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)

Steven Page’s “Page One” (2010) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-11-14 12:02:02. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  4 / 5 stars

Coming on the heels of the excellent post-Page BnL disc All in Good Time, “expectations” would be the key word when considering the aptly-titled Page One.  Steven Page has already released two solo albums, but the Vanity Project was a side project (with much less risk involved) and A Singer Must Die with the Art of Time Ensemble was… well, covers played with an ensemble.  They were both excellent: the former in and of itself and the latter for what it was.

In all practicality, Page One is the first true Steven Page solo album.

As such, it is an exercise in expressing his talents across a variety of genres.  Some are tracks that could have fit seamlessly on previous Barenaked Ladies records.  Others would simply never have fit in that venue.

This aforementioned variety is perhaps the most appealing feature of his debut.  After all, the power pop appeal of such tracks as “Indecision” can only extend so far before one begins to go numb (taking notes, Brendan Benson?).  And, with the exception of several moments of overproduced indulgence on tracks like “Entourage” and “Queen of America,” the dynamics of these twelve diverse tracks are admirably balanced to attain cohesion as an album.

And there are several moments of absolute perfection in style, sound, and tone.  Take the opening lines of the first song, “A New Shore:”  “As captain of this band of merry sailors I’m a black mark I’m a failure/So before you watch me drown/I’m relinquishing command for something I don’t understand/this man’s about to turn his whole life upside down.”  Under any other circumstances, this nautical analogy might seem forced or cliched.  However, as it marks his departure from the extraordinarily successful band that has served as the anchor (see, I can do it too!) of his entire musical career up to this point, it seems quite appropriate.

While I follow the juxtaposition of the “merry sailors,” arguably the other four members of BnL, and the color “black,” perhaps to indicate the more serious, introverted nature of Page’s material — think: “Bad Day” on the otherwise joyous and goofy Snacktime! — the term “failure” would seem an over-exaggeration.

Still, there are many fans of the nineties rock group who consider Page’s departure a betrayal.  Some go so far as to condemn Page’s conduct in the year leading up to his exit as immoral and unforgivable.

Had this cocaine bust occurred several decades earlier or in a different band, he would have been elevated a level into rock superstar iconography, the stuff of legends.

Occurring when it did, and being who he is, Page has been vilified by the contingent of so-called family-friendly fans.

And yet, disappointed as I was to learn of the breakup, I did appreciate Page’s attitude.  As he told one interviewer, “I keep saying to fans, ‘Just think: you get a two-for-one now. You get their records and my records.'”

Page One (Steven Page, 2010)

Page One (Steven Page, 2010)

This record tells a story of internal conflict, expressed in a direct and personal manner that would arguably have lost some resonance as the product of five member band.  “Indecision” is the second track, the first single, and a signpost of sorts.  If Page One is an exploration of the recent dramatic events of his life, then “Indecision” introduces the first of the destructive forces at work: namely, indecisiveness.

As Page sings, “I’m predisposed to have it/Happiest when I don’t know what to do/I want to settle down like my father/I want to run away like my mother ought to.”

This track may be read as a response of sorts to the Barenaked Ladies’ own 2010 single “You Run Away.”  In that song, fell0w BnL co-founder Ed Robertson sings, “I’ll give you something you can cry about/One thing you should try it out/Hold a mirror shoulder high/When you’re older look you in the eye.”  Page is clearly doing this, rooting his insecurities in analogies of the family (mother/father), and admitting that he thrives on a degree of ambiguity and perhaps even crisis.

The song that follows, “Clifton Springs,” is ostensibly a character narrative, and yet Page’s delivery of certain lines resonates as though the story speaks to a deeper, more personal connection.  He sings, “My stigmata’s the regret for how/I could have let it all/Go so wrong.”  The question here is, of course, does Page intend simply to create a story or is this an outlet for expressing his own sentiments?  Other lines like “You’ve got to do what’s best for yourself” and references to “the ghosts of a life” coalesce with the thematic tones that recur across the other eleven tracks and seem to point to the latter.

(Still, devotee of the school of Dylan that I am, I acknowledge that speculation out of proportion can only serve to obscure music, not clarify it.)

The subsequent three tracks provide an array of perspectives on fidelity in general and marriage in particular.  In “Entourage,” the singer seeks immediate pleasure in the form of sex, elevating the quest by the end of the song to state, “Now we’re through with morality,/can I sleep with your wife?/I want to be like you/And your entourage/Tonight.”

“Marry Me” follows with a proposal of marriage, albeit a decidedly perfunctory one, as it comes with the rationale “I know it’s the same all over the world.”  The layers are further peeled back to reveal the heart of this figure’s matrimonial leanings: “Marry me…/Without our love, we’d just be normal people marching forward/Normal people? Who? You and Me? It can’t be!”  In each case — the looser groupie and the norm-conscious fiance-to-be — the ultimate motivation is satisfaction, whether it be physical or psychological.

The third installment in this anti-matrimonial trilogy is “All the Young Monogamists,” in which the singer and his partner observe the young couples they see, smiling to themselves as they “know what’s in store.”  As Page sings, “As they gaze into the eyes/Of the one they love/They can feel inside of them/That this is not enough.”  After expressing this existential emptiness and offering up four unpromising outcomes — tiring out, running away, sleeping around, or settling — the narrator ultimately finds himself coming full circle as he embarks on a monogamous relationship, promising “I will always be true to you.”

So, there is some optimism to cling to, after all.

This is followed by the one-two power-pop punch of “She’s Trying to Save Me” and “Over Joy,” songs which explore that second destructive force: depression.  This is a familiar force, one which has crept into the undertones — and, sometimes, overtones — of Page’s previous work.  And these are excellent, if not groundbreaking, efforts.  The former has “second single” written all over it, and the latter comes off as the Vanity Project’s answer to Wilco’s “Please Be Patient With Me.”

I would have pegged a track nine with a title like “If You Love Me” to be the mid-album slow song, but no dice.  The rock rolls on.  The phrasing here is of interest, placing the onus of relationship maintenance on the other party.  “IF you love me,” Page sings, “Everything will be all right tonight.”

“Leave Her Alone” follows, and is arguably the most dynamic track on the album.  If “All the Young Monogamists” could have been a candidate for A Singer Must Die, then “Leave Her Alone” is a brilliant blend between rock, pop, big band, and orchestral music.  This song boasts some of the strongest and bluntest lyrics, ranging from eloquent introspection (“Rephrasing the hazing amazed at/how cruel men could be,/I saw they were no different from me”) to baser internal rhymes (“And subsequent cities were shitty as well”).

Then comes “Queen of America,” the one song I’ve been unable to place on the Page One spectrum.  Truth be told, it sounds like an outtake from a Scissor Sisters album in topic, tone, and closing voice-over.

Page One wraps up fittingly with “The Chorus Girl,” the first of his songs to take a deep breath.  I’ll leave this one for you to discover on your own, but suffice it to say that every other song is a step leading up to this track.

Oh, and there is a winking reference to cocaine to rival Ed Robertson’s All in Good Time line, “You crash the party, I’ll crash the plane.”

In most respects, Page One lives up to expectations.  There is no denying that it is bittersweet to hold the BnL and Steven Page releases side by side and to realize that they each contain aspects that the other does not, and perhaps cannot.  This being said, I see no value in lamenting the breakup.  Instead, it would be best that fans follow Page’s logic and embrace this two-for-one deal.  If we respect and perhaps even trust these five men, this split must have been a positive and necessary development, and it has at the very least yielded some of the most urgent, passionate music of their recent career.

If only for now, that should be enough.

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

Music Review: Indie Music Songwriter Jeff Copperthite’s “Greenlight”

Originally posted 2008-04-22 23:54:17. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jim Fusco:

You know, I’ve been putting this off for some time now, but I’ve been thinking of EXACTLY what I wanted to say since the first time I heard Jeff’s new album. When I saw Chris’ review, I really wanted to read it, but I chose not to before I wrote my own, as not to be swayed by his opinions, although 99% of the time we’ll disagree, at least a little bit.

What can I say about Jeff’s album that will put it into a light that those who don’t know him will understand. Well, I’ve already covered THREE songs off of it for the Laptop Sessions series- on two separate occasions, I’ve given up my opportunity to play an original song I’ve written in favor of a song from this album. And that chance only comes once every three weeks for me. That’s the respect I’ve given this album.

As an independent artist, I’ve found that people don’t take our music seriously. They won’t listen to it in the car like every other album they own. They won’t recommend it to their friends and write online reviews. It just doesn’t happen very often. But, I listened to Jeff’s album 11 times, according to iTunes (I use my iPod in the car), and I’ve always found my iTunes play counts to represent only about half the times I’ve actually listened to something (probably because I’m turning the iPod on and off when I get in and out of the car). Actually, I find myself returning to “Greenlight” very often, even after it’s had its initial run in the car stereo.

Yes, I designed the album covers and put the whole thing together. Yes, I made the website for it and did the writeup. But, I still got to listen to this album and experience it like I haven’t done for many years now. Chris and I, in our better days, used to be true companions when it came to creative projects. There wasn’t a thing either of us could do without the other having a hand in it. It was a fruitful time that I know I’ll never get back. That’s the problem when other people, wanted or unwanted, enter your friends lives.

I never thought I’d get the opportunity to share an album with someone again. I thought, as with all of my projects in the last two to three years, any independent project I was a part of would be kept a total secret until “release day”. Not so with Jeff’s album, though. He brought his songs to me at every step of the journey, asking for advice and looking for some friendly words of both laud and criticism. I was happy to be that person, especially because I know that in many other situations, I’ve been replaced as that person. So, here’s a great toast out to Jeff’s wife, Sherry- always support Jeff in all his creative works, but thank you very much for not having a clue about music! :-)

So, you would think that this review (I promise, it’s coming) is going to be nothing but a sales pitch with no criticisms. Well, I’m going to be truthful- I’m not putting in criticisms just for the sake of it, but I want to give my honest interpretation of Jeff’s album, “Greenlight”, and here it is.

I cannot comment on the track listing, ie. order of songs. I actually chose the order they should go in, so if there’s any criticism here, you gotta problem with me! :-) But, seriously, the track listing was chosen as a way to present Jeff’s great songs in front, his good songs in the middle, and ending with another great set. Of course, with an album of nine songs, there isn’t much of a cross-section to work with in those three categories. Take my word for it: the “good” section isn’t very long.

The album starts with “Shadows of Your Dreams”, a fast number that fades in (which I enjoy as an album-opener) and then gets it beat. This song is perfect at slot Number One (okay, one comment) because to me, it sounds the most like a song off Quilt’s (Jeff’s band) last album, “Expressions”, where Jeff wrote every song.

The production on the album is simply astounding. The clarity in both the vocals and instruments is nothing less than impressive. Jeff’s talents at ALL the instruments he plays is clearly apparent, as well. He plays some great guitar solos throughout and each song tends to have so much more than just a couple rhythm guitar tracks- he comes up with a different melody all together.

The only problems I have with the sound are minor, but I think are important to point out. I’m not sure if it’s an effect, but some (and “Greenlight” has MUCH less of this than previous efforts) songs have this odd Barenaked Ladies “Gordon” album vocals effect to them. You can hear it clearly on “Home” and it sounds like a fake double-tracking. It almost makes the album sound more dated than it needs to be. I don’t hate the effect, but sometimes I wonder what it might sound like without it.

The second beef I have with the sound is the dated sound of Jeff’s Roland Electronic drum kit. The sound isn’t bad, but some of the toms and cymbals sound very “late 90s”. One other problem I’ve noticed in some songs (most apparent in “What Not To Do”) is the fact that Jeff uses a metronome to keep time in his songs. There’s nothing wrong with that- kids, you should always use one in recording. I don’t, and my songs tend to speed up. But, Jeff is a bass player and a piano player both first and second. He’s a drummer third, at best. So, at various points in the album, I notice him coming in a bit too early or too late on some drum beats. The tempo of certain songs tends to plod, as well, when the metronome is used, as it doesn’t sound as dynamic as it could be. Now, don’t get me wrong- it is INCREDIBLY difficult to play to a metronome- why do you think I don’t use one? But, if you’re going to use one, it has to be correct, or the mistakes will be very apparent.

Now, moving on to more songs:

“Home” is not only my favorite song on this album, but stands as one of my all-time favorites. It has a GREAT tune and a great message about a man who loves nothing more than to come home to that special someone. The backing vocals are spot-on (something Jeff’s struggled with in the past) and the combination of percussion and a great bass line make this a standout track on ANY album. I have nothing but positive things to say about this song.

I also love the title track, “Greenlight”. It’s a bit slower, but I just LOVED it when Jeff played it in Fusco-Moore Studios. The song also tells of a man that is happy where he is, but realizes that there might be something more. The line, “What good have I done, for those that I know” is poignant and I love the way he sings. The middle 8 is a great change from the rest of the song and I only wish there were a high harmony on the “for me, for you” lines. The solo simply rocks on this song- the addition of the reverb makes it sit well in the mix. Jeff also busts out a piano solo in this song, which is also both well-played and fitting. The ONLY qualm I have with this song is the addition of the percussion on the chorus. I loved the way it sounded without the shaker track. The chorus had this great beat that I just gravitated to. The shaker takes that away for me and makes the song “faster” than it’s supposed to be.

That brings me to another thing I wanted to point out. Jeff is trying REALLY hard on this album. He’s trying to make these both great songs and great recordings. He tried, and succeeded, to stay in perfect pitch throughout the album. He also tried to make these songs sound fully-produced. That said, he may have tried a bit too hard on songs like “Greenlight” with addition of shakers that really didn’t need to be there. I can’t fault him too much because most of his efforts only helped the overall feel of the album and made it sound so professional.

Next, we have an instrumental that I’ve known for years, called “Jam Session”. I can’t say much about the content because, well, it’s an instrumental, but Jeff simply rocks this song. He is a great, professional musician. He plays the life out that guitar and piano, while the rhythm tracks add to the spontaneity of the song.

Next, is the best song ever written. Okay, fine- I’m biased- I WROTE IT! :-) I wrote “What Not To Do” because I was struggling with the idea that even though I don’t want my friends to fall into the same pitfalls I’ve fallen into, they’ll do it anyway because people usually learn from other’s mistakes. Jeff turned my song into a great production. That little guitar riff he plays during the opening chords is very R.E.M.-like and the production is great. If you ever get a chance to listen to the backing track to this song, you’ll realize how much work went into this song.

Another point I want to mention is a tricky one because I don’t want it to come across the wrong way. Jeff’s vocals, in prior albums, have always a bit “lackluster”. He sang the songs “flat”. I’m not saying he sang the NOTES flat- I’m saying that it was a weird combination of being on-key, but sounding a bit monotone. He tends to sing louder, as well, when he’s unsure of notes or having trouble hitting them. I bring this point up to explain how much progress Jeff has made with “Greenlight”. The feeling he puts into the vocals here is great and his voice has a softer quality to it now. Again, he really tried to make this album great, and with respect to the vocals, he definitely delivered.

“$500” is the weakest song on the album, in my opinion. But, I still enjoy it. The palm-muted guitars are great- he got a great sound out of his Fender. But, the bridge (before the chorus) harmonies are a tad bit off. I can’t really put my finger on it. However, the harmonies on the chorus have the same thing going on, but it WORKS! That “you know that I’m not rich” harmony is stuck in my head more than it should be. I love the guitar work on this song, from the acoustic in the background of the verses (great and unexpected) and the little back-and-forth strumming pattern before the “rock out” sections is really cool. Plus, you gotta love the slide at the end of the solo.

Jeff, in previous albums, always had a bit of trouble expressing his feelings in “mainstream-sounding” lyrics. For instance, in one song off of Quilt’s “Expressions”, Jeff explains to a girl that she’s “like a beaver in the heat”. It’s been like five years and I still don’t know what that’s supposed to mean. And the only conclusions I come to are dirty, at best. That said, Jeff really worked hard to make the songs on this album have great lyrics. They never sound awkward (maybe a bit on “$500”) and all are insightful and on-topic.

“Aware” is my second-favorite song on the album because of its great tune, fast pace, and great message about being unable to “see what goes on without me”. It has superb guitar playing and I love how Jeff’s voice shows so much emotion on the last “Oh, I’m not able to see” line. This song really defines the album for me.

“Searcher” is a song that showcases Jeff’s amazing talents on guitar and piano. Not only does he play great solos again, but the sounds he produces for the rhythm electric and piano are so interesting. I usually don’t like instrumentals all that much, but the sound is so captivating, I can never skip by it.

“Easy” is a great song. Not only does the song have a great story, but the chorus is infectious. It’s almost like two different songs, the way the instrument sounds change from the verse to the chorus. I love the “epic” sound to this track and that’s why it was chosen to end the album.

Jeff could charge whatever he wanted for this album because of how solid and impressive it is. As Chris said, “It’s pretty amazing when Jeff Copperthite and Jack Johnson come out with an album in the same week and I’m listening to Jeff”. So true. “Greenlight” makes a real case to case independent musicians seriously and I hope Jeff will continue to be prolific and continue with this amazing progression from album to album.

Buy Jeff’s album by clicking HERE!