Category Archives: You Tube Song Samples

Album Review – PEDESTRIAN VERSE – Frightened Rabbit

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Dear Music Appreciators,

It always feels so good to find another great album to listen to. Suddenly life is less lame again and there is something new to look forward to. Especially when it’s the kind of album that I can put on repeat and listen to over and over again and each time it starts over, rather than thinking “hmm, what should I listen to next?” I find myself wondering “how soon I can get to the record store to pick up the CD?” As a music junkie with too many songs on his iTunes, this has become the ultimate tribute that my music-pickled mind pays to an album – when the digital copy just doesn’t do it and I feel like I’ve got to take the relationship to the next level. If digital is just friends at school, then a trip to the record store means we’re gonna stay up all night and freakin’ braid each other’s hair.

With PEDESTRIAN VERSES, Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit has made the kind of album I want to invite to my slumber party.

It’s pop, it’s rock, it’s indie, it’s top 40, it’s lyrical Scotch on musical rocks, and because it’s that rare combination of an entire collection of songs that holds my attention from start to finish, I’ll skip the part where I might prattle on about influences or comparisons, quote and analyze lyrics, or use terms like “reverb-drenched” or “radio-friendly” – I’ll skip that part and simply say: buy this album, and see if it can hold your attention too.

Sincerely

Constant Listener

Album Review – WE THE COMMON – Thao & The Get Down Stay Down

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Dear Music Appreciators,

Right when the music started I knew it was going to be a good album, but when I heard that opening track bust open a minute later…I knew it was going to be a great album. Notice the stinging synth-string flourishes and listen for that big falsetto chorus with banjo pickin’ on one side and fuzzy guitar rock on the other. Thao and company don’t play regular ol’ folk rock songs, they have a distinctive sound, and on WE THE COMMON every song finds a way to be interesting. Guitars get in your face on “City” but there’s still room for stuff like vibraphones and a cappella singing. “We Don’t Call” features honking saxophones. A hillbilly unison singer brings the twang on “Kindness Be Conceived,” followed by “The Day Long,” with it’s noir tone and bouncing bass and snare combo, which is then followed by needling, high register guitar work and Thao singing about not getting “naked enough” on “Every Body.” You get the picture. WE THE COMMON is a patchwork quilt of interesting folk rock and-singer songwriter choices bound together by a unifying theme of simply making creative, personal, and passionate music. With so much variety and so many points of interest in this collection of songs, the album and even the band itself (with its unique and memorable band name) exude a sort of collaborative, joy-of-music persona that’s contagious and that makes WE THE COMMON less like a formal “album” and more like a very cool party with some very musical friends.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener

Album Review – SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY – Emmy Rossum

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Dear Music Appreciators,

The first time I heard Emmy Rossum sing was in a little movie called SONGCATCHER back in the year 2000. She was cute as a button and every time she sang I got goosebumps. I still think of that movie every time I cross paths with her work.

This is an album of good old fashioned classic songs.  The drama kids and the choir kids will eat this up.  Many artists have recorded similar albums, but only a select few get it right. With SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY Emmy Rossum gets it right and her album deserves to reach a wide audience

But what it is about these recordings that works so well?

Here’s my guess:

High-quality classical training + God-given talent + love and respect for the material + energy and enthusiasm.

There is also a refreshing absence of what Holden Caulfield might call phoneyness.  Even though Emmy is playing dress-up in a bygone era, something about the music feels refreshingly authentic.

Throw in what I imagine was a top-notch production team and twelve straight cases of picking the right song for the right singer and you get a thoroughly enjoyable album that made me sit up and listen.

Eighty-six years after it was written, when the right singer gets a hold of a song like “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover,” it can still make a person perk up and feel a little better about life, and I’ll be darned if I didn’t absently-mindedly press down on that gas pedal just a little too much as I was driving down the street listening to Emmy sing that song. I’m sorry officer, I was listening to Emmy Rossum singing “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover” and I guess I got a little carried away…

But I’m afraid if I did get pulled over like that, the cop might not know who Emmy Rossum is, which might mean I’m not getting out of a ticket, which might mean Emmy Rossum isn’t getting the kind of universal adoration she deserves for her remarkable singing ability.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener

Album Review – PASSIONE – Andrea Bocelli

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Dear Music Appreciators,

I have to keep reminding myself that Amazon customer review star ratings are meant to express how much the customer reviewer LIKED something, not how good it may or may not be from an objective, critical point of view.  Regardless, it is often easy to get objective and subjective opinions about the arts confused – and is there really any such thing as a truly subjective opinion about art anyway?  Whatever…

That being said although the system considers a three star review from me a “negative” review, I consider it a mildly positive review.  Three stars is supposed to mean “it’s okay” and if it’s “okay” then it’s not bad…it’s just not as good as it could be, which might be both a subjectively and objectively accurate statement about this album.  This album is not as good as it could be.

Despite all the ways in which I could discuss this music, the fact is when I heard “Perfidia,” “Era già tutto previsto,” and especially “La Vie en Rose,” I felt something in my bones, and when I heard the rest of the songs on Passione I did not.  That’s not to say the other songs are bad, they just didn’t move me.

The problem for me is this all feels very posed and generic.  Most of the music, the album cover, and even the album title remind me of a CD one might find on one of those listening stations in a Target or in a mom and pop gift shop that sells ceramic figurines.  You know, those listening stations without headphones where you press a button to hear Spanish guitar music, rainforest sounds, or something by Jim Brickman.

Nothing wrong with Jennifer Lopez, but she’s not the greatest singer to be singing with a great singer.  Nothing wrong with Neil Diamond, but his song “September Morn” just doesn’t belong here.  Nothing wrong with Passione, but it’s not the greatest album – unless maybe you’re eating at The Olive Garden –  but otherwise it’s just ok.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener

Album Reviews – BELIEVE ACOUSTIC by Justin Bieber and ALMANAC by Widowspeak

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Listen to “Boyfriend (Acoustic)” by Justin Bieber on YouTube

There is a teenie bopper and an indie rocker and who knows what else lurking inside my music appreciating mind.  For some reason I think it’s funny to combine two very different reviews into one post.  One is for the new Justin Bieber album.  The other is for the latest from a great indie rock band called Widowspeak.  Here you go:

Dear Music Appreciators,

The extent of my Justin Bieber experience until now = listening to the song “Baby” over and over with my five year old, watching the Glee episode where they sing “Baby,” hearing somebody on THE X FACTOR or AMERICAN IDOL doing a Justin Bieber song (I think it’s usually “As Long As You Love Me”), and hearing or reading countless references to him in the media.

This is the first Justin Bieber album I have listened to from start to finish. It’s decent – why is everyone so hard on him? The biggest fault I find with this album is Bieber’s tendency to overuse vocal runs, which can make him sound whiny and annoying at times.

But there is a lot to like here. Most of the acoustic playing sounds good, his voice is pleasant enough when he’s not overdoing it on the runs, and songs like “Boyfriend,” “As Long As You Love Me, and “She Don’t Like the Lights” have a teenage drama that is kind of magnetic. The unplugged approach should help at least some of the naysayers realize he is an actual human being and a real musician who can sing and play pretty well – yes some of his lyrics are kind of dopey but he’s a kid and kids can be kind of dopey.

I won’t be craving Biebs and his music and I may never listen to this album again on purpose, but I can see why his fans like him and if he makes their lives a little more fun and interesting then good for them. And good for him.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener

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Listen to “Ballad of the Golden Hour” by Widowspeak on YouTube

Dear Music Appreciators,

Kind of a hipster hippie vibe on this one – very cool band name, leaves, rocks, waterfall, clothing, hair, shoes, body language, – based on the album art, I felt like I had to know what the music would sound like.

And at first I wasn’t that into the music. But as is often the case, I probably wasn’t paying very close attention at first and probably wasn’t in the most appealing first listen environment. Most albums sound best on headphones for the first listen. Best to get up close and personal with the music, and then open it up to wider and noisier environments like an old used car, where, since you’re already a little familiar, you can still recognize the music’s qualities even if you can’t hear them as well.

The music started to grow on me. I started to find much of the guitar work to be catchy and memorable, having sort of a dark and weighty quality to it, and sometimes almost a kind of spacey, cinematic, western feeling. The lyrics took a little longer, and I’m still trying to figure them out, but Molly Hamilton’s singing style is reminiscent of other high and dreamy stylists like Isobel Campbell. In fact, listeners who are fond of Isobel Campbell’s collaborations with Mark Lanegan may find a lot to like here, with the dark, moody Lanegan vocals replaced by Robert Earl Thomas’s dark, moody guitar presence.

I especially admired the song “Ballad of the Golden Hour” for its urgency, its lovely and varied guitar work, and its clarity – Hamilton comes out from behind her shy, dreamy style more than anywhere else on the album and it’s clear that as a vocalist, when she works more directly with the distinctive and attractive music of Widowspeak, rather than floating dreamily around it, this band easily shifts gears from good to great.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener

Album Review – HEAVY FLOWERS – Blaudzun

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Watch a live in studio performance of “Flame on My Head” by Blaudzun

Dear Music Appreciators,

His real name is Johannes Sigmond. His stage name is Blaudzun. Who is this guy and where did he come from? Well, he’s Dutch so I guess he came from the Netherlands, but where did he really come from? For all those (like me) who don’t keep tabs on the Dutch music scene, it might seem that the musical stork simply dropped him out of the sky one day – a black-haired, black-bearded, hipster Dutch baby with giant glasses.

He looks interesting. He sounds interesting. This is his U.S. debut but it’s also his third album. He has kind of a dark, folk rock sound and a voice that quivers, cracks, and slides from a low power to a fragile falsetto. I’ve heard he sounds like Arcade Fire. I wouldn’t know because believe it or not I haven’t gotten to them yet. To me he sounds like Ryan Adams, Mumford and Sons, maybe even The Decemberists.

“Flame on My Head” is a memorable opener with it’s moaning vocal and strings introduction, urgent guitar strumming, and lyrical catalogue of desires. Up next, “Elephant” kicks the door down the rest of the way with it’s searing, almost siren-like guitar riff. “We Both Know” is the album’s rocker, “Monday” its gentlest moment. The sequencing of the album’s tracks ebbs and flows nicely, and with a third of the twelve songs on HEAVY FLOWERS clocking in at under three minutes, this is an album that is not too long and not too short, but just right on running length.

Sometimes Blaudzun’s accent shows through in his vocals, giving his songs a slight twist of the weird or exotic, which is refreshing considering how easily his sound and style will fit right in with so many other American artists right now. I’ve heard that often times underappreciated American musicians find greater success overseas. Reportedly Blaudzun already has something of a hit with this record overseas, so time will tell if this justly appreciated Dutch musician finds even greater success in the U.S.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener

Album Review – HEARTTHROB – Tegan and Sara

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Watch the video for “Closer” by Tegan and Sara on YouTube

Dear Music Appreciators,

One of the pleasures of reviewing music for the past year and a half has been discovering new bands – but in my case it has been less a case of discovering NEW bands, as discovering bands that are new to me.  Apparently Tegan and Sara have been around since the 90’s.  Didn’t know that.  I’d heard OF them but I’d never really HEARD them.

But let’s dispense with the usual summary/description/analysis stuff and simply say a few words in favor of this record in the hope that you’ll decide to experience it for yourself.

I was working on another review of a more serious sounding and self-important indie rock release, and although the record was pretty good, I was having trouble focusing.  I decided to take a break and try Tegan and Sara’s new dancey pop record HEARTTHROB instead.  Bingo.  Suddenly listening to music was fun again and I didn’t have to work so hard to like what I was hearing.  If some albums are like eating your vegetables and some albums are like eating your fruit, then I would say HEARTTHROB is a nice juicy peach.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener

P.S. As of 01/28/13 Rolling Stone is streaming the entire album here