“Detours” (Sheryl Crow Cover)

Originally posted 2008-05-31 03:38:08. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Hello and welcome to the final day of “Title Track Week” here at http://LaptopSessions.com ! This acoustic cover was inspired by the new rock music on Sheryl Crow’s February 2008 album Detours. The beauty of this week is that I don’t even need to mention what the song title is…

This was both a challenge, since Crow’s range is just a wee bit higher than mine, but also a lot of fun, since she is one of my favorite songwriters! I’m looking forward to hearing an unplugged version by her sometime in the future — maybe live in concert, as she’s one of the few artists still on my “must see” list. (I just crossed the Wallflowers off my list last month when I saw them at Foxwoods!).

To be honest, this isn’t even my favorite album of hers (that distinction probably goes to 2005’s Wildflower), but I’m a sucker for acoustic guitar music! And this is one of those albums that you can just imagine how the song must have originated as simple acoustic music, just a songwriter and her guitar.

Without further ado, here’s my video, and I hope you’ll come on back to http://LaptopSessions.com for an all-new video blog from Jeff Copperthite tomorrow!

See you next session!



Jack Johnson’s “To The Sea” (2010) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-12-19 12:12:48. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  3 / 5 stars

If you’re looking for a benchmark three-star album, Jack Johnson’s To The Sea is a downright lovely candidate.

To The Sea is a charming little album populated by harmless pop songs that are predominantly driven by Johnson’s guitars, both acoustic and electric.  There is, of course, the basic rhythm section we’ve come to expect: Adam Topol on drums and Merlo Podlewski on bass.  This is all accented quite nicely by Zach Gill’s keyboards.

Here and there, as in the bare bones arrangement and thick harmonies of “When I Look Up,” Johnson diverges from the regularly scheduled program, but, for the most part, this is business as usual.  Excellent tracks like “From the Clouds” and even the single “You and Your Heart” suffer from sounding too choreographed at times.  The former heats up a bit at the end and the latter is catchy and lyrically interesting, so this deficiency is covered over for the most part, though it’s not so well disguised on others like “At or With Me.”

The stripped down, direct sentiment of “My Little Girl” and “Only the Ocean” is proof positive that Johnson hasn’t lost the knack for writing and performing simple songs that present cause for pause and reflection.  Likewise, “Red Wine, Mistakes, Mythology” is a catchy smirk-and-wink of a song, worthy of being termed anthemic even and thus illustrative of Johnson’s pop mentalities and abilities.

These aren’t the issues here.

What is questionable is the manner in which the other tracks blend together.  On the one hand, they operate very cohesively, as an album.  In addition to the commonalities in sound, the rhetoric of “No Good with Faces” on track three easily gives way to that on the third to last track “Pictures of People Taking Pictures,” as it does from the sociological commentary on uncertainty of track four, “At or With Me,” to the directness of the penultimate song, “Anything But the Truth.”

Clearly, To The Sea is more than merely a collection of songs written around the same time.

To The Sea (Jack Johnson, 2010)

To The Sea (Jack Johnson, 2010)

On the other hand, the tracks blend so well as to defy individuality at times.  For instance, it is difficult to decide whether a song like “Turn Your Love” is grooving or falling into a rut.  I have yet to figure out whether “The Upsetter” and “Pictures of People Taking Pictures” are moving, or whether the harmonies make up for what the words and instrumentation lack.

Ironically, this is the first time I’ve ever felt lukewarm about a Jack Johnson release.  Accusations of lukewarmth have followed him his entire career, notably being the mantra chanted by those minimizing such outstanding albums as In Between Dreams and On and On.  (Cough.  Nudge.  This means you and your sub-three star balderdash, Rolling Stone.)

Frankly, I’ve never really gotten into Brushfire Fairytales, but it has an appeal that I won’t deny, and it is also a debut effort.  Likewise, I didn’t like Sleep Through the Static at first — in fact, I hated it.  I felt it was a letdown following the “Jack Johnson goes electric” hype, and I resented the inordinate amount of attention it received from critics.  However, when I eventually warmed to it, it came as a result of realizing that the individual songs were actually of very high quality.  I still don’t think it compares as an album in the ranks of In Between Dreams and On and On, but song for song, it holds its own.

So, in summary, I’ve never felt lukewarm about Jack Johnson’s music.

Until now.

The truth is that To The Sea is a likable — charming, even — studio album that lacks the punch, the elusive “x factor” to make it truly moving.  It functions a little too nicely as background music.  It’s a bit too chill, even for Johnson.  Still, there are those moments, like his tender vocals on “No Good with Faces” and his electric solos on “To The Sea” and “At or With Me” — each singlehandedly better than any electric performance on Sleep Through the Static — that stand out from the rest, as if to remind us that Jack Johnson is an artist not to be underestimated.

You might love this album.  You might think it’s forgettable.  As such, there’s no better reason to award it a three-star rating.

Music Reviews: Counting Crows – “Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings” (2008)

Originally posted 2008-08-10 01:39:35. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

RATING:  4.5 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

In his personal liner notes, Adam Duritz thanks several people for “sticking by our vision for this album in the face of pretty much universal disapproval. Records SHOULD be what they’re MEANT to be.” In many ways, these notes help to tie Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings to the much larger tradition of the concept album.

Consider the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, arguably the first concept album. The Fab Four had to lock themselves away from all other distractions – including photo shoots and even live concert tours – to make what many consider to be their masterpiece. The Moody Blues were never meant to record Days of Future Passed; it was only as a result of convincing their producer to change course that this classic concept album was created. Brian Wilson arguably lost his mind in the pursuit of SMiLE, his masterpiece of an incomplete concept album that drew him back into the studio four decades later to finish it.

To compare this new Counting Crows album with the best of the Beatles, Moody Blues, and Beach Boys would be misguided; it is simply too recent to hold up to the classics. Still, this is one of the Counting Crows’ most compelling offerings and perhaps the strongest album of the year. Why, you ask? Not only do the songs shine – rocking and reflecting at the appropriate times – respectively, but the album concept unites each separate thread into a larger thought that holds up after and indeed invites multiple listens.

The album opens – rather, explodes – with the first track’s thundering drum roll and massive distortion guitar. “1492” is a personal narrative that establishes the setting and the narrator’s “dark Italian underground” exploits in a private world of “disco lights,” sexual encounters with “skinny girls,” and “mornings spreading out across the feathered thighs of angels.” Duritz’s songs have often shown interest in angelic imagery – consider his band’s first hit with “Angels of the Silences,” for one – but the imagery is tipped on its head for this album. Initially, the darkness is shocking. It is darkness that leads to the repeated question in the chorus, “Where do we disappear?” The narrator’s personal history becomes intertwined with an interesting take on Columbus and the events of 1492, a final chorus about the “people who impersonate our friends,” and then, with a final bang on the drums and harsh down stroke on the strings of the electric guitar, it’s over just as abruptly as it started.

The first half of the album is devoted to the Saturday Nights portion of the concept. The “dizzy life” that is described in “Hanging Tree” is further fleshed out in the scene-setting “Los Angeles,” and more personal details are divulged in “Sundays” – an opening mention of “coloured rubbers” followed by a description of the narrator’s conception (“My mother made me out of flesh and wine”) leads to the choral confession that he doesn’t believe in Sundays. Time and again on this first half of the album, the songs are rock n’ roll through and through; solos and driving beats are par for the course. And yet this is not at the expense of artistry. Duritz’s imagery is poetic and pulls no punches; the reference to Sundays conjures religious imagery, and although he professes not to believe in them, these tracks smack of a trip to a confessional.

The final two tracks of the Saturday Nights portion make good on the promise of “1492.” With “Insignificant,” he returns to that feeling of disappearance, declaring “I don’t want to be insignificant.” “Cowboys,” the sixth and final track of the first half, provides the perfect transition as Duritz sings, “I’ll wait for you as Saturday’s a memory, and Sunday comes to gather me into the arms of God Who’ll welcome me because I believe, oh, I believe…” This is a shift from his statements in “Sundays” and brings God directly into the picture. Duritz’s final words of the track set a mission statement of sorts for the remainder of the album – “Oh, I will make you look at me… Or I am not anything.”

So ends the Saturday Nights segment of the album; the Sunday Mornings portion begins with the subdued acoustic picking, gently fingered piano, and deliberately plucked standup bass of “Washington Square.” Harmonica and a distant electric guitar join the sound of the largely acoustic arrangement of “On Almost Any Sunday Morning.” The lyrics fit the tone of the music aptly, sparse and raw as they are. It is interesting to note that both of these tracks were written by Duritz alone, perhaps adding to the personal feel of these tracks.

Just as “Washington Square” and “On Almost Any Sunday Morning” are songs of despair and desolation, the next two tracks find the narrator beginning to pick up the pieces. In “When I Dream of Michelangelo” Duritz sings, “I want a white bread life, just something ignorant and plain, but from the walls of Michelangelo I’m dangling again.” In a sense, the conception of the album is explained through this song, even as the narrator sings of that connection to the great painter. This brings many aspects together, most notably the religious imagery and the desire of an artist to communicate. “Anyone But You” kicks off with a haunting organ and quickly falls under the domain of a steady drum beat. The message of this track? Well, although he admits “I’m almost ready – it’s almost true – for almost anyone but you,” he ends up returning repeatedly to the simple statement, “I think about you.”

It is in this song that the album really comes together. Even as drums return to the mix for the first time since the transition to the Sunday Mornings section, the singer’s dilemma is clear: after his wild “Saturday nights” and his reflections on his life, God, angels, women, and more, he can only think of this one unnamed woman.

In the next track, the truth comes clearly crashing down.

“You Can’t Count On Me,” the first single from Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, lays it all out there – the narrator clearly addresses that aforementioned woman (described here as “just my toy and I can’t stop playing with you, baby”), and he admits that “There’s just one thing you need to know and that’s that you can’t count on me.” Not exactly a declaration of love and selfless devotion, this clearly carries with it the same blatant, raw honesty that the previous tracks have been imbued with.

From the opening chords, “Le Ballet D’Or” plays out like a dream sequence characterized by Duritz’s reflections and realizations. These set up what is perhaps the most minimalist track on the album; Charlie Gillingham’s piano and Adam Duritz’s vocals are all that you get with “On a Tuesday in Amsterdam Long Ago.” The vocals, probably the most raw of the record, lead up to the ragged, repetitive pleading by Duritz – “Come back to me.”

The album might have left off on this note, leaving the resolution open ended and the final note a somber one. Instead, the next track begins deceptively with an acoustic guitar and piano that fade momentarily before being replaced by the first distortion guitar since “Cowboys” and perhaps the most rousing drum beat and bass line of the album. Duritz’s voice returns to form as he leads the band in “Come Around,” the only track on Sunday Mornings not produced by James Brown. Rather, this track was produced by Gil Norton, the producer for the six tracks of Saturday Nights.

Thus, “Come Around” effectively brings this concept full circle, promising in the chorus “We’ll still come around.” Yes, there is pain on the Sunday mornings…

But that won’t stop Duritz from coming back to the Saturday nights time and again. If nothing else, they certainly make for good songwriting – and this concept makes for a rocking, raw, and overall excellent album.

Music Review: Weezer’s “Raditude”

Originally posted 2009-11-15 22:22:09. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

RATING:  1 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

I was the first to scoff at early negative reviews of the new Weezer album.  It seemed there was an inordinate number of swipes at the admittedly odd title, Raditude.  After all, I reasoned, Rivers Cuomo hasn’t exactly built his career by being serious.

So, it was with high hopes that I started listening to Raditude.  From the opening track — “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” — it became immediately apparent that the lyrics would be juvenile.

And yet this was never a turn-off.

I had heard this song, the first single, about fifteen or twenty times before the album was even released.  It had been leaked on YouTube, then removed, then reposted by another source, and finally released officially as the single.  And, each time I heard it, I liked it more and more.  This is saying a great deal, considering that the song includes references to watching Titanic and eating meat loaf as key plot points.

The way I see it, there are two types of great Weezer songs:  introverted, introspective ballads and catchy, fun rock/pop gems.

Any serious Weezer fan who will disparage the quality of Cuomo’s lyrics in 2009 needs to think back to such earlier tracks as “No One Else” — “My girl’s got a big mouth, with which she blabbers a lot…” — and “Getchoo” — “Sometimes I push too hard; sometimes you fall and skin your knee…”  And can anyone even begin to transcribe the lyrics to “Hash Pipe”?

I didn’t think so.

Weezer's "Raditude" (2009)

Weezer's "Raditude" (2009)

So, the credibility and entertainment value of “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” being established, the other nine songs on Raditude should be addressed.  In a nutshell, the new album is generally a mixed bag — one part catchy guitar hooks, one part derivative stylistic choices, and two parts juvenile and (to be frank) ridiculous lyrics — that all amounts to a mediocre collection of material.

I’ve always been drawn to Rivers Cuomo’s firm embrace on the simple, pure, and raw emotions that we generally attribute to the innocence (and immaturity) of youth, but this time around, there is little for me to relate to or feel moved by.

“I’m Your Daddy” is about as two dimensional a song as you’ll ever find, stripped of Cuomo’s trademark quirky innocence to reveal an inexperienced Romeo.  It is also a bit creepy to listen to after learning that he began writing it while watching his daughter.

“The Girl Got Hot” is driven by catchy, distortion-drenched guitars, but again the lyrics fall short.  I kept waiting for a moral to the story — I would have settled for something as simple as “don’t judge a book by its cover” — but all I ended up with was the singer’s revelation that, when it comes to Kiki Dee’s friends, “She got hot, and they did not.”  Oh, and the phrase “buyer beware” is potentially problematic, but I won’t even go there.

Then comes the piece de la resistance, “Can’t Stop Partying.”  Again, I waited for the subtext that the lyrics must surely contain, considering the minor chords and Cuomo’s diction — “can’t stop” implies addiction.  And again, I was met with lines like “If you was me, honey, you would do it too” and “Screw rehab; I love my addiction.”  Just when I thought it couldn’t get less redeemable, Lil Wayne lays down a chauvinistic, obscenity laden ode to excess.

The remainder of the album is divided between forgettable, inane tracks — like “In the Mall” — and solid, albeit middle-of-the-road songs — like “Put Me Back Together.”  The latter track is one of my favorites from the new album, even though it is difficult to shake the feeling that this would have been a filler track on any earlier Weezer release.

Other tracks like “Let It All Hang Out” and “Love is the Answer” are debatable — on the upside, they do tap into the aforementioned pure, raw emotions that the band’s best material always has, yet there is nothing extraordinary about them.

At the end of the day, I have to reluctantly admit that my opinion is not so divergent from that of Slant reviewer Huw Jones — strictly in his opinion of this album, but NOT his opinion of Weezer’s overall career arc (he’s seriously off there).  Weezer has finally released an album that I can’t endorse — and that I, unfortunately, can’t listen to for very long without feeling disappointed.