The Weekend Review: November 2011

Originally posted 2012-01-02 14:00:52. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

The SMiLE Sessions (The Beach Boys)

Producer: Brian Wilson, Mark Linett, Alan Boyd, and Dennis Wolfe

Released: November 1, 2011

Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Surf’s Up” & “Our Prayer ‘Dialog’”

I’ll keep this one brief, as there’s already been so, so, so much written about SMiLE, that infamous, legendary album that almost was, then wasn’t, then in 2004 pretty much was, and finally in 2011 finally is.  Well, it “is” in the best, closest manner it could ever have been, as The SMiLE Sessions are compiled from what Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys managed to finish before it all fell apart, nothing new added.  So, the Sessions lack the polish and finality of 2004’s Brian Wilson Presents… SMiLE!, afforded it by modern recording equipment and, no less significantly, Wilson’s healthier state of mind.  Inversely, the 2004 version lacked the spark, the elusive x factor presented by the Beach Boys’ voices.  When blended, there simply has never been another group quite like Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, and Bruce Johnston.  Accordingly, I would first recommend you hear Pet Sounds (1966).  If you’ve already heard that, you might be ready for SMiLE.  If you are, judge the version of the Sessions you’ll buy relative to how hardcore a fan you are (I had to go for the full 5-disc boxset, but you might not).  If you’re not, try out Sunflower (1970) or The Beach Boys Today! (1965) first.  But don’t forget to make it back to the greatest album that never was.  And also don’t forget to check back for more Beach Boys cover songs here on the music blog!

 

Camp (Childish Gambino)

Producer: Donald Glover & Ludwig Goransson

Released: November 15, 2011

Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Fire Fly” & “Hold You Down”

Camp is an imperfect album, with flares of talent and inspiration tempered with stretches of less notable work.  Being that this is Childish Gambino’s first studio album proper, this is all to be expected, particularly of an up and coming talent, and there is much evidence here to suggest that he is.  His attitude toward achieving success, especially in light of past experiences being ignored by girls and others, is explored across multiple tracks, the best of which is “Fire Fly,” truly the standout track for its incisive catchiness.  Childish Gambino has all the necessary bravado, as well as a unique personality and willingness to let his guard down; although I’ve heard it argued that his beats are derivative (I’m far from an authority on this front), his lyrics have an interesting blend between those typical of contemporary rap and those drastically different from the normal.

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.

What Good Am I?: 70 Reasons Why Bob Dylan is Awesome

Originally posted 2011-05-24 20:00:03. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

(or, Writing 70 Reasons is a Long Time)

By Chris Moore & Nicole Fekete:

Unlike just about every other Dylan article in existence (some of mine included), we’re going to resist the urge to rattle off some witty Dylan-themed puns and cut directly to the point.

Bob Dylan is 70 today!

It’s a bit odd for me to accept that my all-time rock music icon is a septuagenarian, but, even at seventy, Dylan is still making headlines, unpeeling yet more layers of the so-called Never-Ending Tour with a top notch band, and releasing new material at a surprising rate.

Tonight, in no particular order, we celebrate Bob Dylan — holder of the record for most songs by a single artist covered at the Laptop Sessions (63) — for being awesome, for…

1) Coining the phrase, “Keep a good head and carry a light bulb,” after carrying an over-sized light bulb to a press conference.

2) “Going electric” and doing so at maximum volume.

3) Sneaking marijuana innuendo into the major radio hit, “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.”

4) Getting arrested for looking like a hobo.

5) Spawning co-founding Wallflower and outstanding lyricist Jakob Dylan.

6) Inspiring, in his words, a gazillion books.

7) Remembering words when high, yet forgetting when sober.

8 ) Assembling what is perhaps the first creative, true music video in “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in the opening credits of Don’t Look Back.

9) And for including Allen Ginsberg in it!

10) Having the bitchin’-est background singers around.

11) And for becoming romantically involved with each of them.

12) Coming out with a self-proclaimed terrible album to shirk attention and shed devotees (Self Portrait).

13) Being (one of?) the most covered artists of all time.

14) Having a song called “The Cough Song” (“Suze”).

15) Punning off stoned while being stoned.

16) Dropping my favorite f-bomb of all time (“Play effin loud!” live in 1966).

17) Recording the only country album by someone other than Johnny Cash that I enjoy (Nashville Skyline).

18) Being friends and dueting with Johnny Cash.

19) Being friends and dueting with George Harrison.

20) Making the first Traveling Wilburys session possible.

21) Taking the lead role on Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 3.

22) Writing popular rock songs that feature lumberjacks, sword swallowers, and one-eyed midgets.

23) Inspiring a song about his beard (Wilco’s “Bob Dylan’s Beard”).

24) Busting out a song like “Billy 1” from the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid for the first time live in concert… nearly four decades after it was released.

25) Inspiring that National Lampoon parody song about the “spangled dwarf in his bowtie.”  (And the infantry don’t ask why!)

26) Walking off the Ed Sullivan Show when he was prohibited from playing “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues.”

27) Writing Chronicles, Volume 1.

28) Giving us hope that there’ll be a volume two!

29) Rearranging any song from his catalog as though it were the year 1942.

30) Giving the Byrds the boost they needed to truly hit it big.

31) Conceptualizing the Rolling Thunder Revue.

32) Composing some of the most notable protest songs in American history.

33) Avoiding titles like “voice of a generation.”

34) Playing “Oh Sister” at the Hard Rain (1976) concert in response to a request that he play a protest song.

35) Continuing to write subversive protest songs throughout every period of his career (“Gonna Change My Way of Thinking,” “Neighborhood Bully,” etc.).

36) Recording what is perhaps one of his best albums at the age of 59.

37) Being in the midst of a Never-Ending Tour.

38) Playing with the Band, which is best when working with Dylan.

39) Still knowing how to rock out. (see: the version of “High Water” on Tell Tale Signs)

40) “Oh, Mama, can this really be the end? / To be stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again…”

41) For recording “Spirit of America” with Brian Wilson!

42) Surprising everyone with Christmas in the Heart, the creepy, raspy-voiced curmudgeon’s guide to yuletide tunes.

43) Inspiring a fairly uninspired collection of covers titled Tangled Up in Blues.

44) Inspiring that most ridiculous of cover collections titled Tangled Up in Bluegrass.

45) Sporting a mullet during the only decade that it was even remotely forgivable to do so.

46) Not being ashamed to wear that sequined jacket in the seventies.

47) Developing an aura that led to wild rumors regarding subjects like his legs (amputated in the motorcycle accident?) or the motorcycle accident itself (did it ever even happen?).

48) Recording and writing with the Band (heard of the Basement Tapes, anyone?).

49) Rarely swearing, then dropping just about every swear and slur of his catalog in “Hurricane.”

50) For inspiring controversy over his first performance in China (see: Maureen Dowd’s editorial, Ron Rosenbaum’s reaction on Slate.com, etc.).

51) For becoming deathly ill… right after releasing an album that was all about death… and shortly after saying that the album wasn’t necessarily about death.

52) Writing “All Along the Watchtower” and admitting to the superiority of Jimi Hendrix’s version.

53) Writing “New Pony,” and enabling Jack White and the Dead Weather to create the rare arrangement that, by far, surpasses Dylan’s own.

54) Having one of the wildest rock star heads of hair ever.

55) Introducing the Beatles to drugs.  Imagine how the sixties would have been different without that…

56) Transforming and altering the public perception and memory of the Newport Folk Festival.

57) Having more talent in his left jowl than the sum total of most popular contemporary artists.

58) “Mississippi.”

59) Hardly acknowledging the stage invader during the SOY BOMB incident (1998).

60) Writing “Masters of War” (1963), a song that would eventually (2004) cause the Boulder, CO high school band Coalition for the Willing to be investigated by the Secret Service for allegedly threatening President Bush when alarmists overreacted to the final lines of the song.

61) Releasing an album on September 11, 2001 with an eerily timely amount of twin imagery.

62) Imagining and filming the incredibly lengthy and as-yet unavailable on DVD Renaldo and Clara, yet another artifact from the Rolling Thunder Revue era (the Bootleg Series live album being the premier artifact).

63) Inspiring terms like Dylanologist, Bobolator, and more.

64) Adding sound and voice to a Victoria’s Secret commercial and releasing a limited edition compilation CD via store locations.

65) Writing and recording what is arguably the best “break-up album” of all time.  Twice. (see: Blood on the Tracks)

66) Playing lead and soloing during the 1995 MTV Unplugged concert.

67) Inspiring tales such as those told by Highway 61 Revisited-era electric guitarist Mike Bloomfield, the best of which are inappropriate for a family-friendly blog.

68) Accumulating such an impressive vault of alternate versions (most recently, beautiful versions of “Mississippi,” “Most of the Time,” and others have emerged), live tracks, and more.

69) Having the guts to leave his hometown, travel east, change his name, and reinvent himself as an authentic performer and, eventually, songwriter.

70) Living a life that is more the stuff of legends and rock star biographies than any of us will ever experience or even be able to imagine.

This is, admittedly, a limited list.  It was developed and written on a whim in one draft, so we encourage you to add reasons via the comment box below.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this, and until next May 24th, a happy Bobby’s B-day to one and all!

P.S. I almost forgot! 

71)  Inspiring an outstanding website such as Expecting Rain, which enabled my two installments of “Together Through Life: A Look Back at Ten (Officially Released) Bob Dylan Rarities” to earn the record for first and second most views in a single day of any post at LaptopSessions.com!