Music Review: Jim Fusco’s “Halfway There”

Originally posted 2009-04-13 23:55:34. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

RATING:  4.5 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

When Jim Fusco released What About Today? in May 2005, his official website claimed that “this album will prove to be Jim’s best work to date.”  I didn’t think about it much at the time, but that tag of “to date” is key, particularly now — four years later — as he releases a new album.

Now, his website asserts that Halfway There is “his most professional and mature album to date.”

There is certainly something very appropriate about the title of this new release.  Careful listeners will certainly appreciate the conceptual and thematic connections.  In most places on the record, Fusco seems upbeat and generally optimistic, and yet there is a clear feeling of being stuck in a transition phase.  “You go on for miles then you stop,” he sings in “On For Miles,” possibly referring to his fiancee (now only months away from their wedding).  On “Exception,” he sings, “Why can’t we be an exception to the rule?”

Fusco is even more blunt on “I Got You,” as he wails, “I’ll always have you here and shouldn’t that be enough?”

Halfway There is truly unmatched — as promised — in Fusco’s catalog in terms of not only sound quality and “professionalism,” but also lyrical content and overall effect.  This is an album that should draw listeners in and make them feel something.  From the opening track, this is apparent, as much from the snarl of the verse as from the fed-up indifference of the chorus.  The guitar solo is emotive and supported with a classic Jim Fusco — no, better — bass riff.

Go on: I dare you not to get it stuck in your head.

The Best Indie Album of 2009!

The Best Indie Album of 2009!

“Go Back to Him” sets the tone for an album that does what great albums are supposed to do, leading you from highs to lows as you wind your way through its eleven tracks. Perhaps due to his experience with the recording process (and life in general) or an array of new equipment and instruments, Fusco’s vocals are warmer, his guitar effects are more unique and authentic, and the overall sound quality is higher.  The volume level is impressive — sometimes to0 much so, as I’ve had to turn down a couple tracks during pronounced, high-pitched guitar parts.

Indeed, longtime Jim Fusco fans will find traces of sounds here and there that are reminiscent of past work, but this time around there is sense of evolution and a clear progression.  “Our Love Doesn’t Translate” should clearly be the single, as catchy and pretty as it is, weaving a tale of two lovers who don’t always understand each other or see eye to eye.  “A Night Away” is the distortion-drenched track for this album, showcasing just one of many energetic guitar solos and — although he sings “I’d rather be ashamed than proud and angry” — some considerable resentment.

The standout track of the album is “I Got You.”  It is placed perfectly on the album, just past the halfway point.  It begins as a quiet song, just an electric guitar, then a bass, and finally a lead vocal.  When the drums shake and roll into place about a minute in, the song picks up speed and continues its slow assault until just over a minute and a half in when Fusco belts out the first chorus.  The lyrics are my favorite on the album; indeed, this would be the first song I would discuss with him if I were to sit down for an interview.

The album closer, “Ruins,” makes a final and interesting statement on the overall theme of the album.  Using the metaphor of ancient historic ruins for a relationship, Fusco sings, “There was a time when everyone had admired you from afar… But nature has a way of tearing apart what we’ve built, and if it stands, it’s eroded away.”  He leads up to the conclusion in the chorus, “I guess that’s what you call progress.”  The song itself is a dark, haunting number, and you won’t find a better mix anywhere on the album.

As “Ruins” fades, you are left with a momentary silence before a quiet hum fills the speakers.  Almost a minute later, a guitar fades in to the pop powerhouse that is “Winning You Over.”  Not officially included on the album, all I can say is that this song fits firmly into the company of such songs as America’s “Here and Now” and the Wallflowers “Empire In My Mind” — all quality tracks that make you wonder, “Why not include this on the album proper?”

Fusco has said the song was recorded much later than the other songs and didn’t really fit into the album as a whole, which does make sense.

Halfway There is easily his best, most accessible and enjoyable album to date — it is clearly a prime time for Fusco to attract new listeners while impressing his current fanbase.

In his review of Jeff Copperthite’s 2008 album Greenlight, Fusco wrote, “As an independent artist, I’ve found that people don’t take our music seriously. They won’t listen to it in the car like every other album they own. They won’t recommend it to their friends and write online reviews. It just doesn’t happen very often.”  Halfway There is an infectious record.  I’ve already listened to it a half dozen times in the car alone, not counting just as many iPod listens, and I don’t see a time coming when I will want to take it out.  (Well, maybe when the Dylan album is released later this month… :-))

Oddly — perhaps sadly — this level of mastery comes at a time when Fusco, for the first time, has eschewed all the frills, including music videos, enhancedCD content, and even his own original design for the album cover.

Fusco at work in the Meriden, CT-based FMP Studios

Fusco at work in the Meriden, CT-based FMP Studios

This is yet another visible sign of advancement — he brought in talented and accomplished painter Ben Quesnel to design and create an original work that would be used for the cover.  If you watch Fusco’s Laptop Session for “Our Love Doesn’t Translate,” you can see the painting in all its glory.

The album isn’t perfect, though.  The fourth track, “Write it All,” is both a writing collaboration and a rare duet — his first since My Other Half.  Fair warning: that second voice is disconcerting and may lead listeners to frisbee-toss their discs out the windows of moving cars.  (Actually, that second voice is me!)  In all seriousness, “Write it All” is perhaps my favorite collaboration I’ve ever written and performed — and there have been many — with Jim, and I think fans of MoU will especially appreciate this track.

Another notable collaboration showcased for the first time on this album is with longtime friend Alberto Distefano.  “Go Back to Him,” “Our Love Doesn’t Translate,” and “Ruins” were written while on vacation in Italy, and the influence of a new environment with a rich history and unique language is apparent in the writing.  His previous album may have been “purely Jim Fusco from top to bottom,” but the injection of a second perspective seems to have sparked new and different ideas and perhaps even a new era for this already established, accomplished songwriter.

If you’ve made it this far in reading my review, there really isn’t much more that can be communicated in words.  The bass is bassier.  The guitars are crisper, more jangly.  The vocals are as ambitious as ever.  Truly, this is an album that deserves your attention —  it’s only the second great album of 2009, in league with Bruce Springsteen’s Working On A Dream.

Click HERE to listen to the album for free!

Trust me, you’ll be glad you tuned in.

The Best Original Christmas Songs of 2010

Originally posted 2010-12-25 10:00:26. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

I didn’t originally plan to make a Christmas music-related list, as there isn’t really much of note this year.  However, considering that I have twelve other categories, I figured: why not?

The only song that organically caught my interest this year is Coldplay’s “Christmas Lights.”  Released as a single earlier this season, I decided to check it out, as Coldplay’s last album was actually quite good.  A bit overrated, to be sure, but certainly one of the best of 2008.  And while “Christmas Lights” may not be a contender for an all-time holiday classic, it is the best I’ve heard this year.

The other two that stood out to me are the original tracks from Wilson Phillips’ new Christmas CD.  “Warm Lovin’ Christmastime” and “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” have the Beach Boys-esque harmonies you’d expect and manage to pull off that Christmas feel that is essential for a great yuletide track.

So, consider checking out these songs, though in this category I am a big fan of the rock classics — Elvis Presley, Phil Spector & friends, Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, etc. — and new classics — Barenaked Ladies, Moody Blues, Relient K, Brian Wilson, etc.

Merry Christmas to you and yours, and hurry back tomorrow for one of the biggest lists of the year!

The BEST ORIGINAL CHRISTMAS SONGS of 2010

1)  “Christmas Lights” – Coldplay

2)  “Warm Lovin’ Christmastime” – Wilson Phillips

3)  “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” – Wilson Phillips

The BEST MUSIC VIDEOS of 2011 (The Year-End Awards)

Originally posted 2012-01-23 10:00:26. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Although the music video may have slid significantly farther down in relevance since its heyday in the eighties and nineties, there are still artists making them.  In fact, it seems to be fairly standard procedure, and the venue of choice appears to have become YouTube’s VEVO provider.  I spent a long time watching more videos than I’m willing to admit here.  The result, below, is a streamlined list of only the best.  To be truthful, I have recognized more than I believe are truly notable, if only because I felt they were worth mentioning after I had taken the time to watch them.

If you like music videos and miss them, I encourage you to take the time to watch those listed below, especially the top ten, all of which are available via YouTube.

1) “Give It All Back” – Noah and the Whale

2) “Calamity Song” – The Decemberists (Inspired by David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest)

3) “Perform This Way” – “Weird Al“ Yankovic

4) “This is Why We Fight” – The Decemberists (Directed by Aaron Stewart-Ahn)

5) “Call” – Joseph Arthur (Directed by Joseph Arthur)

6) “Stay Young, Go Dancing” – Death Cab for Cutie

7) “Born Alone” – Wilco (Directed by Mark Greenberg)

8) “Monarchy of Roses” – Red Hot Chili Peppers (Directed by Marc Klasfeld; inspired by the work of Raymond Pettibon)

9) “Wake and Be Fine” – Okkervil River (Directed by Daniel Gibb)

10) “Thunder on the Mountain” – Wanda Jackson (Directed by thirtytwo)

11) “Jejune Stars” – Bright Eyes (Directed by Lance Acord)

12) “Suck It and See” – Arctic Monkeys

13) “Rope” – Foo Fighters

14) “Get Away” – Yuck (Directed by Michael)

15) “Lotus Flower” – Radiohead (Directed by Garth Jennings)

16) “CNR” – “Weird Al” Yankovic

17) “White Limo” – Foo Fighters

18) “Casting Lines” – Jack’s Mannequin (Directed by Claire Marie Vogel)

19) “Monsters Anonymous” – Kevin Hearn (Directed by Dr. Minz)

20) “Words I Never Said” – Lupe Fiasco

21) “Louder than Ever” – Cold War Kids

22) “Comeback Kid (That’s My Dog)” – Brett Dennen (Directed by Ben Moon)

23) “Paradise” – Coldplay (Directed by Mat Whitecross)

24) “Summer Place” – Fountains of Wayne

25) “Longing to Belong” – Eddie Vedder

26) “You and Me” – Parachute

27) “Amy, I” – Jack’s Mannequin (Directed by Chloe Fleury)

28) “Waiting for My Chance to Come” – Noah and the Whale

29) “What I Know” – Parachute

30) “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” – Red Hot Chili Peppers (Directed by Marc Klasfeld)

 

Honorable Mention:

“Satisfied” – Tom Waits (Directed by Jesse Dylan)

“Blue Tip” – The Cars

“Royal Blue” – Cold War Kids (Live at Third Man Records)

 

Also of Note:

Nine Types of Light – TV on the Radio (60 minute feature)

 

(#1-10) – The 50 Best Rock Albums of the Decade, 2000-2009

Originally posted 2010-01-03 12:30:04. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for…  The unveiling of the Weekend Review’s picks for the top ten rock albums of the 2000’s.  For anyone who loves music — who loves albums — as much as I do, the artists and album titles that follow are among the best offerings in the past ten years.  Even in a decade that saw a marked decline in physical album sales and an increasing number of rock fans suggesting that good music hasn’t been made for ten, twenty, or more years, these albums are proof positive of the opposite.

Good and, occasionally, great music continues to be made each year.

As you read the final segment of this top fifty list, consider which albums you’ve heard and consider picking up those that you haven’t.  I encourage you to share your own thoughts below, if you feel so inclined.  I spent countless hours thinking, discussing, compiling, arranging, and rearranging this list, so I’ll be the first to tell you it is the imperfect work of an imperfect human being, albeit one who has approached this task with the seriousness of a full-time job.  I hope it gives you some food for thought, and that you enjoy it!

1) Red Letter Days (2002) – The Wallflowers: Their finest work and the overall best rock album of the decade for so many reasons.  Click HERE for my full review.

2) Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) – Wilco: The album that singlehandedly catapulted Wilco out of the “alt-country” caverns and into the full light of day as one of the decade’s foremost alternative rock bands.  Click HERE for my full review.

3) Rockin’ the Suburbs (2001) – Ben Folds: This is Ben Folds at his finest, pounding the piano relentlessly and lyrically tracing the outline of what it means to face loneliness in a modern world.  Click HERE for my full review.

4) Figure 8 (2000) – Elliott Smith: His fifth and final studio album before his death three years later, Figure 8 is Elliott Smith’s masterpiece.  Each of his albums — Either/Or and XO most dramatically — just kept getting better, and this is no exception.  Click HERE for my full review.

5) Maroon (2000) – Barenaked Ladies: From front to back, this is the quintessential Barenaked Ladies album, demonstrating their knack for humor, keen eye for expressing serious issues and emotions poetically, and, as per usual, their considerable instrumental talents.  Click HERE for my full review.

6) In Between Dreams (2005) – Jack Johnson: In many ways, Jack Johnson has been the spokesperson for albums this decade as, more and more, consumers seem less and less interested in them as an art form.  Johnson not only made a name for himself entirely within this decade, but did so by releasing hit records without any significant hit singles.  And there is no better example of Johnson’s prowess than In Between Dreams. From beginning to end, the acoustic guitars are crisp and clear in the mix, and Johnson cleverly balances the cheesy and the serious — even politically charged — aspects of his lyrics better than he has before or since.  It’s a wonderful album, and it’s always my first choice for a hot summer day — perfect for any top-down drive, car wash, or beach trip!

7) Brainwashed (2002) – George Harrison: Posthumously released, George Harrison’s Brainwashed is an album created out of the most pure sense of an urgent mission at hand with which a human can be faced — imminent mortality.  Having been diagnosed with cancer, Harrison did what he knew best — returned to the studio to record the album of a lifetime.  And this is not said lightly, considering the catalog that he produced over a lifetime.  Far from rusty for his fifteen years outside the studio, Harrison is at his lyrical, vocal, and instrumental best on this record.  Completed with care by producer and friend Jeff Lynne with Harrison’s son Dhani, Brainwashed is perhaps THE post-Beatles studio album.  It deals with all the classic topics — religion, politics, mortality, and love to name a few — with such ease and expertise that it almost makes up for the absence of new George Harrison records after Cloud Nine.  It’s just that good.

8 ) Extraordinary Machine (2005) – Fiona Apple: As unstable as she might be in her personal life, Fiona Apple’s modus operandi concerning studio albums has consistently been defined by a measured approach at self-improvement.  With each album, she has only gotten better, and Extraordinary Machine is her masterwork.  Oozing with a sharp cynicism and a guarded smirk always lurking just beneath the surface, Apple’s album cleverly orchestrates a number of instruments around her piano which, characteristically, leads each song.  Combining this with her inimitable vocals setting the mood for each track, this is one of the best albums of the decade.  Rock music fans everywhere, just pray that she can put together another one (or two?) next decade!

9) Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings (2008) – Counting Crows: Not since Recovering the Satellites have Adam Duritz and his band produced such a brilliant, enjoyable album — the best album of 2008 and one of the best of the decade.  Click HERE for my full review.

10) The Last DJ (2002) – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: It’s never been as much fun to openly despise the state of the modern music industry, particularly the system by which most corporate-run radio stations choose and broadcast music.  The undertone throughout The Last DJ is sarcastic, most brilliantly on “Joe” and the title track.  In between trips to his soapbox, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers also find time to create some of the most beautiful (“Dreamville,” “Can’t Stop the Sun”) and most rocking (“When a Kid Goes Bad,” “Have Love Will Travel”) music of their career.  The only Heartbreakers album of the decade, The Last DJ can only serve to stir up more desire for at least one more go-round in the next.