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 Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Electric Ladyland” (1968) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-02-14 23:30:59. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  2.5 / 5 stars

Let me begin by saying I love and have the utmost respect for Jimi Hendrix’s music, as much if not more than the average music fan.  Although many simply know a couple hits (and are, even from that sampling, able to acknowledge the fact that he was a guitar legend), I have heard all of his albums multiple times — hits, misses, deep tracks, and all.

Although Electric Ladyland is widely considered the pinnacle of his recording career, I must adamantly argue that it is not.

There is no denying the mastery that Hendrix demonstrates on the third and final studio release of his brief career.  Even on a track like “Little Miss Strange,” his guitarwork is intricate, interesting, and unsurpassed.  “Voodoo Chile” is a testament to his mastery (and his justification for moving beyond) the blues.  And his production on “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)” is nothing short of expansive and impressive.

And yet, great songs do not in and of themselves a great album make.

To be fair, there are some excellent tracks on this album.  In addition to those aforementioned gems, the highlights of Electric Ladyland are certainly to be found in the brilliant rock’n’roll of “Crosstown Traffic” and their electrified take on Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” a version that redefined the way Dylan himself approached the song in concert.

On Electric Ladyland, the Jimi Hendrix Experience is tighter and yet more relaxed than on any previous release.  Hendrix is more experimental stylistically and vocally, Noel Redding’s bass parts are even more manically masterful, and Mitch Mitchell’s drums are both an anchor and a vivid instrument unto themselves.  There’s something compelling about a band that can run through a fourteen minute blazing blues epic like “Voodoo Chile” and go on to construct such a melancholy opening as you find on “Burning of the Midnight Lamp.”

The Jimi Hendrix Experience's "Electric Ladyland" (1968)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience's "Electric Ladyland" (1968)

Where this album begins to fall short is in all the nooks and crannies, all the self-indulgent jams that stretch some wonderful tracks out beyond a reasonable length, all the inferior, overly-simplistic tracks that never would have found their way onto a previous Experience release.

From the opening, Electric Ladyland is a unique and exciting album.  “…And the Gods Made Love” is a forgettable, albeit tone-setting album opener.  “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” is a warm, inviting, and promising number.  “Crosstown Traffic” and “Voodoo Chile” make good on that invitation, putting an outstandingly tight, single-worthy track back to back with a jam-based track that takes its time — a quarter of an hour, to be more precise.

After this is where the album loses some of its focus.

The Redding-penned “Little Miss Strange” suffers from the same assessment as Axis: Bold As Love‘s “She’s So Fine”:  it’s okay.  Nothing more, nothing less — neither the track you’ll run to first, nor the track you’ll skip.

Then comes a trio of tunes that are not terribly impressive.  “Long Hot Summer Night” is good, “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)” is an excellent, unique take on this cover, and “Gypsy Eyes” has its moments.  If this is the best that can be said about these tracks, then they have no business being at the heart of a Jimi Hendrix Experience album.

I can even look beyond the ho-hum nature of “Rainy Day, Dream Away,” if only for its thematic, lyrical tie-in three tracks later on “Still Raining, Still Dreaming,” but it never ceases to amaze me how, depending on the artist and on the general trends in music criticism at the time, an album that has strong ties to what has come before can either be a masterful sampling of genres or a derivative romp in mediocrity.  In this case, the former was decided upon, as evidenced by the slew of five-star ratings the album has accrued.  Still, I find it difficult to view some of these reviews as unbiased.  Is Electric Ladyland a breakthrough effort, an album that took the ways we view genres and recordings and turned them upside down?  Yes.  But is that to say it should overshadow the cohesion, uniqueness, and beautifully tight arrangements of Are You Experienced? Should it cause us to set Axis: Bold As Love aside as a sophomoric, somewhat forgettable effort?

No!

Let us not forget that this is an album with a track like “Moon, Turn the Tides… gently gently away,” a song with no content and with no discernible purpose as anything more than a transition between tracks, perhaps a tone setting device.

By the time “House Burning Down” comes, I often find myself suffering from jam fatigue.  This is an excellent track, and yet I have a hard time getting fired up for it, or for the album-closing “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).”

I do find myself seeking sweet refuge in the track that comes between them… “All Along the Watchtower.”

This is what Electric Ladyland lacks — others may praise the jazz mentality of this record, but I find myself yearning for the rock’n’roll mentality that Jimi Hendrix practically created on his first two releases.  Others see the expansive and the interpretive as mastery, but I long for the tightness and originality of those early Jimi Hendrix recordings — hits like “Purple Haze,” “Stone Free,” and “Bold As Love” and deep tracks like “Love or Confusion,” “51st Anniversary,” “Spanish Castle Magic,” and “Little Wing.”

It is no wonder that John Mayer has gone to the Hendrix well thrice for covers — an excellent version of “Wait Until Tomorrow” for the Experience-imitating John Mayer Trio, an okay take on “Bold As Love” on Continuum, and “The Wind Cries Mary” live in concert.  After all, his career has generally followed the patterns I see in Hendrix’s: a mind-blowing debut, a strong follow-up, and a critically acclaimed, if inferior third release.  Say what you will about Mayer — channeling Hendrix, however criticized a move it may be in some circles, has worked as planned.

So, I will continue listening to Electric Ladyland and loving it at times.  For me, it can’t compare to what came before, and to what may have come after…

The Weekend Review: January 2011 Report

Originally posted 2011-05-15 23:30:36. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Hello and welcome to the first Weekend Review of the new year.  I hope you’ll enjoy our new monthly format, optimized for ease of use with the hope that you’ll be able to turn to LaptopSessions.com for new music news in 2011.  Hurry back next weekend for the February report!

The King is Dead
The DecemberistsProducer:
Tucker Martine

Released:
January 14, 2011

Rating:
4.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Rox in the Box” & “Rise to Me”

After the impressive – and yet distracting – complexity of 2009’s The Hazards of Love, the Decemberists return to kick off 2011 with what may very possibly be the best album of the year.  The King is Dead, referred to as a “barn album” by band members in the deluxe edition doc Pendarvia, is an album of simple and yet profound beauty.While, to be fair, it lacks the mind-blowing scale of recent previous efforts, there is something to be said for a cohesive and eminently listenable collection of tracks.

Think of it as an acoustic rock masterpiece, headlined by the soaring “Rox in the Box” and the sing-along anthem waiting to happen “This is Why We Fight.”  Even the fully acoustic, balladic tracks like “Dear Avery” are gorgeous to such an extent that you won’t be able to skip the track, even if you’re on the road looking for a rock song.  Although the lead single, “Down By the Water,” lacks something of the “x factor” that makes songs truly great, it is still a tightly packaged, catchy tune indicative of the best of the King is Dead sound.  Oh, and if you think “Calamity Song” sounds like an aural love-child of R.E.M., you won’t be surprised to learn that it actually features Peter Buck on lead guitar.

Good, good stuff, and a high bar to be set this early in the year.

 

Mine is Yours
Cold War KidsProducer:
Jacquire King

Released:
January 25, 2011

Rating:
2.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Royal Blue” & “Flying Upside Down”

2008’s Loyalty to Loyaltywas the album that introduced me to and left me in awe of the Cold War Kids.  Their unique sound and keen sense for mixing the slow and off-center with the straightforward and single-worthy led me to high expectations for their next release.Well, as is often the case with high expectations, the reality rarely compares.

Whether my reaction is due to what I had expected to find on Mine is Yours is honestly too early to say, but what I’ve heard here is a collection of underwhelming tracks, many of which seem to promise more than they deliver and are often longer than they deserve to be.  Tracks like “Royal Blue,” “Sensitive Kid,” and “Flying Upside Down” stand out as excellent without need of qualification, but others like “Broken Open,” “Louder Than Ever,” and “Cold Toes on the Cold Floor” beg for more consideration, more development, in order to reach the heights established on the previous record.

This is not to say that it should be like a sequel to Loyalty to Loyalty, but the songs of Mine is Yours should at least be as interesting.  While I was initially turned off by the slicker production values, I’ve entirely come around on that, which makes me wish that more attention to detail had been paid.

 

The Party
Ain’t Over

Wanda JacksonProducer:
Jack White

Released:
January 25, 2011

Rating:
3.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Shakin’ All Over” & “Nervous Breakdown”

Slogans like “The Queen of Rockabilly” don’t typically entice me to purchase music, but in this case, it was bookended by Jack White’s name in the production credits and a nod to Bob Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain.”In short, I couldn’t resist at least one listen.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Party Ain’t Over holds up to repeated listens, fronted by the outstanding “Shakin’ All Over,” a track that aptly blends the gritty alternative sound for which White is so well known with the sonic signature of 50s rock and, I suppose, rockabilly.  Here, as on the rest of the record, riffs abound and Jackson’s ragged voice establishes her in my mind as the female equivalent of a contemporary Dylan, in vocal delivery if not in lyricism, craftsmanship, etc.  In the area of originality, it is clear she doesn’t hold a candle to aforementioned Bard, but her choice of covers is impeccably fitting: a devastating take on “Busted” (see: Johnny Cash), the closest anyone has come to covering a 2000s Dylan track without earning a sneer from me, and a redefining arrangement of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know That I’m No Good.”

Even the latter half tracks are enjoyable, foot-tappers like “Nervous Breakdown” and “Dust on the Bible,” as well as slower tunes such as “Blue Yodel #6” (not to be confused with #4, or my personal favorite, #9).  All in all, for an impulse purchase out of raw curiosity, The Party Ain’t Over is a testament to Jack White’s capabilities as producer and studio musician; it may not be the best album of 2011, but it bears a certain quality and strength of arrangement (both within tracks and across the album) that it deserves to be noticed.

Jack Johnson’s “To The Sea” (2010) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-12-19 12:12:48. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  3 / 5 stars

If you’re looking for a benchmark three-star album, Jack Johnson’s To The Sea is a downright lovely candidate.

To The Sea is a charming little album populated by harmless pop songs that are predominantly driven by Johnson’s guitars, both acoustic and electric.  There is, of course, the basic rhythm section we’ve come to expect: Adam Topol on drums and Merlo Podlewski on bass.  This is all accented quite nicely by Zach Gill’s keyboards.

Here and there, as in the bare bones arrangement and thick harmonies of “When I Look Up,” Johnson diverges from the regularly scheduled program, but, for the most part, this is business as usual.  Excellent tracks like “From the Clouds” and even the single “You and Your Heart” suffer from sounding too choreographed at times.  The former heats up a bit at the end and the latter is catchy and lyrically interesting, so this deficiency is covered over for the most part, though it’s not so well disguised on others like “At or With Me.”

The stripped down, direct sentiment of “My Little Girl” and “Only the Ocean” is proof positive that Johnson hasn’t lost the knack for writing and performing simple songs that present cause for pause and reflection.  Likewise, “Red Wine, Mistakes, Mythology” is a catchy smirk-and-wink of a song, worthy of being termed anthemic even and thus illustrative of Johnson’s pop mentalities and abilities.

These aren’t the issues here.

What is questionable is the manner in which the other tracks blend together.  On the one hand, they operate very cohesively, as an album.  In addition to the commonalities in sound, the rhetoric of “No Good with Faces” on track three easily gives way to that on the third to last track “Pictures of People Taking Pictures,” as it does from the sociological commentary on uncertainty of track four, “At or With Me,” to the directness of the penultimate song, “Anything But the Truth.”

Clearly, To The Sea is more than merely a collection of songs written around the same time.

To The Sea (Jack Johnson, 2010)

To The Sea (Jack Johnson, 2010)

On the other hand, the tracks blend so well as to defy individuality at times.  For instance, it is difficult to decide whether a song like “Turn Your Love” is grooving or falling into a rut.  I have yet to figure out whether “The Upsetter” and “Pictures of People Taking Pictures” are moving, or whether the harmonies make up for what the words and instrumentation lack.

Ironically, this is the first time I’ve ever felt lukewarm about a Jack Johnson release.  Accusations of lukewarmth have followed him his entire career, notably being the mantra chanted by those minimizing such outstanding albums as In Between Dreams and On and On.  (Cough.  Nudge.  This means you and your sub-three star balderdash, Rolling Stone.)

Frankly, I’ve never really gotten into Brushfire Fairytales, but it has an appeal that I won’t deny, and it is also a debut effort.  Likewise, I didn’t like Sleep Through the Static at first — in fact, I hated it.  I felt it was a letdown following the “Jack Johnson goes electric” hype, and I resented the inordinate amount of attention it received from critics.  However, when I eventually warmed to it, it came as a result of realizing that the individual songs were actually of very high quality.  I still don’t think it compares as an album in the ranks of In Between Dreams and On and On, but song for song, it holds its own.

So, in summary, I’ve never felt lukewarm about Jack Johnson’s music.

Until now.

The truth is that To The Sea is a likable — charming, even — studio album that lacks the punch, the elusive “x factor” to make it truly moving.  It functions a little too nicely as background music.  It’s a bit too chill, even for Johnson.  Still, there are those moments, like his tender vocals on “No Good with Faces” and his electric solos on “To The Sea” and “At or With Me” — each singlehandedly better than any electric performance on Sleep Through the Static — that stand out from the rest, as if to remind us that Jack Johnson is an artist not to be underestimated.

You might love this album.  You might think it’s forgettable.  As such, there’s no better reason to award it a three-star rating.