Addendum to the March 2011 Report: The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2011-07-16 04:30:59. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Well, I somehow missed a brand new album from one of my all-time favorite artists that was released in March.  And I also listened to Lupe Fiasco for the first time, specifically to his album that was released in March.

Thus, I give you the addendum to my March 2011 Weekend Review report.

FYI: The word online is that Beckley’s Unfortunate Casino is the precursor to a new America album to be released later this year or early in 2012.  As was the case with 2006’s Horizontal Fall and 2007’s Here and Now, it has been suggested that the songs that didn’t make the forthcoming America album are the ones that you’ll find on his solo disc.  If that is true, then we’re in for a real treat when the America record drops!

Unfortunate Casino
Gerry Beckley
Producer:

Released:
March 31, 2011

Rating:
4/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Hello” & “Feel”

Despite mixed reviews by fans and critics alike, Unfortunate Casino – for all intents and purposes Gerry Beckley’s third studio album – retains some of the best qualities of Van Go Gan (1995) and Horizontal Fall (2006) in a more concise package while covering sonic ground not explored on the aforementioned discs.

How Unfortunate Casino received harsher criticism than 2000’s remix disc Go Man Go is beyond me.

Still, much of the criticism is understandable, as the relative brevity of Unfortunate Casino’s ten tracks fall short of the soaring electric solos and overall energy of Van Go Gan.  It would also be difficult to argue that this new release has the same expansive ambition and the track-by-track songwriting excellence that was evident on Horizontal Fall.  All in all, this album is strikingly different from its predecessors, if only for its reliance on stripped down, slower tracks to lead in the album.There is no individual song to match the power pop brilliance of “Emma.”  There are sparks in “Remembering” and the title track, yet in many ways, the album doesn’t really kick into high gear until the second half with the lively “Feel” and “Hello.”  Some have attacked the lyrics on this latest release as insipid, which is ridiculous, especially considering some of the nonsensical tracks Beckley has helped pen in the past.

For the careful listener, Unfortunate Casino explores the themes of chance and change, playing on the obvious casino metaphors with admirable restraint.  Nostalgia and regret are shirked in “Remembering,” just as the present and future are embraced in tracks like “Simpson Sky” and “Feel.”  What is expressed purely in “Always” is held up to question by the greyer lines of “Fortune Fells.”  Frustration is dealt with forebodingly in “Dark River,” which is balanced later by the positive levity of “Hello.”

Balance is perhaps the best modifier for Unfortunate Casino, along with concise – I’ll take its ten strong tracks over Van Go Gan’s eighteen of fluctuating quality.  It is not better or maybe even as strong as Horizontal Fall, but it is a good album and a worthy addition to Beckley’s catalog.

 

Lasers
Lupe FiascoProducer:
Lupe Fiasco, et alReleased:
March 8, 2011

Rating:
3.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“State Run Radio” & “Words I Never Said”

Politically-charged and clearly driven by anger, or at least angst, Lupe Fiasco’s Lasers is enigmatic for its simultaneous endorsement of disengaging from the system.  As a whole, Lasers is the only album I’ve ever listened to that both protests and subscribes to apathy, though the former seems to win out in the end with Fiasco’s consistent call for change and carefully placed qualifiers like the “wanna” in “I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now.”

Sonically, Lasers covers a range of sounds and draws textures from a variety of genres without resorting to the time-tested rap topics of drugs, hoes, and violence.  Fiasco’s modus operandi is to avoid the norm, to speak out against what he sees as the perpetuators and enablers of violence and corruption in society.  I have never understood listeners who bristle at the first sign of social commentary, and in fact, I’ve always found those who do so with artistry and a sense of balance to be the most interesting songwriters (i.e. Bob Dylan, John Lennon, George Harrison, Woody Guthrie, and the list goes on…).

Fiasco is successful on songs like “The Show Goes On” with its catchy melody and lyrical middle finger to abusive power or “All Black Everything,” a track that plays out like a blend between rap and Sinatra, imagining a world fundamentally changed as the conception of slavery is prevented; the effects resemble an exercise in imaginative butterfly effect theory.  Lyrically and sonically, “State Run Radio” is perhaps the strongest example of this type of song on the album, verging on being more of a pop/rock track than a rap song.  Still, with every politically-charged writer, there is the danger of going too far.

Even at the peak of the Dylan protest song era, on 1964’s The Times They Are A-Changin’, there was one thoughtful, lyrically nuanced song for every blatantly political track.  This is, however, not necessarily the case on Lasers.  For those who have followed his recent interactions with the press, it is what can only be referred to as the quasi-extremism of his espoused methodologies that most profoundly weakens the overall impact of his message.  For instance, verbally bashing President Barack Obama – with one liners in songs like “Words I Never Said” and in interviews, such as the most recent and severe when he claimed that Obama is the “biggest terrorist” – is certainly not the way to motivate people like myself to listen more closely.  The fact that his comments appear to be directed at all American presidents and all branches of the government, past and present, does little to blunt the impact of such statements.

Even still, though Fiasco is far from being a poet, I have found his music compelling and catchy, and I continue to return for the core messages, such as the frustration with the seemingly unalterable trends in big business and government policies in “Words I Never Said.”  Even though I cannot support a non-voting stance, I can deeply feel and, to a degree, relate to such lines as those that follow his declaration that he will not participate in politics: “I’m a part of the problem; my problem is I’m peaceful.” 

Lasers will inspire questions and thoughts and perhaps even action; for this, in addition to the more important aspects of the music itself, Fiasco remains an artist worth listening to, whether you consistently agree with him or not.

 

“I Need You” (America Cover)

Originally posted 2011-12-09 00:45:09. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jim Fusco:

Welcome everyone to another edition of the Laptop Sessions with me, Jim Fusco!  It feels like these two-week spans between my acoustic cover song music videos fly-by each time.  It’s already the second week of December and Christmastime is going by like a shot.  This year, I’ll be bringing you one Christmas song music video that I recorded on piano.  But, that will have to wait until next time.

Tonight, I bring you the second in my two-part series of songs titled, “I Need You”. 🙂  The first was the cover video I did two weeks ago, “I Need You” by the Beatles.  I’ve always loved that George Harrison song and it’s about time I got to make an acoustic video version of it here for the music blog.  As I mentioned on that post, I think the band America, and specifically Gerry Beckley- the writer of today’s song- were heavily influenced by the Beatles.  In fact, in each concert performance (and I’ve seen them about 15 times now) they play a Beatles song.  They say that it was the music that made them want to become rock musicians and songwriters.

Now, I’ve also hypothesized that Gerry Beckley made a nod to George Harrison’s “I Need You” in his song by the same title.  I can hear a similarity in the chord progression, especially at the end of the song when it goes to that minor chord.  It’s such an interesting change and both songs feature it (though Harrison’s goes to an F#m and Beckley’s goes to an Em7).  It would be such an honor if Gerry Beckley himself ever read this blog post and commented on my theory.

America’s “I Need You”, off of their first (self-titled) album, was one of the songs that got me into the group’s music.  Other Beckley songs like “To Each His Own” and “Only In Your Heart” are personal favorites, as well.  I always gravitated to Beckley’s songwriting, as I can tell the clear Beatles and Beach Boys influences.  After a show of theirs I attended, the band signed autographs.  I brought in my copy of Beckley, Lamm, and Wilson’s “Like A Brother” CD and Gerry was surprised that I had it.  I loved that album, especially because we got to hear some great Carl Wilson songs.  He told me that he spoke at Carl’s funeral and that he was a very, very close friend.  To me, that’s amazing- growing up and listening to your favorite group…and then becoming a musician and eventually friends with one of the members.  To me, this made sense, as Carl Wilson was the youngest Beach Boy, more Beckley’s age.

In the studio version of “I Need You”, you hear a great acoustic 12-string guitar over the piano.  For my Laptop Sessions cover version, I took a rare seat at the piano and stripped this song down to its basic elements.  And when you just sit back and listen to the words, you realize how great of a song it really is.  Beckley wrote this song right out of high school and you can tell- going away from all of your friends (like he talked about in “To Each His Own”) is really tough, and the emotions that you feel for people in high school feel like they’re SO important.  I remember feeling that I’d be alone forever if a relationship didn’t work out back in high school.  If only I could give myself some late-20s wisdom. 🙂

I hope you enjoy tonight’s “I Need You” piano cover song music video.  I’ll be back with a Christmas song music video for you in a couple of weeks, so I hope you’ll stay tuned!  In the meantime, get that shopping done (without getting too stressed) and we’ll see you back here on the music blog!



The Weekend Review: July 2011 Report

Originally posted 2012-01-01 11:03:22. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

 

The Grand Theatre: Volume 2 (Old 97’s)

Producer: Salim Nourallah

Released: July 5, 2011

Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Manhattan (I’m Done)” & “Brown Haired Daughter”

Oddly enough, it is my pleasure to report on the rockin’ mediocrity of The Grand Theatre: Volume 2.  I do, though, need to revise a previous statement.  In my Weekend Review of Volume 1, I posited two questions: “Are the best songs being split between both records?  If so, then why not make some difficult decisions on the chopping block and release one album that will be the best possible Old 97′s record?  If not, then will Volume Two emerge as a sort of b-sides and unreleased tracks compilation that is destined to disappoint in the shadow of Volume One?”  In retrospect, I should have added a third question to account for another possibility: that Volume 2 would be an enjoyable record, but with an entirely different feel than Volume 1.  Unlike the Barenaked Ladies double-album Are Me/Are Men (which had a united feel throughout both records and the best recordings split between the volumes), the Old 97’s recorded this music during the same set of sessions yet clearly divvied up between two distinct categories: songs that are polished, more artistically rendered and songs that are fun, with a “live” sound.  For my personal preference, Volume 1 will always stand out, but Volume 2 is a solid record.  I, thus, go on the record as saying that this was the perfect release strategy for this body of music.

 

All of You (Colbie Caillat)

Producer: Greg Wells, Ken Caillat, Ryan Tedder, Toby Gad, Jason Reeves, & Rick Nowels

Released: July 11, 2011

Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Shadow” & “What If”

In All of You, we find yet another case of Wings syndrome, a condition found predominantly in singer/songwriters who are exceedingly happy in their personal lives.  These artists seem to have lost the link to the real world, floating into the blissful ether of cheesy lines and upbeat music untempered by frustration, disappointment, or any other clues to suggest the music is being written by a human being.  I have nothing against a good happy song, but for any album to be nothing but pleasant  — and simply so – can be oddly grating.  It leads an average person to wonder about the writer vaguely burying trouble in “Think Good Thoughts” and optimistically addressing existence in “Dream Life, Life.”  What boundaries are there to the dream life?  Without some fleshing out of those details, the overall effect falls short.  After being introduced to outstanding previous Caillat work, notably “Fallin’ For You,” I was disappointed in the quality of All of You.  The trick to beautiful, happy music has always seemed to lie in the subtle artistry.  The best, happiest Jack Johnson music, for instance, has always suggested a wink around the corner, a clever grin waiting to happen, sometimes even a regret or an irritation.  In much of Caillat’s previous work, there has been a sense of beautiful possibilities on the verge of coming true; on All of You, it seems the fairy tale has taken over.  (Though, to be fair, the closing track “Make It Rain” serves as a reminder of her emotional range.)

 

Sky Full of Holes (Fountains of Wayne)

Released: July 20, 2011

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Someone’s Gonna Break Your Heart” & “Acela”

For the first time in eight years, since 2003’s Welcome Interstate Managers, I can honestly return to Fountains of Wayne without shaking my head.  It is a testament to the backsliding inherent in Traffic & Weather (2007) that I haven’t been excited about anything from Fountains of Wayne since I heard it.  When I have returned to Welcome Interstate Managers, I’ve been instantly drawn back into its dynamic magnetism.  That being said, I’ve all but ignored their back catalog, haven’t even heard Traffic & Weather all the way through, and was not excited about this year’s Sky Full of Holes in the least.  For some reason, though, I did buy it.  (I’ll go on record here, though, as saying I don’t and have never owned a copy of Traffic.)  So strong was this distaste for their previous record that I’ve only recently grown to fully appreciate Sky Full of Holes: the folksy charm, the range apparent in the instrumentation and even the lyricism.  The same characteristic Fountains of Wayne wit and voice are maintained throughout, yet there is a sense of returning to roots and to rock here in the best sense: embracing the acoustic guitar, lacing the best tracks with guitar solos and lush vocals.  In short, Sky Full of Holes isn’t so much a return to form as it is a step forward in their career.  Does it match the peaks of their 2003 masterpiece?  Not quite.  But it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

 

Rabbits on the Run (Vanessa Carlton)

Producer: Steve Osborne

Released: July 26, 2011

Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “I Don’t Want to Be a Bride” & “Dear California”

Though she can probably best be described, from the public view at least, as a one-hit wonder, Vanessa Carlton continues to labor artistically, successfully in relative obscurity.  To be certain, there are echoes of her previous work here on Rabbits on the Run, but there is also a vitality, an authenticity to her delivery that was probably lacking on her early work.  As the cover would suggest, her new album is simple effort: ten tracks that rely most heavily on the gorgeous triad of vocals, piano (and other real instruments), and lyrics.  Guitars are used to great effect throughout, particularly on a standout like “Dear California,” a track that cleverly employs the “Surfin’” lineup of guitar, bass, and simple drums, with some Carlton-tinged piano thrown in to color the recording to fit her work, immediately flowing back into her characteristic cross between upbeat and murky, soaring and haunting, in “Tall Tales for Spring.”  The pinnacle, though, comes early in “I Don’t Want to Be a Bride,” a sparsely arranged statement of standing apart from societal and family expectations in confidence of one’s self and one’s relationship, expressing an independence from institutions and documents in favor of the abstract concepts purportedly expressed in the aforementioned conventions.

 

Back Pages (America)

Released: July 26, 2011

Rating: 2 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Caroline No” & “A Road Song”

Nothing smells quite so stale as an album of covers billed as a “new studio album,” released over four and a half years after the previous studio album.  In America’s case, Back Pages is hardly a quality follow-up to the heights of 2007’s excellent, modern-feeling Here & Now or their album before that, 1998’s Human Nature.  I suppose, considering their previous two releases, it should come as no surprise that any album would have a difficult time living up to recent memory.  But a covers album?  Back Pages didn’t stand a chance.  For the true fan, there are obvious high points: particularly on their sweet, sublime rendition of Pet Sounds alum “Caroline No” and in the obligatory “America” cover, which was truly a nice touch.  Probably the best track on the album is “A Road Song,” in the sense that it sounds vital, new… probably because it is: America released this Fountains of Wayne cover a matter of days before they released their recording.  That is what is perhaps most disappointing about Back Pages: it only serves as a reminder of the uniquely excellent work that has come before and the promise of what might be yet to come.  If I wanted to hear an excellent New Radicals cover, I would’ve turned to Hall and Oates.  However, I expect more from an America release.

“You Can Do Magic” (America Cover) – The Traveling Acai Berries

Originally posted 2009-10-07 00:58:24. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jim Fusco:

I was so disappointed to find that Monday’s video wasn’t a Beatles song- myself and my fellow Acai Berries had an all-new Beatles video ready to go to keep the streak alive, but now I guess I’ll save it until next week.  It’s a cool one, too, so be sure to check back!

Onto tonight’s video:

“You Can Do Magic” is one of those songs that I didn’t need to convince Becky to like.  This was a Top 5 Billboard hit for America in the mid eighties and was their last big hit to date.  Of course, they didn’t write this song and, if my memory serves me from reading the America Box Set liner notes like seven years ago, they didn’t play any of the instruments on it, either.  The writer of the song basically wrote it for the members of America (namely Gerry Beckley, whose “unique” voice actually works pretty great on this song) to sing and had the whole thing ready.  All Beckley and Bunnell had to do was overdub some vocals.  The guitar solo part in the beginning does sound like Beckley’s style, so maybe it’s him on that part…

That first guitar part was something I tinkered with before going to our recording session last week.  But then Steve came in and said, “Hey Jim, how about this over the beginning chords,” and busted out a great part on the 12-string Gibson that blew me away.  So, out went my dinky solo on regular acoustic and in came Steve’s jangly solo on the 12-string.  You can even hear Chris C. playing in the background (he’s actually on camera during next week’s video) if you turn it up, as he was picking the bass parts (an octave higher) on his mandolin.

Let me take this opportunity to say that I’ll finally admit that a Martin guitar is probably worth the extra money.  Every time I pick up Steve’s guitar, I’m just in awe of how clean and clear it sounds.  The low strings are especially crisp and it stays in near-perfect tune, too.  They make a new all-wood version for around $999 (the company cited the recession as a reason to make an “affordable” guitar), but it’s probably going to be quite some time before I can justify purchasing that.  Could be a nice Christmas present from Becky…for the next ten years…

And how about Steve’s vocals?  He did a great job backing me up on this song- again, it’s like singing with my father or my brother.  They already know the parts and just sometimes ask for me to clarify something.  It’s not like I have to teach them the part- it just sorta comes naturally.  What a breath of fresh air.  It’s one of the big reasons (besides his ability to pick up chord changes by ear) why we can bust-out two videos during a recording session.  And Chris C. can sight-read.  One take and he’s ready to go.  My vocals, even though I don’t like to point these things out, were a bit weak, as this take was done after two solid hours of playing and singing.  Earlier takes (done in the first half-hour) were much stronger on my part- my voice was just tired at this point.

And, we get a rare glimpse of Steve on camera this week!!  Don’t get used to it- you don’t see him at all in next week’s video! 🙂

I hope you enjoy this classic America tune.  Of course, I’ll be back next week with another Traveling Acai Berries video, so come on back.  But, while you’re at it, remember that we post every Monday and Thursday, as well!  I, for one, love to keep up with the posts and I’ve read every single one.  It’s great to check your email (remember to subscribe to the blog- click the links on the sidebar to the left) and get a fresh new post/video three times a week!  Plus, check out our past videos, as they’re just as good as the new ones (I sound like one of those annoying AT&T Rollover Minutes commercials) and even if you started today, you’d have well over a year of quality entertainment at your fingertips.

On the personal front, this has been a good week of getting stuff done- painting over the weekend and securing a renter for our place (!!!!) was followed by delivering the lighting to our new house, which we got a mini tour of today.  It looks amazing (we have trim around the windows, which is a novelty that we didn’t have in the condo) and it’s really coming together.  I can’t believe it’s about three weeks away…

Until next week, enjoy tonight’s video and enjoy Jeff’s video on Thursday!  It’s sure to please- talk to you then!