“Time” (Ben Folds Cover- Jim’s 1st on Piano!)

By Jim Fusco:

Welcome to another edition of the Laptop Sessions on the best music video blog on the web.  Tonight, I bring you my first Laptop Session on the piano, which I actually learned to play before the guitar.  In fact, I taught myself piano- it’s actually very logical in the way it’s set up, so once you learn some of the chord patterns, you can just go from there.

Anyway, tonight’s video is a cover song of the piano master, Ben Folds, and probably my favorite all-time song from him: “Time” off “Songs for Silverman”.  Weird Al joins him on the choir-like backing vocals, which is one of the reasons that this track is my favorite.  I realized, though, that the song is great on its own, so that’s why I wanted to do a Laptop Session of it.

You may notice that the vocals are a bit “airy”.  Well, you see that microphone in front of me?  Perfect placement.  I even make sure to sing directly into it most of the time.  Well, I wanted to get the whole piano sound.  My ZOOM H2 microphone actually has 4 mics in it.  The two on the front are put in a 90 degree angle and the two on the back are placed at 120 degrees for a “wider” pickup range.  I wanted to use that 120 degrees to pick up the piano and my voice.

That only works if you turn the freakin’ microphone around!

So, you couldn’t hear my voice at all and the piano was very muffled.  But, through the magic of equalization, I managed to brighten the piano sound and bring my vocals out of the mix and salvage the video.  I had two others I recorded at this session (originals) on my fiancee’s piano, but those had to be scrapped.  I’ll go back again and re-record those, making sure this time to turn the microphone around…

I hope you enjoy tonight’s music video.  I guess I can’t plug the word “acoustic” tonight, but I guess it’s considered an “acoustic piano” as opposed to an electric piano.  Have a great Sunday and make sure to stop on back for another video the Laptop Sessions acoustic guitar AND piano music video blog!


“Bastard” (Ben Folds Cover)

By Chris Moore:

Tonight’s session, Ben Folds’ “Bastard,” is the opening track to one of the most memorable albums in my collection. Songs For Silverman was released in 2005, a few years after I had really gotten into listening to albums. When I say “gotten into,” I mean that albums quickly became one of the few subjects that truly captured my attention and imagination as a high school senior. As I got into college, I quickly found a slew of new albums that I thought were incredible, ranging from the classics like Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde to new music from Paul McCartney and the Wallflowers. I will always look back at that period of my life and fondly recall how new it all felt.

By 2005, I unwittingly began to fall into the traps that I had scoffed others for, specifically those like the Dylan fans who booed him when he went electric. Was it different? Yes. But, was it amazing music? Absolutely! I couldn’t fathom how close-minded people could be to new music. Unfortunately, two albums that I disliked upon their release — the Wallflowers’ Rebel, Sweetheart and the aforementioned Ben Folds’ Songs For Silverman — I later went on to greatly respect. I had to ask myself, why didn’t I initially fall in love with them?

The answer to this question lies in expectations. I expected Songs For Silverman to be as dynamic a record as Rockin’ The Suburbs, his previous and debut solo release. I expected him to play all the instruments and sing all the harmonies. When I listened to the album, there was a consistent sound throughout each of the tracks. He used a bass player and a drummer to augment his piano. It simply wasn’t what I expected. And to top it off, magazines like Rolling Stone were praising it for being more mature and overall better than Rockin’ The Suburbs, an album that I absolutely loved.

It is for this reason that Songs for Silverman holds a special place on my CD rack — it is an album that I didn’t give a fair chance. Ever since this realization, I have tried to approach each new album for what it is — a new album. It may not be the same or even as good as previous work, but if I give it a chance, I might enjoy it or even find it to be better! I know how much Jim Fusco and my sister, Jaime, love the songs on this album — Jaime didn’t take this CD out of her car for weeks after its release — and I’m glad I finally came around.

Well, I hope this makes up for my lack of post on my “7 8 9” video three days ago; I was just so tired that I couldn’t think straight. And I felt that video spoke for itself; it was amazingly fun to record. With Jim there to add acoustic flairs and background vocals, we knocked it out in a couple takes. We would have recorded some more from our long duet list — about ten or fifteen at this point — but hunger (and the need for ant traps) set in…

I hope you enjoy “Bastard.” You’ll get to hear my embarrassing and mercifully rare falsetto. You’ll get to hear me flub a couple of words noticeable only to the Ben Folds fanatic. You’ll get to see me (most likely) create enemies because I’ve broken Ben Folds’ general no-guitars policy and recorded an acoustic cover song of this song.

See you next session!

The BEST COMPILATIONS of 2011 (The Year-End Awards)

By Chris Moore:

Every year, there are a wide variety of compilations, best of’s, essentials, greatest hits, and retrospectives that are released.  I usually only buy one here or there.  This year, there were three outstanding compilations, which are recognized below.  In each case, the packaging is excellent, notable if only for the excellent attention to liner notes that provide further context and insight into the tracks.  Even though all three were of high quality, Ben Folds’ reasonably-priced, beautifully packaged, well-selected Best Imitation of Myself takes the prize without debate.

1) The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective – Ben Folds

2) Twenty – Pearl Jam

3) Outside Society – Patti Smith

Ben Folds: LIVE IN CONCERT – The Shubert Theater, New Haven, CT (March 28, 2009) – REVIEW

By Jim Fusco:

We now deviate from our regularly scheduled program…

In an unprecedented move, the Laptop Sessions acoustic cover songs music video blog brings you TWO concert reviews in one weekend!  Tonight, I’ll review last night’s Ben Folds concert at the Shubert Theater in New Haven, CT.

There’s so much to say about this concert- really unlike any other Ben Folds experience I’ve had.  For one, he played the entire show (with the exception of a couple of songs in the middle) with a band- something I really haven’t seen before.  Those who know my musical tastes know that having Ben play with a band (rather than just doing the whole show by himself) is definitely preferable.  The songs sounded just like the originals, with the drummer and bassist singing the harmony parts on all the old Ben Folds Five numbers.  There was also another multi-instrumentalist / percussionist and another person I couldn’t see from my vantage point that played keyboards and French horn.

My fiancee and I had a nice night out on the town- the Shubert Theater is in the heart of the city.  And even though the surrounding area is a little…well, not so perfect…the inside of the theater was very nice.  We had GREAT seats, which is funny, because I bought them no more than four days ago online.  We sat in the eighth row on the floor, off to the side a bit.  The tickets were a lean $34.50, plus a TON of taxes and fees that brought them over $45 a piece.

Now, the show Ben Folds put on was great, but getting there wasn’t so much.  He had an opening act- God help me if I could remember the name.  They were okay- kinda quirky and VERY Ben Folds Five-ish.  The problem was that the songs were kind of middle of the road and, more than anything, the songs were WAY too “deep” for an opening act.  I even noted that a couple of the songs had similar lyrics, meaning that the songs came from an album that had a deeper meaning and were meant as part of a bigger picture.  Again, it didn’t really fit well with “opening act”.

They started at about 8:30.  After their set, we waited for about twenty minutes or so, then it was time…

For ANOTHER act to come on first!

This time, it was the “only rock/pop a capella group at Yale” and now I know why.  They were TERRIBLE.  I was embarassed the whole time.  No one there had a good singing voice- the girl they picked to sing the second song of three (who was CLEARLY picked because she was the least “brainiac” looking of them all) couldn’t carry a tune if it was strapped to her back.  They sang two songs no one in the audience never heard of before (complete with two tall Asian guys beat-boxing) and then finished up with a slightly-entertaining version of Ben Folds Five’s “Underground”.  The problem with their version was that no one’s voice was strong enough to really make it sound like the original was sung (the two girls they had singing the chorus were barely audible from the eighth row) and the guy singing lead was annunciating every single word!  It’s not, “And now it has been ten years, I am still won-der-ing who to be.”  You had to be there to get how funny it was, but believe me, it was like a comedy routine.

That was followed by an announcement saying that Ben was coming out with a new album (!!!)…only to get let down by the fact that it’s an album of performances by a capella college groups! Ugh, talk about an album I’ll miss.  I’m almost absolutely certain that this will end up on Chris’ TV stand in the near future, though.

After that act was done…we waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.

Finally, about 9:30 or so, Ben came out on the stage with his band.  The band didn’t really seem into the music all that much, but it’s probably because they were trying to act cool.  Ben was his usual lively self- kicking the piano bench away and singing better than I’ve ever heard him.

He played an interesting set anchored by tracks off his past two albums, “Way to Normal” and “Songs for Silverman”.  He played songs like “Effington”, “Dr. Yang”, and “Free Coffee”, which are NOT some of my favorites.  Although, I do have more respect for “Free Coffee” now because that terrible sound on the piano is actually made by putting empty Altoids boxes on the strings and adding a distortion pedal.  These songs sounded exactly like the recordings.

He also played some better ones from “Way To Normal”, including “Hiroshima” and “Brainwascht”.

His “Songs for Silverman” list included “Bastard”, “Jesusland”, “Sentimental Guy”, and “Landed”.

One thing I noticed about this show was the pre-determined setlist.  He really had it down, like a regular concert.  There was no wasting time after he got on- each song ended, then the next one began about five seconds later, with no introduction.  I mean, he talked enough, though- made a few jokes, had the audience sining (hilariously, at points) on my favorite song, “Not the Same” and “Army”, and seemed very happy.

He looked good, too- not all crazy-haired and everything.  He looked happy and healthy, which is good to see.  His show was an hour and a half, but the encore was only one song (a great one in “Fair”, especially with the band) because he said they ran out of time.  I think the delay from starting the concert may have been from him “dueling pianos” with someone at Toad’s Place in New Haven, which he mentioned a couple times during the show.  I think he came back to the Shubert late!  He had to get a Band-Aid for his finger after playing the piano so hard at Toad’s.  Both Ben and the opening act commented on how great the sound at the Shubert was- said it was the best sound on the tour.  That theater is built for having great acoustics, so I can see why.

It was a great show and everyone left happy.  There were a lot of younger teens there, too, which is nice to see.  Everyone seemed to love the songs off of “Rockin’ the Suburbs” the most, seeing that it was a popular album.  In classic Dylan fashion, he didn’t play his most (and only) famous song, “Brick” or another crowd favorite, “One Angry Dwarf”.  He played a crazy alternate version of “The Bitch Went Nuts”- I never heard it before and the only similarity between the one he released on “Way To Normal” was the title line.  I kinda liked the song he played last night better.

I’ll definitely go see him again next go-around, and I hope he comes out with another album to add even more variety to the setlist.