The Top Five Rock Artists of the Decade (2000s): NUMBER FOUR is Jack Johnson

Originally posted 2010-02-18 13:56:50. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

This is the second in a five part series dedicated to the top five rock artists of the decade, 2000-2009.  The criteria used to determine this list were: (1) Quality of Music, (2) Quantity of Released Material, (3) Diversity of Media, and (4) Roles of Artists/Band Members.  Look for new posts coming soon!

By Chris Moore:

For an artist whose entire recorded career is contained within this one decade, Jack Johnson has compiled an expansive and impressive catalog.  He has matured quickly, enough to form his own record label and to gain the respect of some of the biggest names in rock music.

As I type this, I’m listening to the live En Concert version of “Constellations,” a duet with Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, performed as comfortably as if they were buddies jamming in their parents’ basement.

Most notable of all is the manner in which Jack Johnson has achieved success — namely, by recording chart-topping albums in an age when singles are all the rage and illegal downloading has cut many artists’ sales.  In a mere nine years, Johnson’s repertoire extends across four studio albums, a soundtrack, three concert DVDs, and a live CD.

Without a doubt, Jack Johnson is one of the top rock artists of the decade.

AN ALBUM GUY, AN ACOUSTIC GUY…

Just to recap:  singles ruling the music kingdom, illegal downloading killing sales, music stores closing their doors.

Well, you wouldn’t know it by the way Jack Johnson has built his career.  Thus far, it’s gone down something like this…

2001: Brushfire Fairytales, a mix between conventional (read: acoustic) and catchy/quirky, a debut album that manages to crack the top forty in the U.S., rising all the way to number 34 despite the fact that the only single released faltered on the fall line, forty slots lower.  Songs like “Inaudible Melodies,” “Flake,” and “Losing Hope” were already outstanding, while others shared the promise of thematic (“The News”) and lyrical (“Posters” – “Here comes another one, just like the other one”) material to come.

2003: On and On, a darker, more lyrically interesting album, a follow-up that skyrockets to number three in the U.S. and manages multi-platinum sales globally.   You wouldn’t know it from the U.S. singles charts, but there are some tremendous songs here — “Taylor,” “The Horizon Has Been Defeated,” “Gone,” “Holes to Heaven” — the list goes on…

2005: In Between Dreams, a veritable “best of” collection, an instantly classic album with a crystal clear sound and a beautiful sense of atmosphere, a true masterpiece.  It hit number two in America, and in a rare case of the UK being behind, they finally caught wind of Johnson as he topped the charts there.  It’s all here — the carefree, relaxing (“Banana Pancakes,” “Better Together”), the serious, politically-charged (“Crying Shame,” “Good People”), the good love songs (“Do You Remember?) and the jilted love songs (“Sitting, Waiting, Wishing”).

2008: Sleep Through the Static, billed as “Jack Johnson gone electric,” an even calmer, lower-key record than he had ever produced before, one that takes some time to grow into.  This is a case of each individual song being great — played in order, the “chill” factor is too much at times.  Not the strongest note to end the decade on, but it leaves us with some wonderful tracks like “All At Once,” “If I Had Eyes,” “Go On,” and “They Do, They Don’t.”

JAPAN, THE GREEK, AND EN CONCERT

His career as a professional athlete — surfer — may have been brief, but Johnson hasn’t stopped moving in this career, either.

And there are the films to prove it.

Live in Japan is more than just a concert DVD; it is a documentary of the On and On tour.  Then, as if that wasn’t enough, comes A Weekend at the Greek, an even more interesting, visually stimulating documentary of two concert dates on the In Between Dreams tour.  I’ve seen a good number of rock documentaries and live DVDs over the years, and believe me when I say that the latter (The Greek) is perhaps the best I’ve seen.

En Concert, released last year, was the final Jack Johnson release of the decade, and his first CD/DVD combo.  Excellent, colorful booklet?  Check.  Great setlist?  Double check.  Some great guest duets?  Triple check (J Radio, Paula Fuga, and Vedder).

In any rock artist’s career, the ratio between studio albums and live albums must be carefully balanced.  From the outside, three live CDs and/or DVDs may seem excessive when held up against four studio recordings, but Jack Johnson somehow managed it.  He was smart to release Japan as a bonus disc with The Greek, and he held off on a companion CD until En Concert.  This was a rare circumstance of the overlap between smart marketing and an affordable, fan-friendly strategy.

WITH MY OWN TWO HANDS — COLLABORATIONS AND OTHER VENTURES

If this was all Johnson produced this decade, it would be more than enough.  However, he wasn’t content to stick to these traditional products alone.  He took on the task of recording the Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the film Curious George soundtrack, involving others like G. Love, Matt Costa, and Ben Harper.  This was not only a strong release, but also featured some of the strongest tracks of his career — “Upside Down” (his highest charting single at #38), “Broken,” “Wrong Turn” — as well as some of the silliest, albeit catchiest — “The Sharing Song” and “People Watching.”

Meanwhile, he continued his interest and involvement in independent films (he did graduate as a film major, after all!), contributed to numerous high profile tribute releases (“Mama, You Been on My Mind” for I’m Not There, “Imagine” for Instant Karma, “Someday at Christmas” for This Warm December), and nurtured the careers of the several artists on his Brushfire Records label.

My respect for Jack Johnson is multiplied when I consider how he accomplished all these things on his own in less than ten years.  He is a unique voice and sound in modern rock music, as well as a prolific artist, and as such, I was not surprised to hear that, a mere month into the new decade, he has already returned to the studio to work on his fifth album, due out in June 2010.

Even with my disappointment after Sleep Through the Static, I can already feel my anticipation building!

The Top Five Rock Artists of the Decade (2000s): NUMBER TWO is Barenaked Ladies

Originally posted 2010-04-19 14:30:31. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

This is the fourth in a five part series dedicated to the top five rock artists of the decade, 2000-2009.  The criteria used to determine this list were: (1) Quality of Music, (2) Quantity of Released Material, (3) Diversity of Media, and (4) Roles of Artists/Band Members.  Look for new posts coming soon!

By Chris Moore:

As we close in on my top pick for best rock artist of the decade, the decisions are getting more and more difficult.  In an attempt to be as unbiased as possible, I initially had last post’s honoree — Jack White — in the #2 spot.  Then I started listening to All in Good Time, which led me back to their albums of last decade.  After one listen to Maroon and Everything to Everyone, I knew that the Barenaked Ladies belonged in a higher position.  It should also be noted that while I do believe I made the right choice for the #1 slot, I have been a BnL fan for much longer, and they hold quite an important place in my heart where music is concerned.

That being said, let’s get this party started!

The Barenaked Ladies have distinguished themselves in all four of the categories I’ve established (see above) for this list.  They are a constantly evolving group of songwriter/musicians and performers, not content to rest easy at what worked for them in the past.  Throughout this, the second full decade of their existence, they have been prolific, releasing new material in every year except 2009.  In addition to typical studio albums every three years, this decade has seen the release of a greatest hits collection, a DVD compilation of their music videos, a holiday-themed album, a musical production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It (the one release in their catalog I have yet to set eyes on), their first live DVD, and a children’s album with accompanying book.

Although the decade ended with the oft-noted and overly publicized departure of founding member Steven Page, the remaining four members closed out 2009 by recording a series of eighteen songs, fourteen of which would find their way to 2010’s All in Good Time.

In every way that matters, the Barenaked Ladies have been a creative force to reckon with — and pay attention to — throughout this decade, and despite the criticism of naysayers, they have a very promising future in the next.

POST-STUNT EXPECTATIONS

To say that there was a lot riding on Maroon would be an understatement.

After the breakthrough success of 1998’s Stunt (via the chart-topping “One Week”), BnL’s image and career stood to be reconsidered based on what came next.  While Maroon was successful enough to preclude accusations of one-hit-wonder status, their American audience in particular seemed less and less interested in their work as the years went on.  This much is apparent in the charts, each album topping out further down than the previous one.  (As of this writing, this continues to hold true for All in Good Time, which has peaked at 23; in Canada, on the other hand, it has rightfully marked a comeback, hitting #3 which is the highest chart position for a BnL album there since Maroon.)

But numbers are numbers.  There are so many important aspects of modern life which, contrary to the beliefs and attempts of the powers that be, simply cannot be quantified.

Music is certainly one of those.

Maroon is BnL’s most fully-realized, cohesive, balanced album; it is serious, yet entertaining — fast and slow, loud and quiet.  The first half is populated by equally single-worthy rockers like “Falling for the First Time,” “Too Little Too Late,” and “Pinch Me,” the latter admittedly seeming like a wanna-be follow-up to “One Week.”  The second half of the album stretches out a bit, unwinding hauntingly gorgeous ballads like “Off the Hook” and “Helicopters.”  I haven’t even mentioned some of my favorites — “Baby Seat,” “Go Home,” and “The Humour of the Situation.”  This is a true five star album.

Although the album and singles performed well, it was apparent that they were all received with a bit less interest than Stunt‘s material had been (or, more accurately, its lead-off single).  I, for one, think that it is no coincidence that this was just about the same time that I began to lose interest in popular radio and music television.

BRILLIANCE IN RELATIVE OBSCURITY

To avoid going into painstaking detail about every track that the Barenaked Ladies have released since 2000, I will begin by saying that there is a vast sea of reasons to be interested in and entertained by this band.  As much as I felt people should have been more receptive to Maroon, I was flabbergasted at the apathy that 2003’s Everything to Everyone.  How an album that could so masterfully run the gamut between silly and serious, all the while being consistently brilliant — both lyrically and instrumentally — is beyond me.  This album is composed of some truly killer tracks: sardonic songs like “Celebrity” and “Second Best,” upbeat rockers like “Testing 1, 2, 3” and “Unfinished,” a love song like “Maybe Katie,” the oddly foreboding “War on Drugs,” and the stereotypical BnL knee-slappers “Another Postcard” and “Shopping.”

A lack of public praise never slowed them down, as 2006 saw the recording of 29 new tracks.  Where the band went wrong, in this writer’s opinion, was in deciding to release one album that year and a second album the following year.  What ended up happening was the most outstanding tracks were split between the two discs and, with a lack of cohesion between the two discs, the Are Me/Are Men project was simply not as good as it could have been.  Even Wikipedians are uncertain how to classify these selections in their catalog — either as the seventh or the seventh and eighth albums of BnL’s career.  Still, these releases saw the unveiling of a new era for the band — one of independence from major labels and of stretching their musical sensibilities.  Kevin Hearn’s contributions demonstrated the potential that he presented not only as an instrumentalist and singer, but also as a songwriter.  Jim Creeggan’s beautiful vocals also showed significant promise, even if they were only showed off on a silly number.

These three (or four?) albums would be reason alone to consider BnL one of the best bands of the decade.  And yet they didn’t stop there.  In the past ten years, the band has released some amazing work, not the least of which are their holiday album and children’s album.  The holiday album, Barenaked for the Holidays, brilliantly blended Christmas, Hanukkah, and winter-themed songs in one very characteristic collection (think: “Elf’s Lament,” “Green Christmas,” and others).  The latter, Snacktime!, swung far enough to the silly side of the spectrum to be largely ignored by “serious” music critics.  That being said, anyone who takes a moment to listen to the harmonies and instrumentation will realize that Snacktime! is a masterpiece unto itself, two of the best tracks — “Pollywog in a Bog” and “Louis Loon” — being penned by the unusual collaboration of Creeggan & Ed Robertson.  And it saw the lead vocal debut of Tyler Stewart on the rocking “Allergies,” a song that almost makes me feel cool for having season allergies myself.

AN ARREST, A CRASH, A BREAK, A VOW

Far too much has been written about the moments of crisis and tragedy in the personal lives of the Barenaked Ladies these past few years, so I’ll be especially brief here.  If you’ve kept up with music news, you know that Steven Page was arrested on charges of drug possession, Ed Robertson crashed his plane (fortunately with no serious injuries sustained), and Page’s departure was announced in 2009.  All in all, not a wonderful end to the decade.

That being said, the four remaining members — Robertson, Hearn, Creeggan, and Stewart — have vowed to continue recording and performing as BnL.  How well is that going?

One listen to All in Good Time is all you’ll need to answer that one on your own.

The Best Spoken Word Tracks of 2010

Originally posted 2010-12-27 10:00:21. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

The BEST SPOKEN WORD TRACKS of 2010

Welcome back to the second and final week of the Weekend Review Presents… lists.  This is your source for twelve categories (plus a thirteenth honoring original Christmas music) designed to recognize a wide span of new music from the year of 2010.

The list today revolves around spoken word tracks.  Granted, there are not all that many songs with spoken word components, never mind the number out of those that are standouts.

That being said, there are a few that deserve mention.

The best of the year has to be “Things You Think,” the spoken word collaboration between Ben Folds, Nick Hornby, and Pomplamoose.  It’s a quirky little track with an outstanding set of lyrics and a pleasant chorus that’s sure to get stuck in your head.  This one’s not a surprise, as it was Ben Folds who orchestrated William Shatner’s spoken word/rock/alt/country/(insert genre here) album Has Been, one of the best albums of 2004 and arguably one of the best albums of all time.  (That is, if you can decide which genre it belongs in…)

Another highlight of the year in music is the closing track to the Scissor Sisters’ Night Work.  “Invisible Light” concludes with an excellent spoken word delivery that conjures — and respectably so — vintage late sixties/early seventies Moody Blues.  And, with that, I think it’s official: enough said.

A final addition to this brief list comes, surprisingly (for me), from Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, an album that has more than made the rounds on this year’s “best of” lists.  I’m as surprised as anyone who knows me or is familiar with my tastes and opinions, but West’s album is a fine example of gathering the best aspect of several genres, perspectives, and directions in sound.  The opening track “Dark Fantasy” begins with a brief but fitting spoken word track that caught my attention for what followed.

All in all, this hasn’t exactly been a big year for great spoken word tracks.  As always, if I’ve missed any, please add them in below, and I’ll check them out immediately.  Barring that, these are my picks, and I invite you back for another list tomorrow!

1)  “Things You Think” – Ben Folds & Nick Hornby feat. Pomplamoose (Lonely Avenue bonus track)

2)  “Invisible Light” – Scissor Sisters (Night Work)

3)  “Dark Fantasy” – Kanye West (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy)

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