Sara Bareilles’ “Kaleidoscope Heart” (2010) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-10-03 10:00:03. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  4 / 5 stars

Isn’t Sara Bareilles the girl from that Rhapsody commercial?

Yes, Bareilles is the singer you were most likely introduced to through that commercial, playing her “Love Song” on a piano in someone’s living room.  He comes in and changes the track, and she switches to “Bottle It Up.”  Although it was overplayed, it was a clever commercial, and it seems to have taken Bareilles’ career up a notch.

Her follow-up effort, Kaleidoscope Heart, finds her further developing her piano/power pop sound, writing several more characteristically tight tracks, stretching out for some ballads, and even experimenting a bit.

If she hopes to hold her audience’s attention, or especially if she’d like to expand it, then it would be advisable for her to take some more risks.  The a cappella title track and the unfiltered “Basket Case” are promising starting points, though most of the songs on her record conform to the pre-established formula.

That’s not to say that it isn’t a good formula…

Bareilles has tremendous ability on the piano, and she takes to time to tinker with a harmonica this time around (always a positive, in this writer’s book!).  She has that deep, yet richly feminine voice that would have served her well in a jazz career and has made her instantly recognizable.

There are, of course, echoes of Vanessa Carlton here, but Carlton’s second album Harmonium found her burying her vocals in overly produced efforts.  By beginning with an a cappella track, Bareilles clearly has other priorities.

Some would say better priorities.  And I would agree.

Still, early reviews have criticized her (as I have, above) for not pushing the envelope, for being content to stick to that aforementioned formula.  While this is a valid criticism, and while I obviously agree to a point, I would also ask such critics to consider not only the formula, but also what she is able to do with it.

Sara Bareilles' "Kaleidoscope Heart" (2010)

Sara Bareilles' "Kaleidoscope Heart" (2010)

While I hesitate to say it is superior to her breakout single “Love Song,” “King of Anything” is an excellent track, and certainly a single-worthy effort.  The big attitude, the piano bursts, and the hand clapping all contribute to this catchy and fun song.

“Uncharted” is even better, and the perfect choice for the first full-length track.  This is arguably a better candidate for the first single, being the perfect amalgamation of vocals, piano, with strings and electric guitar layered to good effect.

These are only two of the many strong piano rock tracks throughout Kaleidoscope Heart.  There is also “Gonna Get Over You,” with its fifties rock sensibilities sped up to meet modern day standards, the uber-poppy “Say You’re Sorry,” and “Not Alone,” a plea for a lover to stay that adopts a slightly darker edge that comes complete with Alfred Hitchcock’s voice in the middle.

This is not to say that Bareilles gets stuck in one gear.  Elsewhere — most notably on “The Light” and Breathe Again” — she pulls away from her typical pop sound to embrace slower, more introspective tracks. “Hold My Heart” is indisputably the flagship piano ballad here, anchored by a chorus that will resonate in your head long after the track has faded out.

Perhaps the most interesting, if not the most entertaining, song comes midway through the album.  “Basket Case” is an unabashed confession that finds Bareilles on acoustic guitar and harmonica, adopting a traditional arrangement that is distinctive, diverging from the established sound of the album at just the right point to avoid an aura of complacency.

It is aptly followed by “Let it Rain,” another acoustic track and one that rocks out.  Whether intentionally or not, she is channeling my favorite female singer/songwriter; I’m referring to Michelle Branch, an artist I’ve been smitten with since I heard her first single on the radio.  I have since followed her career closely, from the better-than-solid debut The Spirit Room (2001) to the outstanding follow up Hotel Paper (2003).  Branch has since declined, not having released a solo album until her third, dragged along for over two years, was released this year as a six-song country EP.  Her partnership with Jessica Harp as The Wreckers was great and all, but Harp contributed the superior tracks to that effort.

I diverge into the realm of Branch’s catalog as a means of complimenting Bareilles.  Although Kaleidoscope Heart is no Hotel Paper, “Let The Rain” is a Branch-esque song done better than Branch can manage herself these days.  I predict nothing but increasing excellence from Bareilles if she is able to keep her independence by writing her own songs (not even Branch did that on either of her albums) and playing her own instruments, even if it is an acoustic track that takes her away from her trademark piano.

For now, Kaleidoscope Heart is an above average sophomore effort, and expresses the vast potential that I can only hope she will have the fortitude to make good on.  Since it’s become painfully clear that Michelle Branch will not be this generation’s premier female rock singer/songwriter, I’m hearing more and more reasons to cast my lot with Sara Bareilles.

The Weekend Review: January 2013 Report

Originally posted 2013-03-30 06:47:28. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Heartthrob (Tegan and Sara)

Producer: Greg Kurstin, Mike Elizondo, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, & Rob Cavallo

Released: January 29, 2013

Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Drove Me Wild” & “Closer”


When I read in advance that Tegan and Sara had “gone pop” for their latest album, my first response was one of profound hesitation.  After all, I’ve found the band’s previous efforts to lack a certain dynamic energy that I’ve always felt was possible, and it has in large part been their identity as co-songwriters and musicians that has kept me coming back for more.  On Heartthrob, the former remains but the latter has been somewhat displaced by the practicalities of pop music (i.e., programming and the like).  However, much to my surprise, this new approach to their sound has reinvigorated their music and unforeseen strengths in their style have arisen.  In short, pop suits them.  From the infectiously catchy opener and lead single “Closer” (with a wonderfully conspicuous wink on the chorus line embellishment, made literal in the music video) to the retro-flavored gem “Drove Me Wild,” the songs maintain a uniform sound, but always with a hook or other appeal.  On previous efforts, as I’ve written, I’ve found Tegan and Sara’s music to suffer at times from the “half and done” songwriting under which there are no new movements or lyrics after the halfway point.  Here, where that does happen, it blends in and works, and my best guess as to why I feel this way is that pop music operates under different rules than rock.  If you’re interested in a flashback to the eighties blended with a clear dose of the contemporary, a band with rock sensibilities turned pop, Tegan and Sara’s Heartthrob is probably the next album for you.  I know that, for me, it has been difficult to break the circuit with this, their latest eminently listenable and fun record, on numerous occasions.

Ben Folds’ “Rockin’ The Suburbs” (2001) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2009-12-20 20:00:33. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

** This is the third in a five part series of music reviews, counting down from the #5 to the #1 albums of the decade, 2000-2009. On January 2nd, 2010, the #1 album will be revealed, along with the complete Weekend Review picks for the Top Thirty Albums of the Decade. **

By Chris Moore:

RATING: 5/5 stars

Ben Folds’ 2001 solo debut Rockin’ The Suburbs is one of those rare albums that thoughtfully balances all-seeing self-confidence and heartbreaking vulnerability.

It is also one of those albums that has gone largely unappreciated.

At the time of its release — September 11, 2001 to be exact — the album received moderate reviews and modest numbers on the album and singles charts.  Folds’ subsequent records have also been dismissed by many sources, holding steady around the three star mark from major reviewers like Rolling Stone.  Still, his more recent work has scored higher on the charts, with Songs For Silverman earning the “mature record” stamp and Way to Normal garnering an inordinate amount of attention from the media, as well as the distinction as Folds’ highest debut on the Billboard charts.

Say what you will about his other work — and Songs for Silverman is a truly great album — but he has never matched the sound, feel, and overall conceptual focus that was present throughout Rockin’ the Suburbs.  Listen after listen, the latter reveals itself to be an exploration of that most basic of all human conditions: loneliness.

Whether intentionally or not, Folds is making statements, track by track, about what it means to confront the truth that, in the end, we’re all alone.  His contemporary landscaping lends itself to this task quite well, as he sets his songs in cubicle-dominated office buildings, behind the doors of extravagant corporate offices, at funerals, and in any number of mundane suburban settings frequented by aimless and/or lost young people.

This was an album I could relate to as a young college student, beginning to think about the world around me and the career — the life — ahead of me.

Likewise, nearly a decade later, this is an album that not only has meaning for me as an adult, but that I also expect will speak to me in decades to come when I find myself, as Michael Stipe would say, staring down the barrel of the middle distance.

Ben Folds' "Rockin' the Suburbs" (2001)

Ben Folds' "Rockin' the Suburbs" (2001)

“Annie Waits” is the ideal opening track, establishing mood with the tale of solitary Annie, waiting on a call that never comes, expectantly watching the cars driving past and wishing she was alone.  Alone, there would be no expectation, there would be no disappointment.  There would be no vulnerability.

The second track moves quickly into the territory of the disenfranchised, featuring two young people, uniquely spelled names and all, screaming out loud to a world that’s not listening.  Zak is the more introverted of the two, choosing to plunk away at guitars, while Sara is rattled by the dreary banality, choosing instead to verbally lash out against a car salesman.  Even Sara has to snap out of it in the end, clapping at the end of her song.

“Still Fighting It” is certainly one of the most personal songs on the album, written as a direct statement to his son.  While expressing the pure joy of fatherhood, Folds also notes that “everybody knows it hurts to grow up,” recalling that “it was pain, sunny days and rain; I knew you’d feel the same things…”

The next four tracks can be viewed as various takes on separation and loneliness.  It begins with “Gone,” a rant against an ex-lover who moved on too quickly, and concludes with “Losing Lisa,” the lament of a lover uncertain of what he’s done to merit a break-up.

The interceding tracks introduce the two sides of a coin all too often stamped out by a contemporary, corporate world that values profit over personality, hubris over humanity.  “Fred Jones Part 2″ describes the final day of a man who has spent twenty-five years working for a newspaper at which he has remained utterly anonymous.  “No one is left here that knows his first name,” Folds sings.  He continues, “Life barrels on like a runaway train where the passengers change; they don’t change anything.  You get off, someone else can get on.”  And so Mr. Jones goes quietly into that good night, ostensibly to conclude a life lived without meaning or true substance.

In other words, a life that many modern-day office workers are in danger of living.

“The Ascent of Stan” an equal and opposite life journey.  Stan is described as having been a “textbook hippy man, and yet somewhere along his path he chose to play the game that would earn him the prestige, the paychecks, and all the financial security that accompanies them; this leaves him, of course, morally bankrupt.

“Carrying Cathy” and “Not the Same” follow the stories of two people who have become lost.  Cathy ends up committing suicide, leaving the narrator with nightmares and regrets.  The subject of “Not the Same” takes LSD, climbs a tree, and returns to the ground as a born-again Christian.  In a sense, the latter song centers around the narrator’s disbelief that he has seen so many people change, “drop like flies from the bright, sunny skies,” and he is left alone with “one good trick.”

For all the bleak subject matter that dominates much of the disc, it is easy to dismiss the levity that the title track offers as contrary to the overall tone of the album.  And yet “Rockin’ the Suburbs” is Folds’ signal to his audience that he has put all things in perspective.  If nowhere else on the album, it is on the title track that he lets all the walls fall down to reveal his sense of humor and unique perspective in as uncensored a manner as possible.

Go ahead and watch the music video.  Try not to laugh, I dare you.

“Fired” continues in the same vein as previous tracks like “Losing Lisa,” describing the painful revelations of the narrator.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, “The Luckiest” completes the album on a fittingly somber-sounding note, providing a hopeful story as the singer confesses his love — albeit in a unique manner — through a description of his perspectives on l0ve, life, fate, and choice.  And isn’t this ability to start all over again, heartbreak notwithstanding, the key factor in being able to break free of the loneliness that threatens to haunt all human souls?

It would only take one listen to Way To Normal to reveal that the starting over may also lead to future heartbreak, but that is indeed the story for another review…

When Robert Christgau labeled this album a “dud,” tossing it into the general category of “a bad record whose details rarely merit further thought,” he clearly missed not one but many outstanding attributes of Folds’ debut.  He missed a provocative exploration of the modern human psyche, that lonely, longing, and bruised side that many of us attempt to push aside for the ease of survival.  He missed a fascinating lineup of characters populating the album from front to back — characters like Annie, Zak, Sara, Fred Jones, Stan, Lisa, Cathy, and Lucretia — who are representative of the negative toll society can take on individuals.

And he certainly missed the finely layered vocals, bass, and drums that are always supporting, yet never surpassing, Ben Folds’ considerable talents on piano.

This is an album that I hope you won’t miss.  It shaped the way I see my world, and continues to merit further thought every time I listen to it, all the while being a great deal of fun to listen to.

As I’ve inquired in the past, what more could you ask for in a rock album?

“You Wouldn’t Like Me” (Tegan & Sara Cover)

Originally posted 2008-10-28 22:33:49. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Hello and welcome to your Tuesday edition of the Laptop Sessions.  After my quite lengthy post last time, I’m going to keep this one fairly brief — not because I want to be lazy and write less, but because I still have a lot of work to finish before tomorrow morning.

Tonight, I’m pleased to present my second video in a three-part series where I present a song from not only a new band to the Laptop Sessions, but also originally done by a female lead singer.  Now, if you’ve come to the music blog before, then you know that my vocal range does not exactly lend itself to great heights…  But, even though I had to drop an octave for this song tonight, I’ve been true to the Laptop Sessions promise to always record in the original key!  Indeed, that’s one of the reasons that Jim started the Laptop Sessions — to create an alternative to carelessly and ineffectively recorded cover songs on YouTube.

While I don’t expect anyone to be wowed by my Johnny Cash-like adaptation tonight (I’m exaggerating with this description, of course!), it was interesting to record for a couple reasons.  The biggest one is the rhythm of the first verse.  It was difficult at first to keep the rhythm of the guitar, while at the same time being true to the tune and timing of the verse.  As with any acoustic cover I’ve recorded, though, I took the time to practice this opening over and over, beginning a few months ago and then coming back to it tonight.  In the end, it’s exciting to see the playback and know that, if only in baby steps, my abilities and stylistic experimentations are expanding because of this session-a-day project.

I first saw Tegan and Sara when they warmed up for Ben Folds in concert.  There was something about the duo that I liked, and even though they are twins, I’ve always liked the quiet, calming presence of Sara.  Which is odd, since I’m usually most interested in the lead singer or songwriter of a band.  Anyway, I bought their 2004 album So Jealous, and although I found a lot of the songs to be repetitive within themselves (i.e. a lack of new lyrical material past the halfway point of any given song), I also found the album really catchy.  I liked the upbeat sound and their vocal harmonies are really great.  They’re not exactly the Beach Boys by any stretch of the imagination, but they’ve found their own niche.  One of my favorite memories of this album is when I first bought it and played it for my sister, who liked it very much.  I just remember sitting in the basement rocking out to it with her.  We don’t exactly have the same tastes in music, so it’s exciting when we find some legitimate crossover!

Anyway, this song — “You Wouldn’t Like Me” — is the first track from the album.  When I did my usual Wikipedia/google run tonight, I didn’t learn all that much new about the band.  However, one thing I didn’t know was that the White Stripes recorded another track, “Walking With A Ghost,” from this 2004 album.

Okay, without further ado, here’s my version of their song.  Keep coming back to the best acoustic cover song music blog on the web, as you don’t want to miss Jeff’s original song tomorrow or Jim’s “Thumpin’ Thursday,” as Jeff would say.  And, of course, I’ll be back on Friday — this time, with a song that I can guarantee you know (but probably not the version that you’re familiar with)…

See you next session!