care a bit. The music is solid and as always the melody is just incredibly well crafted. I enjoy the standard Mraz quick lyrics flowing in and out but the musical emotion on this track is unparalleled to any other on the record. Then after a flurry of specific lyrics you get this absolute universal gem: "Please don't tell her, that I've been meaning to miss her... Because I don't."

All in all, the man simply doesn't get enough credit. Music like this shouldn't be classified as pop, only because in this era pop has a few negative connotations to it. Sure, it's pop - but the musicianship is excellent. Not only are the songs better on this album than his début, it's also incredibly more consistent. The worst tracks on this album still provide a very enjoyable listen.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

#133: The Mamas and the Papas - If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears (1966)

The Mamas and the Papas only recorded from 1965 to 1968 (with a reunion in '71), but during this span they released six albums spawning 11 Top 40 singles. We've all heard "California Dreaming" and many of us have heard, "Monday, Monday" despite our age, but it's the quality of the rest of the album that I'm really excited to hear. I was surprised to read that the album cover had to be adjusted because the original featured a toilet next to the tub and it was considered "indecent". Oh, how the times have changed.

Straight Shooter
What a cool track, it's got this great groove to it and the vocals are locked in. When I think of the Mamas and the Papas this is not what I think of. However, if the rest of the album is similar to this - I'm in for an absolute treat. The bass line is very McCartney-ish, it rocks and flows so incredibly well. I really, really dig the blend of the vocals, they have some moments in the song that's absolutely sweet.

Somebody Groovy
I'm surprised at just how good the Mamas and the Papas are musically. I've always pictured them as a vocal group, but the musicians they have behind them are top notch. John Phillips is the the songwriter for the group and he does an absolutely wonderful job. The record is vibrant and open and the writing is very pop but it also contains a lot of depth.

The 'In' Crowd
A very bluesy type cover ends the album. I admire not only Phillips' song writing but also his ability to pass his ego to the side to do a few cover tracks. He could have just as easily used the original as a ghost song but instead they take a great song and put their own spin on it.

All in all, this album is unique in comparison with it's predecessors. I've got to say that I'm very pleasantly surprised with this record. I didn't expect to hear anything quite this good, now it makes sense why people are still familiar with the Mamas and the Papas name all these years later. While I very much enjoyed each song, they all had their moments that were just incredible: a great bass line, an amazing harmony, or a big hook. Their début album is scary good and I look forward to the next record.

Friday, November 30, 2012

#132: Jason Mraz - Waiting for My Rocket to Come (2002)

Before his huge song 'I'm Yours' entered everyone's life and refused to leave, there was a very different Jason Mraz on the scene. Brace yourself: instead of a fedora, he wore a baseball cap. Musically it's very different too. The album is full of sexual innuendo, as if the title of the record didn't give that away. Speaking of obvious things, I learned a few things recently. Will.I.Am is just the name William. Jason Mraz's second album is called Mr. A-Z and it took me years to realize Mr. A-Z = Mraz. If you never it noticed either, you don't have to admit it - and you're welcome.

You and I Both
He's got a beautiful voice, chill guitar vibe, and a solid backing band. Without question, these songs stand on their own. I'm sure they were written on the guitar without any regard to the rest of the instrumentation. However, the bass, drums, and electric guitar really add to the overall feel of the track without it losing it's identity. Listening to a track like this forces me to truly appreciate how much this project has affected me. While I do enjoy this song, I don't as much as I used to. It's nice, it's fluff, but really it lacks ingenuity (not that that's a bad thing). Fluff is good (in moderation).

The Remedy ( I Won't Worry)
It's Mraz at his best. He does a lot of things right but I always adore his quick, witty lyrics. They're like Pokemon, there's no way you can catch 'em all - at least not on the first listen. Then, when you step back and really focus on the words, they're really good. Musically, he's solid. The big, soaring chorus allowed this to be a big radio hit.

The Boy's Gone
I chose this song to spotlight because it provides one of my favorite moments on any record. It's a solid song but the moments from 2:28 - 2:45 is absolutely money. The stuttering rocks my world. The rhythm puts me at a loss for words. While it's cool out of context, in the moment it's absolutely ridiculous. After all these years I still cite it as one of the most mind-boggling moments on any record. What possessed him to do it and how is it that every time it's so amazing?

All in all, I overplayed this album and yet it still stands up. I shelved this record for quite some time in favor of some of his later records and while I may not be pulling it out again soon, I do recognize it's a solid début album by a very special artist. Despite Mraz's image as just another guy with a guitar (which I still don't understand) his music is way better than public opinion gives him credit for.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

#131: The Kinks - Face to Face (1966)

The Kinks were formed by the Davies brothers and were part of the British Invasion into American music. They rose to the top with hits such as, "You Really Got Me," but this particular album is a little different from that style. Like (what seems to be) with every set of musical brothers, they dismantled the band over creative differences. They are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they had 17 top 20 singles, and 5 top 10 albums in the UK.

I know that this album is notable due to it's change over earlier Kink albums, but at times it feels more like a Beatles album to me than a Kinks. Obviously, they're both British rock and roll bands, but they're much more light-hearted this time around. When the Beatles do this type of floppy song it's in reverence to the genre and then they go back to the more difficult, deeper songs. The Kinks, however, never really graduate past this. They do have glimmers of brilliance and there's some really neat harmonies and melody lines that feature some dissonance and they work beautifully with the chord structure.

Too Much On My Mind
So it's not just the Byrds that have this prototypical 60's sound that I despise. Unfortunately for me, I have a lot of records to go before I get out of this period of music. If I keep hearing tracks like this, I may have to change the rules. There's just not enough musical ingenuity to the tracks. It's a formula of the genre in which every song sounds the exact same because it's popular (this isn't just a 1960's problem, there's issues with it today). Obviously it was big in it's time but it has not aged well.

A House in the Country
I don't know if I prefer this or "Rainy Day in June," both are candidates for best track on the album. This track features a lot more rock guitars, a bit of bluesy piano, a driving bass line, and some really cool rhythmic breaks. This song could easily be translated today and be a sneaky song that sticks with you.

All in all, it's a good album. It started out strong, got really rough, and then rebounded quickly. There were a few tracks where I was a bit worried about the overall quality, but they're an incredibly solid band. I'd definitely like to hear some later Kink albums and I think the guitars are something I could learn a lot from. As for every 60's album, the drums aren't as prominent or as interesting as I'd like them to be. I don't know if, "I'll Remember" was inspired by the Beatles or if the Beatles were inspired by the Kinks but the similarities are eerie.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

#130: Gavin DeGraw - Sweeter (2011)

After falling in love with his début album, 'Chariot' I've given DeGraw chance after chance to amaze me again. While I enjoyed his self titled follow up, this is really the first album that gets back to the Gavin I fell in love with. There's no doubt he's pop music but he provides enough musical depth that it continues to be an enjoyable listen months after it's release. The album features co-writers for the first time on a DeGraw record, such as Ryan Tedder, Butch Walker, and Andrew Frampton.

A very dirty, sweet groove keeps the song moving while DeGraw sings his lungs out. It's really the calling card of his best songs. He crafts such great melodies and a lot of times the music isn't even necessary. It throws in a few cool grooves and force heads to bob. This is the definition of his signature sound to me and while I think DeGraw hasn't done his best work yet, I think he's well on his way. The reason this album was in my regular for rotation for months was because of tracks like this. They're fun, well crafted, and they groove so well.

Not Over You
It got plenty of airplay and recognition and yet it's the worst track on the album. The man knows how to write good music and how to write pop radio music, but the combination just isn't quite there yet. It's not a bad song by any stretch but it goes back to the only big noticeable problem on 'Chariot' - the lyrics lack any kind of depth. Unfortunately the music isn't much better. Usually, Gavin mixes it up enough and doesn't stick on an idea too long, however, this song feels extremely repetitive.

By far the best track on the album, one of his absolute bests. From the amazing intro (reminds me of Rob Thomas' Something to Be) to the bouncy step of the piano it never lets up. Awesome bass lines are like free food. If you didn't get it free, it's still good - but when it's free - it's amazing. The bass digs and drives throughout and really pushes the song over the edge. Of course, the the melody is boss. I can't express enough my admiration towards his melody writing.

All in all, it goes back to lyrics. I tend to forgive crummy lyrics if the music is good. This album is no exception. I like the fact that many of the lyrics are very open and generic, however, it's the times that he's a little more specific that I'm truly locked in. On the counter point, 'Candy' is lyrical fluff at it's best. It's nothing special but it's one of my favorite tracks on the album. He dances on the lyrical line throughout the album and despite the occasional misstep onto the wrong side - it's a very enjoyable listen.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

#129: The Monks - Black Monk Time (1966)

The Monks were not a commercial success and neither were any of the tracks on the album, however, it's been reissued a number of times and they have become a cult success. This is their only album and the band was formed in Germany by US soldiers.

Shut Up
It's interesting how this band is both jazz oriented, yet there's factors of punk and rock as well. I like how the rhythm holds such a primary role in the music. Usually jazz has a plethora of ideas and not nearly enough focus, this however, has quite the opposite. It's interesting, it's not like other songs from this era, but it also slightly misses the mark. They stick to one idea throughout the song, but in order to keep it interesting the songs are bite sized.

I Hate You
My favorite part of the band so far are the crowd vocals. The Monks have a knack for finding really cool grooves and the because of the vamping the lead vocals really need to shine - and they do. There's a lot of fall off notes and care put into the performance. The bass doesn't push as much as I'd like it to, but the dirty guitar is perfect. The drums find a rhythm, nails it to the ground, builds a bombing shelter around it, and then nukes everything in sight to ensure that the rhythm is not disturbed. It. does. not. change.

I dig not dig all the lyrics, the album starts with this sort of, "Heya mister stop sending troops to 'Nam." Which I may have appreciated in it's time, but especially since it's so generic I have a hard time doing anything but roll my eyes when I hear it today. I'm all for a song with political motives (see Randy Newman's Political Science) but at times it feels more like Green Day's "Holiday" where it bludgeons you over the head repeatedly with it's politics. Musically  this track is no different from any other track - it's not bad but it shares all the same motifs and themes.

All in all, it's an interesting album. I found the best moments were on "We Do Wie Du" because of their use of harmonies. I didn't find the repetition of this track to be bothersome because there was enough to keep me engaged. I do appreciate the Monks ability to force me to listen to this album differently, however I found myself in a perpetual state of waiting for the band to transition out of their current phrase. I enjoyed a lot of the riffs they came up with, but they're driven so far into the ground that there's no sense in saving them or trying to dig them out - instead they just start digging another hole next to it. There's no doubt that popular music needed a shot of the Monks, it's primal in certain aspects and they do plenty of things right. I think plenty of musicians are able to learn from this band, take what they did well, and incorporate it into a different setting. The Monks aren't the full package but you have to admire their rawness and their talent.

Monday, November 26, 2012

#128: Fiona Apple - Extraordinary Machine (2005)

My love for her music is unique to any other musician. Granted, Apple has her faults just like everyone else but maybe we all need to be a bit more like her. She recently cancelled her South America tour to be with her dying dog. She said, "Sometimes it takes me 20 minutes to pick which socks to wear to bed, but this decision is instant... I am not the woman who puts her career ahead of love and friendship. I'm the woman who stays home and bakes tilapia for my dearest, oldest friend."

Extraordinary Machine
She's absolutely brilliant. There's really no other way to say it, she's among the absolute bests in my generation. It's a shame she doesn't get the true recognition that she deserves. The music is exquisite, the lyrics are witty, and the melody is beautiful. It creates a very machine-like feeling and yet it's very big and boastful without overstating. It's an amazing orchestration of horns, flutes, bass, bells, and strings.

Better Version of Me
It features a very gritty, dirty piano part with some kickin' drums, and a low dirty bass. That's probably the best adjective for this song: dirty. Even the horns and organ are rough. What I'm amazed by is how much is going on and yet there's so much sonic space for Apple's voice. No instrument steps on another's toes and it flows incredibly well. However, it's the bridge that does it for me. I love bridges that are so completely different from the rest of the song and yet fit perfectly. "Here it comes, a better version of me."

Not About Love
When she performed this live it was an absolute stunner. It was the best birthday week I've ever had and even with a Cincinnati Reds play off game in the mix, Apple still was the brightest spot of the week. I absolutely adore the anger and the brokenness on the chorus. While I love the recording, the band and Fiona absolutely killed it live. The song is a mish-mash of emotions and ideas and much like most of Apple's songs it somehow works perfectly together.

All in all, it's a solid record. How could it not be? After being floored by some of her lyrics on her most recent album, "The Idler Wheel..." I focused a little more on the lyrics this time around. Songs I enjoyed but didn't love took on a whole new meaning and perspective (see: Parting Gift). Then there were some songs that I just couldn't get over the beauty of the arrangement (see: Waltz (Better Than Fine)). I think she's getting better and better with age and she's one of the few artists I truly hope never, ever stops recording.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

#127: Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde (1966)

The most ridiculous part about Dylan is that this is the 3rd album he had started to write/record in 1965. Upon it's release in 1966, it was rock's first double albums (2 records, 4 sides). The man is a machine, I wish I had a better understanding of his words and how he crafts them. He's an icon, he's incredible, he is simply Bob Dylan.

Visions of Johanna
I love the organ, the bass, everything about this track. It does a wonderful job of not overstating anything. Sometimes having the ability to do amazing things is overrated, at times music can be much more enjoyable with a lot less. It allows Dylan's lyrics to take control of the music and while I may never understand exactly what he was trying to say, he says it wonderfully.

Just Like a Woman
An absolutely beautiful song. The melody is so incredibly sweet while the lyrics take over the song. It's just another brilliant song from Dylan. The lead acoustic guitar along with the organ just fill out the song so phenomenally. The harmonica solo is extremely tasteful and the tone is absolutely perfect for this track. There's really not much else to say, it's the best track on the album.

Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands
What amazes me most about Dylan is his ability to tell a story. There's millions of people out there that debate and argue the meanings of each and every one of his songs. There's many different ways to interpret every piece and while the writer's intention may not always be clear, it's almost better this way. It means what you want it to mean.

All in all, it's a very, very good album. This album is full of folk and blues and while I recognize that every track on this record ranges from amazing to incredible, it's also 73 minutes long. Then again, I'm getting into Dylan more than I ever thought I would. There's not many artists out there that I can sit through for that kind of inordinate length of time, but with Dylan - it's a pleasure.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

#126 Kate Miller-Heidke - Nightflight (2012)

I fell in love with Kate Miller-Heidke because of songs like, "The Facebook Song (Are You Fucking Kidding Me)" and because of her album, Curiouser. Ben Folds was quoted as saying, "She's one of those people that actually does deserve to be called a unique talent." As a operatic singer, Miller-Heidke has received a number of awards, however, her unique voice and pop sensibilities really do create something special.

Best tracks on the album. There's a lot more depth and dynamic changes on this track that are sometimes lacking otherwise. The chorus is bombastic and epic and Miller-Heidke provides the perfect tone and lyrics to fit the music (or is it the other way around?). I love the lyrics, the story, the anger, the raw emotion of it all.  Miller-Heidke isn't known nearly enough here in the states.

I decided to spotlight this song based upon one of my favorite lyrics I think I've ever heard. It's about taking a red eye flight and she says, "And if one more person coughs on me I'm gonna punch them in the face." It's in such contrast to the beauty of the song and the emotions previous to this. Then again, anyone who's had to take any kind of public transportation can totally understand a little bit of rage over something so trivial. It's an absolutely beautiful song and it's absolutely worthy of being the title track.

The Tiger Inside Will Eat the Child
Every song on the album was written by Keir Nuttall/Miller-Heidke except for two. "Let Me Fade" was written only be Heidke and Nuttall is the sole writer of this song. Knowing this, you can really tell what kind of influence Nuttal brought to the album. The lyrics are brilliant and the singing is (as always) spot on. I love the dynamics that are used on the song with Miller-Heidke even whispering coming out of the bridge. She has the uncanny ability to do these sort of things and make it seem so effortless and natural. However, if others were to try it, it probably wouldn't pan out.

All in all, it's good - it just didn't gel with me like her other albums. There are a few songs on this record that I really got into, but for the most part I was waiting to hear another album like Curiouser (and this isn't that album). It's commendable that she continues to grow and there's no doubt that she's getting better and better, but I'd this album grew a little out of my wheelhouse. Don't get me wrong, it's still a very enjoyable listen. If I had reviewed this album when I initially heard it, the score may be lower. However, the more I listen to this album, the more it grows on me and the more accepting I am of it having it's own identity.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Summary #5: 10/30/12 - 11/23/12

Album that left the biggest impression on me: 
Fred Neil's Fred Neil

Album that I couldn't wait to play again: 
Otis Redding's Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul

Album that I was the most disappointed in: 
The Byrds' Mr. Tambourine Man

99 The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds
98 The Beatles' Revolver
98 The Beatles' Rubber Soul
97 Otis Redding's Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul
94 Fred Neil's Fred Neil
93 B.B. King's Live at the Regal
88 Rufus Wainwright's Out of the Game
86 The Head and the Heart's The Head and the Heart
84 Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisted
81 The Fray's How to Save a Life
81 Laura Marling's A Creature I Don't Know
80 The Who's My Generation
77 Sugar and the Hi-Lows' Sugar and the Hi-Lows
76 Gavin DeGraw's Chariot

76 Grace Potter and the Nocturnals' Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
75 Mat Kearney's City of Black and White
74 The Beach Boys's Today!
73 Guster's Keep It Together
70 Howie Day's Stop All The World Now
68 Laura Nyro's Eli and the Thirteenth Confession
67 Sugar Ray's 14:59
66 John Coltrane's A Love Supreme
56 Bert Jansch's Bert Jansch
50 The Byrds' Fifth Dimension
44 The Byrds' Mr. Tambourine Man

Want to read the review for one of these albums? Simply go to the top left corner and do a search!

#125: The Byrds - Fifth Dimension (1966)

Throughout these reviews, I try to stay impartial and judge without prejudice. However, I'm like a starving piranha right now, I'm ready to tear this apart. Unless the Byrds completely changed out all of the musicians and they have a completely different sound, I don't believe I'm going to like this.

Wild Mountain Thyme
I liked the beginning. The middle harmony and the melody are pretty bland, but the way top harmony goes in and out to create a lot of air around it is really good. The strings don't really add anything other than obvious parts at obvious times. I think if they completely embraced what they wanted to do, I'd really like it. It should be an a capella song, the instrumentation does nothing for the song - so why have it?

I Come and Stand at Every Door
The song is about a man who died during Hiroshima and he's coming back to express that all he wants is peace. Musically  nothing happens during the song. There's excessive vamping (in a bad way) and while I appreciate that they're trying to do something different, it still doesn't gel with me. This album in no way drudges on quite as bad as their record, "Tambourine Man" but there are certain elements they feel as if they have to force into every song. The guitar and drum parts are incredibly similar from song to song, if those parts don't fit this particular song - they just make them quieter in the mix. It's like they're stuck in a musical creative loop that they can't get out of and the producers are trying to manufacture a way out.

Hey Joe (Where You Gonna Go)
Best track on the album, it doesn't sound like the Byrds at all. They ditch the harmonies, it's much more rock with a tidge of blues. The vocals are good, the guitars are wicked and quick, and the drums make Byrds history by doing something different. While the drummer may only being quarter notes, it's a welcome change. The song is only two minutes long because there's just not enough variation throughout. However, they tried something different and it gives a glimmer of hope that I may not hate the next three records I have to review.

All in all, it's better than "Tambourine Man". Then again, so far only 7 records have been worse. The record very clearly has it's fault and things I would never have let stand, but they're trying to break out of their shell and I do commend them for that. If I saw this kind of growth over the next 5 albums I think I may enjoy the sixth. Then again, I hate to be so critical about a band who has had so much success, but at the same time regardless of their success - I still don't necessarily like it. To very loosely quote Spinal Tap in reference to this album: "On which day did God create the Fifth Dimension and couldn't He have rested on that day too?"

Tomorrow's album: Mat Kearney's City of Black and White.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

#124: Mat Kearney - City of Black and White (2009)

I was surprised to see his 2006 debut album, "Nothing Left to Lose" was his biggest and most critically acclaimed album. I honestly prefer his albums in reverse order, the newer the album - the more I like it. To promote the album Kearney toured with Keane. After the record had been out 17 months, it had only sold about 90,000 copies; which is tragically low considering the talent Kearney has.

Fire and Rain
You gotta have some brass balls to call a song 'Fire and Rain'. To me, James Taylor owns the phrase and it's odd when I hear the term coming from anyone but him. However, this is one of the best tracks on the album. Kearney does a wonderful job using big percussion (especially on the bridge) to really elevate the song. The harmonies are absolutely gorgeous and while I may still not fully understand the lyrics - they're sung beautifully.

When I listen to music, I listen to full records and I find myself constantly wanting to hear this song. While I may enjoy the rest of the album, this is absolutely amazing. I'm certain that if I ever create a list of my favorite songs, this will get serious consideration. I'm not sure what it is about the song, the lyrics, the harmonies, the simple piano, or the way it's all presented. It carries such weight, such emotion, it's easily the best track on the album and quite possibly Kearney's finest work to date.

New York to California
It's songs like this that confuse me. You know when you think someone's an asshole or a douche only to discover that you were mistaken because of a simple misunderstanding? And no matter how much you were in the wrong, you struggle to accept them for who they are because you're clinging to your mistake? That's my relationship with this song. Any song that talks about California really has to work really hard to not suck. While I do love the thick piano, the harmonies, and the melody - the lyrics just don't do it for me on this particular song.

All in all, it's a good album. Listening back to this record I can totally see how "Young Love" was the follow up album. Let's not get crazy, this record will not blow your mind or rock your world. However, what it does provide is 50 minutes of good song writing. There's a lot of really memorable moments and it's definitely worth a listen, especially if you've never listened to Kearney before.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

#123: Fred Neil - Fred Neil (1966)

Fred Neil really never had any commercial success, he never really toured. However, he's one in a million. There are people out there who are ridiculously talented at something, so talented it makes most people envious. Yet they don't want a career in it because it's not what they're most passionate about. Neil is the first musician I've seen in this category. He spent the last 30 years of his life working to preserve dolphins. I may not fully understand it, but the man follows his heart - and I can totally get behind that.

The Dolphins
I didn't know what to expect, but this is not what I expected. The music in this track sounds very much like 3 Dog Night (obviously they went back in time to influence Neil) and the guitar has this very dirty, open sound to it. The bass has this very full, round, quick, McCartney-ish type tone. While bass may carry the song, the vocals grab a hold of your ears and it doesn't let go. It's such a big clash of styles, but it really, really works.

That's The Bag I'm In
The guitar holds down the fort with this simple blues line while the harmonica plays with such a sweet, soulful, and perfect tone to it. Neil sings a bit differently on this track, he's a little higher in his range and he's a bit looser. Listening to it, all I can think of is that I really want to record something like this. The instrumentation throughout is excellent, but in the mix everything is very even - there's so much space (other than the drums which are in some cases, virtually non-existent).

Faretheewell (Fred's Tune)
This track has so much energy with such a relaxed environment. The beautiful, gorgeous guitar sprinkles a light melody while the bass just plays on the and of 4 and 1 and to keep it turning around. It's haunting, it's captivating, it's incredible. Not enough has been said about Neil's voice, it's absolutely stunning. I would consider myself a baritone, but I usually write tenor parts to sing because that's more "commercially acceptable". However, Neil has me reconsidering everything.

All in all, Fred Neil is a man after my own heart. This album is what it is and it does not fake what it's not. The anchor of each song switches from instrument to instrument and the guitar work (while its not always prevalent in the mix) is masterful. He reminds me of a Jim Croce type (vocally) at times. Musically they couldn't be more different. While guitars are everything in Croce's music, instrumentation is key in Neil's. From the start of the album, I liked Neil's voice, but as the album continued I just fell deeper and deeper in love with it. It's ridiculous to me that this is the first time I've ever heard the name of Fred Neil. Neil is proof that there is no justice in this world, if the universe were truly balanced - we'd still be talking about him today.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

#122: The Fray - How To Save A Life (2005)

Because of their piano driven rock music (which hails from Denver) they're linked to bands like Coldplay and Keane. However, I don't think they're much like them. Despite the instrumentation similarities I believe they're much more of a "typical" rock band that just happens to use a piano over guitar. While the piano can really drive the song, it also doesn't mind banging out some chords.

Over My Head (Cable Car)
The only thing better than the incredibly big hooks are the overwhelming, feel good choruses. Slade has a perfect voice for this music and the instrumentation throughout is quite good. While it's piano driven music, the bass and drums provide enough punch to still consider this a rock type album. One of my favorite parts of this track is instead of bringing back this big chorus, they just have this simple guitar picking - which then leads back into the chorus. It's a bit of a fake out but it provides familiarity with a punch.

All At Once
What makes this album so good are the melodies. They're incredibly catchy, fun to sing along to, and when you throw in the production value - it makes the album very solid. I love the way they introduce instruments, they start out with this very dirty riff and it completely changes the feel. It's not what you expect but it feels right. While the guitar may be a bit further back in the mix than I'd like it to be, I also understand they needed to leave room for the harmonies and well as reintroduce the guitar later as a "new" part. The band does a wonderful job of creating a wall of sound so the vocals can really carry the listener.

Heaven Forbid
"How To Save a Life" isn't necessarily the pinnacle of this record (creatively), it was however the peak commercially. I'm glad that the other songs aren't trying to be it, this isn't a wood shedding process in which we're listening to a band trying to find it's big hit, and honestly - that was my number one fear going into this record. I know I shouldn't commend them for doing something they shouldn't do, but each song stands on it's own and the album doesn't run together. I realize I didn't talk about this particular song at all, but it's the best track on the album.

All in all, I'm surprised how much I liked it. It's not earth shattering, it's not mind blowing, but it's solid. Oddly, it does feel a bit dated only 7 years as it was part of a movement of similar artists, but the song writing holds up. I'll definitely pick up another one of their albums as soon as I get through this giant list of stuff in front of it.

Tomorrow's album: Fred Neil's Fred Neil.