Tag Archives: Music Reviews

Album Review -THE BRILLIANT GLOW – Handsome Ghost

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Dear Music Appreciators,

AllMusic isn’t really paying attention yet. Even the artist’s own record label provides surprisingly little information on their website and not a single related item for sale in their store. Are they aware how good the music is? Do they appreciate the marketability of the name? Despite listener numbers in the millions on Spotify, at the time of this writing it seems there is relatively little to hang my hat on as a brand new fan of the musical artist Handsome Ghost.

So don’t overlook this new EP as some kind of too-typical playlist filler that works best for background music. This tantalizingly brief collection of personal pop songs is a pretty beautiful piece of musical art. Though I may be using words like “beautiful” based mostly on the haunting and ethereal vocals and melody from the closing track (“Didn’t I Fade”) that have been circulating in my head for the last couple of hours. Circulating and percolating on their own without any conscious effort from me.

“Graduate” is a proper album opener with a capital “O” – a radio friendly synthpop rouser with an ultra-catchy chorus and lyrical imagery that puts pictures in your mind (“bloodshot eyes under the bleachers”). “Eyes Wide” also sounds radio ready and weaves pizzicato synths around an addictive and nearly wordless electro chorus. It’s one of those soul cleansing road-tripping-to-a-new-beginning songs that works well as the soundtrack to any kind of clean slate moment. “Promises” circles quirkily and then soars, and “Lions” and “Suiteness” come down from that high to push off exploring in new and reflective directions. Which brings us back to the end that I mentioned at the beginning – the otherworldly “Didn’t I Fade,” which works so well as an exit piece for a handsome ghost.

Well I want a full length album now and there is none to be had This makes three EP’s in three years. This one and the last one can be found streaming and are also downloadable on Amazon and iTunes, which is great, but when I like an artist this much I still like to hold a CD in my hands when I can. And the only one I can find anywhere on like the whole internet right now is the first EP, released in 2014. It’s called “Blood Stutter,” and it appears it’s only available on CD and two of the four tracks also appear on the 2015 EP “Steps.” At the moment there are six copies of “Blood Stutter” available from third party sellers on Amazon for anywhere from $2-$20. Well, now it’s five copies because I just bought one. The two dollar one, of course. Hmmm, “acceptable” condition from Seattle Goodwill, we’ll see what that’s all about. Scrounging the ol’ thrift store bargain bin for a worn out copy of the only CD release by a new and sparkling musical talent that hasn’t even released his first proper album yet. The music business sure has changed.

Maybe we’ll at least be able to say we knew him when.

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 – 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