“The Way It Is” (Bruce Hornsby Cover)

Originally posted 2008-05-04 19:57:08. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Welcome to your Sunday installment of the Laptop Sessions! Coming on the heels of Number Ones week, I decided to play one of my father’s favorite songs from Bruce Hornsby & the Range, “The Way It Is.” Only after I recorded it did I realize that it, in fact, was a #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 for one week in 1986! So, it appears that I’m subconsciously having a hard time leaving the #1 songs behind…

I remember making mock-radio shows on my stereo when I was in middle school, even before I owned a CD player. I used to make shows for my father to listen to while he was working in the garage, so I wanted to find music that he would enjoy. I spent countless hours with a blank cassette tape in the stereo and switching stations constantly, waiting intently to hear a disc jockey announce that “The Way It Is” would be on next. I finally got a version recorded for my show, but I got to the record button a bit slowly, so a good chunk of the intro was cut off.

I did buy him the Bruce Hornsby greatest hits CD years later, when I finally caught up with technology.

I really love this song for a couple reasons. I love how it’s powered by piano, but sacrifices none of the soloing and backbeat that I value in rock music. I also love how the chorus is built around the G – Fmaj7 – C riff (which I duplicated in only a rudimentary fashion). The song was also a lot of fun to sing!

I should mention that everything that could have possibly interrupted my recording did, in fact, interrupt my recording today. My first take was lost for the incredibly raucous chirping of the birds downstairs. (Yes, that’s right–I wasn’t even on the same floor with them). My second take was lost due to stubbornness, as I refused to close my door and the birds continued to chirp. A later take was lost to the vibrating of my cell phone.

The funniest by far, and certainly the most ironic was when my cell phone alarm went off loudly during a good take — it was the alarm I had set to remind me to record a Laptop Session today!

My most perfect take was lost when I forgot the second to last line of the final verse. But, this one will have to do!

Thanks for watching; I hope you’ll leave a comment for me if you liked the song or have any requests for future songs.

See you next session!



Ben Folds & Nick Hornby’s “Lonely Avenue” (2010) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-10-11 11:42:36. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  4 / 5 stars

It’s natural to shake your head when an artist of the caliber of Ben Folds undertakes a collaboration.  Even if you like the collaborator, the results are typically underwhelming, a document of unique talent and energy being diluted, and perhaps even forced; as a result, the collaboration is more likely to collect dust than play counts.

I’ll admit that I shook my head when I read that Folds would be working with an author, as if his lyrics  haven’t always been strong, dating back as far as Ben Folds Five.  As if he needed a creative infusion.

Then I read that the author in question was Nick Hornby.  That would be Nick Hornby of High Fidelity fame (yes, there is a book that inspired the John Cusack film).  If ever there was an author who might be able to lend an intelligent and unfiltered edge to rock music, it is Hornby.

(To clarify, he is not to be confused with adult contemporary pianist Bruce Hornsby, an alliance that would serve little purpose short of adding profanity to “The Way It Is” or perhaps some angry piano to “Mandolin Rain.”)

The title Lonely Avenue is itself an homage of sorts to another writer: Jerome Solon Felder, better known as Doc Pomus.  I imagine that many listeners will wonder, as I did, whether the title character of the fourth track is a creation of Hornby’s imagination.  (Wikipedia has, once again, provided what I lacked in cultural literacy regarding twentieth century songwriters.)  This is a fitting title for the album, particularly considering that the thread tying each song together, with one notable exception, is that of confronting and/or pontificating on the inherent loneliness of the modern human condition.

In many ways, Folds’ music has always adopted the Pomusian attitude described by Hornby as, “He found a way to make his feelings/isolation pay.”  Think for a moment about such tracks as “The Last Polka,” “Evaporated,” “Regrets,” “Still Fighting It,” “Trusted,” and “You Don’t Know Me” — just one track apiece from his previous six albums — each an exercise in repaying pain with a musical and lyrical roast aimed at catharsis.

In many ways, this is Folds’ great musical legacy, and perhaps a clue as to how he has remained so popular with college audiences.

Lonely Avenue is thus populated by lost or otherwise isolated souls: a victim of cruel online blogging, a chronically ill inpatient, a social outcast, a nine year old dealing with her parents’ divorce, a man being cheated on, a poetry nerd, and a music star doomed to a Promethean cycle of torment as he is asked nightly to play a hit song he wrote for a woman from whom he has long since separated.

Lonely Avenue (Ben Folds & Nick Hornby, 2010)

Considering this cast of characters, “From Above” functions as a thesis of sorts, asserting in the chorus that, “It’s so easy from above / You can really see it all / People who belong together / Lost and sad and small / But there’s nothing to be done for them / It doesn’t work that way / Sure, we all have soul mates / But we walk past them every day.”  Antithetical to the romantic comedy genre, Folds and Hornby advance the theory that we may never find our “soul mates,” and short of acquiring some sort of metaphorical aerial view of our lives, we may never realize that we could be happier.

Hornby nicely adopts the genre’s device of juxtaposition, placing Tom and Martha, the prototypical disconnected soul mates, not only together in the same song but also together in the same place on numerous occasions throughout their lives.  They are never “actually unhappy,” but there is a sense of “a phantom limb, an itch that could never be scratched.”  This serves, at least, as some explanation for the human condition; as Folds sings, “And who knows whether that’s how it should be?  Maybe our ghosts live right in that vacancy.”

This also functions as a myth of artistic creation, Hornby positing that “Maybe that’s how books get written / Maybe that’s why songs get sung / Maybe we owe the unlucky ones.”  To be certain, we owe the synthesis of Lonely Avenue to the unlucky ones, such as those listed above.

What works best on this album is the ebb and flow of tracks, the pensive ballads interspersed between piano rock.  Indeed, Lonely Avenue is the most dynamic Folds release since 2001’s Rockin’ the Suburbs, although the individual tracks probably aren’t as strong as those on Songs for Silverman (2005).  It’s also arguable that there is not as much of that x factor “soul” as there was on his post-breakup offering Way to Normal (2008).

And yet, Lonely Avenue clearly emerges as the inheritor to the Rockin’ throne, an album comprised of diverse stories and sounds bound together in a cohesive manner.

Where the album suffers is as a result of not knowing when enough is enough.  The orchestration seems overdone at times, and some tracks dissolve Folds’ typical predilection for tight numbers.  “Picture Window,” for all its heartrending poignancy, pushes this latter line and “Password” probably crosses it, albeit with a killer payoff in the post-“ding!” twist, but it is most notably in “Levi Johnston’s Blues” when Folds stretches the song out for a minute and a half beyond the logical stopping point.  The song — whose deceptively crude chorus was actually lifted from Johnston’s Facebook page and brilliantly set to music — borders on anthemic, and I would be willing to concede on the song’s length up to a point (as I enjoy singing along to it more than I should admit here).  To be certain, though, the final thirty seconds are inexcusable; the chorus is funny and fun, but enough is enough.

“Levi Johnston’s Blues” is also the aforementioned notable exception, its premise being more about holding up a figure for ridicule than thoughtfully exploring the isolation of an individual.

Lyrically, the album is every bit as strong as one could hope, and musically, Ben Folds is as interesting and impressive as ever (yet another reason to be disinclined to approving of too much orchestration).  There are several absolute gems, although “Claire’s Ninth” jumps to the forefront as the perfect specimen of a beautiful song that is beautifully performed and produced.  As far as album closers go, “Belinda” is among the best in Folds’ catalog, sounding (as they intended) like “an old hit song” and putting such recent derivative attempts as “Kylie from Connecticut” to shame.  Even “Your Dogs,” rough around the edges though it may be, could be held up against any Ben Folds Five-era caustic rocker, just as the tender depths of “Practical Amanda” have not been hinted at since Silverman and have not been reached since Rockin’ deep tracks like “Losing Lisa” and “Carrying Cathy.”

I will not argue that Lonely Avenue is a perfect album; it certainly has its shortcomings, all the more noticeable to fans of Ben Folds’ music.  However, there is a danger in always comparing new music to the previous artistic heights of the artist.  As such, I cannot in good conscience limit this release to three stars out of my love for past albums; rather, I submit this as a bona fide four star album: an insightful exploration of isolation that is not only solid but also imbued with unique energy by an unmitigated talent.

Bruce Hornsby: LIVE IN CONCERT – MGM Grand, Mashantucket, CT (March 27, 2009) – REVIEW

Originally posted 2009-03-28 23:43:50. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Right off the bat, I have to address how proud I am of myself that I was able to suppress the strong urge to title this concert review “That’s Just the Way It Was.”  As tempting as it was, I’m sure it’s already been used somewhere by someone…

At 8:02 on Friday night at the MGM Grand, only two minutes after the official start time of the concert, Bruce Hornsby appeared unceremoniously by walking out of the shadows, approaching his piano from stage right.  No announcements, no opening band.  (For a moment, I thought this might be a technician coming out for one last equipment inspection – and, if you’ve ever seen America perform, you know how many times it’s possible for a techie to inspect and tune  the guitars!)

As he neared the piano, he surveyed the assortment of papers strewn about the top of his piano.  Notes to himself?  A set list?  Lyrics for the less familiar tunes?

Negative, on all accounts.

Apparently, Hornsby does not work from a setlist.  Instead, he takes in requests from the audience before shows in the form 0f handwritten song titles slipped onto the stage.  His offical website reports, “Yes, it’s true. Bruce does not have a set list for his concerts. He comes up with the set list through requests from the audience. So, if you attend a concert, be sure to carry paper to write your requests on and place them on the stage.”  This is a novel approach, to be certain.  I wanted to participate in the process, but I have only been a “greatest hits” fan.  Aside from that, I would have had to design a paper airplane that was a marvel of physics in order to have my request reach the stage from my seat in the “Parterre” section of the MGM Grand theater, which is French for orchestra seats (and, apparently, English for “far away from the stage, but still technically on the ground level”).

After a brief, positive commentary from Hornsby about the array of requests, he started into the first song.  From the moment his hands touched the keys, it was apparent that he is truly a masterful musician, one of the few that is able to blend intricate classical arrangements into catchy pop/rock, country, and bluesgrass songs.

His first couple selections were played alone, but he was soon joined onstage by the Noise Makers (J.T. Thomas on keyboards, Bobby Read on saxophones (etc.), J.V. Collier on bass, Doug Derryberry on lead guitar, and Sonny Emory on drums).  Soon after, they launched into the first song with which I was familiar.  “Every Little Kiss” was all piano riffs and rock’n roll catchiness.  Well, maybe more adult contemporary than rock, but…

This was the first of several “greatest radio hits” tracks that Hornsby and the Noise Makers performed, much to the delight of my father and I.  Overall, the set list was a diverse collection of the hits, the deep tracks, and covers.  Some were note-for-note replicas of studio versions, such as “The Good Life,” while others were stripped apart and turned inside out, like “The Way It Is.”  There was a definite, if controlled sense of a jam band mentality.  During the final jam of the main set, Hornsby slipped from one song to the next, folding in a couple of high-energy verses from Bob Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry.”  I had begun to tire of the jamming by the end of the show, and this fine touch really brought it all back home for me. (Please send your criticisms of that shameless pun to Chris, care of a comment below…)

At one point, Hornsby left the piano to strap on his accordion and take center stage for two songs.  As he approached the microphone with the new instrument, he commented that he had recently been with Levon Helm.  He introduced the following song by saying that this would please those in the crowd who enjoyed nostalgia, as this was a track from the band — namely, “Evangelne.”  The version did not disappoint and proved further that Hornsby is nothing if not an excellent multi-instrumentalist.

Hornsby was a personable, likable figure onstage.  In between songs, he kept a running commentary going, reflecting on the state of the economy and thanking everyone for coming out to see him perform all the same.  Early on, he revealed that Foxwoods management had told him to play for only 65 minutes.  Just over an hour for some who had paid $50 plus a “convenience” charge — that’s outrageous!  In his very laid-back manner, he said about as much and said they would stretch it to 90 minutes or so.  It sounded as if they told him that 65 minutes was the suggestion and 90 minutes was the outside limit.  He was true to his word, as the main set took the show’s running time to just over an hour and a half plus an encore.

Later on in the show, he expressed how happy he was that he remembered all the words to a track from his first album, a song that he played by request.

On the whole, this was a truly enjoyable concert.  I have an increased respect for Hornsby’s abilities as a pianist and performer, the Noise Makers were a flexible and vastly talented group, and the MGM Grand is a comfortable environment with excellent acoustics.  For my taste, there was too much of a jam band mentality on many of the selections — even Hornsby commented at one point that, due to the time limitations, the songs would be shorter than usual.  Maybe that’s not a bad thing, he said.  He continued, “There’s a fine line between self-expression and self-indulgence,” glancing with a grin to his bandmates.  I couldn’t agree more.

This concert was a bonding experience of sorts for me, as my father is a longtime fan of Hornsby and an even longer-time fan of the song “The Way It Is.”  While we both enjoyed the show, the low point of the show was indisputably their performance of the aforementioned hit single.  Aside from the initial keyboard blast of the familiar riff, the song was given a new, more jumpy tempo and the tune was stripped apart into an understated sequence of lines.  There was none of the charm of the studio version, and all biases being admitted, this version was nothing to brag about on its own.  For those five minutes, I appreciated what it must be like to attend a Dylan concert expecting to hear faithful versions of his hits, only to be met with deep tracks and rearranged versions.  Still, I maintain that the Dylan live experience offers up new and interesting, entertaining takes on his songs, whereas this was disappointing from all angles.

Regardless, the show as a whole was well worth the $35, and is an experience that I will remember fondly for years to come.  Part of that comes out of a bias, but this time a positive one!

Yes, No, or Maybe So: One-Sentence Reviews of 2009 Albums

Originally posted 2010-03-27 12:30:03. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

(Arranged in ascending order by release date)

With so many albums being released every week, what are they all like?  Which are worth your time?  These one-sentence reviews are the answers to those questions!

Battle Studies – (John Mayer) – MAYBE

(November 17, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: Battle Studies may not be Mayer’s best work, but as a thoughtfully arranged collection of songs, it’s head and shoulders above Continuum. Top Two Tracks: “Heartbreak Warfare” – “Assassin”

Alter the Ending – (Dashboard Confessional) – MAYBE

(November 10, 2009) Review: About mid-way through, some tracks begin to blend together, but there are some standout songs that are both upbeat and engaging. Top Two Tracks: “Belle of the Boulevard” – “Until Morning”

Sainthood – (Tegan and Sara) – MAYBE

(October 27, 2009) Review: Their best work since So Jealous. Top Two Tracks: “Someday” – “Don’t Rush”

One Fast Move or I’m Gone – (Jay Farrar & Ben Gibbard) – MAYBE

(October 20, 2009) Review: Not a breathtaking masterpiece by any means, but there is a hypnotic quality to the combination of Farrar and Gibbard’s sounds and Jack Kerouac’s words. Top Two Tracks: “These Roads Don’t Move” – “California Zephyr”

The Fountain – (Echo & the Bunnymen) – MAYBE SO

(October 12, 2009) Review: Most reviews have jumped to the extremes, and mine is no exception; The Fountain is an outstanding rock album from a band that most major music magazines have essentially ignored. Top Two Tracks: “Live of a Thousand Crimes” – “Drivetime”

Forget and Not Slow Down – (Relient K) – YES

(October 6, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: Hands down the best concept album of the year, perhaps the best album of the year overall. Top Two Tracks: “Part of It” – “Sahara”

Backspacer – (Pearl Jam) – YES

(September 20, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: This is the album that may single-handedly be responsible for my eventual hearing loss – it’s simply too much fun not to listen to at high volumes. Top Two Tracks: “Got Some” – “Speed of Sound”

Levitate – (Bruce Hornsby & the Noise Makers) – NO

(September 15, 2009) Review: I try to avoid comparisons to past work, but this new Hornsby album is just a little too far out from the norm for my tastes. Top Two Tracks: “Space is the Place” – “In the Low Country”

A Brief History of Love – (The Big Pink) – NO, PLEASE, NO!

(September 14, 2009) Review: I’m reminded of the Byrds song “Everybody Gets Burned” – if you have any respect for rock music, steer clear of this album and do your best to never consider this band and the amazing debut release of The Band (to which their name alludes) in the same thought. Top Two Tracks: n/a

Humbug – (Arctic Monkeys) – MAYBE SO

(August 25, 2009) Review: The distance between how little I like early songs like “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” compared with how much I like this new release is vast; overall, Humbug has a cohesive, infectious, and interesting sound, blending alternative rock/punk stylings with echoes of the Who and the Moody Blues in all the right places. Top Two Tracks: “Crying Lightning” – “Cornerstone”

My Old, Familiar Friend – (Brendan Benson) – MAYBE SO

(August 18, 2009) Review: From “A Whole Lot Better” onward, Benson’s latest release is joyful power pop that borrows generously from the sixties and seventies; it’s a great deal of fun from start to finish. Top Two Tracks: “Garbage Day” – “Misery”

Release – (Sister Hazel) – MAYBE NOT

(August 18, 2009) Review: This album is the perfect choice for background music: it is consistently upbeat without being too frenetic, certainly won’t offend anyone, and yet isn’t likely to inspire or even excite anyone either – the heinous typos in the booklet don’t help their cause. Top Two Tracks: “Vacation Rain” – “Ghost in the Crowd”

Ursa Major – (Third Eye Blind) – MAYBE NOT

(August 17, 2009) Review: There will supposedly be another 3eb release soon titled Ursa Minor, culled from tracks that didn’t make the cut for this album; suffice it to say that Ursa Major gets an “eh” and barely a “Maybe Not” rating with the so-called best songs from their recent sessions, so… Top Two Tracks: “Bonfire” – “Summer Town”

xx – (The xx) – MAYBE SO

(August 17, 2009) Review: This debut release by the xx is a gripping, murky, beautiful collection of songs that won’t fail to draw you in to their world each listen. Top Two Tracks: “VCR” – “Shelter”

The Ruminant Band – (Fruit Bats) – MAYBE SO

(August 4, 2009) Review: Aptly titled after the Fruit Bats took twice as long as usual to release this record, The Ruminant Band is worth all the extra wait time:  still quirky but with a lot more energy, backbeat, and attention to making a great album, rather than just a compilation of songs. Top Two Tracks: “The Ruminant Band” – “Singing Joy to the World”

Strange Cousins From The West – (Clutch) – MAYBE NOT

(July 14, 2009) Review: You’ll have to go back to Blast Tyrant or so if you want original, innovative Clutch; what you’ll find here is confined by the blues parameters the band has imposed on themselves – which is not to say you won’t find largely powerful performances of largely predictably structured songs and a couple true gems. Top Two Tracks: “50,000 Unstoppable Watts” – “Minotaur”

Horehound – (The Dead Weather) – MAYBE SO

(July 14, 2009) Review: The Dead Weather certainly deserve credit for having forged a unique sound and presence – Jack White best described their music as “ferocious” – but the riffing, repetition, and other indulgences can be distracting; overall, as a debut release, Horehound is promising… Top Two Tracks: “I Cut Like A Buffalo” – “Hang You From the Heavens”

Ocean Eyes – (Owl City) – MAYBE

(July 14, 2009) Review: A bit too placid for me, but I can perceive at least part of the reason that this album’s simple, soothing numbers have spread so quickly and been embraced by so many. Top Two Tracks: “Fireflies” – “The Bird and the Worm”

American Central Dust – (Son Volt) – NO

(July 7, 2009) Review: As the title implies, Son Volt’s latest album could have been found buried in a collection of Americana; while it certainly hits high points on certain tracks, the simplicity of the arrangements and even the packaging (no lyrics – really?) confine this album to mediocrity. Top Two Tracks: “No Turning Back” – “Jukebox of Steel”

Leaving Wonderland…in a fit of rage – (Marcy Playground) – MAYBE

(July 7, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: Overall, Leaving Wonderland hits emotional pay dirt with the theme of losing love and youth to the ravages of time, and yet John Wozniak’s lyrics and arrangements leave much to be desired in terms of depth and artistry. Top Two Tracks: “Gin and Money” – “I Burned the Bed”

Wilco (the album) – (Wilco) – YES

(June 30, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: An atypically brief release, Wilco (the album) is dominated by a wide range of interesting sounds and ideas all packed into tight tracks that ebb and flow just right; multiple listens are a must. Top Two Tracks: “Wilco (the song)” – “You Never Know”

Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King (Dave Matthews Band) – MAYBE

(June 2, 2009) Review: “DMB” has produced a very strong album that starts off with focused, expressive tracks yet lags somewhat in the second half’s instrumental, repetitive, and nonsensical indulgences. Top Two Tracks: “Funny The Way It Is” – “Time Bomb”

Secret, Profane, and Sugarcane (Elvis Costello) – MAYBE SO

(June 2, 2009) Review: Finally, a stripped-down recording from a rock artist that doesn’t reek of the urge to “jump on the acoustic train”; Costello’s songs here could just as convincingly  have been recorded a century ago. Top Two Tracks: “Complicated Shadows” – “Sulphur to Sugarcane”

21st Century Breakdown (Green Day) – YES

(May 15, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: Another concept album of epic proportions from Green Day:  big, in-your-face power chords at some points, acoustic guitar and piano high in the mix at others, and strong vocals all around – a well-executed album from start to finish. Top Two Tracks: “Last Night on Earth” – “East Jesus Nowhere”

Together Through Life (Bob Dylan) – MAYBE SO

(April 28, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: As per usual, Dylan says it best: “I know my fans will like it; other than that, I have no idea.” Top Two Tracks: “Shake Shake Mama” – “I Feel a Change Comin’ On”

Tinted Windows (Tinted Windows) – NO

(April 21, 2009) Review: I remembered while listening to this that there’s a reason I stopped buying Fountains of Wayne albums since Traffic & Weather, and there’s certainly a reason I’ve never bought Hanson albums. Top Two Tracks: “Back With You” – “Nothing to Me”

Halfway There (Jim Fusco) – YES

(April 7, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: It’s as if all of Fusco’s previous work was only “halfway there” – combining ambitious vocals, innovative guitar parts, and a track listing that boasts eleven great songs, this is easily one of the great albums of 2009. Top Two Tracks: “I Got You” – “Ruins”

The Hazards of Love (The Decemberists) – MAYBE NOT

(March 24, 2009) Review: The Hazards of Love will keep you guessing and trying to piece it all together, but it may not get a lot of immediate repeat listens based on the quality of individual songs; kudos to the Decemberists if only for keeping the concept of the concept album alive and well! Top Two Tracks: “The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid” – “The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)”

No Line On The Horizon (U2) – MAYBE NOT

(March 3, 2009) Review: There’s something to be said for Bono’s energy, but it’s not always enough on this record which fluctuates between moments of mastery and moments of mediocrity. Top Two Tracks: “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” – “Stand Up Comedy”

Keep It Hid (Dan Auerbach) – MAYBE

(February 10, 2009) Review: Essentially, what you would expect — gritty, bluesy rock with excellent guitar work. Top Two Tracks: “Heartbroken, In Disrepair” – “My Last Mistake”

Working On A Dream (Bruce Springsteen) – MAYBE SO

(January 27, 2009)  –  CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: The past three Springsteen albums have been exercises in purposeful songwriting, raw acoustic and harmonica work, and upbeat pop/rock respectively — Working On A Dream has it all! Top Two Tracks: “What Love Can Do” – “Life Itself”