“Wednesday Morning” (America Cover)

By Jim Fusco:

Welcome to your Thursday night edition of the Laptop Sessions with me, Jim Fusco!

To quote Jeff, “The only thing the same about the site is the background’s still gray.”  That describes the work I’ve been doing over the past couple of days.  You’ll notice the new navigation on the top of the homepage, the smaller text in the upper left hand corner, and the left sidebar rearranged.  The best part of all this is the release of the The Laptop Sessions free mp3 download series.  We tried doing it once before, but it was a LOT of work.  Okay, so it’s not as fancy now, but you still get 20 great cover songs in mp3 format as a completely and absolutely FREE download!  You have nothing to lose and a whole lot of music to gain.  I sound like an Oreck XL commercial…

We have 7, yes 7, Volumes released already.  We’re going to do them by Sessions member.  Meaning that a whole volume will be dedicated to 20 of my cover songs in order and the same with Chris, Jeff, and Mike.  Original Wednesday Volumes will be released, as well, and we’ll also come out with a holiday songs version at the end of the year- my favorite kind of music!

So, we already have 140 free mp3s for you to download so you can bring the Laptop Sessions cover songs with you wherever you will go (to quote the Calling)!

Also, you might have noticed that you can leave comments MUCH easier now- you don’t need to register or login to leave a comment for us!  We’d LOVE to read your comments and reply- we’re trying to build a community of Laptop Sessions lovers here that come back on a daily basis to see what’s new.  We hope you’ll be part of that community!

Okay, on to tonight’s video:

“Wednesday Morning” is a great tune written by Gerry Beckley off of the America album, “Human Nature”.  This is one of my favorite albums from them (probably second to “Homecoming”, which is on my list of best albums of all time).  Their new album, “Here and Now”, is great, too, as is their Christmas LP, “Holiday Harmony”.  Noticing all of these albums start with the letter “H”?  Well, about 90% of their albums do!

I love the songwriting of Gerry Beckley.  I’ve gotten to meet him on MULTIPLE occasions after shows.  He even threw me his guitar pick once during a show!  It’s funny that I actually got into America after listening to “Becky, Lamm, and Wilson” for Carl Wilson’s songs.  I knew about Chicago (with Lamm), but didn’t know much about Beckley.  I bought their “Best of” CD and never looked back.  I have every album I could find from them on CD and many on records, too.

“Human Nature” has a TON of classic songs on it, but the catchiest to me was always “Wednesday Morning”.  This album came out shortly after Carl Wilson’s death, and after hearing the “Beckley, Lamm, and Wilson” stuff, I was hurting for new, non-Christmas, material for a long, long time, especially because “Human Nature” was so good.

I hope you enjoy tonight’s Session- my first in the great outdoors!  The next five are also outside, so I hope you get used to it!  It’s been beautiful weather here lately, and at this point, I’ll take ANY excuse to get away from Chris playing off-key renditions (on purpose to annoy me) of “Who Needs Sleep” and “The Hurricane” all night…



“Sister Golden Hair” (America Cover)

By Jim Fusco:

I’m pretty excited today, as I give you a new band to the Laptop Sessions: America!

I got into this band because of today’s cover song, Sister Golden Hair.  I used to hear it on the radio many times growing up and decided that it would be perfect for a cover song.  I’ve now seen the band America in concert at least ten times, meeting them and getting their autographs on many occasions. They’re great guys and that only helped make them one of my favorite bands.

Jim and Chris with the band America.

I love their album “Homecoming” and will be doing most of the songs off it in the future. But, for now, I give you the tune that started it all for me. Once I found out that this song was from the same guys that did “Horse With No Name”, I had to get the “Best Of” CD. After that, I scoured CT (this was before eBay was huge) for any America CDs I could find. I even bought some of the LPs. The band was surprised to see such a young guy asking to get those signed.  My gravitation towards America was probably due to the fact that I could tell they were influenced by the Beach Boys- their harmonies and melodic songs drew me in.  And, they put a classic rock spin on things- kind of like Crosby, Stills, and Nash, but even more mellow.

“Sister Golden Hair” is really one of my favorite songs.  The chorus is so catchy, but Gerry Beckley (the singer and songwriter for this song) didn’t stop there- he began the song with a great acoustic guitar part and some really cool slide guitar.  One of the reasons why the original recording of “Sister Golden Hair” sounds so good is because Beatles producer George Martin actually produced it!  Yes, that’s right- he even produced a few other albums for America in the mid 70s.  The first song he produced for them was the big hit “Tin Man”.

America had two #1 Billboard hits- “A Horse With No Name” and “Sister Golden Hair”.  It’s a shame they didn’t have a third, because then each member would’ve had their shot at having a Number One Hit.  “A Horse With No Name” was written by Dewey Bunnell, but original member Dan Peek (left in the late 70s, but is now deceased) never got a song up to Number One.  He did have a popular song, though, in “Lonely People”, which is instantly recognizable.  So, I guess all of the band members had their chances to shine.

Like many of my acoustic cover song videos, I’m using my nylon string guitar here.  Sure, it doesn’t sound exactly like the original, but I thought it allowed me to sing over the guitar without shouting.  On the verses, I found that I needed a softer sounding guitar because the tone is so “conversational” and not soaring above the music (like a Beach Boys song would be, for instance).

I hope you all enjoy this America acoustic cover song- truly one of my favorites. Stay tuned for more cover song music videos from the musicians here at the Laptop Sessions video blog!


The Weekend Review: July 2011 Report

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.

“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” (Jim Croce Cover)

By Chris Moore:

Hello and welcome to your Sunday, Sunday, Sunday installment of the best acoustic cover song blog on the web today!  After a couple of nineties covers, I’ve decided to go back a bit further… to 1973 with Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.”  This is a song that I remember hearing for the first time when my father bought an audio tape (that’s a hint at how long ago it was…) and played it for me, along with “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” explaining that he always liked the story in the songs.  I instantly agreed, thinking that the way Croce described Leroy Brown and his lifestyle was really funny and catchy.

I just learned that Jim Croce’s life was sad, though, as he died the same year that this song (considered his biggest single) was released.  I found it really interesting to learn, according to Wikipedia, that he was the third singer/songwriter to score a posthumous #1 single (for “Time in a Bottle”), after Otis Redding and Janis Joplin.  What is even more sad, I think, is that he died in a plane crash.  I’ve got to be honest here — I don’t consider myself a superstitious person, but if I ever get a record contract and any degree of fame, I’m not setting foot on an airplane…

One of the best parts of doing so many Laptop Sessions this year is that I’ve had a chance to learn so much about great singer/songwriters and to remember so many great songs like this one.  Now, you may wonder how I learned this song if I haven’t heard it in so long.  Well, one of the best parts about having over 11,000 tracks available at my fingertips on my iPod is that I have access to a lot of songs that I have forgotten over the years.  In fact, one of my favorite things to do is to set my iPod to shuffle and just wait to see what great music will come up.  Unfortunately, there are just as many if not more not-so-great tracks that come up in search of the great ones…

But, as they say, it’s the journey and not the destination, right?

If you didn’t already, you should read Jim’s post from yesterday.  He pretty much summed up our day that led to an as-usual great performance by Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley, aka the band America.  Not only was the show great, but they are really nice guys.  After the show, they signed autographs and shook hands with the fans.  I got the chance to tell Dewey that, when teaching the Transcendentalism unit in my English class (Emerson and Thoreau, “Nature” and “Walden,” etc…), I used the Here & Now track “Walk in the Woods.”  He seemed interested, as Gerry smiled and said that he’d been thinking about playing that song in concert so they could do the whistling part!  We all laughed, and for a brief moment, it felt like Jim and I had broken the usually solid barrier between fan and artist.  Cool moment.

I have looked forward to their shows ever since the first time Jim took me to go see them several years ago, and I’ve regretted missing any opportunity to see them.  He had initially gotten into the band because of such songs as “Sister Golden Hair.”  As with many bands he’s gotten into, I felt like I was missing out on something and had no choice — I had to get into them too!  My only past experience with them had been their hit single “A Horse With No Name” that I first heard as a kid (where else?) on a seventies tape that my father had.

And so this session comes full circle!  I present to you an acoustic cover of a song my dad played for me as a kid, and not 24 hours after going to a concert by a band that I first heard in my father’s music collection.  I’ll see you again on Wednesday for one of my own songs, track two from my soon-to-be-recorded new album.

See you next session!