Locksley’s “Don’t Make Me Wait” (2006, 2008) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2012-03-11 09:58:55. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING: 3.5 / 5 stars

Earning a spot on the 2007 edition of the Alternative Press’ “100 Bands You Need to Know” list didn’t bring Locksley any closer to recognition even from an independent music store regular such as myself.  In fact, for such an under-the-radar band, Locksley has accumulated quite the resume in their six years together.  Aside from being featured in magazines like SPIN and Elle, their music has appeared in conjunction with multiple retailers, they have played live for both Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel, they have opened for bands such as Hanson and Rooney, and they have the distinction of being the first unsigned band ever to have their music played on MtV.

I truly had no inkling of any of these accomplishments when I noticed a somewhat beat up copy of Don’t Make Me Wait in the used CD rack of my local Newbury Comics store.  Their very simple packaging and retro look caught my eye, and despite the fact that I could have produced this cover on a Windows 95 computer, I had a good feeling about the look of the band.

And, for $3.99, I figured, how could I go wrong?

Well, the answer is, you couldn’t with Locksley.

Theirs is a derivative sound, to be certain, and it rings strongly of early sixties Beatles.  Perhaps most prominently, there’s a “Twist and Shout” John Lennon-esque crackling lead vocal on “Let Me Know,” and the dual leads throughout many of the songs will lead any fan of Please Please Me-era Beatles to draw comparisons.

And yet, Locksley is not simply a Beatles rip-off, a band begging to be sent back to stagnation in cheap bars only interested in cover songs.  There’s an uncanny blending of garage rock with their roots-based sound.  In fact, for all the blunt distortion guitars and their practically punk rock mentality, there is no confusing this band for a sixties group.

Locksley's "Don't Make Me Wait" (2006, 2008)

Locksley's "Don't Make Me Wait" (2006, 2008)

Don’t Make Me Wait is probably best described as the best of both worlds, and it is clear that Locksley is playing around, experimenting with harmonies (which are subtle in some places, beautiful in others), lead guitar parts, and overall composition.  The title track leads off the album, and sets the tone for what is to be an upbeat, energetic collection of tracks.   The dual lead vocals are as interesting and excellent as ever on “All Over Again,” just as their vocals on “My Kind of Lover” hint at the potential for truly great vocal work on future releases.  Still, my favorite aspect of this album — and the reason I have listened repeatedly — is the tremendous lineup of catchy, quick tunes like “Into the Sun,” “Up the Stairs,” and “She Does,” to name only a few.  As soon as one ends, the next kicks in with just as much energy as the one preceding it.

In this sense, their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness.  Locksley’s Don’t Make Me Wait suffers from the shortfalls of a sophomore release.  It is energetic, fun, and brimming with potential, and yet there is nothing about this record that is so unique as to be outstanding in and of itself.  Even a track like “All of the Time,” simple as it may be, suffers from the “one-gear” mentality they generally embrace on this record.  I feel certain that they are poised to flex a considerable range, particularly from songs like the “For You” suite that closes the record, the bonus track “Safely From the City,” and even the alternate performance of “All of the Time” I’ve heard on YouTube.

Don’t Make Me Wait is an album that expresses considerable potential, and ironically, fans have had to wait since 2006 for a true follow-up to this record.  As recently as last week, the follow-up album Be in Love — originally scheduled for release this week — was pushed ahead to late February for digital and mid-March for physical.

Waiting appears to be the name of the game.

While we wait, Don’t Make Me Wait is a youthful, vibrant album that captures all the drive of an unsigned band, living from one gig to the next.  That somehow translates on this record, and it is that energy and sincerity that compels me to look past the derivative nature of their sound.  How their next album plays out will suggest a great deal about this band’s ability to evolve and make progress without losing all the rock and roll ground they’ve gained here.

The fact that we have to wait until March to reach a verdict only adds more anthemic meaning to this opening track, “Don’t Make Me Wait”!

Music Reviews: Counting Crows – “Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings” (2008)

Originally posted 2008-08-10 01:39:35. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

RATING:  4.5 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

In his personal liner notes, Adam Duritz thanks several people for “sticking by our vision for this album in the face of pretty much universal disapproval. Records SHOULD be what they’re MEANT to be.” In many ways, these notes help to tie Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings to the much larger tradition of the concept album.

Consider the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, arguably the first concept album. The Fab Four had to lock themselves away from all other distractions – including photo shoots and even live concert tours – to make what many consider to be their masterpiece. The Moody Blues were never meant to record Days of Future Passed; it was only as a result of convincing their producer to change course that this classic concept album was created. Brian Wilson arguably lost his mind in the pursuit of SMiLE, his masterpiece of an incomplete concept album that drew him back into the studio four decades later to finish it.

To compare this new Counting Crows album with the best of the Beatles, Moody Blues, and Beach Boys would be misguided; it is simply too recent to hold up to the classics. Still, this is one of the Counting Crows’ most compelling offerings and perhaps the strongest album of the year. Why, you ask? Not only do the songs shine – rocking and reflecting at the appropriate times – respectively, but the album concept unites each separate thread into a larger thought that holds up after and indeed invites multiple listens.

The album opens – rather, explodes – with the first track’s thundering drum roll and massive distortion guitar. “1492” is a personal narrative that establishes the setting and the narrator’s “dark Italian underground” exploits in a private world of “disco lights,” sexual encounters with “skinny girls,” and “mornings spreading out across the feathered thighs of angels.” Duritz’s songs have often shown interest in angelic imagery – consider his band’s first hit with “Angels of the Silences,” for one – but the imagery is tipped on its head for this album. Initially, the darkness is shocking. It is darkness that leads to the repeated question in the chorus, “Where do we disappear?” The narrator’s personal history becomes intertwined with an interesting take on Columbus and the events of 1492, a final chorus about the “people who impersonate our friends,” and then, with a final bang on the drums and harsh down stroke on the strings of the electric guitar, it’s over just as abruptly as it started.

The first half of the album is devoted to the Saturday Nights portion of the concept. The “dizzy life” that is described in “Hanging Tree” is further fleshed out in the scene-setting “Los Angeles,” and more personal details are divulged in “Sundays” – an opening mention of “coloured rubbers” followed by a description of the narrator’s conception (“My mother made me out of flesh and wine”) leads to the choral confession that he doesn’t believe in Sundays. Time and again on this first half of the album, the songs are rock n’ roll through and through; solos and driving beats are par for the course. And yet this is not at the expense of artistry. Duritz’s imagery is poetic and pulls no punches; the reference to Sundays conjures religious imagery, and although he professes not to believe in them, these tracks smack of a trip to a confessional.

The final two tracks of the Saturday Nights portion make good on the promise of “1492.” With “Insignificant,” he returns to that feeling of disappearance, declaring “I don’t want to be insignificant.” “Cowboys,” the sixth and final track of the first half, provides the perfect transition as Duritz sings, “I’ll wait for you as Saturday’s a memory, and Sunday comes to gather me into the arms of God Who’ll welcome me because I believe, oh, I believe…” This is a shift from his statements in “Sundays” and brings God directly into the picture. Duritz’s final words of the track set a mission statement of sorts for the remainder of the album – “Oh, I will make you look at me… Or I am not anything.”

So ends the Saturday Nights segment of the album; the Sunday Mornings portion begins with the subdued acoustic picking, gently fingered piano, and deliberately plucked standup bass of “Washington Square.” Harmonica and a distant electric guitar join the sound of the largely acoustic arrangement of “On Almost Any Sunday Morning.” The lyrics fit the tone of the music aptly, sparse and raw as they are. It is interesting to note that both of these tracks were written by Duritz alone, perhaps adding to the personal feel of these tracks.

Just as “Washington Square” and “On Almost Any Sunday Morning” are songs of despair and desolation, the next two tracks find the narrator beginning to pick up the pieces. In “When I Dream of Michelangelo” Duritz sings, “I want a white bread life, just something ignorant and plain, but from the walls of Michelangelo I’m dangling again.” In a sense, the conception of the album is explained through this song, even as the narrator sings of that connection to the great painter. This brings many aspects together, most notably the religious imagery and the desire of an artist to communicate. “Anyone But You” kicks off with a haunting organ and quickly falls under the domain of a steady drum beat. The message of this track? Well, although he admits “I’m almost ready – it’s almost true – for almost anyone but you,” he ends up returning repeatedly to the simple statement, “I think about you.”

It is in this song that the album really comes together. Even as drums return to the mix for the first time since the transition to the Sunday Mornings section, the singer’s dilemma is clear: after his wild “Saturday nights” and his reflections on his life, God, angels, women, and more, he can only think of this one unnamed woman.

In the next track, the truth comes clearly crashing down.

“You Can’t Count On Me,” the first single from Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, lays it all out there – the narrator clearly addresses that aforementioned woman (described here as “just my toy and I can’t stop playing with you, baby”), and he admits that “There’s just one thing you need to know and that’s that you can’t count on me.” Not exactly a declaration of love and selfless devotion, this clearly carries with it the same blatant, raw honesty that the previous tracks have been imbued with.

From the opening chords, “Le Ballet D’Or” plays out like a dream sequence characterized by Duritz’s reflections and realizations. These set up what is perhaps the most minimalist track on the album; Charlie Gillingham’s piano and Adam Duritz’s vocals are all that you get with “On a Tuesday in Amsterdam Long Ago.” The vocals, probably the most raw of the record, lead up to the ragged, repetitive pleading by Duritz – “Come back to me.”

The album might have left off on this note, leaving the resolution open ended and the final note a somber one. Instead, the next track begins deceptively with an acoustic guitar and piano that fade momentarily before being replaced by the first distortion guitar since “Cowboys” and perhaps the most rousing drum beat and bass line of the album. Duritz’s voice returns to form as he leads the band in “Come Around,” the only track on Sunday Mornings not produced by James Brown. Rather, this track was produced by Gil Norton, the producer for the six tracks of Saturday Nights.

Thus, “Come Around” effectively brings this concept full circle, promising in the chorus “We’ll still come around.” Yes, there is pain on the Sunday mornings…

But that won’t stop Duritz from coming back to the Saturday nights time and again. If nothing else, they certainly make for good songwriting – and this concept makes for a rocking, raw, and overall excellent album.

Music Review: R.E.M.’s “Live at the Olympia in Dublin: 39 Songs”

Originally posted 2009-10-30 17:25:25. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

RATING:  4.5 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

Sometimes, the big publications just get it all wrong.

In his Rolling Stone review of R.E.M.’s Live at the Olympia in Dublin, Will Hermes writes, “This two-CD/one-DVD document captures intimate, occasionally great performances.”  He goes on to add, “If Michael Stipe sometimes sounds like he’s reading lyrics off his computer, it’s because, well, he actually was.”

If I have to read one more cleverly phrased review bestowing a mediocre rating upon a release I love, I swear I’ll lose it.

Live at the Olympia in Dublin spills over with positive energy, the kind of energy that leaves fans breathless and voiceless after a night of singing, screaming, and giddily laughing.  Stipe’s voice is hardly robotic, as Hermes might have you understand.  His vocals alternate between smooth and clear deliveries at some points, alternately cracking in all the right places at others.

And the computer is hardly a crutch.  It’s more a means of on-stage schtick for Stipe and the band.  It is apparent that he is getting a kick out of reading others’ interpretations of his eighties-era, admittedly very mumbled lyrics.  (He has since come over to the good side, including lyrics in all R.E.M. booklets since Up.)

And it’s genuinely funny to hear him reading them, reflecting on them, and moving on to the present day, namely his evolved sensibilities and more recent material.

What really gets me is that Hermes refers to the tracks I had most looked forward to — the Accelerate outtakes — as “solid.”  This is an overstatement.  I was far from impressed with the outtakes, and although I had so hoped to tout them as the forgotten gems of their 2008 sessions, I simply had to admit to myself, Well, I suppose these guys knew what they were doing when they assembled Accelerate.

And that is precisely what has renewed my interest in R.E.M.  I’ve always liked Stipe’s attitude, and I’m continually drawn to R.E.M.’s unique, raw-but-refined instrumental sound.  And yet I’ve been hard-pressed to find any albums that stand out to me, certainly not enough to stand up to some of the great albums of all time.

Then, along came Accelerate.

R.E.M.'s "Live at the Olympia in Dublin" (2009)

R.E.M.'s "Live at the Olympia in Dublin" (2009)

Their 2008 studio album — their fourteenth at that — is a tremendous record.  There are catchy electric hooks, acoustic underpinnings, great lyrics, and Michael Stipe’s perfectly ragged vocals seasoning and binding it all together.  What truly distinguishes this record is the energy that simply oozes from the seams.  And this doesn’t come across as some aging group of rock and rollers embarking on a pitiful attempt to recapture past heights — after all, R.E.M. never was known for being all that rocking a band.

Watch the music video for “Living Well is the Best Revenge,” and you’ll immediately observe the youthful, creative force of a group of men who love what they do.  The song is performed while driving around in a car, acoustic guitars squeezed into the small vehicle, the steering wheel converted — while driving, mind you — into the percussion instrument of choice.  It looks like they’re having a lot of fun, and that comes through more than anything else on the record.

Rolling Stone reviewer Hermes apparently longs for the days when “Stipe’s vibrato-seizure vocals and Rorschach-blot ‘lyrics’ clung to songs exploding at the seams.”  He comments that, instead, “The stitching is tighter now, and drummer Bill Rieflin often holds things together too neatly.”

Say what you will about Rieflin’s drumming — and it’s not groundbreaking or award winning, but it gets the job done.  I draw the line at his allusion-dropping, not-so-subtle riff on Stipe’s vocals, as if to imply that something has been lost.

If that’s true, then something has been lost on me.

R.E.M., as Live at the Olympia in Dublin continues to suggest, is more alive and well than they have been in a good long time.  If living well is truly the best revenge, then Stipe, Mills, and Buck are bound to have the last laugh.  Their on-stage personas, musical chemistry, and ability to dig deeply into their catalog to populate their shifting set lists — never mind their willingness to exercise their unfinished work during live, recorded performances — continue to breathe new life and vibrancy into all their work, both past and present.

If you’re ready to live in the moment, then you should really give these guys a listen.

Brett Dennen’s “Hope for the Hopeless” (2008) – Yes, No, or Maybe So

Originally posted 2010-03-03 17:01:37. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Brett Dennen’s Hope for the Hopeless (2008) – YES

Brett Dennen's

Brett Dennen's "Hope for the Hopeless" (2008)

Review:

Sounding like the best parts of Jack Johnson and Gavin DeGraw rolled into one – with a Dylan-esque vocal flair here and there – Brett Dennen’s Hope for the Hopeless is the great album of 2008 that I missed; I love Johnson and Jakob Dylan, but this acoustic rock album blows Sleep Through the Static and Seeing Things away! (…a conclusion supported by the fact that the always frustrating Rolling Stone reviewers barely acknowledged this great release with three stars and a lukewarm paragraph of backhanded compliments.)

Top Two Tracks:

“Heaven” & “San Francisco”