A Review of Five Albums

Some of my co-workers and I started sharing some of our favorite music. We’ve been doing it for a while, but now we’re actually reviewing them and sharing those reviews with one another. So here are the four albums that were suggested to me this week.

Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love (1987)

This is something I would never buy. I probably wouldn’t skip past most of the songs if they came on in a mix, but it was just OK. There were some good songs and there were some bad ones. All in all, though, this album just didn’t engage me. Probably my least favorite of these four. 2/5

Highlights:

Ain’t Got You seemed like it might have been an early Elvis cover. I liked it. It was simple and straight forward. I like the harmonica on Spare Parts. It was a nice touch. That’s all. And Brilliant Disguise was good. Not sure what about it. I just liked it.

Cautious Man – If I didn’t know I was listening to Springsteen, I would have thought Bob Dylan learned how to enunciate better when he sings. I really liked this.

Lowlights:

I liked how Two Faces started, but I’m not sure I like where it went. I’m dead sure I don’t like the weird guitar riff in the middle. I was too distracted by the effect to notice if I liked the actual solo. And then where did the elevator organ come from? I like it, but not in this song. It just seemed out-of-place.

Um, I stopped paying attention to Valentine’s Day. Was it any good? I just got bored with it.

Silverchair – Diorama (2002)

I may not always know what he’s singing about, but I like the execution. I think this is my favorite of these four. It just rocks. 3/5

Highlights

Pretty much the whole album. I can’t tell if they meant the lyrics of The Greatest View to be just a little creepy, but they were. Just a little. My Favourite Thing seemed so calm compared to the rest of the album, and I liked the contrast. After All These Years might be my favorite of the whole album.

Mediumlights

Without You and World Upon Your Shoulders just exist. They weren’t bad. They just … were.

One Way Mule and The Lever – Late 90’s early 2000’s alt. metal? Sure. It was a bit harder than I normally like, and I probably couldn’t do a whole album of this, but I liked it mixed in.

There weren’t really any lowlights, so you get mediumlights.

Bon Jovi – Crush (2000)

I had preconceived notions about Bon Jovi, and they were a little off from what I got on this album. But it got me thinking about the music more than any of the others, so there’s that. 2/5

Highlights

Next 100 Years is exactly what I expected from Bon Jovi. Solid rock. I don’t know if that’s what I’m supposed to expect, but I feel like the outro with the strings and trumpet and the gang vocals had a George Marin feel to it. It reminded me of the end of I Am the Walrus, except of course the supposed subliminal messaging to smoke pot. I’d blast Just Older with the windows down on the drive through the desert. I liked Mystery Train, and I’m not sure why. It’s just good 80’s soft rock played by hard rockers in 2000. What is Captain Crash & the Beauty Queen from Mars about? Oh, I don’t even care. It’s got a nice groove.

Mediumlights

Say It Isn’t So kind of reminds me of something Mellencamp would do. Wait, did they just make an Elvis reference and say “They deep-fried The King”? What is this song about? I like the electric piano solo, but I’m not sure it fits the song. It definitely doesn’t fit the trashy drums behind it. I like the background “Say It Isn’t So”s in the background of the chorus. I’m not sure what it reminds of (not Mellencamp, this time), but I like it. I was all prepared to not like She’s a Mystery, but for some reason the soft rock soundtrack worked for me this time. Except the southern country rock he sang “understand” a couple times – he put some real twang on that.

Lowlights

Why do I get the distinct feeling It’s My Life is a Backstreet Boys song played by 80’s rockers? Don’t get me wrong, I really like the talking guitar effect sometimes. And I like the sentiment of the chorus. I’m all about positive mental attitude and self-empowerment; I’m just not sure about how it was executed. I almost skipped Thank You for Loving Me. I really didn’t like it. It’s too soft rock. They try to break out of it in the bridge & solo. It’s something I would expect from the Armageddon soundtrack. It’s one saving grace is the into and outro bluesy guitar riff.

Save the World – A tease, this one. It started off with more solid 80’s rock (although I’m not sure how I feel about the fuzzy guitar solo). And then it turns into something they wrote the same day as Thank You for Loving Me.

Sheryl Crow – Sheryl Crow (1996)

Again, I had preconceived notions, and I was more wrong about these than I was with Bon Jovi. When I opened up the album in Spotify, I realized I already knew Everyday is a Winding Road.

Highlights

Of all the things I thought I would get from Sheryl Crow, the sweet groove and  healthy dose of fuzz on Maybe Angels was not what I expected. Also, how can you go wrong with a song about aliens, but refer to them as angels. It worked for Styx. I really like the guitar work on Redemption Day. It wasn’t face-melting, but I think it was great. There were a couple of places in Love is a Good Thing and Superstar where she sounded like Jackson 5 Michael Jackson. And that’s not a bad thing. Oh Marie had a little bluesy jazz feel to it and I liked it. Ordinary Morning started and I was unsure about it. By the end, I really liked it.

Mediumlights

Three songs in and we’re finally getting to what I THOUGHT I’d get from Sheryl Crow. I’m not sure that’s a lowlight. It was fine, it just isn’t really my thing. I realized I know If it Makes You Happy. I’m not sure I expected the slide guitar. It’s kind of a blend of the first two songs on the album and the third and fourth.

Lowlight

The Book. Just… no.

Guster – Easy Wonderful (2010)

Also, I shared Guster’s Easy Wonderful with them. I love Guster. They’ve got talent. They’ve got emotion. They’ve got more than a little quirk. And it all comes out on this album. Plus, while not all “positive mental attitude” kinda music (but there is definitely a lot of that), this is one of those albums that I just want to blast with the windows down, summer or winter. It’s the best kind of late 90’s Alt Rock you could ask for.

Here’s what my coworkers had to say about it:

This is a band I haven’t heard of before Monday, and I have to wonder how that happened. I really liked this album. The vocals blend incredibly well with the instruments. And even though that creates a consistent harmony of the two, there is still range and complexity to the music being played. I felt the songs on the album flowed well from one to another, and with the exception of one track towards the end, all seemed to logically fit together for a cohesive sound.  I am going to listen to more of their albums over the next few weeks, and I’m sure it’s one that my wife will enjoy too. -TH

My sister always listens to Guster – Whenever I’m in her car I ask “Who plays this?” Usually the response is Guster. So I was pretty stoked to finally to listen to an album of theirs. Oh boy, I like it. I was surprised by This Could All Be Yours! The clarity and speed of the guitar was awesome. From what I understand it’s really hard to pull off a strum like that at that tempo. Bad Bad World – LOVED the lyrics to that one. I liked the harmonica on This Is How It Feels To Have A Broken Heart.  There is definitely talent in this group. -KH

A Lullaby for Me

I wrote this song for a TuneStorm. A TuneStorm is a kind of online experiment (an uncompetition if you will) where you are given a prompt and you are expected to carry it out in your own style, using your own ideas, instruments, background, etc.  Like musical brainstorming. You are expected to keep your work a secret until the big revelation day to avoid influencing other uncontenstants.

My friend Spencer has done ones where the criteria was the lyrics have to be a haiku, another where the song could only be 15 seconds long, and another where the song had to be angry but you couldn’t use words.

This TuneStorm prompt was “lullaby.” I had two ideas for this TuneStorm, and this is the second. At one point, I accidentally put in a 2/4 measure and a 3/4 measure without knowing it and had to slow it down to find why my 4/4 drum loop wasn’t fitting. I was listening to bands like Guster and Cake when I wrote it, but I wanted to channel a 90s hard rock band from Spain called Mägo de Oz.

This song is kind of about not wanting to grow up. In college, it seemed like all my friends were “growing up” and moving away. I was determined to not get too grown up as I got older and took on more responsibility. Sure I have to work an 8 to 5, but I am going to enjoy the life I am earning. And everyone I know is welcome to enjoy it with me. There are lots of allusions to my childhood throughout; The CurePeter PanWizard of Oz, Pink Floyd, etc.

This is just a demo. There are a couple of times I totally muck up the guitar, so forgive me. And I’m not in love with the current words in the second half.

I also did a slower, acoustic version (about 130 bpm and the original is 185). My wife said she liked it better slower. She said it sounds like Rooney to her, which I’m okay with. I feel like it is more like something The Eagles would have done.

What’s your favorite song about wanting to live life without work, responsibilities, etc. taking over your life? Want to suggest something I should change musically? Let me know in the comments.

Meaningful Memories

I started a new job in October. I also decided I needed to write more music, so I set a goal to write one new song a month.

To give me some momentum, I cheated and reworked a song I started writing in 2008, but never finished. But the song started forming in my head years before.

Since 2004, I’ve been playing in a band called Viewers Like You. In 2005 or 2006, we got a new trumpet player. We were getting him up to speed on all of our songs, including one called “Meanings Unmeant” which he once called “Meaningful Memories.” Not one to let a good (or even mediocre) song name go to waste, I filed it away until I figured out a song to fit the title (not usually the way I write songs).

Fast-forward a couple of years to the worst summer of dating I ever had. Without going into specifics, let me just say that I wasn’t finding any winners. Also, I was listening to a lot of 311‘s From Chaos, Carbon Leaf‘s Indian Summer and Eve 6‘s Horrorscope. Suffice it to say, I was listening to a variety of things which influenced me, along with my unsuccessful love life, in a variety of ways to produce this song. It’s just a demo, so keep that in mind while you’re listening.

This song is mostly about those girls I didn’t date for very long, specifically about one where from the start I knew it wasn’t going to last. The last couple of lines of the stanza are more about an ex I really cared about; it didn’t end as badly as pretty much every other relationship, so while I don’t really trust her, I often think about how sad it is to get so close to someone who you don’t end up spending the rest of your life with. They become your best friend until it’s over and then you never see them again (unless you run into them at a bowling alley or something), but they were still an important part of your life and all your memories from that time somehow link back to them. I’m over her, I’m okay to never see her again, I fondly remember the time we spent together, and that’s something I never hear songs about.

As one of my friends and coworkers once said, “Dating sucks. Until it doesn’t, and then you’re married.”

There you go. After years of rolling around in my head and sebaceously forming, I wrote, recorded and have now shared “Meaningful Memories.”

What do you think? Want to suggest something I should change musically? Know of a song about remembering an ex fondly, but not still being in love with them? Let me know in the comments.

 

myTunes Nobody Playlist Blogpost

Ever heard of the iTunes Celebrity Playlist Podcast? Celebrities (Steve Martin, Whoopee Goldberg, Ringo Starr, Clint Eastwood, etc.) would come on and talk about music. I really like the musicians who would come on and talk about the music which influenced them as musicians. Mic Fleetwood talking about drummers, Slash talking about guitarists, etc. It was pretty good and I’m not sure why they stopped.

Weeks and weeks ago, one of the bands I play with was invited to a local radio show to guest DJ. I’m not sure where the communications breakdown was, but I thought it was going to be like the iTCPP. Instead, it was like a normal radio show with occasional talking by us the band. It was kinda fun, but I don’t know that I’d do it again if the format stays the same.

Remember: This is a ska/reggae radio show, so pretty much everything will be from that family of genres. If this were open to all music, it would be much harder to choose and much, much longer.

If you’re interested, you can listen to the whole just-shy-of-two hours of the show here: http://www.spreaker.com/user/rudys2tone

I wanted to take a little time and put down here the songs I would have shared there, if it was the format I thought it was.

So we start with The Skatalites‘ “Swing Easy” which you can hear on the podcast. I’m a trombone player, so of course I’d turn to a band formed by a trombone. This is from their 1998 album “Ball of Fire,” although those tunes are just new arrangements and recordings of old stuff. So while Don Drummond doesn’t actually appear on that record (since he died in 1969), it’s still his stuff. So there’s that.

I have always loved the sounds of Less Than Jake‘s horn section. I love their riffs. I love the way they mix and master them. It’s great. For a good example, check out “The Science of Selling Yourself Short.”

I don’t play the drums, but Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham makes me wish I did. But since I’m talking about ska music, I’ll mention something else I love about John Bonham and how it relates to ska.

On some recordings, because of how they recorded the drum set and where they placed the mics, you can hear the kick and high-hat pedals squeaking when he plays. You can tell there is a real live person playing the drums (for a great non-ska song about that, check out The Limousine’s “The Internet Killed the Video Star“). Another recording where you can tell there are real live people playing the music is Streetlight Manifesto‘s “Somewhere in the Between.” Right in the middle, there’s a horn feature and you can hear the clicking of the keys of the bari sax. Have a listen:

And speaking of people who are real, let’s mention the people who are not. One thing I cannot abide is fakeness. I was a teenager once and I did things because I thought I would then be accepted by my peers. Truth be told, chances are whoever you are trying to impress aren’t really paying attention to you. They are trying to impress you because they are also insecure, but really they’re focused on themselves. I understand there’s a huge section of peoples’ live which devoted to finding out who they are, but don’t force it. When I was a teen, there was a certain image which non-conformists had. It used to be punks and now its hipsters. Ironically, to be recognized as a non-con, you have to conform to what other non-cons looked like. You’re still a conformist, just now you think you’re something you’re not. Otherwise you’re lost, to take a phrase from the last song (although here it means something completely different), somewhere in the between. One song which highlights this is Five Iron Frenzy‘s “Marty” of their collection of b-sides, “The Cheeses of Nazareth.”

Next, let me quickly highlight some great tunes with some great grooves. Since ska and reggae are dancing genres, the groove is key.

Here’s The Aggrolites‘ “Let’s Pack Our Bags”

Dispatch‘s “Con Man”

Matishahu‘s “We Will Walk”

and, because this is something they excel at, Reel Big Fish‘s cover of Oingo Boingo‘s “We Close Our Eyes”

There are a handful of local bands which have also shaped me. One of them (who is still around)(most of the others have broken up) is Two and a Half White Guys. I wanted to share their song “Stompin,” but couldn’t find a good copy of it. So here’s my second favorite song of theirs, “Arrested.”

And that transitions nicely into a plug for my other band. If you keep listening to that podcast episode above, you’ll hear our song “Super Motorcycle Ninja Gunfight.” But since that’s a bit anti-climactic, I’ll share another great song about frustrated love (at least it reminds me of a time in my life when I was frustrated by my girlfriend at the time), 311‘s “Waiting”

Let me know what music has influenced you as a musician. Or in any way, really.

You Gotta Move

Every time I get into a conversation with my boss’s boss about music, she talks about all these people her husband interviewed or reviewed (Ever heard of Carl Arrington? I had not heard of him either, until she came to work for us. Apparently, he is a kind of big deal). She does not usually talk about music I have never heard before.

Recently, however, she introduced me to a Rolling Stones cover I had never heard as well as the original, which was done by Fred McDowell: “You Gotta Move.”

This came off the Stones’ 1971 album “Sticky Fingers.” The same album “Brown Sugar” is on, but the latter seems to be the only song on the album I really recognized. Which is a crying shame, really. This is the quintessential blues song.

Here is the Stones doing it live in Paris on June 5, 1976 with Billy Preston (Yes THAT Billy Preston) and Ollie Brown. It was released on their “Love You Live” album the next year.

This is just so primal and raw. I like this version so much more than the studio version. While Jagger does a passable southern American accent, having Brown and Preston sing make it so much better. And if you listen to the original, it gets even more primitive.

McDowell was well-known for saying he did not play rock and roll. Now a days, this might seem like an odd thing to say, but all the old rock bands played the blues at least a little, so the lines were probably more blurred back then. British bands, like the Stones or Led Zeppelin, especially seemed to like the blues. Maybe because it was new to them and they did not have as much racial stigmas.

The blues is what started pretty much all modern (i.e. recorded) popular music, from Country to Jazz to Rock. All this really makes me want to play more blues. Now I just need to learn to play the slide guitar.

The Legend of Zelda, part 2

Today we continue our adventure through the bleeps and bloops of 8-bit Nintendo soundtracks.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link seems to be one of the most hated Zelda games. It was different from the first game, and most fans did not like the changes. I chalk it up to a poorly timed experiment. Some things did not work well for what people expected from The Legend of Zelda at the time. However there were some things which the game introduced which have since become staples in the franchise.

It really was a hard game, and the fact that you only have two buttons to work with, plus a directional pad, does not simplify things. To this day, just hearing the battle music from this soundtrack makes me anxious. The syncopation and dissonance do not really help either. Actually, the music for the title screen blends that anxiety from the battle music and the general easy-going feeling from music which plays in the towns and houses. I think the main title does a great job at giving you an overture feel, without actually being a medley.

The music which plays in the palaces was also anxiety inducing, but mostly because of the ostinato in the bass. Does anyone else notice a trend in the scary music in the Zelda series? It all has a similar bass line.

And something about the ii-IV-V7-IV chord progression just get’s blood pressure up. Last year, I found myself in need of an original James Bond / Secret Agent Man theme type song. After trying to come up with something on my own, I discovered they use the same progression as was used in the palaces in this game. After that, I had to drop the project because it would just make me so angry hearing those chords over and over again. And I knew that at any moment one of those gargoyle heads would come, kill me, and reset all my experience points.

Actually, most of this soundtrack was kinda scary. Or should I say most of the time I spent listening to this soundtrack was spent listening to the scary songs. Over the course of my whole life, I would not be surprised to find I have spent a full month wandering through palaces and fighting the guardians. Sprinkle in a little time spent going from palace to town to palace (which is mostly chance enemy encounters along the way). And then the never-ending Great Palace and two painfully hard boss fights.

The worst part of it all is when you die. Ganon laughs at you and, with his smug 8-bit eyebrow raised, seems to ask, “That’s it? You spent 4 hours of your life looking for extra life and died from a ball of dirt dropped on you by a bug?” Not only did my character die, but so did my self-esteem.

There is other music, like what plays in the towns and houses around Hyrule. The main over-world theme is different from the original Zelda’s over-world theme, but it starts out with the same fanfare, which is a nice little homage to its predecessor. Maybe I was just projecting my feelings onto the music, but something about the end of the game, just before the credits, just seems like it is exhausted. Which is ironic because Zelda just woke up. Then it turns back into the soundtrack for an epic adventure. And of course the sound effects for finding an item or fairy, putting a crystal in one of the stone statues at the end of a palace, or playing the flute.

All in all, this sound track is just more tense than the first. There are some games or movies whose soundtrack out performs whatever they were accompanying, but it do not think this is one of them. This will never be the best Zelda game ever, and this will never be the best Zelda soundtrack ever. They are not the worst, either.

Won’t Those be the Days

Editor’s Note: This post is different from previous posts and planned future posts.

Do you ever find yourself listening to one band for a while, not listening to them for months or even years, and then rediscovering them? This happens to me all the time. it even happens to me with books, movies and video games.

One of the oddest experiences is when I play one song on my guitar or piano and then start playing a riff or start singing words to a different song; one I wrote years ago and stopped playing because it was juvenile and not worth keeping in my repertoire. Suddenly it is new again. Having forgotten half the words, I am forced to rewrite them. That is OK by me seeing as how I judged them unworthy of perpetuation in the first place.

That did not happen to me recently. I had a similar, although completely new, experience.

Most of the music I play is loud. Even at practice, which can make things difficult. For the past month or so, our drummer has been wanting to perform at a creative writers / visual arts conference put on for local middle school kids.

No, this is not typical of the shows we do. Although with a couple of weddings under our belt, it is not the oddest of shows. Our drummer is a music teacher at a local junior high or middle school, so I think he felt pressured into signing us up.

The point is we did it an acoustic show, which is something a little different for us.

  • First, our drummer limited himself to a djembe (an african hand drum) and a frottoir (read washboard).
  • Second, our bass player brought his upright. After practicing for an hour and a half without bass, this came as a marked improvement.
  • Third, I used Mandolin or banjo (not at the same time) in place of keyboards, which is usually a substitution for our lack of horns now that the band seems to be moving in a slightly different direction. That was the intention anyway. We always seem to come up with another horn player for shows, so I usually find myself comping.
  • Fourth, I took over on lead vocals. Usually I sing harmonies. To myself. From time to time I get a microphone (more and more as the years go on), so other people can hear my harmonies during shows, but not every song lends itself to good harmonies. Our first lead singer is in Oregon doing grad school. Our second lead singer was in Moab for spring break. That left it to me.

The point of all this is: I forgot how much fun it is to play acoustic stuff like that. Maybe I was the only one who thought it was more fun than the other shows we have been playing recently. And maybe it was because I was more involved in the show. Regardless, all of our songs seemed happy and optimistic. Even the more morose ones.

Yes. I know the ribbon is backwards.

It reminded me of the not too distant past when I played more bluegrass. I won a blue ribbon once. It makes me want to play more. And not just bluegrass, but anything. Especially anything acoustic. With the onset of spring (maybe. hopefully.) and the progress my wife is making learning guitar, it makes me want to take her (and anyone else who wants to come along) to a park some sunny afternoon and just play. That would be nice.

And I also learned a few things from this acoustic gig. Which is nice.

  • First, I need to practice taking solos more. It is not a completely foreign skill to me, but there is a learning curve involved in translating that skill from trombone and piano (where I learned how to do it) to guitar. Especially because I have to set up my computer to play through the changes because I have no other opportunities to solo on guitar. Everyone needs me to be doing bass, horns, keys, or anything else. I think that shows how many guitarists are out there; I am faced with filling other voices, because guitarists are so bountiful. Sorry Jer. That learning curve continues after switching a guitar out for a mandolin or banjo.
  • Second, learning all the lyrics to a dozen songs does not happen over night. Even though we have been playing these songs for eight years, I still switch the first and second pre-chorus on one song. I even found a whole section where our lead singer admitted he never knew what to sing and would just make stuff up. So that is exactly what I did.
  • Third (in the same vein as one and two), it is much easier to improvise lyrics on the spot than I previously assumed. If improvising solos is a skill I am still developing on guitar, improvising lyrics has been a skill whose development makes me sweat like a sinner on Sunday. However, after blurting out a random line, I was able to find enough verbage (not verbiage, but a deliberate portmanteau of “verbal garbage”) until I could think of a way to complete the rhyme. Now to make it better than suck.
  • Fourth, I have always felt the upright bass was a waste of good music. It seems as though bands (not orchestras, mind you) which use the upright bass always cover it up. As a bass player, I know it is not the most important part for the audience. I also know the other members of the band need it to supplement the drums’ rhythmic foundation and add a melodic foundation as well. This means it has to be heard, a feat upright basses never seem to accomplish for me. So I have always preferred electric basses to acoustics. I here admit I was wrong, at least about uprights. You may need to mic the bass or get it a pickup, but there is a significant difference between an electric bass and an amplified upright. Each has its own rightful place and the one is not superior to the other. I still reserve the right to dislike acoustic bass guitars and would invite anyone to change my mind.

Good luck trying to find this album anywhere but as a digital download.

In case you were wondering, we played most of our original songs (although some were re-worked and some just did not fit the acoustic style, mostly due to a lack of a drum kit) and we played Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” The Cure’s “Friday (I’m in Love),” Flogging Molly’s “If I ever Leave this World Alive,” and The Soulutions‘ “Memorial Day.”

Now that we have done a completely acoustic show, the band may be making another direction. We may play in more acoustic settings. In fact, there is a show in May we have our eye on.