Tag Archives: Album Reviews

Album Review -JET PLANE AND OXBOW – Shearwater

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Dear Music Appreciators,

When I press play on an opening track like “Prime,” the change is almost instant. The music I hear is so appealing it changes my life. The ordinary life becomes the extraordinary life just by virtue of the music, if only for a few minutes. Ironically, I don’t really even know what Jonathan Meiburg is singing about. I can’t easily understand all the lyrics, but it doesn’t matter. In this case it’s all about the music and the feeling. And to me, music like this feels amazing. But why? It’s that electronic hook mainly. It lights up something inside me – some kind of internal recognition receptor turns on and just, like, glows. It’s like something was out there, or maybe it was inside me, and I knew it was there but I couldn’t find it, so I couldn’t say, it but I can recognize it when I hear the band play it.

And that’s just the first song.

And no, they’re not all like that. Musicians can’t be magicians every time. But in the case of JET PLANE AND OXBOW, the power of Shearwater’s opening trick is strong enough to light a path all the way to the end of the album for both the band and their listeners.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener

Album Review -WILD STAB – The I Don’t Cares

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Dear Music Appreciators,

The last time I listened to Paul Westerberg it was 1992 and it was the songs “Waiting for Somebody” and “Dyslexic Heart” on the SINGLES soundtrack. The last time I listened closely to anything Julianna Hatfield has done it was 1993 and the album was BECOME WHAT YOU ARE. After hearing these two as The I Don’t Cares on WILD STAB, I think I may just have to rewind over twenty years and do a do-over on paying attention to their careers.

This is simply a great rock and roll collaboration record with something for everyone, and it’s brought to you by a couple of seasoned musicians who still have star power and who really know what they’re doing.

“Back” kicks it off by getting all indie rock pensive and poignant, but its follow up “Wear Me Out Loud” brings on the hooky rock-a-tude right away. Enjoy a little gimmicky humor with a song about having to pee (“1/2 2P”) before “Sorry for Tomorrow Night” busts out the fiddles around some lovable loser lyrics. On “Dance to the Fight” Julianna Hatfield takes the lead and sweetly rocks out on sour lyrics like “drunken, flunken out, I’m on my hands and knees on a Friday night.” This is followed by just a wee bit of a contrast with the slow down and cuddle up vibe on “Kissing Break” (a song that’s ready for some rom-com movie montage).

And technically the record’s not even half over yet. I’ll save the second half for you to experience without any spoiler clues, but I will say this:

Give this record a chance to be heard on something good. No ear buds, okay? No tiny bluetooth speakers in a noisy room, alright? You should break out some good headphones, preferably the kind that have ear pads of some kind. I speak from experience. For this one I started on my iPad streaming to a cheap little Amazon Basic bluetooth speaker while I was distracted doing something else, and it was nothing special. But when I put on the good headphones and paid attention it all came alive and it was great. Get to know this record on something good before you let it get short changed on something convenient.

So far I can’t decide whether I like the first half of WILD STAB better or the second half. This is a very good problem to have. And when my favorite song is the last song on the album, I think that’s a very good sign. This is a Record with a capital R and as music appreciators we’re lucky to have it.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener

Album Review – WAKING UP THE GIANTS – Grizfolk

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Dear Music Appreciators,

Who are these guys? I like them. I like them a lot. They have a big, polished, radio friendly sound and for now I won’t hold that against them. It’s a pleasure to press play on the debut album of a band I’ve never heard of and to be so pleasantly surprised.

And this is one of those rare albums where I find myself waiting in vain for all the good songs to be over. Where is the filler here? It all sounds so good I almost don’t trust it. If I wanted to be critical I guess I could say nothing really challenges the listener here. Musically speaking, if Grizfolk is picking the listener up for a date, they don’t sit in the car and honk the horn and then brood mysteriously when you get in. No, Grizfolk comes to the door and walks you to the car. They’ve got flowers for you and all that. They make it easy to like them – if you’re not too jaded that is.

With a name like Grizfolk I expected more guitars I guess. Maybe more of an acoustic flavored folk rock sound. Not so much here. Yes, the guitars are there but there are no big guitar solos and the overall sound of the band seems more keyboards and drums driven. Much of the album is dipped in a poppy, electronic coating that candies everything up nicely. Hooks abound, and you may find yourself singing along pretty quickly. There are multiple moments that sound taylor made for big crowd concert sing alongs.

Speaking of concerts, after listening to WAKING UP THE GIANTS I found myself wanting to know more about Grizfolk. Who are the band members, where are they from, what are they like, and what do these guys sound like live? Holden Caulfield said certain books make you “wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it” I say that certain albums make you wish the band was from your hometown and you could go see them live and in concert whenever you felt like it. WAKING UP THE GIANTS by Grizfolk is one of those albums.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener

Album Review – 4 1/2 – Steven Wilson

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Dear Music Appreciators,

Here is an alphabetized list of random words and names that came to mind while I listened to 4 1/2 by Steven Wilson:

addictive, artful, art-pop, atmospheric, avant garde, epic, experimental, futuristic, George Harrison, groovy, grungy, hard rock, haunting, healing, heavy, industrial, jazzy, Jeff Lynne, Jon Auer, Led Zeppelin, Manheim Steamroller, masterful, Neal Casal, Nick Drake, noirish, outer space, prog rock, psychedelia, robots, rubbery, shimmery, soaring, soothing, sprawling, swirling, Yes…

These are things that came to mind based on my own music collection, experiences, and exposure – some of them may not be relatable or even make sense, I don’t know, but I do know that they popped into my head. This is my first Steven Wilson experience and I feel lucky coming in late on him. Looks like I’ve got some more albums to work back through, that is, if I ever feel like I want to stop listening to this one.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener

Album Review – WATER FOR YOUR SOUL – Joss Stone

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Dear Music Appreciators,

What a cool album cover. Kind of a lofty suggestion though, water for MY soul? Water, with all it’s refreshing, restorative, and life-sustaining qualities, for “my soul?” I hate to be the semantics police (I know, I know, there might be other meanings here) but unfortunately the music on this album doesn’t quite do these implied concepts justice for me.

But for plenty of Joss Stone’s fans, perhaps this album will be sort of like water for their souls I guess, in the sense that Joss always has a beautiful voice and a sort of a hand-holding, healing-soul-sister “we’re all in this together” kind of vibe going on, and lots of people will enjoy and identify with that regardless of what she does on her records.

Yes, there are reggae beats and a wide variety of instruments spread around on this album, and that’s pretty cool and groovy and everything but where is there any sense of joy or fun or at least some good ol’ fashioned showing off of that big expressive voice? Even the “up with people” type songs (such as “Star” or “Clean Water”) seem restrained by an overly busy instrumental background and relatively understated vocals and never quite seem to take off and soar. “Star” hands the big chorus off to a children’s choir for example, which gives the song a sort of plodding, creepy feeling rather than turning it into the jubilant, people-come-together kind of anthem it could have been. And this one particular example of choosing a musical style or effect over a chance to feature Joss Stone’s greatest asset (her voice) might just be symbolic of the main issue that infects the entire album.

In many ways WATER FOR YOUR SOUL is too long and too serious, and it lacks the big vocal moments that have made Joss Stone a pleasure to listen to so many times in the past.

But I criticize because I care. Funny thing is, despite all of it’s issues, with each succeeding listen I’ve found more to like and can’t deny that there are words and music and beats here that want to wear some grooves in my mind. Okay, fine, I’ll take numbers 1 through 5…oh and numbers 7 and 8…basically I’ll take half the album and you can keep the rest.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener

Album Review – SING INTO MY MOUTH – Iron and Wine & Ben Bridwell

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Dear Music Appreciators,

I woke up this morning singing “The trouble with the straight and the narrow is it’s so thin I keep sliding off to the side.”

And I can’t get it out of my head for some reason.

I can relate to that song and I can relate to the way Ben Bridwell sings it. He seems like the right man for the job – he takes his time and he sounds like the kind of character that knows what he’s singing about. And he keeps up the good vs. evil motif with “Am I a Good Man?” a few tracks later.

And speaking of being a man, in looking at Bridwell’s whole contribution here, it appears that in some sense he plays the man part of this collaborative covers album and Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) plays the woman part. The two singers trade off tracks, with half of the total tracks going to each of them. Bridwell sings “Am I a Good Man?” by the obscure sixties soul duo Them Two, while Beam takes on “Bonnie Raitt’s “Any Day Woman.” Half of Beam’s tracks on the album are by female singer/songwriters. All of Bridwell’s are by dudes.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as they say on Seinfeld, and actually this kind of balancing act of musical sensibilities is one reason SING INTO MY MOUTH works well. Bridwell plays the rough-hewn vagabond with the more rustic vocals, singing about stuff like insecurity and isolation and loss, while evoking a sense of having been around the block a number of times and not being much better for the trips. Beam plays the sensitive and bearded hippie with the gentler vocals, singing about love and feelings, and he seems to get the lion’s share of the studio effects on his tracks.

Ironically, I normally prefer just the opposite with these two guys, in the sense that Ben Bridwell sounds better with the type of reverb and studio effects that were dripping from his first three Band Of Horses albums, while Beam sounds best alone with an acoustic guitar and a cassette recorder in his bedroom.

Some may lament the lack of original songs and signature sounds from these two bands. I think I did at first. But take this one for what it is – a fun little collaborative covers album between two musical friends letting their hair down together, so to speak.

If you’re already familiar with any of these songs though, you may be at a disadvantage. You may end up suffering from what I’ll call the “musical comparison conundrum,” where one struggles to overcome one’s predisposition to prefer whichever version of a song one hears first. But being the ignorant musical twit that I am, I hadn’t heard a single one of these songs before. I was able to enjoy these versions for what they are, and then listen to the originals later, which enhanced my appreciation of the songs. But of course I think I preferred Iron and Wine & Ben Bridwell’s versions on every one – meaning that in the end, the above-described conundrum may have gotten me after all.

And basically, my dear music appreciators, what I’m trying to say with all of this blather is that SING INTO MY MOUTH is a groovy, laid-back listening experience that’s worth repeating again and again. Buy it, and perhaps you’ll get some lyrics stuck in your head like I did.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener

Album Review – ANGELS AND ALCOHOL – Alan Jackson

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Dear Music Appreciators,

Alan Jackson is a name I’ve heard a lot over the years, but somehow I’d never knowingly listened to one of his songs until I pressed play on ANGELS AND ALCOHOL, and it didn’t take long to know this guy is a master at what he does. Listen to just the first minute and thirteen seconds of opening track “You Can Always Come Home” and see if you know what I mean. It’s a pure genre song to be sure, but it’s done so well it transcends the genre and goes down as not just a great country song, but a great song, period. I’ve always been sort of a sucker for a slow, stripped down intro that suddenly morphs into a full-voiced, uptempo, emotional pick-me-up. No matter how bad it gets “you can always come home” – I mean, what warm-blooded human being doesn’t want to hear that, right, especially when it’s delivered in the warm and seasoned country superstar singing voice of someone like Alan Jackson?

Unfortunately there isn’t another song like this one on the album, but fortunately it seems Alan Jackson didn’t get to where he is for nothing, as the man knows how to fill his listeners’ cups all the way up.

“You Never Know” is the kind of country rocker where everyone and their brother gets a solo (including the piano player, my favorite), and suddenly the warm father figure from the first song is singing about a “curvy little bottom like a roller coaster ride.” “Angels and Alcohol” features some appropriately woozy pedal steel work while addressing one of country music’s favorite subjects – drinkin’ – and it’s notable for the double meaning of the word “angels” as well as the narrator’s apparent lack of apology or regret.

And perhaps it’s a certain lack of apology or regret through the entire album that effectively conveys Jackson’s veteran country confidence and makes this music worth listening to. Sure, some of it gets a little corny at times (“Flaws,” “When God Paints”) but when you’re as justifiably confident as Alan Jackson even corny can seem kind of cool.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener