Good ol’ Don – Still Good as Gold

Cass County by Don HenleyIMG_20151118_232604.jpg

I admit it, I don’t know the significance of the title.  A super-quick Google search revealed Cass Counties all over the U.S., including: Nebraska, North Dakota, Michigan, Nebraska, Indiana, Missouri… Initially I thought it was called “Cass Country” which would be fitting – as this truly a country album.  If you have a problem with this genre of music, then read no further!  Don Henley’s post-Eagles-greatest-hits voice might be a little thinner and reedier (if you can believe that) with time, but it is still so distinctive and familiar that if you loved it then, you will still love it now.

The album opens with “Bramble Rose”, lilting in a sing-songy way that is enjoyable and sweet – until Mick Jagger’s whiny twang breaks through the texture, that is.  You can’t be mad because it is such a fun surprise to hear these two working together, so just go with it!  Next is “The Cost of Living”, which just feels like a good ol’ timey country song – from the Merle Haggard vocals to the down-home, honest-dirt title of the track.

Track #3 is a sentimental, piano-fueled vehicle for Don to warble and whine his way into your older and wiser heart.  Called “Take a Picture of This”, I actually really enjoyed this simple melody and the lyrics – “year here’s a suitcase, here’s a ticket for a plane” –that are so basic yet honest.  “Waiting Tables” is a little corny, and as a tall girl who used to be a waitress, I’m just a tad offended at phrases like “she grew up tall in a timber down”… and “she’s just waiting tables”.  Say what now?!

Thankfully, the next track called “No Thank You” is one of the few upbeat tracks – it has a great honky-tonk line-danceable chorus, and some really hilarious lyrics with plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor.  “Praying for Rain” is slow again – but forgivable in that it is good enough to possibly be one of my favorites on the album.  Honest and straightforward, with a beautiful chorus.

Track #7 (“Words Can Break Your Heart”) is a little cheesy and predictable, but is otherwise a harmless and even bittersweet duet about damaged feelings and lost love.  The trend continues with “That Old Flame” with Martina McBride – not one of my favorites, since there is just nothing really spectacular or noteworthy about this.  Although there is a hint of slightly building momentum with some basic power chords in the background that are very Don Henley…

The album picks up again a bit with “When I Stop Dreaming” – a nostalgic waltz complete with slide guitars, and the familiar and lovely warble of Ms. Dolly Parton.  And Don’s performance on “A Younger Man” is sweet and gentle, as he croons “I aint a knight in shining armor… you’re lookin’ for a younger man, not me”.  But again this feels a little predictable, obvious and slow in the rhyming of the chorus and the cadence of the melody.

Now “Train in the Distance” is a stripped-down and bluegrassy song, evoking “summer nights at grandma’s house, cozy in my bed  / I dreamed of other places swirling in my head.” A piece really heavy, HEAVY on the country nostalgia factor!  Track #12 called “Where I am Now” is sassy and fun, basically an older dude giving the middle finger – or maybe a less aggressive shrug – to the world that thinks he should bother having anything to prove.  It is pretty much the perfect ending to the newest release from this gem of an icon (with an unforgettable voice!) who already has decades of hits under his belt.

It is always great to hear from good ol’ Don – you already know you love him.  So the real treasure nuggets on this CD are the guest appearances, and there are plenty! Each song is a star-studded sing-along featuring some big names on backing vocals.  Mick Jagger, Merle Haggard, Trisha Yearwood, Allison Kraus and many more – they all chime in and lend their style to this pleasant, if not rocking (at all) compilation.  It would make a holiday gift for a wide range of people on your list who have been curious to check this out!

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play: Don Henley – Cass County – Google Play

Link to Purchase Tracks on Amazon: Don Henley – Cass County Amazon

 

 

 

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Talented and Intense

Alexa Melo – by Alexa Melo*

aelxamelodotcom

This is the self-titled debut album for a remarkable young lady, with huge cynical eyes and a big voice.  “Still Right Here” has a song title that sounds like it should be on a reunion tour instead of a debut album, but it is a great album opener in that it immediately sets the tone for what Alexa is capable of delivering on the rest of the CD.  She starts out confidently – her voice an intriguing vocal blend of Natalie Imbruglia, Ellie Goulding, and Jewel – sometimes evoking the Sunday’s lead singer or even Joanna Newsom at times.  Lush, minor-keyed guitars create a big, almost magical and echoey sound under dramatic lyrics calling “got to change your evil ways”…  Her bio on her website says “Alexa Melo is intense”, and that is exactly the feeling I get when experiencing this album, start to finish.

The website bio goes on to describe her music writing history, as a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with a true alternative calling – even in the midst of popular musical styles that are anything BUT alternative.    This multi-instrumental effect is very evident in the second track – there are also various sampled vocal effects that give this a modern feel, over a beat that is dancey yet slow at the same time.  Track #3 features cool violin sounds over a trip-hop background.  Alexa’s vocals can intensify to a wrenching height at times, like a desperate character in a theatrical musical, and reminding me of some of Sia’s heartfelt and heartbreaking vocal performances that thankfully have broken through onto mainstream radio.

The next track opens with a little Hendrix influence that is fun; before merging into a White Stripes-inspired chorus, with lyrics squeaked in a style not unlike Tegan and Sara’s “Walking With A Ghost”.  Track #5 slows down a bit, reminding us that Alexa has experienced and is inspired by a sassy 90s girl musical history rich in influences.  She reveals a prettier voice on “Push-Pull”; which I will describe as an intimate and emotional piece that includes the sound of church bells providing a dissonant clash – this could be a sad movie soundtrack feature, or a thoughtful Tori Amos song.

I’ll admit that by Track #6 the wealth of sound sampling and cacophony of creative instrumentation was giving me a bit of sensory fatigue – the diversity of sounds was giving me a bit of a buzzy headache, so the more Paramore-esque “Should Have Been A Flirt” was a welcome relief.  The style of each song is different from the others, yet something is always the same – again the intensity is the common theme uniting the eleven songs and creating a comprehensive mood.  There isn’t a single feel-good song on the list!

Track #8 features more piano – and again the comparisons just continue to come to mind.  Birdy, Sara Bareilles, Leona Lewis… all of these voices help me describe Alexa, but here they represent just elements or facets of the overall sound that is all her own.  The creativity continues right through the end of the album, bringing in some jazzy horn on the 10th song (“Under Your Skin”) and rolling into a big noisy finale for the closing piece.

While the music is raw, emotional, artistic, and edgy – it is not fast or catchy.  This would be the kind of live concert performance that you could comfortably sit through to appreciate.  You notice the vocal quality, the careful execution, the selected instruments, and the dramatic lyrics more than how the music brightens your mood or makes you want to rock.  I appreciate Alexa because she is so different from other artists I have stumbled across, but the whole album is a bit much for me to take in all at once.  A carefully crafted mix or playlist might best highlight each song’s individual style and purpose, while a live performance might best demonstrate Alexa’s talent and ability. It is abundantly clear here that Alexa has something different to offer than other female artists of her generation – I’d even call her a potentially bigger, badder Taylor Swift that should prove to be a musical force to recon with for performances and releases yet to come.

*Photo not taken by rockymycommute.  This is a sample of the album art image as shown on http://www.alexamelo.com

Preview Tracks on Google Play: Google Play – Alexa Melo

Purchase Album on Amazon: Amazon – Alexa Melo