For all those around us…a review of Those Around Us

Originally posted 2012-02-13 20:40:35. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jeff Copperthite:

Wait a minute…who is this?

Why yes it’s Jeff!  I hope you missed me.  I for one have missed my contributions to the web site, but I am back to post a review – a review of Jim Fusco’s incredible album Those Around Us.

As one of many eager fans of Jim Fusco (and as a good friend), I was thrilled as always to hear that he was releasing a new album.  I have been among the people that are privileged enough to have heard the evolution of Jim’s work – from Walkin’ in the Dark to Halfway There.  He went from using a MIDI program to track his music to dedicating space in his own home strictly for the incredible collection of instruments, microphones, recorders, drum sets, and of course his guitars.

So naturally when his CD release party came about for Those Around Us, I was the fifth person to purchase the CD.  I was hoping for a limited edition numbering on it, but that’s ok.  I’ll just get it from his next album Three Quarters There.

I don’t write reviews often, but I’m required to use a set up.  Now for the album review.

Those Around Us is an album that continues to make me say “How does Jim top himself?”  Every time Jim comes out with another collection of his work and recording, he manages to raise his own level in such a stunning way.  Jim has really pulled off an incredible collection of songs that showcase his songwriting ability, sound engineering, and instrumentation.  I always joke with Jim when I listen to a new album “How did you get all those guys to sound like you?”

The starting track is called “Run My Way” and starts off with a soft opening acoustic guitar.  Then in kicks the lead guitar riff, followed by a drum fill.  The album kicks off with this great song with a super catchy chorus.  Jim manages to work in the right effect at all parts of the song – whether it be the phased electric during the verse, or the stereo panned vocal track.  The song even tosses in a whammy bar.  The outro to the song is like the intro – gradually reducing the instrumentation until it’s just the acoustic guitar.  It is a great opening track – something Jim has a knack for.

The next song “Choose Your Words (carefully)” is another equally strong track.  Jim is putting more effort into making his guitar sound stand out, yet work perfectly in the background of his songs.  In this song, everything blends so well.  The chorus of the song stands out a bit more than the rest of the song – not a flaw by any means.  Just like the previous track, very catchy.  I like how the pre-chorus lead guitar changes ever so slightly to lead perfectly into the “You say those words…” line.

“Don’t Give Up” is an interesting track because Jim has made the song sound full, but there are some typical elements missing – again, not a flaw.  Jim uses only one vocal track for this song, and throws in some delayed vocals during the verse.  The chorus is once again quite catchy.  One minor blip is during the instrument break – the song seems to lose its drive.  The chorus in the song is another catchy one as well.  The line “Don’t stop don’t ever give up on me girl” is complemented nicely by the instrumentation.  The 12-string guitar also stands out in this song.

Jim’s first fast track is “Opportunities”.  This song reminds me of another song from Masters of the Universe called “Only a Dream” during the chorus.  The bass in this song really pops to me (as a bassist).  Jim effectively displays his vocal prowess superbly in this song.  He mixes oohs in during the chorus, and double tracks his vocals during most of the song.  The instrument break is absolutely incredible in this song.  It really should be considered a vocal break as it gradually builds to the end.  A really terrific song in the clean-up spot.

“Good Enough” is the next song.  Jim succeeds in having the music blend perfectly with his vocals.  The builds leading into the chorus are spot on.  He lets his voice do most of the work in this song.  The guitar solo is very strong in this song.

Jim typically does not do very many down tempo songs in his albums.  “Chameleon” is very unique in Jim’s repertoire.  The song works so well that it makes me wonder why he hasn’t written other songs in a similar vein.  The xylophone and electric piano make a very solid chorus riff and build into the nice backing vocals.  I love the electric guitar work in this song as well – the offbeat strumming that Jim does make the song work quite well.  The fade out seems a bit quick on the song, however.  I think it would’ve benefited from a good 15-20 seconds in that department.

I think my 2nd favorite song in the album is the next track “Look Around”.  I almost don’t want to write too much about this song.  The vocals work so superbly at all points, the bass punches, the guitar work is incredible, and the percussion pushes the song forward.  Jim manages to work in a guitar slide to a few tracks, and a lap steel guitar to boot – including the guitar solo.  This song is so impressive – a clear standout.

“Anything for Love” is another “fast” song.  I am a big fan of the bass line of this song.  Jim’s vocal work stands out in this song.  The pitch range in the chorus may sound a bit odd at first, but it catches on really quick.  This one you’ll find yourself singing in the car.  The guitars work solidly in the background, but given the vocals, they seem like they’re there simply to let Jim know what notes belong to the backing vocals.  They work very well in the song.  Again, the bass line makes a great hook.

“Helpless” is my favorite song lyric-wise.  As a fellow married man, I share the feeling of the song.  Jim’s vocal work is at it again making beautiful harmonies during the chorus and echoes.  The guitar tracks are wonderfully played – even though at times there’s a lot going on, it works very well.

“In Your Head” is the third “fast” song on the album.  The chorus is catchy and the instrumentation drives the song very well.  In the interlude after the 2nd chorus, there is something about the vocals that seems out of place to me.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it is after the line “up front with me”.  The song’s ending is great, but the way it ends makes it seem like there should be more.  It’s probably the music theorist in me.  It actually works as a great way to lead in the next song, however.

“Follow You Home” is the next song on the album.  This song reminds me most of “classic” Jim – a driven quarter note piano track that is constant in the entire song.  His vocal work is great.  I absolutely love the chorus and the interlude he places in the chorus.  The guitar in the background complements the song quite well.

My favorite song on the album – as has been the case for the last four albums – is again the last track.  Again, everything just works together so well.  Jim’s multitracked lyrics are perfect, as is the electric keyboard that reminds me so much of The Doobie Brothers.  The distorted guitar lead is another great compliment.  I think the catchy outro is what makes the song for me.  Having everything come together and lead the album out just ends the album on such a high note.  This you’ll find yourself singing along to even on the first listen.

To summarize, Those Around Us is an incredible work by Jim Fusco.  How he continues to top himself is an attestation to his ability to improve his own standards and methods.  What amazes me continually is how I say “Wow this album is the best I’ve heard” and then the next one is even better.  Jim has succeeded in what he does best – creating a great rock album that sounds great at any volume with enough hooks and catches to keep you listening to the entire album over and over again.  Jim has really outperformed himself.   You will not be disappointed in this album.

 

—–

If you are curious, my life has treated me well since my last session despite the loss of my Youtube channel.  Due to a variety of copyright flags I was forced to close my account.  Jim can attest to the annoyance that was.  What I will do in the meantime is re-upload some of my old videos and re-publish the pages when I do so.  Hopefully in the future I will begin to post new videos – if my daughter will actually let me do so!

Until then, buy Those Around Us and enjoy it!  My daughter loves it and can sing along to 4 of the songs already.  Maybe Jim will let me cover a song from the album…

Click to go to the Those Around Us page and buy the album for $10 with Free Shipping!

Belle and Sebastian’s “Write About Love” (2010) – YES, NO, MAYBE SO?

Originally posted 2011-01-03 22:12:44. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Belle and Sebastian’s Write About Love (2010) – MAYBE NOT

Write About Love (Belle and Sebastian, 2010)

Write About Love (Belle and Sebastian, 2010)

(October 11, 2010)

Review:

Belle and Sebastian have certainly made their niche in the middle ground between indie pop quirkiness and sixties quasi-nostalgia — and no one should dispute that they make beautiful music on Write About Love — but too much of it simply fails to get off the ground.

Top Two Tracks:

“Come On Sister” & “I Can See Your Future”

R.E.M.’s “Accelerate” (2008) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-07-11 23:30:34. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  5 / 5 stars

Raw energy, often the domain of a young band, is that elusive intangible that surges and passes and that, even when it is present, cannot always be tamed.  Sadly, it can be lost in veteran bands, and replaced though it may be with the polished products that come with years of practice, it is a poignant loss.

On Accelerate, R.E.M. recaptures this element for the first time in years with some of the most engaging recordings of their career.  Considering that their discography stretches a quarter of a century across fifteen studio albums, it is significant to claim Accelerate as one of the strongest albums in the R.E.M. catalog.

And it is.

Barely passing a half an hour in length, Accelerate — true to its name — attacks numerous focal points in politics and society with distortion guitars and biting lyricism.  Somehow, the band manages to strike a balance across the eleven tracks, including slower, more introspective tracks like “Until the Day is Done” and “Hollow Man” in what is otherwise a full-on alternative rock assault.

A less seasoned band might have forgotten to take the time to breathe.

The aforementioned tracks are not the standouts, but they are the pillars of the album.  “Until the Day is Done” is a thinly veiled protest song, thumping out the thematic pulse of the album as a whole.  Michael Stipe sings of “an addled republic, a bitter refund” and warns that “the verdict is dire, the country’s in ruins.”

Written near the end of George W. Bush’s time in office, Stipe’s references are crystal clear.  How have we responded to our state of affairs?  “We’ve written our stories to entertain these notions of glory and bull market gain.”  He goes on to conjure an Orwellian society as he sings, “An easyspeak message falls into routine.”

This is a stark vision, punctuated as it is with the self-doubt of questions like “What have I done?” and “Where are we left to carry on until the day is done?”

Lest this album be represented as preachy or whiny, it stands to be noted that there is just as much self-reflection woven into these tracks.  Consider “Hollow Man,” a song which finds Stipe reflecting on “saying things I didn’t mean and don’t believe.”

The voice that Stipe takes on here is one quite familiar to many individuals in a modern age driven by so-called ideals of productivity and consumerism: “I’m overwhelmed, I’m on repeat.  I’m emptied out, I’m incomplete.  You trusted me, I want to show you I don’t want to be the hollow man.”  It might be easy to overlook the reflective aspects in Stipe’s lyrics amidst the more scathing remarks, yet the album’s greatest strength is its balance between pointing out external as well as internal inconsistencies and failings.

Taking this heart on one’s sleeve approach into consideration, these two tracks in particular, may serve to bring the remaining nine tracks even more sharply into focus.

R.E.M.'s "Accelerate" (2008)

R.E.M.'s "Accelerate" (2008)

“Living Well is the Best Revenge” is an excellent opening track; the instrumental components are reason enough to set this song on repeat, driven as it is by Peter Buck’s gritty guitar parts, Mike Mills’ frenetic bass line, and Bill Rieflin’s breakneck pacing on drums.  Stipe’s vocals set the tone for the other songs to come, spewing out lines about poison spinning into “the life you’d hoped to live” and lashing out with epithets like “you weakened shill.”  Likewise, “Living Well is the Best Revenge” serves up the first round of religious allusions, Stipe singing of lambs to slaughter, “sad and lost apostles,” and asking “the gospel according to…who?”

This is followed up by “Man-Sized Wreath,” which boasts lyrics on par with the best Stipe has ever written.  The song opens with a continued reference to the media (think: “camera three” from the previous track, in addition to numerous later lines), “Turn on the TV, what do I see?  A pageantry of empty gestures all lined up for me, wow.”  It would seem from these lines that the “man-sized wreath” is the metaphor for those news anchors and other television personalities who contribute their “empty gestures” to the “pageantry” of the boob tube.

Later, Stipe sings that our “judgement [is] clouded with fearful thoughts,” but by the end of the song, he asserts that “I am not deceived by pomp and odious conceit.”  This song could be a call to buck the system – “Throw it on the fire, throw it in the air; kick it out on the dance floor like you just don’t care” — or a tongue in cheek request to join in the “festivities” that so many seem so comfortable to be a part of — “Give me some…”

Either way, there is something quite sad about the way in which Stipe states, “I’d have thought by now we would be ready to proceed.”

It doesn’t get much darker than three tracks later on “Houston,” as they kick off the song with an opening organ barrage that sounds like a cross between industrial noise and a funeral dirge.  Stipe fires off with “If the storm doesn’t kill me, the government will,” although he quickly adds, “Gotta get that out of my head.”  For all his harsh words, there is still hope and beauty in the places that Stipe sings of — Texan cities: coincidence? — as he clarifies that the “meaning has not been erased.”

By “Mr. Richards,” the frustration lurking underneath “Houston” is directed at one man, to whom Stipe asserts, “You can thump your chest and rattle, stand in front of your piano, but we know what’s going on… we’re the children of the choir.”  This is a shift from the perspective of “Man-Sized Wreath” — whereas before it was Stipe against the world, now it seems that there is a sense of unity with his audience.  Mr. Richard’s “camp moved on” and “the public’s got opinions,” “we’ve begun to bridge the schism.”

Progress is being made.

Stipe is practically cheery by the next track, “Sing for the Submarine,” reassuring that “It’s all a lot less frightening than we would’ve had it be.”  Here, “lift[ing] up your voice” is the way to fight the machine: “we’ll pick it all up and start again.”  Still, the instruments and even Stipe’s vocal delivery belies the hope expressed in his words:  the drums plodding, the bass playing ominous, and the guitar haunting.

In “Horse to Water,” Stipe notes, “I could have kept my head down.  I might have kept my mouth shut…  You lead a horse to water and you watch him drown.”  This firmly establishes “Horse to Water” as a statement on the album as a whole, particularly with Stipe following up in the chorus by singing, “It’s not that easy.  I am not your horse to water.  I hold my breath, I come around, round, round.”

In the special edition lyric booklet, a full two page spread is devoted to the final line of the song: “this run around… IS BOUND TO POUND THE DAYLIGHTS OUT OF YOU.”  Bottom line?  The state of affairs that Stipe and company have cut a path through to expose and expound on are very real.  Earlier, on the title track, Stipe sings, “I’m not alone, a thousand others dropping faster than me,” so Accelerate is clearly an album that calls for community.

It is primarily an album that digs into the uglier aspects of our private lives and the least sunny undercurrents of our society, and yet does so with a sense of unabashed honesty and even, at times, levity.  Take the single “Supernatural Superserious,” which deals with identity via the metaphor of the “humiliation of your teenage station.”  “I’m Gonna DJ” is only the second outstanding end-of-the-world rocker that R.E.M. has cooked up, and it’s perfectly placed as the closing track.

It’s saying something when a song about the end of the world is a welcome, light respite from the topic matter of the first ten tracks.

Throughout, R.E.M. succeeds in handling the topic matter with the perfect sound and a fitting sense of the greater scheme of things.  Even the booklet is branded with the caption “This book will fall apart.”  Aside from the fact that they’re not kidding (seriously: it’s tied together loosely with some thin thread), this is a nuanced manner of adding to the overall theme of decay.

The chorus of the title track, itself situated at the heart of the album, says it best:  “Where is the rip chord, the trap door, the key?  Where is the cartoon escape hatch?  No time to question the choices I make.  I’ve got to fall in another direction.  Accelerate.”  The message seems clear enough, a call for change that is desperately needed.  Read this as you will, either as a personal statement or as an indictment of the nation.  Regardless, the determination to be realistic and forthcoming is a quality we all too often lack when faced when crises come creeping into our lives.

It is human to see “the future turned upside down” and it is oh so very Prufrockian to “hesitate.”

If I read Stipe right, hesitation simply is no longer an option.  The solution seems to be to change direction and… you guessed it: accelerate.

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.