(#21-30) – The 50 Best Rock Albums of the Decade, 2000-2009

Originally posted 2009-12-31 23:34:09. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

After releasing the bottom twenty of my top fifty rock albums of the decade list yesterday, I return to drop in ten more.  Unlike yesterday, I’ve included brief annotations about each album — my reasoning for picking the album, critical stances, related stories, etc.  Of course, nothing I could say in two or three sentences could ever be enough to fully describe these records.  I ask you to accept my words as the following: a teaser trailer of sorts if you have yet to hear the album in question, or a reminder of why the albums you’ve already heard were so excellent.

As this segment of the list begins to suggest, there are some years in rock music that were simply better than others.  For instance, seven of these ten tracks come from the past three years.  When I was ranking these works, I purposely chose not to include the years, so as not to color my thoughts.  But, as you’ll see later and as you may have guessed, some years are better than others.

Hurry back on Saturday for the next ten albums in The 50 Best Rock Albums of the Decade, 2000-2009, List.  I spent a great deal of time the past couple months listening to the albums of this decade, returning to and/or buying (used at Newbury Comics, of course) albums that were recommended to me by my friends, and writing, re-writing, and constantly shuffling this list until it exists as you see it today.  As I mentioned before, I encourage you to leave your comments, criticisms, and of course, your own lists!

21) That Lucky Old Sun (2008) – Brian Wilson: Brian Wilson’s first entirely original album of the decade, That Lucky Old Sun proves in many ways that he still has what it takes to write and arrange not only great songs, but also great albums.  Vocally, this album is head, shoulders, and waist above anything being produced by contemporary bands.  In many ways, rock music has progressed and been experimented with, but Wilson is still the greatest orchestrator of vocal parts, using voices more as instruments than simply a way to convey words and meaning.  Even the spoken word tracks which, on the outside, sound problematic are excellent and truly integral to the feeling and flow of the album.  As Ringo Starr has done, Brian Wilson has surrounded himself with some of the best rock musicians and writers available and it is all to the benefit of the music.  That Lucky Old Sun — not to be confused with Kenny Chesney’s Lucky Old Sun released later that year — is one of the standout albums of the decade, and proof positive that, even after two great albums that relied on compositions and tracks “from the vault,”  Brian Wilson is not finished producing original studio albums.  If we’re lucky, we’ll hear another album soon.

22) Forget And Not Slow Down (2009) – Relient K: Relient who?  That was the reaction of just about every music reviewer getting paid to listen to rock albums today.  (Interesting that Relient K was suddenly noticed and reviewed when they scored a major label contract, then summarily dismissed as soon as they released an album on a smaller label…)  Forget and Not Slow Down is the record on which this band has finally matured without losing any of the youthful energy of their previous releases.  And this is a concept album if I’ve ever heard one, documenting the numerous phases one goes through after a rough breakup.  Vocally, instrumentally, and lyrically, this album is fun and well-put-together.  My pick for the best rock album of 2009, I hope you’ll find it out there somewhere and take a listen.

23) 21st Century Breakdown (2009) – Green Day: As I wrote in my review of this album (click HERE to read), no one could be more surprised by the quality of this album than myself.  I am not, and have never been, a big Green Day fan.  I wanted to like American Idiot for its amazing packaging and overarching concept, but I have yet to crack that particular code.  But 21st Century Breakdown, this is an album I can support.  From front to back, the pacing is excellent, the focus is clear, and the band has clearly found their stride a full decade after their initial top-of-the-charts success.  This is an album that I continually return to and, despite its boneheaded single “Know Your Enemy,” I hope you’ll give it a chance, too, if you haven’t already.

24) Ringo Rama (2003) – Ringo Starr: Okay, okay.  So you might be thinking that Ringo Starr does not belong in the top twenty-five of any album list.  But have you listened to any Ringo album since the seventies?  If you haven’t, then you’re missing out on the pinnacle of Starr’s solo career.  He has surrounded himself with some of the best young instrumentalists and songwriters available and has consequently made some of the most outstanding rock music of his career, as well as the decade.  In fact, Choose Love missed the cut on this list by one and he would have received honorable mention if not for the fact that he’s solidly represented here.  Ringo Rama has a light, feel-good air — recall Ringo’s marketing strategy of using the following slogan: “Ringo Rama, peace, and love.”  I find it almost impossible to list even my favorites here — I’d end up naming every other track — so you’ll just have to take my word on this one and take a listen if you’re out of the loop.

25) The Last Great 20th Century Love Affair (2006) – The Now People: Upon its release, this album was entirely ignored by much of the media.  How Rolling Stone could have passed it over, I’m not sure.  Actually I am, as they hardly fancy themselves album people anymore, preferring instead to hype legends and new bands — the more crowd-pleasing, obscure, or odd the better.  You won’t find those sorts of adjectives being used in conjunction with the Now People.  Their sound harkens back to a simpler time, but don’t let that fool you: there is an instrumental and vocal prowess that drives this album’s sound and the overall concept is well thought out and interesting to follow.  If you can find it, this one is an interesting addition to any collection.

26) Are Me / Are Men (2006) – Barenaked Ladies: This album — or set of albums — would have made it much higher on my list if they had made some choices early on.  With two albums (or really three, if you consider today’s CD market) worth of material, BnL could have released one of the absolute best albums of the decade.  Instead, they decided to release Are Me, followed shortly by Are Men.  This would be all well and good if not for the fact that the most outstanding tracks are evenly divided up between the two.  Looking back, how is one to measure this release?  As two separate albums?  As two halves of a larger double album?  If they are two separate albums, they are strong. As a double album, it’s a bit much, and the sequencing is odd in places.  Let’s be honest — an album with “Sound of Your Voice,” “Wind it Up,” “Bank Job,” and “Easy” from Are Me and “Serendipity,” “Running Out of Ink,” “Fun and Games,” and “Maybe Not” from Are Men could have stolen the top spot for the decade, or at least would have made the top five.  As a BnL fan, I’m happy to have access to all this outstanding music — the last they made as a five-piece band — but as an album, I have to shake my head.

27) Sky Blue Sky (2007) – Wilco: Not many albums evoke so clear an emotion as this one, as well as that of a season.  Perhaps due to the bonus DVD that is included with the deluxe packaging, I can’t help but relate this record to winter.  I even included it this year amongst my Christmas albums, particularly the Moody Blues’ more directly winter-themed album December.  Coming on the heels of A Ghost is Born, Wilco have nicely balanced the length of the instrumental jams here, arranging some impressive tandem guitar solos and an overall sound that will make you shake your head in disbelief at their ability to mix it up, album after album.

28) Backspacer (2009) – Pearl Jam: Simply not the best material Pearl Jam has released, often criticized as too tight and “poppy,” and much briefer than their previous work.  Okay.  That being said, Backspacer is easily the best album Pearl Jam has released in some time, certainly within this decade.  From the rock ‘n roll assault of the first four tracks to the slower, more contemplative songs like “Just Breathe” and “The End,” this album has a lot to offer.  Even though some of the songs are admittedly weaker than we’re used to, especially in the middle to second half, there are also some outstanding, adrenaline-fueled rock songs that are unparalleled in their catalog.  (Think: “Got Some,” “Johnny Guitar,” “The Fixer,” and “Supersonic.”)  It is their most positively reviewed album of the decade — I’m throwing my hat in now — and you should pick it up!

29) Magic (2007) – Bruce Springsteen: Bruce Springsteen has been hailed as one of the top artists of the decade, and as far as overall output and success goes, the claim can’t be denied.  Consider how he opened the decade, chronicling the trauma of 9/11 with The Rising, an album that was not nearly as contrived as I worried it might be.  It was actually quite good, although bland upon too many listens, and just barely got cut from this list.  Then, he went acoustic for the strong but quite overrated Devils & Dust (see my review HERE) and went back to basics for The Seeger Sessions.  By the time Magic came around, Springsteen must have gotten the itch for some classic rock ‘n roll, pulling his band back together and drawing heavily from the style of sixties rock.  Song to song, an excellent, enjoyable record.  Working on a Dream, another near-miss for this list, is an excellent record, but lacks the staying power (even less than twelve months after its release) of Magic.

30) Viva La Vida (2008) – Coldplay: You won’t find another Coldplay album on this list, primarily for one reason: they are simply overrated up to (and perhaps including) this album.  Viva La Vida was a smash hit in all respects — huge title track single, successful follow-ups, outstanding album sales (particularly in mp3 download format)…  The list goes on.  But what I love most about this album is how each of the songs are distinct and different, and yet each track flows into the next.  In many ways, it is quite reminiscent of the format of the early Moody Blues albums, which makes it even more amazing that it was so universally well-loved.  (Hint, hint… Dust off a Moody Blues album this year!)

“Wichita Lineman” (Glen Campbell Cover)

Originally posted 2009-02-09 23:58:33. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

For Glen Campbell Chords/Lyrics, click here!

Hello and welcome to my first cover song music video for the blog in just about two weeks!  Those of you who are acquainted with my work here on the Laptop Sessions blog will appreciate just how long a break from recording that is.  After all, I spent the entirety of 2008 — along with Jim and Jeff — recording a session every three days.  So, when you look at it this way, two weeks off is an eternity!

That being said, I’m back tonight with a song from a new artist to the blog — Glen Campbell.  Campbell is a name you’ve probably heard before, as he’s been working in the realm of popular music ever since the 1960s.  I first remember him from the story of the Beach Boys, as he filled in for Brian Wilson as a touring bassist in 1964 and 1965.  Having come from a family of twelve, a group with three brothers must have been a piece of cake for him to handle!

What I had forgotten about Glen Campbell is that he was a member of the famous Wrecking Crew, along with other studio musicians like Hal Blaine and Carol Kaye.  He has played guitar on such popular recordings as the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” and the Monkees’ “I’m A Believer.”  He also played on tracks by other artists such as Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin, Ricky Nelson, Merle Haggard, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jan & Dean, the Mamas and the Papas, and many more.

What a resume!

So, why did I decide to record a Glen Campbell song out of the blue?  Why have I encroached upon the usual Jim Fusco territory of the 1960s?  The answer is simple — Glen Campbell is releasing a new compilation tomorrow entitled Glen Campbell: Greatest Hits , and I thought it appropriate to pay tribute to him.  I especially like “Wichita Lineman,” perhaps because it sounds like a cross between the Beach Boys and the Moody Blues.  I say this because it’s got that great, bassy surf guitar-ish sound on the solo, and it has very obvious Justin Hayward inflections, particularly in the vocals and the Moody Blues-esque flute sounds.  So, having decided on “Wichita Lineman,” I got in front of my laptop, searched the Glen Campbell official website for a clip, went to YouTube to watch Glen Campbell playing it, and set about transcribing and practicing.  I’m glad that I’ve decided to post chords (tabs / how to play) for all my songs this year, as I looked around for chords online and didn’t find any sites with correct chords and lyrics.  So, if you’re interested in playing the song, refer to the information you find here – it’s hot off the presses!

Well, that’s it for me tonight.  I’d love to write more, but after my double posting yesterday, I’m pretty worn out!  Seriously though, I hope you’ve checked out my posts about the Grammy Awards and the TNA Pay-Per-View.  If you haven’t, I think that at least the Grammys post is worth a read for any fan of rock music.

Without further ado, here’s my latest cover song music video.  Hurry back tomorrow for an all-new Jim Fusco Tuesday Laptop Session…

See you next session!

Pearl Jam’s “Ten” (1991, 2009 Remix Deluxe Edition) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-03-28 20:15:22. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  5 / 5 stars

If I were to post a one-sentence review of this album, it would read something like this:

“Pearl Jam’s Ten is the Pet Sounds of the grunge rock genre.”

I do not take such a comparison lightly, so let me begin by explaining my reasoning in detail.  In both cases, the general public took some time to warm up to the songs, but they have both ended up making regular appearances on “Best Albums” lists, both of the decade and of all-time.  In both cases, the songs and the image projected via artwork and touring would define the band for years to come.  Finally, in both cases, the album stands out as head and shoulders above and beyond other similar work being released at the same time from the same genres.

While Pet Sounds was the Beach Boys’ eleventh release and arguably more of a Brian Wilson solo album, Ten was Pearl Jam’s debut album, their very first studio release, and as much of a group effort as any rock album ever recorded.  Of course, the former came at a turning point — it perhaps caused or at least contributed to that turning point — for rock/pop music in the sixties.  Virtually every album that came after can be traced in some way back to that foundation.

In that sense, I do not mean to overstate Ten‘s importance by comparison.

Still, though its influence cannot compare, Pearl Jam somehow managed — and in their debut, no less — to compose and record as strong a set of songs as any being released during the early nineties and certainly from the grunge scene.  From fade in to fade out, Ten demonstrates a simultaneous command of subtlety, beauty, and gripping lyrical content, while also delving into raw, reckless abandon in a manner that is not sloppy yet not too controlled.

Almost two decades later, it is one of the cornerstone albums of the nineties and of rock music as a whole.

Pearl Jam's "Ten" (1991, 2009 remix)

Pearl Jam's "Ten" (1991, 2009 remix)

As the cover suggests, Pearl Jam decided from the very beginning to be an “all for one, one for all” sort of group.  Outside of their revolving door of a drummer’s seat in the first decade, they have followed through on the promise implicit in that pose.

And this is what makes the individual tracks so strong for a first release.  As the various band members have stated in interviews over the years, many of these songs began life as Stone Gossard/Jeff Ament band jams, riffs and solos that were worked on and written, refined, and improved over a period of time.  When Eddie Vedder was brought in, he carried with him a new sense of lyricism and a unique voice that brought these instrumentals to life.  To this day, the issues and emotions expressed on Ten make for very compelling listening.

Critical opinions on Ten vary widely, though that difference has most often been the distance between five and four stars, or an A and a B-.  Most reviews have been positive, at least to some extent, but I find it difficult to understand any rating that falls short of recognizing the outstanding fusion of classic and modern rock, energetic performances and purposeful recording studio techniques, standout songs and an overall cohesive sound and voice that define this album.

Pearl Jam's "Ten" (1991)

Pearl Jam's "Ten" (1991)

Any great tale should begin with “Once upon a time…,” and Ten does.  It’s clear from the opening that this is no fairy tale, and “Once” sets the tone for the other songs to follow.  (Taken in a different context, “Once” has also been situated as the second in a three track series known as Mamasan, or Momma-son.  This three song cycle follows the story of “Alive” into the murderous “Once” and concludes with what has been read as an execution in “Footsteps.”)

“Even Flow” and “Alive” follow on Ten, unfolding one powerful, catchy riff after another, all driven by Vedder’s vocals.  These are the songs that you wish you could play along to, and the songs that you try to sing to.

Even the by-comparison mediocre tracks shine, like “Why Go” with its driving beat, shouted chorus, and manic guitar solo.

It’s forgotten, though, by the time the next track unfolds.  “Black” is a true masterpiece: put your headphones on for this one and listen for the way the instruments all play an intricate part, and yet how all the components gel around Vedder’s magnificent lead, made most impressive by what can only be called his vocal solo on the outro.

Next comes “Jeremy,” based on the true story of a boy who was bullied to the point of desperation, bringing a gun to school one day to shoot himself in front of his classmates.  The refrain “Jeremy spoke in class today” gains more poignancy as the song continues.

The second half of the album nicely mixes the tempo and tenor of tracks.  There are the slower, more melancholy tracks like “Oceans” and “Release.”  There is the declaration of independence and survival that is “Garden.”  Then there the rockers like “Deep” and its even more well-constructed, entertaining counterpart, the Vedder-penned “Porch.”

The outtakes from this period and the Ten recording sessions are nothing short of phenomenal.  Ament reportedly considered leaving the band when Gossard grew tired of “Brother,” a gem that went unreleased until 2009’s remix.  Even better is the live standard “Yellow Ledbetter,” a masterpiece in its own right.  While I understand the decision to leave “State of Love and Trust,” “Wash,” and the aforementioned “Footsteps” off the record, I am thrilled to have them as outtakes.  These are all songs that I look forward to, and they certainly transcend the typically forgettable bonus track fare.

From front to back, Ten is not only the strongest album in Pearl Jam’s considerable catalog — and this is saying something — but it is one of the best rock albums of all time.  The balance that was struck here between interesting musical compositions and engaging vocal performances set a bar few albums since have been able to rise to.  This is an album that deserved a reissue, and the deluxe edition (2 CD/1 DVD combo) was no doubt the best, most affordable deal of the four options.  The packaging included a hard case with a scrapbook style booklet, a disc with the album as originally mixed, a second disc with the remixed tracks and six bonus tracks, and a DVD of the MTV Unplugged concert that Pearl Jam performed in 1992.  This performance alone was worth the price of the album, and seeing Vedder, Ament, Gossard, Mike McCready, and Dave Abbruzzese was a clear reminder that these were different times: the grunge look has since gone out of style, but viewing this DVD provides an opportunity to see them in their early prime, each band member smiling at various moments in different songs, celebrating the outstanding music that they had written in brand-new acoustic arrangements.

(On this, the nineteen anniversary since the recording sessions began, the Weekend Review tips its hat to Ten and encourages you to squeeze in a listen very soon!)

The Best Covers of 2010

Originally posted 2010-12-19 11:05:01. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

For a guy who regularly posts cover song music videos, I am surprisingly unwelcoming as regards the inclusion of cover songs on studio albums.  That being said, there have been some excellent covers this year, and they’ve been handled in manners that I can respect.  For instance, Brian Wilson and Steven Page each released albums entirely composed of covers.  She & Him released their cover of “I Can Hear Music” as the “B-side” to their single, which was an intelligent decision that both allowed us to hear this excellent version yet also to preserve the continuity of Volume Two.  The Black Keys (on their very good album) and Sheryl Crow (on her forgettable album) each decided to include a cover near the end of the track listing, which blended well.  And Johnny Cash is, well… Johnny Cash.  He’s the man, and for the last decade of his career, it became a mark of distinction to have the man record a cover version of your song, artists lining up to present him with tracks for future consideration.

So, here they are: the top five cover songs of 2010.  Check back tomorrow for another list!

BEST COVER SONGS of 2010

1)  “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” – Brian Wilson (Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin)

2)  “I Can Hear Music” – She & Him (“In the Sun” single)

3)  “Paranoid Android” – Steven Page (A Singer Must Die)

4)  “Never Gonna Give You Up” – The Black Keys (Brothers)

5)  “Redemption Day” – Johnny Cash (American VI: Ain’t No Grave)

Honorable Mention: “I Want You Back” – Sheryl Crow (100 Miles from Memphis)