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!

Bob Dylan’s “Christmas in the Heart” (2009) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2009-11-29 02:28:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Throughout Christmas in the Heart, Bob Dylan and his band are clearly enjoying themselves, embracing the timelessness of the Christmas music genre.  More specifically, Dylan and company are transporting themselves and their listeners back to a simpler time of deceptively simple songs and sentiments.

Still, not every nostalgia-inducing feature is practiced or purposeful.  For instance, that’s not static you hear on your compact disc or mp3 copy — that’s just Dylan’s voice.

Over the fifteen songs that comprise this new album, Dylan moves fluidly between the religious and the imaginative, from solemn, sacred hymns describing the birth of Jesus Christ to classic tunes about jolly old Saint Nicholas himself, Santa Claus.

Interestingly, this is the first time Dylan has included more than thirteen tracks on a studio release since 1970’s Self Portrait, the runner up being 1992’s Good As I Been To You, clocking in at thirteen tracks.  Granted, these are not the most positive comparisons in his considerable catalog, but fortunately, the comparisons end at the track count.

Christmas in the Heart is a unified collection of songs that are unlike anything Dylan has recorded before, and yet they somehow fit perfectly with the material he has released in the past decade or so.  Ever since the two albums of covers he released in 1992 and 1993, Dylan has seemingly been drawn to the sounds and styles of the past.  2001’s Love and Theft saw a wide variety of styles, and the songs on both Modern Times (2006) and this year’s Together Through Life have progressively relied on mid-20th century styles and arrangements.

In many ways, this is the most logical time for Dylan to contribute to the very American tradition of popular Christmas music.

Bob Dylan's "Christmas in the Heart" (2009)

Bob Dylan's "Christmas in the Heart" (2009)

I will admit that, upon a first listen, I was unimpressed.  Bob Dylan fanatic that I am, the deterioration of his voice initially alienated me and I felt distanced from these classic compositions, most of which I had heard before in at least one or more arrangements.

“The Christmas Blues” is perhaps the most Dylan-esque of the tracks, especially when considering the predominance of recent Dylan tunes with blues structures, the harmonica solo, and the more serious, even downtrodden tone.  In this song, his vocals are stretched and utilized to heartfelt effect.

As I listened a second and third time, the subtlety of these tracks began to set in.  The lead guitar in “Do You Hear What I Hear?” that more than adequately takes the place of the typical “answer” vocal components, the choral background singers with spot-on, traditional harmonies, and the variations in Dylan’s vocals — the rough edges in “Little Drummer Boy” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” the softened edges in “Christmas Island” — all contribute to what is largely a relaxing and entertaining record.

Is there a better description for a Christmas album?

What strikes me about Christmas in the Heart is the proof which it provides for the argument that this time of year is a special season, one which captivates the hearts and souls of men and women and inspires us to be better people.  Certainly, if Bob Dylan put this much effort into not only a holiday album, but also a specifically Christmas-themed release, then there must be something to be said about the power of music influenced by the Christmas spirit.

Dylan, known for turning around and surprising even his most loyal fanbase, has done it again.  It may not be as revolutionary as going electric, or as polarizing as songwriting from an explicitly born-again Christian perspective, but it is at least as dramatic a development in his career.  Rarely has Dylan prepared such well-known cover songs for a studio release, much less songs with such a concrete set of lyrics and straightforward message.

If nothing else, this album will provide some interesting fodder for the ongoing “Is he Christian?/Is he Jewish?” debate that continues to rage on…

For me, Christmas in the Heart is a clear reminder of the universal qualities of the Christmas spirit.  It is an album that further diversifies Dylan’s hand in American popular music, and likewise carries the torch for another generation to hear and appreciate a style that originated almost six decades ago.

All in all, Christmas in the Heart would make for a strong addition to any pop/rock music fan’s Christmas album collection.

BnL Live at the Klein, November 2010 – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-11-21 12:24:32. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

See the Set List HERE.

On the heels of my previous BnL concert review, posted little more than three months ago, there isn’t much more that needs to be said, other than to underscore several assertions concerning the Barenaked Ladies.

First, it really can never be too soon to see them play live again.  After seeing them in August with decent seats and having had an outstandingly fun time, I almost considered letting this second New England tour stopover pass me by.

Almost.

Being fortunate enough to live in an area that is located in, as a friend recently referred to it, the “Barenaked Belt,” it simply doesn’t make sense to not take advantage of it.  And, this time around, the venue was considerably smaller – Mohegan Sun Arena being 9500 capacity, and the Klein Auditorium being only 1400.  We sat front row balcony, or “mezzanine” as the theatre people say, and got some performances that probably wouldn’t find their way into a stadium set, songs like the rarely played “Moonstone” and “Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel.”

A second assertion, and perhaps the main thrust of my August review, is that BnL is every bit as good as they were when Steven Page was in the band.  This is surprising, as he is such a unique talent and a man who brings considerable stage presence and energy to the live shows.

And, for the record, let’s be clear that I would love to see the five-man band reunited at some point down the road.

But, for now, the four-piece Barenaked Ladies are still a force to be reckoned with, and they have apparently decided that no catalog item is off limits, regardless of how much of a “Steven” song it is/was.  Take, for example, the fairly standard middle of their order, a veritable greatest hits of Steven Page tracks: “Sound of Your Voice,” “It’s All Been Done,” “Too Little Too Late,” and “Brian Wilson,” all topped off with the not-so-subtle “You Run Away.”

A third assertion is one that struck me early in the set last night: the Barenaked Ladies are the rare group of men that have gotten cooler as the years pass.  One needs only to compare their image and sound from the excellent and not-to-be-slighted Gordon era with their current stage show in order to appreciate just how cool they’ve become without losing too many fans to claims of selling out.

They have such a vast array of music, and to a certain degree, they allow for it in their set lists.  Although there are certain songs that you can reasonably expect (and in certain orders), there is room for adlibs and unexpected deep tracks, songs like those mentioned above.  Even songs that have been played about ten thousand times over their career, like “One Week,” have taken on a fresh appeal.  With Kevin Hearn singing the Page parts of “One Week” last night, I think they’ve finally perfected their recent live arrangement of this, their best-known composition.  Likewise, Tyler Stewart and Jim Creeggan have stepped up their game, Stewart bringing down the house with his reinvigorated, Jack Black-esque approach to “Alcohol” and Creeggan with his on-stage gesticulations, ear-to-ear grin, and acceptance of the spotlight for tracks like “On the Lookout” and “Peterborough and the Kawarthas.”

Finally, as if it needs to be said, Ed Robertson is a force unto himself.  His white man rapping helped to establish the band’s public image, and he is ever willing to put himself out there for a laugh.

When I choose the words “put himself out there,” I mean that literally.

Last night, as a tribute to their excellent opening act Jukebox the Ghost’s final night on tour, Robertson emerged from backstage with only a towel on.  Then, positioning himself between keyboardist/lead vocalist Ben Thornewill and the audience, he opened his towel so only Thornewill could see him and proceeded to dance to the music.  He moved around the stage and repeated this process for the other two band members.  Meanwhile, the crowd was laughing and clapping and screaming, and guitarist Tommy Siegel laughed his way through his vocals.

As Thornewill pointed out after the song, he could only see Robertson in his peripheral vision at first.  When he reached his hand out to pretend to tickle him, he found that Robertson was indeed wearing only a towel.

Never let it be said that the “Barenaked” part of their band name hasn’t been earned.

Forgive me for getting up on my soapbox yet again, but BnL continues to be one of the most underappreciated rock music acts of the modern age.  If you or someone you know hears “Barenaked Ladies” and instantly thinks “goofy,” “funny,” “If I Had $1,000,000,” and/or “One Week,” then check bnlmusic.com for a tour date in your area.  One show and you’ll be hooked.  Guaranteed.

I’ve been a fan now for over a decade, and they continue to recapture my interest and adoration each and every time I see them live.

As I climb off my soapbox, I bid you good day and hope this review might at least inspire a spin of Maroon or Stunt.  Or Gordon.  Or Maybe You Should Drive.  Or Everything to Everyone.  Or…

Well, you get the idea.

Keane’s “Hopes and Fears” (2004) – Yes, No, or Maybe So

Originally posted 2010-06-15 14:30:22. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Keane’s Hopes and Fears (2004) – MAYBE NOT

Keane's "Hopes and Fears" (2004)

Keane's "Hopes and Fears" (2004)

By Chris Moore:

(May 10, 2004)

Review:

Any album that deals its catchiest songs before track three begins is an album that’s bound to disappoint; it’s not so much that these songs are bad — they’re quite good, actually — it’s just that they threaten to put the listener to sleep after a while.

Top Two Tracks:

“Somewhere Only We Know” & “This is the Last Time”