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.

“You Can Do Magic” (America Cover) – The Traveling Acai Berries

Originally posted 2009-10-07 00:58:24. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jim Fusco:

I was so disappointed to find that Monday’s video wasn’t a Beatles song- myself and my fellow Acai Berries had an all-new Beatles video ready to go to keep the streak alive, but now I guess I’ll save it until next week.  It’s a cool one, too, so be sure to check back!

Onto tonight’s video:

“You Can Do Magic” is one of those songs that I didn’t need to convince Becky to like.  This was a Top 5 Billboard hit for America in the mid eighties and was their last big hit to date.  Of course, they didn’t write this song and, if my memory serves me from reading the America Box Set liner notes like seven years ago, they didn’t play any of the instruments on it, either.  The writer of the song basically wrote it for the members of America (namely Gerry Beckley, whose “unique” voice actually works pretty great on this song) to sing and had the whole thing ready.  All Beckley and Bunnell had to do was overdub some vocals.  The guitar solo part in the beginning does sound like Beckley’s style, so maybe it’s him on that part…

That first guitar part was something I tinkered with before going to our recording session last week.  But then Steve came in and said, “Hey Jim, how about this over the beginning chords,” and busted out a great part on the 12-string Gibson that blew me away.  So, out went my dinky solo on regular acoustic and in came Steve’s jangly solo on the 12-string.  You can even hear Chris C. playing in the background (he’s actually on camera during next week’s video) if you turn it up, as he was picking the bass parts (an octave higher) on his mandolin.

Let me take this opportunity to say that I’ll finally admit that a Martin guitar is probably worth the extra money.  Every time I pick up Steve’s guitar, I’m just in awe of how clean and clear it sounds.  The low strings are especially crisp and it stays in near-perfect tune, too.  They make a new all-wood version for around $999 (the company cited the recession as a reason to make an “affordable” guitar), but it’s probably going to be quite some time before I can justify purchasing that.  Could be a nice Christmas present from Becky…for the next ten years…

And how about Steve’s vocals?  He did a great job backing me up on this song- again, it’s like singing with my father or my brother.  They already know the parts and just sometimes ask for me to clarify something.  It’s not like I have to teach them the part- it just sorta comes naturally.  What a breath of fresh air.  It’s one of the big reasons (besides his ability to pick up chord changes by ear) why we can bust-out two videos during a recording session.  And Chris C. can sight-read.  One take and he’s ready to go.  My vocals, even though I don’t like to point these things out, were a bit weak, as this take was done after two solid hours of playing and singing.  Earlier takes (done in the first half-hour) were much stronger on my part- my voice was just tired at this point.

And, we get a rare glimpse of Steve on camera this week!!  Don’t get used to it- you don’t see him at all in next week’s video! :-)

I hope you enjoy this classic America tune.  Of course, I’ll be back next week with another Traveling Acai Berries video, so come on back.  But, while you’re at it, remember that we post every Monday and Thursday, as well!  I, for one, love to keep up with the posts and I’ve read every single one.  It’s great to check your email (remember to subscribe to the blog- click the links on the sidebar to the left) and get a fresh new post/video three times a week!  Plus, check out our past videos, as they’re just as good as the new ones (I sound like one of those annoying AT&T Rollover Minutes commercials) and even if you started today, you’d have well over a year of quality entertainment at your fingertips.

On the personal front, this has been a good week of getting stuff done- painting over the weekend and securing a renter for our place (!!!!) was followed by delivering the lighting to our new house, which we got a mini tour of today.  It looks amazing (we have trim around the windows, which is a novelty that we didn’t have in the condo) and it’s really coming together.  I can’t believe it’s about three weeks away…

Until next week, enjoy tonight’s video and enjoy Jeff’s video on Thursday!  It’s sure to please- talk to you then!

“Sister Golden Hair” (America Cover)

Originally posted 2008-02-15 23:16:51. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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!


“America” (Simon & Garfunkel Cover)

Originally posted 2008-10-27 22:15:53. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jim Fusco:

Welcome, welcome to yet another edition of the Laptop Sessions here with me, Jim Fusco!

Oh, yeah, keeping the dream alive tonight with yet ANOTHER “new” band to the Laptop Sessions.  This one is probably the biggest shame left that we haven’t covered because…they’re ACOUSTIC!  Simon and Garfunkel stand as one of the most influential and popular acts of all time.  I was just talking to my father about them the other day.  He pointed out that they’re the best of friends, but just can’t seem to work together.  That’s the way it’s always been with my brother Mike and I.  We get along so well…as long as we’re not working on anything together.  I ‘m always so steadfast in realizing this fact, but Mike tends to either forget or just disregard it.  Thus, we end up working together again and the whole cycle begins.

Anyway, even though Paul Simon went on to some more, let’s say, interesting works in his later career (still waiting for his big rock comeback album), he did some pop classics with Art Garfunkel, also known as the luckiest man in the music business.  I mean, the man not only didn’t write any of S&G’s songs, he didn’t even play the guitar in the band!

I heard this song again while listening the WCJM Free Internet Radio show, “The All-American Show”.  I realized how great this tune really is.  And, especially because we’re on the brink of the most important presidential election in many years, this song is all the more important to play now.  “America” takes us on a journey of a couple going on a cross-country trip to “find” the real America.  I think the man realizes that everyone is out on their own trips, finding America…even on the bleak New Jersey Turnpike.

I think this video stands as one of my favorites now because it just works so well with one person and a guitar.  The tune is great.  The guitar part is cool (I love that walking down C chord), too.  I hope you’ll enjoy it and come back for more.  I’ll be back on Thumpin’ Thursday (didn’t Jeff say something about using special characters?) and I hope you’ll be back tomorrow and Wednesday for great cover songs and original music from Chris and Jeff!