Rock n’ Roll Legend – Delivers!

Crosseyed Heart – by Keith Richards

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Keith Richards’ new solo album dropped on September 18.  Called Crosseyed Heart, I must say the cover art, the name and the concept reminded me a little bit of the film Crazy Heart starting Jeff Bridges as an aging country music star.  I was excited to listen to it all last week, hoping to get a write-up out to you as soon as possible.  Of course like everyone else in the world I like the Rolling Stones, so of course I think Keith Richards is an amazing guitarist (although I have never paid much attention to his solo work).

I also didn’t read his recently popular book Life, although maybe I should have.  It came out about six months after Patti Smith’s Just Kids which took me awhile to read, but was good enough to be fully distracting.  So what I’m saying here is – I know enough about Keith to be intrigued and curious about his new album; but not enough to be a loyal, crazy, all-knowing fan that is going to write you an extremely detailed or insanely insightful review. At this point, I’m just writing it like I hear it!  So let’s proceed.

A not-very-popular Rolling Stones album from 1994 included a surprisingly tender and un-offensive tune called “Sweethearts Together”.  I was reminded of this song multiple times during my reviews of Keith’s new album, because his songs aren’t about booty and hookups – they’re about real relationships.  Certain artists can write about love in a way that is actually rock n’ roll, and of course anyone affiliated with the Rolling Stones can pull this off.  Sweethearts together forever!

With that said, some of the songs (lyrically speaking) had a “mature” feeling or sentiment that evoked memories of the Eagles’ post mid-life crisis relationship song, “Too Busy Being Fabulous”.  Maybe we can’t all relate to the lyrics, but we can certainly all appreciate good driving guitars on memorable rock songs. Here are my initial thoughts on each track:

  1. “Crosseyed Heart” opens the album with your standard blues guitar fare.  It is a slow head-shaking, toe-tapping, sitting on the corner type of song you would play on your guitar among friends.
  2. “When She Holds Me” breaks into the ROCK feeling a little bit – the guitar is rollicking and fun on this one, but there is a cell phone reference or two that gives an old fogey feel.
  3. “HeartStopper” is good – Keith evokes Mark Knopfler’s vocal stylings here, but this song includes the worst line of the album – “I didn’t even know the Titanic Sank”. An unfortunate example of very routine lyrics placed methodically along with the otherwise fine music.
  4. I just loved “Robbed Blind”! This particular song – theme, lyrics, and all – is so ludicrous it is hilarious and very funny in a dry way.  I love lyrics like “they planned to screw me” delivered with such rich yet deadpan vocal intention.
  5. I noticed on the album cover that “Trouble” was the hit single. When I popped the album into the CD player I didn’t realize how easy it would be to identify the logical choice for a single – this song is catchy, fun, and has a great chorus (that almost seems a bit difficult for Keith to sing – this is way more melodic from a vocal perspective than most of the other lower and more growly tracks).  The song itself is rocking and sassy, like a Chrissy Hinde delivery on a Pretenders hit.
  6. “Love Overdue” is all reggae beats and backing vocals, with a snazzy horn solo and Tommy James style throughout on the echoey vocals. I have no idea why this song isn’t actually called “Prisoner of Loneliness” but that’s just fine anyhow as-is.
  7. “Nothing on Me” is probably my 2nd favorite after “Trouble”. It is slower and more chill, like a song by the Wallflowers.  But knowing Keith Richards’ long partying past, a song about how “they’ve got nothing on me” is tongue-in-cheek and kinda cute.
  8. “Suspicious” – is at once both dark and slow. Could be the token slow dance love song of the album?  Grab a dance partner and/or get your lighters ready.
  9. “Blues in the Morning” – is about what you would expect. Just good guitars on a fun blues song.  I don’t happen to enjoy blues as a genre very much (I know, heresy) but out of respect I will let it be known that there is nothing wrong with this track.
  10. “Something for Nothing” – Very much like a standard Rolling Stones track; a typical rock n’ roll song that is fairly catchy with rockin’ guitars, solos, and the ability to make you imagine those guys up on stage prancing around (and getting the whole sold-out arena to dance and clap along).
  11. “Illusion” is another Mark K. type of song, but this one is a duet with Norah Jones. She sounds really whisky-and-cigarette on this track, which is just perfect for the song.
  12. “Just a Gift” was puzzling to me. How is this really different from the earlier track “Suspicious”?  I will have to double-check and listen to them both a few times more.  Honestly I didn’t really want to listen to this very many times, it just wasn’t my favorite.
  13. “Goodnight Irene” is the old classic waltzing old-timey Leadbelly tune recorded yet again as a cover. Pleasant and depressing like it usually is, I wasn’t surprised at all when my Prius passengers fell asleep in the backseat during this song.
  14. “Substantial Damage” is awesome, because this is the perfect song name for a track on a Keith Richards album. I don’t even have to listen to the tune to like it – but I did, and I actually do.  It is the funkiest on the album, with lot of spoken/shouted-word lyrics of actually fairly routine relationship concerns – like “I’m paying for dinner – and I might as well not be here” and “what ARE we doing together?”
  15. “Lover’s Plea” on an ending note was too slow for my taste; turning even to horns and corny backing lyrics at times did not help this case.  The chorus theme of “this is my lover’s plea to you” sounded like someone with an enthusiastic David Bowie presence was dramatically crooning along to this cheesy sentiment.

I hate to be too rigid or prescriptive, but in my mind, 15 songs is way to long for almost any album – 12 is about perfect.  I would get rid of #8 and #12 because they are so similar.  Next I would axe either #15 “Lover’s Plea” for being uninteresting (if I heard it on the radio I would just skip – it sounds old-fashioned and not fresh) or #13 for being too familiar.  Then you would have a leaner, tighter, more rocking album for this much-loved musician.

All in all, this is not a bad buy or a regretted purchase – I got a few good chuckles and really enjoyed the guitars especially on “Trouble” and “Something for Nothing”.  Thanks Keith!  Always awesome to hear from you.

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play:

Crosseyed Heart – Google Play

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon:

Crosseyed Heart – Amazon

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Beautifully Broody; Slightly Melancholy and Mysterious

Aventine – by Agnes Obel

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I have been driving around with this 2-disc set (deluxe edition) in my car for some time, waiting for a moment when I felt like I finally understood this album with enough sophistication to write about it.  But there will never be a perfect moment – so the time is now.  And actually this is just fine, because anybody can instantly appreciate the graceful melodies of this musical work of art – even if it may be difficult to articulate exactly why.

Agnes Obel is a young Danish pianist/songwriter/vocalist/composer with TONS of talent. “Chord Left” opens the album, and strikes you right away with its instrumental beauty – it reminded me immediately of my two favorite movie piano pieces – “La Valse d’Amélie” by Yann Tiersen and “the Beginners” theme by Palmer, Neill, and Reitzell – but it also calls to mind many other classical (slightly impressionistic) piano pieces by the likes of Debussy or even Satie.

This album has been out for a few years –US release in 2013 – but I think it will be a timeless addition to your listening collection.  The deluxe addition that I previewed has some live tracks, and a few other songs – but the regular CD available on Amazon will do you just fine.  If you like vocalists like Tori Amos, Mazzy Star, Beth Orton, and maybe a splash of a new age-y Enya but also (at times) the hint of an edgier bite of someone like Sia – you will appreciate the trained yet unrestrained singing on Aventine. Welcome to the World of Agnes Obel!

Each track is an elegant combination of poetic lyrics, sensitive vocal phrasing, gentle harmonizing, perfectly balanced instrumentation – mostly piano but bringing in other orchestration when relevant (most notably some rich cello sounds and pizzicato violins).  If you think I’m exaggerating or over-generalizing how good this album is, please pick up a copy and see what you have to say about it (I’m honestly curious).

The songs are a little bit broody and dark, slightly melancholy and mysterious – but not without enough magic and beauty to be just uplifting enough so the overall effect is wistful, but not entirely sad.  I won’t write in detail about all of the songs, but here are some highlights:

  • “Words are Dead” is so simple and beautiful, it feels like a haunting vintage melody from the lips of a doomed starlet. I have been known to hum this (probably too loudly) at my desk.
  • “Fivefold” is almost jazzy at times – not my favorite, but I still enjoy it because it is neat how the individual pieces here can be so consistent in style and quality of execution, yet provide completely different experiences of their own.
  • “Run Cried the Crawling” is my favorite. The overall effect reminds me of the Julee Cruise songs from the “Twin Peaks” series – Agnes’ vocals are grittier and more pained here in a way that exudes much emotion.  Not to mention the title sounds like something from a classy horror movie.
  • “Dorian” is also quite likeable, although this is the one that reminds me of an Enya song from the 90s.
  • “Aventine” is the title track, and actually I think it is the most catchy and memorable on the album. The lyrics “you carry my heart in the night” are presented in a very rhythmic way, and the overlapping vocal effects along with the plucking of strings in the background create a lightly percussive effect.

I have no reservations saying that the combination of Agnes’ voice, the wonderful yet sometimes bare instrumentation, and well-crafted songs create one of the most beautiful albums I have ever heard.  This is instantly on my list of music to gift to loved ones (ranging from post-college artsy friends, to my good ol’ mom and everyone in between) because the appeal of this is so wide; her talent is so true and apparent.

A friend from work suggested this album to me, loaned me a copy, then “accidentally bought two” so I am lucky enough to have this for my own.  I keep it in the car for when I want my tree-lined commute to feel like a scene from an art-house film, or another thoughtful movie (maybe with period costumes or some conflicted leading lady character…).   I am very, very grateful for this addition to my list of musical experiences and I am delighted to share it with any of my loyal readers who are tuning in – this is really a treat!

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play:

Agnes Obel – Google Play

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon:

Agnes Obel – Amazon

Pathetic Excuses and a Mini-Review

Why I don’t have much to share this week – by Hannah

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So I know I owe you a music review or two (I have also been slacking at the giveaways and playlists) – but I was distracted this past weekend with a trip to the D, where I got this great shirt and a suggestion for a future review.

In the meantime, are you listening to Beck’s new single, “Dreams”?  It was released in June, but just hit radio play in the past 2 weeks.  Funky and techy and edgy and fun – it is exactly what you want, and even better than you think it would be.

I will have something for you soon – I actually have several great CDs and a few new artists in the mix right now. I just need to pick something and start writing!  Have a great week.

RMC

Real Party Music, with Classic Rawness that Rocks!

Under the Savage Sky* – by Barrence Whitfield and the Savages

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The band’s website suggests that Under the Savage Sky “might be the most soulful punk record – or perhaps the most punk soul record you’ve ever heard”, and I’m not sure I can do a better job of describing this 12-song release of rambunctiousness myself!  The album kicks off with “Willow” sounding a bit like the early White Stripes – I like the energetic abandon of Barrence Whitfield’s approach.  He has a vocal style on this song almost like the monotone of the Beat Happening or LCD Soundsystem, while somehow being Elvis-y in a way that is really fun.

There is a little bit of 70s snazz on the next track – like Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” or an Edgar Winter tune – something my parents would really like, but the rest of us would still enjoy.  Track #3 called “The Claw” features dance-y horns, and a mouth full of soul not unlike a grittier and more raucous John Hiatt would be (if you could imagine such a thing).  The next one has the classic rockabilly chord progression you’ll immediately recognize; with a great old-school recording style that sounds authentic and raw without seeming dated.

The sense of humor and playful wittiness exhibited by this group is evident not only in their musical style, but also in the song lyrics and titles – two of my favorite titles on the album are “Bad News Perfume” and “Incarceration Casserole”.  So creative!  Another one I liked the sound of was “Adjunct Street” – the song itself is a little bit more eerie and minor than the earlier tracks, with some creepy organ sounds evoking the Zombie’s old records, as Barrence warbles “I’m tired of living on adjunct street / where you can’t get no whisky neat / you know my neighbors they can be so unkind”…

Other song lyrics run the gamut of style and form, but you’ll hear select gems pop up like random references to everything from “a hollow leg” to “Pinochet”.  I’ll need some more time to fully absorb everything that is going on here, but in the meantime I’m just rocking out to the music and enjoying it thoroughly!

Track #6 is probably my favorite, as a great example of the blending of old and new, and it is chock-full of college-band-level emotion and enthusiasm.  You will not be able to stay still with all of this energetic organ vibrato peeking through!  I’m hearing some similarities to Little Richard, the Zombies, and even The Doors on a lot of these other tracks – Barrence Whitfield and the Savages as a group have done their rock n’ roll homework! It is clear that this band knows how to throw down wild words to crazy music that supports it all, and really gets you in the mood to move.

If you can’t actually have this band playing at your party in the basement, the next best thing you can do is to make sure you are playing this album at your house whenever you want to give your guests a good time.  If you’re in the Northeast right now then you’re in luck for catching a live show – there are some New England performance dates over the next couple of days before the band heads overseas for a European Tour.  You absolutely must have this CD in your lineup for a back-to-school event or an end-of-the-summer shindig, to keep the impending doldrums of cooler weather at bay.  Now, rock on!

*Photo not taken by RMC – image copied from album art as presented on http://www.eartothegroundmusic.co with the original posting of this music review, published September 6, 2015.

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play: Barrence – Google Play

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon: Barrence – Amazon

Mixed Styles and The Sounds You Remember…

Edisun – Collision

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Perhaps with a name like Edisun, you’d expect something science-y and smart – calling to mind the great inventor and our natural energy source.  But what the band puts forward instead, is a stable blend of nostalgia bands (you’ve always sort of enjoyed their alternative radio hits but maybe never really joined the fanclub).  The first song initially struck me as being almost 90s-esque, but I couldn’t quite pin it down.  Then on the chorus I realize what this is really reminding me of is actually – Daughtry.  The vocals are really pretty good!

If you like this style of music and are looking for some fresh songs for the rotation, you will probably like these guys just fine.  According to their website they have been writing and performing music for the past several years – and they are East Coast based, so I’m hoping to check out a live show.

What is a little surprising (and impressive) on the album is the variation in style from song to song – it is almost hard to believe that “Vampires and Wolves” is on the same album as “Secrets” if you ask me – see below for my suggestions on comparable artists for each track on the release and you’ll see what I mean:

  1. Daughtry and Our Lady Peace (“Kill Me With Your Kiss”)
  2. Goo Goo Dolls (“Collision”)
  3. Jakob Dylan from Wallflowers with Hit the Lights or Saves the Day (“Pins and Needles”)
  4. Hard to describe (“Vampires and Wolves”) but let me try. The opening guitar sounds like something by Passenger; this whole thing is a bit more folksy than the rest of the album; and other than the dark title/chorus/lyrics (reminiscent of the Twilight movies!)I think this is a rather pleasant song.
  5. Dashboard Confessional chorus on “Farewell”. I mean these emo lyrics just scream Chris Carrabba on the chorus  – “Jealousy just let me be / caught up in your fame / it will never be the same – farewell to your world / break me from these chains”
  6. Not sure who this reminds me of – but “Arcade” is grittier and heavier than the other tracks so far. I kind of like the more aggressive guitars on the interlude! Somehow I am reminded of Dishwalla and Collective Soul but I just can’t place this sound exactly.
  7. More moody and rock than the rest, and almost Metallica-ish (“Secrets”)
  8. Goo Goo Dolls again, but like their later cheesier slow songs (“Ocean Waves”)

Is anything on the track listing super-inventive, as again perhaps the name “Edisun” would suggest?  Possibly, in the unexpected combination of styles and re-delivery of something you haven’t thought of in awhile (emo and alternative music from the 90s, 2000s, and today) wrapped up in a new package.  Is this album anything you would enjoy?  Probably, given the popularity of the other artists I referred to, and the fact that there is something here for everybody – quite a few different song styles.

I’ll be honest and say that my initial thought upon hearing the opening track at the first listen was “oh I have heard this before”; but when I listened to the album multiple times it started to grow on me.  I think it is mostly a nostalgia thing, as each track brings back a unique set of memories for me – I might have to dust off the Wallflower CD and break out the Dashboard Confessional again, too!

*Photo not taken by RMC – image copied from album art as presented on http://www.eartothegroundmusic.co (and http://www.edisunmusic.com) with the original posting of this music review, published August 30, 2015.

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play: Google Play – Edisun

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon: Amazon – Edisun