Monday, September 27, 2010

New Release: Black Country Communion - Black Country

Release Date: September 20, 2010
Label: J&R Adventures

I discovered this album last week while perusing the new releases for the week.  I had no clue this supergroup existed, but based on the participating musicians, it sounded interesting.

Black Country Communion consists of the following personnel:
Glenn Hughes (Black Sabbath, Deep Purple) - vocals, bass
Joe Bonamassa - guitars, vocals
Jason Bonham (son of Led Zeppelin's John Bonham) - drums
Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Planet X) - keyboards

If I had to describe this band in one short phrase, it would be "updated 70s metal."  Think Black Sabbath with cleaner production.  The guitar sound is heavy, the bass is in your face, and the drums are awesome.  One of my biggest criticisms is that the keyboards seem to get lost in the mix; poor Derek must feel pretty useless.  It's not a bad sound...for a few tracks.  This album is definitely loud; it feels to me like it could use a lot more texture.

Here is the track list:
1Black Country3:15
2One Last Soul3:52
3The Great Divide4:45
4Down Again5:45
6Song of Yesterday8:33
7No Time4:18
9The Revolution In Me4:59
10Stand (At the Burning Tree)7:01
11Sista Jane6:54
12Too Late For the Sun11:21

I have to say, I have mixed feelings about this band.  There are musical passages that are brilliant (it seems those passages are mostly the slower ones).   There are also long stretches that feel like rehashed 70s metal that was dead and buried 30 years ago.  At any rate, it might be worth a listen, if you're into heavy, more technical music.  It's obvious these guys can play; there are some excellent guitar solos, and sick drum fills (although I am by no means an expert on drum fill quality).

The album does end on a very good note; "Too Late For The Sun" is an excellent track, and probably the best of the album.  At some points in the album, I wanted it to end, but at the end, I wanted to hear more.

This probably could've made an excellent EP.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Punch Brothers - Antifogmatic

Release Date: June 15, 2010
Label: Nonesuch

On Sunday, June 20, 2010, I was at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.  The third or fourth act of the day was someone I had never heard of, called Punch Brothers.  I heard they were good, but I didn't really know what they were all about.  30 minutes into their set, right after the song "Next To The Trash", I walked down to the merch tent and shelled out $25 for the deluxe edition of Antifogmatic.

Chris Thile (pronounced "THEE lee"), who started this band, cut his teeth in the popular bluegrass band Nickel Creek.  That ended, he released a solo album or two, became renowned for his mandolin playing, and he started Punch Brothers.  The first two Punch Brothers albums were not really band efforts.  The debut, How To Grow A Woman From The Ground, has Chris Thile's name on the front, not Punch Brothers.  The second, Punch, had several shorter songs written by the band, but the meat of it is a 40 minute long four part suite Thile wrote about his divorce.  Antifogmatic is really their first full band effort, and it works.

Here is the track list (deluxe edition):
  1. You Are
  2. Don't Need No
  3. Alex
  4. Rye Whiskey
  5. Me And Us
  6. Missy
  7. The Woman and The Bell
  8. Next To The Trash
  9. Welcome Home
  10. This Is The Song (Good Luck)
All Of This Is True bonus EP:
  1. Friend or No More?
  2. When In Doubt
  3. Two Hearted
  4. Curtigh
Live from the Lower East Side: It's p-Bingo Night! bonus DVD:
  1. On the Bound (originally by Fiona Apple) 
  2. Ride The Wild Turkey (originally by Jerry Douglas)
  3. This Is The Song (Good Luck)
  4. Red Handed
  5. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, III. Allegro (J.S. Bach)
  6. Manchicken (author unknown)
  7. 99 Years (author unknown)
 First of all, every song I've heard from Punch Brothers is great.  If you have to pigeonhole them in a genre, it would be progressive bluegrass, but their proclivity to perform Radiohead covers should tell you how strictly they adhere to the traditional boundaries of bluegrass music.  This is truly something new; it's not just a flimsy derivative of something somebody else did before.

Antifogmatic is a somewhat delicate album; there is no percussion, and some of the tracks are slow and textured.  Tracks like "You Are" and "Next To The Trash" show how dynamic these guys can be.  Rye Whiskey is probably the closest to being a traditional bluegrass track, and its lyrics seem to be about the beer goggle effect:
Rye whiskey makes the band sound better, makes your baby cuter, makes itself taste sweeter. 
The bonus DVD is also excellent; it consists of a selection of tracks they did at regular appearances in NYC called "p-Bingo night."  This consists of an interesting mix of instrumentals, original songs, and covers.  Check out this playlist on Youtube.

I listen to Punch Brothers for the same reasons I listen to Porcupine Tree.  In some reason, Chris Thile seems to be to bluegrass what Steven Wilson is to rock/metal.  They extract influence from wherever they can, without regard to its acceptance in their chosen genres.  Antifogmatic is my favorite album this year, and I don't expect that to change.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pain of Salvation - Remedy Lane

Release Date: January 15, 2002
Label: Inside Out Music

Anybody who has discussed music with me in any reasonable portion knows that one of my favorite bands is Pain of Salvation.  Pain of Salvation, led by Daniel Gildenlow, together with Johan Hallgren, Fredrik Hermansson, and, at the time of this release, Kristoffer Gildenlow and Johan Langell, are a progressive metal outfit from Eskiltuna, Sweden.  They have a history of melodramatic vocals, syncopated rhythms, dynamics, and concept albums.

 Remedy Lane is Pain of Salvation's fourth, and greatest, album.  It is about a man's journey to discover himself, and is considered to be Gildenlow's most personal work.  Many of the songs are written from his own personal experience, rather than being mere observations of the world at large.

Lyrically, Remedy Lane contains some of Gildenlow's best work.  "A Trace of Blood" is about the time his wife miscarried their first child, and is one of the most heartfelt heavy metal tracks I've heard.  "This Heart Of Mine" was a love song he wrote for his wife.  "Rope Ends," which has a little bit of dark humor in its use of "Winnie the Pooh" characters in the imagery, was apparently inspired by his wife's friend's suicide attempt.

1Of Two Beginnings2:23
Chapter I
2Ending Theme4:59
4A Trace of Blood8:17
5This Heart of Mine (I Pledge)4:00
Chapter II
7Rope Ends7:02
8Chain Sling3:58
9Dryad of the Woods4:56
Chapter III
10Remedy Lane2:15
11Waking Every God5:19
12Second Love4:21
13Beyond the Pale9:56 

Musically, Remedy Lane is about as good as progressive metal can get.  It is technical, but not over the top.  It has two ballads, in "This Heart Of Mine" and "Second Love."  It has beautiful harmonies in the choruses.  One of my favorite tracks, "Rope Ends,"  starts off with a heavy, choppy power chord rhythm, flows into a smoother, faster bridge, and a slower chorus; the instrumental section breaks down into a syncopated guitar-and-keyboard part, feeds into an interesting section in 7/8 time, and a pretty good guitar solo.

If you're not familiar with progressive metal, this is a great place to start.  If you are, and you haven't heard this... What is wrong with you?


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sam Bush - Laps In Seven

Release Date: June 13, 2006
Label: Sugar Hill

If you haven't heard of Sam Bush, you probably don't listen to bluegrass music.  Singer, songwriter, and mandolin expert Bush has been redefining bluegrass for decades.  He got his start in the 60s, founded New Grass Revival, and released, to date, eight solo albums, of which Laps In Seven is the seventh.

Sam is also known as the "King of Telluride," because of his streak of 36 straight appearances at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival (out of a possible 37).

The title Laps In Seven came about after Sam noticed that his dog, Ozzie, was seemingly drinking his water in a seven beat pattern.  He made up a tune to go with it, which became the title track, which has a 7/4 time signature (which is rare for bluegrass).

The first album I ever heard which involved Sam Bush was New Grass Revival's 1984 (or was it 1986?) self-titled album.  It became a favorite of mine.  I have also heard the experimental supergroup Strength In Numbers' record, as well as Sam's most recent album, Circles Around You. All were great.

Laps does not have a bad song in the bunch.  It is an eclectic mix of modernized bluegrass covers and his own newgrass.  It starts out pretty subdued, as far as experimenting is concerned, but by the end, we hear electric guitar solos on overdrive ("River Take Me"), saxophones and organs ("White Bird"), and unusual time signatures ("Laps In Seven").

1The River's Gonna Run (written by Julie Miller, featuring Emmylou Harris)4:01
2Bringing in the Georgia Mail (Fred Rose)3:57
3The Dolphin Dance3:14
4On the Road (John Hartford)5:00
5Ridin' That Bluegrass Train (written by Bush, John Pennell, featuring Tim O'Brien)3:46
6I Wanna Do Right (written by Bush, Jeff Black, featuring Shaun Murphy)4:34
7Where There's a Road (Robbie Fulks)3:53
8New Country(Jean Luc Ponty)4:09
9Ballad for a Soldier (Leon Russell)4:35
10River Take Me (Darrell Scott)7:11
11White Bird (David and Linda LaFlamme, featuring Andrea Zonn)6:00
12Laps in Seven (Bush, Byron House, Scott Vestal)5:00

It's very difficult to pick favorites in this bunch.  I do think the album peaks near the end, which is a fresh change from many albums, which start off well and go downhill.  Sam Bush has cemented himself as one of the greatest in the genre, and maybe even all of music.  The only thing better than listening to a Sam Bush album is watching the Sam Bush Band play a 15 minute rendition of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame."


Friday, September 17, 2010

New Release: Justin Townes Earle - Harlem River Blues

Release Date: September 14, 2010
Label: Bloodshot

This is one I hadn't heard of until it was on sale at Amazon as a $2.99 MP3 download.  I previewed a few tracks, and thought it sounded promising.

Justin Townes Earle is the son of country/rock singer Steve Earle, and like his father, who was often on the road, he became addicted to drugs at an early age.  He spent most of the 90s letting drugs wreck his life, but eventually sobered up, after what was evidently his fifth major drug overdose.  After sobering up, he began his music career. [1]

Harlem River Blues is Justin's fourth album in as many years, and can best be described as country folk.  I would place this more on the mellow end of the spectrum, with only one or two upbeat tracks to be found.

Track list:
1Harlem River Blues2:48
2One More Night in Brooklyn3:04
3Move Over Mama2:00
4Workin' for the MTA3:48
6Slippin' and Slidin'2:58
7Christchurch Woman4:11
8Learning to Cry2:41
9Ain't Waitin'2:16
10Rogers Park4:27
11Harlem River Blues Reprise:31

This album starts out very promising.  Earle doesn't have a bad style; it's not country pop, it's country folk.  Earle has a relatively twang-free baritone voice, and really, his singing is not too bad, although his range seems limited.

The lyrics give this album an interesting touch, with several of the songs alluding to New York City.  My favorite is Workin' For The MTA:
I run the six line train,
Clear from Brooklyn Bridge to Pelham Bay
About half way through the album, he starts to slip.  It's not that the quality goes down, per se.  It's more that he seems to run out of ideas, and the music starts getting repetitive.  Most of the punches are pulled during the first half of the album, and it just kind of coasts to the end.

Which brings up my final complaint: the end comes just 31 minutes from the start.  Half the tracks are under three minutes, leaving you with the feeling that he really left lots of territory unexplored.  I felt like some of the tracks (Move Over Mama, for one) were great ideas that were cut short; there was more they could have offered had Earle taken them to their logical conclusions.

The whole album gives me the feeling that Earle could be a much better artist if, instead of cranking out a new album every year, he would spend more time developing the material he comes up with.  Harlem River Blues is perhaps the foundation of a great album, but falls way short.

Addendum: Looks like J.T.E. may still have some sobering up to do.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Release: The Gracious Few

 Release Date: September 14, 2010
Label: Questionable Entertainment

 Anybody remember that old band, Live, from way back in the 90s?  With numerous radio hits (Selling the Drama, I Alone, All Over You, Lightning Crashes, Lakini's Juice, Turn My Head, The Dolphins Cry, just to name a few) spanning three or four solid albums, Live was a 90s mainstay.  What happened to them after The Distance To Here?  I don't know.  I never listened to anything from V on.  I think I heard V on a road trip way back in the day, and thinking it was pedestrian.

Well, apparently what happened, and don't quote me on this (quote Wikipedia instead), is that everybody in the band got sick of the lead singer, Ed.  They said he signed something unilaterally or something, and long story short, they can no longer be on the same stage with him.  So Chad Taylor, Chad Gracey, and Patrick Dahlheimer from Live got together with Kevin Martin and Sean Hennesy from Candlebox, and there you have it.  The Gracious Few.

This supergroup entered the scene with very little fanfare (either that, or I just haven't been paying attention to the correct media outlets).  Linkin Park, Robert Plant, Brandon Flowers, and Weezer all released albums the same day, so it is of little surprise that this one slipped under the radar.  Anyhow, here is the track list (favorites bolded):

2Honest Man4:13
3Guilty Fever3:07
4The Few3:55
5The Rest of You4:02
6Crying Time5:29
7Silly Thing4:29
9What's Wrong4:37
11Nothing But Love5:28
13All I Hear4:32

My initial impression is that this CD rocks.  It has energy, it has rhythm, it is dynamic.  It is not overly technical, with the guys preferring a good jam over a lightning fast guitar solos.  One should think that, because the band consists of the remnants of Live, that it would be a fairly subdued album, with a few heavy tracks scattered here and there, but mostly mellow.  It is not like that at all... This is bona fide hard rock.  Indeed, this might be the best straight up rock album I've heard this year.  This is the album that demonstrates how good music can be without breaking any new ground.

So, what does this album mean for the future?  I don't know what the Candlebox situation is.  To be honest, I've never really followed that band.  As far as Live is concerned, with The Gracious Few on the job, will anybody be missing Ed and Live?  Ed who?

Here is a video for your fun and enjoyment:


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

New Release: Brandon Flowers - Flamingo

Release Date: September 14, 2010
Label: Island Def Jam Music Group 
For some reason, I decided to start this blog with the album I just listened to today, Brandon Flowers' new album, Flamingo.  It may not be the best choice, owing to the fact that I have never been a fan of The Killers—actually, I hate The Killers.  The whole throwback 80s U2 bombast thing never really appealed to me.  Every song sounded the same to me.  However, I decided to give it a chance, thinking that perhaps Brandon Flowers branching out on his own would free him.  Maybe it was The Rest of The Killers who were responsible for a style which I did not particularly care for.  With that in mind, I may not be the most objective reviewer for Flowers' new album, but I think I can honestly say that I gave it a fair chance.  I wanted to like it.

Here is the track list:
1Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas4:49
2Only the Young4:19
3Hard Enough4:06
4Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts4:43
5Playing with Fire5:49
6Was It Something I Said?3:21
9On the Floor3:25
10Swallow It2:56

I do have to say, standing alone, each track is probably OK.  No track stood out as being particularly terrible.  Crossfire, the first single, sounds pretty much just like a Killers song.  Playing with Fire was a pretty enjoyable track, and Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts was, dare I say, good.  The problem lies in the fact that the album has texture, but no dynamics or rhythm.  After six or seven songs that sound more or less the same, I went from wanting to hear something I haven't heard before—a new contribution, if you will—to just wanting this thing to end.  I gave up half way through on anything groundbreaking happening.

If an album is not groundbreaking, it might still be decent.  It can be a three star record.  But if it's not groundbreaking, and it is also boring and repetitive, it's a recipe for failure.  You can only take so much pomp before you say, "I just want some peace and quiet!"

My recommendation is that you listen to each track individually, and pick and choose the ones you might not mind stumbling across when you press "Shuffle."  The three bolded tracks above are my recommendations.  Because it is not a total loss, it still earns one star.