Monthly Archives: September 2012

Album Review – MIRAGE ROCK – Band of Horses

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Sample “Slow Cruel Hands of Time” on You Tube from MIRAGE ROCK by Band of Horses

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Dear Music Appreciators,

INFINITE ARMS is one of my all-time favorite albums. The music, the lyrics, the sequencing of such a consistently interesting and awesome sounding collection of songs – but really it’s the overall feeling and sound of the album I think. There’s just something about that lonesome-canyon-big-starry-sky sound that resonates with me. I think it has a lot to do with the reverb.

That sound is mostly missing from MIRAGE ROCK.

For me, listening to MIRAGE ROCK for the first time was like seeing a favorite movie star without their makeup. It’s the moment of truth. Does the lack of artificial enhancements confirm or deny their star power?

Despite its flaws, I believe MIRAGE ROCK is a confirmation.

Even without their studio effects these guys are still good. Maybe not great, but good. For me here are the most glaring missteps on the record:

-the misplaced hard rock departure during the “Horse With No Name”-ish track “Dumpster World”

-the patches of corny words and music and weak-sauce vocals on “Electric Music”

– not letting Tyler Ramsey just have the vocals on his song “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone” all to himself. Is that Bridwell in the background or somebody else? They need to pipe down a bit and let Tyler Ramsey have his moment to shine.

– the bland instrumentation and monotonous tempo on “Feud.”

This is all forgivable as far as I’m concerned, and with great songs like “Slow Cruel Hands of Time,” “Shut In Tourist,” and “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone,” this is a worthwhile purchase for music fans who want a great little organic sounding country rock record from an increasingly essential American band that isn’t afraid to strike out in new and unexpected directions with every release. But what will the next album sound like? As good as MIRAGE ROCK can be at times, I don’t think anyone will want MIRAGE ROCK Part II…

I for one will want more reverb. And maybe some cow bell.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener

 

Album Review – THE CARPENTER – The Avett Brothers

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Sample THE CARPENTER on You Tube

Watch/listen to more of The Avett Brothers on You Tube

Dear Music Appreciators,

I got to know The Avett Brothers through their album EMOTIONALISM, but I haven’t been able to get excited about anything they’ve put out since that record. What’s going on with them? I would imagine their live shows are still great but on record they seem to have lost some of their magnetic pull. EMOTIONALISM felt full of, well, emotion, and infectious energy – scrappy and soulful, kind of a lovable hillbilly crazy quilt of an album.

There was something about I AND LOVE AND YOU and now there’s something about THE CARPENTER as well that just doesn’t draw me in. The first song is great, and when I heard that acoustic guitar work I thought oh boy this is gonna be good. But things seemed to fizzle out from there…I feel guilty writing this for some reason…maybe it’s not them, maybe it’s me…maybe I need to spend more time with the music…

You know, it’s funny, because I turned the record on again a few minutes ago, but this time I’m listening on my headphones…suddenly it’s better.

Suddenly I like this album.

Songs that seemed kind of overdone before are now sounding just right. “Live and Die” doesn’t seem kind of whiny and desperate anymore. With a pair of $45 Sennheiser headphones, a high quality stream, and my full attention, whiny and desperate now sounds heartfelt and imploring, with the banjo work and other instrumental details resonating now instead of falling flat.

“Winter in My Heart” doesn’t seem boring and corny or like one of those weird slow numbers from The Muppet Show anymore – it seems like it’s honest and delicate and kind of sad, and hey, maybe this actually would have been great on The Muppet Show – Kermit would certainly approve of the sentiment…

And then comes “Pretty Girl from Michigan” and this time I notice the lyric “You go back to the high life and I’ll go back to the low – I should have known…” And this time the vocals, piano, strings, and plodding fuzzed out guitar work combine for a very Beatles a la Abbey Road flavor.

At the beginning of the next track a bit of Avett Brothers banter gets caught on tape – someone says “Roll it just like we been running. Feeling good” Then the band kicks into a high-energy kiss-off number called “I Never Knew You,” loaded with Beatlesque backup vocals and harmonies.

Again with the Beatles references, I know, but once I actually paid attention to this album I started to hear and feel the heart behind it – and whether they were happy or sad or high The Beatles had loads of heart – well The Avett Brothers have it too, and I guess I’ll have to work my way back through their catalog now – this time I’ll bring my headphones and I’ll try to pay closer attention.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener

Album Review – LET THEM TALK – Hugh Laurie

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Watch LET THEM TALK: AN INTRODUCTION on You Tube

Dear Music Appreciators,

Here are three reasons to buy this music:

1. You are the kind of music fan who has the patience to listen to a three minute instrumental before the vocals kick in (opening track “St. James Infirmary”). Perhaps you even enjoy the instrumental as much as the vocals, or maybe the delayed gratification on those vocals make them mean a little more when they do finally show up.

2. You have a thing for freaks, geeks, carnivals, New Orleans, nightclubs, jazz, blues, cool clarinets, sweltering saxophones, tinkling pianos heard over tinkling glasses and the kind of music that sounds best floating over a sea of little round tables with white tablecloths and smoke ring halos.

3. You enjoy traditional songs sung with bluesy, whiskey-soaked vocals from world-weary characters who’ve been around the block a time or two. And if the world weary-character that is singing also happens to play a world-weary doctor on a hit network television show that you`ve been known to enjoy, then so much the better.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener

Album Review – TEMPEST – Bob Dylan

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Sample “Duquesne Whistle” on You Tube from TEMPEST by Bob Dylan

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Dear Music Appreciators,

I finally started to pay closer attention to Bob Dylan’s music after seeing the documentary NO DIRECTION HOME on DVD. I don’t know why it took me so long – maybe sometimes a person just needs the right guide, especially when they’re traveling in a world as rich and complex as Bob Dylan’s (thank you Martin Scorsese). And now here comes TEMPEST, the first proper studio album since I officially became a Bob Dylan fan – and it was worth waiting for.

Opener “Duquesne Whistle” will inject any room with a little something I like to call “Instant Atmosphere.” The gently twanging opening riffs transport the listener back in time to the heyday of western swing king Bob Wills, but when the band kicks it up a notch at the forty-two second mark, it isn’t long before this chugging old-timey train song takes on a weird intensity all its own – check out the official video appearing on sites like Amazon and You Tube and see what kind of strangely romantic and violent images this song begat in at least one director’s mind.

“Soon After Midnight” sounds like a fifties-style slow-dance swooner that might even get my fiercely anti-Dylan wife to sway around the room with me, while still delivering Dylanesque delights like “I`m searchin` for phrases, to sing your praises,” which contrasts amusingly with a triple headed rhymer like “Charlotte’s a harlot, dresses in scarlet.”

“Narrow Way” employs a searing, broken-record style blues riff for over seven minutes while Dylan growls his way through a winding tale of apocalyptic anxiety and violence, punctuated by the memorable refrain “if I can’t work up to you, you’ll surely have to work down to me some day.”

And it just gets better from there.

Many casual and new Dylan listeners might find the first half of the album to be the most user-friendly, while tracks 6-10 contain the more challenging (and more violent) offerings, including the fourteen minute, forty-five verse title track as well as a tribute to the late John Lennon. But this is all worthwhile stuff delivered with a brilliant confidence and DIY flair appropriate to one of the most important and influential figures in the history of recorded music. The fans and the critics will get this album and will have plenty to say about it, but to the Bob Dylan fence sitters I’d like to quote Joan Baez in NO DIRECTON HOME:

“There are no veils, curtains, doors, walls, anything between what pours out of Bob’s hand onto the page and what is somehow available to the core of people who are believers in him. “There’s some people who’d say… you know, not interested. But if you’re interested, he goes way, way deep.”

Hopefully this outstanding new album will find many of those who are interested…but just don’t know it yet.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener