The Weekend Review: February 2013 Report

Originally posted 2013-04-06 05:00:05. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

 

Spirits of the Western Sky (Justin Hayward)

Producer: Justin Hayward & Alberto Parodi

Released: February 26, 2013

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “In Your Blue Eyes” & “One Day, Someday”

 

For Moody Blues fans, it has been a long stretch indeed since the band last released a studio album of all-new material: since 1999’s Strange Times to be specific.  With the release of this latest Justin Hayward solo album, his first since 1996, it would be difficult not to see this as the most exciting Moody Blues-related recording of the past decade and a half.  (No pressure, right?)  Whether you are a glass-half-full person who sees any new Moodies-related music as a win or a glass-half-empty person who feels his/her expectations impossible to meet after all this time, Spirits of the Western Sky has something to offer, though it may be less than a new Moodies album would offer.  From the signature Hayward opening track “In Your Blue Eyes” to the soaring “One Day, Someday” and the beautiful, expansive “The Western Sky,” Spirits gets off to a strong start.  “The Eastern Sun” is well-rendered, if a bit underwhelming, but the pacing is promptly reinvigorated by the rollicking “On The Road To Love,” a track vaguely reminiscent of a late sixties rock-paced album track.  The pace again slows down for the aptly titled “Lazy Afternoon,” though this track offers many more subtle layers and charms for repeated listens.  “In the Beginning” follows, offering up one of the mid-album gems that have practically become expected on Moody Blues albums since the sixties.  The following three songs form a suite of country/bluegrass tracks, only one of which is previously unreleased.  (Ironically, at least one Spirits  review has referred to these songs as a new direction for Hayward.)  Fans will quickly recognize Present alum “It’s Cold Outside of Your Heart,” as well as his solo track “Broken Dream” that was first released as track two on The View from the Hill (1996).  “What You Resist Persists” is the clear standout here, and not only because it is the only new effort.  The album proper concludes with “Captivated By You,” a fittingly dynamic ending to a strong solo effort.  What follows – an alternate, extended version of “One Day, Someday,” the hiccup of “Rising,” and two progressively worse remixes of “Out There Somewhere” – is a bit baffling, especially considering that it is not separated from the core tracks by so much as an extra space on the back of the album.  All told, with a couple exceptions, Spirits of the Western Sky is what you would expect from a Justin Hayward solo album and should only serve to fan the flames of desire burning in the hearts of Moody Blues fans for another release from what is perhaps the greatest, most ambitious studio band in the history of rock music.  For now, Spirits will have to do; and, to be fair, it is clearly a labor of love that is equal parts soaring energy and careful production, evidence that Justin Hayward’s smooth vocals and expert guitar work are as strong as ever, and a reminder that time and age have not removed or diminished the ambition and vision of this Moody Blue.

Locksley’s “Don’t Make Me Wait” (2006, 2008) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2012-03-11 09:58:55. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING: 3.5 / 5 stars

Earning a spot on the 2007 edition of the Alternative Press’ “100 Bands You Need to Know” list didn’t bring Locksley any closer to recognition even from an independent music store regular such as myself.  In fact, for such an under-the-radar band, Locksley has accumulated quite the resume in their six years together.  Aside from being featured in magazines like SPIN and Elle, their music has appeared in conjunction with multiple retailers, they have played live for both Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel, they have opened for bands such as Hanson and Rooney, and they have the distinction of being the first unsigned band ever to have their music played on MtV.

I truly had no inkling of any of these accomplishments when I noticed a somewhat beat up copy of Don’t Make Me Wait in the used CD rack of my local Newbury Comics store.  Their very simple packaging and retro look caught my eye, and despite the fact that I could have produced this cover on a Windows 95 computer, I had a good feeling about the look of the band.

And, for $3.99, I figured, how could I go wrong?

Well, the answer is, you couldn’t with Locksley.

Theirs is a derivative sound, to be certain, and it rings strongly of early sixties Beatles.  Perhaps most prominently, there’s a “Twist and Shout” John Lennon-esque crackling lead vocal on “Let Me Know,” and the dual leads throughout many of the songs will lead any fan of Please Please Me-era Beatles to draw comparisons.

And yet, Locksley is not simply a Beatles rip-off, a band begging to be sent back to stagnation in cheap bars only interested in cover songs.  There’s an uncanny blending of garage rock with their roots-based sound.  In fact, for all the blunt distortion guitars and their practically punk rock mentality, there is no confusing this band for a sixties group.

Locksley's "Don't Make Me Wait" (2006, 2008)

Locksley's "Don't Make Me Wait" (2006, 2008)

Don’t Make Me Wait is probably best described as the best of both worlds, and it is clear that Locksley is playing around, experimenting with harmonies (which are subtle in some places, beautiful in others), lead guitar parts, and overall composition.  The title track leads off the album, and sets the tone for what is to be an upbeat, energetic collection of tracks.   The dual lead vocals are as interesting and excellent as ever on “All Over Again,” just as their vocals on “My Kind of Lover” hint at the potential for truly great vocal work on future releases.  Still, my favorite aspect of this album — and the reason I have listened repeatedly — is the tremendous lineup of catchy, quick tunes like “Into the Sun,” “Up the Stairs,” and “She Does,” to name only a few.  As soon as one ends, the next kicks in with just as much energy as the one preceding it.

In this sense, their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness.  Locksley’s Don’t Make Me Wait suffers from the shortfalls of a sophomore release.  It is energetic, fun, and brimming with potential, and yet there is nothing about this record that is so unique as to be outstanding in and of itself.  Even a track like “All of the Time,” simple as it may be, suffers from the “one-gear” mentality they generally embrace on this record.  I feel certain that they are poised to flex a considerable range, particularly from songs like the “For You” suite that closes the record, the bonus track “Safely From the City,” and even the alternate performance of “All of the Time” I’ve heard on YouTube.

Don’t Make Me Wait is an album that expresses considerable potential, and ironically, fans have had to wait since 2006 for a true follow-up to this record.  As recently as last week, the follow-up album Be in Love — originally scheduled for release this week — was pushed ahead to late February for digital and mid-March for physical.

Waiting appears to be the name of the game.

While we wait, Don’t Make Me Wait is a youthful, vibrant album that captures all the drive of an unsigned band, living from one gig to the next.  That somehow translates on this record, and it is that energy and sincerity that compels me to look past the derivative nature of their sound.  How their next album plays out will suggest a great deal about this band’s ability to evolve and make progress without losing all the rock and roll ground they’ve gained here.

The fact that we have to wait until March to reach a verdict only adds more anthemic meaning to this opening track, “Don’t Make Me Wait”!

The Weekend Review: January 2011 Report

Originally posted 2011-05-15 23:30:36. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Hello and welcome to the first Weekend Review of the new year.  I hope you’ll enjoy our new monthly format, optimized for ease of use with the hope that you’ll be able to turn to LaptopSessions.com for new music news in 2011.  Hurry back next weekend for the February report!

The King is Dead
The DecemberistsProducer:
Tucker Martine

Released:
January 14, 2011

Rating:
4.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Rox in the Box” & “Rise to Me”

After the impressive – and yet distracting – complexity of 2009’s The Hazards of Love, the Decemberists return to kick off 2011 with what may very possibly be the best album of the year.  The King is Dead, referred to as a “barn album” by band members in the deluxe edition doc Pendarvia, is an album of simple and yet profound beauty.While, to be fair, it lacks the mind-blowing scale of recent previous efforts, there is something to be said for a cohesive and eminently listenable collection of tracks.

Think of it as an acoustic rock masterpiece, headlined by the soaring “Rox in the Box” and the sing-along anthem waiting to happen “This is Why We Fight.”  Even the fully acoustic, balladic tracks like “Dear Avery” are gorgeous to such an extent that you won’t be able to skip the track, even if you’re on the road looking for a rock song.  Although the lead single, “Down By the Water,” lacks something of the “x factor” that makes songs truly great, it is still a tightly packaged, catchy tune indicative of the best of the King is Dead sound.  Oh, and if you think “Calamity Song” sounds like an aural love-child of R.E.M., you won’t be surprised to learn that it actually features Peter Buck on lead guitar.

Good, good stuff, and a high bar to be set this early in the year.

 

Mine is Yours
Cold War KidsProducer:
Jacquire King

Released:
January 25, 2011

Rating:
2.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Royal Blue” & “Flying Upside Down”

2008’s Loyalty to Loyaltywas the album that introduced me to and left me in awe of the Cold War Kids.  Their unique sound and keen sense for mixing the slow and off-center with the straightforward and single-worthy led me to high expectations for their next release.Well, as is often the case with high expectations, the reality rarely compares.

Whether my reaction is due to what I had expected to find on Mine is Yours is honestly too early to say, but what I’ve heard here is a collection of underwhelming tracks, many of which seem to promise more than they deliver and are often longer than they deserve to be.  Tracks like “Royal Blue,” “Sensitive Kid,” and “Flying Upside Down” stand out as excellent without need of qualification, but others like “Broken Open,” “Louder Than Ever,” and “Cold Toes on the Cold Floor” beg for more consideration, more development, in order to reach the heights established on the previous record.

This is not to say that it should be like a sequel to Loyalty to Loyalty, but the songs of Mine is Yours should at least be as interesting.  While I was initially turned off by the slicker production values, I’ve entirely come around on that, which makes me wish that more attention to detail had been paid.

 

The Party
Ain’t Over

Wanda JacksonProducer:
Jack White

Released:
January 25, 2011

Rating:
3.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Shakin’ All Over” & “Nervous Breakdown”

Slogans like “The Queen of Rockabilly” don’t typically entice me to purchase music, but in this case, it was bookended by Jack White’s name in the production credits and a nod to Bob Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain.”In short, I couldn’t resist at least one listen.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Party Ain’t Over holds up to repeated listens, fronted by the outstanding “Shakin’ All Over,” a track that aptly blends the gritty alternative sound for which White is so well known with the sonic signature of 50s rock and, I suppose, rockabilly.  Here, as on the rest of the record, riffs abound and Jackson’s ragged voice establishes her in my mind as the female equivalent of a contemporary Dylan, in vocal delivery if not in lyricism, craftsmanship, etc.  In the area of originality, it is clear she doesn’t hold a candle to aforementioned Bard, but her choice of covers is impeccably fitting: a devastating take on “Busted” (see: Johnny Cash), the closest anyone has come to covering a 2000s Dylan track without earning a sneer from me, and a redefining arrangement of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know That I’m No Good.”

Even the latter half tracks are enjoyable, foot-tappers like “Nervous Breakdown” and “Dust on the Bible,” as well as slower tunes such as “Blue Yodel #6” (not to be confused with #4, or my personal favorite, #9).  All in all, for an impulse purchase out of raw curiosity, The Party Ain’t Over is a testament to Jack White’s capabilities as producer and studio musician; it may not be the best album of 2011, but it bears a certain quality and strength of arrangement (both within tracks and across the album) that it deserves to be noticed.

The BEST VOCAL PERFORMANCES of 2011 (The Year-End Awards)

Originally posted 2012-01-16 20:00:47. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

This is a tough category.  All of the songs on the my upcoming top fifty songs list have excellent vocals, many of which are standout performances.  However, there are also songs that go unrecognized on the top fifty list that are notable for their outstanding vocals.  Thus, as a rule, songs included in the top fifty list are not considered here.

I suppose you could consider this my way of sneaking in an extra ten songs that I didn’t find room for on my best songs list, but I hope you’ll consider it an additional category.  These ten songs are great in their own rights, but especially by virtue of the excellence of their vocals.  Some are smooth, some are rough; some are passionately outraged, some are tenderly heartfelt.  Taken together, they’re the standout vocal performances of 2011:

1) “Something to Believe In” – Parachute (The Way It Was)

2) “Estate Sale Sign” – The Mountain Goats (All Eternals Deck)

3) “Blue Spotted Tail” – Fleet Foxes (Helplessness Blues)

4) “Shakin’ All Over” – Wanda Jackson (The Party Ain’t Over)

5) “2012” – The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (La Carotte Bleue)

6) “When You Wish Upon A Star” – Brian Wilson (In the Key of Disney)

7) “Talking At The Same Time” – Tom Waits (Bad As Me)

8 ) “Sunloathe” – Wilco (The Whole Love)

9) “Bridge Burning” – Foo Fighters (Wasting Light)

10) “Amy, I” – Jack’s Mannequin (People And Things)