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 five albums that were suggested to me this week.
A note on how I rate things. One star means I don’t think it qualifies as music. Five stars mean I wish I wrote the thing. Most music for me is a three.
Jamestown Revival – Utah (2014)
Before you listen to this album, check out this 10-minute video on how the album was made. It’ll also give you a taste of their music (as it’s featured in the background):
Have you ever seen Rock Star? Or Crazy Heart? Obviously those are not my story, but as a musician, there’s a lot that resonates with me. Lately, I’ve stopped writing music that a 17 piece swing band or a 5 piece rock band would play. I’m focusing on stuff I can play by myself on an acoustic guitar. Part of that is because drummers are hard to find. Actually, finding any band mates is hard; understandably people have a hard time committing to jam on a regular basis. So while I’d love to have at least one other person to help create and pull focus on stage (you’d be surprised how just one other person can help calm performance jitters), I guess I’ve come to a self-realization that Mark Wahlberg’s character or Jeff Bridges’ character would be proud of; if nobody else can commit, I’ll just have to play shows by myself.
So when I turned on Jamestown Revival’s album, it really struck a chord with me. This is just two guys writing and playing music. I’ve found I listen to and play four broad genres. This falls squarely into the folk/bluegrass bucket, but is personally inspirational in general (there is some great acoustic hard rock I’ll share later). Also, I’m not entirely sure they could, but I’d like to think that the only reason they didn’t do all the instruments themselves is because they were recording everything at once instead of each track individually.
There are some bands that can pull off complicated, but mostly it just makes things noisy. I’ve come to learn that every instrument has its place in a song. Most drummers think every song is Wipeout and many bass guitarists think they have to compete with the lead guitar. And a lot of bands don’t get that balance right (I’m looking at you, high school death metal bands). While I’m not sure that I’d always apply the “less-is-more” adage to this album, they are simple songwriters. They let the songs speak for themselves instead of trying to show off. Just because they might be able to play a face-melting solo doesn’t mean they have to. And because they don’t, when they do bust out their chops (specifically on Revival), it means a little more. Even then, it’s not a super complicated solo, which is a reminder to me that I don’t have to be Eddie Van Halen to do a great guitar solo. I can just be Alex Van Halen (because, fun fact here, Alex originally played guitar and Eddie played drums, but then they switched, which was better for both them and for rock ‘n’ roll in general). Or rather, I’ll just be like David Gilmour from Pink Floyd.
Also they’ve got some really sweet, sweet harmonies. I’m always a sucker for great harmonies. So I’m giving this four stars, even if these are some long-haired, mustachioed “granolas.” Actually, I like this album so much that, for the first time since my coworkers have been sharing music, I bought the album. On vinyl, of course.
P.S. Anyone else feel like Wandering Man had a serious Doobie Brothers vibe going on? I did. And that’s always a good thing in my book.
SR-71 – Now You See Inside (2000)
Oh man. I remember when these guys were on the radio. That being said, I don’t know that I’ve heard them since they were on the radio. Before I started listening again, I could remember that they had a song called Right Now, but I couldn’t remember how it went.
Politically Correct and Right Now (and then later Another Night Alone) were exactly what I thought I’d get from them. When What a Mess started, I wasn’t sure how the rest of the album was going to hold up, although the rest of the song wasn’t so bad. Last Man on the Moon has a pretty good chorus and a decent bridge/solo section, but that ended up being the MO of the album: songs that didn’t suck, but had a great riff or chorus or solo or whatever. It’s an album of some great parts lost in meh. The biggest surprise was Empty Spaces, which grew on me in the 4:29 that it took to listen to it. And Go Away was at least a little different at first, but I still didn’t like it. 2/5
Oh, and did Paul McCartney musically remind anyone else of Les Mis’ Who am I?
John Legend & The Roots – Wake Up! (2010)
Moment of honesty, my only exposure to The Roots was through Jimmy Fallon. And I have avoided John Legend on purpose. I’m not sure why. Maybe I just heard one song and got turned off. I don’t know. But throughout this whole project, I’m trying to keep an open mind, so here we go.
Not that I’ve been introduced to this album before, but I know I would have passed it up. And that would have been a mistake. I recently “discovered” soul. I mean, I’ve played in small jazz groups and we’ve done some funk and soul stuff, but there’s a big difference in what six white guys in a college town can do and what I hear on this record. 3/5
I wasn’t really a fan of Melanie Fiona’s backing vocals on the title track. I liked it when she was the lead, but it wasn’t so good once she switched to back-up. Our Generation brought it all back to where the opening tracks took it, but almost the whole rest of the album lost the groove and so lost me. I think I Can’t Write Left Handed is the perfect example. Musically, it’s great, but maybe there’s something missing in my cultural experience that keeps me from really enjoying it to its fullest.
The two pleasantest surprises of the album were Humanity, which brought a little reggae, which hardly ever goes wrong. Whoever was doing the lead vocals even brought in a little Bob Marley into his voice. And I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free, which had a definite Stevie Wonder vibe.
Phoenix – It’s Never Been Like That (2010)
I’ve never actually understood what these guys are singing about, but they’re fun. And I think that’s all they’re really going for anyway. Musically, though, these guys are great. Consolation Prizes? Great. The guitar work on Lost and Found? Great. I don’t know that these guys were ever trying to be ground breaking. They just made some great music.
And I feel like they’ve changed their style a bit each album. This one I would expect to hear on tour with Jet and The Strokes. Their next album is more electronic/dance-y. Not that it’s a bad thing. Artists are allowed to change their music as they change personally. I’m just saying. 3/5
John Mayer – Continuum (2006)
John Mayer is one of those artists I haven’t really given a chance before because at first there was so much hype (and the couple of songs I heard were just too soft for me), then he reminded me of an ex-girlfirend.
Let me start by saying that the second half of the album is more my thing. Maybe it all just grew on me, but the first half is softer stuff than I’d usually pick to listen to. I can appreciate his bluesy guitar playing, especially on Belief (even though I’m not sure how much I like his harmonies on that song’s chorus) or the solos in Gravity (which almost felt like a gospel song) or Vultures (also, I really liked the organ work in that song, even if the rest of the song was just meh).
The best song on the front half of the album was easily Heart of Life. It’s still chill, but it’s also different than the rest of the album. That being said, it’s not the best version of that song I’ve heard. I think this is.
The back half, though, is where his skill really shines. His guitar playing is still great, but his songwriting is better. Stop this Train and In Repair weren’t my favorite, but still better than anything on the front half. And I think his version of Bold as Love is better than Hendrix’s original.
All in all, I like his guitar skill, but I’m not really a fan of his songwriting. This is a decent album and I’m glad I took the time to listen to it. I probably wouldn’t skip past a song from this album if it came up on Spotify or Pandora, but I probably won’t buy it either. 3/5
The Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart (2011)
I shared The Head and the Heart’s debut self-titled album. I had heard a song or two of theirs before seeing them in concert, but after seeing them live and hearing their harmonies, I fell in love with this band. 4/5.
Here’s what my co-workers had to say about The Head and the Heart (also, I have no idea how they choose their ratings):
“This album surprised me. My son thought the cover was “creepy.” I found the album to flow nicely from song to song, and overall, it seemed to tell a cohesive story, even though I have no idea what that story was. As Paul said when he suggested it, the instruments were spot on, and the vocals harmonized very well. I could listen to this again, and want to hear more albums, but I don’t think I would buy it, hence the 3 stars. I just like epic albums, and it wasn’t necessarily epic, it was more…relaxing.” 3/5 – Tim
“Somewhat like Mumford and Sons, really liked them. I liked Ghosts a lot. I really appreciate a good clean piano riff like that – sounded good. And harmonies were tricky on this one, so I liked it.” 2/5 -Kari